The great hero who brought down the Ganga from heaven to the earth. Bhagiratha has become another name for a will of steel that never accepts defeat.
There is a very popular song in Kannada:
“Descend, O Mother, descend, from the tresses of Lord Shiva, From under the feet of Lord Vishnu, Come gliding down to the Earth…” The eminent Kannada poet Dattatreya Ramachandra Bendre wrote this song, ‘Gangavatarana’. The word ‘Gangavatarana’ means ‘The Descent of Ganga”. Ganga (also the mother of Bhishma) was formed in heaven and then came down to the Earth to Bharat. Then there was a plentiful crop. Life and civilization prospered. People became cultured.
Nothing is holier than the Ganga in this world.
You would naturally ask – “How did Ganga come to the Earth from Heaven?” It is a long story. And an interesting one.
“Who Was Sagara?”
Kosala was a kingdom in the olden days. Sixteen years old Bhagiratha was the king of Kosala.
He lost his father when he was just a child. So his mother brought him up. She educated him. She gave him all the training needed to make him a good king.
Bhagiratha was very intelligent. He loved his mother very much and was devoted to her. He became not only learned but also virtuous. He realized that a man should live not for himself, but to do good to others.
When he was sixteen years old, his mother looked for a suitable bride for him. He married a beautiful and virtuous princess. Then Bhagiratha was also crowned as a king. His mother guided him, his wise ministers gave him good advice.
So he ruled the kingdom ably and well.
One day, as the king entered the royal court, he heard the court announcers greet him: “Hail, Emperor of Kosala! Victory to King Bhagiratha, the gem of the Sagara dynasty! Hail, 0 Son of the great king Dilipa!”
After the royal assembly was over, the king went to his apartment with his minister.
His head was full of the two names that he had just heard – Sagara and Dilipa. King Dilipa was, of course, his father. But who was Sagara?
Unable to control his curiosity, he asked his minister:
“Who was this Sagara?”
“My lord, a great ancestor of yours. He was so mighty that he performed the Ashwamedha (the horse-sacrifice) a hundred times. And he had sixty thousand children. You are descendent of his” – so replied the minister.
The question was answered. But Bhagiratha was still not satisfied. Instead, his curiosity increased. Thoughtful people are seldom satisfied if they do not get a clear answer to their questions. Bhagiratha came home and asked his mother:
“Mother, is it true that among my ancestors, Sagara was a very great king?”
“Yes, child,” replied his mother
“And he had sixty thousand children?”
“If he had so many children, there should have been quite a big crowd of his children, grandchildren, and relatives. But we are so few – only three persons. Why?”
“My dear son,” the mother said,
“I ought to have told you about this earlier. It is good that now you have asked me about it. I will tell you the story of your ancestors. Let us see what you will do after listening to it.”
“Please tell me, mother,” entreated Bhagiratha.
His mother began:
‘I do not want a Son, who Plagues the People’
“Sagara was ruling over this very kingdom of Kosala. He was as good as he was mighty. His heroism was known to the whole world. He had performed ninety-nine Ashwamedha Yagas. A ruler performs this Yaga to be accepted as an Emperor.
Do you know anything about this Yaga? A well-bred horse is splendidly decorated and a gold plate is tied to his face. The plate bears these words: ‘this horse belongs to such and such a king. Those who have courage may stop the horse. Otherwise, they may pay tributes and let him go further.
The master sends an army with the horse. If any King ties up the horse, he has to fight with the army. The horse is left to roam about like this for one year and at the end of the year, the master of the horse performs the Ashwamedha. By that time many Kings will have accepted him as their master. Sagara had become famous by performing the horse-sacrifice ninety-nine times. People lived happily in his Kingdom.
“Sagara had two wives. Keshini, daughter of the King of Vidarbha, was the first wife; Sumati, daughter of a King by name Arishtanemi, was the second wife.
“The King enjoyed great glory and splendor, but yet he was unhappy because he had no children. He was very sad and worried. Finally, he grew tired of life itself. He left the administration of the Kingdom in the hands of his ministers and went away to the Himalayas with his two wives.
On the way, there was a very lovely spot. It was cool and shady, with water close by. It was surrounded by the mountain ranges of the Himalayas. The place was called “Bhriguprasravana’ after the sage Bhrigu. Very much attracted by the beauty of the spot, the king and his two wives built a cottage and stayed there.
Desirous of getting children, Emperor Sagara undertook a very strict and severe form of ‘Tapas’ (prayer to God). As time passed, due to the severity of his ‘Tapas’, the sage Bhrigu appeared before him.
Sagara and his wives touched his feet and prayed in these words:
‘O Sage, kindly grant us a boon; we want children to continue our dynasty.”
Bhrigu Maharshi was pleased and granted them the boon. He said:
“Great king, don’t be unhappy. You will have children because of this ‘Tapas’. One of your wives will have one son who will preserve your race, and the other will have sixty thousand brave children who will win great fame.”
The queens were very happy. But they were curious to know which of them would get the one son and which the many. Finally, they summoned courage and asked the sage himself. The sage calmly said:
‘Choose for yourselves.’ Keshini, the elder wife, said: ‘One son who will continue our race is enough for me.’ ‘I wish to become the mother of many brave and famous children’ – said the younger wife. The sage smilingly said, ‘Be it so’
and went away. Sagara returned to his kingdom in great joy.
Sometime passed. Keshini gave birth to a boy. The king and his subjects felt very happy.
There were festivals and rejoicing in every nook and corner because of the birth of the prince.
The child, named Asamanja, grew up into a very handsome and smart boy. Asamanja was everybody’s pet child. Someone or the other would always be carrying the lovely boy and he grew up without ever touching the ground.
After many days, Sumati also had children.
She was extremely happy since her wish was also fulfilled. Sixty thousand children were born to her. Arrangements were made for each child to be brought up by a separate nurse.
The palace was now buzzing with noise. It is impossible to control the uproar in a house with two children. Then what about sixty thousand children running, laughing, playing, shouting at the same time? But there was happiness amidst such noise. The children grew up in discipline.
They were brave and handsome.
“But somehow the eldest son Asamanja grew up to be a bad boy. He was the emperor’s first son and everybody’s favorite. The result of this excessive affection was that he became very stubborn. He started ordering everybody.
He dragged his playmates along the road and hurt them. He seemed to get a wicked pleasure in seeing those helpless children weep. His mischief went further. He began to drag them along and drown them in the river Sarayu. The helpless children, who could not swim, would throw about their limbs wildly and be drowned.”
Asamanja would stand on the bank and watch and laugh wickedly. His evil deeds increased day by day.
“At first, people kept quiet out of fear and hesitation. But when Asamanja’s harassment increased, all of them went to King Sagara and lamented thus: ‘O King, if your son is allowed to go on like this, no child will be alive in anybody’s house in the kingdom. Please protect us.’
Sagara listened to the tale of misery. He was a noble king and believed that people’s happiness was his happiness. But now his son was a plague to the people. He decided not to have a son who tormented his subjects. He called his son and mercilessly commanded him thus:
‘‘Asamanja, you are a traitor to my people.
You must go out of my kingdom.’
Asamanja accepted his punishment joyfully.
It seems he was, in fact, an ascetic and had taken to evil ways only to get rid of his physical being.
So he felt happy when his father banished him from the kingdom. There is a story that before going away, he brought back to life, with his Yogic power, all those children whom he had killed, and sent them to their homes. Then, practicing Yoga, he got rid of his physical body and attained salvation.
Asamanja had a son. He was Amshumanta.
Behind the Horse – To the House of Death
Sagara now had another thought in his mind. His children were grown up, and if they had no work to do, they might create unnecessary trouble, like his first son. So he thought of giving proper work to all of his children. There was also in his mind a certain wish.
Anyone, who performed a hundred horse-sacrifices, would gain Indra’s position as the King of Heaven. He had already performed ninety-nine of such Yagas. If he performed one more Yaga with the help of all his children, he would become Indra. So thought King Sagara.
Sagara’s ministers approved his idea. The one-hundredth Ashwamedha commenced. The horse was worshipped and sent to wander as he liked.
The entire army of Sagara followed to protect the horse. Amshumanta, Sagara’s grandson, was loved by all. He was made the commander of the army. Thus the sacrificial horse went from kingdom to kingdom. And behind him marched the armed forces of Amshumanta. Nobody dared to challenge them.
“Meanwhile, in Heaven, Indra trembled with fear; he would have to give up his position to the king who performed one hundred horse-sacrifices. He lost interest in everything because of this worry. It is always so with people who desire power and position. Until a person gets such a position, he was anxious – to attain it. After getting it, there is the anxiety to retain that position. Indra thought of a plan to safeguard his kingship of Heaven.”
“Most important in an Ashwamedha Yaga was the Ashwa or the horse. The Yaga would be complete only after the horse returned from his wanderings. Suppose the horse disappeared!”
Then how could the Yaga be completed? So Indra came unseen by anyone, stole the horse and took him to Patala Loka, the lower world far below the earth. A sage by name Kapila was performing ‘Tapas’ there. Indra tied up the horse in his Ashrama.
“There was much confusion in Amshumanta’s army when the horse was not to be seen. They searched everywhere for the horse, but in vain.
They returned to Ayodhya in despair and narrated everything to the emperor.
Sagara was very worried. He called his sixty thousand sons and said, ‘You must find the horse wherever he is, and bring him. Also, punish the thief.’ He sent his army with them. They were all young and proud on account of their strength.
They had now a huge army also with them and besides, the father’s command. Raising loud war cries, the army went far and wide searching for the horse. Every forest, hill, and mountain was searched. But the horse was nowhere to be seen.
They were angry rather than disappointed.
Since they could not find the horse on the earth, they decided to go to the lower world. They did not know the way, but they started digging the earth to make a way. They dug a big hole, and crawling in it, entered Patala.
Roaring aloud, they roamed everywhere and began to search for the horse. By and by, they came to Sage Kapila’s Ashrama and uprooted all the trees and creepers there. They had no fear of anybody – moreover, they were so angry they wanted to chop off everything that they saw.
As they were moving on in this manner, they saw Sage Kapila in deep meditation. Their horse was grazing there. They thought that the sage has stolen the horse and were pretending to perform ‘Tapas’ and were very angry. So all of them rushed towards him shouting, ‘Catch the thief. Beat him.
‘The Maharshis ‘Tapas’ was disturbed. He started with wrathful eyes at those who had disturbed his ‘Tapas’. The flame of anger shot forth from his eyes and burnt all those sixty thousand brothers. Only a huge pile of ash could be seen in the place where they were standing.
The horse too remained in the Ashrama itself.
The Duty of the Descendants
Many days passed, but the sons did not return.
Emperor Sagara was again very worried. He had already performed the preliminary rites for the sacrifice. So he could not go in search of the horse. He sent for his grandson Amshumanta and said, ‘Dear child, your sixty thousand uncles who went in search of the horse have not come back to this day. Please go and find them and the horse also. You must be careful and judge wisely.
Come back with success.’ He sent his grandson with his blessings.
Amshumanta started with the army, as instructed by his grandfather. He was unable to find the horse on the earth though he roamed far and wide. He finally entered Patala through the hole dug by his uncles. As he was wandering there, his eyes fell upon Sage Kapila’s Ashrama and the ashes piled up like a mountain. The horse was grazing at a distance. There was no road ahead.
He was a little frightened. There was no way beyond and there was such a huge pile of ash.
What could have happened? He was deep in thought. Just then he heard a voice from Heaven’s Child, this is the pile of ashes of your uncles.
They were destroyed by the wrath of Sage Kapila.
Amshumanta felt very sad on hearing this. He decided to perform the funeral rites for them so that the souls of the dead might attain salvation.
But though he searched everywhere for water, there was none. He did not know what to do and was worried. Just then he saw Garuda (Lord Vishnu‘s Vaahana) in the sky.
As you know, Garuda is the big eagle. He is Lord Vishnu’s favorite, on whose back the Lord flies whenever he wants to go anywhere.
Garuda addressed Amshumanta:
‘Royal prince, do not worry. They have died for the good of the world. They ended thus here, because of the curse of a sage. Their souls cannot go to heaven by the ordinary funeral rites. They can get salvation only when the divine Ganga is brought from heaven and made to flow on this pile of their ashes. Yet, first, take back this horse to your grandfather.’
Amshumanta had no other way either. So he returned to Ayodhya with the horse and delivered him to his grandfather. Though Sagara felt happy on seeing the horse, he felt very sad on hearing that all of his brave and strong sons had died at once. But since he had already performed the preliminary ceremonies for Ashwamedha, he controlled his sorrow and performed the sacrifice in a prescribed way.
But until the divine Ganga was brought down from Heaven, his sons could not attain salvation.
This thought continued to worry him. Finally, becoming desperate, he left his kingdom to his grandson Amshumanta saying, ‘The task of seeing that your uncles attain salvation is yours.’
Sagara then went to the forest to perform ‘Tapas’.
“Though he became the king, Amshumanta never thought of his happiness. He was always thinking of the task he had to perform – he had to bring the divine Ganga, according to his grandfather’s command. As he could not think of any solution, after some years, he also made over his kingdom to his son Dilipa.” Bhagiratha’s mother, who was telling him the story, continued:
That same king Dilipa was your father. He too was always thinking about the means of bringing Ganga from Heaven. He had also another worry, as he had no children. At least, guided by our kind preceptor, the sage Vasishtha, we worshipped the sacred cow Nandini in his hermitage. She blessed us and you were born. But your father was worried that he could not bring Ganga and help his grandfathers attain salvation. He passed away while you were still young.
“This, dear son, is the story of your race. And also the answer to your question. You have now heard all. And now let us see what you will do.”
Having said this, Bhagiratha’s mother gazed at her son, curious and eager to hear what he would say.
Answering the Call of Duty
Bhagiratha felt as though he had been pulled down to the earth from another world. He had thought that the story would continue and he was waiting to hear it. Not only was the story narrated to him, but a question had been posed to him. Not just a question, but a challenge too.
It was not merely listening to a story; he had to shape one. He had to accomplish that task which his father and his grandfather had not been able to do. The idea took root in his mind that it was his duty to help his ancestors attain salvation.
He touched his mother’s feet and vowed thus:
“Mother, I will fulfill the wish of my elders. I will bring to the earth the divine Ganga and help our ancestors attain salvation. I will toil for it to the last drop of my blood.”
His mother gently stroked his head and blessed him: “All success to you, my son.”
Bhagiratha’s mind was filled with only one thought – how was he to bring the divine river Ganga down to the earth? Finally, he decided to perform ‘Tapas’ to please Lord Brahma for this purpose. His young wife was very unhappy about hearing that he had decided to give up the pleasures of the palace and perform ‘Tapas’. With tears in her eyes, she tried to persuade her husband to stay back. She, again and again, asked him: “Why perform ‘Tapas” at such a young age?
It can be done after you grow old. Now, can’t you live happily in the palace?” But Bhagiratha did not yield to her words. He told her with a firm mind:
“Pleasure or happiness is not for me unless I fulfill the great wish of my ancestors. Duty comes first, and pleasure next.”
He argued with her and finally, she accepted his decision. Then he left Ayodhya for the forest.
Thus leaving behind his mother, wife and the kingdom, he went to the Himalayas. He came to a beautiful lake there. He bathed in it, purified himself, and feeling clean, started on his ‘Tapas’, with the firm resolve that the divine river Ganga should come down to the earth and his ancestors should go to the higher worlds.
His meditation was not of an ordinary kind. In the beginning, he performed meditation squatting cross-legged in the Padmasana posture. He prayed to Lord Brahma. There was no room for anything else in his mind.
By his strong ‘Tapas’ he desired the coming of Ganga. After a few days, it was winter. Bhagiratha then stood in the lake with water up to his chest and continued his ‘Tapas’ with intense concentration. Winter passed giving place to summer. Then he took to a more severe kind of ‘Tapas’, the Panchagni Tapas, or meditation amid five fires.
He stood amid burning fires on all four sides, with the hot sun above as the fifth fire. He stood amidst these five fires and steadily stared at the sun with eyes wide open. Thus his ‘Tapas’ continued.
He changed his food too. During the first few days, he had food only once a day. Later it was once in a few days. Then it became once a month. After that, he just used to drink a little water and continue his ‘Tapas’. Finally, the air was his only food.
While performing ‘Tapas’ thus, a bright flame shoots forth from the body of the devotee. It is called the flame of ‘Tapas’. Such a bright flame emerged from Bhagiratha also and it became very severe. Bhagiratha was now as radiant as the Sun God himself. Unable to bear the effects of his ‘Tapas’, all the gods in Heaven went to Lord Brahma and appealed to him:
“O Lord, it has become impossible to bear Bhagiratha’s meditation. Please protect us.” Brahma consoled them and went to Bhagiratha.”
Bhagiratha was overjoyed on seeing Brahma.
He prostrated before Him with great devotion and worshipped him. Brahma was pleased with him and said:
“O King, what do you desire? Why are you performing this ‘Tapas’?”
Bhagiratha begged him: “My Lord, my forefathers are in the nether world, Patala, dead and burnt to ashes.
They cannot go to heaven without proper funeral rites. The divine Ganga herself has to come to deliver them from their sad state. So please send the divine river and help me. Secondly, I have no child. My race will come to an end. Kindly bless me that I may have sons.” Brahma replied, “You are blessed, Bhagiratha, for having performed such a severe ‘Tapas’. Your wish to bring the divine Ganga to the earth is a very noble one.
I shall send Ganga with pleasure. But when she descends from heaven to the earth, the earth cannot bear her terrible force. The whole earth will be destroyed completely. So somebody will have to control her force. It can be done only by Ishwara, the Lord of all Worlds. None else can do that. Therefore, persuade Iswara to arrest the force of Ganga and quieten her. Then I will send Ganga. Your second wish is also granted. Your lineage will certainly continue with worthy children. So be not worried.”
On seeing Brahma, Bhagiratha had felt as happy as though he had already performed his task fully. But now he had to face another difficulty. How was he to persuade Lord Iswara to control the turbulence of Ganga when she descended to the earth?
Well, men who think of difficult tasks are of three kinds. There are cowards, who do not begin their work at all, afraid that some trouble may arise midway. Those who begin but later give up the task, afraid of the difficulties that arise, belong to the second group. So far as the task is concerned, both these groups are useless. But some brave people belong to a third group. They continue to work despite even an army of difficulties and finally achieve the goal.
Bhagiratha belonged to this third category of brave men. He knew how to bring down Ganga to the earth. He was confident that it could be done. He had only to overcome some difficulties that would arise on the way.
Bhagiratha was determined to accomplish his task. Accordingly, he began a severe ‘Tapas’ once again to please Lord Iswara (Also read about Parvati here). With folded hands, and standing on one leg, he meditated on Lord Iswara with the deepest concentration. So a whole year passed.
Pleased with Bhagiratha’s devotion Lord Iswara came to Bhagiratha and asked him:
“Dear Bhagiratha, what do you want? Why have you been meditating on me thus? “ With folded hands, Bhagiratha appealed to him:
“What is it that you do not know? Lord Brahma has granted my prayer to send the divine river Ganga to the earth. But the earth cannot bear the force of Ganga’s descent. Only you can control the turbulence of the descending Ganga. Be pleased to do so.”
Iswara said smilingly, “Yes; I will soften Ganga’s descent by my tresses.” So said Lord Iswara and stood on a big peak nearby, ready to receive the divine river.
Taming the Ganga
Bhagiratha’s joy knew no bounds since his anxiety was over. Iswara, the great God, had consented to arrest the force of Ganga. Thinking that his task was accomplished, Bhagiratha eagerly awaited the descent of Ganga. All the gods of Heaven were looking on with wonder.
Even Parvati, the wife of Iswara, was there. Ganga decided to flow down to the earth as ordered by Brahma. Just then she remembered Brahma’s words that no one could check her force. ‘How can even Iswara check me?” She thought and this made her very very proud.
So, she thought she would descend with such force as to drag Lord Iswara along with her waters so that the gods in Heaven would have some fun. Ganga leaped on Ishwara’s head with tremendous force and at crushing speed.
The sight of the descending Ganga was most pleasing. Many animals like fishes, tortoises, crocodiles and sea snakes also came down with the stream of Ganga. As Ganga flowed down with waves of white foam and the speed of lightning, everyone gazed with wonder and joy.
Iswara felt the impact of the powerful flow. He understood that Ganga was haughty. He became wild with anger. As Ganga came down on him with a deafening roar, he tied her up amidst his flowing tresses so tightly that she could not slip away. Thus Ganga, who came to engulf him with such turbulence, was checked and imprisoned.
Arrogant people not only bring suffering on themselves but also cause trouble for those who depend on them. Bhagiratha had been praying with such piety for the divine mother Ganga to flow down to the earth; he had watched her foamy descent.
In his joy that Ganga had come down to the earth, he had closed his eyes in meditation. After a while, when he opened his eyes, he could not see Ganga or any flowing water. He could only see Lord Iswara, terrible in his anger, with his hands on his waist, his eyes darting fire.
Bhagiratha felt that he was ruined. Just when he thought that his very difficult task was completed, a new difficulty had cropped up. It was true that the proud Ganga deserved punishment. But if he thought it right and kept quiet, what about his task? He had no time even to think. He was a man of action. So at once he stood with folded hands before Lord Iswara and begged him:
“O Lord, be kind and release Ganga. Let her descend to the earth and flow on. Let her sanctify my ancestors and all the people on the earth.”
Iswara was pleased. He said:
“Bhagiratha, I am pleased with your devotion and humility. Look, I will release Ganga from my tresses. But I cannot allow her as one stream since that will cause trouble to you. She might cause more trouble again in her pride. So I shall release her in seven separate streams. Let three streams go to the west, and three to the east. Only one stream will follow you”.
With these words, he set free Ganga.
Bhagiratha was happy that his difficulty was over as he wished. He considered himself lucky to have one of the seven streams of Ganga following him. Again he bowed to Lord Parameswara and set out towards the south. Ganga now calmly followed him. Her flow now was like the dancing lively steps of an innocent girl following her father. Wherever she flowed, she spread peace, created green foliage and infused life.
Sometimes rapid and sometimes slow, she followed Bhagiratha, flowing with playful glee.
Bhagiratha walked on and on. He was anxious to reach Patala and to have the ashes of his ancestors made holy by the touch of the waters of the divine Ganga and thus fulfill his task. He had already faced many difficulties; so he was still rather afraid that some trouble might crop up again. So he walked very fast to complete his good deed as soon as possible.
Bhagiratha had now come down to the open plains from the Himalayan range. Ganga followed Bhagiratha, who was now walking on level ground, like a new bride, shy and happy, Bhagiratha was filled with happiness.
There was an Ashrama on the way. It looked very beautiful, with fruits and flowers all around.
Peace pervaded this Ashrama of Sage Jahnu.
Since Bhagiratha knew the place, he entered the Ashrama with devotion and humility.
Ganga had been so far following him shyly and slowly. But somehow after entering the Ashrama, she greqqqqqqqqqw a little mischievous. She wandered all over the Ashrama like a small girl. The entire place was filled with water and it looked as if the Ashrama would be washed away. There was grief and confusion everywhere. But still, Ganga was laughing like a naughty girl.
Inside the Ashrama was Sage Jahnu. He had been meditating on God. Ganga’s mischief disturbed him. He understood everything. He decided to teach that naughty girl a lesson.
Drawing Ganga into his palm, he swallowed her at a single gulp.
Bhagiratha could not see Ganga anywhere.
He was shocked. He was afraid that some other difficulty had come up. Where was Ganga? What had happened to her?
Ganga had disappeared in Jahnu’s Ashrama.
So Bhagiratha thought the sage would know what had happened. He bowed to the sage with reverence. He narrated his story and prayed in these words:
“I was coming to see you, but just then Ganga disappeared. I beg of you, holy sage, tell me what has happened if you know anything.”
Having heard everything, the sage replied:
“I myself have drunk her. I wanted to teach her a lesson.”
Bhagiratha did not know what to say. How could he ask the sage to set free Ganga? But he could not fail in his task now. So, summoning up courage, he appealed to him: “0 venerable sage, it is my duty to see that my dead ancestors go to heaven. So with great difficulty, I pleased Brahma and Ishwara. I brought Ganga down to the earth.
But her childishness has now come in my way. I beg of you, be pleased to forgive her. Kindly set her free so that my elders may go to heaven.” Moved by his prayer and humility, the sage let Ganga escape through his ears and asked her to behave properly.
The Earth Smiles
Bhagiratha felt very happy. He again bowed to Sage Jahnu thanking him for his kindness and left the place. He was afraid that some other obstacle would come up if he delayed in his work. He directly came to the hole dug by his ancestors.
Ganga had also grown more sensible by this time. She now understood that her pride and childishness had brought her trouble and shame. Bhagiratha had worshipped her with devotion. But she had caused him physical and mental suffering. She realized this.
So, giving up her foolishness, she followed Bhagiratha into the hole promptly. The whole area, which had been a huge hole earlier, now turned into a vast sheet of water. Since the sons of Sagara had dug it, it came to be known as ‘Sagara’, or the Ocean.
Bhagiratha went to Patala and stood near the pile of ashes there. He implored Ganga thus:
“O Mother, piled up here are the ashes of my ancestors. Please touch these ashes, help their souls attain salvation.”
Ganga straight rushed on the heap of ashes. The souls of all the sixty thousand sons of Sagara, neglected and restless for so many years, were now made holy. Freed from sin, the souls went to Heaven. All the gods in Heaven, who had been eagerly watching this, were full of praise for Bhagiratha’s achievement.
Bhagiratha had completed the holy task of his life. So his joy knew no limit. He bowed to the divine Ganga and all the gods and goddesses around. Everyone was full of praise for him. All of them also bowed to Ganga addressing her by various names. They called her ‘Bhagirathi’ since she had followed Bhagiratha like his daughter.
She also came to be known as ‘Tripathake” one who flowed in three-path – since she had flowed through three worlds Heaven, Earth, and Patala.
She was called ‘Jahnavi’ as she had come out of the ears of Sage Jahnu and was his daughter.
Bhagiratha, who was returning to his kingdom, was praised by all for having thus brought down to the earth the divine Ganga, who was worshipped by many different names. They hailed him as a great man and a life-giver. Thus, worshipped by one and all, Bhagiratha came back to his capital.
His mother was anxiously waiting for him. He touched her feet. He had done a great and difficult task, facing many dangers. So the mother was overjoyed. She blessed him whole-heartedly.
Having thus performed a great task, which made everybody happy, Bhagiratha ruled over the kingdom for many years. He was a good king and earned great fame for himself, his dynasty and his country. That is why the accomplishment of a very difficult task, with stupendous effort, is described as a Bhagiratha-like endeavor.
With great difficulty, Bhagiratha brought Ganga to a desert region, which had no water and no green growth at all. The divine Ganga gave that place clear streams and made it fertile and fruitful.
What was a desert became a smiling land with plentiful crops. Thus, along with the ancestors, the later generations also could be happy and Prosperous.
This, then, is the story of how Bhagiratha brought Ganga to the earth. It is not just thrilling? Bhagiratha’s devotion to duty, and his strong determination, which was not shaken by any kind of difficulty, shines forth in the story. His will power, hard like a diamond, should be an example to us.