What is the festival of Ganga Dussehra? - By the name itself, one can easily guess that the festival has a link with the holy river Ganga. The river is the lifeline of India as it provides water to several north & east Indian provinces. River Ganga plays a pivotal role in the economic-religious-cultural life of the people in Indo-Gangetic plains. Ganga Dussehra in Varanasi is a celebration of & gratitude for life-giving attributes of Ganga. Ganga Dussehra is also known as Gangavataran. It is a Hindu festival which commemorates the day when River Ganga descended on our earth from heaven. Hindus celebrate the festival on the 10th day of Shukla Paksha (Waxing Moon) in the month of Jyeshtha or Jaishtha or Jeth according to the Hindu calendar. As it falls on the 10th day, it is known as Ganga Dussehra. The festival begins on the first day of Shukla Paksha and continues till the Dussehra. The festival is mainly celebrated in the Indian states of Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal. It generally falls in the month of May or June according to the Gregorian calendar which is widely followed in the world. During the festival, priests (‘pandits’) perform ‘aartis’ on the banks of Ganga, the holy river. People take a dip in the river and offer prayers to Goddess Ganga. The festivities related to Ganga Dussehra can best be enjoyed in Varanasi at Dashashwamedh Ghat where people perform ‘Deep Daan’. Deep Daan is one of the many religious rites performed by floating burning earthen oil lamps (diyas) into the river. Grand Ganga Aarti Ceremony (Maha Aarti) is also performed on the ghat. Several devotees and tourists, domestic as well as international, stand mesmerized by the view.
Legend Associated to the Descent of River Ganga - India is world’s oldest living civilization and Indian cultural legacy is embedded with numerous stories, legends & mythology related to gods and goddesses. Hindu Mythology is rich with tales that talk about everyday life and provide knowledge about the environment around us. The tale of the descent of River Ganga plays an important role in the celebration of Ganga Dussehra. On request of Lord Brahma, the ‘Original Nature’ (मूलप्रकृति / पराशक्ति) expressed its seven forms - Gayatri, Saraswati, Lakshmi, Brahmvidya Uma, Shakti Beeja, Tapaswini and Dharmadrava. Lord Brahma, one of the Hindu Trinity, noticed Dharmadrava being all pervasive and omnipresent. He kept the seventh ‘Parashakti’ into his ‘kamandal’ (कमंडल). During ‘yajna’ (यज्ञ), being performed by Raja Bali, Lord Vishnu, in his dwarf incarnation (Vaamanavatar – वामनावतार), put his feet before Lord Brahma while covering the universe & sky. Brahma worshiped the feet of Lord Vishnu with the water of his ‘kamandal’. At the time of washing the feet, the water fell on the Hemkoot Mountains and, from there, reached to Lord Shiva who stored the water in the form of Ganga. The Seventh Nature remained in Lord Shiva's ‘jata’ for a very long time. The legends say that King Bhagirath was the person who brought River Ganga to earth with the help of rigorous ‘Tapasya (तपस्या)’ (deep meditation, penance & austerity). He needed to do that to seek solace for the souls of his 60,000 ancestors. The problems started when Sage Kapil got disturbed in his Tapasya by the sons of King Sagar while they were looking for the horse of an Ashwamedha Yagya. Sage Kapil got angry and cursed them to burn instantly to ashes. So, their souls stayed in a state where there was no peace. The way to get peace and salvation for them was to submerge their ashes in the holy waters of River Ganga. But River Ganga wasn’t present on our earth. King Bhagirath, the great grandson of King Sagar, had to perform the Tapasya. He gave up his kingdom to his minister and went to the Himalayas to perform his Tapasya for a thousand years. Bhagirath also prayed to Lord Shiva, on the advice of Goddess Ganga, help in to smoothen fierce descent of River Ganga. So, Goddess Ganga, residing in the matted locks (‘jata- जटा’) of Lord Shiva, falls on the earth. King Bhagirath persuaded successfully Goddess Ganga to flow on earth. This finally helped in freeing the souls of Sagar’s sons. The headstream of River Ganga is known as Bhagirathi. This is also the reason for which Hindus submerge ashes of the dead in Ganga for salvation. They hope that their family and friends will gain peace after death and reach the heaven.
The celebration of Ganga Dussehra in Varanasi - As we said above, Ganga Dussehra is an important festival which is celebrated in the holy city of Varanasi. Devotees gather here from all directions and also from foreign lands. It is the occasion when the faithful seek to cleanse themselves off their sins and lead to have pure & peaceful life. So, one of the most important rituals during Ganga Dussehra in Varanasi is to take holy dips in the sacred river. Gathering of devotees taking bath in the Ganga is a common sight. As ‘Dus’ stands for ten and ‘Hara’ stands for ‘to destroy’, it is said that a dip on this day absolves one of ten sins. Pujas (worship with religious rituals) also happen on the ghats of Varanasi. On the banks of Ganga, people sit with priests (‘pandits) and offer prayers to Mother Ganga & Lord Shiva. People also take part in floating diyas in the river (‘deep daan’) during the evening time. Aartis take place on all the ghats of Banaras. Devotees generally fast for the whole day till the main puja takes place. At the time of visiting Varanasi Ganga Dussehra, take caution on the ghats. The riverfront steps tend to be overcrowded and the stairs can often be slippery and full of flowers and garlands. Also, the security is tight during this holy festival so do not try to breach them. The devotees need to be in queue and wait for their turn to take a holy dip in the river. Do make sure to book accommodation way ahead of time.
Importance of River Ganga - The Ganga, a mighty river, starts flowing from the Himalayas and drains itself in the Bay of Bengal. Ganga waters & fertilizes a huge part of north & east India. It thus facilitates people to grow crops abundantly. Several cities exist on the banks of River Ganga and the people of those cities flourish due to its water. River Ganga is also home to several species of aquatic life forms and creates habitats for animals that reside on the banks. So, one should never forget to pay homage to this useful river.
Dates & Schedule of Ganga Dussehra