Nilanjana recounts the story of Bhagirathi – the descent of Ganga – from the heavens. It’s a well-known tale from the Bhagavatam, presented lucidly in the weekly column, exclusively for Different Truths.
King Sagara was keen, like most famous kings, to perform the Ashwamedha Yagna. Now, the king had two queens. The first one, called Sumati, had sixty thousand sons. The second wife was called Keshini and her only son was Asamanja.
The yagna was in full swing and the horse was sent out. As usual, Indra, who is always up to some mischief, stole the horse. The sixty thousand sons of King Sagara went out looking for the missing horse from the Ashwamedha Yagna. The sons were undoubtedly valiant, but arrogance veiled their vision too. They searched all over, but they could not find the horse. Eventually, they dug the earth, entered the nether world and proceeded in the north-easterly direction. They found a cave there and a sage sitting in meditation. Next, to the sage the horse was grazing happily.
This sage in deep meditation was Rishi Kapila. He had, long ago, abandoned the world. But the blinded-in-arrogance sons of King Sagara thought that he had stolen the horse and was feigning innocence. They called Rishi Kapila a thief and rushed to charge him with their weapons. At that moment the sage opened his eyes. The luminousity of his eyes, which were closed for a long time in meditation, burnt the sons into ashes.
King Sagara had no news of the horse or his sixty thousand sons. His son, Asamanja, was not interested in being a king and renounced the world. The King, therefore, showered all his affection on Amshuman, Asamanja’s son. He also sent his grandson in search of the horse. Amshuman followed the trail left by his uncles and reached Rishi Kapila who was meditating in the cave. He saw the horse and the heap of ashes. Amshuman spoke to the meditating sage very reverently. Gradually, the sage came out of his meditation and informed him that the horse was brought here by Indra. He also advised that the water of River Ganga will grant liberation to ash of the sixty thousand men. Amshuman tried his best, but could not get River Ganga from the heavens. Neither could his son Dilip. Dilip’s son Bhagiratha left his kingdom in the hand of his ministers and decided to do everything to get River Ganga down from the heavens.
Bhagiratha began his sadhana so that Ganga can come down to earth. She was appeased by his efforts and appeared before him. With appropriate respect and courtesy, he prayed to her to come down to the earth and wash away the ashes of his ancestors so that Bhagiratha they can be liberated. But Ganga had two concerns. The first one was that her force was too strong for the earth to hold. The second one was that all sinners would dip in her waters, thereby polluting her. Bhagiratha assured her those holy men would also take a dip in the water of the river and hence the sins would be wiped off. As far as her force was concerned, he would request Shiva to help him out. Ganga promised her that she would then descend into the earth.
Bhagiratha prayed to Shiva, who happily granted his wish and promised to hold Ganga in his matted locks to curtail her force. Ganga, also known as Mandakini in the heavens, rushed down. She had become a little proud of her prowess and dashed down into the jata (matted locks) Mahadev. But she could not free herself from the tangled locks and rush out.
Bhagiratha prayed again to Shiva. He then allowed Ganga to trickle out from a strand of his hair. Mandakini trickled down drop by drop into the lake called Bindusaras.
Ganga then divided herself into seven streams – three flowed eastward, three westward and one followed Bhagiratha. On her way, she purified everything. They reached Rishi Kapila’s cave soon and sixty thousand sons of Sagara finally achieved liberation.
Since Bhagiratha brought her into this world, she was considered his daughter and named Bhagirathi.
Footnote: Srimad Bhagavatam is often called the Bhagavad Purana. Authored by Ved Vyasa, the stories are about the various avatars (incarnations) of Lord Vishnu, also known as Narayana.
Photos from the internet.
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