100 Days in India Project

Line of boats at dawn on the river Ganges in India. The perplexing river Ganges.

20/ 100 The Perplexing River Ganges

I’ve mentioned the river Ganges a few times in these first 20 days of my 100 day project. It stretches all the way from the mountainous north west of India and meanders lazily across the top-half of the country until it enters Bangladesh where it changes its name and flows out into the Bay of Bengal. Along the 1500 miles it travels over land it passes through huge cities, rapidly collecting incredible amounts of contaminants to make it one of the most polluted rivers on Earth. To the Hindus of India, the most popular religion there, the river is a manifestation of the Goddess Ganga and is enormously important. So much so, in fact, that Hindu people are obsessed with bathing in the river as often as they can. People make incredible pilgrimages to places like Varanasi just to be blessed by the filthy water. We were told that Hindus even try and time their lives just perfectly so that they end up in Varanasi when they die in order that they can be cremated on the ghats there and washed into the river Ganges itself. Life goals, or death goals?

So here’s what perplexes me the most about the river Ganges. As the river is so incredibly important to them, why do they quite literally treat it like a waste disposal site and toilet? It is worshipped by the very same people who fill it full of pollution and grime.

We frequently saw people drinking the holy waters right next to someone emptying watery diesel from his boat. Early each morning you’ll find religious people using some very unholy substances to scrub and polish the metal icons and lanterns from the elaborate religious ceremonies that took place the previous night, right there in the river. Each evening they love to float little foil dishes containing a candle out into the river by the thousand where they stay. Most often their explanation for their total disregard for the cleanliness of the river was this – part of the magic of the Goddess Ganga is that once each year the monsoon rains come and the Ganges river rises a phenomenal amount, completely flushing all the nasties out of the river and away from India. To some extent I suppose it’s true, however all that dirt and pollution has to end up somewhere further down the line and they are somehow able to ignore that concept.

If you are interested in reading more about the River Ganges, and the fascinating role it plays in the lives of so many Indian people, I would highly recommend this book titled River Ganges – River of Life, River of Death by Author Victor Mallet.