Legends of the River Ganga: Causal Water on Earth

Ganga is a divine and largest river in India, with several streams of water known as the Ganges. However, the origin of the river is mysterious and yet to be discovered. They consider her the essence of liberation from the cycle of birth and death. Goddess Ganga is famous by other names such as Jahnavi, Sapteshwari, Bhagirathi, Shubhra, Gange, Nikita, Alaknanda, and Vishnupadi. Let us all dig into the legends of the Ganga.

People worship Bhaghirathi, the goddess Ganga, in India. She has even prayed in Nepal, Cambodia, Mauritius, and Thailand. She is a mother of purification and forgiveness of sins. Indian mythology depicts her as a beautiful, fair damsel, riding a divine creature—with the head of a crocodile and the body of a dolphin. The ancient text names it Makara. Her stories appear in Vedic texts, including the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, and the Puranas.

Birth Story of Goddess Ganga in Ramayana | Legends of River Ganga

The Indian epic Ramayana narrates about Ganga as the firstborn of Himavat and Menawati, the King and Queen of the Himalayas. When Ganga grew up, she was given to Indra, the King of Swarglok, to flow there. 

The Bhagavata Purana narrates the legends of the Ganga and gives an outlook on the origin of the Ganga. Vishnu took the incarnation as a Vamana, a dwarf, one of the ten incarnations to end the havoc of the demon Bali, who had enough power to defeat and throw out the gods from heaven. 

He appeared before King Bali and tricked him into a deal. Vamana said to the demon, “Give me the area of your possession. I will cover them in three steps.” He agreed, thinking a dwarf might be unable to cover a tiny portion of his land. 

In his first step, Vamana, the avatar of Vishnu, covered the whole earth. When he extended his left foot to cover the heavens and the end of the universe, his toenail pierced a hole in the sky wall between the Garbhodakasayi Ocean and the material world. The causal ocean water came into the universe as the Ganges River. The lotus feet of the Vamana avatar turned her stream pink because of the reddish saffron on his feet.

On touching the lotus feet of Vishnu before descending into the universe, she came to be known as Vishnupadi or Bhagavat-Padi. 

In his third step, the lord pushed the demon Bali back to his world, Pataal, or the underworld.

Descended from Heaven to the Earth

After reaching heaven, the Ganga flourished in the lives of Indralok. Years later, she came across Durvasa Rishi. He is an avatar of Shiva and is famously known for his short temper. Thus, the legends of the Ganga began.

Vishnupadi met Durvasa and saw his saffron cloth carried away by the wind. Ganga cracked up, laughing at him. This insult angered Durvasa, and he cursed her to reincarnate as a river on the earth to purify the human body and soul.

Rebirth of Ganga as a River on Earth

In ancient times, there was a king Sagara, the ancestor of Rama, of the Surya Dynasty. He was a great leader with immense power. He was married to two wives, Sumati and Keshini. With Sumati, he had sixty thousand sons, and with Keshini, he had one son. 

Once, King Sagara decided to perform the biggest yagya called Ashwamedha to get infinite power and supremacy. On hearing the news, Indra, the Lord of Heaven, got scared. He stole the sacrificial horse from King Sagara and hid it by tying it to a tree. Sage Kapila, an incarnation of Vishnu, was meditating. Sage Kapila was a son of Kardam Rishi and Devhuti, a descendent of Swayambhuvan Manu, and a great-grandson of Brahma. 

When King Sagara found it, he sent his sixty thousand sons to search for the horse. After searching the entire Earth, his sons found it in Sage Kapila’s Hermitage. They thought that Kapila had stolen the horse. Kapila got angered by the insult made by the sons of Sagara and burned them into ashes with his third eye. 

When Ansuman, the son of Sagara and Keshini heard about the fate of his brothers, he went to the hermitage and begged Sage Kapila for their liberation. 

Sage Kapila advised him to meditate and please Brahma so that he would release River Ganga from his kumandal or water pot. The Holy Water would purify his brothers’ souls, he said. Ansuman started meditating to please the Lord Brahma. However, Ansuman failed. Several future generations continued to try to please Brahma, but it all went in vain. 

Determination of the Great Bhagiratha

Bhagiratha continued his penance for many years to please Shiva. After a few more years, Lord Shiva appeared to Bhagiratha and agreed to hold the River Ganga in his jata.When Brahma released Ganga from his Kumandal, she came down with unbelievable force from the heavens. Lord Shiva restricted her flow with his jata and saved Earth from destruction. He captured her until she calmed down. Shiva released a small part of her stream with instructions to follow Bhagiratha. 

After, Shiva came to be known as Gangadhar. 

However, when Ganga followed the great Bhagiratha, she flowed with unstoppable force creating havoc and turbulence that led to a flood. This flood destroyed the hut and fields of Sage Jahnu or Jahna. Seeing such a scenario, he got angry and drank and swallowed Ganga. 

The gods from heaven and Bhagiratha prayed to the Sage Jahna. After that, he calmed down to release Ganga and continued following Bhagiratha. Therefore, Ganga is also known as Jahnvi, the daughter of Jahna. 

Ganga purified millions of people when they dipped into her holy water. She finally reached the ashram of Sage Kapila. Sage Kapila released the souls of King Sagara’s sons for the liberation by Ganga. 

Thus, Ganga came to the Earth to purify the souls and sins of people through her holy water. 

Bonus Info

The legends of river Ganga is infinite. However, it is believed that the river would dry up at the end of Kali Yuga due to the rise of injustice on the Earth. 

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