The rivers Ganga and Yamuna are not only major sources of water for the country, but also hold major significance in terms of heritage, history and religious activities. Tracing the course of the Yamuna, one reaches the world-renowned city of Agra, known across the globe for the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Taj Mahal. Sporting Persian and Mughal architecture it was built in memory of Shah Jahan’s wife, Mumtaz Mahal, and was categorised as a heritage site in 1983. Agra is also home to lip-smacking delicacies such as Agra ki bedami (stuffed with dal and served with curd), jalebi as well as the famous petha.
Flowing from the Yamunotri glacier and travelling to Allahabad, the river Yamuna passes through various terrains. Amidst these Agra is the second most polluted city. From 1993, cleanliness work took place under the Yamuna Action Plan. However, since 2014, Namami Gange has come into action to clean the rivers. Under the Namami Gange plan, 21 projects have been launched, out of which seven are in UP. On an average, there is 28 crore litres sewage generated in Agra. Under Namami Gange, the estimated cost of which is nearly Rs 842 crores. 177.75 MLD waste will be managed by an established sewage plant. The Namami Gange action plan aims to completely shut down a major sewer that empties out in the Yamuna.
A short drive away from Agra is Vrindavan, in Mathura district, where one can hear the reverberations of the chants of Krishna well within the city. The devotees of Krishna can be seen accomplishing the 21-km-long parikrama, by lying down to show their devotion and paying respects. It is perhaps only at Mathura where true devotion for Krishna can be sensed in the air. Also situated near Vrindavan is the Govardhan Parvat, deeply seated in mythology and ancient tales. It is believed that nearly 5,000 years ago, Krishna lifted the mountain with one finger when Lord Indra used his divine powers to unleash a massive downpour on the city. Ancient tales also suggest that Krishna reincarnated in the form of Shrinath and found his abode in Mathura and promised his devotees to return to Braj in the evening.
Moving along the two rivers, one reaches Kasganj. It is here in Kasganj, a few kilometres away from Agra, that the Ganga’s tributary, Kali, flows through the city. While the tributary begins its journey from Nadrai Bridge or the Jhal Pul, the river Ganga flows nearly 80 feet above the Kali river. Kasganj is also the birthplace of Goswami Tulsidas and is home to Har Ki Pauri, which is of utmost importance in the Puranas.
In order to ensure the survival of the Ganga, it is of utmost importance that there is greenery along the river. Keeping in mind the long associated history of forests along the river in ancient times, a Ganga van (forest) has now been established. In 2019 alone, over one lakh trees were planted on a single day. Since the forest is near the religious Soron ghat, it is being developed like a sacred forest. Keeping in mind the religious beliefs and practices, 400 trees of amla, considered to be Lord Vishnu’s favourite fruit, have been planted in the forest. Tying environment and religion together is another aspect in this forest, that the presence of trees according to every single planet or graha.
The river Ganga has not only inspired religious and sacred practices or reforestation drives, but also art forms. For example, the sikki art form was born on riverbanks of the Ganga and is now a unique art form in the country. Made from the grass that grows along the bank of the river, this art form supports many artists and their families.
The two major rivers of India — Ganga and Yamuna — support various life forms and livelihoods. Thus, it is extremely significant that all efforts towards river conservation meet their ultimate goal. It is of utmost importance for all stakeholders to combine their efforts towards conserving the rivers running across the length and the breadth of the country.