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.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Purity of Ganga water...

I did a small experiment myself... I had a bottle of Ganga water which my father collected around 6 years ago.  I never opened it. Two days ago I opened it... it looked very clear (no impurities at all)... I smelled it... no smell whatsoever... and I drank a spoonful (rather reluctantly)... and to my surprise it tasted like water from a fresh stream. Indeed the water of the Ganga is clean and pure...   

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Garh Mukteshwar...why do we blame the government only???

I reached Garh Mukteshwar on December 1st 2009. This was my last week in India for the trip. Garh Mukteshwar is a small town 100 or so km from Delhi and around 7 km from it is Brijghat where Ganga flows. The combined name of the place is derived probably from the Garhwal rulers of the area and the temple of Mukteshwar Mahadeva, dedicated to Lord Shiva. Garh in hindi also means a fort. The Mukteshwar Mahadeva temple was built by King Shivi, an ancestor of Lord Ram. There is also a famous Ganga Temple in Garh Mukeshwar. It has 101 steps which once upon a time led to the banks of the Ganga. That's when Ganga used to flow very close to the temple (now it flows a few kilometers away). Ganga after all changes its course every once in a while. (please view my other story on Garh Mukteswar for more information)

Brij ghat is a holy place for Hindus. Although it is not as big as other holy cities on the banks of the river Ganga, but since Haridwar and Rishikesh are now a part of Uttrakhand - the new state carved out of Uttar Pradesh (U.P.) - the U.P. government is planing to invest a lot of money to develop Brij Ghat on the lines of other holy cities. Thousands of devotees come here to take the ritual bath in the river Ganga daily, and especially during the full moon day in the month of Kartik (called Kartik Purnima) of the Hindu calender (usually falling in the months of October and November by the Gregorian calender). During Dusherra too there is a big fair held here. 

A few years back it was reported in the Times of India that the area was becoming a sanctuary for wildlife with birds from Siberia seen and the fresh water dolphins spotted in the waters of the Ganga (Ref).

Slide Show (please use arrows to scroll)

As in most other holy towns or cities situated on the banks of the river Ganga, there is a cremation area (murda ghat) in Brijghat too where dead bodies are cremated in open air. People also come here to immerse the ashes of the dead who were cremated else where. The process of cremation is referred to as the antim sansakar (last rites) in Hindi. According to Hinduism there are sixteen sanskars one goes through as s/he passes through life, with Garbhdhan (conception) being the first and Antim Sanskar or Antyeshti being the last.

I was told by locals in the area about the murda ghat and I headed towards it right away, realizing that I have missed the cremation aspect of Ganga thus far. There were several cremations going on... and to be true these were the first I have ever seen, other than on television and movies. There were hordes of people accompanying the dead body. They were mainly relatives and friends of the diseased, but also were friends to the kins of the dead. Then again, there were cows roaming around sniffing the dead bodies, just to be shooed away by people... then I also happened to see a dog feeding upon something white in the Ganga. They were bones... but was hard to figure out if they were human or animal. There were people selling wood for cremation and all other stuff needed for the same... and you could easily find a priest too who would perform the last rites. Ganga gives us business in so many forms... and in return what do we give her?

As I was taking pictures, two gentlemen approached me wondering what I was doing. I told them about my project and both of them were very supportive of it. They talked at length about the idea of cremation near the Ganga. According to them it was not a wise idea if you have to travel a long distance to come to the river. They said it was a waste of time for all those who had to come or in other words were made to come. Hmmm...they were not wrong. I could see people talking on their cell phones, probably handling their business, and were not very interested in the rituals... after all the dead person was not one of their family members. The two also suggested that the best idea is to cremate in their own village or town or city and just come to the Ganga to immerse the ashes. In fact that's what most people do... yet there are some who prefer to cremate the body on the banks of the Ganga.

But anyway, I am not concerned about that. What I was concerned about was: who would clean the area where you just cremated the body. In fact no one does. The area is left as is, for water to come someday and take away the remainder of the wood and ashes. And sometimes, the bodies are not even let to be cremated (read burnt here) and are disposed off into the waters of the Ganga. It could very well be a ritual, but not when one sees dogs feeding upon bodies. The clothe that the corpse comes wrapped in and any other material including bags etc that are used to carry stuff to the cremation ground are either burnt in the cremation fire... or people just leave them there. How convenient. And of course it all finds its way into the Ganga... even more convenient. And then we blame the government for inefficiency... or the tanneries for dumping chemicals... but what about us?

I moved away from the cremation area, towards the bathing ghats. And the scenes were not very different from all other places I have been to recently. Children throwing magnets into the river to collect coins... only the shape of the magnets had changed, now it was a big block of magnet instead of several small pieces attached together. This time around I also saw a guy sifting through the sand collected from the river bed looking probably for coins. The dialect of people changed. Surprisingly I did not come across any beggars, but monkeys were there... and then several people praying to mother Ganga and taking a holy dip or just offering Ganga water to the Sun God. The boatmen were there ... offering boat rides across the Ganga. There were stalls selling religious stuff... so the place was not very different from Haridwar, just a little smaller. And the most common site so far was land (river bed ) being used for seasonal crops...   

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Haridwar... mighty Ganga enters the plains

Returning from Devprayag I stopped at Haridwar (or Hardwar). Hari meaning God and Dwar meaning gate, Haridwar stands for Gateway to God. Some people refer to it as Hardwar, with Har referring to Lord Shiva, and others as Haridwar, with Hari referring to Lord Vishnu.

Haridwar is one of the seven holiest places in Hinduism. It is where the river Ganga first reaches the plains. It is thus also known as Gangadwar (Gate of the Ganga). It is one of the four places in India where the Kumbh Mela is held. I will be back in Haridwar in April to cover the Kumbh Mela. Har ki Pauri (Har is God, Pauri is Steps) is the most sacred ghat in Haridwar, and it  is where thousands of devotees gather daily for the evening Ganga aarti, and millions gather during the festive seasons for the ritual bathing.

As I was heading towards the Himalayas during my first trip, I noticed that the Ganga was very dry here at Haridwar. Then we crossed over a bridge where from I could see a barrage, or maybe it was a small dam that was cutting the water off from the main river and diverting it towards the Har ki Pauri. This time on I was at the Har ki Pauri and could see the water of the Ganga in full flow. Very close by is a another small dam, which is used to divert the water back into the Ganga if there is a over flow especially during the rainy season. Otherwise, most of this water at the Har ki Pauri, instead of flowing back into the Ganga, now flows parallel to the Ganga in men-made canal called the Upper Ganga Canal. The Upper Ganga Canal has helped irrigate millions of acres of agricultural land in north and central Uttar Pradesh, but at the same time it has also severely depleted the waters in the Holy Ganga.

Slide Show (please use arrows to scroll)

I reached at the Har ki Pauri just before the evening Ganga aarti. It was getting crowded. People rushing towards the ghat to attend the aarti... many praying to the setting sun or to the river Ganga... many getting prayers done for them... several taking a holy dip in the river... some cleaning the area for the evening aarti... There were street vendors all around... selling roli (red powder)... small boats made of leaves containing flowers and an earthen lamp (part of a ritual to immerse the boats into the river)... pitchers for devotees to fill up the sacred water from the Ganga to carry back home... all sorts of religious stuff used in Hindu prayers... There were stalls of religious books and CDs... with music emanating from their shops at full volume... And of course there were men in blue shirts asking for donations towards Ganga cleaning (hmmm really?)... then others asking for donations towards the Ganga aarti...(hmmm Oh really??)

The first impression I got was that people have commercialized the Har ki Pauri, and they have commercialized the holy river Ganga. People now are using the name of river Ganga to earn money... faking it to be for cleaning. It's not what I am saying. This is what I was told by some locals at the ghat itself. They have never seen anyone actually clean the river here... and no one knows where the money they collect actually goes.

I was also told that people come here with offerings and with ashes of their diseased beloveds... which are immersed into the waters here at the ghat. But the bags the ashes or the offerings are brought in are also thrown into the waters... or if not into the waters the plastic bags are left on steps... and then one day they find their way into the Ganga... of course... after all Ganga is a natural sewage system.

Devprayag: The divine confluence...

On November 28th, I headed back to Devprayag (Dev + Prayag = Divine + Confluence). Devprayag is a small township in the Himalayas (at around 2700 ft) where two rivers - Bhagirathi and Alaknanada meet forming the Ganga. Bhagirathi is considered to be the source stream of the Ganga. Devprayag was where Lord Ram came to atone for killing Ravan, who was a Brahmin and a devotee of Lord Shiv.

Devprayag is one of the five holy confluences or Panch Prayag in the Garhwal hills where different tributaries merge with river Alaknanda. Devprayag is considered to be the main confluence because it is here that Bhagirathi merges with Alaknanada and the combined waters are from now on called The Ganga. The other five confluences (prayag) being Vishnuprayag, where the Alaknanda is met by the Dhauliganga River, Nandaprayag, where it is met by the Nandakini River, Karnaprayag, where it is met by the Pindar River, and Rudraprayag, where it is met by the Mandakini River.

The waters of the rivers Bhagirathi and Alaknanda looked very clean and untouched. Very much unlike what I had just seen in Kanpur a few days back.

I met Sri Dinesh Bhatt, the priest at the ghat and also some tourists (Ramesh, Devesh, Abhijeet, Dinesh, Manoj) from the Delhi area. According to the priest, Devprayag is the actual place of the Kumbh Mela, but due to space constraints it was moved to Haridwar. On the issue of the dams on the Bhagirathi, he was of the opinion that the dam should not have been built. He said, on one hand the government is talking about reducing the pollution, and on te othe rit is creating pollution by building the dams, by going against the nature. He was the opinion that the amount spent on building the Tehri dam was much high than the amount of power it would ever generate. These dams would eventually lead to nature imbalance leading to loss of life and eventually Ganga will vanish from the face of earth.

He was bold enough to say that he has done nothing to save the Ganga. All he could do was to write letters to the Prime Minister, but to no avail. The bureaucrats and the politicians are the main culprits according to him. He also blamed the ineffectiveness of social activist Sunderlal Bahuguna towards Ganga or towards Garhwal.

For the tourists from Delhi, Ganga is a Pavitra (pure) river. Despite the fact that all the garbage from the Himalayan towns and villages is dumped into the Ganga or its tributaries, yet one feels cleansed after taking a dip in the river. They were also of the opinion that Ganga is our life line, so stopping the river for making electricity is not acceptable from one perspective, but then on the other hand if we are getting economically better by production of electricity, it is also acceptable. Yet, over all it is more harmful to mess with the nature for the benefit of human beings, according to them. They also suggested the use of solar and wind power to generate energy. 

As I headed back up towards my taxi, I couldn't resist myself from snapping this picture... a stream of garbage directly being dumped into the Bhagirathi river.  So much for the Divine Confluence. But then again where do the locals dump their waste... in the sewers provided by the authorities and All the sewers lead to the Ganga.