She flows, tempestuous and carefree, out of the womb of the Shivaliks and into the floodplains that feed millions of hungry mouths. Her headwaters are disputed, both holy and geological in nature, but she flows out from a cavern of silver ice and jagged rock. Gurgling, writhing, rolling, bubbling, she trips and tumbles in six rivulets down the mighty snow peaks, her voice echoing around these mountains. She breathes life into the minds, bodies, and souls of pilgrims and mountain folk, the city dwellers and the farmers, the tribals and the nomads, the dacoits and the sadhus. Her waters, so silvery-blue at their source, turn murky as she enters the plains, her silt load heavy with Himalayan sediment, her waters polluted by human use and misuse. Yet none fall ill from her waters; she is as pure in her impurity as a goddess on earth.

From her Himalayan source to the swamplands of her delta, the Ganga is the life source of much of northern India. Playing in her waters is a treat, as is witnessing her rushed journey down the snowy mountains. Early mornings in the Himalayas, one can hear the river singing her sweet song. Her waters are clear and full of life, and when the monsoon rolls in, she escapes her banks and floods with a wicked precision and childlike glee. At Devprayag, the Alaknanda (the geological source of the river) and the Bhagirathi (the religious source) meet and mingle, joined by the mystical river Saraswati, which is thought to flow underground and create this holy confluence.

I love this river in whose waters I played not too many years ago. I have bathed in her waters, visited the pilgrimage shrines along her banks, and witnessed her rare and fascinating wildlife. Tourists and locals alike pay homage to this mighty river of northern India, in whose watershed nearly every other river empty on their paths to the Bay of Bengal. She feeds millions of starving mouths, and is fed in turn with sewage and organic wastes. Yet somehow, the Ganga retains her life-giving powers. Her waters shelter countless fauna and livelihoods, as do the floodplains and grasslands that she feeds along her winding path. A surprisingly high dissolved oxygen content speeds up the breakdown of organic waste and allows for high fish populations, in turn supporting populations of the Ganges river dolphin, gharial, mugger, and smooth-coated otters, among others. Alaknanda, Bhagirathi, Mandakini, Ramganga, Yamuna, Gomati, Ghagara, Gandak, Kosi, Hooghly, Brahmaputra, Padma, Meghana…these are the arteries of the Ganga, and together, they form the vast Bengal Fan, the world’s largest delta. This delta is also home to the world’s largest intact mangrove swamp forest, home of tigers and men alike. Here, the Ganga rushes to meet the Bay of Bengal, triumphant and carefree, leaving behind a legacy of life.

2 thoughts on “A Goddess on Earth (Rivers of India Series Pt. 1)

  1. Many congratulations Priya
    So proud of your work
    Good luck dear
    Last Met you in Madras some 20 years ago
    Love, Komal


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