Four families’ pursuit of heaven unites them with an ancient city and its sacred river, the centuries-old wellspring of India’s faith.
In the city of Kashi the power of Ganga, the Hindu mother-goddess of the Ganges River, is strongest. Each dawn she calls her children to the ghats, the steps leading down to the water’s edge. The young and strong purify themselves in Ganga’s polluted waves. The old and the infirm, too weak for rituals, wait for death. In time, Ganga carries their souls, released from the bondage of reincarnation, to heaven. Their bodies, as ash afloat her crests or flesh submerged in her depths, return to the river. Once privy only to the dead and those who mourned them, the final journey of the devout Hindu is the subject of Gayle Ferraro’s latest film, “GANGES: River to Heaven.”
Filmed in a hospice for the dying and on the ghats of Kashi, India’s religious heart, “GANGES” follows four families’ struggle to grant a loved one’s final wish: to go to heaven. In their common quest the families become a fraction of the hordes of Hindus drawn to Kashi’s holy promise of freedom from reincarnation. As the clans prepare for death, the citizens of Kashi manage life—praying for health, dumping industrial waste, begging for pocket change, bathing their children, selling to tourists, monitoring fecal chloroform levels, cremating their mothers-—all along the banks of the Ganges River. The families’ preparations go virtually unnoticed on the river, where death is a daily part of life.
“GANGES: River to Heaven” investigates the inextricable bond between a river and its people with unparalleled intimacy and depth. From the ghat workers gathering wood for the next cremation, to the chemists gathering water samples for contamination testing, each perspective sheds new light on India’s evolving society and its unchanging veneration of the Ganges. The documentary of a sacred river, polluted from years of overuse, “GANGES” wonders if the natural force strong enough to sculpt the peaks of the Himalayas and the beliefs of a nation will survive the adoration of generations to come.
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