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According to the Agni Purana and Padma Purana, the Ganga descended to the earth on Ganga Dussehra day and a bath in the holy river on this day is said to purify one of all sins. To die on the banks of the Ganga is considered most auspicious. If that is not possible, then the immersion of the ashes after cremation in the river Ganga is a must, as it then releases one from the cycles of birth and re-birth.
Ganga is supposed to be the daughter of the Himalayas and the goddess Mena. According to the Puranas, the heavenly Ganga flows from Vishnu's toe. Ganga sometimes assumed a human form. In one such appearance, she married King Shantanu and was the mother of Bhishma, grandsire to the warring Pandava and Kaurava clans.
Lord Vishnu once approached Bali Maharaja while the King was performing a sacrifice. The Lord appeared before him as Trivikrama, or Vamana, and begged alms from the King in the form of three steps of land. With two steps, Lord Vamana covered all three planetary systems and pierced the covering of the universe with the toes of His left foot. A few drops of water from the Causal Ocean leaked through this hole and fell on the head of Lord Siva, where they remained for one thousand millenniums. These drops of water are the sacred Ganges River. It first flows onto the heavenly planets, which are located on the soles of Lord Vishnu’s feet. The Ganges River is known by many names, such as the Bhagirathi and the Jahnavi. It purifies Dhruvaloka and the planets of the seven sages because both Dhruva and the sages have no other desire than to serve the Lord’s lotus feet.
The Ganges River, emanating from the lotus feet of the Lord, inundates the heavenly planets, especially the moon, and then flows through Brahmapuri atop Mount Meru. Here the river divides into four branches (known as Sita, Alakananda, Cakshu and Bhadra), which then flow down to the ocean of salt water. The branch known as Sita flows through Sekhara-parvata and Gandhamadana-parvata and then flows down to Bhadrasva-varsha, where it mixes with the ocean of salt water in the West. The Cakshu branch flows through Malyavan-giri and, after reaching Ketumala-varsha, mixes with the ocean of salt water in the West. The branch known as Bhadra flows onto Mount Meru, Mount Kumuda, and the Nila, Sveta and Sringavan mountains before it reaches Kuru-desa, where it flows into the ocean of salt water in the north. The Alakananda branch flows through Brahmalaya, crosses over many mountains, including Hemakuta and Himakuta, and then reaches Bharata-varsha, where it flows into the southern side of the ocean of salt water. Many other rivers and their branches flow through the nine varshas.