Ganga Dussehra is a festival celebrated in North India. The festival is primarily celebrated in West Bengal, Bihar, Uttarkhand and Uttar Pradesh. The celebration is of prime importance in these states because the holy river flows through them. This festival is also known as Gangavartan owing to the reason why the festival is celebrated.
This annual Hindu festival commemorates the descend or avartana of the river Ganga from heaven to earth. It occurs in the Hindu month of Jyeshtha on the tenth day or Dashami of Shukla Paksha or the waxing moon. This is generally between May and June every year.
Hindu mythology has an interesting legend associated with the reason why Ganga Dussehra is celebrated. There was once a king named Sagara who was also father to 60,000 sons. Sagara decided to host an ashwamedha yagna and he wanted a horse tied by God Indra near an ashram where sage Kapil was engrossed in meditation.
The king sent all his sons except Bhagiratha to the ashram to bring the horse to the palace for the yagna. Needless to say, the commotion caused by the princes disturbed the sage and he could not resume his meditation. This angered the sage and he opened his eyes. Unable to control his anger, the sage burned all the princes to ashes. As he did so, he told them that the only way they could gain moksha or salvation was by touching the holy waters of the Ganges.
When the king’s descendant Bhagiratha heard of this years later, embarked on a rigid penance to please Lord Brahma with utmost austerity. As expected, the God was pleased with the penance and appeared before Bhagiratha and granted him a boon. Bhagiratha requested him to send the Ganges from heaven to earth. Lord Brahma agreed to this and requested Ganga to flow to earth. She did as the lord asked her to do and came to earth in the form of seven streams. These streams washed away the ashes of the sons and granted them moksha.
Hindus celebrate this day that Goddess Ganga descended on earth as Ganga Dussehra. The celebrations take place over a ten-day period because it is believed that the goddess has the power to remove ten sins related to speech, actions and thoughts from a person.
How the festival is celebrated
Devotees take a bath in the holy water on all ten days of the festival while chanting the Ganga stotra during this time. This holy bath helps to get the bathers rid of ten sins. It is also said that the bath purifies the soul of the individual and heals him/her of his/her physical ailments. In the evening hours, followers throng the river banks for an arti using leaf boats with flowers and flames before a deity in honour of the goddess. After the arti is over, worshippers place small lit earthen lamps on the river waters and set them to float. As the lamps float, they chant various prayers.
The river Yamuna is also worshipped on the same day along with the river Ganges. Worshippers take bath in the waters of this river as well. They offer the deity cucumbers and watermelons and also distribute shikanji, sharbat and lassi among themselves. In the evening hours, there is a lot of merrymaking and various competitions are held as part of the celebrations. One such major event is the kites flying event.
What to do at home
If you cannot get to the banks of the river Ganges for the festival, there are a few things that you can do at home on this day. You can wake up early in the morning before sunrise and take a bath. If you have some Ganga jal at home, you can sprinkle a few drops of the water on your head while you take your bath.
After your bath, you can offer your prayers to the deity and chant mantras in Her honour. You can also recite the Ganga chalisa that features several hymns praising Mother Ganga. Alternatively, you can chant the mantra given below with utmost devotion while having your bath.
Ganga Cha Yamuna Chaiva Godavari Saraswati
Narmada Sindhu Kaveri Jalesmin Sannidhm Kuru
You must have ten items of each article you use for the pooja. For example, if you are using flowers or fruits, you should have ten types of flowers or ten types of fruits.
You can also do a pooja in honour of Lord Shiva at home or in a nearby Shiva temple. Since Ganges flows from His head, it is considered to be beneficial to pray to the God as well on this day.
As the name indicates, the Ganga Dussehra celebrations take place over a span of ten days starting from the new moon night. This duration includes the nine days before the actual holy day. Haridwar, Patna, Allahabad, Varanasi and Rishikesh are some places in the above-mentioned states where the festival is celebrated with pomp and gaiety.
The tenth or main day of the Ganga Dussehra festival is considered to be a favourable day for new purchases such as property, vehicles or valuable items. It is also said that by doing a personalized Rudrabhishekam pooja on this day can help a person gain prosperity, wealth and health. Engaging in charitable acts on this day is considered to be auspicious.
Written by – Deepthi K