The word ‘bhagīratha-prayatna’ often used in Indian literature for Herculean efforts in any field, owes its origin to the king Bhagīratha, the son of Dilīpa of the Ikṣvāku race, ruling in Ayodhyā for several generations.
The Sāgaras, 60,000 sons of the Sagara, an ancestor of Bhagīratha, had been reduced to ashes by the wrath of the sage Kapila. The only way of their spiritual redemption was to bring the river Gaṅgā from the svargaloka or heaven, and make its waters flow over these ashes. Though successive kings tried to do it, they failed. Finally, it was Bhagīratha who succeeded in doing so.
He performed very severe austerities to please Brahmā, the Creator, who appeared before him and advised him to solicit the help of Śiva who alone could arrest the torrential flow of the river Gaṅgā and slow her down. Bhagīratha did tapas or penance once again and appeased Śiva who agreed to do so. Then, at the behest of Brahmā and the request of the king Bhagīratha, Gaṅgā descended on to Śiva’s jaṭā or matted hair, emerged as a stream, followed the king right up to the pātāla or the nether world and flowed over the ashes, thus redeeming the Sāgaras.
Since Bhagīratha brought the river Gaṅgā down to this earth, it has come to be known as the ‘Bhāgīrathī.’
Some mythological works say that Bhagīratha was the son of Aṁśumān, the grandson of Sagara.
See also GAṄGĀ.