A few days back, while reading this post by my friend Vinod Khare, the only reaction I had was complete agreement. We are indeed a country which talks a lot about purity but hardly ever walks the cleanliness way. However, in a casual conversation with my grandfather today I realized that in some parts of the country things were not always this way. As a child, my grandfather was taught that bathing, excreting or even washing feet in Ganges was a sin. Even washing clothes on its banks was not permissible. People were supposed to fetch some water out of the river in a bucket or lota and use a place slightly away from the banks for these activities. At some places large tanks were built near the banks specifically for bathing and washing purposes. The dirty water of the tanks was supposed to be drained out in open land so that it could seep through the soil.
Although his village was not on the banks of Ganga, visits to the holy river by the villagers were frequent. And these people firmly believed that no form of waste should be disposed into the river. Children were asked to treat the river literally the way they would treat their mothers or a goddess. Any deviation from the above behavior was considered as a disrespect to the goddess and liable for punishment after death. Now although the whole funda of associating such activities with sin and hell can be questioned, I was impressed with the thought and the reasons that went behind forming such rules. This does tell us that there was a time when at least a small fraction of people believed in using ritual purity to achieve physical cleanliness too. And the ones who followed such practices were extremely orthodox people who firmly believed in following dharma and practicing karma as mentioned in the religious texts and seldom questioned them. And yet, their interpretations never betrayed logic or science.
However, somewhere something changed over the past 50 years as a result of which the current generation of the same village doesn't carry the same notions anymore. The 'well educated' generation knows that things like paap and punya exist only in religious theories, that Ganga is nothing more than yet another river and no one would fetch any punishment after death for polluting a river. I know that blaming education for this would be foolish but the whole irony does make a person wonder if ignorance in certain cases could indeed have been bliss!