River Ganga, also known as the Ganges, is the most famous and sacred river of the Indian Subcontinent rising from the Himalayan Mountains. Its length is 2,510 km and it generally flows towards the eastern part of India and throughout its course it passes through Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and West Bengal, finally merging into the famous Bay of Bengal.
Ganga is the lifeline to major agricultural production in the north-eastern part of India and its plain is considered as one of the most fertile and hence most populated amongst the regions not only in India but in the world. River Ganga flows and spreads itself across a million square km and over 407 million people resides in and around the vicinity of the Gangetic plains. Along with agriculture, millions are dependent on the water of the Ganges for bathing, drinking, household chores and of course industrial purpose.
Source of Ganga River
Actually, River Bhagirathi originates from the glacial water of the Himalayas in Uttarakhand. The flow of Bhagirathi begins from the cave of Gaumukh, located at the altitude of 4,000 meters. Bhagirathi reaches Gangotri which comes on its way after flowing twenty-three kilometers from the cave of Gaumukh. Gangotri is situated around 10,000 feet in the Uttarkashi, and thousands of visitors visit this holy place to seek darshan of Goddess Ganga. Gangotri is one amongst the Chardhams (four pilgrimage centers) the others being Badrinath, Kedarnath and Yamunotri. The shrine is open for six months (Mar-Sept) and the remaining six months (Oct-April) the shrine remains snow capped and the idol of Goddess Ganga is kept in the nearby village of Mukhba.
Again in the Himalayas of Uttarakhand, the river on its way then joins River Alaknanda at Devaprayag and here it forms itself as the Ganga. After draining flawlessly through the Himalayan Valley it reaches north Indian plains to spread vastly starting from the town of Haridwar.
Ganga River in Plains
Starting from the holy town of Haridwar, the journey of Ganga begins in the plains and throughout its course it flows towards the southeast until it merges into the Bay of Bengal. The Ganges flows through the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal. The most interesting part about the flow of Ganga is that today some of the most densely populated Indian cities are established alongside the river including Allahabad, Kanpur, Varanasi (Banaras), Patna, and Kolkata. In Allahabad, the river forms Triveni Sangam along with the rivers Jamuna and Saraswati.
Following are the tributaries of River Ganga –
- The Ghaghara is the largest tributary. It meets Ganga upon its entering into the state of Bihar, Doriganj.
- The Himalayan tributary of Gandak which comes from Katmandu
- River Son which originates from the Hills of Madhya Pradesh
- River Gomti which crosses the city of Lucknow and
- Chambal which flows from Yamuna and becomes a part of greater Gangetic drainage system
The first distributary of River Ganga starts off with its first attrition of the River Bhagirathi which parts away from Ganga to form River Hooghly. It is to be noted that River Ganga also flows through central Bangladesh where it gets united with River Brahmaputra and River Meghna. The three waters together form River Padma and the Ganga delta (354 km) formed is shared equally by India and Bangladesh. The delta finally merges into the Bay of Bengal. The name of Sundarbans is definitely worth mentioning as it spreads itself as a vast ragged swamp forest formed on the deltaic base of River Hooghly and River Padma.
Ganga Nitya Vaahini – The Eternal River
River Ganga is mainly revered as the mother by devout Hindus. It is believed that bathing in the river removes all sins. Again, the vial of water from the Ganga is found in almost every Hindu house. As mentioned in ancient scriptures, any Hindu – breathing his last – should drink water of the River Ganga to attain salvation. Again, River Ganga is considered the holiest amongst all religious places and a number of religious congregations like Kumbh Mela and Chhat Puja are celebrated on the banks of River Ganges.
As the river reaches the plains, enters Allahabad and Varanasi, its pace of becomes slow. As it flows across the plains, it gets on becoming polluted through its course. Heavy population density on the banks of the Ganga on plains is one of the core reasons behind its contamination. Again, people residing near the river are equally exposed to the potentially hazardous deposits.
India’s National River
The River Ganga is the epitome of hope, faith, substance and sanity. On November 4, 2008, the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declared that Ganga should henceforth be called the ‘National River’. Singh also declared setting up of Ganga River Basin Authority to tackle its pollution and degradation. The project is really huge involving the Chief Ministers of different states for the conservation of this holy river.
Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, wrote in his book “The Ganga, above all, is the river of India which has held India’s heart captive and drawn uncounted millions to her banks since the dawn of history. The story of the Ganga, from her source to the sea, from old times to new, is the story of India’s civilisation and culture, of the rise and fall of empires, of great and proud cities, of adventures of man.”
In the earliest of all Hindu scriptures, Rig Veda, we could find the earliest references made to River Ganga, not in the same name though. In Rig Veda10.75, reference has been made to a river which flows from east to west. During Indo-Aryan Ages, River Indus and River Saraswati were given prime importance. However, the later three Vedas have given much importance to the River Ganga. In the epic Hindu Puranas Goddess Ganga existed in the Heaven.
Then Prince Bhagirath prayed to Ganga to descend on earth. This is why Ganga is also known as Bhagirathi. In the Mahabharata this story is mentioned. In fact, Ganga is a major character in the Mahabharata, where she is the mother of Bhishma. Another version of the legend tells us that Ganga descended on earth to purify the souls of the 60,000 sons of an ancient ruler, King Sagara, who had been burnt to ashes by an enraged ascetic.
Legend of Ganga River
Numerous stories are in existence around River Ganga. According to a legend, Ganga was requested by Lord Brahma, to descend onto Earth and free the souls of the sixty thousand sons of Sumati. Lord Brahma requested Ganga, because he was satisfied with the penance performed by Bhagiratha, who wanted to free the Ishvaku lineage from the curse they were suffering from. Bhagiratha also pacified Lord Shiva and made him arrest the thunderous fall of Ganga, in his jata. Finally, Ganga was released onto the Himalayan Mountains, by Lord Shiva from his Jata and branched into seven streams. The seventh stream followed the chariot of Bhagiratha and cleansed the ashes of the sixty thousand sons of Sumati, in the cave of Kapila. This entire story has been vividly depicted in the Ramayana. Later, Lord Brahma named Ganga as Bhagirathi, daughter of Bhagiratha.
Ganga in Hindu Religion
As per Hindu traditions and beliefs, River Ganga is considered as extremely auspicious. It is believed that taking a dip in the holy waters of River Ganga, cleanses the soul and washes away all sins committed in the past. The ashes of the closest of kin are also immersed in the holy waters of Ganga, as it is believed to directly send their souls to heaven. Numerous places, which are sacred to the Hindus, lie on the banks of the River Ganga, the most popular being the city of Varanasi. Some of the most popular Hindu festivals and congregations are also celebrated on the banks of the River Ganga, such as, Chatth Puja, Kumbh Mela etc.
Ganga a National Heritage
Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, assured the Ganga Raksha Manch, that the River Ganga would be given the status of national heritage. Dr. Singh also pledged to revive the former glory of the river through a coordinated approach and deployment of cleaning programs, extending from the upper reaches of Haridwar to the Ganga Sagar, Bay of Bengal. Government cleared funds worth Rs 1,394 crores for states of Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had said, “The Ganga especially is the river of India’s age-long culture and civilization, ever changing, ever flowing, and yet ever the same Ganga”.