In Hinduisam, the river Ganga or Ganges as called by westerners is considered sacred. It is worshipped by all Hindus and personified as a goddess in Hinduism, who holds an important place in the Hindu religion. Hindus believe that bathing in the river on certain occasions causes the remission of sins and facilitates the attainment of salvation. Many people believe that this effect obtains from bathing in Ganga at any time. People travel from distant places to immerse the ashes of their kin in the waters of the Ganga; this immersion also is believed to be meritorious as the ashes are believed to go to heaven. Several places sacred to Hindus lie along the banks of the river Ganga, including Haridwar, Allahabad and Varanasi.
Of course in 2004 I had been to Allahabad and Varanasi and could have a dip in its waters at Hanuman Ghat. Really I could feel something special getting in to Ganga water at the vast spread river. Travelling through boat and erforming sraadha at Different Ghats further added to my feeling of her sanctity.
At harichandra ghat I could see dead bodies burning as well as waiting on her bank. Two things I could observe were1. We couldnot feel the burning smell of the bodies there 2. No terror dreams occurred. We had been at Varansi for three days.
During the Loykrothong festival in Thailand, candlelit floats are released into waterways in honoring the Buddaha and the goddess Ganga for good fortune and washing away sins.
6.1 Birth of Ganga
There are several Hindu beliefs that give various versions of the birth of Ganga. According to one version, the sacred water in Brahma's Kamandalu (water-vessel) became personified as a maiden, Ganga. According to another legend, Brahma had reverently washed the feet of Vishnu and collected this water in his Kamandalu. A third version is Ganga was the daughter of Himavan, king of the mountains, and his consort Mena; she was thus a sister of the goddess Parvati. Every version declares that she was raised in the heavens, under the tutelage of Brhama.
6.2 Descent to Earth- Ganga and Bhageeratha
Several years later, a king named Sagara magically acquired sixty thousand sons. Once the King Sagara performed a yagya for the good of the wellbeing of his Kingdom. One of the integral parts of the ritual was a horse , which was stolen by the jealous Indra . Sagara sent his sons all over the earth to search for the horse. They found it in the nether-world next to a meditating sage Kapila. Kapila did not answer the queries of the children's of Sagara being in meditation. Believing that the sage had stolen the horse, sons of Sagara hurled insults at him and caused his penance to be disturbed. The sage opened his eyes for the first time in several years, and looked at the sons of Sagara. With this glance, all sixty thousand were burnt to death.( Throwing a dead snake in to the neck of Kapila is NOT told here)
The souls of the sons of Sagara wandered as ghosts since their final rites had not been performed. When Bhageeratha one of the descendants of Sagara, son of Dilip, learnt of this fate, he vowed to bring Ganga down to Earth so that her waters could cleanse their souls and release them to heaven.
Let me make a small diversion here- 1. One of the important thing told is penace under water. 2. Bhageeratha believed Ganga water can cleanse the souls and release to heaven. Please note- release to heaven, though the sons of Sagara committed an offence.3. If death related functions are not performed the souls become ghosts . These beleifs were there in the times of Bhageeratha himself.
Bhagiratha prayed to Brahma that Ganga come down to Earth. Brahma agreed, and he ordered Ganga to go down to the Earth and then on to the nether regions so that the souls of Bhagiratha's ancestors would be able to go to heaven . Ganga felt that this was insulting and decided to sweep the whole earth away as she fell from the heavens. Alarmed, Bhagiratha prayed to Lord Shiva that he break up Ganga's descent.
6.3 Descent Of Ganga
Ganga arrogantly fell on Shiva's head. But Shiva calmly trapped her in his hair and let her out in small streams. The touch of Shiva further sanctified Ganga. As Ganga travelled to the nether-worlds, she created a different stream to remain on Earth to help purify unfortunate souls there. She is the only river to follow from all the three worlds –Swarga (heaven), Bhoomi (earth) and,patala (neitherworld or hell). Thus she is called "Tripathagâ" ( one who travels the three worlds) in sanskrit language. Shiva Bearing the Descent of the Ganges River as Parvati and Bhagiratha, and the bull Nandi look is depicted in picture form by Raja Ravi varma.
Because of Bhagiratha's efforts Ganga descended on to earth and hence the river is also known as Bhagirathi, and the term "Bhagirath prayatna" is used to describe valiant efforts or difficult achievements. Normally it is a synonium for hard and tough efforts to get achieve some thing difficult.
6.4 Ganga is also called Jahnavi
Another name that Ganga is known by is Jahnavi. Story has it that once Ganga came down to earth, on her way to Bhagiratha, her rushing waters created turbulence and destroyed the fields and the penace of a sage called Jahanu. He was angered by this and drank up all of Ganga's waters. Upon this, the Gods prayed to Jahnu to release Ganga so that she could proceed on her mission. Pleased with their prayers, Jahnu released Ganga (her waters) from his ears. Hence the name "Jahnavi" (daughter of Jahnu) for Ganga.
6.5 Drying of Ganga
It is sometime believed that the river will finally dry up at the end of Kaliyuga (the era of darkness, the current era) just as with the saraswathi river and this era will end. Next in cyclic order will be the Satya yuga or the era of Truth.( This is a new information to me also)
6.6 Ganga mother of Muruga and Ganesha
According to the Hindu scriptures like Skanda purana the goddess Ganga is foster-mother to Murugan, who was actually a son of Shiva and Parvathi.
Parvati who created an image of Ganesha out of her bodily impurities but which became endowed with life after immersion in the sacred waters of the Ganga. Therefore Ganesha is said to have two mothers--Pârvati and Gangâ and hence called Dvaimâtura and also Gângeya (the son of Ganga).
6.7 Ganga originally wife of Vishnu
According to Brahma Vaivarta Purana 2.6.13-95 Vishnu has three wives, who constantly quarrel with each other, so that eventually, he keeps only Lakshmi, giving Ganga to Shiva and Saraswati to Brahma.
6.8 Ashta vasus and Ganga Devi
The Hindu epic, Mahâbhârata tells that the Vasus, cursed by Vashishta had requested Ganga to be their mother. Ganga incarnated and became the wife of King Santanu on condition that at no stage shall he question her actions, or she would leave him.. As seven Vasus were born as their children, one after the other, Ganga drowned them in her own waters( Kindly note the purification) , freeing them from their punishment and the king made no opposition. Only when the eighth was born did the king finally oppose his wife, who therefore left him. So the eighth son, Dyaus incarnated, remained alive, imprisoned in mortal form, and later became known in his mortal incarnation as Bhishma (Devavrata), who is one of the most respected characters of the Mahâbhârata. I have many times posted the legend about Ganga taking human form and not repeating here
6.9 Ganga in Rig Veda
The Ganga is definitely mentioned in the Rig-Veda, the earliest and theoretically the holiest of the Hindu scriptures. The Ganga is mentioned in the nadistuti (Rig Veda 10.75), which lists the rivers from east to west. In RV 6.45.31, the word Ganga is also mentioned, but it is not clear if the reference is to the river.
RV 3.58.6 says that "your ancient home, your auspicious friendship, O Heroes, your wealth is on the banks of the Jahnavi (JahnAvyAm)". This verse could possibly refer to the Ganga. In RV 1.116.18-19, the Jahnavi and the Gangetic dolphin occur in two adjacent verses.
6.10 Ganga in icnography
In the canons of Indian art, Ganga is visualized as voluptuous and beautiful, carrying an overflowing pot in her hand. The vessel conveys the idea of abundant life and fertility, which nourishes and sustains the universe.South Indian temples specially many in Kerala adorn Ganga in the entrance pillar to the temple. Earlier I was wondering who the woman depicted with pot in temples before my extensive reading.
The second distinguishing aspect of Ganga's iconography is her animal mount, which is often shown serving as a pedestal for her. This is the makara, a hybrid creature having the body of a crocodile and the tail of a fish. The makara in Hindu thought corresponds to the star sign of Capricorn in western astrology.
The makara is also the vehicle of the Vedic god of waters, Varuna, thus establishing firmly Goddess Ganga's Vedic roots.
6.11 Ganga Devi
Ganga is affiliated as Devi, on that account most of the rivers as feminine. Taking bath naked in river is considered as sin. Her abode is Kailasa and she is consdered as consort of Shiva in deva form and Santanu in human form. Her mount is makara. Her mantra is "om hili hili mili mili ganga devi namaha"
Every day evening worship is done to her at Varanasi and Haridwar.
If God brings you to it, He will bring you through it.
Happy moments, praise God.
Difficult moments, seek God.
Quiet moments, worship God.
Painful moments, trust God.
Every moment, thank God