The Holy Places of Jaiva Dharma: Bhagirathi


BY: SUN STAFF - 11.7 2019

'Views in the Himalayas' by James Baillie Fraser, c. 1820

A serial presentation of the holy places mentioned in the Jaiva Dharma of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur - Part 21.

The holy Bhagirathi River is mentioned throughout sastra. In the Summary to Srimad Bhagavatam 5.17, Srila Prabhupada lists the various names used synonymously for the river:

"Lord Visnu once approached Bali Maharaja while the King was performing a sacrifice. The Lord appeared before him as Trivikrama, or Vamana, and begged alms from the King in the form of three steps of land. With two steps, Lord Vamana covered all three planetary systems and pierced the covering of the universe with the toes of His left foot. A few drops of water from the Causal Ocean leaked through this hole and fell on the head of Lord Siva, where they remained for one thousand millenniums. These drops of water are the sacred Ganges River. It first flows onto the heavenly planets, which are located on the soles of Lord Visnu's feet. The Ganges River is known by many names, such as the Bhagirathi and the Jahnavi. It purifies Dhruvaloka and the planets of the seven sages because both Dhruva and the sages have no other desire than to serve the Lord's lotus feet."

Both the names and the physical presence of Bhagirathi River are described in Vaisnava literature, in many different contexts. For example, we find frequent mention of Gauda-desa and Gauda-mandala-bhumi. These sacred places where Sri Krsna Caitanya enacted His transcendental pastimes are mentioned in Caitanya-caritamrta Adi lila 1.102, and in his purport to Adi lila 1.19, Srila Prabhupada gives a comprehensive explanation of the territory known as Gauda, and how it relates to our Gaudiya Vaisnava Sampradaya. The Bhagirati River is mentioned as one of the markers of Gauda-desa's geographic boundaries:

"We come across the term Pancha Gauda for the first time in the famous historical chronicle of Kashmir, the Rajatarangini of Kalhana. This indicates the widest diffusion of the name Gauda. Pancha Gauda referred to Gauda in association with Sarasvata, Kanyakubja, Mithila, and Utkala.

It thus appears that originally Gauda Janapada lay to the west of Bhagirathi and that its core area was Murshidabad. Gradually, with the increase of the political might of Shashanka, the first independent ruler of Gauda in the early part of the 7th century A.D., the political limits of Gauda extended, stretching in the south to coastal Orissa and the north to Pundravardhana."

(Suchandra Ghosh for Banglopedia)

The Bhagirathi has been mentioned many times in historical literature and the travelogues of western writers, such as "A Scotsman in the Himalayas": Excerpts from the journal of James Baillie Fraser, an artist on expedition to the Himalayas. In this 19-part Sun series we heard Fraser describe the great Bhagirathi and its many tributaries, including the Byramghattee (pictured above):

"Bhaironghati (Byramghattee) lies about 10 kilometres from Gangotri. It is set in a thickly forested region near the river Jahnavi, a tributary of the Bhagirathi (the Ganges at its point of origin at Gangotri-dhama). Arriving here on July 19, 1815, James wrote in his travel diary:

"A very singular and terrible place. The course of the river has continued foaming through its narrow rocky bed and the hills approach their heads, as though they could meet at a prodigious height above. At this point the Bhagiruttee is divided into two branches; that which preserves the name descends from the eastward, and the other, of a size fully equal, called the Jhannevie, joins it from the north-east. Both these rivers run in chasms, the depth, narrowness and rugged wildness of which it is impossible to describe.

From Byramghattee, the Bhagirathi-ganga runs for twenty miles through an open plain, allowing the streams to widen between the high snowy hills on either side. It then enters a narrow gorge, which confines it for nearly twenty miles before opening out again, being joined by a multitude of small tributaries, zig-zagging first north-west, then west, then south again as it descends…"

Among the jewel-like descriptions of Bhagirathi in sastra are those found in Sri Garga-samhita, a few of which follow:


Description of Giriraja Govardhana's Birth

yavad bhagirathi ganga
yavad govardhano girih
tavat kaleh prabhavas tu
bhavishyati na karhicit

As long as the Bhagirthi Ganges is present, and as long as Mount Govardhana is present, the power of Kali-yuga will not be present.

Garga-samhita & 115:

Sri Yamuna-sahasra-nama-kathana - A Thousand Names of Sri Yamuna

naur nauka bhava-naur bhavya
manomayi darumayi
saikati sikatamayi (101)

[Sri Yamuna] ". . . is a boat to cross the ocean of repeated birth and death (nau, nauka, and bhava-nau), is the proper object of meditation (bhavya), is a bridge to cross the ocean of repeated birth and death (bhava-sagara-setuka), is thoughtful (manomayi), is a river with many trees on its shore (darumayi), is a river with many beaches (saikati and sikatamayi), . . .

samudri ratnada dhuni
bhagirathi svar-dhuni bhuh
cri-vamana-pada-cyuta (115)

. . . is glorious like Gagga-sagara (gagga-sagara-cobhadhya), flows into the ocean (samudri), is full of jewels (ratnada), is a beautiful river (dhuni), is a friend of the Gagga (bhagirathi, svar-dhuni, bhuh, and cri-vamana-pada-cyuta), . . ."


Sri Balabhadra-sahasra-nama - A Thousand Names of Lord Balarama

krishna pampa narmada ca
ganga bhagirathi nadi
siddhasramah prabhasas ca
bindur bindu-sarovarah

He is the Krishna (krishna), Pampa (pampa), Narmada (narmada), Ganga (ganga), and Bhagirathi rivers (bhagirathi). He is all sacred rivers (nadi). He is Siddhasrama (siddhasrama), Prabhasa (prabhasa), Bindu (bindu), and Bindu-sarovara (bindu-sarovara).