Back to Descent of Ganga

Annapurna now shifts back to Descent of Ganga at the point where she had left off when she started the story of Adi Para Shakti. She picks up with Shiva’s shout of victory:

With all this, he looked at her and shouted out. When he looked at her like that, the mountain peaks fell. He should have gone down to Patala Loka, but he was able to bear her. As soon as Ganga fell [on Shiva’s head], he tied his hair up into a knot. When he did that, Bhagirata was unable to see Ganga. So he performed tapas to Shiva. He said, “I don’t know whether Ganga Devi has come down or not. Shiva answered, “Ganga Devi has a lot of pride and anger [ahankaram and kopam]. She wanted to send me to Patalam. If this Ganga is let down to Bhu Loka, all the lokas will flow along with her [wash away]. She’ll send not only me, but all the lokas to Patalam. I won’t send down all of Ganga. I’ll just send down one stream. [Annapurna laughs.] So what we have in the Ganga River today is just that one strand of hair that Shiva sent down. “I’ll take out one strand of hair and send her down. You can take her now and go, but be careful.”

As soon as he took down that one strand of hair, there was thunder and lightning. As soon as he took down the strand, she flowed with great force. She wanted to drown Bhu Loka. She came down with great force and everything in the way flowed along with her. All the villages flowed away with her. She came to Kapila Maharishi’s ashram and went to the ascetic Jahnu. He was performing tapas. As she came near him, and he drank her up. He drank up all the water because all the villages were flowing away with her. Because of her forceful speed. Then Bhagiratha entreated him, “Swamy, it was with real difficulty that I brought her down, for the sake of my ancestors. They were falling to hell. Somehow or the other, let her go.” If he let her out through his mouth, she would become polluted [from his saliva], so he let her out through his ear. He said, “Be careful. At least now, Ganga, reduce your pride.” He said this to Gangamma, Ganga Devi, and then let her out through his ear. That’s how she got the name Jahnavi [daughter of Jahnu].

Still, she flowed out with great speed. She can’t change her nature [buddhi], right? Her female nature [stri svabhavam] is like that. [Annapurna laughs.] All the auspicious women [muttaiduvas] went to her with pasupu-kumkum, silk saris, fruits, and offerings. They made her peaceful [shanta]. They said, “Talli, don’t drown us; don’t take our lives away. Take this pasupu-kumkum.” And they did puja. “Purify us,” and they immersed themselves in the water. They immersed in the fast current. To whichever uru she goes, people immerse themselves in her.

She flowed to Kapila Maharishi, and as soon as she touched them, all his ancestors went to Punya Loka [heaven]. And Bhagirata performed their last rites. He made offerings in the name of each one.

Brahma then appeared to Bhagiratha and acknowledged that he had suffered great difficulties and lost his kingdom; in the midst of the years of his tapas, his youth had passed and he’d become old with no progeny. Bha- giratha asked for only one thing: to have a son to keep his lineage alive. For that to be possible, he would have to be returned to his youth.

That’s how Bhagirata brought Ganga to earth. She branched out into different tributaries. . . . Each branch flowed into a different uru. If everything flowed together, everything would be swept away. That’s why there’s the Krishna River; that’s the water we drink. Rivers Ganga, Krishna, Godavari, Sarasvati, Narmada [were created].

Shiva identifies the source of Ganga’s destructive power to be pride and anger (ahankaram and kopam). And he intends to bring these down, to put woman in her place, so to speak. (Jahnu, too, implores Ganga to reduce her pride, equating it with her forceful power.) Shiva catches her in his spread- out hair and binds her up in a topknot. He thinks that by letting out a single strand of hair, a single stream of Ganga, the earth will be able to bear her. But even that single stream is so strong as to be destructive: “She came down with great force and everything in the way flowed along with her. All the villages flowed away with her.”

While initially Ganga directed her earth-shattering power against Shiva, with the intention of pushing him down to the underworld— responding to his pride, to think he could bear her—now, even this single stream of river (like Gangamma’s ugram, not directed at anyone in particular) is by its very nature excessively forceful and destructive. Annapurna equates this force with female nature more generally: “Still, she flowed out with great speed. She can’t change her nature [buddhi], right? Her female nature [stri svabhavam] is like that.”

While Shiva and Jahnu can’t control Ganga’s destructive speed and force, through their ritual offerings ofpasupu-kumkum, muttaiduva women can. (Another performance mentions that the women making offerings considered Ganga herself to be a great muttaiduva, implying she shares their auspicious female nature.) The women ask Ganga, “Talli, don’t drown us; don’t take our lives away. Take this pasupu-kumkum.” They immerse themselves in her water, and Ganga continues to flow toward the ashram of Kapila Maharishi, where the ancestors’ ashes are purified.

In another performance of Descent of Ganga, Annapurna gave the following description of Ganga’s transition from destructive force into a river goddess whom humans can bear:

She made a sound as though she was going to break the three worlds; with her speed, she wanted to drown Shiva, to push him to Patala Loka, without thinking that he was god; she wanted to escape from the hair of Parmashiva and push him down to Patala Loka; in order to test his shakti, she flowed from Deva Loka [the world of gods] to Bhu Loka [the earth] with great speed. [This paragraph is a single momentum-building sentence, without pause].

After falling from the sky, she got entangled in that hair with lots of difficulties; she thought she’d gotten caught in Parmashiva’s hands and she was sad. Seeing all those who were drowning, she changed her speed, with great grace, like the elegant curves of the body, even great people performed puja to her and fulfilled vows to Ammavaru; they are doing seva to her and singing her praises. It is Ammavaru who’s coming in the form of the river; they called herparamapavitra [lit., supreme, pure one]; they were offering pasupu-kumkum to Ammavaru, and were making offerings in the names of the ancestors, and they were bathing in the river. There was catastrophic destruction [pralayam]; some people were happy, but other urus drowned.

The pralayam of Ganga’s descent is reminiscent of that caused by Adi Para Shakti in some variants of her story, when she realizes Shiva has tricked her and that her desire will not be satisfied by him. But in this episode,

Ganga initiates her own transformation from ugra to shanta. She is compassionate when she sees the destruction of villages and people who are in her path: “she changed her speed, with great grace, like elegant curves of the body . . .” The narrative implies that those who worshipped her with pasupu-kumkum were saved, even as other urus drowned.

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