Sarasvati River

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Sarasvati River
Map of Ancient Rigvedic geography
Location of Sarasvati River

The controversy on the issue of identification of the word Sarasvati is not new. The word means, for some people a Vedic 'goddess' and for others, it is a river 'abounding in lakes'. Here an attempt is being made to identify all about 'Sarasvati' by taking up critical analysis of the exiting accessible sources.

India's 'miracle river'

Map of Ancient Jat habitations

For identification of Indian Sarasvati River, we must start with identification of Sapta Sindhu (सप्त सिंधु), Hapta Hindu in Avesta, i.e. "seven rivers". These seven rivers as mentioned in in Sanskrit mythology have been separately identified as Indian rivers. The Rig Veda often refers to the seven rivers. In RV 7.36.6, the Sarasvati is the seventh river, whose mother is the Sindhu. The Avesta's hapta həndu are generally equated with the Vedic Sapta Sindhavahá; in Vendidad 1.18 these are described to be the fifteenth of the sixteen good lands created by Mazda.

It is unclear how exactly the seven rivers were intended to be enumerated. They are often located in the Punjab region in northwestern India / northern Pakistan. If Sarasvati's membership is taken for granted, and the five major rivers of the Punjab are included (Sutudri, Parusni, Asikni, Vitasta, Vipas all tributaries of Sindhu)[4], one river is missing (or perhaps two, since the Sindhu is a special case, having feminine or masculine gender and in this case not being invoked as a goddess), perhaps Arjikiya or Sushoma compare also the list of ten in the Nadistuti sukta, RV 10.75. David Frawley extends the Sapta Sindhu region from the Punjab to the Gangetic plain, specifically suggesting Sindhu, Ashikni, Parushni, Sarasvati, Yamuna, Ganga and Sarayu. (Frawley 2000) In 6.61.10, Sarasvati is called "she with seven sisters" (saptasvasā) which would logically indicate a group of eight rivers, but which probably is just due to the number seven being more important than the individual members (see also saptarshi, haft keshvar), so that the list of the Sapta sindhu may not have been fixed or immutable. In RV 10.64.8 and RV 10.75.1, three groups of seven rivers are referred to (tríḥ saptá sasrâ nadíyaḥ "thrice seven wandering rivers"), as well as 99 rivers. [1]

Course of Sarasvati River

Scientists say new evidence could unearth the Saraswati. The legend of the mighty Saraswati river has lived on in India since time immemorial. Ancient Hindu scriptures called the Vedas, recorded thousands of years ago, are full of tantalizing hymns about it being the life-stream of the people.

In a new radio programme, Madhur Jaffrey recounts the legend of the Saraswati river - and explores startling new evidence that it may not have been a myth after all. Vast and awesome, the Saraswati's holy waters are supposed to have flowed from the Himalayas into the sea, nourishing the land along the way. But as the centuries passed and no one could find it, myth, belief and religion came together and the Saraswati passed into the realm of folklore.

Now most people in India think of it as a mythical river. Some even believe that it is an invisible river or that it still flows underground. Another commonly held perception is that the Saraswati once flowed through the north Indian city of Allahabad, meeting there with two other rivers, the Ganges and the Jamuna. The confluence of these three rivers - one of which is not visible to the eye - is considered one of India's holiest spots."[2]

Identification of the Saraswati River

C. Kunhan Raja has discussed the problem of identification in very detail. Referring to two Rigvedic verses [RV. X-17/8-9], he says that Sarasvati is "Essentially a goddess living in the other world along with departed fathers of the people."

He goes on to add: "Sarasvati is another river that has been described very prominently in the Rigveda. The River Sindhu is just mentioned in many places, and in the song about the rivers, there is a description of the river in a few verses. But in the case of the river Sarasvati, there are many songs, in the Rigveda. No one can deny that the Sarasvati is the most important river in the Rigveda. But my fear is that the river was known to the people only in tradition, as a past memory of glory. If the banks of the Sarasvati had been the real centre of Vedic culture, as is indicated by the prominence given to that river in the Rigveda, then one may wonder why the River Sindhu, far away to the west, has come next in importance after Sarasvati. Yamuna and Shutudri [Sutlej] should have been given that importance, being in the region nearest to the Sarasvati. If prominence in description is not a factor in deciding the relative importance of the regions, where the Vedic culture had been most strongly rooted, then Sarasvati cannot be accepted as the centre of Vedic culture just because of the prominence given to it in the descriptions."

Basing his argument on this line, he goes on to derive conclusion: "My own view is that prominence to the Sarsvati is due to its importance in tradition and that the prominence given to the Sindhu is due to the importance of the Sindhu region as the centre of culture at that time. Because the Sindhu was known to the people as a river, they sang bout the river as a phenomenon of Nature. Because the Sarasvati was known to the people only as a past memory and not as a fact of experience in their lif, that river was described as a goddess also, its feature as a phenomenon of Nature being retained." [3]

Here it would be pertinent to raise a question on this statement of the learned author, if the conclusion that Sarasvati was known to the people only as a past memory then with which region is this past memory connected.

Sarasvati in epic Mahabharata

Shalya Parva, Mahabharata/Book IX Chapter 36 describes Baladeva's journey along the bank of the Sarasvati river. Pishachas are mentioned in verse (IX.36.21)....."There dwell Yakshas, and Vidyadharas, and Rakshasas of immeasurable energy and Pisachas of immeasurable might, and Siddhas, numbering thousands. [4]

In Vana Parva, Mahabharata/Book III Chapter 81, it is mentioned of Saptasaraswata (सप्त सारस्वत) (3.81.97), where the celebrated Rishi,

Mankanaka (मङ्कणक), had obtained ascetic success.[5]

At another place the Mahabharata says that the seven Seven Sarasvatis cover the universe and the Sarasvati made its appearance whithersoever she was summoned.

At Pushkara she appeared under the name of Suprabha, at Naimisa as Kancanakasi, at Gaya as Visala, in northern Kosala as Manorama, at Kuruksehtra as Oghavati, at Gangadwara as Surenu and on the Himavat,Vimloda.

All these seven forms then came and mingled together in the Sapatasarasvata tirtha.[6]

Vana Parva, Mahabharata/Book III Chapter 88 mentions tirthas and sacred spots that lie to the north: In that region is the Saraswati (सरस्वती) (III.88.2) abounding in tirthas and with banks easy of descent. There also, O son of Pandu, is the ocean-going and impetuous Yamuna (यमुना)(III.88.2),

सरस्वती पुण्यवहा हरदिनी वनमालिनी
समुद्रगा महावेगा यमुना यत्र पाण्डव (III.88.2)

Bhisma Parva, Mahabharata/Book VI Chapter 10 Describes geography and provinces of Bharatavarsha. Rivers are mentioned in Mahabharata (VI.10.13,14).

नदीः पिबन्ति बहुला गङ्गां सिन्धुं सरस्वतीम
गॊदावरीं नर्मदांबाहुदांमहानदीम Mahabharata (VI.10.13)
शतद्रुं चन्द्रभागांयमुनांमहानदीम
दृषद्वतीं विपाशांविपापां सदूलवालुकाम Mahabharata (VI.10.14)

Still another Sarasvati

There is another Saraswati (tributary of Brahmani in Orissa);

Brahmani is the second largest river in Orissa. The river originates as two rivers, Shankha and Koel, from Chota Nagpur Plateau in Jharkhand and later joins Saraswati at Vedvyas to form Brahmani. Vedvyas is a sacred place, located nine kilometers from Rourkela. The river has a total length of 799 km of which 541 km has traverses Orissa. It has a total catchment area of over 39,033 sq km in the state. Brahmani flows through the Eastern Ghats in the Sundargarh, Keonjhar, Dhenkanal, Cuttack and Jajpur districts before joining with the Mahanadi to form a combined mouth and merging with the Bay of Bengal. [7]

Sarasvati River - One more view

Saraswati is also the name of a holy river of Hindus. It is believed by some that on the banks of this river. Vedic and later Vedic literature was composed including many hymns of the Vedas.

It was a 'sada nira' in the yore and after crossing modern Haryana in Sirsa district, it used to pass through Rajasthan and thence to Gujrat; thus ultimately meeting its end point to merge its waters with the Arabian Sea. But due to some earth quack its source of water was blocked and it has now become a seasonal rivulet.

According to later Vedic literature, particularly according to one view of interpretation of the data of Puranas, "the Saraswati emerges from the Shivalik range of Himalyan mountains on the plains. Now it is claimed that it emerged in plains at Adi Badri in district Yamunanagar in Haryana."

The latest efforts to Identification

It was a joyous moment for the team working on reviving the Saraswati River in Yamunanagar district as they found strong water current on reaching a depth of seven-feet today. This has raised hopes for the entire project, which was receiving criticism from various planks who termed it an RSS ambition. Assembly Speaker Kanwar Pal Gurjar had inaugurated the excavation work of ‘Saraswati Revival Project’ at Rullaheri village in Yamunanagar district on April 21. After inauguration, the District Development and Panchayat Department had undertaken digging work in two-and-a-half-km area. Water struck at nine points when the creek of river was being dug at Mughalwali village on Tuesday. “The water is potable, fresh in taste and sweet,” said Deputy Commissioner SS Phulia, after a visit to the Mughalwali village. The delighted people of the village offered prayers to Goddess Saraswati and distributed sweets amongst themselves and workers involved in the digging work. District Development and Panchayat Officer Gagandeep Singh, who is coordinating the Saraswati Revival Project, said the river length in Yamunanagar district would be 55 km. Earlier, plan was to dig the river till seven feet deep. However, now, they were planning to dig it till 10 feet deep for good natural flow of water. The river would pass through 43 villages of the district. Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar has already announced Rs 50 crore for this project. The credit to bring the Saraswati River on ground goes to 88-year-old RSS veteran Darshan Lal Jain. He had formed Saraswati Nidi Sodh Sansthan in 1999 and since then, has been struggling for its revival. “Some people thought it to be a mythological fantasy but water found at 7-feet -deep in its creek has proved that the Saraswati River is flowing below the earth,” said Darshan Lal Jain. The river originates from Adi Badri in Yamunanagar. It is believed that the river passes underground through Kurukshetra, Jind, Hisar, Fatehabad and Sirsa districts before entering Rajasthan and Gujrat. The DC said the project would prove to be a milestone in the development of this area as it would promote eco-tourism, pilgrimage tourism, water conservation and improve ecological balance. [8]

The claim seems hollow

When you wake up to a dramatic newspaper headline saying "Saraswati river sprouts to life after 4,000 years" - it is natural to sit up and take notice of a development that promises to be of historical and religious significance. The Saraswati river, after all, has been described as the "greatest of mothers, greatest of rivers and greatest of goddesses" in our Vedas.

Yet, I read the article with an ennui of a journalist who has been a long distance runner - been there, seen that. The story says that the Haryana Assembly Speaker and Yamunanagar Deputy Commissioner rushed to the spot this week and tasted the water. The article in Mail Today on Saturday also says the Haryana government will try to revive the Saraswati river by diverting water from the Somb river too.

In 2003, I too went to Adi Badri, Yamunanagar with a team of Saraswati-seekers who pointed to a thin stream and a puddle and exclaimed it was the mighty Saraswati river that used to come from the Himalayas and flowed into the Arabian Sea. Now they are claiming that again.

A special national team - comprising of glaciologists, archaeologists, remote sensing experts, historians, - was set up by the Atal Behari Vajpayee government to hunt for the river that our ancient scriptures claimed had dried up and disappeared from thousands of years ago. Armed with NASA maps from the 1970s that showed signs of channels of water in northern and western India, the team began digging for the river. Everytime they found ancient clay artifacts along the NASA map route, the archaeologists told me this was indeed the Saraswati river, the site of ancient settlements. Our ancestors had written the Vedas sitting on the banks of this river, they said. What bolstered their claim was that in 1998, groundwater experts dug wells along this route and had found potable water, even in the desert.

It is easy to get swayed by this heady cocktail of faith, science, politics and history. [9]


The answer to the problem being discussed about the Rigvedic Saraswati identification, perhaps, lies in the fact that Sarasvati is connected with the Pitrs i.e. "the departed forefathers of the people as mentioned in the Rigvedic verses mentioned earlier (RV X.17.8-9), so our answer would be that this past memory of the Indian Aryans relates to the Sarasvati River in Iran which was called Harahavaiti and still flows as Arghandab. It seems probable that when one branch of the Ancient Aryans migrated from the banks of the Sarasvati/Harahvaiti in Iran and settled in India, they named the most important river of their new home after the name of the river of their former homeland.

It can be recalled that Harahvaiti figures in the Avesta as one of the 'good lands' [i.e. no. 10] also created by Ahura Mazda for the settlement of Aryans. Thus the lost Saraswati is being searched out now and then in Indian soil and the latest work of search by Haryana Government is going on at Adi Badri in district Yamunanagar in Haryana, the place from where it is believed by some that the river entered into plains leaving behind Shivalik range of Himalyas.

External links

Sarasvati/Recent Research on the Sarasvati River.htm

See also


  2. Sarasvati/Recent Research on the Sarasvati River.htm
  3. C Kunhan Raja, The Quintessence of the Rigveda, p. 66; D.P. Sharma, Studies in the Proto-History, pp. 111-112.
  4. यक्षा विथ्याधराश चैव राक्षसाश चामितौजसः, पिशाचाश चामितबला यत्र सिथ्धाः सहस्रशः(IX.36.21)
  5. Vana Parva, Mahabharata/Book III Chapter 81
  6. Mahabharata, Cr.ed. Salya, 37.3-28; Also Vamana Purana, Saromahatmya, 16.17-38 and 36.54

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