Often reviled by the right-wing as “foreigners” who plundered India, the Mughals have come in for praise by the Uma Bharti-headed water resources ministry for their view of the Ganges.
Bharti steers the Modi government’s mission to clean the severely degraded Ganges, a key agenda. In an affidavit before the Supreme Court in a matter related to the river’s restoration, Bharti’s ministry has said the Mughals appreciated the Ganges for its magical qualities. Emperor Akbar, the third Mughal king, it states, preferred drinking Ganga water.
The affidavit goes on to state that there is scientific evidence to show the Ganges had “some special elements which are not there in any other river in the world”, including the “strength to fight many diseases”.
“Reportedly, Emperor Akbar had used to drink either pure drinking water or water mixed with Ganga water,” the affidavit says. The Mughals “accepted” the Ganges had a “special quality”..
A third of India’s 1.2 billion people live along the 2,510-km sacred river. Although the Ganges is an icon of the Hindu faith, it is dying a slow death due to filth, untreated sewage and industrial runoff. Only about 45% of the 11 billion litres of sewage from 181 towns along the river is treated.
The fact about Akbar is historically validated from medieval sources, such as the Akbarnama, the official record of the ruler’s reign commissioned by Akbar himself.
“I think so. Akbar would get bottled Ganga water. Akbar was interested in what other people had to say about their cultures and religion. Akbar had a notion of the river being beyond the ordinary from what he had heard about it,” said Prof. Najaf Haider, a historian with the Jawaharlal Nehru University.
Akbar however did not endorse the river’s mythology because he did not believe in mythologies, Haider said. “Having Ganga water was a very rational thing for him because it is not unusual for particular water sources to have special qualities. Using intellect and critical thinking were in fact the touchstones for both Akbar and (his successor) Jahangir’s rule,” Haider said.
The clean-up of the Ganges is much more critical than is often made out to be. “More than a religious or cultural imperative, restoration of the Ganga and its soiled waters is of great ecological importance and urgency,” said Rakesh Sinha of the think-tank, Environmental Resource Group.