The Ganga is a trans-boundary river of Asia which flows through the nations of India and Bangladesh. The 2,525 km (1,569 mi) river rises in the western Himalayas in the Indian state of Uttarakhand, and flows south and east through the Gangetic Plain of North India into Bangladesh, where it empties into the Bay of Bengal. It is the third largest river in the world by discharge.
The Ganga is the most sacred river to Hindus. It is also a lifeline to millions of Indians who live along its course and depend on it for their daily needs. It is worshipped as the goddess Ganga in Hinduism. It has also been important historically, with many former provincial or imperial capitals (such as Pataliputra, Kannauj, Kara, Kashi, Patna, Hajipur, Munger, Bhagalpur, Murshidabad, Baharampur, Kampilya, and Kolkata) located on its banks.The Ganges was ranked as the fifth most polluted river of the world in 2007.
Bhagavata Purana depicts the birth of the Ganges. According to Bhagavata Purana, Lord Vishnu in one of his incarnations, appeared as Vamana in the sacrificial arena of Asura King Mahabali. Then in order to measure the universe, he extended his left foot to the end of the universe and pierced a hole in its covering with the nail of his big toe. Through the hole, the pure water of the Causal Ocean (Divine Brahm-Water) entered this universe as the Ganges River. Having washed the lotus feet of the Lord, which are covered with reddish saffron, the water of the Ganges acquired a very beautiful pink colour. Because the Ganges directly touches the lotus feet of Lord Vishnu (Narayana) before descending within this universe, Ganges is known as Bhagavat-Padi or Vishnupadi which means Emanating from the lotus feet of Bhagavan (God). It finally settles in Brahmaloka or Brahmapura, abode of Lord Brahma before descending to planet Earth at the request of Bhagiratha and held safely by Lord Shiva on his head to prevent destruction of Bhumi (Mother Earth). Then, the river Ganges was released from Lord Shiva 's hair to meet the needs of the country according to Hindu mythology. In other legends, Himavan fathered Parvati and Ganga
Several years later, a king named Sagara magically acquired sixty thousand sons. One day, King Sagara performed a ritual of worship for the good of the kingdom. One of the integral parts of the ritual was a horse, which was stolen by the jealous Indra. Sagara sent all his sons all over the earth to search for the horse. They found it in the nether-world (or Underworld) next to a meditating sage Kapila tied by Lord Indra (the king of Swarg). Believing that the sage had stolen the horse, they hurled insults at him and caused his penance to be disturbed. The sage opened his eyes for the first time in several years and looked at the sons of Sagara. With this glance, all sixty thousand were burnt to death.
The souls of the sons of Sagara wandered as ghosts since their final rites had not been performed. For the moksha of all the sons of sagar, Anshuman (nephew of those 60,000 son) started to pray Brahma to bring Ganga to the earth till the end of his life, but was not successful. Then his son Dilip did the same but did not succeed. When Bhagiratha (Means, one who does great hard work- he got his name from his great hard work for bringing Ganga to earth), one of the descendants of Sagara, son of Dilip, learnt of this fate, he vowed to bring Ganga down to Earth so that her waters could cleanse their souls and release them to heaven.
Bhagiratha prayed to Brahma that Ganga come down to Earth. Brahma agreed and he ordered Ganga to go down to the Earth and then on to the nether regions so that the souls of Bhagiratha's ancestors would be able to go to heaven. Ganga felt that this was insulting and decided to sweep the whole Earth away as she fell from the heavens. Alarmed, Bhagiratha prayed to Shiva that he break up Ganga's descent. Ganga arrogantly fell on Shiva's head. But Shiva calmly trapped her in his hair and let her out in small streams. The touch of Shiva further sanctified Ganga. As Ganga travelled to the nether-worlds, she created a different stream to remain on Earth to help purify unfortunate souls there. She is the only river to follow from all the three worlds – Swarga (heaven), Prithvi (Earth) and Patala (netherworld or hell). Thus is called "Tripathagā" (one who travels the three worlds) in Sanskrit language.
Because of Bhagiratha's efforts Ganga descended to Earth and hence the river is also known as Bhagirathi and the term "Bhagirath prayatna" is used to describe valiant efforts or difficult achievements.
Another name that Ganga is known by is Jahnavi ( జాహ౽వి) Story has it that once Ganga came down to Earth, on her way to Bhagiratha, her rushing waters created turbulence and destroyed the fields and the sadhana of a sage called Jahnu. He was angered by this and drank up all of Ganga's waters. Upon this, the Gods prayed to Jahnu to release Ganga so that she could proceed on her mission. Pleased with their prayers, Jahnu released Ganga (her waters) from his ears. Hence the name "Jahnavi" (daughter of Jahnu) for Ganga.
It is sometime believed that the river will finally dry up at the end of Kali Yuga (the era of darkness, the current era) just as with the Sarasvati river and this era will end. Next in (cyclic) order will be the Satya Yuga or the era of Truth.
Ganga is a consort to all three major male deities of Hinduism. As Brahma's partner she always travels with him in the form of water in his kamandalu (water-pot). She is also Vishnu's consort. She emanates from his foot as Vishnupadi in the avatarana story, and is also, with Sarasvati and Lakshmi, one of his wives. In one popular story, envious of being outdone by each other, the wives begin to quarrel. While Lakshmi attempts to mediate the quarrel, Ganga and Sarasvati heap misfortune on each other. They curse each other to become rivers, and to carry within them, by washing, the sins of their human worshippers. Soon their husband, Vishnu, arrives and decides to calm the situation by separating the goddesses. He orders Sarasvati to become the wife of Brahma, Ganga to become the wife of Shiva, and Lakshmi, as the blameless conciliator, to remain as his own wife. Ganga and Sarasvati, however, are so distraught at this dispensation, and wail so loudly, that Vishnu is forced to take back his words. Consequently, in their lives as rivers they are still thought to be with him.
Shiva, as Gangadhara, bearing the Descent of the Ganga, as the goddess Parvati, the sage Bhagiratha, and the bull Nandi look on (circa 1740). It is Shiva's relationship with Ganga, that is the best-known in Ganga theology. Her descent, the avatarana is not a one time event, but a continuously occurring one in which she is forever falling from heaven into his locks and being forever tamed. Shiva is depicted in Hindu iconography as Gangadhara, the "Bearer of the Ganga," with Ganga, shown as spout of water, rising from his hair. The Shiva-Ganga relationship is both perpetual and intimate. Shiva is sometimes called Uma-Ganga-Patiswara ("Husband and Lord of Uma (Parvati) and Ganga"), and Ganga often arouses the jealousy of Shiva's better-known consort Parvati.
Ganga is the shakti or the moving, restless, rolling energy in the form of which the otherwise recluse and unapproachable Shiva appears on earth. As water, this moving energy can be felt, tasted, and absorbed. The war-god Skanda addresses the sage Agastya in the Kashi Khand of the Skanda Purana in these words:
One should not be amazed ... that this Ganga is really Power, for is she not the Supreme Shakti of the Eternal Shiva, taken in the form of water?
This Ganga, filled with the sweet wine of compassion, was sent out for the salvation of the world by Shiva, the Lord of the Lords. Good people should not think this Triple-Pathed River to be like the thousand other earthly rivers, filled with water.
The Ganga is also the mother, the Ganga Mata (mata="mother") of Hindu worship and culture, accepting all and forgiving all. Unlike other goddesses, she has no destructive or fearsome aspect, destructive though she might be as a river in nature. She is also a mother to other gods. She accepts Shiva's incandescent seed from the fire-god Agni, which is too hot for this world, and cools it in her waters. This union produces Skanda, or Kartikeya, the god of war. In the Mahabharata, she is the wife of Shantanu, and the mother of heroic warrior-patriarch, Bhishma. When Bhishma is mortally wounded in battle, Ganga comes out of the water in human form and weeps uncontrollably over his body.
The Ganga is the distilled lifeblood of the Hindu tradition, of its divinities, holy books, and enlightenment. As such, her worship does not require the usual rites of invocation (avahana) at the beginning and dismissal (visarjana) at the end, required in the worship of other gods. Her divinity is immediate and everlasting.
One of largest tributaries formed by River Ganga in the central parts of the country is the River Son. The origin of the River Son is towards the eastern end of origin of River Narmada in Chhattisgarh state. Later, it flows towards the north-northwestern direction in the state of Madhya Pradesh before it joins towards the eastern direction meeting ranges of Kaimur. The River Son at this point flows parallel to Kaimur range flowing in the eastern-northeast direction passing the states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar joining the River Ganga located in Patna, the capital city of Bihar state.
One of the major rivers of state of Bihar is the River Kosi and is one of the bulging tributary of River Ganges that started from the Himalayas. Kosi River and its tributaries flow through the different parts of Tibet, which includes Mount Everest and one third portion of the eastern Nepal. During the last two hundred years the river has changed its course from eastern end to western end covering a distance of almost 120 kms.
Kali Gandaki is another name given to River Gandak. It is also referred as Narayani after it meets Trisuli in Nepal. River Gandak is also a tributary of River Ganges or River Ganga. This river is ranked as the one of the prominent rivers of Nepal and India. This river serves as the tributary of the northern bank of the River Ganga in India. The River rises at a height of 7620 meters very close to Tibet almost close to border of Nepal overlooking the Dhaulagiri. The River is known for itsprofound ravine through which it flows. It also serves as a source for a large hydroelectric plant located in Nepal.The waters of the River are also used for irrigation cum hydroelectric power source majorly at the India and Nepal border at Valmikinagar. The total area of the river is spread over an area of 46300 sq. km where 7620 sq. km forms part of India. The River also holds importance in the epic of Mahabharata.