By bringing Ganga down to the earth, Bhagiratha delivered his ancestors and since then, various shastras have proclaimed the glories of Ganga. Those who do not honour Ganga ridicule such words of praise. Not so long ago, a very famous and learned American chemist gave some words of praise to our Bhagirathi (Ganga). Previously, he had been in Bharata-varsa for a few days. After testing it for microscopic bacteria, he reported that the Ganges water was completely free of contamination and that there was absolutely no trace of impurities nor any malignant microscopic bacteria, whereas all other rivers and tributaries throughout the world are presently contaminated by huge amounts of impure substances, the Ganga of Bharata, in all respects, is completely devoid of impurities and is pure in every sense. After microscopic analysis of a container of Ganges water, he came to understand that the glories of Ganga, as stated in the Hindu shastras, are completely true. After returning to his country, he published the results of this great discovery in all the newspapers. He also declared that it was not only Ganga that was pure, but the water from all the rivers and streams that are connected to the Ganga. He ascertained through specific experimentation.
If the glories of the Ganga had not been included in the shastras, but instead had been written according to the opinions of scientists, then ordinary people would not respect Ganga so much. Having the highest regard for dharma, the esteemed authors of our shastras, have presented the spirit of pure dharma in all respects, and there has been a great amount of benefit due to this. If they had instead based universal laws and regulations upon dry evidence provided by mundane science, then perhaps the mood of dharma found in Bharata could never have spread throughout the world as much as it has today.
It would be insufficient to consider the glories of Ganga simply from a mundane perspective. There are twenty-four tattvas (elements) within this material world. The jiva is the twenty-fifth element. The jiva’s gross body is comprised of the twenty-four material elements. The jiva’s atma, which is the twenty-fifth element, transcends these. He is beyond prakrti (material nature) and is thus known by the word ‘aprakrta’ (transcendental). Parabrahma is also a completely transcendental element. Another name for Parabrahma is Vishnu. Tad vishnoh paramam padam – these words are found again and again throughout the Vedas. Ganga-devi has manifest from the feet of Vishnu. Therefore, when some mundane praise is found concerning the waters of the Ganga, all the shastras accept it. The esteemed American scholar and the respected authors of various periodicals have simply been bewildered by Ganga’s mundane glories.
However, there are unlimited glories present within Ganga-devi that exceed such mundane glories. The assembly of pure devotees has revealed that if one resides near the Ganga and drinks her waters, then devotion to Hari will manifest. Such water emanates from the divine lotus feet of the supremely merciful Paramesvara, and that water has the potency to awaken devotion to the lotus feet of Hari – Vyasa and other maharishis have declared this everywhere. Within this material world, the jivatmas are covered by impurities and are absorbed in the misery of forgetfulness of Hari. When they bathe in the waters of the Ganga and sing about the qualities of Hari, then devotion arises within their consciousness. Only those who are most fortunate can realize the supreme qualities of Ganga. Those who are deprived of good fortune remain confined only to Ganga’s material qualities. If it is said that many people take bath in the Ganga and drink her waters but never worship Hari, then it may be answered that the qualities of an object can only be extended to another object when there is no obstruction.
Electricity can only be transmitted to an object that is a good conductor. It cannot transmit its qualities to an object that is a bad conductor. Similarly, amongst the jivas, those that commit certain aparadhas become bad conductors of bhakti, just as with electricity. Those that chant the Holy Name and perform sinful activities are nama-aparadhis (offenders to the Holy Name). Those that perform sinful activities, expecting that Ganga-devi’s glories will relieve them of reactions are severe offenders to Ganga-devi. All kinds of sins are sent far away by bathing in Ganga, but the aforementioned offense is not sent far away by bathing in the Ganga. Those who commit this offense become bad conductors and are incapable of realising the unlimited glories of Ganga. Due to this, nowadays people cannot perceive Ganga’s spiritual potency – their intelligence only allows them to perceive the material nature of her waters.
(Translated from Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakurer Prabandhavali, Chapter 1)