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India is probably the only country in the world where a river is bestowed the status of a goddess. In a country where Hindus follow practices strictly according to scriptures, ancient scripts say that Ganges came to the earth from heaven and started flowing. Since centuries, river Ganges has been regarded as most sacred and worshipped by people. In the 'Purana', a very high status has been bestowed to river Ganga. Puranas further say that Ganges is the holiest of all the shrines on earth. Apart from men, even mean creatures like insects achieve salvation on touching the waters of holy Ganges.

Many centres of pilgrimage are also located on the banks of the holy river. It is believed that the sacred virtue of the river increases manifold when it flows through these pilgrimage destinations. It is common in India to see people taking holy dips, bathing and performing rituals on the banks of the holy river. Even the dead are cremated on its banks with the hope that their souls shall attain salvation.
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GangotriOrigin of River Ganges
The holy river Ganga originates from the Garhwal Himalayan ranges in Uttaranchal. The place from where the river originates is Gangotri, one of the most sacred pilgrimage sites for Hindus. There is a shrine at the place built in the 18th century. The shrine is located at an altitude of 3,200 metres.

River Ganges originates from a cave called 'Gomukha' at an altitude of 13,800 feet. The holy river is known as Bhagirathi in this region. The holy river is fed by the melting snows of peaks Nanda Devi, Gurla, Mandhata, Dhaulagiri, Gesaisthan, Kanchenjunga and Mount Everest.

Mythological Tales
According to Hindu mythology , Goddess Ganga decided to descend on earth answering the prayers of King Bhagirath. But such was her force and might that she would have flooded the whole earth and resulted in widespread destruction. Finally, Lord Shiva decided to receive her in his matted locks to control her force. From his locks, many streams started flowing . It is believed that holy river Ganges has been flowing on earth since then.

Main pilgrimage destinations on banks of Ganges
Rudraprayag : Rudraparyag is situated at the holy confluence of Alaknanda( Ganges) and Mandakini rivers. Rudraprayag is at a distance of 34 kms from Srinagar in Garhwal. The meeting point of rivers Alaknanda and Mandakini in Rudraprayag has become a sacred point of worship for Hindus. Hindus come in large numbers to take a holy dip at the point of confluence. Thereafter, they pay obeisance at the Shiva and Jagdamba temples located nearby. At a distance of 3 kms from this point, the famous temple of Koteshwar on the banks of river Alaknanda (Ganga) is another revered temple. Rudraprayag derives its name from Rudra (Lord Shiva).

Rishikesh : At Rishikesh, the Chandrabhaga stream merges with holy river Ganges. This is another place where devotees take a holy dip with the firm belief of erasing past sins. Rishikesh is located on the right banks of river Ganges in Uttaranchal at an altitude of 356 metres. It is surrounded by hills on three sides. There are many temples in Rishikesh, the most revered is Neelkanth Mahadev.
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Haridwar : Haridwar, which literally means the gateway to the Gods is regarded as one of the seven holiest places of Hinduism. It is believed that Gods left their footprints in Haridwar. Haridwar has one of the most sacred ghats named Har Ki Pauri. Legend has it that this ghat on the banks of river Ganges was constructed by King Vikramaditya in the memory of his brother Bhartrihari. Many religious rituals are performed regularly on the ghats. This includes the famous Ganga aarti on the ghats after which thousands of earthen lamps are set afloat in the waters. The temples of Chanda Devi and Mansa Devi are the most revered temples of Haridwar.

Chet Singh Ghat at Varanasi Allahabad : In Allahabad, the rivers Ganga, Yamuna and mythical Saraswati meet. The confluence of the rivers is called Triveni Sangam. At the Sangam, the merging waters of Ganga and Yamuna can be clearly seen. Devotees swarm to the place to bathe at the point of confluence. It is also a popular practice to immerse the ashes of the dead at the Sangam. Assisted by priests, devotees conduct many religious rituals at the place. The Maha Kumbh Mela- the largest religious fair in India is held every 12 years in Allahabad near the Sangam.

Varanasi : Every day, from morning till night, river Ganges is worshipped in the hundreds of holy ghats of Varanasi. Varanasi, more popularly known as Benaras is regarded as an eternal city by the Hindus. The Dasaswamedh Ghat of the place is the most revered ghat. The maha aarti on the ghats in the evening is a very important event. Manikarnika is the main cremation ghat of Varanasi. It is believed that once the ashes flow to river Ganges, the soul shall rest in eternal peace. Many temples are also located on the ghats which can be entered only after bathing in the waters of river Ganges.

Concluding her journey of the holy places of Uttaranchal and Uttar Pradesh, holy Ganges enters the state of Bihar. River 'Gandak' coming from Nepal merges with Ganges near Patna. One stream is known as 'Hughli' and ultimately Ganga merges into the 'Bay of Bengal' crossing through West Bengal. The Ganges covers a distance of 1557 miles beginning from the point of origin till she ultimately merges into the ocean.

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