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What does WATER mean to you?

Welcome. This is a story of Bengaluru's river Vrishabhavathi.

Told as part of the new media art residency organized by Sensistan Foundation, March 2024.  Team: Gowri, Malcolm, Pranav, Sajal, Vikram, Sanjay. 

VRISHABHAVATHI & BENGALURU, a river and a city

The BULL RIVER of BENGALURU, an illustrated poem

VRISHABHAVATHI & BENGALURU, a river and a city


Hello Bengaluru!


We have a tragic situation. A city of lakes and a river is also a city with a severe water crisis. Vrishabhavathi, Bengaluru's river with a rich past and a strong spiritual connection to the city is today severely degraded, is a cesspool of toxic waste and is widely misunderstood as a gutter and a drain. This exhibit is the sad story of Vrishabhavathi, Bengaluru's own river and hopes to raise awareness about the dire condition of our waterways. 

Vrishabhavathi is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Vrishabha’, which means Bull.


It is said that the river originates at the feet of the monolithic Nandi statue at the Big Bull Temple in Basavanagudi. Hence it is titled ‘Vrishabhavathi’. The unblemished, tranquil waters of the river and its eventual merging with River Cauvery, made it a favourable nerve centre for human settlement and a fulcrum for religious activities.

The origin of the river is near the Dakshinamukha Nandi Tirtha or the Kadu Malleshwara Temple in Malleswaram, and it flows through major areas like Nayandahalli, Rajarajeshwari Nagar and Kengeri. 

On the Bengaluru Map

The Vrishabhavathi River is a significant waterway in Karnataka, India, closely connected to the city of Bengaluru, both geographically and culturally. 

This river, 69 kms in length, originates in the western part of Bengaluru and flows through the city before joining the Arkavathi River, which is a tributary of the Cauvery River. Its basin size is 361 square km. 

It flows through 96 wards of Bengaluru including significant areas in the city like Malleswaram, Rajarajeshwari Nagar, Kengri and Bapuji Nagar, the river meets the Arkavathy near Bidadi at the Outskirts of the city.


Screen Shot 2024-03-06 at 6.14.48 AM.png

History & Cultural significance

Historically, the Vrishabhavathi River played a crucial role in the development and sustenance of local communities, agriculture, and the overall ecosystem around Bengaluru. It irrigated agricultural lands and supported various forms of life along its course. 

For the people of Bengaluru, the Vrishabhavathi River is not just a water body but a cultural heritage that ties them to their religious traditions and local customs. The river's waters are used in various sacred rituals, from temple ceremonies to personal rites of passage. 

The river’s sacredness is exemplified by several temples located at her banks like Dodda Ganesha, Dodda Basava, Gali Anjaneya Temple, Gavi Gangadhareshwara Temple and Kadu Malleshwara Temple as the popular ones. The Gali Anjaneya Hanumantha Temple dates back over 600 years and had been formulated by Sri Vyasaraya of Channapatna in 1425, the then Rajguru of the Vijayanagar Empire. The temple is situated at the confluence of the two rivers—the Vrishabhavathi and Paschimavahini.

WATER situation in BENGALURU currently

With rapid urbanization and industrialization, the river's status has changed significantly. Today, the Vrishabhavathi River is often referred to as a highly polluted waterway, especially in the stretches that flow through the urban and industrial areas of Bengaluru. 

The pollution is attributed to the discharge of untreated domestic sewage and industrial effluents into the river. This has led to severe environmental and health concerns, affecting the river's biodiversity, water quality, and the wellbeing of communities relying on it. Earning the moniker “Kengri Mori ” amongst the indigenous population in this region, the river is currently identified as “Vrishabhavathi Nala” in Google Maps.

The water once utilized as ‘sacred water’ is now proved unfit for drinking as it contains numerous hazardous substances. It has been found that the unchecked flow of industrial pollutants and sewage waste, and enormous plastic material presence has been dumped in the river. It is categorized as one of the most ‘deteriorating’ rivers of the country today. In the late 1960s, the 57 km in length Vrishabhavathi river was considered the picnic spot, often visited by flocks of people traveling from far off regions to spend good times at its banks. 


Part 1: Vrishabhavathi, the Bull River

I am Vrishabhavathi.
Vrishabha, the bull. 
Avathi, the source.
The Bull is my source. I am the Bull River.

Where do I come from?

No one truly knows.
I emerge,
as if from nothing.

1 - The Bull River.jpg

Nandi, the bull, is my friend.
Nandi, of strength and of vigor.
From his mouth and feet I manifest.
Then I flow, up and under the land.

2 Nandi -With Water.jpg

I was glorious once.
A city, Bengaluru, was built on me.
I remember, my graceful flow,
in and through the fields, the homes, the temples.

x3 RIver through Bangalore.jpg

I was divine once.
A city of temples, Bengaluru, was built on me.
I remember, the love,
of the sage kings and the king sages.

3 RIver through Bangalore.jpg

Bengaluru, a temple city.
Temples to my friend Nandi.
To Hanuman. To Shiva.
To Shani. And to my many ‘god-friends’.

The king of sages, Vivekananda,
is my friend.
He sat with me.
We talked.

4  Shiva Hanuman Vivekananda.001.jpg

I was joyful once.
I remember, the celebrations,
of festivals, of laughter,
of devotion, of coming together.

I gave waters once.
The waters made fields,
of rice and of ragi,
of groundnuts and of coconuts.

5 Festivals and Joy.jpg

I was playful once.
I remember, the dance,
of  fishes, of butterflies,
of birds and flowers.

Those were good times.

6 Flowers Fishes Birds.jpg

Part 2: Visha-bhavathi, the Posion River

These are tragic times now.
Vrishabhavathi has become Vishabhavathi.

Visha, the poison.
Bhavathi, to be.
I am the poison river now.

1 Poison River.jpg

The poison of heavy metals,
of Iron, of Lead,
of Mercury and of Chromium.

My flow is chemical froth now,
of nitrates and of sulfates.

2 Heavy Metals - 1.jpg
3 Froth-2.jpg

The toxins, human and industrial, tossed,
with apathy and without shame.

The poison in me, smells many miles away.
I cannot breathe, the plastic chokes me.

4 Plastic-1.jpg

Bengaluru grew fast.
People. Homes. Industries. Money.
I am Bengaluru’s river,
But I was forgotten.

5 VB & Industrial Map.jpg

But there are still some,
who remember me,
with fondness,
with romance.

But for the most,
I am Kengeri Mori, Kengeri the Gutter.
For Google maps,
I am the Vrishabhavathi Naala.

4 Plastic-3.jpg

I am dying now.
Vrishabhavathi is Vishabhavathi.
The Bull River,
Is a poison river now.

4 Plastic-2.jpg
6 Poison River - 2.jpg

Part 3: Wish-a-bhavathi, the Song of the River

It is a tragedy.

I was divine once.
I am a gutter now.
My friend Nandi cries,
Shiva is upset. Hanuman the witness.

1 Divine and Gutter.jpg
2 Nandi and Shiva.jpg

Water is precious.
Water is scarce.
Water, Bengaluru’s crisis.
Water, my tragedy.

There is a lot of talk.
The promises. The government & the committees.
The media. Many good people.
Everyone knows, but no one hears.

3 Water and Bangalore.jpg

But I yearn,
to be seen, to be heard.
For the city, Bengaluru, 
to see me, to hear me.

5 VB is happy again.jpg

I yearn. 
To give waters again.
To be joyful again.
To play again.
To breathe again.

4 VB and Nandi happy again.jpg

This is my song,
Will you hear it, please ?

6 A River's Cry for help.jpg
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