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The Mighty Sarasvati

ámbitame nádītame dévitame sárasvati ” – (RV 2.41.16) . It means “Best Mother, best of Rivers, best of Goddesses, Sarasvatī”

A river that sustained one of the oldest civilizations , the river that saw the greatest of literary works created along her shores. A river that got lost from the combined minds of the people whose culture she originally sustained like a mother. Found this article and hoped to share it

Sarasvati River – The Sarasvati River in Hindu texts

Sarasvati River – Rig Veda

The Hindu Vedas mention a river named Sarasvatī. In Sanskrit saras means a pool or water body, and vatī (from vntī, the female form of the -vant suffix) means “she having lots of pools”. Sarasvati was the biggest and most important of the seven holy rivers of the Rig Veda. In the Rig Veda the Sarasvati River is mentioned over 60 times (e.g. Rig Veda 2.41.16; 6.61.8-13; 1.3.12.), and there are several references to the “seven rivers” (e. g. RV 2.12; RV 4.28; RV 8.24).

Most scholars agree that at least some of the references to the Sarasvati in the Rig Veda refer to the Ghaggar-Hakra River. It is however a matter of debate whether the name of the river was transferred from the Punjab to Afghanistan or vice versa.

The Rig Veda describes the Sarasvati as the best of all the rivers (RV 2.41.16-18; also 6.61.13; 7.95.2). Rig Veda 7.36.6 calls it “the Seventh, Mother of Floods” sárasvatī saptáthī síndhumātā. 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.

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

This stream Sarasvati with fostering current comes forth, our sure defence, our fort of iron. As on a car [= chariot], 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 Rig Veda also describes the Sarasvati as a river that flows from the mountains to the Samudra, ocean (see RV 2.41.16-18; 7.95.2). Samudra is usually translated as “ocean” (e.g. Griffith, Macdonnel and Keith) and the word “samudra” means “with waves”. But a minority of scholars (e.g. Madhav Deshpande) translate the term Samudra as “river”. And some Rig-vedic verses (6.61.2) indicate that the Sarasvati river originated in the high Himalayas like the ancient “Sarasvati-Sutlej” river 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-Ghaggar river.

Rig Veda 7.95.2. and other verses (e.g. 8.21.18 ) also tell that the Sarasvati region poured milk and “fatness” (ghee), indicating that cattle were herded in the region.

In the enumeration of the rivers in Rigveda 10.75.05, the order is Ganga, Yamuna, Sarasvati, Shutudri (= Sutlej). This verse enumerates all important rivers from the Ganges in the east to the Punjab in the west in a strict geographical order. The position of the Sarasvati between the Yamuna and the Sutlej in this Rigvedic verse is the same as that of the Ghaggar-Hakra river. Hence it is quite clear that one of the rivers given the name ‘Sarasvati’ flowed through Haryana and Rajasthan. The question is whether this is the primal ‘Sarasvati’.

There are Indus Valley Civilization archaeological sites on the Ghaggar and its continuation, but not further downstream than Bahawalpur province of Pakistan, as if the water could not be relied on for irrigation any further downstream. The Mahabharata says that the River Sarasvati ended in a desert, and that each year there was a religious ceremony at the confluence of Sutlej and Yamuna (probably in what is now Bahawalpur province) if either river flowed so far without drying up.

The water that got into the Sarasvati would tend to get less over time due to:-

  • Erosion of glacier which must be feeding Saraswati (Like Gangotri glacier feeds River Ganga, and Gangotri glacier is getting eroded slowly)
  • Loss of rain caused by deforestation and overgrazing in its headwaters area.
  • Loss of rain caused by deforestation and overgrazing generally, causing climate change.
  • Large amounts of its water being led off to irrigate fields.

The Sarasvati may have routinely flowed much further before agriculture and livestock domestication started, and the Rann of Kutch is likely the remains of its delta.

The Vedic Sarasvati river finally stopped flowing when the Sutlej and the upper Yamuna changed their courses. Some scholars believe that a great earthquake in plains of punjab must have resulted in changing the course of Sutlej and Yamuna. Today, we find that river Sutlej has a sharp turn in her course near Ropar in Haryana.

A river flowing into an aggrading flood plain tends to gradually build up with silt the land round its course, until at the next big flood the river finds it easier to flow into lower land further away from its old course. See Hwang Ho for a river known for spectacular destructive changes of course.

The Rigveda says that this Sarasvati rises in the mountains and ends up in the sea (e.g. RV 7.95.2 quoted above); it describes a man sailing up the Sarasvati from the sea to the mountains; but that may have been an unusual feat when one year’s very heavy monsoon rains filled the Sarasvati so full that it flooded normally dry channels and reached the sea.

It is thought that the main feeders of the River Sarasvati were:-

  • The upper Yamuna, which then turned west near Paonta Saheb where it leaves the hills.
  • The Sutlej, which then flowed further east.

Sometimes Sarasvati also means the heavenly ‘river’ – i.e. the Milky Way – and it is also personified as a goddess.

The Rig Veda refers to seven sacred or important rivers (Sapta Sindhu). In RV 10.64.8. and 6.61.2. three groups of seven sacred rivers are refered to (maybe the Indus-system, the Sarasvati-system and the Ganga-system).

Sarasvati River – Other Hindu texts

Later texts like the Mahabharata narrate that the Sarasvati dried up in a desert.

The Brahmanas, which are considered later texts than the Rig Veda, mention that the Sarasvati flowed through a desert; the Puranas like Bhagavata Purana mention her too and the Mahabharata says that the Sarasvati dried up in a desert, possibly the Thar Desert (Mhb. 3.130.3; 6.7.47; 6.37.1-4., 9.34.81, 9.36.1-2.).

In the Manu Samhita (II.17-18), the sage Manu, escaping from a flood, founded the Vedic culture between the Sarasvati and Drishadvati rivers. In the Shatapatha Brahmana there is a description of the God Agni burning out rivers, which may be a reference to the drying up of rivers.

The Mahabharata 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 subterranenan channel and joins the Yamuna and the Ganga in the “Triveni Sangam” at Prayag (Allahabad).

When the Mahabharata War began, Saraswati was already becoming dry. That is why when Balaram, elder brother of Krishna, decided to remain neutral and refused to participate in the war, took a journey along the banks of Saraswati and visited a number of holy places during the wartime.
The goddess Sarasvati was originally a personification of this river, and later developed an identity and meaning independently from the river.

February 6, 2009 Posted by | Aryan Invasion Theory | , , , | Leave a comment