In a first, India has declared two of the sacred rivers — Ganga and its longest tributary the Yamuna, the status of a living entity granting them same rights as of an actual living person.
A highest court in Uttarakhand, from where the river Ganga originates, declared the rivers as “living entities having the status of a legal person” and all corresponding rights. This step is now celebrated as a move in the right direction, as many believe that polluting the river will be considered at par with harming an actual person.
The court in its order said that the two rivers be represented by the chief of the National Mission for Clean Ganga, as well as the state’s chief secretary and advocate general.
The Ganges which snakes more than 2,500 kms (1,500 miles) from the Himalayas in northern India through Bangladesh to the Bay of Bengal, owning to several socio-cultural, religious, emotional and also real world reasons, has always been more than just a river to India. Elevated to a position of divine mother, the faithful call her Maa Ganga.
“Ganga is considered most sacred and special because it is the only river to have been in all three lokas, Swargalok, Mriyulok and Patallok earning her the name Tripathaga,” said Dr. Sachchidanand Mishra, a professor of Advaita Vedanta and Sanskrit Literature at the Banaras Hindu University.
Dr Mishra adds that the river was born from the feet of Lord Vishnu when he took Vaman avatar to defeat King Mahabali. “When Vamana took the first step to cover the heavens, Ganga washed the feet of Vishnu and was collected into a kamandal by Lord Brahma. But she could not be released on earth because her force could drown and destroy the planet. That’s why Lord Shiva contained her flow in his jata,” said Dr. Mishra.
In the Mahabharat, Ganga took human form and married King Shantanu of Hastinapur on the condition that he would never question her and if he did, she would leave him. One by one she drowned seven of their eight sons shortly after birth. But when she was about to drown her eighth son, Shantanu stopped her and asked for an explanation. It was revealed that the eight sons were Vasus who had been cursed by powerful sage Vashishtha to be born on earth as humans. Ganga was releasing them from the curse by liberating them from the cycle of birth and death.
“After flowing in heaven and being on earth, Ganga had to flow down to neither worlds to rescue and liberate the souls of 60,000 sons of King Sagara who had been burnt to death after interrupting the tapasya of Sage Kapil. This was made possible by Bhagirath,” says Dr Mishra. This is the reason why even today it is considered a sacred duty of descendants to immerse the ashes of their parents, ancestors and other family members in the river Ganga to help them attain moksha.
But the role of Ganga is not limited to just mythology and religion. The entire Indo-Gangetic plain owes its fertility to the river. Some of ancient India’s most powerful empires have flourished along the banks of the Ganga and she is credited with their prosperity. This is one of the most ideal places for agriculture in India.
However, over the last few decades improper waste disposal and drainage as well as harmful effluents from industries along its banks have polluted the Ganga. Infact, the Gangetic Dolphin is an endangered species. If the current change of status allows for stricter action against polluters, the Ganga can finally regain its glory as the purest river that also purifies the souls of those who take a dip in its waters. After all, a majestic river that flows through four countries — India, China, Nepal and Bangladesh, deserves special attention.