Ganga: The Constant Goddess by Anuja Chandramouli is a retelling of the story of Ganga, who has the power to save us all and bestow the precious gift of moksha. An excerpt:
‘They seek to take you into an ocean of blood,’ Himavan spoke gravely, ‘using your innate purity and goodness as a shield against the relentlessness of the evil they have incurred upon themselves. It is too much to ask. All you have to do is say the word and I’ll send them packing.’
‘There is no need for that father!’ Ganga told him seriously, the usual sparkle in her eyes replaced with a glint of searing intensity, ‘The time has come for me to leave my childhood home and go not only where I want to but where I am needed. Paro has found her purpose in life and it is time for me to do the same. In fact, even if there was no noble course for me to follow, it wouldn’t matter a bit. I am simply going to forge ahead, see the three worlds for myself and do whatever can be done should the need arise for what I can offer. It is not at all my intention to involve myself in the woes of mortal or immortal or the machinations of holy men. The vicious demands of virtue bore me to tears and I would rather do exactly as I please just so long as it feels right and makes me happy.’
‘That is just the sort of thinking that got you cursed mere moments ago!’ Mena whispered, not at all sure whether her daughter was being selfless or selfish, reckless or merely reckoning.
‘What do Brahma and his cohorts know?’ Ganga retorted, ‘Nobody will ever hold me against my will. Not even Shiva. They keep pretending that they have the power to control the actions of others while being unable to exert the same control over their own, particularly the discharge of their seminal fluids. Paro’s decision to win Shiva has nothing at all to do with any of their concerns about Soorapadma and everything to do with the fact that she is hopelessly devoted to the task of recovering something she believes was taken from her. As for my decision to go with them, it does not have much to do with them. But I must go. If only for the lives that have already been lost and the lives that may yet be saved.’
‘Nobody will ever hold me against my will. Not even Shiva. They keep pretending that they have the power to control the actions of others while being unable to exert the same control over their own, particularly the discharge of their seminal fluids.
Mena started to say something, then changed her mind. It was Himavan who spoke. ‘Before you go there is something I wish to show you. I thought long and hard about it, but it is best to be prepared. Take my hand, precious child of my heart and come with me.’
She didn’t hesitate but took the mountain king’s hand and felt everything around her fade away into nothingness. Not just the familiar surroundings but the fear and concern expended on her behalf as well as the challenges and duties about to be foisted on her shoulders. All that remained was the feel of her father’s hoary fingers and his thoughts which she could see and hear as he shared them unstintingly with her. Together they sailed over dense forests, stretched out ahead of her, revealing bald patches where trees had been felled in insupportable numbers.
A splendid mountain range, capped with snow stood proud and erect. It was a reassuring sight that assured one of endurance through the aeons of eternity. A closer look revealed the things that had burrowed deep into the rock, mining for metals that could be used to make weapons to fight endless wars and gleaming gems to feed insatiable avarice.
The silvery river wound its way sensuously through the peaks glistening and lustrous as a string of pearls against the blackness of the rocky terrain. Together they sought out the source, the icy face of the great glacier with its bovine countenance blanketed with perennial snow. The crystalline waters spilled forth released from the heavens where they had frolicked with Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, birthed afresh from the sacred cow’s mouth, beginning its long journey, flowing through the dazzling whiteness of the snow, brushing flirtatiously against the outcropping of rocks. Even the sun god could not resist its allure and the river responded to his attention, the waters playfully hidden from his gaze under snow banks only to re – emerge, clothed in garments of turquoise and bedecked with emeralds.
The noble river carried with it the perennial tranquillity and exquisite beauty of her father’s abode. On the surface, all was well. The faithful hugged her shores, showering her with flowers and pouring out the love in their hearts, fortifying her for what lay ahead -when love congealed and turned rancid, ushering in the monsters from the growing darkness of a world gone mad with hate. Terrifying beings that sought to sully the waters and stoke the flames of chaos, so that they could take advantage of the unfolding madness.
The faithful hugged her shores, showering her with flowers and pouring out the love in their hearts, fortifying her for what lay ahead -when love congealed and turned rancid, ushering in the monsters from the growing darkness of a world gone mad with hate.
She broke out in a cold sweat, recoiling from the lascivious touch of the dark creatures converging on the hapless stream from all sides and across its great length and breadth. There were too many of them, always furtive, the better to implement their malicious intent. Their natural capacity for inflicting hurt and inexhaustible greed goading them towards acts of utmost evil.
They looked down upon the naked body of water, having long coveted it, fed off it, wanting it all for themselves, determined to help themselves to more than was offered, viciously brushing aside the lack of consent. Their victim was left torn and violated, trembling from the depths of the trauma inflicted on her, shrinking away from the knowledge that there was more where it came from. Her generous spirit shattered by the callous cruelty meted out over and over again with little by way of respite. They always returned for more and every single time they touched the waters with begrimed hands, the poison spread a little further, deeper and they all sickened from it.
Poisoned! The magnificent river was being poisoned and the life and land it had long sustained was dying. And still she fought back to keep the waters pure and clean. Rage coursed through her beleaguered being and she reared back like a wounded serpent and lashed out, unloosing her powers and inundating them with the full might of her charging currents.
So many wiped out! And she wept with them over the broken and lifeless remains of the innocent and wicked, carrying them away in her arms to a better place which was barred to her for now. It was to the unending horrors that she must return. On and on, she would go on till even her great reserves of strength were exhausted and she could not withstand the steady influx of sin for ever. It was only a matter of time before she failed.
On and on, she would go on till even her great reserves of strength were exhausted and she could not withstand the steady influx of sin for ever. It was only a matter of time before she failed.
They followed the river’s course downward, past rough, inhospitable terrain under threatening skies and receding peaks that looked grim and reproving. There were devastating signs of decay and decomposition everywhere. The formerly crystal clear waters had become increasingly murky, choked near to death with endless corruption. The dying and the dead floated on the surface, their bloated remains a dread reminder of what lay in store. Its rank and fetid odours assailed the nostrils and she nearly gagged. It was a sight to sicken the heart and make one weep.
She held her father’s hand tightly, the way she had as a child, desperate to feel his warmth and comfort seep into her, not because she was frightened but because she sensed her anger getting out of hand, its heat overpowering the salty tears. The familiar rage that sought to destroy those who would befoul her waters and defile her person. Bringing a blessed end to it all.
Excerpted with permission from Ganga: The Constant Goddess by Anuja Chandramouli published by Rupa Publications India . Rs 295, 271 pp.
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