The Ramayana has many versions, narrated by multiple authors in multiple voices. The multiple versions are evidence of the richness of the Ramayana narrative and the strong literary traditions that flourished in the country that allowed writers/poets to unfetter the imagination without fear.
The story begins with King Sagara after he loses his 60,000 sons to Kapila sage’s wrath. The sons were reduced to ashes and hence were not given the proper funerary rites that are a must for ascension to heaven and for a better afterlife. Sagara’s grandson, Anshuman goes out in search of his father and uncles and finally reaches the sage Kapila’s hermitage. When he asked him for a way to grant his ancestors the freedom of passage that is the right of every human being after death, the sage told him that there was only one way to do it. And that would be bringing the river Ganga to earth.
However this was easier said than done. Despite severe penance done by every king born into the dynasty, including Sagara, Ganga stuck to her place in the heavens. The crisis worsened when Dilip, one of Sagara’s descendants died without an heir.
Without an heir and their king dead, Ayodhya descended into chaos. In heaven, Brahma and Purandara became worried. They consulted Shiva who decided to ride to the palace that was now home to Dilip’s two widows. Shiva told them, “With my blessings, you will have a son.” The women were perplexed. “How,” they asked, “without a man can we conceive?”
Shiva told them that with his boon, they would have the power to bear a child without a man. The two women should copulate, he said, and leave the rest to the gods. The two women who shared a close friendship and upon the god’s assurance waited till they both knew the right time had arrived. Then they united sexually and in the tenth month, one of them conceived and a son was born. Since the child was born from the union of two women, from two bhagas (female organs), he was named Bhagiratha. And he was the son that finally brought the river down to earth and released the trapped souls of his ancestors.
Story collected by: Arundhuti Dasgupta