Have you wondered from where this majestic and beautiful river Ganga flows from?
What is the history, what’s the story behind this magnificent river?
Let’s take a look.
While there are many different versions of the story, the most popular story begins with an old mother Aditi, tired and angry, wishing to undo the wrongdoings against her sons. After being forcefully evicted from their kingdoms by the selfish and conceited King Bali, Aditi’s sons were left with nothing. Set on fighting for justice, she poured all her hours and emotions into prayer for a course of 12 days, refusing to eat or rest at any given point until finally, Lord Vishnu appeared, promising to help her in her distress.
Taking the form of Vamandeva, Vishnu appeared on earth as a midget brahmin, presenting himself in the courts of the Bali Maharaj, begging him for ‘three footsteps of land’. The king gave the brahmin what he wished for and within the blink of an eye, the midget brahmin began growing in size, turning into a gigantic form. His first footstep covered the Earth, his second took over the skies. The great king now realizing the presence of the mighty god in front of him offered his head to complete the third step. Following this, Aditi’s sons got back their kingdoms and Vishnu, still in the form of Vamandeva, kicked a hole through the realms of the spiritual world to wash his feet. In doing this, a few droplets of water fell through, thus giving birth to what is now known as Ganga Maa. She was a magnificent river and was taken as Brahma’s daughter.
But our story doesn’t end here. The great river Ganges still did not descend on Earth, scared of the world tainted by sinners. Furthermore, King Indra wished for her to serve him rather than provide her cooling water to other worlds. So how did she grace our earth?
The story of lost ancestral souls:
In the great Kingdom of Ayodhya, there lived a King Sagar, who with his second wife, procreated 60,000 sons. In search of a lost horse who was set loose by the king himself as a sacrifice, all the sixty thousand sons had magically disappeared. Now old and in despair, the king sent his grandson Suman to search for his long-lost sons. Suman set out on his journey, meeting the great sage Kapila who told him that all his uncles had turned to ash under his powerful gaze when they pit the loss of their horse on him. He told Suman that only by putting these ashes into the Ganga water would these souls attain salvation.
As time passed, it swept away King Sagar, and now old age was creeping upon the now King Suman. He performed many yagnas and devoted years in the Himalayas praying for the same. But he too died without fulfilling the dreams of his father. The cycle repeated with his son Dileepa and finally, the task lay at the feet of Dileepa’s grandson Bhagiratha. King Bhagiratha was a childless king, he was kind and served his people justly. But he lived in constant unrest, having no spawns of his own, scared to not only have no heir but also no child who could try bringing salvation to his ancestors.
Goddess Ganga’s descent to earth:
He performed multiple yagnas at the feet of the Himalayas. Seeing his undeterred dedication, Ganga finally appeared in a human form and agreed to purify the ashes of his ancestors. But Ganga was still hesitant as the people on earth would not be able to survive the force of the flow of water. To save the world from a possible disaster, Bhagiratha prayed to Lord Shiva, asking for his help. Thus, Ganga Nadi first fell on the matted locks of Lord Shiva’s head so as to diminish the strong force of the water. She finally rushed through Shiva’s roots, falling onto earth in seven streams now called the tributaries of Ganga. The great Ganga followed the chariot of Bhagiratha, rinsing the ashes of his ancestors, leaving the people on earth transfixed by her divine beauty. She released the souls of the long-suffering ancestors of Bhaigratha, who was finally able to go home and following which bore an heir with his wife.
Ganga continued on flowing through valleys and mountains, plunging off of cliffs, coursing her own path. She continues to be an eternally flowing power, bringing grace and frolic to earth. Ganga river in India is even today a greatly worshipped water body. During the Hindu religious summit of the MahaKumbh Mela, thousands of devotees flock her waters, wishing to rinse their sins with her holy waters!