Sunday, February 20, 2011


MUST OVERCOME MORE CHALLENGES - For India’s devout Hindus, the sacred River Ganges is always clean and always pure - even if its waters are a toxic stew of human sewage, discarded garbage and factory waste. The belief that the Ganges washes away sin entices millions of Hindus into the river each year, and huge crowds of pilgrims are currently passing through the town of Haridwar for the three-month Kumbh Mela bathing festival. But concern over pollution along the length of the 2,500 kilometre (1,500 mile) river is growing, and the city of Kanpur - 800 kilometres downstream of Haridwar - is the site of one of the worst stretches of all. Factories in the industrial city chug millions of litres (gallons) of polluted water into the river daily, rubbish forms into solid floating islands, and a foul smell wafts over the water’s murky surface.

The leather industry employs around 50,000 people in more than 400 tanneries using chemicals such as toxic chromium compounds. The government has spent more than 160 million dollars to clean up the river since initiating in 1985 the Ganga Action Plan, which uses the Hindi name for the river, but even it has conceded bacteria levels are dangerously high. In February last year the government established the National Ganga River Basin Authority to monitor conservation efforts, and in December the World Bank announced a one billion dollar loan to support clean-up schemes for the river. But years of state-funded attempts have “failed miserably,” said Rakesh Jaiswal from the Kanpur-based NGO Eco Friends. “We do not have a vision for the river - what’s practical and what’s achievable,” he said.

Although factories are required to treat sludge and waste water before transferring it to a common effluent treatment plant, environmentalists accuse them of dumping waste directly into the Ganges. The situation is “acute and critical” and the river has for years “been misused as a convenient sink for raw waste,” said D.K. Sundd, director of the Sankat Mochan Foundation, a non-profit group working to clean up the river. Ganges water is considered by many to be blessed, and has for many centuries served as an essential component of Hindu ceremonies, from childbirth to death - when ashes are often scattered in the river after cremations. Taking a dip in Ganga is believed to wash away the sins of a lifetime.

Vaishnava or spiritualists celebrate occasions like Ekadasi as enhancers of devotion or out of the pleasure of serving Krsna and without any desire. Smartas, on the other hand, celebrate them for physical or mental welfare or as activities fulfilling their moral, economic or sexual desires. So, notwithstanding apparent similarities, the motives of Vaishnava vs. those of Smartas are poles apart. ... Vaishnava view the Ganges as nectar from Vishnu’s feet, are reminded of Vishnu by her contact and take bath in her in a spirit of service, knowing her to be a transcendental object of service. So “even Ganga herself desires to bathe Haridasa”. But the Smartas want to utilize Ganges water for cleansing themselves of sins, filth and unholy thoughts. The Ganges, whose water even Lord Siva takes gladly on his head as it washes the feet of his Lord, the Smartas want to use as maidservant or a sincleansing machine.

Śrīla Saccidananda Bhaktivinoda Thākura :
“Apasampradayer Svarupa”
Bhaktivedanta Memorial Library

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