<br>The river without fresh water is now only a vast sewage canal that carries all the effluents, waste water, sewer and garbage from upstream cities of Delhi-NCR and Haryana, said Goswami Nandan Shrotriya, of the Sri Mathuradheesh temple in Agra.
On Ganga Dussehra, millions of Hindus take a holy bath and offer puja to the rivers and other water bodies, but the polluted and stinking water of river Yamuna is such a put off the devotees return frustrated and fuming with anger, he added.
It is believed that river Ganges, the holiest river for the Hindus, came down to earth on Ganga Dussehra. "Her birthday is celebrated on Ganga Dussehra with a ritualistic bath in the river, daan of water-melons and kakdi. In Mathura and Vrindavan, temples have special darshans of ‘Thakur ji’ in phool bunglows, gulab jal and a riot of white flowers, the fragrance of Itar," explains Pandit Jugal Kishore.
Normally the government agencies release 1000 cusecs extra water for the Dussehra, but this year this has not been done, and therefore there is a resentment among saints of Braj area.
At the Etmauddaula view point in Agra, the river activists demanded release of fresh water for the ritualistic bath on Tuesday. "So far there is no water in Yamuna, wonder how people will take a bath," says Shishir Bhagat, president of Wake Up Agra.
Each day thousands of devout Vaishnavs from all over the world return disappointed and frustrated from ghats in Braj mandal when they see the pathetic condition of river Yamuna, stinking and rotting with pollutants, dead fish and toxins, flowing down from industrial clusters upstream, in Delhi and Haryana.
Most go to take a holy dip or ‘aachman’ of the river Yamuna, revered as the consort of Sri Krishna, but the water of the river which once Babar, the founder of the Mughal empire, described as ‘better than nectar’ fills them with disgust.
The ghats along the banks of the river are buried in polluted silt. In Vrindavan, the Yamuna today flows at least 30 metres away from the famous Keshi Ghat. "Without fresh water in the river, devotees who will throng the river on Ganga Dussehra, will only feel hurt and cheated. Water should be released from upstream barrages immediately," the activists demanded.
Though some devotees and environmental groups have of late begun cleaning up the ghats in Mathura and Vrindavan – the plan is to scoop out earth and create ponds at the ghats for the pilgrims, but without a minimum flow particularly during the lean months, it is not possible to revive the river or to restore its past glory.
Encroachments in the form of concrete structures on both sides are another major problem. With better road connectivity the number of pilgrim-tourists has increased many folds. On weekends lakhs turn up for a darshan of Bankey Bihari in Vrindavan and a parikrama of the holy Goverdhan hill. "When these people go to Yamuna, the reaction is sharp, negative. Only curses and abuses, one hears," regrets Jagan Nath Poddar, convener of Friends of Vrindavan.
In Mathura, the polluted effluents from hundreds of sari-dyeing units discharged in the river, has only compounded the problem. After the construction of the Gokul Barrage, the river has distanced itself from the historical Gokul ghats. This obviously causes deep resentment and angry outbursts. "The water is not fit for a holy dip or achman. Those who dare to enter the Yamuna downstream of Gokul Barrage, return complaining of itching and burning sensation," according to a panda of Mahavan Radhey Guru.
Reduced to a pale, sickly nullah, the glory and grandeur of Yamuna that attracted the Mughals to build some of the finest monuments like the Taj and Etmauddaula along its banks, will never return, lament the residents of the Yamuna Kinara road in Agra.<br> <br>While the younger folks have generally stayed away from the stinking river which holds no charm for them, people of the older generations do occasionally venture out to conduct ritualistic pujas and baths.
The dozen odd ghats along the river front which once was the centre of a thriving commercial activity and river culture have disappeared without a trace, reducing the 10-km long river front to a vast wasteland.
From Kailash temple to Dussehra Ghat adjacent to the Taj, there were more than a score pucca ghats, some of red sand stones others of marble. Behind the Red Fort there were pucca ghats with highly decorative canopies for the royal females of the Mughals.
Some ghats fell prey to man’s indifference, others were razed to the ground by zealous bureaucrats at late Sanjay Gandhi’s orders during the emergency to make way for a picturesque river front like Mumbai’s Chowpati. But before that dream could materialize politics took a U turn and Indira Gandhi was swept out of power in 1977 elections.
Today, the river of decadence is an eyesore. Those who take the Yamuna Kinara road are often seen covering their noses to keep away the foul odour of the stinking mess.
Environmentalist Devashish Bhattacharya laments "those were the days when the whole city of Agra used to spend leisurely summer evenings on the river bank which had a long row of temples, when children used to feed the tortoises and a whole lot of cultural and religious activities used to be performed here. But now the people have turned away and have even forgotten there’s a river in the city."
Hathi Ghat near the fort still survives but the whole area has been rampaged by transport companies whose vehicles are parked there. River Connect Campaign members warn "if the ghats disappear, the river culture, the annual melas and tamashas, the tairaki (swimming contests, patangbazi and the mass bathing programmes on festivals would vanish too."
Citizens groups have been exerting pressure on the government agencies to take up cleanliness drives, build pucca ghats and dredge out silt from the river bed to hold back monsoon overflow, but so far there has been no positive response.
The Agra Heritage Lovers Group, in its memorandum sent to the prime minister has urged him to replicate the Sabarmati model in Agra and Mathura. "The Sabarmati river in Ahmedabad was reduced to a dirty drain, but Modi sarkar carried out structural changes and the success is there for all to see," says Gopal Singh of the Group.