Life and times of a river and its people

Life and times of a river and its people

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Delhi: Paradox of a modern city on the banks of an ancient river

Since the turn of the millennia, for people coming from the north-west, the geographical entity – which is the National Capital Territory of Delhi – was considered as the dehalij (threshold) for the fertile plains of the Ganga-Yamuna basin.

In fact, the very word Delhi is believed to be a corrupted form of this Hindi word dehalij. Located at the northern tail end of the Thar desert with Aravali ranges jutting out far and wide on the south and the glacier fed perennial river Yamuna by the side running north-south, the city has had an inseparable existence on the banks of the Yamuna.

Even before the now-prevalent revenue system of patwari started, the area had clear land types, all necessarily defined with respect to availability or lack of water. Khadar was the riverine area, bangar was the main land with alluvial deposits at a level and the dabar, the lowlands prone to floods were the marshy lands. Another feature was the kohi (hill area).

The fact that more than several centuries after these names of localities came into existence – Hauz Khas (Hauz: a waterbody), Dhaula Kuan (Kuan: a well), Khari Baoli (Baoli: a step well) and Rajghat (ghat: a stepped embankment) – and are still in vogue, clearly denotes the integral role that water and water bodies played in shaping the city.

Following urbansation of Delhi’s landscape, people who ‘lived’ with the river, went away from it, physically as well as emotionally, the river – a living entity – began to die. Its urbane citizens simply thought it to be a non-living entity.  

Circa 2011, when the Yamuna in Delhi no longer resembles the sparkling white waters gushing down the Himalayas, and instead perceived as a large drain, we at Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH wish to explore, and if possible, revive the relation between the Delhi city and the Yamuna river. Marking the 60 years of Germany in India would be the Yamuna – Elbe public event culminating in November, focussing on Yamuna in Delhi (India) and Elbe in Hamburg (Germany).

As a compliment to this event, GIZ’s project Yamuna Katha is an attempt to produce a collaborative expression among various stakeholders of the river Yamuna focussing on ecological, cultural, historic and economic implications of the river Yamuna in Delhi. The event would be held from October 11-15, 2011 (See itinerary).

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