Holy Rivers of India


In India, water has been an object of worship from time immemorial.  It has diverse socio-religious uses and plays a central role in many religious ceremonies and rites. The various rivers have different legends about their origins. The different sacred rivers of India are :-

River Ganga

The name of the Ganges is known all throughout the land of India. This river that runs for 1,560 miles from the Himalayas all the way to the Bay of Bengal is more than just flowing water. This river is life, purity, and a goddess to the people of India. The river is Ganga Ma, “Mother Ganges.” Her name and her story is known all throughout the land. It is the story of how she poured herself down from heaven upon the ashes of King Sarga’s sons. Her waters would raise them up again to dwell in peace in heaven. Not only that, but anyone who touches these purifying waters even today are said to be cleansed of all sins.
Every morning thousands of Hindus, whether pilgrims or residents, make their way into the holy water of the Ganges. All of them face the rising sun with folded hands mumering prayers.

River Saraswati

Saraswati is no longer in existence and is said to have originated from Saraswati-Rupin Glacier confluence at Naitwar in Uttaranchal. There are numerous references to the River Saraswati in the ancient and Vedic texts. Saraswati is also said to join the Ganga and Yamuna rivers at Prayag/Allahabad making it the holiest of all confluences that leads to salvation of human soul.

It is believed that Saraswati had three tributaries Sutlej, Drishadvati and Yamuna. They flowed together along a channel, presently known as the Ghaggar River. The river finally ended in the Arabian Sea through the Rann of Kutch. Saraswati was considered the seventh river of the Vedic Sapta Sindhu river system.

Legends state that Aryans fought with the non-Aryan tribes on the banks of River Saraswati. Lord Vishnu requested Saraswati to disappear underground. Thus, the tribals were deprived of water and were forced to abandon the area. So Saraswati is also known as Prithudhar (subjugator of Aryans).

River Godavari

River Godavari is second largest river in India, Godavari is often referred to as the Vriddh (Old) Ganga or the Dakshin (South) Ganga.Godavari is one of the most sacred rivers of India. Every twelve years, Pushkar fair is held on its banks of the river. Thousands of people have a holy dip in the sacred waters of the river to purify themselves of all their sins.

Legend has it that Sage Gautama lived on the Brahmagiri Hills at Triambakeshwar with his wife Ahalya. The rishi kept his stock of rice in a granary. Once, a cow entered his granary and ate up the rice. When the rishi tried to ward the cow away with Durbha grass, it fell dead. The rishi wanted to relieve himself of the sin of ‘Gauhatya’. He worshipped Lord Shiva and requested him to bring Ganga to purify his hermitage. Lord Shiva pleased with the rishi appeared as Triambaka and brought along river Ganga. Since Ganga was brought down to Triambakeshwar by Sage Gautama, she is known here as Gautami. She is also known as Godavari because the river helped Sage Gautama to releive of his sins.

River Brahmaputra

The Brahmaputra means the “Son of Brahma” and the river rises in Jima Yangzong glacier near Mount Kailash in the northern Himalayas. It enters India in the far eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh after traveling hundreds of miles across Tibet as the River Tsangpo. This is one of the largest rivers of the world and ends in Bay of Bengal. It acts as a good source of water for irrigation, fishing, rituals and for navigation.

According to Kalika Purana, there lived a sage named Shantanu and his wife Amogha. They prayed to Lord Brahma for a son and Lord Brahma impressed with their piety, blessed them with his son whom he wanted to create for the benefit of humanity. Shantanu placed the son – Brahmaputra amidst the holy mountains of Kailash, Gandhamadana, Jarudhi, and Sambaka. Brahmaputra assumed the form of a large mass of water where the Gods and heavenly maidens would have their bath. Thus, Brahmaputra is also a male river.

River Narmada

River Narmada is one of the most sacred rivers in our country and is worshipped as a Goddess. People living along the banks of the river consider her to be holier than the Ganges. Thousands of pilgrims circumambulate the river during the annual Naramada parikrama. There are many thirthas on the banks of the river including famousMaheshwar and Omkareshwar temples.

The river is closely associated with Lord Shiva. There are many stories that describe the origin of the river. According to one, the river was formed from the perspiration of Lord Shiva, while performing the tandava (Lord Shiva’s cosmic dance). Naturally formed Shiva lingams or banas are found in the river. These stones are considered very sacred by devout Hindus.Adi Shankaracharya met his guru Govinda Bhagavatpada on the banks of river Narmada.

River Sindhu

Sindhu in Rig Veda is reffered as one one of the rivers of Sapta Sindhus. The river gots its name of Sindhu or Sindh through which it flows. It is the great river of the world.It originated from the Kailasa mountain near the Mansarovar in Tibet. The basin of this river gave birth to the ancient Indus Valley Civilization. Indus rises in Tibet near the Mansarovar Lake, flows west through Kashmir and Pakistan and then empties itself in Arabian Sea through the Rann of Kutch.River Indus provides the key water source for the economy of India and Pakistan. It is considered auspicious because of the Hindu belief that Aryans settled on the banks of Sindhu and thus, Hinduism started. River Sindhu is one of the foremost rivers to be treated as a male.

River Krishna

River Krishna originates at Mahabaleswar in Maharashtra and meets the sea in the Bay of Bengal at Hamasaladevi in Andhra Pradesh. The traditional source of the river is a spout from the mouth of a statue of a cow in the ancient temple of Mahadev in Mahabaleshwar.

The waters of River Krishna are considered sacred for religious rituals and for releasing ashes of the dead people. The river irrigates a huge land area and makes a fertile delta.

Legends state that the River Krishna is Lord Vishnu himself who turned into a river due to a curse on the Trimurti by Devi Savitri (Goddess Parvati). It is said that its tributaries Venna and Koyana are said to be Siva and Brahma themselves.

River Kaveri

River Kaveri is also known as Cauvery (Lopamudra devi, Brahma’s daughter, wife of Agastya Muni).River Kaveri originates at Talakaveri in the Western Ghats, Karnataka. It flows south and across the southern Deccan plateau through the southeastern lowlands. Kaveri makes a huge delta and empties into the Bay of Bengal. The legend of the Cauvery tells the tale of a girl called Lopamudra, the daughter of Brahma. However, Brahma allowed Sage Kavera-muni to adopt her. She resolved to become a river to purify all sins and to obtain blessings for her adoptive father. It is said that even Ganga resorts to going underground once an year to the source of the Kaveri, to purge herself from the pollution contracted from the crowd of sinners who have bathed in her waters.

The Ganges is a place of death and life. Hindus from all over will bring their dead. Whether a body or just ashes, the waters of the Ganga are needed to reach Pitriloka, the World of the Ancestors. Just as in the myth with King Sargas’ 60,000 sons who attained heaven by Ganga pouring down her water upon their ashes, so the same waters of Ganga are needed for the dead in the Hindu belief today. Without this, the dead will exist only in a limbo of suffering, and would be troublesome spirits to those still living on earth. The waters of the Ganges are called amrita, the “nectar of immoratality”.
Cremation anywhere along the Ganges is desirable. If that is not possible, then the relatives might later bring the ashes of the deceased to the Ganges. Sometimes, if a family cannot afford firewood for cremation, a half-burned corpse is thrown into the water. A verse from the Mahabharata promises, “If only the bone of a person should touch the water of the Ganges, that person shall dwell, honored, in heaven.”

For the living, bathing in the Ganges is just as important. Hindus will travel miles and miles to have their sins washed away in these holy waters. For years Hindus have declared that there is nothing quite as cleansing as the living waters of the River of Heaven. This “pure” water is suppose  to wash their sins away.

River Yamuna

River Yamuna is considered one of the most sacred rivers in India after Ganges.Yamuna, according to the legends, was the daughter of Surya, the Sun God, and sister to Yama, the God of Death. Consequently, popular belief is that those who take a dip in its holy waters are not tormented by fears of death.

The river yamuna is intimately connected to Lord Krishna’s pastimes. The Lord Krishna sanctified the River Yamuna from the beginning of His transcendental pastimes in the world. While His father Vasudeva was crossing the Yamuna with baby Lord Krishna for a safe place at Gokul on the other bank of the river from Mathura, the Lord fell down in the river, and by the dust of His lotus feet the river at once became sanctified.