The source of Ganga is at Gaumukh (the shape of the ice formation is like a cow's mouth), where the mighty river emerges from the depths of Gangotri glacier. The Gangotri glacier is situated at the height of 4255 m above sea level and is approx 24 km in length and 7-8 km in width. Here the river is known as Bhagirathi after King -Bhagirath. Rising in the icy caves of Gangotri glacier, the gushing , tossing and gurgling Bhagirathi starts its long journey downwards where later it joins river 'Alaknanda' and becomes Ganga.There are many legends associated with river Ganga, some of which are even mentioned in the ancient holy scriptures.
The River From Heaven- According to the Indian mythology King Sagar had 60,000 sons. He defeated all the asuras (daemons) in the earth and wanted to stage a Ashwamedha Yagya to declare his supremacy. As this was the practice prevalent in ancient times, he sent his horse across the earth accompanied by his sons. The King of Heaven, Lord Indra feared the power of King Sagar and to stop him, he stole the horse and tied it to the ashram of Sage Kapil. When the 60,000 sons saw the horse in Kapil's ashram they got furious and started to attack the hermitage. Sage Kapil was in deep meditation and on hearing the disturbance he opened his eyes in anger and all the 60,000 sons of King Sagar were reduced to ashes, except for prince Asamanjas.
Anshuman the grandson of King Sagar brought the horse back from the Sage and asked for his forgiveness. Sage Kapil told him that the sons can be brought to life only if Ganga is brought from heaven to earth. Neither Anshuman nor his son Dilip were successful in this task. But Dilip's son, Bhagirath was determined to get this task done. He started meditating intensly for several years and finally Ganga got pleased and descended to the earth. To prevent the earth from flooding, Lord Shiva received Ganga on his matted locks. King Bhagirath then worshipped Lord Shiva and Shiva blessed him and released Ganga from his locks in seven streams. The water of Ganga touched the ashes of Sagar sons who rose to the their eternal rest in heaven.
The seven streams of Ganga are Bhagirathi, Janhvi, Bhilangana, Mandakini, Rishiganga, Saraswati and Alaknanda which merge into Ganga at Devprayag. there are totally 12 streams the lord Shiva released .The rock on which King Bhagirath is believed to have meditated, is called Bhagirath Shila and is located near the temple of Ganga. To this date the water of holy Ganga is believed to have Amrit (nectar) in it. It has been studied by Scientists that the water collected from Ganga at its origin is in a pure state and even after being kept for several years, does not get contaminated.. These medicinal properties of Ganga-Jal are attributed to the medicinal secretions of herbs and mineral content which get mixed with the water.
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