"When people take a dip in the river, it's symbolic of coming back to the source of their own life and the source of the life of the universe. You go in and for that brief moment you forget everything — you transcend. And in that experience you experience the source of what you are as a human being and as the source of the whole universe. And you come out of that purified and refreshed."
But as holy as it is deemed, Indians do not treat it well.
"There are 114 cities situated along the length of Gangaji which have population of more than 100,000 each. And none of these cities, even today, have sewage treatment plants. So where does the sewage go? The domestic sewage all goes into the river," Dr. Veer Badra Mishra told ABC News while sitting on the banks of the Ganges.
Mishra heads a temple in Varanasi and is also an engineering professor. "Ninety-five percent of the pollution in the Ganges is caused by domestic sewage," he said.
The sewage has poisoned the water to the point that the people who bathe in it are swimming in their own filth. Mahend Naranna, for one, can't enter water he's visited all his life without thinking it will kill him one day.
"The raw waste water is approximately 10,000 times more concentrated with fecal coloform or disease causing microorganisms than the standard for a river of this type," Dr. F. Bailey Green, the president of GO2 Water, a water treatment company based in Berkeley, told ABC News while riding a boat down the Ganges. "It's roughly equivalent to the volume in 100 Olympic-sized swimming pools per day discharged untreated into the river."
Swimming pools of sewage that have poisoned the drinking water in villages along the river have caused "water-borne disease, dysentery, diarrhea … one of the leading causes of infant mortality in the world today," Dr. Green said.
One of those villages is Kamali, where Mrs. Sevak's son died from diarrhea.
"The water is not hygienic, it's polluted. Many diseases spread because of this dirty water. And the poor people are so miserable," Sharda Debi, one of the village elders, told ABC News during a recent visit to Kamali.
"We have often complained to the district magistrate and to the Government of Uttar Pradesh but nobody cares… They know the bad condition of this place but they do not bother to improve the situation of the poor people. They do not care to find out the reason why the people over here die so soon."
Solutions: Rivers and Cities
Now, Mishra, Green, and a team of Indian and American engineers have developed what they think is a solution for the Ganges River: sewage treatment that doesn't require electricity.
"We have given a non-electrical system. Interception and diversion is done by gravity force. No sewage pumps," Mishra said.
Which is exactly the opposite of what the government has done. On a recent visit to a government sewage treatment plant, a dozen workers sat having tea, doing nothing, because the plant wasn't operating. There are only four to eight hours of electricity every day in this area, and the huge Rolls Royce engines that power the final steps of the treatment sit idle the other 16 hours.