Friday, September 9, 2011

Ganesha and Kaveri

Kaveri is one of the major rivers in India and figures among the seven holiest of rivers. In south India, she is considered to be even holier than the Ganga! She originates in the heart of the Western Ghats, amidst the picturesque surroundings of Coorg, at Talakaveri, from where she flows down through the plains of Karnataka and Tamilnadu, before finally merging into the Bay of Bengal at Poompuhar. As with all rivers in India, she is considered to be a goddess and her origin at Talakaveri has an interesting story behind it, in which Ganesha plays a small, but pivotal role!

The Story of Kaveri as shown in a temple painting
(Image from

The king Kavera ruled over South India. Though he and his wife were kind and well loved rulers, they were sad because they were childless. They prayed to Brahma, who blessed them with a divine baby girl, who came to be known as Kaveri – the daughter of Kavera. When Kaveri was of marriageable age, she refused to marry any of the kings who presented their suit. She wanted to be the wife of someone exceptional, someone who could compare with even Brahma, the creator, who had given her in blessing to the king. She went off to the Sahya mountains (the Sahayadris in the Western Ghats) to meditate on the creator to get her wish fulfilled.

Meanwhile, lord Shiva was getting married to Parvati, who had been born as the daughter of Himavan (the king of the Himalayas). All the gods, demi gods, celestial beings, sages, and even humans congregated to witness the divine marriage, and the weight in the northern part of the continent multiplied alarmingly. The earth seemed to wobble as her balance tilted. Lord Shiva was alarmed, but he could scarcely ask his guests to leave before the marriage took place. He turned to the one man he could rely on – the great sage Agasthya.

Lord Shiva asked the sage to go south, for he was the only one who, with his superior powers, could match the extra weight in the north, and help the earth maintain her balance. Agasthya could not refuse such a well worded request from the Lord. However, he did have a question. If he went south, how could he witness the marriage, which he had come to see? Lord Shiva had his answer ready. If the sage agreed to go south, he would witness the marriage just as it happened, as if it were happening right in front of his eyes! (The first Live coverage of events?)

The sage agreed, but he had one more question. He needed water for his needs, and the area where he had been told to go had no river or any other perennial source of water. How was he to manage? Again, Lord Shiva assured him that his needs would be taken care of, and Agasthya set off on his mission.

Sage Agasthya arrived on the Sahya Mountains, and the earth relaxed, for her balance was now restored. Here, the sage’s eyes fell on the beautiful maiden performing penance – Kaveri. He was surprised to see such a beautiful and delicate girl all alone in the jungle, deep in penance, and asked her the reason for her presence. When she told him her quest, he laughed, saying that there was no one who could compare to Brahma, and that her quest was foolish. However, Kaveri would not listen. She was sure that a man worthy of her had been created by Brahma and that he would arrive to claim her soon. As the sage continued to debate with Kaveri, he found himself admiring her more and more, and finally, asked her to marry him.

Kaveri was stunned, but she realized that the sage was just the kind of person she had been looking for, and she agreed. However, she had one request to make to her future husband. She wanted to be helpful to her fellow mankind, and wanted to be remembered forever. She thus wanted part of herself to be transformed into a river, which would nourish her land. With her other half, she would serve the sage as his wife.

The sage agreed, and accordingly, turned one half of her into a river. However, remembering Shiva’s promise of providing him with water wherever he lived, he neglected to let her loose on the land, instead containing her in his kamandalu – a water container he carried around.

Time passed and Kaveri and Agasthya lived in peace. The gods returned from Shiva’s marriage, and only then turned their attention to more pressing matters. One of these pressing matters was the issue of scarcity of water in the southern part of the country. People were suffering from the lack of water, and humans constantly prayed for a source of water that would solve their woes. As the gods wondered about a permanent solution to the problem, someone remembered the sage Agasthya and the river he carried around in his kamandalu.

There was no doubt that Kaveri in her form as a river would nourish the land and make it fertile. Moreover, she was a daughter of Brahma, and thus would never dry up. Besides, she was present right on the spot, amidst the mountain ranges which overlooked the plains of southern India. She was the perfect solution to the problem, but she was confined to a tiny vessel in the hands of a powerful sage. How was she to be released for the benefit of mankind?

The gods, after much thought, turned to Ganesha for help. They were sure that he, with his wit and wisdom, would find a way to release Kaveri without creating any more problems. Accordingly, Ganesha set out for the Sahya mountains to find a way to let Kaveri out of the sage’s kamandalu.

When Ganesha arrived, the sage was busy meditating, his kamandalu by his side. Ganesha, sensing an opportunity, turned into a crow, and approaching the kamandalu unnoticed, sat on it and toppled it. As the sage raised his hands to shoo the crow away, Kaveri, taking it as an indication, began flowing down, out of the kamandalu. Thus was born the Kaveri river, which even today is one of the biggest of the rivers in India, and sustains the millions of people on her banks with her water.

There is an interesting addendum to this story, mentioned in some legends. As soon as Ganesha in his form of a crow toppled the kamandalu, he changed into the form of a little boy. Agasthya, seeing the boy, thought it was a prank, and began chasing him. He chased the child for a long distance, and finally Ganesha allowed himself to be caught. The sage in his anger, chastised the little boy by smacking him on the head. It was only then that Ganesha revealed himself to the sage, who at once realized his error and apologized. It is believed that the place where this incident took place is Tiruchi, and the Ucchi Pillayar temple here is related to this legend. Incidentally, as I mentioned in an earlier post, this temple is also sometimes related to the episode between Ravana and Ganesha, and this seems to be a slightly modified version!


Usha said...

So much of research can be done on Hindu myths and legends! When are you going to to start?

Anuradha Shankar said...

Thanks Usha! would love to, but dont know where to start!

Unknown said...

nice story, i really like it and its really interesting stories site to read for children.....

Neeru said...

Lovely story.... interesting to know mythological events....

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