Other names: Bhaagirath, Bhagiraath, Bhaagiraath
The adventurous and skilled King Bhagirath of the Isvaku dynasty was the son of King Dilip. Bhagirath’s ancestor, King Sagar had performed an Ashvamedh yagya with a desire to win over the whole world. Lord Indra got nervous over this yagya, thinking that it was intended to take away his throne, and so he stole the horse of the yagya and left it outside Sage Kapil’s ashram. King Sagar ordered his sixty thousand sons to search everywhere to get back the horse. Those many sons wandered around all over the vast expanses of land in search of the horse. Finally they came across the horse outside Sage Kapil’s ashram. They thought Sage Kapil to be the thief and insulted him.
Sage Kapil was furious with the insult and reduced all sixty thousand sons to ashes in an instant with his powers.
Bhagirath’s grandfather Anshuman next searched for the horse and pleaded with Kapil muni and came back to King Sagar with the horse. Anshuman and his son Dilip attempted the liberation of their ancestors who were reduced to ashes by Kapil Muni, but did not succeed. Then Dilip’s son Bhagirath finally pleaded with Kapil for the liberation of his ancestors. Pleased with his respectful attitude, Kapil told him that his ancestors could be liberated only with the water of the heavenly River Ganga. So he should pray to Lord Vishnu to release her. Only He would be able to guide him and show him the right path to follow. Bhagirath observed deep penance to please Lord Vishnu. Pleased with his penance, Lord Vishnu manifested and told Bhagirath to ask for a boon. Bhagirath said,
Lord, due to the curse of Sage Kapil my ancestors are wandering in limbo like goblins. Sage Kapil has said that if the holy river Ganga comes down to earth from the heaven and purifies my ancestors’ ashes with her water, only then they will attain salvation. If you are pleased with my worship, please send Ganga to earth.
So Lord Vishnu ordered Ganga to descend to earth in the form of a river and liberate the sons of Sagar. Devi Ganga said, “Lord, I will obey your order, but when I go to earth, the power of my waters falling on it will be so strong that the earth will be relent and my waters will go into the Pataal lok (the sixth lower world according to Puranas). Please tell me the solution to this.”
Then Vishnu requested Lord Shiva’s help to find a way out of this. Shivji got ready and caught Ganga in his matted hair as she descended to earth, and then let loose a lock of his hair and let Ganga flow through this streak of hair down to the earth.