Ganges' Most Sacred Stretch Rich with Tradition

The third report in a six-part series

Evening offering to Ganga at Singhberpur. i i

An evening offering on the banks of the river Ganges in the village of Singhberpur. Martine Crandall Hollick hide caption

itoggle caption Martine Crandall Hollick
Evening offering to Ganga at Singhberpur.

An evening offering on the banks of the river Ganges in the village of Singhberpur.

Martine Crandall Hollick
Buffaloes bathing in the Ganges River in the city of Varanasi. i i

Buffaloes bathe in the Ganges River in the city of Varanasi. Martine Crandall Hollick hide caption

itoggle caption Martine Crandall Hollick
Buffaloes bathing in the Ganges River in the city of Varanasi.

Buffaloes bathe in the Ganges River in the city of Varanasi.

Martine Crandall Hollick
Map of the Ganges River i i

The Ganges River is 1,500 miles long from the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal. The river's water is the lifeblood for more than 600 million people in India and Bangladesh. Lindsay Mangum, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Lindsay Mangum, NPR
Map of the Ganges River

The Ganges River is 1,500 miles long from the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal. The river's water is the lifeblood for more than 600 million people in India and Bangladesh.

Lindsay Mangum, NPR

For millions of Hindus, the 250-mile stretch of Ganges River between the cities of Kanpur and Varanasi is one of the most sacred parts of the northern plains of India.

This stretch of the Ganges serves as the setting of the great epic The Ramayana, which tells the story of an Indian prince who becomes a god. Despite the river's massive pollution, Hindus come from all over the country to bathe, worship and honor dead relatives in the holy waters.

In the third of a six-part series, independent producer Julian Crandall Hollick visits villages along the Ganges to learn about Hindu traditions. In the village of Singhberpur, Hollick takes a dip in the water, a ritual that his host says will cleanse him of his sins. In The Ramayana, Singhberpur is featured as the place where the epic's central characters — Ram, Sita and Laxman — cross the Ganges on their way into exile.

At the city of Allahabad, midway between Kanpur and Varanasi, the Ganges merges with the Yamuna River and the mythical Saraswati. Together they form the Sangam. Hindus believe that if they take a dip in the Sangam or cast the ashes of dead relatives into the water, their next life can only be better.

Varanasi, at the end of this portion of Hollick's journey, is where all the Hindu gods live. Much of daily life in Varanasi takes place on its 84 ghats — stone steps that descend steeply down to the river and stretch two miles northward in a gentle crescent.

Hollick speaks with a civil servant and a tailor who have come to wash away their sins and seek salvation. He also finds locals who seek more immediate blessings — success in exams, better health and help kicking addiction.

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Ganga

A Journey Down the Ganges River

by Julian Crandall Hollick

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