River Ganga is considered sacred in Santana Dharma. Padma Purana declares that

mānyeyaṃsarvadālokepavitrāpāpanāśinī [Pdm. Pu. - 6.22.9]

She is pure, destroyer of sins and always honored in the world.

Every year large number of people take their holy dip in river Ganga.

Yet we find ourselves reaping the karmic action of our sinful act. Does this contradicts the proclamation made in Purana?

image of River Ganges

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    @SwiftPushkar But even the fact that millions of Hindus respect the Ganga as her mother, does not prove that its waters wash away the consequences of bad deeds. In my opinion, Ganesh' questions asks for an explanation or an argument, not for a description of a phenomenon. – Jo Wehler Aug 5 '16 at 8:17
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    @JoWehler - As this topic is related to belief , we cant apply scientific method here. I think we must accept at least some well known notions of religion without critical enquiry. – SwiftPushkar Aug 5 '16 at 8:33
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    @SwiftPushkar The original question asks "does ... actually wash ...". It does not ask whether Hindus believe that is washes. – Jo Wehler Aug 5 '16 at 8:38
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    Taking dip in Ganga with Sincere devotion and faith will clean away sins. There's a story in Puranas(forgot the name of Purana), where Shiva tests people taking dip in Ganga at Varanasi. He disguises Himself as lepor and no one helps Him but a mendicant helps Him. Then Lord Shiva says those who simply take dip in Ganga without any qualities of goodness or Satva will never get rid of Sins. You can read that story from here and i will post it as Answer if i find scriptural evidence. – The Destroyer Aug 5 '16 at 10:43
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    Good question. It's all about faith. There are many statements mentioned in the scriptures to rid oneself of bad karma. Yet, this is not practically observed all the time. It all depends on the faith of the individual. A person without the conviction will not see any results. A person with the conviction will see the results. In order to give you the faith, that no matter how much bad karma you have, you can get rid of it, if you're sincere, the scriptures make these claims, so that your faith increases and eventually you will attain The Truth. – Sai Aug 5 '16 at 14:34

The only way to cleanse one of sins permanently is to bathe in the Atman. What does bathing in a Tirtha mean?


Tuladhara said, ‘ All rivers are as sacred as the Saraswati, and all mountains are sacred. O Jajali, the Soul is itself a Tirtha. Do not wander about on the Earth for visiting sacred places. A person, by observing these duties ( that I have spoken of and that do not involve injury to other creatures), and by seeking that acquisition of merit agreeably to his own ability, certainly succeeds in obtaining blessed region hereafter.’

(Mahabharata Santi Parva Section CCLXIII)

Benefits of Tirtha or Pilgrimage near sacred waters

Yudhisthira said, ‘Do thou tell me, O grandsire, of that which is regarded as the foremost of all Tirthas. Indeed, it behoveth thee to expound to me what that Tirtha is which conduces to the greatest purity’.

Bhishma said,’ Without doubt, all Tirthas are possessed of merit. Listen, however, with attention to me as I tell thee what the Tirtha, the cleanser, is of men endued with wisdom. Adhering to eternal Truth, one should bathe in the Tirtha called Manasa (Atman), which is unfathomable (for its depth), stainless, and pure, and which has Truth for its waters and the understanding for its lake. The fruits in the form of cleansing, that one acquires in that Tirtha, are freedoms from cupidity, sincerity, truthfulness, mildness (of behavior), compassion, abstention from injuring any creature, self-restraint, and tranquility. Those men that are freed from attachments, that are divested of pride, that transcend all pairs of opposites (such as pleasure and pain, praise, and blame, heat and cold, etc.), that have no spouses and children and houses and gardens, etc. that are endued with purity, and that subsist upon the alms given to them by others, are regarded as Tirthas. He who is acquainted with the truth of all things and who is freed from the idea of meum (self), is said to be the highest Tirtha. In searching the indications of purity, the gaze should ever be directed towards these attributes. Those persons from whose souls the attributes of Sattwa and Rajas and Tamas have been washed off, they who, regardless of (external) purity and impurity pursue the ends they have proposed to themselves, they who have renounced everything, they who are possessed of omniscience and endued with universal sight, and they who are of pure conduct, are regarded as Tirthas possessing the power of cleansing. That man whose limbs only are wet with water is not regarded as one that is washed. He,on the other hand, is regarded as washed who has washed himself by self-denial. Even such a person is said to be pure both inwardly and outwardly. They who never concern themselves with what is past, they who feel no attachment to acquisitions that are present, indeed, they who are free from desire, are said to be possessed of the highest purity. Knowledge is said to constitute the especial purity of the body. So also freedom from desire, and cheerfulness of mind. Purity of conduct constitutes the purity of the mind. The purity that one attains by ablutions in sacred waters is regarded as inferior. Verily, that purity which arises from knowledge, is regarded as the best. Those ablutions, which one performs with a blazing mind in the waters of the knowledge of Brahma in the Tirtha called Manasa (Atman), are the true ablutions of those that are conversant with Truth. That man who is possessed of true purity of conduct and who is always devoted to the preservation of a proper attitude towards all, indeed, he who is possessed of (pure) attributes and merit, is regarded as truly pure. These that I have mentioned have been said to be the Tirthas that inhere to the body. Do thou listen to me as I tell thee what those sacred Tirthas are that are situate on the earth also. Even as especial attributes that inhere to the body have been said to be sacred, there are particular spots on earth as well, and particular waters, that are regarded as sacred. By reciting the names of the Tirthas, by performing ablutions there and by offering oblations to the Pitris in those places, one’s sins are washed off. Verily, those men whose sins are washed off succeed in attaining to heaven when they leave this world. In consequence of their association with persons that are righteous, through the especial efficacy of the earth itself of those spots and of particular waters, there are certain portions of the earth that have come to be regarded as sacred. The Tirthas of the mind are separate and distinct from those of the earth. That person who bathes in both attains to success without any delay. As strength without exertion, or exertion without strength can never accomplish anything, singly, and as these, when combined, can accomplish all things, even so one that becomes endued with the purity that is contributed by the Tirthas in the body as also by that which is contributed by the Tirthas on the earth, becomes truly pure and attains to success. That purity which is derived from both sources is the best.’

Mahabharata, Anusasana Parva, Section CVIII


Puranas don't contradict with it. One must also have internal Purity while taking dip in holy waters. The significance of taking dip in Ganga is mentioned in many scriptures. Not only Ganga, taking dip in any holy-water body (be it Pushkaram or Kumbha Mela or some other occasion) with internal purity will wash our bad karma. Skanda Purana describes many such thirthas.

Linga Purana Chapter 8 emphasizes on importance of internal purity.

बाह्यशौचेन युक्त: संस्तथा चाभ्यंतरं चरेत्। आग्नेयं वारुणं ब्राह्यं कर्तव्य शिवपूजकैः॥३२॥
स्नानं विधानत: सम्यक् पश्चादाभ्यंतरं चरेत्। आदेहांतं मृदालिप्य तीर्थतोयेषु सर्वदा॥३३॥
अवगाह्यापि मलिनो ह्यतश्शौचविवर्जितः । शैवला झषका मत्स्याः सत्त्वा मत्स्योपजीविनः॥३४
सदावगाह्य: सलिले विशुद्धा: कि द्विजोत्तमा:। तस्मादाभ्यंतरं शौचं सदा कार्य विधानत:॥३५॥

The persons, who are outwardly clean, should practice for internal cleanliness as well. One should take the external bath appropriately, which is of three types: of fire, of water and Brahma. After having an external bath, one should have internal bath as well. In case, a person is internally unclean and plasters mud over his body and takes bath in the holy waters, he remains impure. O excellent Brahmanas, moss, fishes, the sharks and the animals that prey upon fishes, always remain in water. But are they pure? Therefore, one should practice internal purity.

आत्मज्ञानांभसि स्नात्वा सकृदालिप्य भावत:। सुवैराग्यमृदा शुद्धः शौचमेवं प्रकीर्तितम्॥३६॥

Internal purity is believed to be of various types. One should apply the holy ashes of detachment with a feeling of devotion. One should take a holy dip into the water of knowledge of the Soul. This is how one can attain self purification.


A dip in Ganga river does remove all the sins when it is done with śraddhā and bhakti. To do so, the words śraddhā and bhakti should be understood.

Bhakti is well known to everyone. Narada Bhakti Sūtras talks about nine forms of Bhakti. Ādi Śaṅkarācārya says mokṣa sādhana sāmagryāṃ bhaktireva garīyasi meaning Bhakti is the main tool among all in the practice of Moksha.

Ādi Śaṅkarācārya defines śraddha as

śāstrasya guruvākyasya satyabuddhyāvadhāraṇā । sā śraddhā kathitā sadbhiḥ yayā vastūpalabhyate ॥

The firm belief that Śāstra and Guru vākya are true is called śraddhā which is bestower of anything.

Śāstra is nothing but vedas, purāṇas, smritis etc.

The Puranas do not contradict anyway. In the Chapter Six called Tīrthādhyāya from Kashi Khanda Purvardha of Skanda Puranam, Agastya Mahāmuni says to Lopāmudra as

श्रुणुतीर्थानिगदतोमानसानिममानघे । येषुसम्यङ्नरः स्नात्वाप्रयातिपरमांगतिम् ॥ २९ ॥

O sinless lady, listen even as I enumerate the mental holy spots. By scrupulously taking the holy dips in them a man attains the greatest goal.

सत्यं तीर्थं क्षमातीर्थं तीर्थमिन्द्रियनिग्रहः । सर्वभूतदयातीर्थं तीर्थमार्जवमेवच ॥ ३० ॥

दानंतीर्थं दमस्तीर्थं सन्तोषस्तीर्थमुच्यते । ब्रह्मचर्यं परंतीर्थं तीर्थंचप्रियवादिता ॥ ३१ ॥

ज्ञानंतीर्थंधृतिस्तीर्थं तपस्तीर्थमुदाहृतम् । तीर्थानामपि तत्तीर्थं विशुद्धिर्मनसः परा ॥ ३२ ॥

Truth, forbearance, control of organs of sense and action, compassion for all beings, straightforwardness, dānam, self-restraint, contentedness, celibacy, speaking pleasant words, knowledge, courage, penance are all tīrthās. The absolute purity of mind is the holiest of all holy tīrthās.

न जलाप्लुतदेहस्यस्नानमित्यभिधीयते । सस्नातोयोदमस्नातःशुचिःशुद्धमनोमलम् ॥ ३३ ॥

Holy ablution is not mere drenching of the body in water. He who has the purificatory bath of mental control, is really the one who has had his holy ablution; he is really clean; he has removed all the impurities of the mind.

यो लुब्धः पिशुनः क्रूरोदाम्भिकोविषयात्मकः । सर्वतीर्थेष्वपि स्नातः पापो मलिन एवसः ॥ ३४ ॥

One who is covetous, slanderous, cruel, a hypocrite and sensualist is sinful and dirty, even if he takes a plunge in all the sacred waters.

न शरीरमलत्यागान्नरो भवतिनिर्मलः । मानसे तु मले त्यक्तेभवत्यन्तः सुनिर्मला ॥ ३५ ॥

A man does not become free from impurities only by doing away with the bodily dirt. If mental dirt is wiped away, one becomes internally pure.

जायन्ते च म्रियन्तेचजलेष्वेजलौकसः । न च गच्छन्तितेस्वर्गमविशुद्धमनोमला ॥ ३६ ॥

Aquatic beings are born and die in water. But they do not go to heaven because their mental impurities have not been cleansed.

चिगयेष्वतिसंरागो मानसोमल उच्यते । तेष्वेव हि विरागोस्यनैर्मल्यं समुदाहृतम् ॥ ३७ ॥

Too much of attachment to sensual objects is called mental impurity. Non-attachment to them is cited as freedom from impurities.

चित्तमन्तर्गतं दुष्टंतीर्थस्नानान्न शुद्ध्यति । शतशोथजलैर्धौतंसुराभाण्डमिवाशुचि ॥ ३८ ॥

If the mind within is defiled, it does not become purified by taking a holy dip in sacred waters. It is impure like a pot of toddy washed hundreds of times in water.

दानमिज्यातपः शौचंतीर्थसेवाश्रुतं तथा । सर्वाण्येतानितीर्थानियदिभावोननिर्मला ॥ ३९ ॥

If the mental predilection is not pure, all these, viz. liberal gifts, sacrifice, penance, cleanliness, piligrimage and learning, becomes non-tīrthās.

निगृहीतेन्द्रियग्रामोयत्रैवचवसेन्नरः । तत्रतस्य कुरुक्षेत्रं नैमिषंपुष्कराणिच ॥ ४० ॥

Wherever a man who has curbed all his organs of sense and action lives, there he has his Kurukshetra, Naimisha, Pushkara etc.

ध्यानपूते ज्ञानजले रागद्वेषमलापहे । यः स्नाति मानसे तीर्थे स यातिपरमांगतिम् ॥ ४१ ॥

He who takes his holy bath in the mental holy spot that is cleansed with perfect knowledge, that has meditation for its waters and that removes the dirt of attachment and hatred, attains the greatest goal.

एतत्ते कथितं देवि मानसंतीर्थलक्षणम् । भौमानामपि तीर्थानांपुण्यत्वेकारणंश्रुणु ॥ ४२ ॥

These characteristics of the mental tīrthās have been recounted to you, O noble lady. Listen to the cause that brings about sanctity to worldly holy spots.

यथा शरीरस्योद्देशाः केचिन्मेध्यतमाः स्मृताः । तथापृथिव्यामुद्देशाः केचित्पुण्यतमाः स्मृताः ॥ ४३ ॥

Just as there are certain excellent parts of the body considered very holy and pure, so also some regions of the earth are considered most meritorious.

प्रभावादद्भुताद्भमेः सलिलस्य च तेजसा । परिग्रहान्मुनीनाञ्चतीर्थानांपुण्यतास्मृता ॥ ४४ ॥

The meritoriousness of tīrthās is considered to be a result of the mysterious influence of the ground, of the water and of the fire thereof as well as of the backing and acceptance by sages.

तस्माद्भौमेषु तीर्थेषुमानसेषुचनित्यशः । उभयेष्वपियः स्नातिसयाति परमांगतिम् ॥ ४५ ॥

Hence he who takes his holy bath in both the holy spots i.e., the worldly holy spots and the mental holy spots attains the greatest goal.

Also Jagadguru Shankaracharya Abhinava Vidyateertha Mahaswami of Sringeri Sarada Peetham has often spoken of the efficacy of bathing in Gaṅgā as a means of purification (Source: Exalting Elucidations, Page 52 freely downloadable from here). He has said,

“Gaṅgā does purify people. When the faith of the person who resorts to her is intense, he is greatly benefitted by her. This, however, does not mean that one will be redeemed if one commits sins deliberately and then bathes in the Gaṅgā.”

In another conversation with Mahaswami he also told as (D: Devotee, A: Acharya)

D: It is believed that the river Gaṅgā effaces one’s sins. Does it actually do so?

A: Yes. Why is there any doubt about it?

D: If Gaṅgā removes one’s sins, can one commit any sin and then get rid of it by bathing in the Gaṅgā?

A: A dip in the Gaṅgā will remove those sins that are unknowingly done or knowingly done once for which we are repentant. It is not fair to expect Gaṅgā to free one from an intentional sin done with the presumption, “I will bathe in the Gaṅgā and get rid of it.” However, just because of the above statement, one need not have even an iota of doubt regarding the greatness of Gaṅgā. Crores of people travel long distances with the firm faith that they will be purified by a bath in the Gaṅgā. Īśvara does not let their faith go unrewarded.

There is a story in this connection. Once, Pārvatī asked Śiva whether Gaṅgā would remove the sins of all. As an answer, Śiva took on the appearance of an old man and took Pārvatī, in the garb of His aged wife, to the banks of Ganges. He told Her that He would pretend to be drowning and that She should raise an alarm. Accordingly, She screamed to attract the attention of the passers-by and sought the rescue of Her husband. The people around rushed to His rescue. The disguised Pārvatī, however, stopped them and, as earlier instructed by Śiva, said, “Only that person who has not the slightest trace of sin can touch My husband.” Only one among the throng dived in without the least hesitation and rescued Him. Surprised, Pārvatī asked the rescuer if he was free from all sins. The man replied, “Did I not have a dip in the Gaṅgā before saving your husband? My sins vanished at that very instant.” Śiva then told Pārvatī, “What doubt need be there that sins are washed away if one has faith like this person?”

So a dip in Ganges along with mental purity (faith and devotion) gives the real benefit of greater good. Hope this helps you.


Yes, the Purāṇas do contradict each other and they also contradict itihāsas like Rāmāyana and Mahābhāratha on this topic.

The same Padma Purāṇa at a different place for example says:

CHAPTER THIRTEEN - The Greatness of Narmadā            (Vol. III)

Yudhisthira said:

1-3. O Nārada, I desire to hear again about the best, well known holy place called Narmadā, that rends the mountains of sins, which Vasistha described to Dilipa. (O Nārada,) describe it to me. O best brahmana, also (tell me about) the greatness of Narmadā as described by Vasistha. O Nārada, tell me how this very pious river, known as Narmadā, is famous everywhere.

Nārada said:

4-5. Narmadā is the best of rivers; she destroys all sins; she would liberate all beings-immobile and mobile. I have heard the greatness of Narmadā as told by Vasistha. O great king, know (i.e. listen to) it; I (shall) tell you the whole (of it).

6-14. Gangā is holy at Kanakhala; Sarasvatī at Kurukşetra; (but) Narmadā is holy everywhere-whether in a village or a forest. The water of Sarasvati purifies (a man) within three days; that of Yamuna within seven days; that of Ganga instantly; but that of Narmadā just by looking at it.

Now if that's literally taken to be true, you needn't even take a dip in the waters! If everyone can afford it, perhaps a flyby over a river is a more convenient way to purify oneself?

In the Uttara Khanda of Vālmīki Rāmāyana, there is a story of Rāvaṇa encountering Kartavirya Arjuna by the banks of Narmada. If the Padma Purana were true (i.e., taking a dip in or seeing river Narmada), Rāvaṇa must have washed away all his past sins and even purified his mind so much so that the thought of kidnapping Sītā would not even occur to him in the later life.

However, the fact is, Rāvaṇa ends up kidnapping Sītā, and later, Hanumān, during his visit to Lanka in search of Sita, sits face-to-face with Rāvana and warns him:

न तु धर्म उपसम्हारम् अधर्म फल सम्हितम् || ५-५१-२८
तत् एव फलम् अन्वेति धर्मः च अधर्म नाशनः |

The fruit of righteousness does not exist together with the result of unrighteousness (even though he practices virtue). That consequence of unrighteousness alone follows him. Righteousness in abundance destroys unrighteousness.

According to Sribhashyam Appalacharyulu's commentary (Tatva Deepika) on the above verse:

The idea is that both dharma and adharma get destroyed only by the experience of their fruits.

So your observation that we find ourselves reaping the karmic action of our sinful act (even after dipping in river Ganga) is indeed true.

  • a fine answer!! – Pradip Gangopadhyay Aug 5 '18 at 7:24
  • This answers misses some points. First, one must need firm belief in these rituals. Mere looking at something won't remove sins. And what is Sanskrit word used for "Purify" in Padma Purana? Purify what? – The Destroyer Aug 5 '18 at 13:05
  • @TheDestroyer "one must need firm belief in these rituals" - that's a special pleading fallacy. The Sun rises and sets every single day whether I believe it or not. – sv. Aug 19 '18 at 0:07
  • @sv. That's not special pleading fallacy or any kind of fallacy. Your comment assumes it as fallacy and tries to categorize it among fallacies. It is a prerequisite. Since it is mentioned in Sastras, we should consider here Sastra pramana. If you don't believe in this Sastra Pramana, that's the different discussion. – The Destroyer Aug 19 '18 at 11:25

Yes, bathing in Ganges washes away the effect of your sins to a certain extent.

Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna / Volume 2 / The Master and Buddha:

DR. SREENATH (to his friends): "Everything is under the control of Prakriti. Nobody can escape the fruit of past action. This is called prarabdha."

MASTER (Sri Ramakrishna): "Why, if one chants the name of God, meditates on Him, and takes refuge in Him —"

DR. SREENATH (to his friends): "But, sir, how can one escape prarabdha, the effect of action performed in previous births?"

MASTER: "No doubt a man experiences a little of the effect; but much of it is cancelled by the power of God's name. A man was born blind of an eye. This was his punishment for a certain misdeed he had committed in his past birth, and the punishment was to remain with him for six more births. He, however, took a bath in the Ganges, which gives one liberation. This meritorious action could not cure his blindness, but it saved him from his future births."

As you can see, the effect of bathing in river Ganga can reduce the intensity of your prarabdha karma and can prevent sanchita karma from becoming prarabdha.

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