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Γάγγης, Strab. xv. pp. 686, 719, &c.; Ptol. 7.1.29, &c.; in Lat. Ganges,--is: Adj. Γαγγητικός, Gangeticus, Gangetis), one of the largest rivers of Asia, and the most important one of Eastern India or Hindostán. It was unknown to Herodotus, Ctesias, and the earlier writers of ancient times, and it was not described by ancient authors till the Greeks under Alexander the Great and his successors penetrated into Western India. It is, indeed, only in very modern times that the exact position of its sources has been determined; the earlier of European [p. 1.973]geographers having conjectured that, like the Indus, it arose on the northern side of the chain of the Himálaya mountains, in the direction of Thibet. It is now ascertained that the true river is made up of three separate streams, which bear the respective names of the Gáhnavi, Bhágirathí, and Alakánanda. The second is held to be the most hallowed, and is the one to which the largest concourse of pilgrims resorts. The spot where it bursts forth from the glaciers is called Gungótri (Gangavátari), and is situated in lat. 30° 59′ 30″ N., long. 96° 44′ W., at an altitude of nearly 10,000 feet above the sea. Above it is the summit of Pankáparvata, which rises to the height of about 21,000 feet. (Schlegel, Ind. Bibl. vol. i. p. 387; Ritter, vol. ii. pp. 947--952; Lassen, Ind. Alt. vol. i. p. 49.) From its sources it flows nearly S.till it reaches Hástinapura; thence, with an easterly inclination, as far as Alláhabád, where it receives the Jumna; and thence nearly SE. till it reaches the bay of Bengal, into which it falls, after. a course of about 1150 miles, by numerous mouths. On its way it receives a great number of affluents, of which we shall speak hereafter,--one of which, the Jumna, considerably surpasses itself in length.

The ancients held different opinions as to the sources of this celebrated river. Strabo, on the authority of Eratosthenes, made it rise in the Indian Caucasus (the Paropamisus, or Hindu-Kush), and, after flowing for some distance, take an eastern di. rection on reaching the plains, and, after passing the great city of Palibothra, enter the Indian ocean (or bay of Bengal) by a single mouth (xv. p. 690). In another place (xv. p. 719) he quotes Artemidorus, who stated that the Ganges had its source in the Montes Emodi (Imaus or Himálaya Ms.), and that it flowed southwards till it reached the city Gange, when it turned off to the E. and passed Palibothra. The same view is implied in Dionysius Periegetes (5.1146) and in Mela (3.7). Pliny seems to have been unable to make up his mind, but states generally that some gave to the Ganges an uncertain source, like that of the Nile, while others placed it in the Scythian mountains (6.18. s. 22; see also Solin. 100.52; Mart. 100.6). Orosius placed its source in an unknown mountain, which he calls Osrobares. There is a more general consent as to its magnitude; most authors agreeing that it is a great stream even from its first commencement. Thus Arrian asserts, on the authority of Megasthenes, that where it is smallest it is at least 100 stadia broad, that it is far greater than the Indus, and that it receives no rivers which are not themselves as large and as navigable as the Maeander. (Indic. 100.4.) In another place he states that if all the Asiatic rivers which flow into the Mediterranean were joined together, they would not make one Ganges in body of water; while it is equally superior to the European Ister, and the Egyptian. Nile. (Anab. 5.6.) Strabo considered it the greatest river in the three continents of which he had any knowledge; that the Indus, the Ister, and the Nile, ranked next in order after it (xv. p. 702); and that its average breadth, in the opinion of Megasthenes, was about 100 stadia, and its depth 20 fathoms. The historians of Alexander's invasion agree generally in its size, making it 32 stadia broad, by 100 fathoms deep. (Diod. 17.93; Plut. Alex. 100.62.) Later writers, like Pliny and Aelian, give to the river a fabulous size; the former asserting that at the narrowest place it was 8 miles broad, and nowhere less than twenty paces deep (6.18. s. 22); the latter, that from its first origin it was 80 stadia broad and 20 fathoms deep,--and that, after it had received several tributaries, it acquired a breadth of 400 stadia, and contained many islands as large as Lesbos and Corsica, with a depth of 60 fathoms (Hist. Anim. 12.41). Aelian is most likely here confounding the natural stream with its breadth during great floods. The ancients had similar differences of opinion with regard to the number of mouths by which it entered the ocean. Strabo asserted that it had but one (xv. p. 690), in which view Pliny agrees (2.108); Ptolemy (7.1.18) and Marcian (ap. Huds. Geogr. Gr. Min.), five; Mela (3.7), Virgil (Aen. 9.5.30), Propertius (3.22. 16), and other authors, seven. The fact is, like all rivers flowing with a vast body of water through an alluvial plain, and bringing down an immense annual deposit, its mouths were perpetually changing; and old ones were filled up, while new ones were continually made. The names of some of the ancient mouths have been preserved, and can even now be identified. Their names are given by Ptolemy, in order from W. to E., and are: (1) Κάμδουσον στόμα, now the river Hoogly, on which Calcutta stands; (2) τὸ μέγα στόμα, now the river Roymongul; (3) Καμδήριχον στόμα, now the Marjatta; (4) τὸ Ψευδόστομον στόμα, now the Huringotta; (5) Ἀντιδολὴ στόμα, the one nearest the Brahmaputra, and for which there does not seem to be any well-ascertained name.

The Ganges, on its course to the sea, is fed by several large rivers, some of which were known to the ancients, and have been satisfactorily identified with their original Sanscrit names. The fullest account of them is in Arrian (Ind. 4), and from him or from the journals which he copied most of the other writers who allude to them have probably themselves copied. The following are the seventeen which this author mentions, to which we have added (in parentheses) those Sanscrit names that are probably well ascertained:--the Jobares, no doubt the same as the Jomanes (Jamuná or Jumna); Cainas, Erannoboas (Hiranjavahu), Cossoanus (Cósaváhâ), Sonus (Çoná), Sittocatis (Çtistá), Solomatis (Saravatí), Condochates (Gandakí), Sambus, Magon, Aguranis, Omalis (Vimalá), Commenases (Carmanaça), Cacultris, Andomatis (Andhalámati or Tamasá), Amystis, Oxumagis (Ixumatí), Erennesis (Varanasí). Pliny speaks of the Jomanes, Prinas, and Cainas, which he calls tributaries of the Ganges (6.17. s. 21); and adds that there were in all nineteen such affluents, of which he notices (apparently for their superiority) the Condochates, Erannoboas, Cosoagus or Cossoanus, and Sonus (6.18. s. 22). Curtius speaks of three tributaries of the Ganges, the Acesines, Dyardenes, and Erymanthus (8.9); but he has clearly here made some confusion with the accounts of the Indus, or there is a defect in our MSS. of his work. The Acesines (now Chenáb) is one of the principal rivers of the Panjáb; the Dyardenes is not improbably the same as the Oedanes (Οἰδάνης) of Strabo (xv. p.719), and most likely to be identified with the Brahmaputra; while the Erymanthus belongs to neither Indus nor Ganges, but may be the same as Etymandrus (now Helmend), the principal river of Arachosia and Drangiana. The Ganges was evidently considered by the ancients as a very wonderful river. Pliny speaks of snakes thirty feet long which live in its waters (9.3. s. 2), which, like Pactolus, brought down gold also (xxiii. [p. 1.974]4. s. 21); and other authors ascribe to some of its tributaries crocodiles and dolphins (Οἰδάνης, Strab. xv. p.719; Dyardenes, Curt. 8.9). The Sanscrit name Ganga may be, as Pott has suggested, an intensitive form from the root ga, to go. Plutarch gives another and fabulous origin of its name (de Flumin. ap. Hudson, Geogr. Gr. Min. ii. p. 8). (Rennell, Hindostan; Lassen, Ind. Alterth. vol. i. p. 130; Kiepert u. Lassen, Karte v. Alt. Indien, 1853; Pott, Etym. Forsch. p. 86.)


Γάγγης, Ptol. 7.4.6), the most important river in the ancient island of Taprobane (Ceylon), still known by the name of the Mahavelle-Ganga. It rises il the mountains to the S. and W. of Kandy, and after flowing round the town pursues a NE. course, till it enters the sea by two mouths, one near Trincomalee (close to the Ὀξεία ἄκρα of Ptolemy), and the other about 25 miles to the S. It appears from modern surveys that the Trincomalee branch is now nearly dry, except in the rainy season, and that the main body of water passes to the sea by the southern branch, which is now called Virgel. (Brooke on Mahavelle-Ganga, Journ. R. Geog. S. vol. iii. p. 223.) Much of the country through which this river flows is now uninhabited, but there are extensive remains, tanks, and ruins, indicating that it was once thickly peopled. Forbiger has conjectured with some reason that the Mahavelle-Ganga is the same river which Pliny calls Palaesimundus (6.22. s. 24), and which lie says flowed to the N. by a city of the same name, and entered the sea by three mouths; of which the narrowest was five, and largest fifteen, stadia wide. It is curious that the larger stream, which he calls Cydara, is the northern or Trincomalee branch; and from modern researches, it is proved that this was originally the principal stream, the water having been diverted into the Virgel by the priests of a temple situated at the point where the two streams naturally bifurcate. (Davy, Account of Ceylon, Lond. 4to. 1821; Ritter, Erdk. vol. 6.24.) [V]

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  • Cross-references from this page (3):
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 17.93
    • Arrian, Indica, 4
    • Curtius, Historiarum Alexandri Magni, 8.9
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