When King Bhagiratha, the grandson of Anshuman, heard of how his sixty thousand great grand uncles had died because of Rishi Kapila’s wrath and not achieved freedom, he left his kingdom and moved to the Himalayas to do tapas.
Living only on fruits and roots he performed heavy austerities for a thousand years after which the goddess Ganga appeared before him. She asked the king what he desired. The king replied that the souls of his forefathers had not attained freedom as they were still searching for the yagna horse because of which they had lost their lives. He requested her to descend from the heavens and fill the oceans which had become dry as Rishi Agastya had drunk them, and then with her water wash the spot where his forefathers had died, so that they would be free. Ganga said that she would only be able to descend if Lord Shiva would hold her and as he is the only one who would be able to bear the powerful force of her water when she would start flowing downwards.
Bhagiratha then went to Mount Kailas and did tapas to please Lord Shiva. After a long time, Lord Shiva finally appeared before him and agreed to support the descent of the Ganga. Shiva then sat down in the North East. The king meditated upon Ganga. Seeing Lord Shiva sitting in the North East, Ganga started to descend to the earth. All the divine and celestial beings came to witness this magnificent happening. Lord Shiva supported the river as if he was wearing a garland of pearls. From Shiva’s neck, with a roaring sound, Ganga fell on the earth, split into three and started flowing towards the oceans to the spot where Bhagiratha’s forefathers had died. The king took her water in his hands and paid oblations to his forefathers, setting their souls free.
There is a higher level of understanding that is normally not accessible to us. Sometimes flashes descend from there which result in great inventions or discoveries. To contact higher knowledge we must be free of the lower and that is fulfilment of our ambitions. The king leaves his kingdom to work on freeing his psychic nature of the momentum of personal desires. It is only when we are free of everything personal can we digest the higher which is non-personal.
The river is held by Shiva implying purity of emotions. The king first frees himself of desire and contacts higher knowledge in the form of Ganga. She tells him to purify his emotions, only then will she descend. His tapas to Shiva are symbolic of attaining emotional purity. This is an auspicious happening for every student, that as he acquires purity of emotions, the source of all knowledge called Ganga opens up for him.