The Ganges in Varanasi
|Countries||India and Bangaladesh, Nepal, Bangladesh|
|Major cities||Haridwar, Soron, Kannauj, Kanpur, Allahabad, Varanasi, Patna, Rajshahi|
|Length||2,510 km (1,560 mi)|
|Watershed||907,000 km² (350,195 sq mi)|
|- average||12,015 m³/s (424,306 cu ft/s)|
|- location||Uttarakhand, India|
|- elevation||7,756 m (25,446 ft)|
|- location||Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh|
|- elevation||0 m (0 ft)|
|- left||Mahakhali, Karnali, Kosi, Gandak, Ghaghra|
|- right||Yamuna, Son, Mahananda|
The Ganges (IPA: /ˈgænʤiːz/, properly Ganga pronunciation (help·info), Devanāgarī: गंगा, IAST: Gaṅgā in most Indian languages) is one of the major rivers of the Indian subcontinent, flowing east through the Gangetic Plain of northern India into Bangladesh. The 2,510 km (1,560 mi) river rises in the western Himalayas in the Uttarakhand state of India, and drains into the Sunderbans delta in the Bay of Bengal. It has long been considered a holy river 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, and Calcutta) have been located on its banks. Ganga and its tributaries drain a 1,000,000-square-kilometre (390,000 sq mi) fertile basin that 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 is 100 feet (30 m).
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…
Although many small streams comprise the headwaters of the Ganges, the six longest headstreams and their five confluences are given both cultural and geographical emphasis (see the map showing the headwaters of the river). The Alaknanda river meets the Dhauliganga river at Vishnuprayag, the Nandakini river at Nandprayag, the Pindar river at Karnaprayag, the Mandakini river at Rudraprayag and finally the Bhagirathi river at Devprayag, to form the mainstem, the Ganges. The Bhagirathi is the source stream; it rises at the foot of Gangotri Glacier, at Gaumukh, at an elevation of 3,892 m (12,770 ft). The headwaters of the Alaknanda are formed by snowmelt from such peaks as Nanda Devi, Trisul, and Kamet.
After flowing 200 km through its narrow Himalayan valley, the Ganges debouches on the Gangetic Plain at the pilgrimage town of Haridwar. There, a dam diverts some of its waters into the Ganges Canal, which irrigates the Doab region of Uttar Pradesh. The Ganges, whose course has been roughly southwestern until this point, now begins to flow southeast through the plains of northern India.
Further, the river follows an 800 km curving course passing through the city of Kanpur before being joined from the southwest by the Yamuna at Allahabad. This point is known as the Sangam at Allahabad. Sangam is a sacred place in Hinduism. According to ancient Hindu texts, at one time a third river, the Sarasvati, met the other two rivers at this point.
Joined by numerous rivers such as the Kosi, Son, Gandaki and Ghaghra, the Ganges forms a formidable current in the stretch between Allahabad and Malda in West Bengal. On its way it passes the towns of Mirzapur, Buxar , Varanasi, Patna and Bhagalpur. At Bhagalpur, the river meanders past the Rajmahal Hills, and begins to run south. At Pakur, the river begins its attrition with the branching away of its first distributary, the Bhāgirathi-Hooghly, which goes on to form the Hooghly River. Near the border with Bangladesh the Farakka Barrage, built in 1974, controls the flow of the Ganges, diverting some of the water into a feeder canal linking the Hooghly to keep it relatively silt-free.
After entering Bangladesh, the main branch of the Ganges is known as the Padma River until it is joined by the Jamuna River, the largest distributary of the Brahmaputra. Further downstream, the Ganges is fed by the Meghna River, the second largest tributary of the Brahmaputra, and takes on the Meghna's name as it enters the Meghna Estuary. Fanning out into the 350 km wide Ganges Delta, it finally empties into the Bay of Bengal. Only two rivers, the Amazon and the Congo, have greater discharge than the combined flow of the Ganges, the Brahmaputra and the Surma-Meghna river system.
 Religious significance
An 1810 engraving of the town of Cawnpore (now Kanpur) as seen from the Ganges river.
Situated on the banks of River Ganges, Varanasi is considered by some to be the most holy city in Hinduism. The Ganga is mentioned in the Rig-Veda, the earliest of the Hindu scriptures. It appears in the nadistuti (Rig Veda 10.75), which lists the rivers from east to west. In RV 6.45.31, the word Ganga is also mentioned, but it is not clear whether this reference is to the river. Also, people scatter ashes of loved ones here.
According to Hindu religion a very famous king Bhagiratha did Tapasya for many years constantly to bring the river Ganga, then residing in the Heavens, down on the Earth to find salvation for his ancestors, who were cursed by a seer. Therefore, Ganga descended to the Earth through the lock of hair (Jata) of god Shiva to make whole earth pious, fertile and wash out the sins of humans. For Hindus in India, the Ganga is not just a river but a mother, a goddess, a tradition, a culture and much more.
Some Hindus also believe life is incomplete without bathing in the Ganga at least once in one's lifetime. Many Hindu families keep a vial of water from the Ganga in their house. This is done because it is prestigious to have water of the Holy Ganga in the house, and also so that if someone is dying, that person will be able to drink its water. Many Hindus believe that the water from the Ganga can cleanse a person's soul of all past sins, and that it can also cure the ill. The ancient scriptures mention that the water of Ganges carries the blessings of Lord Vishnu's feet; hence Mother Ganges is also known as Vishnupadi, which means "Emanating from the Lotus feet of Supreme Lord Sri Vishnu."
Some of the most important Hindu festivals and religious congregation (worship) happen here. Congregations are celebrated on the banks of the river Ganga, such as the Kumbh Mela every twelve years at Media:Allahabad and the Chhath Puja.
Varanasi has hundreds of temples along the banks of the Ganges which often become flooded during the rains. This city, especially along the banks of the Ganges, is an important place of worship for Hindus as well as a cremation ground.
During the early Vedic Ages, the Indus and the Sarasvati River were the major rivers, not the Ganges. But the later three Vedas seem to give much more importance to the Ganges, as shown by its numerous references.
Possibly the first Westerner to mention the Ganges was Megasthenes. He did so several times in his work Indika: "India, again, possesses many rivers both large and navigable, which, having their sources in the mountains which stretch along the northern frontier, traverse the level country, and not a few of these, after uniting with each other, fall into the river called the Ganges. Now this river, which at its source is 30 stadia broad, flows from north to south, and empties its waters into the ocean forming the eastern boundary of the Gangaridai, a nation which possesses a vast force of the largest-sized elephants." (Diodorus II.37)
In Rome's Piazza Navona, a famous sculpture, Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (fountain of the four rivers) designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini was built in 1651. It symbolizes four of the world's great rivers (the Ganges, the Nile, the Danube, and the Río de la Plata), representing the four continents known at the time.
The main channel of the Ganges in its penultimate form as the Padma river in Bangladesh
The Ganges in its final form as the Meghna river in Bangladesh.
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.
Tourism is another related activity. Three towns holy to Hinduism – Haridwar, Allahabad, and Varanasi – attract thousands of pilgrims to its waters. Thousands of Hindu pilgrims arrive at these three towns to take a dip in the Ganges, which is believed to cleanse oneself of sins and help attain salvation. The rapids of the Ganges also are popular for river rafting, attracting hundreds of adventure seekers in the summer months. Muslims from India & Bangladesh often do wudu, a religious cleansing of the body for prayer in the Ganges River.
Chars are temporary islands formed by the deposition of sediments eroded off the banks of the river in the State of West Bengal. They each provide dwelling ground to up to 20,000 destitute people. The soil they are made of is very fertile, thus suitable for growing crops and breeding livestock, but it may disappear in a matter of a few hours following any river water surge, particularly during the Monsoon season. The people living on chars are either Bangladeshi refugees or Bengalis, therefore they are not recognized by the Indian Government, which does not issue the ID cards they would need aged 14 to emigrate and find jobs on the mainland. As a result, sanitation on the islands is very poor and char-dwellers do not benefit from health care, thus many die from diseases; moreover, schooling is not provided, so illiteracy is widespread. The Inland revenue demands nevertheless they pay tax.
The river waters start getting polluted right at the source. The commercial exploitation of the river has risen in proportion to the rise of population. Gangotri and Uttarkashi are good examples. Gangotri had only a few huts of Sadhus until the 1970s and the population of Uttrakashi has swelled in recent years. As it flows through highly populous areas the Ganges collects large amounts of human pollutants, e.g., Schistosoma mansoni and faecal coliforms, and drinking and bathing in its waters therefore carries a high risk of infection. While proposals have been made for re mediating this condition, little progress has been achieved.
The Ganges river's long-held reputation as a purifying river appears to have a basis in science. The river water has a unique and extraordinary ability to retain oxygen. As reported in a National Public Radio program, dysentery and cholera are killed off, preventing large-scale epidemics. The river has an unusual ability to retain dissolved oxygen, but the reason for this ability is unknown.
A UN Climate Report issued in 2007 indicates that the Himalayan glaciers that feed the Ganges may disappear by 2030, after which the river's flow would be a seasonal occurrence resulting from monsoons.