Life Along The Ganges River

August 24, 2011 India 11 Comments 49,891 Views

Life Along The Ganges River In Varanasi, India.

The Ganges or Ganga, is the largest river in India. It’s 2.525 km long and crosses the entire country. The Ganges basin is the most heavily populated river basin in the world, with over 400 million people. It’s the most sacred river to Hindus and is also a lifeline to millions of Indians who live along its course and depend on it for their daily needs. It is also one of the most amazing places for a travel photographer who wants to document the daily Indian life.

Dead Bodies Floating In The Ganges River.

No place along its banks is more longed for at the moment of death by Hindus than Varanasi. It is the holiest place in Hinduism and often referred to as “the holy city of India“. Those who are lucky enough to die in Varanasi, are cremated on the banks of the Ganges & granted instant salvation. There are exceptions; pregnant women, children, holy people and people who died from a snake bite are not cremated but are lowered into the river. Sooner or later they will show up at the surface again … Everything might be holy in Varanasi but nobody bothers if a dead body floats by … and they float by quite often. This is something we have never seen before but it’s nothing special in India. We would say: “dawn of the dead reality show daily from your hotel terrace” … To some of you, these photos of corpses might be too much but this is the brutal reality.

Pollution Of The Ganges River.

Unfortunately this also means that there’s a lot of pollution: the Ganges river suffers from extreme pollution levels. Sewage from many cities along the river’s course, industrial waste and religious offerings wrapped in non-degradable plastics add large amounts of pollutants to the river as it flows through densely populated areas. The problem is that many poor people rely on the river on a daily basis for bathing, washing, and cooking.

The people in Varanasi don’t seem to care about the pollution of the Ganges – or at least often they don’t have a choice. As I said before, for many the Ganges river is the only opportunity to take a shower. Additionally Varanasi (already a city of millions) is visited by many thousands of pilgrims each year who want to take a holy dip in the Ganges. Only this city releases around 200 million litres of untreated human sewage into the river each day…

The swiftly moving Ganges in Varanasi, especially in its upper reaches, where a bather has to grasp an anchored chain in order to not be carried away, is considered especially purifying.
The swiftly moving Ganges in Varanasi, especially in its upper reaches, where a bather has to grasp an anchored chain in order to not be carried away, is considered especially purifying.
The Ghats in Varanasi are always full with people, bathing, washing or praying.
The Ghats in Varanasi are always full with people, bathing, washing or praying. What the Ganges removes, however, is not necessarily physical dirt, but symbolic dirt; it wipes away the sins of the bather, not just of the present, but of a lifetime.
A snake charmer playing with an Indian Cobra in Varanasi. Snake charming is the practice of pretending to hypnotise a snake by playing an instrument called "pungi". Although snakes are able to sense sound, they lack the outer ear that would enable them to hear the music. They follow the pungi that the snake charmer holds with their heads. The snake considers the person and pungi a threat and responds to it as if it were a predator.
A snake charmer playing with an Indian Cobra in Varanasi. Snake charming is the practice of pretending to hypnotise a snake by playing an instrument called “pungi”. Although snakes are able to sense sound, they lack the outer ear that would enable them to hear the music. They follow the pungi that the snake charmer holds with their heads. The snake considers the person and pungi a threat and responds to it as if it were a predator.
Family fun.
Family fun in the Ganges river. Hindus consider the waters of the Ganges to be both pure and purifying. Nothing reclaims order from disorder more than the waters of the Ganges.
Man shaving his hair on the Ghats before taking a "holy dip" in the Ganges. Shaving the head before visiting the Ganges is thought to bring spiritual purification.
Man shaving his hair on the Ghats before taking a “holy dip” in the Ganges. Shaving the head before visiting the Ganges is thought to bring spiritual purification.
A man washing his buffaloes in the Ganges in Varanasi, India.
A man washing his buffaloes in the Ganges in Varanasi, India.
The old city of Varanasi extends about two kilometres back from the river and is a maze of alleyways and streets. The view from a boat floating along the Ganges river is breathtaking.
The old city of Varanasi extends about two kilometres back from the river and is a maze of alleyways and streets. The view from a boat floating along the Ganges river is breathtaking.
A dead body floating in the Ganges river in Varanasi, India.
A dead body floating in the Ganges river in Varanasi. No place along the banks of the Ganges river is more longed for at the moment of death by Hindus than Varanasi, the Great Cremation Ground. Those who are lucky enough to die in Varanasi, are cremated on the banks of the Ganges, and are granted instant salvation. If the death has occurred elsewhere, salvation can be achieved by immersing the ashes in the Ganges.
A dead body floating by.
If the ashes have been immersed in another body of water, a relative can still gain salvation for the deceased by journeying to the Ganges, if possible during the lunar “fortnight of the ancestors” in the Hindu calendar month of Ashwin (September or October).
In Hinduism, the river Ganges is considered sacred and is personified as a goddess known as Ganga. It is worshipped by Hindus who believe that bathing in the river causes the remission of sins and facilitates Moksha (liberation from the cycle of life and death). Pilgrims travel long distances to immerse the ashes of their kin in the precious water of the Ganges, bringing their spirits closer to moksha.
In Hinduism, the river Ganges is considered sacred and is personified as a goddess known as Ganga. It is worshipped by Hindus who believe that bathing in the river causes the remission of sins and liberation from the cycle of life and death. Pilgrims travel long distances to immerse the ashes of their kin in the precious water of the Ganges.
Appreciate this Story?

Go tell your friends by sharing or tweeting it.

This Story is Tagged With:


11 Comments

Join the Discussion

“Life Along The Ganges River In Varanasi, India.”

  1. I saw you all photography portfolio it is simply outstanding…. Specially Indian people photos are beautiful… Keep it up.

  2. Vishnu Ramlutchman

    I am from South Africa. I have visited Varanasi a few times, with all the pollution etc. I still believe that the Holy Ganges river is one of the greatest and i always look forward to bathe in the sacred river…I am a proud South African citizen that Loves Mother Ganges…Jay Hind.

  3. Spectacular captures. Varanasi is one of the most vibrant places I have ever been. It is simply an assault on all 5 senses.

  4. Nisa

    Hi Sally!
    I know what you mean, but it’s part of the culture in India and you get used to it if you’re there more often…
    Best, Nisa

  5. Karthik

    Thanks so much for writing about my country, to add on…It’s said that River Ganga’s water will never be spoiled for years. For example, its a belief to pour at least few drops of Ganga water into dead peoples mouth (people who are in South India or far away from Ganges). I saw a bowl of water for 30 years fresh…is it not magical? But India should really think of stopping to make bodies float…that’s disgusting.

  6. Nisa

    Hello Karthik!
    I agree that the dead bodies shouldn’t be put into the Ganges…but I guess this is an old tradition and has to do with the believe, therefore it’s gonna be hard to change this.
    Thanks for the explanation too!
    Best, Nisa

  7. Jenn

    No wonder Indian people stink! What a disgusting culture. I can not believe people would bathe and have their children in a river with dead bodies rotting, not to mention all the deficating these people do in it. Just plain repulsive!

  8. Nisa

    I’m sorry you feel that way Jenn!
    Have you ever been to India yourself? I think that it’s very harsh from you to say that the Indian culture is “disgusting”. One has to accept that people & cultures (and therefore also their rituals) are different and we have to accept that. This sometimes means that while travelling out of the comfort zone, you might experience things you’re not used to. It’s true that the Ganges is not a clean river, yet it is still the lifeline for millions of Indians. Very often they can’t chose where to bathe, simply because there is no alternative. I would agree that people can take countermeasures, and dead bodies should not be put into the river, but therefore much more is needed then the will of just one person…There is a believe behind this ritual.
    I think that it’s important to see how other people across the globe live and what their daily life is like. And along the Ganges river, this is “normal”…
    And as said before, I think you’re biased because India has one of the richest cultures in the world.
    Best, Nisa

Leave a Comment