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 fairgrounds in Allahabad to demand the state of the waters be improved by Friday, 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.
But 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.
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.