SEPARATOR HOTSelect and scroll to see the changes
The River Ganges also known as the Ganga, flows 2,700 km from the Himalaya mountains to the Bay of Bengal in northern India and Bangladesh. It is regarded as sacred by Hindus, the river is personified as the goddess Ganga in ancient scriptures and art. Ritual bathing in the Ganges is an important part of Hindu pilgrimage and the ashes of the cremated are often spread across her waters for the departed to attain moksha or salvation. Ganga acquired a great significance as a sacred river. Since she flows from the head of Shiva, her waters can wash away all impurities, including past sins.
There is an age old relation between Kashi, Ganga and Lord Shiva. There are many stories about Gangaji, the most important one about Ganga’s ascendance to earth. According to puranas and ancient texts, Ganga used to flow in heavens. It was bought to earth by the penances of a sage named Bhagirathi. He was a king of Kosala and a descendent of King Sagara. He wanted to rescue his 60,000 ancestors who were stuck in patala or underworld. It is said that once Sagara performed a horse sacrifice to conquer new territories.
After performing the sacrifice he set the horse free. According to the tradition, wherever the horse went, that territory would be taken by the kingdom, unless it was challenged by rival king and defeated. As soon as the horse was set free it ran to open lands and kings men followed it. In due course of time it disappeared and could not be traced by king’s men. They went back and reported to the king. Upon knowing the news, the king deputed his 60,000 sons to find the horse and bring it back. His sons searched for the horse for a long time and finally found it in the Ashram of Sage named Kapila. They saw the horse tied to a pole and the sage was nearby in deep meditation. With ascertaining the facts, assuming the sage has stolen the horse, the sons hastily attacked the sage who was in meditation.
The sage got disturbed by their actions and so strong was his spiritual power, which radiated from his eyes, as soon as his gaze fell upon them, they were burnt and instantly turned into ashes. After the event, the sage felt remorse and conveyed the news to Sagara and suggested that his sons could be revived only if the waters of Ganga flowed over their ashes and purified them. Since the river flowed in the heaven, someone had to undertake a strong penance in an effort to bring her to the earth. For a long time, none of the descendants of Sagara could accomplish the task. The souls of their ancestors remained stuck in the underworld, with no one coming to their rescue. As time passed, the kingdom of Kosala also fell into bad times and lost its former glory. By the time Bhagiratha was born, it was in ruins. Upon knowing what happened, Bhagiratha decided to rescue his ancestors and a resolve a problem that had been haunting his family for generations. He undertook a great penance to seek the help of gods and persuade the goddess Ganga to flow upon earth. For a thousand years, he performed austerities. In the end Brahma appeared before him and suggested that he should propitiate Shiva, who alone was capable of solving his problem. Then, Bhagiratha meditated upon Shiva. Pleased by his sincerity, Shiva appeared before him and promised to help him.
He summoned the gods and requested them to persuade the goddess to turn to earth. Initially, she was reluctant as she was unsure whether the earth could bear the intensity of her spiritual power. She felt that earth was not yet ready for her descent. Lord Shiva has suggested that it would be safe, if the river first descended upon his head so that he can absorb her uncontrolled force of water and let her flow from there to the earth with diminished capacity.
The force was so powerful that as soon as she landed upon his head, her flow broke into seven sub streams, which became tributaries. Three of them flowed to west and three to east. The seventh one, which goes today by the name Ganga, followed Bhagiratha to the place where the ashes of his ancestors lay. As she flowed over them, they instantly achieved liberation.