Encyclopedia for Epics of Ancient India

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GANGA [Source: Dowson's Classical Dictionary of Hindu Mythology] The sacred river Ganges. It is said to be mentioned only twice in the Rigveda.

The Puranas represent the Viyadganga, or heavenly Ganges, to flow from the toe of Vishnu, and to have been brought down from heaven, by the prayers of the saint Bhagiratha, to purify the ashes of the sixty thousand sons of King Sagara, who had been burnt by the angry glance of the sage Kapila. From this earthly parent the river is called Bhagirathi. Ganga was angry at being brought down from heaven, and Siva, to save the earth from the shock of her fall, caught the river on his brow, and checked its course with his matted locks. From this action he is called Gangadhara, `upholder of the Ganges.'

The river descended from Siva's brow in several streams, four according to some, and ten according to others, but the number generally accepted is seven, being the Saptasindhava, the seven sindhus or rivers. The Ganges proper is one of the number.

The descent of the Ganges disturbed the sage Jahnu as he was performing a sacrifice, and in his anger he drank up the waters, but he relented and allowed the river to flow from his ear, hence the Ganges has the name of Jahnavi.

Personified as a goddess, Ganga is the eldest daughter of Himavat and Mena, and her sister was Uma.

She became the wife of King Santanu and bore a son, Bhishma; who is also known by the metronymic Gangeya.

Being also, in a peculiar way, the mother of Kartikeya (q.v.), she is called Kumarasu.

Gold, according to the Mahabharata, was borne by the goddess Ganga to Agni, by whom she had been impregnated.

Other names and titles of the Ganges are Bhadrasoma, Gandini, Kirata, Devabhuti, `produced in heaven;' Harasekhara, `crest of Siva;' Khapaga, `flowing from heaven;' Mandakini, `gently flowing;' Tripathaga or Trisrotah, `triple flowing,' running in heaven, earth, and hell.

Modern Languages MLLL-4993. Indian Epics. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. The textual material made available at this website is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one. No claims are made regarding the status of images used at this website; if you own the copyright privileges to any of these images and believe your copyright privileges have been violated, please contact the webmaster. Page last updated: October 16, 2007 12:22 PM