by Swami Sivananda

The Ganga came out of the Supreme Being. She entered the feet of Lord Hari and reached Vaikuntha. She issued from Go­Loka and passed through the regions of Vishnu, Brahma, Siva, Dhruva, Chandra, Surya, Tapa, Jana and Maha, and reached Indra­Loka and flowed as Mandakini. From the celestial regions it was brought to the earth by the rigorous penance of Bhagiratha. It came about like this.


In the days of yore, there lived a great king, Sagara. He was one of the mighty monarchs in the Solar race. The incarnation of Lord Rama was in this race. The monarch performed one hundred Asvamedha sacrifices aspiring for Indrahood, kingship of the Devas. In the hundredth sacrifice, the sacrificial horse was stolen away by Indra for fear of being dethroned. by the aspirant. Tied to a post, the horse was left within the premises of Rishi Kapila’s Ashram.

All the sons of Sagara, sixty thousand in number, set out in search of the horse. As soon as they found the horse in front of the sage’s Ashram, they mistook the sage unhesitatingly for the thief, and began to wage war with him. The innocent sage, aroused by their thoughtless actions, cursed them all and burnt them to ashes.


Time rolled on. Kings after kings ruled and died. Long after this lamentable incident, there arose another illustrious king, Bhagiratha, in the same family. He shuddered at the pitiable fate of his forefathers, and was extremely anxious to perform the necessary obsequies and religious rites levied by the scriptures. He consulted great Rishis and was advised to invoke Mother Ganga, who only could wash off the powerful curse of Rishi Kapila and satisfactorily fulfil his desire. Bhagiratha did great Tapas with all severities. Pleased with his penance, Mother Ganga appeared before him, and directed him to seek the help of somebody who could check Her flow, as otherwise the whole earth would be submerged in Her waters.


Again Bhagiratha sat doing rigorous penance for a full hundred years. It is needless to say that Lord Siva, the protector of all His devotees, was immensely pleased with the king and readily accepted to check and control Ganga through His matted locks. With surge, fury and foam, Ganga began to descend from celestial regions. Flashes of lightning, thunders from clouds, and the uncontrollable flow seemed as if a deluge was about to devour the whole world. But, Lord Siva coolly received Her in His matted locks and let Her drip over Him. This is the Ganga Saptami Day.


Taking Her course into the interior of the Himalayas, Ganga was about to wash away Rishi Jahnu’s Ashram. Sage Jahnu was naturally more powerful than Her and simply sipped the water. Bhagiratha was much disappointed. He did again severe penance to please Rishi Jahnu. At last, the sage let the Ganga through his ears. Flowing from this outlet, Ganga flowed with entire modesty and all­embracing filial love and motherly affection. By Her Divine Grace, She uplifted all the sixty thousand princes to the Highest Abode of immortal bliss. This day is celebrated as the most sanctifying Ganga Dussehra.


Ganga Saptami and Ganga Dussehra are observed in Northern India. Ganga Saptami generally falls during the last week of April. Ganga Dussehra falls on the tenth day of the bright half of the month of Jyeshta and celebrates the flowing of the holy Ganga at the request of Raja Bhagiratha. This is an important bathing day. A big Mela is held in Haridwar from this day until the full moon, the fifteenth of Jyeshta. This is attended by large number of people from the Punjab and Uttar Pradesh.