Ganga Saptami, an Introduction
Ganga Saptami is regarded as the day of re-birth of the sacred river Ganga. This is an auspicious occasion observed in honor of mother Ganga and is also known as Ganga Jayanthi or Ganga Pujan. Ganga Saptami is observed on the seventh day of Shukla Paksha, the waxing phase of the Moon, during the month of Vaishakha or Baishak (April–May). Ganga Saptami is celebrated with religious fervor in the northern parts of the country, where the river flows and with a lot of enthusiasm at pilgrim centers like Triveni Sangam in Allahabad and Rishikesh.
Greatness of River Ganga
Ganga is regarded as the holiest of the holy rivers of our land. This is believed to have flowed only in heaven and came down to earth later, so as to relieve people of their sins. Hence, there is a firm belief that a dip in the Ganga waters can wash away sins, whereas many desire even to get cremated on its banks as that is said to lead to salvation.
Legend associated with Ganga and Ganga Saptami
Many are the legends like Padma Purana, Brahma Purana and Narada Purana which speak in detail about the birth and journey of Ganga. River Ganga is believed to have born out of the sweat of Lord Vishnu’s feet. It is also said that when Vishnu took the Vamana avatar and later assumed the gigantic form of Trivikrama to outwit the mighty demon Bali, Brahma washed his foot that extended towards the heavens with the water from his kamandal and it was that sacred water which flowed to earth as Ganga. Some other stories claim that Brahma stored that water in his kamandal, which later flowed out as river Ganga.
Ganga is also known to have descended on earth in deference to the severe penance undertaken by king Bhagiratha and that day of her advent is regarded as Ganga Dusshera. But, once she landed on earth, her waters started flowing with tremendous force, drowning everything that came on the way. In the process, Ganga began flowing menacingly towards the hermitage of sage Jahnu. With a view of restraining her, the powerful sage took her waters in the palm of his hand and simply drank it. Bhagiratha, shocked at the turn of events pleaded with the sage to release the holy river so that she can wipe out the sins of his ancestors and give them salvation, and the Gods too joined him. The sage took pity and is said to have released Ganga through his ear and the river started flowing again. That day was Shukla Paksha Saptami in the Hindu month of Vaishakha and this is celebrated as Ganga Saptami, the day of rebirth of Ganga Mata. As Ganga emerged out of the body of sage Jahnu, she came to be regarded as his daughter and got the name Jahnavi. Thus, Ganga Saptami too has got the name Jahnu Saptami.
Ganga Saptami — Rituals and Celebrations
People living in areas lying on the banks of Ganga start the auspicious Ganga Saptami day, with a sacred bath in the holy river. This is believed to purify them, both internally and externally. The bathing Ghats are accordingly cleaned and decorated for the occasion. They then worship the river waters, offering flowers to them, floating garlands in the waters and performing Ganga Aarti. Ganga Aarti is a grand event celebrated with enthusiasm by thousands of devotees at various Ghats all along the river. Lighted lamps in very large numbers are also let to float in Ganges waters as a form of worship and these present a memorable sight. Dheep, the traditional lamps are also donated during the occasion and doing this Dheepdaan is believed to be highly beneficial.
Those living in places that are away, purify themselves at their homes, taking the water as Ganga jal. Prayers are then offered at home to Goddess Ganga, sweets and other special offerings are made to her and bhajans are sung in her praise. While the Prasad is shared with friends and relatives, food is donated to the poor and charity is done for the needy. People read and recite hymns like Ganga Sahasranamam in praise of Goddess Ganga and also Gayathri Mantra, and worship Ganga Mata with devotion and faith, seeking happiness, relief from sins and salvation. People under the adverse effect of Mangal, the planet Mars, also seek relief by praying to Ganga on this day. Big fairs areorganized on the occasion, at many places on the river banks.