The River Ganges or Ganga is perhaps the holiest river in any religion. Though equally polluted, it bears immense significance to the Hindus. Ganga originates from the Gangotri glacier at Gaumukh in the Indian Himalayas at 4,100 meters above sea level, and flows 2,525 km across northern India before meeting the Bay of Bengal in the east India and Bangladesh. As a river, the Ganga contributes to more than 25 per cent of India's total water resources.
Besides being a sacred river, Ganga is also worshiped as a deity in Hinduism and respectfully referred to as 'Gangaji' or 'Ganga Maiya' (Mother Ganga).
About Goddess Ganga
The various myths associated with Ganga and staunch Hindu beliefs associated with the river sanctify it as a goddess. Hindus view goddess Ganga as a fair complexioned beautiful woman wearing a white crown with a water lily and a water pot in her hands, and riding her pet crocodile.
The Hallowed River
Hindus believe that rituals performed by the river Ganga multiply in their blessedness. The water of Ganges, called 'Gangajal' (Ganga = Ganges; jal = water), is held so sacred that holding this water in hand no Hindu dares to lie or be deceitful. The 'Puranas' or ancient Hindu scriptures say that the sight, the name, and the touch of Ganga cleanses one of all sins and taking a dip in the holy Ganga bestows heavenly blessings. The 'Narada Purana,' prophesied pilgrimages in the present Kali Yuga to the Ganges will be of utmost importance.
Dying By the Ganges
The land over which Ganga flows is regarded as hallowed ground. It is believed that those who die around this river reach the heavenly abode with all their sins washed away. The cremation of a dead body at the banks of Ganga or even casting the ashes of the deceased in its water is thought auspicious and leads to the salvation of the departed. The famous Ganga Ghats of Varanasi and Hardwar are known for being the holiest funeral detestation of the Hindus.
Ganga in Mythology
The name of Ganga appears only twice in the Rig Veda, and it was only later that Ganga assumed great importance as a goddess. According to the 'Vishnu Purana,' she was created from the sweat of Lord Vishnu's feet. Hence, she is also called 'Vishmupadi' - the one flowing from the foot of Vishnu. Another mythological tale states that Ganga is Parvataraja's daughter, and the sister of Parvati, Lord Shiva's consort. A popular legend cites that Ganga was devoted to Lord Krishna in heaven, which made his lover Radha jealous, who cursed Ganga to go down to earth and flow as a river.
Sri Ganga Dusshera/Dashami Festival
Every summer, the Ganga Dusshera or Ganga Dashami festival venerates the auspicious occasion of the descent of the sacred river on earth from heaven. On this day, a dip in the holy river invoking the Goddess is said to cleanse all sins. A devotee worships by lighting incense and lamp, and offers sandalwood, flowers, and milk. Fishes and other aquatic animals are fed flour balls.