What are the living rivers in India

Ganges riverSpiritual cleansing and stinking water

Already now, in the pale light of dawn, life is pulsating on the banks and the bathing areas of the Ganges. Mobile tea vendors selling spiced milk tea make their way through the crowd. Barbers sharpen their knives before they start shaving the heads of believers. Priests recite lines of verse from ancient scriptures, while the first pilgrims, amid oil lamps and chains of flowers, do their ablutions in the holy river.

An old man in a white hip scarf has closed his eyes and with folded hands scoops water, which he lets slowly run over his head and shoulders. Women dressed in saris stand in the stream up to their navel. Silently they move their lips in supplication to Mother Ganga, the river goddess. Then they suddenly dive under, snorting, and then let banana leaves covered with rose petals and candles float on the river.

In the Hindu religions, according to the Hindu priest Rahul Shankar, the Ganges is considered the holiest of all rivers:

"From the source to the mouth this river is 3,000 kilometers long. Only at one point, in Varanasi, does our goddess Ganga flow for a length of almost five kilometers from south to north. This makes a bath on site particularly auspicious. And exactly that is the reason why so many people from all over India come to take their ritual bath here. "

The Ganges is the most important of the seven sacred rivers that cross the Indian subcontinent. "Ganga Mata" - mother Ganga - the goddess who manifested herself in the Ganges has special power in the eyes of the believers: Her water should contain an elixir of immortality and be useful for spiritual purification and the healing of diseases. It is also assumed that a bath in the Ganges increases the chance of a better rebirth significantly.

Tirthas locations: Varanasi, Haridwar and Allahabad

Three of the seven pilgrimage cities in which Hindus are granted salvation are on the Ganges: Varanasi, Haridwar and Allahabad. They belong to the Tirthas places where gods descend to earth and in whose surroundings believers can connect to heaven and the other worlds. This, says the cremator Kailash Chowdury, applies to the living and the dead alike:

"If a Hindu lets himself be burned in Varanasi, for example, his soul goes into everlasting happiness, into nirvana. Not only from India, from all over the world relatives bring their deceased relatives here to have them burned. Only if it does is really inevitable, the cremation takes place at home. But even then the family comes to Varanasi with the ashes to scatter them in the Ganges. "

"Rama Naam Satya Hai" - "The name of God is she truth". This chant can be heard again and again in Varanasi when the relatives of the deceased pull behind the bamboo stretcher through the streets of the city until they reach the Ganges.

Here the corpse-bearers lay the dead, wrapped in a white cotton cloth, on the cremation site. After the priest has performed the ritual of the dead, the body is cremated. In a final ceremony, the relatives entrust the deceased to the goddess Ganga by scattering his ashes in the holy river. Other deceased, however, are handed over to the river without any ceremony. These can be poor people whose survivors cannot pay for the rituals. Or they are members of a group of people who do not need to be cremated.

"People who have died of smallpox or a snakebite, saints as well as pregnant women and children under the age of seven are weighed down with a stone and handed over by a boat from the river. Ganga Mata takes them in without ritual. Because in the eyes of the great mother these people are pure and it is not necessary to burn them beforehand. "

114 cities lie on the Ganges

According to moderate estimates, around 50,000 deaths are passed to the Ganges each year. This is not the only reason why Mother Ganga, who adorns the temples on their banks in the form of a graceful young girl, gives off a very unpleasant smell. In Varanasi or Allahabad, for example, the sacred stream is a mélange of garbage, animal carcasses, excrement, human corpses and industrial waste.

114 cities lie on the Ganges, on a river that is mythologically considered to be pure, but is in fact a sewer. Its water is used by the residents for drinking and disposing of their faeces and in which the washers, dyers, leather workers and factories of all stripes dispose of their chemicals.

And that, says hydraulic engineer Arjun Trivedi, is unlikely to change. After a long-term cleaning project launched by the government, the "Ganga Action Plan", failed. The current cleanup program, co-financed by the World Bank, will certainly have a similar fate:

"There are a number of reasons for this. Many of the poor people have no environmental awareness. They have enough to do with getting by somehow every day. The companies, in turn, bribe the police, who turn a blind eye when lye again be smuggled into the river with arsenic and heavy metals. And last but not least, above all there is the unbreakable belief that the Ganges is the purest river in the world. "

Ganga is there to purify people

For most believers it is still the case that the Ganga is there to cleanse people - and not the people to keep the Ganga clean. The goddess, it is widely believed, does it herself.

As evening falls, the Varanasis bathing areas are quiet. The pilgrims have withdrawn to their hostels. Two dogs wallow in the ashes of a pyre. A young woman washes her sari in the holy river. While an inflated cow carcass drifts past a few strokes of the oar. And a local resident, bowed by age, draws the water for her evening tea from the floods.

"The Ganga is our mother! That is why we, as priests, do everything we can to protect this river from pollution. But please do not forget how many people live here in India. How do you manage to educate them ?! No clean-up plan No law can do anything here. We can do nothing but keep trying to raise the awareness of the faithful. "

"Our belief in Ganga is deep. We are convinced, for example, that a person who is given a drop of Ganges water in the face of death will be freed from the cycle of suffering. No matter whether they are ordinary people or scientists acts - ultimately we are all convinced that this water is pure. Regardless of whether toxins or rubbish have ended up in the river and, yes, even if corpses are floating around in it. "