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Ganges River
[恒河・ガンジス河] ( Jpn Goga or Ganjisu-gawa)

    The great river of the northern and northeastern Indian subcontinent, which originates in the Himalayas and flows southeast across the vast Ganges Valley emptying into the Bay of Bengal through the Ganges Delta. Its length is about 2,500 kilometers. In Sanskrit the river is called Ganga. Depicted as a beautiful river goddess in Indian mythology, Gangaoriginally flowed only through heaven, but was brought to earth by the gods Brahmaand Shiva. In Buddhist scriptures, the Ganges is counted as one of the four great rivers in Jambudvipa. The Rigveda, the earliest Vedic scripture, took root here and gave rise to India's Vedic religion and culture. The fertile Ganges Valley also supported a flourishing agriculture and commerce. Many cities were built and prospered in the Ganges Valley, which constituted the cradle and the center of successive Indian civi-lizations. Around the time of Shakyamuni, a number of new kingdoms emerged, the most powerful of which were Kosala in the middle Ganges Valley and Magadha in the lower Ganges Valley. Shakyamuni spread his teachings widely in the region, and his followers increased rapidly in number. As a result, monasteries were built in many cities in the valley. The Mauryan dynasty, renowned for its ruler Ashoka of the third century B.C.E., established the city of Pataliputra (present-day Patna) as the center of its empire on the banks of the Ganges. The Gupta dynasty, which began in the fourth century C.E., also made Pataliputra its capital.The Ganges has long been held sacred, and today is still revered as a holy river by Hindus who believe that they can eradicate their sins by immersing themselves in its waters. Crematoriums have been built along the banks of the Ganges, and the Hindus cast the ashes of the dead into the river, believing this will deliver the deceased straight to heaven. Along the basin of the Ganges are some of the most prominent Indian cities, such as Varanasi (the holy city of the Hindus), Patna, and Calcutta on the bank of an arm of the Ganges River called the Hooghly.

The Ganges (Gaṅgā) is the longest river in India and flows through the Middle Land, that part of India where The Buddha lived. It was also sometimes called Bhāgīrathī (J.V,255). The river’s great size and Beauty and its ability to both nourish crops and to sweep away villages when in flood meant that it was looked upon with a mixture of reverence and awe. A character in the Jātaka says: ‘I revere the Ganges whose waters flow and spread.’ (J.V,93). The Milky Way was called the Celestial Ganges (Ākāsagaṅgā, Ja.II,65). Hindus believed, as they still do, that the river’s waters wash away the effects of any Evil they have done, a belief which The Buddha criticized (M.I,39). The commentaries give a completely fantastic description of the river’s source and first reaches, saying that it starts from Lake Anotatta, rises up into the air and then passes through several rock tunnels before flowing into India. The Tipiṭaka says nothing about the source of the Ganges other than that it starts somewhere in the Himalayas. The Jatākas often say that when the Bodhisattva was an Ascetic in his former lives, he went into the Himalayas and ‘made a hermitage near a bend in the Ganges’ (e.g. Ja.II,145; II,258). The upper reaches of the Ganges were called Uddhagaṅgā (Ja.II,283), the Yamunā joins it at Payāga (modern Allahabad, Ja.II,151) and the river eventually flows into the sea (A.IV,199).
The Buddha often used the Ganges as a simile or metaphor in his teachings (e.g. M.I,225; S.II,184; IV,298). When he wanted to give the idea of an incalculable amount of something he would say that it was as numerous as the grains of sand in the Ganges (S.IV,376), a simile later often used in Mahāyāna literature. When he wanted to emphasize the effectiveness of his teachings for attaining Nirvāṇa he used the inevitable, unstoppable eastward movement of the Ganges to illustrate this idea. He said: ‘Just as the Ganges flows, slides, tends towards the east, so too, one who cultivates and makes much of the Noble Eightfold Path flows, slides tends towards Nirvāṇa.’ (S.V,40).
When The Buddha left Pāṭaliputta (now Patna) during his last journey, he had to cross the Ganges in order to get to Vesāli. Today the river at this point is nearly a kilometer wide and it was probably just as wide in ancient times too. The townspeople who had come to bid him goodbye walked up and down along the river bank looking for a ferry or a boat to use to cross the river. Some even began binding reeds together in an attempt to make rafts. Then, according to the Mahāparinibbāna Sutta, ‘as quickly as a strong man might stretch out his arm and draw it back again, The Buddha and his Monks vanished from this bank and reappeared on the other bank of the Ganges’ (D.II,89).

See also: Ganga