“The Ganga to me is the symbol of India’s memorable past which has been flowing into the present and continues to flow towards the ocean of the future.” – Jawaharlal Nehru, First Prime Minister of India, born in Prayag on the banks of the Ganga
Ganga is not just a river. Revered as divine, Ganga is a complete lifeline to the nearly 500 million people who live along Her banks. Ganga is inextricably intertwined with all aspects of Indian daily life, from spirituality to farming, from drinking water to moksha.
The river Ganga is highly revered in Hindu culture. Referred to as Ganga Mata or Ma Ganga (“Mother Ganga”), the Ganga is not merely a river to Hindus, but rather a Goddess whose divine purity cleanses all past sins and karmaof anyone who bathes in Her waters, aiding their path towards liberation. After the intense and long prayers of King Bhagiratha, descendant of King Sagara, Goddess Ganga came down from the heavens to flow in all three worlds – the heavens, the Earth and the underworld – to purify all. Like the pilgrimage to Mecca for Muslims or Jerusalem for Jews, life is viewed as incomplete without at least one bath in Ganga.
Many Hindus keep a vial of Ganga water in their home, and the water is used in all areas of life. Ganga water is given to the sick, as it is believed to cure all illnesses. Ganga water is sprinkled as a benediction of peace. Ganga water is used to cleanse and purify any place, person or object, as it has the power to purify anything. Worshippers wash their hands and drink Her water to purify themselves before beginning any ritual, pujaand yagna/havan ceremony. In fact, it is believed that when mixed with normal water, even the smallest drop of water from Ganga has the ability to turn normal water holy and give it healing powers. Every day each year, thousands of people come to bathe in Ganga’s waters, and many festivals, such as Ganga Dussehra and Kumbh Mela, are held along Ganga’s banks.
Ganga plays a very important role during the death of a Hindu. As Her water is believed to free one’s soul from all past sins and karma, Hindu pilgrims will travel long distances to immerse the ashes of their loved ones in Her waters to allow the deceased to move on, peacefully and smoothly, from this world. If someone is dying, Ganga water is given to them to drink, and many pilgrims will actually travel great distances to die along Her banks.
Hindus revere Ganga not just for Her ability to free them from their karma, but also for the lessons that She teaches. No matter what obstacle or obstruction attempts to block Her path, the river Ganga keeps flowing. Her waters are for everyone, not just one group of people, and She abundantly provides for all.
“One may, by putting forth one’s best powers, count the stones that occur in the mountains of Meru or measure the waters that occur in the ocean, but one cannot count all the merits which belong to the waters of Ganga.” – Mahabharata, Anusasana Parva, Chapter 27, Verse 97