Though Sagara, a dynamic ruler of the Ikshvaku dynasty and forefather of Sri Rama, had successfully accomplished the task of preparing the channel for the Ganga and also built a  reservoir for holding its water, a major part of the task remained undone. The water of the Ganges still flowed uncontrollably in different directions and the channel prepared to contain it remained dry. To read more about the ‘Channeling of the Ganges’ click here. 

Sagara ascended heaven, his grandson Anshuman too could not take the project forward. The task was difficult. One more generation came and went by – King Dileepa too had failed to make progress even though he had spent much time in the Himalayas to take stock of the situation. But by the time his son Bhagirath grew up, they were finally ready to execute the plan, but not without the guidance and expertise of Lord Shiva. The Ramayana says thousands of years had passed, in other words a long time had passed since Sagara had completed the first phase of the project, but it was time that the ashes of his sons (who were incinerated by Sage Kapila for disturbing his ‘sadhana’) would finally be satiated by the waters of the Ganges.

It is said that Bramha and other ‘celestials’ or ‘extra terrestrials’ advised Bhagirath to take the help of Lord Shiva. It was an unmanageable task for lesser souls. Lord Shiva accepts the request for help. He plans to manage the descent of  water through the Himalayas by breaking the flow of  the water and bringing the water down to the plains spilling it into the course already carved out by Sagara.

It is said that Lord Shiva first ties the Ganges in the coils of his locks (the ridges, ravines, rocks and tree-roots of the Himalayas) and breaks the descent of the water with the help of lakes and reservoirs, and by distributing the water into many streams. 

The matted locks of Shiva?

The lake created to slow down the descent of the  ‘water locked in Shiva’s matted hair’ or the Himalayas was known as the Bindu Sarovar. The water slows down due to  the vastness of the lake. Then the water was distributed into seven streams. Three,  were directed in the eastern direction (collectively today called the Brahmaputra), and three flowed westward (collectively today called the Sindhu), it was the seventh in the middle, the Bhageerathi (or Ganga), that was directed to spill  into the main channel.

The ‘gods’ watch the descent of the ganges from the skies. The scene that Valmiki describes is amazing. He says, “Some of the gods with aircraft that are like cities in their shape and size, and some with horses that are prancing, and some with best elephants that are staggering, at the very sight of plunging Ganga, have entered the firmament at that place”. [1-43-18b, 19a]. One thing is certain from the verses that follow. The ‘gods’ or the ‘celestials’ or the ‘extra-terrestrials’, whoever they were, were watching from a height in aerial vehicles. Even Bhagirath is inaugurating the release of the water from an ‘airborne chariot’ – probably a helicopter like flying-machine, he is definitely not in a horse driven chariot. The just-released Ganges from the dam would have drowned the chariot and charioteer in no time. Bhagirath is airborne, flies over the already made water-channel just ahead of the gushing Ganges – flowing rapidly in some parts, slow at others and sometimes knocking against its own waters.

There is another legend which says that Skanda, the son of Shiva and Ganga was born on the banks of Ganga. He had six faces and drank the milk from the breasts of  six nurses. But this description in the Valmiki Ramayana kind of  conjures up the following picture:

There indeed was a dam just beyond the Bindu Sarovar. Rather than just ‘drinking milk of six nurses’ Skanda seems to have constructed the dam structure itself – the myth of his ‘milk drinking’ probably emerged from a scene similar to what the above picture captures. Water gushing out from the gates of a dam! Skanda was well adept in construction. It is said that it is he who drilled a tunnel right across Mt. Kailash in yet another project that his father Lord Shiva undertook. Skanda was Shiva’s son and indeed his ‘not-so-little’ helper too. 

It is the scale of their accomplishments that makes our ‘gods’ the entities that they are. To pass them off as ‘mythological characters’ is the failure of present generations to understand our scriptures. The Ramlila version of ‘Ramayana’  is passe. It is time for us to re-look at what the Ramayana is really saying.


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