‘Laminated Landscapes of the Ganga Ghats’
Alpa Nawre , Kansas State University
- In India, the land-water urban edges of rivers are constructed into stepped embankments or ghats, which are climate-adaptive and vibrant public landscapes, simultaneously addressing multiple issues such as flooding and access. The ghat landscape system in India has historically acted as a dynamic catalyst that functions both as a climate-adaptive physical construct, and a multifunctional socio-cultural construct. This research documents the land-water edge (ghat) of the Ganga River in Banaras to find the design elements that enable their flexibility and socio-cultural performance. The multifunctional use and adaptability of the culturally embedded ghat landscape systems builds a compelling argument for rethinking the design of rigid, mono-functional and culturally disconnected contemporary urban water infrastructure throughout the world.
Surplus and Sacredness: India’s National River-linking Project & the Ganga
Trevor Birkenholtz, Associate Professor, Geography & Geographic InfoSci, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
India’s National River-Linking Project (NRLP) aims to connect India’s rivers via a series of link-canals and reservoirs that would move water from so-called surplus areas to deficit areas. In doing so, this $123 billion Promethean project intends to enhance water availability in scarce regions, increase irrigated area, provide flood control and produce hydroelectricity. With respect to the Ganga Basin, the project plans to divert water from the eastern Ganga tributaries to arid western part of the Ganga.
This talk examines the project and what it means for the Ganga in three ways. First, the entire discourse of the project rests of a myopic vision of water scarcity as a physical problem, rather than water scarcity as something that is socially produced in complex ways through power-laden political economies. Second, this naturalization of scarcity as a physical problem, feeds into the state’s techno-managerial tendencies towards mega-projects, while justifying them as the only possible solution. And third, the notion of water scarcity as a physical problem that demands a large-scale engineering solution is made possible by feminine constructions of nature in general and the Ganga as Mother, specifically. This construction allows for the state to objectify the Mother Ganga and improve on her nature, while projecting a particular notion of surplus and sacredness that may sit well with urban elites but that renders invisible “Project Affected People”, including tribal communities, landless farmers, laborers and the urban poor. The talk concludes with a discussion of what this project means for the Ganga’s complex socioecology, the sacredness of the river, and the struggles around access to and control over its finite resources.
“Embodied Goodness of the Gods”: Revisiting Ganga Ma as Goddess
Jessica Vantine Birkenholtz, Assistant Professor, Department of Religion, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Ganga Ma or Mother Ganga, the deification of the Ganges river, is one of a multitude of goddesses in the Hindu pantheon. In contrast to many of her divine associates, however, discussions of Ganga Ma typically do not focus on her as a manifestation of the all-encompassing Devi. Rather, scholarship introduces and focuses on her within the specific context of goddesses and sacred geography and/or the sacrality of rivers. In this talk I revisit the mythology and associated religious practices surrounding Ganga Ma to consider key facets of her identity and tradition that distinguish her in meaningful ways from many of Hinduism’s other goddesses. I will focus in particular on three aspects of Ganga Ma’s identity and function: her ecumenical nature, the nature of her shakti, and her deep connection to geography. I will demonstrate that when taken together, these three characteristics of Ganga Ma set her apart from other popular Hindu goddesses, including at the pan-Hindu and local or regional levels. At the same time, they reveal important connections that enhance our understanding of Hindu goddesses and make a case for including Ganga Ma in these discussions.
Sun Images and association with the Ganga in Banaras: Ordering,
Cultural Astronomy and Worship
Prof. Rana P.B. Singh, MA, PhD, FJF, FIFS, FAAI, FACLA, ‘Ganga-Ratna’
Professor of Cultural Geography & Heritage Studies, & Head, Dept. of Geography,
Banaras Hindu University, India.
Like many ancient cultures, in Hindu tradition too Sun is considered to be the most prominent divinity in the cosmos and has been part of invocation and festivities since the ancient past. While testing the hypothesis that the city plan of Varanasi has developed according to a cosmic order, it is observed that the temples and shrines related to Sun (Aditya) are placed in a meaningful spatially manifested pattern corresponding to the cosmic geometry and the movement of sun, the association of cosmic north and Kashi-North, and the celebrating seasonal festivities in a sequential order referring to solstices and equinoxes and their interfaces with the Ganga. Probably, this pattern had grown in pre-Brahmanical tradition, and later on superseded by the Shaiva tradition, however they are still part of active veneration and festivities.
The nomenclature and iconographic features of all the fourteen Sun images in Varanasi further indicate the mythological links to belief systems and the inherent scientific meanings that were codified in the mystical tradition and continued as part of religious tradition. In Varanasi the sun is directly involved in the making of cosmic ordering, and in the life of the city, daily as the dawn sun, but also traditionally as an agent for Lord Shiva, the patron deity of this city, and also as one among the ‘five ancillary divinities’ (panchadevas) worshipped together. These solar attributes must have emerged from local folk tradition and further elaborated in mythology and epic literature. Cosmological order and cityscape of Varanasi can further be explained with the study of spatial patterning of other deities and series of sacred journeys. The complex network and structure of the spatial pattern of sun shrines and their association with the movement of the sun and the riverfront of the Ganga throw light on the cosmological sense of ‘city planning’ in ancient period. Probably this pattern is older than the Brahmanical tradition, of course in span of time it has been superseded by Brahmanical (in fact Shaiva) tradition.
Super-Surface: Infrastructure Across the Ganges River Basin since 1854
Anthony Acciavatti, architect and principal researcher with Somatic Collaborative, New York.
- Since the middle of the nineteenth century, the Ganges River Basin has functioned as a laboratory to test and build a new civilization around the culture of water management. Jointly authored by human actors and their shifting natural heritage, the Ganges River Basin today is a machine in which the entire basin functions as a highly engineered hydrological super-surface. This surface has been constructed from innumerable interventions operating at vastly different scales, from massive state-sponsored canals to individually drilled tubewells. Because of the mixture of actors, the scale of inhabitation, and the widely varying techniques of interventions, visualizing this landscape of infrastructure requires a different kind of map. In this paper I will focus on the layers of infrastructure and their historical importance. Furthermore, I will also show how, if drawn as a vast super-surface, these layers of infrastructure might play a key role in addressing issues of urbanization across this densely populated river basin.
- For Hindus in India and worldwide, the river Ganga (Ganges) has been a Mother, Goddess, purifier and sustainer of all life for millenia. The cleaning of Mother Ganga, on the other hand, is a more recent invention. This invention has resulted in a series of complicated approaches that have borne only minute success in arresting the mounting pollution and deteriorating water quality of this sacred river. In the latest iteration, the clean Ganga mission has become a rallying cry for the nation, an evocative symbol promoted by a decisive and charismatic leader, cloaked in the ongoing flow of saffron politics. In the paper, I look at this latest iteration of river clean-up--affectionately called Ganga rejuvenation--and outline the key challenges, taking into account existing institutional constraints and possibilities, technological innovations and limitations, and governance entanglements. In doing so, I propose a couple of additional measures for reaching a higher level of success while noting where business as usual should not be tolerated in the valuable work of cleaning the Mother Goddess Ganga.
- Between the late eighteenth and mid-nineteenth centuries a large number of ghats or stepped landings were built on the Ganges to facilitate trade, leisure, as well as collection of drinking water, bathing and religious rituals. While there existed a much older tradition of construction of ghats for such purposes, the building of new ghats during British colonial rule, by the government as well as private individuals, both Indian and European, inaugurated a distinctly modern riverine aesthetic. This paper examines some of the painterly and architectural representations of these ghats between Calcutta and upcountry and argues that to understand the importance of this aesthetic we must attend to the politics of claiming the banks of the river at a time when the Ganges was the main transportation artery in the northern plains of India..
- The city of Varanasi, located on the banks of the River Ganga, holds an important place in the Indian visual imaginary. In this essay I will contrast the ways in which two leading contemporary artists-Ram Kumar (1924--) and Paresh Maity (1965- )—represent Benares. Specifically, I will examine the ways in which these artists represent the concept of an iconic Indian place as they negotiate their way between modernity and tradition in both style and content. The artists view of the ancient city represents a shifting relationship with the city and the meanings it affords form the 1950s, shortly after Indian independence, and the late 1990s as India started to shake off its colonial past and sought to identify itself on its own terms. Through their representations of the city of Varanasi the two artists we see a shift away from a modernistic notion of the city to one that signals a return to a post-modern past reminiscent of the works of the early Bengali Revivalists like Abhinendranath Tagore. It is important to note that despite their different orientations to the city and its place in the Indian- particularly Hindu- imaginary, both artists use a modernist visual vocabulary which allows identifications with a global history of modern art.
Rejuvenating Ganga: Institutions, Technologies and the Governance Challenge
Kelly D. Alley , Professor of Anthropology, Auburn University
Ghats on the Ganges: Riverine Aesthetics and Politics in British Colonial India
Swati Chattopadhyay , University of California, Santa Barbara
Varanasi in Modern and Contemporary Indian Art: Two Visions
Pradeep A. Dhillon, Associate Professor, Educational Policy, Organization and Leadership, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Death and Life as Spectacle: Ghats on the Ganga in Varanasi, India
Amita Sinha Professor of Landscape Architecture ,University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign
- The banks of the holy Ganga River in India are sites of cremation and celebration of her life giving powers. The ghats (steps and landings) on the Ganga River in India’s oldest living city, Varanasi, are prime example of this complex mix of sacred, profane, and secular. The cremation rituals in Hinduism evolved in response to the holy Ganga as an axis mundi flowing from the heavens to the netherworld, giver of life, and the ultimate purifier. The symbolic language of rituals is designed to achieve closure and celebrate death as a sacrifice, mimetic of death and rebirth of cosmos. Manikarnika Ghat in Varanasi, popularly known as ‘burning ghat’ is a huge draw to tourists, as its funeral pyres never die. The spectacle of burning bodies on stacks of wood, mourning processions, and shrouded bodies being dipped in the Ganga, all against the backdrop of soaring temple spires and decrepit old buildings, is mesmerizing. I study Manikarnika Ghat as a mise-en-scene where the enactment of death rituals becomes a performance whose meanings are barely understood by its audience. In comparison, Dashaswamedh Ghat is the site of daily evening performance of aarti (waving of lamps) ritual as homage to Ganga in which the audience participates and interacts with the river. The steps and boats together describe an amphitheater around the landing on the river’s edge where the performance takes place on raised wooden platforms. The sensual experience of the visually powerful effect of burning lamps against the dark sky and water is enriched by acoustic, olfactory, haptic, and kinaesthetic stimulation. In comparing cremation and aarti rituals as spectacles, a new understanding of ghats as representational space and space of representation emerges. I conclude with thoughts on how this cultural landscape should be managed so that it is interpreted as a facet of public life of the ghats where life and death coexist, a unique example of intangible heritage, whose forms and meanings can be made accessible.