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Home >> History Himalayas >> Himalayan Sages
Clash of the Sages
Indian Himalays
Sutlej, Beas, Ravi, Jhelum And Chenab

Ravi River To the north west of India runs the river Indus. While today most of the Indus does not flow within India, five tributaries of the Indus drain the Indian land. Where all five of them run, that area has come to be known as Punjab or the area of five rivers. The five rivers are Sutlej, Beas, Ravi, Jhelum and Chenab. These rivers in turn have their tributaries and because of them the northern part of Indian soil is very fertile.

Each of the five rivers has a mythological reason for its being. Interestingly most of them have something or other to do with the enmity between two great sages: Vashishta and Vishwamitra. Although both the seers were equally well versed in the sacred texts, they often crossed swords due to the impetuousness of Vishwamitra.

Legend Of River Iravati Or Ravi
The story goes that there was once a king named Sudasa. For many long years the sage in his court was Vishwamitra and then Vashishta. When Vashishta was performing all the prayers for the king, a war broke out and king Sudasa found he had to fight many kings at the same time. Although king Sudasa was brave, his enemies were brutal. They decided to dig the course of the river along a route that would harm him and make it difficult for him to fight. That is how they dug the route of river Iravati. Vishwamitra was watching with glee. But the King of Kings, Indra was also watching. He willed just the other way round and the righteous king Sudasa won because his enemies were drowned in river Iravati. The same river that was to create a hurdle in king Sudasa's life, became his saviour. .

River Iravati is now Ravi, a major river of Punjab running a full 450 miles from its source in the mountains of Bungall, in Rohtang Pass. River Ravi is hydrates of Arrean, Adris of Ptolemy, Hyarotes of Strabo and Phaudis of Pliny. In Vedic literature, it has also been called "Purushini" or "Parushini".

Other Legends Connected To River Ravi
During its early stages, Ravi was also called "Raina". After it passes by the city of Champa in Himachal Pradesh it acquire the name Ravi. The waters of Ravi are redder than the adjoining rivers, and it is believed that the deposits made by the river are very fertile. Ravi moves in a tortuous channel, and its swift waters are used to carry timber. River Ravi is fordable eight months of the year. Within a few metres from Chamba the river meets river Tavi. The two together pass through Gurdaspur and Amritsar districts of Punjab and finally merge into the waters of river Chenab and Jhelum.

Vashishta did not come to harm. In fact his reputation grew. Vishwamitra decided to visit the great sage in his hermitage. When he did, he found that the sage Vashishta had a cow named "Kamadenu". It laid a feast at command. When sage Vishwamitra saw this feat, he wanted the cow. Vashishta refused to give him the cow. Vishwamitra made many excuses. "Please, " he said, "You better," he threatened. "For God's sake," he implored. But Vashishta was unmoved. He said he would not be able to part with the cow.

Sage Vishwamitra on contemplation found he was left with no other way but to steal the cow, which he did. But the sage of such wisdom should have known that if a cow could lay a feast at command, it must be a thinking cow, unlike the magic objects that jack of beanstalk fame found. But blinded by desire, as Vishwamitra was, he did not think and just stole the cow. Having tied it to his hermitage, he relaxed to mull over his success. Instead he found a thousand warriors marching towards him!

Up he got and away he went to investigate. He found Kamadenu had begotten so many warriors to fight this impulsive sage and get back to her old master. Indeed Vishwamitra was defeated and Kamadenu went back to Vashishta.

Legend Of River Vipasa Or Beas
Vipasa River While this story was related by a celestial being to Arjuna, a hero from the epic Mahabharata, he happens to remember the story of a king called Kalmashapada also. Kalmashapada was hunting the forest where Vashishta's son was doing penance. As they both met on a single path, each waited for the other to give way. Nothing happened, only time ticked past and anger mounted. The king said since he was a monarch, he should have the right of way. Shakti, the name of Vashishta's son, refused to give way and asked the king to do so. The impatient king shot at Shakti and the latter cursed him. "May your temper be the reason for you to turn animal like - eating flesh and living like a monster". Somewhere, sitting trying to do penance, the sage Vishwamitra heard this. He hurried forth and caused such a fight to happen that ultimately king Kalmashadapa ate Shakti himself. Thereafter, Vishwamitra caused the king to devour the other sons of Vashishta too.

Vashishta was very upset. He did not think of revenge. He just thought of ending his own life. But how to end life, he wondered. He tried many ways of doing so, but somehow never succeeded in killing him self. All the methods he had tried, he reasoned, were not severe enough. Finally, as he was walking back to his hermitage, he saw a river in full spate. So much water it carried and at such speed that Vashishta thought be had found his death. Strapping a big a boulder as possible to himself, he jumped into the waters thinking he would drown and with him his sorrows would also drown. The joy of finding an end to his sorrows made Vashishta speed up his actions and he fell into the river of blue waters.

The river, however, was a blessed one. It lifted the noble sage from his despondency, not only mentally, but even physically, thus landing him safe on the shore with just one single wave. This river then got the name Vipasa or the one who liberates by granting insight. It destroyed the bonds of Vashishta. He emerged a man freed from his sorrows, as one who understood the meaning of mortality and immortality. 'Pasa' means attachments and 'Vipasa' means removal of worldly attachments. Today it is the very same river which is called Beas and on its banks lie many an abode of numerous wise men.

River Beas as Vipas or Vipasa has been mentioned in ancient Indian literature including the Vedas and the Mahabharata. The Greeks knew it as river "Hyphasis" or "Hypanis" or "Bipasis". There is also some mention in Indian literature that an even more antiquated name for this river was "Urunjira". No wonder then, that many a mythological tale has been woven around the banks of river Beas.

Rising from the southern verge of the Rohtang Pass in Lahaul this river from the north eastern part of Punjab flows southwards to meet the Indus at Mithankot, Pakistan. Its source is at a height of 13,200 metres above sea level, and is considered a sacred place for worship. The total length of river Beas is 290 miles.

Legend Of River Sutlej
Sutlej RiverContinuing the story of sage Vashishta, though he was cured of attachments, he still did not desire to live. He went further and entered the waters of river Sutlej (also spelt as Satluj).

As soon as Vashishta entered the waters of river Sutlej, it bifurcated into a hundred channels, thus preventing the sage from drowning. That is why Sutlej is also called "Statadru" or with hundred arms. Satadru was also referred to as river "Haimavati" and the Greeks called it "Hupanis". When Alexander came to India, this river became the limit of his march.

Rising from near the Manasarovar, this river pierces the Ssivalik (also spelt Sivalik or Shiwalik) hills at Ropar, where an ancient settlement dated to the Harappan period has been excavated. Sutlej runs where it wishes, and often change course in its 900-mile journey from the source to the ocean.

Sutlej is written about extensively in both literature and the annals of farming in Punjab for it is one of the larger tributaries.

Legend Of River Chenab
Rising from a height of 16,000 ft. the Chenab was also known as "Asikini" or the dark one. In Vedic texts, this river has been referred to as Chandrabagha. Te Greeks call it "Akesines". It is believed that the river itself has many medicines. There is a passage in the Rig Veda, which asks for medicines from the rivers Indus and Chandrabagha. There is a myth, which says that if anybody lives along the banks of Chandrabagha and bathes in it for seven consecutive days observing simultaneously a fast, and then he or she will definitely attain salvation..

The river Chenab rises as two streams, Chandra and Bhagha. When they joint together the river is called "Chandrabagha". In this form, the river flows through the states of Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir and finally into Pakistan.

River Jehlum : Repository of Myths and Legends
River JehlumRiver Jhelum has been called variously. As "Vitasta" in the Vedas, as "Bebat" by the Mughal emperor Jehangir, "Hydaspes" of the Arreans and "Bidaspes" of Ptolemy. Sharf-ud-din, a historian of Taimur calls it "Dendan" or "Gamad". Locally this river is also known as "Veth". Jehangir who called it bebat was very fond of this river. He has written in his memoirs that the source of the river is at Verinag in Kashmir and the story goes that a very large snake haunted the spot. The waters, he wrote were so clear that if a small poppy seed were dropped in it, it would be visible so. Much so that he called this spot "heaven on earth".

That Jehangir believed a snake was guarding the source of river Jhelum is not surprising. Long long ago, the story goes, the land of Kashmir was a lake called "Satidesa". The name originates from another mythological story, which says this was the land of Shiva's consort, Uma. In fact, they say the land itself was Uma personified. It happened that a fight was on between 'Vasuki', the Snake and 'Garuda' the bird. Vasuki sought Lord Vishnu's blessings and so was given a safe abode in Satidesa. But within Satisaras Lake lived a demon by the name of 'Jalodbhava'. He started threatening and harassing the snakes.

Once again the snakes were in trouble. They prayed to God and Lord Vishnu gave them a suggestion. He asked the snakes to burrow a hole though the hills to drain the lake and thereafter kill the demon. That fantastic idea was adopted by the snakes and Ananta Naga pierced the hole. Uma (also known as Parvati and Sati) entered the waters herself and brought it out through the holes to flow down as river Jhelum. The demon was killed once the lake was drained.

Of deep blue colour, river Jhelum joins the Wular Lake after going along Srinagar, which sits on its banks. Before joining Wular Lake, the river takes many turns, and this change of course keeps its pace in check. It is also believed that from the patterns that river Jhelum forms, a certain type of embroidery, which is typical of Kashmir, was born - full of loops and curves.

Flowing a total course of 450 miles, the whole valley through which it flows is very picturesque and beautiful. In fact, Kashmir's cultural heritage rests on the banks of river Jhelum.