The Wonder that is Ganga

A grand exhibition at National Museum not only reveres and adores Ganga – as a river and a Goddess – but also liberates it from narrow communal frameworks exploring traditions, arts and cultures of India, finds out Rashme Sehgal

The Wonder that is Ganga

A grand exhibition at National Museum not only reveres and adores Ganga – as a river and a Goddess – but also liberates it from narrow communal frameworks exploring traditions, arts and cultures of India, finds out Rashme Sehgal

No river is as beautiful and historical as the Ganga. Successive civilizations have been built around this iconic river which is a source of wonder across the globe. Classical accounts depict her in reverential tones in countries across the globe, including Italy, Greece, Ceylon, Cambodia, Thailand and Indonesia. So much so that the Fountain of the Four Rivers in the Piazza Navona in Rome built in 1651 includes River Ganges as one of the four greatest rivers in the world, but extraordinarily, the Italians chose to depict her as a bearded male similar to the famous frescoes depicting God in the Sistine Chapel painted by Michaelangelo.
While the Ganga may have a male physiognomy in the western hemisphere, in India and the Far East, she is depicted as a sensuous and playful woman, a consort of gods and a distributor of wealth. One of the most beautiful idols on display at the National Museum where this exhibition titled Ganga: River of Life & Eternity is being held, is a life-size image of Ganga taken from a Shaivite temple in Ahichchhetra in Uttar Pradesh. She is shown as a bejewelled goddess standing on her vahana (vehicle), which is the Makara (crocodile) representing untamed energy.


This exhibition curated by the Boston-based Shakeel Hossain, shows the river through her many histories, traditions, arts and cultures right up to the modern age. This collection becomes all the more significant because Ganga was recently declared a living entity by the National Green Tribunal with all the fundamental rights that an individual is entitled to. But the fact that the river is a living entity is something our elders understood much before us. The importance they imbued to her can be gauged from the fact that she is seen to a celestial being whose waters were prized nectar for the gods many of whom fought pitched battles for the ownership of this nectar.

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