Coordinates: 25°18′N 83°01′E / 25.30°N 83.01°E /
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Ganges (/ˈɡændʒiːz/ GAN-jeez), also known as Ganga
(Hindustani: [ˈɡəŋɡaː]), is a trans-boundary river of Asia
which flows through the nations of
India and Bangladesh. The
2,525 km (1,569 mi) river rises in the western
the Indian state of Uttarakhand, and flows south and east through the
Gangetic Plain of North India. After entering West Bengal, it divides
into three rivers: The Hooghly River, or Adi Ganga, flows through
several districts of
West Bengal and into the
Bay of Bengal
Bay of Bengal near Sagar
Island. The other, the
Padma River, flows into and through Bangladesh,
and also empties into the Bay of Bengal. The last is the Ajay River
Birbhum districts. The
Ganges is the third
largest river in the world by discharge.
Ganges is one of the most sacred rivers to Hindus. It is also a
lifeline to millions of Indians who live along its course and depend
on it for their daily needs. It is worshipped in
Hinduism as the
goddess Ganga. It has also been important historically, with many
former provincial or imperial capitals (such as  Kannauj, Kampilya,
Prayag or Allahabad, Kashi,
Pataliputra or Patna, Hajipur,
Munger, Bhagalpur, Murshidabad, Baharampur, Nabadwip, Saptagram,
Kolkata and Dhaka) located on its banks.
Ganges is highly polluted. Pollution threatens not only humans,
but also more than 140 fish species, 90 amphibian species and the
Ganges river dolphin. The levels of fecal coliform
bacteria from human waste in the waters of the river near
more than 100 times the Indian government's official limit. The
Ganga Action Plan, an environmental initiative to clean up the river,
has been a major failure thus far,[a][b] due to corruption, lack of
technical expertise,[c] poor environmental planning,[d] and lack of
support from religious authorities.[e]
5 Religious and cultural significance
5.1 Embodiment of sacredness
5.2 Avatarana or Descent of the Ganges
5.3 Redemption of the Dead
5.4 The Purifying Ganges
5.5 Consort, Shakti, and Mother
Ganges in classical Indian iconography
5.7 Kumbh Mela
6.2 Dams and barrages
8 Ecology and environment
8.2 Crocodilians and turtles
Ganges river dolphin
8.4 Effects of climate change
9 Pollution and environmental concerns
9.1 Water shortages
10 See also
14 Further reading
15 External links
Bhagirathi River at Gangotri.
Devprayag, confluence of
Alaknanda (right) and
rivers, beginning of the
The Himalayan headwaters of the
Ganges River in the Garhwal region of
Uttarakhand, India. The headstreams and rivers are labelled in
italics; the heights of the mountains, lakes, and towns are displayed
in parentheses in metres.
The main stream of the
Ganges begins at the confluence of the
Alaknanda rivers in the town of
Devprayag in the
Garhwal division of the Indian state of Uttarakhand. The
considered to be the source in
Hindu culture and mythology, although
Alaknanda is longer, and, therefore, hydrologically the source
stream. The headwaters of the Alakananda are formed by snowmelt
from peaks such as Nanda Devi, Trisul, and Kamet. The
at the foot of
Gangotri Glacier, at Gomukh, at an elevation of
3,892 m (12,769 ft), being mythologically referred to as,
residing in the matted locks of Shiva, symbolically Tapovan, being a
meadow of ethereal beauty at the feet of Mount Shivling, just
5 km (3.1 mi) away.
Although many small streams comprise the headwaters of the Ganges, the
six longest and their five confluences are considered sacred. The six
headstreams are the Alaknanda, Dhauliganga, Nandakini, Pindar,
Bhagirathi rivers. The five confluences, known as the
Panch Prayag, are all along the Alaknanda. They are, in downstream
order, Vishnuprayag, where the Dhauliganga joins the Alaknanda;
Nandprayag, where the
Nandakini joins; Karnaprayag, where the Pindar
joins, Rudraprayag, where the Mandakini joins; and finally, Devprayag,
Bhagirathi joins the
Alaknanda to form the
After flowing 250 km (155.343 mi)  through its narrow
Himalayan valley, the
Ganges emerges from the mountains at Rishikesh,
then debouches onto the
Gangetic Plain at the pilgrimage town of
Haridwar. At Haridwar, a dam diverts some of its waters into the
Ganges Canal, which irrigates the
Doab region of Uttar Pradesh,
whereas the river, whose course has been roughly southwest until this
point, now begins to flow southeast through the plains of northern
Ganges follows an 800 km (500 mi) arching course passing
through the cities of Kannauj, Farukhabad, and Kanpur. Along the way
it is joined by the Ramganga, which contributes an average annual flow
of about 500 m3/s (18,000 cu ft/s). The Ganges
Yamuna at the
Triveni Sangam at Allahabad, a holy confluence
in Hinduism. At their confluence the
Yamuna is larger than the Ganges,
contributing about 2,950 m3/s (104,000 cu ft/s), or
about 58.5% of the combined flow.
Now flowing east, the river meets the
Tamsa River (also called Tons),
which flows north from the
Kaimur Range and contributes an average
flow of about 190 m3/s (6,700 cu ft/s). After the Tamsa
Gomti River joins, flowing south from the Himalayas. The Gomti
contributes an average annual flow of about 234 m3/s
(8,300 cu ft/s). Then the
Ghaghara River (Karnali River),
also flowing south from the
Himalayas of Nepal, joins. The Ghaghara
(Karnali), with its average annual flow of about 2,990 m3/s
(106,000 cu ft/s), is the largest tributary of the Ganges.
After the Ghaghara (Karnali) confluence the
Ganges is joined from the
south by the Son River, contributing about 1,000 m3/s
(35,000 cu ft/s). The Gandaki River, then the Kosi River,
join from the north flowing from Nepal, contributing about
1,654 m3/s (58,400 cu ft/s) and 2,166 m3/s
(76,500 cu ft/s), respectively. The Kosi is the third
largest tributary of the Ganges, after the Ghaghara (Karnali) and
Yamuna.The koshi merge into the
Ganges near Kursela in Bihar.
Along the way between
Allahabad and Malda, West Bengal, the Ganges
passes the towns of Chunar, Mirzapur, Varanasi, Ghazipur, Patna,
Hajipur, Chapra, Bhagalpur, Ballia, Buxar, Simaria, Sultanganj, and
Saidpur. At Bhagalpur, the river begins to flow south-southeast and at
Pakur, it begins its attrition with the branching away of its first
distributary, the Bhāgirathi-Hooghly, which goes on to become the
Hooghly River. Just before the border with
Bangladesh the Farakka
Barrage controls the flow of the Ganges, diverting some of the water
into a feeder canal linked to the Hooghly for the purpose of keeping
it relatively silt-free. The
Hooghly River is formed by the confluence
Bhagirathi River and
Jalangi River at Nabadwip, and Hooghly has
a number of tributaries of its own. The largest is the Damodar River,
which is 541 km (336 mi) long, with a drainage basin of
25,820 km2 (9,970 sq mi). The
Hooghly River empties
Bay of Bengal
Bay of Bengal near Sagar Island. Between Malda and the
Bay of Bengal, the Hooghly river passes the towns and cities of
Kolkata and Howrah.
After entering Bangladesh, the main branch of the
Ganges is known as
the Padma. The
Padma is joined by the Jamuna River, the largest
distributary of the Brahmaputra. Further downstream, the
the Meghna River, the second largest distributary of the Brahmaputra,
and takes on the Meghna's name as it enters the Meghna Estuary, which
empties into the Bay of Bengal. Here it forms the 1,430 by
3,000 km (890 by 1,860 mi) Bengal Fan, the world's largest
submarine fan, which alone accounts for 10–20% of the global
burial of organic carbon.
Ganges Delta, formed mainly by the large, sediment-laden flows of
Brahmaputra rivers, is the world's largest delta, at
about 59,000 km2 (23,000 sq mi). It stretches
322 km (200 mi) along the Bay of Bengal.
Only the Amazon and Congo rivers have a greater average discharge than
the combined flow of the Ganges, the Brahmaputra, and the Surma-Meghna
river system. In full flood only the Amazon is larger.
Indian subcontinent lies atop the Indian tectonic plate, a minor
plate within the Indo-Australian Plate. Its defining geological
processes commenced seventy-five million years ago, when, as a part of
the southern supercontinent Gondwana, it began a northeastwards
drift—lasting fifty million years—across the then unformed Indian
Ocean. The subcontinent's subsequent collision with the Eurasian
Plate and subduction under it, gave rise to the Himalayas, the
planet's highest mountain ranges. In the former seabed immediately
south of the emerging Himalayas, plate movement created a vast trough,
which, having gradually been filled with sediment borne by the Indus
and its tributaries and the
Ganges and its tributaries, now forms
the Indo-Gangetic Plain.
Gangetic Plain is geologically known as a foredeep or
A 1908 map showing the course of the
Ganges and its tributaries.
Catchment region of the Ganga
Major left-bank tributaries include Gomti (Gumti), Ghaghara (Gogra),
Gandaki (Gandak), and Kosi (Kusi); major right-bank tributaries
Yamuna (Jumna), Son,
Punpun and Damodar.
The hydrology of the
Ganges River is very complicated, especially in
Ganges Delta region. One result is different ways to determine the
river's length, its discharge, and the size of its drainage basin.
Ganges at Kolkata, with
Howrah Bridge in the background
Ganges in Lakshmipur, Bangladesh
Mahatma Gandhi Setu
Mahatma Gandhi Setu bridge over the
Ganges connecting the cities
Patna and Hajipur
Ganges is used for the river between the confluence of the
Alaknanda rivers, in the Himalayas, and the
Bangladesh border, near the
Farakka Barrage and the first
bifurcation of the river. The length of the
Ganges is frequently said
to be slightly over 2,500 km (1,600 mi) long, about
2,505 km (1,557 mi), to 2,525 km
(1,569 mi), or perhaps 2,550 km (1,580 mi).
In these cases the river's source is usually assumed to be the source
Gangotri Glacier at Gomukh, and its mouth
being the mouth of the
Meghna River on the Bay of
Bengal. Sometimes the source of the
considered to be at Haridwar, where its Himalayan headwater streams
debouch onto the Gangetic Plain.
In some cases, the length of the
Ganges is given for its Hooghly River
distributary, which is longer than its main outlet via the Meghna
River, resulting in a total length of about 2,620 km
(1,630 mi), from the source of the Bhagirathi, or
2,135 km (1,327 mi), from
Haridwar to the Hooghly's
mouth. In other cases the length is said to be about 2,240 km
(1,390 mi), from the source of the
Bhagirathi to the Bangladesh
border, where its name changes to Padma.
For similar reasons, sources differ over the size of the river's
drainage basin. The basin covers parts of four countries, India,
Nepal, China, and Bangladesh; eleven Indian states, Himachal Pradesh,
Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar,
Jharkhand, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, West Bengal, and the Union
Territory of Delhi. The
Ganges basin, including the delta but not
Brahmaputra or Meghna basins, is about 1,080,000 km2
(420,000 sq mi), of which 861,000 km2
(332,000 sq mi) are in
India (about 80%), 140,000 km2
(54,000 sq mi) in
Nepal (13%), 46,000 km2
(18,000 sq mi) in
Bangladesh (4%), and 33,000 km2
(13,000 sq mi) in China (3%). Sometimes the
Brahmaputra–Meghna drainage basins are combined for a total of about
1,600,000 km2 (620,000 sq mi), or
1,621,000 km2 (626,000 sq mi). The combined
Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna basin (abbreviated GBM or GMB) drainage
basin is spread across Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, and
Ganges basin ranges from the
Himalaya and the
Transhimalaya in the
north, to the northern slopes of the
Vindhya range in the south, from
the eastern slopes of the
Aravalli in the west to the Chota Nagpur
plateau and the
Sunderbans delta in the east. A significant portion of
the discharge from the
Ganges comes from the Himalayan mountain
system. Within the Himalaya, the
Ganges basin spreads almost
1,200 km from the Yamuna-Satluj divide along the Simla ridge
forming the boundary with the
Indus basin in the west to the Singalila
Ridge along the Nepal-Sikkim border forming the boundary with the
Brahmaputra basin in the east. This section of the
Himalaya contains 9
of the 14 highest peaks in the world over 8,000m in height, including
Mount Everest which is the high point of the
Ganges basin. The
other peaks over 8,000m in the basin are Kangchenjunga,
Lhotse, Makalu, Cho Oyu, Dhaulagiri, Manaslu,
Annapurna and Shishapangma. The Himalayan portion of the basin
includes the south-eastern portion of the state of Himachal Pradesh,
the entire state of Uttarakhand, the entire country of
Nepal and the
extreme north-western portion of the state of West Bengal.[citation
The discharge of the
Ganges also differs by source. Frequently,
discharge is described for the mouth of the Meghna River, thus
Ganges with the
Brahmaputra and Meghna. This results in
a total average annual discharge of about 38,000 m3/s
(1,300,000 cu ft/s), or 42,470 m3/s
(1,500,000 cu ft/s). In other cases the average annual
discharges of the Ganges, Brahmaputra, and Meghna are given
separately, at about 16,650 m3/s (588,000 cu ft/s) for
the Ganges, about 19,820 m3/s (700,000 cu ft/s) for the
Brahmaputra, and about 5,100 m3/s (180,000 cu ft/s) for
Hardinge Bridge, Bangladesh, crosses the Ganges-
Padma River. It is one
of the key sites for measuring streamflow and discharge on the lower
The maximum peak discharge of the Ganges, as recorded at Hardinge
Bridge in Bangladesh, exceeded 70,000 m3/s
(2,500,000 cu ft/s). The minimum recorded at the same
place was about 180 m3/s (6,400 cu ft/s), in 1997.
The hydrologic cycle in the
Ganges basin is governed by the Southwest
Monsoon. About 84% of the total rainfall occurs in the monsoon from
June to September. Consequently, streamflow in the
Ganges is highly
seasonal. The average dry season to monsoon discharge ratio is about
1:6, as measured at Hardinge Bridge. This strong seasonal variation
underlies many problems of land and water resource development in the
region. The seasonality of flow is so acute it can cause both
drought and floods. Bangladesh, in particular, frequently experiences
drought during the dry season and regularly suffers extreme floods
during the monsoon.
Ganges Delta many large rivers come together, both merging and
bifurcating in a complicated network of channels. The two largest
Ganges and Brahmaputra, both split into distributary
channels, the largest of which merge with other large rivers before
themselves joining. This current channel pattern was not always the
case. Over time the rivers in
Ganges Delta have changed course,
sometimes altering the network of channels in significant ways.
Before the late 12th century the Bhagirathi-Hooghly distributary was
the main channel of the
Ganges and the
Padma was only a minor
spill-channel. The main flow of the river reached the sea not via the
Hooghly River but rather by the Adi Ganga. Between the 12th and
16th centuries the Bhagirathi-Hooghly and
Padma channels were more or
less equally significant. After the 16th century the
Padma grew to
become the main channel of the Ganges. It is thought that the
Bhagirathi-Hooghly became increasingly choked with silt, causing the
main flow of the
Ganges to shift to the southeast and the
By the end of the 18th century the
Padma had become the main
distributary of the Ganges. One result of this shift to the Padma
was that the
Ganges joined the Meghna and
Brahmaputra rivers before
emptying into the Bay of Bengal, together instead of separately. The
present confluence of the
Ganges and Meghna formed about 150 years
Also near the end of the 18th century, the course of the lower
Brahmaputra changed dramatically, altering its relationship with the
Ganges. In 1787 there was a great flood on the Teesta River, which at
the time was a tributary of the Ganges-
Padma River. The flood of 1787
caused the Teesta to undergo a sudden change course (an avulsion),
shifting east to join the
Brahmaputra and causing the
shift its course south, cutting a new channel. This new main channel
Brahmaputra is called the Jamuna River. It flows south to join
the Ganges-Padma. Since ancient times the main flow of the Brahmaputra
was more easterly, passing by the city of
Mymensingh and joining the
Meghna River. Today this channel is a small distributary but retains
the name Brahmaputra, sometimes Old Brahmaputra. The site of the
old Brahmaputra-Meghna confluence, in the locality of Langalbandh, is
still considered sacred by Hindus. Near the confluence is a major
early historic site called Wari-Bateshwar.
The birth of Ganges
The Late Harappan period, about 1900–1300 BCE, saw the spread of
Harappan settlement eastward from the
Indus River basin to the
Yamuna doab, although none crossed the
Ganges to settle its
eastern bank. The disintegration of the Harappan civilisation, in the
early 2nd millennium BC, marks the point when the centre of Indian
civilisation shifted from the
Indus basin to the
There may be links between the Late Harappan settlement of the Ganges
basin and the archaeological culture known as "Cemetery H", the
Indo-Aryan people, and the Vedic period.
This river is the longest in India. During the early
Vedic Age of
the Rigveda, the
Indus and the
Sarasvati River were the major sacred
rivers, not the Ganges. But the later three
Vedas gave much more
importance to the Ganges.[f] The
Gangetic Plain became the centre of
successive powerful states, from the
Maurya Empire to the Mughal
The first European traveller to mention the
Ganges was Megasthenes
(ca. 350–290 BCE). He did so several times in his work Indica:
"India, again, possesses many rivers both large and navigable, which,
having their sources in the mountains which stretch along the northern
frontier, traverse the level country, and not a few of these, after
uniting with each other, fall into the river called the Ganges. Now
this river, which at its source is 30 stadia broad, flows from
north to south, and empties its waters into the ocean forming the
eastern boundary of the Gangaridai, a nation which possesses a vast
force of the largest-sized elephants." (Diodorus II.37) In the
rainy season of 1809, the lower channel of the Bhagirathi, leading to
Kolkata, had been entirely shut; but in the following year it opened
again, and was nearly of the same size with the upper channel; both
however suffered a considerable diminution, owing probably to the new
communication opened below the Jalanggi on the upper channel.[citation
In 1951 a water sharing dispute arose between
India and East Pakistan
(now Bangladesh), after
India declared its intention to build the
Farakka Barrage. The original purpose of the barrage, which was
completed in 1975, was to divert up to 1,100 m3/s
(39,000 cu ft/s) of water from the
Ganges to the
Bhagirathi-Hooghly distributary in order to restore navigability at
the Port of Kolkata. It was assumed that during the worst dry season
Ganges flow would be around 1,400 to 1,600 m3/s (49,000 to
57,000 cu ft/s), thus leaving 280 to 420 m3/s (9,900 to
14,800 cu ft/s) for the then East Pakistan. East
Pakistan objected and a protracted dispute ensued. In 1996 a 30-year
treaty was signed with Bangladesh. The terms of the agreement are
complicated, but in essence they state that if the
Ganges flow at
Farakka was less than 2,000 m3/s (71,000 cu ft/s) then
Bangladesh would each receive 50% of the water, with each
receiving at least 1,000 m3/s (35,000 cu ft/s) for
alternating ten-day periods. However, within a year the flow at
Farakka fell to levels far below the historic average, making it
impossible to implement the guaranteed sharing of water. In March
1997, flow of the
Bangladesh dropped to its lowest ever,
180 m3/s (6,400 cu ft/s). Dry season flows returned to
normal levels in the years following, but efforts were made to address
the problem. One plan is for another barrage to be built in Bangladesh
at Pangsha, west of Dhaka. This barrage would help
utilise its share of the waters of the Ganges.[g]
Religious and cultural significance
Embodiment of sacredness
Chromolithograph, "Indian woman floating lamps on the Ganges," by
William Simpson, 1867.
Ganges is a sacred river to
Hindus along every fragment of its
length. All along its course,
Hindus bathe in its waters, paying
homage to their ancestors and to their gods by cupping the water in
their hands, lifting it and letting it fall back into the river; they
offer flowers and rose petals and float shallow clay dishes filled
with oil and lit with wicks (diyas). On the journey back home from
the Ganges, they carry small quantities of river water with them for
use in rituals (Ganga jal, literally water of the Ganges).
Ganges is the embodiment of all sacred waters in Hindu
mythology. Local rivers are said to be like the Ganges, and are
sometimes called the local
Ganges (Ganga). The
Kaveri river of
Tamil Nadu in Southern
India is called the
Ganges of the
South; the Godavari, is the
Ganges that was led by the sage Gautama to
flow through Central India. The
Ganges is invoked whenever water
is used in
Hindu ritual, and is therefore present in all sacred
waters. In spite of this, nothing is more stirring for a Hindu
than a dip in the actual river, which is thought to remit sins,
especially at one of the famous tirthas such as Gangotri, Haridwar,
Prayag, or Varanasi. The symbolic and religious importance of the
Ganges is one of the few things that
Hindu India, even its skeptics,
are agreed upon. Jawaharlal Nehru, a religious iconoclast himself,
asked for a handful of his ashes to be thrown into the Ganges.
"The Ganga," he wrote in his will, "is the river of India, beloved of
her people, round which are intertwined her racial memories, her hopes
and fears, her songs of triumph, her victories and her defeats. She
has been a symbol of India's age-long culture and civilization,
ever-changing, ever-flowing, and yet ever the same Ganga."
Avatarana or Descent of the Ganges
Descent of Ganga – painting by Raja Ravi Varma
In late May or early June every year,
Hindus celebrate the avatarana
or descent of the
Ganges from heaven to earth. The day of the
celebration, Ganga Dashahara, the dashami (tenth day) of the waxing
moon of the
Hindu calendar month Jyestha, brings throngs of bathers to
the banks of the river. A soak in the
Ganges on this day is said
to rid the bather of ten sins (dasha = Sanskrit "ten"; hara = to
destroy) or alternatively, ten lifetimes of sins. Those who cannot
journey to the river, however, can achieve the same results by bathing
in any nearby body of water, which, for the true believer, in the
Hindu tradition, takes on all the attributes of the Ganges.
The avatarana is an old theme in
Hinduism with a number of different
versions of the story. In the Vedic version, Indra, the Lord of
Svarga (Heaven) slays the celestial serpent, Vritra, releasing the
celestial liquid, the soma, or the nectar of the gods which then
plunges to the earth and waters it with sustenance.
Vaishnava version of the myth,
Indra has been replaced by his
former helper Vishnu. The heavenly waters are now a river called
Vishnupadi (padi: Skt. "from the foot of"). As he completes his
celebrated three strides—of earth, sky, and heaven—
Vamana stubs his toe on the vault of heaven, punches open a hole, and
releases the Vishnupadi, which until now had been circling around the
cosmic egg within. Flowing out of the vault, she plummets down to
Indra's heaven, where she is received by Dhruva, the once steadfast
worshipper of Vishnu, now fixed in the sky as the polestar. Next,
she streams across the sky forming the
Milky Way and arrives on the
moon. She then flows down earthwards to Brahma's realm, a divine
lotus atop Mount Meru, whose petals form the earthly continents.
There, the divine waters break up, with one stream, the Alaknanda,
flowing down one petal into Bharatvarsha (India) as the Ganges.
It is Shiva, however, among the major deities of the
who appears in the most widely known version of the avatarana
story. Told and retold in the Ramayana, the
several Puranas, the story begins with a sage, Kapila, whose intense
meditation has been disturbed by the sixty thousand sons of King
Sagara. Livid at being disturbed,
Kapila sears them with his angry
gaze, reduces them to ashes, and dispatches them to the netherworld.
Only the waters of the Ganges, then in heaven, can bring the dead sons
their salvation. A descendant of these sons, King Bhagiratha, anxious
to restore his ancestors, undertakes rigorous penance and is
eventually granted the prize of Ganga's descent from heaven. However,
since her turbulent force would also shatter the earth, Bhagiratha
Shiva in his abode on
Mount Kailash to receive Ganga in the
coils of his tangled hair and break her fall. Ganga descends, is tamed
in Shiva's locks, and arrives in the Himalayas. She is then led by the
Bhagiratha down into the plains at Haridwar, across the plains
first to the confluence with the
Prayag and then to
Varanasi, and eventually to Ganga Sagar, where she meets the ocean,
sinks to the netherworld, and saves the sons of Sagara. In honour
of Bhagirath's pivotal role in the avatarana, the source stream of the
Ganges in the
Himalayas is named Bhagirathi, (Sanskrit, "of
Redemption of the Dead
Preparations for cremations on the banks of the
Ganges in Varanasi,
1903. The dead are being bathed, wrapped in cloth and covered with
wood. The photograph has caption, "Who dies in the waters of the
Ganges obtains heaven."
Since Ganga had descended from heaven to earth, she is also the
vehicle of ascent, from earth to heaven. As the
Triloka-patha-gamini, (Skt. triloka= "three worlds", patha = "road",
gamini = "one who travels") of the
Hindu tradition, she flows in
heaven, earth, and the netherworld, and, consequently, is a "tirtha,"
or crossing point of all beings, the living as well as the dead.
It is for this reason that the story of the avatarana is told at
Shraddha ceremonies for the deceased in Hinduism, and
Ganges water is
used in Vedic rituals after death. Among all hymns devoted to the
Ganges, there are none more popular than the ones expressing the
worshipers wish to breathe his last surrounded by her waters. The
Gangashtakam expresses this longing fervently:
O Mother! ... Necklace adorning the worlds!
Banner rising to heaven!
I ask that I may leave of this body on your banks,
Drinking your water, rolling in your waves,
Remembering your name, bestowing my gaze upon you.
No place along her banks is more longed for at the moment of death by
Hindus than Varanasi, the Great
Cremation Ground, or Mahashmshana.
Those who are lucky enough to die in Varanasi, are cremated on the
banks of the Ganges, and are granted instant salvation. If the
death has occurred elsewhere, salvation can be achieved by immersing
the ashes in the Ganges. If the ashes have been immersed in
another body of water, a relative can still gain salvation for the
deceased by journeying to the Ganges, if possible during the lunar
"fortnight of the ancestors" in the
Hindu calendar month of Ashwin
(September or October), and performing the Shraddha rites.
Hindus also perform pinda pradana, a rite for the dead, in which balls
of rice and sesame seed are offered to the
Ganges while the names of
the deceased relatives are recited. Every sesame seed in every
ball thus offered, according to one story, assures a thousand years of
heavenly salvation for the each relative. Indeed, the
Ganges is so
important in the rituals after death that the Mahabharata, in one of
its popular ślokas, says, "If only (one) bone of a (deceased) person
should touch the water of the Ganges, that person shall dwell honoured
in heaven." As if to illustrate this truism, the Kashi Khanda
Varanasi Chapter) of the
Skanda Purana recounts the remarkable story
of Vahika, a profligate and unrepentant sinner, who is killed by a
tiger in the forest. His soul arrives before Yama, the Lord of Death,
to be judged for the hereafter. Having no compensating virtue,
Vahika's soul is at once dispatched to hell. While this is happening,
his body on earth, however, is being picked at by vultures, one of
whom flies away with a foot bone. Another bird comes after the
vulture, and in fighting him off, the vulture accidentally drops the
bone into the
Ganges below. Blessed by this happenstance, Vahika, on
his way to hell, is rescued by a celestial chariot which takes him
instead to heaven.
The Purifying Ganges
Devotees taking holy bath during festival of Ganga Dashara at
Hindus consider the waters of the
Ganges to be both pure and
purifying. Nothing reclaims order from disorder more than the
waters of the Ganges. Moving water, as in a river, is considered
Hindu culture because it is thought to both absorb
impurities and take them away. The swiftly moving Ganges,
especially in its upper reaches, where a bather has to grasp an
anchored chain in order to not be carried away, is considered
especially purifying. What the
Ganges removes, however, is not
necessarily physical dirt, but symbolic dirt; it wipes away the sins
of the bather, not just of the present, but of a lifetime.
A popular paean to the
Ganges is the Ganga Lahiri composed by a
seventeenth century poet Jagannatha who, legend has it, was turned out
Brahmin caste for carrying on an affair with a Muslim
woman. Having attempted futilely to be rehabilitated within the Hindu
fold, the poet finally appeals to Ganga, the hope of the hopeless, and
the comforter of last resort. Along with his beloved, Jagannatha sits
at the top of the flight of steps leading to the water at the famous
Ghat in Varanasi. As he recites each verse of the poem, the
water of the
Ganges rises up one step, until in the end it envelops
the lovers and carry them away. "I come to you as a child to his
mother," begins the Ganga Lahiri.
I come as an orphan to you, moist with love.
I come without refuge to you, giver of sacred rest.
I come a fallen man to you, uplifter of all.
I come undone by disease to you, the perfect physician.
I come, my heart dry with thirst, to you, ocean of sweet wine.
Do with me whatever you will.
Consort, Shakti, and Mother
Ganga is a consort to all three major male deities of Hinduism. As
Brahma's partner she always travels with him in the form of water in
his kamandalu (water-pot). She is also Vishnu's consort. Not
only does she emanate from his foot as Vishnupadi in the avatarana
story, but is also, with
Sarasvati and Lakshmi, one of his
co-wives. In one popular story, envious of being outdone by each
other, the co-wives begin to quarrel. While
Lakshmi attempts to
mediate the quarrel, Ganga and Sarasvati, heap misfortune on each
other. They curse each other to become rivers, and to carry within
them, by washing, the sins of their human worshippers. Soon their
husband, Vishnu, arrives and decides to calm the situation by
separating the goddesses. He orders
Sarasvati to become the wife of
Brahma, Ganga to become the wife of Shiva, and Lakshmi, as the
blameless conciliator, to remain as his own wife. Ganga and Sarasvati,
however, are so distraught at this dispensation, and wail so loudly,
Vishnu is forced to take back his words. Consequently, in their
lives as rivers they are still thought to be with him.
Shiva, as Gangadhara, bearing the Descent of the Ganges, as the
goddess Parvati, the sage Bhagiratha, and the bull Nandi look on
It is Shiva's relationship with Ganga, that is the best-known in
Ganges mythology. Her descent, the avatarana is not a one time
event, but a continuously occurring one in which she is forever
falling from heaven into his locks and being forever tamed. Shiva,
is depicted in
Hindu iconography as Gangadhara, the "Bearer of the
Ganga," with Ganga, shown as spout of water, rising from his hair.
The Shiva-Ganga relationship is both perpetual and intimate. Shiva
is sometimes called Uma-Ganga-Patiswara ("Husband and Lord of Uma
(Parvati) and Ganga"), and Ganga often arouses the jealousy of Shiva's
better-known consort Parvati.
Ganga is the shakti or the moving, restless, rolling energy in the
form of which the otherwise recluse and unapproachable
on earth. As water, this moving energy can be felt, tasted, and
absorbed. The war-god Skanda addresses the sage
Agastya in the
Kashi Khand of the
Skanda Purana in these words:
One should not be amazed ... that this
Ganges is really Power, for is
she not the Supreme
Shakti of the Eternal Shiva, taken in the form of
This Ganges, filled with the sweet wine of compassion, was sent out
for the salvation of the world by Shiva, the Lord of the Lords.
Good people should not think this Triple-Pathed River to be like the
thousand other earthly rivers, filled with water.
Ganges is also the mother, the Ganga Mata (mata="mother") of Hindu
worship and culture, accepting all and forgiving all. Unlike other
goddesses, she has no destructive or fearsome aspect, destructive
though she might be as a river in nature. She is also a mother to
other gods. She accepts Shiva's incandescent seed from the
fire-god Agni, which is too hot for this world, and cools it in her
waters. This union produces Skanda, or Kartikeya, the god of
war. In the Mahabharata, she is the wife of Shantanu, and the
mother of heroic warrior-patriarch, Bhishma. When
mortally wounded in battle, Ganga comes out of the water in human form
and weeps uncontrollably over his body.
Ganges is the distilled lifeblood of the
Hindu tradition, of its
divinities, holy books, and enlightenment. As such, her worship
does not require the usual rites of invocation (avahana) at the
beginning and dismissal (visarjana) at the end, required in the
worship of other gods. Her divinity is immediate and
Ganges in classical Indian iconography
Photograph (1875) of goddess Ganga (Gupta Period, 5th or 6th century
CE) from Besnagar, Madhya Pradesh, now in Museum of Fine Arts,
Goddess Ganga with left hand resting on a dwarf attendant's head from
the Rameshwar Temple, Ellora Caves, Maharashtra. Date of Sculpture,
The goddess Ganga stands on her mount, the makara, with a kumbha, a
full pot of water, in her hand, while an attendant holds a parasol
over her. Terracotta, Ahichatra, Uttar Pradesh, Gupta, 5th century,
now in National Museum, New Delhi
The goddess Ganga (right) in tribhanga pose with retinue. Pratihara,
10th century, now in National Museum, New Delhi
Early in ancient Indian culture, the river
Ganges was associated with
fecundity, its redeeming waters and its rich silt providing sustenance
to all who lived along its banks. A counterpoise to the dazzling
heat of the Indian summer, the
Ganges came to be imbued with magical
qualities and to be revered in anthropomorphic form. By the 5th
century CE, an elaborate mythology surrounded the Ganges, now a
goddess in her own right, and a symbol for all rivers of India.
Hindu temples all over
India had statues and reliefs of the goddess
carved at their entrances, symbolically washing the sins of arriving
worshippers and guarding the gods within. As protector of the
sanctum sanctorum, the goddess soon came to depicted with several
characteristic accessories: the makara (a crocodile-like undersea
monster, often shown with an elephant-like trunk), the kumbha (an
overfull vase), various overhead parasol-like coverings, and a
gradually increasing retinue of humans.
Central to the goddess's visual identification is the makara, which is
also her vahana, or mount. An ancient symbol in India, it pre-dates
all appearances of the goddess Ganga in art. The makara has a dual
symbolism. On the one hand, it represents the life-affirming waters
and plants of its environment; on the other, it represents fear, both
fear of the unknown it elicits by lurking in those waters and real
fear it instils by appearing in sight. The earliest extant
unambiguous pairing of the makara with Ganga is at
Udayagiri Caves in
India (circa 400 CE). Here, in Cave V, flanking the main
Vishnu shown in his boar incarnation, two river goddesses,
Yamuna appear atop their respective mounts, makara and kurma
(a turtle or tortoise).
The makara is often accompanied by a gana, a small boy or child, near
its mouth, as, for example, shown in the Gupta period relief from
Besnagar, Central India, in the left-most frame above. The gana
represents both posterity and development (udbhava). The pairing
of the fearsome, life-destroying makara with the youthful,
life-affirming gana speaks to two aspects of the
Although she has provided sustenance to millions, she has also brought
hardship, injury, and death by causing major floods along her
banks. The goddess Ganga is also accompanied by a dwarf attendant,
who carries a cosmetic bag, and on whom she sometimes leans, as if for
support. (See, for example, frames 1, 2, and 4 above.)
The purna kumbha or full pot of water is the second most discernible
element of the Ganga iconography. Appearing first also in the
Udayagiri Caves (5th century), it gradually appeared more
frequently as the theme of the goddess matured. By the seventh
century it had become an established feature, as seen, for example,
the Dashavatara temple, Deogarh,
Uttar Pradesh (seventh century), the
Trimurti temple, Badoli, Chittorgarh, Rajasthan, and at the
Lakshmaneshwar temple, Kharod, Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh, (ninth or
tenth century), and seen very clearly in frame 3 above and less
clearly in the remaining frames. Worshipped even today, the full pot
is emblematic of the formless Brahman, as well as of woman, of the
womb, and of birth. Furthermore, The river goddesses Ganga and
Saraswati were both born from Brahma's pot, containing the celestial
In her earliest depictions at temple entrances, the goddess Ganga
appeared standing beneath the overhanging branch of a tree, as seen as
well in the Udayagiri caves. However, soon the tree cover had
evolved into a chatra or parasol held by an attendant, for example, in
the seventh-century Dasavatara temple at Deogarh. (The parasol can
be clearly seen in frame 3 above; its stem can be seen in frame 4, but
the rest has broken off.) The cover undergoes another transformation
in the temple at Kharod, Bilaspur (ninth or tenth century), where the
parasol is lotus-shaped, and yet another at the
Trimurti temple at
Badoli where the parasol has been replaced entirely by a lotus.
As the iconography evolved, sculptors in the central
were producing animated scenes of the goddess, replete with an
entourage and suggestive of a queen en route to a river to bathe.
A relief similar to the depiction in frame 4 above, is described in
Pal 1997, p. 43 as follows:
A typical relief of about the ninth century that once stood at the
entrance of a temple, the river goddess Ganga is shown as a
voluptuously endowed lady with a retinue. Following the iconographic
prescription, she stands gracefully on her composite makara mount and
holds a water pot. The dwarf attendant carries her cosmetic bag, and a
... female holds the stem of a giant lotus leaf that serves as her
mistress's parasol. The fourth figure is a male guardian. Often in
such reliefs the makara's tail is extended with great flourish into a
scrolling design symbolizing both vegetation and water.
A procession of Akharas marching over a makeshift bridge over the
Kumbh Mela at Allahabad, 2001.
Main article: Kumbh Mela
Kumbh Mela is a mass
Hindu pilgrimage in which
Hindus gather at the
Ganges River. The normal
Kumbh Mela is celebrated every 3 years, the
Ardh (half) Kumbh is celebrated every six years at
Prayag, the Purna (complete) Kumbh takes place every twelve
years at four places (
Prayag (Allahabad), Haridwar, Ujjain, and
Nashik). The Maha (great)
Kumbh Mela which comes after 12 'Purna Kumbh
Melas', or 144 years, is held at
The major event of the festival is ritual bathing at the banks of the
river. Other activities include religious discussions, devotional
singing, mass feeding of holy men and women and the poor, and
religious assemblies where doctrines are debated and standardized.
Kumbh Mela is the most sacred of all the pilgrimages.
Thousands of holy men and women attend, and the auspiciousness of the
festival is in part attributable to this. The sadhus are seen clad in
saffron sheets with ashes and powder dabbed on their skin per the
requirements of ancient traditions. Some, called naga sanyasis, may
not wear any clothes.
Ganges and its all tributaries, especially the Yamuna, have been
used for irrigation since ancient times. Dams and canals were
common in gangetic plain by fourth century BCE. The
Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna basin has a huge hydroelectric potential, on
the order of 200,000 to 250,000 megawatts, nearly half of which could
be easily harnessed. As of 1999,
India tapped about 12% of the
hydroelectric potential of the
Ganges and just 1% of the vast
potential of the Brahmaputra.
Head works of the
Ganges canal in
Haridwar (1860). photograph by
Megasthenes, a Greek ethnographer who visited
India during third
century BCE when Mauryans ruled
India described the existence of
canals in the gangetic plain. Kautilya (also known as Chanakya), an
advisor to Chandragupta Maurya, the founder of Maurya Empire, included
the destruction of dams and levees as a strategy during war. Firuz
Shah Tughlaq had many canals built, the longest of which, 240 km
(150 mi), was built in 1356 on the
Yamuna River. Now known as the
Yamuna Canal, it has fallen into disrepair and been restored
several times. The Mughal emperor
Shah Jahan built an irrigation canal
Yamuna River in the early 17th century. It fell into disuse
until 1830, when it was reopened as the Eastern
Yamuna Canal, under
British control. The reopened canal became a model for the Upper
Ganges Canal and all following canal projects.
Ganges Canal highlighted in red stretching between its headworks
Ganges River in Hardwar and its confluences with the Jumna
Etawah and with the
Cawnpore (now Kanpur).
The first British canal in India—with no Indian antecedents—was
Ganges Canal built between 1842 and 1854. Contemplated first
John Russell Colvin
John Russell Colvin in 1836, it did not at first elicit much
enthusiasm from its eventual architect Sir Proby Thomas Cautley, who
balked at idea of cutting a canal through extensive low-lying land in
order to reach the drier upland destination. However, after the Agra
famine of 1837–38, during which the East
Rs. 2,300,000 on famine relief, the idea of a
canal became more attractive to the Company's budget-conscious Court
of Directors. In 1839, the Governor General of India, Lord Auckland,
with the Court's assent, granted funds to Cautley for a full survey of
the swath of land that underlay and fringed the projected course of
the canal. The Court of Directors, moreover, considerably enlarged the
scope of the projected canal, which, in consequence of the severity
and geographical extent of the famine, they now deemed to be the
The enthusiasm, however, proved to be short lived. Auckland's
successor as Governor General, Lord Ellenborough, appeared less
receptive to large-scale public works, and for the duration of his
tenure, withheld major funds for the project. Only in 1844, when a new
Governor-General, Lord Hardinge, was appointed, did official
enthusiasm and funds return to the
Ganges canal project. Although the
intervening impasse had seemingly affected Cautley's health and
required him to return to Britain in 1845 for recuperation, his
European sojourn gave him an opportunity to study contemporary
hydraulic works in the United Kingdom and Italy. By the time of his
India even more supportive men were at the helm, both in the
North-Western Provinces, with James Thomason as Lt. Governor, and in
India with Lord Dalhousie as Governor-General. Canal
construction, under Cautley's supervision, now went into full swing. A
560 km (350 mi) long canal, with another 480 km
(300 mi) of branch lines, eventually stretched between the
headworks in Hardwar, splitting into two branches below Aligarh, and
its two confluences with the
Yamuna (Jumna in map) mainstem in Etawah
Cawnpore in map). The
Ganges Canal, which
required a total capital outlay of £2.15 million, was officially
opened in 1854 by Lord Dalhousie. According to historian Ian
It was the largest canal ever attempted in the world, five times
greater in its length than all the main irrigation lines of Lombardy
and Egypt put together, and longer by a third than even the largest
USA navigation canal, the Pennsylvania Canal.
Dams and barrages
A major barrage at
Farakka was opened on 21 April 1975, It is
located close to the point where the main flow of the river enters
Bangladesh, and the tributary Hooghly (also known as Bhagirathi)
West Bengal past Kolkata. This barrage, which feeds the
Hooghly branch of the river by a 42 km (26 mi) long feeder
canal, and its water flow management has been a long-lingering source
of dispute with Bangladesh. Indo-
Ganges Water Treaty
signed in December 1996 addressed some of the water sharing issues
India and Bangladesh.
Tehri Dam was constructed on
Bhagirathi River, tributary of the
Ganges. It is located 1.5 km downstream of Ganesh Prayag, the
place where Bhilangana meets Bhagirathi.
Bhagirathi is called Ganges
after Devprayag. Construction of the dam in an earthquake prone
area was controversial.
Bansagar Dam was built on the Son River, a tributary of the
both irrigation and hydroelectric power generation.
A girl selling plastic containers for carrying
Ganges water, Haridwar.
Ganges Basin with its fertile soil is instrumental to the
agricultural economies of
India and Bangladesh. The
Ganges and its
tributaries provide a perennial source of irrigation to a large area.
Chief crops cultivated in the area include rice, sugarcane, lentils,
oil seeds, potatoes, and wheat. Along the banks of the river, the
presence of swamps and lakes provide a rich growing area for crops
such as legumes, chillies, mustard, sesame, sugarcane, and jute. There
are also many fishing opportunities along the river, though it remains
highly polluted. Also the major industrial towns of Unnao, Kanpur,
situated on the banks of the river with the predominance of tanning
industries add to the pollution.
Tourism is another related activity. Three towns holy to
Prayag (Allahabad), and Varanasi—attract
thousands of pilgrims to its waters to take a dip in the Ganges, which
is believed to cleanse oneself of sins and help attain salvation. The
rapids of the
Ganges also are popular for river rafting, attracting
adventure seekers in the summer months. Also, several cities such as
Patna have developed riverfront walkways along the
banks to attract tourists.
Ecology and environment
Ganges from Space
Human development, mostly agriculture, has replaced nearly all of the
original natural vegetation of the
Ganges basin. More than 95% of the
Gangetic Plain has been degraded or converted to agriculture or
urban areas. Only one large block of relatively intact habitat
remains, running along the Himalayan foothills and including Rajaji
National Park, Jim Corbett National Park, and Dudhwa National
Park. As recently as the 16th and 17th centuries the upper
Gangetic Plain harboured impressive populations of wild Asian
elephants (Elephas maximus), Bengal tigers (Panthera t. tigris),
Indian rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis), gaurs (Bos gaurus),
barasinghas (Rucervus duvaucelii), sloth bears (Melursus ursinus) and
Indian lions (Panthera leo persica). In the 21st century there
are few large wild animals, mostly deer, wild boars, wildcats, and
small numbers of Indian wolves, golden jackals, and red and Bengal
foxes. Bengal tigers survive only in the
Sundarbans area of the Ganges
Delta. The Sundarbands freshwater swamp ecoregion, however, is
nearly extinct. Threatened mammals in the upper Gangetic Plain
include the tiger, elephant, sloth bear, and four-horned antelope
Lesser florican (Sypheotides indicus)
Many types of birds are found throughout the basin, such as myna,
Psittacula parakeets, crows, kites, partridges, and fowls. Ducks and
snipes migrate across the
Himalayas during the winter, attracted in
large numbers to wetland areas. There are no endemic birds in the
upper Gangetic Plain. The great Indian bustard (Ardeotis nigriceps)
and lesser florican (Sypheotides indicus) are considered globally
The natural forest of the upper
Gangetic Plain has been so thoroughly
eliminated it is difficult to assign a natural vegetation type with
certainty. There are a few small patches of forest left, and they
suggest that much of the upper plains may have supported a tropical
moist deciduous forest with sal (Shorea robusta) as a climax
A similar situation is found in the lower Gangetic Plain, which
includes the lower
Brahmaputra River. The lower plains contain more
open forests, which tend to be dominated by
Bombax ceiba in
association with Albizzia procera, Duabanga grandiflora, and Sterculia
vilosa. There are early seral forest communities that would eventually
become dominated by the climax species sal (Shorea robusta), if forest
succession was allowed to proceed. In most places forests fail to
reach climax conditions due to human causes. The forests of the
lower Gangetic Plain, despite thousands of years of human settlement,
remained largely intact until the early 20th century. Today only about
3% of the ecoregion is under natural forest and only one large block,
south of Varanasi, remains. There are over forty protected areas in
the ecoregion, but over half of these are less than 100 square
kilometres (39 sq mi). The fauna of the lower Gangetic
Plain is similar to the upper plains, with the addition of a number of
other species such as the smooth-coated otter (Lutrogale
perspicillata) and the large Indian civet (Viverra zibetha).
The catla (
Catla catla) is one of the Indian carp species that support
major fisheries in the Ganges
It has been estimated that about 350 fish species live in the entire
Ganges drainage, including several endemics. In a major
2007–2009 study of fish in the
Ganges basin (including the river
itself and its tributaries, but excluding the
Brahmaputra and Meghna
basins), a total of 143 fish species were recorded, including 10
non-native introduced species. The most diverse orders are
Cypriniformes (barbs and allies),
Siluriformes (catfish) and
Perciformes (perciform fish), each comprising about 50%, 23% and 14%
of the total fish species in the drainage.
There are distinct differences between the different sections of the
river basin, but
Cyprinidae is the most diverse throughout. In the
upper section (roughly equalling the basin parts in Uttarakhand) more
than 50 species have been recorded and
Cyprinidae alone accounts for
almost 80% those, followed by
Balitoridae (about 15.6%) and Sisoridae
(about 12.2%). Sections of the
Ganges basin at altitudes above
2,400–3,000 m (7,900–9,800 ft) above sea level are
generally without fish. Typical genera approaching this altitude are
Schizothorax, Tor, Barilius,
Nemacheilus and Glyptothorax. About
100 species have been recorded from the middle section of the basin
(roughly equalling the sections in
Uttar Pradesh and parts of Bihar)
and more than 55% of these are in family Cyprinidae, followed by
Schilbeidae (about 10.6%) and
Clupeidae (about 8.6%). The lower
section (roughly equalling the basin in parts of
Bihar and West
Bengal) includes major floodplains and is home to almost 100 species.
About 46% of these are in the family Cyprinidae, followed by
Schilbeidae (about 11.4%) and
Bagridae (about 9%).
Ganges basin supports major fisheries, but these have declined in
recent decades. In the
Allahabad region in the middle section of the
basin, catches of carp fell from 424.91 metric tons in 1961–1968 to
38.58 metric tons in 2001–2006, and catches of catfish fell from
201.35 metric tons in 1961–1968 to 40.56 metric tons in
2001–2006. In the
Patna region in the lower section of the
basin, catches of carp fell from 383.2 metric tons to 118, and catfish
from 373.8 metric tons to 194.48. Some of the fish commonly
caught in fisheries include catla (
Catla catla), golden mahseer (Tor
putitora), tor mahseer (Tor tor), rohu (Labeo rohita), walking catfish
(Clarias batrachus), pangas catfish (Pangasius pangasius), goonch
catfish (Bagarius), snakeheads (Channa), bronze featherback
(Notopterus notopterus) and milkfish (Chanos chanos).
Ganges basin is home to about 30 fish species that are listed as
threatened with the primary issues being overfishing (sometimes
illegal), pollution, water abstraction, siltation and invasive
species. Among the threatened species is the critically
Ganges shark (Glyphis gangeticus). Several fish
species migrate between different sections of the river, but these
movements may be prevented by the building of dams.
Crocodilians and turtles
The threatened gharial (Gavialis gangeticus) is a large fish-eating
crocodilian that is harmless to humans
The main sections of the
Ganges River are home to the gharial
(Gavialis gangeticus) and mugger crocodile (Crocodylus palustris), and
the delta is home to the saltwater crocodile (C. porosus). Among the
numerous aquatic and semi-aquatic turtles in the
Ganges basin are the
northern river terrapin (Batagur baska; only in the lowermost section
of the basin), three-striped roofed turtle (B. dhongoka), red-crowned
roofed turtle (B. kachuga), black pond turtle (Geoclemys hamiltonii),
Brahminy river turtle
Brahminy river turtle (Hardella thurjii), Indian black turtle
Indian eyed turtle
Indian eyed turtle (Morenia petersi), brown
roofed turtle (Pangshura smithii),
Indian roofed turtle
Indian roofed turtle (Pangshura
Indian tent turtle
Indian tent turtle (Pangshura tentoria), Indian flapshell
turtle (Lissemys punctata), Indian narrow-headed softshell turtle
Indian softshell turtle
Indian softshell turtle (Nilssonia gangetica), Indian
peacock softshell turtle (N. hurum) and Cantor's giant softshell
turtle (Pelochelys cantorii; only in the lowermost section of Ganges
basin). Most of these are seriously threatened.
Ganges river dolphin
The Gangetic dolphin in a sketch by Whymper and P. Smit, 1894.
The river's most famed fauna is the freshwater dolphin Platanista
gangetica gangetica, the
Ganges river dolphin, recently declared
India's national aquatic animal.
This dolphin used to exist in large schools near to urban centres in
Brahmaputra rivers, but is now seriously
threatened by pollution and dam construction. Their numbers have now
dwindled to a quarter of their numbers of fifteen years before, and
they have become extinct in the Ganges' main tributaries.[e] A recent
survey by the
World Wildlife Fund
World Wildlife Fund found only 3,000 left in the water
catchment of both river systems.
Ganges river dolphin
Ganges river dolphin is one of only five true freshwater dolphins
in the world. The other four are the baiji (Lipotes vexillifer) of the
Yangtze River in China, now likely extinct; the
Indus river dolphin of
Indus River in Pakistan; the
Amazon river dolphin
Amazon river dolphin of the Amazon
River in South America; and the
Araguaian river dolphin
Araguaian river dolphin (not
considered a separate species until 2014) of the
Araguaia–Tocantins basin in Brazil. There are several marine
dolphins whose ranges include some freshwater habitats, but these five
are the only dolphins who live only in freshwater rivers and
Effects of climate change
Tibetan Plateau contains the world's third-largest store of ice.
Qin Dahe, the former head of the China Meteorological Administration,
said that the recent fast pace of melting and warmer temperatures will
be good for agriculture and tourism in the short term; but issued a
Temperatures are rising four times faster than elsewhere in China, and
the Tibetan glaciers are retreating at a higher speed than in any
other part of the world.... In the short term, this will cause lakes
to expand and bring floods and mudflows... In the long run, the
glaciers are vital lifelines for Asian rivers, including the
the Ganges. Once they vanish, water supplies in those regions will be
In 2007, the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in its
Fourth Report, stated that the Himalayan glaciers which feed the
river, were at risk of melting by 2035. The IPCC has now
withdrawn that prediction, as the original source admitted that it was
speculative and the cited source was not a peer reviewed finding.[h]
In its statement, the IPCC stands by its general findings relating to
the Himalayan glaciers being at risk from global warming (with
consequent risks to water flow into the Gangetic basin). Many studies
have suggested that the climate change will affect the water resources
Ganges river basin including increased summer (monsoon) flow,
and peak runoff could result in an increased risk of flooding.
Pollution and environmental concerns
Main article: Pollution of the Ganges
People bathing and washing clothes in the
Ganges in Varanasi.
Ganges suffers from extreme pollution levels, caused by the 400
million people who live close to the river. Sewage from many
cities along the river's course, industrial waste and religious
offerings wrapped in non-degradable plastics add large amounts of
pollutants to the river as it flows through densely populated
areas. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that many
poorer people rely on the river on a daily basis for bathing, washing,
and cooking. The
World Bank estimates that the health costs of
water pollution in
India equal three percent of India's GDP.[i] It has
also been suggested that eighty percent of all illnesses in
one-third of deaths can be attributed to water-borne diseases.[e]
Varanasi, a city of one million people that many pilgrims visit to
take a "holy dip" in the Ganges, releases around 200 million litres of
untreated human sewage into the river each day, leading to large
concentrations of faecal coliform bacteria. According to official
standards, water safe for bathing should not contain more than 500
faecal coliforms per 100ml, yet upstream of Varanasi's ghats the river
water already contains 120 times as much, 60,000 faecal coliform
bacteria per 100 ml.
After the cremation of the deceased at Varanasi's ghats the bones and
ashes are thrown into the Ganges. However, in the past thousands of
uncremated bodies were thrown into the
Ganges during cholera
epidemics, spreading the disease. Even today, holy men, pregnant
women, people with leprosy/chicken pox, people who had been bitten by
snakes, people who had committed suicide, the poor, and children under
5 are not cremated at the ghats but are floated free to decompose in
the waters. In addition, those who cannot afford the large amount of
wood needed to incinerate the entire body, leave behind a lot of half
burned body parts.
After passing through Varanasi, and receiving 32 streams of raw sewage
from the city, the concentration of fecal coliforms in the river's
waters rises from 60,000 to 1.5 million, with observed peak
values of 100 million per 100 ml. Drinking and bathing in its
waters therefore carries a high risk of infection.
Between 1985 and 2000,
Rs. 10 billion, around US$226 million, or
less than 4 cents per person per year, were spent on the Ganga
Action Plan, an environmental initiative that was "the largest
single attempt to clean up a polluted river anywhere in the world."[d]
Ganga Action Plan
Ganga Action Plan has been described variously as a
"failure",[j][k] a "major failure".[a][b][i]
According to one study,
The Ganga Action Plan, which was taken on priority and with much
enthusiasm, was delayed for two years. The expenditure was almost
doubled. But the result was not very appreciable. Much expenditure was
done over the political propaganda. The concerning governments and the
related agencies were not very prompt to make it a success. The public
of the areas was not taken into consideration. The releasing of urban
and industrial wastes in the river was not controlled fully. The
flowing of dirty water through drains and sewers were not adequately
diverted. The continuing customs of burning dead bodies, throwing
carcasses, washing of dirty clothes by washermen, and immersion of
idols and cattle wallowing were not checked. Very little provision of
public latrines was made and the open defecation of lakhs of people
continued along the riverside. All these made the Action Plan a
The failure of the Ganga Action Plan, has also been variously
attributed to "environmental planning without proper understanding of
the human–environment interactions,"[d] Indian "traditions and
beliefs,"[l] "corruption and a lack of technical knowledge"[c] and
"lack of support from religious authorities."[e]
In December 2009 the
World Bank agreed to loan
India US$1 billion over
the next five years to help save the river. According to 2010
Planning Commission estimates, an investment of almost Rs.
70 billion (
Rs. 70 billion, approximately US$1.5 billion) is
needed to clean up the river.
In November 2008, the Ganges, alone among India's rivers, was declared
a "National River", facilitating the formation of a National Ganga
River Basin Authority that would have greater powers to plan,
implement and monitor measures aimed at protecting the river.
In July 2014, the Government of
India announced an integrated
Ganges-development project titled Namami Ganga and allocated ₹2,037
crore for this purpose.
In March 2017 the High Court of
Uttarakhand declared the
a legal "person", in a move that according to one newspaper, "could
help in efforts to clean the pollution-choked rivers." As of
6 April 2017[update], the ruling has been commented on in
Indian newspapers to be hard to enforce, that experts do not
anticipate immediate benefits, that the ruling is "hardly game
changing," that experts believe "any follow-up action is
unlikely," and that the "judgment is deficient to the extent it
acted without hearing others (in states outside Uttarakhand) who have
stakes in the matter."
The incidence of water-borne and enteric diseases—such as
gastrointestinal disease, cholera, dysentery, hepatitis A and
typhoid—among people who use the river's waters for bathing, washing
dishes and brushing teeth is high, at an estimated 66% per year.
Recent studies by
Indian Council of Medical Research
Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) say that
the river is so full of killer pollutants that those living along its
banks in Uttar Pradesh,
Bihar and Bengal are more prone to cancer than
anywhere else in the country. Conducted by the National Cancer
Registry Programme under the ICMR, the study throws up shocking
findings indicating that the river is thick with heavy metals and
lethal chemicals that cause cancer. According to Deputy Director
General of NCRP A. Nandkumar, the incidence of cancer was highest in
the country in areas drained by the
Ganges and stated that the problem
would be studied deeply and with the findings presented in a report to
the health ministry.
Along with ever-increasing pollution, water shortages are getting
noticeably worse. Some sections of the river are already completely
dry. Around Varanasi, the river once had an average depth of 60 metres
(200 ft), but in some places, it is now only 10 metres
To cope with its chronic water shortages,
India employs electric
groundwater pumps, diesel-powered tankers, and coal-fed power plants.
If the country increasingly relies on these energy-intensive
short-term fixes, the whole planet's climate will bear the
India is under enormous pressure to develop its economic
potential while also protecting its environment—something few, if
any, countries have accomplished. What
India does with its water will
be a test of whether that combination is possible.
Illegal mining in the
Ganges river bed for stones and sand for
construction work has been a long problem in
Uttarakhand, where it touches the plains for the first time. This is
despite the fact that quarrying has been banned in
Kumbh Mela area
zone covering 140 km2 area in Haridwar.
Fair river sharing
Ganges in Hinduism
List of rivers by discharge
List of rivers by length
List of rivers of India
National Waterway 1
Swach Ganga (Clean Ganga) Campaign
Unnao dead bodies row
River bank erosion along the
Ganges in Malda and
^ a b Haberman (2006)
"The Ganga Action Plan, commonly known as GAP, was launched
dramatically in the holy city of Banares (Varanasi) on 14 June 1985,
by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, who promised, 'We shall see that the
waters of the Ganga become clean once again.' The stated task was 'to
improve water quality, permit safe bathing all along the 2,525
kilometers from the Ganges's origin in the
Himalayas to the Bay of
Bengal, and make the water potable at important pilgrim and urban
centres on its banks.' The project was designed to tackle pollution
from twenty-five cities and towns along its banks in Uttar Pradesh,
West Bengal by intercepting, diverting, and treating their
effluents. With the GAP's Phase II, three important
tributaries—Damodar, Gomati, and Yamuna—were added to the plan.
Although some improvements have been made to the quality of the
Ganges's water, many people claim that the GAP has been a major
failure. The environmental lawyer M. C. Mehta, for example, filed
public interest litigation against project, claiming 'GAP has
^ a b Gardner (2003)
"The Ganges, also known as the Ganga, is one of the world's major
rivers, running for more than 2,500 kilometres from the
the Bay of Bengal. It is also one of the most polluted, primarily from
sewage, but also from animal carcasses, human corpses, and soap and
other pollutants from bathers. Indeed, scientists measure fecal
coliform levels at thousands of times what is permissible and levels
of oxygen in the water are similarly unhealthy. Renewal efforts have
centred primarily on the government-sponsored
Ganga Action Plan
Ganga Action Plan (GAP),
started in 1985 with the goal of cleaning up the river by 1993.
Several western-style sewage treatment plants were built along the
river, but they were poorly designed, poorly maintained and prone to
shut down during the region's frequent power outages. The GAP has been
a colossal failure, and many argue that the river is more polluted now
than it was in 1985." (pa.166)
^ a b Sheth (2008)
"But the Indian government, as a whole, appears typically ineffective.
Its ability to address itself to a national problem like environmental
degradation is typified by the 20-year, $100 million Ganga Action
Plan, whose purpose was to clean up the
Ganges River. Leading Indian
environmentalists call the plan a complete failure, due to the same
problems that have always beset the government: poor planning,
corruption, and a lack of technical knowledge. The river, they say, is
more polluted than ever." (pp. 67–68)
^ a b c Singh & Singh (2007)
"In February 1985, the Ministry of Environment and Forest, Government
India launched the Ganga Action Plan, an environmental project to
improve the river water quality. It was the largest single attempt to
clean up a polluted river anywhere in the world and has not achieved
any success in terms of preventing pollution load and improvement in
water quality of the river. Failure of the
Ganga Action Plan
Ganga Action Plan may be
directly linked with the environmental planning without proper
understanding of the human–environment interactions. The
bibliography of selected environmental research studies on the Ganga
River is, therefore, an essentially first step for preserving and
maintaining the Ganga River ecosystem in future."
^ a b c d Puttick (2008)
"Sacred ritual is only one source of pollution. The main source of
contamination is organic waste—sewage, trash, food, and human and
animal remains. Around a billion litres of untreated raw sewage are
dumped into the
Ganges each day, along with massive amounts of
agricultural chemicals (including DDT), industrial pollutants, and
toxic chemical waste from the booming industries along the river. The
level of pollution is now 10,000 percent higher than the government
standard for safe river bathing (let alone drinking). One result of
this situation is an increase in waterborne diseases, including
cholera, hepatitis, typhoid, and amoebic dysentery. An estimated 80
percent of all health problems and one-third of deaths in
attributable to waterborne illnesses." (p. 247)
"There have been various projects to clean up the
Ganges and other
rivers, led by the Indian government's
Ganga Action Plan
Ganga Action Plan launched in
1985 by Rajiv Gandhi, grandson of Jawaharlal Nehru. Its relative
failure has been blamed on mismanagement, corruption, and
technological mistakes, but also on lack of support from religious
authorities. This may well be partly because the
Brahmin priests are
so invested in the idea of the Ganges' purity and afraid that any
admission of its pollution will undermine the central role of the
water in ritual, as well as their own authority. There are many
temples along the river, conducting a brisk trade in ceremonies,
including funerals, and sometimes also the sale of bottled Ganga jal.
The more traditional
Hindu priests still believe that blessing Ganga
jal purifies it, although they are now a very small minority in view
of the scale of the problem." (p. 248)
"Wildlife is also under threat, particularly the river dolphins. They
were one of the world's first protected species, given special status
under the reign of Emperor Ashoka in the 3rd century BC. They're now a
critically endangered species, although protected once again by the
Indian government (and internationally under the CITES convention).
Their numbers have shrunk by 75 per cent over the last 15 years, and
they have become extinct in the main tributaries, mainly because of
pollution and habitat degradation." (p. 275)
^ Thapar (1971)
"The stabilising of what were to be the Arya-lands and the
mleccha-lands took some time. In the Ṛg Veda the geographical focus
was the sapta-sindhu (the
Indus valley and the Punjab) with Sarasvatī
as the sacred river, but within a few centuries ārya-varta is located
in the Gaṅgā-Yamūnā Doāb with the
Ganges becoming the sacred
river." (p. 415)
^ Salman & Uprety (2002, pp. 172, 178–87, 387–91)Treaty
Between the Government of the Republic of
India and the Government of
the People's Republic of
Bangladesh on Sharing of the Ganga/Ganges
Waters at Farakka.
^ The IPCC report is based on a non-peer reviewed work by the World
Wildlife Federation. They, in turn, drew their information from an
interview conducted by New Scientist with Dr. Hasnain, an Indian
glaciologist, who admitted that the view was speculative. See:
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^ a b Bharati (2006)
World Bank estimates the health costs of water pollution in India
to be equivalent to three per cent of the country's gross domestic
product. With Indian rivers being severely polluted, interlinking them
may actually increase these costs. Also, with the widely recognised
failure of the Ganga Action Plan, there is a danger that contaminants
from the Gangetic basin might enter other basins and destroy their
natural cleansing processes. The new areas that will be river-fed
after the introduction of the scheme may experience crop failures or
routing due to alien compounds carried into their streams from the
polluted Gangetic basin streams." (p. 26)
^ Caso & Wolf (2010)
"Chronology: 1985 *
India launches Phase I of the
Ganga Action Plan
Ganga Action Plan to
Ganges River; most deem it a failure by the early 1990s."
^ Dudgeon (2005)
"To reduce the water pollution in one of Asia's major rivers, the
Indian Government initiated the
Ganga Action Plan
Ganga Action Plan in 1985. The
objective of this centrally funded scheme was to treat the effluent
from all the major towns along the
Ganges and reduce pollution in the
river by at least 75%. The
Ganga Action Plan
Ganga Action Plan built upon the existing,
but weakly enforced, 1974 Water Prevention and Control Act. A
government audit of the
Ganga Action Plan
Ganga Action Plan in 2000 reported limited
success in meeting effluent targets. Development plans for sewage
treatment facilities were submitted by only 73% of the cities along
the Ganges, and only 54% of these were judged acceptable by the
authorities. Not all the cities reported how much effluent was being
treated, and many continued to discharge raw sewage into the river.
Test audits of installed capacity indicated poor performance, and
there were long delays in constructing planned treatment facilities.
After 15 yr. of implementation, the audit estimated that the Ganga
Action Plan had achieved only 14% of the anticipated sewage treatment
capacity. The environmental impact of this failure has been
exacerbated by the removal of large quantities of irrigation water
Ganges which offset any gains from effluent reductions."
^ Tiwari (2008)
"Many social traditions and customs are not only helping in
environmental degradation but are causing obstruction to environmental
management and planning. The failure of the
Ganga Action Plan
Ganga Action Plan to clean
the sacred river is partly associated to our traditions and beliefs.
The disposal of dead bodies, the immersion of idols and public bathing
are the part of
Hindu customs and rituals which are based on the
notion that the sacred river leads to the path of salvation and under
no circumstances its water can become impure. Burning of dead bodies
through wood, bursting of crackers during Diwali, putting thousands of
tonnes of fuel wood under fire during Holi, immersion of
Ganesh idols into rivers and seas etc. are part of
Hindu customs and
are detrimental to the environment. These and many other rituals need
rethinking and modification in the light of contemporary situations."
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Main article: Bibliography of Ganges
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