King Bhagirath was born in the Solar Dynasty. When he took over as king, there were ill omens and adverse incidents in the whole country. He approached his preceptor and enquired: “Gurudeva, these ill omens and the sufferings of my subjects torment me”, he pleaded: “Please help the country and my race from these traumatic situation.”
Saint Vasisht, his preceptor who could read his disciples mind and the depth of his grief said to Bhagirath: “Vatsa, the souls of sixty thousand of your ancestors – Sagar’s children and grand children – are wandering in the Nether world without salvation. They are to be liberated. It has become your duty. If this task is successfully accomplished, your country and fame will certainly achieve glory.”
“Gurudev, what can I do for that?” “Meditate on Goddess Ganga and bring her down to the Nether world. Seeking blessings from his guru, Guru Vasisht, Bhagirath went to the Himalayas. He meditated on Goddess Ganga with ardent devotion: Aum Ganga Mathre Nama.
After thousands of years of meditation, the highly pleased Ganga appeared before her devotee. She addressed Bhagirath: “Dear son of Sagara, I am pleased by your prayers. What boon shall I bestow on you?” “O great river Goddess that flows through the heavens, please bless me with your mild touch on the souls of my ancestors at Pathala.” “Sure,” she said, “but if I cascade from the heavens down to the Pathala, all in between, including your earth would be washed away. You may therefore find out someone who can contain and release me gently.” “Mother,” said Bhagirath, “how can I find such a person out?”
“You may try Lord Shiva”, said she, “and if he gives his consent, please awake me”.
Bhagirath started meditating on Lord Shiva. After several years of hard penance Lord Shiva manifested before Bhagirath. “Scion of the solar dynasty”, addressed the Lord, “I know your genuine requirements. Request Ganga to fall down and I shall contain her. I shall make a bund of my tuft of hairs and release the river through a cleavage. Meditate on her and I am ready here.”
Bhagirath again meditated on Goddess Ganga for a long period before she reappeared before him. “Goddess, Lord Shiva is pleased to contain you in his tuft of hairs. Please fall from the heavens and help me.”
Now, Ganga thought: “This Lord Shiva is a bit arrogant and thinks that he is Parameswara and can contain me. I must teach him a fitting lesson for his snobbish vanity.” Bhagirath again meditated on Lord Shiva and after a long time He appeared before him: “Lord Supreme, the Goddess Ganga has agreed to fall down to favour me. Please be ready and fulfill my desire.” “This lady Ganga,” thought the Lord, “is a bit arrogant. She thinks that she has the noble origin form Lord Brahma and the dividend of having washed Lord Vishnu’s foot. I shall make her realise what she actually is.
Gangadevi cascaded with all her might and strength with the cunning desire that Lord Shiva should be unable to bear her. The Lord very rudely bore her in his reservoir of hair tuft. Poor Bhagirath. His purpose was nullified. The king again appealed to Lord Shiva who realised Bhagirath’s plight. The merciful Lord made a cleavage in the middle of his tuft and the river started flowing and followed Bhagirath.
Ganga followed Bhagirath’s chariot. Bhagirath’s chariot reached Pathala, the nether-world. When he looked back, to his astonishment, the river that was following him hitherto was invisible. He drove the chariot back for a Yojana.
It was saint Jahnu’s Ashram. The river that followed Bhagirath promptly met in cul de sac there. Ganga in her fury simmered saint Jahnu’ Ashram. The enraged sage invoked his Yogic power and put the river in his ears. Bhagirath craved for mercy and saint Jahnu released the river. From that day, the river was known as Jahnavi too. Bhagirath’s priests did the last rites of his ancestors and their souls attained salvation. After fulfilling the necessities of Bhagirath, Ganga came back from the Nether-worlds. She came back and made Lord Shiva’s head her abode.
K K Shanmukhan (To be concluded)