The River Ganga is the holiest of all the holy rivers in India. Bathe in the Ganga and all your sins are washed away. A few drops of Ganga water are like Amrit and placed on the lips of a dying person give him moksha and path to heaven. Holy water from the Ganga is absolutely indispensable for all sacred rites. It is believed water from Ganga remains pure and holy when stored for a long time. Ganga is descended from heaven and there is legend behind it.
Legends of Ganga
In the times past there was a powerful king by the name of Bali, a devotee of Lord Vishnu. He was envied by Indra, king of Gods, who was afraid that Bali would take over his throne so he went to Vishnu and asked for his help. Vishnu descended in the form of a dwarf, Vaman, and went to King Bali’s court and asked for alms. Bali recognized Vishnu in the form of Vaman but he still agreed to grant him his wishes. Vaman asked for three Footsteps worth of land. Bali agreed. Vaman placed his first step and it covered the entire Earth. With his second step he covered the entire Heavens. He asked Bali where to put his third step and Bali bowed his head and offered it. Vaman put his foot on Bali’s head and Bali sank to Pataal, the land of Asuras. It is believed when Vishnu was in Heaven Brahma washed his feet and collected the water in a vessel. This water is Ganga water and it is divinely holy. But how did Ganga descend to Earth? There is another story behind it.
Long time ago the ancestors of Lord Rama of Raghukul reigned on Earth and King Sagar was one of them. He wished to conduct Ashwamedha Yagna and his horse started on his journey around the land. Indra became afraid that the horse would come to heaven and King Sagar would rule so he stole the horse and placed it in front of the ashram of Sage Kapil where the 60000 sons of Sagar found him tied to a tree. The noise disturbed the sage who was meditating and when he opened his eyes all the 60000 sons were reduced to ashes. The descendant of Sagar, King Bhagirathi wished to free the souls of his 60000 ancestors and wished to bring down Ganga from Heaven to Earth to purify their soul and grant them moksha. He underwent penance and Lord Shiva was pleased and granted him his wish. However, he knew that the powerful force of Ganga would destroy earth so he decided to receive Ganga in his matted locks where the river’s force was blocked and it descended in a stream. Lord Bhagirath’s ancestor’s attained moksha as their remains were washed by the holy waters.
There is another interesting legend linked to the above. Uma, who became consort of Lord Shiva, was the sister of Ganga. The Gods were pleased with Ganga and took her to Heaven and Uma married Shiva who wanted a son. The Gods played a trick on Shiva so that his son would not become extremely powerful and Uma came to know about it and cursed the Gods that they would never have children of their own. After that Uma met Ganga who expressed a desire to return to Earth. Meanwhile, Lord Sagar could not beget any children through his wife Sumati and Koshni and he performed penance and prayed to Bhrigu who was pleased and granted a boon on the condition that only one would bear a child who would continue the lineage whereas the other wife would have 60000 sons. Queen Koshni gave birth to Asmanjas while Sumati gave birth to 60000 sons who were nourished with ghee. They grew up and King Sagar exiled Asmanjas who married and gave birth to Anshuman. King Sagar decided to conduct the Ashwamedh Yagna with consequences as described above. Sagar sent Anshuman to find out what happened to his 60000 sons. He found ashes and tried to find a water source in which to put the ashes but was not successful. In the meantime an eagle told him about what had happened and said that a simple water body would not suffice and only the water of Ganga would bring salvation to their souls. He went to the Himalayas and immersed himself in penance but he was not successful. Even his son was not successful but it was only when his grandson Bhagirath undertook penance that his wish was granted. Ganga did not wish to leave Heaven and Shiv knew that she would descend in force and wash him away to Pataal but he prevailed with his divine strength and bound her in his hair. He released seven streams. Three of them, Haladni, Pavni and Nalini flowed east. Three of them, Suchakshu, Seeta and Sindhu flowed west while the seventh, Ganga, followed Bhagirath wherever he went. On the way she passed the site where Rishi Jahnu was conducting a Yagna and washed away all holy ceremonial items that enraged Jahnu who, whereupon, drank her and contained her in his body. The other rishes prayed to him to release her and he relented and allowed her to flow out of his ears which is why she is also known as Jahnvi, daughter of Jahnu and she then went on to wash the ashes of 60000 sons of Sagar who attained heaven.
Interesting Facts About Ganga
- The place where Ganga originates is the Gaumukh glacier, above Gangotri and in Kedarnath peaks at a height of 6600 metres and it starts as Bhagirathi, in honour of king Bhagirath. Since then Ganga is worshipped and revered by all Hindus as a holy mother, with her shrine located at Gangotri dham. One can find hotels at Gangotri dham if one undertakes the Char Dham Yatra.
- Ganga is the national River of India. The stretch between Haldia and Allahabad has been declared as National Waterway.
- Ganga flows through Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and parts of Bangladesh over a stretch of 2525 kilometres and it has many holy cities along its banks like Haridwar and Varanasi. Kanpur, Allahabad, Kolkata, Patna and Bhagalpur are also located alongside Ganga.
- It starts as Bhagirathi and it is joined by Alaknanda, Ramganga, Yamuna, Gomti, Ghaghra, Kosi and Gandak rivers in the north. As it travels south it is met by Chambal, Son, Betwa and Ken rivers. It irrigates an area of over 10 lakh square kilometres and is the chief sustaining power.
- The river joins Brahmaputra and flows into the Bay of Bengal.
- There are two main dams on the Ganga, the Farakka and the Tehri.
- The holy waters of the Ganga possess a unique property. Scientific research shows that any bacteria introduced into Ganga water die within 3 hours. Research by research center at Delhi shows that mosquitoes cannot breed in Ganga water. It is believed the unique mix of herbs and minerals in Ganga water are responsible for its anti-pathogen and antibacterial properties.
- The Kushvarta ghat in Haridwar was built by Indore’s Maratha queen Ahilyabai Holkar. Har ki Pauri Ghat, also in Haridwar was built by King Vikramaditya in memory of his brother Bharthari.
- In Jharkhand there is a shiv temple where Ganga water drips on the Shivling here. No one knows from where it originates. Anyone who prays here and asks for a boon receives fulfillment.
- One can find two species of dolphins in the river Ganga known as Ganga dolphin and Irrawaddy dolphin. There is also a freshwater shark species in Ganga.
Look at Ganga as a divine mother or as a life sustaining river, she is venerable.