Every summer, hundreds of thousands of Indians, barefoot and draped in orange clothing, make a 100-mile pilgrimage on foot to fetch water from the sacred Ganges River that they then offer at their local temples to Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction.
This year, they have a less arduous option: The postal service is using its 155,000 offices across India to deliver holy water from the Ganges — for far less than $1 a bottle. As one postal official put it, “If Muhammad cannot go to the mountain, the mountain comes to him.”
Ravi Shankar Prasad, India’s union minister of communication and information technology, led the initiative. “If the postman can deliver mobile phones, saris, jewelry and apparel, then why not Ganga water?” heasked in announcing it last month, using the Hindu name for the river.
The water is drawn from two sources: Gangotri, a small town in the Greater Himalayan Range and the origin of the Ganges River; and Rishikesh, one of the holiest cities for Hindus.
The postal service has the water bottled — at an undisclosed location — with minimal labeling, holding 7 or 17 ounces. The smaller bottles from Rishikesh, which is easier to access, sell for 15 rupees, or 22 cents; those from Gangotri, where access roads have been blocked by monsoon rains, cost 25 rupees, or 37 cents. Postal officials said the revenue covered only the costs.
Though it is heavily polluted by sewage and industrial waste, the Ganges provides water to 500 million people for everyday use, and for all those offerings to Shiva.
Priests in Gangotri have protested the government initiative, fearing a decrease in pilgrims, though it is too early to tell whether the road is less crowded. In any case, the postal service reported that it had delivered 70,000 bottles of the holy water in the program’s first few weeks.
Source: The New work Times