Saturday, April 20, 2024

The Mythology Behind the Ganges River

Written By Shravya NB (Grade 11)

The Ganges or Ganga River is a prominent river running through northern India and provides water for more than four hundred million people who live in the area. From carrying nutrient rich sediment as it flows and depositing fertile soil along its shores to helping in the development of civilizations and providing livelihood for millions of people, the Ganges River plays an important role in the development of the region. We generally consider the physical, biological and chemical aspects of the river, but do we actually know about its mythological history? Ganga is sacred and is also worshipped in the Hindu religion as Ganga Mata or Mother Ganga. Hindu mythology narrates a variety of stories about Ganga and Ganga is known for purity and forgiveness.

According to the Hindu mythology, the birth of Ganga takes us to the stories of Vishnu or the Bhagavata Purana where Vamana, the fifth incarnation of Lord Vishnu, appeared in the sacrificial arena to teach the demon, King Mahabali a lesson. In the process, he measured the universe by extending his left foot to the end of the universe after which, the nail of his big toe pierced a hole in the covering of the universe, from which the divine Brahma-water entered the universe in the form of Ganga. When this water washed the lotus feet of Lord Vishnu, which are covered with saffron, the water of Ganga acquired a beautiful pink colour and came to be known as Bhagavat-padi or Vishnu-padi which means ‘Emanating from the lotus feet of Bhagavan’. Ganga finally settled in the ‘Brahmaloka’ or the abode of Lord Brahma in the heaven. 

The above story narrates the birth of Ganga. Another story from the Hindu mythology tells us the origin of the Ganges River on Earth. 

Long-time back, the kingdom of Ayodhya was ruled by King Sagar, who had two wives – Kesini, his first wife who gave birth to a son called Asamanjas and Sumati, his second wife who gave birth to sixty-thousand sons. King Sagar’s sons were haughty and arrogant and were not liked by the people. However, his grandson, Anshuman was a kind and courageous man. As his empire was growing, he wanted to perform the ‘Ashvamedha Yajna’ or the sacrifice of the horse to establish the boundary of his territory. He chose the best of his horses and let him trot wherever he wanted to.  Stopping the horse would mean confronting the king for a war, nevertheless, people who let the horse pass would be guarded by the king. The gods, discontented with the sixty-thousand sons of King Sagar, felt that the world would’ve been a better place without them. Lord Indra disguised himself as a demon, stole the horse and hid it. 

Having not received any word about the horse King Sagar asked his sons to and look for the horse. After a long search for the horse, the sixty-thousand sons finally came across the wise sage Kapila Muni who was in a deep penance. They also found the horse near him. Not knowing that Kapila Muni was a wise man, they created a huge clamour as they assumed that the sage was to be blamed for the theft of the horse. Enraged by the clamour that disturbed his penance, an infuriated Kapila Muni opened his eyes and his glare turned the sixty thousand sons into sixty thousand heaps of ashes.

Not receiving any message about his sons, King Sagar further sent his grandson Anshuman to search for them. Anshuman found the horse and was bemused on finding sixty thousand heaps of ashes. The king of birds, Garuda told Anshuman to take back his horse and complete the yagna. Garuda also narrated what had happened to his uncles. Garuda mentioned that the souls of his uncles could be sent to heaven only if their souls were washed in Ganga. But for that, Ganga had to be brought from the heaven. 

The yagna was completed, but none of the succeeding kings could find a way to bring Ganga to earth. In the due course of time, the second successor of Anshuman, King Bhagirath, a brave man took over the throne. After learning the awful end of his forefathers, he was troubled by the unfinished task of the ashes. He went to the Himalayas to perform the austerities. Pleased by his prayers, Ganga was ready to come down to earth, but at the same time, she also warned Bhagirath that the Earth is not capable of sustaining her force of flow if she descends from the heaven. At this instance, Bhagirath did a severe penance to please Lord Shiva as no one except him, would sustain Ganga. Shiva granted him the boon. He placed Ganga within his matted hair and allowed Ganga to flow gently. 

Ganga descended to the earth in the form of seven streams, of which three flowed to the east, three to the west, and the seventh stream followed the chariot of Bhagirath. This stream was so beautiful that even the Gods assembled to see it. Bhagirath then performed the holy rites of his sixty-thousand ancestors and their souls finally rested in the heaven. To commemorate the efforts of King Bhagirath, the head stream of the river is called Bhagirathi, till it meets Alakananda River at Devprayag. 

Ganga River provides water to forty percent of India’s population, it is a source of irrigation for cultivation of crops, helps build livelihood of people and is considered a lifeline of India. Ganga is an asset to our country, not just physically, but mythologically too, it enhances our culture, doesn’t it? 

Featured Image Courtesy – Wikipedia

Shravya NB
Shravya NB
Hey! I'm Shravya NB and I am 16 years old. I started writing from an age of 12. I also love to read books, sing, draw and listen to music. Do check out my articles!


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