Friday, September 18, 2020

A river made of crystal water-drops

Gaṅgā, the personification of the sacred river Ganges,
early 19th century watercolour in The British Museum

Eric Newby's Slowly Down the Ganges introduced me to the fact that the river has 108 names, all of which he lists so that they form a kind of poem at the beginning of the book.  The river is also a goddess, Ganga, and these names are thus part of Hindu faith, but as I have often talked here about aspects of landscape in European religious art, it does not seem inappropriate to take them out of context here. You can find the full list in English translation online. Here are the first ten, which show the way they mix very short geographical description with snatches of mythology and descriptions of the goddess herself.

  1. One who flows
  2. One who is born from the lotus feet of Lord Vishnu
  3. Dearest to Shiva
  4. Daughter of Lord of Himalaya
  5. One who flows through the mountains
  6. Mother of Kartikeya
  7. One who liberated 60,000 cursed sons of King Sagara
  8. Meeting Saraswati at Allahabad
  9. Being sweet and melodious
  10. Flowing and meeting the ocean

And from the remaining 98 names, here are ten more that together form a word picture of the river.

  • One who is imperishable, eternal (24)
  • One who is delightful (33)
  • A river made of crystal water-drops (34)
  • One whose water is as good as nectar (43)
  • As noisy as a conch-shell and drum (49)
  • One who flows with a force (54)
  • Just like the autumn moon (66)
  • One who drives away all sorrows (72)
  • One who is muttering (94)
  • One who is light amid the darkness of ignorance (104)

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