Holy River of India: The Ganges River

Ganges River is the most important as well as the most sacred river in India. It is one of the longest rivers in India and also the third largest river in the world in terms of water discharged into the sea. Ganges River plays an important role in the life of Indian people. The river is used for irrigation, transportation, and fishing and the Gangetic Plain is one of the most fertile and densely populated places on Earth. The river is referred to as “Mother Ganga” in India, many ancient and historical cities are located on its bank. Ganges River is sacred to Hindus and it is regarded as a goddess in Hindu mythology. Apart from its religious importance Ganges River act as home to some of the rarest creatures and species in India and the planet. In this article, we will be covering the Ganges River, the source, and the end of Ganga River, the importance of Ganges River in India, how the Ganges is associated with Hinduism, amazing facts about Ganges River, current state of Ganges River and the Ganges River pollution.

The Gangetic plain formed by Ganges River is one of the most fertile lands on the earth and almost 10% of the world population lives here and earns their livelihood. From source to mouth total length of Ganges River is 2600km and the Ganges basin covers almost quarter area of the Indian mainland. The river is not only sacred to Indians and Hindus but also important as India is an agriculture-dominated country and it plays a major role in irrigation, transportation, electricity production, and fishing. A large number of important, historical and industrial cities are located on its banks like Hardwar, Kanpur, Allahabad, Patna, and Kolkata.

History and Origin of Ganges River

The Ganges River is formed by the confluence of River Bhagirathi and River Alaknanda at Devprayag in Uttrakhand. Before Devprayag the two rivers originate from different glaciers and travel southwards to meet at Devprayag. According to Hindu Mythology and Bhagavata Purana, the Ganges River used to flow in the universe (Brahmaloka). Several years later King Bhagiratha prayed to Lord Brahma to bring the Ganges River down to earth so that he may perform the ceremony for his ancestors who were cursed by sage. Lord Brahma fulfilled his wish but the flow of Ganges was so turbulent that it would have destroyed Earth. King Bhagiratha then prayed to Lord Shiva as only he was capable to hold the turbulent flow of Ganges. As the water started cascading down from heaven, Lord Shiva captured the Ganges water in his Jataa(tuft of hair) and then released it on Earth thereby reducing the destructive power of Ganges. Since it was the efforts of King Bhagiratha that the Ganges descended from heaven to earth, the Ganges River is also called the Bhagirathi River. Although Alaknanda River contributes more water at Devprayag, Bhagirathi is always considered as the main source of Ganges River.

Read Also: Major Rivers of India, Their Origin, and Length

The course of Ganges River

The entire course of Ganges can be divided into three-phase:

  • Phase 1- Course through Mountainous Region.
  • Phase 2- Course through Gangetic Plains.
  • Phase 3- Mouth(Where River Meets sea).

Phase 1- Course through Mountainous Region

As mentioned above the river originates from Himalayan and known as The Ganges after the confluence of Bhagirathi and Alaknanda River. Of these two, Bhagirathi River originates from Gangotri Glacier which is one of the largest glaciers in the world. The terminus of glacier resembles “Cows Mouth” and therefore called Gaumukh. Bhagirathi River flows southwards for a distance of 205km and finally joins River Alaknanda at Devprayag. River Alaknanda originates from Satopanth Glacier and flowing downstream the river is accompanied by five more rivers forming sacred Panch Prayag(five confluences). The Panch Prayag are Vishnuprayag where the Dhauliganga joins the Alaknanda, Nandprayag where the Nandakini joins, Karnaprayag where the Pindar joins, Rudraprayag where Mandakini joins and finally Devprayag where the Bhagirathi joins the Alaknanda. From Devprayag it covers a distance of almost 70km and reaches the city of Rishikesh flowing further southwards the river enters in the holy city of Hardwar. Hardwar is a very important city for Hindus and it is one of the four cities where “Kumbh Mela took place after every 12 years on the banks of Ganges River.

Below Video: Video of Confluence of Bhagirathi River and Alaknanda River at Devprayag & Official beginning of Ganges River.

Phase 2- Course through Gangetic Plains

After emerging from Haridwar the Ganges starts flowing south-east and reaches the famous Gangetic Plains. Gangetic plain is very fertile due to the alluvial soil deposited by the river and the region can produce four crops a year and therefore one of the densely populated places on earth. In the Gangetic plain, the river is joined by many tributaries that contribute to the water quantity of Ganges. Rivers that join the Ganges in this phase include Ramganga, Chambal, Betwa, and Tamsa. At Allahabad, Yamuna river joins Ganges River and this place is known as Triveni Sangam. From Allahabad, the river reaches the Holy city of Varanasi which is regarded as the oldest cities of human civilization, and famous for Ganges Ghats and prayer. Flowing further Eastwards River is joined by more tributaries like Gomti, Ghaghara, Son and Ken rivers. In this path, it crosses the Indian state of Bihar and enters into West Bengal. From there onwards it starts branching and splits into two parts the smaller one is Hooghly River which continues its flow southwards in India and the main Branch enters into Bangladesh and is known by Padma River. Farakka Barrage build by India can control the flow of the river and is used for the generation of electricity and provide water in Hooghly River in dry seasons.

Phase 3- Mouth(Where River Meets sea)

The Hoogly River flows 260km before emptying into the Bay of Bengal at Ganga Sagar Island. In between this, it is joined by many tributaries out of which Damodar River is greatest. The City of Kolkata and Howrah lies on the banks of Hooghly River. The mainstream of the Ganges that enters into Bangladesh is known as Padma River and it forms the world’s largest delta called “Sunderban” along with Jamuna and Meghna River. In terms of water discharged by Ganges-Brahmaputra, it is the third-largest in the world.

Ghats of Varanasi
Ganges River flowing through the Holy City of Varanasi.

The Importance of The Ganges River and Hinduism

Ganges River is most sacred of all rivers to Hindus and treated as “Mother Ganges” and goddess. Many important cities that are sacred in Hinduism are situated on its banks like Rishikesh, Hardwar, Allahabad, and Varanasi. South Indian River Kaveri is called “Ganges of South” which signifies its utter importance throughout India. Ganges water is sacred to every Indian and they use it for praying, drinking. Ganges water is believed to wash away sins and purify the soul, ashes of dead bodies are dissolved here and it is a very important ritual. Pilgrims while returning carry Ganges water that can be used for future prayer. It is believed that on auspicious day bathing in the Ganges can wash away all the sins committed by man. On the festival of “Makar Sankranti,” millions of people bathe in the holy water of Ganges due to this belief. 

Indian people especially people of the Ganges basin are totally dependent on irrigation, transportation, fishing, drinking and carrying out their livelihood. Tourism also plays a vital role and a large number of foreigners visit to study about Holy River. Some of the great tourist centers of India lies on the banks of the Ganges River. The Ghats of Varanasi and the temples of Rishikesh & Haridwar are few examples of tourism generated by the Ganges River. Large dams have been constructed across the river to harness hydro energy famous dams include Farakka, Tehri, and Bansagar dam. But the main role is played in terms of boosting agriculture. If there is insufficient water in the Ganges then that could lead to crop failure and a rise in the price of agricultural commodities. In India majority of rainfall, is happens due to Monsoon winds which is seasonal. Almost half-billion population is living along the Ganges basin and have earned their livelihood throughout centuries.

Read Also: Amazing Ganges River Facts Every Indian Should Know

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