To talk about the Ganges River in India and the current contradiction between the spiritual beliefs and rituals carried out on her river banks and the toxic levels that are fast killing her, presents conceptual challenges.
Located on the banks of the Ganges is the holy city of Varanasi, described by some as “older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend. Hundreds of millions come to the city from all over the country to pray, bathe and to celebrate their divine river goddess. But many others come here to cremate their dead. Most Hindus believe that by burning the corpse of their loved ones, they liberate their souls from the perpetual cycle of rebirth, enabling them to attain moksha, which is Sanskrit for liberation. It is estimated that about 32,000 human corpses are cremated in Varanasi each year.
Unfortunately though, the Ganges is now a toxic river. Its levels of pollution are terrifying. It is not only the human waste and the ashes of burnt bodies (and sometimes semi cremated bodies due to many poor families unable to afford or pay for enough wood to fully cremate the body) that pollute this river, but also industrial effluents and untreated urban sewage.
The river has become one of the most polluted on the planet, denying hundreds of millions access to clean water.
At some point, religious traditions and economical dependence on this holy river need to find a balance with Mother Nature.