10 Most Sacred Rivers in Hinduism

10 Most Sacred Rivers in Hinduism

In Hinduism, rivers are seen as divine beings. For instance, the Rigveda, an ancient text, mentions sacred rivers like Saraswati. Among these, the Ganges holds the utmost reverence and is worshipped as the goddess Ganga. Interestingly, most river deities are portrayed as female, except for the Brahmaputra, which is seen as male. Historically, it’s believed that the people of the ancient Indus Valley civilization also revered rivers. The ten most significant rivers in Hinduism are Ganga, Yamuna, Saraswati, Narmada, Kaveri, Godavari, Krishna, Sindhu (Indus), Tapati, and Brahmaputra.


The Vedas and Puranas, ancient texts of Hinduism, hold the river Ganges in utmost reverence, considering it the most sacred river. According to legends, Ganga, the goddess associated with the Ganges, is depicted as the daughter of Himavan (Himavat), the personification of the Himalayas, and Menavati, an apsara (celestial nymph). She’s also known as the sister of Parvati, the mother goddess. Ganga symbolizes purity and purification, with believers trusting that bathing in the Ganges absolves sins and aids in achieving moksha, or liberation. Her mount is a creature known as the makara.

In a tale found in the Bhagavata Purana (Srmad Bhagavatam) and Devi Bhagavata Purana (Srimad Devi Bhagavatam), Ganga is described as one of Vishnu’s three wives, alongside Lakshmi and Saraswati. Saraswati, noticing Ganga’s fondness for Vishnu, became jealous and accused Ganga of trying to steal Vishnu’s affection. This led to a heated argument among the goddesses. Vishnu, wanting to remain impartial, chose not to interfere. Saraswati, in her anger, cursed Ganga to be incarnated as a river on earth, while Ganga cursed Saraswati in return. This legend also explains the origin of the tulasi plant, as Lakshmi was cursed to be born as it.

Another significant tale revolves around Ganga’s descent from Svarga, the abode of the gods. King Bhagiratha, from the Solar dynasty, sought to bring Ganga down to earth to cleanse the souls of his ancestors trapped in Patala, the underworld. However, Ganga warned that her descent could flood the earth. Bhagiratha then sought the assistance of Shiva, who agreed to help. When Ganga descended, Shiva caught her in his hair to control her powerful flow. Following Bhagiratha’s plea, Ganga flowed to Patala to purify the souls and then into the ocean.


Yamuna, also known as Yami, represents the Yamuna river. She is believed to be the daughter of Surya, the sun god, and Saranyu, the cloud goddess. Yamuna is considered the goddess of life and is the twin sister of Yama, the god of the underworld. She also has another sibling named Tapati, who is also a river goddess. In later texts, she is sometimes referred to as Kalindi.

In a story from the Bhagavata Purana, there’s a tale associated with canal irrigation where the deity Balarama wanted to enjoy some leisure time with women in the Yamuna river. When he called upon the goddess Yamuna to join him, she declined to leave her banks. Consequently, Balarama used his plough and forcefully brought the river goddess to the orchard where he was located.


In ancient times, Saraswati started as a river goddess, associated with the Sarasvati river. Over time, she became a prominent deity in Hinduism, representing knowledge, music, speech, and art. The Saraswati river is mentioned in the Rigveda but is believed to have dried up gradually.

According to some texts, there was a fierce battle between the Bhargavas and Hehayas, resulting in the creation of a devastating fire called Vadavagni. This fire had the potential to destroy the world. Indra, Vishnu, and other deities sought Saraswati’s help to safely contain the fire. However, Saraswati insisted on getting permission from her husband, Brahma, before agreeing to assist.

Upon Brahma’s approval, Saraswati, accompanied by Ganga, journeyed from Brahmaloka to Sage Uttanka’s ashrama. There, she encountered Shiva, who entrusted her with the Vadavagni in a pot and instructed her to originate from a plaksha tree. Saraswati merged with the tree, transforming into a river. She flowed towards Pushkara, stopping at Pushkarini to cleanse humans of their sins. Eventually, she reached the ocean, where she immersed the fire, thus safeguarding the world.


Narmada, also known as Rewa, is revered as the embodiment of the Narmada river. Legend has it that she originated from the sweat of Shiva, who was engaged in deep penance atop Mount Riksha. This mythological tale attributes her lineage to Shiva, making her his daughter in the eyes of devotees. According to folklore, Shiva bestowed upon her the power to cleanse the sins of those who bathe in her waters, elevating her status to that of Ganga in the north, in the southern regions. Thus, Narmada holds a sacred place in Hindu mythology, symbolizing purity and redemption through her flowing waters.


The goddess Kaveri, also called Kaveriamma locally, is believed to embody the river Kaveri. According to the Skanda Purana, during a tale called the Samudra Manthan, Vishnu transformed into a beautiful female form named Mohini to give the elixir of eternal life to the gods while denying it to the demons. Vishnu’s wife, Lakshmi, sent an apsara named Lopamudra to help Mohini in this task. Lopamudra was later adopted by Brahma. When King Kavera prayed to Brahma for a child, he was granted Lopamudra, who was given the name Kaveri. It was believed she would absolve people of their sins and bring fertility.

Sage Agastya desired to marry Kaveri, and she agreed on the condition that he never leave her alone for too long. However, one day Agastya became engrossed in teaching his disciples, neglecting Kaveri. Feeling abandoned, Kaveri flowed into Agastya’s water pot (kamandalam) and then streamed southwards. Despite efforts to halt her by Agastya’s disciples, she continued until reaching the ocean. This act bestowed upon her sacred status, revered ever since.


In ancient mythology, the goddess Godavari is revered as the embodiment of the mighty river Godavari. According to legend, the sage Gautama resided near the Brahmagiri hills, blessed with a well that provided endless grains. However, his adversaries led a cow into his granary, resulting in its accidental death during pursuit. To cleanse the sin incurred, Gautama implored the goddess Ganga for forgiveness. Moved by his repentance, Ganga descended with Shiva, manifesting as the sacred river Godavari. Her divine presence sanctified Gautama’s hermitage and bestowed purity upon the land.

The myth of Godavari intertwines with the epic tale of Rama from the Valmiki Ramayana, enriching its significance. The goddess’s descent, triggered by Gautama’s plea for redemption, symbolizes divine forgiveness and purification. Flowing gracefully through the landscape, the river Godavari carries the essence of spiritual cleansing and renewal. Its association with Rama’s journey along its banks further elevates its mythical status, weaving a tapestry of ancient lore that continues to resonate through the ages.


In a local legend, the goddess Krishna is believed to be the personification of the river Krishna. Legend has it that during a sacred ceremony called yajna, Brahma, a deity, needed his wife Savitri’s presence. But Savitri wasn’t there, so his other wife, Gayatri, filled in for her. When Savitri found out, she was furious. She rushed to the ceremony and demanded answers. Her anger was so intense that she cursed two other gods, Vishnu and Shiva. As a result of her curse, Vishnu turned into the Krishna river.


Sindhu is the personification of the River Indus and is worshipped as the goddess of rivers. Ancient texts like the Vedas, Puranas, and Mahabharata talk about her. Bharata, an important figure, received reverence from this goddess. She is also mentioned attending a meeting of river goddesses led by Parvati, discussing women’s responsibilities.


Tapati is the personification of the Tapti river in Hindu mythology. She is depicted as the daughter of Surya, the Sun god, and the younger sister of Savitri. According to Hindu texts, Tapati is married to a king named Samvarana.


In ancient times, there’s a story told in the Kalika Purana about how the Brahmaputra river came to be. According to this tale, there was a sage named Shantanu and his wife, Amogha. They lived by the banks of the river Lohita. They were very devout and pious people. One day, Brahma, the creator of the universe, was so impressed by their devotion that he decided to bless them. He granted them a child, who was none other than Brahma’s own son. When the child was born, he didn’t take the form of a human but transformed into a majestic river. This river became known as the Brahmaputra. It became a sacred place where gods and celestial beings would come to bathe, adding to its divine aura and significance.

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