The Holy Places of Jaiva Dharma: Bhagirathi


Gomukh Glacier with Bhagirathi peaks rise in the background
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Mar 07, 2014 — CANADA (SUN) — A serial presentation of the holy places mentioned in the Jaiva Dharma of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur - Part 19.

The sacred shrine of Gangotri dhama is the first of the four Char-dhamas to be visited on pilgrimage. Located 99 kilometres form Uttarkashi, it is situated at an altitude of 10,500 ft. and marks the source of the River Bhagirathi. The site is surrounded by mountain peaks known as Shivlinga, Satopanth and the Bhagirathi sisters.

After three generations of Bhagirathi's severe penance, performed over hundreds of years for the purpose of absolving his sons, Ganga Ma conceded to descend to the Earth. Here, at the sacred source of the river Bhagirathi, Goddess Ganga is worshipped in her Deity form.

King Sagar had 60,000 sons who were burned to ash by the sage Kapila after they had erroneously accused him of being a thief. Kapila later advised Amshuman, King Sagar's grandson, that only by bringing the Ganges down from the heavens could peace be properly restored.

Amshuman and his son Dilip both tried unsuccessfully to follow Kapila's instructions. Dilip's son, Bhagirath, eventually retired to Gangotri to perform great austerities finally the demigods agreed to send Ganga to earth. Next Bhagirath appealed to Lord Shiva to allow Ganga Ma, in the form of the Ganges waters, to fall on his head, since its force would otherwise destroy the earth planet. Once Ganga touched earth, Bhagirath led her out of the mountains and to the sea, where she touched his ancestors' ashes and finally washed away the sinful reactions.

Gangotri dhama

The story of King Sagara has also been narrated as follows:

    "According to the legend, King Sagara of the Ikshvaku dynasty ruling at Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh had two queens, Keshani and Sumati, but neither had a child. Sagara performed severe austerities before his wives could produce sons. But whereas Keshani gave birth to a son called Asmajas, Sumati bore 60,000 sons. Sagara performed the Ashwamedha sacrifice to declare his suzerainty over the neighbouring kingdoms. According to the prevalent custom, the sacrificial horse was let loose and allowed to wander into the neighbouring kingdoms. If the horse was caught, a battle ensued and the outcome decided the winner. The 60,000 sons of Sagara were following the horse when they saw him enter a cavern where sage Kapila was meditating. Not seeing the horse in the cavern, they presumed that Kapila had captured it.

    They did not kill Kapila as he was a sage but they started disturbing his meditations. Annoyed at being disturbed, Kapila with a curse burnt the 60,000 sons of Sagara. Time passed and later Bhagiratha, the great grandson of Sagara, chanced to come across the bones of his dead ancestors. He wanted to perform the shraddha of his ancestors but there was no water available for the ceremony. Agastya having drunk all the waters of the ocean, the country was passing through a severe drought. Bhagiratha prayed to Brahma, the Creator, to end the drought. Brahma asked him to pray to Vishnu, the Preserver, to allow the heavenly Ganga, issuing from His big toe, to come down to earth. Vishnu when prayed to by Bhagiratha agreed, but asked him to request Shiva, the third member of the Hindu trinity of Gods, to allow the torrential rain to fall on his head before it came to the earth as the river was very forceful and if she were allowed to come down unchecked, her fall would split the earth. Shiva agreed to take the gigantic weight of the cascading Ganga on the matted hair piled high on his head. This ensnared and delayed the progress of the river which, in meandering through the labyrinth of his hair, lost its force and then gently descended to the Himalayas from whence it flowed to the plains bestowing its waters on the parched earth. And that is why the anthropomorphic image of Ganga is shown in the matted hair of Shiva who is also called Gangadhara. Being born in the Himalayas, Ganga is considered the elder sister of Parvati, who is also a daughter of the Himalayas.

    According to the Agni Purana and Padma Purana, the Ganga descended to the earth on Ganga Dussehra day and a bath in the holy river on this day is said to purify one of all sins. To die on the banks of the Ganga is considered most auspicious. If that is not possible, then the immersion of the ashes after cremation in the river Ganga is a must, as it then releases one from the cycles of birth and re-birth. the seven ways of worshipping the Ganga are: by calling out her name, 'Oh Ganga'; having darshan of her; by toughing her waters; by worshipping and bathing; by standing in the waters of the river; and by carrying clay dug out of the river. Ganga in her anthropomorphic form is shown as a beautiful young woman standing on a crocodile and holding a waterpot in her hands. Her image, with that of the Goddess Yamuna, another sacred river deity, is often depicted on the doors of temples and palaces. In Gujarat, there is a legend according to which Ganga came down to the earth on Rishi Panchami, the fifth day of Bhadra (September) at Tarnetar. There is a sacred tank where people congregate for a holy bath on that day." (Shakti M. Gupta, 1991)

Gangotri dhama

In its journey to the sea, the Ganges River travels some 2,500 kms across the Indian subcontinent, blessing the people of India and Bangladesh with life-giving water. The Sunderban delta in Bangladesh is now the world's largest and most fertile delta.

While Gangotri is the place of worship associated with the source of the Ganges, the actual source is understood to be the glacier at Gaumukh, which is 12 miles upstream.


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