"The Ganges, 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 Ganges, from her source to the sea, from old times to new, is the story of India's civilization and culture, of the rise and fall of empires, of great and proud cities, of adventures of man".
~ Jawaharlal Nehru in Discovery of India
Never in the history of mankind has a river been worshipped by more people than has the Ganga. Descending from the Himalayas to merge with the ocean, the Ganges is one of the mightiest rivers of the world. It is also the holiest river in India.
Development of the Indian civilisation is closely linked to the Yamuna and the Ganges rivers. It is here that the ancient cities came up. It is on the banks of these rivers that the sages meditated. It is from these rivers that the people of this ancient civilisation drew so much of their philosophical and spiritual sustenance.
Beginning its journey from Gangotri glacier in Uttarakhand, the Ganges rushes down to the foothills at Rishikesh and then a little further on to the plains at Haridwar. Thereafter, it winds its way down through the states of Uttar Pradesh; Bihar; through the Sundarbans, a wild area of swamps, dense forests, small islands, and tidal creeks in West Bengal; and then on to Bangladesh where it completes its 1557 mile (2,510 km) journey to merge with the ocean in the Bay of Bengal.
It is not without reason that she is referred to as Ganga Ma (Mother Ganges) or the Holy River. Approximately a quarter of India's cultivable area is covered by the drainage basin of the Ganga and about a quarter of our population is dependant on agriculture, along the river.
On its banks are established the major cities of Rishikesh and Haridwar (in Uttarakhand), Moradabad, Rampur, Kanpur, Allahabad and Varanasi (in Uttar Pradesh) and Patna (in Bihar) . Four of these, Rishikesh, Haridwar, Allahabad,and Varanasi, are among the holiest cities in India. At Allahabad the Ganges is joined by another mighty river, the Yamuna, and it is here that it gathers volume.
The Ganges is a perennial river. During the hot summers the melting of the Himalayan waters feed the Ganges. During the Indian monsoons (mid July to mid September) the rains add to its flow.
In the Himalayas
The Alaknanda is the main tributary of the Ganges. The Alaknanda rises at the foot of the Satopanth and Bhagirath Kharak glaciers in Uttarakhand. On its way down, before it merges with the Bhagirathi it joins up with other rivers at the various prayags or confluences, revered as the Panch Prayag:
Links with Indian Civilisation
(Source: David Frawley - Gods , Sages and Kings)
The slow destruction of the Ganges
Unchecked flow of chemical wastes and sewage has been polluting the river. Other major health hazards are posed by human and animal corpses that are thrown in. Despite posturing, the Indian Government has done next to nothing to stop the pollution of the river. As it enters Varanasi, the river contains 120 times the safe limit for bathing because of faecal coliform bacteria. As it exits, the sewers, and pollution from this city, increase this to 3,000 times the safety limit. Here the Holy River turns to a horrible black, an apt reflection of the age we live in.
Photo Credit: Ganga near Gaumukh and at Gangotri: Rajiv Butalia
Photo Credit: Ganga at Varanasi: Alok Johri
Editor: Romola Butalia   (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.