The Ganges

The Ganges is the largest river of the Indian subcontinent by discharge. The 2,510 km (1,560 mi) river rises in the western Himalayas in the Uttarakhand. It has long been considered the holiest of all rivers by Hindus and worshiped as the goddess Ganga in Hinduism. It has also been important historically: many former provincial or imperial capitals (such as Patliputra, Kannauj, Kara, Allahabad, Murshidabad, Berhampore and Calcutta) have been located on its banks. The Ganges Basin drains 1,000,000-square-kilometre (390,000 sq mi) and supports one of the world's highest density of humans. The average depth of the river is 52 feet (16 m), and the maximum depth, 100 feet (30 m). The river has been declared as India's "National River".The many symbolic meanings of the river on the Indian subcontinent were spoken to in 1946 by Jawaharlal Nehru in his Discovery of India:

The Ganges, above all is the river of India, which has held India's heart captive and drawn uncounted millions to her banks since the dawn of history. The story of the Ganges, from her source to the sea, from old times to new, is the story of India's civilization and culture, of the rise and fall of empires, of great and proud cities, of adventures of man.

Religious significance
Situated on the banks of the river Ganges, Varanasi and Haridwar are considered by all Hindus to be the holiest cities in Hinduism. The Ganges is mentioned in the Rig-Veda, the earliest of the Hindu scriptures. It appears in the Nadistuti sukta (Rig Veda 10.75), which lists the rivers from east to west. In RV 6.45.31, the word Ganga is also mentioned, but it is not clear whether this reference is to the river Also, people scatter ashes of loved ones here. George Harrison of The Beatles had his ashes scattered in the Ganges by his family in a private ceremony soon after his death.

Many Hindus also believe life is incomplete without taking a bath in the Ganges at least once in their lives. Many Hindu families keep a vial of water from the Ganges in their house. This is done because it is auspicious to have water of the Holy Ganges in the house, and also so that if someone is dying, that person will be able to drink its water. Many Hindus believe that the water from the Ganges can cleanse a person's soul of all past sins, and that it can also cure the ill.

Lord Ram
The Ganges is also said to be the river of supreme Lord Rama and also called Ram Ganga, as there is a belief Lord Ram promised while the Ganges emerged from his feet that, when he appears on Earth as Lord Ram he will reside on the banks of the Ganges and her tributaries. Lord Ram then appeared in Ayodhya which is on the banks of Saryu Ganga River, When he went to Janakpuri he crossed River Ganges in Haridwar. During his 14 years exile with wife Sita and brother Laxman after leaving Ayodhya his first night stay was at Tamsa River (Ganges' tributary), his second stay was at Shrungverpur which is on the banks of Ganges and with the help of Nishadraj Guha and Kevat he crossed Ganges, he then went to Triveni Sangam, Prayag Raj stayed with Muni Bharadvaj and then marched towards Chitrakut and stayed there for 11 and half years on Kamadgiri parvat on the banks of Mandakini River. From there he went to Panchvati and stayed on the bank of Godavari until his wife Sita was abducted by demon king Ravana. The search for his beloved wife Sita, lord Rama went to Rameshwaram , as it is said all rivers meet the bay of Bengal. Lord Rama returned to Prayag Raj after killing Ravana and performed "prayashchit"- at the bank of Ganges in Dashashwamedh Ghat in Daraganj for having killed a brahmana.

Ganges in popular folklore
It is also believed that when Lord Rama installed and worshiped the Jyoti Lingam of Lord Shiva in Rameshwaram, River Ganges emerged from the Lotus feet of Lord Rama and then Lord Rama did abhishek of Shivalingam declaring "who so ever will worship by pouring Ganga Jal on this Shivlingam,I will give them moksha from all sins and will be freed even from the deadlist sins of killing cows or Brahmins".

In the Mahabharata, while explaining to Arjuna the mahima (greatness) of the 12 Jyotirlingams, Lord Shiva said that any devotee who worships my Jyotirlingam in Rameshwaram with Gangajal (the water of the Ganges), will attain the moksha that even the demigods (devatas) cannot attain.

Kumbha Mela
Some of the most important Hindu festivals and religious congregation (worship) happen here. Congregations are celebrated on the banks of the River Ganges, such as the Kumbh Mela, every twelve years at Haridwar and at Allahabad.

Varanasi is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and is an important place of worship for Hindus. The city is situated between two rivers Varuna and Asi, which join the River Ganges. Varanasi has hundreds of temples, including Kashi_Vishwanath_Temple along the banks of the Ganges which often become flooded during the rains. Mentioned as 'Maha smashanam' (or 'Great cremation ground') in Hindu Vedic Rituals, the city assumes special significance as the cremation ground for devout Hindus.

Legend of Bhagirath
According to Hindu religion a very famous king Bhagiratha did Tapasya for many years constantly to bring the River Ganges, then residing in the Heavens, down on the Earth to find salvation for his ancestors, who were cursed by a seer. Therefore, Ganga descended to the Earth through the lock of hair (Jata) of god Shiva to make whole earth pious, fertile and wash out the sins of humans. For Hindus in India, the Ganges is not just a river but a mother, a goddess, a tradition, a culture and much more.

During the early Vedic Age, the Indus and the Sarasvati River were the major rivers of the Indian subcontinent, not the Ganges. But the later three Vedas seem to give much more importance to the Ganges, as shown by its numerous references.

Possibly the first Westerner to mention the Ganges was Megasthenes (ca. 350 – 290 BCE). He did so several times in his work Indica: "India, again, possesses many rivers both large and navigable, which, having their sources in the mountains which stretch along the northern frontier, traverse the level country, and not a few of these, after uniting with each other, fall into the river called the Ganges. Now this river, which at its source is 30 stadia broad, flows from north to south, and empties its waters into the ocean forming the eastern boundary of the Gangaridai, a nation which possesses a vast force of the largest-sized elephants." (Diodorus II.37)

In Rome's Piazza Navona, a famous sculpture, Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (fountain of the four rivers) designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini was built in 1651. It symbolizes four of the world's great rivers (the Ganges, the Nile, the Danube, and the Río de la Plata), representing the four continents known at the time.

HH Navayogendra
Swamiji Maharaj
Srila Prabhupada Lord Chaitanya Lord Krishna
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