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Spiritual Significance of the Ganga
The story of Ma Ganga (Mother Ganga) and her powers

The Ganga River is considered to be the most holy river as hindus believe that it is the literal body of Goddess Ganga, a deity who descended to earth to purify souls and release them from samsara, the endless cycle of death and rebirth.

Other than the belief that the Ganga can help one achieve liberation from samsara, hindus also believe that Ma Ganga has incredible healing powers and have the ability to wash away bad karma and remove impurities from several lifetimes.




The Ganges: Hinduism’s Holy River
Why the Ganges Is Considered Sacred
The River Ganges, running for more than 1500 miles across some of the most densely populated areas in Asia, is perhaps the most religiously significant body of water in the world. The river is considered to be sacred and spiritually pure, though it is also one of the most polluted rivers on earth.

Originating from the Gangotri Glacier, high in the Himalayas of northern India, the river flows southeast through India, into Bangladesh, before spilling into the Bay of Bengal. It is the primary source of water—used for drinking, bathing, and irrigating crops—for more than 400 million people.

A Sacred Icon
For Hindus, the River Ganges is sacred and revered, embodied by the goddess Ganga. Though iconography of the goddess varies, she is most often depicted as a beautiful woman with a white crown, riding the Makra (a creature with the head of a crocodile and the tail of a dolphin). She features either two or four arms, holding a variety of objects ranging from water lilies to a water pot to a rosary. As a nod to the goddess, the Ganges is often referred to as Ma Ganga, or Mother Ganga.

Because of the purifying nature of the river, Hindus believe that any rituals performed at the banks of the Ganges or in its water will bring fortune and wash away impurity. The waters of the Ganges are called Gangaajal, meaning literally “water of the Ganges”.

The Puranas—ancient Hindu scriptures—say that the sight, the name, and the touch of the Ganges cleanses one of all sins and that taking a dip in the sacred river bestows heavenly blessings.

Mythological Origins of the River
There are many renditions of the River Ganges’ mythical origins, owing in part to the oral tradition of India and Bangladesh. It is said that the river gave life to the people, and, in turn, people gave life to the river. The name of Ganga appears only twice in the Rig Veda, an early sacred Hindu text, and it was only later that Ganga assumed great importance as the goddess Ganga.

One myth, according to the Vishnu Purana, an ancient Hindu text, illustrates how the Lord Vishnu pierced a hole in the universe with his toe, allowing goddess Ganga to flow over his feet into heaven and down to earth as the waters of the Ganges. Because she came into contact with Vishnu’s feet, Ganga is also known as Vishnupadi, meaning a descent from Vishnu’s lotus feet.

Another myth details how Ganga was intent on wreaking havoc on the earth with her descent as a raging river seeking revenge. In order to prevent the chaos, Lord Shiva caught Ganga in the tangles of his hair, releasing her in the streams that became the source for the River Ganges. Another version of this same story tells how it was Ganga herself who was persuaded to nurture the land and the people below the Himalayas, and she asked Lord Shiva to protect the land from the force of her fall by catching her in his hair.

Though the myths and legends of the River Ganges are numerous, the same reverence and spiritual connection is shared among the populations that live along the banks of the river.

Festivals along the Ganges
The banks of the River Ganges host hundreds of Hindu festivals and celebrations each year.

For example, on the 10th of the month of Jyestha (falling between the end of May and the beginning of June on the Gregorian calendar), the Ganga Dussehra celebrates the descent of the sacred river to earth from heaven. On this day, a dip in the holy river while invoking the Goddess is said to purify sins and wipe away physical ailments.

The Kumbh Mela, another sacred ritual, is a Hindu festival during which pilgrims to the Ganges bathe themselves in the sacred waters. The festival occurs in the same place only every 12 years, though a Kumbh Mela celebration can be found annually somewhere along the river. It is considered to be the world’s largest peaceful gathering and is featured on UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Dying by the Ganges
The land over which the Ganges flows is regarded as hallowed ground, and it is believed that the holy waters of the river will purify the soul and lead to a better reincarnation or liberation of the soul from the cycle of life and death. Because of these strong beliefs, it is common for Hindus to spread cremated ashes of dead loved ones, allowing the sacred water to direct the soul of the departed.

Ghats, or flights of stairs leading to a river, along the banks of the Ganges are known for being holy Hindu funeral destinations. Most notably are the Ghats of Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh and the Ghats of Haridwar in Uttarakhand.

Spiritually Pure but Ecologically Dangerous
Though the sacred waters are linked to spiritual purity, the Ganges is one of the most polluted rivers in the world. Nearly 80 percent of the sewage dumped into the river is untreated, and the amount of human fecal matter is more than 300 times the limit set by India’s Central Pollution Control Board. This is in addition to the toxic waste caused by dumping of insecticides, pesticides, and metals, and industrial pollutants.

These dangerous levels of pollution do little to deter religious practice from the sacred river. Hindus believe drinking water from the Ganges brings fortune, while immersing oneself or one’s belongings brings purity. Those that practice these rituals may become spiritually clean, but the pollution of the water afflicts thousand with diarrhea, cholera, dysentery, and even typhoid each year.



Ganga: River and Goddess
देवि सुरेश्वरि भगवति गङ्गे त्रिभुवनतारिणि तरलतरङ्गे ।
शङ्करमौलिविहारिणि विमले मम मतिरास्तां तव पदकमले॥

“O Devi Bhagavati Ganga, the Goddess of the Devas, you liberate the Three Worlds with the merciful water form of yours |

O the Stainless pure one who resides in the Head of Shankara, May my devotion remain firmly established on you Lotus Feet.”

Ganga, the divine river of the subcontinent of India, known to the westerners as the Ganges, originates from the mighty Himalayan mountains and flows throughout the North of Bharat. Cutting through the massive icy mountains with enormous force, Ganga reaches Central India and flows in serenity. She is the biggest flowing river of India and is the source of water to millions of Indians and also Bangladeshis. She is worshiped as Goddess Ganga by Hindus since very long.

Taking a dip in the Holy Ganga is believed to get one rid of the sins and help attain Moksha. Also the ashes of one’s beloved is immersed in Ganga to help attain the spirits, Moksha. Although most of the Indians consider Ganga a goddess and worship her, not many know the story of Ganga’s origin. The interesting story of the birth of the Ganga is mentioned in the books of Hindu Mythology.

Lord Vishnu has 10 incarnations referred to as “Dashavathara” in the Hindu Mythology. One of the incarnations of Vishnu was Vamana, a dwarf, which he took to end the atrocities of the demon Bali who acquired enough power to defeat the gods and throw them out of heaven. Lord Vishnu as Vamana appeared before the demon Bali and tricked him into a deal. He said to the demon that he must give him the area he covers in three steps to which he agreed. In his first step, he covered the whole of Earth, in the second step he covered the heavens, where Brahma washed his feet with his water pot which led to the birth of Ganga. In the third step, Vamana pushed the Demon Bali back into the underworld. The water from Brahma’s pot gave birth to Ganga.

Years later Ganga came across Durvasa rishi. Durvasa rishi was known to be an incarnation of Shiva and was renowned for his short temper. When Ganga met Durvasa, his cloth was carried away by the wind. Ganga seeing this cracked up laughing at him, which angered him to a great extent. The furious Durvasa put a curse on Ganga immediately. He cursed Ganga to reincarnate as a river for the humans which helped them purify their body and soul.


Ganga’s Incarnation as a River
Long ago, there lived a king named Sagara who was the ancestor of Rama. King Sagara was a strong leader with immense power. He had two wives, Sumati and Keshini. The King had sixty thousand sons from his first wife Sumati and a son from his other wife Keshini. Once, King Sagara decided to perform Ashwamedha Yaga (sacrificing of horse) which would give him boundless power and supremacy. This scared Indra, the God of Gods.

Lord Indra stole the horse that was going to be sacrificed by King Sagara and hid it by tying it under a tree where the sage Kapila was meditating. Kapila was a descendent of Manu, great grandson of Brahma. King Sagara sent his sixty thousand sons to search the missing horse, who after searching the whole Earth found it in Sage Kapila’s Hermitage. The sons of Sagara thought Sage Kapila stole the horse and thus blamed him for it. Sage Kapila grew fierce by the insult made by Sagara’s sons and burned them into ashes using the fire from his third eye.

When Ansuman, the last son of King Sagara and Queen Keshini heard about the fate of his brothers, he went to Sage Kapila and begged & asked him how to liberate his brothers’ souls. The great sage advised him to meditate in the name of Brahma and please him so he shall release Ganga from his water pot. The Holy water of Ganga would purify their souls he said. Ansuman started meditating trying to please the Lord Brahma but did not succeed. Many of the future generations continued to try to please Brahma but it all went in vain. In King Sagara’s seventh generation, Bhagiratha was born. His concentration and determination were boundless. He worshiped Lord Brahma loyally for many years. Lord Brahma was pleased by the worship of Bhagiratha and agreed to help him. But Bhagiratha had to worship to Lord Shiva to hold the force of Ganga in his hairs, if not she would fill up the whole Earth.

Bhagiratha continued his worship for further more years, only this time he was worshiping Lord Shiva. After a few more years, Lord Shiva was pleased and agreed to hold Ganga in his hair. When Brahma released Ganga, she came down with tremendous force from the heavens. Lord Shiva blocked her with his hair locks not letting a single drop fall on Earth. Lord Shiva eventually captured Ganga fully in his hair till her force came down. After Ganga calmed, Lord Shiva released a small part of Ganga and commanded her to follow Bhagiratha.

When Ganga followed Bhagiratha, she flowed with enormous force creating an immense turbulence which led to a flood which destroyed the hut and the fields of Sage Jahnu. Sage Jahnu was greatly angered by this act of Ganga and drank up and swallowed Ganga completely as a revenge. The gods prayed along with Bhagiratha to the Sage Jahnu. The Sage calmed after a while and thus released Ganga and thus she continued following Bhagiratha. Due to this, Ganga is also known as Jahnavi.

As Ganga followed Bhagiratha, millions of people bathed in the Holy River to purify themselves. Finally Ganga reached the tree of Sage Kapila. The sixty thousand souls of the sons of King Sagara were thus liberated by Ganga and thus Ganga became the Holy River of Bharat.

To this day, the Hindus of India worship Ganga, take Holy dips to purify themselves off their sins. It is believed that the Holy river will dry up at the end of Kali Yuga (era).



Ganga: River and Goddess
“The Ganga, especially, is the river of India, beloved of her people, round which are interwined her memories, her hopes and fears, her songs of triumph, her victories and her defeats. She has been a symbol of India’s age long culture and civilization, ever changing , ever flowing, and yet ever the same Ganga.”

The eternal life-stream of Indian culture; the clock whose ticking denotes time to even Mahakaal (Lord Shiva), the great time-keeper; the chord which unites the four yugs (eons) – Ganga represents all of these and more – she integrates into herself the history, the beliefs and sometimes even the hopes of India and its people.

Ganga, or the Ganges, the holy river of the Hindus, has its source at Gangotri in the Himalayas from where it flows for a distance of 2,400 km. to fall into the Bay of Bengal. Ganga is a major river of the Indian subcontinent, associated in myth and reality with the land and people of India as well as neighboring countries like Bangladesh.

In the move to Aryanise the Ganga basin, when the Vedic people shifted focus from the Indus to the Ganga, a myth evolved that Ganga would take on all the sins of the world. Thereafter, people have religiously bathed in her waters to cleanse themselves of sin. Gangajal (water of Ganga) is widely used in religious ceremonies. The holy sight of Ganges gives knowledge, splendors, name, fame etc. The gravest of sins like Brahmahatya (killing of a Brahmin) and Gauhatya (killing of a cow) gets absolved by the mere touch of Ganga’s holy water. Lord Vishnu himself has described the importance of river Ganges in the following way: he says to Garuda – the eagle God, his divine vahana (vehicle):

“thousands of man’s sins get destroyed by the holy sight of the Ganges, and he becomes pure by the touch of the water of Ganges, by consuming it, or just by pronouncing ‘Ganga – Ganga'”

For this reason Ganges is also called the savior of this world.

There are many versions of stories regarding the origin of Ganges. The river Ganga is said to have originated when Lord Brahma (one of the Supreme forms of divinity) washed the feet of Lord Vishnu in His incarnation as Vamana – the dwarf Brahmin. When He (Lord Vishnu, as Vamana) measured the world in three steps, the nails on His left foot caused a pore on the upper side of the universe from where Ganga fell down into heaven.

According to Valmiki’s Ramayana, Ganges was the daughter of Himalaya and Menaka. The deities abducted her and took her to heaven. From that time onwards Ganga started living inside the Karmandala (a spout shaped vessel). According to Krittivas’ Ramayana the deities had taken Ganga to Lord Shiva to get married with him. When Menaka did not find her in the house, she cursed Ganga to attain the form of water.

The Vishnu Purana describes the birth of Ganga in the following manner: she said to have issued forth from the big toe of Lord Vishnu’s left foot. Dhruva, the pole star, received her in her descent and sustained her day and night on his head, while the seven Rishis (the Pleiades) performed their ablutions in her waters (because the Pleiades revolve around the Pole Star). Ganga then encompassed the orb of the Moon by her currents, which added to the luminary’s brilliance. Thereafter, having issued from the Moon, she alit upon Mount Meru, and then flowed in four branches to the four corners of the Earth for the sake of its purification. The name of theses branches are Sita, Alakananda, Chaksu and Bhadra. The southern branch, Alakananda, was held affectionately by Lord Shiva on His head for one hundred divine years and then was released from His matted locks. Hence Lord Shiva is depicted in Indian iconography with a crescent Moon on his head, from where a shoot of water springs forth. Thereafter, the southern branch of Ganga journeyed through India and divided itself into seven rivers which flow into the southern ocean. Hence Alakananda is known as the most sacred river of the four branches.

According to another version, Goddess Ganga, once lived on Mount Kailash and flowed demurely for the sole pleasure of the Gods. Legend has that Sagar, King of Oudh, the 13th ancestor of Lord Rama, the descendent of Sun God (Suryavanshi), had performed the Ashwamedha Yagna, or the horse-sacrifice, 99 times. This ceremony consisted in sending a horse round the Indian world, with defiance to all the earth to arrest its progress. If the horse returned unopposed , it was understood to be acquiescence in the supremacy of the king, and the horse was then solemnly sacrificed to the gods. When King Sagar made preparations for the 100th sacrifice, Indra, King of Heaven, who had himself performed the ceremony a 100 times, jealous of being displaced by this new rival, stole the horse, and concealed it in a subterranean cell, where the sage Kapila, or Kapila Muni, was absorbed in meditation, dead to all occurrences of the external world.

The sixty thousand sons of Sagar traced the horse to its hiding place, and believing the sage to be the author of the theft assaulted him. The holy man being thus roused opened his eyes and cursed the assailants, who were immediately burnt to ashes and sentenced to hell. Sagar heard of this fate through Narada (devotee of Lord Narayana), the heavenly wonderer, and sent the grandson Ansuman to undo the harm. Ansuman descended to the underworld and met Kapila, who was much pleased with the youth’s bearing and conversation. He granted that the souls of the sons of Sagar may be released by the waters of Ganga, then resident in heaven. Despite much austerity and prayer, neither Sagar nor Ansuman after him, nor his son Dilip could get Ganga to appear on earth.

Finally it was Dilip’s son Bhagiratha, who after severe austerities, propitiated the Goddess, and she agreed to come down to earth and then to the nether world to rescue the tormented souls of the sons of Sagar. However, the impact of her fall would be so severe, that it could be borne by none less than Lord Shiva himself. Therefore Bhagiratha went into meditation again and obtained Shiva’s consent after many more austerities. Finally, the river came down and fell into Lord Shiva’s matted hair, (this manifestation of Lord Shiva is known as Gangadhara), from where she separated into seven streams, of which three flowed to the west and three to the west. The seventh stream followed Bhagirath to earth and then to the nether worlds.

Bhagirath patiently led the river down to the sea from the Himalayas and for this reason the Ganges is also known as the Bhagirathi. However, being unable to locate the exact spot where the ashes lay, he requested Ganga to follow her own course. The Ganga, therefore in the region of Bengal, divided herself into a hundred mouths and formed the Ganges delta. One of these streams washed the ashes, and offered salvation to the souls of the departed. In this way the children of Sagar were saved and an ocean formed from the waters there. This is the Sagar Island of today, where the Ganges flows into the Bay of Bengal, where a bath at the confluence of the river and the sea is considered to be sacred on Makara Sankranti (mid January).

Thus on the tenth day of the bright half of Jyeshth (last week of May), Goddess Ganga began to flow from heaven to the matted hair of Lord Shiva, and from the hair of Lord Shiva she began to flow on earth. The first ten days of the month of Jyeshth (last week of May), known as Dashahara, are dedicated to honour the river Ganges, or Mother Ganges. The Ganges is believed to flow in the three worlds – heaven, earth and the nether world (patala – where the ashes of the sixty thousand sons of King Sagar lay): Thus the Ganga is known as “Three Path River”. People believe that by bathing in the Ganga sins are washed away. The principle centers for the worship of the Ganga are Gangotri, the source of the river; Haridwar, where she comes down to the plains; Allahabad, where she joins the Yamuna; Varanasi, the holy city; and Sagara Island in her estuary where she finally flows into the Bay of Bengal.

The descent of Ganga from the heavens to Earth and finally to the nether world, escorted by Bhagirath, has an interesting interpretation on the metaphysical body plane, involving the Chakras and the Kundalini:

At the inner core of each individual spin seven wheel-like energy centers or chakras which together form a system. They are located within the body in front of the spinal column and are aligned vertically up and down the spine. The chakras are centers of activity which receive, assimilate and transmit life energies. As such, they are a kind of vortex or gathering point of organized life energy. Each chakra represents a dimension of our consciousness on seven basic levels corresponding to the major chakras. Together, they form a meta-physical vertical column called the sushumna, which is the central integrating channel for connecting the chakras, and their various dimensions of consciousness. The lowest chakra is called the Muladhara and is located at the tailbone base of the spine, while the topmost is called the Sehasara and is located at the top of the head. The Kundalini or the divine serpent energy of the Self is depicted as a coiled serpent, at the base of the spine and is a great reservoir of creative energy. It is said that self realization is the awakening of the Kundalini through the sushumna, piercing through the six chakras above the Muladhara and emerging at the Sehsara as a gentle “fountain” of coolness.

The journey of Goddess Ganga from heaven to the nether worlds symbolizes the origin of Kundalini and its descent through the various chakras of the body into the lowest chakra – the muladhara – which corresponds to the patala regions – the nether worlds – where it remains coiled like a serpent, till it ascends into the higher chakras during one’s spiritual awakening. If the word Bhaghiratha (pronounced as Bhageerath, in Sanskrit) is interpreted as being formed from the words Bhaga and Rathi, it transalates into “He who rides the Bhaga (the reproductive organ)”, which is where the Kundalini remains in a coiled state. The sons of Sagar, whose souls Bhagiratha redeemed, probably correspond to the various nerve centres in this region of the body.

Another possible interpretation is that Ganga represents a form of divine knowledge which, with its strength of purity and illumination has the powers to elevate all – dead and living – towards the heavens. This knowledge, available only to the Gods was brought to mankind by Bhagiratha through his devotion to Lord Shiva, who helped him receive this knowledge, to be passed on to mankind for its eventual salvation.

Another legend regarding Ganga has it that Ganga followed Bhagiratha and because of his tremendous speed, all the villages, forests etc. in the way were either getting submerged or drowned. Sage Jahnu who was doing a yagya in his hermitage got angry when his hermitage was submerged in the Ganga. He drank whole of the Ganga by his yogic power. At this the deities, and the men became restless and they requested Jahnu to release Ganga. Jahnu released Ganga from his thigh by cutting it and for this reason Ganga is also called “Jahnvi” or “Jahnusta”.

Yet another important story involving Ganga describes the following episode: Ganga saw Pratipa, a king of the Lunar Dynasty in the forest, doing tapasya, she fell in love with him and wishing to be taken by him for his wife, given the fact that she sat upon his right thigh. The king then explained that his right thigh was the place for his daughters-in-law and children to sit; the left thigh was for his wife. Since she sat upon his right thigh, he could not marry Ganga himself, but she could marry his son. This was arranged and the Goddess married Shantanu. When Prapita withdrew to the forest to spend all his time doing penance, he made Shantanu king and turned over his kingdom to his son. Shantanu was accepted by the Goddess on condition that he would not contradict her in anything. And he, being so enraptured by Ganga, agreed.

Meanwhile it happened that because of a curse cast upon them by the sage Vasishtha, the eight Astavasus were obliged to incarnate on Earth. Consequently they all took birth in the womb of Ganga. But, as each child was born, Ganga took it to the banks of the Ganges and cast it into the waters of the sacred river. Shantanu could say nothing to contradict her actions. So he watched as seven children were done away with this manner. Finally the eighth and last of the Astavasus took birth, whom Vasishtha had said was the only one that must stay upon earth for a longer period. When Ganga was about to cast him in the river, Shantanu could no longer contain himself and he pleaded with the Goddess to refrain from her act. Because of his intervention, the Goddess became enraged and disappeared from the palace, along with the child whom she named Devavrata. This child grew up to be Bhishma, one of the key protagonists of the epic of Mahabharata.

The Goddess Ganga is very rarely thought of, without reference to Lord Shiva. In common understanding, Ganga is understood to have emerged from Lord Shiva, as is symbolized by the stream of water gushing forth from the matted locks of Lord Shiva. Having originated from the mountains (the Himalayas), or Himavan, Ganga can also be thought of as the sister of Goddess Parvati, daughter of Himavan and eternal consort of Lord Shiva. The following tale will provide another interesting insight into the complex symbolization prevalant in Hindu mythology:

The Shiva Purana mentions that the son of Lord Shiva was destined to salvage Earth by leading the Devatas – the divine forces – to drive out the Asuras – the evil forces – who had taken possession of the planet. In order to hasten the birth of this divine son, the Gods decided to steal Lord Shiva’s Bija (seed – his sperm) by interrupting his loveplay with his consort, Goddess Parvati, at the precise moment of emergence of the Bija from Lord Shiva. The interruption of the love making process led to the precious seed to fall on the ground. Agni – the Fire God, assumed the form of a white dove and picked up the Bija in its beak and flew away. Having emerged from Lord Shiva himself, the seed had immense power and fire stored within it – so much so that even Lord Agni found it difficult to keep holding it in his beak and he let go off it and dropped it in the Ganges. Ganga then carried the seed with her for long, and as instructed by Lord Brahma, deposited it in a sacred reed grove in the Saravana forest, situated on her shores, where the divine child was born after 10,000 years. Lord Shiva then proclaimed that this celestial child be known by six different names, to be known as the son of six different creators. He was to be known as Kartikeya as the son of the Kritikas or the six sacred Pleiades, whose wives had nourished him. As the son of Agni he was to be known as Mahasena. As the forest Saravena’s son, he was to be known as Saravana. As Parvati’s son he would be known as Skanda and as his own, as Guha. And finally, Lord Shiva proclaimed that the child would be known as Kumara, as the son of Ganga.

The above tale points us in the direction of viewing Ganga as being a consort of Lord Shiva, having carried his seed and borne his would-be son. This interpretation is further strengthened by the portrayal of Lord Shiva as always having Ganga near him. Thus we are also drawn to a possible interpretation of Goddess Parvati being the same as Goddess Ganga and Lord Shiva being the same as Himavan – the mountain God, being the common originator and consort of Goddess Parvati as well as Goddess Ganga. Goddess Ganga therefore, can also be looked at as Mahakali, consort of Mahakala (Lord Shiva – Time personified), and as the power of Time, she nourishes humankind with Lord Shiva’s Bija – seed.

Hindu iconography depicts Goddess Ganga as sitting on a mythical creature, called the Makara – with the head of an elephant and the body of a fish. The Makara is the Goddess’s vahana or vehicle. In astrology, the makara is often translated as a Water Horse, and corresponds to the western astrological sign of Capricorn, which is depicted as having the head of a goat and the body of a fish. Yet another depiction of the makara is in the form of a crocodile or alligator, which also is depicted as the vehicle of Lord Varuna – the God of winds.

River Ganges is the longest river in India. The origin of river Ganges lies at the height of 14000 ft in the Gangotri glacier which is a vast expanse of ice, five miles by fifteen, at the foot hills of Himalayas in the Uttarakhand mountain ranges of the Himalayas in Tehri Garhwal, near Gangotri. The cave from which river Ganges originates is called Gaumukh and at its origin, Ganges is known as Bhagirathi.

Many small and big rivers merge with the Ganges in the Himalayan region. From the point of her origin upto Badrinath in the eastern region the Ganges is known as Vishnu Ganga. In the western region it is the Dhauli Ganga of the Drona Giri. Dhauli Ganga merges with Vishnu Ganga near Joshimath and this combined stream is known as Alakananda. In Rudraprayag, Alakananda merges with Mandakini. Mandakini comes from Kedarnath, the abode of Lord Shiva. Bhagirathi joins Alakananda to form Ganga at the craggy canyon-carved town of Devprayag.

After Devprayag river Ganges enters Rishikesh and after that she turns towards Haridwar, which is situated to the south west of Rishikesh. At Allahabad, river Yamuna merges with river Ganges. In ancient times there was yet another river named Saraswati, which merged at Allahabad with river Ganges and Yamuna, but it has now become extinct. This union of three rivers at Allahabad is also known as Triveni Sangam, or Prayag.

Hardwar and Allahabad, on the banks of the Ganges, assume a great importance in the Hindu religious context, since they are venues of the Kumbha Mela, one of the most important festivals of the Hindus. There are four such spots in India, the other two being Ujjain and Nasik, where the festival is held one by one at each of these spots, with a gap of three years between any two festivals. Each of these places therefore has the festival at a gap of 12 years each. The most important of these places however is Allahabad, which is said to be located on the central longitude (or the time measurement of the globe, latitude being known as the space measurement) on the map of the material and spiritual body of India (not to be confused with the geographical map of India). On the holy festival of the Kumbha Mela, millions of Hindus from India and abroad take a dip in the holy Ganges, hoping to redeem themselves off their sins.

After Allahabad the Ganges reaches Varanasi, having taken river Gomti into its folds. After that the Ganges enters the state of Bihar. Near Patna river Gandak coming from Nepal also merges into Ganges.

Thereafter, Ganges divides itself into two major streams, one of which is known as Hoogli which passes through the state of West Bengal and ultimately merges into the Bay of Bengal. The other major stream, still known as Ganga, flows into Bangladesh and merges with river Brahmaputra which originates in Tibet and flows through Assam to reach Bangladesh. Having merged with Brahmaputra, Ganges takes on the name of River Padma and merges into the Bay of Bengal.

The importance, which the Bhagawad Gita has in the field of spirituality, the same prominence and importance has been given to the holy river Ganges in the field of religion and religious activities. No other river has been as much mentioned in the Purana as the holy Ganges. According to the Puranas the Ganges is the holiest of all the shrines on this earth. Not only man, but even the tiniest of insects get liberated and achieve salvation. And thus river Ganges is given the apt title of Patita Pavani – the liberator of the greatest of sinners.




Other Names : Bhagirathi, Alaknanda, Dhauliganga, Padma, Mandakini
Countries : India, Bangladesh
Major cities : Haridwar, Kanpur, Allahabad, Varanasi, Patna
Length : 2,510 km
Watershed : 907,000 km²
Source : Gaumukha, Gangotri Glacier located in Uttarakhand, India
Destination : Ganges Delta located in Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh
Major Tributaries: In the left, Brahmaputra, Gomti, Kosi, Gandak, Ghaghra In the right Yamuna, Son

Hindu Goddess Ganga
Goddess Ganga
Ganga / Ganges is considered as the most sacred river of the Hindu Mythology. River Ganges is very much popular in India and is worshipped as a goddess. Ganga is the most revered river in the world. River Ganga is unique in itself with its mind blowing length and width. Many other rivers of the world exceed Ganga on these aspects but none of them can match the reverence and affection that is shown to Ganga by the people of India and the world.

According to the Puranas (Holy Scriptures of Hindus), the sight, the name and the touch of Ganga takes away all sins. As per Hindu thoughts, bathing in the river on special occasions causes remission of sins and facilitates the attainment of salvation. It is considered that Ganga bestows blessings of the highest order. People come from far and near to immerse the ashes of their kin in the waters of Ganga, with a belief that the ashes would go to heaven.

Gangajal – The Water of Ganga
Gangajal, the water of Ganga, is regarded as the most pure and sacred water on this earth. Ganga water is used in various religious ceremonies of Hindus. Even Science has proved that Ganga water is pure and bacteria free. Gangajal can be kept for years without any problem.

River Ganges / Ganga
According to Hindu Mythology, Ganga is considered as the celestial creature of heaven and it descends on the earth to rinse away the sins of the mankind. On the earth, Ganges or Ganga originates from the Gaumukha, Gangotri glacier in the central Himalayas, located in Uttarakhand, India. This is acknowledged as one of the holy pilgrimages of India.

The River flows through a wide area covering several sacred places of Hindus like Haridwar, Allahabad and Varanasi. The Ganga and its tributaries drain a large and fertile basin with an area of about one million square kilometers that supports one of the world’s highest density human populations. After a long journey of 2,510 kms, Ganga drains into the Bay of Bengal through its vast delta in the Sundarbans.

Representation of River Goddess Ganga
Ganga represents the innermost pristine coolness, piety and purity. River Ganga enriches the spiritual lives of millions and millions of Indians for whom the river is divine. Holy River Ganga personifies Goddess Ganga who descends to the earth to rinse away the sins of the mankind. The river Ganga itself embodies all the characteristics India is known for: mythical, serene, all pervading and assimilative.

Ganga Legend
Ganga, the River Goddess is the only living goddess in the Hindu pantheon. There are numerous stories regarding the birth and origin of this goddess. According to the beliefs, Ganga descends on the earth to rinse away the sins of the mankind. Ganga is the sacred river and has been referred to in the various ancient texts of Hindus.



Ganges (Ganga) is the most revered and sacred river in the Hindu Mythology. None of the rivers in the world has been able to win so much love and attention from people as Ganga. She is worshipped by the name Ganga Maiya (Mother Ganga) and the Gangajal (Ganga = Ganges; Jal = water) is believed to wash away all sins and grant the devotee salvation. No other river has been mentioned in the Puranas as much as the holy Ganges.

Here is how Lord Vishnu has narrated the importance of river Ganges to Garuda.

Meaning: Thousands of man’s sins are destroyed by the holy sight of the Ganges, and he becomes pure, by the touch of Ganges water, by having it, or by just pronouncing ‘Ganga-Ganga’.

River Ganga

River Ganga originates from the Gangotri glacier at Gaumukh in the Indian Himalayas. She flows 2,525 km across northern India before emptying to the Bay of Bengal in eastern India and Bangladesh.

Birth of Ganga

As per Hindu Mythology, Ganga is the daughter of Brahma, born from his kamandala (a spout shaped vessel), when he was washing the feet of Vamana (The dwarf Brahmin incarnation of Lord Vishnu).

In Valmiki Ramayana, Ganga is depicted as the daughter of King Himavat and Queen Menaka. She is the sister of Parvati, Lord Shiva’s consort.

According to the Vishnu Purana, Ganga was created from the sweat of Lord Vishnu’s feet.

Among the various interesting stories of Ganga, the most popular story is from Bramha Rishi Vishwamitra’s Ramayana Bal Kand, where he narrates about Bhagirath and the descent of Ganga to Earth.

King Sagar – the ruler of Ayodhya and an ancestor of Lord Rama decided to perform the Ashwamedha (great horse sacrifice) to become more powerful. Indra, the king of Gods, became jealous and stole the horse for yaga. Indira tied the horse near Sage Kapila’s ashram, where the sage was meditating in the deep forest. The king along with his 60000 sons began to search for the horse in the nether world and at last found it near Sage Kapila.

Assuming that the sage had stolen the horse, the princes began to insult the sage and tried to free the horse. The princes continued to disturb the meditation of the sage and made him angry. The furious sage with the yogic fire of his eyes burnt all the princes into ashes. King Sagar was disturbed and asked his grandson, Anshuman to search for the princes.

Ashuman’s search ended in the front of the yaga horse and a heap of ash. He also saw the Sage Kapila near to it. He bowed and inquired what happened to the princes. The sage narrated the whole incident and Anusham broke down in grief. He pleaded for forgiveness and for the salvation of the princes. Sage Kapila was pleased and instructed Anushman to bring the holy Ganga to earth as she can only help them to wash away the sin and attain salvation.

In order to attain salvation to his relatives, Anshuman started doing penance on the Himalaya, but it was in vain. His son Dilip also tried to please Lord Brahma and bring Ganga. However, he also failed in his mission. Bhagiratha, the son of Dileep, took penance after his father. Bhagiratha was so dedicated that Lord Brahma was pleased and granted them permission to bring Ganga to earth.

Goddess Ganga was asked to descent to earth, but she felt it as an insult and decided to sweep away everything that came her way. Bhagiratha felt the fierce power in the flow of her current and understood that he needed to do something in order to stop the mighty river from destroying the world. In order to avoid this catastrophe, Bhagiratha prayed to Shiva and requested him to hold Ganga in his matted hair (jata).

At the request of Bhagiratha, Shiva agreed to hold Ganga in his hair locks. At first, Ganga thought that no one would be able to withstand her power and descended to the Earth with all her power. Shiva decided to teach her a lesson and held her in his matted locks. Ganga tried to get free but failed to escape from the Great Shiva. After one year of rigorous penance of Bhagiratha, Shiva was pleased and released Ganga. Ganga understood the greatness of Lord Shiva and asked for his forgiveness. Shiva is known as Gangaadhara as Lord Shiva absorbed the flow of Ganga and saved the earth from flooding, by receiving Ganga on his matted locks.

Shiva was pleased and released Ganga as seven streams – Bhagirathi, Alaknanda, Janhvi, Saraswati, Bhilangana, , Rishiganga, and Mandakini. Ganga followed Bhagiratha, but with her tremendous speed destroyed almost all the nearby villages and forests. Sage Jahnu became angry as his hermitage was drowned by Ganga. By using his yogic power, Sage Jahnu drank the whole Ganga. Bhagiratha pleaded for Sage’s forgiveness and he released Ganga from his thigh by cutting it and for this reason, Ganga is also called ‘Jahnavi’ or ‘Jahnusta’.

Maharishi Agastyaas has emptied all the oceans on Earth by drinking all the water, so Ganga first filled the oceans and quenched the taste to Earth. Ganga touched the ashes of the sixty thousand ancestors of Bhagiratha and blessed them to attain eternal rest in heaven.



Goddess Ganga– Waters of Devotion
The Ganga River has been considered the most sacred river of India in the Puranas. It is called as Ganga Maa (or Mother Ganga) or Ganga ji (or reverend Ganga). People of India believe that a bath in the holy waters of Ganga washes all the past sins of a person. Numerous pilgrimages such as Allahabad, Rishikesh, Haridwar, Varanasi, and Patna are present all along the river. Water from the Ganga is used to cleanse any place or object for ritual purposes. Bathing in the river is believed to wash away one’s all sins. The word Ganga is considered a synonym of pure and holy water. That is why the word is attached with the names of many other rivers in Central and South India. According to a mythological legend, Lord Brahma collected the sweat of Lord Vishnu’s feet and created Ganga. Being touched by two members of the Trimurti (Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahesh), Ganga became very holy. The other synonyms of Ganga are Vishnu Padee (as the river is said to have originated from the feet of Lord Vishnu), Mandakini, Devnadi, Sursari, Tripathga, Jahanvi, Bhagirathi, etc. As mentioned in Mahabharat, when Bhishm was about to die, Arjuna was said to have extracted groundwater, namely, Patalganga, by shooting an arrow that made a hole in the ground and created a fountain.

Goddess Ganga
First and foremost, Ganga has always been regarded as a goddess. Whatever brought her to Earth – a curse or a request from a distressed man – she has always been divine to her faithful. Her form is godly – four arms, three eyes (to view the past, the present, and the future), the well-ornamented, crescent moon adorning her crown, carrying a lotus in one hand, a jar of jewels in another, draped in a saree, fanned by a lady carrying a yak-tail fan and another holding a white umbrella over her head. The goddess rides a Makara – a mythical creature, half crocodile and half fish. The Ganga is said to have streams in the heavens, hell, and, on Earth.

In India, as the evening twilight starts, there is a very special and spiritual ritual that takes place at three major places – Rishikesh, Varanasi, and Haridwar. What is the meaning and history behind this everyday ritual called Ganga Aarti? This ritual is done devotionally by using fire, lamps, and chants near the ghats of the River Ganga. Moreover, it becomes illuminated especially when the small earthen lamps called ‘diya’ are lit with a small fire and some oil and floated onto the river Ganges along with flowers. This offering to Goddess Ganga considered as the sacred river in the country takes place with great significance, especially on the Ganga Dusshera that falls in the middle of the calendar year. It is believed that Maa Ganga, during this time came down from heaven into the world.

The mother Ganga and the offering performed to the river are as ancient as mythology. The specific place where the river contacts the earth is known as ‘Gangotri’. It is believed that the ‘daughter of heaven’ known as Ganga descended down to earth from heaven. Also, she changed into a river in order to wash the sins of the predecessors of King Bhagirath. The Ganga Aarti is a form of thanksgiving ritual performed by her followers and devotees. They want to thank the Goddess for the help by lighting a diya or big lamp. Priests chant slokas and bhajans or religious songs are sung while the daily ritual is performed at River Ganga. People also offer flowers and fruits here. The small diyas and flowers are floated and it is believed that there is divine power that makes people bow in devotion. The Ganga Aarti ceremony takes place at three different places every sunset. Ganga Aarti means prayer for River Ganga. Prayers are dedicated to gods and goddesses. River Ganga isn’t just a river in India, it’s Divine Mother. River Ganga gives life within the sort of water. The same water also removes sins once you take a dip in its water. River Ganga also gives liberation to souls. It’s not just a river but it is considered as a whole culture itself. For agriculture, her water remains precious for India. River Ganga is taken into account the goddess who was originally living in heaven.

Goddess Ganga
A great aarti takes place on a particularly extravagant scale in Varanasi near the end of each year on Kartik Purnima. Over here there is even an early sunrise Ganga Aarti in Varanasi, organized by Subah-e-Banaras. The Haridwar Ganga Aarti is performed at the ghat named Har-Ki-Pauri. The name of this ghat means “Feet of the Lord”. A footprint on a fence there’s said to belong to Lord Vishnu. In terms of spiritual importance, Har-ki-Pauri is taken into account to be like Dashashwamedh Ghat where the aarti takes place in Varanasi. It has a location of spiritual significance and equivalent because the Varanasi Ganga Aarti isn’t as flamboyant and staged. Yet, it’s quite the spiritual circus: people, pandits, babas, idols of varied gods, loudspeakers, clanging bells, singing, incense, flowers, and flames.

The description of Ganga is available in Rigveda also. Several legends are famous about the origin of Ganga. It is said that the Ganga originated from the feet of Lord Vishnu. According to the second legend, Ganga was the daughter of mountain king Himalaya. As per Devi Bhagwat, Ganga has been called the wife of Lord Vishnu. According to Mahabharat, Ganga was the wife of King Shantanu as well as the mother of Bhishm.

According to a legend in the Ramayana, Sagara, the king of Ayodhya who had sixty thousand sons, once performed Ashvamegh yagya (a ritual for the good of his kingdom and to demonstrate his supremacy). During the rituals, the horse which is an integral part of the ritual, was stolen by the jealous Indra and placed in the ashram (hermitage) of saint Kapila. Sagara sent all his sons all over the earth to search for the horse. They found it in the nether world, in the ashram of saint Kapila. Assuming that the sage had stolen the horse, they hurled insults at him and interrupted his meditation. The saint became very angry and burnt all sixty thousand boys to death by the fire from his eyes. Since the final rites of these boys could not be performed, their souls continued to wander as ghosts. After many generations, Bhagiratha a descendant of Sagara, learnt about the fate of his ancestors and he vowed to bring Ganga to Earth so that her holy water could be used to liberate the souls of his ancestors and release them to heaven.

Goddess Ganga
King Bhagirath left his kingdom to meditate and prey the Ganga River who was residing in the heavens to descend to the earth. Ganga could come down to the earth only after Lord Brahma (the Supreme God) permitted her to do so. Accordingly, Bhagirath prayed at a place in Uttarkashi where the Gangotri temple is situated these days. He prayed to Lord Brahma for a thousand years, requesting him to permit Goddess Ganga to come down to earth from heaven because only Ganga could release his ancestors’ souls and allow them to go to heaven. On account of the deep devotion of Bhagirath, ultimately Lord Brahma was pleased with him and granted his wish. But He told Bhagirath to pray to Lord Shiva, who alone could sustain the huge force of descent of Ganga. Accordingly, King Bhagirath prayed to Lord Shiva who, after some time, agreed to hold Ganga in his hair.


Accordingly, Ganga descended from the heavens on Lord Shiva’s head and was soon trapped in his thick locks. In the process, the river water got further purified. One the request of King Bhagirath, Lord Shiva opened one of the locks and the river reached the Earth. It is said that Ganga followed the chariot of Bhagirath to the place where the ashes of his ancestors were lying and released them from the curse. An alert reader will notice that this legend is a simple description of the hydrologic cycle. Perhaps King Bhagirath was an ancient civil engineer or a hydrologist.

Since Bhagirath brought Ganga to Earth, one headwater stream of Ganga is known as Bhagirathi. Further, the Hindi term Bhagirath prayas describes the valiant efforts or difficult achievements of a person.

Ganga is also known by another name: Jahnavi. According to a different mythological story, when Ganga came down to earth a long time ago, her fast-moving waters created turbulence and destroyed crops in the fields. She also disturbed the meditation of a saint named Jahnu. Now, Jahnu was so much angry that he drank up all the water Ganga. This made the Devtas (semi-Gods) very sad and they prayed to Jahnu to release Ganga so that she could proceed on her mission. After their persistent prayers, Jahnu was pleased and he released Ganga water through his ears. On account of this, Ganga came to known by the name “Jahnavi” (daughter of Jahnu) also.

Kumbh Mela which is the largest religious gathering on Earth (attended by more than 80 lakh devotees) takes place after every 12 years at two places on the banks of Ganga River.

Key Takeaways

The article explores the significance of the Hindu goddess Ganga and her association with devotion.

Ganga is considered a sacred river in Hinduism and is worshipped for its purifying properties.

The article highlights the mythological origins of Ganga and her descent to Earth.

It discusses the religious rituals and practices associated with the worship of Ganga.

The article emphasizes the spiritual and symbolic importance of Ganga in Hindu culture.

It showcases the artistic representations of Ganga in various forms of visual art.