02 June 2014

Video of the day -- visions of the spiritual world

[Fair warning -- video contains gruesome imagery -- also begins with loud noise, so adjust volume.]

Who would bathe or wash in the water of a river polluted with vast numbers of rotting corpses and the untreated sewage of a region with hundreds of millions of people?  Only those for whom the physical concept of "clean" has been superseded by the spiritual concept of "pure".  The Ganges river is holy and "pure" in a spiritual sense, never mind how filthy it is in reality.  Small wonder that cholera has been a problem in the Ganges region for as far back as records go, and that major epidemics of the disease have started there again and again throughout history.

And don't forget that in medieval Europe, when Christianity was dominant and even the rudimentary Greco-Roman standards of hygiene had been lost, life was at least as filthy and disease-ridden as this.

This is the true face of the "spiritual".


Blogger Woody said...

A moving video , Infidel753.
I remember years ago hearing on the radio that India was challenging the more advanced western countries with its trade income and elite affluence in this regard.
I had immediately thought, 'Well, it's easy to claim affluence when you let the majority of your caste-riddled population live in disgusting poverty, isn't it?'
This video illustrates my point in such a grim and elemental way.

All the best,

02 June, 2014 04:20  
Anonymous Zosimus the Heathen said...

Well that made me glad I'd eaten before I watched it! I remember once seeing something else about the terrible pollution in the Ganges, and thinking, "If this river's so sacred to the people who live along its shores, why are they treating it as a sewer?"

02 June, 2014 07:22  
Anonymous Ahab said...

I find myself thinking back to environmentalist essays on Hinduism and the Ganges that I read years ago. If believers see the Ganges not as a river that can be harmed by pollution, but as the mother goddess Ganga who can absorb and dispel all impurities, THIS is what you get.

I can't begin to imagine how much bacteria must be proliferating in those waters, and how sick it must make those who live near and bathe in the waters.

There comes a point when health and safety outweigh faith and tradition. Practices such as dumping dead bodies in the Ganges need to stop for the sake of public health.

The man at 0:24 who was covered in nodules -- was that the result of bacterial infection, or neurofibromatosis?

02 June, 2014 07:34  
Blogger Blurber said...

I took a ride on the Ganges in a rowboat. It was a strange experience with cremations off in the distance on the river bank, people bathing (completely immersing themselves), and the debris and trash floating by. After seeing the video I'm glad I didn't go for a swim!

02 June, 2014 10:06  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Woody: The caste system is a whole other issue with Hinduism that I'll be getting into later. For more on spotty ideas about purity, there's this and this and this.

Zosimus: I've found this video to be an effective appetite suppressant. As for the river, I'm not conversant with the nuances of Hindu theology, but apparently they think it can't be made impure no matter what they do.

Ahab: That must be the case. Maybe next they'll start dumping nuclear waste in it. That could hardly make matters worse.

I don't know the reason for the disfigured faces, but people in that area must be exposed to infections we wouldn't dare have nightmares about, and many conditions which would be caught and treated at early stages in a rich country must be going untreated due to poverty.

Blurber: A swim would definitely have been a bad idea. I've never been to the Ganges, but I'd think it would smell terrible if you were on a boat on it.

02 June, 2014 10:51  
Blogger Shaw Kenawe said...

Well I watched it after my lunch and nearly barfed. (Doesn't the government care about the health and well-being of its people?)

"...but apparently they think it can't be made impure no matter what they do."

I don't know much about Hindu religious rituals, but my question would be, do the very wealthy and highly educated Hindus bathe in the Ganges? Or is what we see in the video something only the poor and ignorant practice as a "spiritual" ritual?

Like we've seen in many cultures, the less educated the people are, the more strongly they believe in irrational notions about spirituality and gods.

02 June, 2014 11:21  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Shaw: Sorry for the nausea -- I did try to warn people:-) but it's also important to bring home the real-world implications of spiritual beliefs.

As for the Indian government, they're probably careful not to challenge entrenched religious beliefs too directly even if it would be a good idea pragmatically -- our own government sometimes has that problem dealing with religion-rooted objections to abortion and gay marriage, as examples.

Modi, the new Prime Minister, claims he's going to clean up the Ganges. I'll believe it when I see it.

I think you're right that it's the least-educated who are most devout and most likely to take risks in the name of faith. That's a lot of people, though. A quarter of the population is still illiterate! As for the better-off, I don't know, but they can usually come up with theological pretexts for staying safe. Compare with Islam, where experienced leaders of terrorist groups never seem in any hurry to become suicide bombers and claim their 72 virgins, leaving that privilege to younger, stupider, more fervent believers.

02 June, 2014 15:57  
Anonymous Zosimus the Heathen said...

Maybe next they'll start dumping nuclear waste in it. That could hardly make matters worse.

That reminds me: have you ever heard of a place called Lake Karachay? It's in Russia, and is considered the most toxic place on earth given how much radioactive waste (waste that was generated during the production of nuclear weapons) was dumped in it during the Soviet era. Apparently, spending an hour on its shores is enough to give you a lethal dose of radiation!

Actually, nuclear waste would probably be a lot less disgusting than the sort of stuff that's going into the river now (which, ironically enough, is one of the reasons it's so dangerous - the hazardous radiation it gives off is completely undetectable by any of the five senses). On the subject of nuclear-related stuff, I'm a big fan of a computer game called Fallout 3, which is set in the post-apocalyptic ruins of Washington DC some 200 years after a nuclear war, and features all sorts of weird and wonderful characters. Among those characters are the members of a dangerous cult who hand out bottles of "holy water" to the gullible, said holy water nothing more than dangerously radioactive regular water. It's a fictitious example, I know, but I thought it was an interesting illustration of the phenomenon described in the OP.

03 June, 2014 03:36  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Zosimus: I have vaguely heard of that lake. Of course there the underlying cause is different -- a crime by a few people in government, rather than religious mass stupidity in a whole population (though Russia is not devoid of the latter).

members of a dangerous cult who hand out bottles of "holy water" to the gullible, said holy water nothing more than dangerously radioactive regular water.

If the recipients actually believe there is such a thing as "holy water", this could be regarded as an example of natural selection in action, if you're in a certain frame of mind. The same could be said for bathing in the Ganges.

03 June, 2014 03:59  
Anonymous Ahab said...

I just saw this article on India's Yamuna River (a tributary of the Ganges) and remembered your commentary piece. Something of interest?


08 July, 2014 10:26  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Ahab: Thanks for the link. An appalling situation. I'm amazed disease isn't even more pervasive there.

08 July, 2014 18:24  

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