The first Prime Minister of India, Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, aptly summarized the importance of River Ganga in the hearts of the Indians as
The Ganga, especially, is the river of India, beloved of her people, round which are intertwined her memories, her hopes and fears, her songs of triumph, her victories and her defeats. She has been a symbol of India's age-long culture and civilization, ever changing, ever flowing, and yet ever the same Ganga.
Ganga represents the innermost pristine coolness, piety and purity. Ganga is considered as the most sacred river of the Hindu Mythology and is very much popular in India and is worshipped as a goddess. Ganga is the most revered river in the world.
The river known as the Ganges is officially and popularly known by its Hindu name Ganga. The Ganga is the second largest river on the Indian subcontinent by discharge. The river has its source in the Himalayas, at Gaumakh in the southern Himalayas on the Indian state Uttarakhand in the Tibetan border. It is 2510 km long and flows through China, India, Nepal and Bangladesh and empties out into the Bay of Bengal.
Ganges is the ultimate adventure point as far as river rafting in India is concerned. And the major rafting site from where any experienced rafter as well as an amateur one would love to start of his rafting trip in India is Rishikesh. Even the rafting gear that you require is an ordinary one that is if you like to get wet. The magic of white water rafting on the Ganges, the adrenaline rush with the thrill of negotiating speedy river currents or just gently floating past terraced hillsides and forest is one experience you wouldn't like to miss. The moods of the Ganges rafting trip can be as diverse as an adventure lover seeks.
The Ganga is mentioned in the Rig-Veda, the earliest of the Hindu scriptures. In Rigveda, the word Ganga is also mentioned, but it is not clear if the reference is to the river. Rigveda says that "your ancient home, your auspicious friendship, O Heroes, your wealth is on the banks of the Jahnavi ". This verse could possibly refer to the Ganga.
Another version of the myth tells us that Ganga descended to earth to purify the souls of the 60,000 sons of an ancient ruler, King Sagara, who had been burnt to ashes by an enraged ascetic.
According to the Hindu Purans, Goddess Ganga used to exist only in Heaven. Then prince Bhagirath worshipped Ganga to descend on earth. This is why Ganga is also known as Bhagirathi.
According to the Hindu scriptures like Skanda Purana, the goddess Ganga is foster-mother to Karttikeya (Murugan), who was actually a son of Shiva and Parvati.
One story about the origin of Ganga is also that the god Vishnu once heard Shiva play the flute. Vishnu was so entranced by the music that his feet began to melt. Brahma caught the liquefied portion of Vishnu in a pot and from it created Ganga. Hence Ganga is also known as Vishnu-padi (she-who-was-born-out-of-Vishnu's-feet).
Ganga in Hindu religion
The story of the Ganges, from her source to the sea, from old times to new, is the story of India's civilization and culture, of the rise and fall of empires, of great and proud cities, of adventures of man.
According to Hindus the river Ganga is sacred. It is worshipped as a goddess, who holds an important place in the Hindu religion. Hindu belief holds that bathing in the river on certain occasions causes the forgiveness of sins and helps attain salvation. People travel from distant places to immerse the ashes of their kin in the waters of the Ganga; this immersion also is believed to send the ashes to heaven. Several places to Hindus lie along the banks of the river Ganga. People carry sacred water from the Ganges that is sealed in copper pots after making the pilgrimage to Kashi. It is believed that drinking water from the Ganga with ones last breath will take the soul to heaven. Hindus also believe life is incomplete without bathing in the Ganga at least once in their lifetime.
Around 70 million Hindus from around the world participated in Kumbh Mela at the Hindu Holy city Prayaga (Allahabad). The most important city sacred to Hinduism on the banks of the River Ganga is Varanasi or Banaras. It has hundreds of temples along the banks of the Ganga which often get flooded during the rains. This city, especially along the banks of the Ganga, is an important place of worship for the Hindus as well as a cremation ground.
The river is also known as Mandakini, Alaknanda, Bhagirathi and Vishnu Ganga
The main Festivals related to the River Ganga
The Kumbh Mela the largest religious gathering on earth is held after every 12th years on the banks of the Triveni Sangam - the confluence of the holy rivers Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati. The Mela alternates between Nasik, Allahabad, Ujjain and Haridwar every three years. The Mela is attended by millions of devotees, including Sadhus. A holy dip in the sacred waters is believed to cleanse the soul. The Ardh or 'half Kumbh' Mela is held every six years on the banks of Sangam. Nearly 1.45-crore pilgrims took a dip in the Ganga on April 14, 2010, the day of Baisakhi only
Chhath an ancient major Hindu festival dedicated to the worship of the Lord Sun is mainly celebrated in northeast region of India in Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, some parts of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand on the banks of Ganga In Chhath Puja large numbers of devotees gathers on the banks of river Ganga and make offerings to the setting sun, the urban populace prefer to visit other water bodies like ponds or lakes or remain confined to their homes for performing the Chhath rituals as river Ganga has shifted away at different ghats.
Festivals connected with rivers are essentially bathing festivals. The Ganga, Regarded as a celestial river originating in the heavens, she is worshipped as the mother who washes away all the sins of mankind. Ganga Dussehra, held over the first 10 days of the month of Jyeshtha (in June), celebrates Gangavataran - the descent of the Ganga to earth. The first ten days of the month Jyeshtha, known as Dashahara, are dedicated to honour the river Ganges. It is believed that if one offers prayers on this day, one attains salvation from ten sins. The festival's name Dussehra is derived from 'Dus' which connotes ten and ' hara' which means defeat. Thus the name Ganga Dusshera.
The Ganga Festival
The Ganga Festival in Varanasi is one of the significant ceremonies held every year. This famous festival is celebrated between the months of October and November from Prabodhani Ekadashi to Kartik Purnima. It is dedicated to the Goddess Ganga and during this festival; the worship of the glorious River Ganga is the main ritual. The Ganga Festival in Varanasi is actually a celebration to refresh and recognize the ancient charm and grace of the River Ganga.
Main sources of River Ganga
The main worshipping places of the River Ganga are Gaumukh, Gangotri, Rudraprayag, Devprayag, Rishikesh, Haridwar, Allahabad, Varanasi, Patna and Kolkata.
The Ganga in Gaumukh
The source of the river Ganga and seat of the goddess Ganga is at Gaumukh, where the mighty river emerges from the depths of Gangotri glacier. The Gangotri glacier is situated at the height of4255 m above sea level and is approx 24 km in length and 7-8 km in width. Here the river is known as Bhagirathi after King -Bhagirath.
The word "Bhagirathi" refers to a mythological Sagar Dynasty prince who, to gain the release his 60,000 great-uncles from the curse of saint Kapila, brought the goddess Ganga in the form of the river Ganges, from the heavens to the earth.
Ganga or, more exactly, Bhagirathi, originates from Gangotri glacier, one of the biggest glaciers in Himalayas. The place, where Bhagirathi flows out from Gangotri, it called "Goumukh". This word means "Cow mouth". Indeed, with use of imagination this icy cave reminds a cow.
Gaumukh forbiddingly beautiful, the awesome Shivling peak looms, 6,543 M above the source of the Ganga at the Gangotri glacier evokes a mystical atmosphere as if the surrounding mountains were the personification of Shiva. The huge glacier varies in color from shades of blue to green lying in a basin 5,000 meters high.
TAPOVAN: Further up four km from Gaumukh is Tapovan where the blossoming form of the Bhagirathi flows in childlike glory. Tapovan is a meadow, with an icy stream of the Bhagirathi slicing it in two large parts. This is also the base camp for the mountaineers to Shivling, a divine peak that stands majestically atop the meadow.
BHOJBASA: Bhojbasa Set in the heart of Shivling Peak, is situated on the way to Gaumukh. Around 5 km from Chirbasa, Bhojbasa is a cold grey hamlet which is an alternative destination to Gomukh for trekkers to stay. The spot is the glistening glacier on the mountain peak which varies in colour, from shades of blue and green, to white.
The Ganga in Gangotri
The origin of the holy river is at Gaumukh, set in the Gangotri Glacier, and is a 19 km trek from Gangotri. Gangotri can be reached in one day's travel from Rishikesh, Haridwar or Dehradun, or in two days from Yamunotri. This small town is centered around a temple of the goddess Ganga, which was built by the Nepalese General, Amar Singh Thapa in the early 18th century.
Gangotri: Beyond the gorge where the Jadh Ganga meets the Bhagirathi heralding the approach of the Gangotri temple. At the end of this portion of the valley stands a simple edifice to the Goddess Ganga built in the eighteenth century, where Bhagirath sat and prayed for 5,500 years and where came the Pandavas to atone for the death of their kinsmen. Further the river flows north, giving the village its name Gangotri.
The Ganga in Rudraprayag
A small pilgrimtown on the holy confluence of river Alaknanda and Mandakini which is venerated as one of the five sacred confluences or the 'Panch Prayag'. Named after Lord Shiva (Rudra), Rudraprayag is situated at the holy confluence of Alaknanda and Mandakani rivers, at a distance of 34 km from Srinagar (Garhwal). The presence of two separate routes for Badrinath and Kedarnath Dham from Rudraprayag render great importance to the place. The entire region is blessed with immense natural beauty, places of religious importance, lakes and glaciers.
The Ganga in Devaprayaga
"Devaprayaga" means "Holy Confluence" in Sanskrit. As per Hindu Mythology, Devaprayaga is the sacred event of merging two heavenly rivers, Alakananda and Bhagirathi, to form the holy Ganga. Devprayag is also known as Purshotamma named after the Purshotma temple where the deity is Lord Rama who is known as Maryada Purush.
Devaprayag stands at an elevation of 2265 ft. on the side of a hill which rises above it 800 ft. On a terrace in the upper part of the village is the temple of Raghunath, built of huge uncemented stones, pyramidical in form and capped by a white cupola. Other than Sangam and Raghunath Ji Temple in Devprayag, one can visit nearby sacred places like Danda Naggaraja (Lord of Snakes) temple and Chandrabadni temple.
The Ganga in Rishikesh
Rishikesh is located at a height of about 1360 feet above sea level is at the base of Himalaya and the place where Ganga comes down to the plains from hills. A breathtaking experience of natural beauty and undiscovered wildlife await here. According to legend, sage Raibhya Rishi undertook staunch penance at Rishikesh to please God. In answer to his meditation, god appeared here, manifested as `Rishikesh' (hairs of the sage) and the place thus came to be called after him.
The sacred river Ganga flows through Rishikesh. It is here that the river leaves the Shivalik Mountains Himalayas, and flows out into the plains of northern India. Several temples, ancient as well as new, can be found along the banks of the river in Rishikesh. The city attracts thousands of pilgrims and tourists each year, from within India, as well as from other countries. The city has several Yoga centers that also attract tourists.
The Ganga in Haridwar
Haridwar, meaning the gateway to hari or Lord Vishnu. Haridwar is considered as one of the seven holiest places according to Hindu mythology. According to the legends, when the Gods left their footprints on the land of Haridwar, symbolically they also left an indelible mark on the spiritual philosophy of every Hindu - more so, the devout, who would later follow their holy paths all across this blessed land. Haridwar, due to its geographical location stands as the gateway to the four pilgrimages of Uttrakhand.
This sacred town is situated 210 km from Delhi, marks the emergence of the Ganga into the plains, piercing through the Shivalik Range. The devout believe that this is one of the four places in India upon which the nectar or Immortality, Amrit, fell and so Haridwar is also a venue for huge religious fair Kumbh Mela.
The Ganga at Allahabad
Allahabad is a historian's paradise. Allahabad is an important milestone on the journey of the Ganga. Triveni Sangam, (a holy place) at Allahabad the holy confluence of the Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati revered by millions and it is believed that a dip, taken in the season of Kumbh Mela, helps one to attain Moksha, (freedom from the cycle of life and death).Its site for historic Maha kumbh held once every 12 years.
The Ganga at Varanasi
Varanasi also known as Benares or Kashi situated on the banks of the River Ganga in Uttar Pradesh, regarded as most holy place by Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains. It is one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world, believed to be about 3,000 years old. Varanasi is referred as "the city of temples", "the holy city of India", "the religious capital of India", “the city of lights", and "the city of learning." The importance of Varanasi is closely associated with the River.
Varanasi is one of the holiest places in Buddhism too, being one of the four pilgrimage sites said to have been designated by Gautama Buddha himself.
According to the Hindu mythology, Varanasi liberates soul from human body to the ultimate. It is the Ganga Ghats of Varanasi that complement the concept of divinity. Some of the prominent and popular Ghats at Varanasi are the Dasaswamedh Ghat, Manikarnika Ghat, Harischandra Ghat, Kabir Ghat and Assi Ghat. It has the holy shrine of Kashi Vishwanath, and also one of the twelve revered Jyotirlingas of Lord Shiva
The Ganga in Bihar
River Ganga next enters the state of Bihar; Patna is a major city on the banks of the Ganga. Patna is located at the confluence of four rivers the Ganga, Son, Gandakand and Poonpun. With a land as fertile as the Gangetic basin, it is not surprising that the region is so heavily populate d. This is the major site where Chaath puja is celebrated every year on the bank of Ganga. This city has been home to two great religions, Buddhism and Jainism, and myriad dynasties from ancient to modern times.
The Ganga in Kolkata (West Bengal) - Hooghly River
Hooghly River, tributary of the Ganga River in West Bengal was an important transportation channel in the early history of Bengal. In its upper reaches the river is generally known as the Bhāgirathi, until it reaches Hooghly. The main branch of the Ganga, the Padma, passes through the Farraka Barrage, a gigantic barrier designed to divert the Ganga waters into the Hooghly branch, and away from the Padma. Kalighat ,a Ghat sacred to Kali on was situated to the bank of the Hooghly river in the city of Calcutta. The river over a period of time has moved away from the temple. The temple is now on the banks of a small canal called Adi Ganga which connects to the Hoogly. The Adi Ganga was the original course of the river Hoogly (Ganga). Hence the name Adi (original) Ganga.