Festival Boycott Levels Rising Over Sacred Ganges Pollution
The saffron-clad, ash-smeared holy men, or sadhus, gathered at the fair grounds in Allahabad to demand the state of the waters be improved by Jan. 12, the date of the next great immersion. Allahabad, the venue of the "Ardh Kumbh Mela" or Half Grand Pitcher festival, is nearly 120 miles southeast of Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh state.
"Millions of people are taking baths in this river because Hindus consider the Ganges a pious river," said Hari Chaitanaya Brahmachari, a leading Hindu holy man and head of a local monastery. "But the fact is they are taking a dip not in river water but in effluents discharged from factories."
Winding 1,560 miles across northern India, from the Himalaya Mountains to the Indian Ocean, the Ganges River is not a sacred place: it is a sacred entity. Known as Ganga Ma—Mother Ganges—the river is revered as a goddess whose purity cleanses the sins of the faithful and aids the dead on their path toward heaven. But while her spiritual purity has remained unchallenged for millennia, her physical purity has deteriorated as India’s booming population imposes an ever-growing burden upon her. The river is now sick with the pollution of human and industrial waste, and water-borne illness is a terrible factor of Indian life. But the threat posed by this pollution isn’t just a matter of health—it’s a matter of faith. Veer Badra Mishra, a Hindu priest and civil engineer who has worked for decades to combat pollution in the Ganges, describes the importance of protecting this sacred river: “There is a saying that the Ganges grants us salvation. This culture will end if the people stop going to the river, and if the culture dies the tradition dies, and the faith dies.”