India, being an agricultural country, is greatly dependent of the rivers crisscrossing through its plains for its survival and flourishing of population.
Thus rivers are considered to be an integral part and also a level of divinity is attached to them. There are seven most important rivers of India which are considered to be holy, The Ganges or the Ganga is the most important of them all.
Ganga is considered to be the sister of Goddess Parvati, as she too hails from Himalaya, who is the father of Parvati. Ganga is considered to be tremendously important to all the Hindus globally, and even a drop of the Ganges water is considered to be sacred enough to drive away all that is unwanted.
The Ganga Puja takes place in the month of Jyestha, in the tenth day of the Shuklapaksha. That means it occurs in the month of May or June according to the Gregorian calendar. This is the day that is believed to be when Ganga finally heeding Maharaja Bhagiratha’s plea came down from the heaven to the earth, parched of water.
Legend behind Ganga’s descent to earth
According to one legend, when king Sagara, the ruler of the Ikshvaku dynasty, after performing penance had children by his two wives, Keshani and Sumati; one gave birth to a son and the other gave birth to sixty thousand sons together. As they grew up, King Sagara in a desire to perform theAshwamedhaYagna, sent his horse astray with his sixty thousand sons following him. The horse went and hid in a cavern where the sage Kapila was praying. The sons having reached the cavern thought that Kapila had captured their horses and disturbed his worship. Annoyed, Kapila burnt down all the sixty thousand sons in his rage.
The grandson of King Sagara, Ayushman tried to bring Ganga to earth since Kapila the sage had advised that only the water of Ganga will be able to wash away the sins of those sixty thousand sons. Ayushman’s son Dilip was also unsuccessful. Finally, the great grandson of Sagara, King Bhagiratha came across the remainders of his ancestors and wanted to perform their shraddha or the last rites for them. Unfortunately, Sage Agastya had drunk up all the water and the earth was going through a great drought. Bhagiratha then started a severe penance to Lord Brahma, so that he can end the drought. Brahma asked him to pray to Lord Vishnu, who agreed, but in turn asked him to request Lord Shiva to allow the torrential and heavily flowing Ganga to descent on earth slowly through his hair. Lord Shiva agreed, and thus came down Ganga or Bhagirathi, so named after King Bhagirath on earth.
There are various debates as to the day of Ganga’s appearance on earth. Some believe that Ganga came down on the month of Vaisakh, during AkshayTritiya, which is April according to Gregorian calendar. The Matsya Purana says that Lord Vishnu or Janardana made Ganga descend from the Sargalok, that is Heaven to the Martyalok, which is earth on the third day of the Vaishakha.
According to legends, Ganga is the daughter of Parvat Himalaya and the Goddess Mena. According to the Puranas, Ganga flew down from Lord Vishnu’s toes and could at times assume a human form; in one of which she married king Shantanu and gave birth to the great Bhishma.
Ganga in images is shown as a beautiful and radiant woman aloft a crocodile, holding a water pot in her hand.
Seven ways of worshipping Ganga
According to the Puranas, there are seven ways of worshipping Ganga, to be blessed by her and to gain redemption from all one’s sins. The seven ways are as follows-
- Invoking Ganga by name , by saying Oh Ganga
- Having a glimpse or darshan of Ganga
- Touching the sacred waters of Ganga
- Worshipping Ma Ganga
- having a holy dip in her waters
- Standing in the waters of Ganga and
- Carrying clay dug out of Ganga
Most important places of Ganga Puja
The most important places for Ganga puja or worshipping Ganga are- from where she came down, which is Gangotri, the place she came down from the mountains to the plains, which is Haridwar. Allahabad is the place where Yamuna, the main tributary joins Ganga. Varanasi is also another important place, as it is an extremely holy city and Sagara Island, where Ganga meets the Bay of Bengal.
Significance of Ganga Puja and its observance in Haridwar and Rishikesh
Ganga is the mainframe of India and the Hindu society. Every day in the evenings, thousands of people gather in the banks of Ganga in the cities of Haridwar and Rishikesh to see this great river being worshipped by what is known as Ganga Arati.
It is firmly believed that the water of Ganga is so pure that it can absolve one of sin and impurities. Thus it is believed that Ganga can help her devotees to attain Moksha or the ultimate liberation.
Ganga water is considered to be magical and even Nectar like or like Amrita on certain days, for example on the day of Kumbha. It is said on the day of Kumbha Amrita, churned from the sea by Gods, mix with the holy water of Ganga.
Ganga Puja in Tripura and West Bengal
In Tripura, Ganga is worshipped by the tribal Tripuri people to save their pregnant women and to shield them from all epidemics. This festival in Tripura is celebrated during Nabanna, or the Harvest of Spring festival, which is in the period of March or April. Ganga is considered amongst the fourteen most important deities of Assam, so her influence is palpable. Tribal communities all build a bamboo structure in the middle of a river and decorate it beautifully with flowers. Lots of cattle are also sacrificed to her to seek her blessings from protection against epidemics. In Bengal too, where Ganga finally meets at the Bay of Bengal, she is worshipped with a lot of devotion and fanfare.