Did you know that 1/3rd of all major Indian rivers combine to form the mystic mighty Ganga ? Rivers like the Yamuna, the Chambal, the Betwa, the Gomti, the Ghaghara, the Son and the Gandak fall in with the Ganges and strengthen this most holy of all waters. 2,525 Kilometers long, Ganga is the longest river of India and its banks are home to some of the most populated river basins in world. It is fascinating to learn that most of the cities that were settled around the Ganga and its tributaries were on the South-West corner of their respective water bodies. It was this ever-demanding need of expansion that took settlements to both sides of the river later.

When I was studying about the 5 villages of Pandavas as mentioned in Mahabharta, I found that all of them, namely Sonprastha (Sonipat),  Paniprastha (Panipat), Baghprastha (Baghpat), Khandavprastha (Indraprastha/Delhi) and Tilprastha (Tipat in Faridabad) had Yamuna running from their north-east direction. My first thought was that it could be because of the flood zone being on the other side and because the small canals from Aravali range were on this side to feed small villages. But when I started studying other tributaries of the Ganges, I realized that this story is repeated across entire India. After some more thorough research, and discussion with some historians and Vastu Shastris, I found that as per the Vastu Shastra, the source of water should be on the north east corner of a property. This shows how strictly the ancient settlers followed the rules of Vastu Shastra even while planning their cities.

The Ganges quenches the thirst of four different countries. From China and Nepal, it flows into India and passes through 12 states before entering Bangladesh, where its name is changed to Padma. It is sacred to many cultures and from India to Thailand, it is known by different names and worshiped in different forms. In 2nd Millennium B.C., the center of Harappan civilization was shifted from the Indus River basin to the Ganga-Yamuna basin. Archaeologists tell us that they did not cross Ganga, but settled in the Doab (belt between the Ganga and the Yamuna). Harappan people are known to be much advanced for their time, and very talented to boot. They probably figured out the high Oxygen content of the Ganga, which keeps it bacteria-free and fresh for a prolonged period.

Ganga’s water was considered holy, and said to be imbued with medicinal powers in the Vedas. In 1896, Ernest Hanbury Hankin reported that something in the waters of the Ganges had marked antibacterial action against cholera and could pass through a very fine porcelain filter. Later microbiologists developed an entire theory around it, called Bacteriophage. And then started the Phage Therapy in United States and Europe, which was used to cure civilians and soldiers in early the 20th century. Indians, on the other hand, always used this water to kill bacteria. This also explains the fact, why spoonfulls of Gangajal (Water from the Ganges) are poured into a dead person’s mouth. The tradition of consuming Ganges-Water as a holy water in temples and during religious rituals also become popular as it gave us antibodies to fight common diseases.

Just as Mahatma Gandhi once remarked: “Earth Provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed”, it is sad to note that we have started polluting this lifeline of India over the past several decades. Today, Industrial waste is working its insidious best to take away the medicinal powers of the Ganga by polluting it’s every drop.

There was a time when major Indian provincial capitals such as Patliputra, Kannauj, Kara, Kashi, Allahabad, Murshidabad, Munger, Baharampur, Kampilya and Kolkata flourished around the Ganga and the river was well capable of handling the waste from these cities. But today, industrial gigantism has grown to such a level, that a mighty river like Ganga has also fallen sick. The river, which once saved numerous lives has today become the biggest cause of water-borne diseases. The World Bank estimates that the health costs of water pollution in India equal three percent of India’s GDP. It has also been suggested that eighty percent of all illnesses in India, and one-third of deaths in India can undeniably be attributed to these water-borne diseases.

Today, Varanasi alone dumps 32 streams of raw sewage into the holy river, increasing the concentration of fecal coliforms from 60,000 to 1.5 million, with an observed peak value of 100 million per 100 ml, which is very dangerous for bathing, leave alone drinking. We, the citizens of India, Nepal, China and Bangladesh are slowly but surely turning the most holy and medicinal water of Ganges into a poisonous concoction, by sheer insensitive neglect …

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