At the Ganges — the holiest of places to be buried as a Hindu — life and death mingle freely on the river banks.
The River Ganges has a special place for devout Hindus, who consider it sacred and personification of Goddess Ganga. They believe a dip in the holy river on certain days putrefy them of their sins and facilitates Moksha or liberation from the cycle of life and death, as water of Ganga is considered very pure.
The Indian emperor Akbar called it the “water of immortality” and always traveled with a supply. The British East India Co. used only Ganges water on its ships during the three-month journey back to England, because it stayed “sweet and fresh.”
Ganges River, Hindi Ganga, great river of the plains of the northern Indian subcontinent.Rising in the Himalayas and emptying into the Bay of Bengal, it drains one-fourth of the territory of India, and its basin supports hundreds of millions of people. The greater part of the Indo-Gangetic Plain, across which it flows, is the heartland of the region known as Hindustan and has been the cradle of successive civilizations from the Mauryan empire of Ashoka in the 3rd century BCE to the Mughal Empire, founded in the 16th century.
Most polluted river in the world
The Ganges River of northern India may be the most polluted body of water in the world. It may also have the greatest variety of pollutants. Some of them are toxic byproducts of industry: pharmaceutical companies, electronics plants, textile and paper industries, tanneries, fertilizer manufacturers and oil refineries discharge effluent into the river.
Most of the pollutants, however, are organic. In Varanasi alone, the river swallows the remains of 40,000 human corpses a year—some cremated, some partially cremated, and some whole—not to mention the dead cattle. Worse yet is the daily dump of hundreds of million gallons of raw sewage. Fecal coliform counts are dangerously high, 100 times the government’s acceptable standard for bathing according to one source and 67000 times according to another. People who use this water risk hepatitis, typhoid, cholera, amoebic dysentery, other waterborne diseases, and a variety of skin afflictions.
Despite these dangers, however, the Ganges, or Ganga in the vernacular, is the most desired destination in India! People don’t hesitate to dive into holy waters and even drink it and carry bottles back to their relatives.
Furthermore Zee News website reports that the water, known as Gangajal, is bottled at two spots along the river – its source at Gangotri and the popular pilgrim town of Rishikesh – and sold in all post offices across the country. Customers can also choose to have it delivered straight to their front doors. Can you believe it?
What is the ‘special power’ of the water of Ganga and why people call it divine elixir?
Indian mythology equates the river Ganges with the Milky Way. According to Vedic lore, Ganga (Ganges) resided in the sky (Milky Way) and was called ‘Akash Ganga,’ or Sky-River. Here’s the story in brief.
When the king Bhagirath performed a sacrifice to revive his dead sons by washing away their sins, Brahma asked Ganga to come down from the sky to the earth, to wash away the sins of humanity. The deluge of the great river falling from the sky would have destroyed the land, so Shiva stood on Mt. Meru in the Himalayas and allowed Ganga to fall from the sky onto the matted locks of his hair. He then slowly let her out and she flowed out from the Himalayas to the sea. King Bhagirath’s sons were brought back to life as the Ganga flowed over their remains.
Indian scientists have validated the scientific basis of the mysterious ‘special power’ of the water of Ganga, which Hindus consider as “Brahm Dravya” or divine elixir.
Microbiologists from the Chandigarh-based Institute of Microbial Technology (IMTECH), who had studied the special characteristics of Ganges water have found, for the first time, several Bacteriophages, which keeps it non-putrefying. Bacteriophage is a type of virus that eats bacteria.
This resolves the mystery for the self-purifying properties of Ganga water.
“Analysis of the fresh water sedimentary metagenome-viromes revealed that the holy river Ganges not only house novel viromes, but also include unexplored double stranded DNA viruses,” The Indian Science Journal quotes Dr. Shanmugam Mayilraj, Senior Principal Scientist at the CSIR-Institute of Microbial Technology, Chandigarh, as saying.
It is for the first time, scientists have come across new viruses.
Dr. Mayilraj said, the fresh water sediments from the Ganges house several novel viruses, which were never reported earlier. These bacteriophages are active against certain clinical isolates, or viral strains and can be used against multi-drug resistant or MDR infections.
Dr. Mayilraj and his team has identified 20-25 interesting viruses, which can be used for treatment of tuberculosis (Mycobacterium), typhoid (Salmonella), pneumonia (Klebsiella and Acinetobactor), cholera (Vibrio), dysentery (Shigella), diarrhoea (Aeromonoas) meningitis (Cronobacter), etc.
Several scientists in the past – Indian and international, have found certain clinical properties of Ganga water, but it is for the credit of microbiologists of IMTECH to identify them. The scientific fraternity now hopes that their study will eventually benefit humans as the world runs out of new antibiotics.
In spite the modern science can answer why the Ganges doesn’t spread disease among the millions of Indians who bathe in it, nobody however can explain why the river alone has this extraordinary ability to retain oxygen. That special “mysterious X factor” that gives Ganges water its mythical reputation still yet to be found.