In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Ganga

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews of Hinduism and Ecology
  • General Overviews on Water in India and South Asia

Hinduism Ganga
Kelly D. Alley, Georgina Drew
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 April 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 April 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0034


The Ganga (or Ganges) River is iconic in Hindu philosophy, myth, and ritual and also in ecological sciences and climate change discourses. It is venerated as a goddess with unparalleled purifying powers and, as a mother, it absorbs all worldly dirtiness and sin. The Ganga’s vast waters and river streams connect the great storages in the Himalayan glaciers with the plains civilizations and the wetlands and estuaries that drain into the sea. The river has supported human settlements in South Asia for more than two and a half millennia. Over that period, adherents of many different religions have revered the Ganga as a living embodiment of the divine. Its religious and symbolic meanings and importance are complex for millions of Hindu believers; Ganga’s flow is interrelated with Hindu social life, the cycles of life and death, and daily practice. The religious meanings of the river and the science of its flow and geomorphology are usually combined at some level in writings about this sacred river.

General Overviews of Hinduism and Ecology

An interdisciplinary community has developed from the recent and evolving focus on the interrelationships among Hindu traditions, rituals, and practices and the ecological implications of worshipping nature. In the fields of environmental philosophy and religious studies, the main writings took off from studies of nature in Asian traditions. Nelson 1998 and the collection of articles in Chapple and Tucker 2000 galvanized the intellectual and activist writers within the Hindu tradition. The articles in these books wrestled with modern environmental dilemmas and problems while explaining their approach to nature within the values and worldviews of Hinduism. These two major books explore the responses to environmental issues emerging from within the Hindu traditions, and the authors encourage environmentally responsible forms of Hinduism.

  • Chapple, Christopher Key, and Mary Evelyn Tucker, eds. Hinduism and Ecology: The Intersection of Earth, Sky, and Water. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000.

    A text providing the historical and contemporary resources available in the Hindu traditions for ecological and environmental consciousness. Also addresses key challenges in resource depletion and degradation. Topics include the Vedic view of nature, Gandhian deep ecology, the damming and material pollution of sacred rivers, and Hindu grassroots approaches to environmentalism. Provides a broad understanding of the goddess Ganga and her contemporary challenges.

  • Nelson, Lance E., ed. Purifying the Earthly Body of God: Religion and Ecology in Hindu India. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998.

    A collection of articles that address the relationships among sacred beliefs, traditions, and practices in light of ecological conditions and emerging problems in 20th-century India. Writings highlight the ecological involvement and consequences of rituals and the ecological knowledge embedded in ancient scriptures and traditions as they are reinterpreted today. An excellent background text to the study of specific resources about the river Ganga.

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