I heard that the Godavari river is believed to be "river Ganga of South India" and has some story behind the origin of it. Can someone please explain the origin of Godavari river as per scriptures?

  • It is dedicated to sage Gautama who killed a cow unintentionally.
    – user7857
    Commented Oct 5, 2016 at 15:19
  • But it is said that because lord shiva hit his hairs on the stones of Bramhagiri Godawari come into existence on land
    – user11511
    Commented Jul 22, 2017 at 18:51

2 Answers 2


The story of the Godavari river is told in this excerpt from the Kotirudra Samhita of the Shiva Purana. In this account, the sage Gautama, who is a mind-born son of Brahma, is engaged in Tapasya (deep meditation) on the Brahmagiri mountain when there is a hundred-year drought in the area and thus crops can't grow. So for the welfare of others, he starts engaging in Tapasya to Varuna the ocean god, who appears before him after six months. Varuna denies Gautama's request for rain, because it would go against the wishes of the gods, so Gautama instead asks for "divine everlasting water yielding permanent results." So Varuna tells Gautama to dig a ditch, and then Varuna fills it with divine water and says this:

O great sage, let there be a perennial supply of water in this ditch that has become sacred. This will becomes famous on the earth by your name. Charitable gifts made here, rites performed here, penance pursued here, the sacrifices done here for the gods, and the Shraddha offered here to the manes, everything will be imperishable.

So Gautama and other sages in the area come to the new body of water and start planting crops and the like again. But on one occasion, Gautama sends his shishyas (disciples) to get water, but they're stopped by the wives of the other sages, who want to get water first. The disciples complain to Gautama's wife Ahalya, who goes to the body of water and collects water before everyone else. The other sages are furious at this petty incident, so to get revenge they pray to Ganesha, who appears before them. The sages ask him to force Gautama to leave his hermitage; Ganesha first advises them not to try to harm someone who has only done them good, but they insist.

So Ganesha approaches the sage Gautama, taking the form of a feeble cow, and starts eating Gautama's crops. To shoo the cow away, Gautama throws some blades of grass at it, but as soon as the grass touches the cow he sees it fall dead. Gautama is shocked that he has committed Gohatya (cow-killing), a supreme sin in the Hindu religion, so he takes his wife and leaves the hermitage in order to undertake an arduous course of repentance that involves circumambulating the Brahmagiri mountain, going around confessing his sin to everyone he encounters, and making Lingams to worship Shiva.

enter image description here

Finally Shiva appears before him, and Gautama asks to be made sinless. Shiva laughs and says that Gautama hasn't committed any sins, and that Gautama is such a great sage that even looking at him makes other people sinless. In any case, Gautama asks Shiva for Ganga to be brought there, so that he and others could be purified of their sins. So Shiva gives Gautama "the essence of the earth and heaven" (whatever that means), which was apparently Gautama's inheritance from his father Brahma, and I guess Gautama uses that essence to summon the goddess Ganga. Shiva tells this to Ganga:

O goddess, till the advent of the Kali Yuga, when the son of Vivasvat shall be the twenty-eighth Manu, you shall stay here alone.

I think this is a scrambled translation, by the way; there are only 14 Manus who rule in a given Kalpa, not 28. It probably means "till the advent of the 28th Kali Yuga, when the son of Vivasvat shall be the Manu", because the current Kali Yuga is the 28 Kali Yuga of the Vaivasvata Manvantara. And it probably means the end of the Kali Yuga, not the beginning, because the Godavari river is still here.

In any case, Ganga says that she'll only agree to stay if Shiva also stays there, so Shiva manifests himself as Tryambakeshwara (meaning the three-eyed lord), one of the twelve Jyotirlingas (Lingas that appeared after Shiva manifested as a pillar of light.) Here is a picture of it:

enter image description here

So Ganga agrees to stay there as a new river, initially called the Gautami river but now known as the Godavari river. Gautama and his disciples bathe there to purify themselves of sin. And even the sages who tried to take revenge on Gautama are eager to get rid of the sins. Ganga is initially reluctant to purify these men who had been so cruel to Gautama, but then Gautama convinces her to relent and he digs a ditch for her to emerge from and purify the sages of their sins. That ditch is the famous Kushavartha Thirtha at the Tryambakeshwara temple.

On a side note, like many parts of the Shiva Purana, at least some of this account seems to be a later interpolation, because it apparently references the Pachayata, a group of five gods who are worshipped in the Smartha sect founded by Adi Shankara, so it's an anachronism. Also, the reference to Ganesha may be a later interpolation, because references to Ganesha in the Mahapuranas are few and far between.

You may also be interested to know that this apparently isn't the first universe that had a Godavari river in it; the next chapter of the Kotirudra Samhita of the Shiva Purana gives an account of how a similar story occurred in a previous Kalpa.

  • I'm curious, does Godavri river originates from this same kunda geographically? Commented Aug 3, 2014 at 13:56
  • 1
    @VineetMenon This Wikipedia article says "Kusavarta, a kund is considered the symbolic origin of the river Godavari." en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trimbakeshwar_Shiva_Temple So I assume that means it's not the literal place where it originates. But even if it doesn't originate exactly at Kushavarta, presumably it originates very close to there. Maybe it initially travels underground and then emerges above ground at Kushavarta. Commented Aug 3, 2014 at 21:10
  • 1
    @VineetMenon Yes, I was right. Kushavarta is a spring, so the water travels underground (from who knows where) and then it emerges above ground through the spring. Commented Aug 13, 2014 at 4:23
  • Rishi Gautama is NOT a mind-born son of Brahma, he is the son of Rohugan.
    – user7384
    Commented Aug 12, 2016 at 4:44

The Rudra Gita from Varaha Purana refers to origin of river Godavari.

Rudra gita is from Chapter 70 onwards of Varaha Purana.

Rudra explains the origin of pashupata religion and in the process the origin of River Godavari occurs in Rudra gita in Varaha purana.

The details are from the following blog http://narayanastra.blogspot.in/2012/05/sri-rudra-gita-varaha-purana.html?m=1

rudra uvAcha |

asti bhAratavarSheNa vanaM daNDakasaMj~nitam |tatra tIvraM tapo ghoraM gautamo nAma vai dvijaH || chakAra tasya brahmA tu paritoShaM gataH prabhuH |uvAcha taM muniM brahmA varaM brUhi tapodhana || 71.(10-11)||

Meaning: Rudra said -  In Bharatavarsha, there is a forest called Dandaka. A brahmaNa named Gautama was performing severe penances there. On account of his penances, Brahma was pleased and asked him to seek a boon.

evamuktastadA tena brahmaNA lokakartR^iNA |uvAcha sadyaH pa~NktiM me dhAnyAnAM dehi padmaja || 71.12||

Asked by Brahma, the Creator of the Worlds thus, Gautama said, “O lotus born! Give me an abundance of grains!”

evamukto dadau tasya tamevArthaM pitAmahaH |labdhvA tu taM varaM vipraH shatashrR^i~Nge mahAshramam ||chakAra tasyoShasi cha pAkAnte shAlayo dvijAH |lUyante tena muninA madhyAhne pachyate tathA |sarvAtithyamasau vipro brAhmaNebhyo dadAtyalam || 71.(13-14||

Meaning: Having asked this boon, Pitamaha (Brahma) granted it, and the rSi built a great Ashram in SatashRnga. Every morning, the rSi could reap the grain, cook it at noon and offer it to all his guests including the rSis  and brahmaNas.

kasyachit tvatha kAlasya mahati dvAdashAbdikA |anAvR^iShTirdvijavarA abhavallomaharShiNI || tAM dR^iShTvA munayaH sarve anAvR^iShTiM vanecharAH |kShudhayA pIDyamAmAstu prayayurgautamaM tadA || 71.(15-16)||

Meaning: The rSi became accustomed to this routine. However, a great drought occurred which lasted for 12 years. Distressed by the lack of food and drought, the rSis  living in the forest went to Gautama.

atha tAnAgatAn dR^iShTvA gautamaH shirasA nataH |uvAcha sthIyatAM mahyaM gR^ihe munivarAtmajAH ||evamuktAstu te tena tasthurvividhabhojanam |bhu~njamAnA anAvR^iShTiryAvat sA nivR^itA.abhavat || bhu~njamAnA anAvR^iShTiryAvat sA nivR^itA.abhavat||nivR^ittAyAM tu vai tasyAmanAvR^iShTyAM tu te dvijAH |tIrthayAtrAnimittaM tu prayAtuM manaso.abhavan || 71.(17-19)||

Meaning: Seeing the approaching rSis , Gautama paid respects to them and asked those sons of munis to stay at his Ashram. Having told thus (by Gautama), the rSis  stayed there eating a variety of foods until the drought was over. Once the drought ended, those brahmaNas desired to undertake a tIrtha-yAtra.

tatra shANDilyanAmAnaM tApasaM munisattamam |pratyuvAcheti saMchintya mIrIchaH paramo muniH || 71.20||

Meaning: Then, the great muni mArIcha spoke regarding this matter to one going by the name of Shandilya, who was the best among munis doing penances.

mArIcha uvAcha |

shANDilya shobhanaM vakShye pitA te gautamo muniH |tamanuktvA na gachChAmastapashchartuM tapovanam ||evamukte.atha jahasuH sarve te munayastadA |kimasmAbhiH svako deho vikrIto.asyAnnabhakShaNAt || 71.(21-22)||

Meaning: Maricha said - O Shandilya! Gautama muni is like a virtuous father (to us). We should not leave this tapOvaNaM (place of penance) seeking other places without telling him.When spoken to in this manner, all the munis then laughed, saying, “Have we sold ourselves to him (Gautama) for partaking of his food?

evamuktvA punashchochuH sopAdhigamanaM prati |kR^itvA mAyAmayIM gAM tu tachChAlau te vyasarjayan || 71.23||

Meaning: Having spoken thus, they talked of leaving the place again and decided to go, creating a wondrous (illusory) cow, letting it loose in the Ashram.

tAM charantIM tato dR^iShTvA shAlau gAM gautamo muniH |gR^ihItvA salilaM pANau yAhi rudretyabhAShata |tato mAyAmayI sA gauH papAta jalabindubhiH || 71.24||

Meaning: When Gautama Muni saw that cow wandering around in his Ashram, he took some water in his hands and splashed it on his body. Then that illusory cow fell down even as a drop of water.

nihatAM tAM tato dR^iShTvA munIn jigamiShUMstathA |uvAcha gautamo dhImAMstAn munIn praNataH sthitaH || kimarthaM gamyate viprAH sAdhu shaMsata mAchiram |mAM vihAya sadA bhaktaM praNataM cha visheShataH || 71.(25-26)||

Meaning: Seeing that cow slain thus, the munis proceeded to leave. Gautama, turning around, bowed to those munis and asked them, “For what purpose are you going so quickly, O rSis , leaving me, who is ever your devotee, who is always obedient to you.

R^iShaya UchuH |

govadhyeyamiha brahman yAvat tava sharIragA |tAvadannaM na bhu~njAmo bhavato.annaM mahAmune || 71.27||

Meaning: The rSis  said - “O mahA muni! So long as the sin of cow slaughter remains with you, we shall not eat your food”.

evamukto gautamo.atha tAn munIn prAha dharmavit |prAyashchittaM govadhyAyA dIyatAM me tapodhanAH || 71.28||

Meaning: Hearing them speak thus, Gautama, who was conversant with dharma, asked the munis – “You who possess the wealth of penance give me (instructions) as to the prAyaschitta for killing the cow”.

iyaM gauramR^itA brahman mUrchChiteva vyavasthitA |ga~NgAjalaplutA cheyamutthAsyati na saMshayaH ||prAyashchittaM mR^itAyAH syAdamR^itAyAH kR^itaM tvidam |vrataM vA mA kR^ithAH kopamityuktvA prayayustu te || 71.(29-30)||

Meaning: “This cow is not dead but only unconscious. If it is bathed in the waters of the Ganga, it will rise up, there is no doubt. prAyaschittaM is for actual killing. For this sin, the mere performance of this vrata will suffice. Please do not be angry (about our leaving on this account)”. So saying, they left.

gataistairgautamo dhImAn himavantaM mahAgirim |mAmArAdhayiShuH prAyAt taptuM chAshu mahat tapaH ||shatamekaM tu varShANAmahamArAdhito.abhavam |tuShTena cha mayA prokto varaM varaya suvrata || 71.(31-32)||

Meaning: When they left, the intelligent Gautama went to the mighty Himalayas, where he undertook a great penance to worship me (Rudra). I was worshipped by him for 100 years and pleased with such penance, I asked him to seek a boon.

so.abravInmAM jakaTAsaMsthAM dehi ga~NgAM tapasvinIm |mayA sArdhaM prayAtveShA puNyA bhAgIrathI nadI ||evamukte jaTAkhaNDamekaM sa pradadau shivaH |tAM gR^ihya gatavAn so.api yatrAste sA tu gaurmR^itA || 71.(33-34)||

Meaning: He asked me to give him Ganga of great ascetic merit held in my matted locksand to let go half of that sacred bhAgirathI river to follow him. Being asked thus, I granted him that auspicious river from one part of my matted locks. And he led the river to his place where the cow still remained.

(Note – Ganga is called “puNya” as it arises from the lotus feet of vishNu, which Rudra received on his head. The river is also already called bhAgIrathi here. However, this incident can be construed as happening before bhagIratha brought the Ganga to Earth, because otherwise Gautama did not need to do penance. Since the narrator is Rudra, he calls this river “bhAgIrathi” to show that it was the same Ganga requested by bhagIratha as well. This is actually the origin of the godAvari river.)

tajjalaplAvitA sA gaurgatA chotthAya bhAminI |nadI cha mahatI jAtA puNyatoyA shuchihradA|| taM dR^iShTvA mahadAshcharyaM tatra saptarShayo.amalAH | AjagmuH khe vimAnasthAH sAdhuH sAdhviti vAdinaH || 71.(35-36)||

Meaning: Washed by that water, the cow rose up as a beautiful woman. The river became great and passed through sacred places. Seeing that phenomenon with wonder, the sinless saptarSis  came there in their vimAna-s saying “very good”!

(Note – It should be understood that this Ganga is not the celestial Ganga, making bhagIratha’s penance a necessity to bring it back to Earth. This part of Ganga became known as the Godavari)

  • Rather than citing a blog post, it's better to cite an actual translation of the Varaha Purana. Here's the relevant chapter: gdurl.com/Mpft By the way, is this the only text that's called the Rudra Gita? I vaguely remember some other Purana having a much longer text called the Rudra Gita. Commented Jul 27, 2015 at 16:51
  • @Keshav - I got this info from the blog and blog authors are very knowledgeble than most of us on hinduism stack exchange. But for this blog i would not have known that such a episode exists and they have explained it very wonderfully. So, the credit goes to them and not to me. Hence, i make it a point to put a reference from where i obtained it. The credit goes to blog authors as it exactly answers the question. I didnt do any search. Why is there any restriction that this blog link shouldnt be provided?
    – user808
    Commented Jul 27, 2015 at 17:30
  • Well, generally blog posts are not considered reliable sources, but in any case you don't need to remove the Narayanastra link. You should just add my link to the post in addition. Commented Jul 27, 2015 at 17:33
  • @Keshav - Rudra gita runs from chapter 70 to 89 in Varaha purana. The blog authors also say this, but they provide explanation on pasupata shatra as explained by Rudra which is from chap 70 to 73 and godavari episode appears within these 4 chapters.
    – user808
    Commented Jul 27, 2015 at 17:37
  • @Keshav - I dont mind adding the link you provided but there is no need as this blog is providing the actual sanskrit verses and authors do lot of home work and are well versed in sanskrit, tamil and english, unlike just the cut and copy from MLBD english versions and web sites provided by most of responses provided here. It is much more reliable than many of the Q&A on hinduism stack exchange. Pls dont get offended but i havent said any thing wrong. But, making a sweeping statements that generally all blogs are not reliable is little out of place.
    – user808
    Commented Jul 27, 2015 at 17:51

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