Monday, November 8, 2010

Ganges River - India

The Ganges (English pronunciation: GAN-jeez; Sanskrit, Hindi: Ganga; Bengali: Gonga), is the largest river of the Indian subcontinent by discharge. The 2,510 km (1,560 mi) river rises in the western Himalayas in the Uttarakhand and flows through China, India, Nepal and Bangladesh. It has long been considered the holiest of all rivers by Hindus and worshiped as the goddess Ganga in Hinduism. It has also been important historically: many former provincial or imperial capitals (such as Patliputra, Kannauj, Kara, Allahabad, Murshidabad, Berhampore and Calcutta) have been located on its banks. The Ganges Basin drains 1,000,000-square-kilometre (390,000 sq mi) and supports one of the world's highest density of humans. The average depth of the river is 52 feet (16 m), and the maximum depth, 100 feet (30 m). The river has been declared as India's "National River". The many symbolic meanings of the river on the Indian subcontinent were spoken to in 1946 by Jawaharlal Nehru in his Discovery of India.
The Ganges, above all is the river of India, which has held India's heart captive and drawn uncounted millions to her banks since the dawn of history. The story of the Ganges, from her source to the sea, from old times to new, is the story of India's civilization and culture, of the rise and fall of empires, of great and proud cities, of adventures of man…
The people of the Ganges basin are of mixed origin. In the west and centre of the region Turks, Mongols, Afghans, Persians and Arabs intermingled with the original Aryans, while in the east and south (the Bengal area) the people originate from a mixture of Tibetan, Burman and hill peoples. Hindus regard the Ganges as the holiest of rivers. It was named after the goddess Ganga, the daughter of the mountain god Himalaya. Pilgrimage sites are particularly significant along the river. At the confluence of the Ganges and and the Tamuna tributory near Allahabad a bathing festival in January and February attracts hundreds of thousands of pilgrims. Other holy pilgrimage sites along the river include Haridwar, the place where the Ganges leaves the Himalayas, and Allahabad, where the mythical Saraswati river is believed to enter the Ganges.

Water from the Ganges is used to cleanse any place or object for ritual purposes. Bathing in the river is believed to wash away one's sins. To bathe in the Ganga is a lifelong ambition for Hindus and they congregate in incredible numbers for the Sangam, Sagar Mela and Kumbh Mela festivals. It is believed that any water that mixes with even the smallest amount of Ganges water becomes holy with healing powers. Hindus also cast the ashes of their dead in the river in the belief that this will guide the souls of the deceased straight to paradise.
The Ganges Basin with its fertile soil is instrumental to the agricultural economies of India and Bangladesh. The Ganges and its tributaries provide a perennial source of irrigation to a large area. Chief crops cultivated in the area include rice, sugarcane, lentils, oil seeds, potatoes, and wheat. Along the banks of the river, the presence of swamps and lakes provide a rich growing area for crops such as legumes, chillies, mustard, sesame, sugarcane, and jute. There are also many fishing opportunities to many along the river, though it remains highly polluted.
The silt deposits of the delta cover an area of 23 000 sq miles (60 000 sq km). The river courses in the delta are broad and active, carrying a vast amount of water. The rains from June to October cause most of the Bangladeshi delta region to flood, leaving the villages that are built on artificially raised land isolated.  On the seaward side of the delta are swamplands and tidal forests called Sunderbans which are protected conservation areas in both Indian and Bangladeshi law.  The peat found in the delta is used for fertiliser and fuel.  The water supply to the river depends on the rains brought by the monsoon winds from July to October and the melting snow from the Himalayas during the period from April to June. 

The delta used to be densely forested and inhabited by many wild animals.  Today, however, it has become intensely cultivated to meet the needs of the growing population and many of the wild animals have disappeared.  The Royal Bengal Tiger still lives in the Sunderbans and kills about 30 villagers every year.  There remains high fish populations in the rivers which provides an important part of the inhabitants' diet. Bird life in the Ganges basin is also prolific.



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