TheGangesisawonderful river. In thelifeof theIndianshasa veryimportantrole. It’s the holiest of all rivers. It’s the waterthatpurifies,the waterthatquenches thirst, the water thatfeeds. Ganges is the motherofallwaters, therewouldn’t bewaterin the ocean, in seas, in lakes and inthe world withouttheGanges. TheGanges, like allIndian rivers, isagoddess, Ganga, and it hasheadsamongtheglaciersof the Himalayas, where Shivahashis abode, rushingdownfromthereinhisvalley toget tohisimmensedelta. Along thewaymillions ofIndiansrevere him, theyareimmersed themselves, theyfoundedthe cityon itsbanks, along itsgath they live. Thecities wetted by holy river arefamous: Varanasi, Allahabad, Kolkata. Ariversocouldn’t not find in a legend its born. ThegoddessGanga, sister ofParvati and daughterofthe godofthe mountainHimavan, wasbeautiful, too beautiful, so the godswould notshare herwith themen andkept herinheaven, where she is thebrightMilky Way.
How andwhytheMilky Way, thegoddessGangafellfromheaven?
Second a tradition,Vamana, the dwarfavatarof Vishnu, withoneof his threegiganticstepsby whichthe godsregainedthe universe, made a hole in thesky and from thatthe Milky Waycame down toearthto formtheGanges. Anothertraditiontells usinsteadthat thekingBhagirathwanted tocanceltheseriouscrimesof hisancestors.Thesefaultsweresoseriousthatthey couldbe washedbythe watersof the Ganges. Bhagiraththenendureda thousandyears ofausterityand deprivation, remainsinmeditationwith their arms upin themiddleofacircle offivefiresburning(panchatapas, the ardorof thefivefires).
Touchedbytheasceticism of king, the god BrahmaaskedBhagirathiwhat he wantedand heaskedGodtocome down toearththecosmic watersofthe goddessGanga. Brahmaconsented, butBhagirathinvitedto turntoShiva, because if theGangesdescended to earthwith allitswildness, it would have completely destroyed it.
Movedwithcompassion, Shivaagreedthatthe watersofthe Gangesdown to earththroughhishairruffled to mitigate river’s violence. And soit was. Fromheaventhegoddesshaddrainedhersplendorfromthe Milky Wayon earththroughthehairofShivawho wasin hishomeonMountKailasa. And from there, from the Himalayas, the Gangesstarts hisearthly journeytoitsdelta. For thisreason,asexplainedin anotherpost, the representationofthe godShivashowshimwithajetofwateronherhair.
In a wonderfull hundred feet bas-rilief in Mamallapuram near Chennai this legend is told.