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Ganga - The Goddess Of Purity

Updated: Oct 1, 2023

Goddess Ganga is the divine personification of the river Ganges. She is the holiest of all the rivers and a forgiver of all the sins. It is believed that bathing in the holy Ganges can free one from all his sins and help the soul attain Moksha or salvation. She is worshipped by Hindu devotees and is the embodiment of purity. She is depicted as a beautiful Goddess sitting on a crocodile. The crocodile represents her Vahan or vehicle. Early Life Goddess Ganga was born to King Himavan and Queen Menavati who were parents of Goddess Parvati as well. Hence Ganga was the elder sister of Goddess Parvati. Goddess Ganga deeply loved Lord Shiva and wanted to marry him. However, Lord Shiva was married to Goddess Sati. After Sati’s death, Ganga approached Shiva and requested him to marry her. Shiva told her that he cannot think of anyone else as his wife as he loved Sati. However pleased with Ganga, he gave her a boon that she will remain pure till eternity and will be known as the embodiment of purity. Also, her presence will remove all the sins and negative karma. Ganga was very sad as Lord Shiva did not accept her as his wife. Meanwhile, a demon named Tarkasur was creating havoc across the three worlds. He had become invincible as he was gifted with the boon that no one could kill him. Only Shiva’s son will be able to kill him. He was also disrupting the purity of Heaven (abode of Gods – Swarga Lok). To regain the purity of Heaven Lord Brahma wanted Ganga to reside there. He requested Himavan to let his daughter stay in the heavens. Ganga agreed and left for Swarga Lok. She pledged that she would return to Earth only when Shiva called her. Goddess Ganga stayed on the planet of Heaven for some time. However, when Lord Indra (King of Heaven) insulted sage Brihaspati, Ganga left the planet of Heaven and decided to reside in Brahma Lok (Planet of Brahma). She resided there until she was again called back to Earth by King Bhagiratha (Ancestor of Lord Rama).

The Saga of Sagara's Sons & Bhagirath Meanwhile, on Earth, there was a king named Sagara from the Raghu Kula dynasty who ruled the planet. The king had 60000 sons. King Sagara after defeating the demons decided to perform Ashwamedha Yagya to restore peace. The Yagya required a horse as a part of the rituals. However, Lord Indra was scared that this Yagya would make Sagara very powerful and Indra might lose his kingdom of Heaven to him. Filled with insecurity Indra decided to steal the horse. Indra stole it and tied the horse in the ashram of sage Kapila. Sage Kapila was not aware of this as he was in mediation for several years. Anxious Sagara sent his 60000 sons in search of the horse. When the sons found the horse in Sage Kapila’s ashram, they thought that Sage Kapila had stolen it. They assaulted Kapila and shamed him. This broke Kapila’s Tapasya. 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. The souls of Sagara’s sons remained as ghosts as their last rites were not performed. Years passed this way. King Anshuman who was the nephew of those 60000 sons got to know of this tragic tale. He went to sage Kapila and begged for forgiveness so that his uncles could attain Moksha. Kapila said the only way possible was to immerse their ashes in Goddess Ganga as only she can purify them. This is when Anshuman started meditating on Brahma to bring Ganga back on Earth. However, neither he and nor his son Dilip succeeded in pleasing Lord Brahma during their lifetimes. Dilip’s son Bhagiratha took a vow that he shall get Goddess Ganga back on Earth and free his ancestors from this endless pain. Lord Brahma was pleased with his worship and agreed to his request. However, Ganga did not want to go back on Earth as she had pledged that she will return only when Lord Shiva called her. Bhagirath then worshipped Lord Shiva. Shiva got pleased with his worship and decided to hold Ganga on his head so that she could flow through his matted hair. This pleased Ganga and she agreed to descend on Earth again. While on her way to Kapila’s ashram where the ashes of the 60000 sons remained she flowed through a cave where sage Jahnu was meditating. Her flow disrupted his meditation and in a rage, he swallowed her. When the Gods requested Sage Jahnu to let her go, he calmed down and let Ganga flow through his ears. That is why Ganga is also known as Jhanvi (daughter of Jahnu). She flowed through the ashes of Sagara’s sons and they were relieved from their sins and hence attained salvation. Ganga stayed on earth after that. Whoever bathed in her water was purified from their sins. Marriage with King Shantanu

Ganga later married King Shantanu (ancestor of Pandavas and Kauravas). Shantanu was the ruler of Hastinapur. Once on the banks of the Ganga river, he saw Goddess Ganga herself. He fell in love with her beauty and proposed to her to marry him. Ganga agreed however she told him that he should never question any of her decisions or else she would leave him. Shantanu agreed and they got married. The couple had 7 sons after the marriage. However, Goddess Ganga did not want her sons to live as prisoners in the mortal body. She killed all of them the moment they were born to free them from human suffering. King Shantanu did not object to this decision of her. However, when the 8th son was born, Shantanu did not let her kill him. Ganga left Shantanu, taking the child with her after that since she told him that he should never question her decisions. This son was the mighty Bhismapitama and he was an important character in the battle of Mahabharata. It is predicted that by the end of Kaliyuga Ganga will dry completely and return to Brahma Lok. Most of the holy places in India are situated near the banks of the Ganges. The holy river continues to accept everyone and purify the mortals.


Art Credit: DeviantArt

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