When Vishnu took the form of Vamana avatar to slay Demon king Bali, Brahma washed his feet in respect, whose three footsteps covered the entire earth, heaven and the head of the demon king sending him to the nether world. The water he collected after washing in his Kamandul came to being as Ganga.
The young Ganga was known and loved in entire heaven for her liveliness and merry dance. But she was not aware of the wrath, ill temper and powerful curse of sages such as Durvasa. Once while walking the great sage Durvasa, collides with the invisible wind god Pawan, and the resulting whirlwind around him took away his garments. Durvasa tried to clutch on to his robes but failed against the power of Pawan. All the gods although bemused turned their faces away – to not look at the embarrassed sage and not to enrage him. But little Ganga, unaware of sage’s infamy for ill-temper, pointed at Durvasa and laughed her heart out.
True to her fame – Durvasa could not stand being a subject of fun. Grimly he turned and his anger turned into a curse – “O impudent girl, devoid of respect as you are for elders and respected saints, you should leave this place and go to earth as a River. When people will wash their dirty clothes and spill all their dirt on you, you will realize the privilege of being in Heaven!” Realizing her folly, Ganga fell on the feet of the great sage and pleaded for pardon. All the other gods, who were so fond of Ganga, joined her to plead the sage to lift the curse. But the power of curse was heavy. Though Ganga promised not to misbehave ever again, even Durvasa couldn’t lift the curse. The only thing he could do was to lighten it. So to balance the harshness of curse, he gave her the boon of cleaning the human’s of their sin along with the dirt they thrown in.
“The places through which River Ganga passes, those places are holy places. A dip in River ganga attains the fruits of performing Yajnas, observing Brahma Charya, Tapas and making charities. Even if the water of Ganga touches the body, all his sins vanish. Whatever be the sins committed by him, if he takes a holy dip in Ganga, he goes to heaven. For how many years the bones of a man soak in Ganga, for such number of years he enjoys heavenly pleasures. Place without Ganga, Yajna without Soma, night without moon, day without sun, Ashram without Dharma are equal to trees without flowers.
Even performing one hundred Chandrayana Vratas is not equal to consuming Ganga Water. Human beings regard Ganga water as Amrutha. Rubbing the sand of Ganga on head and taking holy dip in Ganga removes all his sins. Even the air coming from Ganga is sufficient to vanish all the sins. A holy dip in Ganga attains higher regions to Pitaras. While taking bath in any place, feeling in mind that he is taking bath in River Ganga, is sufficient to attain the fruits of holy dip in Ganga.
One who beholds Ganga is human being and the others are equal to beasts and blind. Thinking about Ganga at the time of death attains him liberation. While Ganga was coming from heaven to earth, in between Lord Siva held it on his head. When the sons of Sagara were reduced to ashes as a result of the curse of a saint, Saint Bhagiratha, while bringing Ganga from heaven to earth, made Ganga to flow on their ashes, as a result they attained higher regions. Ganga had its way from heaven to Moon, from moon to Sun, from Sun to Vishnu, from the feet of Vishnu, Ganga landed on the head of Siva and from there to earth through Himalayas.
Whoever worships Ganga with devotion, he will be blessed with all riches and at last liberation. O brahmin! This much I know about Ganga – said the Sidha to Brahmin.”
The eighth Vasu, born as Gangaputra Bheeshma further explained to Yudhisthir, – “The sin of killing 1000 Jeeva (animals) is equal to killing one Manav (human); Sin of 1000 Manav Hatya(killing) is equal to sin of one Go-Hatya (killing a Cow). Sin of 1000 Go-Hatya is equivalent to sin of one Brahman-Hatya. And mere one drop of river Ganga can cleanse the sin of 1000 Brahman-Hatya. Thus is the power of purification of Ganga.”
That was the relevance, purity and respect the society and religion gave Ganga. However I guess finally the wrath of Durvasa’s curse is winning the battle over the boon he gave young Ganga. Add to that the Parvati’s curse of being always impure, for not being able to protect his son Kartikeya. Though Vishnu later decided that by flowing into The Ocean and by the mean of cleansing the sin’s she will finally atone her sins and will return to heaven.
So “Sins” it is what she is burdened with. All the chemicals, excreta and remains of animal life being dumped on her, are the sin’s she is relieving us from. With age – she has become slow, adding to her misery, she no longer could carry them to ocean. It is also said the half of Ganga remained in the clasp of Mahadev’s locks, from where she flowed. I haven’t come across any story that narrates what happened to that half. Is it the part frozen as the glaciers in Himalayas – the abode of Shiva? Will it merely unite with the half that flowed out after she dies and return to heaven?
I think it’s time when God decides, it is enough. Ganga has done enough to complete all her curses, suffered enough in the hands of Humanity to wipe off all her sin, and its time she returns to her heavenly abode. Unless we decide to take care of our own sins the way we used to before she came down to earth – through our action, penance and worship, she will surely die soon. And in that case too – we will be left to take care of all our sins ourselves.
So why wait? Lets take responsibility of our deed, lets atone our sins through our karma, and help mother Ganga in return for all the help she has offered us through the ages.