Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Celestial Ganga - A River or a Goddess?

  "I am Ganga among Rivers." Lord Krishna, Bhagawad Gita

Vamana Avataar
River Ganga, sacred to billions of souls around the world, whose waters cleanse the sins of a being upon touch, sight or even thought. Legend has it that this celestial river belonged to the highest of heavens - beyond the physical universe, even beyond the Astral realms in the Causal world.

Aeons ago Lord Vishnu appeared on earth as Vamana Avataar. When subduing Emperor Bali, the child saint with one step covered the earth, with the other gigantic step covered the 3 worlds. At that time the toenail of the divine child saint raptured the subtle Causal realm. Through this hole, the pure water of the Causal ocean poured into the Brahmaloka as River Ganga. It is said that Brahma used this water to wash the feet of Vishnu in form of Vamana. The sacred water became even holier upon the touch of Lord Vishnu's feet.


The story of Bhagirathi is well know. It was he who with ardent supplications requested the sacred river to descend on earth to redeem his cursed dead ancestors. Goddess Ganga kindly agreed but was not sure if Mother Earth would be able to bear her force as she descended from heavens. Lord Shiva came to the rescue as he willingly bore the force of the celestial rivers fall into his locks, and cushioned her flow onto the Earth. Thus the river became thrice holy upon the touch of Lord Maheshwara.

Since then, this river has become a Mother to all those who take refuge in her holy flow. Millions come to take a dip in the river with faith knowing that Ganga will cleanse them of their sins. The water of the Ganga is extremely pure and sanctifying. Emperor Akbar called it the 'water of immortality' and always traveled with an adequate supply.

No germs can flourish in this. This has been tested by various scientists in the laboratory. Rich in minerals this water cures almost all kinds of diseases. A British physician, Dr. C. E. Nelson, F.R.C.S., tells us of another striking fact. He says that “ships leaving Calcutta for England take their water from the Hooghly river which is one of the mouths of the Ganga and this Ganga water will remain fresh all the way to England. On the other hand, ships leaving England for India find that the water they take on in London will not stay fresh till they reach Bombay, the nearest Indian port, which is a week closer to England than Calcutta. They must replenish their water-supply at Port Said, Suez or at Aden on the Read Sea”. This mysterious property which keeps Ganga water ever-fresh has come to be referred to as the “X Factor” by scientists who cannot figure out how the flowing waters in the river retain 20% more oxygen than any other river in the world.

Mother Ganga in Haridwar


In this world of duality, what comes must also go... what takes birth must also depart.

In the Dwapara Yuga, when the Poornaavatar Sri Krishna was preparing His departure from Earth, Mother Ganga approached and prayed to Him to reveal how long must she stay on earth before she can return to Her celestial home. The Brahma-vaivarta Purana states that Sri Krishna revealed to Her that She must stay on in the Kali Age, which begins upon His departure, to help lessen the burden of devoted souls who would take refuge in her waters to relieve themselves of accumulated sins of the kali age. 5000 years after His leaving, a Golden age will descend upon the Earth. Then the Goddess may make her way back. 


Modern minds, hypnotised by science and technology may consider these stories as myths conjured up by overly religious zealots. Is Ganga only a water body or is She a living entity?

I offer the following story that I heard first hand in Jabalpur during my travel across India.

Travel e pad:

Met Sri Upadyay over lunch, while at Jabalpur. This venerable gentleman is quite a storyteller and can move one to tears. He mentioned an incident that happened in the late 70's.

He along with 21 other people visited Gangotri. As they all sat along the banks of the Ganges, many took out their pots and cans to fill them up with the sacred waters. But Sri Upadyay sat alone in inner communion with the Holy river.

 Gangaji, the whole world considers you a river, but I have always thought of you as my own mother. It is through your blessings and grace that I have been able to come at this holy spot to meet You. I have come here with a lot of difficulties and pray that as I sit at your banks, you take a few steps now on your own and come and meet me.

He sat by the banks in deep meditation hoping for a response. None came. He further supplicated Ma, I intend to go to Rameshwaram and bathe the holy lingam with your sacred waters. Please listen to my pleas... come to me now!!'

Minutes turned to hours yet nothing happened. He continued to pray with growing intensity, but the sacred river flowed on unconcerned. Streams of tears flowed from his eyes to give company to the river's playful flow. 

Seeing no response he warned Her Ma I have always known you to be my mother, if you do not respond today, I will go out and shout from the rooftops to the whole world that Ganga is just a river, she is no mother!

As i listened to his tale, i ventured to ask, Sir, pray tell me... what were you expecting the river to do? Weren't you being a bit unreasonable?

Havent you been unreasonable with your mother out of your love for her?" He replied. 

What happened next? I asked, realising his unique connection with Her who we deem a river.

I made her my final 'offer'.  Ma, Your Lord, my Lord, the Lord of the whole creation has come down and now dwells in Puttaparthi. Come to me, and I promise to take you to Him and wash His divine feet with your waters.

The river flowed on silently.

Having spent hours pleading with the river, and realising that others were waiting for him, Sri Upadyay gave in with a heavy heart. He wiped his tears and began getting up, carrying his empty pot along with him. Just then something happened that each of the 22 devotees witnessed in awe.

Sri Upadhyay with Mother Ganga
Out of the flowing river, a narrow pillar of water gracefully rose up and defying the laws of gravity travelled away from the flow onto the banks to where Sri Upadyay was standing and poured itself into the pot in his waiting hands. This miracle stunned one and all and thrilled the Son to the core..

As promised I took the waters to Rameshwaram and did abhishekam to the holy lingam. I still have some of that water with me today.

Sir, that is quite a tale  i said.. However, it is yet unfinished. The holy Ganges may have been moved by your pleas, but what about our Sai Krishna. He is mischievous and elusive. Did you get to wash the divine feet?

I guess the news of my efforts had reached the omnipresent One. Because the moment I sat in darshans, Swami made His way towards me with a smile on His face, offered me His feet and said Here! fulfill your vow!

Ganga during the Kumbha Mela at Haridwar


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