Nepal is drained by over 6,000 rivers. The spot where two rivers converge is called dovan and the confluence of three rivers is called triveni. Each of these spotsis regarded as sacred. These are places for auspicious bathson special days of the year as well as the place to crematethe dead. It was at one such site in west Nepal on the BheriRiver at Sobhaghat that on December 25, 2007 the bridgesnapped killing over 20 people and injuring many more.
Thoughout human history, people have always beenamazed with the cleansing power of water, and ritual bath-ing has been an integral part of all cultures in the world. Normally, the sources of the rivers are considered mostsacred and there are many festivals at these sites. Muktinathin Mustang District, and Baghdwar, the source of the BagmatiRiver at Shivapuri, are two popular sources that people visitfor ‘cleansing body and soul. Nepali people are generally verypractical and find ways to short cut many tasks. It is perhapswith this in mind that bathing at a dovan is equal to going totwo sources; and even better, bathing at a triveni is the sameas having to visit three river sources.
In the Kathmandu valley, the two major dovans are at Sankhamul ghat where the Bagmati and Manohara meet,and Teku where the Bagmati and Bishnumati meet. At any giventime of the year, week or day, one will see the dead beingcremated or rituals being performed that relate to cleansing thebody and souls of the dead or the living. These sacred sites arealso called tirthas, meaning pilgrimage sites. These are also the siteswhere legendary spiritual leaders are said to have meditated andattained salvation. Many of these sites also have beautiful struc-tures (sattas), where some people choose to spend the last remain-ing days of their lives. The size and design of each satta reflectsthe wealth and power of the patron who had it built.
As we drive to the Tibet border on the Arniko highway, the first dovan we come to is Dolalghat, where the Sunkosi and Indrawati converge. Next, at Jalbire, the Balefi river mixeswith the Sun Kosi. At Barabise, the Sun Kosi and the Bhote Kosi merge. At each of these three dovans there is a major settlement, on the key trade route to Tibet and China. All seven Kosi rivers that drain the entire area of Nepal east of Bhaktapur converge at another sacred site called Baraha. The Sapta Kosi (Seven Kosi) rivers then spread out on to a flood-plain to create the protected wetland and Ramsar site called Kosi Tappu. It is a great place to visit if one loves birds, and itis also home to a small population of Arna, wild water buffa-loes. Downstream of the Kosi Barrage, the Kosi river enters India and is referred to as the ‘sorrow of Bihar’ due to thedestruction it causes by flooding during the monsoon.
As we drive west of Kathmandu and head towards Chitwan, you can wee where the Marsyangdi river mergeswith the Trisuli, at Mugling. A little further along, on the roadto Narayanghat, you can see the Seti River (that, farupstream, flows through Pokhara valley) mix with the Trisuli. Even further along downstream is one of the most sacred dovansin Nepal: Devghat, where the Kali Gandaki and Trisuli riversmeet. From here on the river is known as the Narayani. At Devghatone can observe the great bathing ritual of Magh Sankranti (January15 this year), celebrating the winter solstice. According to thelunar calendar, the days get longer in the northern hemisphereafter the date. On Magh Sankranti, after a cleansing bath at thedovan, people feast on traditional sweets and fruits and roots. Atthe southwest end of Chitwan National Park, the Narayani riverforms a triveni with the Sona and Panchanadi rivers. This site iscurrently in the news over a border dispute (with India).
As the importance of water rises globally and the climate changedebate heats up, the dovans and trivenis of Nepal will not justbecome sacred and ritual bathing places but also the sites to mea-sure flow and discharge levels for monitoring the health of theHimalayas. Dr Tirtha Bahadur Shrestha always referred to thesefestivals at confluences as a community monitoring mechanism.The fact that you can no longer bathe at Teku or Sankhamul, dueto pollution, tells us something about the state of the Bishnumatiand Bagmati rivers. It is obvious that rivers do not have endlesscleansing powers. It is with this in mind that Megh Ale has beenorganizing the Bagmati River Festival as the new festival of the21st century. We also need to learn from the accident on the Bheriand do a proper assessment of where bridges should be located.