Ganga, the River Goddess is the only living goddess in the Hindu pantheon. There are numerous stories regarding the birth and origin of this goddess. According to the beliefs, Ganga descends on the earth to rinse away the sins of the mankind. Ganga is the sacred river and has been referred to in the various ancient texts of Hindus. It is believed that Ganga used to flow in the heaven and sanctify gods with her holy waters.
River Ganges is repeatedly invoked in the Puranas, the Vedas, the
Ramayana and the Mahabharata. The story of Ganga's descent on the Earth
appears slightly different in Ramayana, Mahabharata and the Puranas.
According to one story, Ganga is also considered as the sister of
Parvati, the consort of Lord Shiva being one of the two daughters of
Himavat and Meru. According to another legend, Indra had asked for Ganga
to be given to heaven to calm the Gods with her cool waters.
One story states that the sacred water in Brahma's Kamandalu (water-vessel)
is personified as a maiden, Ganga. Another legend tells that Brahma had
respectfully washed the feet of Vishnu and collected this water in his
Kamandalu. Being the part of the Kamandalu of Lord Brahma, Ganga is one
of the Shaktis of the supreme Goddess Mahamaya Adishakti.
Ganga Origin - Story of Bhagiratha
This is the most popular story regarding the origin of river Ganga. The
story goes far back when King Sagar magically acquired sixty thousand
sons. Once, King Sagar organized Ashwamedh Yagna, a ritual of worship
for the benefit of the kingdom. Jealous Indra planned a mischief and
stole one horse from the place. King Sagar sent all his sons all over
the earth to look for the horse. They found the horse in the
nether-world standing next to Kapila Muni, a meditating sage. The
youths, were disrespectful and caused his penance to be disturbed. The
sage reduced them to ashes with his withering look.
The souls of these young men wandered as ghosts as their final rites
had not been done. On repeated repentance and requests by the
descendants of King Sagar, Kapila Muni finally relent that King Sagar's
sons would attain mukti (liberation), if their wicked remains are
cleansed by the water of the goddess Ganga. Generations of King Sagar
did penance to appease Brahma but without success and finally after much
praying, pleading and tapasya by Bhagirath - seventh generation of King
Sagar, Ganga reluctantly consents to descend to earth.
With this, Ganga found herself insulted and decided to sweep the whole
earth with her powerful fall. Troubled, Bhagiratha prayed to Shiva to
control the Ganga's descent. Lord Shiva steps in the way and trapped
Ganga in his hair. Shiva made the river fall gently through his long
hair onto the Himalayas. As Ganga moved to the nether-worlds, she
liberated the unfortunate souls of King Sagar's Sons. Since then Ganga
is sanctifying the mankind with her divine waters.