Mamallapuram – Descent of Ganga as in Mahabharata


    Mamallapuram – The Workshop of the Pallavas

    Descent of Ganga as in Mahabharata

    Words or phrases bearing influence on the Great Penance are highlighted in the below story.

    Ganga’s Descent as described in Mahabharata (K M Ganguli translation, Vana Parva Section CVIII-CIX)

    “Lomasa said, ‘That same king, of a powerful bow, standing at the head of the surrounding, (i.e., the occupant of an imperial throne) of a powerful car, (i.e., possessing every great fighting power) became the delight of the eyes and the soul of all the world. And he of the powerful arm came to learn how his forefathers had met an awful end from Kapila of mighty soul, and how they had been unable to attain the region of gods. And he with a sorrowful heart made over his kingly duties to his minister, and, O lord of men! for practising austerities, went to the side of the snowy Mountain (the Himalayas). And, O most praiseworthy of men, desirous of extinguishing his sins by leading an austere life, and (thereby) obtaining the favour of the (goddess) Ganga, he visited that foremost of mountains–Himalaya. And he beheld it adorned with peaks of diverse forms full of mineral earth; besprinkled on all sides with drops from clouds which were resting themselves upon the breeze; beautiful with rivers and groves and rocky spurs, looking like (so many) palaces (in a city); attended upon by lions and tigers that had concealed themselves in its caves and pits; and also inhabited by birds of checkered forms, which were uttering diverse sounds, such as the Bhringarajas, and ganders, and Datyuhas, and water-cocks, and peacocks and birds with a hundred feathers, and Jivanjivakas, and black birds, and Chakoras of eyes furnished with black corners, and the birds that love their young. And he saw the mountain abounding in lotus plants growing in delightful reservoirs of water. And the cranes rendered it charming with their sounds; and the Kinnaras and the celestial nymphs were seated on its stony slabs. And the elephants occupying the cardinal points had everywhere robbed its trees with the end of their tusks; and the demi-gods of the Vidyadhara class frequented the hill. And it was full of various gems, and was also infested by snakes bearing terrible poison and of glowing tongues. And the mountain at places looked like (massive) gold, and elsewhere it resembled a silvery (pile), and at some places it was like a (sable) heap of collyrium. Such was the snowy hill where the king now found himself. And that most praiseworthy of men at that spot betook himself to an awful austere course of life. And for one thousand years his subsistence was nothing but water, fruit and roots. When, however, a thousand years according to the calculation of gods had elapsed, then the great river Ganga having assumed a material form, manifested to him her (divine) self.’

    “Ganga said. ‘O great king! what dost thou desire of me? And what must I bestow on thee? Tell me the same, O most praiseworthy of men! I shall do as thou mayst ask me.’ Thus addressed, the king then made his reply to Ganga, the daughter of the snowy Hill, saying, ‘O grantress of boons! O great river! my father’s fathers, while searching for the horse, were sent by Kapila to the abode of the god of death. And those same sixty thousand sons of Sagara of mighty soul, having met with the majestic Kapila, perished, (to a soul) in an instant of time. Having thus perished, there hath been no place for them in the region of heaven. O great river! So long as thou dost not besprinkle those same bodies with thy water, there is no salvation for these same Sagara’s sons. O blessed goddess! carry thou my forefathers, Sagara’s sons, to the region of heaven. O great river! on their account am I beseeching thee forsooth.”

    “Lomasa said, ‘Ganga, the goddess saluted by the world, having heard these words of the king, was well pleased, and spake to Bhagiratha the following words: ‘O great king! I am prepared to do what thou dost ask me; there is no doubt therein. But when I shall descend from the sky to the earth, the force of my fall will be difficult to sustain. O protector of men! In the three worlds there exists none who is able to sustain the same, excepting Siva, the most praiseworthy of gods, the great Lord with the throat of sable blue. O (prince) of a powerful arm! Obtain the favour, by practising austerities, of that same Siva-giver of boons. That same god will sustain my descent upon his head. Thy desire he will fulfill, the desire, namely, to be of service to thy fathers, O king!’ Then the great king Bhagiratha having heard the same, went to the Kailasa hill, and betaking himself to a severe course of penances, at the expiration of a certain length of time obtained the favour of that worker of blessings (Siva). And, O protector of men! that same best of men, in order that his forefathers might have a place in heaven secured to them, received from that very Siva the fulfilment of his wish, namely the wish that the descending Ganga might be sustained.'”

    “Lomasa said, ‘The blessed God having heard what Bhagiratha had said, and with a view to doing what was agreeable to the residents of heaven, replied to the king, saying, ‘So let it be. O most righteous of the protectors of men, O (prince) of a powerful arm! For thy sake I shall sustain the river of the gods, when she will take her descent from the sky, she who is pure and blessed and divine, O (king) of a mighty arm!’ Saying this, he came to the snowy mountain, surrounded by his attendants, of awful mien, and with uplifted weapons of diverse forms. And standing there, he said to Bhagiratha, the most praiseworthy of men, ‘O (prince) of a powerful arm! do thou pray to the river, the daughter of the king of mountains. I shall sustain that most praiseworthy of rivers when she falls down from the third region of the world (heaven).’ Having heard these words uttered by Siva, the king became devout (in heart), made obeisance and directed his thoughts towards Ganga. Then the delightful (river), of pure water in being so thought of by the king, and seeing that the great lord (Siva) was standing (to receive her fall), came down all of a sudden from the sky. And seeing that she had taken her leap from the sky, the gods, together with the mighty saints, the Gandharvas, the snakes, and the Yakshas, assembled there as spectators. Then came down from the sky Ganga, the daughter of the snowy mountain. And her whirlpools were raging, and she was teeming with fishes and sharks. O king! she directing her course towards the sea, separated herself, into three streams; and her water was bestrewn with piles of froth, which looked like so many rows of (white) ganders. And crooked and tortuous in the movement of her body, at places; and at others stumbling at it were; and covered with foam as with a robe: she went forward like a woman drunk. And elsewhere, by virtue of the roar of her waters, she uttered loud sounds. Thus assuming very many different aspects, when she fell from the sky, and reached the surface of the earth, she said to Bhagiratha, ‘O great king! show me the path that I shall have to take. O lord of the earth! for thy sake have I descended to the earth.’ Having heard these words, king Bhagiratha directed his course towards the spot where lay those bodies of mighty Sagara’s sons, in order that, O most praiseworthy of men, the holy water might flood (the same).”

    “Having achieved the task of sustaining Ganga, Siva, saluted by men, went to Kailasa the most praiseworthy of mountains, accompanied by the celestials.”

    “And the protector of men (Bhagiratha) accompanied by Ganga reached the sea; and the sea, the abode of Varuna, was quickly filled. And the king adopted Ganga as a daughter of himself, and at that spot offered libations of water to the names of his forefathers; thus was his heart’s wish fulfilled. Thus asked by thee, I have narrated the whole story how Ganga running in three streams, was brought down to the earth for filling the sea; how the mighty saint had drunk up the sea for a particular reason, and how, O lord! Vatapi, the slayer of Brahmanas, was destroyed by Agastya.'”


    Story of the descent of Ganga as narrated in Ramayana (Bala Khanda- sarge 42-44)

    “When King Sagara passed away owing to the irrefutable virtue of Time, the ministers and subjects of that kingdom are predisposed towards the highly honorable Amshuman to become their king and they enthroned him accordingly.” Thus Vishvamitra continued narration about the predecessors of Rama. [1-42-1]

    “He that Amshuman turned out to be a very great king, and oh, Rama of Raghu’s dynasty, he begot a marvelous son who is renowned as Dileepa. [1-42-2]

    “Assigning the kingdom to Dileepa, oh, Rama of Raghu’s dynasty, Amshuman undertook very stern ascesis on a pleasant peak of Himalayas desiring the descent of River Ganga to earth. [1-42-3]

    “On practicing ascesis in ascetic-woods for thirty-two thousand years that highly renowned king Amshuman achieved heaven as he acquired only the wealth of practicing the ascesis. [1-42-4]

    “The great resplendent Dileepa on hearing the elimination of his grandfathers, the sixty thousand sons of Sagara at the hand of sage Kapila, and with a mind that is marred by the plight of his father Amshuman in absolving the souls of Sagara’s sons, he that Dileepa could not arrive at any decision concerning the descent of Ganga. [1-42-5]

    “Dileepa became worried as to how River Ganga is to be alighted onto earth from heaven, how water-oblations are to be offered for the souls of Sagara’s sons, and how to cross them, the souls, over this mortal world. [1-42-6]

    “To him who is self-mortified and who is always thinking righteously about the alight of Ganga onto earth, to such a Dileepa a most-virtuous son is born who is renowned by his name Bhageeratha. [1-42-7]

    “That great-resplendent king Dileepa on his part performed numerous Vedic-rituals, and he ruled the kingdom for thirty thousand years – to the delight of each of his subjects, but could not find a way to fetch Ganga. [1-42-8]

    “Oh, tigerly-man Rama, that king Dileepa by not attaining any choice towards the uplifting the souls of his grandparents to heaven by bringing Ganga to earth, he took to illness, and he attained the ultimate virtue of Time, namely the demise. [1-42-9]

    “That best one among men, namely king Dileepa, on anointing his son Bhageeratha in the kingdom went to the abode of Indra, namely the heaven, only by his self-acquired merits of deeds. [1-42-10]

    “Oh, Rama, the legatee of Raghu, but on his part that self-righteous and kingly-sage Bhageeratha is childless, and that great king longed-for offspring. [1-42-11]

    “Interested in the alighting of River Ganga on earth, oh, Rama, the descendant of Raghu, king Bhageeratha delegated his kingdom to the custody of his ministers and people and firmed up himself in sustained asceticism on Mt. Gokarna in Himalayas, and he practice ascesis standing amid five-fires, upraising his hands, with a monthly sustenance and with his sense conquered. [1-42-12, 13a]

    “Thousands of years have rolled by while Bhageeratha stood practicing his severe ascesis, oh, dexterous Rama, and then the lord and master of all beings, namely god Brahma, is well pleased with that great-souled king’s ascesis. [1-42-13b, 14]

    “Forefather Brahma then arrived along with assemblages of gods, and spoke this way to the great-souled Bhageeratha who is deep in the practice of ascesis. [1-42-15]

    ” ‘Oh, great king Bhageeratha, oh, lord of the people, I am delighted with the perfectly conducted ascesis of yours, hence oh, truly committed one, you may beseech for a boon. [1-42-16]

    “That great resplendent and highly fortunate king Bhageeratha then remaining with suppliantly adjoined palm fold spoke to him who is the Forefather of all worlds, namely Brahma. [1-42-17]

    ” ‘Oh, god, if you are satisfied with my ascesis, and if there is any fruition to the ascesis of mine, let all the sons of Sagara get water oblations through me. [1-42-18]

    ” ‘While the ashes of these great souls are drenched with the waters of Ganga, let all of those great-grandfathers of mine depart to heaven, eternally. [1-42-19]

    ” ‘Oh, god, I indeed pray for offspring in our Ikshvaku dynasty, let not our dynasty dwindle as I am issueless, and oh, god, let this be the other boon to me. [1-42-20]

    “The Forefather of all the worlds, Brahma, then replied the king who has spoken in that way, in an auspicious tongue that is sweet-sounding and sweetly worded, as well. [1-42-21]

    ” ‘Oh, top-speeded chariot-rider Bhageeratha, this aspiration of yours is sublime, and oh, the furtherer of Ikshvaku dynasty, so be it, let safeness betide you. [1-42-22]

    ” ‘This Ganga is the one with snow-broth, the elder daughter of Himavanta, and oh, king Bhageeratha, god Shiva alone is capable to sustain her force in the course of her alighting onto earth, and in fact, he is to be commissioned for that purpose. [1-42-23]

    ” ‘Oh, king Bhageeratha, the earth cannot endure the downfall of Ganga and to sustain Ganga, oh, king, indeed I do not behold none other than the Trident-wielder, god Shiva.’ Thus Brahma spoke to Bhageeratha. [1-42-24]

    Speaking this way to the king Bhageeratha and informally greeting Ganga also, that Creator of Worlds, Brahma, left for heaven along with all the groups of gods and Wind-gods.” Thus Vishvamitra continued narration about the arrival of River Ganga to earth. [1-42-25]

    “When the god of gods Brahma left from there Bhageeratha stood on the tip of his big-toe praying for the mercy of Lord Shiva for one year, while that tip of his big-toe pressurised the earth.” Thus Vishvamitra continued his narration about Bhageeratha’s effort to bring Ganga to earth. [1-43-1]

    Bhageeratha stood on one big-toe with an unwavering intent and bodily movement, and with his hands upraised in prayer for a period of one year by day and night, sustaining himself on mere air, and thus his yogic concentration increased and that alone pressurised the earth.

    “On completion of one year, he who is venerated by all worlds, the consort of Uma and the god of animals from insects to humans, that god Shiva revealed himself and spoke this to the king. [1-43-2]

    “Oh, best one among humans, I am delighted with your unwavering effort, and I will fulfill your cherish. I will therefore sustain Ganga, the daughter of king of mountains by my head. [1-43-3]

    “Afterwards, she who is reverenced by all the worlds and who is the elder daughter of Himavanta, that Ganga assuming an unendurable form and an insupportable rapidity, they say, then plunged from the sky onto the auspicious head of Shiva. [1-43-4, 5a]

    “She who is an extremely unendurable river that goddess Ganga even speculated saying to herself, ‘let me enter netherworld, indeed whisking Shiva with my streams.’ [1-43-5b, 6a]

    “Discerning her egotism god Shiva is infuriated, and then on his part that Three-eyed god Shiva thought to pent her up in the tufts of his head-hair. [1-43-6b, 7a]

    “And oh, Rama, she that holy River Ganga swooped down into the cavernous curls of matted hair-tufts on the holy head of God Shiva, and she became a detainee in them. [1-43-7b, 8a]

    “Though she strove hard in one way or another to reach the earth that Ganga is rendered incapable, as she could not gain access for an outlet from any edge of the coils of matted hair-tufts of Shiva, hence she is held there in durance vile. [1-43-8b, 9a]

    “Goddess Ganga whirled round and round in the coils of tufts alone for many number of years, and when Ganga’s emanation from those coils is intangible Bhageeratha again firmed up in a marvelous penance in the matter of her descent to earth. [1-43-9b, 10a]

    “Oh, Rama, the legatee of Raghu, with that ascesis of Bhageeratha god Shiva is very much delighted, and thereupon he has also released Ganga aiming at Bindu Lake in Himalayas. [1-43-10b, 11a]

    “While god Shiva released Ganga into Bindu Lake seven streams have emerged out of it, and thus three auspicious Ganga-s with holy waters have cruised eastward which are known as Hlaadini, Paavani, and Nalini. [1-43-11b, 12]

    “Also thus Sucakshu, Seetha, and the excellent river Sindhu are the other three rivers which streamed to the westward direction with their holy waters. [1-43-13]

    “Of them the seventh Ganga flowed towards the path of Bhageeratha’ chariot, and that great-resplendent and kingly sage Bhageeratha sitting in a divine chariot moved ahead and even Ganga followed him. [1-43-14, 15a]

    “Thus Ganga came from heavens onto Shankara’s head and from there onto the earth, and there on earth her waters advanced with a tumultuous sound advancing them. [1-43-15b, 16a]

    “The earth then verily shone forth with the shoals of fish, schools of tortoises, and scores of porpoises and other aquatic beings that have already fallen and that are still falling in step with the spates of Ganga. [1-43-16b, 17a]

    “Later, they the gods, sages, gandharva-s, yaksha-s, and the assemblages of siddha-s have then seen there the swoop of Ganga in that way from heaven to earth, with curiosity. [1-43-17b, 18a]

    “Some of the gods with aircrafts that are like cities in their shape and size, and some with horses that are prancing, and some with best elephants that are staggering, at the very sight of plunging Ganga, have entered the firmament at that place. [1-43-18b, 19a]

    “The gods whose animation is unlimited, and who are anxious to see the plunge of Ganga, have come together in assemblages, which plunge is a highest marvel in the universe by a better degree of her illimitable animation than that of gods who came to see, and even benignant to the world in according water and salving souls, which those gods cannot do. [1-43-19b, 20a]

    “The glitter of the ornaments of hosts of gods who are in stampede, made the cloudless sky to shine as if it is with a hundred of suns. [1-43-20b, 21a]

    “At that time, with the falling and rising of scores of porpoises and reptiles, even with the wriggling fishes, the sky became flashy as if flashes of lightning are strewn over it. [1-43-21b, 22a]

    “Spattered innumerably with the whitish froth from the splashes of Ganga, and stippled with the flights of swans, the sky is as though overspread with silver-clouds of autumn. [1-43-22b, 23a]

    “Somewhere Ganga is coursing precipitately, elsewhere sinuously, somewhere else staightly, elsewhere sloppily, somewhere gushingly, and somewhere else her cruise is leisurely and tardily. [1-43-23b, 24a]

    “Somewhere her water repeatedly knocking against her own water is recurrently billowing upwards only to make nosedive onto earth. [1-43-24b, 25a]

    “That impeccable and immaculate water of Ganga then became outstanding as it has flounced down from heaven primarily onto the head of Shankara, and therefrom it has coasted down onto the earth. [1-43-25b, 26a]

    “And asserting that the water as holy, because it descended touching the body of Shiva, viz., the head of Shiva, the assemblages of sages, gandharva-s, and those that are residents on the plane of earth have sipped that water at that place. [1-43-26b, 27a]

    “Also those that have fallen from heaven onto the surface of earth by some curse or the other, they too became blemishless on taking head-bath in the water of Ganga. [1-43-27b, 28a]

    “When sins are washed away with the hallowing water of Ganga, they again transited skyward and then obtained their own empyrean worlds once again. [1-43-28b, 29a]

    “With her splendorous water people are blissful, and on taking dip-baths in Ganga they are totally removed of the strains of their sins, and they lived blissfully ever after. [1-43-29b, 30a]

    “In this way, the great-resplendent and kingly sage Bhageeratha sitting in a divine chariot continuously moved ahead and Ganga continually followed him at his behind. [1-43-30b, 31a]

    “Oh, Rama, all of the gods along with the assemblages of sages, ogres, monsters, demons, and even great reptiles with kinnara-s, and gandharva-s with best yaksha-s, and even serpents and apsara-s, have delightfully moved after Ganga who is following the chariot of Bhageeratha, and why they, in fact, all of the aquatic beings have followed Ganga. [31b, 32, 33a]

    “In whichever direction king Bhageeratha has advanced, that glorious River Ganga, who is the prominent river among all the rivers and the complete obliterator of sins, has also moved at his behind in that direction. [1-43-33b, 34a]

    “While in flow she started to completely inundate the field of Vedic-ritual belonging to the great-souled sage Jahnu, who is of marvelous deeds and who is presently an officiator of an ongoing Vedic-ritual. [1-43-34b, 35a]

    “But on knowing her hubris, oh, Raghava, that sage Jahnu has become irritated and causing an extreme marvel he drank off all the water of Ganga. [1-43-35b, 36a]

    “Thereupon, the gods along with gandharva-s and sages at that extremely marvelous feat of Sage Jahnu are highly astounded, and they then started to worship that ablest human and great-souled sage Jahnu, and even deigned for the daughterhood of Ganga to that high-souled sage Jahnu. [1-43-36b, 37]

    “That greatly radiant and godly sage Jahnu is then delighted and released Ganga from both of his ears. Therefore Ganga became the daughter of sage Jahnu, and she is also renowned as Jahnavi, after the name of that sage. [1-43-38]

    “Even though Ganga again proceeded moving behind the chariot of Bhageeratha and reached the ocean, therefrom she had to wend her way to netherworld, once dug by the sons of Sagara, only to accomplish the mission of Bhageeratha, namely drenching the ashes of Sagara’s sons. [1-43-39, 40a]

    “Even kingly-sage Bhageeratha making every effort ushered Ganga to netherworld, but on seeing his grandparents rendered to ashes he has became doleful. [1-43-40b, 41a]

    “Oh, Rama, the best of Raghu’s dynasty, then Ganga inundated that mound of ashes of Sagara’s six-thousand sons, by which those souls obtained heaven, while the sins of souls are cleansed with the water of Ganga.” Thus Vishvamitra continued his narration. [1-43-41b, c]


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