The Queen of Deccan Plateau, spanning Maharashtra, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, in length, second only to the celestial Ganga and in spirit ,the Ganga herself reincarnated at the Brahmagiri is the celebrated river goddess of peninsular India, the mighty Godavari.
Literally meaning ‘the one who nourishes cows’, Godavari is a giver in all respects. Flowing with abundant waters for nearly 1500 kilometres, she is the eldest and most capable daughter of Sahyadri. Godavari is revered as one of the seven important rivers of this land along with Ganga, Yamuna, Saraswati, Narmada, Sindhu and Kaveri from ancient times.
Gatha Saptashati, a collection of Gathas, with rustic emotions was composed by King Hala of the Satavahana Dynasty on the banks of Godavari. Though it is essentially love poetry; the lyrical anthology is an ode to the flora, fauna and rural life of Deccan. In the Gathas, the waters of Godavari have been used as a metaphor for the flow of love and desire.
Godavari originating in Western Ghats near Nasik, flows through the entire Deccan plateau, aggregating waters of several tributaries and passing through Eastern Ghats, to meet the Bay of Bengal near Kakinada. A long, coast to coast journey, through hills and forests, civilizations both modern and ancient, of welcoming pilgrims and nurturing life
Tryambakeshwar, at the origin of Godavari is one of the 12 Jyotirlingas, an important place of worship of Lord Shankar. Godavari starts her divine journey, through city of Nashik, one of the designated places for Kumbh. Godavari is also known as Gautami here owing to the legend of sage Gautam bringing the sacred Ganga river to the Deccan plateau and hence is known as ‘Dakshin Ganga’ meaning Southern Ganga.
Trimbakeshwar Temple, Nasik, built with black basalt, was constructed by Shrimant Balaji Bajirao, the Nanasahib Peshwa, in 1786. The Shiva deity installed in the temple at that time was decorated with the world famous Nassak diamond. The stone was appropriated by the British during the 3rd Anglo-Maratha war. Pic credit Nirdesh Singh
Trimbakeshwar (Tryambakeshwar, Trambakeshwar) takes its name from ‘Trimbaka’, which means ‘The Lord Who has Three Eyes’. This is a place of Tri-Sandhya Gayatri, the birthplace of Lord Ganesha. Godavari forms the southern boundary of Dandakaranya in Ramayana whereas Panchavati, the place where Ram and Sita stayed during their exile is now a part of Nashik. Trimbakeshwar is also considered to be one of the holiest places to perform Shraddha. The Nirnaya Sindhu mentions Trimbakeshwar as the place where Sahyadri Mountain and Godavari River exist, purifying the entire earth planet.
Built between the 2nd century BCE and 2nd century CE by Jain traders and Kings for Buddhist monks, the Trirashmi Leni are some of the oldest caves of Maharashtra. Though popularly known as Pandav Leni, the caves have nothing to do with Mahabharatha. Most of the caves are Viharas with one Chaitya and represent the Hinayana sect of Buddhism. The caves are a wonderful example of syncretism between Jains and Buddhists in spirit and Indians and Greek in stone and sculptures.
The richly sculptured Trirashmi caves or Pandav Leni near Nashik. Pic courtesy Manisha Chitale
On the banks of Godavari in Nashik stands the Kalaram Mandir with black idols of Ram,
Sita, Lakshman and Hanuman. Built in 1788 by Sardar Rangarao Odhekar after he had a vision of a black idol of Lord Ram floating in the waters of Godavari, this temple played an important role in the Dalit Movement. In 1930, Babasaheb Ambedkar launched the Kalaram Mandir Entry Satyagraha and stormed the temple thereby ending restriction on the entry of certain castes in the temple.
From right at its source Godavari waters seem to have witnessed pathbreaking movements leading to emancipation of the common people.
Meanwhile, downstream, the birds chirp, and flamingo flocks swing in blue skies at the Nandur Madhameshwar Bird Sanctuary.
Once past Kopargaon, through the parched lands of Marathwada in Maharashtra, Godavari provides the much needed touch of water.
Just before Paithan, she meets with Pravara. This Pravara-sangam is itself a visual delight. Pravara has a special place in every Maharastrian’s mind. Just before the confluence, Pravara passes through Nevase. This is the place where Sant Dnyaneshwar, the child prodigy of Maharashtra penned ‘Bhavarth-Dipika’, commonly known as ‘Dnyaneshwari’. One of the most revered and complete commentary on Bhagvad Geeta, since early thirteenth century.
Dyanenshwar, at the tender age of 16 was one of the most brilliant and accomplished Yogi. His life story with his three equally enlightened siblings, the arduous childhood, the unfettered faith in Vithal the God, and attaining the difficult Sanjeevan-Samadhi before touching twenty years of age , he was the indeed the path breaker in the continuous tradition of Marathi saints. There will be very few households in Maharashtra, who will not have a copy of ‘Dyaneshwari’ on the pedestal. Godavari is blessed to have the fortune of raising this extraordinary son of soil in her backyard.
All ancient key cities or capitals are on the banks of prominent rivers. Paithan , or the ancient Pratishthan is not an exception. Godavari, blocked at Jayakwadi, flows seamlessly around Paithan. Paithan, as some experts believe, was the capital of Satawahan, the original royal dynasty of Maharashtra. It finds mention in the navigation and trading bible called ‘The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea’. Paithan remained an important city of trade and administration even during the time of later dynasties such as the Chalukyas and Yadavs. Paithan and its surrounding areas are of great archaeological interest, as it provides continuous settlement pattern over 25 centuries to say the least.
And Paithan is equally celebrated for that special silk fabric in beautiful bright colours
and real gold or silver borders, famously called as Paithanee Sarees. Parrots and peacocks form some of the central motifs in this hand woven silk cloth. Handed down as a heirloom and a must-have in the wardrobe of every Marathi Mulgi, Paithanee is a much sough after saree and fabric both in India and the world.
River of Faith
Paithan had a long tradition of Marathi saints starting from Dyaneshwar, Eknath and many others like Namdev, Sant Janabai, Changdev and others in the vicinity. These saint poets and thinkers of medieval times including Tukaram , Dasganu , Chokha mela, initiated the Bhakti or Varkari movement which later flourished and is still in practice. A whole corpus of lyrical ‘Abhang’ and ‘Owee’ in Marathi language can be attributed to this tradition. Abhang are poetic compositions in Marathi, centred around worship of Vitthal or Vithoba, with philosophical message. These compostions actually brought the Sanskrit based ‘Darshanik’ knowledge to common people. Bhakti tradition literally got the Godavari of Indian philosophy to the doorsteps of everyone through this vernacular literature. Bhakti movement also insisted on removing the caste barriers and thus discarding the rigidity in social behaviour. It is almost like Godavari has blessed this Bhakti and Varkari sect with her ever nourishing waters.
The meandering stream of Godavari, traverses the Marathwada, taking in waters of Kundalika and Purna, flourishing this sacred land which also belongs to Nath Yogis.
Nath Sampraday a pan India sect of Shaiva worship, is one of strong branches of the tree called Hinduism. The banks of Godavari are dotted with Nath monasteries and temples right from its basin in Maharashtra to its delta in Andhra. Offshoots of Sahyadri in Nagar, Nashik and Aurangabad have several Nath places of worship. Nath Sampraday finds reference in several literary traditions and books. Disciples of this sect are termed as Nath, Siddha or Yogis. Gorakshnath, Matsyendranath , Gahininath are some of great sages of this lineage.
Datta Sampraday another equally important faith stream, popular on the Deccan plateau also finds its important places in the Godavari basin. Datta sect is closely linked with Nath Tradition, but worships a Vishnu incarnation. Mahur, Karanje are places of worship for Datta devotees which are in upper basin of Godavari. Mahanubhav sect which also finds its roots in the same region around Godavari is almost like a combination of Nath and Datta cults. Waters of Godavari have given life to these various streams of philosophies and cultures.
Reaching Nanded, Godavari prepares to leave Maharashtra and enters the present day Telangana. Nanded by itself is a prominent place in Sikh history. There stands the majestic Takht Shri Huzur Sahib Gurudwara reminding all about the bond shared by Punjab with Maharashtra. Around 250 years back, when Guru Gobindsinghji, the tenth Sikh Guru chose Nanded as his last abode. This is where he passed the authority to Guru Granth Sahib and put a stop to the human Guru Tradition. Ever flowing Godavari has witnessed this transition with mute admiration.
Taking a sharp turn to south, Godavari continues till she meets her southern affluent Manjara. Manjara drains the passage between Godavari and Krishna, bringing in the flavours of Karnataka.
Godavari now a substantial flow, turns north, to pass through some of the holy places such as Basar and Dharmapuri. Basar is famous for its unique Gnana Saraswati temple, one of the two temples in India dedicated to the Goddess of Learning and Knowledge. The other temple is in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Children are bought to this temple in Telangana to write their first letter, a symbolic initiation into the world of learning known as ‘Akshara Abhyasam’. Passing through Nizamabad and Macherial districts of Telangana, Godavari once again touches south eastern border of Maharashtra.
The Jungle Lore
Now entering the Mahakantar, the great jungle region, Pranhita river, the biggest tributary of Godavari meets her near Sironcha. Pranhita carries with her waters of Satpura ranges and whole of Vidarbha to merge with the sacred stream of Godavari. Sacred town of Kaleshwaram is at the confluence.
Skirting the Maharashtra border, moving through Sal forests and roars of tigers, Godavari receives her another major tributary. Indravati flows through thick forests of Chattisgarh, passing through craggy hills of Vindhya, and carrying the fading flute tunes of Gond tribals, is a force to reckon with.
Another tributary of Godavari called Sabari, which meets the main river further downstream also comes from thick wooded belt of Chhatisgarh-Odisha border. And interestingly, Indravati and Sabari are interconnected naturally through a ‘middleman’ stream !
From this point onwards, Godavari flows in southerly direction and enters Andhra Pradesh. Taking in waters from some more tributaries like Talperu, now at the confluence with Kinnarseni, stands Bhadrachalam, a prominent place of Rama Bhakti. This temple town has rich association with the river. Godavari’s enormous expanse here is awe inspiring.
This lifeline of ‘Dakkhan’, has seen rise and fall of several empires on both sides of her banks. The Yadavs, Rashtrakutas, Vengy Chalukyas giving way to the Kakatiyas of Warangal and then with wheels of time turning, to the Islamic kingdoms of Bahamani, which further split into 5 Shahi sultanates.
Moving ahead, Godavari enters the Eastern Ghats, the mountain ranges close to the eastern coast of India. It takes a twisting and turning ride through the green blue Papikonda hills, gushing through the sloping hills, flanked by high rising mountains and carving a deep valley the river continues its eternal journey. On feeling the whiff of sea breeze, Godavari impatiently crosses the mountain terrain to come out in the open and spread at Rajahmundry, a prominent city of Andhra Pradesh. The massive bridge here on Godavri measures 4 KM. This is third largest bridge in Asia and is an attraction by itself.
Moving past Rajahmundry, Godavari splits into 2 major branches, Gautami Godavari and Vasishtha Godavari, which further splits into 2 more branches each and with these four arms she embraces the Bay of Bengal. The delta region of Godavari is known as Konaseema. A scenic landscape with swaying palms and green paddy fields stretching across.
Gautami Godavari branch merges with the tides, at Kakinada. Yanam near Kakinada is an erstwhile French colony and part of Pondicherry union territory. Earlier in 18th century this area saw rise of several Dutch colonies doing Indigo trade. Later, the Dutch handed over this colony to the French.
The Vasishtha branch meets the sea near Narsapur, again a temple town and former Dutch colony.
The silk thread of Paithan, finds a coastal counterpart here, on the banks of Godavari
again. Uppada , a small beach town near Kakinada, has made mark in the world of silk saris. The Jamdani style of weaving from Bengal combined with patterns and motifs of Andhra has given rise to Uppada Pattu, a distinctive fabric style. Extremely light weight, contemporary in design and style and its fine silk makes Uppada a great choice over other exorbitantly priced silks.
We have now traversed almost the entire south central India, from west to east with this river goddess, a journey through time and geography!
Over several towns, temples and traditions, Godavari banks also host several festivals throughout the year. The sacred and massive Kumbhmela in Tryambak to Godavari Pushkaram festival in Telangana and Andhra, from the Adishesh devotees gathering for Nagoba Jatra at Pranhita confluence to the Antarvedi fair, the cultural celebrations have bloomed in abandon on the Godavari water front.
Godavari has marked the borders for kingdoms and helped win battles for the kings. She has devastated her banks with raging floods at times and has also blocked herself with dams to fulfil the quench of her children.Godavari has inspired sages, saints and poets and her tranquil waters have given solace to the seekers. But she is not without her woes.
Beginning of the End
During the British Raj, Sir Arthur Cotton, an irrigation engineer changed the face of Konaseema in Andhra by building an Anicut, The Dowleswaram Barrage. This first-of-its-kind barrage was completed in the year 1885 and diverted the flood waters of Godavari to farmlands. He later built another barrage over Krishna River turning the delta into one of the most fertile regions of the country. Even today, the people of Konaseema in Andhra revere Sir Arthur Cotton as a deity. Unfortunately, only parts of the original barrage remain for it has been remodeled as the modern Godavari barrage. While the original barrage had fish lifts and passes, the new one does not have these features robbing the downstream people of not only the much needed silt and water but is also hindering the migration of the Pulasa / Hilsa fish, one among the 228 species of fish that swim in the waters of Godavari.
While a few barrages and irrigation projects were much needed in the region, today it boasts of a slew of projects that has fettered the river over its long course. According to MoWR (Ministry of Water Resources), so far nearly 921 Dams, 28 Barrages, 18 Weirs, 1 Anicut, 62 Lifts and 16 Powerhouses have been constructed in the Godavari basin for irrigation, diversion or, storage purpose. The basin has 70 Major Irrigation Projects and 216 Minor Irrigation Projects. For how long will we able to squeeze the river of its resources and water, one wonders.
According to this disturbing report, about 20,000 people from 6 gram panchayats,
predominantly tribal, in Malkangiri are cut off from the main land for several years, first by the Machkund Hydro electric project and then by Balimela Project. They hire a ferry to get to mainland and in 2010, this ferry was targeted and attacked by the Maoists. The biggest threat to these tribals and their houses is not from the naxalites but from the ambitious Polavaram project that plans to interlink the Krishna and Godavari rivers. If at all the project comes through which is stalled from past four decades then Malkangiri will be submerged along with few other tehsils of tribal Odisha. Just a few of the many devastating side effects of irrigation projects and dams. Siltation, loss of biodiversity, submergence of forests and most of all drying up of areas downstream are other major issues facing the people and its river.
From a surplus river to a deficit river, From clean swells of water to being critically polluted, From nurturing revolutions to facing massive conflicts; the Dakshin Vahini Ganga, Goda Mai as she is fondly called is fettered and frail and needs her sons and daughters today much more than ever before.
Authors – Manisha Chitale and Zehra Chhapiwala
Manisha can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Zehra can be contacted at email@example.com