The Ganges River, approximately 20 millions visit a year,known as Ganga Ma or “Mother Ganges,” runs from the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal coming to a feat of 1,560 miles.
, Hindi Ganga
great river of the plains of the northern Indian subcontinent. Although officially as well as popularly called the Ganga in Hindi
and in other Indian languages, internationally it is known by its conventional name, the Ganges.
The Ganges River caters to the body, mind and spirit of every Hindu.
Indian pilgrimage: Windsor to the Ganges (telegraph.uk.co)
From time immemorial it has been the holy river of Hinduism
To the many people living around it, and those who believe in its majesty, this river represents life, purity, and a goddess. The story of the Ganga is of how the goddess poured herself down from heaven upon the ashes of King Sarga’s sons. It was this cleansing and self-sacrificing move that raised the King’s sons to dwell in peace in heaven. It is also believed that anyone who touches these purifying waters even today is cleansed of all sins.
The Ganges River is not just a river but is accorded a prestige of a deity.
In Hindu mythology
the Ganges river was created when Vishnu
, in his incarnation as the dwarf brahmin, took two steps to cross the universe. On the second step Vishnu’s big toe accidentally created a hole in the wall
of the universe and through it spilled some of the waters of the River Mandakini. Meanwhile, the great mythological king Bhagiratha was concerned to discover that 60,000 of King Sagara’s ancestors had been incinerated from the stare of the Vedic sage Kapila. Wanting these ancestors to reach heaven, Bhagiratha asked Kapila how this might be achieved. The response was to pray earnestly to Vishnu and perform ascetic acts for a thousand years. The great god, gratified by Bhagiratha’s piety, agreed for Ganga to descend to earth where she might wash over the ashes of the 60,000, purify them, and permit them to ascend to heaven. There was a problem though, that if Ganga merely dropped from heaven her swirling waters would do untold damage. Therefore, Shiva
offered to gently lower the goddess in his hair which he did, rather cautiously taking 1,000 years. Safely arrived on earth, Bhagiratha guided Ganga across India, where she split into many subsidiaries, and successfully washed the ashes of Sagara’s ancestors in her sacred waters.
Idol of Lord Shiva on the River Ganges at Rikishesh, taken at night. Another name for Lord Shiva is Chandrasekhar, the Lord of the Moon. (wikipedia)
The Ganges often appears in Hindu mythology as a background location, for example, as a place where the famous figures Atri and Death performed various acts of asceticism. In the Siva Purana the Ganges carries the seed of Shiva which, when carried to a clump of reeds, became Skanda. In the Matsya Purana and the story of the Great Flood the first man Manu throws a giant fish into the river which then continues to grow to gigantic proportions, eventually escaping to the sea. (ancient.eu)
One of the most sacred sites in India is alongside the Ganges at Varanasi. Here, in one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world, there is the Hindu Golden Temple, dedicated to Shiva. The site is also sacred to Jains and Buddhists but it is perhaps most famous as a place of retirement, cremation, and the spreading of ashes upon the sacred river. (ancient.eu)
GANGA IN ART The goddess is often depicted in Hindu art wearing a white saree and riding a crocodile. Ganga frequently appears in sculpture near temple doors and on decorative relief panels along with her sister river goddess Yamuna. A celebrated representation of Ganga is from a sandstone lintel of a temple at Beshnagar. Dating to c. 500 CE, the goddess stands on a makara (a mythological mix of crocodile and elephant) which symbolises the life-giving nature of water. The descent of the goddess aided by Shiva is another popular scene in art and an outstanding example is the 7th century CE granite relief panel at a cave-shrine at Mamallapuram near Madras. Measuring 24 x 6 metres, the scene shows Ganga descending in the centre surrounded by gods, people, and animals. A cistern positioned above the relief could be filled on special occasions and so water trickled down the sculpture to add some three-dimensional realism to the miracle of the great Ganges arriving on earth. (google.com)
Religious Significance :
Ganga is regarded as the holy river of India. According to the Hindu beliefs a dip in the Ganga water can wash away all the sins. Thousand of people spend the last days of their life on the bank of the river. Ganga is regarded as the Goddess and is worshiped among the Hindus. Ganga Devi is one of the two daughters of Meru (the Himalayas), the other one is Uma (the consort of Shiva). Every day the arti (prayer) is done on the bank of the river to pay homage to the Goddess Ganga. Many people in India call Ganga as Ganga Ma. Ganga finds mention in the ancient Hindu scriptures called Rig Veda.
According to tradition it is said that goddess Ganga used to water the gardens of heaven but her purifying powers were needed on earth to cleanse the ashes. (speakingzero.com)
Ganga has been serving million people for the centuries. Its fertile soil is good for the agricultural purpose. It serves as the source of irrigation to the large area. Some of the crops that can be cultivated along the river includes rice, sesame, sugarcane, millets, wheat, potatoes, sugarcane, jute and seeds. Ganga has been the source of drinking, bathing and baptism.
Ganga and it’s tributaries (Yamuna, Gomati, ghagara and many more smaller ones) are the main source of water for domestic as well as irrigation purposes
Ganges have been the ultimate rafting site in India. The magic of white water rafting at the Ganges especially in Rishikesh is beyond one’s imagination. Besides rafting you can also try out various other water sports in its water. Apart from the water sports Ganga holds the great wildlife. It is the home to number of resident and migratory birds. ( ecoindia.com)
Regarded as sacred by Hindus, the river is personified as the goddess Ganga in ancient texts and art. Ritual bathing in the Ganges was and is an important part of Hindu
pilgrimage and the ashes of the cremated are often spread across her waters.
After cremation, the ashes of the deceased are thrown into the Ganges. Even those who are not cremated near the river have their ashes placed there.
Triveni Ghat is a sacred ghat on the bank of holy river Ganges which is used by pilgrims to bath. Mostly people take a holy bath at this Ghat before visiting the temples in Rishikesh. The prime attraction of this Ghat is the evening aarti (also called MAHA AARTI) which is attended by thousands of devotees from all over the world. This Maha Aarti takes places with lot of lightings and drums making an amazing atmosphere. (amazingindiablog.in)
Worshippers believe that bathing in the River Ganges during the festival will absolve them from sin. (aljazeera)
When a loved one dies, they return to the Ganges to consign the ashes to her custody (upliftconnect)
Aghori sadhus smear themselves with human ash, which is the last rite of the material body. (bonjoumesamis.blogspot.com)
Manikarnika is among the many cremation ghats on the banks of river Ganga in Varanasi (dailymail.uk)
Bathers in the Ganges, on the river steps of Varanasi
The bodies intended for cremation had been carried down a narrow twisting maze through the close-set alleys of shops, houses and stores, by their families or relations. They were then set down on the steps by the Ganges, wrapped in orange shawls to wait for an available burning pyre. People come from all over India to be cremated in Benaras and to have their ashes scattered on the Ganges here. “You hear how when they bring the bodies down the steps from above they are chanting Rama Nama Satya Hai! and the group answers back with the same call, Rama Nama Satya Hai! “This means ‘Rama is the name of the Truth of existence. This is the fate of all’.” And indeed they did chant this call and response, again and again and again as they threaded their way down the narrow alleys and past the businesses and stalls that open up directly upon the cobblestoned way of the ancient paths of Benaras. (petermalakoff)
There were groups of people at various places all over the ghat at higher and lower levels.There were mainly the relatives of the departed. It was all men, there were no women present, except amongst the few Western white people, sitting on the upper stairs looking on. There are no women here; this is a place of karma, not of emotion. Women cry and their crying may hold the soul to the world or cause sickness to them and be bad for the soul, so that it cannot leave. Men cry, but they do so internally, they do not show it. This is a place of karma, there are actions that need to be done and men are the ones that do it.” (petermalakoff)
Then they pour the Ganges water directly into the mouth of the deceased, taking off the outer shroud. They repeat this three times. Then the corpse is carried to where a pyre has been prepared of banyan wood, unless you happen to be very rich where the wood used is sandalwood. (petermalakoff)
Notice how so many bodies are burning”, said Ram. “Have you ever burned your hair if you cut off some of it? Have you ever noticed how bad that smells? Have you noticed that there is no bad smell?” It was true, I agreed, and began to wonder at the man who had so much to say, and such an interesting story to tell. I had not noticed any bad smell of flesh being burnt. “This is because of the Banyan tree logs”, Ram said. “They work in such a way as to make null the smell.” He went on, “Sandalwood logs cost very much. It only costs rs300($9) for enough Banyan wood to burn a body. Sandalwood is only affordable by the very rich. I help out at the ghat where widows, because of the blessings of Kasi(Benaras) and the promise of liberation, come to die. They live there until they die. I take care of them.” (petermalakoff)
In Benaras, everywhere is dirty. The holy men are dirty. There are dirty beggars out in front of the nicest hotels. Cleanliness is not associated with holiness or even with a life worth living or value worth striving for. Most hospitals in other countries are kept white and washed and sterile as if it is germs alone that cause disease. The hospital in India even the small hospital would be considered dirty by Western standards but according to the germ theory of disease in the West, the Indian people should be the sickest of any population on earth, but, they are not. The Hindus do have extremely exacting idea and practice of purity, sacredness and ritual. But, this does not necessarily include what we in the west would call ‘cleanliness’.
There is cow dung and buffalo dung and dog shit and human shit and the streets are dirty and you see men urinating and people shitting everywhere and there is the recognizable smell of shit and urine and there is exhaust from diesel trucks and smoke from fires and the streets are dirty with trash and more shit and when you go to get a haircut you sit on a flat stone on the ground and the barber sits on a flat stone in front of you beside a dirty street with a pile of cow dung a few feet away and the whole place is buzzing with flies
And the street you are sitting on is one which goes down to the ghat which is on a river which is the holiest in India and is itself polluted with fecal matter from the thirty streams of untreated sewage that constantly flow into it in Benaras alone and in which people come to bathe and to brush their teeth and the milkmen wash their buckets while the occasional dead body or only partially burned corpse is floating and just a little ways upstream has been the place where the ashes of burned bodies and some of them only partially, are daily poured into the river. India is not clean.
All over the place were piles of cow dung, fine debris and not so fine debris and sometimes it was deep. Everything was dirty, blackened and browned, everywhere was dirty and there was a strange sort of perfection and even orderliness or sanctification to it all as well. Like a forest where the leaves and dead branches and rocks and death of so much living matter shows itself as beauty, so was it here.
Here, imagine, as Ramakrishna saw- Shiva, the great God of Death and Life walking the ghats and receiving the souls of the departed. Its absolutely beautiful and serene. It was as if something real, something natural was happening here and always had. This was Benaras; a city renowned for death and eternal life and this was the very heart of that city.
What does “real” really mean? Perhaps, what is ‘real’ refers to what man cannot control, what man cannot prevent or pervert. It certainly includes a clear encounter with the most ancient mystery that man encounters- death. (petermalakoff)
Mahakumbh, mahapollution…The hoary Ganga is now a concentrate of human and industrial waste. (thehindubusinessline.com)
The Ganga river basin is one of the most polluted in the world. Over 12 billion litres of sewage and 4 billion litres of industrial effluent are generated in the river basin (thehindubusinessline.com)
In this picture, people are bathing in the Ganges River, which is heavily polluted from sewage, garbage, and corpses lingering in the river. (indiapollutionproject.weebly.com)
Children search for coins and gold in the polluted waters of the Ganga river in Allahabad (deccanchronicle.com)
Drawing millions of devotees and tourists, the two-month-long Maha Kumbh Mela festival is celebrated every 12 years on the banks of the Sangram, at the confluence of sacred Ganges and Yamuna rivers in India. But the Ganges River especially has been revered by Hindus to the point of extinction.
The Kumbh Mela custom is to bathe in these waters – a dip is in the Ganges, or Ganga, said to be a baptism for the soul; a sip is nectar to cleanse the body – even as more than a quarter-million gallons of raw sewage are pumped into the river every day, reports The National. Factories dump industrial waste into the river, which mixes with untreated sewage from cities with treatment plants unable to keep up with the waste produced by their booming populations.
For the near record 120 million Kumbh Mela bathers in 2013, Indian authorities opened a dam upstream to dilute toxins and ordered more than 1,000 tanneries to temporarily quit dumping arsenic and chromium run-off into the Ganges, according to the Financial Times.
Even so, the water doesn’t begin to approach drinkability, and millions of bodies immersed in the river for what is thought to be the largest religious gathering in the world doesn’t help. Devotees have staged hunger to force the government to clean up the Ganges and halt proposed dams as its headwaters. (in.weather.com)