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Science Behind The Extraordinary Purifying Power Of River Ganga

Millions of people bath in the River Ganga, or Ganges, during Kumbh Mela, Magh Mela and on other auspicious days? But rarely have we heard about the breakout of a major epidemic like Cholera or other waterborne diseases. Industrial waste and human waste is dumped into Ganga at several points but Ganga continues to amaze everyone with its purifying power. So what is the science behind the extraordinary power of Ganga? And does science have the all the clues to the purifying properties of Ganges?

In Hinduism, there is frequently a connection between mythology and science. Hindu scriptures say that bathing in Ganga purifies the sins of this birth and previous birth. Ganga Ma, or Mother Ganga, is a Goddess in Hinduism. Puranas and epics extol her greatness and she descends to the earth from the matted locks of Lord Shiva. A dying Hindu’s last wish is to have a few drops of Ganga water. Hindus have always believed that River Ganga has extraordinary power and it prevents diseases.

Julian Crandall Hollick in his series on River Ganga in NPR explores the science behind the extraordinary purifying power of River Ganga. 

Hindus are known to keep Ganga water in closed containers for various religious purposes. The water never goes bad or putrefies. This means that Ganga water contains lot of oxygen which can assimilate organic matter like human waste and vegetable matter. This property of Ganga is 25% more than any other river.

The amount of organic waste that goes into Ganga should have already exhausted the amount of oxygen. But this has not happened. There is some material present in Ganges that replenishes the oxygen content and kills the pathogens.

Interestingly, boiled Ganga water does not have the capability to kill pathogens. Similarly, Yamuna, a river which joins Ganges, does not contain the special material present in Ganga.

The most convincing answer to Ganga’s purifying property or to kill pathogens is associated with the bacteriophage present in its water. Bacteriophage enters bacteria present in the water and destroys it and multiplies inside it in millions and then bursts out searching for new bacteria. This one reason why there are no epidemics in Ganges when millions of people take bath during melas.

In simple terms, organic matter is assimilated by the special molecular structure of Ganga water and the bacteria is destroyed or maintained in the optimum level by bacteriophage. And thus the pathogens are contained by Ganga.

But bacteriophage, or phages, are present everywhere, it is not unique to Ganges alone.

So the mystery still continues and one question still remains unanswered what is that particular property that allows Ganga to retain extraordinary amount of oxygen which is the root cause of all purifying activities taking place in the river.