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Origin of the Ganges


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Title:Origin of the Ganges
Credit:Compiled from multiple sources by Pragya
In the Hindu mythology, the holy river Ganges is also the goddess Ganga. She was the daughter of Himavat, god of the Himalayas, and the celestial nymph Mena. She originally flowed only through heaven. The story of Sagara, king of Ayodha, and his sixty thousand sons, preludes the story of how Ganga was made to descend on earth.
Sagara had two wives but they were unable to bear him children. So he paid homage to a sage called Bhrigu who granted him a boon, by which a son was born to one wife and sixty thousand sons were magically born to the other wife. When his sons grew up, Sagara decided to perform an Asvamedha sacrifice, in which a sacrificial horse is let loose and all the territory it crosses comes under the control of its owner. The horse reached the kingdom of Indra, the king of gods, who drove it underground, near where the great sage Kapila was meditating. Sagara sent his sixty thousand sons to recover the horse. They began to dig down into the underground, and finally emerged near Kapila’s hermitage. They found the sacrificial horse grazing there and assuming Kapila to be the thief, they rushed to apprehend him. Kapila was so incensed by this insult that flames burst forth from his eyes and Sagara’s sons were turned into ashes. Worried that his sons had not yet returned, Sagara sent his grandson Ansuman to search for them. When Ansuman reached Kapila’s hermitage, he treated the sage with such reverence that Kapila was impressed, and he told Ansuman the fate of his uncles and said that they could be brought back to life if the heavenly Ganga was made to flow over their ashes. Sagara, Ansuman, and Ansuman’s son Dilipa, tried in vain to bring Ganga down to earth, but it was Bhagiratha, Sagara’s great great grandson, who succeeded where everyone had failed.
Bhagiratha performed such astonishing feats of asceticism that Brahma was pleased and granted his boon of allowing Ganga to descend on earth. However, he warned that the force of Ganga’s tumultuous descent would destroy the earth. So on Brahma’s advice, Bhagiratha performed another series of penances to Siva, and finally convinced him to catch Ganga in his matted hair to break the intensity of her fall. Ganga was finally released from heaven and caught by Siva in his dense matted locks but she got lost in the maze of his hair and was unable to find an outlet. Then Bhagiratha performed more penances to Siva and pleased, the god released Ganga from his locks and she flowed out while Bhagiratha rode ahead in a chariot guiding her way. But she accidentally flooded the place where the sage Jahnu was meditating and in his anger, the sage swallowed Ganga. Then Bhagiratha performed such severe penances that ultimately Jahnu was appeased, and he let Ganga flow out of his ear. Finally Bhagiratha led Ganga to the ashes of Sagara’s sons and as her holy water flowed over the ashes, they were brought back to life. Since Bhagiratha successfully brought Ganga to earth, he is considered her second father, and Ganga is also known as Bhagirathi.