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Relief from Mahabalipuram , depicting the descent of the Ganga
While praying in the Ganges
Ganges festival in Haridwar

Ganga ( Sanskrit , f., गंगा, gaṅgā ), the Indian name for the river Ganges , is also the name of a goddess of Hinduism . She is often referred to as 'Mother Ganga'.


According to the most important tradition, Ganga is the daughter of Himavat , the personification of the Himalayan mountains, and the Mena and thus a sister of Parvati . Sometimes she is also considered the mother of Skanda / Karttikeya , who is usually more associated with her sister. In another spring it rises from the feet of Vishnu and is nicknamed Vishnupadi .

Ganga can be found in numerous legends from the mythology of Hinduism; the best known is that of their descent ( Gangadhara-Murti ): the wise ( rishi ) Kapila had burned the sons of King Sagara to ashes by a ray of embers from his eyes because of their bad behavior. Kapila had confided to a relative of the king that the redeeming death ritual for the sons could only be performed with the help of the Ganga, which flows like a Milky Way in the sky. However, it was not until three generations later that someone was born with Bhagiratha who should be able to bring Ganga from heaven. He brought Ganga to the place where his dead ancestors lay, and their holy water redeemed them. Bhagiratha, after many years of asceticism , managed to accumulate so much inner strength and merit that the goddess appeared before him. However, she warned against bringing them to earth - their falling water would shatter the earth. Shiva alone is able to gently catch the water. Bhagiratha practiced asceticism on the holy mountain Kailash for a thousand years until Shiva agreed to help. When the masses of water fell, the god slowed the impact with his hair and let the gush run over his long braids in seven streams onto the earth. India has had seven sacred rivers since then. The Ganga is the most sacred of these rivers and, after having irrigated northern India together with Yamuna, flows into the Indian Ocean in the Bay of Bengal . Since, according to legend, Bhagiratha once brought them to earth, Ganga is also called Bhagirathi , from Sanskrit भगीरथ bhagīratha . As a reminder, there is a big pilgrimage festival every year, the Sagar-Mela .

Meaning in Hinduism

Ganga is not only considered sacred to Hindus, but is the living water form of the goddess - the river itself is her personification. More than anything else, it embodies purity, and accordingly Ganges water is used in many rites for material and spiritual purification. In addition, he should also deliver from sins (karma). It is essential as 'holy water' for every puja , the Hindu worship service. Devout Hindus often have a small supply in the house, even if they live far from the river. Sometimes a little Ganges water, which was brought in a bronze jug from a pilgrimage, is poured into the local wells, step wells and / or into the temple pond during a ceremony , thus participating in the sanctity of the Ganga.

Millions of pilgrims visit countless large and small pilgrimage sites along the banks all year round; Many believers would like to ritually immerse themselves in the holy waters at least once in their lives. You then take the precious liquid home in bottles for your own family and neighbors. Many even hope that it will cure themselves by taking it like a medicine, and some homeopaths use it as the basis for their medicine.

Despite the extreme pollution of the river, its importance as sacred water remains unbroken; many Hindus continue to trust Ganga's infinite purifying power. Even if skepticism is appropriate due to the pollution, chemical as well as biological phenomena are repeatedly applied, which should identify the electricity as something special: Compared to other bodies of water, it should have three times the self-cleaning power .

The meaning of the ganga for Hindus can be seen in the following prayer from the epic Ramayana :

O mother Ganga!
You are the necklace on the dress of the earth .
It is you through whom one reaches heaven .
O Bhagirathi! I pray thee, let my body go by ,
after living on your shores and drinking your pure water;
after your waves rocked him and he thought of your name.


Representations of Ganga and Yamuna (deity) have been known since the Gupta period ; they are almost always presented in a common context - even if not directly next to one another. They are a popular motif on temple portals, where they are originally shown as attractive female figures at both ends of the lintels and later at the base of the side door posts. In this position they have both an auspicious, blessing and sin-cleansing function as well as a disastrous ( apotropaic ) function. They are often accompanied by servants and guards; According to the textual tradition, both should hold a jug or a vase ( kalasha ) in their hands, which, however, are often broken off. Ganga's mount ( vahana ) is usually a sea monster ( makara ) or a fish ( matsya ).

Pictorial representations of the two goddesses Ganga and Yamuna can sometimes be found at the entrances of Buddhist temples.


  • Anneliese and Peter Keilhauer: The Imagery of Hinduism. The Indian world of gods and their symbolism. DuMont, Cologne 1986, pp. 215f, ISBN 3-7701-1347-0 .

Web links

Commons : Ganga  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Anneliese and Peter Keilhauer: The visual language of Hinduism. The Indian world of gods and their symbolism. DuMont, Cologne 1986, p. 215, ISBN 3-7701-1347-0 .
  2. Anneliese and Peter Keilhauer: The visual language of Hinduism. The Indian world of gods and their symbolism. DuMont, Cologne 1986, pp. 176f, ISBN 3-7701-1347-0 .
  3. David Kinsley: Indian Goddesses. Female deities in Hinduism. Insel, Frankfurt / M. 1990, p. 255, ISBN 3-458-16118-X .
  4. Anneliese and Peter Keilhauer: The visual language of Hinduism. The Indian world of gods and their symbolism. DuMont, Cologne 1986, p. 217, ISBN 3-7701-1347-0 .