As someone whose concern over the pollution of the Ganga has taken him all over the country, he is one among many worried environmentalists. But as someone who condemns what his saffron-clad peers command as their birthright — snan (bathing) in the holy river — Swami Sundaranand is a loner in a tribe of sadhus.
In what is likely to kickstart a debate, the 78-year-old claims the Puranas do not recommend bathing, spitting and washing clothes in the Ganga. “We should do penance for our sins by keeping the holy river clean rather than dumping pollutants in it.”
Last week, on a day sadhus at the Ardh Kumbh were kicking up a fuss by saying the Ganga had become as filthy as a sewer, Swami Sundaranand was in Mumbai, explaining to an audience at the National Centre for Performing Arts exactly how it had become so. “Ganga to Gaumukh se hi maili ho gayi hai (the Ganga is polluted from Gaumukh, the place of its origin),” he said. Quoting as much from the scriptures as from scientists, he said: “The Kedarkand, Mahabharat, Agnipuran and Bhagwadgita all talk about the Ganga’s disappearance in the Kalyug.”
Swami Sunderanand has attended scientific sessions on the Himalayas and Ganga besides holding awareness sessions all over. “I always believed the Ganga would disappear in 5,000 years. But now, I agree with scientists who fear that given the pace at which the Gangotri glacier is receding, it may actually disappear in 50 years,” he said.
Swami Sunderanand has been living in Gangotri for nearly 60 years. He has already sent petitions to various authorities, demanding a ban on construction and the constitution of a temple committee to check the corruption and pollution in the area.