Ganga, also known as Jaahnavi, Vishnupadi, Bhagwatpadi and Bhagirathi along with various other names, is one of the most sacred rivers in Hinduism. The legend of Ganga’s birth exists in her names. Vishnupadi and Bhagwatpadi, she has been carrying these both names since her birth. When Lord Narayana (Vishnu) in his Vamana Avatar asks the demon king Bali for three feet of land and when he extends his left foot covering the entire universe, he makes a hole in the universe with his toe. From that hole, the divine and pure water of Brahma-Universe emerges. Washing the feet of Narayana, Ganga flows in the universe. Hence, being touched by the red lotus feet of Narayana, the holy water of Ganga becomes reddish pink. Thus she receives her name of Vishnupadi and Bhagwatpadi, for flowing from the lotus feet of the supreme god himself. Then according to the will of Narayana, Ganga descends to Brahma Loka as the divine river of gods. She resides there along with other gods and is entitled as the goddess. And so she is the river of heaven.
Then many years later, Bhagirath pleases Lord Brahma with his vigorous penance and requests him to let Ganga descend on earth so that he could liberate the souls of sixty thousand sons of his ancestor King Sagar who were destroyed by Sage Kapil on their mischief. Brahma agrees to let Ganga descend on earth. However, he reckons a barrier in her descent. Ganga is the river of universe and therefore her flow is vigorously fierce. Has she descended on earth in her full glory, her furious flow would destroy the earth. On Brahma’s advice, Bhagirath strives to please Lord Shiva to hold the mighty flow of Ganga while she descends on earth. Lord Shiva, pleased by Bhagirath’s request, agrees to this.
Ganga, upon seeking Narayana’s permission and Brahma’s blessings, descends on earth in her full glory, while Shiva holds her flow in his long hair-locks. For Shiva is her bearer on her descend, she is also believed to be his consort. Then Ganga travels behind Bhagirath, creating her own path on earth and meets to Sagara in the end. Thus, she receives the name of Bhagirathi. Ganga is also the only river to flow in all three worlds: Swarga, Bhoomi and Patala. For Ganga descends in the heart of Himalayas and starts her journey from there, she is also a daughter to the mountain king, Himalaya (King Himavan) and sister to Himalaya’s daughter Parvati along with hundred sons of Himalaya.
Ganga was a consort to King Shantanu of Bharat Race, as described in the epic Mahabharata. King Shantanu is said to be an incarnation of ocean himself. Hence, fulfilling her destined nature and a previous curse, she wedded him through Gandharva Vivaha. She had eight sons with Shantanu. However, seven of them had to die due to the curse of their previous birth and only one of them lived for the same curse. Bhishma. Bhishma, named on his birth as Devavrata, is known as the mighty son of Ganga, who lived in the last centuries of Dwapar Yuga. Being born in Satyayuga, cherished in Treta and Dwapar Yuga, Ganga still flourishes in Kali Yuga.
Ganga (Or as they call her, River Ganges) still has unique importance in India both religiously and spiritually. And her glory still thrives in people’s heart. Her source is called Gomukh, near Gangotri. She flows from those glaciers and meets the ocean at Bay of Bengal. She is also a lifeline to most of the North-Indian population and fame of the many cities like Haridwar, Rishikesh, Patna, Allahabad, Varanasi, Kanpur, Kolkata and many more.
-- Bhargav Patel