Why is it believed that the River Ganga is self-cleaning?

The River Ganga is a major river in the Indian subcontinent. It begins its journey from the Gangotri Glacier of the central Himalayas and drains into the Bay of Bengal through its vast delta in the Sunderbans. It is a sacred river in Hinduism and worshipped as the goddess Ganga.

People in India have a strong belief that water of Ganga River has extraordinary powers. Indian emperor Akbar called the Ganga water as ‘the water of immortality'. Even Britishers carry Ganga water during their sea voyages back to England because the Ganga water remains fresh over a prolonged period of time.

History and Mythology of River Ganga

There are several Hindu beliefs that give various versions of the birth of Ganga. According to one version, the King Bhagiratha of Kosla who was a descendant of the King Sagar of Surya Dynasty. He brings River Ganga from heaven to Earth by rigorous tapasya to please Lord Shiva on the advice of Lord Brahma so that he may perform the last rites of his ancestors those were cursed by the Sage Kapila.

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Why is it believed that the River Ganga is self-cleaning?

There are two major factors which adheres the unique quality of self-cleaning of River Ganga.

1. Antimicrobial effect of Ganga water: According to the research of Chandigarh-based Institute of Microbial Technology (IMTECH), Ganga water contains Bacteriophages (viruses which kill bacteria) due to which Ganga water has antimicrobial attributes. The scientific world has always been amused of the antiseptic properties of Ganga's waters. In 1896, British physician E Hanbury Hankin observed that cholera microbes died within three hours in its water, but thrived in distilled water. The Institute of Microbial Technology -Imtech (one of the laboratories of the CSIR) revealed that more than 20 types of bacteriophages are found in water of Ganga River which can fight microorganisms that cause diseases like tuberculosis, pneumonia, cholera and urinary tract infection, among others.

2. Excessive Oxygen content in water: After numerous researches, this factor remains a mystery that what gives the water of Ganga to retain unusual content of oxygen. It is noteworthy that the Ganga water contains Oxygen levels 25 times higher than any other river in the world. This is one of the reasons of self-purifying attributes of River Ganga and high levels of oxygen in the waters of Ganga gives it the unique ability to remain fresh over a prolonged period of time.

Recently, new research reveals that despite of pollution, the water of the Ganga still possess ‘medicinal qualities’. Some microbiologist working on to develop new 'anti-microbial compound' with the help of Ganga water.

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