The Voyage of a Holy River

“The Holy Ganges or the Ganga Mata plays an integral part in Hindu rituals and is worshipped by Hindus & non- Hindus alike. Known for its healing properties, Ganga is believed to wash off the physical as well as spiritual impurities.  A common folklore says, it descended on planet Earth to heal people and hence, is more than just a river.”

The story talks about a mortal King Bhagirath, who did hundred years of penance to bring Ganga down from the heaven and purify the sins of his ancestors. Since, the flow of the river was turbulent, so, Lord Shiva intervened in between. He tamed the flow of the mighty river by directing it in his matted dreadlocks (Jatta of Shiva) and released Ganga in the form of 12 streams (Bhagirathi, Kedar Ganga, Jad Ganga, Kokragad, Syan Ganga, Asi Ganga, Jalndahari Ganga, Mandakini, Alkhanada, Pindar, Vishnu gad, Nandakini) with their confluence at Devprayag to form Ganges. For this reason, the Himalayan mountain top area is sometimes associated with the dread locks of Shiva. In fact the mystical peak near the Gaumukh is known the Shivling peak.

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Mt. Shivling

Also, known as the daughter of Himalaya- river Ganga, after flowing from the Himalayan range, enters the plains of Haridwar (The Gate of lord Vishnu).  It meets Yamuna River in Allahabad (popularly known as Triveni Sangam in Prayag, the third river being Saraswati).  The Triveni Sangam is believed to be very pious due the nectar drops which fell from heaven. Hence, making Allahabad, an important place of religious gatherings which includes the historic Kumbh Mela held every 12 years.

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Ganga Aarti at Varanasi

The next major destination of the river Ganga is Varanasi. Rigveda (ancient Indian sacred collection of Vedic Sanskrit hymns) tells that the city is referred to as Sanskrit verbal root kaś- “to shine”, making Varanasi known as “City of Light”, and the “luminous city as an eminent seat of learning”. Famous Chinese traveler as Hiuen Tsiang, who visited the  city around 635 AD, attested that the city was a centre of religious and artistic activities, and that it extended for about 5 km along the western bank of the Ganges. The Goddess Ganga showers her blessing to all those who bath on different Ghats built in Varanasi. Dashashwamedh Ghat and Manikarnika Ghat are the important Ghats of the city. The evening worship in form of Aarti gives immense pleasures and showcases the beauty of Ganga and deep rooted Indian belief towards it.

Ganga with its large floodplain in parts of Uttar Pradesh & Bihar moves toward its final destination of meeting the Sea at Gangasagar (The place where Ganga loses its identity and merge with sea). This sacred place is primarily known for the Temple of Kapil Muni, the great saint who according to myth was Lord Vishnu. The legend talks of King Sagar and his 600 sons who came to this place in search of their father’s Sacrificial Horse & they found it at Sage Kapil hermitage. The horse was stolen by Indra, unknown of this fact- the King’s son got in an argument with the holy saints. Angry, the saints burnt the sons. Later, to purify the soul of King Sagar’s sons, Bhagirath brought down Ganga River from heaven. After travelling to most part of India Ganga ends up at Bay of Bengal.

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More than a river, River Ganga is a holy spirit that travels for well being of humanity. This calls for preserving its pristine nature and developing strategies to foster economic and cultural growth without jeopardizing environment and cultural needs. Grounded with the deeply rooted cultural diversity, there should be promotion of eco-cultural resilience.

Author: Mr. Nihal Gujre, JRF, NASI-Ganga Researcher

CSIR-NEERI, Nagpur, India

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