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Books > Hindu > Rivers in Hindu Mythology and Ritual
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Rivers in Hindu Mythology and Ritual
Rivers in Hindu Mythology and Ritual
Description
About The Book

India is uniquely blessed with a large number of perennial rivers. Sanskrit literature is replete with vivid descriptions and perspicuous portrayals of rivers in India throughout her length and breadth. The rivers in India are not regarded as merely a flowing mass of waters, but as loving, Kind, benevolent and bountiful mothers.

The rivers had attracted the attention of even the Rsi-poets of the Vedas as also the authors of the Epics and the Puranas.

This book deals with the rivers as they are found in Sansktri literature. The mythology woven around them, their ritual worship, and their relationship with gods and men have been detailed.

Sanskrit authors had fairly good Knowledge of the rise and fall of the rivers. They compare well with the modern geographical views that are also provided in this book.

This book also furnishes a large number of tirthas on the banks of the rivers as they are found in the texts. In addition, eulogies (mahatmyas) and prayers (stutis) of rivers have also been mentioned with textual references.

 

About The Author

S.K. Lal (born 1939) completed his graduation from the Banaras Hindu University. He obtained the degree of M.A. in Hindi from the University Bombay; M.A. in Sanskrit from the Kanpur University; and the Ph.D. in Sanskrit from the University of Pune. In addition, he has obtained the Diploma in German Language, and the Post-Graduate Diploma in Sanskrit Linguistics, both from the University of Pune, Pune.

He worked as a Reader in the Centre of Advanced Study in Sanskrit, University of Pune, and taught Sanskrit in the Department of Sanskrit and Pali Languages, University of Pune.

He taught Sanskrit and Hindi in the University de la Sorbonne Nouvella, Paris-III, France; and in the Universite de Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland. He delivered as an invitee a special lecture organized by the Universite de Lausanne, Switzerland, and also in the Mahacula-longkron-rajavidyalaya University, Chiang Mai, Thailand.

He has published four books: 1. Female Divinities in Hindu Mythology and Ritual, 2. Vyasa-subhasita-san-graha (text with English Translation), 3. Cikitsa (a collection of articles on Ayurveda) (edited), and 4. Rsi-Vani (Gleanings from the Vedas). He has also published over 60 papers in Indological Journals.

 

Introduction

Such is the attitude of a pious Hindu towards his rivers. He invokes the seven holy rivers, in different parts of our country, to be present in the water for his morning bath. He believes that the presence of these rivers in the water makes it as holy and sacred as the rivers themselves are. Medhy Va apah (waters are indeed sacred, SB 1.1.1.1), and amrta hyaph (waters are in fact nectar, SB 3, 9, 4, 16). And so, he believes, they will bring him purity and immortality.

The rivers had attracted the attention of even the Rsi-poets of the Vedas. Right from the Rgvedic times downwards to the post-Vedic and Puränic periods, Sanskrit literature is replete with vivid descriptions and perspicuous portrayals of the rivers and the venerations the poets had for them. The rivers are not regarded as merely a flowing mass of waters, but as life-bestowing, life-nurturing, and life-protecting divine mothers. They are implored for protection (avantu ma sindhavah pinvamanah, RV 6.52.4). They are the very breaths of people (apo vai pranah, SB 3. 8. 2. 4). They are sources of plenitude (te sindhavo varivo dhãtana, RV 7.47.4) and they are prayed to grant people nourishment and delight (RV 10.9.1).

Banks of the rivers are regarded as suitable sites for performing sacrifices (Gopatha Brähmana 1.2.14). Offerings are made to the rivers in sacrifices (RV 1.23.18; 7.47.3). The river Sarasvati is particularly urged to accept the sacrifice (RV 1.3.10; 11). She is worshipped while the sacrifice is in progress (RV 10.17.7).

It may be pointed out that in the Puranic literature all the seven streams of the river Sarasvati are linked with one or the other sacrifices (Vamanp., SM, 16. 17; 18; 36. 54). The absence of the Sarasvati in a sacrifice was considered a deficiency (Vamanp., SM, 16. 19; 20).

Once Brahma performed a great sacrifice. Many Rsis arrived there, but they did not see the river Sarasvati there. They told Brahmã that the sacrifice would not bear fruits unless Sarasvati was present. Brahma thought of her and she appeared there under the name Suprabha.

Many kings of yore had performed great sacrifices on the rivers. King Matinara performed a twelve-year long sacrifice on the bank of the river Sarasvati. After the completion of the sacrifice, Sarasvati married the king and begot a son named Tamsu. King Dasaratha (of the Ramayana) had performed the Putresti on the bank of the Sarayu and obtained four sons: Rama, Laksmana, Bharata, and Satrughna. King Drupada had performed a sacrifice on the bank of the river Kalmasi for getting a child. Draupadi was born as a result of that sacrifice. Dharma had performed a sacrifice on the bank of the Vaitarani. The river Manorama has risen from the sacrifice of Uddalaka in the north of KoSala. At the confluence of the rivers Jala and Upajala, the king Usinara had performed the sacrifice and thereby had surpassed Indra in greatness. It is said that Daksa had performed the sacrifice in a village Dhulkhed on the bank of the river Bhima.

This close associaton of the rivers with the sacrifices was carried on, albeit in a transformed way, in the post-Vedic particularly Puränic literature. It is found in the Purãnic texts that the rivers and their connection with the sacrifices have, as it were, merged into one. The rivers themselves have become so holy and sacred that they yield fruits and bring rewards of the Vedic sacrifices like the Agnistoma, the Vajapeya, and the Rajasuya. What is required is a dip in their waters.

Thus, if a person bathes in the river Apaga and the river Sarasvati, he reaps the fruits of the Agnistoma sacrifice. A person who offers ablutions to gods and manes at the confluence of the Sona and the Jyotiratha obtains the merit of the Agnistoma. The rewards of the Agnistona and Atiratra sacrifices are gained if one observes fast on the banks of the river Aruna. A bath in the river Drsadvati and ablutions to gods and manes on her banks brings the benefits of the Agnis toma and Atirätra sacrifices, and a bath in the confluence of the river Aruna and the Sarasvati brings the fruits of the same sacrifices.

Whoever takes a bath on the twelth of the bright half of Magha in the Urvasi-Kunda on the Bhasmãcala, which is a hill in the river Brahmaputra, obtains the merit of performing the Avamedha sacrifice. A dip in the river Jayanti earns a person the fruits of the Rajasuya sacrifice. The river Kausiki grants the rewards of the Rajasuya sacrifice to a person who resorts to her.

The river Gandaki and the river Venna bestow the merits of the Vajyapeya sacrifice to a person who bathes in them. A dip in the river Bähuda yields the benefits of a sacrifice. A bath in the confluence of the Payosni with the river Maha brings the rewards of performing one hundred sacrifices.

A person who offers ablutions to gods and manes on the banks of the Venna obtains a chariot drawn by peacocks and swans.

One of the inherent abilities of the rivers in the early literatures which continued to be further emphasized in the Purãnic literaure is their capability of washing away sins. In RV 10.17.10, the rivers have been regarded as destroyers of sins and defilements, and it is solicited that the mother rivers purify and brighten the worshippers by their holy waters. This aspect of holiness of the rivers in removing sins has found ample expression in the post-Vedic Purãnic literature where it is patently said that almost all important rivers are capable of removing sins (MBh 3.82. 113; 135; 8.3.55; Matsyp., 185.11; Padmp., Adikhanda, 41.4; Vamanp., SM, 15.47; Varahp., 144.9; etc.).

If a person observes fast on the banks of the river Arunä and bathes in her water, he is absolved of even the greatest sins like brahmahatyã, and his family up to the seventh generation is purified. Even the demons became free from demonhood after drinking the water of the Aruna.

King Bhimaratha of Ayodhyã had once killed, unknowingly, a Brähmana couple. To get rid of the sin, the king practised penance and propitiated Siva. Siva, being pleased, asked the king to seek a boon. The king saw that Siva was full of fatigue and three were drops of sweat on his forehead. (Siva, after killing the demon Tripura, had come to Bhimasankara for rest). Bhimaratha requested Siva to turn his drops of sweat into a river. Siva did so. This became the river Bhima. The king bathed in the river and was condoned of the sin. The confluence of the Drsadvati with the Kausiki is so sacred that when a person bathes there he is freed from all sins. By merely seeing the water of the Gandaki one,s sins of mind (manasa-papa), by touching her water one,s sins of bad deeds (duskarma), and by drinking her water one,s sins of speech (vacika-papa) are burnt. A person who bathes in the Sangama of the rivers Kalika and Sarayu is absolved of all sins. One who keeps fast on the banks of the river Kumaradhärä and bathes in her is forgiven even for the sin of brahmahatya. One who takes a dip in the river Salunkini gets his sins remitted and he obtains his desired loka. Indra had killed Vrtra who was a Brahmana. Due to his this sin, Sri deserted him. He bathed in the river Samanga and was pardoned of the sin and he regained his lost glory. He bathed in the river Arunä and became free from the sin of killing Namuci. A person who fasts for three nights and bathes in the confluence of the Arunä and the Sarasvati is freed from the sin of brahmahatya and his family up to the seventh generation is cleansed of all defilements. Bathing on the Paurnamasi of the month of Mägha at Galitesvara on the river Tapi brings virtues equal to donating ten lakhs gold coins at Puskara.

The rivers are regarded as an effective source of removing .ugliness and bringing lustre to one who bathes in them. Even the gods resort to the rivers. Skanda repented because he had pierced the mt. Kraunca who was his own brother where Mahisãsura had been hiding. Skanda thereupon lost his lustre. Visnu advised him to go to the tirtha Prthudaka and bathe in the river Oghavati. Skanda did so, and regained his splendour. The king Pururavas practised penance on the banks of the river Haimavati to get rid of his ugliness (Matsyp. 115) and regained his handsomeness. (See under Airävati for the story). Kubera became the lord of wealth after bathing in the Godävari. Indra once lost his positon of the king of gods. He regained it after he was sprinkled with the water of the Godavari. When the lustre of Rsi Paraurãma had dimmed by the arrow of Rãma, the Rsi secured it only after bathing in the river Vadhusara.

From the above details, a pertinent purpose of Sanskrit writers emerges. They may have intended to prescribe baths in a river with a view to aiming at and emphasizing on a person,s physical hygiene under the garb of religion, and also preventing him from polluting the rivers.

The rivers are deemed to have the power of removing the harmful effects of poison and curing snake bite. The river Sarasvati makes poison flow away (RV 6.61.3) and in RV 6.61.4 she is invoked to eliminate the effects of poison. The rivers are prayed to wash off the poison of snakes (AV 10.4.20). In Visnu p.4.3.10, it is said that the very name of Narmadä blots out the fear of snakes. The same Puräna (ibid) mentions a story wherein the Narmada is empowered with such a boon. (See under Narmadä).

The rivers are also regarded as capable of curing diseases. The waters are regarded as physicians (AV 6.24.2). The rivers are invoked to cure diseases named Sipada and Simida (RV 7.50.4). Kausikasutra 30.13 employs AV 6.24, which is a prayer to the river, for removing heart ailments hrdaya-dosa), dropsy (jalodara) and jaundice (kamala). A person who bathes in the river Ambuvasya gets cured of all diseases. The water of the river Satadru also cures diseases.

The waters of some of the rivers are regarded medicinal. The water of the Satadru is appetising (päcanam). The water of the Yamuna produces heat and wind in the body, and it is also digestive. The water of the Godävari cures leprosy, consumption, blood-pressure and indigestion. The water of the Gañga is cool, sweet, appetizing and digestive. It enhances intelligence. The water of the Narmadã is light and cool, and it pacifies heat and bile.

There is a practice among the village folk. If a person suffers from a particular neck-disease (gandamala in Hindi), a vow is made to the river Ganga that if the person is cured, the river would be worshipped with a rite known as gañgä mai ki mala (garland for mother Ganga). After the initial rites are performed on the bank of the river, the performer with other participants goes to the other bank of the Gañga meausring the entire breadth of the river with a huge garland. The remaining rites are performed on reaching the other bank.

It is efficacious to take bath in a river daily. It is more efficacious on certain auspicious days of a month. A bath in Ganga on the full-moon days of Asadha, Kärtika, Magha, and Vaisäkha brings great merit (punya). One acquires holiness after a bath in the Ganga on the seventh of the bright-half of Magha, on a Aksayatithi, on the Amavasya days, on the day of Sankränti and on the days of solar and lunar eclipses. A dip in the water of Kaveri accrues the fruit of donating one thousand cows. Bathing in the confluence of the rivers Veda and the Krsna produces merit equal to donating ten thousand cows, or donating land. One who bathes in the river Payosni at Kotitirtha and has darsana of Kotesvara there, gets the benefits of giving away a hundred thousand kapila cows. A bath in the river Varada brings rewards of donating one thousand cows.

A person, desirous of a son, should bathe in the Yamuna on each Srävana-naksatra for a year. He would get a son like Parasara. A bath in the Tapi-sagara-sangama on the Amavasya of the month of Margasirsa yields great rewards. Bathing at Galitesvara on the Tapi on the Paurnamäsi of Magha brings benefits equal to donating ten million gold coins at Puskara.

The rivers are imbued with purity, sanctity, and divine powers. They are efficient means to bring salvation and also to enable one to go to the imperishable world (Aksaya-loka) and to the abodes of gods, such as, Brahmaloka, Indraloka, Vis nuloka, Rudraloka, Suryaloka, and Soma (Candra) loka, etc.

An offering of Syamaka grains into the river Apaga to gods and manes brings great religious merits, and an offering of cooked rice balls (pindas) to the manes in the month of Bhadrapada in that river brings salvation. A person who bathes in the Narmadä and fasts there for a night liberates himself and his one hundred ancestors. A bath in the river Tamraparni frees a person from the cycle of births and deaths.

One who observes fast, consuming only air, on the banks of the river Kausiki goes to the heaven in twenty-one days. It is enjoined in MBh, Aranyakaparva, 85.94 and many Puränas that the charred bones and ashes of the burnt body of a dead person should be cast in the river Ganga. It enables the person not only to go to the heaven but also stay there as long as the bones remain in the water of the Ganga.

An ablution of water to the manes in the Mahanadi entitles a person to secure Aksaya-loka. A person who bathes in the river Ambuvasya goes to the Brahmaloka. A dip in the river Gandaki and also in the river Kampana enables one to go to the Suryaloka. Somaloka is gained by bathing in the river Candrabhaga. The river Sakrnnandä makes one,s soul pious and he attains Indraloka. One who stays on the banks of the river Visalya obtains Rudraloka. The river Narmada enables a person to secure Rudraloka.

The rivers are venerated as divine beings, so much so that many important gods of Hinduism are associated with them, or they actually dwell in them in one form or the other. Thus, Vamana lives in the river Airãvati in the form of Rupadhara. Brahmvp, Prakrtikhanda, 11.12 mentions that Ganga is the beloved of Krsna. She is regarded as a portion (amsa) of Radha. Ganga married Krsna (Ibid., 10.114). However, it is Siva who is more prominently associated with Gañgä.

Visnu lives in most of the rivers in different forms. It may be pointed out that in the Vedic literature, it is Indra who is mostly associated with the rivers. The rivers are wives of Indra (RV 5.42.12) and he is their lord (RV 10.180.1.). The rivers obey Indra,s commands (RV 1. 109.3) and never violate his authority (RV 7.47.3). Indra, however, has never been associated with any particualr river. In the post-Vedic Puränic literature, that place has been taken by Visnu. Ganga is Visnu,s wife (Brahm VP, Prakrtikhanda, 6. 17). The rivers Varanä and Asi have risen from the two toes of Yogasayi (Visnu) (Vamanp, 3.27.28). Vamanp., 63.7 mentions different forms of Visnu who live in the rivers. A few of them may be motioned here.

Visnu lives in the river Bhima in the form of Sañkukarna, and in the river Devika as Bhudhara. The river Gandaki once practised penance and pleased Visnu for a boon. She chose to become his mother. Visnu granted and said that he would remain in the form of Salagramas (stones in a special shape found in the bed of the Gandaki) with her and would be worshipped in that form as her son. (For the importance of SaIagrama, see Padmp., Pätalakhanda, 4.20.16 ff). Visnu lives in the river Mahakosi as a hamsa. He lives in the river Mahodaki as Kusapriya, as Akhanda in the river Payosni, as Sambhu in the Sarayu, as Rukmakavaca in the Sona, as Dvijapriya in the river Vipãsa, as Kumärila in the Vitastä, and as Srikantha in the river Yamunä. In fact, it is said in the Padmp., Bhumikhanda, 39.46-47 that all rivers, whether flowing through a village or a forest, are holy and that if no name of a tirtha on rivers is known, it should be called Visnutirtha.

Some of the incarnatious of Visnu had taken place on the rivers. Agnip. 2.4 mentons that Manu had found the fish (of the Matsyavatara of Visnu) in the river Krtamälä. The ship sailed up to the Satidesa which is now known as Kashmir. In the legend of Delgue, Visnu had become Matsya. The ship (nau) in which the creatures were carried was in fact goodess Durga. The ship was carried to the west of the Banhal Pass in the Pir Pantsal range to the highest peak called Nau-bandhana-tirtha.

Visnu,s Varahavatära took place on the right bank of the river Vitasta at Varähamula (now called Baramula) on the Sukara-ksetra situated about fifty kms from Srinagar.

There was a demon named Guha. He practised penance to propitiate Brahmä. Guha sought a boon that neither Visnu nor Siva could be able to kill him. Brahmä granted the boon. Puffed up with the boon, Guha started persecuting gods and men. Because of the boon, it was necessary for Visnu and Siva to have a combined form to kill the demon. They became Harihara. It is stated that the Harihara incarnaton had taken place at Kudlur where the river Tungabhadra meets the river Haridra.

Asvakranta is a tirtha on the northern bank of the river Brahmaputra. It is said that when Krsna came to Pragjyotisa (modern Assam), he rested on this hill with his horse. This is tirtha sacred to Janardana. To the south of Asvakranta is situated the lake Asvitirtha. The tirtha is also associated with the Kalki incarnation of Visnu.

Besides gods, the rivers are associated with the humans also as their spouses and wives. The story of the marriage of Ganga with king Santanu is well-known (MBh, Adiparva, 1.91; 92 and Devibhp. 2.3;4). King Matinara performed a twelve-year long sattra on the bank of the river Sarasvatii. After the completion of the sacrifice, she married the king. Tamsu was born out of this marriage. The river Suktimati flowed by the capital city of king Uparicara. The mount Kolahala sought the river Suktimati who was in deep love with her. The king did not like this, and struck the mountain with his foot. The river came out of the embrace of Kolähala. But by that time she had already conceived. In due course, she gave birth to a twins. The river gave both the children to the king. He appointed the male child as the General of his army, and married the female named Girikä. The river Tapi, daughter of Vivasvan, married king Samvarana and begot a son named Kuru.

Kunti (of the Mahabharata) is said to have left the infant Karna in a casket (manjusã) in the river Asvanadi.

Many tithas (holy places of pilgrimage) are situated near or on the banks of the rivers. These tirthas have been mentioned, in this work, along with the descriptions of the individual rivers. An Index of the tirthas has also been added.

Some of the Jyotirlingas are found on the banks of the rivers and their sources. At Bhimasañkara, the source of the river Bhima, there is the famous Jyotirlinga. At the village Tryambaka, which is the source of the Godãvari, there is the Jyotirlinga called Tryambakesvara. On the island of Mandhätä, in the river Narmada, stands the famous temple of Omkãranätha which is one of the twelve Jyotirlingas. The famous Jyotirlinga of Mahakäla is found in Ujjayini (Ujjain) on the bank of the river Sipra.

Many Asramas (hermitages) of the Ris and Munis were situated on the banks of the rivers. The hermitage of Rsi Arstas ena was situated on the bank of the river Asvarathä. Rsi Bharadvaja had his Asrama on the confluence of the Ganga and the Yamuna. Kusadhvaja, brother of king Janaka, lived in the city Sañkaya on the bank of the river lksumati. The Asrama of sage Kapila was situated on the river Kapiladhara. (This Kapila is different from Rsi Kapila of Sagaropakhyana). The holy Naimisaranya of the Mahabhãrata and the Purana fame was situated on the bank of the river Drsadvati. The famous pancavati where Räma, Sita, and Laksmana had spent their exile is situated on the bank of the Godävari near Nashik. The town Wai (in Maharashtra) is situated on the river Krsna. Wai is identified with Viratanagari where Pändavas had spent the 13th year of their exile incognito (ajnatavasa). Rsi Usanas, the preceptor of the Asuras, practised penance on the bank of the river Oghavati and there he secured the knowledge of Sañjivani (a kind of elixir which can restore the dead to life) from Siva. Rsi Dachici practised penance on the bank of the Sarasvati.

It is believed that Brahma meditated at the tirtha Prthudaka present Pehoa) on the Sarasvati at the time of the creation of universe. Sri Krsna with Baladeva and Sudäma, had his education in the Asrama of sage Sandipani on the bank of the river Sipra. The famous Sriñgerimatha is on the left bank of the river ‘Tuñga (a branch of the river Tuñgabhadra).

According to tradition, the fight between gaja (elephant) and graha (alligator) had taken place at Sonapur on the river Sona Bhagp. 8.2.3). However, according to Varahp. 144. 116f, the fight had taken place at the confluence of the Devika, the Gandaki and the Ganga.

It was on the bank of the river Tamasa where Välmiki had witnessed the Krauñca-vadha (shooting of the bird krauñca by a flower) and where the Rsi cursed the fowler in a verse in the Anustubh metre which became the first verse of its kind. Valmiki later composed the great epic Rãmayana.

Many demons were killed on the banks of the rivers. The demons Madhu and Kaitabha were killed by Visnu on the hill Bhasmakuta (or Bhasmäcala) in the river Brahmaputra. It is said that Kmadeva was burnt into ashes on this hill by the fire of the third eye of Siva.

The demon Dhundu practised penance and obtained a boon from Brahma that he would not be killed by anyone including gods. The boon was granted. Dhundu went to the Svargaloka and declared himself Indra. The gods repaired to the Brahmaloka. He wanted also to capture Brahmaloka. Sukracarya, preceptor of demons, advised him to perform a hundred Asvamedha sacrifices to be able to go to the Brahmaloka. The bank of the river Devika was selected as the site for the yajña. The gods were alarmed and approached Visnu for succour. Visnu took the form of a dwarf (vãmana), left his body in the river Devika and began drowning. Dhundu left the sacrifice and rushed to rescue Visnu. On being enquired, the Brahmana said that he was kicked out of his house penniless by his brother. Dhundu offered him money but the Brahmana wanted only three steps of land. Dhundu granted. The Brahmana (Vamana) measured the entire universe in his three steps. Dhundu was humbled.

It is held that near the mouth of the river Mahi, god Siva had killed the demon Andhaka. It is also believed that Skanda had killed Tãrakasura at the Stambha-tirtha (present Cambay or Khambhat) which is situated on the confluence of the Mahi with the sea. Narmada issued forth from the tears of joy that Siva shed after killing Andhaka. As mentioned earlier, the Harihara incarnaton of Visnu and Siva had taken place at Kudlur where the river Tuñgabhadra meets the river Haridra.

Sanskrit works dealing with rites and rituals enjoin that Sräddha (rites for ancestors) should be performed and dana should be given on the banks of the rivers. The performance of Sräddha, Homa, and Japa on the river Dasarna brings great rewards. The river Gandhakali is regarded as the daughter of the Pitrs. Hence, it is beneficial to perform Sraddha on her banks. Narmadä is also regarded as the mind-born daughter of the Pitrs named Somapas. Sräddha performed on her banks brings great rewards to the performer. It is very efficacious to give Dana and perform Sräddha on the banks of the river Kausiki. The performance of Sraddha on the river Phalgu in Gaya accrues to the performer great punya.

One marvels at the ingenious creative powers of the Purãnic and post-Puranic Sanskrit authors who have shown unique and extra-ordinary imaginations in inventing sources of the origin and rise of the rivers, other than mountains and lakes, although they knew very well the actual and natural sources of the rivers. But in mythological parlance, Sanskrit authors have brought out many stories and legends as sources for the rivers to appear on the earth and thus they have enriched Hindu mythoogy enormously.

Bhimaratha was the king of Ayodhya. Once, while hunting, he unknowingly shot an arrow at a Brahmana couple who were sporting in the form of a doe and a dear. To expiate the sin, the king was advised to get the river Bhima on the earth. Lord Siva, after defeating the demon Tripura, had come down to Bhimasankara for rest. The king came from Ayodhya to Bhimasankara to practise penance and to propitiate Siva. Siva pleased, and asked the king to seek a boon. The king saw Siva was very tired and drops of sweat had appeared on his fore-head. Bhimaratha requested Siva to turn the drops into a river. Siva did so. This became the river Bhima named after the King. The king bathed in the river and was absolved of the sin.

Visnu once practised penance for the welfare of the mankind. A stream of perspiration dripped from his ganda (cheek). It became the river Gandaki. The river Mahi had her source in the sweat running down from the body of king Indrayumna of Ujjain. There is another source for the origin of the river Mahi.

A young Gurjar girl used to churn curds. A young man used to gaze at her. The Gurjar girl could not bear this and out of embarrassment threw herself into the pot of curds. The pot overflowed and a river came out. That is the river Mahi.

Once Siva with Umä practised penance on the mt. Rksa. Sweat dripped from his body which turned into a river. That river is Narmada, also called Rudriya.

Visnu, as Varaha, killed the demon Hiranyaksa who had seized the earth and plunged it into the water. Visnu fought with the demon with his tusk and lifted the earth. In the fight, Varaha had perspiration trickling down from his high (tunga) left tusk. That became the river Tuñga. The sweat dripping from his right tusk which was firm and steady (bhadra) became the river Bhadra. And the stream coming down from his eye became the river Netravati.

Siva went to the site of the sacrifice of Daksa where Parvati had burnt herself. Siva was furious. Seeing his wrath, the Vasus melted out of fear, and a river flowed. It became the river Sita. Siva was very much agrieved at the death of Pärvati, and he sighed so heavily that a cloud of vapour rose in the sky from his body and flowed down. It became the river Vaitarani.

 

Contents

 

  Transliteration ix
  Introduction xi
1 Rivers 1-156
2 Abbreviations & Bibliography 157-159
3 List of Mountains 160-162
4 Index of Rivers 163-175
5 Index of Tirthas & Temple 176-179
6 General Index 180-188
     

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Rivers in Hindu Mythology and Ritual

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About The Book

India is uniquely blessed with a large number of perennial rivers. Sanskrit literature is replete with vivid descriptions and perspicuous portrayals of rivers in India throughout her length and breadth. The rivers in India are not regarded as merely a flowing mass of waters, but as loving, Kind, benevolent and bountiful mothers.

The rivers had attracted the attention of even the Rsi-poets of the Vedas as also the authors of the Epics and the Puranas.

This book deals with the rivers as they are found in Sansktri literature. The mythology woven around them, their ritual worship, and their relationship with gods and men have been detailed.

Sanskrit authors had fairly good Knowledge of the rise and fall of the rivers. They compare well with the modern geographical views that are also provided in this book.

This book also furnishes a large number of tirthas on the banks of the rivers as they are found in the texts. In addition, eulogies (mahatmyas) and prayers (stutis) of rivers have also been mentioned with textual references.

 

About The Author

S.K. Lal (born 1939) completed his graduation from the Banaras Hindu University. He obtained the degree of M.A. in Hindi from the University Bombay; M.A. in Sanskrit from the Kanpur University; and the Ph.D. in Sanskrit from the University of Pune. In addition, he has obtained the Diploma in German Language, and the Post-Graduate Diploma in Sanskrit Linguistics, both from the University of Pune, Pune.

He worked as a Reader in the Centre of Advanced Study in Sanskrit, University of Pune, and taught Sanskrit in the Department of Sanskrit and Pali Languages, University of Pune.

He taught Sanskrit and Hindi in the University de la Sorbonne Nouvella, Paris-III, France; and in the Universite de Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland. He delivered as an invitee a special lecture organized by the Universite de Lausanne, Switzerland, and also in the Mahacula-longkron-rajavidyalaya University, Chiang Mai, Thailand.

He has published four books: 1. Female Divinities in Hindu Mythology and Ritual, 2. Vyasa-subhasita-san-graha (text with English Translation), 3. Cikitsa (a collection of articles on Ayurveda) (edited), and 4. Rsi-Vani (Gleanings from the Vedas). He has also published over 60 papers in Indological Journals.

 

Introduction

Such is the attitude of a pious Hindu towards his rivers. He invokes the seven holy rivers, in different parts of our country, to be present in the water for his morning bath. He believes that the presence of these rivers in the water makes it as holy and sacred as the rivers themselves are. Medhy Va apah (waters are indeed sacred, SB 1.1.1.1), and amrta hyaph (waters are in fact nectar, SB 3, 9, 4, 16). And so, he believes, they will bring him purity and immortality.

The rivers had attracted the attention of even the Rsi-poets of the Vedas. Right from the Rgvedic times downwards to the post-Vedic and Puränic periods, Sanskrit literature is replete with vivid descriptions and perspicuous portrayals of the rivers and the venerations the poets had for them. The rivers are not regarded as merely a flowing mass of waters, but as life-bestowing, life-nurturing, and life-protecting divine mothers. They are implored for protection (avantu ma sindhavah pinvamanah, RV 6.52.4). They are the very breaths of people (apo vai pranah, SB 3. 8. 2. 4). They are sources of plenitude (te sindhavo varivo dhãtana, RV 7.47.4) and they are prayed to grant people nourishment and delight (RV 10.9.1).

Banks of the rivers are regarded as suitable sites for performing sacrifices (Gopatha Brähmana 1.2.14). Offerings are made to the rivers in sacrifices (RV 1.23.18; 7.47.3). The river Sarasvati is particularly urged to accept the sacrifice (RV 1.3.10; 11). She is worshipped while the sacrifice is in progress (RV 10.17.7).

It may be pointed out that in the Puranic literature all the seven streams of the river Sarasvati are linked with one or the other sacrifices (Vamanp., SM, 16. 17; 18; 36. 54). The absence of the Sarasvati in a sacrifice was considered a deficiency (Vamanp., SM, 16. 19; 20).

Once Brahma performed a great sacrifice. Many Rsis arrived there, but they did not see the river Sarasvati there. They told Brahmã that the sacrifice would not bear fruits unless Sarasvati was present. Brahma thought of her and she appeared there under the name Suprabha.

Many kings of yore had performed great sacrifices on the rivers. King Matinara performed a twelve-year long sacrifice on the bank of the river Sarasvati. After the completion of the sacrifice, Sarasvati married the king and begot a son named Tamsu. King Dasaratha (of the Ramayana) had performed the Putresti on the bank of the Sarayu and obtained four sons: Rama, Laksmana, Bharata, and Satrughna. King Drupada had performed a sacrifice on the bank of the river Kalmasi for getting a child. Draupadi was born as a result of that sacrifice. Dharma had performed a sacrifice on the bank of the Vaitarani. The river Manorama has risen from the sacrifice of Uddalaka in the north of KoSala. At the confluence of the rivers Jala and Upajala, the king Usinara had performed the sacrifice and thereby had surpassed Indra in greatness. It is said that Daksa had performed the sacrifice in a village Dhulkhed on the bank of the river Bhima.

This close associaton of the rivers with the sacrifices was carried on, albeit in a transformed way, in the post-Vedic particularly Puränic literature. It is found in the Purãnic texts that the rivers and their connection with the sacrifices have, as it were, merged into one. The rivers themselves have become so holy and sacred that they yield fruits and bring rewards of the Vedic sacrifices like the Agnistoma, the Vajapeya, and the Rajasuya. What is required is a dip in their waters.

Thus, if a person bathes in the river Apaga and the river Sarasvati, he reaps the fruits of the Agnistoma sacrifice. A person who offers ablutions to gods and manes at the confluence of the Sona and the Jyotiratha obtains the merit of the Agnistoma. The rewards of the Agnistona and Atiratra sacrifices are gained if one observes fast on the banks of the river Aruna. A bath in the river Drsadvati and ablutions to gods and manes on her banks brings the benefits of the Agnis toma and Atirätra sacrifices, and a bath in the confluence of the river Aruna and the Sarasvati brings the fruits of the same sacrifices.

Whoever takes a bath on the twelth of the bright half of Magha in the Urvasi-Kunda on the Bhasmãcala, which is a hill in the river Brahmaputra, obtains the merit of performing the Avamedha sacrifice. A dip in the river Jayanti earns a person the fruits of the Rajasuya sacrifice. The river Kausiki grants the rewards of the Rajasuya sacrifice to a person who resorts to her.

The river Gandaki and the river Venna bestow the merits of the Vajyapeya sacrifice to a person who bathes in them. A dip in the river Bähuda yields the benefits of a sacrifice. A bath in the confluence of the Payosni with the river Maha brings the rewards of performing one hundred sacrifices.

A person who offers ablutions to gods and manes on the banks of the Venna obtains a chariot drawn by peacocks and swans.

One of the inherent abilities of the rivers in the early literatures which continued to be further emphasized in the Purãnic literaure is their capability of washing away sins. In RV 10.17.10, the rivers have been regarded as destroyers of sins and defilements, and it is solicited that the mother rivers purify and brighten the worshippers by their holy waters. This aspect of holiness of the rivers in removing sins has found ample expression in the post-Vedic Purãnic literature where it is patently said that almost all important rivers are capable of removing sins (MBh 3.82. 113; 135; 8.3.55; Matsyp., 185.11; Padmp., Adikhanda, 41.4; Vamanp., SM, 15.47; Varahp., 144.9; etc.).

If a person observes fast on the banks of the river Arunä and bathes in her water, he is absolved of even the greatest sins like brahmahatyã, and his family up to the seventh generation is purified. Even the demons became free from demonhood after drinking the water of the Aruna.

King Bhimaratha of Ayodhyã had once killed, unknowingly, a Brähmana couple. To get rid of the sin, the king practised penance and propitiated Siva. Siva, being pleased, asked the king to seek a boon. The king saw that Siva was full of fatigue and three were drops of sweat on his forehead. (Siva, after killing the demon Tripura, had come to Bhimasankara for rest). Bhimaratha requested Siva to turn his drops of sweat into a river. Siva did so. This became the river Bhima. The king bathed in the river and was condoned of the sin. The confluence of the Drsadvati with the Kausiki is so sacred that when a person bathes there he is freed from all sins. By merely seeing the water of the Gandaki one,s sins of mind (manasa-papa), by touching her water one,s sins of bad deeds (duskarma), and by drinking her water one,s sins of speech (vacika-papa) are burnt. A person who bathes in the Sangama of the rivers Kalika and Sarayu is absolved of all sins. One who keeps fast on the banks of the river Kumaradhärä and bathes in her is forgiven even for the sin of brahmahatya. One who takes a dip in the river Salunkini gets his sins remitted and he obtains his desired loka. Indra had killed Vrtra who was a Brahmana. Due to his this sin, Sri deserted him. He bathed in the river Samanga and was pardoned of the sin and he regained his lost glory. He bathed in the river Arunä and became free from the sin of killing Namuci. A person who fasts for three nights and bathes in the confluence of the Arunä and the Sarasvati is freed from the sin of brahmahatya and his family up to the seventh generation is cleansed of all defilements. Bathing on the Paurnamasi of the month of Mägha at Galitesvara on the river Tapi brings virtues equal to donating ten lakhs gold coins at Puskara.

The rivers are regarded as an effective source of removing .ugliness and bringing lustre to one who bathes in them. Even the gods resort to the rivers. Skanda repented because he had pierced the mt. Kraunca who was his own brother where Mahisãsura had been hiding. Skanda thereupon lost his lustre. Visnu advised him to go to the tirtha Prthudaka and bathe in the river Oghavati. Skanda did so, and regained his splendour. The king Pururavas practised penance on the banks of the river Haimavati to get rid of his ugliness (Matsyp. 115) and regained his handsomeness. (See under Airävati for the story). Kubera became the lord of wealth after bathing in the Godävari. Indra once lost his positon of the king of gods. He regained it after he was sprinkled with the water of the Godavari. When the lustre of Rsi Paraurãma had dimmed by the arrow of Rãma, the Rsi secured it only after bathing in the river Vadhusara.

From the above details, a pertinent purpose of Sanskrit writers emerges. They may have intended to prescribe baths in a river with a view to aiming at and emphasizing on a person,s physical hygiene under the garb of religion, and also preventing him from polluting the rivers.

The rivers are deemed to have the power of removing the harmful effects of poison and curing snake bite. The river Sarasvati makes poison flow away (RV 6.61.3) and in RV 6.61.4 she is invoked to eliminate the effects of poison. The rivers are prayed to wash off the poison of snakes (AV 10.4.20). In Visnu p.4.3.10, it is said that the very name of Narmadä blots out the fear of snakes. The same Puräna (ibid) mentions a story wherein the Narmada is empowered with such a boon. (See under Narmadä).

The rivers are also regarded as capable of curing diseases. The waters are regarded as physicians (AV 6.24.2). The rivers are invoked to cure diseases named Sipada and Simida (RV 7.50.4). Kausikasutra 30.13 employs AV 6.24, which is a prayer to the river, for removing heart ailments hrdaya-dosa), dropsy (jalodara) and jaundice (kamala). A person who bathes in the river Ambuvasya gets cured of all diseases. The water of the river Satadru also cures diseases.

The waters of some of the rivers are regarded medicinal. The water of the Satadru is appetising (päcanam). The water of the Yamuna produces heat and wind in the body, and it is also digestive. The water of the Godävari cures leprosy, consumption, blood-pressure and indigestion. The water of the Gañga is cool, sweet, appetizing and digestive. It enhances intelligence. The water of the Narmadã is light and cool, and it pacifies heat and bile.

There is a practice among the village folk. If a person suffers from a particular neck-disease (gandamala in Hindi), a vow is made to the river Ganga that if the person is cured, the river would be worshipped with a rite known as gañgä mai ki mala (garland for mother Ganga). After the initial rites are performed on the bank of the river, the performer with other participants goes to the other bank of the Gañga meausring the entire breadth of the river with a huge garland. The remaining rites are performed on reaching the other bank.

It is efficacious to take bath in a river daily. It is more efficacious on certain auspicious days of a month. A bath in Ganga on the full-moon days of Asadha, Kärtika, Magha, and Vaisäkha brings great merit (punya). One acquires holiness after a bath in the Ganga on the seventh of the bright-half of Magha, on a Aksayatithi, on the Amavasya days, on the day of Sankränti and on the days of solar and lunar eclipses. A dip in the water of Kaveri accrues the fruit of donating one thousand cows. Bathing in the confluence of the rivers Veda and the Krsna produces merit equal to donating ten thousand cows, or donating land. One who bathes in the river Payosni at Kotitirtha and has darsana of Kotesvara there, gets the benefits of giving away a hundred thousand kapila cows. A bath in the river Varada brings rewards of donating one thousand cows.

A person, desirous of a son, should bathe in the Yamuna on each Srävana-naksatra for a year. He would get a son like Parasara. A bath in the Tapi-sagara-sangama on the Amavasya of the month of Margasirsa yields great rewards. Bathing at Galitesvara on the Tapi on the Paurnamäsi of Magha brings benefits equal to donating ten million gold coins at Puskara.

The rivers are imbued with purity, sanctity, and divine powers. They are efficient means to bring salvation and also to enable one to go to the imperishable world (Aksaya-loka) and to the abodes of gods, such as, Brahmaloka, Indraloka, Vis nuloka, Rudraloka, Suryaloka, and Soma (Candra) loka, etc.

An offering of Syamaka grains into the river Apaga to gods and manes brings great religious merits, and an offering of cooked rice balls (pindas) to the manes in the month of Bhadrapada in that river brings salvation. A person who bathes in the Narmadä and fasts there for a night liberates himself and his one hundred ancestors. A bath in the river Tamraparni frees a person from the cycle of births and deaths.

One who observes fast, consuming only air, on the banks of the river Kausiki goes to the heaven in twenty-one days. It is enjoined in MBh, Aranyakaparva, 85.94 and many Puränas that the charred bones and ashes of the burnt body of a dead person should be cast in the river Ganga. It enables the person not only to go to the heaven but also stay there as long as the bones remain in the water of the Ganga.

An ablution of water to the manes in the Mahanadi entitles a person to secure Aksaya-loka. A person who bathes in the river Ambuvasya goes to the Brahmaloka. A dip in the river Gandaki and also in the river Kampana enables one to go to the Suryaloka. Somaloka is gained by bathing in the river Candrabhaga. The river Sakrnnandä makes one,s soul pious and he attains Indraloka. One who stays on the banks of the river Visalya obtains Rudraloka. The river Narmada enables a person to secure Rudraloka.

The rivers are venerated as divine beings, so much so that many important gods of Hinduism are associated with them, or they actually dwell in them in one form or the other. Thus, Vamana lives in the river Airãvati in the form of Rupadhara. Brahmvp, Prakrtikhanda, 11.12 mentions that Ganga is the beloved of Krsna. She is regarded as a portion (amsa) of Radha. Ganga married Krsna (Ibid., 10.114). However, it is Siva who is more prominently associated with Gañgä.

Visnu lives in most of the rivers in different forms. It may be pointed out that in the Vedic literature, it is Indra who is mostly associated with the rivers. The rivers are wives of Indra (RV 5.42.12) and he is their lord (RV 10.180.1.). The rivers obey Indra,s commands (RV 1. 109.3) and never violate his authority (RV 7.47.3). Indra, however, has never been associated with any particualr river. In the post-Vedic Puränic literature, that place has been taken by Visnu. Ganga is Visnu,s wife (Brahm VP, Prakrtikhanda, 6. 17). The rivers Varanä and Asi have risen from the two toes of Yogasayi (Visnu) (Vamanp, 3.27.28). Vamanp., 63.7 mentions different forms of Visnu who live in the rivers. A few of them may be motioned here.

Visnu lives in the river Bhima in the form of Sañkukarna, and in the river Devika as Bhudhara. The river Gandaki once practised penance and pleased Visnu for a boon. She chose to become his mother. Visnu granted and said that he would remain in the form of Salagramas (stones in a special shape found in the bed of the Gandaki) with her and would be worshipped in that form as her son. (For the importance of SaIagrama, see Padmp., Pätalakhanda, 4.20.16 ff). Visnu lives in the river Mahakosi as a hamsa. He lives in the river Mahodaki as Kusapriya, as Akhanda in the river Payosni, as Sambhu in the Sarayu, as Rukmakavaca in the Sona, as Dvijapriya in the river Vipãsa, as Kumärila in the Vitastä, and as Srikantha in the river Yamunä. In fact, it is said in the Padmp., Bhumikhanda, 39.46-47 that all rivers, whether flowing through a village or a forest, are holy and that if no name of a tirtha on rivers is known, it should be called Visnutirtha.

Some of the incarnatious of Visnu had taken place on the rivers. Agnip. 2.4 mentons that Manu had found the fish (of the Matsyavatara of Visnu) in the river Krtamälä. The ship sailed up to the Satidesa which is now known as Kashmir. In the legend of Delgue, Visnu had become Matsya. The ship (nau) in which the creatures were carried was in fact goodess Durga. The ship was carried to the west of the Banhal Pass in the Pir Pantsal range to the highest peak called Nau-bandhana-tirtha.

Visnu,s Varahavatära took place on the right bank of the river Vitasta at Varähamula (now called Baramula) on the Sukara-ksetra situated about fifty kms from Srinagar.

There was a demon named Guha. He practised penance to propitiate Brahmä. Guha sought a boon that neither Visnu nor Siva could be able to kill him. Brahmä granted the boon. Puffed up with the boon, Guha started persecuting gods and men. Because of the boon, it was necessary for Visnu and Siva to have a combined form to kill the demon. They became Harihara. It is stated that the Harihara incarnaton had taken place at Kudlur where the river Tungabhadra meets the river Haridra.

Asvakranta is a tirtha on the northern bank of the river Brahmaputra. It is said that when Krsna came to Pragjyotisa (modern Assam), he rested on this hill with his horse. This is tirtha sacred to Janardana. To the south of Asvakranta is situated the lake Asvitirtha. The tirtha is also associated with the Kalki incarnation of Visnu.

Besides gods, the rivers are associated with the humans also as their spouses and wives. The story of the marriage of Ganga with king Santanu is well-known (MBh, Adiparva, 1.91; 92 and Devibhp. 2.3;4). King Matinara performed a twelve-year long sattra on the bank of the river Sarasvatii. After the completion of the sacrifice, she married the king. Tamsu was born out of this marriage. The river Suktimati flowed by the capital city of king Uparicara. The mount Kolahala sought the river Suktimati who was in deep love with her. The king did not like this, and struck the mountain with his foot. The river came out of the embrace of Kolähala. But by that time she had already conceived. In due course, she gave birth to a twins. The river gave both the children to the king. He appointed the male child as the General of his army, and married the female named Girikä. The river Tapi, daughter of Vivasvan, married king Samvarana and begot a son named Kuru.

Kunti (of the Mahabharata) is said to have left the infant Karna in a casket (manjusã) in the river Asvanadi.

Many tithas (holy places of pilgrimage) are situated near or on the banks of the rivers. These tirthas have been mentioned, in this work, along with the descriptions of the individual rivers. An Index of the tirthas has also been added.

Some of the Jyotirlingas are found on the banks of the rivers and their sources. At Bhimasañkara, the source of the river Bhima, there is the famous Jyotirlinga. At the village Tryambaka, which is the source of the Godãvari, there is the Jyotirlinga called Tryambakesvara. On the island of Mandhätä, in the river Narmada, stands the famous temple of Omkãranätha which is one of the twelve Jyotirlingas. The famous Jyotirlinga of Mahakäla is found in Ujjayini (Ujjain) on the bank of the river Sipra.

Many Asramas (hermitages) of the Ris and Munis were situated on the banks of the rivers. The hermitage of Rsi Arstas ena was situated on the bank of the river Asvarathä. Rsi Bharadvaja had his Asrama on the confluence of the Ganga and the Yamuna. Kusadhvaja, brother of king Janaka, lived in the city Sañkaya on the bank of the river lksumati. The Asrama of sage Kapila was situated on the river Kapiladhara. (This Kapila is different from Rsi Kapila of Sagaropakhyana). The holy Naimisaranya of the Mahabhãrata and the Purana fame was situated on the bank of the river Drsadvati. The famous pancavati where Räma, Sita, and Laksmana had spent their exile is situated on the bank of the Godävari near Nashik. The town Wai (in Maharashtra) is situated on the river Krsna. Wai is identified with Viratanagari where Pändavas had spent the 13th year of their exile incognito (ajnatavasa). Rsi Usanas, the preceptor of the Asuras, practised penance on the bank of the river Oghavati and there he secured the knowledge of Sañjivani (a kind of elixir which can restore the dead to life) from Siva. Rsi Dachici practised penance on the bank of the Sarasvati.

It is believed that Brahma meditated at the tirtha Prthudaka present Pehoa) on the Sarasvati at the time of the creation of universe. Sri Krsna with Baladeva and Sudäma, had his education in the Asrama of sage Sandipani on the bank of the river Sipra. The famous Sriñgerimatha is on the left bank of the river ‘Tuñga (a branch of the river Tuñgabhadra).

According to tradition, the fight between gaja (elephant) and graha (alligator) had taken place at Sonapur on the river Sona Bhagp. 8.2.3). However, according to Varahp. 144. 116f, the fight had taken place at the confluence of the Devika, the Gandaki and the Ganga.

It was on the bank of the river Tamasa where Välmiki had witnessed the Krauñca-vadha (shooting of the bird krauñca by a flower) and where the Rsi cursed the fowler in a verse in the Anustubh metre which became the first verse of its kind. Valmiki later composed the great epic Rãmayana.

Many demons were killed on the banks of the rivers. The demons Madhu and Kaitabha were killed by Visnu on the hill Bhasmakuta (or Bhasmäcala) in the river Brahmaputra. It is said that Kmadeva was burnt into ashes on this hill by the fire of the third eye of Siva.

The demon Dhundu practised penance and obtained a boon from Brahma that he would not be killed by anyone including gods. The boon was granted. Dhundu went to the Svargaloka and declared himself Indra. The gods repaired to the Brahmaloka. He wanted also to capture Brahmaloka. Sukracarya, preceptor of demons, advised him to perform a hundred Asvamedha sacrifices to be able to go to the Brahmaloka. The bank of the river Devika was selected as the site for the yajña. The gods were alarmed and approached Visnu for succour. Visnu took the form of a dwarf (vãmana), left his body in the river Devika and began drowning. Dhundu left the sacrifice and rushed to rescue Visnu. On being enquired, the Brahmana said that he was kicked out of his house penniless by his brother. Dhundu offered him money but the Brahmana wanted only three steps of land. Dhundu granted. The Brahmana (Vamana) measured the entire universe in his three steps. Dhundu was humbled.

It is held that near the mouth of the river Mahi, god Siva had killed the demon Andhaka. It is also believed that Skanda had killed Tãrakasura at the Stambha-tirtha (present Cambay or Khambhat) which is situated on the confluence of the Mahi with the sea. Narmada issued forth from the tears of joy that Siva shed after killing Andhaka. As mentioned earlier, the Harihara incarnaton of Visnu and Siva had taken place at Kudlur where the river Tuñgabhadra meets the river Haridra.

Sanskrit works dealing with rites and rituals enjoin that Sräddha (rites for ancestors) should be performed and dana should be given on the banks of the rivers. The performance of Sräddha, Homa, and Japa on the river Dasarna brings great rewards. The river Gandhakali is regarded as the daughter of the Pitrs. Hence, it is beneficial to perform Sraddha on her banks. Narmadä is also regarded as the mind-born daughter of the Pitrs named Somapas. Sräddha performed on her banks brings great rewards to the performer. It is very efficacious to give Dana and perform Sräddha on the banks of the river Kausiki. The performance of Sraddha on the river Phalgu in Gaya accrues to the performer great punya.

One marvels at the ingenious creative powers of the Purãnic and post-Puranic Sanskrit authors who have shown unique and extra-ordinary imaginations in inventing sources of the origin and rise of the rivers, other than mountains and lakes, although they knew very well the actual and natural sources of the rivers. But in mythological parlance, Sanskrit authors have brought out many stories and legends as sources for the rivers to appear on the earth and thus they have enriched Hindu mythoogy enormously.

Bhimaratha was the king of Ayodhya. Once, while hunting, he unknowingly shot an arrow at a Brahmana couple who were sporting in the form of a doe and a dear. To expiate the sin, the king was advised to get the river Bhima on the earth. Lord Siva, after defeating the demon Tripura, had come down to Bhimasankara for rest. The king came from Ayodhya to Bhimasankara to practise penance and to propitiate Siva. Siva pleased, and asked the king to seek a boon. The king saw Siva was very tired and drops of sweat had appeared on his fore-head. Bhimaratha requested Siva to turn the drops into a river. Siva did so. This became the river Bhima named after the King. The king bathed in the river and was absolved of the sin.

Visnu once practised penance for the welfare of the mankind. A stream of perspiration dripped from his ganda (cheek). It became the river Gandaki. The river Mahi had her source in the sweat running down from the body of king Indrayumna of Ujjain. There is another source for the origin of the river Mahi.

A young Gurjar girl used to churn curds. A young man used to gaze at her. The Gurjar girl could not bear this and out of embarrassment threw herself into the pot of curds. The pot overflowed and a river came out. That is the river Mahi.

Once Siva with Umä practised penance on the mt. Rksa. Sweat dripped from his body which turned into a river. That river is Narmada, also called Rudriya.

Visnu, as Varaha, killed the demon Hiranyaksa who had seized the earth and plunged it into the water. Visnu fought with the demon with his tusk and lifted the earth. In the fight, Varaha had perspiration trickling down from his high (tunga) left tusk. That became the river Tuñga. The sweat dripping from his right tusk which was firm and steady (bhadra) became the river Bhadra. And the stream coming down from his eye became the river Netravati.

Siva went to the site of the sacrifice of Daksa where Parvati had burnt herself. Siva was furious. Seeing his wrath, the Vasus melted out of fear, and a river flowed. It became the river Sita. Siva was very much agrieved at the death of Pärvati, and he sighed so heavily that a cloud of vapour rose in the sky from his body and flowed down. It became the river Vaitarani.

 

Contents

 

  Transliteration ix
  Introduction xi
1 Rivers 1-156
2 Abbreviations & Bibliography 157-159
3 List of Mountains 160-162
4 Index of Rivers 163-175
5 Index of Tirthas & Temple 176-179
6 General Index 180-188
     

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by Mandira Ghosh
Hardcover (Edition: 2007)
Shubhi Publications
Item Code: IDK078
$50.00
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The Mighty and Mystical Rivers of India
Item Code: IDE359
$25.00
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