Ganga, The Saint

Appeared in Rupublica newspaper, Kathmandu, Nepal

By: Susan M. Griffith-Jones

“Ganga” has, for time immemorial, been considered as a deity by millions of people, even though she appears in the aspect of a river. What does this mean and how can a mere elemental body such as a river be worthy of a deified connotation?

As limited as our human perception is capable of understanding her true worth, she appears as statues and pictures in godly personified forms, created by us humans whilst in the process of trying to place her significance within the vast spectrum of existence.

However, these idols signify a great deal as they categorise her in an above-worldly state, proving that we awe at her magnificence, rendering it credible that we do actually recognise her as some sort of a supreme being. Indeed, if we demand water from her for blessing, she gives it abundantly and likewise if we ask to drink from her or bathe in her, she never holds herself back. Even if we do something as drastic as change her course, she follows obediently.

Yet because of this focus on her deified aspect, do we fail to properly recognise her limitations as a river, meaning as a huge energetic body of water with a relative state, which plays a major role in keeping an entire vast river basin alive. Nigh on half a billion human souls (not to mention entire eco-systems) depend on her continued presence, flowing from the high peaks of the Himalayas, across the plains of India to the ocean at the Bay of Bengal.

At a relative level, she is obedient to the path that the ground she lies on provides her with, which in other words is the path of least resistance that her flow must pass along to reach the ocean. But, if we change her natural course, then she must also obey that route.

Yet it is obvious to say that she may also naturally try to push against that which is stopping her natural passage. Therefore in the face of the drastic changes that we are making along her course to suit our Twenty-first century needs, in our haste to use her attributes to the maximum, we must not forget that her power is equally able to damage as to preserve if her natural road to the ocean is overly tampered with. So should we be prepared for her resistance, as according to earthly law she is simply bound to gravitational forces and the five elemental aspects that have their natural effect on her relatively flowing state.

In the face of this, does this make us mere mortals who need her so profusely and use her in all manners of being, her supreme master or supreme servant?

Certain that this is all part of the engineering package, meaning that they have obviously considered all the possibilities in their feasibility studies and have put in place plenty of safety nets to protect such events occurring, I look at different parts of her that have been dammed up and tunnels drilled to carry her through the mountains and wonder at the extent that her saintliness has reached as she succumbs to everything requested of her.

But I am also forced to ponder on who are the real losers, as I realise the effect this must procure on the entire eco-system of the area. When even one tiny certain type of insect dies off, it profoundly affects the rest of the food chain, not to mention those creatures that had directly depended on that insect as their main food. Fishes that dwell in her youthful tumbling flow, birds that dive upon the waters and nest along her banks, animals that roam along her forested curves, all partake in the upheaval of her changing face.

It is the home of their forefathers… to where can they be uprooted?

Just like the humans whose villages that are flooded by dam reservoirs, perhaps they’ll find life on the higher grounds, or in other river systems where another ecology lies awaiting. Is this how the grand cycle of evolution occurs, I wonder.

But the idea of evolution is a funny one as in the bigger picture, it contains just as much an ‘up’ as well as ‘down’ scale. The ‘up’ end constitutes the hierarchy of Gods, and the ‘down’, the lesser beings of hell and purgatory. But rather than seeing it as a linear ladder, it may be perceived as an endless circle encompassing all states from one extent to the other, extremes that are crossed on a revolving wheel that endlessly turns.

We worldly beings seem to fit somewhere in the middle of the spin, powered by our human trends, unable to find easy respite from that swinging too and fro of opposites.

I focus on the bridges that span the widths of Ganga. From slim youth in towns at her mountainous source, to a wide, mature lady at her lower reaches, so does she provide passage for us to pass from one side to the other. Again and again, her saintliness provides us relief from extremes.

The suspension bridge of Ram Jhula at Rishikesh is impressively long and suddenly one feels the maturity that Ganga has reached at this stage, a young adult eager to begin her duties. From here, she’ll flow on to the North Indian plains where she’ll fertilise the farmlands with her alluvial drop of rich soil she’s brought down from her mountainous journey, not to mention provide essential water to irrigate fields of crops.

I then remember what she has already experienced upstream and wonder at how these early childhood traumas may affect her ongoing path. Perhaps she has cured herself already? Who am I to understand how a great water system works, how a great saint operates?

According to our level of understanding, water does not have feelings, such as emotions. It is considered as a base element, in the sense that it is part of the essential physical make up of the universe. Yet this triggers me to think how many billions of perspectives of different incarnate beings are all trying to survive upon the same appearing objects?

For example, a fly relishes a pile of dung as a tasty meal, humans shy away from it. Ants may perceive a lawn of grass as a forest, while we humans perceive forests as a plethora of trees. How do the gods perceive the forest? We cannot see what the ant feels about his environment; we only have our experience of it to go by. So how can we begin to imagine the result of destroying an eco-system may have upon billions of perspectives all thinking simultaneously?

For us humans, water is water, for lesser, hell-like beings it may appear as a stream of molten lava, or for higher beings, as sparkling jewels.

Feelings, or no feelings, the water does nevertheless provide us with a bounty of treasures. Her naturally clear, clean waters arrive from her countless sources of snow melt rivers stretched across the Himalayas, pouring into her main channel that flows across North India, provoking an abundance of growth to take place along her course. Medicines, fruits, trees of all types of wood and farmlands provide food to an entire nation, not to mention the nectar of life – water, that keeps us human beings alive.

Interfering with that automatic process, what do we lose, I ponder, and what do we gain? It is the question of the moment as many campaign against various so-called atrocities being carried out on every part of her flow.

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