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Eulogies to Goddess Ganga, the healer and bestower of fertility


Each mantra is sung in unique Ragas, melodic scales.


Throughout the world, lakes, forests,  mountains, rivers have been seen as ‘power spots’ and concentrations of nature’s energies. Gradually, mythologies grew around these spots, and the union of

myths and the place created a sacred geography. They became pilgrimage centers, crossing point providing people with the setting to cross over into a world of learning and transformation.

Banaras, lying by the banks of the Ganga, is the Crossing Point that the Crossing Project examines.


Maestro L K Pandit sings mantras of the Goddess set in different Ragas.

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Priyadarshini Govind performing the Crossing project:  Bhagiratha myth of the descent of the Ganges in Bharatnatyam style

This myth taken from Shaiva sources describes the descent of the Ganga on earth. The story consists of long episodes. The heavenly Ganga descended to the earth for salvic purpose, namely to animate and purify the 60,000 sons of Sagara, who were reduced to ashes by the glance of sage Kapila. The Ganga was brought down to the earth by Bhagiratha who performed fierce austerities on the Himalayan slopes and won the favour of the goddess. She agreed to descend but warned Bhagiratha that the earth would split under the torrential currents of her fall. Ganga asked him to placate Shiva. Shiva agreed to catch its gushing waters in his matted locks before releasing the waters. The mighty river wound her way through Shiva’s ascetic locks and found her course on the mountains and plains of India. Bhagiratha then led the Ganga to the nether world where her purifying “funeral” waters liberated the 60,000 sons of Sagara. In the nether worlds, Ganga is called Bhogavati, from which the waters were raised for Bhishma, by Arjuna who pierced the nether regions with his arrow. Bhagiratha then conducts her to the sea. With its waters the sea was replenished. After completing her course of the three worlds, the mother of the holy rivers returned to the heavens. Oral myths also reflect the vitality and richness of legends that are centered around the Ganga. A popular myth from the Himalayan region gives a vivid account of the origin of ten streams of Ganga in the Himalaya. Once Paravati closed the eyes of Lord Shiva with her tender lotus-like fingers.

From Khanna, M., & Makkuni, R., "Banaras: The Crossing project," Sacred World Foundation, 2002.

The Descent of Ganga

The story of the heavenly descent of the Ganga is found both in the Vaishnava as well as the Shaiva versions. The central myth is related in the Ramayana (Bala Kanda 38-44), the Mahabharata (3.104-108), and the Skanda Purana (Kashi. Khanda. 30) and the Narada Purana. There are several versions of this myth. In one popular version from Vaishnava source, the origin and descent of the heavenly river, Akasha-Ganga to earth takes place from the “foot of Vishnu” (Vishnu Pada). The holy river had its origin in the heavens when Vishnu, in his Vamana, dwarf-cum-giant incarnation measured the three worlds with his three steps. While taking the third step his toe pierced the heavenly vault and caused the water to flow through the crevices produced in the shell of the cosmic egg. Through the opening in the shell of the universe, the Ganga flowed into Indra’s heaven, and settled around the immovable polestar, Dhruva. In this form Ganga is known as vishnupadi. She meandered through the sky to the moon as the Milky Way. The Milky Way is often referred to as Akasha-Ganga and suggests the idea of a heavenly river.

Rituals by the Ganga

On the ghats one encounters the essential Banaras of popular imagination. Pilgrims bathing in waist-deep water offering oblations with cupped hands, ritual priests (pandas) sitting under shaded bamboo umbrellas, performing rituals, priests chanting holy verses to the river goddess, people taking boat trips hailing Shiva, pilgrims sprinkling holy water on the body of deceased relatives and sadhus performing yoga.


These enactments, though happening today, take us further back into primal time, when nature and humans were in harmony. These rituals are described in the Narada Purana. They range from simple holy dips to elaborate festivals cultured on the Ganga.


Some major rituals are: Darshana, the beatific or auspicious sight of the goddess Ganga. It is said that a mere sight of the Ganga purifies.  Sparsha, touching the sacred waters; Pana, drinking the sacred waters; Snana, bathing and taking a holy dip in the sacred waters; Smarana, contemplation on the glory and significance of Ganga; Vrata, observing special vows by the side of Ganga, like fasting, etc., Tapas, performing special penances, such as recitation of mantra while standing in water, performing fire rituals (homa) by the banks of the Ganga. Recitation of the Ganga Mahatmya: singing, reciting and listening to the greatness or glory of Ganga on the banks.

Each year on the tenth day of the month of Jyestha (May-June), the great celebration dedicated to mother Ganga takes place. This is a yearly festival. This festival commemorates the day when the Ganga descended on the earth and is regarded to be her birthday. It is referred to as Dashmi-tithi (tenth day / dusshera) because of the “ten” astrological conjunctions that take place that day when the Ganga descended on earth. They are: (1) Jyeshta the month of May-June; (2) the bright fortnight; (3) the constellation hasta; (4) Wednesday; (5) Dashmi-tithi, the tenth day of the bright fortnight; (6) gara-karana, the significator of the constillation (gara); (7) ananda yoga, the specific yoking point which bestows bliss; (8) vyatipata, nodal point of celestial equator; (9) the moon in the zodiac sign, Virgo (Kanya) and (10) the Sun in the zodiac sign, Tauras (Vrisha).


This day marks that primal moment when the Ganga rolled down from the heaven to the earth as a great gift of the gods. The symbolic meaning of number ten is explained. On this day bathing in the Ganga destroys ten types of sins (dasha-vidha-papa-hara) rising from the body (kayika), speech (vacika), and mind (mansika). According to yet another interpretation, Dusshera destroys “ten life-times of sins” committed by humans or all sins accumulated through several lives.


This is one of the three auspicious days in Kashi when people vow to bathe before dawn. This is meant to be “pleasurable austerity” as they delight in the “cooling” goddess Ganga in the beginning of the hottest of seasons. Some people celebrate this day by crossing the river on boats trailing along a garland of flowers to adorn the river goddess. Dana or offering charity is a practice which is considered to be very crucial to the Kali-age. The Ganga itself was bestowed to the earth as a great gift (dana) by Shiva to Bhagiratha, and through Bhagiratha, the whole of mankind.

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