One day Devi Parvathi and Lord Shiva, moving around in the skies, happened to be above the city of Kashi. The bathing ghats were crowded with pilgrims and devotees taking bath in the river Ganga.
‘Naatha, I’ve a question,’ Parvathi looked at her consort.
Shiva by his gaze asked, ‘What is it?’
‘It is said in the holy books and also widely believed people taking dips in Ganga attain moksha (salvation from the unending cycle of births and deaths). And look at the crowd here.’
‘If all these people attain moksha and with many more to come – the river is so easily accessible – won’t it get very crowded in the Heavens?’
Shiva smiled, ‘You know, strangely, none of this crowd is going to attain moksha. Except one here, one there. But most of them, no. Let me show you why. Do as I tell you and watch.’
Shiva came down to the bathing ghats with Parvathi assuming human forms. He jumped into Ganga and swam up to mid-stream where the currents were strong and waters deep and no one ventured. Putting his hands up, he began shouting frantically for help.
Parvathi in utter despair begged the people on the bank and those nearby in the waters to rush and help him. Many were ready to jump in. That’s when she had a word of caution for them: ‘Only those of you who have no paap (sin) to your account would be able to go across and rescue my husband.’
On hearing this the volunteers one by one dropped away; for none could honestly claim he was free of all paap’s.
With seconds ticking by, Shiva closer to being drowned, Parvathi was helplessly in panic. That’s when a young man came forward in a tearing hurry. Wasting no time, he jumped into the waters.
‘Young man, no use, you know you can help only if…’ shouted someone from the bank.
The young man broke his strokes in the waters long enough to say, turning his head towards the bank, ‘I know I’m not. But I know I’ll be by the time I reach him out there, all my sins washed away by the grace of Ganga Mata.’
Back in the skies, Shiva looked at his Devi seemingly to say: ‘Now you know why the Heavens don’t get crowded as you fear. Only those reading the lines and between them carefully of the holy books don’t miss out the essential ingredient for salvation – Faith.’