Celebrated on the 10th day (Dashami) of the Shukla Paksha (Waxing moon) of the Hindu calendar month, Jyeshta, Ganga Dussehra, also known as Gangavataran, will be celebrated this year on 20th June 2021.
It is believed that on this day, the sacred river, Ganga, descended on the earth from her heavenly abode.
Some major ghats where this festival is celebrated with much fanfare are Varanasi, Prayag, Garhmukteshwar, Haridwar, and Rishikesh.
The holiest and sacred river for the Hindus, the River Ganga, has a great spiritual and symbolic significance and most of the cities on her banks are pilgrim places for the Hindus.
It is believed that the great king Bhagiratha did intense penance to appease Lord Shiva to persuade Ganga to descend on the earth as only the flowing water of the Ganges could remove the curse on his ancestors. Some of his ancestors were burnt to ashes by the wrath of the sage, Kapila when they disturbed his meditation. Their souls could only be freed from the earth if the waters of Ganga flowed over their ashes.
Ganga was reluctant to go down to the earth as She felt earth would not be able to bear her intensity. To solve this, Lord Shiva asked Ganga to descend upon His head so that He would absorb much of Her force and from there She could descend further down to the earth. The descending of the river on to the earth is Gangavataran.
It is believed that just as the ancestors of Bhagiratha found salvation through the waters of The Ganga, so will anyone who will bathe in these holy waters.
The festivities for the celebration of Gangavataran start nine days before D-day. The festival gets its name from the fact that those who take a dip in the Ganges on Gangavataran will get salvation from ten sins (Dus=Ten; Hara=Connotes defeat).
Celebrated for ten days, Ganga Dussehra culminates on the last day, which is Gangavataran. Devotees throng the banks of River Ganga and, after bathing, take a dip in its holy waters. Boats are made out of special large leaves, and a small lamp is placed on these. Offerings of flowers and sweets are placed alongside, and this ‘leaf boat’ is set afloat gently in the river. Mantras and ‘slokas’ are recited as a form of prayer.
At sunset, ‘aarti’ is performed at the banks of the Ganga and the sight is one to behold. Lakhs of people attend this ‘aarti’.
The devotees who are not able to be part of this aarti perform their prayers at home. The prayer area is cleaned and an idol or picture of Goddess Ganga is placed in the center. The whole house is purified by sprinkling Ganga Jal. Some of this water is also sprinkled on self. Offerings are made to the deity, along with prayers.
Lord Shiva is also worshipped on this day, and so is King Bhagiratha, who was instrumental in bringing down Ganga from the heavens.
An important part of the ritual is donating items and being charitable to the poor. Since it is believed that ten sins get absolved, devotees donate ten fruits, ten different types of sweets and sesame seeds on this day.