Every year, in June, huge grey clouds arrive in the sky above India. These clouds are grey because they are full of water. And these clouds pour all over India, providing water to the fields, filling up wells, lakes and rivers. To this day, everyone, and we mean everyone — men, women, boys, girls and animals of all kinds — look forward to the rains.
But a long time ago, no rain fell for twelve years. Rivers and wells dried up. There was no water to grow food. There was no water to drink. People were hungry and thirsty. The animals went without water and slowly began to die.
Bhagiratha, the King of the land, could no longer bear to see his people suffering. “It is not going to rain. I shall go to Himalaya, and beg the King of Mountains to send a river to our land,” he declared.
He left his kingdom and went to Himalaya. The King of Mountains was surprised. He called on the young king and asked him what had brought him so far away from his kingdom.
“For 12 years it has not rained in my land. People and animals are dying. Crops have withered. I want to save their lives. Send me one of your many rivers with me. I’ll take the river to my kingdom,” pleaded Bhagiratha.
“I would have sent my daughter Ganga to help you. But she is no longer with me,” said Himalaya.
“Where is she?” asked Bhagiratha anxiously.
“Up there, where the Gods stay,” said Himalaya pointing a finger upward.
“Could you ask her to return to earth?” asked Bhagiratha.
Himalaya sighed. “If only children listened to their parents. And Ganga is a naughty girl. No, Bhagiratha, it is better if you ask her.”
Bhagiratha looked up. He raised his hands in salutation and spoke, “Oh Ganga, daughter of Himalaya, people here on earth need you. Come down, I beg you.”
Ganga had seen the plight of the people and immediately agreed to his request. Bhagiratha was delighted. “Come Ganga, come down to earth,” he shouted.
“Wait, Bhagiratha,” said Ganga. “If I jump from such a great height, I’ll be coming down with such force, that the earth will be washed away.”
“Let me think of a way to get you down to earth and also to protect the earth,” Bhagiratha said.
Himalaya asked him to seek Lord Shiva’s help. So Bhagiratha prayed to Shiva.
“Lord, only you can catch Ganga as she comes down,” said Bhagiratha. “Catch her before she hits the earth and then let her flow down gently.”
He stood on a high peak, looked up at the heavens, and called out, “Ganga, I’m ready for you. Come down.” Bhagiratha stood near Shiva, with folded hands, looking up at the sky.
With a mischievous smile Ganga asked, “Are you sure you will be standing still as I come down or will you be washed away?” Shiva knitted his eye brow. Bhagairatha immediately put in a word, “Please do not get angry. You are here to help me and millions of people waiting for water.” Shiva smiled, “All right, Ganga, come down with all the force you have. I’m ready for you.”
Devas assembled in the sky to see off Ganga going to earth. Playfully, Ganga shouted at Shiva, “Here I come. Catch me if you can.”
Bhagiratha watched astounded as Ganga took a plunge from the heaven to the earth below. Waters of the Ganga dropped down with a huge force. Heaven and earth were now connected with the water of Ganga.
Bhagiratha looked at it with awe. One moment, Bhagiratha could see sheet of water falling down and the next moment it was gone leaving no trace behind.
“Ganga, where are you?” Bhagiratha cried out in alarm.
“I’m here,” a feeble voice was heard. “I’m trapped in Shiva’s hair.”
Shiva had tied his matted hair to form a dam on his head to receive Ganga who was trapped there. Much she tried to jump out of the confines of Shiva’s hair, she just could not!
Bhagiratha prayed to Shiva again, “Oh Lord, I know Ganga has been mischievous. But you are here to help me and the people out there who are thirsty and hungry. Please allow Ganga to flow out.”
Shiva relented and the waters of the Ganga started trickling down the matted hair of Shiva.
Bhagiratha thanked Shiva and as he got into his chariot, he asked Ganga to follow him.
Bhagiratha rode down the hills of the Himalayas with Ganga following him. As he drove, Bhagiratha kept looking over his shoulder to make sure Ganga was following him. As he took a sharp turn after crossing the hermitage of Sage Jahnu, he looked back. To his shock, Ganga was gone!
She had taken a detour to enter Sage Jahnu’s hermitage. The sage who was in deep meditation stirred as he felt his lower limbs getting wet. As he slowly opened his eyes, he found himself neck deep in the waters of Ganga who was laughing at the plight of the sage. Annoyed with her, the sage scooped the waters in his hand and drank. To her dismay, Ganga found herself pulled into the cupped hand of the sage and the next moment she was inside the sage’s tummy!
“Ganga, where are you,” shouted Bhagiratha.
“Here, King,” a feeble voice was heard, “I am in Sage Jahnu’s tummy!”
Bhagiratha went down on his knees. “O Sage, Ganga is playful. Won’t you pardon her and allow her to flow out? We have no water in our land, we need her.”
Sage Jahnu allowed Ganga to come out of his ear.
Bhagiratha turned homeward with Ganga following him. This time she didn’t take any detours.
As Ganga flowed through the region, people and animals came to her. They bowed to her and then scooped water in their hands and drank, “Oh Ganga, you saved our lives,” they said. Dried up crops revived. Plants became green. Flowers bloomed.
Wherever Ganga went, she brought joy to people, animals and plants.
As she neared the bed of ocean which had also dried up, Bhagiratha called out to her. “Flow Ganga, flow on to the bed of the ocean. Fill it with your water.”
In no time the ocean was full.
The sun was happy to see the ocean coming alive. His rays sucked water from the ocean. Clouds formed and soon it rained everywhere.
The earth got soaked in rain and put out a green carpet. People of the land hailed Bhagiratha for bringing Ganga to earth.
· Bhagiratha ruled Ayodhya, long before the birth of Rama, the hero of the Ramayana.
· In pictures, we see Ganga’s face in Shiva’s hair. This is connected to the story you’ve just read.
· Bhagiratha brought Ganga to earth. That’s why she is also known as Bhagirathi.
· Ganga flowed out of Sage Jahnu’s ear. Therefore, she is also known as Jaahnavi.
· Some details of the original story have been left out to keep it simple for children.