Imprints of Ganga
For many millennia, even though India gets her name from the Indus, i.e Sindhu River and Veda, the oldest compendium of literature in the world were compiled by the river Sarasvati, it is Ganga that has defined India. India is known as the land of the Ganga.
Coming down from the snowy heights of the Himalaya and flowing through the northern belt of India to join the Bay of Bengal in the East, this perennial river has been revered as the holy mother “Ma Ganga”, who washes away all sins, not only by the Indians but by many of the South East Asian civilizations too.
In the Purana, the legends of ancient India, we have the story of Bhagiratha, an ancient king of this land belonging to the Surya Vamsa, Solar Dynasty. He was the illustrious forefather to Rama and Dasaratha, illustrious because he diverted the waters of the Ganga by his extraordinary effort, to the present day Gangetic plains.
This effort of Bhagiratha is celebrated in the legends as Bhagiratha Prayathna, the extraordinary or superhuman effort of Bhagiratha in bringing the waters to his parched kingdom.
Once the river Ganga was brought this side of the Himalaya and started flowing through the land, the waters gave prosperity to the land through the ages. So Ganga, with its waters has been giving unending prosperity to a civilisation for generations and generations to come.
Akshaya Trithiya is the day Bhagiratha cut through the rocks in the upper Himalaya and brought the waters of the Ganga, this side to give unending prosperity to his land, kingdom and people.
It is this event of bringing prosperity with the waters that has been commemorated with the Akshaya Trithiya day.
The worldwide popularity of Ganga
Ganga has captured the hearts of so many across the world that she can be found depicted in many lands across the world in form, fame and name. (Preethi in murthi, kirthi and sruthi).
For instance, one of the oldest depictions of Ganga river is actually in Rome. Ganga forms one of the 4 rivers in the fountain at Piazza Novonna built in 200 CE.
Piazza Novona in Rome depicting the 4 popular rivers of the world in 200 CE – Tiber, Nile, Rhine, Ganges
In Sri Lanka – Kelani Ganga
In the south of India, in Sri Lanka, there is a place called Kelaniya on the banks of the river Kelani Ganga. Kelaniya from many millennia is held as the place where Vibhishana had his palace. A temple in honour of Vibhishana stands here even to this day. The outer wall of the temple building, which also houses a Buddhist shrine and monastery, bears a mural depicting the Coronation, pattabhisheka of Vibhishana by Lakshmana, the younger brother of Rama.
Buddha Vihar and Vibhishana Temple
Ganga Sculpture at the temple on the banks of Kelaniya Ganga River
It is interesting to note that the river by this palace was called Kelani which is a morphed version of the word Kalyani, meaning abundance giving, auspicious.
More on this in our book, Ramayana in Lanka.
Ganga – Perennial Rivers, Oya – Minor Rivers
The river was called Ganga since the word Ganga means one that is perennial. It has now come to be associated with larger rivers whereas minor rivers are called Oya in Sri Lanka.
Other Gangas in Sri lanka
For example there are Kalu Ganga near Bentota, Menik Ganga, Gin Ganga etc. in Sri Lanka itself.
In Early European Maps
Early European navigation maps of the world clearly depict India as a land of Ganga.
Tabula Peutingeriana showing Indi by Peutinger in 200 CE
Ganga made her way not only to the seas of the Bay of Bengal but her name and fame had made their way all over the world.
Alexander’s wish to see Ganga flowing in 326 BCE, the erection of a fountain in Rome in commemoration of the 4 major rivers of the world with Ganga figuring in that list in 200 CE and India being distinguished by the Ganges river on the maps of Europe right from 2000 years ago, are proof enough of her popularity around the world through the times.
India was mapped by the Ganga. India was branded by the Ganga.
India delineated as “India Intra Gangem” and “India Extra Gangem” on either side of the Ganga by Ptolemy in 140 CE
If Ganga is found in the West, she can also be seen in the East in Cambodia. Tucked away in the jungles of Kulen Mountains, she is found as a concept, sculpted on the hard rocky stone. She is shown originating from Vishnu’s feet, touching Shiva’s head and then flowing over Sahasra Shiva linga carved on the bed rock of the headwaters of the Stung Kbal Spean river which is a tributary of the Siam Reap river that flows down from the Kulen Mountains to Angkor Wat. Dating to 11th century CE, Ganga has been depicted here as a legend.
Sculptures of Ma Ganga story in the upper reaches of Stung Kbal Spean, a tributary of Siem Reap river, which in turn is a tributary of Mekong, flowing through the Kuhlen mountains near Angkor in Cambodia
This stone carving of the 1000 Linga in Cambodia, built during the time of King Udayadityavarman II, in turn is found back home in South India too.
A similar depiction of Ganga and 1000 Linga can be found on the river Shalmala in the jungles near Sirsi, Karnataka. It was built in the 17th century during the reign of Sadashivarayavarma, the king of the Sirsi kingdom.
Mekong – A Morphed version of Ganga
The Mekong of Cambodia is a morphed version of Maa Ganga.
The very name Mekong for the main river of South East Asia, is the Cambodian way of saying ‘Ma Ganga’ – ‘Me Kong’. The reverence of the South East Asians, for Ma Ganga, can be seen in Mekong, right from its name to the sculptures along the river that depict its legend.
Map highlighting Ganga and Mekong
Most perennially flowing rivers in the Indian subcontinents and S.E.Asia were called a Ganga, as they were nurturing their respective regions like Ganga does, through the year.
Wain Ganga, PenGanga, VedGanga
In India too, besides the Ganga, we have the Wain Ganga, PenGanga, VedGanga etc.
Godavari – Vrddha Ganga
Another long and wide river of India is the Godavari which rises from Trimbakeshwar in Nashik and flows from west to east across India to drain out into the Bay of Bengal.
Godavari River, location
One other name for this Godavari is Vrddha Ganga meaning the “Older Ganga.”
River Godavari, also known as Vrdha Ganga
Krishnaa – Elder sister of Ganga
Yet another river of India, Krishnaa, is also referred to in legends as the elder sister of Ganga.
Interestingly both are Deccan Plateau Rivers and flow through the Telugu lands.
Telugu Ganga Canal
Similarly, the canal that brings Krishna river to Chennai, an initiative of N T Rama Rao and M G Ramachandran, is known as Telugu Ganga.
Cauvery – Dakshina Ganga
Cauvery River is known as Dakshina Ganga, meaning the Ganga of the South.
Ganga Talao in Mauritius
Likewise, further south, in Mauritius, the Indians residing there have named one of their reservoirs as Ganga Talao, meaning Ganga Lake. This shows the connect they still have with Ganga. It also shows how Ganga is held as a symbol of a nourisher by people all over.
With the Ganga River, draining into the Bay of Bengal, the Bay of Bengal, naturally and rightfully has been called the Ganga Sagar for many millennia, till the British in their maps started referring to Ganga Sagar as Bay of Bengal.
More on Ganga as a timeless brand of India, in our book, Brand Bharat – Unique To India.
If we travel to the heart of India, near Aurangabad we find the heritage site of Ellora.
Ellora is one of largest rock-cut monastery-temple cave complexes in the world today. Built through 400 years, from 600 to 1000 CE, it has been declared a UNESCO World heritage site.
The unique feature of Ellora is that the temple complex was carved top down from a single rock, rather than built from bottom up.
It is an architectural marvel, in that, the sculpting was started in 600 CE and completed in 1000 CE. The design was envisaged by the architects who lived in 600 CE and the temple was completed by the 8th generation of architects down the line.
In this famed temple, one can find sculptures of Ganga on the caves.
Sculptures of Ganga at Ellora cave
Further central to India, in the much more old Udayagiri caves in today’s Madhya Pradesh, dating to 5th century CE, one can find Ganga on the wall near the Varaha caves of Udayagiri.
Sculpture of Ganga at Udaygiri Caves, Madhya Pradesh
One of the best depictions of Ganga in India by far is the bas relief of the Descent of Ganga, carved on the hard granite rocks in Mahabalipuram, near Chennai in Tamil Nadu.
Dating to early 7th century CE, this panel forms an exquisite backdrop for the Annual Dance Conference held here, every year.
Bas Relief of the descent of Ganga at Mahabalipuram
Why is Ganga held so dear in every one’s heart?
Aren’t other rivers equally special, after all they too nourish the lands they flow through?
They are long, wide and full of water like the Ganga too.
Did not the Sindhu and Sarasvati nurture the civilization of Bharat along their banks?
What is so special about the Ganga?
Ganga – The Jiva Nadi
The term Ganga itself means Perennial. All across the civilization, some of the key perennial rivers had the suffix of Ganga, implying tis perennial nature. The term for perennial nature in Indian language is Jiva Nadi, the one that has Jiva, life, for it is the perennial waters that sustain Jeevan, life. The perennial waters that which sustains civilizations. What apt naming! The intrinsic connect between perennial rivers and sustainable civilization brought out so beautifully in the continuously surviving civilization of Bharata Khanda.
The Worldwide imprints of the Ganga are not just for its size or discharge but because of the nature of it being a hydraulic river engineering marvel of a bygone era. Let us in our generation strive to keep this symbol of India, clean and flowing with Divinity and vitality.