About My Project...

As a kid every time I would cross a river in India, be it the Ganga or the Yamuna or any of their tributaries, I would have a feeling that the water levels of these rivers were receding... my heart would sink seeing the industrial pollutants making their way into these rivers...

On the contrary the feeling I would get seeing these rivers close to their origins… especially the Ganga in Rishikesh is indescribable… no pollution, no signs of water level depletion … so calm and so serene… the scent of freshness in the air…

I am documenting the life around river Ganga… the life as Ganga sees and feels it... the culture the river has supported for thousands of years, the people it has sustained over the centuries, and also the human interference it has suffered over the last one century or so...

Towards that I am following the river from its origins high up in the Himalayas all the way to where it merges with the Indian Ocean. All the while I am meeting with people who have been close to the river to narrate their feelings about the river, what they feel about the part Ganga has played in the Indian civilization and culture, what we human beings have done or could do or have not done to save this mighty river…

My final aim is to narrate the whole documentary as a multimedia and a book. I invite anyone and everyone to please help me with suggestions... critique... and hospitality. I would love to hear your suggestions and incorporate them into my project.

Note: The contents of this blog including the pictures are copyrighted and may not be copied or downloaded without prior permission of Rahul Rathi.
Disclaimer: This is a personal project of Rahul Rathi. He is not responsible for the accuracy of the contents here in and may not be sited as a reference without confirming the accuracy.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Kanpur... any story on river Ganga is incomplete ...

... without a mention of this city. I reached Kanpur on the 15th of November.

Kanpur is the most industrialized city located on the banks of the river Ganga and is the economic capital of the state of Uttar Pradesh. Kanpur holds an important place in history too, it being one of the few cities where the Indian rebellion for independence first spread to after starting at Meerut in 1857.

My team changed in Kanpur. Now I was with my brother-in-law Nitin and his friends Surendra, Nagendra and Deepak.

The morning of November 16th we headed towards the Anandeshwar temple situated on the banks of the Ganga. After reaching the Temple I directly headed down to the ghat where the Ganga flows just a few feet away. I learned that the Ganga had migrated, changing its course, several kilometers away from the ghat, but after the barrage was built on the river it changed its course again and came back to where it used to be – adjacent to the temple. Although, the Anandeshwar temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva, yet it has several other smaller temples dedicated to other Gods, Goddesses, and Saints. I was thrilled to see an idol of Goddess Ganga. I am sure as I visit Gangotri during my next trip I will have a chance to see another idol of Goddess Ganga... that time high up in the Himalayas very close to where Ganga originates.    

Slide Show (please use arrows to scroll)

The chants at the Temple were mesmerizing. As the morning prayers went on in the temple, the crowed swelled with every passing minute... people came down the ghat  to offer prayers to Maan Ganga and to the rising Sun... many would ask the boatmen to fetch some Ganga water for them from the center of the river... there were kids who would throw very powerful magnets attached to a rope into the river to collect coins that the devotees throw into the river... there was a snake charmer too... and of course beggars, sadhus (the holy men), restaurateurs, cows, baby goats playing over rose petals...  it all looked so beautiful! What a diversity ... what colors... just amazing!

As I was taking pictures on the ghat a boatman sitting in his boat uttered something in a very sad tone. Taking the opportunity I went closer to him asking him what he said… he was pointing at the garbage that came from the temple and was strewn on the banks of the Ganga. He said no one cares about the trash here and it is piling up and destroying the sanctity of the holy Ganga. The garbage he was talking about were flower offerings to Gods at the temple that were later dumped outside. The worst part of it was that the offerings were in polythene bags...

Soon after the temple we headed towards the barrage. It was built a few years ago and enabled the Ganga to come back to its original course. As we stood on the barrage, we could see the river bed ... cultivated with seasonal fruits and vegetable (Water Melon, Melon, etc). There were boats running from the banks to the land in the center of the river ferrying farmers to their “fields”. Several boats were busy in their business of fishing, and the complaints were of the decline in the fish population since the barrage was built, but it was still enough for their survival.

At the ghats near the barrage, we came across the remnants of a religious ceremony of idol immersion. Idols of Hindu gods (especially Lord Ganesha and Goddess Durga), are immersed into a water body. Not very long ago the idols were made of clay and painted with natural colors (vegetable colors), and when immersed would just degrade over time without causing any pollution. However, more recently the idols are made from Plaster of Paris and synthetic colors containing heavy metals (like mercury and lead) are used to decorate them. Plaster of Paris takes anywhere from several months to years to degrade and mercury and lead used in colors are toxic to living beings. These metals are finding their way into foods that are grown on the beds of the river. 

On one of the gates of the barrage was struck a dead human body - a not so un-common feature according to the locals. Time and again I recall the song from the classic Guru Dutt movie Pyaasa [All time 100 best films according to TIME magazine] entitled Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaye to kya hai... and the stanza that struck me seeing this body was...  Yahaan ek khilonaa hai inasaan ki hasti, Ye basti hai murdaa-paraston ki basti, Yahaan par to jeevan se hai maut sasti... Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaaye to kya hai...[English Translation coming].

Regarding the issue of dead bodies in the Ganga,  I happened to talk to a gentleman probably in his late 60s, on one of the other days while still in Kanpur. According to him, in Hindu religion dead bodies can also be ceremoniously immersed (visarjit in Hindi) into the waters of the Ganga to purify the body of all diseases [read my previous post on bacteriophages]. The body eventually is supposed to be eaten up by fish and turtles in the waters. However, since the erection of dams and barrages along the river, not only has the fish and turtle population decreased but also the dead bodies get struck there. The other, and maybe a more important cause of dwindling fish population is the industrial pollution making its way into the Ganga. But then who knows if these bodies were immersed ceremoniously or unceremoniously (read murdered and dumped).

Ganga takes everything that you immerse/dump into it... ceremoniously or unceremoniously... this is all what we humans have given to her!

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