Mythological Superheroes: 3. Bhagiratha


An interesting thing about our superheroes is that not all of them are mighty and physically powerful. While some of them are, there are several who are part of this list because of their sheer perseverance and mental strength. One such superhero is Bhagiratha, a descendant of Ikshvaku dynasty and a forefather of Lord Rama. Bhagiratha was a legendary king who brought river Ganga to Earth from the heavens. His story finds a mention in Valmiki Ramayana. When Rama and Lakshmana were escorted by sage Viswamithra from Siddhashrama to Mithila (after killing Thataka and other demons), they camped at the bank of river Ganga. During this time, sage Viswamithra narrated the story of Bhagiratha to them.

The destruction of 60,000 princes

King Sagara who ruled Ayodhya, had two wives Kesini and Sumathi. Through Sumathi, he had 60,000 sons and through Kesini he had a son by name Asamanjan. Asamanjan grew to be a weak-witted person (you might have observed elders calling lazy and dim-witted children as ‘Asamanja’ – this is the history behind it). Once, King Sagara chose to perform the Ashwamedha yagna (horse sacrifice). However Lord Indra who was jealous of Sagara, kidnapped the horse and hid it in a cave where sage Kapila was meditating and disappeared. Sagara ordered his sixty thousand sons to track down the horse. The haughty princes ransacked everything on their way and finally saw Sage Kapila sitting in deep meditation, with the horse tied next to him. The enraged princes thought the sage was the thief and attacked him. Kapila opened his eyes and instantly all the princes turned to ashes.

Efforts of Kosala kings

To check on his sons’ fate, King Sagara summoned his grandson Anshuman (son of Asamanjan, who was very astute unlike his father) to check on the fate of his sons and the horse. Anshuman soon arrived at the ashram of sage Kapila and saw the ceremonial horse and a heap of ashes. Kapila told the prince what happened and said that the only way for their salvation is through purification of the ashes through the holy water of river Ganga. However, Ganga was flowing in Heaven at that time and it was nearly impossible to get her flowing through the Earth. King Sagara and Anshuman spent their last years in sorrow as they were unable to find a way to bring Ganga to earth. Successive Kosala kings also could not achieve this impossible task.

Bhagiratha’s attempt

Then Bhagiratha was born into the dynasty. As soon as he learnt about the tragic end of his forefathers, he turned over his kingdom to his trusted ministers, and went to perform severe penance towards Lord Brahma. Standing with his hands raised, sitting amidst the five fires, taking food sparingly, he practiced severe penance. Satisfied, Lord Brahma arrived and to grant Bhagiratha’s wish, he summoned Ganga. Ganga told him that if she descended from the sky the force of her fall cannot be sustained by the earth. So she asked him to pray to Lord Shiva who is the only one capable of bearing her descent into Earth. On hearing this, Bhagiratha started another penance on Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva became pleased and agreed to bear Ganga on his head during her descent.

Bhagiratha Prayatna

Ganga’s ordeal

Ganga on account of being praised endlessly by Devas had become a little proud. So she assumed a huge form and with mighty speed, descended on the auspicious head of Shiva with an intent to knock him over. Understanding her intentions, Lord Shiva decided to teach her a lesson and restrained her on his head. No matter how hard she tried, Ganga could not free herself from the matted hair (Jata) of Lord Shiva. Bhageeratha once again had to do a penance directed at Lord Shiva. Shiva became pleased and removed a strand of hair from his head and released Ganga through it. This is believed to be the origin of Ganga on Earth and known as Gangotri even today.

Upon reaching the earth, Ganga followed Bhagiratha, washing away everything on earth. In her course, Ganga inundated the ashram of sage Jahnu. The sage became very angry and drank off the entire waters of Ganga. Bhagiratha was once again forced to perform yet another penance, this time towards the sage. Pleased with Bhagiratha, the sage released Ganga through his ears. Therefore Ganga is considered as the daughter of sage Jahnu and came to be known as Jahnavi.


Finally, Ganga reached Kapila’s ashram and washed away the ashes with her pure water and liberated the sixty thousand ancestors of king Bhagiratha. They ascended to heaven while praising and blessing the efforts of Bhagiratha. Thereafter Bhagiratha led Ganga to the ocean (Bay of Bengal), where she became GangaSagar. To commemorate Bhagiratha’s efforts, Lord Brahma gave the river the name of Bhaageerathi and that’s how she is known even today, till she meets Alaknanda River at Devaprayag.

Bhagiratha’s great efforts and hard-work were praised by all the Gods and his ancestors. Any similar efforts undertaken by anyone came to be known as a Bhagiratha Prayatna. This is a great inspiration to any man who seeks to do something noble despite facing overwhelming odds. Nothing is impossible for those who are dedicated and persistent towards their goals. Bhagiratha’s story is testimonial to this.

To know more about our other superheroes, click below:

Mythological Superheroes

Author Details

Rangarajan has been blogging for over 12 years now on various topics. With Thedal, he becomes one with the universe and he is hoping that his search will help him discover the eternal truth.  Please join him as he traverses through the universe across temples, philosophies and science!

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