Ganga – A Sacred River Of India
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Ganga – A Sacred River Of India

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The Ganga is a sacred river in India. It is not a river only; it is a civilization and is the heart of India. It is a most sacred river to Hindus and it is worshiped as the goddess Ganga Ma or “Mother Gange” in Hinduism. The Ganges is the longest river in India if we consider the total distance covered by a river within India. Two major rivers of the Indian subcontinent – Brahmaputra and Indus – are longer than the Ganges in total length. But the distances these two rivers cover within India are much shorter than that of the Ganges. It is a lifeline of millions of people who live along its course.

Ganga is a trans-boundary river which flows through India and Bangladesh. The length of this river is 2,525 km (1,569 mi). Ganga river rises in the western Himalayas, travelled many cities and towns like Patliputra, Kannauj, Kara, Prayagraj, Varanasi, Ghazipur, Murshidabad, Baharampur, and Kolkata on its banks 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. Every Indian and specially Hindu regard Ganga as the heart of Indian culture, tradition, and living. The average depth of the river is 52 feet (17 m), and the maximum depth is 100 feet (33 m).

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The Ganges rises in the southern The great Himalayas on the Indian side of the border with the Tibet. Its five headstreams—the Bhagirathi, the Alaknanda, the Mandakini, the Dhauliganga, and the Pindar—all rise in the mountainous region.  Of those, the two main headstreams are the Alaknanda (the longer of the two), which rises about 30 miles (50 km) north of the Himalayan peak of Nanda Devi, and the Bhagirathi, which originates at about 10,000 feet (3,000 meters) above sea level in a subglacial meltwater cave at the base of the Himalayan glacier known as Gangotri. Gangotri itself is a sacred place for Hindu pilgrimage. The true source of the Ganges, however, is considered to be at Gaumukh, about 13 miles (21 km) southeast of Gangotri. The major rivers which flow into the Ganges are Brahmaputra, Gomti, Kosi, Gandak, Ghaghra, Yamuna and Son River.

According to the Myth of the Ganges, the goddess Ganga descended from heaven to dwell in the waters of the Ganges River to protect, purify and bring to heaven those who touch it. Devout Hindus visit the river daily to offer flowers and food to Ganga. They also drink the water and bathe in the river to cleanse and purify their sins. Also, Hindus believe that upon death the waters of the Ganges River are needed to reach the World of the Ancestors, Pitriloka. As a result, Hindus bring their dead to the river for cremation along its banks and afterward their ashes are spread in the river. In some cases, corpses are also thrown into the river. The city of Varanasi is the holiest of cities along the Ganges River and many Hindus travel there place ashes of their dead in the river.

The Ganges basin ranges from the Himalaya and the Trans-Himalaya in the north, to the northern slopes of the Vindhya Range in the south, from the eastern slopes of the Aravalli in the west to the Chota Nagpur plateau and the Sunderbans delta in the east. The mouth of River Ganga forms the world’s largest delta, known as Sunderbans, and was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1997. The Ganga basin covers parts of four countries, India, Nepal, China, and Bangladesh; eleven Indian states, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, West Bengal, and the Union Territory of Delhi. The Ganges River basin has been inhabited by humans since ancient times. These waters irrigate one-third of India’s land and account for 25% of the nation’s water resources. It also provides over 2,400 MW of hydropower energy. Rishikesh, Haridwar, Varanasi, Allahabad, and Kolkata are the major are India’s greatest pilgrimage sites which are located banks of the Ganga.

Megasthenes (ca. 350–290 BCE) was the first European traveler who mentioned the Ganges in his work Indica. The first people in the region were of the Harappan civilization. They moved into the Ganges River basin from the Indus River basin around the 2nd millennium B.C.E. Later the Gangetic Plain became the center of the Maurya Empire and then the Mughal Empire.

Ganga and it’s over twenty minor and major connecting tributaries are spanning in many Indian states. The Ganges River carries nutrient-rich sediment as it flows, depositing fertile soil along its shores. This has allowed civilizations to develop and thrive along the waterway for centuries. Today, the river flows through well-populated regions of India, providing fresh water to the millions of people living in these regions. The river is also used for fishing, irrigation, and bathing, and it is worshiped in the Hindu religion as the Mother Ganga.

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