Ganga Dussehra: The Descent of Mother Ganga

An important festival known as Ganga Dussehra (also called Ganga Dashahara) occurs in Northern India on the tenth day of the bright half of the month of Jyeshta, this year falling on June second …


Dasara, as it is also known, celebrates the descent of the holy Ganga River down to the parched earth.

Each year at this time, big Melas, a Sanskrit word meaning ‘gathering’, are held at important centres along the banks of the river. Here, hundreds of thousands of people throng the ghats to bathe in the waters known as the river of India, and wash away their sins.

The Ganga, largest of the rivers in India, has been sacred since ancient times. She is seen as the mother who washes away all the sins of mankind, and has been venerated in India through countless generations. Today, she remains a potent symbol of life and salvation, representative of both the intimate connection between mankind and nature, as well as the vital thread of life upon which humanity’s very existence depends.

The Story of the Ganges:

Long ago there was a king named Sagar who, aspiring for Indra-hood (king of all the Gods), performed one hundred Asvamedha (horse) sacrifices. But in fear of being dethroned, the great God Indra stole the hundredth sacrificial horse and left it within the premises of the reclusive Rishi Kapila.

All the sixty thousand sons of Sagara went out after the horse. When they found it, they mistook Kapila for a thief and attempted to destroy him, whereby they were cursed by the great sage and burnt to ashes. Kapila then claimed that “they would be renewed only if the water of the Ganga flows over this land”.

Sagar’s grandson Anshuman tried but did not succeed in bringing down the Ganga to earth. Then his son Dilip tried, but also without success. Finally his son Bhagirath, after performing severe austerities, managed to please Mother Ganga.

She appeared before him, but told him to seek the help of Lord Shiva to help check her flow, as otherwise the whole earth would be submerged in her torrential waters.

Again performing rigorous penance, Bhagirath pleased Lord Shiva who then received the deluge of Mother Ganga in his matted locks and let her drip over him and spill gently to the earthly planes.

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