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Ganges in Kalidasa & Tamil Literature

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ganga arti.jpg
(This is the fourth in the series of Kalidasa and Sangam (Cankama) Tamil literature- part of my thesis proving that the Date of Kalidasa was around First Century BC-Pre Sangam period-S swaminathan)

No river on earth commands so much respect and reverence as the Holy Ganga. We see this river in Rig Veda, the oldest religious scripture in the world, the great Hindu epics Ramayana and Mahabharata, Kalidasa’s works and in the ancient Sangam Tamil literature. The Tamils considered it the holiest river. Whenever they want to say something holy they always compared the Ganges. Just to exaggerate they used to say X or Y is holier than Ganga. All the rivers are considered mother in Hindu mythologies. But Ganga Matha( Mother Ganges) has a very special place in the minds of Indians.

Ganges water was praised as the purest and cleanest water with miraculous properties even by the East India Company 300 years ago. When their ships were loaded with Ganges water for drinking purpose it never became stale (putrefy) even after several months where as other water loaded in different parts of the world went stale within a month. The Hindus knew its properties for thousands of years. The powerful Tamil kings went all the way to Himalayas and embossed their seals on the rocks there. When they came back they brought Ganges water after taking a holy dip. In the middle ages the Vaishnavite Alvars and the Saivite Nayanmars sang its praise in their hymns.

Cheran Senguttuvan of Sangam period brought stones from Himalayas twice for his mother Narchonai and another chaste woman Kannaki. Both the times he washed the stones in the Holy Ganges and made idols from them.
Even today Hindus fill in Ganges water in bottles and pots and bring them home to use it on special occasions. Even before bottling water became a roaring business, Ganges water was sold or distributed free of cost by the Hindu Charities. Everyday Madurai and Rameswaram temples use Ganges water for Abhishekam (bathing the gods). Truck loads of Ganges water come all the way from Himalayan destinations to these temples.

In Haridwar and Varanasi (Kasi), an evening Arthi is performed to Ganga Matha which is watched and worshipped by thousands of people. No river in the world has this type of daily worship. The world’s largest religious festival Kumbhamela attended by twenty million people takes place every twelve years on the banks of river Ganges.
No wonder this mighty river finds a special place in every literary work of India. Kalidasa, the greatest of the secular Indian poets, even praises the Milky Way in the sky as Akasa Ganga (Ganges in the sky).

Hidden Treasure Under the Ganges
Tamil literature reveals some unknown, secret information about the Ganges. Poet Mamulanar in Akam 265 says that the Nanda Kings have hidden enormous treasure under the Ganges in Pataliputra (modern Patna in Bihar). He compares the mighty Himalayas and the enormous hidden treasure to the wealth the hero went after leaving the heroine all alone. Since there was no supporting information from other historical sources, the commentators also left us skeleton details only.

Kalidasa’s references to Ganges:
Mega 45, 65
Vikra. I -7 ,II 15, III-6, V-22
Kumara I-30, 54; VI 38, 57, 70; VII-41, 42;VIII-16
Ragu. II-26,IV 32, 36, 73,V 48, X 37, 63;XIII 20,54 to 57; XII-66;XIV-3, 52;XVI 33,34, 71;XVII 14

From Kumarasambhavam
“To her, those impressions were permanent, the lore acquired in the past life, came at the time of instruction, as do the flocks of swans to the Ganges in autumn, or their own lustre to the medicinal herbs at the night” (1-30) I have already given the verse by Paranar (narri.356) where he sang about the Himalayas and the swans.
“O you, the most eminent of the twice born, I consider myself sanctified by these two only, by the fall of Ganges on my head, and water from your washed feet”(6-57)
“Just as Ganga is lauded by the foot of the supreme lord, so is she by you of lofty peaks, who are her second source” (6-70)
Ganga and Yamuna also, assuming visible forms and holding Chauries, served the god (7-42)

Mega. 51
The dark clouds at the top of the mountains look like dark elephants bathing in the Ganges.
The shadow of the dark clouds and the crystal clear Ganges water makes us think that river Yamuna mingles with the Ganges in a different place (Yamuna water is darker than Ganges).

Ragu 13-54 to 57
Kalidasa employs seven similes in this description of White Ganges and Dark Yamuna. The joining of the two rivers looks like a necklace of pearls and blue sapphires. Then it looks like a garland of white and blue flowers. In another place it is like white swans and black swans swimming together. In another place it likes the Rangoli on black agar wood with sandal paste. It also looks like the white moon light peeping through dark tree leaves. In another place it is like dark clouds floating in blue sky. Ganga and Yamuna together look like Shiva smeared with white ash with the snake around his neck (Ganges is Shiva and Yamuna is snake).
Paranar also follows Kalidasa and employs nine similes in Akam 178, but on a different theme.
Ragu 17-72
The clouds are praised for showering water on parched fields. But they are that generous only because of the sea. People forget the sea. King Athithi gave so much to the poets who in turn donated them to others. Though they were praised the original philanthropist Athithi was forgotten like the sea.
Tamil poets and Kalidasa knew that the sea was the source of clouds and rain. Kapilar in Puram 107 sings about it. People praise rain (Mari) when King Pari is more generous.

Tamil poets’ references to Ganges
Patti.190 (articles produced in the valleys of the Ganges and the Kavery)
Narr.369 (Nalvellaiyar);189 (Anonymous)
Puram 161 (Perunchittiranar)
Madu.696 Mankudi Maruthan (1000 branched Ganges)
Akam .265 (Mamulan)
Pari. 16-36
Post Sangam works: Silappadikaram mentions Ganges in 15 places; Manimegalai -4 places
Tamil literature uses Ganges as a simile for the generosity and philanthropy of kings and chieftains. They came to know about the river only from Kalidasa and other Sanskrit works.

Katiyalur Uruttiran Kannanar (Perum. 429-431) says
As men who flee from peril slumber as they wait
For the boat that will ferry them across
The unfordable Ganga, scattering gold as it tears down
The lofty crest of the Himalaya where the gods dwell,
Lighting it up with its silvery billows (Perum. 429-431)

Vikramorvasiyam I-7 refers Ganges breaking its banks which is echoed by Tamil poet Perunchittiranar. He describes the mighty flow of Ganges in Puram. 161: the clouds raise from the sea, gather themselves, appear dark and huge like mountains in the sky, roar with thunder and pour the torrents; when such a rainy season is past and when the summer reigns supreme making the tanks and rivers everywhere dry, the Ganges flows full of water for the benefit of the whole of mankind. The poet compares Ganges to the generosity of Kumanan, a Tamil chieftain. The Ganges descending from the Himalayas is always overflowing its banks, he says.

Narrinai poet Madurai Nalvellaiyar (verse 369) used Ganges in a statement by a heroine. The heroine feels that her love is so powerful and influential that it over comes her self- control like the great floods in the Ganges that overflows the banks and smashes the dams in its course. Another anonymous poet says that the hero might have gone somewhere by a boat in the Ganges. Nal Velliyar just echoed Kumarasambhavam verse VIII-16 and Raguvamsam verse XII-66.

Tamils even knew that the Ganges branches into thousands of smaller streams just before entering into Bay of Bengal . Sangam poet Mankudi Maruthan compares the lively Madurai market to the Ganges. Saivite saint Appar also refers to it as thousand faced Ganges.

Milky Way
Milky Way is the galaxy that contains our Solar System. There are 200 to 400 billion stars. Astronomers estimate that there are ten billion habitable planets in the Milky Way galaxy. If the night sky is clear we can see this galaxy with a lot of stars with a background of white light patch. Kalidasa refers to it in several places. In Tamil we come across it in Paripatal (16-36).
Ka lidasa refers to the Milky Way as Chaya Patham, Vyoma Ganga, Thri Marga, Thri Divasa and Akasa Ganga in Ragu I-78, XII-85, XIII-2, Kuma. I-28, IV-37.

NB: The Ganges has become more polluted in recent years. So readers are warned not to drink water without boiling it. This is because of the industrial wastes mixing into it along its 1500 mile route. The medicinal qualities are still maintained at the source or very near the source in the Himalayas.

Supporting information from another website
The Ganges is 2525 kilometres long. Along its course, 27 major towns dump 902 million litres of sewage into it each day. Added to this are all those human bodies consigned to this holy river, called the Ganga by the Indians. Despite this heavy burden of pollutants, the Ganges has for millennia been regarded as incorruptible. How can this be?
Several foreigners have recorded the effects of this river's "magical" cleansing properties:
  1. Ganges water does not putrefy, even after long periods of storage. River water begins to putrefy when lack of oxygen promotes the growth of anaerobic bacteria, which produce the tell-tale smell of stale water.
  2. British physician, C.E. Nelson, observed that Ganga water taken from the Hooghly -- one of its dirtiest mouths -- by ships returning to England remained fresh throughout the voyage.
  3. In 1896, the British physician E. Hanbury Hankin reported in the French journal Annales de l'Institut Pasteur that cholera microbes died within three hours in Ganga water, but continued to thrive in distilled water even after 48 hours.
  4. A French scientist, Monsieur Herelle, was amazed to find "that only a few feet below the bodies of persons floating in the Ganga who had died of dysentery and cholera, where one would expect millions of germs, there were no germs at all.
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