There are different legends on Maa Ganga but few popular ones are :
King Bhagirath, the grandson of King Sagara in order to free his 60,000 ancestors who were turned into ash by Sage Kapila, performed rigorous penance for a 1000 long years to please Ganga to come down to the earth. Finally his efforts bore fruit and River Ganga was pleased by his devotion and was ready to descend to earth.
There is another tale where Shiva fearing the wrath of the force of mighty Ganga on earth, he captivated Ganga in his locks to save the planet earth. However, he agreed to free them in form of three rivers after King Bhagirath again sat in a penance to please Lord Shiva.
Another legend states that Ganga came down to earth in the form of a human and married an ancestor of the Pandavs of the Mahabharat, King Shantanu. She is believed to have yielded seven sons who were thrown into the river by her and the reasons behind this are unexplained. Her eighth child, Bheeshma, was spared due to the intervention of King Shantanu. Ganga left him. Bheeshma is the one who later played a very crucial role throughout Mahabharata, the grand epic.
Gangotri temple town is well connected by a very all weather motorable road from Uttarkashi and involves no trekking at all unlike Yamunotri or Kedarnath.
Mukhyamath Temple : locate in Mukhba village about 20 kms from Gangotri temple town, this temple is the winter abode of goddess Ganga. The transfer takes place on the auspicious day of Diwali (Oct/Nov) amid vedic chants and elaborate rituals. With greater joy and enthusiasm, the Goddess is brought back to the Gangotri temple on the occasion of Akshaya Tritiya (April/May).
Underwater Shivling - A Shivling made from natural rock is submerged under water and is easily visible in winters when the water recedes. It is said to be the place Lord Shiva sat on while he tied Ganga in his matted hair. Dividing it into 7 streams, Shiva saved earth from the massive force of Devi Ganga.
Bhagirath Shilla – located quite close to the temple, this is the very place where King Bhagirath penanced for 1000 years to please both Goddess Ganga and Lord Shiva to invite river Ganga to earth to wash the ashes of 60,000 and provide them with moksha or salvation.
Gaumukh & Tapovan – located about 18 kms from Gangotri temple, Gaumukh is the place which houses the Gangotri glacier considered to be the origin of Ganga. The trek is very picturesque surrounded by soaring peaks and vegetation. Further up 4 kms is Tapovan which is a beautiful meadow and one can see few peaks like Shivling and Bhagirath.
Bhairon nath temple - Some 10 km downstream from Gangotri, near the point where Jadh Ganga (also called Jhanvi River) merges with Bhagirathi, lies the temple of Bhairon Nath. As per a legend, Bhairon Nath was chosen by Lord Shiva as the protector of the region. And every visit to the Gangotri temple should be followed by a visit to the temple of Bhairon.
festivals related to gangotri
Kavad Yatra – This is an age old tradition of fetching the holy river water and worshipping the Shiv ling at various local temples of religious importance. The Ganga Kavad Yatra starts from July to October and tens of thousands of devotees go on foot to Gangotri to fetch the river water and worship the shivlings with the same water at various local shiv temples in the area.
Ganga Dussehra– This 10 days festival is celebrated during the months of May & June to commemorate the holy descent of Ganga on to this earth through Lord Shiva’s lock of hair. Devotees participate in the festival with a hope to be iberated from 10 major mortal sins of life. The must attend is the Ganga Aarti where the river is illuminated by innumerable ‘diyas’ that are set to float on special leaf boats decked with sweets and flowers.
Diwali – apart from the festival of lights, this is the day when the idol of Goddess Ganga is transported to the Mukhyamath Temple which becomes her abode for the winters. The closing ceremony of the temple is celebrated with people wearing new clothes and their houses decorated with diyas thru out the night.
Akshaya Tritiya – This signifies the return of the goddess Ganga back to Gangotri with lots of pomp and gaiety. The temple is decorated lavishly with lots of singing, dancing and lots of cultural activities.