This is literally the "birthday or descent of mother Ganges – Ganga Ma". Throughout india this festival lasts ten days beginning on the Amavasya (dark moon night) and going through to the dasami tithi (tenth phase of the Moon, the day before Pandava Nirjal Ekadasi)
"Festivals connected with rivers are essentially bathing festivals. Ganga Dussehra is celebrated on the tenth day of Jyeshtha. River Ganga is worshipped as a mother as well as a Goddess, particularly by people of Uttara Pradesh, Bihar, and Bengal through which the river flows. On this day, if a devotee is unable to visit and bathe in the river Ganga, then Ganga jal (water) kept in most Hindu homes is used for purification. A bath in the river is said to purify the bather of all sins. The Ganga is revered all over India even in places far from its course.
Initially, river Ganga flowed in the heavens. She was brought down to earth by the severe penances of the sage Bhagiratha and that is why she is also called Bhagirathi. According to the story, of the descent of the Ganga, once a number of demons were harassing the hermits by disturbing them in their ascetic duties. During the day, they would be chased into the ocean. But in the darkness of the night, they would emerge from the ocean and start harassing the hermits again. In desperation the hermits appealed to Rishi Agastya. Agastya, known for his gastronomic powers, drank all the water of the ocean. Though this was done in good faith, it resulted in depriving the world of the water needed for sustenance and the earth became parched and dry. Bhagiratha brought this drought to and end.
According to the legend, King Sagara of the Ikshvaku dynasty ruling at Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh had two queens, Keshani and Sumati, but neither had a child. Sagara performed severe austerities before his wives could produce sons. But whereas Keshani gave birth to a son called Asmajas, Sumati bore 60,000 sons. Sagara performed the Ashwamedha sacrifice to declare his suzerainty over the neighbouring kingdoms. According to the prevalent custom, the sacrificial horse was let loose and allowed to wander into the neighbouring kingdoms. If the horse was caught, a battle ensued and the outcome decided the winner. The 60,000 sons of Sagara were following the horse when they saw him enter a cavern where sage Kapila was meditating. Not seeing the horse in the cavern, they presumed that Kapila had captured it. They did not kill Kapila as he was a sage but they started disturbing his meditations. Annoyed at being disturbed, Kapila with a curse burnt the 60,000 sons of Sagara.
Time passed and later Bhagiratha, the great grandson of Sagara, chanced to come across the bones of his dead ancestors. He wanted to perform the shraddha of his ancestors but there was no water available for the ceremony. Agastya having drunk all the waters of the ocean, the country was passing through a severe drought. Bhagiratha prayed to Brahma, the Creator, to end the drought. Brahma asked him to pray to Vishnu, the Preserver, to allow the heavenly Ganga, issuing from His big toe, to come down to earth. Vishnu when prayed to by Bhagiratha agreed, but asked him to request Shiva, the third member of the Hindu trinity of Gods, to allow the torrential rain to fall on his head before it came to the earth as the river was very forceful and if she were allowed to come down unchecked, her fall would split the earth. Shiva agreed to take the gigantic weight of the cascading Ganga on the matted hair piled high on his head. This ensnared and delayed the progress of the river which, in meandering through the labyrinth of his hair, lost its force and then gently descended to the Himalayas from whence it flowed to the plains bestowing its waters on the parched earth. And that is why the anthropomorphic image of Ganga is shown in the matted hair of Shiva who is also called Gangadhara. Being born in the Himalayas, Ganga is considered the elder sister of Parvati, who is also a daughter of the Himalayas.
According to the Agni Purana and Padma Purana, the Ganga descended to the earth on Ganga Dussehra day and a bath in the holy river on this day is said to purify one of all sins. To die on the banks of the Ganga is considered most auspicious. If that is not possible, then the immersion of the ashes after cremation in the river Ganga is a must, as it then releases one from the cycles of birth and re-birth.
the seven ways of worshipping the Ganga are: by calling out her name, 'Oh Ganga'; having darshan of her; by toughing her waters; by worshipping and bathing; by standing in the waters of the river; and by carrying clay dug out of the river. Ganga in her anthropomorphic form is shown as a beautiful young woman standing on a crocodile and holding a waterpot in her hands. Her image, with that of the Goddess Yamuna, another sacred river deity, is often depicted on the doors of temples and palaces. In Gujarat, there is a legend according to which Ganga came down to the earth on Rishi Panchami, the fifth day of Bhadra (September) at Tarnetar. There is a sacred tank where people congregate for a holy bath on that day (pages 82-82.) (see Tarnetar festival 106-107, 120-121. not so relevant to us – nice pictures of the fair and bathing ghats though.) (Shakti M. Gupta. 1991. Festivals, Fairs and Fasts of India. Clarion Books)
The first ten days of the month Jyeshth, known as Dashahara, are dedicated to honour the river Ganges, or Mother Ganges. The Ganges is believed to flow in the three worlds: in heaven it is called Mandakini, on earth the Ganges (or Ganga), and in the nether region the Bhagirathi. Thus the Ganga is known as “Tripathaga”, or the “Three Path River”. People believe that by bathing in the Ganga sins are washed away. The principle centres for the worship of the Ganga are Gangotri, the source of the river; Haridwar, where she comes down to the plains; Allahabad, where she joins the Yamuna; Varanasi, the holy city; and Sagara Island in her estuary where she finally flows into the Bay of Bengal.
Ganga is supposed to be the daughter of the Himalayas and the goddess Mena. According to the Puranas, the heavenly Ganga flows from Vishnu's toe. Ganga sometimes assumed a human form. In one such appearance, she married King Shantanu and was the mother of Bhishma, grandsire to the warring Pandava and Kaurava clans (see Mahabharata).
Long ago there was a king named Sagar. Once he performed the horse sacrifice known as Ashvamedh. After much wandering one day the king’s horse reached the ashram of Kapil Muni. Then seven thousand of the king’s boys also reached there in search of the horse. They had wickedly imagined that Kapil Muni had deliberately kidnapped the horse, and they decided to destroy the muni. Kapil Muni got angry and cursed them. There upon they all were burnt and reduced to ashes.
Since neither the horse nor his soldiers returned King Sagar became anxious. He sent his grandson Anshuman to search for them. Kapil Muni told Anshuman the whole story. Anshuman asked, “How can the sin of the king’s boys be destroyed?”
Kapil Muni answered, “They will be saved if the water of the Ganga will flow over this land.”
Anshuman tried but did not succeed in bringing down the Ganga on earth. Then his son Dilip also tried, but without success. Finally his son Bhagirath after performing terrible austerities managed to bring down the Ganga to this earth. Mother Ganga was pleased with Bhagirath, but asked him to obtain also the good pleasure of Shankar (Lord Shiva). Shankar agreed to take the burden of bringing the Ganga on earth. Thus on the tenth day of the bright half of Jyeshth, Mother Ganga began to flow from heaven to the matted hair of Shankar, and from the hair of Shankar she began to flow on this earth. In this way the children of Sagar were saved. For this reason the Ganges is also known as the Bhagirathi. END.
If you are so fortunate as to be in a place in Bharat Bhumi where the sacred Ganges flows or one of the mystical magical places where She appears contrary to material science, such as Mana Sarovara, Manasi Ganga (Bhubaneshwar), Madhwa Sarova (Udupi), etc., then you will be able to go down to her waters and pay your obeisances, say your prayers and take that water upon your head. Then please say a prayer to invoke the blessings of the Lord upon all of us not so fortunate as to be there with you.
For most of us reading this that will not physically be possible, although certainly through Manasa puja – meditation one may still perform that worship.
Whether you are in Gangotri (the place where she manifests first in this realm) or if you are at (H)Rishikesha or Haridwar, Benares (Varanarsi), Allahabad (Prayag) or in Mayapur, West Bengal, or as I am here writing this remembering those wonderful places the purifying association of Mother Ganga remains the same.
Scientists' still cannot understand how unlike ordinary water, when you take a bottle of that and keep it for YEARS, it never becomes green and slimmy. It always remains in its pure condition.
My memories of early morning (03:30am) dips at Haridwar (Vishnupadi) still leave me as near breathless as entering into her icey waters as we did in January (winter in the Norther Hemisphere) 1980. In the evening the floatila of thousands of leaf boats laden with flames, flowers, and sweetmeats, bobbing gently as they flow with the current to the resounding sounds of the bells and arati songs, and disappearing flickering into the distance. A sight worth seeing.
The Descent of the River Ganges
The Seventeenth Chapter describes the origin of the Ganges River and how it flows in and around Ilavrita-varsha. There is also a description of the prayers Lord Siva offers to Lord Sankarshana, part of the quadruple expansions of the Supreme personality of Godhead. Lord Vishnu once approached Bali Maharaja while the King was performing a sacrifice. The Lord appeared before him as Trivikrama, or Vamana, and begged alms from the King in the form of three steps of land. With two steps, Lord Vamana covered all three planetary systems and pierced the covering of the universe with the toes of His left foot. A few drops of water from the Causal Ocean leaked through this hole and fell on the head of Lord Siva, where they remained for one thousand millenniums. These drops of water are the sacred Ganges River. It first flows onto the heavenly planets, which are located on the soles of Lord Vishnu’s feet. The Ganges River is known by many names, such as the Bhagirathi and the Jahnavi. It purifies Dhruvaloka and the planets of the seven sages because both Dhruva and the sages have no other desire than to serve the Lord’s lotus feet.
The Ganges River, emanating from the lotus feet of the Lord, inundates the heavenly planets, especially the moon, and then flows through Brahmapuri atop Mount Meru. Here the river divides into four branches (known as Sita, Alakananda, Cakshu and Bhadra), which then flow down to the ocean of salt water. The branch known as Sita flows through Sekhara-parvata and Gandhamadana-parvata and then flows down to Bhadrasva-varsha, where it mixes with the ocean of salt water in the West. The Cakshu branch flows through Malyavan-giri and, after reaching Ketumala-varsha, mixes with the ocean of salt water in the West. The branch known as Bhadra flows onto Mount Meru, Mount Kumuda, and the Nila, Sveta and Sringavan mountains before it reaches Kuru-desa, where it flows into the ocean of salt water in the north. The Alakananda branch flows through Brahmalaya, crosses over many mountains, including Hemakuta and Himakuta, and then reaches Bharata-varsha, where it flows into the southern side of the ocean of salt water. Many other rivers and their branches flow through the nine varshas.
The tract of land known as Bharata-varsha is the field of activities, and the other eight varshas are for persons who are meant to enjoy heavenly comfort. In each of these eight beautiful provinces, the celestial denizens enjoy various standards of material comfort and pleasure. A different incarnation of the Supreme Personality of Godhead distributes His mercy in each of the nine varshas of Jambudvipa.
In the Ilavrita-varsha, Lord Siva is the only male. There he lives with his wife, Bhavani, who is attended by many maidservants. If any other male enters that province, Bhavani curses him to become a woman. Lord Siva worships Lord Sankarshana by offering various prayers, one of which is as follows: “My dear Lord, please liberate all Your devotees from material life and bind all the nondevotees to the material world. Without Your mercy, no one can be released from the bondage of material existence.”
varahe vama-padam tu
Standing on His right foot and extending His left to the edge of the universe, Lord Vamana became known as Trivikrama, the incarnation who performed three heroic deeds.
yatra ha vava vira-vrata auttanapadih parama-bhagavato ’smat-kula-devata-caranaravindodakam iti yam anusavanam utkrishyamana-bhagavad-bhakti-yogena dridham klidyamanantar-hridaya autkanthya-vivasamilita-locana-yugala-kudmala-vigalitamala-bashpa-kalayabhivyajyamana-roma-pulaka-kulako ’dhunapi paramadarena sirasa bibharti.
tatah sapta rishayas tat prabhavabhijna yam nanu tapasa atyantiki siddhir etavati bhagavati sarvatmani vasudeve ’nuparata-bhakti-yoga-labhenaivopekshitanyarthatma-gatayo muktim ivagatam mumukshava iva sabahu-manam adyapi jata-jutair udvahanti.
kaivalyam narakayate tri-dasa-pur akasa-pushpayate
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu has perfectly enunciated and broadcast the process of bhakti-yoga. Consequently, for one who has taken shelter at the lotus feet of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, the highest perfection of the Mayavadis, kaivalya, or becoming one with the Supreme, is considered hellish, to say nothing of the karmis’ aspiration to be promoted to the heavenly planets. Devotees consider such goals to be worthless phantasmagoria. There are also yogis, who try to control their senses, but they can never succeed without coming to the stage of devotional service. The senses are compared to poisonous snakes, but the senses of a bhakta engaged in the service of the Lord are like snakes with their poisonous fangs removed. The yogi tries to suppress his senses, but even great mystics like Visvamitra fail in the attempt. Visvamitra was conquered by his senses when he was captivated by Menaka during his meditation. She later gave birth to Sakuntala. The wisest persons in the world, therefore, are the bhakti-yogis, as Lord Krishna confirms in Bhagavad-gita (6.47):
yoginam api sarvesham
“Of all yogis, he who always abides in Me with great faith, worshiping Me in transcendental loving service, is most intimately united with Me in yoga and is the highest of all.”
tato ’neka-sahasra-koti-vimananika-sankula-deva-yanenavatar-antindu mandalam avarya brahma-sadane nipatati.
After purifying the seven planets near Dhruvaloka [the polestar], the Ganges water is carried through the spaceways of the demigods in billions of celestial airplanes. Then it inundates the moon [Candraloka] and finally reaches Lord Brahma’s abode atop Mount Meru.
We should always remember that the Ganges River comes from the Causal Ocean, beyond the covering of the universe. After the water of the Causal Ocean leaks through the hole created by Lord Vamanadeva, it flows down to Dhruvaloka (the polestar) and then to the seven planets beneath Dhruvaloka. Then it is carried to the moon by innumerable celestial airplanes, and then it falls to the top of Mount Meru, which is known as Sumeru-parvata. In this way, the water of the Ganges finally reaches the lower planets and the peaks of the Himalayas, and from there it flows through Hardwar and throughout the plains of India, purifying the entire land. How the Ganges water reaches the various planets from the top of the universe is explained herein. Celestial airplanes carry the water from the planets of the sages to other planets. So-called advanced scientists of the modern age are trying to go to the higher planets, but at the same time they are experiencing a power shortage on earth. If they were actually capable scientists, they could personally go by airplane to other planets, but this they are unable to do. Having now given up their moon excursions, they are attempting to go to other planets, but without success.
tatra caturdha bhidyamana caturbhir namabhis catur-disam abhispandanti nada-nadi-patim evabhinivisati sitalakananda cakshur bhadreti.
On top of Mount Meru, the Ganges divides into four branches, each of which gushes in a different direction [east, west, north and south]. These branches, known by the names Sita, Alakananda, Cakshu and Bhadra, flow down to the ocean.
sita tu brahma-sadanat kesaracaladi-giri-sikharebhyo ’dho ’dhah prasravanti gandhamadana-murdhasu patitvantarena bhadrasva-varsham pracyam disi kshara-samudram abhipravisati.
The branch of the Ganges known as the Sita flows through Brahmapuri atop Mount Meru, and from there it runs down to the nearby peaks of the Kesaracala Mountains, which stand almost as high as Mount Meru itself. These mountains are like a bunch of filaments around Mount Meru. From the Kesaracala Mountains, the Ganges falls to the peak of Gandhamadana Mountain and then flows into the land of Bhadrasva-varsha. Finally it reaches the ocean of salt water in the west.
evam malyavac-chikharan nishpatanti tato ’nuparata-vega ketumalam abhi cakshuh praticyam disi sarit-patim pravisati.
bhadra cottarato meru-siraso nipatita giri-sikharad giri-sikharam atihaya sringavatah sringad avasyandamana uttarams tu kurun abhita udicyam disi jaladhim abhipravisati.
tathaivalakananda dakshinena brahma-sadanad bahuni giri-kutany atikramya hemakutad dhaimakutany ati-rabhasatara-ramhasa luthayanti bharatam abhivarsham dakshinasyam disi jaladhim abhipravisati yasyam snanartham cagacchatah pumsah pade pade ’svamedha-rajasuyadinam phalam na durlabham iti.
anye ca nada nadyas ca varshe varshe santi bahuso merv-adi-giri-duhitarah satasah.
ei rupe brahmanda bhramite kona bhagyavan jiva
Among all the living entities wandering throughout the universe, one who is most fortunate comes in contact with a representative of the Supreme Personality of Godhead and thus gets the opportunity to execute devotional service. Those who are sincerely seeking the favor of Krishna come in contact with a guru, a bona fide representative of Krishna. The Mayavadis indulging in mental speculation and the karmis desiring the results of their actions cannot become gurus. A guru must be a direct representative of Krishna who distributes the instructions of Krishna without any change. Thus only the most fortunate persons come in contact with the guru. As confirmed in the Vedic literatures, tad-vijnanartham sa gurum evabhigacchet: one has to search out a guru to understand the affairs of the spiritual world. Srimad-Bhagavatam also confirms this point. Tasmad gurum prapadyeta jijnasuh sreya uttamam: one who is very interested in understanding the activities in the spiritual world must search out a guru—a bona fide representative of Krishna. From all angles of vision, therefore, the word guru is especially meant for the bona fide representative of Krishna and no one else.
Padma Purana states, avaishnavo gurur na syat: one who is not a Vaishnava, or who is not a representative of Krishna, cannot be a guru. Even the most qualified brahmana cannot become a guru if he is not a representative of Krishna. Brahmanas are supposed to acquire six kinds of auspicious qualifications: they become very learned scholars (pathana) and very qualified teachers (pathana); they become expert in worshiping the Lord or the demigods (yajana), and they teach others how to execute this worship (yajana); they qualify themselves as bona fide persons to receive alms from others (pratigraha), and they distribute the wealth in charity (dana). Yet even a brahmana possessing these qualifications cannot become a guru unless he is the representative of Krishna (gurur na syat). Vaishnavah sva-paco guruh: but a Vaishnava, a bona fide representative of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vishnu, can become a guru, even if he is sva-paca, a member of a family of dog-eaters. Of the three divisions of heavenly planets (svarga-loka), bhauma-svarga is sometimes accepted as the tract of land in Bharata-varsha known as Kashmir. In this region there are certainly good facilities for material sense enjoyment, but this is not the business of a pure transcendentalist. Rupa Gosvami describes the engagement of a pure transcendentalist as follows:
“One should render transcendental loving service to the Supreme Lord Krishna favorably and without desire for material profit or gain through fruitive activities or philosophical speculation. That is called pure devotional service.” Those who fully engage in devotional service to Krishna just to please Him are not interested in the three divisions of heavenly places, namely, divya-svarga, bhauma-svarga and bila-svarga.