Rāmāyaṇa - Bāla-kāṇḍa - Part 6 -The Stories of Umā and Gaṅgā


As Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa went ahead with the sages, they arrived at the banks of the river Jāhnavī. Upon Rāma’s request, Viśvāmitra started narrating the story of the river – “The King of mountains, Himavān and his wife Menā, the daughter of Meru, begot two daughters – Gaṅgā and Umā. Upon the request of the devas, the father offered his older daughter Gaṅgā for the welfare of the three worlds. Delighted, the devas escorted her to svarga. The second daughter, Umā, performed intense tapas and won over the hand of Rudra. With time, the powerful semen of Śiva that resulted from his sport with Umā, fell on to the earth, as it was impossible for anyone to bear. This gave birth to a large forest of reeds – śaravaṇa. Agni along with Vāyu carried the semen and upon the behest of the devas, deposited it in the womb of the divine Gaṅgā. Unable to bear its power, Gaṅgā started over flowing and poured out parts of the dazzling virility on her banks; this resulted in the birth of gold, silver, iron, copper, tin, lead, and other metals. From the semen that fell at śaravaṇa[1], a child, Kumāra was born. The six Kṛttikās bathed and fed the boy, who came to be called Kārtikeya. Out of his desire to savour milk from all their breasts at the same time, Kārtikeya got six heads and came to be called Ṣaḍānana/ Ṣaṇmukha. He is the commander-in-chief of the divine forces.”


“In the past, the city of Ayodhyā was ruled by a king named Sagara. He had two wives – the older Keśinī and the younger, Sumati. The king performed tapas to beget children. With the blessings of the sage Bhṛgu, Keśinī begot a son named Asamañjas and Sumati, sixty-thousand sons.[2] Everyday, Asamañjas caught hold of children, threw them into the waters of Sarayū and gleefully laughed as he saw them drown. Unable to bear his sadistic nature, the father banished him from the kingdom. Asamañjas had a son called Aṃśumān, who was dhārmic and loved by the world.

As years rolled on, Sagara made up his mind to perform the Aśvamedha. Aṃśumān valorously guarded the horse. On the concluding day of the yāga, Indra, in the disguise of rākṣasa abducted the horse. As the auspicious moment was just about to arrive, an anxious Sagara commanded his sixty thousand sons to search every nook and corner of the earth for the horse. Searching everywhere, the sons started digging the earth – they came across the diggajas, the directional elephants. As they dug the North-eastern direction, they spotted Sage Kapila – an avatāra of Vāsudeva and also the horse moving about in his vicinity. Suspecting the sage of abducting the horse, the enraged sons sprang at him with weapons in their hands. The infuriated sage reduced them to ashes.

As his sons did not return for a long time, the worried king, Sagara sent his grandson Aṃśumān to look for them. He then arrived upon the place where his uncles were reduced to ashes and spotted the horse. In immense pain, he looked for water to offer tarpaṇa to his dead uncles. Their ancestor, Suparṇa, the son of Vinatā, appeared there and told Aṃśumān that only the waters of the divine Gaṅgā could sanctify the sixty-thousand men. As per his advice, Aṃśumān escorted the horse back to his grandfather, who completed the yāga, though distressed. Figuring no means to bring Gaṅgā to the earth, Sagara left his mortal coil.

Upon the insistence of the citizens, Aṃśumān rose to the throne of Ayodhyā; he begot a son named Dilīpa, a dhārmic king, who gave birth to Bhagīratha. Unable to think of a way to relieve his forefathers, Dilīpa fell sick and passed away. Bhagīratha, who had no off springs, performed tapas amidst five fires at Gokarṇa. Pleased with his devotion, Brahmā appeared before him and said that Gaṅgā would descend upon the earth to relieve his forefathers, but only Bhagavān Śiva could withstand her force. Bhagīratha then performed tapas to Śiva standing on the tip of a single toe. Pleased with him, Śiva said that he would bear the Gaṅgā on his head. Thereupon, Gaṅgā dived down to the earth and was captured in the matted locks of Śiva. She remained there for thousands of years, and upon Bhagīratha’s supplication, Śiva let her out. The white waters of the river gushed down the skies on to the earth to the amazement of all divinities. The ṛṣis and the other beings sprinkled themselves with her holy waters. Gaṅgā absolved the pāpa acquired by anyone who came in contact with her. Bhagīratha mounted a celestial chariot and led her way.[3] Gaṅgā flowed in the nether world, cleansed the pāpa of the sixty-thousand sons of Sagara and elevated them to svarga. She is called Tripathagā, as she flows in the three worlds and is also known as Bhāgīrathī, as she was brought down by Bhagīratha.


Rāma was thrilled listening to the story. The brothers proceeded with Viśvāmitra and arrived at the city of Viśālā. The sage then narrated the following tale – “In the past, the sons of Diti and Aditi, with a desire to free themselves of death, disease, and old age, churned the ocean of milk using the Mt. Mandara as the churning stick and Vāsuki as the rope.[4]  After a long time, Dhanvantari and apsarās were born out of the ocean. As they continued churning, Varuṇa’s daughter Vāruṇī (surā, i.e., liquor) rose up. The sons of Aditi drank surā and came to be called suras. Ucchaiśravas, the best of horses and Kaustubha, the most precious gem were born from the ocean as well. Finally, as a result of their churning, amṛta emerged, to possess which a great battle broke out between the suras and asuras. Eventually, the suras annihilated the asuras.[5]

Greatly distressed at their defeat, Diti, the mother of the asuras, determined to perform tapas for a thousand years to beget a son who could vanquish Indra. During her tapas at Kuśaplava (now called Viśālā), Indra humbly served her of his own accord. When she was just ten years away from thousand, she fell asleep during the day time with her hair touching her feet. Indra was delighted to see her unchaste poise and entered her womb. He cut her foetus into seven pieces with his vajra and kept saying ‘don’t cry[6]’. In the meanwhile, Diti woke up and requested Indra to stop chopping her foetus and Indra obeyed out of his respect towards her. Upon her request, the seven parts of the foetus became the seven maruts.


To be continued...
[The critically constituted text and the critical edition published by the Oriental Institute, Vadodara is the primary source. In addition, the Kannada rendering of the epic by Mahāmahopādhyāya Sri. N. Ranganatha Sharma and the English translation by Sri. N. Raghunathan have been referred.]

[1] As he was born in the śaravaṇa, he is called Śaravaṇa-bhava; because he ‘slipped’ from Śiva and fell into Gaṅgā, he is called Skanda.

[2] The critically constituted text says that Sumati’s foetus came out in the form of a gourd; it was smeared with ghee and nurtured in pots. They grew up to be the sixty thousand sons. [Similar was the birth of a hundred children to Gāndhārī]

[3] Certain versions of the Epic say that Gaṅgā flooded the yajña-bhūmi of sage Jahnu, who drank up all her waters, angered by her insolence. Then, upon the request of the devas and ṛṣis, Jahnu considered her as his daughter let her out from his ear. She is, thus, called Jāhnavī.

[4] Though absent in the critically constituted text, at this juncture, we also get to know that Mahā-viṣṇu took the form of Kūrma – tortoise to hold up the sinking mountain. Moreover, a devastating poison – hālāhala arose, which Mahādeva-śiva consumed to save the world from harm.

[5] Mahā-viṣṇu, in the form of Mohinī, snatched away the amṛta and sided with the suras. [He also bestowed amṛta only to the suras.]

[6] mā rudaḥ – “don’t cry”




Visionary sage and the author of the fifth Veda, the Rāmāyaṇa



Arjun is a writer, translator, engineer, and enjoys composing poems. He is well-versed in Sanskrit, Kannada, English, Greek, and German languages. His research interests lie in comparative aesthetics of classical Greek and Sanskrit literature. He has deep interest in the theatre arts and music. Arjun has (co-) translated the works of AR Krishna Shastri, DV Gundappa, Dr. SL Bhyrappa, Dr. SR Ramaswamy and Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh

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