Bhagiratha:Ancestral Devotion Personified

Bhagiratha:Ancestral Devotion Personified

Bhagiratha, a legendary king of the Ikshvaku dynasty, is renowned for his extraordinary tale of bringing the revered river Ganges, embodied as the Hindu river goddess Ganga, from the heavens to the earth. His relentless efforts and devotion to his ancestors and the divine form the epic narrative that has resonated through Hindu literature for ages.

Legend of Bhagiratha

The saga begins with King Sagara’s ashvamedha yajna, where the sacrificial horse is stolen by Indra, the deity, leading to a chain of events that resulted in the ashrama of Sage Kapila being disturbed by Sagara’s 60,000 sons. Enraged, Sage Kapila reduced them to ashes. The responsibility of performing the funeral rites of these sons fell upon Bhagiratha.

Upon ascending the throne, Bhagiratha embarked on a formidable quest to invoke the goddess Ganga. After intense penance in the Himalayas, Ganga agreed to descend to the earth but warned of her forceful impact. To alleviate this, Bhagiratha sought the aid of Lord Shiva, the only one capable of containing Ganga’s power. Shiva granted his boon, allowing Ganga to flow through his matted hair onto the earth.

The Descent of Ganga

The Descent of Ganga

Ganga cascaded through Shiva’s hair for a millennium, paving her way to the plains. Bhagiratha tirelessly prayed to Shiva once more until the deity released a single drop from his locks, birthing the river Ganges. The river flowed, performing the funeral rites of Sagara’s sons, a profound episode known as Bhagirathaprayatnam, signifying Bhagiratha’s labor.

The Legacy of Bhagiratha

To honor Bhagiratha’s relentless endeavor, the headstream of the river is named Bhagirathi until it converges with the Alaknanda river at Devprayag. Despite challenges, including a confrontation with Sage Jahnu who temporarily swallowed the river, Bhagiratha’s unwavering determination ensured Ganga’s eventual passage.

Bhagiratha’s Reign and Contributions

After completing the rites, Bhagiratha returned to rule his kingdom, fostering wealth and prosperity among his people. Known for his benevolence, he gifted countless cows and their calves to the sage Kohala, showcasing his generosity and compassion.

Literary Depictions

In various literary accounts like the Narada Purana, Bhagiratha’s encounters with Yama shed light on righteous conduct and the nature of sin. His worship of Vishnu and Shiva and subsequent actions to liberate his ancestors from Naraka highlight his commitment to duty and righteousness.

Bengali Renditions

Certain Bengali retellings add unique elements, attributing Bhagiratha’s birth to extraordinary circumstances involving Dilipa, his father, and the prophecies surrounding Vishnu’s lineage. These tales often narrate Bhagiratha’s upbringing and the origin of his name.


Ganga Dussehra, also called Gangavataran, is a significant Hindu festival that honors the descent of the river Ganga from heaven to earth. This celebration marks the day when Ganga, in seven streams, flowed down to cleanse the ashes of Bhagiratha’s ancestors. It’s believed that this divine event occurred on the tenth day of the bright fortnight (Shuklapaksha) in the month of Jyeshtha. Every year, Ganga Dussehra is joyfully observed on this auspicious day to commemorate Ganga’s arrival on earth and its purifying influence.


Bhagiratha’s saga exemplifies determination, devotion, and the enduring pursuit of a noble cause. His relentless quest to honor his ancestors and bring the sacred Ganges to earth remains an integral part of Hindu mythology, symbolizing the triumph of perseverance and righteousness.

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