1. Gaṅgā (Modern Ganges).– One of the five great rivers (mahānadī) that irrigate Jambudīpa, the others being Yamunā, Aciravatī, Sarabhū, and Mahī (e.g., Vin.ii.237; S.ii.135; v.401; A.iv.101; v.22; Mil.114 mentions ten).
The Commentaries (e.g., SNA.ii.438 f; AA.ii.761 ﬀ; MA.ii.586; UdA.301) give a long description of their origin. From the Anotatta lake flow four rivers: that from the south circles the lake three times under the name of Avattagaṅgā, then as Kaṇhagaṅgā flows straight for sixty leagues along the surface of a rock, comes into violent contact with a vertical rock, and is thrown upwards as a column of water six miles (three gāvuta) in circumference; this column, known as Akāsagaṅgā, flows through the air for sixty leagues, falls on to the rock Tiyaggala, excavating it to a depth of fifty leagues, thus forming a lake which is called Tiyaggalapokkharaṇī; then the river, under the name of Bahalagaṅgā, flows through a chasm in the rock for sixty leagues, then, under the name of Ummaggagaṅgā, through a tunnel for a further sixty leagues, and finally coming upon the oblique rock Vijjha, divides into five streams, forming the five rivers above mentioned.
Among places mentioned as being on the banks of the Gaṅgā are Bārāṇasī, Campā, Ayojjhā, Kimbilā, Ukkacelā, Payāga, Pāṭaliputta, and Saṅkassa. The Gaṅgā formed one of the most important means of communication and trade for the districts through which it flowed — e.g., from Rājagaha to Vesāli. The district to the north of the river and bordering on the kingdom of Aṅga was called Aṅguttarāpa (SNA.ii.439). The river was five hundred leagues in length (SA.ii.119).
The name of the Gaṅgā appears again and again in similes and metaphors in the Pāḷi books:
Reference is also made to a Gaṅgāmahīkīlā, (Smp. on Vin.i.191, and again, ii.276). Buddhaghosa says that Mahī here refers to the earth, but Rhys Davids (VT.ii.25, n.3) thinks it refers to the river of that name.
The junction of the Gaṅgā and the Yamunā is frequently referred to, and is used as a simile for perfect union (e.g., J.vi.412, 415). A tributary of the Gaṅgā is mentioned which flows from Himavā, its name being Migasammatā (J.vi.72). The ford at Pāṭaliputta, where the Buddha crossed on his way from Rājagaha to Vesāli, was called Gotamatittha (Vin.i.230); its distance from Rājagaha was five leagues, and from Vesāli three (KhpA.162‑3). When the Buddha, after curing the plague at Vesāli, returned to Rājagaha, great festivities marked the event, and the celebration was known as the Gaṅgārohaṇa. The devā and the nāgā vied with each other to do honour to the Teacher, and there was a great assembly of all classes of beings, comparable to those on the occasions of the Twin Miracle and the Descent from Tusita (DhA.iii.444). Among the nāgā who dwelt in the Gaṅgā is mentioned Eraka (DhA.iii.231).
The water of the Gaṅgā was considered holy and was used for the consecration of kings, not only of India but also of Sri Lanka (Mhv.xi.30; MT.305).
The people on the northern bank were rough and coarse, while those on the south were pious and generous, believers in the Buddha (DA.i.160).
The upper reaches of the river were called Uddhagaṅgā (J.ii.283, vi.427) or Uparigaṅgā (J.iv.230), and the lower reaches Adhogaṅgā (J.ii.283, 329, v.3).
See also Kosikī, Bhagīrathī, Mahāgaṅgā, and Pāragaṅgā.