The Yamuna is the most important tributary of the Ganges and rises at an altitude of about 6000 meters near Yamunotri in the Himalayas. It first flows south through the foothills of the Himalayas and into the North Indian plain. It then passes Delhi, turns southeast at Mathura, passes through Agra, which became famous through the Taj Mahal, and after about 1,400 km flows into the Ganges at Allahabad.
Like the Ganges, the Yamuna is not only one of the most important rivers in India because of its length and abundance of water. Within the millennia-old culture of the subcontinent it has the rank of a holy river. Its special significance is due to its relationship to Krishna's games in Vrindavan about 5000 years ago. Krishna's father Vasudeva carried Him through their floods to save Krishna from the persecutions of His uncle Kamsa, and later Krishna became known as Yamuna-tatacara, "the one who walks along the banks of the Yamuna". The personified Yamuna, also called Kalindi, daughter of the Sun God, was one of Krishna's and Balarama's playmates. Krishna loved to bathe in the Yamuna and to go on her boat.
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu (1486 - 1534) prays: "Oh river Yamuna, you are the blissful spiritual waters that generously distribute love to the son of Nanda Maharaja. You are no different from the water of the spiritual world and therefore you have the power to destroy all our transgressions and reactions to sinful actions we have committed in our lives. You are the Creator of all things that are auspicious for this world. O daughter of the Sun God, please be merciful to us and cleanse us through your pious work" Cc. Madhya 3.28.
For these reasons, a number of "ghats" (bathing places) have been built in the holy places along the Yamuna River, which pilgrims have used for centuries for their ritual ablutions and baths. Yamuna water is also an essential ingredient in temple worship in Vrindavan and other holy places.
Hingegen ist das Yamuna-Wasser heutzutage vom weltlichen Standpunkt aus gesehen im höchsten Grade vergiftet, und sie zählt zu den am stärksten verschmutzten Flüssen der Welt. Die Industriemetropole Delhi mit ihren geschätzten 30 Millionen Einwohnern lässt nach offiziellen Angaben allein über 58% ihres Abwassers unbehandelt in die Yamuna einleiten.
After the Yamuna has passed through Delhi, its water is so polluted by garbage and untreated household sewage as well as the sewage of the constantly growing industry that it is not even suitable for the ritual drinking of a few drops (Achaman). It has been classified by the authorities as a dead river.
Here are some official figures on the pollution of the Yamuna: where the Shahdra River ditch below Delhi meets the Yamuna, the Central Pollution Board of India determined a BOD (oxygen demand per liter) of 51.3 to 103 in January 2010. (A maximum of 3 are permitted for bathing.) Furthermore, there is a high level of pollution by E. coli bacteria (23 billion per decilitre, but a maximum of 5,000 is permitted). Wastewater from Delhi contributes 71% to river pollution, although the route through the metropolis accounts for only 2% of the total river flow.
In order to save the Yamuna, there have been many different efforts on all levels for many years. The Indian government has raised almost 500 million dollars (approx. 400 million euros). Japan contributed 17.7 billion yen (175,000 EUR) to stop the discharge of sewage into the river. However, in 2009, the Indian Parliament was informed that the "Yamuna Action Plan", which had already been launched in 1993, had not achieved the desired results and that the condition of the Yamuna has rather worsened since the beginning of the measures. To date, this situation has not changed.
However, pollution is not the only problem polluting the river. Rather, it suffers from a permanent shortage of fresh water, as the large Hathini Dam above New Delhi collects almost all its water (97%) and discharges it in a canal to Haryana and Utthar Pradesh. The little water that remains in the river bed has already seeped into the ground after a few kilometres.
What remains is a parched river bed from which construction companies illegally extract sand. As a result, the river ceases to exist many kilometres before the gates of Delhi. The metropolis of millions uses the empty riverbed to discharge its wastewater. This and the wastewater from other canals flows through the holy pilgrimage city of Vrindavana, where not a drop of Yamuna water can be found outside the water-rich monsoon months (see diagram).
In order to draw attention to the urgency of these problems and to emphasize the efforts, a historic march from Allahabad to New Delhi to the office of the Indian Prime Minister took place from March 1 to April 15 this year (2012). There, in a massive protest rally, the demonstrators demanded measures to protect and save the Yamuna
Apart from many discussions with the government and the population, the initiators' main focus is on the common chanting of the Holy Names of Sri Krishna. Convinced that the main power to change something lies in the Holy Name itself, the action is accompanied by 24-hour Kirtans (Chants of the Holy Names). It is remarkable that many citizens' initiatives and environmental associations have joined the action in the meantime.
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, whom the Gaudiya-Vaishnavas worship as Krishna himself, said that all purifying power emanates from Krishna's holy name: "Blessed is the Sri-Krishna-sankirtana! This common chanting of Sri Krishna's holy name is able to purify the mirror of our heart and extinguish the huge forest fire of our heart. It is like the cooling moonlight that causes the white lotus of happiness to blossom, and it is the life and soul of all knowledge." - Shikshastakam 1.
Singing the Holy Names of God together is the most important means to push back the material influence in this age. Just as we can free our hearts from material impurities by chanting the Holy Names, we can also help to free the Yamuna from the wastes of this civilization simply by joining in these sacred efforts with our prayers.