The Enchanting Story of River Ganga ( Ganges )
River Ganga or Ganges came into world prominence when the first European Traveler Megasthenes ( 350 – 290 BCE ) made several references to the river and its many features.Ganga the mighty river emerges from the depths of the Himalayan mountains at Gangotri glacier, which is situated at a height of 4255 m above sea level.She is called Bhagieerathi at this stage because Indian mythology associates her to King Bhageerath.
The story goes that king Sagar who was supposed to have had 60,000 sons waged a war against the demons or Asuras as they were called. After defeating them the king wanted to host a Yagna or a homage called Ashwamedha Yagna to declare his supremacy.The royal horse is sent across the country to different kingdoms and the horse and its bearers are honored and sent back with gifts. But if a king ties up the horse , it meant that he was not accepting the supremacy of the king and therefore he was ready to challenge the king in battle.
So, when Bhageeratha sent his Royal horse along with his sons, Lord Indra wanted to stop him, since he feared that Bhageeratha would become too powerful.Indra stole the horse and hid it in the Ashram ( dwelling) of sage Kapila. The sons who were following the horse saw the horse tied up in the Ashram stable of Sage Kapila.They begin to attack the Ashram. At this point sage Kapila who was meditating opened his eyes and with his spiritual powers reduced all the 60,000 sons except one to ashes. Asamnjas, the only son who was left alive was sent back to the king with the message and when the king learnt about the trick played by Indra he was angry with Indra but went to the ashram of Kapila to ask his forgiveness. Kapila was sorry that the sons were killed and told Bhageeratha that only Ganga the heavenly river can infuse life into his sons.She had to be brought down to the earth to do this.After 4 generations Bhageeraths great great grand son also called Bhageerath did penance and meditation for several years after which Ganga agreed to descend down to earth from the Himalayas.But this was a difficult task since she was very forceful and chances were that she would flood the entire earth.
Lord Shiva consented to hold her in his matted locks after which she flowed down and the sons of Bhageeratha senior rose to their eternal abode in heaven.The Ganga, thus, became an attribute of Shiva. This manifestation of Shiva is known as Gangadhara. According to legend Ganga was completely restrained by Lord Shiva in his locks and she struggled there for a number of years before he let out only a part of her .Shivarathri is a festival celebrated by Hindus by taking a dip in River Ganga and worshipping Lord Shiva.It also symbolises the end of Winter .
Ganga spilts into seven different streams as she comes down from Gangotri and the seven streams namely Bhagirathi, Janhvi, Bhilangana, Mandakini, Rishiganga, Saraswati and Alaknanda merge into the holy river Ganga at Devprayag. Rising in the icy caves of Gangotri glacier ganga gushes , tosses and gurgles as she begins her long journey downwards where later ishe joins river Alaknanda and becomes the Mighty Ganga!
Ganga is at the core of Hinduism and she is revered by Hindus. In fact even to this day every Hindu makes it a point to visit Ganga at either Rishikesh, Haridwar or Varanasi in his/her life time.Kumbh Mela is celebrated every twelve years at Haridwar and at Allahabad on the banks of River Ganga and it attracts millions of devotees across the world.
Some facts about River Ganga
Ganga is the second largest river on the Indian sub continent measuring 2516 kms .
When one looks at the history of India ganga has been associated with the rise and fall of many empires like Pataliputra,Kannauj,Baharampur etc; In fact the story of the Ganga, from her source at Gangotri in Himalaya to her final destination The bay of Bengal , from the old times to the new, is also the story of India's civilization and culture, of the rise and fall of empires.
River Ganga is mentioned in Rigveda which is one of the oldest existing scriptures in the world today.
There are several dams built across River ganga . Prominent among them are the Farakka Dam and Tehri Dam.
There is also a proposal to build another dam on the upper reaches of a tributary of the Ganges called Mahakali. This project for building the Pancheswar Dam as it would be called , is going to be the highest dam in the world and will be built with foreign collaboration mainly the USA.
The Ganges and its tributaries provide a perennial source of irrigation to a large area in the North eastern region of India . Chief crops cultivated in this area includes rice, sugarcane, lentils, oil seeds, potatoes, and wheat.
Along the banks of the river, the presence of swamps and lakes provide a rich growing area for crops such as legumes, chillies, mustard, sesame, sugarcane, and jute.However, River Ganga has become extremely polluted ever since India became an Industrial power and more and more small Industries and factories sprouted along the banks of Ganga.Now , though a little too late, steps are being taken to clean up the river and also bring in stricter rules against the polluting industries.