The Ganges or the Ganga as its known in India is both an important symbol in Indian religious culture and a major source of water (over 25%) and supporter of local economy. It is considered and worshiped as a mother goddess, moreover she is a symbol of fertility, abundance and purity and will even wash away your karma. The ultimate dream of every Hindu is to die in the holy city of Benaras and have their ashes dispersed in the Ganges, doing so is an easy shortcut to moksha (liberation from the cycle of life and death).
But in reality the situation is quite ironic. The Ganges is one of the most polluted rivers in the world.
The Ganges river supports 500 million people, which make up almost 40 per cent of India’s population, and is home to over 150 species of fish and over 300 species of birds.
The Ganges pollution problem is more complex and needs to be thought about more holistically. There are several factors which contribute to increased pollution. Starting with dams constructed upstream for hydroelectricity production hampering the flow of the river down stream to several leather tanning and chemical industries dumping waste into the river. Apart from industrial causes ~80% of river pollution is attributed to human waste, mainly sewage disposal.

Different bio-cultural rituals prevalent for over 3000 years are also major contributers to river pollution.

Amongst these flower pollution and waste generated from religious rituals are some of the overlooked polluting factors and ones which can be easily handled even on an individual level. The flowers start to rot over time and kill the bio-diversity of the river. The flowers also release toxic pesticides into the river which were used in their production.
Apart of pollution, the Ganges also suffers from a very hampered ecosystem due to river pollutants and increase in hydel power plants in the upper parts of the Ganges. The Ganges river dolphin, one of the only 3 freshwater dolphins left in the world is now a severely endangered species with only about 1,800 left in the entire Ganges-Brahmaputra rivers.
Against the backdrop of rampant pollution and corruption, to find ways to circumvent environmental laws, the Indian high court granted legal personhood to the river with full legal rights as that of a human being.
In a following hearing, it also gave this designation to glaciers, including Gangotri and Yamunotri (where the Ganges and Yamuna originate from), rivers, streams, rivulets, lakes, air, meadows, dales, jungles, forests wetlands, grasslands, springs and waterfalls. 
The Ganges was granted rights as that of a minor with the court appointing three officials as custodians to represent the river in court.
Although the decision was subsequently overruled by the Supreme court after the state officials deemed the law unsustainable and confusing.
I was really intrigued by this shift in the changing narrative of the personification of Ganges. The river which is personified as a life giving mother for over 3000 years is now seen as a helpless minor in the eyes of law and a degrading environment. This led me to question and re-imagine the iconography around the Ganges in a way that it speaks to modern times.

A representation of the river more common in West Bengal. The iconography differs slightly with region.

Ganga is represented as a fair-complexioned woman, wearing a white crown and sitting on a mythical sea animal. She holds a water lily in her right hand and a lute in her left. When shown with four hands she carries a water-pot, a lily, a rosary and has one hand in a protective mode.
She is seen mounted on a lotus which is a common symbol in Hinduism. The lotus represents non-attachment to the illusory world. Her vehicle is the Makara which is often a hybrid of different sea and land creatures. In different sects it is symbolized differently but usually it is thought of as a hybrid of the Ganges river dolphin, crocodile and elephant with fish scales. The symbolism of the makara is hard to decipher as it is represented differently in different texts and cultures but the central idea is that it is an animal possessing the wisdom of both land and water just as the river exists in both in the heavens and on earth.
The water pot represents abundance of life giving water and sometimes also interpreted as containing the elixir of life.
The conch is also an important symbol in Hinduism of purity, brilliance and auspiciousness. In Hinduism, the sound from the conch is associated with the sacred syllable ‘Om’ which is believed to be the sound of creation.
She is always pictured surrounded by abundant flowing water.
With the legal vs cultural personification of the river as my inspiration I wanted to re-interpret the iconography of the Ganges. I chose to challenge the perception of the river from a life giving mother to a helpless minor that needs nurture. 
The new iconography also brings to light some of the emerging bio-technologies which could be employed to rejuvenate the river.
The river is personified as a minor without any display of wealth or jewelry. She is no more fair skinned but rather greenish and surrounded by murky water full of toxic pollutants. 
In her right hand she is seen holding a bacteriophage.
Phages are viruses that latch onto specific bacteria and release their genetic material inside them. They eventually populate within the bacteria and burst out killing the host bacteria.
The Ganges is heavily populated with phages. They are essentially harmless to humans because they are highly strain specific and can only infect a specific bacterium and no other bacteria. Of course, the fact these phages often target bacteria that cause deadly diseases is an added bonus.
As early as 1896, the British bacteriologist Ernest Hankin studied the bactericidal properties of Ganges water. He found that colonies of cholera bacteria that thrived in tap water quickly died in Ganges water.
In todays time several bacteria now thrive in the Ganges. The number of Ecoli is the highest among those posing threat to human health. Researchers from SBS Institute of Biomedical Sciences and Research, Dehradun, and Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna Garhwal University studied a 440 km stretch of the river in Uttarakhand. The first study analysing the bacterial diversity of the Ganga found 43 species. E coli was the most prevalent followed by Enterobacter, Streptococcus faecalis and Pseudomonas. 
With advances in large scale production of phages in Lyophilized form, we may be able to identify specific strains of phages to target the increasingly harmful bacteria in the ganges at scale.  Recently, Phage therapy is being brought to light again  and the government is exploring solutions to use phage therapy to counter bacterial pollution.

Synthetic seeds
In her left hand she is seen planting synthetic seeds.
Artificial seeds are plant embryos trapped in hydrogel balls and work just like natural seeds would in the right conditions.
Artificial seeds are easy to produce at scale with high genetic uniformity.
Artificial seeds could be used to design trees using genes from different bacteria to suck up pollutants from groundwater along the bank of the river, which is used for agriculture and household activities. Also, an addition of Rhizobacteria to the seeds will speed up the growth period for large trees.
As Demonstrated by the researchers at the University of Washington who genetically altered poplar trees to pull toxins out of contaminated ground water, offering a cost-effective way of cleaning up environmental pollutants.
The endangered Ganges dolphin and invasive species
The Ganges river dolphin, the national aquatic animal of India, is one of the only 3 freshwater dolphins left in the world. The dolphin is now a severely endangered species with only about 1,800 left in the entire Ganges-Brahmaputra rivers.
Another less known issue is of invasive species that disturb the natural ecological balance of the river and its surrounding areas.
Flesh eating turtles
For a Hindu, dying in the holy city of Varanasi with the body dispersed in the holy Ganges is of immense spiritual importance. For this reason, a segment of the river through the town of Varanasi is lined with crematoriums. Each day more than 100 bodies are cremated with the ashes let into the river. The poorer sections of society which cannot afford cremation costs simply dump their deceased into the river. The rotten corpses can be seen floating downstream of the river. Moreover, deceased  holy men and cattle are never cremated and simply let into the river.
In the 1980’s the govt. setup Ganga action group implemented an unusual plan to release specially bred flesh eating turtles into the river to tackle the problem of “necrotic pollutants”. Trionyx gangeticus, a soft-shelled species found in and around the Ganges, had already demonstrated a taste for deceased flesh. These turtles were bred on land and fed only dead fish through their maturation period so as they do not develop a taste for living fish and pose no danger for humans. These specially bred turtles when released in water fed on dead bodies and scavenge an entire corpse within 2 days. The unusual plan did demonstrate effectiveness for a short period of time, until the entire first batch of turtles which were released into the river were hunted down for illegal meat trade.
Engineered turtles with growth hormones borrowed from a close species could accelerate the growth process to meet the demand. Additionally, these turtles could be engineered with scavenger DNA to make them crave dead flesh.
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