¶ … History River Ganges? - famous? -Why considered holy? -Talk religious traditions surrounding . -famous floods disasters river caused river? -talk polluted -talk clean . -How river affect living ? Scope Essay: The focus essay River Ganges Varanasi.
Ganges is the sacred river of India and this country's history and traditions are closely linked to it. It is important for the economy, including because of transportation facilities, and for many other reasons. However, primarily, it is core to Indian identity, linking the present to the mythological past and to the future.
Despite all these aspects, the Ganges remains under serious threat because of the pollution levels in the water. Despite governmental efforts to curb pollution and solve some of the stringent aspects of this negative phenomenon, pollution remains a big problem (Agrawal 1994, 46). Human and industrial waste, as well as the side effects of national festivals that involve bathing in the river, have raised the levels of pollution and have made the Ganges one of the top ten most polluted rivers in the world.
This paper will aim to look at all of these aspects linked to the Ganges. In a cohesive manner, it plans to discuss the history of the River Ganges, along with the spiritual and religious traditions that are linked to it. A second part of the paper will discuss the pollution phenomenon, including the causes and most damaging factors, as well as the governmental action to fight pollution in the Ganges.
History of River Ganges
This section of the paper will talk about the history of the River Ganges, so that the reader can gain a better perspective of the impact the river had over thousands of years on the Indian civilization and why it is considered the most sacred river to Hindus (Alter 2001, 21).
According to McIntosh (2008, 3), at the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC, the Indian civilization, concentrated until that moment in the Valley of the Indus River, gradually shifted towards the Ganges. As a consequence, successive powerful civilizations had the Ganges and the plain around the river as their center, including the Maurya Empire and the Mughal Empire (Wink 2002, 423). Many of the capitals of Indian empires were based on the banks of the River Ganges, including Allahabad and Kannauj.
The Ganges River became known to the Europeans through the work IndiKa, written by Megasthenes (Ostrovsky 2007, 44). Born around 350 BC in what is today Turkey, Megasthenes travelled extensively to India and wrote in detail about the many river basins he discovered, including the Ganges Basin (Kalota 1976, 61). He thus mentions that most of the rivers that cross India eventually flow into the Ganges.
The importance of the Ganges rose as the later Vedas gave the river more importance than it had previously had in the Early Vedas, which generally favored either the Indus River or the Sarasvati River, considered as the sacred rivers (Thapar 1971, 415).
Quite often, history and mythology blend together and, while the latter will be further addressed when discussing the holiness of the Ganges River, it is important to note one mythological tradition that involved King Bhagiratha, who belonged to the Solar Dynasty (Kulasrestha 2006, 65). The legend proposes that the legendary King Bhagiratha brought the Ganges to Earth from the Heavens, helped by the Lord Shiva (Gold 1990, 202).
A more nuanced and realistic mythology explains that the Ganges was actually located in the northern part of India and that King Bhagiratha moved to its banks to ask for help in having an offspring (Lochtefeld 2009, 29). As this occurred, he moved the river from the north to its current location. Other legends include the fact that the King wanted to have salvation for his relatives.
Holiness of the Ganges River
In order to better understand the holiness of the Ganges River, one needs to refer to its focal role in Hinduism. On one hand, the River Ganges is the physical expression of the goddess Ganga (or rather, the river is personified as the deity)(Hollick 2008, 20). This is an essential component that links the river to the Indian people and their traditions.
The section of this paper referring to the history of the river has looked briefly into the mythological origins of the River Ganges....
To expand on that, one should note that the birth of the river is associated with Lord Vishnu, who, with the purpose of measuring the Universe, place his left foot to one side. His toe nail made a hole through which the river came out.
As previously discussed, Ganges resides in the Heavens until Bhagiratha brings the river to Earth. It is interesting how this happens: the river-god is extremely powerful, so there is a general fear that it will damage the Earth when it comes down. Lord Shiva becomes involved, withholding the river in his hair and letting it down more easily to Earth.
At the same time, the River Ganges also represents all the rivers of India, in a powerful representation that places Ganges in all the locations of India. The rivers in India are called local Ganges, in the sense that the Kaveri River, for example, is called the Ganges of the South (Eck 1982, 214). As such, the holiness of the River Ganges is spread symbolically throughout the land and all Hindus are able to be close to it and to include it in their religious traditions and sacred approaches.
Another component of its holiness is the fact that it is the only river that has passed through three different worlds: Heaven, Earth and the Underworld. It has been previously discussed in this paper how the Ganges was originally located in Heaven and how it came down to Earth. However, during this process,
The religious traditions associated with the River Ganges are obviously tied to its water. Khandelwal and Garg (2011) emphasize the use of the holy water of the river in different ceremonies, but also for what people believe to be curative properties. In terms of the former, the use of the holy water often implies a ritual bathing in the river, something that every Hindu is supposed to undertake at least once in his lifetime. As Daniel (2013) mentions, the 'Shahi Snan' or "grand bath" is believed to wash away the sins of life, because of the purifying qualities that the river has, from this life and all previous ones.
The water of the Ganges is believed to be purifying and there are several arguments in favor of this. On one hand, there is the profile of the river as a physical expression of a deity. At the same time, it is also the entire mythology and background related to the Ganges. Finally, in Hinduism, moving waters are believed to be essential to the process of purification: the entire idea of movement is perceived as being able to take away everything from the body (Kinsley 1987, 189).
One of the interesting festivals during which this bath can take place is the Grand Pitcher Festival, which takes place in Allahabad, a point of confluence between the Ganges and the Yamuna. According to Daniel (2013), it is not uncommon to have as many as 100 million people taking part of in such a festival, over a period of two days. Occasionally, the ritual bath in the Ganges is also associated with some sort of planetary or star alignment, which makes the bath more powerful. This type of bath is referred to as a Royal Bath.
The festival is linked to mythology and to the story of Lord Vishnu's mythical struggle with demons over a pot with the nectar of immortality. According to the tradition, the fight went on for 12 days, during which four drops of honey fell on the Indian ground, in four cities: Allahabad, Haridwar, Ujain and Nasik (Verma 2009, 272). Each of these cities has its own Grand Pitcher Festival, but the festival in Allahabad remains the most holy of the four.
Another important religious tradition associated with the River Ganges is linked to its perception as the instrument that connects Earth and Heaven (Eck 1998, 144). This is obviously in line with what was previously discussed as part of the river's history and mythological interpretation, namely the fact that the river is perceived as having travelled to the Underworld, as well as to Earth and Heaven.
The religious tradition implies that the dead person is either burned on the banks of the Ganges or, if death occurred elsewhere, his ashes are brought and thrown into the Ganges to achieve salvation. The most famous location where the funerary burnings occur is Varanasi, known as the Great Cremation Ground. As Parry (1994) points out, most activities in Varanasi are, in some way or another, linked to "death."
It is interesting to note, when referring to religious traditions and the idea of salvation, that not all categories of beings are cremated before being thrown into the…
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