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The Story Of Mother Ganga

By Subodini Menon

River Ganga is an important part of the Hindu Mythology. To the Hindus, the river Ganga is not just a river. The river Ganga is an all giving, and an all-forgiving mother to them. They call the river Ganga as 'Ganga Maiyya' with love and devotion. The river takes on the form of a Sacred Goddess who absolves all the sins gathered in a lifetime. Irrespective of the caste or creed, Mother Ganga takes every man into her loving embrace after his death.

So holy is the waters of Ganga Maiyya that people travel to her shores to dissolve the remains of their loved ones in it. Her waters are considered so pure and powerful that when immersed in it, the person is washed off of all the sins and becomes eligible for entry into the heavens.

When poojas are conducted by the Hindus who live away from the holy banks of Ganga, they summon her into the water they have ready and use it instead. This is done because the presence of Mother Ganga's water is considered to be important for the successful completion of any pooja.

But why do we give so much respect to the river Ganga? What is the mythological story behind it? Read on to find out.

Ganga: Brahma's Daughter

During the Vamana Avatar, Lord Maha Vishnu asked King Mahabali for three paces of land as alms. When the king agreed, Vamana grew to immense proportions. With one pace, he took up all the heavens, with the other pace, he took up all the earth and the third pace was kept on the King's head.

When Vamana took the first pace, Lord Brahma washed Vamana's feet with the water in his 'Kamandal' (the pot that contains holy water and has a spout to pour it out). This water is said to have become the River Ganga. She stayed in the cosmos and is often referred to as the Milky Way. As Lord Brahma poured her out, she is considered his daughter.

The Curse

As a young child, River Ganga grew proud and arrogant. One day, she happened to pass sage Durvasa who was taking a bath. Seeing him in this state, Ganga started to laugh with mirth. This angered the Sage and he cursed her that she would have to go away to earth where sinners and impure people will bathe in her.

Bhagirata's Penance

The story of Ganga's descent to the earth starts with an ancient King of Ayodhya named Sagar. He was blessed with sixty thousand children. He decided to perform an Ashwamedh Yagya, which would make him very powerful.

Lord Indra and the other Gods grew frightened, as they foresaw the King trying to usurp their positions. They stole the horse meant for the Yagya and tied it in the undergrounds where Sage Kapila had been performing a deep meditation for many years. The sons of Sagara went searching for the horse and found it in the ashram of Sage Kapila. They thought that it was the Sage who stole and started abusing the Sage.

Disturbed from the meditation, the angry Sage burnt all but one of the King Sagar's sons with the powers of his penance. As they died without any rituals, their souls did not get moksha and were doomed to roam the earth. The only brother alive, Anshuman, performed a penance to please Lord Brahma, but he could not do it in his lifetime.

Many generations passed trying to please him, but failed. Finally, King Bhagirata was born. He performed a penance for a thousand years and Lord Brahma appeared to him. He asked Bhagirata to please Ganga and ask her to flow on to the earth.

When her waters touch the ashes of the deceased ancestors, they will receive Moksha, is what he was told. He then did a penance to please Ganga. She appeared and arrogantly said that the earth wouldn't be able to withstand the force of her descent. So, Bhagirata prayed to Lord Shiva for help.

Ganga: Shiva's Prisoner

Lord Shiva opened his dreadlocks and braced himself for Ganga's descent. Ganga rushed down from the heavens with all her force. As soon as she flowed onto the Lord, he tied up his dreadlocks and held Ganga as his prisoner. No matter how much she tried, she couldn't escape.

This way, Ganga's pride and arrogance was broken. Lord Shiva, now, released her and let her trickle out of his hair. Chastened, she followed Bhagirata to the earth. As Bhagirata was responsible for her descent, Ganga came to be known as Bhaagirati.

Ganga Saptami

On the way to the nether world, the waters of the Ganga ruined the ashram of Sage Jahnu. Angry, the Sage drank her up. It was only on the request of Bhagirata that the Sage let Ganga out through his nostril. This way, she became Jahnu's daughter, Jahnavi. The day that she was let out of the Sage's nostril was the day she was reborn and is today celebrated as Ganga Saptami.

Moksha Of The Ancestors

Ganga then flowed all the way to the nether world and gave moksha to the ancestors of Bhagirata. She then resided there as Patala Ganga.

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