Love & reverence for all elements of universe is innate in Indian culture. Most of our festivals mark changes in seasons and worship the variety of landforms bestowed upon us. No wonder environmental conservation is a key feature of our culture.
One such festival is Pushkaram!
Pushkaram a.k.a., Pushkaralu, Pushkara, Pushkar, not to be confused with Pushkar Mela, is a festival of worshipping twelve of our sacred rivers flowing across the country.
Why –Through deep penance, Lord Varun’s son Pushkar obtained two boons. One from Lord Brahma, to reside in the sacred water in his Kamandal, which had emerged from the feet of Lord Brahma. Second from Lord Shiv, the boon of Jal Tattva Siddhi, the ability to purify holy rivers. With these two boons, Pushkar became ‘THE ONE WHO NOURISHES’ and came to be known as ‘Teerthpaalak’– THE KING OF ALL SHRINES. Seeing this, Brihaspati (Jupiter) also performed penance. He pleased Lord Brahma to grant him the boon to have Pushkar permanently be with him. Acknowledging Pushkar’s reluctance, Lord Brahma requested him to be associated with Brihaspati every year for the first and last twelve days of Brihaspati’s journey to a new zodiac sign. Since then, Pushkar enters the river corresponding to that zodiac sign and purifies it.
The union of Pushkar and Brihaspati indicates towards the importance of collective action for Nature Conservation. It shows that to bring about a change, ability, intention, and action have to come together. River or nature as a whole is a collective responsibility of all of us, therefore, this legend calls for coming together to conserve Nature & life.
How – The river and river banks are cleaned. The devotees partake in Snan (sacred bath in the river), Daan (charity), Jaap (chanting mantra), Archana (worship), and Dhyan (meditation). The solar magnetic cycle, at the time of Pushkaram, is such that it enhances earth's magnetic field. This in turn enriches the river water with healing properties. Thus, a dip in it is believed to cure various health disorders.
Where – Pushkaram is celebrated every year at the bank of one of these rivers - Ganga, Narmada, Saraswati, Yamuna, Godavari, Krishna, Kaveri, Bhima/Tamraparni, Tapti/Brahmaputra, Tungabhadra, Sindhu, and Pranhita. Each river is associated with a zodiac sign and the location of Pushkaralu that year is dependent on the zodiac sign in which Jupiter is present. This year it is along the Sindhu river and will be called Sindhu Pushkaram.
When – Pushkaram is an annual festival celebrated when Jupiter enters a zodiac sign. The first (aadi pushkaram) and last (anthya pushkaram) twelve days of the entry and exit of Jupiter are considered very auspicious. It is mainly the first twelve days that pulls the most crowd.
Since Pushkaram has brought the spotlight on rivers, let us understand the importance of rivers.
- Rivers are the cradle of civilization
- Wildlife is dependent on rivers as a source of water and food
- Rivers serve as a habitat for a wide range of aquatic species
- Rivers serve as a drainage system during rains, thus reducing the chances of inundation
- Agrarian countries like ours depend on rivers for irrigation
- Rivers are a source of freshwater required for our daily activities
- Rivers are a source of hydroelectric power
- Rivers are also a mode of transportation for both goods and people
How do we impact the rivers?
- Often untreated human and industrial effluent flows into the rivers. The chemicals, temperature and pH thus introduced, disrupt the river ecosystem and its natural self-cleansing machinery.
- Changing the direction of rivers for various reasons like expanding agricultural land, construction, etc.
- Dumping of waste clogs the drainage system of the river thus disrupting its flow.
- Sand mining from riverbed affects the flow and depth of the river and additionally impacts the groundwater system.
These are just a few examples of the direct impact of anthropogenic activities on the river system. This should be enough to put us in the moral dilemma of what are we giving back to rivers in exchange for all that they provide us.
If there is a festival that can be the brand ambassador of river conservation, it is Pushkaram. The most striking point of the story behind Pushkaram is the boon of purifying a river to the point that a dip in it washes off our sins. Today, undoubtedly one of our biggest sins is polluting our rivers. This time the only penance would be to clean our rivers and bring them to the same glory that made us revere them.
Since Pushkaram was celebrated in its true spirit of revering rivers, their exploitation was negligible. The idea behind carving such festivals in Indian culture was the psycho-scientific approach of our ancients, for they knew what a man reveres & worships, he will not exploit it. Hence, our ancestors created such festivals that annually remind us to conserve and protect the natural treasures which we are blessed with. All we need to do is stand on the shoulders of the giants, understand the logic behind the practices and carry forward the traditions and spiritual knowledge of our ancestors that underscore that the human life and nature are intertwined. What we need today is to re-establish the relationship between man and nature by leading a sustainable life.