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Ganga descends to earth by the extraordinary effort of Bhageeratha. Shiva agrees to the alighting of Ganga on His head and from where she is released into a lake called Bindusarovar, and from there she flows in seven courses. On land Bhageeratha ushers her up to netherworld dug by his ancestors where heaps of ashes of his grandparents are there, and she enters accordingly to inundate those mounds of ashes according salvation to the souls.
"When the god of gods Brahma left from there Bhageeratha stood on the tip of his big-toe praying for the mercy of Lord Shiva for one year, while that tip of his big-toe pressurised the earth." Thus Vishvamitra continued his narration about Bhageeratha's effort to bring Ganga to earth.
Bhageeratha stood on one big-toe with an unwavering intent and bodily movement, and with his hands upraised in prayer for a period of one year by day and night, sustaining himself on mere air, and thus his yogic concentration increased and that alone pressurised the earth.
"On completion of one year, he who is venerated by all worlds, the consort of Uma and the god of animals from insects to humans, that god Shiva revealed himself and spoke this to the king. Oh, best one among humans, I am delighted with your unwavering effort, and I will fulfil your cherish. I will therefore sustain Ganga, the daughter of king of mountains by my head. Afterwards, she who is reverenced by all the worlds and who is the elder daughter of Himavanta, that Ganga assuming an unendurable form and an insupportable rapidity, they say, then plunged from the sky onto the auspicious head of Shiva.
"She who is an extremely unendurable river that goddess Ganga even speculated saying to herself, 'let me enter netherworld, indeed whisking Shiva with my streams. Discerning her egotism god Shiva is infuriated, and then on his part that Three-eyed god Shiva thought to pent her up in the tufts of his head-hair. And oh, Rama, she that holy River Ganga swooped down into the cavernous curls of matted hair-tufts on the holy head of God Shiva, and she became a detainee in them. Though she strove hard in one way or another to reach the earth that Ganga is rendered incapable, as she could not gain access for an outlet from any edge of the coils of matted hair-tufts of Shiva, hence she is held there in durance vile.
"Goddess Ganga whirled round and round in the coils of tufts alone for many number of years, and when Ganga's emanation from those coils is intangible Bhageeratha again firmed up in a marvellous penance in the matter of her descent to earth. Oh, Rama, the legatee of Raghu, with that ascesis of Bhageeratha god Shiva is very much delighted, and thereupon he has also released Ganga aiming at Bindu Lake in Himalayas.
"While god Shiva released Ganga into Bindu Lake seven streams have emerged out of it, and thus three auspicious Ganga-s with holy waters have cruised eastward which are known as Hlaadini, Paavani, and Nalini. Also thus Sucakshu, Seetha, and the excellent river Sindhu are the other three rivers which streamed to the westward direction with their holy waters.
"Of them the seventh Ganga flowed towards the path of Bhageeratha' chariot, and that great-resplendent and kingly sage Bhageeratha sitting in a divine chariot moved ahead and even Ganga followed him. Thus Ganga came from heavens onto Shankara's head and from there onto the earth, and there on earth her waters advanced with a tumultuous sound advancing them.
The River Ganga is also called as tri patha gaa 'she courses in three ways...' of which one kind of thinking is that she flowed from Himalayas to heaven, from heaven to Shiva's head and from there to earth. In the above context also, she is said to have the three-way-flow, i.e., one is eastward flow, second westward flow and the third is southward flow as led by Bhageeratha. The westward river Sindhu is the Indus and the eastward Nalini, which is now called as river Brahmaputra, while Ganga proper courses a little to south to move towards the ocean.
"The earth then verily shone forth with the shoals of fish, schools of tortoises, and scores of porpoises and other aquatic beings that have already fallen and that are still falling in step with the spates of Ganga. Later, they the gods, sages, gandharva-s, yaksha-s, and the assemblages of siddha-s have then seen there the swoop of Ganga in that way from heaven to earth, with curiosity. Some of the gods with aircrafts that are like cities in their shape and size, and some with horses that are prancing, and some with best elephants that are staggering, at the very sight of plunging Ganga, have entered the firmament at that place.
"The gods whose animation is unlimited, and who are anxious to see the plunge of Ganga, have come together in assemblages, which plunge is a highest marvel in the universe by a better degree of her illimitable animation than that of gods who came to see, and even benignant to the world in according water and salving souls, which those gods cannot do. The glitter of the ornaments of hosts of gods who are in stampede, made the cloudless sky to shine as if it is with a hundred of suns.
"At that time, with the falling and rising of scores of porpoises and reptiles, even with the wriggling fishes, the sky became flashy as if flashes of lightning are strewn over it. Spattered innumerably with the whitish froth from the splashes of Ganga, and stippled with the flights of swans, the sky is as though overspread with silver-clouds of autumn.
"Somewhere Ganga is coursing precipitately, elsewhere sinuously, somewhere else staightly, elsewhere sloppily, somewhere gushingly, and somewhere else her cruise is leisurely and tardily.
"Somewhere Ganga is coursing precipitately in declivities, elsewhere sinuously on zigzag lands, somewhere else staightly on uniform lands, elsewhere sloppily in canting lands, somewhere gushingly in craggy lands, and somewhere else her cruise is leisurely in flatlands and tardily in uplands.
"Somewhere her water repeatedly knocking against her own water is recurrently billowing upwards only to make nosedive onto earth. That impeccable and immaculate water of Ganga then became outstanding as it has flounced down from heaven primarily onto the head of Shankara, and therefrom it has coasted down onto the earth. And asserting that the water as holy, because it descended touching the body of Shiva, viz., the head of Shiva, the assemblages of sages, gandharva-s, and those that are residents on the plane of earth have sipped that water at that place. Also those that have fallen from heaven onto the surface of earth by some curse or the other, they too became blemishless on taking head-bath in the water of Ganga. When sins are washed away with the hallowing water of Ganga, they again transited skyward and then obtained their own empyrean worlds once again.
"With her splendorous water people are blissful, and on taking dip-baths in Ganga they are totally removed of the strains of their sins, and they lived blissfully ever after. In this way, the great-resplendent and kingly sage Bhageeratha sitting in a divine chariot continuously moved ahead and Ganga continually followed him at his behind.
This verse is almost similar to the verse No. 14 above. But here, the continuous actions of both the leader and the led are implied with ellipses - 'in this way', and 'continuously.'
"Oh, Rama, all of the gods along with the assemblages of sages, ogres, monsters, demons, and even great reptiles with kinnara-s, and gandharva-s with best yaksha-s, and even serpents and apsara-s, have delightfully moved after Ganga who is following the chariot of Bhageeratha, and why they, in fact, all of the aquatic beings have followed Ganga. In whichever direction king Bhageeratha has advanced, that glorious River Ganga, who is the prominent river among all the rivers and the complete obliterator of sins, has also moved at his behind in that direction.
"While in flow she started to completely inundate the field of Vedic-ritual belonging to the great-souled sage Jahnu, who is of marvellous deeds and who is presently an officiator of an ongoing Vedic-ritual. But on knowing her hubris, oh, Raghava, that sage Jahnu has become irritated and causing an extreme marvel he drank off all the water of Ganga. Thereupon, the gods along with gandharva-s and sages at that extremely marvellous feat of Sage Jahnu are highly astounded, and they then started to worship that ablest human and great-souled sage Jahnu, and even deigned for the daughterhood of Ganga to that high-souled sage Jahnu. That greatly radiant and godly sage Jahnu is then delighted and released Ganga from both of his ears. Therefore Ganga became the daughter of sage Jahnu, and she is also renowned as Jahnavi, after the name of that sage.
Even though Ganga again proceeded moving behind the chariot of Bhageeratha and reached the ocean, therefrom she had to wend her way to netherworld, once dug by the sons of Sagara, only to accomplish the mission of Bhageeratha, namely drenching the ashes of Sagara's sons.
Some take the word saagaram as the netherworld dug by the sons of Sagara and omit the mention of her ocean-bound travel.
"Even kingly-sage Bhageeratha making every effort ushered Ganga to netherworld, but on seeing his grandparents rendered to ashes he has became doleful.
"Oh, Rama, the best of Raghu's dynasty, then Ganga inundated that mound of ashes of Sagara's six-thousand sons, by which those souls obtained heaven, while the sins of souls are cleansed with the water of Ganga." Thus Vishvamitra continued his narration.
Thus, this is the 43rd chapter in Bala Kanda of Valmiki Ramayana, the First Epic poem of India.
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© Aug, 2002, Desiraju Kumari, [Revised : September 04]