The Ramayana/Book I/Canto XLIV: The Descent of Gangà

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The Ramayana of Valmiki by Valmiki, translated by Ralph T. H. Griffith
Book I — Canto XLIV: The Descent of Gangà

The Lord of life the skies regained:
The fervent king a year remained
With arms upraised, refusing rest
While with one toe the earth he pressed,
Still as a post, with sleepless eye,
The air his food, his roof the sky.
Tho year had past. Then Umá's lord, [1]
King of creation, world adored,
Thus spoke to great Bhagirath: 'I
Well pleased thy wish will gratify,
And on my head her waves shalll fling
The daughter of the Mountains' King!
He stood upon the lofty crest
   That crowns the Lord of Snow,
And bade the river of the Blest
   Descend on earth below.
Himálaya's child, adored of all,
   The haughty mandate heard,
And her proud bosom, at the call,
   With furious wrath was stirred.
Down from her channel in the skies
   With awful might she sped
With a giant's rush, in a giant's size.
   On S'iva's holy head.
'He calls me,' in her wrath she cried,
   'And all my flood shall sweep
And whirl him in its whelming tide
   To hell's profoundest deep.
He held tne river on his head,
   And kept her wandering, where,
Dense as Himalaya's woods, were spread
   The tangles of his hair.

No way to earth she found, ashamed,
   Though long and sore she strove,
Condemned, until her pride were tamed,
   Amid his locks to rove.
There, many lengthening seasons through,
   The wildered river ran:
Bhagirath saw it, and anew
   His penance dire began.
Then S'iva, for the hermit's sake,
   Bade her long wanderings end,
And sinking into Vindu's lake
   Her weary waves descend.
From Gangá, by the God set free,
   Seven noble rivers came;
Hládiní, Pávaní, and she
   Called Naliní by name:
These rolled their lucid waves along
   And sought the eastern side.
Suchakshu, Sítá fair and strong,
   And Sindhu's mighty tide-- [2]
These to the region of the west
   With joyful waters sped:
The seventh, the brightest and the best,
   Flowed where Bhagírath led.
On S'iva's head descending first
   A rest the torrents found:
Then down in all their might they burst
   And roared along the ground.
On countless glittering scales the beam
   Of rosy morning flashed,
Where flsh and dolphins through the stream
   Fallen and falling dashed.
Then bards who chant celestial lays
   And nymphs of heavenly birth
Flocked round upon that flow to gaze
   That streamed from sky and earth.
The Gods themselves from every sphere,
   Incomparably bright,
Borne in their golden cars drew near
   To see the wondrous sight.
The cloudless sky was all aflame
   With the light of a hundred suns
Where'er the shining chariots came
   That bore those holy ones.
So flashed the air with crested snakes
   And fish of every hue
As when the lightning's glory breaks
   Through fields of summer blue.
And white foam-clouds and silver spray
   Were wildly tossed on high,
Like swans that urge their homeward way
   Across the autumn sky.
Now ran the river calm and clear
   With current strong and deep:

Now slowly broadened to a mere,
   Or scarcely seemed to creep.
Now o'er a length of sandy plain
   Her tranquil course she held:
Now rose her waves and sank again,
   By refluent waves repelled.
So falling first on S'iva's head,
Thence rushing to their earthly bed,
In ceaseless fall the waters streamed,
And pure with holy lustre gleamed.
Then every spirit, sage, and bard,
Condemned to earth by sentence hard,
Pressed eagerly around the tide
That S'iva's touch had sanctified.
Then they whom heavenly doom had hurled,
Accursed, to this lower world,
Touched the pure wave, and freed from sin
Resought the skies and entered in
And all the world was glad, whereon
The glorious water flowed and shone,
For sin and stain were banished thence
By the sweet river's influence.
First, in a car of heavenly frame,
The royal saint of deathless name,
Bhagírath, very glorious rode,
And after him fair Gangá flowed.
God, sage, and bard, the chief in place
Of spirits and the Nága race,
Nymph, giant, fiend, in long array
Sped where Bhagírath led the way;
And all the hosts the flood that swim
Followed the stream that followed him.
Where'er the great Bhagírath led,
There ever glorious Gangá fled,
The best of floods, the rivers' queen,
Whose waters wash the wicked clean.
   It chanced that Jahnu, great and good,
Engaged with holy offering stood;
The river spread her waves around
Flooding his sacrificial ground.
The saint in anger marked her pride,
And at one draught her stream he dried.
Then God, and sage, and bard, afraid,
To noble high-souled Jahnu prayed,
And begged that he would kindly deem
His own dear child that holy stream.
Moved by their suit, he soothed their fears
And loosed her waters from his ears.
Hence Gangá through the world is styled
Both Jáhnavi and Jahnu's child.
Then onward still she followed fast,
And reached the great sea bank at last.
Thence deep below her way she made
To end those rites so long delayed.
The monarch reached the Ocean's side,
And still behind him Gangá hied.
He sought the depths which open lay
Where Sagar's sons had dug their way.
So leading through earth's nether caves
The river's purifying waves.

Over his kinsmen's dust the lord
His funeral libation poured.
Soon as the flood their dust bedewed,
Their spirits gained beatitude,
And all in heavenly bodies dressed
Rose to the skies' eternal rest.

Then thus to King Bhagírath said
Brahmá, when, coming at the head
Of all his bright celestial train,
He saw those spirits freed from stain:
'Well done! great Prince of men, well done!
Thy kinsmen bliss and heaven have won.
The sons of Sagar mighty-souled,
Are with the Blest, as Gods, enrolled,
Long as the Ocean's flood shall stand
Upon the border of the land,
So long shall Sagar's sons remain,
And, godlike, rank in heaven retain.
Gangá thine eldest child shall be.
Called from thy name Bhágirathí;
Named also--for her waters fell
From heaven and flow through earth and hell--
Tripathagá, stream of the skies.
Because three paths she glorifies,
And, mighty King, 'tis given thee now
To free thee and perform thy vow.
No longer, happy Prince, delay
Drink-offerings to thy kin to pay,
For this the holiest Sagar sighed,
But mourned the boon he sought denied.
Then Ans'umán, dear Prince! although
No brighter name the world could show,
Strove long the heavenly flood to gain
To visit earth, but strove in vain.
Nor was she by the sages' peer,
Blest with all virtues, most austere,
Thy sire Dilipa, hither brought,
Though with fierce prayers the boon he sought.
But thou, O King, earned success,
And won high fame which God will bless.
Through thee, O victor of thy foes,
On earth this heavenly Gangá flows,
And thou hast gained the meed divine
That waits on virtue such as thine.
Now in her ever holy wave
Thyself, O best of heroes, lave:
So shalt thou, pure from every sin,
The blessed fruit of merit win.
Now for thy kin who died of yore
The meet libations duly pour.
Above the heavens I now ascend:
Depart, and bliss thy steps attend.'

Thus to the mighty king who broke
Hie foemens' might, Lord Brahmá spoke,
And with his Gods around him rose
To his own heaven of blest repose.
The royal sage no more delayed,

But, the libation duly paid,
Home to his regal city hied
With water cleansed and purified.
There ruled he his ancestral state,
Best of all men, most fortunate.
And all the people joyed again
In good Bhagírath's gentle reign.
Rich, prosperous, and blest were they,
And grief and sickness fled away.
Thus, Ráma, I at length have told
How Gangá came from heaven of old.
Now, for the evening passes swift,
I wish thee each auspicious gift.
This story of the flood's descent
Will give--for' tis most excellent--
Wealth, purity, fame, length of days,
And to the skies its hearers raise.'


  1. S'iva.
  2. The lake Vindu does not exist. Of the seven rivers here mentioned two only, the Ganges and the Sindhu or Indus, are known to geographers. Hládiní means the Gladdener, Pávaní the Purifier, Naliní the Lotus-Clad, and Suchakshu the Fair-eyed.