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The Story of River Goddess Who Drowned Her Own Children


Legends rose from ashes and fought the righteous war, such was their resilience, tales of bravery and valor, sacrifice and dedication, of love and romance, and episodes signifying the epitome of conspiracy, the scriptures of Hindu dharma have it all recorded. But, amongst many, some are enigmatic to their core and will leave you bewildered. One of such epics recorded is in the Mahabharata, when Ganga, the river Goddess personified, drowned her seven children one after another in the series the very next day they were born.

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As it happens, King Pratipa, Kuru, the King of Hastinapur, a descendant of the Bharata race, was engrossed in Penance, repentance of his sins, in the forest when Ganga approached him and submitted herself to him by sitting on the right side of his lap. But King Pratipa was spell-bound as that side of the lap belonged to either his son, daughter or daughter-in-law and hence could not marry Goddess Ganga. So, he put it that the righteous course would be Goddess Ganga be her daughter in law and marry his son in the future to which Goddess Ganga agreed. As it happened, Devapi, the heir to the throne of Hastinapur retired to the forest and when King Pratipa grew old, the kingdom was given to Shantanu.

And as the tales have it, King Shantanu was out on a hunt near the banks of Ganges when he saw a beautiful woman emerging from the river. Captivated by her radiance, he proposed her to marry him. She was Goddess Ganga, who readily agreed to Shantanu’s proposal, but the condition she put forward was King Shantanu would never inquire her with any question about what she would do with their children.  “If you ever ask me a question, I will answer it, but will be gone from your life forever,” Goddess Ganga had said. Who could have ever thought even in their wildest dreams she was to drown her own children?

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And one day, that fateful morning did arrive, when Ganga and Shantanu’s first son was born, the kingdom welcomed the newborn with more than usual pomp and splendor, the entire Kingdom was in a jubilant mood. The very next day, Goddess Ganga, upon whose strength and will do not have any impact, unlike ordinary mothers, without any hesitation took up her newborn and walked towards the banks of the river Ganges. Shantanu did follow her but found by his promise, he did not dare ask her anything. Already her mute spectator, what he saw next horrified him. Ganga drowned her newborn son into the river. It indeed was a heart-rendering scene for the King to see his new-born demise that too in the hands of the child’s mother.

The next in the series was the six newborns, who too met the same fate. The moment they were born, Ganga would drown them in a river, bound to keep his promise, King Shantanu could only watch and wail. However, with the eighth newborn, the king could not bear it anymore. He finally did ask Goddess Ganga why she was doing it.

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It was then, Goddess Ganga narrated the story of the eight brothers, the Vasus, the attendant deities of Lord Indra who represent the different aspects of nature and natural phenomenon, who once while strolling around along with their wives stumbled upon a beautiful cow known as Nandini. Such was their virtue, they were captivated by it, but little did they the cow belonged to Rishi Vashista. Unable to resist their yearning, they took the cow with them.

When Rishi Vasishta discovered the theft, the enraged sage cursed the 8 brothers to be born as Manavas, or humans on earth. Though the brothers realized their mistake and returned the cow he did not totally comply with the request of the brothers to forgive them. The continued sage just lessened the curse, the brother who incurred the theft had to live the entire life of a human whereas the other seven would only have to go through the 9 months of pregnancy. The seven sons of  Goddess Ganga were the seven Vasu brothers and when Ganga drowned them in the holy river they were freed from their sins.

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‘This is your son’, she said handing the eight newborn to King Shantanu, ‘But he can never rule the kingdom nor his sons will.’ The eight born Son to Goddess Ganga was later known for his valor in the epic war of the Mahabharata as Devavrata, later known as “The Great Bhishma”.

But now, as he had inquired about her doings, Goddess Ganga took her leave.