Ganges River ［恒河・ガンジス河］ ( Gōga 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 Gangā. Depicted as a beautiful river goddess in Indian mythology, Gangā originally flowed only through heaven, but was brought to earth by the gods Brahmā and Shiva. In Buddhist scriptures, the Ganges is counted as one of the four great rivers in Jambudvīpa. 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 civilizations. 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 Pātaliputra (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 Pātaliputra 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.