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Sarasvati River

Sarasvati River
The Sarasvati River (Sanskrit: ??????? ??? sárasvatī nadī) is one of the chief Rigvedic rivers mentioned in ancient Hindu texts. The Nadistuti hymn in the Rigveda (10.75) mentions the Sarasvati between the Yamuna in the east and the Sutlej in the west, and later Vedic texts like Tandya and Jaiminiya Brahmanas as well as the Mahabharata mention that the Sarasvati dried up in a desert. The goddess Sarasvati was originally a personification of this river, but later developed an independent identity and meaning. Most scholars agree that at least some of the references to the Sarasvati in the Rigveda refer to the Ghaggar-Hakra River, while the Helmand is often quoted as the locus of the early Rigvedic river. Whether such a transfer of the name has taken place, either from the Helmand to the GhaggarHakra, or conversely from the GhaggarHakra to the Helmand, is a matter of dispute. There is also a small present-day Sarasvati River (Sarsuti) that joins the Ghaggar river. is "Hindu", which was later used to describe the river as well as the people living beyond the river. The word Sarasvati may have been adopted in Avestan as Haraxwaitī.

Rigvedic Sarasvati
The Sarasvati River is mentioned 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 major 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.

Praise for the Sarasvati
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" sárasvatī saptáthī síndhumātā[3]. RV 2.41.16 ámbitame nádītame dévitame sárasvati "best mother, best river, best goddess" expresses the importance and reverence of the Vedic religion for the Sarasvati river, and states that all life spans (āyuṣ) 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 3.33.1 cd, Like two bright mother cows who lick their youngling, Vipas and Sutudri speed down their waters.

The name Sárasvatī is descended from ProtoIndo-Iranian sáras-wn̥t-iH (virtually PIE *séles-wn̥t-ih2), meaning "she with life-giving fluid". Sanskrit saras- means "with life-giving fluid". Hoever,Mayrhofer considers unlikely a connection with the root sar- "run, flow".[1] Sarasvatī is the a Devi feminine of an adjective sarasvant- (which in the masculine occurs in the Rigveda as the name of the keeper of the celestial waters, e.g. 7.96.4, 10.66.5); it is cognate to Avestan *Haraxwaitī, speculated by Lommel (1927)[2] to refer to Arədvī Sūrā Anāhitā, the Avestan mythological world river, which would point to an already Proto-Indo-Iranian myth of a cosmic or mystical *Sáras-vn̥t-iH River. In the younger Avesta, Haraxwaitī is identified with a region described to be rich in rivers, and the Old Persian cognate Hara[h]uvatiš was the name of the Helmand river system, the origin of the Greek name Arachosia. The alteration of the sound "S" to "H" by the Persians is well documented. e.g., the Sanskrit name for Indus is Sindhu, but Persians called

The course of the Sarasvati
Some Rigvedic verses (6.61.2-13) indicate that the Sarasvati river originated in the hills or mountains (giri), where she "burst with her strong waves the ridges of the hills (giri)". It is a matter of interpretation whether this refers not merely to the Himalayan foothills like the present-day Sarasvati (Sarsuti) river. The Sarasvati is described as a


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river swollen (pinvamānā) by the 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 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 up to the Indus in the west in a strict geographical order), as "Ganga, 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 and the Apaya (Āpayā) 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 white flowing Sindhu ’with golden wheels’ 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.

Sarasvati River

Painting of Goddess Saraswati by Raja Ravi Varma 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

Sarasvati as a goddess


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thoughts" (dhī) and "munificence" (puraṃdhi), consistent with her role as the goddess of both knowledge and fertility.

Sarasvati River
In the Shatapatha Brahmana ( sqq) there is a description of the god Agni burning out rivers, which may be a reference to the drying up of rivers.

Other Hindu texts
In post-Rigvedic literature, Vinasana (the place of disappearance of the Sarasvati), is mentioned. Plaksa Prasravana denotes the place where the Sarasvati appears.[4] In the Rigveda Sutras, Plaksa Prasravana refers to the source of the Sarasvati.[5]

• The Latyayana Srautasutra (10.15-19) describes the Sarasvati. The Sarasvati in this text seems to be a perennial river until Vinasana, which is west of its confluence with Drshadvati (Chautang). [11] The Drshadvati is described as a seasonal stream in this text (10.17). The Asvalayana Srautasutra and Sankhayana Srautasutra contain verses that are similar to the Latyayana Srautasutra. • The Mahabharata says that the Sarasvati dried up in a desert (at a place named Vinasana or Adarsana).[12] According to the Mahabharata, the river dried up in order that the Nishadas and Abhiras might not see her.[13] The Mahabharata also states that Vasishtha committed suicide by throwing himself into the Sutlej and that the Sutlej then broke up in a 100 channels (Yash Pal in S.P. Gupta 1995: 175). This myth seems to be related with the changing of the course of the Sutlej river. Recent research indicates that the Sutlej flowed into the Ghaggar-Hakra river in ancient times. • According to Hindu mythology, the Sarasvati flows in a subterranean channel and joins the Yamuna and the Ganga in the "Triveni Sangam" at Prayag (Allahabad). The Mahabharata also records that the Sarasvati joins the sea impetuously (Mbh. 3.88.2). • Balaram, elder brother of Krishna took a journey, starting from Dwaraka, along the banks of Sarasvati and visited a number of holy places during the wartime. During his pilgrimage, Balaram visited Vinasana, the place where the Sarasvati disappears in the desert (Mbh. 3.80.118; 9.36.1; 3.130.4). In Mahabharata 9.53.11, Balaram visited karapacava (where the Yamuna originates) shortly after visiting Plaska Prasravana (where the Sarasvati originates). • The Mahabharata also records that the Sarasvati, after having disappeared in the desert, reappears in some places (e.g. Mbh. 3.80.118). According to the

Yajur Veda
The Vajasaneyi-Samhita of the Yajurveda 34.11 says: "Five rivers, with their flow, go to the Sarasvati. The Sarasvati however became a fivefold stream in the land." The medieval commentator Uvata wrote that the five tributaries of the Sarasvati were the Punjab rivers Drishadvati, Satudri (Sutlej), Chandrabhaga (Chenab), Vipasa (Beas) and the Iravati (Ravi). According to V. S. Wakankar and Parchure, "the five mouths can be identified at Jaisalmer/Badmer. It is significant to note that dried-up remnants of the following five rivers are presently observable near the holy place called Panchabhadra..." [6]

Atharva Veda
The Atharva Veda (6.30.1) and some later texts (Taittiriya Brahmana, Sutras) say that farming of barley (yava) ’combined with honey’ was practiced on the banks of the Sarasvati River.

The first reference to a drying up of the Sarasvati is from the Brahmanas, texts that are composed in Vedic Sanskrit, but dating to a later date than the Veda Samhitas. The Jaiminiya Brahmana (2.297) speaks of the ’diving under (upamajjana) of the Sarasvati’, and the Tandya Brahmana calls this the ’disappearance’ (vinasana). The same text (25.10.11-16) records that the Sarasvati is ’so to say meandering’ (kubjimati) as it could not sustain heaven which it had propped up. The distance between the Plaksa Prasravana (place of appearance/source of the river)[7] and the Vinasana (place of disappearance of the river) is said to be 44 asvina (between several hundred and 1600 miles) (Tandya Br. 25.10.16; cf. Av. 6.131.3; Pancavimsa Br.[8]).


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Mahabharata (3.81.115), Kurukshetra is south of the Sarasvati and north of the Drishadvati. The Mahabharata also states that the Sarasvati is the first creation among rivers and that it flows to the ocean (Mbh. Anus’a_sana 134.15). • According to the Mahabharata, Puskara in the Sarasvati river region was during the Tretayuga period the most sacred site on earth.[14] • Oghavati was another name of river Sarasvati according to Mahabharata 9.38. Several Puranas describe the Sarasvati River, and also record that the river separated into a number of lakes (saras). [15] In Skanda Purana, five distributaries of the Sarasvati are mentioned.[16] The Skanda Purana states that the Sarasvati originates from the water pot of Brahma and flows from Plaksa on the Himalayas. It then turns west at Kedara and also flows underground. According to Vamana Purana 32.1-4, the Sarasvati was rising from the Plaksa tree (Pipal tree).[17] In the Manu Samhita (II.17-18), the sage Manu, escaping from a flood, founded the Vedic culture between the Sarasvati and Drishadvati rivers. The Sarasvati River is the western boundary of Brahmavarta in Manusmriti (2.17): "the land between the Sarasvati and Drishadvati is created by God; this land is Brahmavarta." Similarly, the Vasistha Dharma Sutra I.8-9 and 12-13 locates Aryavarta to the east of the disappearance of the Sarasvati in the desert, to the west of Kalakavana, to the north of the mountains of Pariyatra and Vindhya and to the south of the Himalaya. Patanjali’s Mahābhāṣya defines Aryavarta like the Vasistha Dharma Sutra. Baudhayana Dharmasutra gives similar definitions and declares that Aryavarta is the land that lies west of Kalakavana, east of Adarsana (where the Sarasvati disappears in the desert), south of the Himalayas and north of the Vindhyas.

Sarasvati River
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] and Marc Aurel Stein. 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





Ghaggar-Hakra River
Both 19th and 20th century fieldwork (Marc Aurel Stein and recent satellite imagery suggest that the Ghaggar-Hakra river in the


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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.

Sarasvati River
several scholars, who argue that "it would be just as plausible to assume that Sarasvati was a Sanskrit term indigenous to India and was later imported by the speakers of Avestan into Iran." [21] A transfer of the name from India to Iran, would have taken place in pre-Proto-Iranian times, since the initial *s was regularly changed to h- in proto-Iranian.

Criticism of the Helmand identification with early Rig Vedic Sarasvati typically points out that the Helmand flows into a swamp in the Iranian plateau (the extended wetland and lake system of Hamun-i-Helmand), which allegedly does not match the Rigvedic description of samudra meaning ocean.

Helmand river
Suggestions for the identity of the early Rigvedic Sarasvati River include the Helmand River in Afghanistan, separated from the watershed of the Indus by the Sanglakh Range. The Helmand historically besides Avestan Haetumant bore the name Haraxvaiti, which is the Avestan form corresponding to Sanskrit Sarasvati. The Old Persian form is Hara[h]uvati, in Achaemenid times the name of the Arghandab River, the chief tributary of the Helmand. This name was in turn Hellenized to Arachosia. The 1st century CE geographer Isidore of Charax referred to Arachosia, the land where the Arghandab (Sarasvati) and Helmand (Setumanta) flow, as White India. The Avesta extols the Helmand in similar terms to those used in the Rigveda with respect to the Sarasvati: "the bountiful, glorious Haetumant swelling its white waves rolling down its copious flood" (Yasht 10.67). Kocchar (1999) argues that the Helmand is identical to the early Rigvedic Sarasvati of suktas 2.41, 7.36 etc., and that the Nadistuti sukta (10.75) was composed centuries later, after an eastward migration of the bearers of the Rigvedic culture to the western Gangetic plain some 600 km to the east. The Sarasvati by this time had become a mythical "disappeared" river, and the name was transferred to the Ghaggar which disappeared in the desert, which under the influence of the early hymns was made into an invisible river joining the Ganga and Yamuna. The possibility of an inverse transfer of the name from India to Iran is proposed by

Present-day Sarasvatis
• 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. • The Saraswati River in Bengal, formerly a tributary of the Hooghly River, has dried up since the 17th century.

[1] Mayrhofer, EWAia, s.v.; the root is otherwise often connected with rivers (also in river names, such as Sarayu or Susartu); the suggestion has been revived in the connection of an "out of India" argument, N. Kazanas, "Rig-Veda is pre-Harappan", p. 9. [2] Lommel, Herman (1927), Die Yašts des Awesta, Göttingen-Leipzig: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht/JC Hinrichs [3] Hans Hock (1999) translates síndhumātā as a bahuvrihi, "whose mother is the Sindhu", which would indicate that the Sarasvati is here a tributary of the Indus. A translation as a tatpurusha ("mother of rivers", with sindhu still with its generic


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meaning) would be less common in RV speech. [4] Pancavimsa Brahmana, Jaiminiya Upanisad Brahmana, Katyayana Srauta Sutra, Latyayana Srauta; Macdonell and Keith 1912 [5] Asvalayana Srauta Sutra, Sankhayana Srauta Sutra; Macdonell and Keith 1912, II:55 [6] V. S. Wakankar and C.N. Parchure: The Lost Vedic Sarasvati River, Mysore 1994, p.45) [7] This place may refer to a spring in the Siwalik mountains in this text. It is possible that the source of the Rigvedic Sarasvati was not in the Siwalik Hills, but in the Himalayan mountains. Agarwal, Vishal (2003), "A Reply to Michael Witzel’s ‘Ein Fremdling im Rgveda’", Journal of Indo-European Studies 31 (1-2): 107-185, < documents/ReplytoWitzelJIES.pdf> [8] 40 asvins in the Pancavimsa Br. Subhash Kak. Birth and Early Development of Indian Astronomy. In Astronomy across cultures: The History of Non-Western Astronomy, Helaine Selin (ed), Kluwer, 2000 [9] D.S. Chauhan in Radhakrishna, B.P. and Merh, S.S. (editors): Vedic Saraswati 1999. According to this reference, 44 asvins may be over 2600 km [10] Vishal Agarwal points out that 44 Asvinas could be according to one calculation 880 miles (1400 km) or at least several hundred miles. Agarwal, Vishal (2003), "A Reply to Michael Witzel’s ‘Ein Fremdling im Rgveda’", Journal of Indo-European Studies 31 (1-2): 107-185, < documents/ReplytoWitzelJIES.pdf> [11] Agarwal, Vishal (2003), "A Reply to Michael Witzel’s ‘Ein Fremdling im Rgveda’", Journal of Indo-European Studies 31 (1-2): 107-185, < documents/ReplytoWitzelJIES.pdf> [12] Mhb. 3.82.111; 3.130.3; 6.7.47; 6.37.1-4., 9.34.81; 9.37.1-2 [13] Mhb 3.130.3-5; 9.37.1-2 [14] Subhash Kak. Birth and Early Development of Indian Astronomy. In Astronomy across cultures: The History

Sarasvati River
of Non-Western Astronomy, Helaine Selin (ed), Kluwer, 2000 [15] D.S. Chauhan in Radhakrishna, B.P. and Merh, S.S. (editors): Vedic Saraswati, 1999, p.35-44 [16] compare also with Yajurveda 34.11, D.S. Chauhan in Radhakrishna, B.P. and Merh, S.S. (editors): Vedic Saraswati, 1999, p.35-44 [17] D.S. Chauhan in Radhakrishna, B.P. and Merh, S.S. (editors): Vedic Saraswati, 1999, p.35-44 [18] Valdiya, K. S., in Dynamic Geology, Educational monographs published by J. N. Centre for Advanced Studies, Bangalore, University Press (Hyderabad), 1998. [19] Indische Alterthumskunde [20] Sacred Books of the East, 32, 60 [21] George Erdosy (1989): cited after Bryant 2001: 133 [22] e.g. Bryant (2001: 133)

• Bryant, Edwin (2001). The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-513777-9. • Gupta, S.P. (ed.). 1995. The lost Saraswati and the Indus Civilization. Kusumanjali Prakashan, Jodhpur. • Hock, Hans (1999) Through a Glass Darkly: Modern "Racial" Interpretations vs. Textual and General Prehistoric Evidence on Arya and Dasa/Dasyu in Vedic Indo-Aryan Society." in Aryan and NonAryan in South Asia, ed. Bronkhorst & Deshpande, Ann Arbor. • Keith and Macdonell. 1912. Vedic Index of Names and Subjects. • Kochhar, Rajesh, ’On the identity and chronology of the Ṛgvedic river Sarasvatī’ in Archaeology and Language III; Artefacts, languages and texts, Routledge (1999), ISBN 0-415-10054-2. • Lal, B.B. 2002. The Saraswati Flows on: the Continuity of Indian Culture. New Delhi: Aryan Books International • Oldham, R.D. 1893. The Sarsawati and the Lost River of the Indian Desert. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society. 1893. 49-76. • Puri, VKM, and Verma, BC, Glaciological and Geological Source of Vedic Sarasvati in the Himalayas, New Delhi, Itihas Darpan, Vol. IV, No.2, 1998 [1]


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• Radhakrishna, B.P. and Merh, S.S. (editors): Vedic Saraswati: Evolutionary History of a Lost River of Northwestern India (1999) Geological Society of India (Memoir 42), Bangalore. Review (on page 3) Review • Shaffer, Jim G. (1995). Cultural tradition and Palaeoethnicity in South Asian Archaeology. In: Indo-Aryans of Ancient South Asia. Ed. George Erdosy.. ISBN 3-11-014447-6. • S. G. Talageri, The RigVeda - A Historical Analysis chapter 4

Sarasvati River

See also
• Sapta Sindhu • Saraswat Brahmins • Saraswati River (Bengal)

External links
• Is River Ghaggar, Saraswati? by Tripathi,Bock,Rajamani, Eisenhauer • Saraswati – the ancient river lost in the desert by A. V. Sankaran • The Saraswati: Where lies the mystery by Saswati Paik

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