What is the origin of the holy river Ganga

For thousands of years, the Ganga has played a pivotal role in the economic, social, and religious life of the people. It is revered as a goddess and mother in Hindu tradition, with some believing that its waters possess healing properties. But do you know where the sacred River Ganga originates? Let’s explore this through this article. The Ganges is one of the major rivers of the Indian subcontinent, flowing from the east through the Gangetic Plain of northern India into Bangladesh. The river has its source around 2,510 km away in the western Himalayas, in the Uttarakhand state of India, and ultimately drains into the Sunderbans delta in the Bay of Bengal. Did you know that Hindus consider it the longest holy river and worship it as the goddess Ganga in Hinduism?

Historically, it holds significance as many former provincial and imperial capitals, such as Patliputra, Allahabad, Kannauj, Murshidabad, Calcutta, and more, have been situated on its banks. The Ganga basin covers approximately 1,000,000 square kilometers and supports one of the world’s highest population densities. Let’s delve deeper into the Ganga River and its point of origin.

origin of the holy river Ganga

What is the origin of the holy river Ganga

The Ganga is an Asian river that originates in the western Himalayas and flows through India and Bangladesh. As it enters West Bengal, it divides into two branches: the Padma and the Hooghly. The Padma River flows through Bangladesh and eventually merges with the Bay of Bengal, while the Hooghly River winds its way through various districts of West Bengal before also flowing into the Bay of Bengal.

Undoubtedly, the Ganga holds a central place in Indian tradition, life, and culture, being one of the four major rivers of India, alongside the Indus, Brahmaputra, and Godavari. The Ganga is the world’s third-largest river based on water discharge and is considered the most sacred.

The Bhagirathi River is a Himalayan river that flows in the Uttarakhand state. It is one of the two headstreams of the sacred Ganga River. With a length of 205 km and a basin of 6,921 sq km, the Bhagirathi is believed to be the source stream of the Ganga River. It originates from Gaumukh, situated at the base of the Gangotri and Khatilang glaciers in Uttarakhand. Gaumukh, located approximately 18 km from the town of Gangotri, is regarded as the birthplace of Ganga on Earth. At Gangotri, there is a Ganga temple, famous as the Chota Char Dham temple in Garwhal.

The name “Bhagirathi” is derived from the ancient king Bhagirath, who undertook severe penance to bring the Ganga down from the heavens. It is believed that bathing in these waters can absolve sins from one’s present and past lives. Interestingly, during the winter months when the temple is closed due to heavy snowfall, the idol of the Goddess is kept at the Mukhab village near Harsil.

Indus Water Treaty (IWT): Water-Sharing Agreement

The highest point in the Bhagirathi basin is Chaukhamba. The famous Tehri Dam is located at the confluence of the Bhagirathi and Bhilangna Rivers near Tehri Garhwal. Operational hydroelectric dams on the Bhagirathi River include Maneri Dam, Joshiyara (Bhali) Dam, Koteshwar Dam, and Tehri Dam. The Bhagirathi River begins its journey at Gaumukh and is joined by tributaries such as Kedar Ganga, Jadh Ganga, Kakora Gad, Jalandari Gad, Siyan Gad, Asi Ganganear, and Bhilangana.

The Bhagirathi concludes its journey when it merges with the Alaknanda to form the Ganga at Devprayag. Thus, we can say that the sacred Ganga is the confluence of the Bhagirathi and Alaknanda rivers.

The Ganges also joins other Himalayan rivers like the Yamuna, Ghaghra, Gandak, and Kosi rivers. The Yamuna River originates from the Yamunotri glacier but joins the Ganga at Allahabad. Key tributaries of the peninsular tributaries include Chambal, Betwa, and Son.

According to Hindu mythology, if a person breathes their last in Varanasi and is cremated on the banks of the Ganges, they will attain salvation. It is also believed that if a person passes away elsewhere and their ashes are brought and immersed in the Ganges, the departed soul will find salvation.

Where is the Gangotri glacier located

The Gangotri glacier is situated in the Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand, where the Bhagirathi River originates and meets the Alaknanda in Devprayag. It is from this confluence that the Ganga River is formed. The Ganga then flows from here until it empties into the Bay of Bengal. Gangotri is a pilgrimage site for Hindus, and a temple dedicated to Ganga can be found there.

It’s worth noting that Devprayag is located at an altitude of 830 meters above sea level, with the nearest city being Rishikesh, approximately 70 kilometers away. Devprayag is considered one of the Panch Prayags of Uttarakhand.

Do you know how Devprayag got its name? There is an ancient story behind it. In a Sat Yuga, a Brahmin named Dev Sharma performed rigorous penance, and Lord Vishnu granted him a boon that this place would be known by his name in the future. Since then, it has been called ‘Dev Prayag.’

Tributaries of the Ganges from the north include Yamuna, Ramganga, Karnali (Ghaghra), Tapti, Gandak, and Kosi, while tributaries from the south comprise Chambal, Son, Betwa, Ken, and Southern Tons.

Some more facts about the River Ganga:

  • The Ganga is the fifth most polluted river in the world.
  • Compared to other rivers, the Ganga has more than 25% oxygen content.
  • The water of the Ganga is believed to have the unique ability to combat bacteria.
  • The water of the Ganges is said to never deteriorate.
  • Research conducted at a Delhi research center found that mosquitoes cannot breed in Ganga water.
  • A British laboratory discovered that when bacteria were introduced into Ganga water, all the bacteria died within 3 hours.
  • A study by D.S. Bhargava, an environmental engineer at Roorkee University, found that the Ganga can disintegrate organic waste 15 to 25 times faster than other rivers worldwide.
  • The Ganga and Brahmaputra form the largest river delta in the world, spanning an area of 59,000 square kilometers.
  • In recent decades, the Ganga has shifted up to 500 meters from its original course in Hardwar. Since 1990, in Bihar, some sections of the river have moved back from their original course by up to 2.5 kilometers.


In conclusion, the important tributaries of the River Ganges are the Bhagirathi and Alaknanda rivers. When these two rivers converge at Devprayag, the sacred Ganga is formed, and this site holds great spiritual significance.

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