The Merciful Mother “Ganga” Part III - Myths and Legends of Ganga

Ganga as a Goddess

There are many myths and legends, which tell that the river Ganges or Ganga is essentially a goddess residing in heaven.  She is exquisitely described as an extremely fair goddess.  She has four arms and three eyes.With the third eye on her forehead, she becomes a kaldarsini- one who can view the past, present and the future.  She is dressed in white and is heavily ornamented with precious stones and dazzling white pearls.On one hand, she holds a white lotus and with the other hand, she bestows peace and grants boons to humanity.  In the other two hands, she holds jars full of water that grant fertility, crops, and prosperity.  She has a calm, generous, and a pleasing expression on her beautiful and radiant face.  She rides a makara- a white crocodile with the tail of a fish, and is surrounded by two women, one fanning her and the other holding a white umbrella over her crowned head.  The jewel in her crown is the moon and the gods and goddesses all sing her praises and pay homage to her.  In her beautiful form, the sacred trinity of Brahma-Vishnu-Mahes is contained and all the three worlds bow before her purity and generosity

Ganga as in the Vedic Age

(Ganga is mentioned in the Vedas.  In the rgveda, it is mentioned in Book VI, Hymn XLV, Verse 31, as follows:)

 "Brbu hath set himself above the Panis,

o"er their highest head,

Like the wide bush on Ganga"s bank."

 Again, in Book X, Hymn LXXV, Verse 5, as follows:

 "Favour ye this my laud, O Ganga, Yamuna,

O Sutudri, Parusni and Sarasvati,

With Asikni, Vitasta, O Marudv?dha,

O Arjikiya with Su?oma hear my call."

The Vedic age worshipped Ganga as a Goddess, as the Aryan culture and civilization lourished on her banks.  The river had the longest course and was the most beautiful and important, assuming a significant role alongwiththe river Indus and the Saraswati, in all the religious activities of the Vedic Aryans. 

Ganga flows in heaven, earth, and hell

Goddess Ganga assumed the form of a river and flowed in all the three worlds, celestial, terrestrial, and subterranean.  In the celestial region, she has three streams known as Swarganga, Mandakini and Alaknanda.  In the terrestrial region, she begins her course from Gangotri in the Himalayas to finally merge with the Bay of Bengal, and is known as the river Ganges or Ganga.  Ancient texts tell that on earth, seven streams of Ganga are flowing, namely,Hladini, Pavani, Nalini, Sita, Si?dhu, Suchaksu and Bhagirathi.In the subterranean region, Ganga is known as Vaitarini, and a departed soul has to cross this river to reach hell.  Vaitarini, is also known as Patala Ganga.  Some sources claim that goddess Ganga flows in the heaven as Mandakini, on the earth as Ganga, and in the nether world as Bhogavati or Bhagirathi.  Since she is present in Swarga, Prithvi, and Patala, she is also known as Tripathaga or Tripathagamini - one who travels three paths or three worlds.


Ganga as a mother or Ma Ganga


Water also has a purifying aspect and running water in this context is considered the best. Thus the ritual of having a bath in a river is considered as a purificatory rite by all the civilizations in the world. In India also a bath in a river is held in high esteem; however, a bath in the river Ganges is considered as the best. This is because the waters of the Ganga are considered as exceedingly pure and have been proved to have miraculous healing properties.   This beneficience of the Ganges is what makes her a mother, and Hindus, since Vedic times, consider the river Ganges as their mother or Ma Ganga.On birth, a child is bathed in Ganga water to purify the child.  On death, drops of Ganga water are poured in the corpse"s mouth, so that the passage to heaven is obtained.  Every religious rite is considered incomplete without the presence of Ganga water or Ganga Jal. The Hindus consider being cremated on the banks of the river Ganges an auspicious funeral rite. The ashes are later scattered in the waters of the river Ganges.  Thus, from birth to death of every Hindu, the Ganga is inexplicably woven into the warp and weft of individual and societal existences.  Even in modern day India, the worship of Ganga continues unabated and the ancient Vedic customs and rituals are still followed with equal zest and vigour. Ma Ganga or mother Ganga bestows innumerable earthly gifts and Moksa or ultimate liberation from the karmic cycle of birth and rebirth.  It is said that if a dying man looks on the Ganga and utters the name of Narayana during his last breath, he is sure to attain Moksa.  Such is the celestial and beneficial power of Ma Ganga.

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