Ganga is held by Indians as a sanctifying river goddess. She is revered as holy mother, granting emancipation from the worldly weals and woes. Apart from the fascinating lores written in the Puranas about Ganga, she has always been looked upon as an epitome of Indian culture, as great cultural traditions flourished on her banks. Many saints and poets have paid high tributes to Ganga in their poems which are essentially in the form of prayers, psalms or eulogies. She has penetrated very depth of Indian psyche.
Dr. Ambashankar Nagar has culled the essential features from several puranic episodes and has presented a well-knit integrated homogeneous story flowing from the ancient past to modern times. Though steeped in tradition it is modern to the core. He has highlighted three important aspects of Ganga as a river, as a woman, and as Indian culture as well. She is a well wisher of mankind bestowing peace and prosperity.
Most of the poems written on Holy Ganga in Sanskrit and Hindi are in the form of prayers, hymns and psalms. They glorify the holiness of Ganga and sacredness of its water. This poem precisely is based on the ancient lores of Ganga in which she is depicted both as river and woman and an epitome of culture as well. Why did she become a woman from river and had to become river again is the theme of this poem “Holy Ganga”.
Ramayana, Mahabharata, Bhagavata and other puranas have looked upon Ganga as a living goddess. In puranas she has several names such as Vishnu-priya, Brahama-tanaya, Shiva-ranjani, Mahabhisha-priya, Shailaja, Jahnu-Kanya, Bhishma-mata etc. so many episodes are written describing the relevance of these names in the form of stories. It is not possible to go through all of them, yet I have selected some events from some of these and woven the present poem “Holy Ganga”.
One significant aspect of India’s ancient lores or purana-kathas is that both the inanimate and animate beings have been narrated as living human beings. Not only birds and animals but mountains, rivers and hills, trees and foliage also have been personified as gods and goddesses. Air, fire, sun, clouds, lighting, dawn, night etc. have been described in the Vedic lores as human beings with divine qualities. In Padma Purana even the earth has been looked upon as a goddess, the consort of Vishnu. Brahma Purana describes the marriage of Shiva in which on the invitation of Himavanta the animate and inanimate beings all attend the marriage as living beings.
In the modern context none will be credulous enough to believe in these lores. It is not desirable either. We must understand the symbolic meaning of these myths.
To endow the natural phenomenon with human emotions has been the common practice in the stories of the Puranas. For example Ganga has been depicted as daughter of Himalaya or consort of ocean. It only means that Ganga river has its source in the Himalaya and merges in the sea at Ganga Sagar. Even in the stories of other Puranas we have to interpret their symbolic meanings and significance.
All the Puranas, history and epic poems are full of praises for milky sparkling Ganga River. Even science has acknowledged the efficacy of its waters. Ganga indeed is the great river which irrigates the soil of India and makes it highly fertile right from Gangotri in the Himalayas to Gangasagar in the Bay of Bengal. Ganga is the contributary of food and water to entire north India. She is rightly reckoned as “Anna Purna”. Most of the important cities and towns of North India are built on the Banks of Ganga or its tributaries. Our great culture and ancient empires have flourished on its banks. Ganga river plays an important role of National integration as it strings together the different States of India in a garland. It acts like a cultural bridge, between states.
Students of geography know that the land between 20° to 40° latitude is mostly desert, like that of Mexico, Arabia, Africa, Sahara, Mangolia etc. if river Ganga did not flow in the region between aforesaid latitudes in North India, it would likewise have been an arid desert. It is very natural, therefore, that people residing near its banks sing its praises and look upon it as benevolent goddess, bestowing its sacred waters to them. It is precisely for this reason that Puranas, history and epic poems extol its greatness.
The wheel of time rotates very fast. We observe that even in a country where once flowed rivers of milk and honey strange changes are taking place. Even water is now sold in bottles. The problem of water is becoming critical everyday. The futurists tell us that in future, wars will be fought not for wealth and land but for sharing of water. It is quite natural that in these conditions we should be drawn towards the sacred water of Ganga for refuge.
Just as we have draughts now, in olden days also there must have been crisis of water due to scanty rainfall. This condition must have been tided over by the perennial flow of Ganga. I conjecture that the story of “Descent of Ganga” is a symbolic lore of solving the problem of water shortage.
Emperor Sagar, belonging to the solar dynasty “Surya Vanshi” had sixty thousand sons, grandsons and great grandsons. They must have planned to harness the water of Ganga from the Himalayas and bring it down on the planes towards Bay of Bengal and merge in ocean at the confluence of Ganga Sagar. This must have been the greatest and unique engineering performance of that era. Several generations of hard working people must have labored towards this end. At last under the able leadership of king Bhagirath, there must have been well planned project to enable Ganga to descend from Gangotri to planes for about 2650 kilometers irrigating the land all along with its ambrosial water, finally reaching Ganga Sagar.
Thereafter, on its banks were established great empires and kingdoms and culture developed. Rama, Krishna, Pratipa Shantanu and Bhishma and galaxy of great men must have ruled. Their glories are sung in the Ramayana, Mahabharata, Bhagavata and other Puranas. This poem “Holy Ganga” is based on the symbolic narration of the ancient lores of goddess Ganga. It is presented again in the form of an epic poem.
This poem is not based on any one story depicted in the puranas but on several stories found in the ancient lores. It is like the ancient Tilottama whose beauty is culled from several sources in parts, to create a lovely image of undying beauty. Like wise the events are inter woven in this poem.
The first reference to Ganga is found in the “Nadi Sukta” of Rigveda. There after in the Shatpath Brahmana, Aitreya Brahmana and in the Ramayana of Adi Kavi (Primal poet) Balmiki and later in Mahabharata and Bhagavata. Later on it is alluded to in practically all the puranas. Its glory is extolled in them as absolving people of their sins. The great poet Kalidas, Pandit Jagannath, divine Shankaracharya, Bhartrihari and other eminet poets have sung its glories all along.
The Hindi poets of Bhakti kala and Riti kala have written several poems emphasizing the importance of Ganga and its water, in the form of verses, devotional songs and Bhajans. Pandit Jagannath has written the poem Gangalahari in Sanskrit and Ratnakar the poem (Descent of Ganga) in Brajbhasha. Moreover poems on Ganga are written in all Indian Languages. Folk songs are resplendent with literature on Ganga..
The theme of the Ganga in this epic poem is rather different. Ganga is the Nayika or principal character or heroine of this poem. She is presented both as a river and as a woman and as culture as well. On the one hand she emanates from the toe nail of Vishnu, held in the pot of Brahma, residing in the matted hair of three eyed Shiva, dwelling in the belly of Jahnu Rishi, treading the path laid down by Bhagiratha and redeemer of the sons of Sagar. It is a great river of sacred water. She is also daughter of Brahma, of Bhagirath, Vishnu Priya, Shivaranjani, daughter-in law of king Pratip, wife of Shantanu and also mother of Vasus and Bhishma. Thus she is depicted as a woman, at the same time as a river flowing perennially from time immemorial till day, unobstructed, carrying the universal message of Indian Culture.
She is not only “Tridhara”, the commingling three currents of Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati but also trinity of knowledge, devotion and dynamic action. Thus she leads us from darkness into light, from the finite to the infinite, from diversity to unity from dualism to monism or advaita. She is indeed the great liberator, the very embodiment of Indian culture.
Today the country is faced with critical water-shortage problem. Water is verily life. It is due to Ganga that India is reckoned as a land which is full of water and orchards. It is stated in the purana that Ganga has descended from heaven on earth, only for five thousand years and on completion of this duration she will ascend to heaven again. It is befitting to draw the attention of society to free Ganga from pollution and restore it to its pristine glory. This also has been one of the aim of this poem “Holy Ganga”.
I was inspired to write this poem on the suggestions made by my friend Sri Jaikishandas Sadani of Calcutta and it was further emphasized by Patita Pawandas (Dr. Davis, Professor of Hardward University) whom I met during my visit to America. He was all praise for Hindu India and above all the Holy Ganga. He desires to leave USA (America) and come to India and reside in a hut on the banks of Ganga. I offer sincere thanks to both these friends. It is their inspiration that made me write this poem.
This epic poem is composed in the prose-poem metre called Vritta Gandhi chhand in Hindi. Hence it is a metrical poem as well as blank verse. It is my faith that metre or chhanda will return in poetry of 21st century and epic poems will depict the symbolic message of myths. Mine is an effort in this direction in the poem “Holy Ganga.”
Prior to the publication of this monograph, Acharya Raghunath Bhatt, Prof. Bhagwat Prasad Mishra, Dr. Kishore Kabra and Sri Jaikishandas Sadani read the manuscript and gave very valuable suggestions, for which I am grateful to them. I am also grateful to Bharatiya Vidya Mandir and Shree Vithal Das Mundhra for publication of this book.
I am extremenly thankful to Shri Jaikishandas Sadani for translating my epic Hindi Poem “Patit Pawani” as “Holy Ganga” in English. Shri Sadani is an eminent scholar, writer and a poet. His translations of Hindi classics are highly appreciated in India and abroad. I express my since gratitude towards him for selecting my epic for translation in English. It is so perfectly done that it maintains well the verve and vigour of the original. This translation will acquaint the English readership with the high regard and reverence, Indians hold for Ganga as a great redeemer of mankind.
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