“The waters of the Ganges are always carrying the flavor of tulasi offered at the lotus feet of Sri Krishna, and as such the waters of the Ganges are ever flowing, spreading the glories of Lord Krishna. Wherever the waters of the Ganges are flowing, all will be sanctified, both externally and internally.” –Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu, Chapter 7
Thousands of years ago, during a time of conflict between the demigods and demons, the demigods were forced to retreat as the demons rained terror onto the heavens and its inhabitants. The demigods approached the Supreme Personality of Godhead and beseeched Him for protection and help to get their heavenly kingdom back.
Taking on the form of a dwarf brahmana, Lord Vishnu approached Bali Maharaja, who was the king of the demons. Bali Maharaja welcomed the Lord in His form as the brahmana Vamana deva, worshipped Him, and despite the constant protests and warnings from his guru, offered the brahmana anything He desired in charity. The Personality of Godhead requested only three paces of land, which Bali Maharaja happily granted Him.
The Lord’s small body then began to grow to gargantuan proportions, until it covered the upper and lower planets – the entire creation was manifest in the tremendous body of the Supreme Creator. With His first step, He covered the entire surface of the earth, the sky and all directions, and with His second step He covered the heavenly planets, reached the limit of the universe and pierced its material covering, and with nowhere else to place His third step, He placed His lotus foot upon Bali Maharaja’s head. It was during this pastime of Lord Vamana deva, when His lotus toe pierced through the material covering of the universe, that Ganga Devi appeared and descended from the spiritual world and flowed amongst the heavenly planets.
Later, on the request of Maharaja Bhagirath her transcendental waters descended from the heavens and sanctified the rest of the universe with her holy waters, flowing from the highest planet in the material world down to the lowest. Today, hundreds of years later, people from all over the world travel to India get the blessings of Sri Ganga Devi, who is also known as the Ganges River.
Srila Prabhupada states in his purport to Srimad Bhagavatam 5.7.1: “The water of the Ganges is called patita-pavani, the deliverer of all sinful living beings. It is a proven fact that a person who regularly bathes in the Ganges is purified both externally and internally. Externally his body becomes immune to all kinds of disease, and internally he gradually develops a devotional attitude toward the Supreme Personality of Godhead.” The purifying properties of the Ganges water are not only acknowledged in the Vedas, but also by modern science. In 1896 the British bacteriologist Ernest Hanbury Hankin published a paper in which he describes the extraordinary antibacterial properties of the waters from the Ganges and Yamuna rivers.
Ganga Devi’s waters are the charanamrita, or the divine ambrosial water that washes the lotus feet of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, so her ability to purify all living beings is natural. Although her mercy is available wherever she flows, from the heavenly planets down to the lowest region of the universe, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura states that in Navadvipa-mandala, she distributes special mercy not available anywhere else. Her divine waters in Navadvipa-mandala specifically bestow gauranga-prema, or love for Lord Gauranga.
While living in Nadia, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu would go to the Ganges everyday to bathe in her waters. In the Gauranga Champu, the Lord’s love for and dedication to Ganga Devi is described. The following is one pastime which demonstrates His love and dedication.
Once, Nimai was requested by His teacher, Ganga Das Pandit, to accompany him to the Ganges to bathe after their day at school. When they reached her banks, they offered their respects to her before entering her waters. Ganga Das Pandit had heard that Nimai had taken a vow that He would never touch the waters of Ganga Devi with His feet other than during His bath. Ganga Das Pandit decided to test this vow.
Nimai finished His bath and respectfully got out of Ganga Devi’s waters, dried off, and patiently waited for His teacher to finish. Ganga Das Pandit, still within the water, turned to Nimai and asked him for some sesame seeds that Ganga Das Pandit had brought for his worship of Ganga Devi. He had left these seeds on the bank, and he wanted to see how Nimai would give him the sesame seeds without touching the water with His feet.
Without hesitation, Nimai picked up the tray and walked towards His teacher, who stood in the waters some distance from the bank. Ganga Das Pandit’s concentration and focus was solely on Nimai’s feet, and Nimai understood His teacher’s intentions. Just as Nimai’s foot was about to touch the water, a lotus flower emerged from within the water and cradled the Lord’s foot. As Nimai took another step, another lotus flower appeared beneath the Lord’s other foot. Like this, Nimai walked all the way to His teacher, gave him the tray of sesame seeds, and went back to the bank of the Ganges. Ganga Das Pandit’s suspicions that Nimai was no ordinary boy were thus confirmed.
Some devotees say that the lotus flowers were in fact the lotus-like hands of Ganga Devi, upholding the Lord’s vow and taking the opportunity to hold His lotus feet once more. Ganga Devi is very attached to the Supreme Lord, and she is very dear to Him. Thus, it is very auspicious to worship Srimati Ganga Devi, and in Sridham Mayapur Ganga Devi is worshiped daily with an elaborate puja. This worship is performed on the banks of the Ganges every day at 5 p.m. or 5:30 p.m., depending on the season.
This puja is performed daily by Sri Mayapur Chandrodaya Mandir’s Ganga Mata Seva Committee, a group of grihastha devotees who have dedicated themselves to the worship of Ganga Devi through the inspiration of His Holiness Jayapataka Swami.
A new temple dedicated to Ganga Devi has recently been constructed by the Ganga Mata Seva Committee, and is known as the Sri Sri Gaura-Ganga Jagat-pavani Mandir. Here, a Deity of Ganga Devi is worshipped along with Deities of Sri Sri Gaura-Nitai. This temple is only the beginning, for the committee has plans to construct a larger and more opulent temple for the worship of Mother Ganga.
Just like a caring mother, Ganga Devi nourishes and protects the tender bhakti creepers of those who take shelter of her by bathing in her sacred waters and worshiping her beloved Gauranga Mahaprabhu. The benefits of bathing in her waters are innumerable and unlimited. In the Caitanya Bhagavata, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu Himself states that anyone who hears the name or glories of Ganga Devi, and anyone who worships, bathes in and drinks her waters will attain love of Godhead.
“O Ganga devi, your waters are the ambrosia of love of Godhead. The mere utterance of your name invokes devotional service to the Supreme Lord. By your mercy, the living entities acquire a taste for chanting Lord Krishna’s holy name.” – Sri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu