Call it a lucky strike. A chance discovery of aquifers during the excavation of the alignment of the underground channel of the mythological river Saraswati at Mugalwali village in the first week of May was more than sufficient to set-off veneration, euphoria, claims, counter-claims and futuristic plans of river engineering and religious tourism.
The findings are bound to trigger debates, both in its favour and against it and revive the argument as to whether Saraswati was a glacier-fed Himalayan river or a monsoonal stream.
The aquifers being termed as palaeo-channels (leftovers of an inactive river or stream filled or buried with younger sediment) by the geologists were not intended to be discovered when the digging in several villages started under National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) to unearth the alignment where, as per the local revenue records, the mighty Saraswati river once flowed.
Khaleel, a Muslim labourer credited with scooping out the most abundant aquifer at Mugalwali was, like many co-workers, asked to dig till five feet only by the authorities. "Probably in his enthusiasm or ignorance, Khaleel went beyond five feet and discovered the most prolific aquifer,'' said a revenue official.
No sooner several other aquifers, mostly shallow, cropped up in the dug up area prompting the villagers and the local administration to declare that the lost Saraswati river has finally been found.
Geologists from Kurukshetra University were quick to descend at Mugalwali to examine the aquifers and take samples of the pebbles and sediment recovered from the aquifers.
Dr AR Chaudhary, head of the geology department, says prima facie he is convinced these were river-generated. "The lab examination to confirm their authenticity is being done,'' he said.
Superintending archaeologist, Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), GN Srivastava too looks convinced with the findings.
Darshan Lal Jain, the octogenarian president of Jagadhri-based Saraswati Nadi Shodh Sansthan is elated. "I firmly believe that the water discovered at Mugalwali is of the lost Saraswati. The river's path is clearly mapped in the revenue records and digging was done according to it," Jain said.
Mugalwali, meanwhile, has become the centre of attraction as crowds throng the excavation site to sip the "holy water" from the aquifer and offer their prayers. A sacred flag hoisted by devotees from Vrindavan signals the location of the aquifer; its crevice has been metalled to protect it from damage and a feast was organised by villagers last week. A temple may soon come up at the site.
HYPE AND HOOPLA
Traces of river Saraswati, which finds mention in Rig Veda, have reportedly been found at various places in Haryana earlier. Water trickling from a hill at Adi Badri - christened as Saraswati Udgam Sthal (point of origin) - was cordoned off by the forest department. Also, a buried river bed was found at Bhor Sayidan village in Kurukshetra some time ago.
So why so much hype and hoopla this time? The BJP government's recent move to restore Saraswati creek from Adi Badri to Mustafabad in Yamunanagar district and setting up of Adi Badri Heritage Board probably explains this. The saffron party, which is euphoric over "discovering" the Saraswati waters, is keen to put its stamp on this endeavour for posterity by coming up with a religious tourism model.
Chief minister ML Khattar, in fact, announced a financial support of Rs 50 crore for Saraswati restoration project. Assembly speaker Kanwar Pal too pitched in with Rs 11 lakh. Officials said the government wants to develop this area from tourism point of view with a proposal to construct a water recreation park.
It was during the rule of the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre in 2003 that an advisory committee of experts was constituted for multi-disciplinary study of Saraswati river. Its charter was to locate source of river, define its course and identify items for geo-technical study and archaeological research. The committee then recommended setting up of Saraswati Heritage Project which was launched by then Union tourism and culture minister Jagmohan. The project though was shelved after the Congress-led UPA came to power in 2004. Now, there are indications that the present NDA regime led by Narendra Modi is keen to revive it.
RAP TO ASI
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture in its report, tabled in the Parliament on November 2005, had objected to the Saraswati Heritage Project, leading to its burial.
"The Committee is of the firm view that Saraswati Heritage Project did not conform to the criterion fixed for excavation of archaeological sites since no academic body or university had recommended the project. The Ministry is not clear as to which research agency/scientific survey actually pointed out that the dry beds of Ghaggar and Chautang (Drisadvati) were the bed of Saraswati river," the report said.
The committee said the existence of Saraswati was purely a mythological one and a scientific institution like Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has not correctly proceeded in the matter. "The Committee regrets to note that a major project to the tune of Rs 36.02 crore was prepared, which though was reduced to Rs 4.98 crore, just to excavate a mythological river whereas several other monuments of national importance were languishing due to fund shortage. The ASI should prevent itself from taking up exercises without scientific basis which have potentiality for subjective interpretation of historical facts thereby leading to controversies,'' the report said.
The hype surrounding the recent discovery at Yamunanagar has helped in gaining public support for the project. Revenue officials said that large chunks of under-excavation government land was under illegal occupation. "Saraswati has come to our rescue as the reverence for the sacred river is enormous. Getting the land vacated would have been a big problem otherwise,'' said an official.
Yamunanagar district and development panchayat officer (DDPO) Gagandeep Singh, who used revenue records, a global positioning system (GPS) device and Google maps to sketch the site plan for the restoration of Saraswati, says the plan is to construct a dam at the Somb river whose torrent causes destruction during monsoons and divert that water into the dug up Saraswati creek through a feeder channel constructed at Ranipur.
The DDPO said that the administration plans to construct a water reservoir spread over 400 acres at Chhalour village.
"We are in touch with the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) to drill groundwater wells along the palaeo-channels of Saraswati. A survey will be done for identification of fresh locations for drilling. The idea is to revive the Saraswati creek and the state has sought assistance of WAPCOS, a Government of India enterprise,'' Singh said.