The Ganga (or Ganges) is a sacred and beautiful river of India that flows from the high reaches of the Himalayas, through the northern plains, and down to the Bay of Bengal. It is named after the goddess Ganga. The story of how Ganga was born, and how she became a river, tells of a journey from places even higher than the Himalayan mountaintops--a trip from the heavens themselves. Ganga’s journey is a long one, with many twists and turns, filled with tales of sorrow and joy, hardship and renewed hope.
Lord Vishnu recognized the true humility of King Bali’s words. “Thank you,” he said. “I promise I will always watch over you.” Then Lord Vishnu took his third step, placing his foot on the bent head of King Bali and pressing gently. Slowly the king sank deep into the earth, down and still deeper down, all the way to the Kingdom of the Lower Realms, where he would rule forever, under Lord Vishnu’s everlasting protection.
The world was filled with new life. People’s spirits rose as they realized they were freed from the demon’s long rule and the gods were delighted to return to their homes in Heaven.
There was new life in the heavens as well. When Lord Vishnu took his second step over Heaven, Lord Brahma had taken the chance to pour water over Vishnu’s big toe, catching the drops in the small jug he carried with him. One day soon after, he saw a tiny baby girl swimming and diving in the water. Lord Brahma scooped her out and placed her on his palm. “My child, do you know you have in you the divine energy of Lord Vishnu?” he whispered to her tenderly. “My precious one, I will name you Ganga and raise you as my own.”
Ganga grew graceful and sweet, and gave much joy to all who knew her. Her father Lord Brahma and all the other Gods of Heaven adored her. She had a gay and lighthearted sense of humor, and laughed easily--sometimes, perhaps, too easily!
Alas, one day her lighthearted laughter got her into deep trouble. When Ganga was still a little girl, Sage Durvasa came to visit Heaven. Unlike Ganga, Sage Durvasa was not known for his sense of humor. On the contrary, he was famous for his ill temper and powerful curses, and anyone who met him was very cautious not to make him angry. One day as he was out walking, he bumped into Pavan, the invisible God of Wind. Pavan’s powerful gusts caught Sage Durvasa in a small whirlwind that blew around and around him until, to Durvasa’s great dismay, all his clothes began to blow right off him! He clutched at his shawl, but every time he wrapped it around him the wind would tug it right off again. Try as he might, the surly sage could not gather his clothes together. After all, who can catch the wind? The gods knew enough to turn their faces away. Even if they were amused, they had the sense not to show it. But little Ganga had no sense. She pointed and laughed gaily.
Sage Durvasa could not stand to be made fun of. Grimly hanging on to his clothes, he wheeled around in terrible anger. “Girl, you need to learn proper manners. You are a disgrace to Heaven. You mock the saints! You have no place here! You must leave! You must go to Earth as a river,” the Sage cursed. “When humans wash their dirty clothes in your water, you will realize what a privilege it was to live in Heaven!”
Ganga cried, “Please pardon me. O Sage, I am sorry that I laughed at you. Please, please release me from your curse. I won’t misbehave again! I don’t want to be a river!”
The gods gathered in her defense, pleading with Durvasa to excuse the careless laughter of a young girl. But Durvasa softened only a little.
“I cannot take back what I give,” he told the Ganga. “I gave you a curse--a well-deserved curse--and you must go to Earth, when you are called. But I see that you are sincerely sorry. I will give you a blessing too. As a river, you will be worshipped as long as you live on Earth. Your water will purify the souls of men, and release them from their sins.”
Ganga was heartbroken at the thought of leaving her home and friends. All the other gods, too, were shocked and saddened that they would eventually have to lose their darling Ganga. But Ganga had a good heart, and after thinking it over, she realized that she had been given the chance to help ease human sorrows. In turn, this thought eased her own burden of sorrow and even gave her hope, as she waited for the moment she would be called to Earth.
That moment was still some years away. On Earth, battles were won and lost, kingdoms rose and fell, leaders came to power and then were defeated. Of all the leaders, King Sagar was one of the most ambitious. It was his goal to rule the entire planet.