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Lena Zühlke

Works on a PhD dissertation on the worlds of substantialities of Hindu people, focusing on devout Hindus and their
understanding of water pollution of the Ganges. Department of Indian and Tibetan Studies of the University of Hamburg

Evening lecture for "Living with Rivers in Germany and in India: Ecology, Religion and Economy at Elbe,
Ganges and Yamuna" on 21 Oct 2011 on the barge Caesar:

The Ganges: worship and pollution


Interrelation of the Ecological Problems of the River Ganga and its Religious Importance Mirrored in the Hindi-speaking Public.

This presentation focuses on the area of conflict that arises out of the fact that the river Ganges is a goddess as well as religiously pure water but at the same time is environmentally unclean.

It centres the mythology of the goddess Ganga, describing the water’s sacred importance for carrying out Hindu rituals. Additionally it marks the secular usage of the river Ganges as well as the main sources of pollution touching on communal sewage removal, industrial waste disposal, extraction of water, agricultural runoff and religious practices. It then discusses the environmental impact on the river’s ecosystem resulting from the extreme utilisation of this resource, and focuses on the state’s as well as non-governmental actions against the severe pollution. The lecture briefly introduces the government’s river-cleaning program GAP as well as two (to three) well-known religiously motivated NGOs and eco-activists.

Furthermore, this lecture gives a short insight in a research identifying religious motivations that can be drawn from Hinduism to create environmental awareness amongst believers to protect the river’s ecological balance and treat it in a respectful way. Many newspaper articles report about the pollution of the river Ganges using religious words or personifying the river. It is said by many informants that this religiously connoted language can be used further to sensitize the population for the plight and misery the river and thus the goddess has to endure. It is suggested by professors of the Benares Hindu University to use the goddess’s vehicles to introduce indicator species to the public and sharpen their view on the recent loss of these animals as well as to interpret mythological stories in an ecological sense.

The lecture closes by stating how important it is that religious belief and ecological requirements are connected in a sensitive way.

"Living with Rivers in Germany and in India: Ecology, Religion and Economy at Elbe, Ganges and Yamuna"