Hiranyakeshi – The Spring of Life
By Roshni Udyavar


Most of us are drawn towards adventure, or at least the mysterious - an elementary drive to know and explore beyond the frontiers of the known world.  Without exception, we all endorse the idea of freedom.  And despite the laws that govern our civilized world, we are, in our hearts, anarchists, endowed with all the animal instincts bestowed by nature to biological life. Increasingly, however, our technology-driven anthropocentric world has stripped nature of these very qualities leaving behind a mechanical life incapable of dealing with the real world. No wonder, our primeval forests are disappearing, wild animals are becoming endangered and even rivers are all but gone.

In such a dismaying world, Hiranyakeshi represents renewal and hope.

Wild and youthful, she originates from a cave in the almost dreamlike village of Amboli   2500 ft. above sea level and 25 kms from Sawantwadi in the Sindhudurga district of Maharashtra.  There, according to the explorer who first dared enter these caves in 1990, it flows through 27 kunds before finally emerging from the dark subliminal womb of mother Sahayadri.  Unlike other rivers originating in the region, which flow southwest into the Arabian Sea, Hiranyakeshi flows eastward through the district of Kolhapur and Belgaum to join river Krishna in Karnataka before finally culminating as “Ghataprabha” into the Arabian Sea.

“Hiranyakeshi” meaning ‘One with golden hair’ in Sanskrit, hardly resembles the deity whose           rudimentary stone idol guards the cave entrance.  Natives have demarcated the region as ‘Devrai’ or ‘sacred grove,’ a place where human beings are debarred from entering.  Irrespective of precipitation, radiation or climatic conditions, water flows out of the cave incessantly for 365 days a year.  Once a year on Shivratri, about hundred thousand people gather here to take a dip in the holy water, believed to posses curing properties.

The place itself, quiet, except for the sound of flowing water and occasional cries of peahens, is filled with a distinct sanctity. Phallic and vaginic symbols sculpted in stone are scattered around the grove indicating a reverence for life and the divinity of love. One at once experiences a strong oneness with the flowing water, the spring of life, the element which constitutes, three-fourths of our physical form – a feeling of unison with the entire creation.  Here is life in its restless vitality forging an intimate bond with the forest and its diverse life forms.  The thought itself is liberating.  The freshness and youth of the river is inspiring, a rejuvenation for the tired mind of the city.

Beyond its spiritual manifestation, Hiranyakeshi is a scientists’ delight.  The beginning of this perennial river from a cave is neither mysterious, nor even incidental.  Geologists will tell you that it is the natural course taken by running water along a predominantly limestone drainage basin.  The Hiranyakeshi River originates in the Kaldagi group of the Sahayadri range, which mainly consists of quartzite, sandstones, minor conglomerates, shales and limestone.  Its flow eastward (unlike other rivers in the region which flow southwest) is natural as it follows along the limestone and quartzite terrain extending southeast into the Kolhapur district.

Among all minerals, limestone alone is capable of dissolving in flowing water, in the process sculpting spectacular caves in the earth’s mantle.  In contrast, most underground rivers are unable to expand and erode the surrounding rocks due to low surface tension afforded by the terrain. The river thus emanating from caves, carries dissolved minerals such as magnesium sulfate or epsomite, whose purified compound is used in medicine as Epsom salts.

Yet, caves and underground rivers are a rarity.  They are sparsely distributed in the world concentrated in predominantly limestone terrains such as those found in Slovenia. It is known as ‘Karst’ from the Slovenian word ‘Kras’ after the region that now straddles between the former Yugoslavia and Italy border, east of the port of Trieste.  Here, water plays with the land, now appearing as a river now as a lake and now disappearing underground.  This phenomenon can be observed almost on a day to day basis.  The Postojna caves in Slovenia carved by an underground river presents 20 km of singular craftsmanship sculpted by nature over millions of years. It is this kinetic ability of water that gives expression to art.

There is so much more that can be said about this magnanimous river, but words fail here.  Beyond, one has to experience her spiritual presence in the mystical folds of the Sahayadri, where she invites you for an encounter with the eternal.


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