The Ganges (/ˈɡændʒiːz/ GAN-jeez), also Ganga (Hindi: गंगा; Bengali: গঙ্গা ; Sanskrit: गङ्गा; Hindustani pronunciation: [ˈɡəŋɡaː] GUNG-ga), is a trans-boundary river of Asia which flows through India and Bangladesh. The 2,525 km (1,569 mi) river rises in the western Himalayas in the Indian state of Uttarakhand, and flows south and east through the Gangetic Plain of North India into Bangladesh, where it empties into the Bay of Bengal.
It is the third largest river by discharge. The Ganges is the most sacred river to Hindus. It is also a lifeline to millions of Indians who live Along its course and depend on it for their daily needs. It is worshipped as the goddess Ganga in Hinduism. It has also been important historically, with many former provincial or imperial capitals (such as Pataliputra, Kannauj, Kara, Kashi, Allahabad, Murshidabad, Munger, Baharampur, Kampilya, and Kolkata) located on its banks.
The Ganges begins at the confluence of the Bhagirathi and Alaknanda rivers at Devprayag. The Bhagirathi is considered to be the true source in Hindu culture and mythology, although the Alaknanda is longer The headwaters of the Alakananda are formed by snowmelt from such peaks as Nanda Devi, Trisul, and Kamet. The Bhagirathi rises at the foot of Gangotri Glacier, at Gaumukh, at an elevation of 3,892 m (12,769 ft).
Although many small streams comprise the headwaters of the Ganges, the six longest and their five confluences are considered sacred. The six headstreams are the Alaknanda, Dhauliganga, Nandakini, Pindar, Mandakini, and Bhagirathi rivers. The five confluences, known as the Panch Prayag, are all along the Alaknanda. They are, in downstream order: Vishnuprayag, where the Dhauliganga joins the Alaknanda; Nandprayag, where the Nandakini joins; Karnaprayag, where the Pindar joins; Rudraprayag, where the Mandakini joins; and, finally, Devprayag, where the Bhagirathi joins the Alaknanda to form the Ganges River proper.
The Late Harappan period, about 1900–1300 BC, saw the spread of Harappan settlement eastward from the Indus River basin to the Ganges-Yamuna doab, although none crossed the Ganges to settle its eastern bank. The disintegration of the Harappan civilization, in the early 2nd millennium BC, mark the point when the center of Indian civilization shifted from the Indus basin to the Ganges basin. There may be links between the Late Harappan settlement of the Ganges basin and the archaeological culture known as "Cemetery H", the Indo-Aryan people, and the Vedic period.
This river is the longest in India. During the early Vedic Age of the Rigveda, the Indus and the Sarasvati River were the major sacred rivers, not the Ganges. But the later three Vedas give much more importance to the Ganges. The Gangetic Plain became the centre of successive powerful states, from the Maurya Empire to the Mughal Empire.
The purifying Ganges
Hindus consider the waters of the Ganges to be both pure and purifying. Nothing reclaims order from disorder more than the waters of the Ganges. Moving water, as in a river, is considered purifying in Hindu culture because it is thought to both absorb impurities and take them away. The swiftly moving Ganges, especially in its upper reaches, where a bather has to grasp an anchored chain in order to not be carried away, is considered especially purifying. What the Ganges removes, however, is not necessarily physical dirt, but symbolic dirt; it wipes away the sins of the bather, not just of the present, but of a lifetime.