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Glory & Significance of River Ganga


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Rivers are an integral part of Indian economy, civilization and culture that has grown and spread along the banks of these rivers and they have become a livelihood for the people living in the country. Agriculture the back bone of Indian Economy is very much depending upon these rivers. They have played an important role in the pilgrimage of India as several sacred pilgrim centers have come up and thrived on the banks of these sacred rivers and contributed a lot to the growth of tourism industry. They have also played a significant role in the religious, philosophical and spiritual heritage of India which is known as Hindu religion or Hindu Dharma.

These rivers are Nature’s gift to the mankind as water is one of the most essential elements for all the living beings. These rivers are standing as a living witness to the historical and pouranic happenings in India where several dynasties have risen and fallen along the banks of these sacred rivers. Since time immemorial Hindu civilization has flourished along the banks of these rivers. Bharatha Desa the Indian sub-continent is a land of perennial rivers and is the origin for several sacred rivers that have taken birth on this land with a divine background and purpose.

Prominent among them are Ganga (Ganges), Yamuna, Saraswathi, Sindhu (Indus), Godavari, Narmada, Krishna, Kaveri, Tungabhadra etc… Rivers in India are gazed not only as a source of water but are also revered as Divine Goddesses who play an important role in several religious and spiritual rites that are performed across the banks of these rivers. River worship in India is prevalent since time immemorial and rivers in India are adored on several occasions in the Hindu religious and spiritual calendar like Kumbh Mela, Pushkaram etc. Prominent among the sacred rivers is the Ganga (Ganges) which is considered as unparallel in terms of its spirituality and religious significance.

The Ganga is the most sacred river of India. The origin of the Ganga is ascribed to celestial glory. Lord Krishna says in the Gita: “I am the Ganga among rivers”.
For a Hindu, the word Ganga has its own sacred association. Every Hindu thirsts for a dip in the Ganga, and for a drop of its water at the time of his death. Aspirants and mendicants build their huts on the banks of the Ganga for practising penance and meditation. Bhishma spoke very highly of the glory of the Ganga in his parting instructions to the Pandavas from his bed of arrows.
In the Satya Yuga, all places were sacred. In the Treta Yuga, Pushkara was considered the most holy place. In the Dvapara Yuga, Kurukshetra was regarded as the most sacred place. In Kali Yuga, the Ganga has that glory. Devi Bhagavata says: “He who utters the name of Ganga even from hundreds of miles afar is freed from sins and attains the abode of Lord Hari”.
(Origin & Descent of Ganga)
Origin in Heaven

Sri Vamana Avathara was fifth in the line of Dasavatharas of Lord Sri Maha Vishnu. This avathara took place during Treta Yuga before Sri Parashurama Avathara. Lord Maha Vishnu took this avathara in order to suppress the arrogance, vanity and pride of Emperor Bali (Bali Chakravarthi) and to restore the glory, power and authority of Lord Indra over the Heaven who had lost his power and kingdom (Swarga) to King Bali.

Lord Vamana went to King Maha Bali and asks for three steps of land measured by his foot as charity. Initially Bali hesitated to donate just thsuch charity. But later agreed upon insisting by Lord Vamana and promised to give three paces of land as charity measured by Sri Vamana’s foot.ree paces of land as it is a disgrace to his status and was guilty to give

When Maha Bali completed the ritual process of donating the land, Lord Vamana assumed his cosmic form (Trivikrama), measured the entire Earth including the nether worlds by his first step. With his second step He measured the entire upper worlds. When his foot reached the zenith it reached the Sathya Loka where Lord Brahma stays. At that time sacred waters emanated from the lotus foot of the Supreme Lord Sri Maha Vishnu, and Lord Brahma washed the Lord’s foot with that water and collected it in His Kamandalu.

The water that has emerged out of Lord Sri ManNarayana’s foot came to be revered as Goddess Ganga (Vishnu Paadodbhavi) who thenceforth started living in the Heaven as Swarga Ganga assuming the form of a river.

Origin/Descent on Earth

There are several legends behind the origin and descent of Ganga River on the Earth but, prominent among them we find as spelled out in Srimad Bhagavatham, Navama Skandha (9th canto). It is said that Sage Sri Viswamithra had narrated this story of Gangaavatharana to Lord Sri Rama. As per the legend in brief, there was an Emperor by name Sagara Chakravarthi of Ikshvaku dynasty (in which Lord Sri Rama was born) ruling Ayodhya, who had two wives Keshini and Sumathi. By virtue of divine blessing, Keshini gave birth to only one son named Asamanjasa whereas Sumathi was blessed with 60000 sons.

On one occasion Sagara performed Aswamedha Yaga and as a part of the Yaga ritual the sacrificial Horse was released to wander in the nearby kingdoms. In order to spoil and stop the Aswamedha Yaga, Indra captures the sacrificial horse and leaves it in the Ashram of Sage Kapila Maha Muni in the Netherworld (Pathala Loka). Frustrated, King Sagara then sends his 60000 sons in search of the sacrificial Horse. After searching in vain finally Sagara’s sons finds the Horse tied in the Sage Kapila Maha Muni’s Ashram in Pathala Loka. Assuming Sage Kapila as the culprit, Sagara Puthras in a fit of anger disturb the revered Sage from his deep penance. Enraged at being disturbed the Sage Kapila opens his eyes resulting in 60000 Sagara Puthras instantly getting converted into ash from the furious fire that emanated from the Sage’s eyes.

Worried, Sagara then sends his grand son Anshumantha (son of Asamanjasa) to find out the whereabouts of his 60000 sons and also the sacrificial Horse. Anshumantha finally reaches Pathala Loka where he finds the sacrificial horse and also heaps of ash. Nearby he finds Sage Kapila who advises him to take the horse back to his grand father Sagara Chakravarthi. As a remedy the Sage advices that, only Ganges the Ganga can wash off the sins of his uncles if it is flown over the heaps of ash.

As time passes Sagara leaves this world and the generation of Anshumantha and his son Dileepa also ends without any success of bringing the Ganga down to the Earth. Finally King Bhagiratha son of Dileepa Chakravarthi took up the stupendous task of providing salvation to his forefathers. He performs a severe penance to bring the Ganga down to the Earth. Pleased with his penance Goddess Ganga appears before him and agrees to descent on earth. But, Ganga advises Bhagiratha to pray Lord Shiva to be a platform for her descent on the earth as He only has the capacity to withstand her gigantic force to avoid a catastrophe.

Accordingly, Bhagiratha prays Lord Shiva who, pleased with the penance of Bhagiratha readily agrees to bore Vishnu Paadodbhavi Ganga on his head before releasing it on to the earth. Lord Shiva, spread his matted locks and trapped the waters of the river in them, softened her flow and controlled her force so that she slides down on the Earth quietly as a peaceful and life giving river. Thus Goddess Ganga descended from Heaven on to the matted hair of Lord Shiva and from there on to the Earth. Since Lord Shiva bore the Ganga on his head, thenceforth came to be known as Gangadhara.

Accordingly, Bhagiratha prays Lord Shiva who, pleased with the penance of Bhagiratha readily agrees to bore Vishnu Paadodbhavi Ganga on his head before releasing it on to the earth. Lord Shiva, spread his matted locks and trapped the waters of the river in them, softened her flow and controlled her force so that she slides down on the Earth quietly as a peaceful and life giving river. Thus Goddess Ganga descended from Heaven on to the matted hair of Lord Shiva and from there on to the Earth. Since Lord Shiva bore the Ganga on his head, thenceforth came to be known as Gangadhara.

Ganga at this spot came to be known as Bhagirathi named after Bhagiratha due to whose stupendous efforts Ganga descended on to the Earth.

Goddess Ganga (Ganga River) followed Bhagiratha to the Nether worlds to purify the souls of Sagara Puthras lying in the form of an ash in the ashrama of Kapila Maha Muni. On the way the waters of Ganga submerged the Asrama of Sage Jahnu who gets annoyed and drinks the entire Ganga waters. Again Bhagiratha and others prays the Sage who gets pleased and for the welfare of mankind releases Ganga from his ear. Thenceforth Ganga also came to be known as Jaahnavi. Finally, Ganga reached Sage Kapila’s ashram in Pathala loka and submerged the heaps of ash of 60000 Sagara Puthras and thus helped them in getting salvation. King Bhagiratha put his heart and soul in the descent of Ganga, a no mean feat that became an icon to the world which came to be known as Bhagiratha Prayatnam.

Origin and birth place:

Merging with Sea:

Length of the River: Major cities covered: Major Pilgrim Centers:

Glossary of Ganga River

Gaumukha – Gangothri Glacier in Himalayas in Indian Sub-Continent
In Bay of Bengal at Gangasagar near Hooghly (West Bengal)

Bhagirathi, Alaknanda, Mandakini, Dhauliganga Nandakini and Pindar.
India, Bangladesh Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand & West Bengal
1550 miles (2500 km) Kanpur, Allahabad, Varanasi, Patna & Kolkata

Six Major Head Streams ..
Ganga Path:

States covered (India):

Kedarnath, Badrinath, Devaprayag, Rishikesh, Haridwar, Bithoor (Near Kanpur), Kasi (Varanasi) & Prayaga (Sangam)

Pancha Prayag Kshetras (Five confluences of Ganga):
Major Tributaries:

Vishnu Prayag (Dhauliganga joins Alaknanda),
Nandaprayag (Nandakini joins),
Karnaprayag (Pindar joins),
Rudra Prayag (Mandakini joins) and
Devaprayag (Where Bhagirathi joins Alaknanda to form Ganga or the Ganges River) Gomati, Ghaghara, Gandaki, Kosi, Yamuna, Son and Damodar. Ganga joins Yamuna at Triveni Sangam (Allahabad)

Other names of Ganga:

Vishnu Paadodbhavi: Swarga Ganga: Surasarita:
Originated from the foot of Lord Sri Maha Vishnu

Ganga in the Heaven: Stream of Gods

Bhagirathi: Jaahnavi: Descended on Earth due to the efforts of King Bhagiratha

Released by Sage Jahnu from his ear

Thripathagamini or Thripathaga: One who flows in all the three worlds, Heaven, Bhoo Loka (Earth) and Nether Worlds – In Heaven it is known as Mandakini, on the Earth known as Ganga (Ganges) and in the Netherworlds as Bhogavathi.

Puranic reference to Ganga River

It is said that a mention of Ganga was made in Rig-Veda that appears in the Nadi-Sookta. Various sacred texts like Bhagavatha, Ramayana, Maha Bharatha, Bhagawadgeeta, Agni Purana, Padma Purana, Brahma Purana etc. have made reference to Ganga River. The Epic Mahabharatha took a turning point with the entry of Goddess Ganga (due to a curse from Lord Brahma) who, as a mortal woman married the Kuru King Shantanu. She gave birth to eight sons who were Ashta Vasus in their embodiment and the 8th child was the hero of Maha Bharatha, Bheeshma Pithamaha. He was also known as Gaangeya or Ganga-Puthra. In Mahabharata Bheeshma explains the glory and significance of Ganga to Pandavas lying on the bed of arrows. In the epic Mahabharatha we find Arjuna extracting water from Pathala Ganga with his arrow to quench the thirst of Bheeshma Pithamaha.

Several great Sages used to have their hermitage on the banks of Ganga River. Even now many Sadhus live on the banks of Ganga River. Sage Valmiki had his ashram on the banks of river Ganga that was known as Brahmavarta where Lord Brahma said to have performed Ashwamedha Yaga. In the Epic Ramayana, Goddess Sita Devi was said to have lived in the Ashram of Sage Valmiki on the banks of river Ganga.

Several sacred and divine pilgrim centers like Badrinath, Kedarnath, Rishikesh, Haridwar, Kashi, Prayaga, Bithoor etc. are all located on the banks of river Ganga. Bindu-Sar near Gangothri is referred to as the spot where Bhagiratha is believed to have performed his penance for the descent of Ganga. Famous temple of Badrinath is on the banks of river Alaknanda one of the six head streams of Ganga. The place where Ganga meets Yamuna has become a famous pilgrim center Prayaga.

Gangasagar the island at the mouth of river Ganga is said to be the location of Sage Kapila Mahamuni’s hermitage which is associated with the penance of Bhagiratha and the descent of river Ganga. Kapila Muni was an incarnation of Lord Vishnu.

Symbolism of Goddess Ganga

As per Dharma Sindhu, Goddess Ganga is depicted as Chaturbhuja (four hands) with Water Pot (Kalasha) in one hand and Lotus in the other. With the other two hands portrayed with Varada mudra and Abhaya mudra.

Mounted on a white Crocodile (Makara) as her pedestal, Ganga Devi is symbolized having three eyes (Trinethri) with Moon (Chandrakala) on the forehead, wearing white silk attire, with auspicious glimpse.

Religious & Spiritual significance of Ganga River

People in Hindu religion will be longing to have darshan of Ganga and take bath in the Divine River Ganges at least once in their life time or even die on the banks of river Ganga which is considered as highly sacred. To pour Ganga water in the mouth of a dying person is a custom among the Hindus. We find people in Hindu religion immersing ashes (mortal remains) of the deceased in Ganga River with a belief that the deceased soul will attain salvation. It is said that the very touch of Ganga will sanctify seven generations on both sides. Taking bath in Ganga River especially during parvakala like Uttarayana, Dakshinayana, Eclipse days, Pushkara is highly meritorious and helps in remission of sins.

Every day lakhs of people take bath in Ganga River at various places. Several millions of people recall Ganga in various religious ceremonies. We find invariably Hindu families keeping Ganga water in their houses as an auspicious symbol. Ganga water is collected from places like Haridwar, Rishikesh and Kashi etc. and stored in copper pots sealed with lid.

Ganga water is attributed with the quality of purity and is considered to remain pure over a period of time. It is believed that Ganga water has medicinal properties that cure the ill. Spiritually, taking a bath in the sacred Ganga River is said to be soul cleansing that purify one from his sins. Ganga water is considered as extremely pious and said to contain properties of Amrutha (Divine Nectar).

Since time immemorial Hindus life is closely associated with the river Ganga in various ways. No religious and spiritual activity in Hindu philosophy from birth till death starts without Ganga. Several civilizations, dynasties, epics, have originated on the banks of Ganga River. The history of Ganga is as old as Hindu civilization. Starting from its place of origin in Gangothri right up to its merging with the Sea at Gangasagar entire path of Ganga River is sacred to Hindus. In places like Kashi, Haridwar and Rishikesh we find devotees offering Aarati to Goddess Ganga in the evening singing devotional songs, which is a sight not to be missed.

There is also a custom among Hindus that they bring Ganga water from Kashi and perform Abhisheka to Lord Shiva at Rameswaram Jyotirlinga installed by Lord Sri Rama and collect the sand from the sea (Indian Ocean) at Rameswaram and immerse it with Ganga water with a belief that it is a completion of the pilgrimage.

Ganga worship is said to be in seven ways viz. by recalling Her name “Ganga”, having darshan, by touching the water of Ganga river, by worshiping, by taking bath, by standing in the waters of the river and by carrying clay dug out of water

Perhaps no other river has found as much reference as the holy Ganga in Puranas which is in existence since Vedic times. In piousness Ganga water is compared with the sacred Thulasi. To count the merits of Ganga is like counting water drops in the ocean. Ganga is not just a river alone it is much more than that sacred, celestial and divine. It is the Queen of rivers, River Goddess. Mother Ganga is highly revered in Hindu religion. That’s why even today we find people celebrating festivals relating to Ganga River viz. Ganga Dasahara, Ganga Pushkara,

Gangasagar Mela, Kumbha Mela and Gangotpatti (Jahnu Sapthami). Every year on the day of Makara Sankranthi, Gangasagar Mela is held at Gangasagar. These festival days are the best occasions to pay our reverence to Goddess Ganga the heritage of Hindu philosophy and the National river of India. At the same time it is also ourardent duty and responsibility to protect this national heritage from getting polluted.

Originated from the foot of the Primordial Lord Sri ManNarayana, sanctified as sacred water in the Kamandalu of Lord Brahma, purified with a descent on the head (matted hair) of Lord Shiva, and came out of Sage Jahnu’s ear, Ganga is considered as the most sacred and Divine river. Lord Sri Krishna mentions in his famous preaching Bhagawadgeeta – Vibhuthi Yoga (10th chapter, sloka #31) that He is Jaahnavi (Other name of river Ganga) – “srotasamasmi jaahnavi”(Among the rivers I am the Ganga). Perhaps we don’t need any other testimonial to testify the significance, spirituality and sacredness of Ganga River.

Purity of the Ganga Water

The water of the Ganga is extremely pure and sanctifying. No germs can flourish in this. This has been tested by various scientists in the laboratory. Rich in minerals this water cures almost all kinds of diseases.

The Ganga is saturated with antiseptic minerals. Even in the West, doctors prescribe Ganga water for rubbing in the treatment of diseases of the skin. Ganga is not merely a river. It is a sacred Tirtha. It is possessed of mysterious powers which are not found in any other river of the world. Even scientists have admitted the efficacy of the Ganga water.

Dr. F.C. Harrison of McGill University, Canada writes: “A peculiar fact which has never been satisfactorily explained is the quick death, in three or five hours, of the cholera vibrio in the waters of the Ganga. When one remembers sewage by numerous corpses of natives, often cholera casualties, and by the bathing of thousands of natives, it seems remarkable that the belief of the Hindus, that the water of this river is pure and cannot be defiled and that they can safely drink it and bathe in it, should be confirmed by means of modern bacteriological research”.

A well-known French physician, Dr. D. Herelle, made similar investigations into the mystery of the Ganga. He observed some of the floating corpses of men dead of dysentery and cholera, and was surprised to find “that only a few feet below the bodies where one would expect to find millions of these dysentery and cholera germs, there were no germs at all”. He then grew germs from patients having the disease, and to these cultures added water from the Ganga. When he incubated the mixture for a period, much to his surprise, the germs were completely destroyed.

A British physician, Dr. C.E. Nelson, F.R.C.S., tells us of another striking fact. He says that “ships leaving Calcutta for England take their water from the Hooghly river which is one of the mouths of the filthy Ganga and this Ganga water will remain fresh all the way to England . On the other hand, ships leaving England for India find that the water they take on in London will not stay fresh till they reach Bombay, the nearest Indian port, which is a week closer to England than Calcutta. They must replenish their water-supply at Port Said , Suez or at Aden on the Read Sea”. It is no wonder that the Indian people should hold that the Ganga is very sacred and possessed of mysterious powers.

A Silent Teacher

The Ganga starts from Gangotri in Himalayas. She encounters many obstacles on her way, but she finally reaches the goal—the ocean. Similarly, the Sadhaka should never give up his struggle, however insurmountable the obstacles in the path may appear to be. All difficulties and obstacles will be removed through the grace of the Lord if he is sincere in his Yogic practices, and he will reach the goal.

The Ganga gives you always cool, pure water. It does not expect anything from you in return. The sun sheds its light on all without anticipating any reward. Derive lessons from them. Always give, give. Ask nothing in return. Expect nothing in return. Do not expect even appreciation, approbation, or recognition.

A rogue and a saint can drink the water of the Ganga. The sun sheds its light on the wicked and the virtuous. The mango tree gives its fruits both for the caretaker and the man who cuts its branches. Develop equal vision like the Ganga, the sun and the mango tree. I love Ganga and the Himalayas. Ganga is my Mother Divine. Himalayas is my Father Divine. They inspire and guide me. I take bath in Ganga . I swim in Ganga. I adore Ganga. I feed the fishes of Ganga. I wave light to Mother Ganga. I pray to Ganga. I do salutations to Ganga . I sing the glory of Ganga. I write about the grandeur and glory of Ganga.

Ganga has nourished me. Ganga has comforted me. Ganga has taught me the truths of the Upanishads.

O friend! Follow the lines of Mother Ganga. Be pure. Be adaptable. Be tolerant. Be forgiving. Be sweet. Pour out your love on all. Share what you have—physical, moral, mental and spiritual—with the whole of humanity.

The more you give the more you get. Give without any selfish motive, without expecting any reward. Embrace all. Cultivate equal vision.

All glory be unto Mother Ganga, the giver of life, light and love. Worship Her with faith, devotion and piety. Adore Her with flowers of purity, love, self-restraint and equal vision. Sing Her Names. Attain Brahman through Her grace. May Mother Ganga bless you all! May She help you to live on Her banks and practise Yoga and Tapas.


Ganga Saptami and Ganga Dussehra are observed in Northern India. Ganga Saptami generally falls during the last week of April.

Ganga Dussehra falls on the tenth day of the bright half of the month of Jyeshta and celebrates the flowing of the holy Ganga at the request of Raja Bhagiratha. This is an important bathing day.

A big Mela is held in Haridwar from this day until the full moon, the fifteenth of Jyeshta. This is attended by large number of people from the Punjab and Uttar Pradesh.


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