The call of Ganga – 4

We had arrived at Braj ghat, the bathing centre that is just short of the main town of Garhmukteshwar.

Garhmukteshwar is a very ancient place of pilgrimage. This is a part of the Hastinapura region, the Kaurava capital of Mahabharata. Local lore has it that this is the place where Goddess Ganga met Shantanu, the great grandfather of Pandavas and Kauravas.

Remember the story?

A King of name Mahabhishak had a momentary lapse of poise when he saw Ganga in the court of the celestials. And so was cursed to be reborn as a mortal on earth and marry Ganga, who too would manifest on earth in human form. Meanwhile, the eight Vasus (deities representing elemental aspects of nature) are cursed by sage Vasishta to be born as mortals on earth, for a misdemeanor that they had committed. The Vasus have no choice but to fall from heaven, but decide that they would like to be done with earth life as soon as they are born. And because they are celestials, Goddess Ganga decides to bear them as her children and deliver them from the curse of earth. And so it is that Mahabhishak is born as King Shantanu. And he meets and falls in love with Ganga – at Garhmukteshwar.

Ganga agrees to his proposal of marriage subject to his agreeing to her conditions. The first condition is that he never utter anything that would displease her. The second condition is that he should never question anything she ever does. (Fair conditions, which any sensible girl would like to demand from her suitor). And she adds that if he fails to live up to this promise, she would leave him forthwith..(and they talk of women’s lib now!)… Shantanu, being carried away by his Karmic tsunami, agrees…   

And so it is that Shantanu and Ganga live a life of great joy. And a son is born to them, the first of the Vasus. Ganga takes the child and casts the newborn child into her river form – the Ganga river. She just drowns the baby. Shantanu is aghast, but is bound by the conditions of his promise. He can neither complain nor question. Thus, one after another, seven of the Vasus are born, and meet the same fate. When the eighth child is born, and Ganga again proceeds to the river, King Shantanu can bear it no more, and breaks his promise. He vents his woe and questions her as to why she was repeatedly committing such a cruel act. That’s it. She spares the life of that child, but true to her condition, she leaves Shantanu.  

That child grows up to be Bhishma Pitamaha, the anchor of the great-great epic, Mahabharata.

Garhmukteshwar is thus quite a fulcrum point of our ancient world.

This town has around a hundred temples. Famous among them is the Mukteshwar temple, after which the town is named, said to have been built by King Shivi, a benchmark among Kings, noble ancestor of Lord Rama. The Mukteshwar Siva Linga is said to have been worshipped by sage Parasurama. There is an even more ancient Mukteshwar temple, where Ravana is said to have offered worship. There are several temples of Goddess Ganga. There is a place called Meerabai-ki-reti, associated with Meera Bai. One sure feels a timeless hum of faith as one enters environs such as this…

In India, you don’t just travel in space…you travel in time…you travel into forgotten lanes of your own heart and mind…

                                                                                         …To be contd…


3 Responses to “The call of Ganga – 4”

  1. Srinivasa Says:

    I suppose there is no mention of Garhmukteswar in the Mahabharata. This Shantanu meeting Ganga etc is purely local legend?

  2. gkamesh Says:

    It is hastinapura. It is the locale. It is the lore.

  3. hi Says:

    interesting post. thought you may enjoy reading more about Mirabai and her bhajans/poetry at this site about meerabai at

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