The Holy Ganga

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Item Code: IDL129
Author: Kaushal Kishore
Publisher: Rupa Publication Pvt. Ltd.
Edition: 2008
ISBN: 9788129114068
Pages: 324
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 8.5" X 5.5"
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Book Description

It is with great pleasure that I am writing a prologue to this great literary work The Holy Ganga, centred around the devotion and faith of millions of people living in various corners of the globe. This book is based on extensive research by the author during the course of the decade-long movements and noble initiatives for preservation of the environment and ecology. The ancient scriptures and epics of India sing glorious songs in praise of the threefold river goddess Ganga. Lord Krishna defines the Ganga in the Srimad Bhagavat Gita.

‘Gam prithvim gachhati iti Ganga’

Which means: ‘The one that descends onto the earth from the heaven is the Ganga’.

He again says:
Which means: ‘The Ganga takes one towards the paradise’.

The Indian culture of love, peace and fraternity imbibed all alien elements just as the Ganga moulds all hard stones that represent the ego, smoothing them in the process. Words fail me to describe the glory of the holy mother; my prayers seem so insignificant and insufficient in comparison to the magnificence of the glorious mother. My ardent wish is that mother Ganga resides in our hearts and souls.

The idea of writing a book on the Ganga got a fillip during a national seminar organized by the Bharat Jagriti Mission on 5 April 2008 with the theme: ‘Significance of the Holy Ganga in the Present Scenario’. Numerous well-known environmental activists and thinkers along with various saints, social workers, politicians, student and common citizens participated in the programme chaired by His Excellency B.L. Joshi, the governor of Uttarakhand. As a consequence of the brainstorming session, the mission resolved to introduce devotees of the holy mother as its preservers. These dedicated devotees of the holy mother are called Ganga Rakshaks.

Water is the basis of all life. In the present scenario, water crisis is the most severe and pervasive problem of the entire world. The average water supply in India is far below the standard average of 1,000 cubic metres per person per annum. The water availability graph over the last fifty years reflects a sharp decline in the supply and availability of water. Today, India is a water stressed country with only four per cent of the total available fresh water of the world even though it forms sixteen per cent of the total global population. Ganga. Yamuna and the entire Ganga system is one of the largest available fresh water resources of the nation, and these precious water resources is depleting at an uncontrolled speed.

The destruction of water resources is a bigger crime than terrorism since it can destroy entire communities-millions of people and property worth billions in a single shot. Presently, the water resources are destroyed by uncontrolled pollution, greenhouse effects, indiscriminate mining and corporate maneuvering of the resources. In addition to these, politics of faith is yet another problem. These are just a few problems that challenge the very existence of the holy river and the great Himalayas.

In this context there was a need of a holistic literature on mother Ganga that chronologically throws light on her history, myths, significance and the present degrading situation. The author describes and offers simple and pragmatic solutions of various problems with a passionate, simple and impartial approach. He has made an earnest attempt to compile all the facts, legends and problems pertaining to the holy river from the beginning to modern times in the three sections. In all, the book is a priceless offering to adorn any bookshelf.

The present volume is a call for a peaceful and dynamic movement to preserve the holy river, the great Himalayas and our planet from the impending catastrophe. The living water of the holy river is known for her curative properties and purifying characteristics. The Holy Ganga illuminates the spiritual, religious, social, economic, cultural and environmental importance of the Ganga along with more immediate problems of livelihood.

I believe that the author of the book deserves my sincere gratitude for his marvelous and relevant literary contribution. The Ganga is just not a simple river; it is the flow of the nectar of immortality that sparks a current of life throughout the Indian subcontinent. The book is a necessary tool for creating awareness among readers about the Ganga’s present state of pollution and helping evolve solution techniques. I hope this volume awakens the consciousness of devotees and inspires every individual to join the Save Ganga Campaign. Once again, I think Mr Kaushal Kishore for his literary work. I would also like to thank Rupa & Co. for publishing this precious literature on the holy mother. At last, I pray to mother Ganga for the wellbeing of all and request all of you to preserve the sacred water of the holy river.


One beautiful morning I sat on the banks of the Ganga river, a few hundred metres apart from Har-ki-Pauri at Hardwar. It was a little before sunrise. The cool breeze blowing out of the riverbed fascinated me to such an extent that I sat on the stairs leading towards the waterway. I was looking at the immense flowing water body. The green water of the river-it always reminds me that even after so much pollution upstream the river still appears to be green up to Hardwar for a few months-was so beautiful and picturesque that my eyes were transfixed on the view.

The beauty of the sinuous green water had never seemed so beautiful in the past, and as I was looking at it, all the thoughts in my mind vanished. The sonorous melody of the water naturally filled into my ears with a binding magnetic force. Later I realized that it was a moment of ultimate bliss and pure ecstacy that a human being can experience. The fresh oxygen was feeding my lungs, the immense green water energized my heart and soul, the picturesque scenery comforted my eyes, the whisper of the natural melody emanating from the great flow of river reverberated into my ears, and the cool blowing breeze surrounded me and caressed my body affectionately. I remained there, sitting on the steps, in the same spellbound state of meditation for a long time.

After a couple of hours when I looked up, I felt as if I had woken up from some unfamiliar plane of consciousness. The slight surge of warmth in the cool breeze made me realize that I was quite unaware of myself and my surroundings even though I was entirely conscious with my eyes open throughout that period. I just remembered myself looking at the flowing green water body known as Gangajal.

For a brief period of about a couple hours I had attained different level of consciousness-my vision improved drastically as if empowered with a special power of a higher and subtler kind and I could see something on the riverbed. What I saw was a series of events that sometimes seems to me the product of my imagination or a vision in meditation. I have never in the past, experienced such a live presentation of an imaginary series of events. I will now describe in detail what I saw.

There was an old man walking along. He wore white clothes like a saint and was rather tall, with glowing cream skin and starved thin body but there was still the sparkle of peace and divine bliss on his face. The wrinkles on his forehead shone like his snow white long and thin hair and almost equally long beard flowing down to his chest. The two conspicuous hazel eye were sparkling with the shine of inner enlightenment, Moreover, there was an infinite love reflecting from his deep and huge eyes that showed an absence of all sorts of evils. He seemed like some sort of a super human from another world, perhaps from a world higher than ours.

The great amount of waters danced and shone like lightning as the river followed its course, and there were lots of people far behind the old man on both sides of the great water that was following the old man. The hill tops seemed to be as high as his knees. He was treading carefully and was in full control on the top of the mountain. The old man was glad to see such a big gathering to pay their respects to the holy mother.

Yes, the huge amount of water was the holy Mother Ganga that turned into the River Ganga by virtue of some spiritual power, and the old man was His Majesty the Great King of the oldest Indian dynasty that still exists and is known as Suryavansh. He was the great King Bhagaratha himself who brought the precious river to the earth. All the citizens were rushing to greet the victorious and beloved king and to welcome the great water body, which was nothing but the Holy Mother Ganga herself.

Suddenly, there were floods…
The huge amount of water suddenly spread across the area and flooded the vicinity in my view. All homes, fields, valleys, etc. were full of water. Out of nowhere, emerged another rather tall old man. He was a little older than the king and his skin was dark and shiny. He too had snow white hair and long, flowing beard. His ashram was flooded, and he was annoyed. There was a blazing fire in his glowing red eyes. He looked around in rage, then closed his eyed for a while, and opened them again. He moved ahead and his body became larger and larger in size. Soon he was as tall as an elephant before an ant. He began to drink the water. Gradually the water started receding and after some time there was no sign of the flood as he was drinking all the water flowing towards the king. Then there was almost no water.

The king turned back and saw all that was going on, helpless and amazed. There was no Gangajal to follow him. The dancing and flowing river was gone. The public around the way were silent. All were afraid of the curse of Rishi Jahnu who had sipped the water as if it was nothing more than his palm full of honey. The Ganga once again disappeared and Bhagiratha was sorely perplexed.

Bhagiratha fell onto his feet and all the people and other saints approached Jahnu and begged him to forgive Ganga and allow Bhagiratha to reap the fruit of his great austerities and perseverance. The sage relented and let Ganga out through his right ear. It was a new flow from an entirely unexpected orifice. The saints and seers present there were glad and blessed Ganga as a daughter and called her Jahnavi. Since the process of coming out of Jahnu’s body was similar to the event of birth when an infant comes out of the mother’s womb, Ganga came to be known as Jahnavi, the daughter of Jahnu.

The king was very glad with the outcome. He climbed into his chariot and moved ahead to take away the holy waters with him without any further mishaps or hindrances through the ocean to the netherworld, where his dead ancestors were burnt into ashes and the last rites of the funeral ceremony was yet to be accomplished even after the efforts of three generations of the dynasty. The king was singing some hymns that I could hear clearly.

He traveled a long distance before the evening and was tired by the time he reached Rishikesh. His horses were thirsty and needed feeding and rest. It was at Saptarishi that the king decided to offer solutions to all the seven seers living there. The king bowed down before all the seers who were glad to see the king who was blessed with the holy waters. The saints blessed Bhagiratha with the boons so that he could perform the funeral rites of his dead ancestors to gain entry for them into the heaven.

The river split into seven different streams at Saptarishi and moved besides the hermitages of all the seven seers. Jahnavi, who was now the daughter of the seers, offered salutations to the lotus feet of the saints at Hardwar like a beloved daughter. All along the journey kings, saints as well as the common people worshipped the Holy Mother Ganga.

I am fond of climbing hills especially in the Himalayas. Several times I have visited the Shivalik Range of mountains in the Great Himalayas. The peak of hills at Hardwar and Rishikesh offer a charming and pictographic view of one of the most beautiful parts of the Ganga Valley. I still remember one such panoramic landscape from the peak of the foothills situated in the eastern part of Hardwar near the temple of the Goddess Chandi. Here, the river splits into several streams and again all such streams merge together, forming an oval shape near Saptarishi. That very picture flashed across my mind and I was again transfixed. The flow of the green river water was beautiful and pleasant enough to make anybody dravibhut (fall in her love).

I was amazed to realize that I was not day dreaming. I was entirely awake throughout the period while all this happened before my eyes on the riverbed that looked like the infinite space spread across the sky. All the living energies-air, water, ether, fire and sky-were present there in the purest available form. During this clairvoyant period, I had completely forgotten myself. The marvelous events imbibed my attention to such an extent that there was an entire absence of self-consciousness. My consciousness merged wit the sight completely, without even the small ripples of self or ego.

It was one of the most pleasant experiences of my life, which was beyond my own imagination. I know that something like this is difficult to believe in modern times but it did happen to me. I was aware of the stories of the scriptures about the descent of the Holy Mother Ganga but before this these were nothing more than stories meant for children.

I am attracted to the beauty of the river and I seldom dislike it, but to me a river is a waterway, a non-living thing. But the said event was a challenge to the well-established idea of it being non living. It suggests that the Ganga is a living body, as living as human beings, plants, animals, etc.

A couple of weeks passed by and the effects of this event were still fresh in my mind. One evening I got an opportunity to talk to a saint while I was walking on the banks of the river at Hardwar. In the peace-loving and divine aura of the saint I felt the likeness with Kabir Das, the great saint of medieval times. He was an old man with long and thick matted hair and beard. He was the first one to whom I narrated the events of that beautiful morning. The saint listened to me attentively and asked certain questions as and when he felt proper.

At last he said, ‘There are higher stages of consciousness that is known to a few enlightened souls. Sometimes with divine grace certain individuals experience such higher stage of consciousness.

‘I have heard hundreds of such stories from scriptures. My grandparents were fond of telling me such narratives and perhaps I came across thousands of such stories in my childhood. Although I don’t remember them anymore, it is there somewhere within me. Why don’t you think that it was an outcome of those hidden stories lying in my subconscious?’ I asked.

In answer to my question he said, ‘This may be an idea of modern experts of various material sciences. But our source of knowledge is the Vedas and there is a verse to that effect in the Yajurveda. He quoted the mantra, which is as follows:

Chatwarivak Parimitapadani,
Tanividur Brahmanavadani
Guhatrini nihitanengyanti,
Turiyamvacho manushyavadanti

‘What does this verse mean?’ I questioned.

The saint looked into my eyes and said, ‘There are four different layers of consciousness and expression-para, pasyanti, madhyama and baikahri, and they all are known to the few enlightened souls. Three of the four are confined to the enlightened experts of the integral yoga, who are masters of all chakras of the human body. The fourth called baikahri is the physical form of that consciousness in the form of the speech all living creatures speak.’

‘Do you think there is any significance of this theory with respect again, ‘your experience indicates something towards certain good works; perhaps you don’t have an idea of it. Anyway, what do you do?’ he asked.

‘I am working for the preservation of the environment and ecology; Ganga Pollution and Himalayan ecology is one of the prominent issues that I am concerned with,’ I answered.

‘There may be some connection which you will learn over the course of time. Such instances are the reflections of higher stages of consciousness. It is like the dream you seldom have. The dreams are the madhyama (semi-consciousness) state of that expression, and pashyanti or dhyan (vision or meditation) is another state of the same expression. There is a yet another form of the same, which is the purest and most subtle spiritual form called para (super consciousness). The event you experienced that morning was a classical example of meditation. These are not physical things of the materialistic world. Generally these are metaphoric and symbolic, and such visions are normally meant to indicate certain divine and spiritual work that is needed to be done at your end. The thoughts of the Vedas are compiled in verses and not in prose. Verses significantly need explanations to make it intelligible.’

‘What else could be the significance of the Bhagiratha event?’ ‘See, the scriptures also say that he Lord Shiva was annoyed when Ganga descended. Did you know that?’

‘It had happened when Ganga descended from the heavens with great might and force. As a consequence of that Lord Shiva covered the sky with the great locks of his hair, so that not a drop of water would fall on the Earth. In this way he had fully captured Ganga.’ He replied.

‘See, this is the exact symbolic expression of the narrative.’
‘How so?’ I asked. ‘The Shiva’s dreadlocks covered the stream, as I have told you.’

‘Yes, you did.’
‘This event from the scriptures is as symbolic as a simile, he said with a grin on his face. He began, ‘The Shivalik range releases the Ganga to flow in the plains, after it traverses more than two hundred miles in the hills. Do you know what “Shivalik” means?’ he asked.

‘Shivalik means Lord Shiva’s dreadlocks,’ he said with a quiet smile.

‘Oh, I see. So the mountains stand for the dreadlocks of Lord Shiva that emerged to resist the course of the river.’

‘See the Tehri Dam. It stores millions of litres of water in its reservoirs. Can you imagine how much water could have been stored in the many times larger reservoir spread across the Himalayas?’ He asked.

‘The Himalayas spread across such a vast area that perhaps a river across it was impossible unless there was an orifice to flow by I replied.

‘Similarly, your experience indicates something that you don’t understand right now; it points towards some sort of spiritual inspiration,’ he said.

‘Can you tell me what it is?’ I asked.
‘I am not bound to answer all your questions, find it yourself.’ He replied and took out a pipe out of his pocket to smoke.

I offered my salutations to him and returned. All along the way I had an intermittent flashback of the series of events. I never met that saint again although I visited the banks of the river on many occasions thereafter.

I know there are millions of followers of Hindu mythology in India, and they perform the traditional religious ceremonies. Many of them believe in the stories of scriptures but these are skeptics like me too. In my opinion, the story of the descent of the holy river from the heavens was always like any other story but I leant later that many of these are said with poetic license. I always thought that the Ganga is the lifeline of India but I never believed that it was a personified goddess.

I seldom wanted to share this divine interlude with my friends and experts in the field. But just then the words of the saint reverberated in my ears, ‘Find it yourself’. So I never shared my experiences with anyone. But it did change my life forever. It increased my curiosity and interest in the preservation of the holy river, and the Ganga no longer remained merely a river for me. Now I feel and believe tin the concept of the Divine Mother Ganga, like many other devotees of the river goddess.

Once I got an opportunity to be with the well-known environmentalist Sundarlal Bahuguna for a week. He was in his early eighties then, weak and lean. I was glad to be around a follower of Mahatma Gandhi. Bahugunaji was the hero of the world famous ‘Chipko Movement’. It was a peaceful and non-violent movement during his youth, which he initiated to preserve the trees in the Himalayas. He shared various thoughts with me and answered almost all my questions that helped me understand the deeper spiritual meaning of life. He also persuaded me to accomplish various missions concerning Himalayan ecology and the pollution of the Ganga.

Back of the Book

The Ganges, the lifeline of the Indian subcontinent has been widely worshipped in her personified form as the divine goddess for ages. It is believed that the living water of the holy river possesses curative properties and purifying characteristics. In the present scenario, there are several problems that challenge the very existence of the holy river and the great Himalayas. The Holy Ganga sheds light on the spiritual, religious, social, economic, cultural and environmental importance of the Ganga along with the problems of livelihood, uncontrolled pollution, dreaded floods, indiscriminate mining, politics of faiths, and corporate maneuvering of water resources. The author describes situations of the past, present and future, and offers possible solutions to various problems with a passionate, simple and impartial approach. The book is a call for a peaceful and dynamic movement to preserve the holy river, the great Himalayas and our holy planet from the human versus nature war and imminent catastrophes.

Kaushal Kishore, an eminent environmental activist and thinker, is an ardent student of ancient spiritual literature and philosophy. Presently, he works with the Bharat Jagriti Mission: the pioneer of the Save Ganga Campaign. He is closely associated with various projects and awareness programmes pertaining to Himalayan ecology and the pollution of the Ganga. He has also developed numerous structural and non-structural projects based on eco-friendly concepts, and has created awareness about the holy river through his speeches and articles.


List of Abbreviationsxi
1 Descent of Holy Ganga3
2 The River Goddess 14
3 Importance of the Holy River24
4 Appearance of the Goddess35
5 Ganga and the Himalayan Shrines45
6 Sacred Names of Ganga61
7 River Ganga: the Lifeline of India71
8 Source and Tributary79
9 Hydro Projects and Distributaries108
10 Kumbh Mela119
11 Kanwad Mela132
12 Magha Mela139
13 Temple and Pilgrimage147
14 Ganga Pollution: An Overview167
15 River Water Quality174
16 Our Sink: The River Ganga182
17 Plastic Waste and Water Pollution190
18 Flood in Ganga Basin205
19 Outcome of Climate Change211
20 Disastrous Dams217
21 Alternatives of Dams229
22 Ruinous Mining239
23 The Living Water246
24 The Green World254
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