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The Origins and Greatness of the Ganga


by Jaya Vijaya Dasa


The Ganga's Origins


When Lord Vamana approached Bali Maharaja and begged three steps of land from him, Vamana pierced the covering of the universe with His second step. A few drops of water from the Causal Ocean leaked through this hole and became the sacred Ganga. The Ganges River purifies Dhruvaloka and the planets of the seven sages; she inundates the heavenly planets, especially the moon; and she flows through Brahmapuri atop Mount Mem, where she divides into four branches (known as Sita, Alakananda, Caksu and Bhadra), which then flow down to the ocean of salt water in four directions (as described in the chapter summary of Srimad-Bhagavatam 5.17).There are more accounts of how the Ganga came to Lord Brahma's abode. Another account says that when Lord Shiva was chanting the glories of Lord Krishna, and Narada Muni and Ganesh were playing the vina and mridanga, the harmonious spiritual vibration pierced the universe and Lord Narayana came to hear their concert. Narayana told Shiva that their music was so ecstatic that it was causing his body to melt. The water formed by the Lord's melting body was liquid Brahman, full of compassion. Lord Brahma preserved that water in his water pot and used it to wash Lord Vamana deva's feet.Another account says that Lord Shiva once gave Brahma specially sanctified water, with which Brahma washed Vamanadeva's lotus feet.Srila Prabhupada took those other versions into account {Bhag. 8.21.4): "Here we understand that the Ganges began when the water from Lord Brahma's water pot washed the lotus feet of Lord Vamanadeva. But in the Fifth Canto it is stated that the Ganges began when Vamanadeva's left foot pierced the covering of the universe so that the transcendental water of the Causal Ocean leaked through.


And elsewhere it is also stated that Lord Narayana appeared as the water of the Ganges. The water of the Ganges, therefore, is a combination of three transcendental waters, and thus the Ganges is able to purify the three worlds. This is described by Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti."By any account, the Ganga water fell on Mount Mem and flowed down in four directions. Lord Shiva caught hold of the water that flowed south.The water that flowed west went back into Brahma's water pot. Vishnu caught the water that flowed north. The sages, demigods and ancestors caught the auspicious water that flowed east.Two divisions of the southern waters were stationed in the matted hair of Shiva, and two persons later brought them down to earth: Maharaja Bhagiratha and Gautama Muni. Thus the water in Shiva's hair attained two forms. To the north of the Vindhya Hills, she is called Bhagirathi. To the south of the Vindhya Hills, she is called Gautami. [See the Maharashtra section which follows for the account of Gautama Muni bringing down the Ganga.]The Ninth Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam describes Bhagirathi Maharaja's adventures. The narration about Bhagirathi says that when the Ganges water was released from Lord Shiva's locks, it descended to the Himalayas and split into seven streams: the Hladini, Pavani and Nalini ran in the eastern direction; the Suchaksu, Sita and the great Sindhu flowed in the western direction; and the seventh and main branch of Ganga followed the chariot of Bhagiratha.Bhagiratha's purpose was to bring the Ganga to the place where the ashes of his ancestors were lying. The Bhagavatam (9.9.13) notes that simply by having water from the Ganges come in contact with the ashes of their burnt bodies, the ancestors went to the heavenly planets.




Ganga's Greatness



Every Vedic literature nicely explains Ganga-devi's greatness, mercy and pastimes. Just to hear her pastimes is purifying, what to speak of regularly bathing in her or worshiping her. The Ganges is mixed with the dust and tulasi leaves from the lotus feet of the Lord. That water sanctifies the three worlds and even Lord Shiva and other demigods.Srila Prabhupada glorified the Ganga (Bhag. 3.5.4Ip): "The Lord is so kind that He has spread the Ganges throughout the universe so that by taking bath in that holy river everyone can be released from sinful reactions. There are many rivers in the world which evoke the sense of one's God consciousness, but the Ganges is the chief among them. The Ganges and the Bhagavad-gita are the chief sources of transcendental happiness for mankind, and intelligent persons can take shelter of them to go back home, back to Godhead. Sripada Sankaracarya recommends that a little knowledge of Bhagavad-gita and a little drink of Ganges water can save one from the punishment of Yamaraja."Snmad-Bhagavatam (3.28.22) says: "The blessed Lord Shiva becomes all the more blessed by bearing on his head the holy waters of the Ganges, which has its source in the water that washed the Lord's lotus feet. The Lord's feet act like thunderbolts hurled to shatter the mountain of sin stored in the mind of the meditating devotee. One should therefore meditate on the lotus feet of the Lord for a long time."Srila Prabhupada writes {Bhag. 5.17.Ip): "The water of the Ganges is called patita-pavani, the deliverer of all sinful living beings. It is a proven fact that a person who regularly bathes in the Ganges is purified both externally and internally. Externally his body becomes immune to all kinds of disease, and internally he gradually develops a devotional attitude toward the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Throughout India, many thousands of people live on the banks of the Ganges, and by regularly bathing in her waters, they are undoubtedly being purified both spiritually and materially. Many sages, including Sankaracarya, have composed prayers in praise of the Ganges, and the land of India itself has become glorious because the Ganges, Yamuna, Godavari, Kaveri, Krishna and Narmada flow there. Anyone living on the land adjacent to these rivers is naturally advanced in spiritual consciousness."


Srimad-Bhagavatam (5.17.9) says, "Persons who come to bathe in the Ganga are fortunate. It is not difficult for them to achieve, with every step, the results of performing great sacrifices like Rajasuya and Ashv amedha yajnas.''One sweet pastime of the Ganga took place in Navadvipa Dhama. Early one evening when Caitanya Mahaprabhu and his friends went to the Ganga, many brahmanas, sadhus, pandits and young and old women were worshiping and appreciating the pure, beautiful waters of Ganga-devi. Out of uncontrolled love for Caitanya Mahaprabhu, Ganga-devi began to rush rapidly and overflowed her banks, eager to gently touch the body of the Lord. AU the people wondered why Ganga was seething with waves and flooding her banks, though no storm was brewing. Then they all saw that Caitanya Mahaprabhu was overcome with love for Ganga-devi. As she splashed her waters across the Lord's lotus feet. Lord Gauranga lovingly chanted "Hari-bol."He used to say, "In Bengal I have two shelters: my mother and the Ganges River. Both of them are very merciful." (Cc, Madhya, 16.90)Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu prays to Ganga-devi as follows: "O Ganga-devi, your waters are the ambrosia of love of Godhead. Lord Shiva is conversant with the truth about you. You are so powerful that the mere utterance of your name invokes devotional service to the Supreme Lord, and the result of drinking your water is miraculous. By your mercy, the living entities acquire a taste for chanting Krishna's holy name. By your influence, even the wild birds and beasts that come close to you become more fortunate than wealthy men who live far away from you. No one is more potent than you in purifying the sinful. In fact, you have descended to this material planet just to relieve the living entities of their sinful reactions." {Caitanya Bhagavata, Antya-lila, Ch. 1)