Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, Vol 6, No 3 (2012)

A Retreating Goddess? Conflicting Perceptions of Ecological Change near the Gangotri-Gaumukh Glacier

Georgina Drew
Issued Date: 15 Nov 2012


The Gangotri-Gaumukh glacier is a significant body of ice in the Indian Himalayas whose loss could cause ecological turmoil, the disruption of livelihoods, and possibly even threaten the continuity of cultural-religious practices intertwined with the sacred Ganga River into which its runoff flows. Although there is reason to fear for the Ganga’s longevity, the issue of its potential decline is layered with ambiguity, uncertainty, and debate. In this article, I present the science-based discourse on glacial melt, which continues to evolve, along with ethnographically documented perspectives on retreating glaciers and other ecological transformations. I demonstrate how faith in the enduring nature of the Goddess Ganga impacts interpretations of environmental change, regardless of the climate change science, and how ideas about the river’s impermanence in Hindu texts can sometimes deter conservation efforts. In doing so I offer a variety of views that enlarge discussions about the causes for and the range of responses to climatic change.

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DOI: 10.1558/jsrnc.v6i3.344


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