Sarasvati River

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The Helmand River, known in ancient Iranian Avestan as Haraxvatī and Harahvaiti, is identified by some as the ancient Sarasvati river.

The Sarasvati River (IAST: sárasvatī nadī́) was one of the Rigvedic rivers mentioned in the Rig Veda and later Vedic and post-Vedic texts. The Sarasvati River played an important role in the Vedic religion, appearing in all but the fourth book of the Rigveda.

Quotes from the Rigveda[edit]

  • [The composer begs the river Sarasvatī:] "let us not go from thee to distant countries".
    • Rigveda 6.61.14, Quoted in [1]
  • Coming together, glorious, loudly roaring - Sarasvatī, Mother of Floods, the seventh- With copious milk, with fair streams, strongly flowing, full swelling with the volume of their water.
    • RV 7:36:6
  • Favour ye this my laud, O Gangā, Yamunā, O Sutudri, Paruṣṇī and Sarasvatī: With Asikni, Vitasta, O Marudvrdha, O Ārjīkīya with Susoma hear my call. First with Trstama thou art eager to flow forth, with Rasā, and Susartu, and with Svetya here, With Kubha; and with these, Sindhu and Mehatnu, thou seekest in thy course Krumu and Gomati.
    • Rigveda 10.75.5-6


  • Scholars such as Romila Thapar, Irfan Habib and the late RS Sharma started questioning this identification in the 1980s. What prompted this rather late reaction? It was a new development: A study of the evolution of the pattern of Harappan settlements in the Saraswati basin now revealed that in its central part — roughly southwest Haryana, southern Punjab and northern Rajasthan — most or all Harappan sites were abandoned sometime around 1900 BCE, a period coinciding with the end of the urban phase of the Indus civilisation. Clearly, the river system collapsed — which archaeologists now saw as a factor contributing to the end of the brilliant Indus civilisation.
    Why was this a problem? We must remember that the Saraswati is lavishly praised both as a river and a Goddess in the Rig Veda, a collection of hymns which mainstream Indology says was composed by Indo-Aryans shortly after their migration to India around 1500 BCE. However, by that time, the Saraswati had been reduced to a minor seasonal stream: How could the said Aryans praise it as a ‘mighty river’, the ‘best of rivers’, ‘mother of waters’, etc? There is a chronological impossibility. Hence, the objectors asserted, the Ghaggar-Hakra was not, after all, the Saraswati extolled in the Rig Veda. While some (Rajesh Kochhar) tried to relocate the river in Afghanistan, others (Irfan Habib) decided that the Saraswati was not a particular river but “the river in the abstract, the River Goddess”; but both theses ran against the Rig Veda’s own testimony that the river flowed between the Yamuna and the Sutlej." (DANINO:2010/2012)].
    • DANINO 2010/2012: The Lost River: On the Trail of the Sarasvati. Danino, Michel. Penguin, 2010.
  • As for Burrow‘s thesis that some place names reflect the names of geographical features to the west, and thus preserve an ancestral home, they once again rather rely on an assumption of Arya migrations than prove it. [...] His cited equivalence of Sanskrit Saraswati and Avestan Haraxvaiti is a case in point. Burrow accepts that it is the latter term that is borrowed, undergoing the usual change of s- > h in the process, but suggests that Saraswati was a proto-Indoaryan term, originally applied to the present Haraxvaiti when the proto-Indoaryans still lived in northeastern Iran, then it was brought into India at the time of the migrations, while its original bearer had its name modified by the speakers of Avestan who assumed control of the areas vacated by proto-Indoaryans. It would be just as plausible to assume that Saraswati was a Sanskrit term indigenous to India and was later imported by the speakers of Avestan into Iran. The fact that the Zend Avesta is aware of areas outside the Iranian plateau while the Rigveda is ignorant of anything west of the Indus basin would certainly support such an assertion.
    • ERDOSY 1989: Ethnicity in the Rigveda and its Bearing on the Question of Indo-European Origins. Erdosy, George. pp. 35-47 in ―South Asian Studies‖ vol. 5. London (ERDOSY 1989:41-42). Quoted in Talageri, S. G. (2010). The Rigveda and the Avesta. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan.
  • In contrast, changes taking place in the Saraswati Valley in the early second millennium were probably a major contributor to the Indus decline. In Harappan times, the Saraswati was a major river system flowing from the Siwaliks at least to Bahawalpur, where it probably ended in a substantial inland delta. The ancient Saraswati River was fed by a series of small rivers that rose in the Siwaliks, but it drew the greater part of its waters from two much larger rivers rising high in the Himalayas: the Sutlej and the Yamuna. In its heyday the Saraswati appears to have supported the densest settlement and provided the greatest arable yields of any part of the Indus realms. The Yamuna, which supplied most of the water flowing in the Drishadvati, a major tributary of the Saraswati, changed its course, probably early in the second millennium, to flow into the Ganges drainage. The remaining flow in the Drishadvati became small and seasonal: Late Harappan sites in Bahawalpur are concentrated in the portion of the Sarawati east of Yazman, which was fed by the Sutlej. At a later date the Sutlej also changed its course and was captured by the Indus. These changes brought about massive depopulation of the Saraswati Valley, which by the end of the millennium was described as a place of potsherds and ruin mounds whose inhabitants had gone away. At the same time new settlements appeared in the regions to the south and east, in the upper Ganges-Yamuna doab. Some were located on the palaeochannels that mark the eastward shift of the Yamuna. Presumably many of the Late Harappan settlers had originated in the Saraswati Valley.
    • Jane McIntosh, The Ancient Indus Valley, 2008
  • The importance of the Sarasvatī in Indian historical studies has multiplied manifold since archaeological analyses of the Ghaggar-Hakra river bed, combined with detailed satellite imagery of the course of the ancient (now dried up) river, conclusively showed that it had almost dried up by the mid-second millennium BCE itself, and that, long before that, it was a mighty river, mightier than the Indus, and that an overwhelming majority of the archaeological sites of the Harappan cities are located on the banks of the Sarasvatī rather than of the Indus. This has lethal implications for the AIT, which requires an Aryan invasion around 1500 BCE after the decline of the Harappan civilization, since it shows that the Vedic Aryans, who lived ―on both banks (Rigveda VII.96.2) of a mighty Sarasvatī in full powerful flow, must have been inhabitants of the region long before 1500 BCE and in fact may be identical with the indigenous Harappans.
    Therefore, there is now a desperate salvage operation on, in powerful leftist and "secularist" political circles in India, to put a complete full stop to any further official research on the Sarasvatī (including archaeological and geological investigations), and to launch an all-out Goebbelsian campaign through a captive media to deny that there ever was a Vedic Sarasvatī river in existence in India: the river named in the Rigveda was either completely mythical, or it was the river in Afghanistan, but it definitely was not identical with the Ghaggar-Hakra!
    • Talageri, S. G. (2010). The Rigveda and the Avesta. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan.
  • The frequent Rg-Vedic references to the Saraswati river are seen by both sides as a key to the solution of the Aryan question. Non-invasionists have pointed out that the biggest concentration of Harappan cities was along the Saraswati river, and that it nearly dried up synchronously with the decline of Harappan city culture. Therefore, the Rg-Veda cannot be post-Harappan...
    • Elst, Koenraad (2007). Asterisk in bharopiyasthan: Minor writings on the Aryan invasion debate.
  • The treatment of the Saraswati evidence forms an interesting case study in the stonewalling of putative pro-OIT evidence by AIT militants, typically outsiders to Indo-European studies such as comparative historian Steve Farmer: they lambast the equating of the Vedic Saraswati with today’s Ghaggar as a paranoid Hindu-nationalist concoction, when actually it was established by a string of Western scholars since the 1850s, in tempore non suspecto. A case study of how this debate has been poisoned by endless political imputations.

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