Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Symbolism of Descent of Ganga

In Valmiki Ramayana the descent of Ganga from the heavens is portrayed with the following myth.

Bhagiratha prayed to Brahma so that Ganga that was contained in a jar in the domain of Brahma, could be released to flow down to the Earth so that it may wash the ashes of his ancestors so that they may obtain liberation. Brahma said, “It cannot be released with a wish and prayer. When Narayana (Vishnu) takes Vamana Avatara (Dwarf incarnation – See my post "Festival of Liberation”), he will take the Visvarupa (Cosmic form); and his feet will touch all the three worlds and his toes will topple down the jar that contains Ganga and the Ganga will flow down.”

Bhagiratha took many births and waited for the Vamana Avatara. It took place, and the toe of Vishnu, in his cosmic form, toppled the Jar and it turned upside down. The whole thing fell down. And Brahma said, “Now it will go to the underworld because its force is such that you will not get the Ganga here on Earth. It will go to the nether regions. So you must do something to prevent it from going. Then he [Bhagiratha] prayed to Lord Siva to hold up the Ganga in his Jeta (matted locks). Then Siva released it through his hair. Even then Ganga came with such force, and it flowed through the Ashram of a sage called Jahnu. He was so angry he simply took the Ganga and swallowed it. Then Bhagiratha prayed to Jahnu to release it. Then he released it through his ear. Because it [Ganga] came out of the ear of Jahnu Rishi, she is called Jahnavi. Then it flowed, and it flowed through the ashes of the ancestors and then they were liberated.

This innocuous myth has a great cosmology built into it. The Ganga is the symbol all creative energy that makes up the Cosmos. Originally it is contained within the creative principle here symbolized by the jar that contained the Ganga and was in the domain of Brahma, the creative consciousness. The unmitigated release of this energy would have gone from one potential (of creation) to its negative potential (of annihilation).

In current Big Bang cosmology we are provided irrefutable proof that the initial inflation was contained so that fundamental particles such as Quarks could form. Siva as the transformative consciousness plays the mitigating or attenuating role in this symbolism. The controlled release of the creative potential over the cosmic background is seen today in the COBE (Cosmic Background Emission). This was responsible for the formation of the universe. What flows through the matted lock of Siva consciousness is the 'Matter consciousnesses' (consisting of 'matter' and 'Dark matter'). He still holds back the 'Pure Energy consciousness' (Dark Energy, which is 75% of the whole universe)

The role of Jahnu is the segregation of the manifest and unmanifest consciousness in the form of Matter and Dark matter in the creative domain(but both of which are the constituents of all manifestations in the universe). What is released through Jahnu is only the material manifestation.
(Jahnavi, the name given to Ganga in the Earthly domain, in Sanskrit means daughter of Jahnu. It is the birthing potential of the material universe that is released)

The cosmological aspects of creation, from pure energy potential, were understood by the architects of ancient Puranas.

Love to you all


  1. It is wonderful to understand that puranas are symbolic representation of deeper facts about life and universe.The question is how far such deeper understanding manifests itself in popular spirituality today.Observing the type of fanatical expressions prevailing, one is forced to be aversive of anything to do with another religion.i'm not meaning it only in the context of puranas.The religious sectarianism and intolerance are infact leading all of us to shut down our minds to beliefs and concepts of anything other than what we hold as precious.

  2. Christy, thank you as always for a critical and practical view expressed.
    Those who can not transcend beyond the mere action or mind dominated consciousness are still in the realm of avidya or ignorance. They have to take many births to ascend to a higher level of consciousness. It is also not enough to have an intellectual understanding of the concepts that are revealed in the puranas and scriptures. It is an alternative path but unless one travels the path to the indicated destination, the path is useless.
    Unfortunately, today the so called custodians of spirit enabling way, the religious leaders, are the worst offenders, as you point out. All spiritual knowledge must transcend all barriers and encompass the whole of humanity. But it does not happen due to vested interest and power mongering.
    But many individuals in many traditions are today sowing the seed of universal understanding and the sincere hope is that this will germinate and produce a new breed of spiritual consciousness.

    Please send your intentions for this process to bloom.

  3. I enjoyed your post and your style of writing.

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