Thus leaving behind him his mother,
wife and the kingdom, he went to the Himalayas. He came to a beautiful lake there. He
bathed in it, purified himself, and feeling clean, started on his 'Tapas', with the firm
resolve that the divine river Ganga should come down to the earth and his ancestors should
go to the higher worlds. His meditation was not of an ordinary kind. In the beginning he
performed meditation squatting cross-legged in the Padmasana posture. He prayed to Lord
Brahma. There was no room for anything else in his mind. By his strong 'Tapas' he desired
the coming of Ganga. After a few days, it was winter. Bhagiratha then stood in the lake
with water up to his chest and continued his 'Tapas' with intense concentration. Winter
passed giving place to summer. Then he took to a more severe kind of 'Tapas', the
Panchagni Tapas, or meditation in the midst of five fires. He stood in the midst of
burning fires on all four sides, with the hot sun above as the fifth fire. He stood amidst
these five fires, and steadily stared at the sun with eyes wide open. Thus his 'Tapas'
He changed his food too. During the first few days, he had food only once a day. Later
it was once in a few days. Then it became once in a month. After that, he just used to
drink a little water and continue his 'Tapas'. Finally the air was his only food. While
performing 'Tapas' thus, a bright flame shoots forth from the body of the devotee. It is
called the flame of 'Tapas'. Such a bright flame emerged from Bhagiratha also and it
became very severe. Bhagiratha was now as radiant as the Sun God himself. Unable to bear
the effects of his 'Tapas', all the gods in Heaven went to Lord Brahma and appealed to
him: "O Lord, it has become impossible to bear Bhagiratha's meditation. Please
protect us." Brahma consoled them and went to Bhagiratha.
Bhagiratha was overjoyed on seeing Brahma. He prostrated before Him with great devotion
and worshipped Him. Brahma was pleased with him and said: "O King, what do you
desire? Why are you performing this 'Tapas'? Bhagiratha begged him: "My Lord, my
forefathers are in the nether world, Patala, dead and burnt to ashes. They cannot go to
Heaven without proper funeral rites. The divine Ganga herself has to come to deliver them
from their sad state. So please send the divine river and help me. Secondly, I have no
child. My race will come to an end. Kindly bless me that I may have sons." Brahma
replied, "You are really blessed, Bhagiratha, for having performed such a severe
'Tapas'. Your wish to bring the divine Ganga to the earth is a very noble one. I shall
send Ganga with pleasure. But when she descends from heaven to the earth, the earth cannot
bear her terrible force. The whole earth will be destroyed completely. So somebody will
have to control her force. It can be done only by iswara, the Lord of all Worlds. None
else can do that. Therefore, persuade iswara to arrest the force of Ganga and quieten her.
Then I will send Ganga. Your second wish is also granted. Your lineage will certainly
continue with worthy children. So be not worried."
On seeing Brahma, Bhagiratha had felt as happy as though he had already performed his
task fully. But now he had to face another difficulty. How was he to persuade Lord iswara
to control the turbulence of Ganga when she descended to the earth?
Well, men who think of difficult tasks are of three kinds. There are cowards, who do
not begin their work at all, afraid that some trouble may arise midway. Those who begin
but later give up the task, afraid of the difficulties that arise, belong to the second
group. So far as the -task is concerned, both these groups are useless. But there are
brave people who belong to a third group. They continue to work in spite of even an army
of difficulties, and finally achieve the goal.
Bhagiratha belonged to this third category of brave men. He knew how to bring down
Ganga to the earth. He was confident that it could be done. He had only to overcome some
difficulties that would arise on the way. Bhagiratha was determined to accomplish his
task. Accordingly he began a severe 'Tapas' once again to please Lord iswara. With folded
hands, and standing on one leg, he meditated on Lord iswara with the deepest
concentration. So a whole year passed.
Pleased with Bhagiratha's devotion Lord iswara came to Bhagiratha and asked him:
"Dear Bhagiratha, what do you want? Why have you been meditating on me thus?
With folded hands, Bhagiratha appealed to him: "What is it that you do not know?
Lord Brahma has granted my prayer to send the divine river Ganga to the earth. But the
earth cannot bear the force of gangas descent. Only you can control the turbulence of the
descending Ganga. Be pleased to do so." iswara said smilingly, "Yes; I will
soften Ganga's descent by my tresses."
So said Lord iswara and stood on a big peak nearby, ready to receive the divine river.