Festivals & Fasts

Ganga Dussehra

Ganga Dussehra Shukla Dashami Tithi of Jyeshta Month

Ganga Dussehra celebrates the birth of the descent of river Ganges to earth. Ganga is the most sacred river in India and Dussehra means 10th referring to the 10th tithi that this festival is celebrated on. Ganga is the only living goddess in India- other living gods being the Sun and the Moon. It is the goddess we can see and connect with. This festival lasts ten days beginning on the Amavasya (dark moon night) when the Sun is in Taurus to the Shukla Dashami Tithi (10th Lunar Day) all in the month of Jyeshta (usually around May or June). River Ganga is worshipped as a mother and a Goddess by people of India.

Initially, Ganga only flowed in the heavens from Vishnu’s left toe. She was brought down to earth by the severe Penance of the Sage Bhagiratha and that is why she is also called Bhagirathi.


There is a number of legends connected to the descent of Ganges. According to one of the main myths, demons were harassing the hermits by disturbing them in their ascetic spiritual practices. During the day, they would be chased into the ocean but they would emerge at night and begin harassing the hermits again. In desperation the hermits appealed to Rishi Agastya who drank all the water of the ocean, thereby consuming the demons too. Although this was done in good faith, it resulted in depriving the world of the water needed for sustenance and the earth became parched and dry.

Bhagiratha was the great-grandson of King Sagar of the Ikshvaku dynasty ruling and to understand why he performed the tapas for Ganga to descend we should know the story of King Sagar and his two queens, Keshani and Sumati. Both were childless. Sagar performed severe austerities before his wives could produce sons. Keshani gave birth to a son called Asmajas and Sumati bore 60,000 sons. Later King Sagar performed the Ashwamedha Yagya to declare his sovereignty over the neighbouring kingdoms. According to the custom, a sacrificial horse was let loose and allowed to wander into the neighbouring kingdoms. If the horse was caught, a battle ensued and the outcome decided who was the ruler of that kingdom. The 60,000 sons of Sagar were following the horse when they saw him enter a cavern where Sage Kapila was meditating. Not seeing the horse in the cavern, they presumed that Kapila had captured it. They did not kill Kapila as he was a sage but they started disturbing his meditations. Annoyed at being disturbed, Kapila burnt the 60,000 sons of Sagar with a curse.

Bhagiratha, the great-grandson of Sagar chanced to come across the bones of his dead ancestors. He wanted to perform the Shraddha of his ancestors but there was no water available for the ceremony. Click here to read more about Shraddha. Due to Agastya having drunk all the waters of the ocean, the country was passing through a severe drought. Bhagiratha prayed to Brahma, to end the drought. Brahma asked him to pray to Vishnu, to allow the heavenly Ganga to come down to earth. Vishnu agreed but asked him to request Shiva, to allow the powerful flow of Ganga to fall on his head before it came to the earth. As Ganga was very forceful and if she were allowed to come down unchecked, her fall would split the earth. Shiva agreed to take the gigantic weight of Ganga on his head. In meandering through his hair, Ganga lost its force and then gently descended to the Himalayas from whence it flowed to the plains bestowing its waters on the parched earth and allowing Bhagiratha to finish his Shraddha. And that is why the image of Ganga is shown in the matted hair of Shiva who is also called Gangadhara. Being born in the Himalayas, Ganga is considered the elder sister of Parvati, who is also a daughter of the Himalayas.

According to the Agni Purana and Padma Purana, the Ganga descended to the earth on Ganga Dussehra day and a bath in the holy river on this day is said to purify one of all sins. To die on the banks of the Ganga is considered most auspicious. If that is not possible, then the immersion of the ashes after cremation in the river Ganga is a must, as it then releases one from the cycles of birth and re-birth.

The Ganga is known as Tripathaga, or the river of three paths as it flows in the three worlds: in heaven, it is called Mandakini, on earth Ganga, and in the nether region the Bhagirathi. People go to the main Centres of Ganga Worship to clear away their past karma and ask forgiveness for their sins. People believe that by bathing in the Ganga sins are washed away. The main centres for the Ganga are Gangotri, the source of the river; Haridwar, where she comes down to the plains; Allahabad, where she joins the Yamuna; Varanasi, the holy city; and Sagara Island in her estuary where she finally flows into the Bay of Bengal.

How to Celebrate this Festival

During this festival and especially on Ganga Dussehra, the devotees take a dip in the holy rivers of Ganga to purify them of all sins. If they are unable to do so, they purify themselves by a sprinkling of Ganga Jal (water of the Ganges) that is kept in most Hindu homes.

If you want to something special for Ganga Dussehra and are not near the Ganges or have access to the holy Ganges water.

You can use spend the day in meditation and simplicity. Start the day by showering as a sacred ritual. Thinking of that purifies yourself of negative energy.

Chant the purification Mantra on normal water and sprinkle on your head three times and then over the home and family. You could chant the mantras for Ganga or visualize the beauty of Ganges and meditate of letting go of your past and clearing of the negativity.

Purification Mantra

Aum a-pavitra: Pavitro vaa Sarvaavasthaamgato-apivaa.
Ya: smareyta pundareekaasham Sa vaahyabhantar: shuchi

Mantra for Ganga

Om Gangaye Namah
Om he-le-me-le he-le-me-le gangey maam paavaya paavaya svaahaa

Mantra for 7 Holy Rivers

gange ca jamune caiva
godavari sarasvati
narmade sindhu kaveri
jalesmin sannidhi kuru

— Komilla Sutton and Nimisha Khatri


by Komila Sutton

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