Ganga River –Why is it unique?
The Ganga river originates in the Gangotri glacier in the Himalayas and flows through the nations of India and Bangladesh. This 2,525km long river drains a basin of exceptional divergence in altitude, climate, land use, flora & fauna. It is the third largest river in the world in terms of water flow and millions live along its course and depend on it, not only for subsistence but for their deep religious and spiritual victuals. Historically this river has been important, with such erstwhile provincial or imperial capitals like Kannauj, Kampilya, Kara, Prayag (nowAllahabad), Kashi, Pataliputra(now Patna), Hajipur, Munger, Murshidabad, Nabadwip, Saptagram, Kolkata and Dhaka located on its banks. The Gangetic Plain was the center of successive powerful states, from the Maurya Empire to the Mughal Empire.
The Ganga is joined by several important tributaries from the Himalayas as well as the peninsular uplands. Some of these are major rivers like the Yamuna, the Ghaghara, the Gandak and the Kosi. Enlarged with the waters from its right and left bank tributaries, the Ganga flows eastwards till Farakka in West Bengal. This is the northernmost point of the Ganga delta. The river bifurcates here and its mainstream flows southwards into Bangladesh and is joined by the Brahmaputra. Further downstream, it is known as the Meghna. The delta formed by these three rivers is known as the Sunderban delta and it is the largest delta in the world.
The Ganga is home to 140 different species of fish and 90 different species of amphibians, many of which are near extinction today. The Ganges river dolphin was declared India’s National Aquatic Animal in 2009. They used to exist in large numbers in both the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers. It is now seriously threatened by pollution and dam construction and their numbers have declined to only a one fourth in the last fifteen years. The Ganges shark (Glyphis gangeticus) is a rare species of freshwater shark and is a veritably fierce man-eater.
The Ganga is the sixth most polluted river in the world. Yet the water of Ganga though considered one of the dirtiest, does not tend to putrefy over longer periods of storage. Studies show the Ganga can reduce its biochemical oxygen demand level much faster than other rivers. Ganga’s self-purifying quality leads to 25 times higher oxygen levels compared to any other river in the world. In 1927, a French-Canadian microbiologist named Felix d’Herelle made the amazing discovery that no germs were found at all in Ganges water collected from just a few feet below the floating bodies of people who died of cholera and dysentery. The phenomenon is attributed to the presence of bacteriophages, the virus that kills bacteria, in the water. This is truly amazing when one considers that more than 3000 million liters of untreated sewage from the towns along the Ganges is pumped into the river every single day.
The Hindus believe those who die close to the river reach the heavenly abode with all their sins washed away. For them, the cremation of their earthly bodies at the banks of Ganga is most auspicious and ensures salvation for their soul. The Ganga Ghats of Varanasi and Hardwar are the holiest funeral destination of the Hindus, and people from all over the country may travel here to cast the ashes of their loved ones in the sacred river.