It was ages ago when the great Suryavanshi King Anshuman prayed to the mighty Mother Ganga from heaven to descend on earth to liberate the souls of his ancestors. He died without accomplishing it. His son who was then crowned king also followed his father’s footsteps and continued to pray to no avail. The third generation King Bhagirath performed hard penance for the same and finally, Mother Ganga was satisfied and appeared to him. However, she told him that the earth will not be able to take the mighty force of her abundant water.
King Bhagirath then turned to Lord Shiva, prayed to him and requested Him to help. Lord Shiva, benevolent as he was, agreed to take the force of the mighty Ganga on His head before her waters tumbled down to earth. King Bhagirath then immersed the ashes of his ancestors into Mother Ganga and liberated their souls. Till date, his hardship is taken as the gold standard of hardships and the phrase ‘Bhagirath attempts’ is in use.
The day the River Ganga descended to earth was the tenth day of the Jeshtha month in Hindu calendar (usually in June) and it is called Gangavtaran. It is the day that we celebrate as Ganga Dussehra to date.
The mighty river forms the lifeline of India in many ways. The most obvious being the water it brings from the Himalayan glaciers to the plains of India until it meets the sea in the Bay of Bengal. Along the way, she makes the lands fertile with all the sediment. Mother Ganga has a huge cultural, religious and economic importance in India. Even modern science has found baffling antiseptic properties in Her waters.
Any time of the year, bathing in Ganga is a spiritual cleansing experience. On Ganga Dussehra, it is said that it gives you tenfold benefits. The word Dusshera literally translates to ‘ten defeats’ and means that it liberates you from ten sins if you take a dip in the holy river on this day. It is believed that you can get rid of diseases by taking ten dips in Ganga on this day and offering ten floating lamps to Her.
On all the Ghats (stairs leading into the river) along Ganga, this festival is celebrated with gusto. Starting from Devprayag down to Haridwar, Rishikesh, Varanasi, and Allahabad, millions of devotees descend to take the holy dip. Ten lamps with flowers are floated on the Ganga waters and prayers said ten times as they take ten dips in the waters. At sunrise and sunset, Maha-Artis are held on the banks as the immense crowd is frenzied with devotion. The whole scene of hundreds of tiny lamps illuminating the waters, the reverberating deep sound of the prayers and the fragrance of flowers in the air creates a powerful, magical atmosphere.
There are special Mantras to be recited ten times on this day and the donations to ten people to be made. The donated items have to be ten in number. The most popular items are wheat, rice, oil or millets and ten kilos of any of these items is donated to 10 Brahmins.
It is strong belief that the fruits of staying up the night praying to Shiva and thanking him for his generosity are innumerable and many devotees do just that. The Himalayas are thanked as well, for sending the river down to the plateau. You can hear devotional songs with the beating of drums and cymbals through the night.
The whole experience of the Ganga Dussehra makes you humble and truly grateful to the Ma Ganga and it is worth experiencing at least once in your lifetime.
Featured Photo by Arian Zwegers