The Holy Places of Jaiva Dharma: Bhagirathi


BY: SUN STAFF - 12.7 2019

The Bhagirathi River at Harsil 

A serial presentation of the holy places mentioned in the Jaiva Dharma of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur - Part 23.

As we continue to explore some of the countless sastric references to the sacred Bhagirathi River, two areas of focus remain: one is the numerous mentions of Bhagirathi in the Mahabharata, and the other is references to Bhagirathi in Vaisnava literature on Chaitanya-lila. We begin today with the Mahabharata content.

As we have heard throughout the series, there are many puranic references to the Goddess Ganga, who resided only on the heavenly planets until King Bhagirath implored her to descend on earth. This story is also told in the Mahabharata. In fact, Ganga Ma is a primary character in the Mahabharata, being the mother of Bhisma.

Among the key passages in Mahabharata regarding the Bhagirathi are those found in Adi parva, which describes the greatness of Bhagirathi River. We also find in Adi Parva the story of Arjuna's victory over a Gandharva named Angaraparna, on the banks of the Bhagirathi (Chaitraratha Parva 172 & 185). Because the material is too voluminous to include here, what follows is a brief summary of some of these excellent passages from Mahabharata on the Bhagirathi, in their respective order:


Book 1 - Adi Parva

In part 140 of the Sambhava Parva we read that at one point in the great battle at Kurukshetra, Arjuna asked Bhima to spare Drupada and his forces from final destruction, because Drupada was a relative of the Kuru heroes. Drona then addressed his opponent:

"…Drona beholding Drupada thus brought under complete control--humiliated and deprived of wealth--remembered that monarch's former hostility and addressing him said, 'Thy kingdom and capital have been laid waste by me. But fear not for thy life, though it dependeth now on the will of thy foe. Dost thou now desire to revive thy friendship (with me)?'

Having said this, he smiled a little and again said, 'Fear not for thy life, brave king! We, Brahmanas, are ever forgiving. And, O bull among Kshatriyas, my affection and love for thee have grown with me in consequence of our having sported together in childhood in the hermitage. Therefore, O king, I ask for thy friendship again. And as a boon (unasked), I give thee half the kingdom (that was thine). Thou toldest me before that none who was not a king could be a king's friend. Therefore is it, O Yajnasena, that I retain half thy kingdom. Thou art the king of all the territory lying on the southern side of the Bhagirathi, while I become king of all the territory on the north of that river. And, O Panchala, if it pleaseth thee, know me hence for thy friend.'"

This story is later retold, in Chaitraratha Parva, part 168:

"Then Arjuna and others said unto their preceptor, 'So be it.'--After a time when the Pandavas became skilled in arms and sure aims, demanding of them his fee, he again told them these words, 'Drupada, the son of Prishata, is the king of Chhatravati. Take away from him his kingdom, and give it unto me.' Then the Pandavas, defeating Drupada in battle and taking him prisoner along with his ministers, offered him unto Drona, who beholding the vanquished monarch, said, 'O king, I again solicit thy friendship; and because none who is not a king deserveth to be the friend of a king, therefore, O Yajnasena, I am resolved to divide thy kingdom amongst ourselves. While thou art the king of the country to the south of Bhagirathi (Ganga), I will rule the country to the north.'

The Brahmana continued, 'The king of the Panchalas, thus addressed by the wise son of Bharadwaja, told that best of Brahmanas and foremost of all persons conversant with weapons, these words, 'O high-souled son of Bharadwaja, blest be thou, let it be so, let there be eternal friendship between us as thou desirest!' Thus addressing each other and establishing a permanent bond between themselves, Drona and the king of Panchala, both of them chastisers of foes, went away to the places they came from. But the thought of that humiliation did not leave the king's mind for a single moment. Sad at heart, the king began to waste away."

And in section 199 of Vaivahika Parva we find a passage wherein Vyasa is describing a great fire sacrifice being performed in the Naimisha forest. Having made a plea to Yamaraja about the proliferation of humans, who appeared to be evading death, Yama placated them. They returned to the banks of the Bhagirathi, where Lord Indra was present:

"Vyasa continued, 'Hearing these words of the first-born deity, the celestials returned to the spot where the grand sacrifice was being performed. And the mighty one sitting by the side of the Bhagirathi saw a (golden) lotus being carried along by the current. And beholding that (golden) lotus, they wondered much. And amongst them, that foremost of celestials, viz., Indra, desirous of ascertaining whence it came, proceeded up along the course of the Bhagirathi. And reaching that spot whence the goddess Ganga issues perennially, Indra beheld a woman possessing the splendour of fire. The woman who had come there to take water was washing herself in the stream, weeping all the while. The tear-drops she shed, falling on the stream, were being transformed into golden lotuses. The wielder of the thunderbolt, beholding that wonderful sight, approached the woman and asked her, 'Who art thou, amiable lady? Why dost thou weep? I desire to know the truth. O, tell me everything.'

Vyasa continued, 'The woman thereupon answered, 'O Sakra, thou mayest know who I am and why, unfortunate that I am, I weep, if only, O chief of the celestials, thou comest with me as I lead the way. Thou shall then see what it is I weep for." Hearing these words of the lady, Indra followed her as she led the way. And soon he saw, not far off from where he was, a handsome youth with a young lady seated on a throne placed on one of the peaks of Himavat and playing at dice. Beholding that youth, the thief of the celestials said, 'Know, intelligent youth, that this universe is under my sway.' Seeing, however, that the person addressed was so engrossed in dice that he took no notice of what he said, Indra was possessed by anger and repeated, 'I am the lord of the universe. The youth who was none else than the god Mahadeva (the god of the gods), seeing Indra filled with wrath, only smiled, having cast a glance at him. At that glance, however, the chief of the celestials was at once paralysed and stood there like a stake. When the game at dice was over, Isana addressing the weeping woman said, 'Bring Sakra hither, for I shall soon so deal with him that pride may not again enter his heart.'"


Book 3 - Vana Parva

In section 84 of the Tirtha-yatra Parva, taking holy bath in the Bhagirathi is one of the recommended activities:

"Proceeding next to the tirtha called Auddalaka frequented by Munis, and bathing there one is cleansed of all his sins. Repairing next to the sacred tirtha called Dharma that is visited by Brahmarshis, one acquireth the merit of the Vajapeya sacrifice and becometh respected in heaven. Proceeding next to Champa and bathing in the Bhagirathi, he that sojourneth to Dandaparna acquireth the merit of giving away a thousand kine. Then should one proceed to the sacred Lalitika that is graced by the presence of the virtuous. By this one acquireth the merit of the Rajasuya sacrifice and is regarded in heaven."


Book 6 - Bhisma Parva

In section 6 of the the Jamvu-khanda Nirmana Parva, there is a discussion between Dhritarashtra and Sanjaya, in which the division of the seven Varshas of the world are described in detail:

"Sanjaya said,--'Stretching from east to west, are these six mountains that are equal and that extend from the eastern to the western ocean. They are Himavat, Hemakuta, that best of mountains called Nishadha, Nila abounding with stones of lapis lazuli, Sweta white as the moon, and the mountains called Sringavat composed of all kinds of metals. These are the six mountains, O king, which are always the resorts of Siddhas and Charanas. The space lying between each of these measures a thousand Yojanas, and thereon are many delightful kingdoms. And these divisions are called Varshas, O Bharata. In all those kingdoms reside creatures of diverse species.

This (the land where we are) is in the Varsha that is called after Bharata. Next to it (northwards) is the Varsha called after Himavat. The land that is beyond Hemakuta is called Harivarsha, South of the Nila range and on the north of the Nishadha is a mountain, O king, called Malyavat that stretches from east to west. Beyond Malyavat northwards is the mountain called Gandhamadana. Between these two (viz., Malyavat and Gandhamadana) is a globular mountain called Meru made of gold. Effulgent as the morning sun, it is like fire without smoke. It is eighty-four thousand Yojanas high, and, O king, its depth also is eighty-four Yojanas. It standeth bearing the worlds above, below and transversely. Besides Meru are situated, O lord, these four islands, viz., Bhadraswa, and Ketumala, and Jamvudwipa otherwise called Bharata, and Uttar-Kuru which is the abode of persons who have achieved the merit of righteousness. The bird Sumukha, the son of Suparna, beholding that all the birds on Meru were of golden plumage, reflected that he should leave that mountain inasmuch as there was no difference between the good, middling, and bad birds. The foremost of luminaries, the sun, always circumambulates Meru, as also the moon with (his) attendant constellation, and the Wind-god too.

The mountain, O king, is endued with celestial fruits and flowers, and it is covered all over with mansions made of furnished gold. There, on that mountain, O king, the celestials, the Gandharvas, the Asuras, and the Rakshasas, accompanied by the tribes of Apsaras, always sport. There Brahman, and Rudra, and also Sakra the chief of the celestials, assembled together, performed diverse kinds of sacrifices with plentiful gifts. Tumvuru, and Narada and Viswavasu, and the Hahas and the Huhus, repairing thither, adored the foremost of the celestials with diverse hymns. The high-souled seven Rishis, and Kasyapa the lord of creatures, repair thither, blessed be thou, on every parva day. 1 Upon the summit of that mountain, Usanas, otherwise called the Poet, sporteth with the Daityas (his disciples). The jewels and gems (that we see) and all the mountains abounding in precious stones are of Meru. Therefrom a fourth part is enjoyed by the holy Kuvera. Only a sixteenth part of that wealth he giveth unto men. On the northern side of Meru is a delightful and excellent forest of Karnikaras, covered with the flowers of every season, and occupying a range of hills.

There the illustrious Pasupati himself, the creator of all things, surrounded by his celestial attendants and accompanied by Uma, sporteth bearing a chain of Karnikara flowers (on his neck) reaching down to his feet, and blazing with radiance with his three eyes resembling three risen suns. Him Siddhas truthful in speech, of excellent vows and austere ascetic penances, can behold. Indeed, Maheswara is incapable of being seen by persons of wicked conduct. From the summit of that mountain, like a stream of milk, O ruler of men, the sacred and auspicious Ganga, otherwise called Bhagirathi, adored by the most righteous, of universal form and immeasurable and issuing out with terrific noise, falleth with impetuous force on the delightful lake of Chandramas. Indeed that sacred lake, like an ocean, hath been formed by Ganga herself. (While leaping from the mountains), Ganga, incapable of being supported by even the mountains, was held for a hundred thousand years by the bearer of Pinaka on his head. On the western side of Meru, O king, is Ketumala. And there also is Jamvukhanda. Both are great seats of humanity, O king.

There, O Bharata, the measure of human life is ten thousand years. The men are all of a golden complexion, and the women are like Apsaras. And all the residents are without sickness, without sorrow, and always cheerful. The men born there are of the effulgence of melted gold. On the summits of Gandhamadana, Kuvera the lord of the Guhyakas, with many Rakshasas and accompanied by tribes of Apsaras, passeth his time in joy. Besides Gandhamadana there are many smaller mountains and hills. The measure of human life there is eleven thousand years. There, O king, the men are cheerful, and endued with great energy and great strength and the women are all of the complexion of the lotus and highly beautiful. Beyond Nila is (the Varsha called) Sweta, beyond Sweta is (the Varsha called) Hiranyaka. Beyond Hiranyaka is (the Varsha called) Airavata covered with provinces. The last Varsha in the (extreme) north and Bharata's Varsha in the (extreme) south are both, O king, of the form of a bow. These five Varshas (viz., Sweta, Hiranyaka, Elavrita, Harivarsha, and Haimavat-varsha) are in the middle, of which Elavrita exists in the very middle of all.

Amongst these seven Varshas (the five already mentioned and Airavata and Bharata) that which is further north excels the one to its immediate south in respect of these attributes, viz., the period of life, stature, health, righteousness, pleasure, and profit. In these Varshas, O Bharata, creatures (though of diverse species) yet, live together. Thus, O king, is Earth covered with mountains. The huge mountains of Hemakuta are otherwise called Kailasa. There, O king, Vaisravana passeth his time in joy with his Guhyakas. Immediately to the north of Kailasa and near the mountains of Mainaka there is a huge and beautiful mountain called Manimaya endued with golden summits. Beside this mountain is a large, beautiful, crystal and delightful lake called Vindusaras with golden sands (on its beach). There king Bhagiratha, beholding Ganga (since) called after his own name, resided for many years. There may be seen innumerable sacrificial stakes made of gems, and Chaitya tree made of gold. It was there that he of a thousand eyes and great fame won (ascetic) success by performing sacrifices.

There the Lord of all creatures, the eternal Creator of all the worlds, endued with supreme energy surrounded by his ghostly attendants, is adored. There Nara and Narayana, Brahman, and Manu, and Sthanu as the fifth, are (ever present). And there the celestial stream Ganga having three currents, issuing out of the region of Brahman, first showed herself, and then dividing herself into seven streams, became Vaswokasara, Nalini, the sin-cleansing Saraswati, Jamvunadi, Sita, Ganga and Sindhu as the seventh. The Supreme Lord hath (himself) made the arrangement with reference to that inconceivable and celestial stream. It is there that sacrifices have been performed (by gods and Rishis) on a thousand occasions after the end of the Yuga (when creation begins). As regards the Saraswati, in some parts (of her course) she becometh visible and in some parts not so. This celestial sevenfold Ganga is widely known over the three worlds. Rakshasas reside on Himavat, Guhyakas on Hemakuta, and serpents and Nagas on Nishadha, and ascetics on Gokarna. The Sweta mountains are said to be the abode of the celestial and the Asuras. The Gandharvas always reside on Nishadhas, and the regenerate Rishis on Nila. The mountains of Sringavat also are regarded as the resort of the celestials."


Book 12 - Santi Parva

In the Apaddharma-nusasana Parva section 174 there is a wonderful passage describing Rajadharman, the son of Kasyapa muni in the form of a Crane, welcoming Gautama rsi as his guest along the Bhagirathi:

"Bhishma continued, 'Having offered him hospitality according to the rites laid down in the scriptures, the crane made an excellent bed of the Sala flowers that lay all around. He also offered him several large fishes caught from the deep waters of the Bhagirathi. Indeed, the son of Kasyapa offered, for the acceptance of his guest Gautama a blazing fire and certain large fishes. After the Brahmana had eaten and became gratified, the bird possessing wealth of penances began to fan him with his wings for driving off his fatigue. Seeing his guest seated at his case, he asked him about his pedigree. The man answered, saying, 'I am a Brahmana known by the name of Gautama,' and then remained silent.

The bird gave his guest a soft bed made of leaves and perfumed with many fragrant flowers. Gautama laid himself down on it, and felt great happiness. When Gautama had laid himself down, the eloquent son of Kasyapa, who resembled Yama himself in his knowledge of duties, asked him about the cause of his arrival there. Gautama answered him, saying, 'I am, O large-souled one, very poor. For earning wealth I am desirous of going to the sea.' The son of Kasyapa cheerfully told him: 'It behoveth thee not to feel any anxiety. Thou shalt succeed, O foremost of Brahmanas, and shalt return home with properly."


Book 15 - Asramavasika Parva

And finally, in sections 31 to 33 of the Putradarsana Parva, the Bhagirathi is featured in an excellent narration by Vyasadeva. He describes a pastime in which Gandhari and Kunti were lamenting the disappearance of their loved ones, but were assured they would be reunited:

"Thus, O thou of great wisdom, the deities had taken birth as human beings, and after having accomplished their purposes have gone back to Heaven. That sorrow which is in the hearts of you all, relating to the return of these to the other world, I shall today dispel. Do you all go towards the Bhagirathi.--You will then behold all those that have been slain on the field of battle.'

Vaisampayana continued, 'All the persons there present, having heard the words of Vyasa, raised a loud leonine shout and then proceeded towards the Bhagirathi. Dhritarashtra with all his ministers and the Pandavas, as also with all those foremost of Rishis and Gandharvas that had come there, set out as directed. Arrived at the banks of Ganga, that sea of men took up their abode as pleased them. The king possessed of great intelligence, with the Pandavas, took up his abode in a desirable spot, along with the ladies and the aged ones of his household. They passed that day as if it were a whole year, waiting for the advent of the night when they would behold the deceased princes. The Sun then reached the sacred mountain in the west and all those persons, having bathed in the sacred stream, finished their evening rites." (31) [ ]

"Vaisampayana said, 'When night came, all those persons, having finished their evening rites, approached Vyasa. Dhritarashtra of righteous soul, with purified body and with mind solely directed towards it, sat there with the Pandavas and the Rishis in his company.

The ladies of the royal household sat with Gandhari in a secluded spot. All the citizens and the inhabitants of the provinces ranged themselves according to their years. Then the great ascetic, Vyasa, of mighty energy, bathing in the sacred waters of the Bhagirathi, summoned all the deceased warriors, viz., those that had fought on the side of the Pandavas, those that had fought for the Kauravas, including highly blessed kings belonging to diverse realms. At this, O Janamejaya, a deafening uproar was heard to arise from within the waters, resembling that which had formerly been heard of the forces of the Kurus and the Pandavas.

Then those kings, headed by Bhishma and Drona, with all their troops, arose by thousands from the waters of the Bhagirathi. There were Virata and Drupada, with their sons and forces. There were the sons of Draupadi and the son of Subhadra, and the Rakshasa Ghatotkacha. There were Karna and Duryodhana, and the mighty car-warrior Sakuni, and the other children, endued with great strength, of Dhritarashtra, headed by Dussasana.

There were the son of Jarasandha, and Bhagadatta, and Jalasandha of great energy, and Bhurisravas, and Sala, and Salya, and Vrishasena with his younger brother. There were prince Lakshmana (the son of Duryodhana), and the son of Dhrishtadyumna, and all the children of Sikhandin, and Dhrishtaketu, with his younger brother. There were Achala and Vrishaka, and the Rakshasa Alayudha, and Valhika, and Somadatta, and king Chekitana. These and many others, who for their number cannot be conveniently named, appeared on that occasion. All of them rose from the waters of the Bhagirathi, with resplendent bodies.

Those kings appeared, each clad in that dress and equipt with that standard and that vehicle which he had while fighting on the field. All of them were now robed in celestial vestments and all had brilliant ear-rings. They were free from all animosity and pride, and divested of wrath and jealousy. Gandharvas sang their praises, and bards waited on them, chanting their deeds. Robed in celestial vestments and wearing celestial garlands, each of them was waited upon by bands of Apsaras. At that time, through the puissance of his penances, the great ascetic, the son of Satyavati, gratified with Dhritarashtra, gave him celestial vision. Endued with celestial knowledge and strength, Gandhari of great fame saw all her children as also all that had been slain in battle.

All persons assembled there beheld with steadfast gaze and hearts filled with wonder that amazing and inconceivable phenomenon which made the hair on their bodies stand on its end. It looked like a high carnival of gladdened men and women. That wondrous scene looked like a picture painted on the canvas. Dhritarashtra, beholding all those heroes, with his celestial vision obtained through the grace of that sage, became full of joy, O chief of Bharata's race." (32) [ ]

"Having sported with one another thus for one night, those heroes and those ladies, embracing one another and taking one another's leave returned to the places they had come from. Indeed, that foremost of ascetics dismissed that concourse of warriors.

Within the twinkling of an eye that large crowd disappeared in the very sight of all those (living) persons. Those high-souled persons, plunging into the sacred river Bhagirathi proceeded, with their cars and standards, to their respective abodes. Some went to the regions of the gods, some to the region of Brahman, some to the region of Varuna, and some to the region of Kuvera. Some among those kings proceeded to the region of Surya. Amongst the Rakshasas and Pisachas some proceeded to the country of Uttara-Kurus. Others, moving in delightful attitudes, went in the company of the deities. Even thus did all those high-souled persons disappear with their vehicles and animals and with all their followers." (33)