THE ETERNAL GANGA
The Significance of Ganga in Ancient Indian Traditions:-
To the reader who has not seen the Ganga, this verse may seem to express a mere ancient superstition. But those who have seen and experienced the mighty river would know why she is holy and why those who love her are mukta- set free. (A.L. Basham)
The divine origin of Ganga finds mention in most ancient Indian literature. When the likes of the mighty Kings Dilip and Sagar failed in persuading the celestial river to manifest itself on earth, it was sage Bhagiratha, who with his Tapa (Penance) succeeded in invoking the river to leave its heavenly abode and bless the ashes of his forefathers. The episode of Bhagiratha Prayatna finds mention in Mahabharata's Vana Parva, Bal Kand of Ramayana, Brahmanda Purana, Padma Purana and in Bhagwat Purana. Generations after generations, this great story is retold in every Hindu household and children are inspired to make similar sacrifices to achieve great causes.
Besides Ramanyan and Mahabharata Vayupuran, Agnipurana, Skandapurana, Matsya Purana, Brahmanda Purana, Vishnu Purana, Divi Purana and Bhagvad Purana shed light on diverse aspects of the mighty river.
The holy waters of the river play a vital role in Hindu ceremonies, in rituals of birth and initiation of marriage and death. As a Goddess, she has moved among the great celestials of Hinduism: at times the child of Brahma, the wife of Shiva, the metaphysical product of Vishnu or mother to the Vasus and to Kartikeya.
Ganga has been a cradle of human civilization since time immemorial. Many Indians depend on this great river for their physical, psychological and spiritual sustenance. Ganga is a perennial river and people have great belief in her powers of healing and regeneration. Ganga known variously as Hiranyagarbha, Amritvahini, Tripathga, Patitpavini is deeply mingled with the Indian psyche and ethos. The role of Ganga in the birth and shaping of the Indian civilization has been recorded in the Vedas and in many modern works on the river. It would be no exaggeration to say that the sacredness and purity of the river is incomparable and unparalleled. It was on the banks of this great river in prehistory the Indian civilization was born. It was on the banks of this great river that many beautiful Kingdoms and towns came up. It was here that a complex, fascinating and live historical process of human interfacing was started in the dim distant past. It was on the banks of this mighty river that the Indian race discovered and nurtured its deep philosophical moorings. It can only be an irony of history that with the passage of time this mighty river is today a victim of defilement and pollution by the very human race that finds sustenance by it.
| Geographical Setting :-
The earthly origins of Ganga lie several hundred miles south of Kailasa in the Gangotri Glacier, a mountain of ice nearly twenty miles long and three miles wide, surrounded by peaks twenty one thousand to twenty four thousand feet high. From here its two main sources, the Alaknanda and Bhagirithi flow past the sacred villages of Badrinath and Gangotri long since regarded as the most revered centres of pilgrimage. Further south, the Alaknanda river is joined by Mandakini, a lesser source that rises near Kedarnath, another centre of pilgrimage.
At Deoprayag, the Alaknanda joins the Bhagirithi, the other main source of Ganga which rises beyond the pilgrimage centre of Gangotri. The route to Gangotri follows steep mountainsides along the Bhagirithi Valley, passing among dense forests of cedar and pine and through little towns. The approach is through a rocky defile that booms with the sound of the river. But the true source of the Ganga is at Gomukh, the giant ice cave at a height of 13,500 feet. From here and Badrinath, the great sources descend to the sangam at Deoprayag, where they become the Ganges. Flowing south it passes through Rishikesh, the last point in the Himalayas before Ganga enters the plains. At the point where Ganga enters the plains, breaking out between the hills lies Haridwar.