The Ganges in Myth and History

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Item Code: IDC935
Author: Steven G. Darian
Publisher: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Pvt. Ltd.
Language: English
Edition: 2010
ISBN: 9788120817616
Pages: 236 (B/W Illustrations 52)
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 8.5" x 5.5"
Weight 310 gm
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Book Description

From the Back of the Book

No river has kindled Man's imagination like the Ganges.

From its icy origins high in the Himalayas, this sacred river flows through the holy cities and the great plains of northern India to the Bay of Bengal.

In a country where the red heat of summer inspires prayer for the coming monsoon, the life-giving waters of the Ganges have assumed legendary powers in the form of the Hindu goddess Ganga, the source of creation and abundance. Pilgrims flock to her shores to cleanse and purify themselves, to cure ailments, and to die that much closer to paradise.

Steven Darian writes to the human experience and the legendry myths that surrounded the Ganges. The inspiration of poets and artists for centuries, the mysterious Ganga is the essence of the Divine Mother bringing increase and salvation, but also death and destruction.

Nowhere are her powers felt more that in Bengal where Hindu and Moslem practices coalesce in worship of the capricious Ganga. Here the shifting riverbed of the great Ganges has built and plague as well as life and benediction to the people.

While collecting material for this book, Dr. Darian lived by the Ganges, explored her shores, and was a pilgrim to the Ganga Sagar festival at Sagar Island off Calcutta where the sacred river and the ocean merge.

About the Author

Steven G. Darian, professor of linguistics and comparative literature at Rutgers University, holds a doctorate in linguistics from New York University and degrees in applied linguistics, Asian studies, and creative writing. He taught at Columbia Educational Project in Afghanistan and has contributed to major professional journals. His previous book was English as a Foreign Language.



A sound and comprehensive study of the Ganga in all its aspects has long been a desideratum for no river in the world’s history has achieved such fame as the sacred river of India the Nile is its only possible rival. From its origins in the cold Himalayan peaks to its merging with the ocean in the bay of Bengal in all its majestic length it forms the main artery carrying the lifeblood of northern India. Surely there is not a river anywhere in the world which has not something of beauty and mystery something of poetry about it. And no river is endowed with these qualities in such full measure as the Ganga. It is not in the least surprising that ancient Indians thought of the Ganga as sacred goddess in her own right descending from the head of the great god Siva himself.

Dr. Darian is at least figuratively speaking a convinced devotee of that goddess. He has traveled her banks for their full length and has lived among those who dwell by her side. He evidently loves her with an intensity which few modern Indians can match. This book offers a wealth of information about the geography, history and religious significance of the Ganga. It is important both as a scholarly study and as a work of interpretation that explores the hidden relationships between Indian art and religion. But thanks to his deep love for his subject and his excellent literary gifts. Dr. Darian has also conveyed something of the grandeur and poetry of the Ganga to his readers. and indirectly nearly all aspects of India’s history and culture are touched on in these pages reflected in the clear sunlit waters of the sacred river.



In the Beginning there was no mythology there was no art. There was only experience to the early Aryan settlers of the Ganges valley the river loomed massive and omnipresent. Its waters nourished its current allowed communication with other settlements old and new its route pointed ever east toward some un-known fulfillment. As civilization grew on its banks and cities rose Ganga became more and more a part of the Indian ethos. With the flourishing of commerce and agriculture its water was called upon for a thousand functions. Just as in love few men can resist an utterly devoted woman so people came to worship the river that offered them so much. From the time of the Vishnu Dharma shastra in the third century A.D. Ganga has played a vital role in Hindu ceremony in rituals of birth and initiation of marriage and death. As a goddess she has moved among the great celestials of Hinduism at times the child of Brahma the wife of Shiva the metaphysical product of Vishnu or mother to the Vasus and to Karttikeya god of war. But ever and always she confets a benediction. She shares none of the chthonian affinities associated with kali or Durga or the sepulchral goddess of Greece. Even in the underworld the river has pointed the way to paradise.

In time the fame and sanctity of Ganga reached the western world. she became the goal of Alexander the great who regarded the river as the farthest limits of the earth. Alexander hoped to reach the Ganges and then continuing east return to Europe by sailing through the pillars of Hercules, Virgil, Ovid, and dance all mention Ganga. The river also played a unique role in medieval thought. With a curious blend of scripture and classical geography the Church fathers came to regard Ganga as the Phison first river of Eden. The belief prevailed throughout the Middle ages accepted by such great figures as St. Augustine, Ambrose, and Jerome. It remained until the end of the fifteenth century when Columbus on his fourth voyage to the New world touched the coast of panama and thought he heard the natives speak of the great river Ganges which lay ten days journey from the coast.

Ganga’s power is felt more in Bengal than elsewhere along its course. Here its shifting current has created and destroyed great cities its changing distribution of silt has left entire regions desolate. It is no wonder then that Ganga plays a prominent part in the literature and folk religion of the delta.

With the general reader in mind I have omitted the diacritics normally used for transliterating Sanskrit works into English I have retained them however in the notes and the index.

In this book I have tried to present the image of Ganga in her totality. The Rig Veda reminds us that god is one we call him by many names. In the smay way the river is one. It is no history or art, geography or literature but all these and always something more. It this study has led me beyond my poor powers. I have followed for a single reason to preserve that oneness.




  Illustrations ix
  Foreword xiii
  Preface xv
  Acknowledgements xvii
1 The Source 1
2 The Waters of Creation 14
3 The Indus Legacy 39
4 The Settlers 48
5 Ganga and Sarasvati: the Transformation of Myth 58
6 Ganga and Artemis: Two Versions of a single theme 69
7 The New Vision 79
8 The Rise of Ganges Civilization 89
9 Ganga Shiva, and the Hindu Temple 97
10 The Image of Ganga in Indian Art 114
11 The Ganges in Bengal 135
12 The Image of Ganga in the west 161
  Notes 185
  Bibliography 205
  Index 217

Sample Pages

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