River of Love in an Age of Pollution: The Yamuna River of Northern India

By Basu, Pratyusha | Journal of Ecological Anthropology, January 1, 2007 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

River of Love in an Age of Pollution: The Yamuna River of Northern India

Basu, Pratyusha, Journal of Ecological Anthropology

River of Love in an Age of Pollution: The Yamuna River of Northern India DAVID HABERMAN UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS, BERKELEY, CA, 2006 xv + 277 PP. $26.95 PAPERBACK


As human-induced environmental problems take on global proportions, understanding the intersections of religion and environmentalism has become part of attempts to expand the scope of contemporary environmental debates. seeking to harness the positive aspects of religious beliefs, including the ability to reflect on the larger questions of human existence and the perseverance to accede to the everyday demands of a moral life, David Haberman's study of Hindu religious practices along India's Yamuna river is a significant addition to the field of religious environmentalism. Melding poetic contemplation, scientific measurement, and environmental activism, Haberman traces the Yamuna river through the heartland of India, drawing particular attention to the region of Braj, where the Yamuna river is especially revered and currently the object of active efforts for protection.

Chapter 2 begins with an oft-asked question: Is Hinduism eco-friendly? Given that the deified personification of elements of nature is central to Hindu religious practices, the answer to this question seems self-evident. Haberman however points out that many scholars have argued to the contrary, asserting that the transcendental aspects of Hinduism are obstacles to serious engagement with the material aspects of nature. Against this, Haberman posits that while Hinduism does include worlddenying asceticism, or advaita traditions, it also comprises world-affirming temple cults in the form of the bhaguata tradition. In the case of religious and environmentalist activities around the Yamuna river, it is the latter strand that dominates. But the question central to Haberman's study is not the question of existing Hindu traditions as much as that of the future of river-based religious environmentalism in India. What happens to the divinity of the river when its water is visibly loaded with sewage?

To gain some insight into possible futures of river-centered religiosity, Haberman begins at the source of the Yamuna in Chapter 3. His own immersion in devotional activities associated with the river emerges vividly here, and journeys of many kinds permeate this chapter: pilgrims attest to the river's ability to ward off the sufferings of death, and the idol of the river itself is ceremonially carried to her brother's house where she resides for part of the year. Chapter 4 takes on a different tone, as the Yamuna flows through the city of Delhi, a city defined by its location on the banks of the river, and now responsible for changing the nature of the river for the worse. As Haberman recounts the degradation of water quality of the Yamuna at Delhi, he is also documenting the history of urbanization in India, and poetic rhythms fade in the dire predictions of environmental reports.

Chapter 4 is the center of the book. It focuses on the region of Braj, associated according to Haberman with the most passionate forms of worship of the Yamuna. The polluted nature of the river at Braj, given that the region is located downstream of Delhi, may raise concerns about the clash between its ritual significance and material impurity. The discussion in Chapter 2 of pilgrimages to the source of the river may suggest that there are other sites that are equally sacred and much cleaner that can be associated with the Yamuna. Haberman however skillfully utilizes poetic texts and ethnographic evidence to depict how links between the river Yamuna and the cowherd god Krishna make the river's journey through Braj the most meaningful part of its course. The only problem with such depictions, and one that Haberman alludes to in an endnote [note 134, p.252], is the ways in which the female river attains meaning through male deities, whether through taking the form of the lover of Krishna in Braj, or as the sister of Yama at its source.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

River of Love in an Age of Pollution: The Yamuna River of Northern India


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?