By the River (2017 | Issue 4)

Download print version

A Flowing Tribute

Rivers are the arteries of our earth. We use their waters as a source of food, energy, transport, defence, recreation, creativity and storytelling. Ancient civilisations settled and flourished along their banks. Without rivers there would be no life. What’s Up, Germany? acknowledges how much we owe these fluid forces.

A Matter of Survival

India’s religious texts repeatedly refer to water as life, and for good reason. Up to 60 percent of our body is made up of water. A one percent deficiency of water leads to thirst, two percent causes dizziness and fatigue, ten percent makes us disoriented and immobile, and beyond 15 percent leads to death. That’s how vital water is for our survival.

Food for All

Rivers cover 75 percent of the earth’s surface, and they cater to 65 percent of our water needs. Around 70 percent of water is used for agriculture. Farmers in dry regions use canals to irrigate their land. Rivers perform the important function of groundwater replenishment and water storage.

Navigating the Waters

Thanks to rivers, goods—and people—can be transported within

countries and around the world. They provide routes for trade, exploration and recreation. The earliest evidence of river navigation dates back to the ancient Indus Valley civilisation. Today, adventure sports like rafting, kayaking, rowing, canoeing and scuba diving have become very popular.

A Source of Energy

During the Industrial Revolution factories were built near fast-flowing rivers to power their machines. In today’s world, where natural resources are rapidly dwindling, rivers are invaluable as a source of renewable energy. They are used to drive hydroelectric power plants, either through dams or run-of-the-river.

A Natural Habitat

Freshwater ecosystems help maintain the balance of nature, providing food and different habitats for plants, aquatic life and animals. The variety of flora and fauna harboured and sustained by rivers are integral to our lives.

A Matter of Survival

India’s religious texts repeatedly refer to water as life, and for good reason. Up to 60 percent of our body is made up of water. A one percent deficiency of water leads to thirst, two percent causes dizziness and fatigue, ten percent makes us disoriented and immobile, and beyond 15 percent leads to death. That’s how vital water is for our survival.

Food for All

Rivers cover 75 percent of the earth’s surface, and they cater to 65 percent of our water needs. Around 70 percent of water is used for agriculture. Farmers in dry regions use canals to irrigate their land. Rivers perform the important function of groundwater replenishment and water storage.

Navigating the Waters

Thanks to rivers, goods—and people—can be transported within countries and around the world. They provide routes for trade, exploration and recreation. The earliest evidence of river navigation dates back to the ancient Indus Valley civilisation. Today, adventure sports like rafting, kayaking, rowing, canoeing and scuba diving have become very popular.

A Source of Energy

During the Industrial Revolution factories were built near fast-flowing rivers to power their machines. In today’s world, where natural resources are rapidly dwindling, rivers are invaluable as a source of renewable energy. They are used to drive hydroelectric power plants, either through dams or run-of-the-river.

A Natural Habitat

Freshwater ecosystems help maintain the balance of nature, providing food and different habitats for plants, aquatic life and animals. The variety of flora and fauna harboured and sustained by rivers are integral to our lives.

The Descent of River Ganga

In India, rivers are not seen as mere geographical entities; they are worshipped as life-giving deities and a whole tapestry of mythology revolves around them. The river Ganga originates from the Gangotri glacier in the western Himalayas. “Mother Ganga” or “Ganga Mata” is revered as India’s most sacred river and as a goddess. Its waters are believed to cleanse people of their sins.

Legend has it that the Ganga descended on earth from heaven. When Lord Vishnu, in his dwarf incarnation, took two steps to cross the universe, he accidentally created a hole in the wall of the universe, through which some of the waters of the river Mandakini spilled out. (Mandakini is the name by which the Ganga is known in heaven.)

Meanwhile, King Bhagirath prayed to Lord Brahma to send the Ganga down to earth. His ancestors, King Sagar’s 60,000 sons, had been reduced to ashes by the sage Kapil, so he vowed to bring the Ganga waters down to purify their ashes and liberate their souls. Pleased with Bhagirath’s earnest prayers, Lord Brahma granted him his wish. However, if the mighty Ganga were to descend from heaven, her sheer force would destroy the earth. Lord Shiva stepped in, offering to protect the earth from direct impact. Catching her waters in his matted hair, he gently released them on earth as seven streams. The Ganga washed over Bhagirath’s ancestors’ ashes and purified them.

“One could say that each of us—every man, woman and child—is a small river; ebbing… flowing… seeking replenishment.”

— Peter Swanson, author

“One could say that each of us—every man, woman and child—is a small river; ebbing… flowing… seeking replenishment.”

— Peter Swanson, author