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Is there a mysterious X-factor that makes waters of the river Ganga special?

 

Nothing has been conclusively found even though many theories have swirled around for a long time. In what seems a final push, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government is seeking to finally resolve the mystery. A huge multi- institution effort costing over Rs 150 crore is underway to scientifically resolve the enigma of this so called ‘Brahma Dravya’.

J P Nadda, Union Minister for Health & Family Welfare, has assured all support for this research including financial assistance to further investigate the claim made through various existing research and studies that the waters of Ganga have medicinal properties, which destroy various kinds of bacteria and microbes, in order to use it for holistic human health.

Ganga is undoubtedly one of India’s holiest rivers and for eons its waters are known to possess some so called ‘magical’ properties that ensure that its waters don’t spoil even when stored for years. This is often called the self-cleansing property of the river.

Ganga is the lifeline for about 300-400 million people who reside in its basin which is over 2,500 km in length. Yet today the Ganga is one of the most polluted rivers of the world with water pollution levels at places thousands of times the permissible levels. Yet the devout take a dip in the river unmindful of the toxic soup they immerse into.

Many theories have been proposed on what could lead to Ganga jal being ‘special’. Medicinal plants growing on the banks of the river are thought to impart the special properties. The presence of special ‘killer microbes’ that knockout bacteria, is another idea that finds traction. The presence of some special radioactive elements that help Ganga remain clean is also conjectured. The high decibel sound waves that emanate from the gongs and bells that ring out on the banks of the river are also thought to be involved. Despite these ideas, conclusive evidence has never been found.
Last week more than 200 leading scientists gathered at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi to deliberate on the ‘Non-Putrefying Properties of Ganga Water’. It included civil engineers, microbiologists, botanists, virologists, bio-technologists, and even cultural leaders from the RSS all thinking aloud how to resolve the mystery that has dogged the river for centuries.

Speaking at the meeting, Krishna Gopal described as an environmentalist who deeply understands the Ganga drew upon the studies and research conducted on the exclusive cleansing property of the Ganga water. He pointed to the references from the Akbarnama and the 1896 reports of the British bacteriologist Ernest Hanbury Hankin, to state that the presence of bacteriophage activity had been detected in the river since long. New research needs to be conducted to further renew this claim, he added.

Among all theories it seems the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and the Clean Ganga Mission seek to explore deeply is the possibility of the presence of special viruses that kill bacteria.

Towards this, a Rs 150-crore study is already underway at the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), Nagpur which has already collected over 150 samples of water and ganga sediment to analyse its micro-biological properties. It will take another 6 months to complete the study asserts Uma Bharati, Minister for Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation.

Further highlighting that despite crores of people taking a dip in the river during numerous religious occasions every year, the river has not led to any pandemic or epidemic. This had to be the consequence of some self-purifying power of the river water, which prevented its deterioration, Bharati stated.

Bharati accepts that the Ganga retains its pristine waters only till near Haridwar after which most of the water is diverted away into irrigation canals and then through much of the stretch in the plains, the river is merely a ‘nallah’ or sewage drain collecting effluents as it traverses through the Indo-Gangetic plain.

She feels the detailed study may unravel the truth of what is really happening in this very holy river. Bharati calls the mysterious X-factor the ‘Brahma Dravya’ or ‘divne liquid’ which may be giving the river its special property.

The new push could easily be dismissed as another push by the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) which has made cleaning up the Ganga part of its core agenda.

So is this an effort by the powerful right-wingers to take foreword a Hindutva agenda? Possibly, but the high profile scientific institutions involved are unlikely to succumb to such pressures.

In addition to AIIMS, New Delhi, scientists from the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), New Delhi; IIT Kanpur and Roorkee; Banaras Hindu University, National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), Nagpur and National Botanical Research Institute, Lucknow will be participating in this detailed study. None known for having buckled under political pressure.

Ganga water retains self-purification characteristics even in 16 year old samples, explains Chandra Shekhar Nautiyal, Director of the National Botanical Research Institute, Lucknow.

He says Ganga water has been used from time immemorial for medicinal and ritualistic purposes, as it does not putrefy even after long periods of storage.

Nautiyal has studied the Ganga waters for more than a decade and finds that Ganga water is soft and has high level of sulphur content. Presence of bacteriophage against the pathogenic bacteria was observed only in Ganga water, he says.

Leading the current effort Satish Wate, director of NEERI, says in most rivers, organic matter usually exhausts a river’s available oxygen and then the water starts to putrefy.

Nevertheless, in Ganga, an unknown factor acts on the organic matter and bacteria and kills them. Ganga’s self-purifying property leads to retaining 25 times more oxygen levels than any other river in the world. Early results from NEERI’s work indicate that both the Ganga-jal and the sediment from the river help in the self-cleansing property.

Nadda feels that in a world increasingly fighting various kinds of new and more powerful drug resistant bacteria and germs, such a study, which explores and examines what is it that lends this unique property to the Ganga water that not only cleanses itself by destroying germs and microbes present in it, but also purifies other waters, is worth conducting.

In world looking for viable solutions to contain bacterial infections, which are increasingly becoming multi-drug resistant.

If these bacteriophages found in the waters of the Ganga could be harnessed then may be ‘Ganga-jal could be used as source of medicine’ explains M C Misra, director of AIIMS, who thinks even if it is a long shot it is worth exploring why water from the Ganges does not spoil using modern scientific tools to unravel the mystery.

On her part, Bharati said she was open to accepting the findings of the scientific investigations and asserted that recreating the past glory of the river was her main mission in life. So will the X-factor or the ‘Brahma Dravya’ emerge from the depths? None of the scientists are too sure but remain optimistically hopeful.

 

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