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The Ganges ( ; , , as in most Indian languages) is one of the major rivers of the Indian subcontinent, flowing east through the Gangetic Plain of northern Indiamarker into Bangladeshmarker. The river rises in the western Himalayasmarker in the Uttarakhandmarker state of India, and drains into the Sunderbansmarker delta in the Bay of Bengalmarker. It has long been considered a holy river by Hindus and worshiped as the goddess Ganga in Hinduism. It has also been important historically: many former provincial or imperial capitals (such as Patliputramarker, Kannaujmarker, Kara, Allahabadmarker, Murshidabadmarker, and Calcuttamarker) have been located on its banks. The Ganges Basin drains and supports one of the world's highest density of humans. The average depth of the river is , and the maximum depth, .

The many symbolic meanings of the river on the Indian subcontinent were spoken to in 1946 by Jawaharlal Nehru in his Discovery of India,
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…


Although many small streams comprise the headwaters of the Ganges, the six longest headstreams and their five confluences are given both cultural and geographical emphasis (see the map showing the headwaters of the river). The Alaknanda rivermarker meets the Dhauliganga rivermarker at Vishnuprayag, the Nandakini river at Nandprayagmarker, the Pindar rivermarker at Karnaprayagmarker, the Mandakini river at Rudraprayagmarker and finally the Bhagirathi river at Devprayagmarker, to form the mainstem, the Ganges. The Bhagirathi is the source stream; it rises at the foot of Gangotri Glaciermarker, at Gaumukhmarker, at an elevation of . The headwaters of the Alaknanda are formed by snowmelt from such peaks as Nanda Devimarker, Trisulmarker, and Kametmarker.

After flowing 200 km through its narrow Himalayan valley, the Ganges debouches on the Gangetic Plain at the pilgrimage town of Haridwarmarker. There, a dam diverts some of its waters into the Ganges Canal, which irrigates the Doab region of Uttar Pradeshmarker. The Ganges, whose course has been roughly southwestern until this point, now begins to flow southeast through the plains of northern India.

Further, the river follows an 800 km curving course passing through the city of Kanpurmarker before being joined from the southwest by the Yamunamarker at Allahabadmarker. This point is known as the Sangam at Allahabad. Sangam is a sacred place in Hinduism. According to ancient Hindu texts, at one time a third river, the Sarasvati, met the other two rivers at this point.

Joined by numerous rivers such as the Kosi, Son, Gandaki and Ghaghra, the Ganges forms a formidable current in the stretch between Allahabad and Maldamarker in West Bengalmarker. On its way it passes the towns of Mirzapurmarker, Buxarmarker , Varanasimarker, Patnamarker and Bhagalpurmarker. At Bhagalpur, the river meanders past the Rajmahal Hills, and begins to run south. At Pakurmarker, the river begins its attrition with the branching away of its first distributary, the Bhāgirathi-Hooghlymarker, which goes on to form the Hooghly Rivermarker. Near the border with Bangladeshmarker the Farakka Barragemarker, built in 1974, controls the flow of the Ganges, diverting some of the water into a feeder canal linking the Hooghly to keep it relatively silt-free.

After entering Bangladeshmarker, the main branch of the Ganges is known as the Padma River until it is joined by the Jamuna River, the largest distributary of the Brahmaputramarker. Further downstream, the Ganges is fed by the Meghna Rivermarker, the second largest tributary of the Brahmaputra, and takes on the Meghna's name as it enters the Meghna Estuary. Fanning out into the 350 km wide Ganges Delta, it finally empties into the Bay of Bengalmarker. Only two rivers, the Amazon and the Congomarker, have greater discharge than the combined flow of the Ganges, the Brahmaputramarker and the Surma-Meghna river system.

File:Bhagirathi River at Gangotri.JPG|The Bhagirathi river, the source stream of the Ganges, in Gangotrimarker, Uttarakhandmarker, Indiamarker.File:Bhagirathi alaknanda ganges devprayag2008.jpg|The Bhagirathi river (foreground) soon to meet the Alaknandamarker, at Devprayagmarker, and to flow on as the Ganges.File:Bend in ganges garhwal2008a.jpg|A bend in the Ganges river, Garhwalmarker hills, Uttarakhandmarker.File:Ramjhula - bridge over the Ganga.jpg|Ramjhula bridge over the Ganges in Rishikeshmarker.

Religious significance

File:Haridwar india ganges leaving mountains2008.jjpg.JPG|The Ganges in Haridwarmarker, Uttarakhandmarker, as it leaves the Siwalik Hills for the Gangetic plain.File:Cawnpore.jpg|An 1810 engraving of the town of Cawnporemarker (now Kanpur) as seen from the Ganges river.File:GangesInDalmau-Daniell1804.jpg|Aqua tint (1804) of the Ganges river in the town of Dalmaumarker, near Raebarelimarker, in present-day central Uttar Pradeshmarker.File:GangesBelowKara-Salt1803.jpg|Pen-and-ink and wash drawing (1803) of the Ganges below the town of Kara, a major provincial capital during the rule of the Delhi Sultanate.

Situated on the banks of River Ganges, Varanasimarker is considered by some to be the most holy city in Hinduism. The Ganges is mentioned in the Rig-Veda, the earliest of the Hindu scriptures.It appears in the Nadistuti sukta (Rig Veda 10.75), which lists the rivers from east to west. In RV 6.45.31, the word Ganga is also mentioned, but it is not clear whether this reference is to the river. Also, people scatter ashes of loved ones here.

According to Hindu religion a very famous king Bhagiratha did Tapasya for many years constantly to bring the river Ganga, then residing in the Heavens, down on the Earth to find salvation for his ancestors, who were cursed by a seer. Therefore, Ganga descended to the Earth through the lock of hair (Jata) of god Shiva to make whole earth pious, fertile and wash out the sins of humans. For Hindus in India, the Ganga is not just a river but a mother, a goddess, a tradition, a culture and much more.

Some Hindus also believe life is incomplete without bathing in the Ganges at least once in one's lifetime. Many Hindu families keep a vial of water from the Ganges in their house. This is done because it is prestigious to have water of the Holy Ganga in the house, and also so that if someone is dying, that person will be able to drink its water. Many Hindus believe that the water from the Ganga can cleanse a person's soul of all past sins, and that it can also cure the ill. The ancient scriptures mention that the water of Ganges carries the blessings of Lord Vishnu's feet; hence Mother Ganges is also known as Vishnupadi, which means "Emanating from the Lotus feet of Supreme Lord Sri Vishnu."

Some of the most important Hindu festivals and religious congregation (worship) happen here. Congregations are celebrated on the banks of the river Ganges, such as the Kumbh Mela every twelve years at Media:Allahabad and the Chhath Puja.

Varanasi has hundreds of temples along the banks of the Ganges which often become flooded during the rains. This city, especially along the banks of the Ganges, is an important place of worship for Hindus as well as a cremation ground.


There are two major dams on the Ganges. One at Haridwarmarker diverts much of the Himalayan snow-melt into the Upper Ganges Canal, built by the British in 1854 to irrigate the surrounding land. This caused severe deterioration to the water flow in the Ganges, and is a major cause for the decay of Ganges as an inland waterway.

The other dam is a serious hydroelectric affair at Farakkamarker, close to the point where the main flow of the river enters Bangladesh, and the tributary Hooghly (also known as Bhagirathi) continues in West Bengal past Calcutta. This barrage, which feeds the Hooghly branch of the river by a 26 mile long feeder canal, and its water flow management has been a long-lingering source of dispute with Bangladesh, which fortunately is likely to be resolved based on discussions held with the new Hasina government in Bangladesh in 1996 when I.K. Gujral was the Foreign Minister in India, Failure to resolve this has caused harm to both sides of the border for nearly two decades now. Bangladesh feels that the lack of flow in the summer months causes sedimentation and makes Bangladesh more prone to flood damages. At the same time, proposals for linking the Brahmaputra to the Ganges to improve the water flow in the Ganges is hanging fire. Also, the water management problem may actually involve a number of other riparian countries such as Nepal, where there has been tremendous deforestation, leading to greater silt content.

It is likely that Ganges carried more water around the time of the Roman Empire, when Patna was the major port city of Pataliputra. Even in the eighteenth century the ships of the East India Company would come to call at the port city of Calcutta, and the British ran a steamer line all the way to Allahabad. Now only smaller ocean traffic can make it through the Hooghly to Calcutta, beyond which the silting prevents all deep-draft vessels.

A branch of the Hooghly, the Damodar, flows south and enters the Bay of Bengal at the growing port of Haldia. It has the large hydroelectric dam called Damodar Valley Project, built on the lines of the Tennessee Valley Authority. There is also a controversial dam at Tehri, on the Bhagirathi, one of the main source rivers of Ganges.

Another dam is proposed to be built on the upper reaches of a tributary of the Ganges, Mahakali, This Indo-Nepal project, the Pancheswar dam, proposes to be the highest dam in the world and will be built with US collaboration.

The upper and lower Ganga canal, which is actually the backbone of a network of canals, runs from Haridwar to Allahabad, but maintenance has not been very good.


File:NorthIndiaCircuit 250.jpg|The Triveni confluence, of the Ganges and the Yamunamarker, in Allahabadmarker, Uttar Pradeshmarker.File:Gandhi Setu Patna.JPG|A view from the Gandhi Setu Bridge on the Ganges in Patnamarker, Biharmarker.File:AkbariMosqueOverlookingGanges-Sita-Ram1804.jpg|Watercolor (1804) Akbari mosque on the banks of the Ganges in Rajmahalmarker (in present-day Jharkhandmarker state) the capital of Mughal province of Bengal from 1592 to 1607.File:Bangladesh LOC 1996 map.jpg|Final course(s) of the Ganges; at the Farakka Barragemarker, a small channel is widened and diverted towards Kolkotamarker as the Bhagirathi-Hooglymarker river.
During the early Vedic Ages, the Indusmarker and the Sarasvati River were the major rivers, not the Ganges. But the later three Vedas seem to give much more importance to the Ganges, as shown by its numerous references.

Possibly the first Westerner to mention the Ganges was Megasthenes. He did so several times in his work Indika: "India, again, possesses many rivers both large and navigable, which, having their sources in the mountains which stretch along the northern frontier, traverse the level country, and not a few of these, after uniting with each other, fall into the river called the Ganges. Now this river, which at its source is 30 stadia broad, flows from north to south, and empties its waters into the ocean forming the eastern boundary of the Gangaridai, a nation which possesses a vast force of the largest-sized elephants." (Diodorus II.37)

In Romemarker's Piazza Navonamarker, a famous sculpture, Fontana dei Quattro Fiumimarker (fountain of the four rivers) designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini was built in 1651. It symbolizes four of the world's great rivers (the Ganges, the Nile, the Danube, and the Río de la Platamarker), representing the four continents known at the time.


File:NizaamatQilaMurshidabadPrinsep1840.jpg|Watercolor (1840) of the Nizaamat Qila (Criminal Court) of the Nawab of Bengal along the banks of the Bhagirathi-Hoogly rivermarker in Murshidabadmarker.File:Kolkata Bagbazar Ghat.jpg|The Bhagirathi-Hooglymarker river, shown here at the Bagbazaar Ghat, Kolkotamarker.File:Boat Sailing up Padma River Bangladesh.jpg|The main channel of the Ganges in its penultimate form as the Padma river in BangladeshFile:MeghnaRiver.jpg|The Ganges in its final form as the Meghna river in Bangladesh.
The Ganges Basin with its fertile soil is instrumental to the agricultural economies of India and Bangladesh. The Ganges and its tributaries provide a perennial source of irrigation to a large area. Chief crops cultivated in the area include rice, sugarcane, lentils, oil seeds, potatoes, and wheat. Along the banks of the river, the presence of swamps and lakes provide a rich growing area for crops such as legumes, chillies, mustard, sesame, sugarcane, and jute. There are also many fishing opportunities to many along the river, though it remains highly polluted.

Tourism is another related activity. Three towns holy to Hinduism Haridwarmarker, Allahabadmarker, and Varanasimarker attract thousands of pilgrims to its waters. Thousands of Hindu pilgrims arrive at these three towns to take a dip in the Ganges, which is believed to cleanse oneself of sins and help attain salvation. The rapids of the Ganges also are popular for river rafting, attracting hundreds of adventure seekers in the summer months. Muslims from India & Bangladesh often do wudu, a religious cleansing of the body for prayer in the Ganges River.


Chars are temporary islands formed by the deposition of sediments eroded off the banks of the river in the State of West Bengal. They each provide dwelling ground to up to 20,000 destitute people. The soil they are made of is very fertile, thus suitable for growing crops and pastures to feed cattle on, but it may disappear in a matter of a few hours, following any river water surge, particularly during the Monsoon season.The people living on chars are either Bangladeshi refugees or Bengalis, therefore the Government of West Bengalmarker does not acknowledge their de facto existence, nor does it issue the ID cards they would need aged 14 to emigrate and find jobs on the mainland. Sanitation on the islands is very poor and char-dwellers do not benefit from health care; moreover, schooling is not provided, so illiteracy is widespread. The Inland revenue demands nevertheless they pay tax.

Pollution and ecology

The Ganges river has been considered one of the dirtiest rivers in the world.The extreme pollution of the Ganges affects 400 million people who live close to the river.The river waters start getting polluted right at the source. The commercial exploitation of the river has risen in proportion to the rise of population. Gangotrimarker and Uttarkashimarker are good examples too. Gangotri had only a few huts of Sadhus until the 1970s and the population of Uttrakashi has swelled in recent years.As it flows through highly populous areas the Ganges collects large amounts of human pollutants, e.g., Schistosoma mansoni and faecal coliforms, and drinking and bathing in its waters therefore carries a high risk of infection. While proposals have been made for remediating this condition, little progress has been achieved. Along the stretch of terraced bathing ghats in the holy city of Varanasi, the water of the Ganges is a "brown soup of excrement and industrial effluents." "India and pollution: Up to their necks in it", The Economist, 27 July 2008. The water there contains 60,000 faecal coliform bacteria per 100 ml, 120 times the official limit of 500 faecal coliforms/100ml that is considered safe for bathing.

The Ganges river's long-held reputation as a purifying river appears to have a basis in science. First of all, the river carries bacteriophages that vanquish bacteria and more. As reported in a National Public Radio program, dysentery and cholera are killed off, preventing large-scale epidemics. The river has an unusual ability to retain dissolved oxygen, but the reason for this ability is unknown.

The effects of climate change on the river

The Tibetan Plateaumarker contains the world's third-largest store of ice. Qin Dahe, the former head of the China Meteorological Administration, said that the recent fast pace of melting and warmer temperatures will be good for agriculture and tourism in the short term; but issued a strong warning:

"Temperatures are rising four times faster than elsewhere in China, and the Tibetan glaciers are retreating at a higher speed than in any other part of the world....

In the short term, this will cause lakes to expand and bring floods and mudflows.




In the long run, the glaciers are vital lifelines for Asian rivers, including the Indusmarker and the Ganges.

Once they vanish, water supplies in those regions will be in peril."

A UN Climate Report issued in 2007 indicates that the Himalayan glaciers that feed the Ganges may disappear by 2030, after which the river's flow would be a seasonal occurrence resulting from monsoons.

See also


  2. [1]
  3. Swami Sundaranand Himalaya: Through the Lens of a Sudu Published August 2001 ISBN 81-901326-0-1
  4. Swami Sundaranand,Himalaya: Through the Lens of a Sudu Published August 2001 ISBN 81-901326-0-1 Page 252
  5. Self-purification effect of bacteriophage, oxygen retention mystery: Mystery Factor Gives Ganges a Clean Reputation by Julian Crandall Hollick. National Public Radio.
  6. Global warming benefits to Tibet: Chinese official. Reported 18/Aug/2009.
  7. The Boston Globe


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