National River

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confluence of Alaknanda (right) and Bhagirathi (left) some rivers, beginning of the Ganges proper.
confluence of Alaknanda (right) and Bhagirathi (left) some rivers, beginning of the Ganges proper.

The Ganges (गंगा ), or Ganga, is a trans-boundary river of Asia which flows through India and Bangladesh. The 2,525 km (1,569 mi) river rises in the western Himalayas in the Indian state of Uttarakhand, and flows south and east through the Gangetic Plain of India and Bangladesh, eventually emptying into the Bay of Bengal.

The Ganga is revered by Hindus as the most sacred river on earth. Key religious ceremonies are held on the banks of the river at cities such as Varanasi, Haridwar and Allahabad. The Ganga widens out into the Ganges Delta in the Sunderbans swamp of Bangladesh, before it ends its journey by emptying into the Bay of Bengal.

The Ganges is a lifeline to millions who live along its course. It is a most sacred river to Hindus, and worshiped as the goddess Ganga in Hinduism. It has been important historically: many former provincial or imperial capitals (such as Patliputra, Kannauj, Kara, Kashi, Allahabad, Murshidabad, Munger, Baharampur, Kampilya and Kolkata) have been located on its banks.

The Ganges is threatened by pollution, not only to humans, but also to animals, among which are more than 140 fish species, 90 amphibian species, reptiles such as the gharial, and mammals such as the Ganges river dolphin, the last-mentioned two included in the IUCN’s critically endangered list. The levels of fecal coliform bacteria from human waste in the river near Varanasi are more than a hundred times the Indian government’s official limit. The Ganga Action Plan, an environmental initiative to clean up the river, is considered a failure, which is variously attributed to corruption, a lack of will in the government, poor technical expertise and environmental planning, and a lack of support from religious authorities.

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