Pollution in the River Ganges: Tainted earthliness mars holy site

Environmentalism has long been linked with religion through the themes of respecting life-forms and caring for creation.

The Ganges River, sacred in Hinduism and a focal point of rites and pilgramages, is getting a long-overdue rejuvenation. The World Bank is loaning $1 billion USD to the National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA) for cleaning and conservation purposes. This is about 25% of the funds for the plan; it is a major initiative.


Anyone who touches the water is said to be purified of all sins–but not safe from the very earthly danger of the river’s pollution.

Montana State University’s research, included in the Lucknow Institute’s report to the¬† India Supreme Court, on the condition of the river is alarming.

The river contains untreated sewage, cremated remains, chemicals and disease-causing microbes, the researchers said. Cows wade in the river. People wash their laundry in it and drink from it. Ford said the Ganges has become the kind of place where genetic material could transfer between pathogens and create new pathogens.

E.Coli has also been found in the river. Waterbourne diseases are also a big risk.

One man’s plan, once bogged down in bureaucracy, has been adopted as the new course of action:

Veer Bhadra Mishra, a 70-year-old priest and hydraulics engineer in Varanasi, the holy city downstream from Haridwar, has been a prominent advocate of treatment methods used abroad but not yet in India. His plan: to introduce a system to divert sewage and effluents, before they enter the river, to a series of specially designed ponds, for treatment and ultimately to be used use in irrigation or directed back into the river.

Mr. Singh [general manager of Ganga River Pollution Control Unit] says the technologies already in use were time-tested and reliable, but suffered from a lack of trained manpower and proper infrastructure, and a shortage of funds for equipment maintenance.

As the Ganges is a sacred river named after the goddess Ganga or referred to as a goddess, cleaning the river would be much like worship.

Thousands of people pray by the river; other rites include bathing or taking a ritual drink.

In “Banaras: India’s City of Light” by Santha Rama Rau, Rau states:

“There are beggars, idlers, vendors, touts, the young, the old, the curious, the remote, the talkers, the guides, the priests, the families simply out for a stroll, the ascetics, the crippled, the woman scrubbing out household pots and pans, the toughs, the gently curious ones. All are there along the Ganges” (Rau 244).

As a central point for daily life and worship, it is alarming and rather irreverent that conditions have been allowed to deteriorate thus far.


Water, in Scripture:

It is not only in Hinduism that water has been treated as an object of reverence. Water has been considered pious not only in Hindu scriptures but in Holy Bible (Genesis 1:1-20), Quran (Sura-21.30 & 25.54). In Bible bathing in “Live (flowing) water” is referred to as ritual bath. Live water is one that flows down from the hills (river). In Mahabharata, XIII.27.48.52, Ganga water is treated at par with elixir of Gods. In Skand Puran V.1(ii).62.53, Ganga water is referred to be endowed with characteristics of Ambrosia. It is also believed that river Ganga has taken birth from the water pitcher of Lord Brahma. Ganga is supposed to be the archetype of sacred water. Ganga is the symbol of fertility and has purifying powers.


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