Rivers are not just a flowing entity, but a cradle of civilization, a repository of stories, culture, identity and more. Revealing such facets of a river was the recent talk titled, ‘River Myths’, by environmentalist, anthropologist and activist, Rajendra Kerkar, at Institute Menezes Braganza, Panjim.
The event was organized by the Centre for Study of Mythology and Culture in association with Institute Menezes Braganza.
LEARNING CULTURE FROM RIVERS
In his presentation, Kerkar spoke about various rivers of Goa (mainly Mhadei), its history, topography, rituals and customs held on the banks of this river, and how myths help us to understand the rich history of a place, which are embedded in those mythical tales.
Kerkar started the talk by speaking about the etymological meaning of the word, ‘Goa’ or ‘Gomantak.’ According to him, it could be based on the river Gomati. Around 20,000 years ago, rivers Mandovi and Zuari were one river, according to scientific research.
He then spoke about how there is a strong tradition of worshipping rivers in India like Ganga, Godavari, etc. In Goa, too, rivers are worshipped and thus there are panels of Sateri Kelbai or Mahishashur Mardini or Gajalaxmi—who is considered as the goddess of Jal, Jameen and Jungle (water, land and forest).
Looking at the topography of rivers in Goa, Kerkar informed that there are 11 rivers in Goa, including Harmal and Mandrem rivers. However, he added that recently, a new river at Loliem, Canacona was discovered, and is known as Vakdi river.
Other independent rivers are at Chimbel and also the St Inez river that starts at Nagali. Thus, he added that Goa has 14 rivers.
Kerkar gave some interesting details, stories and myths associated with Mhadei. He informed that this river, which is 111 km long starts, at a place called Degao in Khanapur taluka of Karnataka. This river which gives drinking water to 43 per cent of Goa’s population then comes to Jamboti and then takes a turn near Krishnapur and reaches Goa.
He said it was no less than a wonder why this river doesn’t join the Malaprabha river.
He then shared a myth based on this, which states that this river Mhadei was actually born as an untouchable, and that’s why it was not allowed to join.
WATERFALL & BEE TALES
Speaking of myths, he shared a story related to Barajan waterfall on the Goa-Karnataka border. This waterfall is actually a source of Kalsa and it then joins the Mhadei.
The myth states that some 12 men sacrificed their lives here as they were told to perform a task of collecting a tree trunk for Rakhno (guardian spirit), and not of main deity, during Holi. They didn’t want to abide by that, and thus, they jumped into the waterfall.
The Mhadei then reaches a place called Mhovacho Guno in Sattari, or’ the place known for honey bees’. Locals here believe that there is a spirit that stays in a cave near the river. And, it is only the villagers of this place who have a right over this honey.
Kerkar informed that in these last 30 years, 20-odd people have lost their lives here. This is mainly due to attacks from honey bees after they are harassed.
He also shared an anecdote that in the 19th century, Deepaji Rane was hiding here after raising the banner of revolt on Nanuz Fort. And, when he realized that Portuguese soldiers were coming after him, he just threw some stones on the hive, to protect himself from the soldiers.
RITUALS & GUARDIAN SPIRITS
Kerkar shared some interesting folklore associated with a place called Pistyachi Kund — a water body known for Mahseer fish in Bhimgad WLS, in Krishnapur village on the Goa-Karnataka border.
Pistya is a guardian spirit of this place and the villagers invoke his blessings. Once a folk artist from the Thakar community, who was passing by this area with his Nandi bail (decorated Indian ox, who is also the vehicle of Lord Shiva in Hindu mythology), asked the blessings of Pistya and also said that he would do a special performance with Nandi if he manages to get a lot of alms from Goa. And, when he reached Goa, he actually did.
But, then while returning, he took a different route. He then went ahead and said loud as he beat drums, “I cheated you, Pistya.” That made Pistya very angry, and within no time, the land shook and his alms and Nandi disappeared.
Due to such folklore, no one dares to catch fish from this pond, even today, according to Kerkar.
He then spoke of rituals related to the river. For example, in some villages of Sattari, fresh water from a well or river is put in a pitcher and is worshipped as goddess Parvati during Chaturthi. This water is then immersed back to the source.
Also, in Poriem village, during New Year, devotees go to the Valvanti river to collect water and fill it in a pitcher. It is because the pitcher is a symbol of procreation.
A TREASURE TROVE OF HISTORY
The Mhadei river is also a custodian of our pre-history. This is evident from the fact that there are limestone caves at Acri-Cockri in Krishnapur. These caves are proof that there used to be a sea here thousands of years ago.
Speaking of caves, Kerkar also mentioned the Barapeda caves of Talewadi at Bhimgad WLS, which is the only site in the world for Wroughton-free tailed bats. He also added that some stone tools were also found in one of these caves.
He then also spoke about rock carvings found at a village called Mauxi in Sattari, similar to the ones found at Usgalimal at Sanguem on the banks of the Kushawati river.
He then shared folklore connected to the Rajgo shrine found in Sattari. “This shrine is of untouchables, and was built by Brahmins,” says Kerkar.
Rajgo used to row country canoes from a place called Khadki to go to Valpoi. He also used to transport alcohol. However, once the people realized that the alcohol he brought was poisoned, he was made to sacrifice his life. Thus, a shrine is erected in his memory.
Some villagers also say that he was part of the Deepaji Rane revolt, and thus, was killed by the Portuguese.
Kerkar added that there were at least 2 to 3 such shrines dedicated to Rajgo on the river banks.
BOAT DEITIES & FOLK DANCES
Kerkar spoke about boat deities found in Sattari. Researcher VR Mitragotri discovered three such deities, and later, Kerkar with his volunteers discovered 10 more in Sattari.
Focusing on the cultural aspect of a place, he spoke about the Ranmale folk performance which is usually held in the border villages of Goa. He informed that once, during such a performance, there was a battle between aboriginals and new settlers, who had come with swords and horses. He also spoke of the festival of Chorotsav, held in the villages of Zarme and Caranzol, in Sattari.
He spoke about the Masandevi zatra, held in Narve village in Bicholim, and mentioned that the temple of this folk deity is situated on the banks of the Mandovi. She is considered the protector of the spirits of some deceased women, who are buried and not cremated.
The story related to the deity states that there was once a tiger, which killed the only cow, belonging to a certain woman. That cow was her only source of livelihood, and so, she died from that shock and sorrow. As a result, the tiger was very depressed and also killed himself. Thus, there is a termite hill, or roinn, and tiger deity at this temple.
CROC WORSHIP & DEITIES
Speaking of deities, Kerkar shared some legends associated with Mhalsadevi. It is believed that the pastoral community of Verna plateaus started worshipping this deity when they realised that there was no water for them to survive.
At that point, the goddess appeared, and struck her foot with the anklets and thus, it gave birth to Nupur zar, or spring. And, it is from this spring that the River Sal originates. Sadly, this river has now been reduced to a gutter and it is considered as one of the most polluted rivers of Goa.
Kerkar spoke about crocodile worship which is usually observed by the Gawda, community, residing along the banks of the Zuari river. It is known as Mange Thapni. He informed that this is one of the rare practices of worshipping crocodiles and a similar custom is also followed in some regions of Pakistan.
He shared many such stories related to rivers and the places situated on the banks of a river. Like the Mahadev Temple situated on Ragada river — one of the tributaries of the Mhadei.
Its backyard is known as Ranichi Paaz as it was a pathway for the queen of the Kadamb dynasty, Kamala, to visit this temple from Halasi — one of the capitals of the Kadamb dynasty in Khanpur district of Karnataka.
Kerkar revealed that in one of the temples in Halasi, there is a stone inscription where the details of the Tambdi Surla temple are mentioned.
Kerkar shared many such stories related to the river that represented our culture, history, mythology, geology, ecology and more.