Saturday, March 22, 2014

Ganga - the woman of the river, the Ganges

Myself, named for the water nymph, the naiads,  I am always attracted to water goddesses.

Ganga is one interesting , and for me problematic, goddess.  Wife of Shantanu in the Mahabharata, he saw her in the mists of the river Ganges and fell in love and had to have her.

And maybe this is the first problem, to fall in love just on beauty and not substance.  The couple begins with the irreconcilable divide between god and human.  They never really understand each other. They don't share the same world view.

The story goes something like this: one morning at the river Ganges Shantanu is spellbound by the fog that swirls, twirls and dances into the form of a woman.  He says, "I have never seen anyone as beautiful as you. Tell me your name."

She says, "I am Ganga, the woman of the river." Shantanu overwhelmed  by her beautiful instantly decides he must have her and marry her.  Ganga, also is attracted to Shantanu but she warns him before marriage, "I am no ordinary woman, I am the river Ganges, born of river, I am devi Ganga, I will do things impossible to understand.  Never question what I do.  I will be unpredictable like the river."

And she is unpredictable.  She drowns 6 of her new born sons. Year after year. Shantanu watches her get pregnant, carry the baby to term, and then take it to the river and drown it  and he does not question.

But, the seventh year, the seventh son, he can't take it anymore.  He asks her what the hell is she doing.  She replies, "What took you so long to ask?  And by asking you will lose me."  She explains she is sparing her children the unhappiness of being human and the agony of Samsara.

So she spares the 7th son the fate of his six brothers and does not drown him, later this son is known as Bishma. Ganga raises Bishma, educates him and the brings him back to his father at age thirteen.

Drowning six children is hard for me to accept and still like Ganga.  I understand she is protecting them from the horrible painful life of being human.  But as a woman who would like to have children, it seems, monstrous to kill your young.

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