Today we cannot imagine an India without the Ganga
. Yet there was a time, according to Mahabharata
and Ramayana, when there was no Ganga on earth - at least not until King Bhagiratha brought her here. He did it to redeem the souls of his ancestors, the arrogant sons of Sagara, who were burnt to ashes by the wrath of Sage Kapila whom they had offended. Since they had died without their last rites being performed they were doomed to suffer in hell. Later, the Sage relented and told Amsuman, Bhagiratha's grandfather, that if Ganga in all her purity were brought to earth and made to touch the ashes of the sons of Sagara, their sins would be washed away and they would go to heaven. (perhaps the Hindu custom of offering a sip of water from the sacred river Ganga to a dying or dead person as part of the last rites had its origin in this myth). Neither Amsuman, nor his son Dilipa after him, succeded in their attempts to bring the sacred river to earth. The stupendous feat was achieved by the single-minded preseverance of Bhagiratha. That is the mythological tale as told in Mahabharata and Ramayana. Mythology is not all fact, we know, but yet, in its vast poetic exaggeration, one can always trace an outline of truth. The presence of the Rajasthan desert, in close proximity to the Indo-Gangetic plain makes it plausivle that perhaps there was a time when there was no Ganga in India. It is not difficult then to visualise what agonies the people there must have suffered without the blessed water. If that had been so, then Bhagiratha's task of bringing Ganga to earth was indeed a colossal one, and one that merits all that has been sung and said about it in the epics.