Mysterious Ways of Goddess Ganga

The Mahabharata tells us the story of Ganga and her husband Shantanu - she was his gorgeous wife with whom the king lived a serene life. But she kept drowning their sons in the river as soon as they were born, as Shantanu watched in horror. But why did his wife kill all their children?
Ganga drowning their eight child as Shantanu tries to intervene. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Ganga drowning their eight child as Shantanu tries to intervene. Source: Wikimedia Commons

This is the story of Goddess Ganga, who's benevolence helped the Vasus be liberated from Sage Vasistha's curse. She is often believed to be an incarnation who helps people overcome their curse or sins, and in tandem with these stories, a large portion of the Indian populous believes that dipping in this river's waters helps one be cleansed from sin.

Shantanu, met a lovely lady on the banks of Ganga river, but had no idea she was Goddess Ganga incarnated in human form. When he asked her to wed him, she agreed to the proposition on the condition that O King! On one condition, I will agree to marry you. You must never ask me where I am from or what my genuine origins are. You must also never question any of my acts, whether good or negative. You must support me in every way. If you violate any of these terms, I will leave you immediately.

Shantanu agreed, and they wed. They had a pleasant, loving life. Ganga's clean ideas pulled Shantanu closer. After a while, they were blessed with a boy. When the baby was born, she brought it to the Ganges and flung it in, drowning and killing it. She then walked back to her home, grinning, much to Shantanu's horror. She drowned seven of Shantanu's sons, and he couldn't question or stop her. That's why he grieved as he was, without inquiry or regret. That was until their eighth son, Bhishma was born.

He yelled for her to stop. You're such a cold-blooded woman. Why are you doing such a horrific act? You're as beautiful as you are mad!

Dear King, you have broken your vow to me, and I must leave. But, I'll answer your question and reveal the curse of Sage Vasishta on the Eight Vasus, I am Goddess Ganga in human form, Ganga replied.

The Vasus were cursed to a miserable life since for Devas, being born as a mortal on earth is pure suffering. They had requested her to end their life when they incarnated on Earth. Vasus are attendant deities of Indra, and Vishnu. They are eight elemental gods representing aspects of nature. The name Vasu means 'Dweller' or 'Dwelling'. They are eight among the Thirty-three gods. They were cursed by Vasishta when he found out they took his beloved cow, Nandini and her calf. To overcome it, Vasishta told them to ask Ganga to be their birthmother, and to kill them immediately after being born. Thus, she performed her karma as a helper for those who seek salvation.

She vanished, vowing to return their son when he developed into a good king. She trained Bhishma and returned him to an overjoyed Shantanu, and their son went on to become a powerful commander, who called upon his own befall.

Ganga returning Bhishma to Shantanu, after training him. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Ganga returning Bhishma to Shantanu, after training him. Source: Wikimedia Commons

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