Ganga- Bhagiratha Prayatna

The river Ganga in our legends is said to have been brought down to the Earth by a very ancient king by name Bhagiratha. The river Ganga as it flows through the Himalayan ranges is also called Bhagirathi. Though Ganga is said to come from the heavens onto Siva’s head and from there on follow Bhagiratha, Ganga is not said to be a Deivatanam of Shiva.

Yatnam means effort, Prayatnam means extraordinary effort and Deivatanam means divine miracle.
The effort of bringing the Ganga is referred to as "Bhagiratha Prayathnam" and this legend of Ganga is very popular all over India.

The term Bhagiratha Prayathnam indicates, it was Bhagiratha's extraordinary effort to bring the waters of Ganga. In our Indian vernacular languages any super human effort is also referred to as Bhagiratha Prayathnam.
Various scientific facts and records available today do indeed map into this legend and reinforce how this indeed qualifies to be called Bhagiratha Prayathnam.
Using its integrated, rational, scientific and logical approach to understand our ancient civilization and its knowledge, Bharath Gyan has compiled the works of many researchers from various walks of life, who have explored Ganga from various perspectives. The objective of this compilation is to not only showcase the biggest and most valuable civil engineering marvel of the world for times to come but also to highlight the lessons to be learnt from this great feat of our ancients.
Bharath Gyan has put together this compilation from the various perspectives of literary, geography, geology and historical records.
In this capsule Ganga is not looked at from a religious angle or from the environmental or the pollution angle.
The Indian legends state that the Ganga flowed in the plains due to the efforts of Bhagiratha. The focus of this capsule is to look at Ganga or to be more precise, to look at the effort of Bhagiratha and his predecessors in bringing Ganga down from the Himalayas to the plains. The focus is on verifying if there was indeed civil engineering, or more aptly put, the river engineering work of a massive magnitude, involved in channelizing the Ganga River.

Is this story of bringing Ganga down to the plains, in our legend, a myth or can we have a look at the insights of the surveyors suggesting that the Ganga was a man made river?
To understand this river engineering marvel, we have studied the course of the river in 3 stages:

  • Tibet to Bindu Sarovar
  • Bindu Sarovar to Haridwar

Haridwar to Rajmahal Hills and thereon to the sea.

The details of the engineering aspects in each of these 3 stages have been studied from,

  1. the angle of the Ganga legend,
    2.  the perspective of the British Surveyors who have surveyed the sources of the Himalayan rivers extensively, more than 100 years back itself.
    3. the present day available geological facts and traditional practices prevalent even today.

The colonial British surveyors in India from the late 1700's, in their quest for the origin of the Ganga River, have done extensive survey of the Himalayan region. Some of the illustrious surveyors were Captain Herbert, Rennel and Sir William Willcocks.
They and the other surveyors have recorded their findings in journals and book of their times. In these records, they emphatically and unambiguously state that the Ganga is not a natural river, but a man made river by the ancients of India. It started as a canal along with many other canals dug by the ancients.
Obviously, a river engineering project, of this massive magnitude could not have been accomplished by an individual alone.
Our legends and texts such as Gangavataran, when analysed wholistically, show that it was the cumulative effort of 5 generations starting from Raja Sagara, to his sons the 60,000 Sagaraputra, their successors Anshuman, Dilipa and finally on to Bhagiratha who completed the task.

Sagara undertook tapasya at Bhriguashram, close to Gaumukh and identified the Gangotri glacier which needed to be tapped to bring water to his kingdom. He also realized that just opening up the water source there, would not be sufficient, as the water could flow anywhere downstream. However with this effort, his lifetime was over.
His sons, the 60000 Sagaraputra, followed up his effort by digging the canal using the implements of their time right through their land, in the plains, all the way upto the sea at present day RajMahal Hills area in Jharkhand state. It is here they encounter Rishi Kapila and are burnt by his gaze.
The topography of RajMahal hills area today is seen to be the remnants of volcanic activity. Kapila in Smskrit language means brown, hot, molten and the likes. Was it that, during their endeavour to dig a path for Ganga to flow, the Sagaraputra encountered the volcanoes at RajMahal and were burnt to ashes?
Their successor Anshuman surveyed the upper reaches of Himalayas as well as the RajMahal hills in the light of the environment debacle encountered by the Sagaraputra.
His son Dilipa, spent a major part of his life in the Shivalik ranges, where the pathway for Ganga had to be created to reach the plains.
Finally, once the course for the river had been created from the Bindu Sarovar to the seas at RajMahal, it was Bhagiratha who broke open the gorge and released Ganga into the channel and led her all the way through the Shivalik range, down the canal dug by the Sagaraputra and finally into the seas.
If this act of releasing Ganga from the Sarovar had been done before the channel was readied, the water could have flown in any direction and not necessarily have reached the kingdom of Bhagiratha and then onto the sea. Our ancients were wise enough to realize that not only had they to charter a course upto their kingdom to ensure that the water reached there, but they were wise enough to understand that they had to lead the waters all the way to the sea failing which it would dam up their kingdom.
In this subject capsule, the whereabouts of Ganga before she started flowing down and the reasons for why Ganga was required by Sagara and his people are also examined from a Geological perspective. The deeds of those great kings and stories around them are also validated using local topographical and other scientific facts which vindicate these legends.
This wonderful effort of Civil engineering by Bhagiratha and team has come down to us through Puranic stories. The Indians, till about 200 years ago, always looked at these Puranic stories as historical legends of India.
The colonial historians of India, starting from James Mill and Charles Grant in 1808, summarily dubbed everything Indian as imaginary and trash.
Over the last 200 years, it is this imperial British designed thought process, which has been conditioning our minds through our educational system. When we parallely look at the British Surveyors’ report on the river Ganga, it gives us a different story. The British Surveyors, through their own onsite findings clearly corroborate the details in the Indian legend, of the Ganga being a man made river.
Now armed with the Geological knowledge about these areas as well as the findings of some of the British surveyors and other Historical records, we will see that our ancients were not wrong in stating that Ganga is manmade and we do owe the Ganga to Bhagiratha and his ancestors’ river engineering efforts.
Here is a classic case of the convergence of a popular Indian legend with ground reality and scientific data about our land.
The 5 generation effort of Sagara to Bhagiratha, is perhaps the greatest civil engineering feat of just not the Indian people but probably of the human endeavour history.

If many millennia ago, Indians of the remote past could have planned and executed such a great project for the benefit of mankind, one which has survived for thousands of years, why cannot we, today, the so called civilized generation, think of planning and implementing a water grid for our country to ensure that our water sources and the rivers feed each other to keep them flowing all year long, all over the country?
While the legend of Ganga showcases the capabilities and knowledge of our ancients, it is also a call to all Indians to think about Ganga in the light of reports that the Gangotri glacier is fast disappearing and Ganga will cease to be a perennial river in the next 100 years.
History shows us that even the mightiest of the rivers can go dry due to glaciers vanishing or due to natural calamities.
When the Saraswathi River dried up around 2500 BCE, i.e. 4500 years ago, there was a large scale population migration from Northwestern parts of India to different parts of the world. In the next 100 years, by 2100 CE, the Ganga River is almost certain to go dry. Almost 1/10th of the world population lives by the Ganga river basin. Where will this population migrate to?
We have a major socio-anthropological problem to deal with immediately. To address this socio-anthropological problem, we need to understand when, why and how the Saraswathi River went dry, 4500 years ago.

Parallely, we also need to appreciate, understand and realize that Ganga, a man made river, needs to be suitably revived to avert a mass migration catastrophe.
Once we scientifically understand the components of river engineering involved in creating this river engineering marvel called Ganga, it will help us address its re-engineering as a perennial river for many millennia to come.
We need a new Bhagiratha in our times to ensure sustenance of 1/10th of the world population by the Ganga. We need a Bhagiratha to save the Ganga now.