As I discuss in this answer, the Shiva Purana describes the origin of the Godavari River. According to this excerpt from the Kotirudra Samhita of the Shiva Purana, after the sage Gautama prays to Shiva for a long time, Shiva appears before him, and Gautama asks Shiva for the Ganga river to be brought near his hermitage at the Brahmagiri mountain. This is what it says after that:

The essence of the earth and heaven had been extracted of yore, a part of this had been given to the sage [Gautama] by Brahma at his marriage. What had been held over, lord Shiva favourably disposed towards his devotees, now gave to the sage. Then the waters of Ganga assumed the form of a lady and stood there.

My question is, what exactly is this "essence of the earth and heaven", and what is the story of how it was "extracted" in days "of yore"? What was it that Brahma gave Gautama as a wedding gift, and what did Shiva give to Gautama the rest of? And how is any of this related to the appearance of the goddess Ganga at Gautama's hermitage?

Is this essence some kind of magical power, enabling you to summon any god you please? Or is it a collection of all the substances in the three worlds, which would presumably include water from the Ganga river, and is that water what turned into the form of a goddess to appear before Gautama? Or is it something else entirely? Are there any other scriptures which describe Gautama receiving this essence?

  • Since this is speculation, I am commenting. – Surya Nov 8 '15 at 17:10
  • The original verse in prose is: Tatastu Shankarah Devah, Shambhuh, Bhaktavatsalah, (Tasya) Vivahe Brahmana Dattam Prthivyah Divascha Saaram Avashishtam Kinchana cha, poorvameva Rakshitam Tat chaiva Samuddhrtya (Tat) Tasmai Munaye Dattavan. – Surya Nov 8 '15 at 17:16
  • Translation: Then, Shankara, the compassionate and auspicious one, dear to his devotees, gave to that Muni the essence (or most precious thing) of the earth and the sky, which Brahma had presented to him during his marriage, Which he had protected from long ago, along with what was remaining. – Surya Nov 8 '15 at 17:19
  • Which implies that the most precious thing can mean Ganga Devi herself, though when was she gifted to Shankara by Brahma is the question. Perhaps another meaning of Vivaha. Whatever was remaining implies that, Bhagiratha had already brought the Ganga to earth, and so what water remained in his head, he gave it to the Muni. – Surya Nov 8 '15 at 17:20
  • I think the emphasis on the Essence of the Earth and Heaven, along with 'its remnants', implies that the efficacy of Ganga is so Great, that she can purify the heavens and the earth and yet have sufficient power (the remnants of her waters) to bless Gautama. – Surya Nov 8 '15 at 17:23

The "essence of earth and heaven" is holy water (Ganga) given by Shiva .

Chapter 26, Koti Rudra Samhita of Shiva Mahapurana says

ततस्तु शङ्करो देवः पृथिव्याश्च दिवश्च सः।
सारं चैव समुदधृत्य रक्षितं पूर्वमेव तत्॥ २१॥
विवाहे ब्रह्मणा दत्तमवशिर्छ च किञ्चन।
तत्तस्मै दत्तवाञ्शम्भुर्मुनये भक्तवत्सलः॥ २२॥

Then Siva, took out the essence of the heaven and earth, which had been extracted earlier, and was given by Brahma to Siva in the marriage of the latter, besides the remaining water of the Ganga, was given away to Gautama by lord Siva, who is well disposed towards his devotees.

Above story is described in detail in Gautami Mahatmya of Brahma Purana.

We know, Lord Brahma spilled His semen on seeing Devi Parvati during Shiva Parvati's marriage. To liberate Brahma from that sin, Lord Shiva produced essence of Earth and water and gave it to Brahma in a jar vessel. On touching that Ganga, Brahma was liberated from that sin.

Chapter 3 Gautami Mahatyam of Brahma Purana says

Siva said :

  1. Call Brahmä here. I shall make him free from sin. Even if other people commit offences good people take pity on them. They have sympathy for them in their minds, This is the nature of worldly objects. They delude even great scholars.

Brahma said :

23-25. After saying this, Lord Siva accompanied by Umä began operations. The lord of the worlds did this due to his sympathy for me and desire for the welfare of the worlds. Listen to it attentively, O Närada. 'The Earth and Waters shall become the means ofredemption of sinners from their sins. I shall extract their ultimate essence that is holy," After declaring this the lord extracted their essence.

26-27. He made the Earth into a water-jar and poured water into it. With great effort he chanted Pävamänya (Verses in 9th mandala of Rigveda relating to Soma Pavamana) and other hymns and consecrated them. The lord who dispels sins remembered Sakti who sanctifies the universe and invoked her there. Then the lord of the worlds said to me, "Take this water-jar,

  1. Indeed the waters are goddesses and mothers, The Earth is another mother. So both of them are the causes of existence, creation and destruction.

  2. It is here that Dharma is established. It is here that the eternal sacrifice is established. It is here that enjoyment and salvation, mobile and immobile beings are established.

  3. By remembering it the mental sin perishes. By bowing to it the verbal sin perishes. By bathing, drinking and performing the holy ablution, the physical sin perishes.

  4. This alone is nectar in the world. There is nothing greater in sanctity than this. O Brahmä, take this water-jar consecrated by me with holy Mantras.

  5. Whoever remembers or drinks the water herein attains all desired things. Take this water-jar,

  6. Of all the five elements, water is the element of great effect. This water is the best among all those waters. Take this water-jar,

  7. O Brahmä, by touching, remembering and seeing the water herein, which is very splendid, holy and sacred, one is liberated from sin."

35-36. After saying this the supreme lord gave me the water-jar. Then Devas joyously spoke to their lord. There was great exhilaration there. Cries of victory rang the sky.

In fourth Chapter of Gautami Mahatmya, Lord Brahma says He offered Holy water from his water-jar to Holy feet of Vamana (Vishnu).

  1. "What is that work which shall be auspicious in this second step of Vishnu whereby my water-jar shall become excellent

59-63. The water bestowed by the enemy of Tripuras is highly meritorious, It is excellent, It bestows boons. It is calm. It is highly conducive to tranquillity, It is splendid. It bestows splendour. It is eternal. It yields worldly enjoyment and salvation, It is in the form of the mother of the worlds, It is nectar. It is holy. It is sacred. It is It is pure panacea (for all ills). worthy of worship. It is the greatest and the most excellent. It is conducive to splendour, By remembering it sanctifies the worlds. What if it is seen ? Remaining pure, I shall utilize that water as the libation to my father. Thinking that, I took that water and used it for argha (offering ) The water for Argha, that was consecrated by the recitation of Mantras fell on Vishnu's foot. That water fell on the Meru and flowed to the Earth in four ways.

By means of his matted hair, Shankara caught hold of water that flowed towards south.

Portion of Ganga in matted hair of Lord Shankara was later given to Gautama as Gautami (Godavari).

This story of "origin of Ganga" might have happened in some Kalpas (such as Kalpas of Shiva Purana and Brahma Purana), as there is other story about "origin of Ganga" from holy Feet of Vamana (Lord Vishnu).

  • Fabulous answer.. hadn't heard of this episode of Brahma spilling his seed. I always wonder if even these spiritually advanced people can't resist the temptation the chances of humans doing it appear so dismal! – Dr. Vineet Aggarwal Sep 13 '17 at 7:30
  • @Dr.VineetAggarwal Brahma is associated with Rajas. Maybe this could be reason. It looks like Puranas superficially show Btahma in low light but that's not correct. We can only call such acts as leelas of Trimurtis. – The Destroyer Sep 13 '17 at 7:34

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