Glory of Bharath  »  Rivers
Rivers - Mothers
"Gangecha Yamunechaiva Godavari Saraswathi
Narmade Sindhu Kaveri Jalesmin Samridhim Kuru"
The rivers of India have been closely associated with our history and civilization. Entwined with spirituality and philosophy, they have always been worshipped as personifications of divinity namely as mother goddesses. The places located at the course of rivers are treated as sacred.
The Ganges is one of the major rivers of the Indian subcontinent, flowing east through the Gangetic Plain of northern India into Bangladesh. The 2,510 km (1,560 mi) river rises in the western Himalayas in the Uttarakhand state of India, and drains into the Sunderbans delta in the Bay of Bengal. It has long been considered a holy river by Hindus and worshiped as the goddess Ganga in Hinduism. It has also been important historically: many former provincial or imperial capitals (such as Patliputra, Kannauj, Kara, Allahabad, Murshidabad, and Calcutta) have been located on its banks.

The Ganges, above all is the river of India, which has held India's heart captive and drawn uncounted millions to her banks since the dawn of history. The story of the Ganges, from her source to the sea, from old times to new, is the story of India's civilization and culture, of the rise and fall of empires, of great and proud cities, of adventures of man.

There are several Hindu beliefs that give various versions of the birth of Ganga. According to one version, the sacred water in Brahma's Kamandalu (water-vessel) became personified as a maiden, Ganga. According to another (Vaishnavite) legend, Brahma had reverently washed the feet of Vishnu and collected this water in his Kamandalu. According to yet a third version, Ganga was the daughter of Himavan, king of the mountains, and his consort Mena; she was thus a sister of the goddess Parvati. Every version declares that she was raised in the heavens, under the tutelage of Brahma.

Once upon a time, a king named Sagara magically acquired sixty thousand sons. One day, King Sagara performed a ritual of worship for the good of the kingdom. One of the integral parts of the ritual was a horse, which was stolen by the jealous Indra. Sagara sent all his sons all over the earth to search for the horse. They found it in the nether-world (or Underworld) next to a meditating sage Kapila. Believing that the sage had stolen the horse, they hurled insults at him and caused his penance to be disturbed. The sage opened his eyes for the first time in several years, and looked at the sons of Sagara. With this glance, all sixty thousand were burnt to death.

The souls of the sons of Sagara wandered as ghosts since their final rites had not been performed. When Bhagiratha, one of the descendants of Sagara, son of Dilip, learnt of this fate, he vowed to bring Ganga down to Earth so that her waters could cleanse their souls and release them to heaven. Bhagiratha prayed to Brahma that Ganga come down to Earth. Brahma agreed, and he ordered Ganga to go down to the Earth and then on to the nether regions so that the souls of Bhagiratha's ancestors would be able to go to heaven. The vain Ganga felt that this was insulting and decided to sweep the whole earth away as she fell from the heavens. Alarmed, Bhagiratha prayed to Shiva that he break up Ganga's descent.

Ganga arrogantly fell on Shiva's head. But Shiva calmly trapped her in his hair and let her out in small streams. The touch of Shiva further sanctified Ganga. As Ganga travelled to the nether-worlds, she created a different stream to remain on Earth to help purify unfortunate souls there. She is the only river to follow from all the three worlds - Swarga (heaven), Prithvi (earth) and, Patala (neitherworld or hell). Thus is called "Tripathaga" (one who travels the three worlds) in Sanskrit language. Because of Bhagiratha's efforts Ganga descended on to earth and hence the river is also known as Bhagirathi, and the term "Bhagirath prayatna" is used to describe valiant efforts or difficult achievements.

Another name that Ganga is known by is Jahnavi. Story has it that once Ganga came down to earth, on her way to Bhagiratha, her rushing waters created turbulence and destroyed the fields and the sadhana of a sage called Jahnu. He was angered by this and drank up all of Ganga's waters. Upon this, the Gods prayed to Jahnu to release Ganga so that she could proceed on her mission. Pleased with their prayers, Jahnu released Ganga (her waters) from his ears. Hence the name "Jahnavi" (daughter of Jahnu) for Ganga.


Yamuna river giving passage to Vasudeva and Lord Krishna
The Yamuna is a major tributary river of the Ganges in northern India. With a total length of around 1,370 kilometers (851 mi), it is the largest tributary of the Ganges.

Its source is at Yamunotri, in the Uttarakhand Himalaya, which is north of Haridwar in the Himalayan Mountains. It flows through the states of Delhi, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, before merging with the Ganges at Allahabad. The cities of Baghpat, Delhi, Noida, Mathura, Agra, Etawah, Kalpi, Hamirpur, Allahabad lie on its banks. The major tributaries of this river are the Tons, Chambal, Betwa, and Ken, with the Tons being the largest. The goddess of the river, also known as Yami, is the sister of Yama, god of death, and the daughter of Surya, the Sun god, and his wife Samjńa. The river Yamuna is also connected to the religious beliefs surrounding Krishna.

The second largest river in India, Godavari is often referred to as the Vriddh (Old) Ganga or the Dakshin (South) Ganga. The Godavari River is a sacrosanct river in India. It originates in the western ghats near Trimbak in Nashik district of Maharashtra. It then flows in the east across the Deccan Plateau traversing through the states of Maharastra and Andhra Pradesh. The religious importance of Godavari River adheres to the existence of several pilgrimages along the river. Apart from Ganga and Yamuna, Godavari also holds the exceptional religious importance in India. According to the Puranas River Ganga should only be visited after the visit to the Godavari. There are several pilgrimage places on the banks of the river Godavari. The major spot of pilgrimage is Trimbakeshwar, the ancient temple of Lord Shiva. Nanded Takht Sri Hazur Sahib is one of the sacred places among the Sikhs, while Bhadrachalam is the temple of Lord Rama and many more.

Mother Godavari
Legend has it that Sage Gautama lived on the Brahmagiri Hills at Triambakeshwar with his wife Ahalya. The rishi kept his stock of rice in a granary. Once, a cow entered his granary and ate up the rice. When the rishi tried to ward the cow away with Durbha grass, it fell dead. The rishi wanted to relieve himself of the sin of 'Gohatya'. He worshipped Lord Shiva and requested him to bring Ganga to purify his hermitage. Lord Shiva pleased with the rishi appeared as Triambaka and brought along river Ganga. Since Ganga was brought down to Triambakeshwar by Sage Gautama, she is known here as Gautami. She is also known as Godavari because the river helped Sage Gautama to relieve his sins.

The Saraswathi River is one of the chief Rigvedic rivers mentioned in ancient Hindu texts. The Nadistuti hymn in the Rigveda (10.75) mentions the Sarasvati between the Yamuna in the east and the Sutlej in the west, and later Vedic texts like Tandya and Jaiminiya Brahmanas as well as the Mahabharata mention that the Sarasvati dried up in a desert.

The Saraswathi River is mentioned 72 times in the Rigveda, appearing in all books except for book four. Sarasvati is mentioned both as the chief of the Sapta Sindhu, the seven major rivers of the early Rigveda, and listed in the geographical list of ten rivers in the Nadistuti sukta of the late Rigveda, and it is the only river with hymns entirely dedicated to it.

The Rigveda describes the Sarasvati as the best of all the rivers. Rigveda calls it "the Seventh, Mother of Floods" sárasvati saptáthi síndhumata. ámbitame náditame dévitame sárasvati "best mother, best river, best goddess" expresses the importance and reverence of the Vedic religion for the Sarasvati river, and states that all life spans abide on the Sarasvati.

River Saraswathi
In post-Rigvedic literature, Vinasana (the place of disappearance of the Sarasvati), is mentioned. Plaksa Prasravana denotes the place where the Sarasvati appears. In the Rigveda Sutras, Plaksa Prasravana refers to the source of the Sarasvati. The first reference to a drying up of the Sarasvati is from the Brahmanas, texts that are composed in Vedic Sanskrit, but dating to a later date than the Veda Samhitas. The Jaiminiya Brahmana speaks of the 'diving under (upamajjana) of the Sarasvati', and the Tandya Brahmana calls this the 'disappearance' (vinasana). The same text records that the Sarasvati is 'so to say meandering' (kubjimati) as it could not sustain heaven which it had propped up. The distance between the Plaksa Prasravana (place of appearance/source of the river) and the Vinasana (place of disappearance of the river) is said to be 44 asvina (between several hundred and 1600 miles).

The Narmada River is considered the mother and giver of peace. Legend has it that the mere sight of this river is enough to cleanse one's soul, as against a dip in the Ganga or seven in the Yamuna. The Ganga is believed to visit this river once a year, in the guise of a black cow to cleanse herself of all her collected sins. The journey along the river Narmada is in some sense similar to famous parikrama (taking round) of the river, except that the parikrama is of life in the valley of the Narmada.

The place of origin of Narmada River is an open pool known as Narmadakund. Around this kund there are several beautiful temples such as Narmada and Shiva temple, Kartikey temple, Annapurna temple, Shri Ram Janki temple, Guru Gorakhnath temple, Sri Shuryanarayan temple, Vangeshwar Mahadev temple, Durga temple, Shiv Pariwar, Siddheswar Mahadev temple, Sri Radha Krishna temple, Eleven Rudra temple etc. The spot of River Narmada`s origin is considered as a religious ground. Narmadakund is an open pond, lying at the starting point of the Narmada River. Various temples of particular Hindu God and Goddesses encircle this pond. The religious fervor of the tourists are easily satiated in this place.

River Narmada
The history of Narmada River is closely associated with the place Amarkantak and Narmadakund. Amarkantak and rivers originating from it are hardly mentioned in Vedic literature, but these have been mentioned many a times in Puranas, Ramayana, Mahabharata, Vashishtha samhita and "Shatapatha Brahmana". After Mahabharata the history of a period of about 3000 years remains in dark. Historians came to a conclusion that the Puranic name of Amarkantak was Riksh parvat. About 6000 years back the Suryavanshi samrat Mandhata established a town in the valley Riksh parvat and called it Mandhata. The queen of samrat Purukutsa, who was son of Mandhata, gave the title of Narmada to the river. Due to occupation of this area by Mandhata the descendents of Yayati migrated from this area to west of Madhya Pradesh and settled on the banks of Narmada River.

The Sanskrit Sindhu generically means river, stream, ocean, probably from a root sidh meaning to keep off; Sindhu is attested 176 times in the Rigveda, 95 times in the plural, more often used in the generic meaning. Already in the Rigveda, notably in the later hymns, the meaning of the word is narrowed to refer to the Indus river in particular, for example in the list of rivers of the Nadistuti sukta. This resulted in the anomaly of a river with masculine gender: all other Rigvedic rivers are female, not just grammatically, being imagined as goddesses and compared to cows and mares yielding milk and butter. The name Indus is a Latinization of Hindu, in turn the Iranian variant of Sindhu, the name of the Indus in the Rigveda.

The Europeans used the name "India" for the entire Indian Subcontinent based on Indos, the Greek appellation of this river. Originating in the Tibetan plateau in the vicinity of Lake Mansarovar in China, the National River runs a course through the Ladakh district of Jammu and Kashmir and then enters Azad Kashmir within the administrative division of Northern Areas (Gilgit-Baltistan), flowing through the North in a southerly direction along the entire length of the country, to merge into the Arabian Sea near Pakistan's port city of Karachi.

The Indus Valley Civilization (mature period 2600-1900 BCE), abbreviated IVC, was an ancient civilization in South Asia that flourished around the Indus River basin. Primarily centered along the Indus river, the civilization encompassed most of what is now Pakistan, mainly the provinces of Sindh, Punjab and Balochistan, as well as extending into modern day Indian states of Gujarat, Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan. Remains have been excavated from Afghanistan, Turkmenistan and Iran, as well. The mature phase of this civilization is known as the Harappan Civilization as the first of its cities to be unearthed was from Harappa in Pakistan. Excavation of IVC sites have been ongoing since 1920, with important breakthroughs occurring as recently as 1999.

The Kaveri River is one of the major rivers of India, which is considered sacred by Hindus. The origin of the river is traditionally placed at Talakaveri, Kodagu district in the Western Ghats in the state of Karnataka, flows generally south and east through Karnataka and Tamil Nadu and across the southern Deccan plateau through the southeastern lowlands, emptying into the Bay of Bengal through two principal mouths. After the river leaves the Kodagu hills and flows onto the Deccan plateau, it forms two islands, Srirangapatna and Shivanasamudra. At Sivasamudra Island the river drops 320 ft (98 m), forming the famous Sivasamudram Falls known separately as Gagana Chukki and Bhara Chukki. Asia's first hydroelectric plant (built in 1902) was on the left falls and supplied power to the city of Bangalore.

There are several legends about how the river Kaveri came into being. According to the most well known version, when the great ocean was churned by the devas and the asuras in order to obtain amrita, the elixir of life, Lord Vishnu created Mohini, a non-pareil of infinite charm and appeal, to distract the asuras and restore the elixir to the devas. Goddess lakshmi also sent along Lopamudre, an incarnation of Parvathi, to assist Mohini. After the elixir was successfully restored to the devas Mohini retired to Brahmagiri and turned into a rocky cave. Lopamudre was brought up by Brahma as his daughter. After some time Kavera, a sage of renown, came to the Brahmagiri to meditate. Kavera was lonely and prayed to Lord Brahma that he might bless him with a child. Brahma was pleased by his devotion and gave him lopamudre for a daughter. Lopamudre was renamed Kaveri after the sage.

Kaveri was very keen that her father should have every happiness and prosperity in life and a blessed land full of good and happy people. So she went to the Brahmagiri too and prayed to Lord Brahma that she might turn into a river and flow through the country, pouring her blessings on the people and turning the land green and fertile. She also prayed that her waters might be so holy that all those who took a dip in it might be absolved of all their sins. Brahma granted her both the boons readily and Kaveri was really happy.

But something else was to happen to her first. Sage agastya happened to see Kaveri when she was deep in meditation on the Brahmagiri. He fell in love with her and asked her to marry him. Although her heart was set on turning into a river of blessings, Kaveri could not refuse agastya. But she made him promise that if ever she left her alone too long she would have the right to forsake him and go her way. Agastya promised and kept his word faithfully for some time. But one day he got busy in a theological discussion with his disciples and lost track of time.

Kaveri waited patiently for a while but after some hours had passed she jumped into agastya's special holy tank and flowed from it like a river. As soon as the disciples of of agastya saw what had happened they tried to stop her from flowing away. But Kaveri promptly went underground and appeared again at Bhaganda Kshetra and flowed on toward Valambari and finally into the Bay of Bengal. And it has been worshipped as a sacred river - thoughout its course - ever since.

There is yet another interesting belief according to which the river ganga also joins Kaveri underground once a year, during the Tulamasa, in order to wash herself free of the pollution caused by the crowds of sinners who bathe in her waters all the year round. Kaveri is considered to be as sacred as the ganga throughout its course, with the same power to wash off all one's sins. But Bhagamandala, where the three rivers meet, is considered to be the most sacred spot of all. There are temples all along its banks visited by thousands of pilgrims. Kaveri is joined by several rivers, the most important ones being Kakkabe, Kadanur, Kummahole, Hemavathi, Lakshmanatirtha, Shimsha etc, it flows into the Bay of Bengal in Thanjavur district in Tamilnadu.

Goddess Kaveri
After assuming the form river, Kaveri performed another tapas to become the sacred of rivers, more sacred than even the Ganges. Her tapas was answered and Lord Vishnu appears before her. On hearing her wish, Lord Vishnu says "Ganges is sacred because she originates from my feet; but you are infinitely more sacred to her as I adorn you as my garland". Upon this blessing, it is said that even Ganges is said to come underground, once a year, to Kaveri to cleanse herself. To this day, Vaishnavites regard Kaveri, the river that holds Srirangam in her bosom, as the most sacred of rivers. Vaishnavaites lovingly regard Kaveri as the mother of Ranganayaki, the divine consort of Lord Ranganatha of Srirangam.
- October 11
- December 09

  Copyright © 2009. Optimized for 1024 x 768 resolution; IE 5.5 & above.