Coordinates : 25°18′N 83°01′E / 25.30°N 83.01°E /
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The GANGES (/ˈɡændʒiːz/ _GAN-jeez_ ), also GANGA (Hindustani:
), is a trans-boundary river of
Asia which flows through the nations
Bangladesh . The 2,525 km (1,569 mi) river rises in the
Himalayas in the Indian state of
Uttarakhand , and flows south
and east through the
Gangetic Plain of North
India into Bangladesh,
where it empties into the
Bay of Bengal
Bay of Bengal . It is the third largest
river in the world by discharge .
Ganges is the most sacred river 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 as the goddess _Ganga _
Hinduism . It has also been important historically, with many
former provincial or imperial capitals (such as
Allahabad , Kashi ,
Patna , Hajipur
Nabadwip , Saptagram
Dhaka ) located on its banks.
Ganges was ranked as the fifth most polluted river of the world
in 2007. Pollution threatens not only humans, but also more than 140
fish species, 90 amphibian species and the endangered
dolphin . The levels of fecal coliform from human waste in the waters
of the river near
Varanasi are 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,
due to corruption, lack of technical expertise, poor environmental
planning, and lack of support from religious authorities.
* 1 Course
* 2 Geology
* 4 History
* 5 Religious and cultural significance
* 5.1 Embodiment of sacredness
* 5.2 _Avatarana_ or Descent of the
* 5.3 Redemption of the Dead
* 5.4 The Purifying
* 5.5 Consort, Shakti, and Mother
Ganges in classical Indian iconography
* 6 Irrigation
* 6.1 Canals
* 6.2 Dams and barrages
* 7 Economy
* 7.1 Tourism
* 8 Ecology and environment
Ganges river dolphin
* 8.2 Effects of climate change
* 9 Pollution and environmental concerns
* 9.1 Water shortages
* 9.2 Mining
* 10 See also
* 11 Notes
* 12 References
* 13 Sources
* 14 Further reading
* 15 External links
Bhagirathi River at
Devprayag , confluence of
Alaknanda (right) and
Bhagirathi (left) rivers, beginning of the
Ganges proper. 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 stem 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 Bhagirathi
is considered to be the source in
Hindu culture and mythology,
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
Bhagirathi rises 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 ,
Mandakini , and
Bhagirathi rivers. The five confluences, known as the
Prayag , are all along the Alaknanda. They are, in downstream
Vishnuprayag , where the Dhauliganga joins the Alaknanda;
Nandprayag , where the
Karnaprayag , where the Pindar
Rudraprayag , where the Mandakini joins; and finally, Devprayag
, where the
Bhagirathi joins the
Alaknanda to form the
After flowing 250 km (155.343 mi) through its narrow Himalayan
Ganges emerges from the mountains at
Rishikesh , then
debouches onto the
Gangetic Plain at the pilgrimage town of
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 India.
Ganges follows an 800 km (500 mi) arching course passing through
the cities of
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 joins the
Yamuna at the
Triveni Sangam at
Allahabad , a holy confluence in Hinduism. At their
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 the
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).
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.
Along the way between
Allahabad and Malda , West Bengal, the Ganges
passes the towns of
Hajipur , Chapra ,
and Saidpur . At Bhagalpur, the river begins to flow south-southeast
Pakur , it begins its attrition with the branching away of its
first distributary , the Bhāgirathi-Hooghly , which goes on to become
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 into the Bay of Bengal
Sagar Island . Between Malda and the Bay of Bengal, the Hooghly
river passes the towns and cities of
Nabadwip , Kolkata
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 Padma joins
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.
Ganges Delta , formed mainly by the large, sediment-laden flows
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
Gangetic Plain .
Gangetic Plain is geologically known as a foredeep or
foreland basin .
A 1908 map showing the course of the
Ganges and its tributaries.
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 .
Kolkata , with
Howrah Bridge in the background
Ganges in Lakshmipur,
Bangladesh The Mahatma Gandhi
Setu bridge over the
Ganges connecting the cities of
Patna and Hajipur
The name _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 of
Gangotri Glacier at
Gomukh , and its mouth being
the mouth of the
Meghna River on the Bay of Bengal. Sometimes the
source of the
Ganges is 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,
Nepal , China , and
Bangladesh ; eleven Indian states, Himachal
Uttar Pradesh , Madhya Pradesh,
Jharkhand , Punjab , Haryana,
Rajasthan , West Bengal, and the
Union Territory of
Delhi . The
Ganges basin, including the delta but
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)
Bangladesh (4%), and 33,000 km2 (13,000 sq mi) in China (3%).
Ganges and 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
Bhutan , India, Nepal, and China.
Ganges basin ranges from the
Himalaya and the
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
Cho Oyu ,
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.
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 the Meghna. Hardinge
Bridge , Bangladesh, crosses the Ganges-Padma River. It is one of the
key sites for measuring streamflow and discharge on the lower Ganges.
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),
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
Ganges Delta many large rivers come together, both merging and
bifurcating in a complicated network of channels . The two largest
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 Padma River.
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
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
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
2nd millennium BC
2nd millennium BC , marks the point when the centre of Indian
civilisation shifted from the
Indus basin to the
Ganges basin. There
may be links between the Late Harappan settlement of the
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
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. 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.
In 1951 a water sharing dispute arose between
India and East Pakistan
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 the
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.
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
. 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
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
Prayag , or
The symbolic and religious importance of the
Ganges is one of the few
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
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
Heaven ) slays the celestial serpent,
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
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
Mount Meru , whose petals form the earthly continents.
There, the divine waters break up, with one stream, the
flowing down one petal into Bharatvarsha (India) as the Ganges.
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
Mahabharata and 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
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,
Shiva in his
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 waiting
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
Himalayas is named
Bhagirathi , (Sanskrit, "of Bhagiratha").
REDEMPTION OF THE DEAD
Preparations for cremations on the banks of the
Varanasi , 1903. The dead are being bathed, wrapped in cloth and
covered with wood. The photograph has caption, "Who dies in the waters
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 purifying
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 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
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, that
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 (circa 1740).
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
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.
sometimes called _Uma-Ganga-Patiswara_ ("Husband and Lord of Uma
(Parvati) and Ganga"), and Ganga often arouses the jealousy of Shiva's
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
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
Mahabharata _, she is the wife of
Shantanu , and the mother of
Bhishma . When
Bhishma is 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 everlasting.
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, Boston .
Goddess Ganga with left hand resting on a dwarf attendant's head
from the Rameshwar Temple ,
Ellora Caves , Maharashtra. Date of
Sculpture, 6th century
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
The goddess Ganga (right) in tribhanga pose with retinue.
Pratihara , 10th century, now in National Museum, New
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 Central
India (circa 400 CE). Here, in Cave V ,
flanking the main figure of
Vishnu shown in his boar incarnation, two
river goddesses, Ganga and
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 relief in
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
Kumbh Mela at
Allahabad , 2001. Main article:
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 (
Ujjain , and
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
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
Samuel Bourne .
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
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. The
highlighted in red stretching between its headworks off the Ganges
river in Hardwar and its confluences with the Jumna river in 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 by
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
India Company 's
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
350-mile long canal, with another 300 miles 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 and the
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 Stone:
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 26-mile (42 km) 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 between
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
Devprayag. Construction of the dam in an earthquake prone area was
Bansagar Dam was built on the
Son River , a tributary of the Ganges
for both irrigation and hydroelectric power generation.
A girl selling plastic containers for carrying
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
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
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_), tigers (_Panthera tigris_), Indian rhinoceros (_Rhinoceros
unicornis_), gaurs (_Bos gaurus_), barasinghas (_Rucervus
duvaucelii_), sloth bears (_Melursus ursinus_) and Indian lions . In
the 21st century there are few large wild animals, mostly deer, boars,
wildcats, and small numbers of wolves, jackals, and foxes. Bengal
tigers survive only in the
Sundarbans area of the
Crocodiles and barasingha are also found in the Sundarbans. The
Sundarbands freshwater swamp ecoregion, however, is nearly extinct.
Threatened mammals in the upper
Gangetic Plain include the tiger,
elephant, sloth bear, and chousingha (_Tetracerus quadricornis_). _
Lesser florican (Sypheotides indicus_)
Fish are found in all the major rivers of the
Ganges basin, and are a
vital food source for many people. In the Bengal area common fish
include featherbacks (
Notopteridae family), barbs (
walking catfish (_Clarias batrachus_), gouramis (
Anabantidae ), and
milkfish (_Chanos chanos_). The critically endangered
(_Glyphis gangeticus_) is also found in the river and other places in
Many types of birds are found throughout the basin, such as myna ,
parrots, 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
species . _
Gharial (Gavialis gangeticus_)
Ganges River itself supports the mugger crocodile (_Crocodylus
palustris_) and the gharial (_Gavialis gangeticus_). The river's most
famed fauna is the freshwater dolphin _Platanista gangetica
Ganges river dolphin , recently declared India's
national aquatic animal.
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_).
GANGES RIVER DOLPHIN
The Gangetic dolphin in a sketch by Whymper and P. Smit, 1894.
Ganges river dolphin , which used to exist in large schools near
to urban centres in both the
Brahmaputra rivers, 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.
A recent survey by the
World Wildlife Fund found only 3,000 left in
the water catchment of both river systems.
Ganges river dolphin is one of only five freshwater dolphins in
the world. The other four are the baiji (_Lipotes vexillifer_) of the
Yangtze River in China, now likely extinct; the bhulan of the Indus
River in Pakistan; the boto of the
Amazon River in Brazil; and the
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
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. 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).
POLLUTION AND ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERNS
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
three percent of India's GDP. It has also been suggested that eighty
percent of all illnesses in
India and one-third of deaths can be
attributed to water-borne diseases.
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." The Ganga Action
Plan has been described variously as a "failure", a "major
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," Indian "traditions and
beliefs," "corruption and a lack of technical knowledge" and "lack
of support from religious authorities."
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
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 , 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
Recent studies by
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
Varanasi the river once had an average depth of 60 metres
(200 ft), but in some places it is now only 10 metres (33 ft).
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
Haridwar district ,
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.
List of rivers by discharge
List of rivers by length
* List of rivers of
National Waterway 1 (India)
* Swach Ganga (Clean Ganga) Campaign
Unnao dead bodies row
Fair river sharing
* ^ _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 (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
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 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 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:
"Sifting climate facts from speculation". 13 January 2010. and
"Pachauri calls Indian govt. report on melting Himalayan glaciers as
\'voodoo science\'". Thaindian News. 9 January 2010. On the IPCC
statement withdrawing the finding, see: "IPCC statement on the melting
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Climate Change. 20 January 2010.
* ^ _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 most deem it a failure by the early 1990s." (p. 320)
* ^ Dudgeon (2005)
"To reduce the water pollution in one of Asia's major rivers, the
Indian Government initiated the
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 built upon the existing,
but weakly enforced, 1974 Water Prevention and Control Act. A
government audit of the
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 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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