Ganga Dussehra
A pundit carries a Murti, representing the goddess Ganga, during the Ganga Dussehra festival at Marianne River, BlanchisseuseReuters

At least 27 people were killed and nine are still missing during Ganga Dussehra celebrations in Uttar Pradesh. Lakhs of devotees from across the country took a dip in various rivers in the state celebrating the auspicious occasion.

Of the total 39 people reportedly drowned during the celebrations at various locations on Sunday, 27 bodies were recovered while three were saved. Nine others are still missing, CNN IBN reported. Dead bodies are said to have been found at various ghats in Badaun district and Beladandi village. 

Several people drowned in the Yamuna and Ganga rivers in several districts like Mathura, Kasganj and Agra. 

Ganga Dussehra, which fell on Sunday, is dedicated to Goddess Ganga. It is believed to be the day the sacred river, Ganga descended from heaven to earth. The festival is also known as "Gangavataran", which means "descent of the Ganga". It is celebrated with great dedication in a few India states like Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Bihar. Devotees believe that a dip in the waters of the sacred river washes away the sins.

Meanwhile, experts have expressed fear on the very existence of the sacred river and urged the Narendra Modi-led NDA government to launch a "Save Ganga" programme during its regime. B D Tripathi, a member of National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA), told the Press Trust of India (PTI) that the river is facing three problems - reduced water flow, reduced water carrying capacity and reduced water quality (pollution) – and that the previous Congress-led UPA government failed to effectively implement the Ganga Action Plan.

"My observation on the basis of my research for the past four decades is that the problem of pollution is secondary and the main problem now is the existence of Ganga. It is in danger," Tripathi told PTI. "The mission should be called Save Ganga not Clean Ganga."

"Being an expert member of NGRBA, I have raised this issue several times but the previous government had an indifferent attitude towards this cause that resulted in failure of various projects so far.

"There have been only three meetings of NGRBA in the past four years. Now since Narendra Modi himself has mission Clean Ganga on his priority list, so it is high time to make NGRBA functional," he added

Ganga, which is considered sacred by the Hindus, is today one of the most contaminated rivers in the country and one of the most threatened rivers in the world. Disposal of untreated industrial wastes, domestic sewage, religious offerings, idols and ashes of the dead etc., has polluted the river, while excessive extraction of water through dams and embankments has reduced the quantity of water, leaving the river dry in several locations.