Ganga is sacred river, commonly known as Vishnu Padodaka- flowing from the foot of Lord Vishnu, Puranas describe that the Omniscient, Omnipresent God only is manifesting outwardly as the effulgent Ganga. She is also the most important river nourishing nearly half of the country's population. Ganga is the symbol of 'incessant flow' of life; flow that gives life, energy, light and bestows wealth, happiness and takes one to the final goal of liberation. The essence of Ganga's (the Ganges') flow influences the physical, emotional or spiritual flow inside the person who recites her name with full faith in her. The intense feeling in the mind and the deep faith embedded in the heart are the common features in millions of diverse people.
As per the legends, Ganga has descended from heaven. Ganga began her long journey over time and space with a unique strength and pride, of which even Lord Brahma was critical. Ganga, not afraid of Lord Shiva, finally accepted Him as her match because He was the only one to take her. She had a cosy sojourn in Shiva's matted hairs and enjoyed it too, as her pranks set a mild wave of jealousy in her own sister Parvati!
As tripathage Ganga, her flow in second path (in our glorious country) spun the story of our past, present and future; of our tradition, culture and civilization. Our civilization was born in Ganga's womb, grown on her laps, nurtured around her surroundings. Ganga thus formed an inseparable, integral part of our civilization. Ganga also became a symbol of India's age old civilization and culture of accommodating every one, of accepting every shade of diversity. She synchronized the stories of our civilization as in an everlasting symphony.
In the Vedas, the oldest scriptures of the world, Ganga finds frequent mention. In Rig Veda, Ganga and Jahnavi have found several mentions whereas Indus and Saraswati rivers were having more religious esteem. But in subsequent three Vedas, Sam Veda, Yajur Veda and Atharva Veda, River Ganga's importance is most pronounced.
From Gangotri (the place of Ganga's origin) to West Bengal, Ganga is about 2500 kms long. The Gangotri glacier is located at 14000 feet above sea level in the Himalayas. The river basin of Ganga is 300- 650 kms wide. Many smaller rivers and streams like Dhauliganga, Nandakini, Pindar and Mandakini converge into one river and popularly called Mandakini. Later, Mandakini, Alaknanda and Bhagirathi join each other at Dev Prayag in Uttarakhand to form River Ganga. The mouth of River Ganga forms a vast delta, the Sundarban delta -the largest delta in the world. From Rudra Prayag onward, the Ganges is enriched with Yamuna, Kosi, Sone, Gandak, Ghaghra, Padma and Meghna rivers joining it.
Locally (in Varanasi) called as 'Souns', the Ganges Dolphin has been declared India's National Aquatic Animal in 2009. The Dolphin of the Ganges is one of the endangered aquatic species. Due to continued pollution and dam construction, this fresh water animal has mostly vanished from the tributaries of the Ganges.
The Ganges Shark (Glyphis Gangeticus) is another freshwater aquatic species which has been classified as endangered species. Mostly found in Hoogly (Ganga in Bengal is referred as Hoogly), the Ganges Shark is a ferocious man-eater.
Ganga is shifting. Ganges flowing path keeps changing over a period of time. This trend of shift affects the most Ganges side settlements and farmers down the Gangetic plains. It has been observed that in last three decades, the Ganges has shifted from its original course by 500 metres in Haridwar and 2.5 kms in Bihar at some places.
Sounds sort of sonic boom, resembling the sound of supersonic jet, are heard in the delta regions of the Ganges and Brahmaputra. These sounds are termed as Mistpouffer or Barisal Guns. No scientifically proven reasoning behind these Mistpouffers or Barisal Guns has been put forward by the experts till date.
Large amount of sedimentation from the rivers into the sea, over a longer duration of time, give birth to submarine fans, submerged geological structures. The sedimentation of the Ganges into the Bay of Bengal has resulted into world's largest submarine fan known as Ganges fan or Bengal fan, measuring 3000 km long and about 1000 km wide with a maximum thickness of 16.5 km. The fan is said to completely cover the Bay of Bengal. Currents have transported the sediment through a series of submarine canyons, some of which are more than 1,500 miles in length. This fan is of utmost importance to India due to the possibility of huge hydrocarbon deposits.
Compared to any other river in the world, the Ganges with self-purifying quality has about 25 times higher dissolved oxygen content. Normally, any organic material thrown into a river results in absorption of dissolved oxygen in the river. Putrefying of organic materials results in further contamination and oxygen's dissipation. But in the Ganges, an unknown substance acts on organic materials and bacteria and kills them.
The water of the Ganges has anti-putrefaction properties. River waters usually tend to putrefy when the lack of oxygen promotes the growth of anaerobic bacteria that lends the water a distinct smell and stale taste. The water of Ganga though considered one of the dirtiest, does not tend to putrefy over longer periods of storage. In fact, British Physician, C.E. Nelson, observed that the Ganga water taken from Hooghly river (one of its dirtiest mouths) by returning ships to England remained fresh throughout the voyage. This was the reason East India Company ships only used water from Ganges for drinking purposes on their 3-month long voyage back to England because it stayed "sweet and fresh." In a study conducted by Malaria Research Center in New Delhi it was observed that water from upper ambits of Ganga did not host mosquito breeding, and also prevented mosquito breeding in any water it was added to.
The most astonishing fact about Ganga Jal (Ganges water) is its anti-bacterial characteristic (Bacteriphage). Various scientific studies have explained the reasons behind the Hindus treat the Ganges water pure, pious and drinkable no matter what. Due to the purity and curative characteristics of the Ganges water, much reverence is given to Ganga water during Hindu rituals (from birth to death). In 1896, Ernest Hanbury Hankin (a British bacteriologist) after testing the water from Ganga wrote a paper that was published in French Journal describing that the bacterium Vibrio Cholerae that causes the deadly cholera, when put into the waters of Ganga died within three hours. The same bacteria continued to thrive in distilled water even after 48 hours. He also suggested that the water of this river and its tributary Yamuna were responsible for containing the spread of deadly cholera in the region in those days. Similarly in 1927, Félix d'Herelle (a French-Canadian microbiologist) was amazed to find no germs at all in water collected just few feet below the floating bodies of people who died of cholera and dysentery. The presence of bacteriophages (viruses that kill bacteria) in the water of Ganges is considered as the reason behind this quality and its purity.
Major Hindu pilgrimages on the Ganges are Rishikesh, Haridwar, Varanasi & Prayag (Allahabad). At all pilgrimages on the banks of the Ganges, Ganga Aarti is performed. Ganga Aarti is another spectacular event which mesmerizes and elates one to a heavenly atmosphere of the dancing 'diyas' and the sweetness of music. The dream-like holy serenity is broken when one wakes up the next day to the mundane, grotesque activities, the hustle-bustle, the chaos, the glaring oddities and the rubbish dirt everywhere on the ghats.
Both from the angles of our existence and our spiritual needs, it is our primary duty to prevent Ganga from decaying or drying as a result of human greed and exploitation. Various efforts are being made to keep Ganga's Aviral Dhara (Incessant Flow) and Nirmal Dhara (Pure Flow).
Flamboyant and joyous Ganga could never imagine that one day, soon in Kaliyug, she would have to face a force mightier than that of Lord Shiva- the all auspicious!! That force is nothing but the Human Greed, exactly opposite to Shiva's all-pervading Compassion for one and all. Greed started stealthily like weeds and spread fast everywhere, trying to choke or stint the growth of Compassion or the consideration for others! Havoc created by greed on Ganga can be seen in at least six ways. Ganga has been suffocated (twisted, turned, blocked, tunneled and choked in hills), starved (no touch of fresh air or sun), secluded (from Himalayan parents, friendly forests or soothing herbal touch), squeezed (flow diverted and drained of all energy for use and misuse in the plains), injected (with five types of poisons like effluents, sewage, fertilizers-pesticides, garbage, new chemicals used in the old rituals) and surrounded (encroachments, embankments on all the sides)!!
Ganga is now crying hoarse- 'Do not respect me as Devi (goddess) and throttle me. Do not call me as Maa (mother) and poison me. Do not consider me as Holy and throw muck on me. Just allow me to flow like a river- free and pure!!'