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Ganga-dashahara – worship of Ganga-devi

Today is Ganga-dashahara, for this reason I want to briefly speak about this subject. Ganga-dashahara means that on this day, Ganga-devi descended from the transcendental world into this material world. Dashami tithi refers to ten days from the new moon, for this reason, this day is called Dashahara. Try to understand that the Ganges River is eternal and transcendental. But for bhauma-lila (earthly pastimes), Ganga-devi manifests in this material world, and the story of her descendance is discussed in Srimad-Bhagavatam. This beautiful story was told by Shukadeva Gosvamipada to Pariksit Maharaja.

Once, King Sagara Maharaja performed hard austerities. He was going to perform one hundred fire sacrifices, called ashvamedha-yagnas. The king had now completed ninety nine of them, and just one remained to be performed. However, Indra now became very fearful, as he thought perhaps Sagara Maharaja would become so powerful that he would conquer Indra’s heavenly planet to complete this ashvamedha-yagna.

Because of his fear, Indra created a disturbance and stole the horse that was meant to be sacrificed in the fire; hiding the horse in Kapiladeva’s ashrama. During that time, Kapiladeva was completely absorbed in a trance.

Sagara Maharaja and his sixteen thousand sons began searching for the missing horse which was intended for the fire sacrifice. When the sixteen thousand sons of Sagara Maharaja arrived at the ashrama of Kapila Rishi, they saw their missing horse was indeed there. On realising this, they became very angry and began bitterly beating Kapila Rishi and using harsh words against him.

Kapiladeva, unaware of what was occurring and why, arose from his trance, and when he heard the sixteen thousand sons using many harsh words towards him, he became very angry with them. Then, from his third eye, Kapiladeva manifested a fire which immediately transformed all the sons of Sagara Maharaja into ashes.

When Sagara Maharaja heard of these unfortunate events he became very upset, and quickly went to the ashrama of Kapiladeva. Once there, the king performed his stava-stuti and begged forgiveness for his own aparadhas or offences. After witnessing the king’s humility, Kapiladeva’s heart cooled and he became very happy with Sagara Maharaja. Kapiladeva said,“Your sons have already turned into ash, but if anyone just brings some water from the Ganges, once their ash touches the water of the Ganges, all of your sons will attain the highest planet. Thus, the king continued to perform hard austerities. However, he was unsuccessful and could not bring the Ganges from the transcendental world into this world.

The pastime of Ganges manifesting in this material world is actually a very beautiful katha. Once, Vamanadeva (Lord Krishna manifested in the form of a dwarf) arrived at the place where Bali Maharaja was performing a fire sacrifice. At that time, Vamanadeva cleverly asked Bali Maharaja to donate tri-pada-bhumi, meaning, three footsteps of land. And when Bali Maharaja agreed, Lord Vamanadeva manifested his trivikrama-svarupa (a gigantic form extending over all three worlds). With one step, the Lord took Prithivi-loka, He manifested the next step in Svargaloka and with His last step, Vamandeva pushed Bali Maharaja down to Sutala-loka. When Vamanadeva manifested His last step, His foot reached up to the highest heavenly planet Brahmaloka. At that moment, Brahmaji worshipped the lotus feet of Vamanadeva, and then kept the footbathing water in his kamandalu.

Thus, Ganga jala, the waters of the Ganges, are actually the footbathing water of Lord Vamanadeva— which was previously held in the kamandalu of Brahmaji in Satyaloka. The manner in which Ganga-devi, or Viraja, as she is also called, manifested in this material world is another story.

So, in the dynasty of Sagara Maharaja, many kings also performed hard austerities in order to bring the Ganges from Brahmaloka or Satyaloka into this material world. However, all of their austerities failed, and they could not manifest Ganga-devi in this material world. Yet, in the dynasty of Sagara Maharaja, there was a king named Bhagiratha who also performed hard austerities, and eventually attained Brahmaji’s darshana.

After appearing before him, Bhagiratha very humbly asked Brahmaji to bring Ganga-devi in this material world. Except at that time, Ganga-devi said,“I do not want to go to the material world. Perhaps, if I appear there, I will become contaminated.” After hearing this, Bhagiratha still continued performing hard austerities, while requesting Ganga-devi, “Please come and deliver my dynasty which has been cursed by Kapiladeva and sixteen thousand sons were transformed into ash.” Bhagiratha performed hard austerities, for thousands and thousands of years while praying to Ganga-devi. Eventually, convincing her to come into this material world.

First, Ganga-devi came from the transcendental world, flowing through the heavenly planet Svargaloka— that Ganga is called Mandakini. Now, Bhagiratha stood in front of her and blew his conch shell, as Ganga-devi was flowing behind him. However, when Ganga-devi was in Svargaloka, as Mandakini, she did not want to come to this material world. She was very proud of residing in Svargaloka and desired to stay there.

Still, Bhagiratha again and again performed hard austerities, but Ganga-devi, proud of residing in Svargaloka, did not want to manifest in the material world. One day, in the heavenly planet, Durvasa Rishi was bathing in Mandakini. Before entering her waters, the rishi placed his cloths on the bank of the river. Suddenly a big flood arose, and Mandakini washed away Durvasa Rishi’s cloths.

Then, Durvasa became very angry and cursed Mandakini, “Oh, you have to go to the material world.” Now, Ganga-devi became very afraid, “Oh, how will I go there? I will be contaminated by the sinful activities humans are committing.” In this material world, people are committing many sinful activities and then bathe in the Ganges.

So now, Bhagiratha was again performing hard austerities for thousands and thousand years, while doing stava-stutis. Finally, Ganga-devi told him, “Okay, perhaps now I will go to the material world as I have already been cursed by Durvasa Rishi. However, the flow of my current is very strong. Who will be able to hold my streaming waters when I enter the material world? Otherwise, I will go directly to Sutala-loka.”

Now, Bhagiratha began performing hard austerities to Lord Shiva and requested him to hold the streaming waters of Ganga-devi. Then, Shivaji agreed and said, “Okay, I can hold the stream of Ganga-devi on my jata, dreadlocks.” Thus, in this way Ganga-devi came down from heavenly planets, through Shivaji’s dreadlocks.

However, now, Ganga-devi was flowing entirely in the hair of Shivaji, and she again did not want to come out into the material world. For this reason, one of Shiva's names is Gangadhara— Gangadhara means one who holds Ganga on his head. This time, Bhagiratha again began offering praises to Lord Shiva.

Then, Lord Shivaji became pleased with Bhagiratha, and allowed only one small stream or dhara, out of his dreadlocks and into this material world. Actually, one stream from his dreadlocks manifested Ganga-devi in this material world, and another stream entered directly into the lower planet, Rasatalaloka. In this world, Ganga is also called Bhagirathi, and in Rasatala, she is known as Bhagavati Ganga.

So, we have just mentioned Ganga’s three names: in the heavenly planet, she is called Mandakini; in this material world, Ganga is known as Bhagirathi Ganga; and in a lower planet, she is called Bhagavati Ganga.

Returning to the main katha, now Ganga-devi was flowing in this material world, and when her waters just touched the ashes of Sagara Maharaja’s sons, they immediately attained the transcendental world. In this way, Bhagiratha also manifested Ganga-devi in this material world. Actually, in another pastime, the original Ganga manifested in this material world as one of the sakhis of Srimati Radhika— her name is also Ganga. There are so many nice stories written in different Puranas, which have taken place in different kalpas— all have been beautifully described in our scriptures.

There is a particular pastime that is very nicely explained which occurs in the transcendental world, in Goloka Vrindavana. Once, Krishna, in a hidden manner, was meeting with Ganga— the sakhi of Srimati Radhika. And when Srimati Radhika heard about that, She became very angry, and went to their meeting place. Outside of the kunja, where Krishna and Ganga were meeting, Srimati Radhika’s brother Sridama stood guard.

When Sridama stopped Srimati Radhika from entering the kunja where they were secretly meeting, She became very angry with Sridama and cursed Him, “You have to become a demon and go to the material world.” Then, Sridama cursed Srimati Radhika, “You also have to go to the material world, and for 100 years You will feel separation from Krishna.”

In this way, brother and sister, that is Srimati Radhika and Sridama, cursed each other. And then, Sridama had to manifest in this material world as the demon Jalandhara. There are many kathas, our Puranas explain this particular pastime in this way.

Now, Srimati Radhika was entering the kunja of Ganga by force. And when Krishna realised this, He quickly told Ganga, “Oh, Srimati Radhika is entering this kunja, you have to disappear from here.” Then, Ganga sakhi disappeared, and Srimati Radhika entered the kunja and asked Krishna, “Where is Ganga? Krishna replied, “No, no, there is nobody in this kunja. I am here alone.” “But, how is that possible? I can detect the scent from my sakhi Ganga. She must be here, You tell Me where she is.”

At that moment, Srimati Radhika cursed Ganga, “You have to go to the material world because you have cheated Me.” And this is why another one of Ganga’s names is Viraja. And also, because of Srimati Radhika’s curse, that Viraja manifested in the material world in the form of Ganga. Afterwards, Srimati Radhika even cursed Krishna, “Now, You have to become punshchali,” meaning, “You have to go to the material world and associate with many ladies there.” Then, Krishna told Srimati Radhika, “You have already received a curse from Sridama, and for 100 years You have to feel separation from Me.”

Thus accordingly, Yogamaya arranged for these lilas to take place. Srimati Radhika appeared in this material world from the transcendental world. Then, She was married to Abhimanyu, and because of this, She felt pangs of separation from Krishna. And Krishna also manifested from the transcendental world and performed His sweet lilas. Finally, Viraja, meaning Ganga, also appeared in this material world in the form of Ganga-devi. Many lilas are synchronised and connected with each other in these beautiful ways.

Hence, various Puranas explain how Ganga-devi manifested in this material world in many different kalpas. Shankaracharya composed a very nice and beautiful Sri Ganga-stotra:

devi sureśvari bhagavati gańge

tribhuvana-tāriṇi tarala tarańge

śańkara-mauli-vihāriṇi vimale

mama matir āstāḿ tava pada-kamale

Sri Ganga-stotra (1)

[O Goddess Ganga! You are the divine river from heaven, you are the saviour of all the three worlds, you are pure and restless, you adorn Lord Shiva’s head. O Mother! may my mind always rest at your lotus feet.]

Shankaracharya also composed the Ganga-stuti, which is very soft and nice. There are so many glories of our Ganga’s mahatma or greatness. Our shastras explain that those who simply reside on either side of the banks of Ganga, just by a wind splashing droplets of Ganga’s water on them, they are delivered from this material world. Even just by chanting Ganga’s name, all sinful activities are destroyed from your heart. Our shastras also explain:

gańgāra paraśa hoile

paścate pāvan darśane

pavitra koro-ei tomāra guṇ

Ei-baro karuna koro

by Narottama dasa Thakura

[After bathing in the waters of the sacred Ganges many times, one becomes purified, but just by the darshana of a pure Vaishnava, the fallen souls are purified. This is the great power of a pure Vaishnava.]

If you bathe in the Ganges, all of your sinful activities will be destroyed from your heart. Also, just by taking darshana of a maha-bhagavata Vaishnava, all of your sinful activities will be destroyed.

As mentioned, our shastras explain that Ganga did not want to enter the material world as her waters would become impurified by the sinful activities of others. Our shastras also state that if any pure devotee bathes in the Ganges, all the contaminations from the sinful activities of others will be purified from her waters. One verse says:

bhavad-vidhā bhāgavatās

tīrtha-bhūtāḥ svayaṁ vibho

tīrthī-kurvanti tīrthāni

svāntaḥ-sthena gadābhṛtā

Srimad-Bhagavatam (1.13.10)

[“My lord, devotees like your good self are verily holy places personified. Because you carry the Personality of Godhead within your heart, you turn all places into places of pilgrimage.”]

If conditioned souls are committing many kinds of sinful activities, called maha-papis, and they bathe in the river of Ganges, the waters of the river will be contaminated. But, when the pure devotee takes a bath in her waters, she becomes purified from all of the sinful activities. In this way, there are so many sweet pastimes about Ganga-devi’s manifestation in this material world.

In another lila, when Bhagiratha brought Ganga into this world, while entering Navadvipa-dhama, Ganga-devi was coming behind Bhagiratha, who was blowing his conch. At that very moment, Jahnu Rishi was worshipping Thakuraji and performing his bhajana and sadhana. Suddenly, Ganga-devi’s waters washed away all of his paraphernalia. Upon realising this, Jahnu Rishi became very angry and drank Ganga-devi’s waters into his stomach.

Now when Bhagiratha looked back, he noticed that Ganga-devi was no longer coming behind him. Then, Bhagiratha Maharaja began performing hard austerities once more, this time to Jahnu Rishi. Afterwards, Jahnu Rishi was also very satisfied with the stava-stutis of Bhagiratha. Then Jahnu Rishi cut just a little piece of his thigh open, and Ganga began flowing from his wound. For this reason, another of Ganga’s names is Jahnavi. And for this reason also, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura very nicely sang this song, Jahnavi Puline, “I will do nama-sankirtana on the banks of the Jahnavi…”

jāhnavī puline, gaḍā-gaḍi dibo,

kori' kṛṣṇa-kolāhala

Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura sang, “I will be dancing and singing while rolling down on the banks of the Jahnavi, and loudly chanting the Lord’s sweet names.” However, Ganga-devi did not come out of Navadvipa-dhama, she just stayed there and her waters began making many whirlpools. As a result, she created the nine Islands that now comprise Navadvipa-dhama.

This is because Ganga-devi knew that Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who is the combined form of Radha and Krishna, will appear there in this age of Kali-yuga, and He will perform sweet lilas in this Jahnavi, meaning Ganga. Ganga-devi wanted to associate with Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who is the combined form of the Divine Couple Radha and Krishna. And since Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s sweet lilas take place in Navadvipa-dhama, this Ganges was very proud of her saubhagya, great fortune.

In Navadvipa-dhama-mahatmya, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura mainly glorifies how Chaitanya Mahaprabhu performed His sweet lilas in the waters of the Ganges. Everyday, Mahaprabhu would take a bath in the Ganges and also worship her. The Lord would perform Ganga-puja with all His devotees, especially with Advaita Acharya, Nityananda and Srivasa Thakura— they would all perform sweet lilas in the waters of the Ganges flowing through Sri Navadvipa-dhama.

Even samudra (the ocean) became very upset while lamenting, “Oh, how can I also meet with Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu?” So, the ocean went there and connected with the Ganges, and that place is called Samudragara. There are so many kinds of lilas which occur in Navadvipa-dhama between Ganga-devi and Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.

Samudra also prayed to Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, “Please come to Jagannatha Puri to bathe in my waters and also perform some lilas here.” So, when Chaitanya Mahaprabhu stayed in Gambhira in Jagannatha Puri, most of the time, He used to bathe in the ocean in Puri and many sweet lilas would take place there. In this way, both Ganga-devi and samudra became very happy with Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.

One more aspect, our shastras also explain that if anyone is about to die, just give them one drop of the water from the Ganges into his or her mouth. After death, they will be delivered from this material world and attain Vaikuntha-dhama. There are so many sweet pastimes between Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and the Ganges, and there are also so many glorifications of the waters of the Ganges. I will briefly speak about another pastime.

Once, Garuda was flying over the Ganges. He noticed there was a snake hiding in a hole on the bank of the Ganges. Then, Garuda very quickly swooped down and caught the snake and pulled it out of the hole by its mouth— causing the snake to leave his body. However, while the snake’s body dangled from Garuda’s mouth, his tail just touched the waters of the Ganges. And the moment the water of the Ganges touched the body of the snake, the snake’s atma manifested into a beautiful four-armed form. Finally, Garuda took the atma of the snake on his back, and brought him to Vaikuntha-dhama.

There are so many kathas in our shastras which show that if you only touch the dust of the Ganges, or if you simply take a drop of her waters, you will be delivered from this material world. Even those who have only listened to Ganga’s glories, will also be delivered from this material world. Because Ganga is very powerful; in this Kali-yuga, three things are very important: Ganga, Tulasi and Giriaja Govardhana.

You must remember to take the water of Ganges and place it on your head. Drink the water of the Ganges every day, then your heart will be purified. And if you keep the waters of the Ganges in your house, a ghost can never enter there. So I kindly request that all devotees keep water of the Ganges in your homes, and drink a drop of water from the Ganges. Then your minds will become calm, quiet and peaceful. And, it is one hundred percent guaranteed that Ganga-devi will give you shuddha-bhakti.

Bolo Ganga-devi ki jaya!

Jaya Jaya Sri Radhe-Shyama!

Date: 19 June 2021 Location: Skype


Transcriber: Indira dasi (UK) Editor: Sanatana dasa (USA) Proofreading: Chandrika dasi (UK) Integrity check: Divya-premamayi dasi (Slovakia) Image: Navina-krishna dasa (Holland)

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