The Story of Shiva and the Goddess Ganga

Shiva bronze statue

Bronze statue of Lord Shiva bringing the Goddess Ganga down to the earth in his matted hair

Most of the images and sculpture of Lord Shiva depict the River Ganga flowing from his matted hair. As with all symbols within Hindu iconography there is an interesting tale behind Shiva and the Hindu goddess Ganga. According to Hindu mythology, there was a powerful king in India named Sagar. He decided to conduct Ashwamedha Yagya, a horse sacrifice, to declare his supremacy over the gods. The king of Heaven, Indra grew jealous of King Sagar and decided to steal the ritual horse. Indra successfully abducted the horse and tied him in the ashram of Sage Kapil, who was silently meditating for many years. King Sagar ordered his 60,000 sons to search and find his sacrificial horse. After a long search they found the horse tied at the ashram and began assaulting the great sage thinking he was the culprit who stole the horse. The sage awoke from his trance and in his anger started to destroy all the sons of king Sagar who were accosting him. Anshuman, the grandson of King Sagar, pleaded for forgiveness. The sage told him that he could save his life by bringing the sacred river Ganga down from the heavens to purify the souls of him and his ancestors and help them to attain nirvana.

King Dilip, son of Anshuman pleaded with Lord Brahma to help them bring the Ganga to earth. He failed to appease Brahma so he passed the task to his son, Bhagiratha. Bhagiratha was able to please Brahma, who ordered Ganga to descent to Earth. The furious Ganga felt this as an insult and decided to destroy Earth with her force while descending from heaven. Bhagiratha was warned by Brahma that earth will not be able to hold Ganga while descending from heaven, so he must seek the help of Lord Shiva, the only one who can withstand the power of Ganga. Bhagiratha pleaded with Lord Shiva to help him and Shiva agreed to receive Ganga in his matted locks. Ganga was arrogant and tried to drown Shiva by pushing him to the core of the earth, but the mighty Shiva easily held her in his locks.   Shiva’s tie was so strong that Ganga became helpless.

Lord Shiva wanted to teach Ganga a lesson, but instead released her in seven streams as he was satisfied with the prayers of Bhagiratha. The seven streams of Ganga are Bhagirathi, Janhvi, Bhilangana, Mandakini, Rishiganga, Saraswati and Alaknanda. Ganga became calm and followed Bhagiratha, who lead her to his ancestors and with her purity, released their souls.
There are a number of legends associated with Ganga and the different names she has at different places. This is but one.

Ganga is considered to be the most sacred river in India and it originates from the depths of Gangotri glacier. Ganga, otherwise known as Ganges, brings purity to human life. By bathing in her sacred waters one is purified to the core of their being.

Bhagiratha’s great effort in bringing Ganga to earth is known as “Bhagiratha Prayatna”. What would you consider to be the noble quality of Bhagiratha – his strong affection to his ancestors or his determination to meet any challenges to attain the ultimate goal?

Lord Krishna & Kaliya the Serpent

Brass Krishna statue

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The 8th Avatar of Lord Vishnu, Krishna came to know that a very large and poisonous serpent had made its home in a lagoon on the Yamuna River.  The serpents’ name was Kaliya.  Because the serpent was so poisonous that it killed all the fish in the river and even the trees and grass surrounding the lake were wilting from the effects of the poison.  When birds flew over the area, they immediately dropped dead and fell into the lake, due to the highly poisonous vapors emanating from the water. In that time, there were many frightful demons who had all kinds of mystic powers.  The Hindu God Krishna had specifically appeared to rid the world of all these disturbing elements.  Krishna came to this place with His cowherd boyfriends and decided to confront Kaliya, the king of the snakes.  He climbed the large Kadamba tree and from there, jumped into the poisonous waters of the Yamuna.

Brass  Krishna statue dancing on Kaliya the serpent

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Lord Krishna then began splashing about and making very loud noises just to disturb Kaliya serpent. Sure enough, Kaliya came up to the surface to see who was disturbing his domain. The huge black serpent; Kaliya (Kaliya means black) possessed over one hundred hoods, each decorated with a precious gem.  When he breathed, fire emanated from his nostrils.  He suddenly seized Krishna in his powerful coils, and bound the Lord as tightly as possible.  Unfortunately this serpent did not realize that within its coils was the Supreme Personality of Godhead, playing as a child and enjoying His earthly pastimes in the transcendental land of Vrindavana.  Without warning, Krishna, the Supreme Mystic, started to expand His body, and Kaliya, who began to feel the incredible pressure, was forced to release the Lord from his deadly coils. Krishna then jumped on to the hoods of the great serpent and started to dance, stamping His foot down on the heads of the snake demon, Kaliya.  This is the representation often seen in the Kaliya Krishna statues found in Hindu homes and temples. This stamping of Krishna, felt to Kaliya serpent like Indra’s thunderbolt striking a mountain. The Lord jumped from one hood to another, and Kaliya felt helpless and bewildered; in anger he spat fire from his many mouths but the Lord was so dexterous that His dancing movements caused the-snake to become dizzy.  After so many kicks from the Lord, Kaliya started to vomit blood before becoming almost unconscious. At that time, the many wives of the Kaliya serpent appeared and begged the Lord with folded hands to spare their husband.  Krishna decided to banish Kaliya to the great ocean never to return again.  Thereafter, the giant snake along with his wives, departed forever, and the transcendental Lord re-joined His cowherd boyfriends on the bank of the Yamuna, to continue their wonderful pastimes in the land of Vrindavana.