Therapeutic Pause On The Ghats Of Gangashtakam


On Ganga Dusshera, a tribute to the Ashtakam that describes the river, its attributes, beauty, movement, benefits and her relationship with Lord Shiva.

By Usha RK

Ganga, the breath of India, worshipped, loved and revered. A dip in the Ganga is considered therapeutic in absolving, rather, washing away the wrong doings that one acknowledges in Her presence. India’s lifeline, nurturing, in the physical sense and a metaphysical way. This river has enlightened the sages, the sadhus and the lay man on the most complicated philosophies of life and death. Its spiritual healing — inexplicable.

The significance of the Kumbha Mela and the important role it plays in India’s spirituality is understood with the background of the sacred Ganga. Kumbh mela, the largest human gathering attended by millions of people, irrespective of worldly barriers of caste, creed, region, has wielded a mesmeric influence on the minds and the imagination of the ordinary Indian. The astrological and mythological study of the festival relates the deep connection between Kumbh and Ganga. All rivers, on whose banks the Kumbh Mela is organised, are part of the mighty Ganga. The cultural and social aspect of the festival, apart from its primary bathing rituals, also revolves around the various yagyas that take place throughout the festival at different venues, the chanting of vedic mantras, elucidation, dances, devotional songs and programmes based on mythological epics, prayers, religious assembles, where doctrines are debated and standardised, are organised and conducted by the saints and sages. A prominent part of the festival is the act of donation or daana — from food and clothing to the destitute, the helpless and saints, to cow and gold donation. The traditional procession of the akhadas, the shining swords, the Naga sages during Shahi Snan, several ceremonies and cultural activities, attract millions of visitors to Kumbh and Ganga.

The amazing description of the first look of Ganga, as Bhagvatpada Adi Shankaracharya set his foot in the holy city of Varanasi, creates a beautiful visual of the venerated river. Adorned with numerous sacrificial pillars of gold and having a forest of Nimba in its neighbourhood, the Ganga in front, dotted with innumerable cottages. The blessing in the form of a river that mankind got as the fruits of Bhagiratha’s great austerity. She is the ornament that adorns moon-crested locks of Shiva. However, since her turbulent force would also shatter the earth, Bhagiratha persuades Shiva in his abode on Mount Kailash to receive Ganga in the coils of his tangled hair and break her fall. Ganga descends, is tamed in Shiva’s locks, and arrives in the Himalayas. She is then led by the waiting Bhagiratha, down into the plains at Haridwar, across the plains, first to the confluence with the Yamuna at Prayag and then to Varanasi, eventually to Ganga Sagar, where she meets the ocean, sinks to the netherworld, and saves the sons of Sagara. In honour of Bhagirath’s pivotal role in the avatarana, the source stream of the Ganges in the Himalayas is named Bhagirathi.

“I come as an orphan to you, moist with love.

I come without refuge to you, giver of sacred rest.

I come a fallen man to you, uplifter of all.

I come undone by disease to you, the perfect physician.

I come, my heart dry with thirst, to you, ocean of sweet wine. Do with me whatever you will.”

Originating from the snow of the Himalayas the waters of the Ganga flow in their crystalline clearness.

Was that maiden of a river singing through the humming bees hovering over the lotuses floating on her waters…

Was she dancing as that expanse of lotuses swayed in the winds…

Was she smiling through the white foam released from her surface…

Was she lifting up her hands to embrace her beloved by the high waves rising on her bosom…

She was the mighty yet graceful Ganga.

Bhagavatpada, after his first dip in the Ganga, was described as looking like a statue of Indrakanta stone with moisture glistening in the cool moonlight. His face shined like the crescent moon that had fallen down in to the current of that holy river. He lived in the precincts for some time.

Amongst his stotras, ashtakams, and padas, this venerated Saint composed not only on deities, but also on rivers. The Gangashtakam is one of the most popular musically and also performed by dancers. Stanzas or excerpts have been used as part of concerts, thematic presentations, dance dramas, and as invocation. The Ashtakam describes the river, its attributes, beauty, movement, its benefits and her relationship with Shiva.

Bhagawathi thava theere neeramathrasanoham,

Vigatha vishaya thurshna  krishnamaradhayami,

Sakala kalusha  bhange swarga sopana sange,

Tharala thara tharange Devi gange praseedha.

Goddess, I come to your shore, praying on Krishna, consuming nothing else but your water. You, who removes all dirt, you who is the ladder for the heaven, And you who is full of expanding waves, I request to be pleased with me.

You, who is the garland on the head of Shiva, meant to make him happy. Those beings, who are lucky to touch drops of your water, get relieved of all dark sins, and would enjoy the caress in the laps of those beauties of heaven.

Let your pure waters, O Ganga of heaven, originating from the breaking the universe in to two, watering the hair curls of Lord Shiva’s head, falling from the heights of heaven, coming out of the sandal wood trees of the caves of Meru, falling torrentially on the earth, washing away the crowds of sins, and making full the waters of the sea, take care of all of us.

Let your waters, O Ganga, which is full of several crowds of bees rushing to drink, the water coming out of the bathing elephants, which is fully red, because of the saffron coloured water flowing from the head through the busts of holy ladies, which is full of different types floating grasses and flowers, after the dawn and dusk salutations done by saints in the morn and evening, and which is full of waves created by the playful elephants and calves, because of their beating the water by their trunks, save all of us.

O Goddess, you, who were brought down by King Bhageerath, were initially seen as the water of worship from the pot of Brahma, later you became the purest holy waters washing the feet of Vishnu, and then became an ornamental gem on the head of Lord Shiva, and then later, were born as the daughter of sage Jahnu.

Victory to you, O pretty Ganga, you who took birth from king of mountains, who makes people who dip in her waters and cross the ocean of life, who reaches and plays in the ocean, who completely uproots sorrows from life, who imitates Adi Sesha that bends and flows, who appears like leaves on the hairs of Lord Shiva, and who flows very near the city of Kasi.

Hey river Ganga, where are the pains of hell to him whose eyes see at least one of your waves? Hey Ganga, You give to anyone taking a sip of your water, permanent residence in Vaikunta, and Oh, mother, to any being whose body falls on you, even the being of Indra become worthless.

Hey Ganga, you, who is most important in all the three worlds, who is so wide and big that all women of heaven dip and bathe in you, who is the full form of the eternal truth, who flows carrying the dust of the feet of Lord Vishnu, who flows in the paths of heaven, and whose one drop is the only cure for sins like killing of Brahmana. Hey Ganga, who can be capable of praying to you adequately? And only you are capable of washing any sin in the three worlds, be pleased with me.

Hey mother Jahnavi, at the end of my wanderings devoted for search for the company of Lord Shiva, the end celebration of my travel of the soul would happen only on your banks, while I would be meditating, holding my two hands in salute over my head with happiness on the lotus feet of Lord Vishnu, at that moment, let my devotion to Vishnu and Shiva be acknowledged, and make me one with them, Oh Goddess.

That holy devotee who reads this holy octet on Ganga would become free of all sins and reach the world of Vishnu.


॥ श्रीगंगाष्टकम् ॥

भगवति तव तीरे नीरमात्राशनोऽहं

विगतविषयतृष्णः कृष्णमाराधयामि ।

सकलकलुषभंगे स्वर्गसोपानगंगे

तरलतरतरंगे देवि गंगे प्रसीद ॥ १॥


भगवति भवलीलामौलिमाले तवांभः

कणमणुपरिमाणं प्राणिनो ये स्पृशन्ति ।


विगतकलिकलंकातंकमंके लुठन्ति ॥ २॥


ब्रह्माण्डं खंडयन्ती हरशिरसि जटावल्लिमुल्लासयन्ती

खर्ल्लोकात् आपतन्ती कनकगिरिगुहागण्डशैलात् स्खलन्ती ।

क्षोणी पृष्ठे लुठन्ती दुरितचयचमूनिंर्भरं भर्त्सयन्ती

पाथोधिं पुरयन्ती सुरनगरसरित् पावनी नः पुनातु ॥ ३॥



स्नानंः सिद्धांगनानां कुचयुगविगलत् कुंकुमासंगपिंगम् ।

सायंप्रातर्मुनीनां कुशकुसुमचयैः छन्नतीरस्थनीरं

पाय न्नो गांगमंभः करिकलभकराक्रान्तरं हस्तरंगम् ॥ ४॥


आदावादि पितामहस्य नियमव्यापारपात्रे जलं

पश्चात् पन्नगशायिनो भगवतः पादोदकं पावनम् ।

भूयः शंभुजटाविभूषणमणिः जहनोर्महर्षेरियं

कन्या कल्मषनाशिनी भगवती भागीरथी दृश्यते ॥ ५॥


शैलेन्द्रात् अवतारिणी निजजले मज्जत् जनोत्तारिणी

पारावारविहारिणी भवभयश्रेणी समुत्सारिणी ।

शेषाहेरनुकारिणी हरशिरोवल्लिदलाकारिणी

काशीप्रान्तविहारिणी विजयते गंगा मनूहारिणो ॥ ६॥


कुतो वीचिर्वीचिस्तव यदि गता लोचनपथं

त्वमापीता पीतांबरपुग्निवासं वितरसि ।

त्वदुत्संगे गंगे पतति यदि कायस्तनुभृतां

तदा मातः शातक्रतवपदलाभोऽप्यतिलघुः ॥ ७॥


गंगे त्रैलोक्यसारे सकलसुरवधूधौतविस्तीर्णतोये

पूर्णब्रह्मस्वरूपे हरिचरणरजोहारिणि स्वर्गमार्गे ।

प्रायश्चितं यदि स्यात् तव जलकाणिक्रा ब्रह्महत्यादिपापे

कस्त्वां स्तोतुं समर्थः त्रिजगदघहरे देवि गंगे प्रसीद ॥ ८॥


मातर्जाह्नवी शंभुसंगवलिते मौलै निधायाञ्जलिं

त्वत्तीरे वपुषोऽवसानसमये नारायणांध्रिद्वयम् ।

सानन्दं स्मरतो भविष्यति मम प्राणप्रयाणोत्सवे

भूयात् भक्तिरविच्युता हरिहरद्वैतात्मिका शाश्वती ॥ ९॥


गंगाष्टकमिदं पुण्यं यः पठेत् प्रयतो नरः ।

सर्वपापविनिर्भुक्तो विष्णुलोकं स गच्छति ॥ १०॥


इति श्रीमत्परमहंसपरिव्राजकाचार्य श्रीगोविन्दभगवत्पूज्यपादस्यशिष्या

श्रीमच्छङ्करभगवतः कृतौ गङ्गाष्टकस्तोत्रं सम्पूर्णम् ।


Resource reference: Shankara Digvijaya – Madhava Vidyaranya

— Usha RK is a Delhi-based art consultant. In her recent assignment with the Ministry of Culture, her contribution in achieving the nominations of Varanasi as Unesco’s Creative City of Music, Yoga as humanity’s treasure in Unesco’s Representative List and the successful submission of Kumbh Mela and Sowa Rigpa, has been widely acknowledged. Her deep understanding and training in Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi and her immense love for music has led her to research in various aspects of composers and compositions in Carnatic music. She has changed the fabric of classical dance presentations in India.