LEGEND OF GANGA’s DESCENT
Mythological epic of Ramayana
King Sagar - the ruler of Ayodhya and an ancestor of Lord Rama successfully performed the Ashwamedha Yagya for 99 times.
Each time, he sent the horse around the earth it returned to the kingdom unchallenged. When king Sagara chose to perform the Ashwamedha yagna for 100th time, his royal agents lost track of the sacrificial horse.
Indra - the King of Gods was jealous of King Sagar’s success. Indra kidnapped and hid the Yagya horse in the hermitage of Kapila Muni
Sagara ordered his sixty thousand sons to track down the horse.
Proud and mercurial princes raged across Bharat, burning down forests and uprooting life and property to find the horse. They finally arrived at a quiet spot where the Sage Kapila was sitting in meditation. Beside him was tied the white horse.
The enraged prince condemned Kapila as a thief and attacked him. When the sage opened his eyes, his immense power turned the princes into ashes.
On hearing about the plight of his father and uncles, King Bhagiratha - one of the grandchildren of King Sagar requested Kapila Muni to grant a solution to the problem.
Kapila Muni advised that only the waters of the river Ganga would miraculously bring back the dead princes to life.
King Bhagirath left his kingdom and began to meditate for the salvation of the souls of his ancestors.
Bhagirath observed a penance to Brahma for a thousand years, requesting Ganga to come down to earth from heaven and wash over his ancestor's ashes to release them from a curse and allow them to go to heaven.
Pleased with the devotion, Brahma granted Bhagirath’s wish but told him to pray to Lord Shiva, as he alone could sustain the weight of her descent. Ganga has a strong flow and it would have been impossible for anyone to contain the destructive impact of this event except Shiva.
Bhagiratha performed tapasya for Lord Shiva, living only on air, compassionate Shiva appeared only after a year's penance
He assured Bhagiratha that he would make Ganga fall on his matted locks (dreadlocks).
Accordingly, Lord Shiva held out his thick matted hair to catch the river as she descended. The meandering through Shiva’s lock softened Ganga’s journey to the earth and the holy waters of river Ganga thus washed away the ashes of Bhagirath’s ancestors. This manifestation of Shiva is known as Gangadhara.