By Jaya Vijaya
Sri Ganga-puja, also known as Sri Ganga-dushara (she who removes inauspiciousness), appears in the month of Jyestha (May/June) on the 10th day of Sukla-paksa, or the waxing fortnight of the full moon. On this day, Maharaja Bhagiratha’s desire of bringing Ganga to this mortal world was finally fulfilled as the sacred river descended from Lord Siva’s blessed head at Mount Kailasa. The River Ganga then flowed through the Himalayas behind Maharaja Bhagiratha’s chariot and entered Jahnu Rsi’s asrama. Afterwards, he successfully let the Ganga to Rasatala, in the lower planetary system, to liberate the sixty thousand sons of King Sagara.
As stated in the Narada Purana (Uttara-bhaga 40.21): ‘It was on the tenth day in the bright half of the month of Jyestha, when the day of the week was Tuesday and the constellation was Hasta, Ganga descended to the mortal world.’ Ganga is also known as Bhagirathi, or the descendent of Bhagiratha.
There are different opinions regarding the appearance or descent of Ganga. Recently we honored the auspicious day known as Aksaya-trtiya (April 23/24) which appears in the month of Vaisakha (April/May) on the 3rd day of Sukla-paksa, or the waxing fortnight of the full moon. In the Matsya Purana (as quoted from the Sri Hari-bhakti-vilasa): ‘On the third day of the bright half of the moon of Vaisakha, the Supreme Lord Janardana created the grain barley, started the cycle of Satya-yuga, and made Tripathaga Ganga descend to the earth from Brahmaloka’
Then there was Jahnu-saptami, also known as Ganga-saptami (April 28), when Ganga entered the sacrificial arena of Jahnu Rsi and distribute his meditation. Out of anger, he drank the Ganga and later released the river through his ear (there are other accounts how he released her).
But according to the local tradition in the Rishikesh area, Ganga-saptami is celebrated as the day Ganga descended from the celestial region onto Lord Siva’s matted locks then a few drops of Ganga fell from his head onto the Himalayas. Ganga-dushara is celebrated as the day Ganga liberated the sixty thousand sons of Sagar.
And in the Kasi (Varanasi) area, Ganga-saptami is celebrated as the day Ganga descended from heaven to earth and Ganga-dushara marks the day Ganga reached the plains of India at Haridvara. Ganga-dushara is also known as Ganga-dasahara (she who destroys tenfold), so devotees bathe in the Ganga ten days prior to this day which destroys the sins of ten lifetimes.
Sounds confusing? Yes, and to make things even more confusing, let’s now hear from the Narada Purana (Uttara-bhaga 38.17-19) which describes when and where Ganga manifests herself within the three planetary systems during the Vedic calendar month: ‘In the beginning of the dark half of the month, Ganga is present on earth for ten days ending with the sacred Amavasya day. From the first to the tenth of the bright half of the month, she is present in the netherworlds. Beginning with the eleventh day in the bright half and ending with the fifth day in the dark half, she is always present in heaven for ten days.’ In other words: From the 6th dark day to Amavasya (new moon), Ganga in on earth. From the 1st bright day to the 10th bright day she is in the netherworlds. And from the 11th bright day through Purnima (full moon) to the 5th dark day she is in heaven.
Sri Ganga-devi personally appeared to Maharaja Bhagiratha before the river descended from Brahmaloka onto Lord Siva’s head. Ganga then descended onto the Himalayas prior to Jahnu Rsi swallowing the river. Later, Jahnu released Ganga, which marks the rivers re-appearance. Afterwards, Ganga descended to Rasatala, liberating Sagar’s sixty thousand sons. Then Ganga appears as Bhogavati in the netherworlds before appearing as the Vaitarani encircling Pitrloka.
Sri Ganga-devi continually appears in her unlimited pastimes for the pleasure of the devotees. Regardless which day one accepts as the appearance day of Ganga, or the day the river descended onto this planet, Mother Ganga’s pastimes are always appearing throughout the three worlds, which is one reason she is known as Tripathaga Ganga.
Srila Prabhupada mentioned that we shouldn’t give more importance to the ‘when’ or ‘where’ of an appearance, but ‘WHY’ that personality appears.