Mythology of the Ganges River


There was once a king of Ayodhya, by name Sarga.  He eagerly desired children, but had none. So he took his two wives, Keshini and Sumati, to the Himalayan Mountains to perform austere rituals in hopes of being granted children by the gods. When a hundred years had passed, the Rishi Brigu granted him his wish, "Thou shalt attain unparalleled renown amongst men," he said.  "Keshini, shall bring forth a son who will perpetuate thy race; Sumati shall give birth to sixty thousand sons."

In due course Keshini bore a son, to whom was given the name of Asamanja.  Sumati bore a gourd, and when it burst open the sixty thousand sons came forth; the nurses cared for them in jars until they could grow up. But the child of Keshini, hated the sons of Sumati and would cast them in the Sarayu river to watch them sink. Because of his evil disposition Asamanja was banished by his father. But before he left, a son named Suman, fair-spoken to all and well-beloved, was born to him.

When many years had passed, Sagara determined to perform a grand puja (worship ritual), a horse sacrifice.  The horse was set free and a servant was sent to follow and protect it.  But Vasudeva (a god) in disguise stole the horse.  Then the Brahmin priests, who were performing the puja informed the king and commanded him to slay the thief and bring back the horse, lest the sacrifice should fail and misfortune should fall on all concerned.

Then Sagra sent forth his sixty thousand sons to seek the horse.  "Search ye the whole earth," he said, "league by league, above the ground and under it."  These great princes ranged the whole earth.  No finding the horse upon its surface, they began to dig with hands like thunderbolts and mighty ploughshares, so that the earth cried out in pain.  So great was the uproar of the demons that were slain then, that the very gods feared and went into counsel unto Brahma, "O great creator," they said, " crying that someone has stolen their father’s horse, the sons of Sagara are digging out the whole earth and bringing havoc to every creature." Then Brahma answered: "Vasudeva sustains the whole earth. By his wrath the sons of Sagara will be slain."
As the sons of Sagara came upon the eternal Vasudeva in the shape of a rishi, and next to him they saw their father’s horse grazing, they rushed on the rishi in fury, attacking him with trees and boulders, spades and ploughs, crying:  "You are the thief!"  But Vasudeva uttered a dreadful roar and a brilliant flame flashed upon the sons of Sagara. They were all burned to ashes.  
After some time Sagara sent his grandson Suman, to seek out his uncles and learn of their fate.  When at last he came to the heap of ashes that had been his uncles; he wailed with heavy heart in bitter grief.   He desired to perform the last rights for his uncles, but he could find no water anywhere.  He prayed for Ganges (a goddess), to purify the heap of ashes so that the sixty thousand sons of Sagara might attain to heaven.
For many generations the sons of Suman pondered how to call down Ganges. Then, his descendant, Bhagiratha, consigned the kingdom of his fathers to the care of a guardian and went to the Himalayan forests. He performed terrible austerities for a thousand years to draw down Ganges from the heavens.  Finally Brahma was pleased by his devotion, and appeared before him, granting him a boon.  "Great is thy aim," replied the creator, "but you should invoke Shiva to receive the falling water of Ganges, for earth may not be able to sustain it.  None but he who sways the trident may sustain her fall."

Then for a year Bhagiratha worshipped Shiva; and he, well pleased, undertook to bear the goddess’s fall, receiving the river upon his head. Then Ganges, in mighty torrent, cast herself down from Heaven onto Shiva's gracious head, thinking in her pride:  "I shall sweep away the Great God in my waters, down to the nether regions. "But when Ganges fell into Shiva's tangled dreadlocks she could not even reach the earth, but wandered there unable to escape for many years. Then Bhagiratha again engaged in hard austerities, till Shiva would set the river free. She fell in seven streams, three to the east, three to the west, while one followed after Bhagiratha.  The falling waters made a sound like thunder.  All the shining ones of Heaven and all the creatures of the earth made haste to touch the sacred waters that wash away all sin.  Then Bhagiratha went forth and Ganges followed; and after her came the devas, the rishis and all the creatures that inhabit water went along with them.  At last Ganges came to the mighty ocean and there plunged into the nether regions where she deposited the heap of ashes.  The sixty thousand sons of Sagara were cleansed of every sin by the Ganges River and attained to Heaven.

Hindus believe that the water of the Ganges River is very sacred. It is an integral component of many pujas (worship rituals). And they believe that bathing in these waters will cleanse them of a lifetime of sins.