In modern times, Bhagirathi is Ganga’s tributary. River Ganga is the most sacred river to Hindus. It is worshipped as the Goddess Ganga in Hinduism. In ancient times, it is also known as Bhagirathi and Jahnavi.
(Also Read: Why Ganga River is considered pure and holy in India? )
On why Ganga is called Bhagirathi?
The story goes like this. A long time ago, there was a king named Sagara. He has sixty thousand sons.
One day, King Sagara decided to perform rituals for the betterment of his kingdom. There was a horse that was an integral part of the ritual and it was stolen by Devaraj Indra in jealousy.
King Sagara sent his 60 thousand sons all over the earth to find the horse. After searching everywhere, they found the horse next to a meditating sage Kapila.
The horse was tied next to him by Indra. Believing that Kapila Muni (sage) has stolen the horse, they disturbed his Tapasya (meditation). Angered by this act of his sons, he cursed them and the sixty thousand sons were burnt to death.
The souls of the sons of Sagara wandered as ghosts since their final rites had not been performed. For the moksha of the sons of Sagar, Anshuman (nephew of those 60,000 sons) prayed to Brahma failed. His son Dilip did the same but failed.
Bhagirath was a Suryavanshi king who was one of the descendants of Sagara, son of Dilip, who learned of this fate. Saddened by their fate, he wondered if there was a chance that they might live again, be reborn, or attain moksha.
He went to Kapila muni and ask him if there was any way by which his ancestors can attain moksha or reborn.
Kapila Muni told him that they could be reborn only if their ashes were poured into the Ganga. For this Ganga would have to descend from heaven to earth. He then vowed that he would bring her down to Earth.
Bhagirathi did Tapasya and pleaded Brahma that Ganga comes down to Earth. Brahma agreed and he ordered her to go down to Earth so that the souls of Bhagirath’s ancestors could be freed.
She agreed, but she said that the force of her fall would end up destroying the Earth. Bhagirath then prayed to Lord Shiva and requested him to hold her on his head.
She falls on the Shiva’s head and he contained the force of the Ganga in his locks and let her out in small streams. Bhagirath was able to immerse the ashes of his ancestors in the river and they were freed and reborn.
Because of Bhagiratha’s efforts, Ganga descended to Earth and hence the river is known as Bhagirathi.
On why Ganga is called Jahnavi?
When Ganga was descending to Bhu-Loka (Earth), she was dancing gleefully and her rushing water created turbulence, making a lot of noise.
This disturbs the sadhana (spiritual practice) of the sage named Jahnu. Rishi Jahnu got annoyed and drank the whole river up.
Ganga then apologized for making so much noise. Also, the gods prayed to Jahnu to release her so that she could proceed with her mission.
Pleased with their prayers, Jahnu released Ganga (her waters) through his ears. So she is called Jahnavi, Jahnu’s daughter.
There is another version of this story.
In this Jahnu Muni resides on an island called Jahnudvipa. Here he used to chant prayers as the Bhagirathi river was flowing near his ashram.
One day, muni’s acamana (sipping water for purification) cup and spoon fell into the river. These were carried away by the strong flow of the river.
Jahnu Muni becomes furious and drank the entire Ganga. King Bhagirath was disturbed by this as he thought where did she disappear. When he came to know that out of rage and anger Jahnu Muni drank up the Ganga, he worshipped Jahnu Muni to please him.
Pleased by the King, Jahnu Muni cut his thigh and let her flow out from his body. Since then, she was also known as Jahnavi, the daughter of Jahnu Muni.