Aarti Natarajan Sharma
Word Count: 653
Ganga is worshipped as the holiest of holy rivers in India. People from all across the country come to take a dip in the holy water of the Ganges. It is believed that doing this removes all the sins of a person and purifies him. No other river is mentioned in the Puranas as much as Ganga. She starts at Gangotri in the Himalaya region and flows for a distance of around 2,400 kms before falling into the Bay of Bengal. However, in India Ganga is not only a river but also worshipped as a goddess.
There are several stories surrounding the birth of Goddess Ganga. According to Hindu mythology, Ganga is the daughter of Lord Brahma, born from his kamandala, a spout shaped vessel, when he was washing the feet of the dwarf Vamana (one of the incarnations of Lord Vishnu).
The Vishnu Purana says that Goddess Ganga was created from the sweat of Lord Vishnu’s feet.
In the Valmiki Ramayana, Goddess Ganga is portrayed as the sister of Lord Shiva’s consort, Goddess Parvati.
In the Mahabharata, Goddess Ganga is the mother of Bishma.
Depiction of Goddess Ganga
The goddess is represented as a fair complexioned woman. She sits on a makara (a mythical creature with the head of a crocodile and tail of a dolphin). Usually she is depicted with two or four arms each carrying a variety of objects from a water pot to water lilies to prayer beads.
Descent on Earth
There was a King Sagar who was the ruler of Ayodhya (much before Lord Ram’s time). He had 60,000 sons. One day he decided to perform the Ashvamedha Yajna. In this a decorated white house is sent on a guided tour to various kingdoms. If the horse returns unchallenged it means the King’s authority and supremacy is acknowledged by all the other kings. Lord Indra was jealous of King Sagar’s power and decided to steal the horse and hide it in the ashram of Sage Kapil. At this time Sage Kapil was in deep meditation since several years and had no idea that the horse was hidden in his ashram.
When King Sagar’s 60,000 sons went in search of the horse and found it in the ashram, they thought Sage Kapil had stolen it. They insulted the Sage who was disturbed from his deep mediation and opened his eyes; eyes which had not been opened since several years and were full of power, resulting in all 60,000 sons being burnt to ashes in an instant. Because their last rites could not be performed, their souls continued to wander the underworld without peace.
One of King Sagar’s descendants was Bhagirath who was determined to bring Goddess Ganga to earth to provide salvation to these wandering souls. He prayed to Lord Brahma for the same who agreed to send Ganga to the earth. However, the power of Ganga was such that when un leashed it threatened to sweep away everything in her path. Bhagirath prayed to Lord Shiva for help and thus Lord Shiva caught Ganga in the locks of his hair, sending her down to earth in gentle streams, where she provided salvation to the 60,000 wandering souls. This is why the river Ganga is also called Bhagirathi River and why she is considered to be a purifying force for all sins, past and present.
One of the main ways in which people worship Goddess Ganga is by chanting the Ganga Chalisa. This is a forty-verse prayer in praise of the Goddess. It is believed that regular chanting of this chalisa brings peace of mind to the devotee and also purifies the mind, body and soul.
The day Goddess Ganga came on earth is known as Ganga Dussehra. This year it falls on Sunday, 20th June. People gather on the banks of the river Ganga to take a sacred dip and offer their prayers to the Goddess.