The Bhagavata Purana

by G. V. Tagare | 1950 | 780,972 words | ISBN-10: 8120838203 | ISBN-13: 9788120838208

This page describes The Descent of the Ganga which is chapter 17 of the English translation of the Bhagavata Purana, one of the eighteen major puranas containing roughly 18,000 metrical verses. Topics include ancient Indian history, religion, philosophy, geography, mythology, etc. The text has been interpreted by various schools of philosophy. This is the seventeenth chapter of the Fifth Skandha of the Bhagavatapurana.

Chapter 17 - The Descent of the Gaṅgā

Śrī Śuka said:

1. In the sacrifice performed by Bali, the Lord (Viṣṇu) himself appeared as Trivikrama.[1]

Standing there (on the ground, he wanted to measure three feet of land donated to him by Bali. He covered the whole of the earth by his right foot. He raised the left foot to measure the heavenly regions) by his foot-step, the upper crust of the shell of the Cosmic egg got cracked by the nail of the big toe of his left foot. Through that opening, rushed in the stream of waters, covering externally the cosmic egg. While washing the lotus-like feet of the Lord, she (the water of the stream) became reddish by the pollen-like dust (on the Lord’s feet). She washed away the dirt, in the form of the sins of the whole of the world, by her touch, and yet, herself remained pure (unpolluted by sins). She was, at first, designated directly as Bhagavatpadī (Born from the feet of the Lord) to the exclusion of other epithets e.g. Jāhnavī, Bhāgīrathī which may imply any other less important source). After a long period of time measured in thousands of yugas, she descended on the top of ihe celestial regions which the sages call Viṣṇu-pada.

2. There (at the Viṣṇupada), verily, Dhruva (the son of Uttānapāda) of steadfast vows, the great votary of Lord Viṣṇu, even now bears (i.e. sprinkles) on his head her waters, with utmost reverence. “This water flows from the lotus feet of our family deity”. (With this feeling) every moment his heart gets deeply saturated with ever-increasing devotion. Overcome with ardent longing (for the Lord), he forgets himself. Tears of pure love flow down from his half-closed lotus- bud-like eyes, and his whole person bristles with hair standing on their ends through ecstasy.

3. Thenceforth (in the next stage), the seven sages (inhabiting the constellation called Ursa Major) who know the greatness of this stream, regard it as the ultimate achievement of their austere penance, and even today, receive it with great reverence on the matted hair (of their heads), as persons desirous of Liberation (Mokṣa) would receive Final Emancipation due to their achievement of unswerving devotion unto the glorious Lord Vāsudeva, the Soul of all beings. They have grown indifferent to other Puruṣārṭhas [Puruṣārthas?], and even to Self-realization.

4. Later on, it (rhe stream) descends by the path of gods (i.e. sky), teeming with multitudes of thousands of crores of celestial cars, to the sphere of the Moon. After flooding the lunar sphere, the stream (of the Bhagavatpadī) flows down to the city of Brahmā (on the summit of Mount Meru).

5. There, on mount Meru, it is divided into four branches under four names:—Sītā, Alakanandā, Cakṣu and Bhadrā,[2] and it (i.e, these branches) flows towards four quarters and enters into the ocean, the Lord of big and small rivers.

6. From the city of god Brahmā, the Sītā[3] flows down from the peaks of mountains like mount Kesara and others and descends on the summit of mount Gandhamādana. Flowing through the continent of Bhadrāśva it falls into the salt ocean on the east.

7. In the same way, Cakṣus (the Oxus or Amu-Daria) comes down from the summit of mount Mālyavān. It rushes with unabated velocity towards Ketumāla,[4] and enters the ocean on the west.

8. And to the north, the Bhadrā descends from the peak of Meru. Passing from the summit of one mountain to that of another, it jumps from the peak of mount Śṛṅgavat. It traverses the Northern Kuru region, and ultimately falls into the ocean on the northern direction.

9. Similarly, the Alakanandā flows down from the south of the city of Brahmā. Passing over from many a mountain peak, one after another, it reaches mount Hema- kūṭa. (Thence) it rolls down, with very great velocity, to peaks of the Himālayas. It flows through Bhāratavarṣa on the south and falls into the sea. Men who come for ablutions in this river, easily acquire the merit of performing great sacrifices like the Aśvamedha, Rājasūya and others, at every step.

10. There are hundreds of other big and small rivers flowing through every continent, all daughters of Meru and other mountains.

11. (There are types of Svargas or celestial places according to their location in the heavens, on the earth and in the subterranean regions. The celestial spots on the earth are mentioned here).

The wise say that of all these continents (varṣas), Bhārata is the only continent which is a karma-kṣetra[5] (i.e. a land where men can make or mar their destiny by their actions or a land of religious acts). The remaining eight continents are called celestial spots on the earth which serve as places of enjoyment for celestial beings who return from the heaven with some balance of merit unexhausted.

12.In these continents, the longevity of the inhabitants is ten thousand human years. They are just like gods. They are endowed with the strength of ten thousand elephants; blessed with adamantine frame of the body and power, eternal youth, abundance of sense pleasures and extra-ordinary capacity for conjugal enjoyment, the couples are extremely happy. Their wives show signs of pregnancy only once in the final year of their life of sexual pleasures. In these continents, the Time has characteristic of the Treta Age.[6]

13. In those continents, verily, the lords of gods who are richly worshipped with sumptuous gifts by the leaders of their respective retinue, enjoy themselves at will, to their heart’s content, in valleys of these mountains dividing the continents (varṣas)—valleys which are teeming with hermitages and mansions and abound in charming forests beautified with creepers and the supporting trees with branches bent low with flowers, bunches of fruit and tender foliage of all seasons. And with their mind and eyes fascinated with the attractive movements, bewitching smiles and sportive glances—all pregnant with love—of the most charming celestial beauties, they (the Lords of gods) amuse themselves at will with aquatic sports and other forms of diversions, in lakes of crystal-clear waters resounding with the warbling and cries of royal swans, waterfowls, ducks (kāraṇḍavas), cranes, rudy geese (cakravākas) and other birds which are delighted by the fragrant lotuses of various kinds, and (waters) resonant with the humming of different species of black-bees.

14. In all the nine continents, Lord Nārāyaṇa, the Supreme Person still maintains his presence in his various manifestations (vyūha) with the object of showering his grace on the inhabitants thereof.

15. In the Ilāvṛta continent, Lord Śiva is the only one male; no other male person who knows of the curse of the goddess Pārvatī enters it. I shall narrate to you later on (Infra IX Skandha) why a male person entering it (Ilāvṛta continent) is transformed into a woman.

16. There, Lord Śiva is served in every respect by one hundred million thousands of female attendants headed by goddess Pārvatī. He (Lord Śiva) is engrossed in the meditation upon the conceptualized image of Saṅkarṣaṇa, his own source, and presiding deity over the attribute tamas, the fourth manifestation of the glorious Lord Vāsudeva, the Supreme Person of Four forms (viz. Vāsudeva, Pradyumna, Aniruddha and Saṅkarṣaṇa). He sings of the following prayer.

17. “Salutations to the Supreme Person[7], the symbol of Parabrahman, the source of the manifestation of all attributes, (though himself) unmanifested and Infinite[8]. Hail[9] to him.

18. Oh adorable Lord! I take resort to your lotus-like feet which afford shelter to all. You are the Supreme abode of all (the six) divine excellences (such as sovereignty over the universe, Omniscience and others). To your devotees you have fully manifested yourself as one who terminates their saṃsāra (the chain of births and deaths); but you create (i.e. continue) Saṃsāra (in the case of those who are not devoted to you.

19. What person intent on subduing his senses (and desirous of attaining liberation will not respect you whose vision—unlike that of ours who cannot control the vehemence of anger—is not, even in the slightest degree, affected by the guṇas of Māyā (i.e. worldly objects which are the products of the three attributes or guṇas of Māyā) and by the activities of the mind and sense, while you supervise them for government and control.

20. To a person of wrong perception,[10] you appear, through your Māyā Potency,[11] intoxicated and terrible with eyes reddened under the influence of spirituous liquors (though as a matter of fact, your form is pure, unalloyed sattva, beyond the power of karmas and auspicious). At the touch of your feet, the Nāga damsels get their mind and senses excited and are hence unable to proceed with your worship due to bashfulness (and the feeling that you, the omniscient know their mental agitation).

21. The goddess Lakṣmī and sages or Vedic Mantras declare him (i.e. you) to be the prime cause of the creation, preservation and destruction of this (universe) but as you are Infinite, you are above these states. You do not feel even like a mustard seed where the sphere of the earth is lying somewhere on one of your thousand heads.

22. The principle called Mahat (Cosmic Intelligence) was his (i.e. your) first body (manifestation) constituted of (three) guṇas. It is based on sattva (in the form of citta—reasoning faculty), and is said to be (the same as) the glorious Brahmā (the deity presiding over it). It is from Brahma that I (Rudra) was born. I create through my power (viz. Ahaṃkāra—I-ness) consisting of three (guṇas) the deities (presiding over the sense-organs and mind—the sāttvika variety of ahaṃkāra, the gross elements (the tāmasic type) and cognitive and conative sense-organs (the rājasa kind of Ahaṃkāra).

23. We—these aforesaid Mahat (principle of Cosmic Intelligence), ahaṃkāra (Ego), vaikārika, (the abovementioned deities), the elements (the principles of ākāśa, vāyu etc.) and the (aforesaid) senses—remain under his control like birds cordoned together with a string and carry on this process of creation through his (your) grace.

24. This person (the Jīva) deluded by the world, the product of (three) guṇas, may possibly know Māyā, (his i.e. your) creation, which binds (the jīva) with karmas but it (the jīva) will never easily know the means of getting over it. My salutations to him who comprises within him the creation as well as the dissolution of the universe (and which as such are his form).

Footnotes and references:


This refers to Vāmana incarnation of Viṣṇu, vide infra 8.18-20 (Skandha VIII. chapters 18-20)


The Yarkand river on which the town of Yarkand is situated—N.L. De—GDAMI p. 31.


Sītā— N.L. De identifies it with the Jaxartes or Sir-Daria (GDAMI, 187). The identification may be correct for the Sītā of the Brahmāṇḍa Purāṇa (ch. 51). But the Sītā in the Bhāgavata Purāṇa flows to the east, through China (Bhadrāśva). Hence it is not the same as Sir-Daria.


Ketumāla-varṣa—Turkestan and the lands watered by the Cakṣu or Oxus—N.L. De—GDAMI. p. 99.


The idea that Bhārata-varṣa is a karma-bhūmi or karma kṣetra is common to most purāṇas. MP. 114.6-7 and MKP. 57-60 explain karmabhūmi as a land ṭvhich contained within it the seeds of all pious actions and their fruits, and people in this land were entitled to go to heaven or Mokṣa or the earth. Other purāṇas repeat the same belief, e.g.

(i) pṛthivyām bhārataṃ varṣaṃ karmabhūmir udāhṛtā / BRP. 27.2.

(ii) bhārataṃ nāma yad varṣam....
tat karma-bhūmir nānyatra, samprāptiḥ puṇyapāpayoḥ / MKP. 55.21-22.

(iii) na tatrāpi bhārataṃ varṣaṃ karma-kṣetram uṣanti ha / Devī Bhāgavata Purāṇa 8.7-34.


According to Bhāvāratha Dīpikā and other commentators, the Tretā Yuga is a period of sensual enjoyment. In the Kṛta Age all are engaged in meditation. In Dvāpara and Kali, people are overwhelmed with miseries.


mahā-puruṣāya—Whose sport is the creation, maintenance and destruction of the universe—Bhāgavata Candrikā


anantāya—(i) Śiva meditates upon the serpent Śeṣa along with Viṣṇu who is his inner controller—Padaratnāvalī

(ii) Above the distinction of time, place etc.—Bālaprabodhini


The repetition of Namaḥ at the beginning and the end of the sentence shows that namaḥ or ‘salutations’ is applicable to all the adjectives included in the sentences—Bālaprabodhini


a-sad-dṛśaḥ—(i) Who is strongly attached to this unreal or worthless body as his own Self (Bhāgavata Candrikā, Bhaktamanorañjanī).

(ii) Whose vision is devoid of the knowledge about your form, excellences etc. (Siddhāntapradīpa)


Māyayā—Due to ignorance (of a person with incorrect view about the Lord—Bhāgavata Candrikā

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