Chapter 76 — Bhagiratha’s Tapas Brings the Ganges River down to the Earth

Vasishta continued:—

One time as Bhagiratha was passing through a large city, he saw the ruler of that land, who was childless, snatched away by the hand of death, like a fish seized by a shark for its prey. The people were afraid of anarchy and lawlessness without a ruler, so they searched for a proper person with noble qualities and auspicious signs to be made their future king. They encountered the silent and patient king in the act of begging alms, and knowing him to be the former King Bhagiratha himself, they took him escorted by regiments of soldiers and installed him on the throne as their king. Bhagiratha instantly mounted an elephant and was led by a large body of soldiers who assembled about him as thick as drops of rainwater falling and filling a lake. 5 The people shouted “Here is Bhagiratha our lord! May he be victorious forever!” The noise of their shouts reached the farthest mountains and filled their hollow caves.

Bhagiratha remained to rule over that kingdom. Then the subjects of his own former kingdom reverently came to him and thus prayed to their king saying, “Great king, the person you appointed to rule over us has recently died, eaten by death like a little fish by a large one. Therefore consent to rule over your kingdom. Please do not refuse to accept an offer which comes to you unasked.”

Vasishta said:—

The king being asked in this way accepted their prayer, and thus became the sole ruler of the earth, bounded by the seven seas on all sides. 10 He continued to discharge his royal duties without the least dismay or disquietude. He was quite calm and serene in his mind, quiet in his speech, and devoid of passions and envy or selfishness.

11 Then he thought of the redemption of his ancestors who had excavated the coast of the sea and had been burned alive underground. He thought of redeeming them by washing their bones and dead bodies with the waters of the Ganges River, which he heard had the merit of purity and saving all souls and bodies. 12 Until that time, the heavenly stream of the Ganges did not run over the land. It was Bhagiratha who brought it down in order to wash the remains of his ancestors with its holy waters. It was after that that the stream was known by his name as Bhagiratha.

13 King Bhagiratha resolved to bring down the holy Ganges of heaven to the earth below. 14 The pious king resigned his kingdom to the charge of his ministers and went to a remote forest with the resolve of making his austere tapas for the success of his undertaking. 15 He remained there for many years and under many rains, worshipping the gods Brahma and Shiva and sage Jahnu in turns, until he succeeded in bringing the holy stream onto the earth below. 16 It was then that the crystal waves of the Ganges flowed out of the basin of Brahma, the lord of the world, and rushed onto the moon crest of Hara (Shiva). Falling on earth below, it took a triple course, like the meritorious acts of great men.

17 In this way, the three-pronged Ganges River came to flow over this earth, a channel to bear the glory of Bhagiratha to distant lands. Behold her running fast with her heaving waves, smiling all along with her foaming froths. She sprinkles purity all along with the drizzling drops of her breakers and scatters plenty over the land as the reward of the best deserts of men.