On June 20, Hindus are celebrating Ganga Dussehra, the day to mark the origin of the sacred river Ganga. It is believed that on this day, i.e. Dashmi (10th day) of the month of Jyeshtha (according to Hindu Calendar), sacred river Ganga came down to Earth and free ancestors of Bhagiratha from a curse. The festival is observed for a period of 10 days.
Stories that narrate how the Ganga came to Earth
According to the historical stories, the river Ganga was born during Bhagwan Vishnu’s Vamana Avatar. After Vamana pushed King Bali to the Patala Lok, Bhagwan Brahma washed Vishnu’s feet and collected the water in his Kamandala. That water took the form of Ganga, a young playful little girl.
Once, Rishi Durvasa, who was known for his aggressive mood, was taking a bath in a river and his clothes flew away due to breeze. Ganga, who was playing close to the river, saw the incident and burst into uncontrolled laughter. Rishi Durvassa got angry and cursed her that she will spend time on Earth as a river. When the time came, Ganga took the form of the river and resided in Bhagwan Brahma’s Kamandal in heaven.
Once King Sagar, ancestor of King Bhagiratha, performed Ashwamedha Yagna to make him powerful. Indra, the King of Gods, was afraid that if King Sagar become powerful, he may try to take his position. He stole Yagna’s horses and tied them outside Rishi Kapila’s Ashram. Sagar’s sons went looking for the horses and found them outside Ashram. Assuming Rishi stole the horses, they set the horses free, but noises disturbed meditating Rishi. When he realized he was being accused of stealing, he got furious and cursed them to be burnt down to ashes.
As the rituals of death could not be completed, all 60,000 sons who were burnt down to ashes due to curse wandered as ghosts. One remaining brother, Anshuman, begged the Rishi for a solution who asked him to pray to Bhagwan Brahma and bring Ganga to Earth to purify the souls.
After several generations, Bhagiratha, descendent of Sagar, finally managed to please Brahma, who granted him his wish to send River Ganga to Earth. To control the powerful river, Bhagiratha prayed to Bhagwan Shiva to accept Ganga in his locks and release her slowly towards Earth.
Ganga Dussehra, the celebrations
Ganga flows from Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal. The festival is celebrated on the banks of Rishikesh, Garhmukteshwar, Haridwar, Prayagraj and Varanasi. Ganga Aarti on this day attracts thousands of devotees from around the world. People gather at the banks of Ganga and take holy dip to purify their body and soul. In Mathura and Vrindaban temples, this day is celebrated among the devotees with enthusiasm. It is believed that donating something on this day brings happiness and prosperity to the family of the devotees.
Water levels in Ganga rise from Ganga Dussehra onward
In many parts along the river Ganga in UP and Bihar, the water levels in the river start swelling from Ganga Dussehra onward. One reason could be the festival usually coincides with the pre-monsoon and onset of monsoon in some parts, because of which the water levels rise.
Ganga Dussehra during Covid-19
This year, due to Covid-19 norms and lockdown in several regions, the celebrations will not be held on a large scale.