A Filthy, Foul, and Holy River [David’s 3rd and Final Blog from India]

09 Oct

A Filthy, Foul, and Holy River [David’s 3rd and Final Blog from India]

Three Hindu men worship in the Ganges River

Varanasi, where I’ve been the past few days, is India’s most holy city, boasting 23,000 Hindu temples. Many Hindus travel here to die, believing that death in Varanasi ensures release of one’s soul form the cycle of its transmigrations. After death, their bodies are likely to be cremated on the banks of the Ganges River, which flows through Varanasi, a waterway that also holds a special place in Hindu faith, as they believe that bathing in the Ganges remits sin.

Tourists stream to Varanasi’s many ancient stairways, known as ghats, that line the Ganges River, to witness Hindu bathing rituals and cremations. Since I had time this morning before catching my flight back to Delhi, at dawn I hired a boat and guide on the Ganges to watch the morning’s activities.

My rowing guide, pointing out a distant ghat

Walking toward a bathing spot

Just as the sun was rising on the opposite shore, thousands of people began to arrive at the ghats to worship

A few more worshippers

As he rowed downstream past the ancient ghats to a cremation site, my guide informed me that there are five categories of bodies that are not cremated, but are rather tied to a rock and sunk in the river. They are “holy men,” children, those who have been afflicted with leprosy, those who died from cobra bites, and pregnant women. The thought of bathing in a river that was filled with sunken corpses was not very attractive to me, but thousands of people were doing just that—-as a mode of worship—as we drifted past them on our way downstream.

Besides human corpses, the city of Varanasi dumps 50 million gallons of human sewage each day into the Ganges, contributing to millions of gallons of additional human and industrial waste from the other cities that line its banks, making it one of the world’s most polluted rivers. Yet each year millions of pilgrims drink a few drops of Ganges water, and many fill bottles to take home with them to share with those who could not make the journey. Not surprisingly, gallbladder cancer rates among those who live along the course of the Ganges are the second highest in the world.

In light of just this, I can’t help but wonder how humanists can decry Christian evangelism that “threatens to destroy native cultures.” God forbid that some missionary might persuade people to stop drinking sewage.

Approaching a cremation ghat

Relatives watch the cremation of a loved one’s body. Should they decide to depart prior to the end of the cremation, it is very likely the fire will be quenched, and the partially-burned body will be dumped into the river, thus conserving fuel and increasing profits of the cremation service.

The low point in my tour occurred when we rowed within a few feet of the shrouded head and shoulders of a corpse that had apparently popped part-way up to the water’s surface. My rowing guide, who surely saw it, didn’t point it out to me. I decided it was time to talk about Jesus. When I asked him, he told me that he’d heard of the Christian God, but told me, “We love Shiva here.” So I left him with a few things to think about the God who walked on water, opened the eyes of the blind, and predicted His own death and resurrection.

People were bathing just 20 feet from this surfaced corpse

Oh India! Your only hope is Jesus. But “How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent?” (Rom 10:14-15). If you’d like to help us train, equip and send more God-called Indian church planters to unreached Hindu villages, you can for $35 for month. Please email me at [email protected], and I’ll send you the details. Forwarding this blog to your friends could change eternity for Indian villagers who currently have not heard of Jesus. Thanks.


Leave a Reply