In the Indian state of Uttarakhand’s Uttarkashi district, Gangotri is both a town and a Nagar Panchayat (municipality). Uttarkashi, the principal district headquarters, is 99 kilometres away. On the banks of the river Bhagirathi, which is the source of the Ganges, lies a Hindu pilgrimage town. The settlement is 3,100 metres above sea level and situated on the Greater Himalayan Range (10,200 ft). A well-known Hindu myth states that Goddess Ganga arrived here when Lord Shiva let the great river flow from his hair.
Hindus have a particularly special place in their hearts for Gangotri Dham, which is situated in the Uttarkashi region of Uttarakhand at a height of around 3,100 metres (approximately) on the Himalayan range. It is one of the four revered and significant pilgrimage sites of Uttarakhand’s Chota Char Dham Yatra. What distinguishes Gangotri as one of the holiest destinations is its close relationship with the River Ganga, which stands out among all the natural beauty and grace that the mountains and height of the location provide (the Ganges).
PUNISHMENT OF BHAGIRATH
According to mythology, King Sagara, King Bhagirath’s great-grandfather, killed the demons on earth. He made the decision to do an Ashwamedha Yagna in order to declare his supremacy. An unbroken trip between empires was expected to be undertaken by a horse during the yagna. Indra, the ultimate monarch, began to worry that, if the yagna were to end, he may lose his position on the celestial throne. He seized the horse and tied it in the ashram of Sage Kapila, who was meditating, using his celestial abilities. The 60,000 sons of King Sagara were given the responsibility of locating the horse as soon as his agents realised they had lost track of it. The king’s sons came found Sage Kapila’s meditation site while searching for the missing horse.
In a fit of rage, they raided the ashram and accused the guru of stealing the hoarse after discovering the horse chained next to him. When Sage Kapila’s meditation was disturbed, he became enraged and with a single, mighty glance, he reduced all 60,000 of his sons to ashes. Additionally, he forbade them from achieving Moksha
until their ashes were washed in the sacred waters of the River Ganga, which at the time flowed through heaven.
According to legend, Bhagirath, the grandson of King Sagara, endured severe penance for a thousand years in order to convince Ganga to descend to earth so that he
may release his forefathers. Finally, his perseverance paid off, and River Ganga was happy with his dedication and prepared to come to Earth.
A RIVER GANGA FABLE
Another tradition claims that if the world had been completely drowned under the Ganga’s waters when it consented to come to earth in response to Bhagirath’s prayers, the Ganga would not have agreed to do so. Lord Shiva grabbed the Ganga in his locks to prevent the destruction of the earth. Bhagirath once more meditated for a very long time to appease Lord Shiva. When Lord Shiva saw Bhagirath’s fervent devotion, he was pleased and released River Ganga in three streams, one of which arrived on earth and became known as the Bhagirathi River. The 60,000 sons rose from eternal rest as soon as Ganga’s water touched the ashes of Bhagirath’s ancestors. The Bhagirath Shila, a rock on which Bhagirath is thought to have pondered, is situated not far from the Gangotri Temple.
THE MYTHS RELATING TO THE RIVER GANGA’S BIRTH
According to one of the mythical stories, Ganga was a lovely and lively woman who was born from Lord Brahma’s Kamandalu (water vessel). Two different accounts exist for her birth. One claims that when Lord Vishnu had rescued the universe from the demon Bali in his rebirth as Vaman, Lord Brahma had collected this water in his Kamandalu while washing Lord Vishnu’s feet. According to a different version, Ganga wed King Shantanu, an ancestor of the Pandavs from the Mahabharata, after descended to Earth in human form. She is thought to have given birth to seven sons, who she is said to have tossed into the river for unknown reasons. Bheeshma, her eighth child, was saved thanks to King Shantanu’s intervention. Ganga walked away. Bheeshma is the one who eventually went on to play a very important part throughout the epic Mahabharata.