River Ganga holds an exalted and sacred position in
the Hindu religion. The important place of River Ganges can be gauged by
the fact that many ancient India texts refer to the river at different
places. River Ganges is repeatedly invoked in the Vedas, the Puranas,
the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. In Hindu mythology, River Ganga is
associated with many legends and myths. According to legends, River
Ganga is considered as one of the two daughters of Meru (the Himalayas),
the other being Uma, consort of Shiva.
According to one legend, Indra had asked for Ganga to be given to
heaven to calm the Gods with her cool waters. Different legends about
River Ganga narrate different stories of her descent to earth. The story
of Ganga's descent on Earth appears in slightly different forms in
Ramayana, Mahabharata and the Puranas. The most interesting legend about
River Ganga revolves around a king: Sagara, his sons, grandson (Ansuman)
and the great grandson, Bhagirath.
Once King Sagara performed the Ashwamedha sacrifice (horse ceremony),
in which a horse is allowed to roam at will and warriors try to rein in
the horse. Stopping the horse amounts to declaration of war and if they
fail that means they accept the suzerainty of the King. The sixty
thousand sons of King Sagara went about looking for the horse and ended
up reaching the deep oceans and the horse was found close to the sage
Kapila, who sat in deep meditation. In their attempt to catch the horse
the sons disturbed Kapila, who instantly burnt them to ashes with his
Pleased with the insight and knowledge of Ansuman, the grandson of
Sagara, sage Kapila told Anshuman that the waters of Ganga, who was
residing in heaven, might release the souls of the sons of Sagara.
Finally, it was Dilip's son Bhagiratha, who managed to bring Goddess
Ganga on earth. To bear the impact of the severity of the fall of River
Ganga, Bhagiratha prayed to Lord Shiva, who agreed for the same.
Finally, the river Ganga came down and fell into Shiva's matted hair and
thence to earth. Bhagiratha led the way on horseback and the river
followed. They finally reached the spot where the ashes of the six
thousand sons lay and liberated the souls.