Kristian Bertel | Photography
Archive story
In this archive story we learn about The Ganges River in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India.
Read the background story of this archive photo by the photographer.
The name of the Ganges is known all throughout the land of India because this river is life, purity and a goddess to the people of India. The Ganges River, often referred to as the 'Ganga', is a trans-boundary river that flows through India and Bangladesh. The photographer delves into the fascinating story of this iconic river, which holds immense cultural, religious and ecological significance for millions of people.
The name of the Ganges is known all throughout the land of India because this river is life, purity and a goddess to the people of India. The Ganges River, often referred to as the 'Ganga', is a trans-boundary river that flows through India and Bangladesh. The photographer delves into the fascinating story of this iconic river, which holds immense cultural, religious and ecological significance for millions of people.
Kristian Bertel, Photographer By Kristian Bertel, Photographer
– Updated on March 21, 2024

The Ganges River in India

The Ganges, snaking across the Indian subcontinent for nearly 2,500 kilometers, is more than just a river. It is a lifeline, a cultural cornerstone and a spiritual symbol that deeply permeates the everyday lives of millions. From the majestic Himalayas to the fertile plains and bustling metropolises, the Ganges nourishes, sustains and shapes the very essence of India.

Is the Ganges River more than just a geographical feature?

Yes, the Ganges River is a living entity, deeply intertwined with the lives and souls of millions in India. It provides for their physical needs, nourishes their spirits and shapes their culture. As India navigates the challenges of the future, protecting and preserving this sacred river is essential for ensuring the well-being of not just its people, but the very essence of the nation itself.

Origin and course
The Ganges originates in the western Himalayas in the Indian state of Uttarakhand. Its headwaters include tributaries like the Alaknanda, Mandakini, Nandakini, Pindar and Dhauliganga. The river flows south and east through the Gangetic plain of North India, covering a distance of approximately 2,525 kilometers. Along its journey, it receives contributions from various tributaries, including the Yamuna and several left-bank tributaries from Nepal. As the Ganges enters Bangladesh, it becomes the Padma. It merges with the Jamuna, which is lower stream of the Brahmaputra and the Meghna to form the Ganges Delta and the delta is a vast, fertile region where the river empties into the Bay of Bengal.

A sacred lifeline of India and Bangladesh
For millions living along its banks, the Ganges is the source of their very survival. Farmers rely on its fertile silt to grow crops, feeding not only families but also the nation. Fisherfolk cast their nets in its waters, providing protein for communities. The river also serves as a vital transportation artery, with boats ferrying goods and people, connecting villages and towns.

Sacred significance and a ritualistic embrace
The Ganges holds immense spiritual significance for Hindus and this river is sacred to followers of Hinduism. In ancient texts and art, it is personified as the goddess Ganga. Pilgrims from all over India visit its banks to perform rituals, seek purification and immerse the ashes of their departed loved ones. The city of Varanasi, situated on the Ganges, is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and a major spiritual center. Bathing in its holy waters is believed to cleanse sins and grant spiritual merit. Pilgrims undertake long journeys to reach sacred sites like Haridwar and Varanasi, participating in rituals and immersing themselves in the river. This deep spiritual connection shapes daily life, influencing festivals, traditions and even personal choices.

"The Ganges holds immense spiritual significance for Hindus. They believe the river purifies sins and grants salvation. Millions bathe in its holy waters, perform rituals and scatter the ashes of loved ones on its banks. Pilgrimage centers like Haridwar and Varanasi attract devotees year-round, contributing to tourism and local economies"

Cremation anywhere along the Ganges is desirable. If that is not possible, then the relatives might later bring the ashes of the deceased to the Ganges. Sometimes, if a family cannot afford firewood for cremation, a half-burned corpse is thrown into the water. For the living, bathing in the Ganges is just as important. Hindus will travel miles and miles to have their sins washed away in these holy waters. For years Hindus have declared that there is nothing quite as cleansing as the living waters of the 'River of Heaven'.

This "pure" water is suppoce to wash their sins away. The river Ganges draws all kinds of people and life seems to continually be bustling at its side. On the platforms and 'Ghats' are barbers cutting and trimming hair and children flying their kites. You may see young men wrestling, exercising or in deep meditation. Washermen are beating their clothes on stones at the edge. Multi-colored 'Saris' and all sorts of wet clothes are laid out to dry in the sunshine.

"The Ganges is more than just water and silt, it is woven into the fabric of Indian culture. It inspires artists, poets and musicians, its beauty and power reflected in countless works of art. Its mythology is rich and diverse, with stories and deities intricately linked to the river's course. The Ganges is a symbol of life, renewal and the enduring spirit of India"

Challenges and the future
Over 40 percent of India's population relies on the Ganges for drinking water, while its fertile basin feeds an estimated 40 percent of the nation's cultivated land. Farmers use the river for irrigation, growing essential crops like rice, wheat and sugarcane. The river teems with fish, a vital source of protein for millions. Fishing communities along the banks depend on the Ganges for their livelihood, and fish markets bustle with activity, providing vital income and food security. The Ganges serves as a natural highway, with boats ferrying people and goods across vast distances. This is especially crucial in remote areas where other infrastructure is limited.

The Ganges River faces pollution challenges
Unfortunately, with all the life the Ganges brings, pollution is also brought. Some of the worst waterborn diseases are dysentery, hepatits, and cholera. Money is being raised by the government and other groups such as the Swatcha Ganga to clean the Ganges. None the less, the Ganges is still the purifying waters for the Hindus of India. Pollution threatens its purity, where industrial waste, sewage and agricultural runoff have severely polluted the river, which is impacting both its ecological and spiritual significance.

Climate change and population growth put further strain on its resources where the riverbanks erode rapidly, affecting settlements and agriculture and where over-extraction of water for irrigation and other purposes threatens its flow. Ensuring the river's health and sustainability is crucial for the future of millions who depend on it. Despite its immense value, the Ganges faces challenges. Pollution from industrial waste and human activities threatens its ecological balance. Water scarcity due to increasing demand and climate change adds another layer of complexity.

"Recognizing these challenges, India has launched initiatives to clean the river and manage water resources sustainably. However, much remains to be done. As India looks towards the future, ensuring the health and sanctity of the Ganges will be crucial not just for environmental reasons, but for the very survival and cultural identity of millions who depend on it"

The Ganges River in everyday India
The story of this river is one interwoven with the lives of millions. It is a story of sustenance, spirituality, and the delicate balance between human needs and environmental responsibility. As India strives to progress, safeguarding its lifeline will be vital not just for the present, but for generations to come and by understanding the Ganges' multifaceted role, we gain a deeper appreciation for the intricate relationship between a river and the people it sustains and this river is more than just water – it is a living symbol of India's soul, flowing through its history, culture and future Kristian Bertel | Photography learned.

See this video about the Ganges River made by She Walkin'.

The photographer's own experience seeing the Ganges River
"- The Ganges sustains millions of livelihoods through agriculture, fishing and transportation. It has inspired countless poems, songs and stories, celebrating its beauty and spiritual significance. Flowing from the icy peaks of the Himalayas to the fertile plains and finally into the Bay of Bengal, the Ganges River is not just a waterway it's the very lifeline of India. For over 2,500 kilometers, it nourishes not only the land but also the souls of over 400 million people who depend on it for their everyday survival and spiritual sustenance", the Photographer says.

"- So this river is more than just a watercourse – it's a lifeline, a symbol of devotion and a testament to the intricate relationship between humans and nature. Let us continue to cherish and protect this remarkable river for generations to come. The river is Ganga Ma, "Mother Ganges." Her name and her story is known all throughout the land. It is the story of how she poured herself down from heaven upon the ashes of King Sarga's sons. Her waters would raise them up again to dwell in peace in heaven. Not only that, but anyone who touches these purifying waters even today are said to be cleansed of all sins", the Photographer says again.

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More archive stories

India is a land full of stories. On every street, on every corner and in the many places in India, life is rushing by you as a photographer with millions of stories to be told. In the archive story above, you hopefully had a readable insight in the story that was behind the photo of an Indian man bathing in the Ganges River in Varanasi. On this website of Kristian Bertel | Photography you can find numerous travel pictures from the photographer. Stories and moments that tell the travel stories of how the photographer captured the specific scene that you see in the picture. The photographer's images have a story behind them, images that all are taken from around India throughout his photo journeys. The archive stories delve into Kristian's personal archive to reveal never-before-seen, including portraits and landscapes beautifully produced snapshots from various travel assignments. The archive is so-far organized into photo stories, this one included, each brought to life by narrative text and full-color photos. Together, these fascinating stories tell a story about the life in India. India, the motherland to many people around the world, a land of unforgetable travel moments. The archive takes viewers on a spectacular visual journey through some of the most stunning photographs to be found in the photographer's archive collection. The photographer culled the images to reflect the many variations on the universal theme of beauty and everyday life in India. By adding these back stories the photographer's work might immensely enhanced the understanding of the photographs.