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Cleansing our sins

India's rivers are holy. They are worshipped. And with such fervour and vast amounts of offerings that today a lot of the pollution in India's water bodies is due to this factor alone! This is harming the water quality, as is evident at riverside religious centres.

india Updated: Jun 18, 2003 18:45 IST

Indian rivers are holy. They are worshipped. Andwith such regularity and fervour that today a lot of the pollutionin India's rivers and other water bodiesis due to this factor alone!

Yet, the recklessness with which we harm them is startling.

While the bulk of the damage is done by industries and urban sewage, we will, nonetheless, look the extent of the harm done by our religious practices and rituals. For convenience sake, we will call it religious pollution.

In a practising Hindu's daily life, any water body occupies a central position. This is not to say that other religious communities do not have a water heritage but the customs of the Hindus, who constitute by far the majority of all Indians, is more visible. And the volume of 'offerings' poured is proportionately much greater.

Think of any ritual - a yagna, after the completion of which the entire samagri (which generally includes ghee, flowers, fruits, milk, wicks, incense sticks, etc) is thrown into a river. Any other form of disposal is disapproved.

A death ceremony - where once the actual burning of the dead body is complete, the ashes are thrown into any river. If you happen to live in close proximity to either Yamuna and Ganga, the holiest of Indian rivers, and are privileged to burn your dead on their banks, you are twice born. Your sins are said to be washed away, instantly.

However for the poor, a more convenient thing to do is to throw the body in the river. The river, technically, will away everything including a dead body.

Taking a holy dip in any water body, be a river or a village pond, on a religious occasion is a must, be it a poornima to shankranti.

These are but a few examples where a ritual directly affects water pollution.

In earlier centuries, when the population was much lesser and the modern concepts of pollution (read industrial and sewage) did not apply, pollutants of this kind hardly mattered. The rivers, with their tremendous capacity to cleanse themselves, managed to do away with human filth as well. But increasingly we notice, these practices clog the already choking rivers.

What they do is increase the organic load of the rivers. Take the dead bodies thrown into the rivers for instance. The process of decomposition consumes a lot of dissolved oxygen.

First Published: Jun 14, 2003 18:33 IST