Ganges River Receives Help From Holy Men

Photo by Jon Rawlinson
Bathing in the Ganges

The Ganges, or Ganga as it’s known in India, is considered a source of spiritual purification for devout Hindus. They believe that the river is a goddess who gives life, rejuvenates, and liberates. She was brought to Earth to purify souls and release them to heaven.

But she is far from pure herself. The Ganges River is full of industrial effluent, cremated bodies, untreated sewage, and garbage.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has vowed to clean her up, and has sought the advice of holy men on how best to carry out his ambitious plan.

Mother Ganga Needs Help

The 1,550-mile river passes more than two dozen major urban centers. According to the National Ganga River Basin Authority, which is trying to clean up the river, the amount of toxins, chemicals, and dangerous bacteria found in the river is now almost 3,000 times higher than is considered safe by the World Health Organization. It comes from toxic chemicals produced by factories and businesses, an estimated 800,000 gallons of sewage of which only one third is treated, and toxic pesticides and fertilizers from farms.

Then there are the bodies. “About 32,000 dead bodies are cremated every year in Varnasi — or 88 every day,” said B.D. Tripathi of Benares Hindu University, an expert member of National Ganga River Basin Authority. “For this, about 16,000 tons of firewood is required and during the process about 7,000 tons of ash is released into the Ganges.” And with the high cost of firewood, many of these bodies are not cremated fully, leading to up to 300 tons of charred human flesh being tossed into the river annually.

“As a 10-year-old I remember swimming in the river; the water was clean and green — you could see all the way through to the bottom,” said Abdul Kalam, 78, who has lived in Varanasi all his life. “I remember seeing sawfish, turtles, and gharials swimming out in the monsoons. Now the water is dirty, black, and hidden by all the rubbish. It has changed so much I cannot believe it.”

Vinod Shankar Shukla, a Hindu priest, stopped bathing in the Ganges six years ago — a religious, purification practice. “I felt that I was bathing in a sewer and smelled like that all day,” he said.

Photo by Arian Zwegers
Varanasi, Manikarnika Ghat

India’s New Prime Minister Narendra Modi Promises to Clean Her Up

Modi is a Hindu Nationalist and controversial figure both within India, as well as internationally. While receiving praise for his economic policies, which are credited with creating an environment for a high rate of economic growth in the state of Gujurat, he has also been criticized for the incidents surrounding the 2002 Gurjarat riots and failing to make a significant positive impact on human development in the state.

Now as prime minister he has taken personal responsibility for restoring the Ganges as part of a broader push to safeguard India’s scarce water resources and improve standards of publish health and hygiene. A day after his election last month, Modi traveled to Varanasi, widely considered Hinduism’s holiest city, to observe a fire ritual in honor of the sacred river.

“Now it is time to do my bit for Maa Ganga,” he said in a speech from one of the ghats where riverside ceremonies are held. “Maa Ganga is waiting for her son to free her from pollution.”

Modi vowed to clean up India starting with Varanasi in time for the 150th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s birth in 2019.

Holy Men Help Modi and Mother Ganga

To help with the clean up, Modi’s administration has called on non-governmental groups, sadhus or Hindu holy men, priests, scientists, and politicians.

“We will make cleaning up Ganga a people’s movement, in keeping with the vision of the prime minister,” Uma Bharti, minister for water resources, river development, and Ganges rejuvenation in Modi’s cabinet said. She promised to come up with detailed proposals in a month and a half for the project dubbed “Ganga Manthan.” In Hindi, manthan signifies a deep contemplation and churning of facts leading to enlightenment.

The monumental task of cleaning up the Ganges will truly require an enlightened plan and system of regulations. But many are hopeful that the government is up for the task. Environmentalists believe that a basin-wide approach advocated by Modi, involving northern states and neighboring Nepal and Bangladesh, would help address issues like reduced meltwater flows into the river caused by the progressive retreat of Himalayan glaciers.

Hopefully, Mother Ganga will be clean once again.

News Source: Reuters

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About the Author

I'm an organic-eating, energy-saving naturalist who composts and tree hugs in her spare time. I have a background in environmental law, lobbying, and field work. I believe in God; however, I do not call myself a Christian or a Jew or a member of any religion. I am merely someone who finds a spiritual connection to all humans and the environment. You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, and .