The Eternal Gift Of Lord Shiva’s and Bhagirath's Penance Hindus consider Gangotri the source of the Ganges, although the actual source is the glacier at Gaumukh, another 18 miles upstream. Gangotri is an ideal location, here is the mystical aura that India is so famous for. The town has two important ritual centers. The first is the Ganges itself, which is considered the Goddess Ganga in material form. Pilgrims bathe in it, and perform rituals beside it. The other important center is the temple of Goddess Ganga. Gangotri also has a strong historical past and bears the eternal feel of antiquity, but it is an equally favorite destination of an intrepid traveler and for the one who is looking for solace in the Himalayas. The river itself begins at Gangotri which literally means Ganga Uttari or Ganga descending. She came to be called Bhagirathi at her legendary source.
Mythological story of the Ganga
According to Hindu history, Goddess Ganga took the form of a river to absolve the sins of King Bhagiratha's predecessors, following his severe penance of several centuries. According to this legend, King Sagara, after slaying the demons on earth decided to stage an AshwamedhaYajna as a proclamation of his supremacy. The horse which was to be taken on an uninterrupted journey around the earth was to be accompanied by the King's 60,000 sons born to Queen Sumati and one son Asamanja born of the second queen Kesani. Indra, supreme ruler of the gods feared that he might be deprived of his celestial throne if the "Yajna" (worship with fire) succeeded and then took away the horse and tied it to the ashram of Sage Kapil, who was then in deep meditation. The sons of the King Sagara searched for the horse and finally found it tied near the meditating sage. Sixty thousand angry sons of King Sagarastormed the ashram of sage Kapil. When he opened his eyes, the 60,000 sons had all perished, by the curse of sage Kapil. Bhagiratha, the grandson of King Sagar, is believed to have meditated to please the Goddess Ganga enough to cleanse the ashes of his ancestors, and liberate their souls, granting them salvation.
Gangajal the Holy Water
Water collected from Gangotri is in a pure state and even after being kept for a number of years, retains its original flavor and state. The medicinal properties of Ganga water are ascribed to the several herbs that mix with the waters which already have a high mineral content.
The temple of the goddess Ganga, first built about in the 18th century almost 300 years ago by the Gorkha General Amar Singh Thapa, and restored in the late 19th century by the royal house of Jaipur. Gangotri is at an altitude of 3141 meters above sea level, is located right at the river Ganga. There is also the Shila, which is present at the exact spot of Ganga's descent into earth. A huge and extensive stone slab roofs the entire outer chamber of the temple.
The Shrine of Gangotri opens during the last week of April or the first week of May, on the auspicious day od AkshayaTritiya. The temple opening is preceeded by a special Puja of Ganga both inside the temple as well as on the river banks. The temple closes on the day of Diwali followed by a formal closing ceremony amidst a row of oil lamps. It is believed that the Goddess retreats to Mukhwa, her winter abode (12 km downstream).
Puja and Rituals
The mother Ganga is worshipped as Goddess and the holy river in the temple. Before performing the Puja rituals, a holy dip in the Ganga flowing nearby the temple is a must. The Pujaris (priest) belong to Brahmin community from Mukhwa village. Ten of them are selected by rotation every year to perform all the functions covering the temple and they also perform the duties of pandas. You can also pray for your ancestors on bank of Divine Ganga.
Places to Visit
Submerged Shivling :
Submerged in the river, this natural rock Shivling is the place where, according to mythology Lord Shiva sat when he received the Ganga in his matted lock. It is visible in winter months when water level decreases.
Kedar Ganga Sangam :
Around 100 Yards from the Ganga Temple flows the river Kedar Ganga. Starting from the Kedar Valle, this river meets the Bhagirathi on its left bank. .
Kedar Tal :
This spectacular and enchanting lake is situated at a distance of about 18 Kms. from Gangotri, negotiable through a rough and tough mountain trail. The trek is very tiring and can be testing even for a regular trekker. A local guide is a must. The lake is crystal clear with the mighty Thalaysagar (Sphatikl-ing) peak forming a splendid backdrop. The place is about 4000 mts. above sea-level and is the base camp for trekking to the Thalaysagar, Jogin, Bhrigupanth and other peaks.
Dayara Bugyal :
Bugyal in the local language means "high altitude meadow." The road to DayaraBugyal branches off near Bhatwari a place on Uttarkashi-Gangotri road about 28 Kms. from Uttarkashi. Vehicles can go up to the village of Barsu from where one has to trek a distance of about 8 Kms. to reach Dayara and other route is via village Raithal, 10 Kms. from Bhatwari, from where one has to trek about 7 Kms. to DayaraBugyal.
Situated at an elevation of about 3048 mts., this vast meadow is second to none in natural beauty. During winter it provides excellent ski slopes over an area of 28 sq. Kms. The panoramic view of the Himalayas from here is breathtaking. There is a small lake in the area and to camp by this side is a memorable event. From this spot one can trek down to Dodi-Tal which is about 22 Kms. away, through dense forests.
Sat-Tal, meaning seven lakes, is situated just above Dharali, 2 Kms beyond Harsil. The trek of about 5 Kms. is rewarding as this group of lakes is situated amidst beautiful and natural surroundings. It also provides lovely camp sites.
The Gaumukh glacier is the source of Bhagirathi (Ganga) and is held in high esteem by the devotees who do not miss the opportunity to have a holy dip in the bone chilling icy water. It is 18 Kms. trek from Gangotri. The trek is easy and at times people come back to Gangotri the same day.