Monday 17 September 2012

Conserving ‘Bhagirathi’ Ganga as a Natural, Holy and Heritage River of India

‘Bhagirathi’ Ganga needs to be conserved as the Heritage River of India, says Achal Garg in his article, and explains why.

Million Years Old Tradition of Special Faith and Respect

Ganga Campaign
Gangotri: The Origin of River Ganga.
Image Credit

The very special faith and respect for River Ganga in India are as old as the Indian culture itself. This is clearly evident in the Ramayana, Mahabharata, Puranas, and other ancient Indian scriptures. These special sentiments are not limited to people of any particular caste, creed or region, but extend to whole populace of India - even in states like Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra, which have no geographical relationship to the Ganga basin - and to all Indian sects including Buddhists, Sikhs, Muslims and Christians. Infact, the respect for Ganga is a part of ‘Indian Identity’ and the very symbol of ‘Indian Culture’. Nothing else would qualify as a better symbol representing the “Heritage of India”.

This very special faith and respect are based not merely on imagination, sentimentalism, superstition, mysticism or blind faith, but on extensive, life-long observations and experiences of generations of Indian sages on the special characteristics and qualities of ‘Gangajal’ - the holy water of Ganga. These special qualities could be summarized by a phrase used by Goswami Tulsidas to describe the water of Mandakini Ganga, which means “Remover of mental and physical ills and impurities” (Source: Ramcharit Manas, Ayodhya Kand, 132). While the removal or keeping away of mental and physical ills and ill-health is a matter of long experience and can not be measured in an analytical laboratory, it can be actually confirmed or denied by an epidemiological study, which incidentally has never been attempted.

The Very Special Qualities and Capability of Gangajal and Human Interference

The putrefaction-resisting, selectively bactericidal and the capacity for speedy self-purification are some unique qualities of Gangajal, which are not merely believed but have been personally experienced by most Indians, and can be easily verified, quantified and compared in an analytical laboratory. Unfortunately, very few studies have been done on these so far, and any study that has been done, only supports the specialties of Gangajal and the sediments of Ganga. Actually, very little scientific research has been carried out to test and verify the widely believed pollution-removing and self-cleansing powers of Gangajal, probably due to apprehensions that any findings supporting such beliefs shall go against “Secularism” and “Modernity” while a negation shall hurt the feelings of the believing masses. 

The body of the living world is essentially composed of the non-living elements that one could loosely call ‘minerals’ as they are derived from mother earth. A slight variation in the balance of these ‘minerals’ in the body of a living creative or in the environment, could make all the difference in healthy or un-healthy environment. Mountain-waters are regarded as more healthy, not merely because of being low in pollution but because of a more healthy mix of minerals present in them. It appears that Gangajal contains a unique mix of minerals that give it health-promoting, non-putrefying properties, and bestow upon it the pride of place amongst waters from all rivers.

This unique power of Ganga has been noted by our wise ancestors and is the basis of assigning such a pride of place to Ganga among all rivers and water-bodies of India. This unique power is, of course, higher and stronger in the upper reaches of Himalayas. It is this unique heritage which is now under threat.

Due to such unique qualities and properties of Gangajal, some of which have been mentioned above, Ganga is the most valuable “Heritage of India”. No other river in the world is as respected and as worshiped as Ganga - to such an extent and by so many people around the globe, is ample proof of this. Human interference with the natural flow of the river - change in topography and ecology, other changes such as large obstructions, diversions, channelization or discharge of large amount of waters, deforestation, urbanization, construction of roads or other large structures - are bound to have disastrous impacts on these unique qualities and properties of Gangajal as it disturbs the sensitive natural rock-soil-water-air-ecology balance, and this should not be allowed.

Bhagirathi - the Main Critical Stream Demands Immediate Decision and Action

According to Indians' traditional belief - not mere folklore, mythology or superstition, but based on long extensive observations and experiences of generations - Bhagirathi is the original and more pious stream of Ganga. It is believed that the stream that ‘Sage Bhagirath’ strived to bring down from the heavens in ancient times, touched ground at Gaumukh (or Gomukh) in Gangotri, a place in Himalayas, and took shape of a flowing stream - this place is considered to be the origin of Ganga. The mass belief of linking it with Sage Bhagirath, and hence naming it as Bhagirathi, makes it our “Heritage” left to us by our ancestors, a quality that makes it the greatest. 

Hence, Bhagirathi should have been the first priority in the list of rivers to be conserved, and it should be conserved as a natural, holy and heritage river of India for the coming generations.

Achal Garg is currently pursuing his B.Tech. Degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Petroleum and Energy Studies, Dehradun, India. He is involved in various organizational and social practices to bring sustainable development in the society and community for conservation of environment through enterprise-led development initiatives.

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