Descent of the Ganges

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In both the great Hindu epics the Mahābhārata (see Mahābhārata) and the Rāmāyaṇa (see Rāmāyaṇa), there are versions of the story of the descent of the sacred river Ganges or Gaṇgā (see Ganges) from Heaven to Earth. The Purāṇas (see Purāṇas) tell us the source of the river is Viṣṇu's (see Viṣṇu) big toe. But it is Śiva (see Śiva) who controls the flow of the river. In the myth the King Sagara wishes to have Gaṇgā come to earth to purify the ashes of his sixty thousand dead warrior sons. It is not until many generations later that the sage Bhagīratha, a descendant of Sagara, goes to the Himālayas and succeeds in doing sufficient austerities to Gaṇgā to convince the river to come down to earth. But in order to prevent the force of the flow from destroying the world, the sage must perform austerities to Śiva. Finally the great god agrees to allow the river to fall on his head. When it falls Gaṇgā forms the three Himālayan rivers that in turn make up the river Ganges. The significance of this myth lies in the relationship between the Ganges as the “blood” of the earth and Śiva as its heart.

Subjects: Religion.

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