The mighty river Ganges (Ganga in Indian languages) represents Indian culture in a unique blend of the mythical and the real. The river rises as the Bhagirathi from a mammoth glacier Gangotri, of nearly 200 sq km, in the lower reaches of the Himalayas. It joins the Alaknanda River to form the Ganges. This perennial river flows almost 2500 km before joining the Brahmaputra River creating the world’s largest river delta Sunderbans, on the Indo-Bangladesh border. A tributary of Ganges crosses over into Bangladesh as the Padma River.
The mythic aura of the river is seen from the string of holy shrines that line its path like Badrinath, Kedarnath, Haridwar and Varanasi. The banks of this river and its tributaries have nurtured several settlements that have grown into major cities like Allahabad, Kanpur, Patna, Kolkata and Delhi.
The mythical Ganges, once a celestial river, was prevailed upon by King Bhagiratha, after herculean efforts, to descend to earth to cleanse the sins of his ancestors. This gave Ganges the image of a purifier in Indian beliefs. Scattering the ashes in the river after cremation or a dip in the river is believed to wash away one's sins. The Ganges River is also worshipped as Gangadevi/Goddess Ganga.