By Swami Harshananda
Godāvari literally means ‘the best of the givers of water’.
A dedicated devout invokes seven sacred rivers of the country at the time of bath and during the ritualistic worship of the family deity. Godāvarī is one of these seven rivers. Gautamī and Vṛddhagañgā are the two other names for it, though less known. The invocation runs like this:
The river originates from the Brahmagiri hill near Tryambakeśvar in the Nasik district of Maharashtra State. It flows towards the east and joins the Bay of Bengal near Rājamahendram (or Rajamundry) where it is almost 6.4 kms. (4 miles) wide. Then it divides itself into two branches Gautamī Godāvarī and Vasiṣṭha Godāvarī. The Vasiṣṭha Godāvarī again branches off into Vainateya Godāvarī.
Extent of Godāvarī
The total length of the river is 1465 kms. (915 miles). It is joined by a few important tributaries like Purṇā, Phena-gaṅgā, Vardhā, Vainagaṅgā, Prāṇahitā, Indrāvatī and Śabarī.
Tale of Godāvarī
As per Purāṇas
According to the purāṇas the sage Gautama, the husband of Ahalyā, brought this river (originally the Gaṅgā) from the matted locks of Śiva to this earth near Brahmagiri. At his request, Śiva also agreed to stay near his hermitage. This became the famous Tryambakeśvara.
As per Rāmāyana
According to the Rāmāyana of Vālmiki, Śri Rāma lived in the Pañcavati on the bank of the river Godāvarī, during his sojourn in the Daṇḍaka forest. Sitā was abducted by the demon-king Rāvaṇa from here.
Significance of Bath in Godāvarī
A bath in the Godāvarī, especially during it's Puṣkara-period is considered extremely holy. The Puṣkara-period comes once in twelve years and lasts for 12 days. Śrāddhas and tarpaṇas offered to the manes during this period will save them from hell and may even give them liberation.
Places of Pilgrimage on Godāvarī
The holy places of pilgrimage situated on the banks of the Godāvarī are:
There are several temples in these places. For the pilgrims who visit Nāsik, a bath in the Rāmakuṇḍa on the left bank of Godāvarī, is a must. The famous temple of Rāma at Bhadrācalam in the Khammam district of Andhra Pradesh is another holy place on the Godāvarī, frequented by the devotees.
References in Scriptures
The water can be the one used for both one’s bath and worshiping the deity. Unlike the rivers Sarasvatī and Gaṅgā, the name of Godāvarī has not been mentioned in the Vedic literature. However there are enough references to it in the two epics and the purāṇas. In importance and sacredness, it has been given a status next to Gaṅgā. The Brahmapurāna declares the Gaṅgā to the south of the Vindhya mountains is Gautamī (Godāvarī).
- In Puṣkara-period the planet Bṛhaspati or Guru or Jupiter enters the zodiacal sign Simha or Leo.
- Brahmapurāna 78.77
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore