Hindu priests sit inside a cave as they perform evening prayers on the banks of the river Ganges in Devprayag, India. (Danish Siddiqui/Reuters)

Polluted water in the river Ganges is seen in Kanpur, India. (Danish Siddiqui/Reuters)

India’s Ganges River is one of the most revered in the world; it is also one of the most polluted.

Stretching some 1,500 miles from its origins in the Himalayas to its mouth in the Bay of Bengal, the river is worshiped by many Hindus and is a water source for an estimated 400 million people. Those who worship the river believe that it has curative powers and that immersion in its waters can absolve them of sins. Bodies are burned along its banks and ashes are tossed into the water, where they mix with other pollutants, include waste from tanneries along the way.

Shortly after Narendra Modi became India’s prime minister in 2014, he pledged to spearhead an effort to clean up the Ganges, building more treatment plants and moving more than 400 tanneries away from the river. But that estimated $3 billion cleanup plan has faltered.

The continued degradation of the Ganges inspires sadness among many who revere it. Ashok Kumar, 66, a priest from Mirzapur, a brass ware hub near the river, tells Reuters, “I feel sad about what’s happening around us. The Ganges is getting dirty day by day but nobody cares. Not even its children . ….The Ganges is our mother, there won’t be any future if she dies.”

Reuters photographer Danish Siddiqui traveled along the sprawling course of the Ganges, exploring the conditions that have led some people to say that the storied river is dying. Here’s some of what he saw.


Lokesh Sharma, 19, a Hindu priest, performs evening prayers on the banks of the river Ganges in Devprayag, India. (Danish Siddiqui/Reuters)

Workers repair a boat along the river Ganges in Hanra, south of Kolkata, India. (Danish Siddiqui/Reuters)

A man cleans garbage along the banks of the river Ganges in Kolkata, India. (Danish Siddiqui/Reuters)

Students from a Hindu religious school practice yoga on the banks of the river Ganges in Varanasi, India. (Danish Siddiqui/Reuters)

People sleep on the banks of the river Ganges in Varanasi, India. (Danish Siddiqui/Reuters)

An employee works inside a leather tannery at an industrial area in Kanpur, India. (Danish Siddiqui/Reuters)

Dyed leather pieces dry near the banks of the river Ganges in Kanpur, India. (Danish Siddiqui/Reuters)

Hindu pilgrims visit the confluence of the river Ganges and the Bay of Bengal, at Sagar Island, south of Kolkata, India. (Danish Siddiqui/Reuters)

A Hindu devotee carries water from the river Ganges in Kolkata, India. (Danish Siddiqui/Reuters)

A man sits next to a damaged idol of Hindu goddess Kali which was taken out after its immersion in the river Ganges in Haridwar, India. (Danish Saddiqui/Reuters)

A man washes himself on the banks of the river Ganges in Varanasi, India. (Danish Siddiqui/Reuters)

Untreated sewage flows from an open drain into the river Ganges in Kanpur, India. (Danish Siddiqui/Reuters)

Relatives immerse a body in the river Ganges prior to cremation in Varanasi. (Danish Siddiqui/Reuters)

People get a massage from a traditional masseuse under a bridge on the banks of the river Ganges in Kolkata, India. (Danish Siddiqui/Reuters)

A portrait of Hindu god Ganesh, the deity of prosperity, is seen on a boat on the banks of the river Ganges in Varanasi, India. (Danish Siddiqui/Reuters)

A boy runs past a pile of garbage along the river Ganges in Mirzapur, India. (Danish Siddiqui/Reuters)

A Hindu devotee holds up his clothes after taking a dip in the river Ganges in Devprayag, India. (Danish Siddiqui/Reuters)

Hindu devotees offer evening prayers on the banks of the river Ganges in Haridwar, India. (Danish Siddiqui/Reuters)

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