Gangadhara - He who carries the Ganga
In order to make up for the night I missed, I'm posting an extra name tonight.
According to the shastras, a King who wishes to be considered a samrat (emperor) or chakravarti (world-conqueror) must perform the yagna known as ashvamedha. In this yajna a white horse is sacrificed. But before this happens it must be led to the borders of the kingdom and allowed to roam free (accompanied by guards) for a year. The ruler of whichever place the horse goes must either a.) submit to the wouldbe samrat or b.) fight the guards. If he wins then the ashvamedha is over. If he loses, he's either dead or submitting to the samrat.
There was an illustrious king of the chandravamsha, an ancestor of Shri Rama, called Sagara who wished to perform this ashvamedha. So the horse was let loose with due ceremony with the 60,000 sons of King Sagara as its' guards. In Heaven, Indra king of the Devas watched all this with some dismay. You see Indra is actually just a particular position. One attains the Devaloka through ones good karma. Once the fruits of those good deeds have been exhausted, one again falls back to the earthly world. One of the names of Indra is Shatakratu - the performer of 100 (ashvamedha) sacrifices. Because He knew that He had only reached that exalted station by performing 100 ashvamedhas, He was insecure and jealous of anyone else who undertook that yagna in case they tried to usurp His place. This is the fate of anyone who relies too excessively on karma. It can provide great benefits temporarily but it is perishable and unstable. Indradeva stole away the sacrifical horse of King Sagara and hid it away in the ashram of Maharshi Kapila in the Patala (underworld.)
The sons of Sagara searched high and low for the missing horse until they came to know it was in patala. They dug an immense hole down to patala until they reached the ashram of Maharshi Kapila. On seeing the horse there, they suspected the Rshi and rushed upon him. But in an instant he burnt them all to ashes. On learning what had happened, the sorrowful King Sagara visited the sage and asked him how his sons could be restored to life. Kapila Maharshi replied that only the water of the Ganga could restore them. But the Ganga flowed through Heaven. Sagara spent the rest of his years trying to figure out how this could be accomplished. He had one more son, Anshumana who also spent his whole life fruitlessly trying to bring down the Ganga. Anshumana had a son called Dilipa, himself a great king in his own right but he too was unsuccessful in the family mission. His son was Bhagiratha who after much austerity was able to bring down the Ganga from Heaven.
The goddess Ganga however was quite happy flowing through Heaven and not too pleased about having to come down to the earth. She resolved to come down but with such force it would drown the earth and everything on it. But at the last minute, Shiva Bhagawan stepped underneath and caught the downward torrent in His hair. Wandering about in His matted locks, Ganga eventually emerged, still a mighty river, but too exhausted to cause any major damage. As She flowed over the ashes of the dead sons of Sagara, they were restored to life. (And incidently the big hole they dug filled up with water and became know as sagara -- the ocean.)
The water of the Ganga is considered pure and holy as one may well believe of a river which came from Heaven but after being strained through Shiva Bhagawans hair? One has reason to doubt. Let's face it Shiva Bhagawan is not the most well-groomed of our pantheon. While most Gods are depicted as shining with dazzling clothes and golden crowns and ornaments, Shiva Bhagawan is garlanded with skulls and dressed in animal skins. He is covered in ash and has the uncut matted locks of a recluse. In fact the downpouring of the Ganga may have been the first good wash they ever got! How can we say such a filter has not made the Ganga water impure? In fact it made it more pure. While external purity may have its' benefits both from the hygenic and religious points of view, the true purity -- the kind of purity Shiva Bhagawan posesses -- is the purity of jnana. Don't let the outward appearance deceive you. It is the association with the lord of Jnana that makes the Ganga holy.
OM GangadharAya namah