Ganga calling
Review by Rajbir Deswal

The Holy Ganga
By Kaushal Kishore.
Rupa & Co. Pages XXV+288. Rs 150.

The Holy GangaThe popular legend credits that the Ganga was brought on Earth by sage Bhagirath who did penance and performed austerities to please the Gods, in order to cleanse the sins of his ancestors and to perform rituals for their salvation, with the holy waters. Sagar, who was the great-grandfather of Bhagirath, had 60,000 sons who perished in a fire, after they incurred the wrath of Rishi Kapila.

The author Kishore, a known environmentalist and a Ganga activist, discusses the Ganga as a goddess and as the lifeline of India, its pollution problems and solutions.`A0Each segment of the book tackles various issues related to the Ganga which is more than a mere river for the Hindus, although water worship has been known to be practiced in many civilisations, except at a stage in Christianity, that too as late as in the 14th century. But this reviewer finds it more relevant to talk about Ganga’s boons, curses and contamination. A few mythological inputs from the book are worth mentioning.

Another legend has it that Ganga’s birth was a result of a curse, when during a Raas (dance of devotion and love) performed by Radha and Krishna, they melted, merged and liquidised in the purest form of love, that was Ganga herself. Lord Shiva himself was a witness to this dance. Later, when in another Raas, Radha, not recognising her own daughter Ganga, whose bewitching beauty had Krishna eye and ogle at her, cursed her to fall on Earth. When Krishna explained to Radha that it was being a natural part that he answered Ganga’s glances, Radha gave a boon to Ganga to be known as the purest in all times to come.

Ganga’s story of the curses and boons doesn’t stop here. Once when Ganga, the most beautiful and capricious, visited Lord Brahma, she had her thinly clad youthful richness exposed, when all other present turned their eyes away from her, but not King Mahabhisha. For his "harassing and offending" the honour and grace of Ganga, Brahma ordained he shall have to go to Bhoolok (Earth) to redeem himself, by being instrumental in Ganga’s matrimony, in a way that his son Shantanu would marry her.

Yet, another legend has it that Ganga once annoyed the angry sage Durwasa, with her playful and impish demeanour and outrage. Durwasa’s loin cloth (dhoti) worn over his lower limbs flew in a breeze when Ganga giggled and laughed, making the sage lose his temper and he cursed her to fall from the Heavens. On beseeching, she was spared but only to the extent that the eighth Vasu (one of the immortal sons of Manu who enraged sage Vashishtha by stealing his cow) was to be born to her. This Vasu was Dev Vrata, popularly known as Bheeshma Pitamah in the Mahabharta.

Another story related to the Ganga is that of Agatsya, a virtuous sage possessed with extraordinary gastronomic powers. Having been tormented by the demons that hid themselves in the ocean after troubling devtas,`A0they approached this saint to drink all the ocean water, so that demons could be found and killed.`A0Agatsya drank the entire ocean water and the devtas killed the hiding demons.`A0When they were all returning to heaven, Lord Brahma prophesied that the ocean would remain dry, and will have to wait till the time king Bhagirath brought the Ganga on Earth, and filled the ocean with water.

Many facets of the Ganga are dextrously delineated in the book. She is described as the daughter of Vishnu. The purity of the Ganga is also described since it is considered to be the water with which Vishnu washed his lotus feet. She is also said to be emerging out of the Kamandal of Brahma. She is known as Jahnvi for when on her way to cleanse the sins of Bhagirath’s ancestors, she flooded the ashram of sage Jahnu, who drank all her water and let her come out of his right ear, but only on being beseeched by Bhagirath.

The book has details about the places en route to the Ganga River and their mythological and religious status. Various fairs like the Kumbha, Kanwars, Magh, etc., are discussed here. Temples, shrines and pilgrimage places find mention with apt details. Ganga’s pollution levels, water quality, Ganga as "the sink", types of plastics, floods, outcome of climatic change, disastrous dams and`A0ruinous mining are other subjects dwelt upon in detail here.

The Holy Ganga is the most suitable for devotees, scholars and environmentalists alike.