The River Ganga (swift goer in Sanskrit) or Ganges in the west) is a river of northern India which flows across India to Bangladesh. It originates in the the Himalayas at Gaumukh (13,858ft). The total length of the river is about 2,510 km (1,557 mi). Along with the river Yamuna, its largest tributary, it forms a large and fertile basin, known as the Gangetic plains, stretching across north India and Bangladesh. Its mouth or delta ends in the Sundarbunds- a low-lying alluvial plain rich with forests and animal live including the largest concentration of Bengal Tigers on earth.
The river has a long history of reverence in India and is worshipped by Hindus as a goddess. It is often called the 'holy Ganga'. Legend has it that the Ganga originated from the mythical Mount Meru which is believed to be the core or axis of the universe and the abode of the gods. It is also believed to decend from the heavens flowing down to the earth through Shiva's hair.
The River Ganga and the Yamuna are both considered sacred rivers to Hindus. The catchment of the Yamuna river system covers parts of the states of Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and the entire state of Delhi.
The Gangetic plains support one of the highest densities of human population in the world. Indeed, about one in every 12 people on earth (8.5% of world population) live in its catchment area. Due to this incredible concentration of population, pollution and the destruction of habitats are matters of serious concern.
To Hindus, the river Ganga (feminine) is the most sacred of rivers. It is worshipped by them and personified as a goddess, who holds an important place in the Hindu religion. Hindu belief holds that bathing in the river on certain occasions causes the forgiveness of sins and helps one attain salvation. Many people believe that this will come from bathing in Ganga at any time. People travel from distant places to immerse the ashes of their kin in the waters of the Ganga; this immersion also is believed to send the persons soul to heaven. Several places sacred to Hindus lie along the banks of the river Ganga, including Haridwar and Varanasi/Benares also known as Kashi (one of the oldest continualy occupied cities in the world, considered to be the Holy city par ecellance among Hindus. People carry sacred water from the Ganges that is sealed in copper pots after making the pilgrimage to Kashi. It is believed that drinking water from the Ganga with one's last breath will take the soul to heaven. It is also one of the world's most poluted rivers along much of its length. Industrial wastes as well as bodies floated onto the river after partial cremations contribute to the rivers sad state.
As Sikhs consider a visit to Amritsar, Muslims a visit to Makkah and Catholics a pilgramage to Rome important goals of their religions, Hindus believe their life is incomplete without bathing in the Ganga at least once in their lifetime. In most Hindu families, a vial of water from the Ganga is kept in every house. This is done because it has long been said to be auspicious to have water of the Holy Ganga in the house. If someone is dying, that person will be able to drink its water.
Many Hindus believe that the water from the Ganga can cleanse a person's soul of all past sins, and that it can also cure the ill. The ancient scriptures mention that the water of the Ganges carries the blessings of the Lord's feet. Hence mother Ganges is also known as Visnupadi (Emanating from the Lotus feet of the Supreme Lord Sri Visnu).
Some of the most important Hindu festivals and religious Congregations are celebrated on the banks of the river Ganga such as the Kumbh mela or the Kumbh fair and the chhat puja.
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