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Shanmatha : Ganapathyam, Kaumaram, Vaishnavam, Saivam, Shaktham, Sowram

Shanmatha : Ganapathyam, Kaumaram, Vaishnavam, Saivam, Shaktham, Sowram



HOW GANGA CAME DOWN TO EARTH
Ganga was once a river in heaven. How she was brought from heaven to earth is a wonderful story. Long ago, there ruled over Ayodhya a king by the name of Sagar. He had two wives. The first wife, Kesini, had one son named Asmanjas. The second wife, Sumati, had as many as sixty thousand sons. The sons of Sumati grew up to be strong and handsome princes. But they were proud and haughty and nobody liked them. Asmanjas himself turned out to be of unsound mind and very cruel. But his son Anshuman was the exact opposite of his father. He was brave and virtuous and of a very amiable nature. Meanwhile Sagar was growing more and more powerful. He extended the frontiers of his kingdom far and wide and gathered untold wealthy. To establish his supremacy over all the other kings of the region, Sagar performed an aswamedha yagya (horse sacrifice). For the purpose of the yagya, a horse was selected from the royal stable. It really was an animal worthy of a king, tall and immensely strong, with muscles that rippled under its silvery coat. After days of prayer and a grand havan (ritual fire), tilak was placed on the forehead of the horse, a garland around its neck and a sweetmeat in its mouth. To the blowing of conches as an auspicious beginning, the horse was released. It was free to wander where it pleased. If any other king or chieftain dared to catch the horse, it meant that he challenged the supremacy of Sagar and a battle would follow. If the horse was allowed to go free, Sagar would be acknowledged the overlord of the entire area that had come under the horse’s hoofs. Sagar sent a strong force to follow the horse and give battle to anyone who dated stop it. No mortal king dared to cross the path of the warlike horse and thus challenge the supremacy of Sagar. But Indra, king of the gods, donned the disguise of a rakshasa (demon) and made off with the animal. Indra was not trying to play a trick. The truth is, the gods regarded a yagya by mortals as a challenge to their superiority. So they tried their best to put obstacles in the way of the yagya so that it could not be completed. Moreover, the sixty thousand sons of Sagar had grown into wicked men. It was necessary to rid the world of them. For this dual purpose Indra made a plan. He stole the horse and hid it. Sagar was greatly upset when he heard that his horse had been stolen. He sent out the sixty thousand sons of Sumati to look for the animal all over the earth. They were told to spare no pains to recover it. ‘If the horse is not brought back, the yagya cannot be completed,’ said the king gravely. ‘What is more, this loss brings great shame and discredit to us. Go and find the horse and bring it back, no matter where it is hidden.’ The sons of Sumati spread out all over the earth and looked and looked, but the horse was nowhere to be found. In their anxiety they even began to dig the earth as for hidden treasure. But of course the horse wasn’t there. Utterly dejected, they went back to Sagar and reported their failure. The king was not one to admit defeat. ‘Go down and ransack paataal, the nether world,’ he ordered. The princes made their way to the nether world, Soon they came to an ashram. In front of the ashram a sage sat deep in prayer and not far from him, stood the horse, grazing peacefully. The princes had no idea that the man was Kapil Muni, lore of all also the thief. They rushed at the sage shouting, ‘ Here’s the thief pretending to be a holy man. ‘ Kapil Muni was rudely disturbed at his prayers. He opened his eyes and glared at the princes. And then there all sixty thousand of them were reduced to ashes. Indra’s dual purpose was thus fulfilled. The wicked princes had been destroyed and due to the absence of the horse, the yagya could not be completed. King Sagar waited anxiously for the return of the princes who had gone in search of the horse. But he waited in vain. Some time later he called his grandson Anshuman and said, ‘ your uncles went to the nether world to look for the horse but they have not returned. I am anxious to know what happened to them. I have great faith in your youth and strength. Go and look for them. Arm yourself well and come back crowned with success?. The noble Anshuman obeyed his grandfather and set out. Closely following the path taken by the princes, he finally reached the nether world, King Sagar’s horse was there all right, grazing contentedly. But why was the place dotted with so many thousands of heaps of ashes?. It was a distressing sight. By and by Anshuman met Garud, king of the birds. Guard informed him, ‘ those heaps are all that is left of the sixty thousand sons of Sagar. They were consumed by a single angry glance from Kapil Muni. But take heart. Lead the horse back to your grandfather so that he can complete the yagya. ‘And what about my uncles?’ Asked Anshuman. ‘If you wish the souls of your uncles to enter heaven, their ashes must be washed in the water of the Ganga’, said Garud. ‘And for that, my son, the Ganga must be brought down all the way from heaven to the nether world. Anshuman rushed home with the horse and told the king all that he had seen and heard. Sagar was plunged into grief to hear of the fate that had befallen his sons. He knew it was nearly impossible to bring Ganga down to paataal and this added to his grief. He somehow managed to complete the yagya but he died a broken man. After Sagar, Anshuman ascended the throne as king of Ayodhya. Dilip succeeded him, and Bhagirath in turn succeeded Dilip. Anshuman and Dilip tried their best to bring Ganga down to paataal for the salvation of their forefathers. But their efforts only met with failure and they died grieving over this failure. Bhagirath was a brave king. He had no children and eagerly desired an heir to continue his line. He had no children and eagerly desired an heir to continue his line. He had also made up his mind to bring Ganga down to earth, come what may, To that end, he entrusted the king down to his ministers and left for the Himalayas to perform penance. And what a penance! Bhagirath went through the severest of austerities. He ate only once a month. Wit a ring of fire burning all around him and his head exposed to the blazing sun, he sat in meditation for days on end. Brahma was pleased with the penance. He appeared before Bhagirath and asked him, ‘ what is it that you desire? Bhagirath fell at the feet of Brahma and said, ‘I desire two things. Bless me with a son so the line of my forefathers may not end with me. And please order Ganga to go down to paataal. Cursed by Kapil Muni in paataal, my ancestors cannot ascend to heaven. Please, my lord, I await your blessings.’ Brahma replied, ‘the gods are pleased with your penance. Both your wishes are granted. But there is one difficulty. Coming from heaven, Ganga must first descend to earth before she goes down to paataal. And the earth cannot withstand the force of her descent. The mighty Shiva alone can stand it. Pray to him.’ Bhagirath renewed his penance and continued for a long time without food or water, praying constantly to Shiva; At last he won Shiva’s grace. Appearing in all his glory, Shiva asked Bhagirath, ‘What is it that you desire?’ ‘So be it,’ said the great Shiva. I shall receive Ganga on my head before she touches the earth and proceeds to paataal. May her grace be upon you.’ Once Shiva had promised help to Bagirath, the safety of the earth was assured, There was no longer any fear of the earth being washed away by the force of the river’s descent. But Ganga was no ordinary river. Beautiful beyond description, beloved of the gods, held in the greatest possible esteem by men, Ganga had become arrogant. She thought she would fall on the head Shiva and sweep away the great god himself to paataal. But Shiva decided to teach Ganga a lesson. The floodwaters of Shiva’s matted hair would not permit even a drop to escape. Ganga tossed and turned with all her might but she was held firmly in position, a prisoner. No doubt this was a lesson to Ganga. But it was a bitter disappointment to Bhagirath who had gone to so much trouble to bring Ganga this far. But Bhagirath was not one to give up. He began his penance all over again, to please Shiva. In time Shiva took pity on him and gently let out the waters of Ganga. The waters divided into seven streams as they fell. Three of them flowed west and three easts. The seventh followed Bhagirath who led the way. He was beside himself with joy to think that his ancestors would finally achieve salvation. Bhagirath drove a chariot, grand as only a king’s chariot could be. And Ganga followed, her waters rippling and dancing as she carved out a path for herself. Fast or slow, leaping over cliffs and gliding over plains, Ganga went where Bhagirath took her. And it was such a beautiful sight that even the gods in heaven gathered to witness it. Bhagirath took Ganga to the ocean and from there all the way to paataal. With the holy waters Bhagirath performed the funeral rites for his ancestors and their souls rose to heaven. Since it was Bhagirath who succeeded in bringing the river down to earth, Ganga is also known as Bhagirathi. And it is considered sacred because it came from heaven.
HOW GANGA CAME DOWN TO EARTH
   

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