Hindu Holy Men Threaten Ganges Boycott

LUCKNOW, India – Thousands of Hindu holy men threatened Monday to boycott ceremonies at a weeks-long pilgrimage to wash away their sins in the Ganges, saying the divine river was too polluted.

The saffron-clad, ash-smeared holy men, or sadhus, gathered at the fair grounds in Allahabad to demand the state of the waters be improved by Jan. 12, the date of the next great immersion. Allahabad, the venue of the “Ardh Kumbh Mela” or Half Grand Pitcher festival, is nearly 120 miles southeast of Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh state.

“Millions of people are taking baths in this river because Hindus consider the Ganges a pious river,” said Hari Chaitanaya Brahmachari, a leading Hindu holy man and head of a local monastery. “But the fact is they are taking a dip not in river water but in effluents discharged from factories.”

Nearly 70 million Hindus are expected to participate in the 45-day festival, one of the largest regular gatherings in the world. They bathe in the waters of the Ganges in the belief that it washes away their sins and ends the process of reincarnation.

However the waters have become polluted, both by the recent offerings of flowers and food cast in by the millions of pilgrims and by years of contamination as industries have dumped waste and cities pumped sewage into the river.

Chaitanaya Brahmachari said he had filed a complaint in court against the government for not taking better care of the holy waters.

The holy man also threatened to drown himself in the river in protest if no action was taken.

“If (the) Ganges is not cleaned within next few days, I will take “jal samadhi”,” Chaitanaya Brahmchari told The Associated Press from Allahabad, referring to the ritual suicide sometimes committed by sadhus.

Officials said they were making efforts to improve the quality of the water.

Fresh waters had been released upstream, said N.C. Bajpai, the state’s top bureaucrat, adding that he hoped the waters would be cleaner by the next mass bathing day.

Fair organizer P.N. Mishra said hundreds of laborers are working round the clock to keep the bathing areas clean.

“Over 50 tons of flowers and waste left behind by devotees are picked (up) everyday,” he said.

According to Hindu mythology, gods and demons fought a celestial war, spilling nectar at Allahabad in a pitcher or Kumbh. A larger festival, the “Kumbh Mela,” or the Pitcher Festival, takes place every 12 years.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Tuesday January 9, 2007.
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