We are currently at a point in the Ramayana story wherein Sage Vishwaamithra is taking the children Rama and Lakshmana along with him towards Mithilapuri – The kingdom of Janaka Maharaj and the home of Sita. All along the way, Sage Vishwaamithra tries to engage the two children in the form of stories pertaining to various people and also about the various places and rivers through which they walk along. In the previous episode we saw one such story wherein Sage Vishwaamithra narrates his own history as to how he was born and how did he get that interest in becoming a “Brahma-Rishi”. In today’s episode, we are going to see another important and an interesting story narrated by Sage Vishwaamithra to the two children. Currently, they are passing through the river Ganges and Sage Vishwaamithra narrates the history behind this great river. It would be of immense interest for all of us, as this river of Ganges, is even today considered as one of the most sacred rivers that flow in India. Now let’s go into the story:
“Sagaro naama dharmaathmaa prajaakaamasya chaaprajaha!
Vaidharba dhurithaa naama kesini naamanaamakaha!!”
Sage Vishwaamithra says to Rama and Lakshmana that the river Ganges was brought down by a king by name “Sagara” who was one of the great ancestors of the Ikshvaaku Dynasty. This king Sagara had two wives – Kesini and Sumathi. Both the wives along with king Sagara were childless for a long time and ultimately they approach Lord Vishnu for help in this matter. Lord Vishnu answers their prayers and gives them an opportunity to select between two options: The first option – Only one son with lot of brilliance and the second option – Many sons, but with less brilliance. Lord Vishnu asks the two wives of king Sagara to choose between these two options. One of the wives opted for option two, and had 60,000 sons! The other one opted for option one, wherein she obtained a son by name “Asamanjas”. But what happened is that, as per Bhagawan’s words this son Asamanjas was a very lazy child with no effort, although he had lot of brain and brilliance. (Even today, we use this term “Asamanjasam” to point out people who are lazy and without putting any efforts to succeed in life!)
Thus, these children grow up, and one day king Sagara wanted to perform an Ashvamedha Yaaga. As we’ve seen before, as part of the Ashvamedha Yaaga, a horse is let to circle around the entire kingdom and if the horse is caught by someone on the way, this king has to go in search of the horse, defeat that person who has captured it and then bring it back. Accordingly, the horse was let go as per the ritual and at one point, unfortunately the horse slipped away from the path and was lost! King Sagara was worried and first asked his 60,000 sons to go and search for the horse. We’ve to remember here that these 60,000 sons were brainless children. They went everywhere, searching for the horse but couldn’t trace it out! At one stage they went underground (Paathaala Lokha) and found Kapila Maharishi sitting there in deep penance. (Kapila Maharishi is at a few places in the Hindu Literature referred to as an incarnation of Lord Vishnu Himself). Unfortunately, this horse that was lost was standing near Kapila Maharishi! Of course, Kapila Maharishi was in deep penance and he did not capture the horse. But these 60,000 sons thought to themselves that it is Kapila Maharishi who has captured the horse. Accordingly, they tried to attack the great saint. Kapila Maharishi was disturbed from his penance, opened his eyes with anger and within a minute, all the 60,000 sons were burnt to ashes! Since this incident happened in the “Paathaala Lokha” (Underground), nobody knew what had happened.
The king was concerned and sent his other son Asamanjas to go and find out what happened to the horse as well as to the 60,000 people who went in search of it. As we know the characteristics of this son “Asamanjas”, there was no effort from him. He just went around and came back and couldn’t find out what happened. King Sagara was disappointed a lot that he couldn’t complete the Yagna and in the course of it, he lost his 60,000 sons. Much later after this, Asamanjas was blessed with a son by name “Amsumaan”. This Amsumaan was a good and an efficient king. He expedited the pursuit and found the horse as well as the 60,000 people burnt near Kapila Maharishi. He asked forgiveness to the saint and requested him to send back the horse. Accordingly, Kapila Maharishi let go of the horse, as per the request of king Amsumaan. Amsumaan further asks Kapila Maharishi if he could do something to bring back the 60,000 people to life again. But the saint replied that he cannot do that, but however suggested him to pray to Mother Ganga for help! He suggested that maybe if the river Ganges comes down to the earth, there is a chance for these 60,000 people to be brought back to life upon sprinkling the water on to them!
Accordingly, as per the instructions of Kapila Maharishi, king Amsumaan sits in deep penance to bring the mother Ganga down to the earth, but was unsuccessful. Much later, Amsumaan had a son by name “Dileepa”. Dileepa was a very wise king as well and he tried his best to bring the Ganges down. He too couldn’t succeed. King Dileepa had a son by name “Bhageeratha”. Bhageeratha continued the efforts of his father and grandfather to bring down the river Ganges to the earth. Pleased by his deep and immense penance, mother Ganges answers him from heaven “Oh Bhageeratha! You are asking me to come down to the earth! But if I come down, I might end up destroying the towns and cities with the immense force of my water flow! So, Bhageeratha, please prepare yourself for this!” King Bhageeratha requested mother Ganga to give him some time and in the meanwhile, he went into a deep penance towards Lord Shiva and requested His help in this regard. Accordingly Lord Shiva offered his help by holding the river Ganga in his head. This is why Lord Shiva is referred to as “Gangaadhara” and “Jataadhara”. It is thus from Lord Shiva’s head, the river Ganges falls to the earth. River Ganges is also known as “Tripagathaa”, which means that she flows in three different directions – Towards the Deva Lokha, Manushya Lokha and Aakaasha (Sky). Thus with this heavy flow, as the Mother Ganga comes down to the “Manushya Lokha” (Earth), she asks Bhageeratha to take his chariot and ride all along and show her the path to flow along. Mother Ganga says that she would follow Bhageeratha’s chariot all the way, wherever he goes. Thus accordingly, Bhageeratha starts his chariot at the “Gangothri” (The present place where the river Ganges originates – Also referred to as “Bindusaras” in the present-day Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. This is a beautiful place even today, and the water here is so pure like glass!) Thus from this place, mother Ganga follows Bhageeratha’s chariot, and thus he takes the Ganges all along until it reaches the Bay of Bengal. It is thus we see even today, that the River Ganges empties itself south of Hoogly in the present day city of Kolkata in India.
In the middle of the journey, Bhageeratha’s chariot passes through the ears of Jambu Maharishi and the Ganges follow this route. It is thus, the river Ganges is also referred to as “Jaanhavi”. Since king Bhageeratha brought it to the earth, it is also referred to as “Bhaageerathi”. Thus, we can see the holiness and the sacredness of this great river called Ganges or Ganga. Thus, “Bhaageerathi”, “Alakananda”, “Jaanhavi”, etc. are the other names of the holy river Ganges and even if we chant these names everyday, it is so powerful that all our sins are washed away in a jiffy!
Thus, Sage Vishwaamithra narrated this entire story to the children Rama and Lakshmana and they proceed further. Where did they go next? What were the events that unfolded after this? Let’s witness in the next episode!