The Holy Places of Jaiva Dharma: Jahnavi


Gangotri: Mother Ganga on her Makara
Early Bengal School, c. 1890
British Museum Collection

Apr 21, 2014 — CANADA (SUN) — A serial presentation of the holy places mentioned in the Jaiva Dharma of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur - Part 63.

Our next sacred place listed in the 'Glossary of Places' is the Jahnavi River.

    "Jahnavi - a name for the Ganga, which reveals her connection with Jahnu Rsi. Jahnu Rsi was sitting by the Ganga chanting his gayatri mantra, when his acamana cup fell into the river and was swept away by the current. Out of anger, Jahnu Rsi opened his mouth and drank all the water in one gulp.

    King Bhagiratha, who had endeavored with great difficulty to bring the Ganga to earth to deliver his deceased relatives, was overwhelmed with anxiety and worshiped the sage for several days. Jahnu Rsi then released the Ganga from his body. Because of this incident, the Ganga is known as Jahnavi, the daughter of Jahnu."

This is the last listing of what are four primary names for the Ganga mentioned in the Glossary, and we have already covered the first three: the Ganga, Alakananda, Bhagirathi, and Jahnavai.

As mentioned in previous segments, there are differing translations of Jaiva Dharma with respect to the river names. In one version, it is the Ganga mentioned at the end of the book, being the place where Srila Bhaktivinoda did the writing. But in the closing of another manuscript, which quotes the verse, we see that the name Jahnavai is actually used:

    "This book was fully complete on Maghi-purnima (the full moon day of the month of Magha)…

    caitanyabda cari-sata-dase navadvipe
    godruma-surabhi-kunje jahnavi-samipe

    in the year 410 of the Caitanya Era (1896) at Surabhi-kunja in Godrumadvipa, near the sacred river Jahnavi in Navadvipa-mandala."

In some Vaisnava literature, we find the names used in tandem:

    "When I saw my Lord dancing in the Jagannatha Mandira, endless waves of ecstatic emotion flooded my heart. What is there for me in this wretched life except to see the exquisite dancing movements of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu performing on the banks of the Jahnavi Ganga River."

    (Prema-vivarta by Srila Jagadananda Pandit, Chapter Four)

The combined use of names is confirmed in Srila Sridhara Swami's commentary on Bhagavad-gita 10.31:

    "Of purifiers Lord Krishna's vibhuti or divine, transcendental opulence is the wind. Of wielders of weapons His vibhuti is Parasurama who slew in battle all the ksatriyas or warriors class 21 times with His mighty axe. Among fish His vibhuti is a particular fish that can swallow a whole whale and lives in the deepest part of the ocean known as Makara and amongst all rivers, Lord Krishna's vibhuti is jahnavi, a name of the holy Ganga."

The Rig Veda also mentions not only the Ganga's name, but also the Jahnavai. RV 3.58.6 states:

    "…your ancient home, your auspicious friendship, O Heroes, your wealth is on the banks of the Jahnavi (JahnAvyAm)."

In RV 1.116.18-19, the Jahnavi and the Gangetic dolphin are mentioned in two adjacent verses. Ganga Ma is famously known for riding her makara-vahana, an aquatic carrier. In Sanskrit, 'makara is 'crocodile', but we find many images of Ganga on makara-vahana in which the carrier resembles a long-nose dolphin more than a crocodile. This is quite possibly due to the presence of the river dolphins which have inhabited the Jahnavi/Ganga and Brahmaputra Rivers in West Bengal and Bangladesh. In fact, many of the more dolphin-like images of makara are found in Bengali art, such as the painting above. Out in the water, the long noses of two more aquatics are seen, to the left of Bhagirath and Ganga Ma,

(Jahnavi, to be continued…)


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