Rivers truly are life, not just in any sentimental sense,
and that is why traditional cultures have viewed them as sacred
Even the Ganges, known affectionately as Ganga Mata in India (or Mother Goddess Ganga), is not immune. Its basin (the area it drains through), a stretch of more than 2,500 kilometres from the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal, is the most densely populated in the world, supporting between 400 and 650 million people depending on different estimates.
In its upper reaches the Ganges faces a series of blocks by dams. Intensive agriculture (among other uses) is robbing the river of groundwater and weakening its flow, especially downstream. And then there’s pollution. At Kanpur, just one urban node on its journey, according to environmental activist Rakesh Jaiswal 150 million litres of stinking untreated grey-green raw sewage empties into the water every day.4 Then there are the chemicals and other effluent from tanneries, hospitals, textile mills, and agricultural runoff along the way. Even the estimated 1,000 tonnes of flowers offered daily to the river by the devout leach pesticides.5 Plastic debris floats along, challenging the hundreds of groups trying to fish it back out. And then there are the human ashes and half-burned corpses in their thousands, consigned to the holy