Saturday, September 27, 2008

Saraswati River : A Myth / A Reality

The Sarasvati River is mentioned a total of 72 times in the Rigveda, appearing in all books except for book four.

Sarasvati is mentioned both as the chief of the Sapta Sindhu, the seven holy rivers of the early Rigveda, and listed in the geographical list of ten rivers in the Nadistuti sukta of the late Rigveda, and it is the only river with hymns entirely dedicated to it, RV 6.61, 7.95 and 7.96.

The Rigveda describes the Sarasvati as the best of all the rivers (RV 2.41.16-18; also 6.61.8-13; 7.95.2). Rigveda 7.36.6 calls it "the Seventh, Mother of Floods" sáraswatī saptáthī síndhumātā[3]. RV 2.41.16 ámbitame nádītame dévitame sáraswati "best mother, best river, best goddess" expresses the importance and reverence of the Vedic religion for the Sarasvati river, and states that all generations abide on the Sarasvati. Other hymns that praise the Sarasvati River include RV 6.61; 7.96 and 10.17.

Rigveda 7.95.2. and other verses (e.g. 8.21.18) also tell that the Sarasvati poured "milk and ghee." Rivers are often likened to cows in the Rigveda, for example in 3.33.1cd,

Like two bright mother cows who lick their youngling, Vipas and Sutudri speed down their waters.

Some Rigvedic verses (6.61.2-13) indicate that the Sarasvati river originated in high mountains, where she could "burst with her strong waves the ridges of the hills", and not merely in the Himalayan foothills like the present-day Sarasvati (Sarsuti) river. The Sarasvati is described as a river swollen (pinvamana) by many rivers (sindhubhih) (RV 6.52.6).

In RV 8.21.18ab mentions a number of petty kings dwelling along the course of Sarasvati,

Citra is King, and only kinglings [rājaka] are the rest who dwell beside Sarasvati. The Sarasvati River is also associated with the five tribes (e.g. RV 6.61.12), with the Paravatas (RV 2.41) and with the Purus (RV 7.95; 7.96).

Another reference to the Sarasvati is in the geographical enumeration of the rivers in the late Rigvedic Nadistuti sukta (10.75.5, this verse enumerates all important rivers from the Ganges in the east to the Punjab in the west in a strict geographical order), as "Yamuna, Sarasvati, Shutudri", the Sarasvati is placed between the Yamuna and the Sutlej, consistent with the Ghaggar identification. It is clear, therefore, that even if she has unmistakably lost much of her former prominence, Sarasvati remains characterized as a river goddess throughout the Rigveda.

In RV 3.23.4, the Sarasvati River is mentioned together with the Drsadvati River.

In some hymns, the Indus river seems to be more important than the Sarasavati, especially in the Nadistuti sukta. In RV 8.26.18, the Sindhu is the most conveying or attractive of the rivers.

In the Rig Veda (7.95.1-2, tr. Griffith) the Sarasvati is described as flowing to the samudra, which is usually translated as ocean.

This stream Sarasvati with fostering current comes forth, our sure defence, our fort of iron.
As on a car, the flood flows on, surpassing in majesty and might all other waters.
Pure in her course from mountains to the ocean, alone of streams Sarasvati hath listened.
Thinking of wealth and the great world of creatures, she poured for Nahusa her milk and fatness.

The name Sarasvati already in the Rigveda does not always relate to a river and its personification exclusively; and in some hymns, the goddess Saraswati (the Hindu goddess of knowledge) is becoming abstracted from the river.

In the 1 and 10 of the Rigveda, the Sarasvati is mentioned in 13 hymns (1.3, 13, 89, 164; 10.17, 30, 64, 65, 66, 75, 110, 131, 141). Only two of these references are unambiguously to the river, 10.64.9 calling for the aid of three "great rivers", Sindhu, Sarasvati and Sarayu, and the geographical Nadistuti list (10.75.5) discussed above. The others invoke Sarasvati as a goddess without direct connection to a specific river. In 10.30.12, her origin as a river goddess may cause the rishi invokes her as protective deity as he composes a hymn to the celestial waters. Similarly, in 10.135.5, as Indra drinks Soma he is described as refreshed by Sarasvati. The invocations in 10.17 address Sarasvati as a goddess of the forefathers as well as of the present generation. In 1.13, 1.89, 10.85, 10.66 and 10.141, she is listed with other gods and goddesses, not with rivers. In 10.65, she is invoked together with "holy thoughts" (dhī) and "munificence" (puraṃdhi), consistent with her role as the goddess of both knowledge and fertility

Both 19th century fieldwork and recent satellite imagery suggest that the Ghaggar-Hakra river in the undetermined past had the Sutlej and the Yamuna as its tributaries. Geological changes diverted the Sutlej towards the Indus and the Yamuna towards the Ganga, and the formerly great river (the Rann of Kutch is likely the remains of its delta) did not have enough water to reach the sea anymore and dried up in the Thar desert. This change is estimated by geologists to have occurred between 5000 and 3000 BC,[18] that is, before the Mature Harappan period. It is sometimes proposed that the Sarasvati of the early Rigveda corresponds to the Ghaggar-Hakra before these changes took place (the "Old Ghaggar"), and the late Vedic end Epic Sarasvati disappearing in the desert to the Ghaggar-Hakra following the diversion of Sutlej and Yamuna, but the 4th millennium date of the event far predates even high estimates of the age of the Rigveda.

The identification of the Vedic Sarasvati River with the Ghaggar-Hakra River was already accepted by Christian Lassen[19] and Max Müller[20]. However, an alternate view has located the early Sarasvati River in Afghanistan. The identity of the dried-up Ghaggar-Hakra with the late Vedic and post-Vedic Sarasvati is widely accepted. The identification of the early Rigvedic Sarasvati with the Old Ghaggar is another matter, and the subject of dispute. Kochhar (1999) lists a number of reasons conflicting with the identification:

* The Sutlej (Sutudri) is known from the early Rigveda, but there is no evidence that it flowed into the Sarasvati ; RV 3.33 rather connects it with the Beas (Vipas), the present-day tributary of the Sutlej
* the former confluence of Sutlej and Yamuna with the Old Ghaggar was at about 30°N 76°E, in the Himalayan foothills (below 1,300m). Further upstream, the "mountainous" part of the Old Ghaggar would have been as unimpressive as it is today, not any different from the other rivers of the Shivaliks.
* Since the upper Yamuna was much mightier than the upper Ghaggar, it would be unexpected for the river to continue the name of the weaker tributary after the confluence.
* The late Vedic tradition associates not only the Yamuna but also the Ganga with the Sarasvati. By no stretch of imagination could it be argued that the Ganga ever flowed into the Old Ghaggar, so that the testimony connecting the Yamuna with the Sarasvati loses weight.
* In the region of the early Rigvedic Sarasvati, there are other rivers that independently go to the sea. This is not the case along the Old Ghaggar, where all rivers to the east join the Ganga, and all rivers to the west join the Indus.
* The Sarasvati hymns of the early Rigveda are older than the Indus hymns. If the early Sarasvati were the Old Ghaggar, a westward expansion of the Vedic territory from the Ghaggar to the Indus would be expected, while in fact western settlements are invariably dated to earlier times, suggesting an eastward expansion.

Sarsuti is the present-day name of a river originating in a submontane region (Ambala district) and joining the Ghaggar near Shatrana in PEPSU. Near Sadulgarh (Hanumangarh) the Naiwala channel, a dried out channel of the Sutlej, joins the Ghaggar. Near Suratgarh the Ghaggar is then joined by the dried up Drishadvati river.

Sarasvati is the name of a river originating in the Aravalli mountain range in Rajasthan, passing through Sidhpur and Patan before submerging in the Rann of Kutch.

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