In this intensely lyrical painting from Bundelkhand in Central India, the great river is shown tumbling from the night sky. Ascetics sit cross-legged on the mountainside, offering their austerities to Shiva, while women come to venerate Ganga. The river teems with life—crocodiles, turtles, fish, and birds—while lions, leopards, jackals, monkeys, and rabbits cavort on its banks.
According to an ancient legend, the goddess Ganga (the personification of the River Ganges) once dwelt in heaven, and the earth suffered from drought. Through the prayers of Bhagiratha, the gods agreed to allow Ganga to descend to earth, but that brought about another crisis: if Ganga were to fall unimpeded, the force of the mighty river could destroy the earth. Bhagiratha then performed penances to seek the aid of the powerful Hindu god Shiva, who responded by catching Ganga in his densely matted locks of hair to break her fall.