Plagued by toxic algal blooms and shrinking at an alarming rate, the life source of Kerala’s literary past and present is ailing.

Reviving Sokanasini How a village library in Kerala is on a quest to save a dying river
news River Rejuvenation Thursday, February 01, 2018 - 09:50

It could well be the waters that birthed the great language of Malayalam, for it was on the banks of the ‘Sokanasini’ in Chittur, Palakkad, that Thunchaththu Ezhuthachan, father of the Malayalam language, penned down the first letters of the script.

Ezhuthachan, who lived and breathed his last on the banks of this river, translated the great epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata into a script inspired by both Tamil and Sanskrit. The language thrived and birthed generations of native speakers (the entire state of Kerala), not to forget countless literary classics. 

However, the river that inspired him is today in a sorrowful state.

Plagued by toxic algal blooms and shrinking at an alarming rate, the life source of Kerala’s literary past and present is ailing. However, all hope is not lost as Panchajanyam, a tiny village library, concerned about the river’s condition, has embarked on a decade long quest to revitalise this literary and cultural icon of Chittur.

“We are a small taluk in Palakkad and our river is the source of water in the town. However, for years now, the Sokanasini, one of the main tributaries of the Bharatapuzha, has been starved of water and choked by algae and sediments. We have taken a 1 km stretch on the southern banks of the river and cleared the algae and sediments from the river bed,” said Madhusudhanan, a member of the Sokanasini Samrakhshana Samiti in Chittur.

The members have plans of using watershed management and rain water harvesting techniques to boost the water levels in the river.

“We will be cleaning up the dried up chaalukal or drains near the street sides and houses. The water captured during the rains will be channeled to the river through these newly cleaned drains, recharging the river water levels,” Madhusudhanan said.

Acknowledging that not much can be done as, according to them,  the scourge of water scarcity begins with the check dams that block the natural flow of the river, the members have resorted to smaller ways to recharge the water levels.

“The river which runs its course through Palakkad, Malappuram and Ponani takes 12 hours to drain into the Arabian sea. However, its flow is blocked by various necessary and unnecessary check dams that lie on its course. Since the water from the dams are not released, we are trying to recharge the river in other, smaller and natural ways,” he said.  

The library also undertook a clean-up of the banks by clearing overgrown weeds and removing plastics. They also collected funds from residents and brought JCBs to remove the sediment deposits in the river.

“The river is not entirely dried-up. There are strong base currents and with a little effort from the community we can save it,” said Madhusudhanan.

Further, the members also aim to spread awareness in schools and colleges and rope in NCC and NSS cadets for future clean-up drives.

“During April and May, there is acute water scarcity. But with the arrival of the monsoons, everyone forgets this and resumes wasting water. We want to change this pattern,” he said.

The week old initiative was conceived by the library in the beginning of the year.

“Puduvarsham Puzhayodoppam (new year with the river) is the slogan we use to spread awareness about the initiative. And we hope to inspire other districts and towns around the Sokanasini and other areas to come together and help their rivers. We know that it will take several years and many more library groups like ours to revive the whole river. But this is a start,” he said.

The library, which is looking at gradual and holistic revival of the river, also aims to build bathing facilities on the river bank for the people.

“Just as the river lived inside Ezhuthachan,we want the Sokanasini to also be a part of the people of Chittur and live inside them,” he said.