|Lord Shiva holding Ganga in his matted locks|
|Ganga gushing at Haridwar|
Sagara was a king of Ayodhya in the Ikshvaaku dynasty.He had two wives,Sumati and Kesini.
Sumati had sixty thousand sons who were all valiant but arrogant of their power.Kesini’s son was Asamaanya.
Sagara arranged to perform an Ashvamedha sacrifice that was to give him the title,’emperor of the world’.As a prelude to the sacrifice the consecrated horse was set free for capture by anyone who challenged the king’s authority and sovereignty.The king would then fight the challenger and recover the horse.Indra threatened by Ashvamedha sacrifice,stole the horse and concealed it in a cave.
Sumati’s brave sons,honouring the wishes of their father,went in search of the horse.After searching all over the earth,they excavated the earth deep down in the north-east direction.They found the horse standing in a cave near Sage Kapila who was in meditation.The sons of Sagara wrongly concluded that the Sage had stolen the horse and rushed towards him to kill him.Instead,they were instantly burnt to ashes due to the sin incurred in offending the great Sage.
After a long lapse of time,Sagara became worried that his sons had not returned.He asked his grandson Anshumaan, the son of Asamaanya,to go in search of the sacrificial horse.
Following the path dug out by his uncles,Anshumaan discovered the horse in the cave near the Sage.In his devotion,Anshumaan saw Lord Vishnu in Sage Kapila and glorified him.Sage Kapila was pleased with Anshumaan,blessed him and asked to take away the horse with him.The Sage narrated the fate of his uncles and told him that the holy waters of Ganga alone could redeem them from their sin.Offering his salutations to the Sage,Anshumaan returned with the horse.
Sagara completed the Ashwamedha sacrifice.Soon after,he installed Anshumaan on the throne and left the kingdom to spend rest of his life in forest in prayer and contemplation.
Anshumaan could not bring the holy Ganga in spite of his sincere efforts.In his later years,he handed over the kingdom to his son Dileepa. Dileepa was also unsuccessful in bringing Ganga to earth.His son Bhageeratha was deeply committed to redeeming his forefathers from their sin and entrusting the rule of his kingdom to his ministers,went to the forest to perform severe penance.
Goddess Ganga was pleased with his penance and agreed to descend on earth.The Goddess was concerned that the absence of a restraint on her powerful descent,she might unwittingly break open the surface of the earth and reach the nether worlds instead.Bhageeratha assured her that he would find a way by which her force could be held when she descended on earth.
Bhageeratha then proceeded to propitiate Lord Shiva by performing penance for this purpose.Lord Shiva appeared before him and agreed to Bhageeratha’s request to help him to get Ganga descend without hurting the earth.
As Ganga descended Lord Shiva contained her force by holding her in his matted locks.Bhageeratha then led Ganga to the spot where his ancestors lay in the form of ashes.Purified by the waters of Ganga, Sagara’s sons arose and ascended to the heavens.
Ganga was brought to earth due to Bhageeratha’s penance, so she came to be known as Bhaageerathi, one who was born of the efforts of Bhageeratha.
Ganga also acquired other names, such as Aakasha Ganga, one who flows in the heavens; Tripathaga, one whose path extends to the three worlds namely the heaven, the earth and the nether world; Jaanhavi, the daughter of Sage Jahnu; and Mandaakini, one whose flow is gentle.