Discuss the narrative of the Ganges River.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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There is going to be much to this question.  The Ganges River is a critical part of India.  Both the nation and its spiritual identity is strongly linked to the Ganges.  The river itself pulls from smaller tributaries into a centralized force, similar to the nation that pulls people from so many rural areas.  From the spiritual point of view, the river is believed to be contained in a lock of Lord Shiva's hair.  When an ancient King did Tapasya, or intense meditation, to find salvation for his ancestors, it was told to him that only the River Ganga could provide salvation from descending from the heavens to the Earth.  Yet, the goddess Ganga took pride in the belief that her forceful river would be too strong for the realm of the mortals.  Lord Shiva, impressed by the ancient king's devotion, entered into the equation by subduing the river in a lock of his hair.  It is through this that the Goddess Ganga, in the form of the Ganges River, came to Earth, allowing for salvation for the King's ancestors as well as purifying all of those on Earth.  The river is representative of this purification.  It is also representative of Lord Shiva's benevolence towards his devotees and his extreme power in being able to subdue the intense river with just a lock of his hair. At the same time, inscriptions in the Vedic Scriptures state that the Ganges carries the blessings of Lord Vishnu.  In a religious tradition where there is tension between followers of the supreme deities, the Ganges is one realm where both sides can converge into spiritual harmony.

Hindus believe the Ganges to be vitally important.  It is the purification of sins.  Many believe that human consciousness can only be complete when one steps in it and bathes in it.  Located in Varanasi, the site of one of the 12 sacred temples of Lord Shiva, the river is believed to possess both spiritually redemptive elements and elements of physical health.  Adding to this complexity is the fact that the Ganges is one of the most polluted rivers in the world.  The World Bank has given money to India to clean up the river.  When the Indian filmmaker Raj Kapoor entitled his last film, "Ram Teri Ganga Maili," it caused a great uproar.  Literally translated, it means, "Ram, your Ganges is filthy."  It helped to bring light to the physical condition of the river as well as the spiritually bankrupt nature of individuals who profess to be pious and act in the opposite manner.  In this light, one can see how the history and story of the river helps to bring to light the condition of spirituality, in general.  The river in which spiritual redemption is possible is polluted.  This only adds to the richness and depth of the Ganges River, the manifestation of the Goddess Ganga.

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