Residents near the village of Pariyar in Uttar Pradesh were stunned when over 100 bodies surfaced in one of the tributaries leading to the Ganges river in January this year. The mostly decomposed skeletons were “uncovered” following a drop in the water level of the river which revealed the corpses, some of which were half-burnt and many only leaving skeletal remains.
The bodies were considered too badly decomposed to carry out post-mortem examinations and it was not possible to formally identify any of the corpses, although DNA tests were subsequently carried out. The bodies were later buried in the riverbed close to the site where they were discovered.
Hinduism, as well as many other Indian faiths, conducts its funerals using cremation, after which the ashes are scattered into the rivers, many of which are considered holy sites. As such, the Ganges, flowing for some 2500km, has plenty of cremation sites along its shores.
However, this can be a problem for many people stricken by poverty, as the average funeral can cost somewhere in the region of 7000 Rupees (around £75). This can be far beyond the means of much of the population, and with this avenue closed many people are forced to dispose of their friends and family members through other means.
Without a proper cremation, many people attempt to burn the dead themselves, however without enough firewood many bodies are only partially burnt – often these are then floated into the river as they are. This can be the case with children and unwed women in many communities, and many of the bodies that were recovered in Pariyar were those of children in addition to decomposed skeletons from dismantled graves.
Although it is not uncommon to see bodies floating up the Ganges river, it is highly irregular for so many to be recovered at the same time, and this incident added to the concerns of many local residents and environmentalists, all of whom point to the increasing problems with pollution not just with burial remains but also with industrial waste, sewage and pesticide causing a serious problem for a river that supports many hundreds of millions of people directly.