The Message Ganga is Giving Us
Dear Divine Souls,
I hope that – by God’s grace – this finds you and all your loved ones in the best of health and happiness at this sacred time.
The 18th of June marked Ganga Dussehra, the day we lovingly refer to as “Gangaji’s Birthday.” It is the day on which we commemorate the time when, answering the tapasya and incessant prayers of King Bhagirath, Ganga flowed down from the heavens to the Earth.
Ganga did not flow down merely because She wanted to, but rather with a very specific purpose – to serve humanity. In the story of Her descent, She descended from heaven itself to flow onto the Earth to liberate the 60,000 sons of King Sagar, who had been turned to ash yet had not received final rites. Thus, Ganga’s waters flowed down and washed over the ashes, freeing their souls. Likewise, today Ganga is seen as a liberator, and anyone who takes a dip in Her waters is freed from all past karma.
But Ganga doesn’t provide just liberation, but also life itself, as She provides water for the hundreds of millions who l live along Her banks. Over 500 million people live within the Ganga River Basin and directly depend on Her nourishing waters, as well as millions of animals and plant species. Her waters irrigate thousands of farms which feed more than one-third of India’s population.
Ganga also teaches us so many lessons on how to truly live divine lives. First, Her waters flow for all. Whether one believes in Her sanctity and sings Her aarti daily or throws trash in Her, whether it is a Hindu’s farm or a Muslim’s farm or a Christian’s farm, Ganga’s waters provide for all. She quenches everyone’s thirst, and irrigates everyone’s farms. She never hesitates and never discriminates, but gives and gives and gives.
Yet, on this Ganga Dussehra, Ganga has also sent us a message. Many of you may have seen in the news the flooding that has happened in Uttarakhand, floods which have swept away homes, businesses, whole villages, bridges and roads. Many hundreds and perhaps thousands have lost their lives, and tens of thousands are still trapped in the mountains. The sacred temples and villages in the Himalayas and the pilgrims who have traveled there are in a difficult situation due to widespread road closures; many are trapped without shelter, food or water.
Yet, we have to wonder why all this happening, and what message Mother Ganga and Mother Nature are sending us.
As the Himalayas get deforested, as the mountains are blasted with dynamite to make room for wider roads, we reap the consequences of fragile mountains and top soil that is no longer rooted to the ground. Hence, when the rains come, with no trees or rooted soil to hold the water, the mountain sides run into roads and villages, and our precious top soil runs into the rivers.
And what is this all being done for? Development. Precious resources are being blasted out of the mountains and the riverbeds, trees are being cut down all in the name of “development.” And what is this development? Block-long shopping malls, product after product, plastic, building after building, all created in an effort to quench our desire for happiness.
Yet, is this what true development is? Is this what will bring us happiness? Is the destruction of our Earth the price for happiness? Surely it is not.
Development is necessary. People need electricity, clean water, proper sanitation, jobs, and technology, and there is nothing wrong with these things. But the question becomes, at what cost? If our over consumption and ceaseless desire for more and more leads to the destruction of our own Mother Earth, this is a tragic problem. If we continue to build in ways that damage the environment instead of building in eco-friendly, sustainable ways, this is a problem. Not only are we hurting our Earth, we are hurting our fellow man. In the upper reaches of the Ganga, where there is now dangerous flooding and landslides, the people who are hurt the most are simple villagers and pious pilgrims. Whole villages have washed away, homes have been lost, yet surely these are not the people guilty of over-consumption or rampant unchecked development.
On Ganga’s birthday, She is giving us an ultimatum: “Care for me, care for my mountains, my trees and my tributaries and I will bring you life and liberation. Deforest my mountainsides, pollute the air such that the warmth melts the glaciers, dam and divert me, and you will reap the consequences.” It is such an important message Mother Ganga is giving us: Nature is not ours to objectify, use and abuse. Mother Nature brings life when we treat Her with respect, care and love. But nature neglected and abused wreaks Her own havoc upon Her abusers.
The choices we make in our lifestyle have direct consequences for the planet we live in and that our children will inherit. What we eat, what we buy, where we go and how we get there all play formidable roles in whether we will bequeath to our children a planet that is green, lush, healthy and able to sustain life, or one that is desecrated, polluted, poisoned and poisonous to its remaining inhabitants.
By Her grace, like a true Mother, Mother Ganga is giving us another chance. As Her waters recede, let us take Her message to heart and change our ways so that Mother Nature, Mother Ganga and all our brothers and sisters upon Her banks and around the world may live safe, healthy and nurtured lives.
My love and blessings are always with you and with all of your loved ones.
In the service of God and humanity,
Swami Chidanand Saraswati