A dog scavenges in the polluted waters of the Ganga River at Sangam in Allahabad on April 14, 2013. (Sanjay Kanojia/AFP/Getty Images)
Drawing millions of devotees and tourists, the two-month-long Maha Kumbh Mela festival is celebrated every 12 years on the banks of the Sangram, at the confluence of sacred Ganges and Yamuna rivers in India. But the Ganges River especially has been revered by Hindus to the point of extinction.
The Kumbh Mela custom is to bathe in these waters – a dip is in the Ganges, or Ganga, said to be a baptism for the soul; a sip is nectar to cleanse the body – even as more than a quarter-million gallons of raw sewage are pumped into the river every day, reports The National. Factories dump industrial waste into the river, which mixes with untreated sewage from cities with treatment plants unable to keep up with the waste produced by their booming populations.
For the near record 120 million Kumbh Mela bathers this year, Indian authorities opened a dam upstream to dilute toxins and ordered more than 1,000 tanneries to temporarily quit dumping arsenic and chromium run-off into the Ganges, according to the Financial Times.
Even so, the water doesn't begin to approach drinkability, and millions of bodies immersed in the river for what is thought to be the largest religious gathering in the world doesn't help. Devotees have staged hunger strikes to force the government to clean up the Ganges and halt proposed dams at its headwaters.