IIAS Annual Integration Conference
River in the Literary Cultures of India
23-24 March 2020

Convened by Dr. Arzuman Ara, Assistant Professor, EFL University, Shillong Campus.

Concept Note

River as a living entity is deeply entrenched in our literary and cultural consciousness. In Indian culture, river is divine; it gives and nurtures life. The river-consciousness is so pervasive in our cultural imaginary that it finds a place of importance in day today life in the form of riddles, idioms, phrases, and also in folklores, songs, and fictional narratives. The mythic and the spiritual meet in the origin of rivers and many shrines that adorn their banks. Rivers in India are also pivotal to our ritual culture. The holiness and purifying power of rivers resonate in the common chant in Hindu ritual practice:

गंगे च यमुने चैव गोदावरि सरस्वति । नर्मदे सिंधु कावेरि जलेऽस्मिन् सन्निधिं कुरु ।। (Sri Bruhannardiya Puran)
(O rivers Ganga, Yamuna, Godavari, Saraswati, Narmada, Sindhu and Kaveri, please enrich the water I am bathing with, with your presence).

The sloka from Sri Bruhannardiya Puran is not simply an utterance but a deep reflection that validates the idea of cleaning the unclean thereby cleansing all our sins or impurities. Further, the river goddess is also a source of our happiness in this world and the means of our liberation from worldly life (Moksha). So in worshipping the Holi river Ganga we seek her blessings:

नमामि गंगे तव पादपंकजं सुरासुरैर्वन्दितदिव्यरूपाम्।
भुक्तिं च मुक्तिं च ददासि नित्यं भावानुसारेण सदा नराणाम् ।
(O Mother Ganga, the bestower of all worldly happiness, pleasures and Moksha as per the different levels of bhav of the worshipper, all Deities and demons worship your Holy feet, I too offer obeisance at your Holy feet).

Besides the life giving force of the rivers, we often, celebrate the confluence of Ganga-Jamuna referring to India’s syncretic culture (Ganga-Jamuna Tehzeeb). From the religious-spiritual to cultural syncretism, rivers in India become living symbols for creative writers across centuries. In folk literature rivers become source of many stories being the cause of both uniting and dividing people. Particularly in the Bhatiali songs of Bengal, the river stands witness to the unfolding drama of a women’s life. The same consciousness historically extends to the lives of widows in Kashi in 19th century bhasa literatures. Rivers have become living symbols for not of joy but also sorrow as in compositions that underline the devastating power of the river (an example could be Keki N Daruwalla’s “The Ghagara in Spate”). In creative writing across bhasas there are innumerable river poems (contrary to Ghagara, Mayadhar Mansingh, the Odia poet’s “Mahanadire Nauka Vihar”, [Boat Ride in Mahanadi] could be an example of romantic escapism). Writings on/about rivers could be either celebration of life or about the devastation that a river brings to many homes. Rivers become powerful images of our religious spiritual culture both historically and culturally as in case of Narmada, Godavari and Kaveri (an example could be Gita Mehata’s River Sutra). The river has been witness to the flow of life in unbound suffering of the common people in Tarashakar Bandopodhaya’s Hansuli Banker Upakatha. Similarly, another Bengali novel Padma Nadir Majhi by Manik Bondopadhaya is a strong statement about the life of the fishing community. In many of the Partition narratives the river becomes the silent observer and a border-marker in the politico-historical experience of the country.

The river as a metaphor unfolds the drama of life as it captures our imagination in diverse ways. Besides creative writing, rivers in India have been part of popular and folk cultures through songs. Phupen Hazarika’s compositions on Brahmaputra, Akshaya Mohanty’s on Mahanadi and of many others from other languages charm us and also remind us of our cultural longing and belonging. The rivers come to life through visual culture in films, documentaries and in many ritual bath celebrations such as Kumba or Sagar Mela. From epic period to the present time, in the diverse aspects of our cultural journey over centuries, rivers have been central to many of

cultural practices, narratives, compositions and so on. River becomes part of our shared heritage and culture. The “river-ness” of a river gives rise to a number of metaphors, allegories and images. The flow of the river is often compared to the flow of life and of time that underlines continuity of life. The river in this sense becomes an entity of eternity as Tennyson’s ruminates, “…man may come and man may go,/but I go on forever.”

Themes of the Seminar:-

The seminar is aimed at bringing together cultural and creative conversations as we explore the centrality of rivers in our cultural life. The Seminar would invite papers on the following themes:
1. River in India’s creative and cultural Imaginary
2. River as a Living Culture: Myths, Cultural Practices and Holiness of Rivers in India
3. River and Narrative Culture: Bhasa Literatures
4. River and Folk Cultures
5. River and Gender
6. River and Children
7. River and Popular Culture
8. River and Visual Culture
9. Identity, Agency and River: Community Consciousness
10. Territory and trans-territory figurations in River literature
11. River and Historical Consciousness


A limited number of participants will be invited for the Seminar. Those interested in participating should send -by email-an abstract of 500 words of the proposed paper along with their brief C.V. (of around 200 words) to:

1. Dr Arzuman Ara,
Assistant Professor,
EFL University, Shillong Campus. Email: arzumanara@eflushc.ac.in
With a copy to:

2. Ms. Ritika Sharma,
Academic Resource Officer,
Indian Institute of Advanced Study,
Rashtrapati Nivas, Shimla- 171005
Tel: 0177-2831385 Email: aro@iias.ac.in

The last date for submission of abstract (500 words) is 5 January 2020 till 12:00 midnight. The Institute intends to send Invitation letters to selected participants in February 2020. It is the policy of the Institute to publish the papers not proceedings of the seminars it organizes. Hence, all invited participants will be expected to submit complete papers (English or Hindi), hitherto unpublished and original, with citations in place, along with a reference section, to the Academic Resource Officer, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla– 171005 by 9th March, 2020. IIAS, Shimla will be glad to extend its hospitality (free hospitality is provided only to the seminar participant) during the seminar period and is willing to reimburse, if required, rail or air travel expenses from the place of current residence in India, or the port of arrival in India, and back.

Note: Plagiarism is a serious academic offense and the Institute reserves the right to cancel the selection/participation of a candidate found guilty at any stage.