Budha Dariya: From a river to a drain of toxic water

Budha Dariya: From a river to a drain of toxic water
Budha Naala mixing into Satluj River near Walipur

It is a tradition in the Punjabi language to call old courses or tributaries of rivers, Budha(Old) or Purana(Ancient). An old course of river Ravi was called Budha Dariya. A tributary that originated from the Satluj bay near Ropar town is also called Budha or Purana Dariya. This tributary fell into Ghaggar river near Moonak(Patiala district), but then it started flowing parallel to the Ghaghar. The locals claimed that it was an old course of Satluj and it was larger than Ghaghar. It fell into Ghaghar afterwards. This is the reason why even Ghaghar was called Buddha or Purana Dariya. According to the oral history of the Khamano-Sanghol-Khanna region, there was a Budha Dariya in this region as well. Which was used for irrigation.

Course of Satluj River

Today, an image of a toxic water source appears in our mind when we talk about Budha Dariya, or what we call Budha Naala now.  It starts from Bela, and goes through Behlolpur-Machchiwara-Koom Kalan-Ludhiana and falls into Satluj at Bhoondri-Walipur. The legend is that Budha Dariya is an old course of the Satluj river. Amal Kar has postulated that Ropar – ChamkaurSahib – Machiwara – Behlolpur – Ludhiana – Dharmkot – Muddki – Faridkot – Bhangewala course of Satluj is the same course as Budha Dariya. Although this theory is considered questionable.  Mohammed Latif writes in ‘Panjab da Itihas’, “Satluj starts flowing from Ropar towards the west and is bifurcated. The sandy depression of the Bet region between Ludhiana and Satluj has (Buddha) naala which was the riverbed 50 years ago. Satluj is especially known for changing its course. Most of the rivers in Punjab leave behind a sandy deserted landscape after they change course. All around the country you can find heaps and dunes of sand. Which indicates that rivers flowed through those parts in bygone years. Ravi changed its course to three miles away north of Lahore city. Satluj has gone seven miles away from Ludhiana”

Budha Darya Course

Much of the information about the change of course in the Satluj river has been collated from locals from the region it flowed through. According to the Settlement reports, gazetteers of Ludhiana districts and writings in the 19th century, from the year 1783 to 1796, huge changes in the course of Satluj river were verified by the locals. 80 kilometres long and 8-9 kilometres wide region, known as Bet was included in Ludhiana district. Which was part of Jalandhar doab earlier. It was occupied by Misl chief Tara Singh Gaiba, whose main stay was in the town of Rahon. 

Budha Naala near Koom Kalan

According to a 1850AD book ‘Sair-i-Panjab’, Budha Dariya started flowing in the depression formed after Satluj changed its course. There are many theories about the flow and course of Budha Dariya, some tell it to be a tributary of Satluj. ‘Sair-i-Panjab’ provides a different description of the sources of Budha Dariya, “Buddha Dariya gets its water from a naala that starts from Bela Datal Gehda and merges into it near Behlolpur.”  Bela is a village close to the town of Chamkaur Sahib. Bela Datal Gehda can be a misprint. It could be Beli Atalgarh or Bela Atari. Both of these villages are on the shore of Satluj and close to Bela. It is possible that the water to the Budha Dariya came through these villages.   

About the source of water in Budha Dariya, the book says, “There was a lake-like waterbody south of Chamkaur Sahib which gave water all around the year. Water from this lake also fell into Budha Dariya. When the lake gave less water the flow in Budha Naala lessened as well and became muddled.”

Polluted Budha Naala mixing into Satluj River near Walipur

Many rivers in Punjab originate from springs or lakes. The Famous Kali Beyin river of Doaba originates from groundwater springs near village Dhanoa (Hoshiarpur District). Some courses originated from these lakes or merged into them. At times, the course fell into a lake and resumed flowing ahead in a stream. These lakes were called Tobha (Pond), Chaparh or Talaab in the local language. There were many examples of these lake-like courses and some might be there even now. There were famous lakes in the Malwa region. The lake in Akhada village is near Jagraon, Malout lake, and Badha lake in Fazilka. (This lake disappeared a few years ago.) Water from tributaries and courses of the Satluj river flowed and fell into these rivers.  (In the local language these courses are called ‘Nai’, which means river, stream or course. In southern Punjab or Northern Rajasthan, the word Naali is also used. 12 miles down under Harike, the shared course of Satlaj and Beas is called ‘Nai’ by the locals. )

Koom Kalan

The book Sair-i-Panjab tells that due to the lessening of water in Chamkaur lake, water in the Budha Naala also lessened. This lake became the cause of the scarcity of water for the residents of Ludhiana city. “The scarcity of water was a cause of great trouble for the residents of Ludhiana city and cantonment. To facilitate the residents, the district Deputy Commissioner George Campbell planned to dig a canal that could bring water from Satluj into the Budha Naala.  After a lot of survey and research, it was found out that there was an old course that started from village Garhi Fazil in Bhartgarh Pargana of Ludhiana district and fell into the Naala. That drain was just 500 yards from Satluj.  A canal was dug in those 500 yards and water from river Satluj was brought into the Naala. This way Ludhiana’s Buddha Naala got plenty of water and residents were at ease. After some time, doctors advised that this could lead to diseases. So Captain Caulbadni (Deputy Commissioner) got it closed.”

According to the writings of the nineteenth century,  people used water from Budha Dariya for drinking. This has been in practice till the 1980s. People did not find this water fit for irrigation.


Jatinder Mauhar is an independent filmmaker, writer and historian

Translation from Punjabi and Maps by Jasdeep Singh

Photographs by  Jaskaran Singh and Tanny Kaler


C. F. Oldham, The Lost River of the Indian Desert, 1874, 1893

HG Raverty, The Mehran of Sindh and its tributaries, Journal Asiatic Society of Bengal Vol-61, 1892, pp.155-508.

Mohammed Latif, Punjab Da Itihas (Pehla Hissa), 1889

Amal Kar, The Lost Courses of the Saraswati River in the Great Indian Desert: New Evidence from Landsat Imagery, 1979

H. Davidson & G.C. Barnes, Report on the revised settlement of the district of Ludhiana in the Cis-Sutlej- States, 1859

Alexander Cunningham, The ancient geography of India,  1871

Rai Kali Rai Sahib, Munshi Tulsi Ram, Sair-i-Panjab, 1872

Punjab District Gazetteers: Firozpur, 1889,1904