The Brahmaputra- red river

Emerging from the holy Himalayas and flowing as the’Tsangpo’ across the heights of the Tibetan Plateau, it belongs to mystic Tibet. Rushing down in furious haste through deep chasms and narrow gorges as the ‘Siang/Dihang’, it belongs to Arunachal Pradesh. The floods and alluvia it brings as the Jamuna have induced  the people of Bangladesh to make this river their very own.

The oldest veriable name for the Brahmaputra in Assam, Lao-Tu, and its Bodo derivation, Ti-Lao, is ascribed to the Austro-Asiatic people who are thought to be some of the earliest inhabitants of this region. But the first recorded name of the river, Lauhitya, presumed to be Sanskritisation of the Austric word, is to be found in ancient Aryan literature, Brahmaputra being coined at a much later date.

In a more colloquial, intimate and loving way people of Assam call it ‘Borluit’ or ‘Burhaluit’.

It is the nourishing presence which over shadows all else in the valley and surrounding hills, animates the dwellers and lends vibrancy to their day to day existence, sustains their culture and shapes their imagintion. The Brahmaputra, for the people of the region is, in fact, the very soul of Assam.

Jawaharlal Nehru, in his ‘The Discovery of India’ points out that the Brahmaputra was “rather cut off from the main currents of (Indian) history”. Perhaps this lies at the root of the indifferent displayed by the rest of India towards this river.

As Dr. D.C. Goswami, who has devoted a lifetime to the scientific study of this river, puts it: “A gigantic fluvial system with unique characteristics of flow, sediment transportation and channel configuration, the Brahmaputra river is close to a virgin when it comes to fluvial research”.

The river Brahmaputra is indubitably the propulsive force behind the making of Assam’s history. Not merely a silent witness, but an active adjutant of Clios! Since the valley is its gift and it is older than hills, its history is the history of the region.

The name Brahmaputra was first mention in the ‘Kalikapurana’, which was written around the 10th century AD.

The Assamese cultural icon, Bishnu Prasad Rabha, had sought to establish that the name Brahmaputra was of derivation from a Bodo word ‘Bhullumbuthor’ or the ‘river of bubbling water’.

Dr. John Peter Wade in his ‘Account of Assam’ said as ‘Berhampooter’.

The Austric Lao-Tu or Tibeto Burman Ti-Lao which means ‘clear water’.

The Sanskrit derivation Lauhitya translates as the ‘river of blood’ or ‘red river’.

The ‘Kalikapurana’ devotes an entire section to the Brahmaputra and relates the Santanu-Amogha myth of its creation in a more elaborate and unambiguous manner, in the Puranic style of narration.

Sage Santanu lived with his wife Amogha sometimes in Kailash, sometimes on the bank of a big Kund or tank called Lohita and somestimes on the top of mount Gandhamadan. Once, the sage went far away from his Ashram  to gather fruit and flowers. Meanwhile, Pitamaha Brahma, the Creator, came on his swan to his cottage in quest of Santanu and saw his wife. Amogha was beautiful as a celestial nymph. Her beauty so enamoured the cretor that he wished to have a child by her which would benefit the world.But the chaste Amogha not only did not recognise Brahma. Brahma, thereupon, returned to Brahmalok after leaving his semen behind.Santan, on seeing the fire-like semen lying on the ground, learned of Brahma’s visit and his desire. He meditated and utilising his divine powers, recognised the Creator’s true intention.

Whereupon Amogha requested her husband to drink the semen himself and sprinkle it into her womb. She conceived and in course of time gave birth to a watery form which in appearance looked exactly like Brahma. Santanu placed this form, called Brahmakund. With the passage of time it grew into a lake, swelling up to fourty miles and looking like a vast sea. Brahma himself blessed his child and gave it the name Lauhitya Ganga. God and Goddesses came to bathe in it and drink its pure water.

Much later it fell to the lot of the sage Parasurama to cleave the bank of the Brahmakunda and cause the Brahmaputra to flow as a river.

Parasurama, the son of Jamadagni gave the form of water to the offspring of Amogha, the wife of Santanu and hurriedly brought it down to inundate the region of Kamarupa. The sober son of Brahma flooded all the sacred lakes and submerged all the holy places and made them concealed under the earth.

Parasurama was the son of sage Jamadagni and Renuka. One day Renuka was sent to fetch water from the Ganges for his worship. While on the bank of the river she was enraptured by the sight of a beautiful young king, Chitratha, indulging in watersport with his companions,and was afflicted with unbecoming passion.

Jamadagni at once understood the reason why she was late in fetching the water. Overcome by rage, Jamadagni ordered his sons to cut off their mother’s head. Parasurama, ever obedient to parental commands, picked up an axe and severed Renuka’s head. Thus he was burned with matricide- that the axe remained stuck to his hand was a reminder of the heinous nature of the crime!

Even Jamadagni, who had acquired divine powers though meditation and could restore Renuka to life, could not redeem Parasurama from his terrible sin, nor remove the axe from his palm. Parasurama visiting and bathing holy places, but was unable to get rid of the axe. However, on taking a dip in the Brahmakunda, the bloody axe which had been a symbol of his sin finally slid away from his hand and he was redeemed. Such a miracle convinced him of the sacred nature of the water of the Brahmakunda, and he grew determined to make it flow to the plains so that entire creation could benefit from it. Then the valiant Parasurama stood on the bank of Lohita and cut a way for the Brahmaputra to flow in the eastern direction.

The Brahmaputra is ranked 4th among largest rivers of the World in terms of Discharge and Sediment Yield.

1st Amazon, 2nd Congo, 3rd Yangze, 12th Ganges.

The Brahmaputra river’s 650 km long journey through the valley ends at the town of Dhubri, after it enters Bangladesh and takes on yet another name if not another identity.

Length within Tibet (China) is 1625km. Length within India is 918km. Length within Bangladesh upto confluence with Ganges is 337km.

Total length from Source to Confluence with Ganges is 2880 km.

The mighty Brahmaputra, holy site of the great synthesis, has for untold centuries been propagating the message of unity and harmony.

The Brahmaputra river and its tributaries find echoes in the culture and ethoes of the people, their folk-lore and literature, and in the very rhythm of their lives. A largely rural, agrarian society with an essentially hydrologic culture is absolutely dependent on river-systems like that of the Brahmaputra for its survival.

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