A tank of heavenly water built by Chitrarao Khatarkar about 12 meters by 27 meters wide, and built over 300 years ago, is the site for many spiritual seekers desirous of cleansing their karma with a dip in heavenly waters. There are numerous sites in India, (called ghats) where pilgrims can bathe piously or send their ashes into holy waters so that they can cleanse their subtle bodies’ remains. A very important place for this tradition is Panchavati in Ramkund, India.
The Bathing Place of Lord Rama, Goddesses Sita and Lakshmi
This site is holy because it is believed to be the place where Lord Rama (King Raghu) dipped his own heavenly body. Sri Lakshmi and Sita, important Hindu Goddesses were said to be in his company as well. Rama and Sita were said to bathe here repeatedly during their long exile. The kunda – or body of water, is thusly named, Ramkund. Just one dip in this heavenly pool near Gandhi Lake, called Talav, is considered to be extraordinarily auspicious. This is why pilgrims from all over India visit the pool.
The Final Resting Place of Gandhiji
The waters of Godavari River feed both Ramkund and Gandhi Lake. The Godavari River has been called the South Ganges, and is the second largest river in India. Gandhiji’s ashes were dropped in the nearby lake just after his death in 1948. Pandit Nehru’s ashes are also immersed in Ramkund, as well as those of Indira Gandhi and Y.B. Chaven. Hindus believe that by freeing the ashes of the dead to the holy waters, they can obtain moksha (liberation) after their earthly incarnation. The waters are given additional importance after the ashes of people like the Ghandis have been immersed in them.
There are numerous temples along the ghat, called Godavari Ghat, all worth perusing, but there is also an ungodly amount of pollution, both in the ghat itself and in the disrepair of some of the temples. You can see people bathing, nonetheless, or offering marigolds and other flowers in bright profusion to their Gods. The ashes of relatives seeking nirvana are still placed in this pool of water. Still others will be washing their clothes or tidying up a few pots and pans.
Polluted Rivers, Polluted Ghats
Like many other countries whose leaders are concerned with their own private agendas and less with the public’s resources, many of the temples are in need of renovation or cleaning and the ghats themselves are often full of garbage and look quite dirty, with little care given for the sanctity that these sites once instilled.
Unfortunately, the pollution of these ancient and holy rivers is reaching unsafe levels. The Godavari originates from around Triambak, in Nasik, a district of Maharashtra. It meanders through several states, including Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka as well as Andhra Pradesh. It begins this journey from the Arabian Sea and ends it in the Bay of Bengal. It has several tributaries and its waters feed the cities aside from just Nasik, including Nagpur, Nizamabad, Rajahmundry, and Aurangabad as well as Balaghat.
Pesticides and Fertilizers in the Holy Waters of the South Ganges
Industrial waste is not the only problem for these holy waters. In fact, the Godavari River is accosted by domestically created pollution, which accounts for more than 80% of the problem. Fertilizer and pesticide use is the predominant pollutant, with much land in the Godavari’s proximity being cultivated for farming.
Furthermore, there are 72 industries in the Patancheru Industrial area that have dumped their toxic chemicals into the Nakavaggu rivulet, a tributary of the Godavari. The toxins collect in ponds and then feed into the river herself.
Companies like BHEL, Asian Paints and Voltas Industries are polluting waters were one of the most prominent leaders in the 21st century, was laid to rest.
Furthermore, this important river serves 22 different villages with ground water. The water can no longer be safely used for agriculture as it contains heavy metals, and the soil near the river is turning toxic as well. The same plot of land that once yielded 40 bags of rice to rural families and farms now produces a mere 10 bags due to the heavy contamination of both the land and water around the Godavari.
Ramkund attracts numerous worshipers still, despite the questionable state of the holy waters. If you want to give the site a chance, it is only about 10 kilometers, or a quick rickshaw ride from the Nasik bus stand. You can also walk and see the sites along the way if you are feeling vigorous. It is worth seeing Ramkund, simply because it is the transitional place for several important figures, but also to take an honest look at what industry has done to some of the most sacred sites on our planet. Ramkund is not the only ghat in jeopardy of being contaminated beyond its holy intention, but despite modern ‘progress’ its holy currents are still palpable.
A more inspired individual might visit and then write government authorities to request that companies be held responsible for disposing of their chemicals in a healthier way so that the Godavari River, its tributaries, and Ramkund can be restored to its proper pristine nature. While local people in the surrounding 22 villages have made requests, the attention of an outsider, i.e. a tourist, might inspire change, since the site can still be seen as a boon for the tourist economy. Might the requests of others who value India’s beauty and its traditions be the impetus for its change from within?