The Story of the Ganga
The story of Ganga
The story of Ganga and Shiva is one of the most famous rivers in India and the beautiful story that we post here about the Ganga is an integral part of Indian Culture and tradition. Next time you visit the Ganga you will look at it differently.
The source of the Ganga river
The source of Ganga is at Gaumukh in Utarkhand, just a few hours drive from Uttarkashi. This is where the river emerges from the depths of the Gangotri glacier (4300m). The river is known as Bhagirathi after King Bhagirath. It rises in the icy glacier of Gangotri and the gushing, tossing and gurgling Bhagirathi river embarks its long journey downwards where it reunites with ‘Alaknanda’ river and at that point (sangham)it becomes what we all know as the Ganga. The Ganga brings a sturdy supply of water to the dry Indu-Gangatic plains, it brings life to the most populated area in India.
The stories of the Ganga
But not only water brings life, stories bring life too. The Ganga River or the Ganga goddess if you will is full with both them. There are many stories and tales linked to the Ganga, some of which are mentioned in ancient Indian Mythology (Purans). Here is one of them.
A story of how the Ganga descended to earth
King Sagar,according to myths, had 60,000 sons. He defeated all the Asuras (daemons) on earth and wanted to perform a famous Vedic ritual called”Ashwamedha Yagya” (“horse sacrifice) to declare his supremacy and acquisition over the land. Therefore,based on ritual protocol, he had to send a horse to ride all over the territory that he claimed over, and that is exactly what he did. The horse rode across the earth along side with King Segar’s sons.
The King of Heaven, Lord Indra started to get panicked from the power of King Sagar and felt that he had to stop him. Indra couldn’t afford to let King Sagar have an absolute sovereignty over earth.
Indra for those of you who are not familiar with him, was the dominant god in ancient India, the leader of the Devas camp. He was the only god who could overcome Vritra the celestial snack, in an epic battle, for saving the universe. This is just to emphasise how serious he considered the threat of King Sagar who just claimed the earth for himself.
So Indra stole the horse and tied it to the Ashram of Sage Kapil. When the 60,000 sons saw the horse in Kapil’s ashram they got furious and started to attack the Monastery. Sage Kapil at that time was in deep meditation, gaining Tapas (inner strength) and hearing the disturbance he opened his eyes in anger, loaded with the Tapas power he had gained, King Sagar burned the 60,000 sons to ashes immediately, except one- prince Asamanjas.
Anshuman, the grandson of King Sagar,managed to bring the horse back from the Sage’s Ashram and asked for his forgiveness. Sage Kapil promised that the sons be brought back to life only if Ganga is brought from heaven to earth.
Neither Anshuman nor his son Dilip were successful in this task. No one could persuade Ganga to descend to earth from heaven. But Dilip’s son, Bhagirath was determined to get this task done. He started meditating intensely for several years and finally Ganga was convinced and descended to the earth. However, there was one big problem; it wasn’t easy to get the Ganga’s wild water down to earth without destroying it. The waters were too powerful for earth to hold. This is where Lord Shiva came into action although it took a lot of effort for Bhagiratha to convince him with endless prayers:
“Please hold it up in your Jeta (matted locks); otherwise my whole effort is a waste”. He tied his Jeta and kept it. But Shiva wouldn’t release it. He simply kept quiet. Then again Bhagiratha prayed to Lord Shiva, “Please release it.”
Eventually Shiva with his endless compassion was content and released the Ganga from his matted locks into seven different rivers to soften the waters impact.
That is the reason why you can see the Ganga on Shiva’s iconography descending straight into and off his forehead. That is also the reason why Shiva is also known as Ganga Pati (Ganga’s husband)
The water of Ganga touched the ashes of Sagar sons who rose to their eternal rest in heaven.
The Seven Streams of Ganga River
The seven streams of Ganga are Bhagirathi, Janhvi, Bhilangana, Mandakini, Rishiganga, Saraswati and Alaknanda which merge into Ganga at a place called Devprayag.
The Healing Power of the Ganga
The rock, on which King Bhagirath is believed to have meditated, is called Bhagirath Shila and is located near the temple of Ganga. Until now it is common to believe that even one drop of the Ganga’s water can heal anyone from any disease like it revived the 60,000 sons of King Sagar.