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Gangnath Devta


Folk Gathas of Kumaon

Gangnath Devta Ki Kahani has its origins in the Jagars of Kumaon, which are emotional outpourings to invoke Devi Devtas.  Jagars are Hindu shamanic form of ritualistic recitals or songs through which even ancestors are petitioned to bestow favors or remedies. Gangnath Devta is amongst the most revered Gods of Kumaon. Temples dedicated to him abound in the entire region. Gangnath is regarded as a simple God who is easily pleased even with an offering of a single fruit. Contrariwise he is also known to be difficult to please.      

By Anjali Nauriyal

In the days of yore, Raja Vaibhav Chand ruled a small kingdom called Dotigarh in Nepal. All was well in his life except that his wife Rani Pyula Devi was issueless.

For years the Raja and Rani prayed to Lord Shiva with all their heart and soul.  Impressed with their faith and veneration Lord Shiva blessed them with a son.

The entire kingdom celebrated his birth with song and dance. The baby was named Gangchand, and he soon came to be known for his brilliant visage.

Illustrations by Jaya V Chala

Studying his horoscope the astrologers, soothsayers and fortunetellers made a prophecy.  “O King! Your son will grow up to be intelligent, sharp and quick-witted. He will be smart and brilliant. But he will choose to be a Yogi rather than King,” was a common prediction.

In no time the child grew up to be a striking and personable young man. His proficiency in play, adroitness in physical activities, and skillfulness in various other abilities revealed that he would grow up to be an exceptional man.

Contrary to everyone’s expectations his story unfolded in the manner of Gautam Buddha’s. His parents did their best to keep him away from the influences of the outside world. They kept him away from harm, knowledge of worldly suffering and wickedness of men. They kept him sheltered within the four walls of the palace.  But the ways of the world inevitably got to him, and he was aghast to see pain and agony of humans all around him.

Curious to know the reasons for people’s suffering he began roaming the length and breath of the kingdom looking for answers. He remained forever in deep thought.

Soon there was another reason that added to his perturbation. He began seeing strange visions. He saw one particular dream repeatedly. A beautiful young woman appeared in his dreams. This young woman was no ordinary one, but Princess Bhana of Joshikhola near Almora.

Princess Bhana called out his name and urged him to visit her at Joshikhola.

The dream disturbed him no end and several questions caused havoc in his mind.

One night Bhana reprimanded him in his dream and challenged him thus, “If you are your mother’s true child then come and meet me at Joshikhola, else rot in your Dotigarh.”

Gangchand woke up with a start.  And the very next day renounced the comfort of his home and kingdom to embark on his quest for knowledge and the woman of his dreams.

His parents were crestfallen, but Gangchand remained adamant and began wandering all over the kingdom seeking answers to the questions that were tormenting him.

Few days later, in the course of his wanderings he reached Kali Nadi.  There the evil spirit, the Ogre of the Kali Nadi attacked him. So powerful was the attack of the fiend that Gangchand was unable to defend himself.  Just then Golu Devta appeared before him, and being like a brother born next after him, granted Gangchand Godly Powers.

Fortified by the Godly Powers, Gangchand now easily overpowered the Ogre. Seeing the magical impact of Golu Devta’s Godly Powers, Ganga Chand fell at the feet of Golu Devta his savior.

Gangchand shared with Golu Devta his tensions and worries. At this Golu Devta advised him to pay obeisance to and take refuge at the feet of Guru Gorakhnath.

Obeying his command Gangchand now embarked on a new journey – to track down Guru Gorakhnath.

After what seemed like endless days of search, at long last he managed to locate Guru Gorakhnath in the jungles of present day Haridwar.

At first Guru Gorakhnath refused to accept him as his disciple. But eventually he relented when Gangchand persisted with his request with devoutness.

Now began Gangchand’s real training under his Guru. The Guru introduced him to the supernatural world of sorcery, witchcraft, wizardry and necromancy. He taught him the science and practice of spell working, occult and astrology.

In no time he converted him into a super accomplished Ganganath  from a simpleton Gangchand.

Time came when Gangchand poured his heart before his Guru and shared with him what was ailing his heart.

“Please show me the right path,” he prostrated before the Guru.

“You continue on your chosen path, and when the time is right you will find the knowledge and the solace you are seeking,” were the Guru’s comforting words.

After obtaining his Dikha, Gangnath returned to meet his parents. He sought Bhiksha from his mother standing at the threshold of his home.

His parents urged him to return home. They tried to din sense into him, but Gangnath remained adamant. He shared with them how he had found the right path.  “Don’t stop me. I have found my true calling,” he stated convincingly.

After receiving Bhiksha from his parents and spending some time with them he proceeded on his journey, and crossed Kali Nadi to reach the present day Champavat.

Carrying his Timur Staff, satchel, tongs, and delightful flute he prayed to his family Goddess and travelled for hours. And when tired he sat under a tree on his asana to relax.

He now had the glow of knowledge on his face and the luster of the Sun reflected from his entire frame. Hearing tales of his brilliance the entire village flocked to see him. Such a dazzling Jogi no had had ever seen!

Now his next destination was Almora. Chanting Alakh Niranjan, meaning ‘The one who can’t be perceived and the one who is colourless’ as he walked, he became the centre of attraction. Village folks thronged to him, to seek his blessings and find solutions for their problems.

Gangnath solved all their complications using his magical knowledge. He punished the villains using the powers granted to him. He destroyed the falsehoods, cunning and deception of the evilly disposed bogeymen, tyrants, fiends, monsters, beasts and demons and brought peace to the people.

The village folks and the entire Almora community praised him to the skies. They were filled with joy, but for Gangnath personally there was no peace of mind.

One night a woman called his name in his dreams and poked fun at him. Gangnath detested the taunts and next morning began roaming aimlessly, not for a minute forgetting to attend to people’s problems.

He then reached Joshikhola and asked the folks there where he could find the beautiful Bhana of Joshikhola.

They put him in the picture that she too was waiting for him eagerly and made inquiries about his whereabouts everyday. She was convinced her Gangu would come to meet her one-day.

Gangnath was thrilled to hear this. He asked them to show him the way to her village. The village folks guided him to Bhana’s village.

They stopped him at the village temple. The women folks then rushed to Bhana to inform her that a brilliant looking Yogi had come to meet her, and was heard saying that he was the Prince of Dotigarh and had come to meet her.

Hearing these words Bhana was rapturous and her heart filled with joy and happiness.

She pleaded them to take her to her Yogi.

“He must be my dream man, the Prince of my dreams. I will recognize him the moment I see him,” she stated with glee.

When the two finally met, the skies were lit and the heavens rejoiced. They now began meeting everyday. They would get into heated conversation day in and day out. They laughed and cried, and holding each other’s hands carried forward their love story.

They especially talked about their happy future. Gangnath made a small Kutiya (Cottage) for himself in the forests of Joshikhola and began living there to be close to his love.

Bhana employed the services of one of her close aides, Jhapruva to look after Gangnath. Jhapruva became dear to Gangnath in no time and followed him like a shadow everywhere.

The lovers met everyday and with each passing day their love became more and more intense.

Now information about their clandestine love leaked to the entire village. Kishan Joshi, Bhana’s father too received the information. He was infuriated and planned to destroy this man. But soon he learnt that Gangnath was blessed with the divine protection of clothes given by Guru Gorakhnath. Also he had all the divine powers granted to him by his Guru, and above all he was born because of the blessings of Mahadev himself.

Kishan Joshi understood that it would be difficult for anyone to vanquish Gangnath. He therefore planned to trick him into defeat and surrender.

On the day of the festival of Holi he along with his attendants  made him consume Bhang, a local intoxicant.

Having consumed Bhang in large quantity Gangnath fainted. Taking advantage of his benumbed condition they removed his divine clothes and terminated him.

Bhana and Jhapruva tried their utmost to save him.  But the villagers slaughtered Jhapruva too, accusing him of shielding the Yogi.

At the time of Gangnath’s death Bhana was carrying his child. Not showing any mercy to her expectant state, Kishan Joshi and the villagers killed her too.

Thus Gangnath and Bhana’s love story met with a sad spine-chilling fate.  Before dying she shot them an angry look and a monumental curse.

Within three days of the gruesome deaths, there was uproar in the village.  The enormous curse began to come into effect. The cattle began to die for no reason. The people of Joshikhola began to fall sick. Many became mad. The villagers  soon realized that the souls of the dead whom they had butchered  were creating all the misery.

The villagers then decided to appease the dead; they deified them and sang Jagars in their name. The effect of the Jagars was so intense that Gangnath, Bhana and Jhapruva immediately reincarnated.

Stunned, the villagers fell at the feet of Gangnath and asked for his forgiveness. With great difficulty they finally managed to appease him.

With tears in his eyes and a sad smile on his face Gangnath protested, “What was my fault that you all killed me, and then my beloved and my aide as well? Shower flowers on me if you feel I was wronged, else let me languish in the cremation ground.”

The villagers then constructed a Temple dedicated to Gangnath, where he continues to be worshipped along with Bhana and her child even today. Jhapruva’s Temple too was built alongside Gangnath’s.

Today Gangnath is amongst the most venerated Gods of the people of Almora.  Over the years several temples have emerged in the region dedicated to Gangnath.  He is known to be particularly concerned about the welfare of his devotees.

Those who seek his blessings are never disappointed. Gangnath fulfills all their wishes!

(Dr Anjali Nauriyal, veteran journalist, author, actor and social worker is currently Senior Fellow with Ministry of Culture, GOI)