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Ganges (gàn´jêz) or Ganga, chief river in India, c.1,560 mi (2,510 km) long, considered sacred by Hindus. It rises in the Himalayas and flows generally east-southeast through a wide and densely populated plain to join the BRAHMAPUTRA R. in Bangladesh. The combined river then continues through a vast and fertile delta on the Bay of BENGAL, which it enters as the Padma and other distributaries. Hardwar, Allahabad, and Varanasi (Benares) are especially holy bathing sites along its banks. The Ganges is a major source of water for irrigation in both India and Bangladesh, but because of its location near major population centers it is heavily polluted.
The Ganges is 2525 kilometers long. Along its course, 27 major towns dump 902 million liters of sewage into it each day. Added to this are all those human bodies consigned to this holy river, called the Ganga by the Indians. Despite this heavy burden of pollutants, the Ganges has for millennia been regarded as incorruptible. How can this be?
Several foreigners have recorded the effects of this river's "magical" cleansing properties:
does not putrefy, even after long periods of storage. River water begins
putrefy when lack of oxygen promotes the growth of anaerobic bacteria, which produce the
tell-tale smell of stale water.
C.E. Nelson, observed that Ganga water taken from the Hooghly---one of
its dirtiest mouths---by ships returning to England remained fresh throughout the voyage.
3.In 1896, the British physician E. Hanbury
Hankin reported in the French journal Annales de
l'Institut Pasteur that cholera microbes died within three hours in Ganga water, but
continued to thrive in distilled water even after 48 hours.
4.A French scientist,
Monsieur Herelle, was amazed to find "that only a few feet below the
bodies of persons floating in the Ganga who had died of dysentery and cholera, where one
would expect millions of germs, there were no germs at all.
More recently, D.S. Bhargava,
an Indian environmental engineer measured the Ganges'
remarkable self-cleansing properties:
taken from an exhaustive three-year study of the Ganga,
show that it is able to reduce BOD [biochemical oxygen demand] levels much faster
than in other rivers."
Quantitatively, the Ganges
seems to clean up suspended wastes 15 to 20 times faster than
(Kalshian, Rakesh; "Ganges Has Magical Cleaning Properties," Geographic, 66:5, April 1994.)