On a mellow chilly wintry day the tree-laden banks of the Kali Bein, in the midst of the pandemic, are exceptionally calm and tranquil. Laughter from a lone bunch of tourists and an occasional whirl of a bike engine are the only sounds making inroads into silence and interrupting sweet crooning of the birds. The Bein flows gleefully – its characteristic dark waters canopied by the shadows of the sky-embracing trees swaying on the banks look like an abstract painting, limned by nature’s lily hands.
The holy town of Sultanpur Lodhi could have lost it all almost 21 years ago. Thanks to the efforts undertaken by Sant Balbir Singh Seechewal who spearheaded the Kar Sewa movement that led to the cleaning up of the stream’s bed and himself waded shoulder-deep to uproot weeds, muck from the water hyacinth-ridden Bein. Eventually, water released from the Mukerian Hydel Project got the river running through the town. However, today there are some fresh threats such as modernisation, development and tourism on the horizon for the recently-revived Bein.
Originating from the natural springs at the Dhanoa village, the Kali Bein flows for 165 km ending at the confluence of the Beas and Sutlej rivers at the Harike Pattan. A historical well at its originating point has been neglected long due to a dispute over its ownership. Its deep springs and overflowing waters are now reduced to several feet of murky waters. However, the Bein has been kept alive by the Mukerian Hydel Channel. It is also the key source of water to the Kanjli Wetlands, a Ramsar site.
Guru Nanak Dev’s first love
Guru Nanak Dev’s loved the rivulet for this is where he drank life’s nectar and attained enlightenment. It’s believed that he took a dip into the Kali Bein and emerged out three days later — enlightened. While the first Sikh Guru disappeared one morning near the beri at the site of the present-day Ber Sahib gurdwara, the spot where he stepped out, is now marked by the Sant Ghat gurdwara, built to commemorate the historic event. The mool mantar was also recited at the same site. This spot is now getting another addition – the Mool Mantar Sthan, a huge circular building which shall house a multimedia museum and a museum of Guru Nanak Dev.
The rampant colonisation of its previously untouched and pristine banks is stoking concerns. The kar sewa and subsequent Seechewal model of groundwater revival attracted a string of stalwarts such as former President APJ Abdul Kalam, Bihar CM Nitish Kumar, Madhya Pradesh CM Shivraj Singh Chauhan and so on.
On the 550th Parkash Utsav of Guru Nanak Dev, lakhs of devotees took a dip. The occasion also marked several new projects, bridges, plantation and beautification work in the town and on the banks. In 2000, when Sant Seechewal started the clean-up task, the banks were totally concrete-free only surrounded by fields. But now, it is spotted with bustling markets, several colonies and gurdwaras and a bunch of new upcoming buildings on both sides.
|Help me! The hyacinth-ridden Kali Bein before the year 2000. It was choked by weeds, straws and discarded carcasses, which were all fished out during the Kar Sewa initiative. As many as 3,000 kar sewaks volunteered in the cleaning process.|
While beautification works did their part — ornamented banks, steps, stonewalls, earthen pot-lined fixtures, lamps, a museum and a plethora of plants and benches — some unwanted fixtures have also sprouted. There is a bustling market on one side with restaurants venting chimneys right into Bein’s face and residential colonies obscuring the pathways.
Environmentalist Balbir Singh Seechewal says: “The Bein is pristine and there is a need to reduce the carbon footprint around it. Rampant development will lead to further pollution in future. We have been raising issues about the construction of new buildings, sites and places but it goes on unabated.”