Water is of special significance in Hinduism, not only for its life-sustaining properties, but also because of its use in rituals and the stress given to cleanliness. A dip in the waters of the holy rivers brings one closer to attainment of salvation, or moksha.
Most rivers are considered female and are personified as goddesses. Ganga, who features in the Mahabharata, is usually shown riding on a crocodile. Yamuna is shown in much iconography connected with the Pushti Marg sampradaya, and rides on a turtle. The famous story of the descent of Ganga-devi is connected with Vishnu and with Shiva, who is depicted with the Ganges entering the locks of his hair.
Holy Rivers of India
Holy River Ganga
The Ganges River is the greatest waterway in India, it is one of the longest rivers in the world. The 2,510 km (1,557 mi) long river begins at the Gangotri Glacier in the Indian state of Uttaranchal in the central Himalayas and drains into the Bay of Bengal through its vast delta in the Sunderbans.
The Ganges River has always been known as a religious icon in the world. The Ganga has an exalted position in the Hindu ethos. It is repeatedly invoked in the Vedas, the Puranas, and the two Indian epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. According to Hindus the river Ganga (feminine) is sacred. It is worshipped by Hindus and personified as a goddess, who holds an important place in the Hindu religion. Hindu belief holds that bathing in the river on certain occasions causes the forgiveness of sins and helps attain salvation. Many people believe that this will come from bathing in Ganga at any time. People travel from distant places to immerse the ashes of their kin in the waters of the Ganga; this immersion also is believed to send the ashes to heaven. Several places sacred to Hindus lie along the banks of the river Ganga, including Haridwar and Kashi. People carry sacred water from the Ganges that is sealed in copper pots after making the pilgrimage to Kashi. It is believed that drinking water from the Ganga with one's last breath will take the soul to heaven.
Hindus also believe life is incomplete without bathing in the Ganga at least once in their lifetime. In most Hindu families, a vial of water from the Ganga is kept in every house. This is done because it is auspicious to have water of the Holy Ganga in the house, and also if someone is dying, that person will be able to drink its water. Many Hindus believe that the water from the Ganga can cleanse a person's soul of all past sins, and that it can also cure the ill. The ancient scriptures mention that the water of Ganges carries the blessings of Lord Vishnu's feet; hence Mother Ganges is also known as Vishnupadi, which means "Emanating from the Lotus feet of Supreme Lord Sri Vishnu."
Some of the most important Hindu festivals and religious congregations are celebrated on the banks of the river Ganga such as the Kumbh Mela and the Chhat Puja.India has hundreds of temples along the banks of the Ganga which often get flooded during the rains. This city, especially along the banks of the Ganga, is an important place of worship for the Hindus as well as a cremation ground.
Ganges is the ultimate adventure point as far as river rafting in India is concerned. And the major rafting site from where any experienced rafter as well as an amateur one would love to start of his rafting trip in India is Rishikesh
Holy River Yamuna
Originating from the Champasar Glacier at an altitude of 4421 m in the state of Uttarkhand, the revered Yamuna finds a special mention in the Hindu mythology. Some say the source of the river is the Saptarishi Kund, a glacial lake. There is a sacred shrine of Yamunotri or Yamnotri, near this source at an altitude of 3235 m. There is a temple dedicated to the Goddess Yamuna, which remains closed from November to May. At Hanumanchatti, the Hanuman Ganga merges with Yamuna river. According to a legend, this secluded hilly spot was the home of an ancient sage, Asit Muni.
The history says that, Yamuna is the consort of Lord Shri Krishna. Gokula, the divine abode of the Lord is the home of Yamuna. It is that, the river first went round Shri Krishna before descending down to earth as per the order of her Lord. River Yamuna came to be called as "Kalindi"as she touched the peak of Kalind. Then she descended down the hills and reached the plains at Khandav Vana which has been developed as Delhi city now.
According to tradition,Yamuna and Yama are believed to be the offspring of Sun God 'Surya'. Hence it is considered that whoever takes a dip in the holy waters of the source stream of Yamuna may not have fear of death.
The rivers Ganga and Yamuna along with the now dried Saraswati, are the most sacred rivers in India. This river is also closely connected to Mahabharat and Lord Krishna. His father Vasudeva, crossed the Yamuna with baby Lord Krishna for a safe place. It is said that Lord Krishna played along with his cowherd friends on the banks of river Yamuna during his childhood.
Yamuna is popularly called as Jamuna in Uttar Pradesh state and northern India which rises in Himalayas near Yamunotri. It is from here the river started her journey to Vrindavan and Mathura. Then she started flowing towards south and southeastern parts and flourished the places on her way. Reaching the Prayag, one of the most sacred places in India, she joins with Ganges. Then they both flow together till Ksheer Sagar.
Before reaching the sea, the Yamuna and Ganges greeted each other. Ganges continued her journey to Patal Loka as by the orders of Lord Krishna. Yamuna, who originated from the left part of Lord Krishna decided to ascend again to reach the abode of Lord Krishna. She ascended in the form of jog like stream on the peak. Rising skywards she reached the heaven, then the abode of Lord Krishna.
Holy River Sarasvati
The Saraswati River is believed to have drained the north and northwest region of India in ancient times, supporting over 1,6000 settlements. Although the river does not have a physical existence today, there are numerous references to it in the ancient Indian literature of the Vedic and post-Vedic period. The Rig Veda calls Saraswati as the seventh river of the Sindhu-Saraswati river system, hence the name Saptsindhu for the region bounded by rivers Saraswati in the east and Sindhu (also Indus) in the west. Rig Veda hymns also describe life and times of the people residing in the Saraswati river valley. The awe and reverence the river inspired during the Vedic period is best summed by the three-word tribute to the river in the Rig Veda-Ambitamé, the best of the mothers; Naditamé, the best of the rivers; and Devitamé, the best of the goddesses.
River Saraswati originated from the Har ki dun Glaciar in West Garhwal, Bandarpunch massif in the Himalayas, along with the river Yamuna. The two rivers flowed parallel for some distance and later joined, proceeding south as the Vedic Saraswati. The seasonal rivers and rivulets, including Ghaggar, joined Saraswati as it followed the course of the present river through Punjab and Haryana. River Sutlej, the Vedic Shatadru, joined the river Saraswati as a tributary at Shatrana, approximately 25 km south of Patiala. Saraswati then followed the course of Ghaggar through Rajasthan and Hakra in Bhawalpur before emptying into the Rann of Kutch.
History and Mythology
During the Vedic period, Saraswati was recognized as the greatest of the River that nurtured the people living on its banks like a loving mother, and supported a number of learning centers and their resident scholars, ascetics, sages and seers like a benevolent deity. By nurturing such a pursuit of divine knowledge, Saraswati appropriately assumes the status of the goddess of language, learning, arts and sciences-the best of the goddesses.
Post-Vedic literature, mainly the Mahabharata, has references to the drying river Saraswati. Mahabharata describes Balarama's pilgrimage from Dwarka to Mathura along the bed of this river. Later, during the middle ages, there are references to fissures and faults in the ground on the dry bed of river Saraswati. Recently, satellite images have also confirmed the existence of a large number of ground faults in the earthquake-prone northwest India that constituted the Saraswati-Sindhu valley. Such ground faults have caused the seepage of Saraswati water to underground channels, contributing to the legend of the Vedic Saraswati disappearing underground.
Last part of the legend is that the Saraswati meets the Ganges and Yamuna at the confluence (Sangam) at Allahabad (Prayag). Neither archæological finds nor satellite images support any evidence of the River Saraswati ever flowing east towards Allahabad, either over the ground or underground. Some modern scholars interpret the capture of Saraswati waters by Yamuna also to mean the confluence of Yamuna and Saraswati jointly with Ganges at Allahabad.
Holy River Narmada
The Narmada River is considered the mother and giver of peace. Legend has it that the mere sight of this river is enough to cleanse one's soul, as against a dip in the Ganga or seven in the Yamuna. The Ganga is believed to visit this river once a year, in the guise of a black cow to cleanse herself of all her collected sins.The journey along the river Narmada is in some sense similar to famous parikrama (taking round) of the river, except that the parikrama is of life in the valley of the Narmada.
Along the River
Narmadakund in Amarkantak has an ambience that makes a pilgrim spot out of this small place. Amarkantak is a plateau from which hangs a tale.
Young Narmada falls in love with the male river Son and asks Juhilla (a tributary of the Son) to convey her message of love. Juhilla entices Son herself. The disgust and anguish of the lovely Narmada compels her to jump off the western cliffs of Amarkantak. A mere six kilometers from her genesis, the Narmada hurtles down 150 feet at Kapildhara, a gorgeous waterfall. Named after the saint Kapil, this fall is soon followed by Dudhadhara. All along the river, one will be always close to teak jungles. Apart from teaks, India's best hardwood forests are found in the Narmada river basinand they are much older than the ones in the Himalyas. Moving along, one reaches the marble rock country Bheraghat near Jabalpur.. Bheraghat, about 24 km away from Jabalupur, is a cluster of great, white limestone cliffs standing out 30 m above the waters of the Narmada. They are an awesome sight, particularly by night when white, silvery moonshine bathes the gorge. The views at Dhuandhar, where the river is more like a screen of mist, and Haathi-ka-Paon are mesmeric.
There is the Chausath Yogini (sixty-four yoginis) temple above the lower end of the gorge. The attendants of Durga are represented here. Although the images have been damaged, they still retain their pristine beauty.
The city of Jabalpur is the second largest in Madhya Pradesh after Bhopal. The metropolis itself stands in a rock basin about 10 km away from the Narmada. Named after a saint called Jabali who lived here, Jabalpur is famous for its marble rocks.
Down the Narmada, it is a myriad landscape-thickly forested mountain slopes, rocky regions with picturesque rapids, falls and whirlpools and cultivated lands with rich black cotton soil. The great river runs through rift valleys, which are part of perhaps the oldest geological formations of India. Believed to have originated from the body of Shiva, the river is also known as Jata Shankari. The worship of Shiva is common in these areas, and each stone or pebble found in the bed of the Narmada is believed to be a Shivalinga. Places along the banks-Omkareshwar, Maheshwar, and Mahadeo-are all named after Shiva.
Omkareshwar has several old and new temples. There is an island on the river that is supposed to have one of India's twelve great Shivalingas. Maheshwar is on the northern banks of the river. Cenotaphs in memory of the Holkars beautify the landscape at Maheshwar. There are a number of temples too, and a fort. One also gets a chance to see the delicate, gorgeous Maheshwari saris being hand-woven. Comfortable in warm and cold weather, dressy and yet light, these saris have a dedicated, select following among Indian women. Places like Maheshwar and Omkareshwar are just examples of the large number of religious centers that dot the banks of the Narmada as it weaves its 1,000-kilometer journey through the state of Madhya Pradesh.To this Narmada, home to so many, religion to more, and beautiful river to all, there are many odes. The best ode would be a sojourn for a real experience that can last a lifetime
Holy River Sindhu, the Indus
It roared and spread itself, but it never hurt! If time were called upon to tell a story, it would perhaps choose the banks of river Indus to do so. Here, the history of India could well be marked, both chronologically and historically.
It is believed by the early Tibetans that this forceful and full river that guarded the frontiers of united India rises from the lake Mansarovar in Tibet. A few expeditions later, it was discovered that the Indus actually originates a few kilometres north of lake Mansarovar and together with it arise the Brahmaputra and the river Sutlej, through Mansarovar.
Metaphorically, the four rivers that separated from this area were described as rising out of certain animals mouths, thereby ascribing the qualities to the river. The Pakshu went westward in the beginning and then came out of a horse’s mouth to the east to be called the Brahmaputra. The Sita went southwards in the beginning and then came out of a lion’s mouth to the north to be called the river Sindhu. The Ganga came out of an elephant’s mouth and the Karnali from a peacock’s mouth.
The waters of the river Brahmaputra are cold and it is said that the one who drinks these waters would become sturdy as a horse. The waters of the Indus are warm and it is said that the one who drinks from it would become heroic like a lion. Legend has it that those who drink the waters of the Ganges would become as worthy as the elephant: with good memory, sense of gratitude, strong and auspicious. Similarly those who drink the waters of Karnali would become as beautiful as the peacock. It is said these four rivers circle seven times around Mt. Kailash, the divine residence of Lord Shiva, before gurgling down.
Derivation of The Name - Indus
The lion river, the Indus derives its name from the Sanskrit word, Sindhu, which means a large water body, a sea or an ocean. In Greek, it is called “Sinthos” and in Latin, the “Sindus”. The name gradually came to represent the people who lived beyond it and the name Hindus was born. While dating epics and texts are still arbitrary, the great Indus Valley Civilization at Harappa and Mohenjodaro, now in Pakistan, are eloquent testament of the culture and people of the region. A site similar to that and liked to that period has been unearthed at Lothal Gujarat, India.
Remnants of Indus Valley Civilisation
The Indus Valley Civilization gave many a clue about life in the pre-Vedic times. Some people say that the original inhabitants of the Indus Valley were Dravidians who were shifted southwards with the coming of the Aryans.
Historians and ideologists trace the beginnings of the idea of Lord Shiva to the Harappa Civilization. The bull inscribed on the coins of Harappa is in fact, they say, symbolic of Shiva’s mount. He was worshipped in the form of “Pashupati”, the lord of animals. If Shiva was the metaphysical legacy in addition to worship of natural elements like ‘Agni’ (fire), architecture, town planning, coins, even figures of dancing girls are some of the others. Interesting or perhaps circumscribing man’s ability to conjecture is the fact that many of these legacies defy immediate understanding. The Indus valley script for example is one, which has challenged many scholars and is yet to find a satisfactory interpretation.