1. Gangá (Modern Ganges).-One of the five great rivers (Mahánadí) that water Jambudípa, the others being Yamuná, Aciravatí, Sarabhú, and Mahí (E.g., Vin.ii.237; S.ii.135; v.401; A.iv.101; v.22; Mil.114 mentions ten).
The Commentaries (E.g., SNA.ii.438f; AA.ii.761ff; MA.ii.586; UdA.301) give a long description of their origin. From the Anotatta lake flow four rivers: that from the south circles the lake three times under the name of Avattagangá, then as Kanhagangá flows straight for sixty leagues along the surface of a rock, comes into violent contact with a vertical rock, and is thrown upwards as a column of water three gávutas in circumference; this column, known as Akásagangá, flows through the air for sixty leagues, falls on to the rock Tiyaggala, excavating it to a depth of fifty leagues, thus forming a lake which is called Tiyaggalapokkharaní; then the river, under the name of Bahalagangá, flows through a chasm in the rock for sixty leagues, then, under the name of Ummaggagangá, through a tunnel for a further sixty leagues, and finally coming upon the oblique rock Vijjha, divides into five streams, forming the five rivers above mentioned.
Among places mentioned as being on the banks of the Gangá are Benáres, Campá, Ayojjha, Kimbhilá, Ukkávelá, Payága, Pátaliputta, and Sankassa. The Gangá formed one of the most important means of communication and trade for the districts through which it flowed - e.g., from Rájagaha to Vesáli. The district to the north of the river and bordering on the kingdom of Anga was called Anguttarápa (SNA.ii.439). The river was five hundred leagues in length (SA.ii.119).
The name of the Gangá appears again and again in similes and metaphors in the Páli books:
its sands are immeasurable (S.iv.376);
its waters cannot be made bracken by adding to them a grain of salt (A.i.250);
it is full of foam, and yet its foam is empty (S.iii.140);
it were folly to wish to hold up the course of its waters with one's fist (S.iv.298);
as the river finds repose only in the ocean, so do the followers of the Buddha find repose only in nibbána (M.i.493);
some things are as inevitable as that the Gangá should flow into the sea (S.iv.179);
there is no such thing as the Gangá apart from its sand, its water, and its banks;
to be cast on the other side of the Gangá (páragangáya) is great misfortune (see, e.g., S.i.207, SnA.i.228).
The Gangá flows from west to east (pácínaninná, S.iv.191);
during the rains it is so full of water that even a crow could drink water from its bank (Vin.i.230);
sometimes the banks would be flooded and the buildings on them destroyed (SA.i.164), and people would find difficulty in crossing;
at others it was shallow and could be crossed by means of a reed bridge (SnA.i.18);
cattle could easily be driven from one bank to another (M.i.225).
At various spots were ferries where boatmen plied for hire (e.g., J.iii.230).
On its banks, on the higher reaches, were numerous snakes and parrots (J.ii.145, iii.491),
and all along the banks were hermitages (e.g., J.iii.476, v.191, etc.).
Men always bathed in the river, and on festival days even women of very good family came for water-sports, sometimes spending the whole day in the river; kings also came with their retinues (e.g., J.i.295; MA.ii.604; DhA.iii.199).
Reference is also made to a Gangámahíkílá, (Smp. on Vin.i.191, and again, ii.276). Buddhaghosa says that Mahí here refers to the earth, but Rhys Davids (VT.ii.25, n.3) thinks it refers to the river of that name.
The junction of the Gangá and the Yamuná is frequently referred to, and is used as a simile for perfect union (e.g., J.vi.412, 415). A tributary of the Gangá is mentioned which flows from Himavá, its name being Migasammatá (J.vi.72). The ford at Pátaliputta, where the Buddha crossed on his way from Rájagaha to Vesáli, was called Gotamatittha (Vin.i.230); its distance from Rájagaha was five leagues, and from Vesáli three (KhpA.162-3). When the Buddha, after curing the plague at Vesáli, returned to Rájagaha, great festivities marked the event, and the celebration was known as the Gangárohana. The devas and the nágas vied with each other to do honour to the Teacher, and there was a great assembly of all classes of beings, comparable to those on the occasions of the Twin Miracle and the Descent from Tusita (DhA.iii.444). Among the nágas who dwelt in the Gangá is mentioned Eraka (DhA.iii.231).
The water of the Gangá was considered holy and was used for the consecration of kings, not only of India but also of Ceylon (Mhv.xi.30; MT.305).
The people on the northern bank were rough and coarse, while those on the south were pious and generous, believers in the Buddha (DA.i.160).
The upper reaches of the river were called Uddhagangá (J.ii.283, vi.427) or Uparigangá (J.iv.230), and the lower reaches Adhogangá (J.ii.283, 329, v.3).
See also Kosikí, Bhagírathí, Mahágangá, and Páragangá.
2. Gangá.-See Maháválukagangá.
3. Gangá.-A lake, the residence of the Nága king Dona. BuA.153.