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What is the Sacred Ganges River Dolphin?


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Question: What is the Sacred Ganges River Dolphin?

The Ganges River dolphin (scientific name Platanista gangetica and sometimes called the "Ganges susu," after the sound it makes when breathing through its blowhole) is a sacred animal in Hinduism.


This endangered porpoise lives in the sacred Ganges River and surrounding freshwater river systems that run through the nations of India, Bangladesh, and Nepal. It has a long, thin snout that contrasts with its thick body and large flippers. The Ganges River dolphin often swims in a distinctive way -- on its side -- to use one flipper to search for food in the mud while using the other one for swimming. Although people sometimes say the Ganges River dolphin is blind (because it doesn’t have lenses on its eyes), it can still use its eyes to navigate.

The most ancient Hindu scripture, the Rig Veda, mentions the Ganges River dolphin in Book 1, Hymn 116 -- a song of praise to the Aswins (also called the Nasatyas), two eternal healers who can bless both gods and human beings in creative ways. Verse 18 references the Ganges River dolphin when it says: "When to his house you came, to Divodāsa, hasting to Bharadvāja, Oh you Aśvins, the chariot that came with you brought splendid riches: a porpoise and a bull were yoked together."

Hindus consider the Ganges River dolphin sacred because it lives in the sacred waters of the Ganges, which Hindus worship as a manifestation of the goddess Ganga. When people touch the holy water of the Ganges, Hindus believe, their sins are washed away, and that state of purity invites blessings to flow into their lives.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) estimates in 2013 that there are less than 1,800 Ganges River dolphins surviving, since heavy amounts of pollution in the Ganges has sickened and killed many of them. But that amount is sustainable for the species if conservation efforts in the dolphins’ habitat succeed, the WWF says.

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