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Sagara and the Descent of the Ganga

King Sagara was a great ruler who wanted to perform the Ashwamedha sacrifice to worship the Lord. He sought the advice of his guru, who suggested that he perform the horse sacrifice. The Ashwamedha sacrifice was a complex ritual that involved releasing a horse to wander at will, and then following it with an army. If the horse was not stopped by any king, it would be sacrificed to the gods, and the king who performed the ritual would be considered the supreme ruler.

However, Indra, the king of the gods, was not pleased with Sagara's plan to perform the Ashwamedha sacrifice. He wanted to obstruct the sacrifice, so he stole the horse that was let loose to wander at will. Sagara had two queens, Sumati and Keshini. Not knowing where the horse had gone, Sagara sent the two sons of Sumati to find it. The sons were very proud of their strength and did not mind even digging up the earth to look for the horse.

One day, they found the horse in a cavern underground, standing next to the sage Kapila, who was in deep meditation. The sons of Sagara immediately accused Kapila of stealing the horse and pretending to be in samadhi. They were just about to kill the sage when they were burnt up by fire that came from their own bodies. The sons of Sagara had insulted a great sage, and they paid for it with their lives.

After these two sons were killed, Amshuman, Sagara's grandson, came forward to retrieve the horse and redeem his uncles. Amshuman was the son of Asamanjasa, who was the son of Sagara's second wife, Keshini. Amshuman went through the underground path that his uncles had made and gradually came upon the horse standing next to the ashes of his uncles. The sage Kapila was also there in deep meditation. Unlike his uncles, Amshuman immediately realized that this was a great sage, and after making obeisance to him, he began to extol the sage with deep reverence.

Kapila then came out of his meditation, blessed Amshuman, and said: "My child, you may return this horse to your grandfather. As for your uncles, only if their ashes have been touched by the holy waters of the Ganga can they be redeemed." Bowing down to the sage again, Amshuman took the horse to his grandfather and helped him complete the sacrifice.

After some time, Sagara turned his kingdom over to Amshuman and left for the forest to spend the remainder of his life practicing spiritual disciplines. Amshuman practiced austerities for many years to bring the Ganga from heaven but failed. Dilip, his son, also did the same but was unsuccessful. Finally, when Dilip's son, Bhagiratha, performed intense disciplines, then Mother Ganga became gracious and revealed herself to him.

When Bhagiratha informed the Goddess that he wanted her to come to earth to redeem his ancestors, she replied: "Who will bear the impact of my fall? Besides, I shall have to take on the sins of all the people who bathe in me. How can I get rid of all those sins?" Bhagiratha then replied: "Lord Shiva will be able to bear the impact of your fall. Besides this, those great souls who are knowers of Brahman will come to bathe in you, and they will purify you from the sins of others."

Bhagiratha then went to do austerities to please Shiva, and in a short time Shiva appeared before him and agreed to bear the impact on his head of Mother Ganga's fall to earth. After coming to the earth, Mother Ganga was led by Bhagiratha to the spot where his ancestors' ashes lay. As soon as the ashes came in contact with the flowing waters of Mother Ganga, Sagara's sons were released from their plight and immediately attained the heavenly realm. In the same way, everything that came in contact with Mother Ganga as she flowed toward the ocean also became purified. Such is the great power of Mother Ganga.

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