Reviving Gangaji

Saraswati Nandini Majumdar
Saraswati Nandini MajumdarSep 28, 2014 | 12:42

Reviving Gangaji

For Banarasis, of all religions and classes, the River Ganga is "Gangaji" or "Ganga Maiyya": a benevolent mother figure and a friend who is there at all times to provide comfort and entertainment.

At any time of day or night, in summer or winter, you can go to her side, to sit quietly by yourself, or swim or fly a kite, or take a boat-ride and picnic with your friends. Each morning, the akharas that sit atop many of the ghats fill with local men, ordinary shopkeepers and office-goers, who transform into body-builders and wrestlers.


Each evening, individuals, groups of friends and families are drawn to the river's calm to escape the city's noise and chaos, all the way from Assi ghat in the south to Rajghat in the north. And at all times, the ghats provide shade and sun, a simple cup of tea and time to ruminate or revel.

The ghats are also noisy and ugly, and capture what is worst about Banaras. Illegal constructions overwhelm the skyline along the river, replacing beautiful old buildings.

Hindu organizations have begun a new kind of arti on two of the most prominent ghats, Dashashwamedh and Assi: these are spectacular, amplified and orchestrated events that sharply contrast with the earlier, humble and homely ceremonies that took place. They are not a part of the city's traditions and radically alter the peaceful atmosphere that has always characterized the Ganga at Banaras.

How do we ensure that the ghats are preserved in their best form?

First and foremost is the fact that all of this heritage and wonderful living culture is hampered and spoiled by the garbage and untreated sewage that rots on the banks and flows into the river. The Ganga and the ghats need urgently to be cleaned; larger systems for garbage disposal and sewage treatment need to be implemented, as well as simple everyday systems for cleanliness and hygiene.


The old palaces, temples, shrines and kunds that line the ghats need to be protected and laws strictly enforced to prevent demolitions and constructions.

Clean-up and preservation have been included in Modi's plans to transform Banaras into a heritage city, although the details of his plans have not been revealed to the public. But much can be done to ensure that the culture of the ghats is preserved not just by an external authority but also by the people themselves.

In order to involve and educate the people of Banaras themselves, signs and boards should be put up, with information on the ghats and the Ganga. Local individuals themselves could be hired and trained by the government to create a friendly team of "Ganga staff" to patrol the ghats, be ready with information and explain the rules to the hundreds of local residents and visitors that flood the ghats each day.

The possibilities are countless and exciting. We could even have a Banaras Museum in one of the beautiful old buildings on the ghats, with exhibits on the city's life, past and present.

We could have a secular river festival, advertised throughout the nation, that focuses on the Banarasi and the local by showcasing the city's classical and folk arts and cottage industries, and with performances and competitions.


Along the opposite bank, we could have a wooded area and environmental park, to restore some of Banaras' older natural richness and its people's love for nature. Banarasis are ready for all these innovations with their untapped love for their city, as well as with actual skills. We need the funds and management that is both efficient and imaginative.

Last updated: September 28, 2014 | 12:42
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