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Ganga Amma

The Birth of Ganga

There was once a king of Ayodhya, by name Sarga. He eagerly desired children, but had no issue. His elder wife was Keshini, the second Sumati, sister fo Garuda. With these twain he came to Himalaya to practise an austere penace. When a hundred years had passed, the rishi Brigu, whom he had honoured, granted him his wish. "Thou shalt attain unparalledled renown amongst men," he said. "One wife of thine, Keshini, shall bring forth a son who will perpetuate thy race; the other shall give birth to sixty thousand sons." Those daughters of kings were glad, and worshipping the rishi, they asked: "Who of us shall have one son and who many we would know." He asked their will. "Who wished for which boon?" he said, "a single perpetuator of the line, or sixty thousand famous sons, who yet shall not carry on their race?" Then Keshini chose the single son, and Garuda's sister chose the many. Thereafter the king revered the saint with circumambulation and obeisance and returned again to his city.

In due course Keshini bore a son, to whom was given the name of Asamanja. Sumati bore a gourd, and when it burst open the sixty thousand sons came forth; the nurses fostered them in jars of ghee until they grew up to youth and beauty. But the eldest son, the child of Keshini, loved them not, but would cast them in the Sarayu river and watch them sink. For this evil disposition and for the wrongs he did to citizens and honest folk Asamanja was banished by his father. But he had himself a son named Suman, fair-spoken to all and well-beloved.

When many years had passed Sagara determined to celebrate a mighty sacrifice. The place thereof was in the region between the Himalaya and Vindhya. There the horse was loosed, and Anshumat, a mighty chariot-fighter, followed to protect it. But it befell that a certain Vasava, assuming the form of a rakshasi, stole the horse away. Then the Brahman priests informed the king, and commanded him to slay the thief and bring back the horse, lest the sacrifice should fail and misfortune should follow all concerned.

Then Sagra sent forth his sixty thousand sons to seek the horse. "Search ye the whole sea-girt earth," he said, "league by league, above the ground and under it." Then those great princes ranged the earth. Finding not the horse upon its surface, they began to delve with hands like thunderbolts and mighty ploughshares, so that the earth cried out in pain. Great was the uproar of the serpents and the demons that were slain then. For sixty thousand leagues they dug up as if they would reach the very lowest deep. They undermined all Jambudwipa, so that the very gods feared and went into counsel unto Brahma. "O great grandsire," they said, "the sons of Sagara are great grandsire," they said, "the sons of Sagara are digging out the whole earth and many are slain therefor. Crying that one hath stolen Sagara's horse, they are bringing havoc on every creature." Then Brahma answered: "This entire earth is Vasudeva's consort; he is indeed her lord, and in the form of Kapila sustains her. By his wrath the sons of Sagara will be slain. The farsighted have forseen the fated digging out of earth and the death of Sagara's sons; therefore ye should not fear." Then having riven the entire earth and ranged it all about, the sons returned to Sagara and asked wht they sould do, for they cound not find the horse. But he commanded them again to burrow in the earth and find the horse. "Then cease," he said, "not before." Again they plunged into the depths. There they came on the elephant Virupasksha, who bears on his head the whole world with its hills and forests, and when he shakes his head that is an earthquake. Him they duly worshipped and passed on. To the south they came next, to another mighty elephant, Mahapadma, like a moutain, bearing the earth upon his head; in like wise they came also to the western elephant named Saumanasa, and thence to the north , where is Bhadra, white as snow, bearing the earth upon his brow. Passing him by with honour, they came to quarter east of north; there they beheld the eternal Vasudeva in the shape of Kapila, and hard by him they saw the horse browsing at his will. They rushed on Kapila in fury , attacking him with trees and boulders, spades and ploughs, crying: "Thou art the theif; now thou hast fallen into the hands of the sons of Sagara." But Kapila uttered a dreadful roar and flashed a burning flame upon the sons that burned them all to ashes. No news of this came back to Sagara.

Then Sagara addressed his grandson Suman, bidding him seek his uncles and learn their fate, "and," said he, "there be strong and mighty creatures dwelling in earth; honour such as do not hinder thee, slay those that stand against thee, and return, accomplishing my desire." He came in turn to the elephants of east and south and west and north, and each assured him of success; at last he came to the heap of ashes that had been his uncles; there he wailed with heavy heart in bitter grief. There, too, he beheld the wandering horse. He desired to perform the funeral lustrations for the uncles, but he might find no water anywhere. Then he beheld Garuda passing through the air; he cried to Anshumat: "Do not lament; for these to have been destroyed is for the good of all. The great Kapila consumed these mighty ones; therefore thou shouldst not make for them the common offerings fo water. But there is Ganga, daughter of Himalaya; let that purifier of every world lave this heap of ashes; then shall the sixty thousand sons of Sagara attain to Heaven. Do thou also take back the horse and bring to completion thy grandfather's sacrifice." Then Anshumat led back the horse, and Sagara's ceremony was completed; but he knew not how to bring the daughter of Himalaya. Sagara died and Anshumat was chosen king. He was a great ruler, and at last resigned the kingdom to his son and retired to dwell alone in the Himalayan forests; in due time he also passed away and reached Heaven. His son, King Dilipa, constantly pondered how to bring down Ganga, that the ashes might be purified and Sagara's sons attain heaven. But after thirty thousand years he, too, died, and his son Bhagiratha, a royal saint, followed him. Ere long he consigned the kingdom t the care of a counsellor and went to the Himalayan forests, performing terrible austerities for a thousand years to draw down Ganga from the skies. Then Brahma was pleased by his devotion, and appeared befre him, granting a boon. He prayed that the ashes of the sons of Sagara shuld be washed by the water of Ganga, and that a son might speedily be born to him. "Great is thy aim," replied the grandsire, "but thou shuldst invoke Mahadeva to recieve the falling Ganga,for earth may not sustain her. None but he who sways the trident may sustain her fall."

Then fr a year Bhagiratha worshipped Shiva; and he, well pleased, undertook to bear the moutain-daughter's fall, receiving the river upon his head. Then Ganga, in mighty torrent, cast herself down from Heaven on to Shiva's gracious head, thinking in her pride: "I shall sweep away the Great God in my waters, down to the nether regins." But when Ganga fell n Siva's tangled locks she might not even reach the earth, but wandered there unable to escape for many a long year. Then Bhagiratha again engaged in many hard austerities, till Shiva would set the river free; she fell in seven streams, three to the east, three to the west, while one followed after Bhagiratha's car. The falling waters made a sound like thunder; very wonderful the earth appeared, covered with fallen and falling fishes, tortises, and porpoises. Devas, rishis, gandharvas, and yakshas witnessed the great sight from their elephants and horses and self-moving charoits; every creature marvelled at the coming down of Ganga. The presence of the shining devas and the brightness of their jewels lit up the sky as if with a hundred suns. The heavens were filled with speeding porpoises and fishes like flashes of bright lightning; the flakes of pale foam seemed like snow-white cranes crossing heavy autumn clouds. So Ganga fell, now directly onward, now aside, sometimes in ascending hills, then falling again into a valley. Very fair was that vision of the water falling from Heaven the Shandara's head, and from Shandara's head to earth. All the shining ones of Heaven and all the creatures of the earth made haste to touch the sacred waters that wash away all sin. Then Bhagiratha went forward on his car and Ganga followed; and after her came the devas and rishis, asuras, rakshasas, gandharvas and yakshas, kinnaras and nagas adn apsaras, and all creatures that ingabit water went along with them. But as Ganga followed Bhagiratha she flooded the sacrificial ground of the puissant Jahna, and he was greatly angered, and in his wrath he drank up all her wondorus waters. Then the deities besought and prayed him t set her free, till he relented and released her through his ears, and again she followed Bhagiratha's car. At last she came to the mighty river Ocean and plunged into the nether regions; there she laved the heap of ashes, and the sixty thousand sons of Sagara were cleansed of every sin and attained to Heaven.

Then Brahma spoke to Bhagiratha. "O most puissant of men, "he said, "the sons of Sagara have now gone up to Heaven, and shall endure there so long as ocean's waters endure on earth. Ganga shall be called thy daughter and receive thy name. Now do thou make offerings of this sacred water for thy ancestors, Sagara and Anshumat and Dilipa, and do thou thyself bathe in these waters and, free from every sin, ascend to Heaven, whither I now repair." "And, O Rama," said Vishvamitra, "I have now related to thee the tale of Ganga. May it be well with thee. He that recites this history wins fame, long life, and Heaven; he that heareth attains to legnth of days, and fulfilment of desires, and the

wiping out of every sin."