Analysis of Stille's Ganges' Next Life

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Bathing in the Ganges is a religious tradition that is an integral part of daily life in India. It represents a purification of the soul, as Stille states, “…[A] river that, because of its divine origin, is pure and purifies all those faithful who immerse themselves in her,” (598). However, presently, there exists a dilemma that threatens the survival of this tradition: the poor condition of the river. The river is polluted with “raw sewage, human and industrial waste, the charred remains of bodies, and animal carcasses” (598). In the Ganges’ Next Life, Alexander Stille contrasts traditional and modern values. Traditional Hindu values, yet somewhat primitive, reflect thousands of years of experience and practice. Modern values, on the other hand, are adapted to contemporary practices and focus on immediate needs. As a result, religious and ethical conflicts arise when compromising between preserving rich cultural traditions and ensuring environmental safety.

Stille points out the large contrast between traditional and modern values. Hindu tradition is demonstrated through religious burials, bathing practices, and the use of obsolete boats for travel; it values worship, family lineage, and respect for leaders. “All Hindus seek to have their ashes scattered along the Ganges at their death, and it is considered particularly lucky to die in Varanasi because from there, your soul will travel straight to heaven,” Stille writes to show their appreciation of this ancient tradition (599). In contrast, modern values include money, education, political power, environmental issues, and technologies such as television, the internet, and waste treatment plants. The two values seemingly conflict, for the traditional religious values seek more spiritual and intangible goals, rather than the superficiality of modern goals. Also, Mishra faces a moral dilemma because acceptance of the modern value of environmental safety requires rejection of the ancient tradition of bathing in...
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