Ganga Goddess, river and maiden, tumbles free in high Himalayan gorges and kisses Shiva’s feet in Haridwar where a hundred thousand butter lamps wait to illuminate her beauty.
Five hundred kinds of flower are thrown at her feet as she surges towards Allahabad and sweeps her sister Yamuna up with the flow and they sink Saraswati with their giddy enthusiasm.
Becoming immortal for moments here and there, she bows like the moon at Varanasi before sashaying through the Bay of Bengal where a thousand heart-shaped islands encircle her throat while her blessed locks reach out like the fingers of a lover towards the sea.
With her tides rising and falling like the breast of a woman sleeping after love, she disappears once again into the warm current of the ocean.
But it wasn’t always this way….
Shiva was lost in a dream of a milky maiden flowing through hollow canyons to the
broad plain of existence. Her perfume began to swirl in teasing tendrils around his nostril, her tears began to hiss and spit on his holy fire. In his dream, he tumbled through the green landscape of her underbelly, twisting one tendril of her hair around his finger….
From somewhere far away came the sound of his name being called.
“Maha Dev, Maha Dev!”
Parvatti! How did she get into his dream of Ganga? Shiva rolls like a wave and breaks the surface of his dream.
“Who is that damn woman in your hair?”
Shiva awakes from his dream of Ganga to see Parvatti standing dripping wet before him, her arms akimbo.
“What is she making all that fuss about?” she says. “The children can hardly sleep with her roars and tears.”
Tumbling free of the dream of Ganga, Shiva shakes his matted hair.
Ganga rolls free like a dolphin, flicking her tail once, twice – and then she is gone.
Reaching out, Shiva takes Parvatti by the waist and pulls her near.
“Well?” says Parvatti, pouting delightfully as Shiva strokes her hair.
“Make peace beloved Goddess,” says Shiva softly. “That was only my cheli, the goddess Ganga, passing through. Listen now while I tell you a story.”
Shiva takes a puff on his chillum and begins.
Parvatti sighs and melts into his arms.
“Desire is the beginning and the end of all stories. Desire forms an island of sand in the ocean of consciousness. Inside every grain of sand is a world…..”
Parvatti sighs again and then dissolves into the ocean of stories that fall from the lips of the great Yogi…..
“Somewhere before time the goddess Ganga streamed across the celestial sky absorbing the Milky Way into one fold of her gossamer sari. Bending to drape her exquisite ankles in droplets of stars, her glossy dark hair spills like silk over the rise and fall of her breasts. Heavenly silkworms have schemed for millennia to find the secret thread that conceals and reveals the body of Ganga, draping her curves like a lover. Whenever Goddess Ganga moves, all the Devi in heavens can be heard to sigh, trees sway in the Wish Fulfilling Forest and flowers fall from heaven to scent her path.
Ganga Goddess has become accustomed to being lauded for her physical beauty.
Peering at her reflection in the oceans of earth, she sighs in contentment. Life is as sweet as the jasmine flowers swirling at her feet….
One day, Indra, the vain and handsome King of the Heavens, approached Ganga
goddess as she lay beside the river of constellations and trailing her finger in the cosmic vapour. Sudden clouds marked the appearance of Indra and the goddess swirled around to face him. Her bewitching eyes, clear as a spring on a summer day, bubbled with curiosity.
“King of the Heavens, live forever.” Greeting him thus, she gives birth to an island
and invites him to sit.
“Great Goddess, may the light of heaven always guide you.”
“What brings you, what can I do for you?” Asked Ganga, well aware that gods like
Indra didn’t just drop in on people uninvited unless there was a reason…….
“There is a problem,” he said.
Ganga’s sigh swirled around the celestial sky, catching on the moon and threatening
misty rain. She thought for a minute. Indra always seemed to portend trouble; he had a knack for it. There was the time when he was so disturbed by the meditations of the great sage Visvuamitra that he sent two devastatingly tantalizing and firm breasted Apsara with explicit instructions to sabotage his efforts to attain sainthood, lest his arrival in heaven topple the very throne Indra sat on. Ganga hoped that Indra wasn’t involved in something like this again.
Taking advantage of the silence, Indra began. “Great goddess, who washes away all
temporal cares with one sight of your intoxicating beauty, cast your gaze down on earth.
We have a situation down there. It seems that some naughty demons have been
disturbing the meditations of the Brahmin hermits with all kinds of wicked temptations.”
Ganga raised one divinely arched eyebrow. This was sounding dangerously like the
“Goddess, each night the hermits chase them away,” Indra continued. “But the
demons hide in the ocean during the day and come out again under shadow of the night, torturing the Brahmins with the promise of every desire known to mortal man. They can hardly meditate with all this desire dripping from the trees beneath which they sit.”
Ganga ji snorted. Indra himself was not unfamiliar with the treachery of temptation.
There was another time when……
Noticing that Ganga’s attention has wandered, Indra clears his throat like thunder
and quickly continues.
“Goddess, they approached the great sage Agastya who sits in the cave nearby to
Pushkar for a solution. Waiting by the ocean just before dusk, he opened his mouth and swallowed the entire ocean, demons and all.”
“We tried to get him to spit the demons into the next lifetime and release the water but there is a problem with his digestion, anyway he has retreated back to his cave.”
A swirl of curiosity bubbled to the surface, “King of the Heavens, tell me what you
“Goddess, the world is pleading for water. For the last thousand years a sage called
Bhagiratha has been practising austerities. We are pleased with his efforts and have now decided that you must let loose your waters on the earth.”
“‘What Cosmic Conspiracy is this? We? I Must?’” said the Goddess Ganga. She
laughed contemptuously, tossing her head. “You would have done better to consult me instead of meeting in secret. I could have told you that my fall from heaven will crush the very foundations of the earth.”
“We thought of that Goddess. We calculated the loss to the heavens, multiplied it by
the gains to both mankind and yourself, consulted engineers…..”
Ganga interrupts the God of the Heavens with an impatient click of her teeth.
“You have overlooked one vital matter, one which will see all your plans and schemes come to nothing.” She declared dismissively.
“We did consider that Goddess…..” Indra continued.
Again Ganga interrupted.
“Well consider this. There is nothing on earth or in the heavens to halt my flow.”
“Nothing?” thundered Indra. Like all vain people, he had no patience for the haughtiness of others.
“Nothing and No one!” declared the great goddess emphatically.
“Not even Shiva?” He taunted her with the name of the Great God
“Shiva? Shiva you say? Shiva who sits alone in an icy cave inside Mount Kailash? I
will crack his skull!”
With that she roared off, plunging like a waterfall across the sky leaving Indra
gasping like a fish at her arrogance.
Indra was infuriated by Ganga’s pride and approached Shiva. She obviously needed
to be taught a lesson.
Shiva awoke slowly from a hundred thousand years of dreaming Parvatti to find Indra waiting at the door of his heavenly abode in Kailash.
As Indra related the tale to Shiva, the great god shook his matted hair and took a puff on his chillum.
“King of the heavens, you woke me from a dream of Parvatti to ask me to be guru of
the celestial goddess Ganga who has already vowed to crack my skull? What nonsense is this? Let the vain Ganga leap from the heavens, I will stem her flow and crush her pride,” said Shiva.
So began a celestial Taming of the Shrew!
When Ganga ji came to hear of Shiva’s promise she swelled with fury, she deepened into canyons and gathered momentum cutting into mountains as she sashayed past on her descent to earth. When she heard that he had yawned at her holy name, she screamed in torrents and cut clefts into celestial mountains. Pouring herself over the edge of the heavens Gangaji plunged screaming onto the matted head of Mahadev.
Tossing, turning, writhing this way and that, curving in arches and curling around tendrils Ganga flooded the forests of Shiva’s jeta screaming in rage. Somewhere in a distant consciousness, Shiva registered the celestial screams as one might register the sound of a mosquito on a summer night; his divine lips curled in a small smile. Ganga meanwhile swarmed this way and that, thrummed on the skull of the great god but failed to find entry. Rising in her fury, she spurts water from the divine locks of the lord onto the plains of mother earth and the world is saved.”
Parvatti shifts in Shiva’s arms and looks at her husband.
“So does this mean that every family portrait we have is going to show that woman spouting from your head?”
Gaga Goddess painting by Rajiv Lochan