Gangotri temple in the small town of Gangotri of Uttarakhand is a temple dedicated to Devi Ganga, who is given the status of a mother by all pious Hindus and is worshipped with utmost devotion. The Gangotri temple positioned in such a high altitude is the highest of all temples dedicated to Devi Ganga. The Gangotri town has been setup all around with the temple as its nerve centre. The temple of Gangotri stands on the river banks of roaring Bhagirathi River which is the other name for River Ganga in the Gangotri region. When Bhagirathi River merges with River Alaknanda at the Devprayag, a new river with a new name emerges after this confluence. It is the River Ganga.
The origin of River Ganga is the scenic and revered Gaumukh glacier lying upstream. The present Gangotri temple came into being around 18th century under the initiative of Gorkha commander in chief, Amar Singh Thapa.
Myths and Legends
There are many myths and legends associated with the Gangotri temple and the temple indeed acquires an altogether different religious dimension because of these legends and myths. Here follows some of the major mythological stories closely linked up with the Gangotri temple:-
Legends hold that Goddess Ganga is the ‘Daughter of the Heavens’ and flowed as a River in the heavens before her descent onto this earth. Responding to the rigorous penance and deep meditation of King Bhagirath, Ganga came down to the earth. Bhagirath performed this rigorous penance to allow his ancestors to get ‘Moksha’. King Sagar, the great grandfather of King Bhagirath had performed the Ashwamedha Yagya to expand empire and establish his royal supremacy. While the Yagya was progressing and the horse was let loose to roam across empires, the king’s agents failed to keep an eye on the horse and eventually lost it. Then 60,000 sons of King Sagar were allotted the task of tracing the horse. While they were searching for the horse, they came to the spot where sage Kapila was seated, rapt in deep meditation and beside him a horse was tied. They condemned the sage and accused him of theft. The sage’s meditation was disrupted and out of fierce anger he turned all the 60,000 sons to ashes by the mere power of his wrathful glance. Sage Kapila also cursed that their souls would get Moksha and attain heavenly only if their ashes come in contact with the holy waters of River Ganga which was then a river of the heavens. King Bhagirath wanted to free his 60,000 uncles of this terrible curse and thus performed rigorous penance for 1000 long years to please Ganga and bring her to this earth. Ganga was pleased by his devotion and agreed to come down to the earth.
Another legendary tale tells that Ganga agreed to come down to Earth, responding to King Bhagirath’s prayers but she also mentioned that the earth would be devastated by the terrible force with she would pour down. To save mankind from such devastation, Lord Shiva came to rescue and decided to hold the forceful Ganga on his locks. It is believed that the place where Jalmagna Shivling lies was the place where Lord Shiva was seated to receive the Goddess Ganga on his locks as she poured down.
After Ganga started flowing on earth, the Gangotri temple was erected to give the Goddess shelter.