Sarasvati River

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Sarasvati River
Ghaggar river in Panchkula.jpg
Ghaggar river flowing through Panchkula in Haryana in India. Ghaggar-Hakra River has been identified as the historic Sarasvati river by many researchers

The Sarasvati River (Sanskrit: सरस्वती नदी sárasvatī nadī) is one of the main Rigvedic rivers mentioned in the Rig Veda and later Vedic and post-Vedic texts. It plays an important role in Hinduism, since Vedic Sanskrit and the first part of the Rig Veda are regarded to have originated when the Vedic people lived on its banks, 2nd millennium BC . The goddess Sarasvati was originally a personification of this river, but later developed an independent identity.[1]

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 work on delineation of entire course of Sarasvati River in North West India was carried out using Indian Remote Sensing Satellite data along with digital elevation model. The palaeochannels are validated using historical maps, archaeological sites, hydro-geological and drilling data. It was observed that major Indus Valley Civilization sites of Kalibangan (Rajasthan), Banawali and Rakhigarhi (Haryana), Dholavira and Lothal (Gujarat) lie along the River Sarasvati.[2][3]

Many scholars have identified the Vedic Sarasvati River with the Ghaggar-Hakra River, which flows in northwestern India and Pakistan. This was proposed by several scholars in the 19th and early 20th century. Satellite images in possession of the ISRO and ONGC have confirmed that the major course of a river ran through the present day Ghaggar River.[4] Another theory suggests that the Helmand River of southern Afghanistan corresponds to the Sarasvati River,[5] while other scholars have argued that the Sarasvati was a mythical river, signifying the Milky Way.

For centuries, Sarasvati is regarded to exist as a "subtle or mythic" river and said to form a confluence with the physical sacred rivers Ganges and Yamuna at the Triveni Sangam, in an invisible form.[6]


Sarasvatī is the devi feminine of an adjective sarasvant- (which occurs in the Rigveda[7] as the name of the keeper of the celestial waters), derived from Proto-Indo-Iranian *sáras-vat-ī (and earlier, PIE *séles-u̯n̥t-ih₂), meaning ‘marshy, full of pools’, or ‘she with many lakes’. The other term -vatī is the Sanskrit grammatical feminine possessor suffix.

Sanskrit sáras means ‘pool, pond or lake’; the feminine sarasī́ means ‘stagnant pool, swamp’.[8] Like its cognates Welsh hêl, heledd ‘river meadow’ and Greek ἕλος (hélos) ‘swamp’, the Rigvedic term refers mostly to stagnant waters, and Mayrhofer considers unlikely a connection with the root *sar- ‘run, flow’.[9]

Sarasvatī is an exact cognate with Avestan Haraxvatī, perhaps[10] originally referring to Arədvī Sūrā Anāhitā (modern Ardwisur Anahid), the Zoroastrian mythological world river, which would point to a common Indo-Iranian myth of a cosmic or mystical Sáras-vat-ī river. In the younger Avesta, Haraxvatī is Arachosia, a region described to be rich in rivers, and its Old Persian cognate Harauvati, which gave its name to the present-day Hārūt River in Afghanistan, may have referred to the entire Helmand drainage basin (the center of Arachosia).


The Saraswati river was revered and considered important for Hindus because it is said that it was on this river's banks, in the Vedic state of Brahmavarta, that Vedic Sanskrit had its genesis, and important Vedic scriptures like Manusmriti, initial part of Rigveda and several Upanishads were supposed to have been composed by Vedic seers. In the Manusmriti, Brahmavarta is portrayed as the "pure" centre of Vedic culture. Bridget and Raymond Allchin in The Rise of Civilization in India and Pakistan took the view that "The earliest Aryan homeland in India-Pakistan (Aryavarta or Brahmavarta) was in the Punjab and in the valleys of the Sarasvati and Drishadvati rivers in the time of the rigveda."[11]

Members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh believe that proof of the physical existence of the Vedic river would bolster their concept of a golden age of Hindu India, before invasions by Muslims and Christians. In 2015, Reuters reported that the Bharatiya Janata Party Government had therefore ordered archaeologists to search for the river.[12]

In the Rigveda

Map of northern India in the late Vedic period

The Sarasvati River is mentioned in all but the fourth book of the Rigveda. The most important hymns related to Sarasvati are RV 6.61, RV 7.95 and RV 7.96.[13]


  • The Sarasvati is praised lavishly in the Rigveda as the best of all the rivers: e.g. in RV 2.41.16 she is called ámbitame nádītame dévitame sárasvati, "best mother, best river, best goddess". Other verses of praise include RV 6.61.8-13, RV 7.96 and RV 10.17. 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.
  • RV 7.95.2. and other verses (e.g. RV 8.21.18) speak of the Sarasvati pouring "milk and ghee." Rivers are often likened to cows in the Rigveda, for example in RV 3.33.1,
Like two bright mother cows who lick their youngling,
Vipas and Sutudri speed down their waters.
  • Strong attention has been given to the Sarasvati River in the Rigveda along with several suktas dedicated to it. As such it seems there are a number of Sarasvatis with the earliest Sarasvati not identifiable with the Hakra and Ghaggar. The Sarasvati River is perceived to be a great river with perennial water. The Hakra and Ghaggar cannot be compared to it. The earliest Sararvati is said to be similar to the Helmand in Afghanistan which is called the Harakhwati in the Āvestā.[14]
  • The phrase sárasvatī saptáthī síndhumātā of RV 7.36.6 has been rendered as " Sarasvati the Seventh, Mother of Floods" in a popular translation.[15] While this takes a tatpurusha interpretation of síndhumātā, the word is actually a bahuvrihi.[16]
  • "Pavaka nah saravati, vajebhir vajinivati; Yajnam vastu dhiyavasuh. Codayitri sunrtanam, cetanti sumatinam; Yajnam dadhe sarasvati. Maho arnah sarasvati, pra cetayati ketuna; Dhiyo visva vi rajati"—verse from Rigveda[17] The complete translation would be in Sri Aurobindo's own words: "May purifying Sarasvati with all the plenitude of her forms of plenty, rich in substance by the thought, desire our sacrifice. "She, the impeller to happy truths, the awakener in consciousness to right mentalisings, Sarasvati, upholds the sacrifice." "Sarasvati by the perception awakens in consciousness the great flood (the vast movement of the ritam) and illumines entirely all the thoughts "[18]


  • The late Rigvedic Nadistuti sukta enumerates all important rivers from the Ganges in the east up to the Indus in the west in a clear geographical order. Here (RV 10.75.5), the sequence "Ganges, Yamuna, Sarasvati, Shutudri" places the Sarasvati between the Yamuna and the Sutlej, which is consistent with the Ghaggar identification.
  • Verses in RV 6.61 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 only to the Himalayan foothills, where the present-day Sarasvati (Sarsuti) river flows, or to higher mountains.
  • RV 3.23.4 mentions the Sarasvati River together with the Drsadvati River and the Āpayā River. RV 6.52.6 describes the Sarasvati as swollen (pinvamānā) by the rivers (sindhubhih).
  • While RV 6.61.12 associates the Sarasvati River with the five tribes; and RV 7.95-6 with the Paravatas and the Purus; in RV 8.21.18, a number of petty kings are said to dwell along the course of Sarasvati,
Citra is King, and only kinglings [rājaka] are the rest who dwell beside Sarasvati.
  • In RV 7.95.1-2, the Sarasvati is described as flowing to the samudra, a word now usually translated as ocean.
This stream Sarasvati with fostering current comes forth, our sure defence, our fort of iron.
As on a 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.

As a goddess

Painting of Goddess Saraswati by Raja Ravi Varma

The Sarasvati is mentioned some fifty times in the hymns of the Rig Veda.[19] it is mentioned in thirteen hymns of the late books (1 and 10) of the Rigveda.[20] 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 10.75.5, the geographical list of the Nadistuti sukta. The others invoke Sarasvati as a goddess without direct connection to a specific river.[citation needed]

In 10.30.12, her origin as a river goddess may explain her invocation as a protective deity in a hymn to the celestial waters. 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 a goddess of both knowledge and fertility.[citation needed]

Though Sarasvati initially emerged as a river goddess in the Vedic scriptures, in later Hinduism of the Puranas, she was rarely associated with the river. Instead she emerged as an independent goddess of knowledge, learning, wisdom, music and the arts. The evolution of the river goddess into the goddess of knowledge started with later Brahmanas, which identified her as Vāgdevī, the goddess of speech, perhaps due to the centrality of speech in the Vedic cult and the development of the cult on the banks of the river. It is also possible that two independently postulated goddesses were fused into one in later Vedic times.[1] Aurobindo has proposed, on the other hand,"The symbolism of the Veda betrays itself to the greatest clearness in the figure of the goddess Sarasvati...She is, plainly and clearly, the goddess of the Word, the goddess of a divine inspiration...".[21]

Other Vedic texts

In post-Rigvedic literature, the disappearance of the Sarasvati is mentioned. Also the origin of the Sarasvati is identified as Plaksa Prasravana.[22][23]

In a supplementary chapter of the Vajasaneyi-Samhita of the Yajurveda (34.11), Sarasvati is mentioned in a context apparently meaning the Sindhu: "Five rivers flowing on their way speed onward to Sarasvati, but then become Sarasvati a fivefold river in the land."[24] According to the medieval commentator Uvata, the five tributaries of the Sarasvati were the Punjab rivers Drishadvati, Satudri (Sutlej), Chandrabhaga (Chenab), Vipasa (Beas) and the Iravati (Ravi).

The first reference to the disapparance of the lower course 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 (or Pancavimsa Br.) 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.[25][note 1]

The Plaksa Prasravana (place of appearance/source of the river) may refer to a spring in the Siwalik mountains. The distance between the source 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.)[26]

In the Latyayana Srautasutra (10.15-19) the Sarasvati seems to be a perennial river up to the Vinasana, which is west of its confluence with the Drshadvati (Chautang). The Drshadvati is described as a seasonal stream (10.17), meaning it was not from Himalayas. Bhargava[27] has identified Drashadwati river as present day Sahibi river originating from Jaipur hills in Rajasthan. The Asvalayana Srautasutra and Sankhayana Srautasutra contain verses that are similar to the Latyayana Srautasutra.

Post-Vedic texts

The Mahabharata

According to the Mahabharata, the Sarasvati dried up in a desert (at a place named Vinasana or Adarsana);[28] after having disappeared in the desert, reappears in some places;[29] and joins the sea "impetuously".[30] MB.3.81.115 locates the state of Kurupradesh or Kuru Kingdom to the south of the Sarasvati and north of the Drishadvati. The dried up seasonal Ghaggar River in Rajasthan and Haryana reflects the same geographical view described in the Mahabharata.

According to Hindu scriptures, a journey was made during the Mahabharata by Balrama along the banks of the Saraswati from Dwarka to Mathura. There were ancient kingdoms too (the era of the Mahajanapads) that lay in parts of north Rajasthan and that were named on the Saraswati River.[31][32][33][34]


Several Puranas describe the Sarasvati River, and also record that the river separated into a number of lakes (saras).[35]

In the Skanda Purana, 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. Five distributaries of the Sarasvati are mentioned.[36] The text regards Sarasvati as a form of Brahma's consort Brahmi.[37] According to the Vamana Purana 32.1-4, the Sarasvati rose from the Plaksa tree (Pipal tree).[35]


Identification theories

Vedic rivers

Attempts have been made to identify the mythical Sarasvati of the Vedas with physical rivers.[39] Many think that the Vedic Sarasvati river once flowed east of the Indus (Sindhu) river.[40] Scientists, geologists as well as scholars have identified the Sarasvati with many present-day or now defunct rivers.

Two theories are popular in the attempts to identify the Sarasvati. Several scholars have identified the river with the present-day Ghaggar-Hakra River or dried up part of it, which is located in Northwestern India and Pakistan.[41][42][43][44] A second popular theory associates the river with the Helmand river or an ancient river in the present Helmand Valley in Afghanistan.[5][45] Others consider Sarasvati a mythical river.

Ghaggar-Hakra River

The Ghaggar-Hakra River is an intermittent river in India and Pakistan that flows only during the monsoon season.

Identification with the Sarasvati

Many scholars as well as geologists have identified the Sarasvati river with the present-day Ghaggar-Hakra River, or the dried up part of it.[42][43][44][46][47][48][49] The main arguments are the supposed position east of the Indus, which corresponds with the Ghaggar-Hakra riverbed; the actual absence of a "mighty river" east of the Indus, which may be explained by the drying up of the historical Ghaggar-Hakra river; and the resemblance between the "diving under" of the Puranic Sarasvati, and the ending of the present-day Ghaggar-Hakra river in a desert.[citation needed]

The identification of the Vedic Sarasvati River with the Ghaggar-Hakra River was proposed by some scholars in the 19th and early 20th century, including Christian Lassen,[50] Max Müller,[51] Marc Aurel Stein, C.F. Oldham[52] and Jane Macintosh.[53] Danino notes that "the 1500 km-long bed of the Sarasvati" was "rediscovered" in the 19th century.[54] According to Danino, "most Indologists" were convinced in the 19th century that "the bed of the Ghaggar-Hakra was the relic of the Sarasvati."[54]

Romila Thapar terms the identification "controversial" and dismisses it, noticing that the descriptions of Sarasvati flowing through the "high mountains" does not tally with Ghaggar's course and suggests that Sarasvati is Haraxvati of Afghanistan.[55] Wilke suggests that the identification is problematic since the Ghaggar-Hakra river was already dried up at the time of the composition of the Vedas,[56] let alone the migration of the Vedic people into northern India.[57][58]

Course of the historical Ghaggar-Hakra River

Course of Sarasvati river

The historical Ghaggar-Hakra river, identified with the Sarasvati, flowed down the present Ghaggar-Hakra River channel, and that of the Nara in Sindh.[59] Satellite images in possession of the ISRO and ONGC have confirmed that the major course of a river ran through the present day Ghaggar River.[60]

The full flow of the paleo-Ghaggar-Hakra River was not present during the Holocene. According to Clift et al. and Giosan et al. the Yamuna and Sutlej were lost during the Pleistocene, and the Ghaggar-Hakra River was a much smaller river, fed entirely by monsoon rains rather than glacial streams, during the mid-late Holocene (including the Vedic period).[61][62][note 2]

Drying-up of the Ghaggar-Hakra system

Late in the 2nd millennium BC the Ghaggar-Hakra fluvial system dried up, which affected the Harappan civilisation.

Giosan et al., in their study Fluvial landscapes of the Harappan civilisation,[39] make clear that the Ghaggar-Hakra fluvial system was not a large glacier-fed Himalayan river, but a monsoonal-fed river.[64][4][note 2] They concluded that the Indus Valley Civilisation died out because the monsoons, which fed the rivers that supported the civilisation, migrated to the east. With the rivers drying out as a result, the civilisation diminished some 4000 years ago.[39] This particular effected the Ghaggar-Hakra system, which became ephemeral and was largely abandoned.[67] The Indus Valley Civilisation had the option to migrate east toward the more humid regions of the Indo-Gangetic Plain, where the decentralized late Harappan phase took place.[67]

Painted Grey Ware sites (ca. 1000 BC) have been found in the bed and not on the banks of the Ghaggar-Hakra river, suggesting that the river had dried up before this period.[68]

Other scenarios suppose that geological changes diverted the Sutlej towards the Indus and the Yamuna towards the Ganges, following which the river did not have enough water to reach the sea any more and dried up in the Thar desert.[citation needed] Active faults are present in the region, and lateral and vertical tectonic movements have frequently diverted streams in the past. The Saraswati may have migrated westward due to such uplift of the Aravallis.[69] According to geologists Puri and Verma a major seismic activity in the Himalayan region caused the rising of the Bata-Markanda Divide. This resulted in the blockage of the westward flow of Sarasvati forcing the water back. Since the Yamunā Tear opening was not far off, the blocked water exited from the opening into the Yamunā system.[70][71]

Apart from the above reasons, the following can be the possible reasons for the drying up of the river:

  • Capture of the waters of the Sarasvati by the adjoining rivers, Sutlej and the Yamuna. During the Indus period, the Sarasvati was a large river, receiving water from the Sutlej and the Yamuna. The tectonic movements during this period resulted in a distinct separation of the river Yamuna from the Indus system. Over time, these waters were withdrawn and the river became smaller and eventually dried up.[72]
  • The banks have undergone intense erosion leading to the collapse of the banks and drying of the river. Also, the river bed could be choked with modern moving sand.[72]
  • Two major shifts in the course and the volume of water associated with the river during the 3rd and 2nd millennia BC.[72] The two major shifts were the drying of one of the important tributaries of the Sarasvati, resulting in reduced volume of water and the capture of the river Sutlej by the river Beas which rendered part of the river dry.[72]
  • The lack of water far down the old course threatens the vegetation necessary to help maintain the river. It is also assumed that the plains formed during the course of the river was a part of Indo Gangetic plains which later turned to Thar Desert after the depletion of River Sarasvati.[72][73]

Identification with the Indus Valley Civilisation

The Indus Valley Civilisation (Harrapan Civilisation), which is named after the Indus, was largely located on the banks of and in the proximity of the Ghaggar-Hakra fluvial system.[74] Kalyanaraman concludes that the drying-up of the Ghaggar-Hakra resulted in the abandonment of the valley by the Mature Harappans. They moved into the region between the upper reaches of Gangā and Yamunā going in the north-eastwards direction. This is supported by the evidence of the occurrence of a very few Mature Harappan sites but Late Harappan sites in that region.[71]

The Indus Valley Civilisation is sometimes called the "Sarasvati culture", the "Sarasvati Civilization", the "Indus-Sarasvati Civilization" or the "Sindhu-Sarasvati Civilization", as it is theorized that the civilisation flourished on banks of the Sarasvati river, along with the Indus.[43][44][75] Danino notes that the dating of the Vedas to the third millennium BC coincides with the mature phase of the Indus Valley civilisation,[76] and that it is "tempting" to equate the Indus Valley and Vedic cultures.[77]

Helmand river

Helmand River in Uruzgan Province.

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 cognate to Sanskrit Sarasvati. 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".[78]

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.

The identification of the Helmand with the early Rig Vedic Sarasvati is not without difficulties. However, the geographic situation of the Sarasvati and the Helmand rivers are similar. Both flow into a terminal lakes: the Helmand into a swamp in the Iranian plateau (the extended wetland and lake system of Hamun-i-Helmand). This matches the Rigvedic description of the Sarasvati flowing to the samudra, which at that time meant 'confluence', 'lake', 'heavenly lake, ocean'; the current meaning of 'terrestrial ocean' was not even felt in the Pali Canon.[79] In post-Rig Vedic texts (Brahmanas) the Sarasvati ("she who has (many) lakes"), is said to disappear ("dive under") in the desert.

Because the Nadi Sukta of the Rig Veda (10.75.5) place the Sarasvati between the Yamuna and the Ghaggar, the Helmand is ruled out as being the historical Sarasvati since there are no rivers in Afghanistan by the names Yamuna and Ghaggar.[80][who?]

Also because the Rig Veda (10.92.2) mentions that Sarasvati rose from the mountains and fell into the ocean, the Helmand is ruled out as being the Sarasvati because Helmand does not flow into the ocean.[80][who?]

Mythical river

According to Michael Witzel, the Vedic "Sarasvati is not an earthly river, but the Milky Way that is seen as a road to immortality and heavenly after-life."[81][82][83] The description of the Sarasvati as the river of heavens, is interpreted to suggest its mythical nature.[42]

Ashoke Mukherjee (2001) is critical of the attempts to identify the Rigvedic Sarasvati. Mukherjee notes that many historians and archaeologists, both Indian and foreign, concluded that the word "Sarasvati" (literally "being full of water") is not a noun, a specific "thing". However, Mukherjee believes that "Sarasvati" is initially used by the Rig Vedic people as an adjective to the Indus as a large river and later evolved into a "noun". Mukherjee concludes that the Vedic poets had not seen the palaeo-Sarasvati, and that what they described in the Vedic verses refers to something else. He also suggests that in the post-Vedic and Puranic tradition the "disappearance" of Sarasvati, which to refers to "[going] under [the] ground in the sands", was created as a complementary myth to explain the visible non-existence of the river. Suggesting a political angle, he accuses "the BJP-led Governments at the centre and in some states to boost up Hindu religious sentiments and prejudices over some of the sensitive areas of Indian history."[84]

Drying-up and dating of the Vedas

The Vedic and Puranic statements about the drying-up and diving-under of the Sarasvati have been used as a reference point for the dating of the Harappan civilisation and the Vedic culture.[6] Some see these texts as evidence for an earlier dating of the Rig Veda, identifying the Sarasvati with the Ghaggar-Hakra River, rejecting the Indo-Aryan migrations theory, which postulates a migration at 1500 BC.[note 3][note 4]

Danino places the composition of the Vedas in the third millennium BC, a century earlier than the conventional dates.[76] Danino notes that accepting the Rig Veda accounts as factual descriptions, and dating the drying up late in the third millennium, are incompatible.[76] According to Danino, this suggests that the Vedic people were present in northern India in the third millennium BC,[90] a conclusion which is drawn by some Indian archaeologists, but not by Western archaeologists.[76] Danino states that there is an absence of "any intrusive material culture in the Northwest during the second millennium BC,"[76][note 5] a biological continuity in the skeletal remains,[76][note 4] and a cultural continuity. Danino then states that if the "testimony of the Sarasvati is added to this,"

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[T]he simplest and most natural conclusion is that the Vedic culture was present in the region in the third millennium.[77]

Danino acknowledges that this asks for "studying its tentacular ramifications into linguistics, archaeoastronomy, anthropology and genetics, besides a few other fields".[77]

Annette Wilke notes that the "historical river" Sarasvati was a "topographically tangible mythogeme", which was already reduced to a "small, sorry tickle in the desert", by the time of composition of the Hindu epics. These post-Vedic texts regularly talk about drying up of the river, and start associating the goddess Sarasvati with language, rather than the river.[94]

Michael Witzel also notes that the Rig Veda indicates that the Sarsvati "had already lost its main source of water supply and must have ended in a terminal lake (samudra)."[57][note 6][note 7]

Contemporary religious meaning

Triveni Sangam, Allahabad - the confluence of Ganga, Yamuna and the "unseen" Sarasvati.

Diana Eck notes that the power and significance of the Sarasvati for present-day India is in the persistent symbolic presence at the confluence of rivers all over India.[19] Although "materially missing",[97] she is the third river, which emerges to join in the meeting of rivers, thereby making the waters triple holy.[97]

After the Vedic Sarasvati dried, new myths about the rivers arose. Sarasvati is described to flow in the underworld and rise to the surface at some places.[94] For centuries, the Sarasvati river existed in a "subtle or mythic" form, since it corresponds with none of the major rivers of present-day South Asia.[6] The flowing together of the Ganges and Yamuna rivers at Triveni Sangam, Allahabad, converging with the unseen Sarasvati river, which is believed to flow underground. The Padma Purana proclaims:

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One who bathes and drinks there where the Gangā, Yamunā and Sarasvati join enjoys liberation. Of this there is no doubt."[98]

The Kumbh Mela, a mass bathing festival is held at Triveni Sangam, literally "confluence of the three rivers", every 12 years.[6][99][100] The belief of Sarasvati joining at the confluence of the Ganges and Yamuna originates from the Puranic scriptures and denotes the "powerful legacy" the Vedic river left after her disappearance. The belief is interpreted as "symbolic".[40] The three rivers Sarasvati, Yamuna, Ganga are considered consorts of the Hindu Trinity (Trimurti) Brahma, Vishnu (as Krishna) and Shiva respectively.[37]

In lesser known configuration, Sarasvati is said to form the Triveni confluence with rivers Hiranya and Kapila at Somnath. There are several other Trivenis in India where two physical rivers are joined by the "unseen" Sarasvati, which adds to the sanctity of the confluence.[101]

Romila Thapar notes that "once the river had been mythologized through invoking the memory of the earlier river, its name - Sarasvati - could be applied to many rivers, which is what happened in various parts of the [Indian] subcontinent."[55]

Several present-day rivers are also named Sarasvati, after the Vedic Sarasvati:

See also


  1. See Witzel (1984)[25] for discussion; for maps (1984) of the area, p. 42 sqq.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Valdiya dispute this, arguing that it was a large perennial river draining the high mountains as late as 3700–2500 years ago.[63]
  3. According to David Anthony, the Yamna culture was the "Urheimat" of the Indo-Europeans at the Pontic steppes.[85] From this area, which already included various subcultures, Indo-European languages spread west, south and east starting around 4,000 BC.[86] These languages may have been carried by small groups of males, with patron-client systems which allowed for the inclusion of other groups into their cultural system.[85] Eastward emerged the Sintashta culture (2100–1800 BC), from which developed the Andronovo culture (1800–1400 BC). This culture interacted with the BMAC (2300–1700 BC); out of this interaction developed the Indo-Iranians, which split around 1800 BC into the Indo-Aryans and the Iranians.[87] The Indo-Aryans migrated to the Levant, northern India, and possibly south Asia.[88]
  4. 4.0 4.1 The migration into northern India was not a large-scale immigration, but may have consisted of small groups,[89] which were genetically diverse. Their culture and language spread by the same mechanisms of acculturalisation, and the absorption of other groups into their patron-client system.[85]
  5. Michael Witzel points out that this is to expected from a mobile society, but that the Gandhara grave culture is a clear indication of new cultural elements.[91] Michaels points out that there are linguistic and archaeological data that shows a cultural change after 1750 BC,[92] and Flood notices that the linguistic and religious data clearly show links with Indo-European languages and religion.[93]
  6. Witzel: "The autochthonous theory overlooks that RV 3.33206 already speaks of a necessarily smaller Sarasvatī: the Sudås hymn 3.33 refers to the confluence of the Beas and Sutlej (Vipåś, Śutudrī). This means that the Beas had already captured the Sutlej away from the Sarasvatī, dwarfing its water supply. While the Sutlej is fed by Himalayan glaciers, the Sarsuti is but a small local river depending on rain water.
    In sum, the middle and later RV (books 3, 7 and the late book, 10.75) already depict the present day situation, with the Sarasvatī having lost most of its water to the Sutlej (and even earlier, much of it also to the Yamunå). It was no longer the large river it might have been before the early Rgvedic period.[95]
  7. Witzel further notes: "If the RV is to be located in the Panjab, and supposedly to be dated well before the supposed 1900 BC drying up of the Sarasvatī, at 4-5000 BC (Kak 1994, Misra 1992), the text should not contain evidence of the domesticated horse (not found in the subcontinent before c. 1700 BC, see Meadow 1997,1998, Anreiter 1998: 675 sqq.), of the horse drawn chariot (developed only about 2000 BC in S. Russia, Anthony and Vinogradov 1995, or Mesopotamia), of well developed copper/bronze technology, etc."[96]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Kinsley 1998, p. 10, 55-57.
  2. | " The work on delineation of entire course of Sarasvati River in North West India was carried out using Indian Remote Sensing Satellite data along with digital elevation model. Satellite images are multi-spectral, multi-temporal and have advantages of synoptic view, which are useful to detect palaeochannels. The palaeochannels are validated using historical maps, archaeological sites, hydro- geological and drilling data. It was observed that major Harappan sites of Kalibangan (Rajasthan), Banawali and Rakhigarhi (Haryana), Dholavira and Lothal (Gujarat) lie along the River Saraswati ."- Ministry of Space, Government of India.
  3. | A.V.Shankaran.:"Saraswati – The ancient river lost in the desert."
  4. Vedic River Sarasvati and Hindu Civilization,Edited by S.Kalyanaraman (2008), ISBN 978-81-7305-365-8 PP.308
  5. 5.0 5.1 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.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica, Sarasvati, Encyclopedia Britannica
  7. e.g. 7.96.4, 10.66.5
  8. e.g. RV 7.103.2b
  9. 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.
  10. by Lommel (1927); Lommel, Herman (1927), Die Yašts des Awesta, Göttingen-Leipzig: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht/JC Hinrichs
  11. Bridget Allchin, Raymond Allchin, The Rise of Civilization in India and Pakistan, Cambridge University Press, 1982, P.358.
  12. Special Report - Battling for India's soul, state by state. Reuter's. accessed 13 October 2015
  13. Ludvík p. 11
  14. Vedic River Sarasvati and Hindu Civilization,Edited by S.Kalyanaraman ISBN 978-81-7305-365-8 PP.96
  15. Griffith
  16. 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 meaning) would be less common in RV speech.
  17. Rigveda,4.58.1
  18. Sri Aurobindo , op.cit.
  19. 19.0 19.1 Eck 2012, p. 145.
  20. 1.3, 13, 89, 164; 10.17, 30, 64, 65, 66, 75, 110, 131, 141
  21. K.R. Jayaswal,Hindu Polity, pp. 12-13
  22. Pancavimsa Brahmana, Jaiminiya Upanisad Brahmana, Katyayana Srauta Sutra, Latyayana Srauta; Macdonell and Keith 1912
  23. Asvalayana Srauta Sutra, Sankhayana Srauta Sutra; Macdonell and Keith 1912, II:55
  24. Griffith, p.492
  25. 25.0 25.1 Witzel 1984.
  26. 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
  27. Sudhir Bhargava, "Location of Brahmavarta and Drishadwati river is important to find earliest alignment of Saraswati river" Seminar, Saraswati river-a perspective, Nov. 20-22, 2009, Kurukshetra University, Kurukshetra, organised by: Saraswati Nadi Shodh Sansthan, Haryana, Seminar Report: pages 114-117
  28. Mhb. 3.82.111; 3.130.3; 6.7.47; 6.37.1-4., 9.34.81; 9.37.1-2
  29. Mbh. 3.80.118
  30. Mbh. 3.88.2
  31. [1]
  32. [2]
  33. [3]
  34. Studies in Proto-Indo-Mediterranean culture, Volume 2, page 398
  35. 35.0 35.1 D.S. Chauhan in Radhakrishna, B.P. and Merh, S.S. (editors): Vedic Saraswati, 1999, p.35-44
  36. compare also with Yajurveda 34.11, D.S. Chauhan in Radhakrishna, B.P. and Merh, S.S. (editors): Vedic Saraswati, 1999, p.35-44
  37. 37.0 37.1 Eck p. 149
  38. Manusmriti 2.17-18
  39. 39.0 39.1 39.2 Giosan et al. 2012.
  40. 40.0 40.1 Eck p. 145
  41. Darian 2001, p. 58.
  42. 42.0 42.1 42.2 Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  43. 43.0 43.1 43.2 Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  44. 44.0 44.1 44.2 Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  45. Darian p. 59
  46. Darian p. 58
  47. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  48. Mughal, M. R. Ancient Cholistan. Archaeology and Architecture. Rawalpindi-Lahore-Karachi: Ferozsons 1997, 2004
  49. J. K. Tripathi et al., "Is River Ghaggar, Saraswati? Geochemical Constraints," Current Science, Vol. 87, No. 8, 25 October 2004
  50. Indische Alterthumskunde
  51. Sacred Books of the East, 32, 60
  52. Oldham 1893 pp.51–52
  53. The ancient Indus Valley:new perspectives By Jane McIntosh
  54. 54.0 54.1 Danino 2010, p. 252.
  55. 55.0 55.1 Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  56. Wilke 2011.
  57. 57.0 57.1 Witzel 2001, p. 93.
  58. Mukherjee 2001, p. 2, 8-9.
  59. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  60. Vedic River Sarasvati and Hindu Civilization,Edited by S.Kalyanaraman (2008), ISBN 978-81-7305-365-8 p. 308
  61. Clift et al. 2012
  62. Giosan et al. 2012
  63. Valdiya 2013.
  64. Giosan et al. 2012, p. 1688, 1689.
  65. Giosan et al. 2012, p. 1688.
  66. Giosan et al. 2012, p. 1689.
  67. 67.0 67.1 Giosan et al. 2012, p. 1693.
  68. Gaur, R. C. (1983). Excavations at Atranjikhera, Early Civilization of the Upper Ganga Basin. Delhi.
  69. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  70. Puri and Verma 1998, Glaciological and geological source of Vedic Saraswati in the Himalayas.
  71. 71.0 71.1 Vedic River Sarasvati and Hindu Civilization,Edited by S.Kalyanaraman ISBN 978-81-7305-365-8 PP.104
  72. 72.0 72.1 72.2 72.3 72.4
  73. Valdiya, K. S. (2002), Saraswati: The River That Disappeared, Universities Press (India), Hyderabad, ISBN 81-7371-403-7
  74. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  75. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  76. 76.0 76.1 76.2 76.3 76.4 76.5 Danino 2010, p. 256.
  77. 77.0 77.1 77.2 Danino 2010, p. 258.
  78. Yasht 10.67
  79. Klaus, K. Die altindische Kosmologie, nach den Brāhmaṇas dargestellt. Bonn 1986; Samudra, XXIII Deutscher Orientalistentag Würzburg, ZDMG Suppl. Volume VII, Stuttgart 1989, 367-371
  80. 80.0 80.1 P. 54 The Indo-Aryan Controversy: Evidence and Inference in Indian History edited by Edwin Bryant, Laurie Patton
  81. Wilke p.310 note 574 quoting Witzel
  82. Ludvík p.85, quoting Witzel
  83. Witzel 2012, p. 74, 125, 133.
  84. Mukherjee 2001, p. 2, 6-9.
  85. 85.0 85.1 85.2 Anthony 2007.
  86. Beckwith 2009, p. 29.
  87. Anthony 2007, p. 408.
  88. Beckwith 2009.
  89. Witzel 2005, p. 342-343.
  90. Danino 2010, p. 256, 258.
  91. Witzel 2005.
  92. Michaels 2004, p. 33.
  93. Flood 1996, p. 33.
  94. 94.0 94.1 Wilke pp. 310-1
  95. Witzel 2001, p. 81.
  96. Witzel 2001, p. 31.
  97. 97.0 97.1 Eck 2012, p. 148.
  98. Eck 2012, p. 147.
  99. Ludvík p. 1
  100. At the Three Rivers TIME, February 23, 1948
  101. Eck p. 220


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Further reading

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External links