I am the shark among the fishes, and the Ganges among the rivers – Krishna in Bhagavad Gita.
Ganga (Ganges) is India’s most sacred river. The last three Vedas (Yajur, Sama & Atharva) gave much importance to Ganga; however, the oldest Veda (Rigveda) revered Indus and Saraswati as the holiest of Indian rivers. Ganges is also the longest of Indian rivers. Apart from its religious significance, it is also the lifeline to millions of Indians who depend on its fertile plains. We have always considered Ganga and its water to have extraordinary powers and here are top 10 little known facts about Ganga that will prove it truly is one of its kinds in the world.
The Ganges river dolphin was declared India’s National Aquatic Animal in 2009. The Ganges River Dolphin used to exist in large numbers near the urban centers in both the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers. It is now seriously threatened by pollution and dam construction. Their numbers have now dwindled to a quarter of their numbers fifteen years ago. They have become extinct in the Ganges’s main tributaries. There are several marine dolphins, whose ranges include some freshwater habitats, but there are only four dolphin species that live only in freshwater rivers and lakes and Ganges river dolphin is one of them.
Ganges Shark (Glyphis Gangeticus)
The Ganges shark (Glyphis gangeticus) is a rare fresh water shark species that inhabits the waters of Ganges. It shouldn’t be confused with the Bull shark, which also inhabits the same river. It is stocky, with a broadly rounded snout and has small eyes. It is a freshwater species and is known from only two surviving specimens collected in the Ganges River. Its small eyes indicate its habit to exclusively include murky waters. It is restricted to Hooghly River of West Bengal and is widely feared as a ferocious man-eater.
Ganga is Shifting
Shifting of rivers is nothing new, but Ganga in Haridwar has shifted from its original course by 500 meters in the past few decades. If this trend continues it can spell havoc for manysettlements and farmers down the Gangetic plains. Most of it is natural, but pollution and deforestation are also to be blamed in here. Experts believe Ganges is moving eastward towards Bangladesh. The shift has become more pronounced in the last three decades. In Bihar, some parts of the river have shifted more than 2.5 km since 1990. Due to this trend, a sizeable number of urban populace now find it difficult to trek long distances and prefer to perform Chhath Puja rituals at makeshift water bodies like ponds or lakes or remain confined to their rooftops.
Unexplained Sounds in Ganges Delta (Mistpouffers, Barisal Guns)
Mistpouffers or Barisal Guns are unexplained sounds that resemble a sonic boom that have been reported in many waterfront communities worldwide. In India especially, they have been heard in the delta regions of Ganga and Brahmaputra. While they resemble the sonic boom of a supersonic jet, what’s even mysterious is the fact that they have been reported from times before any aeroplanes were invented. T.D. LaTouche, a British officer wrote about them in his journal in the 1890s. He wrote, “…reports of Barisal guns occurring with the earthquake shocks, but they also are said to occur without, and to have been frequent before the big earthquake. A host of plausible explanations may now exist for these enigmas, including earthquakes, rock bursts, mud volcanoes, explosive venting of gas, storm-driven waves, tsunamis, meteors, distant thunder and so-called booming sands.” These unexplained sounds are still reported and continue to puzzle experts.
Sheer Size of Ganga
It is difficult to ascertain the sheer size of Ganga just with a glance at a piece of paper. Ganges river system is a very complicated, especially in the delta region. Its complex tributaries and bifurcations in Bengal make it very difficult to determine its exact length. However, it is believed to be slightly over 2,500 km in length. The Ganges Delta formed mainly by sediment-laden flows from Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers is the world’s largest delta. It covers an area of about 59,000 km2. Only the Amazon and Congo rivers have a greater average water discharge than the combined outflow of Ganges-Brahmaputra river system.
Water Shortages in Ganga
At the present time, Ganga is looming under severe water crisis. Around Varanasi the river once had an average depth of 60 metres, but in some places it is now only 10 metres. Gangotri glacier has been receding at an alarming rate due to a smog-generated climate change over the mountains, but experts argue poor water resource management, dumping of industrial waste, sewerage and over population are to be blamed. Not only does this pose a risk of environmental disaster, but also of spiritual crisis. Foreign experts believe if current trendscontinue and steps are not taken for reversal, in our lifetime we will see an end to one of the biggest civilizations the world has known.
Submarine fans are submerged geological structures formed from large scale sedimentation from rivers. Ganges fan (Bengal fan), is the largest submarine fan on Earth. It is about 3000 km long and about 1000 km wide with a maximum thickness of 16.5 km. The fan is said to completely cover the Bay of Bengal. Currents have transported the sediment through a series of submarine canyons, some of which are more than 1,500 miles in length. This fan is of utmost importance to India due to the possibility of huge hydrocarbon deposits.
Higher Dissolved Oxygen Content of Ganga
An Indian environmental engineer, D.S. Bhargava after three years of thorough study of Ganga concluded that Ganga is able to reduce its biochemical oxygen demand level much faster than other rivers. Bhargava says, organic materials usually exhaust a river’s available oxygen and starts putrefying. But in the Ganges, an unknown substance acts on organic materials andbacteria and kills them. He further adds Ganga’s self-purifying quality leads to oxygen levels 25 times higher than any other river in the world.
Antiputrefaction Properties of Ganga
River waters usually tend to putrefy when the lack of oxygen promotes the growth of anaerobic bacteria that lends the water a distinct smell and stale taste. The water of Ganga though considered one of the dirtiest, does not tend to putrefy over longer periods of storage. In fact, British Physician, C.E. Nelson, observed that the Ganga water taken from Hooghly river (one of its dirtiest mouths) by returning ships to England remained fresh throughout the voyage. This was the reason East India Company ships only used water from Ganges for drinking purposes on their 3-month long voyage back to England because it stayed “sweet and fresh.” In a study conducted by Malaria Research Center in New Delhi it was observed that water from upper ambits of Ganga did not host mosquito breeding, and also prevented mosquito breeding in any water it was added to.
Antibacterial Nature of Ganga Jal (Ganges Water)
Hindus have always believed Ganga Jal to be pure, pious and drinkable no matter what. Much reverence is given to Ganga water during Hindu rituals (from birth to death). But is there really any scientific validity to prove it?
In 1896, Ernest Hanbury Hankin (a British bacteriologist) after testing the water from Ganga wrote a paper that was published in French Journal describing that the bacterium Vibrio Cholerae that causes the deadly cholera, when put into the waters of Ganga died within three hours. The same bacteria continued to thrive in distilled water even after 48 hours. He also suggested that the water of this river and its tributary Yamuna were responsible for containing the spread of deadly cholera in the region in those days. Similarly in 1927, Félix d’Herelle (a French-Canadian microbiologist) was amazed to find no germs at all in water collected just few feet below the floating bodies of people who died of cholera and dysentery. The presence of bacteriophages (viruses that kill bacteria) in the water of Ganges is considered as the reason behind this quality and its purity.