Boasting the accolade of the biggest river in the Indian
Subcontinent and third largest in the world in terms of water flow,
the Ganges is a vast body of water that is an integral part of its
surroundings. Local economy, environment and farming benefit hugely
from the mighty waters; the fertile soil surrounding the river is
used to grow important crops including rice, potatoes, lentils and
wheat, and the river is home to endangered species including fresh
water dolphins and Ganges sharks.
Perhaps most important is the rich and symbolic culture that
surrounds the Ganges. In Hindu belief, the Ganges is heaven-sent,
and is personified and worshipped as the Goddess Ganga. Many of the
cities that lie along its banks are sacred pilgrimage sites, namely
Varanasi, or the 'Eternal City', which attracts thousands of
pilgrims each year and is one of the world's oldest continuously
inhabited cities. Hindu's flock to the riverbanks here in their
multitudes to engage in ritual bathing, believing that the sacred
powers the waters possess can purify the soul and heal the body.
Belief dictates that even one drop of the water of the Ganges is
sacred, and people travel from far and wide to collect water, after
which it is used in communities throughout India in religious
rituals and blessings. Offerings are often left to the Goddess
Ganga, and along its course, it is not unusual to see flowers and
rose petals floating gently through the waters.