Sarasvati River

From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

By Swami Harshananda

The Ṛgveda often speaks of the Sarasvatī as a mighty river[1] flowing from the Himalayas into the ocean.[2]

History of Sarasvati River

Initially it was a mighty river which was as wide as 8 to 13 kilometres. It might have been the life-line of the people up to 3000 B. C. Severe tectonic disturbances might have contributed to its gradual disappearance by 2200 B. C. into a desert. The river Sarasvati is said to originate at Plaksha Prasaravana in the Shivalik hills of the Himalayas and disappear into the ground at Vinasana near Kurukshetra.

Present Sarasvati River

The modern rivers, Sarasvatī and Ghaggar may be the remnants of the ancient Sarasvatī.[3] During the recent years, great efforts are being made to trace its origin and course and also to revive it in some form. Proofs for the existence of the mighty river are:

  1. Satellite pictures
  2. Controlled excavations under the supervision of expert archaeologists
  3. Testing of soil sediment and artifacts by the most modern and scientific methods

References in Ancient Scriptures

There are references to it in other Vedic scriptures such as:

  1. Aitareya Brāhmana[4]
  2. Pañcavimśa Brāhmana[5]
  3. Śatapatha Brāhmana
  4. Taittiriya Samhitā[6]

It has been known as various names such as, Ramya-Ganga, Sausami, and Sushoma.

Significance as per Mahābhārata

The Mahābhārata declares that many Vedic sacrifices were performed on its banks.[7][8] The Kāmyakavana forest where the Pāndavas lived for some time was on its bank;[9] and even the hermitage of the famous sage Dadhīci.[10] It seems to have originated in the higher Himālayan ranges and flown through the present Śivālik range of mountains joined by other tributary rivers.

Significance as per other scriptures

The sacredness of the river served for many ceremonial purposes. Indra performed austerities at Indratirtha (in Thanesar) and at Indrabari (in Safidon) on the Sarasvati, Surya performed sacrifice at Adityatirtha, and Varuna was anointed by the Devas at Tajisa.[11]

The river passed through the sacred cities of Ambala, Pipli, Kurukhshetra, Pehowa, Sisra (Sirsuti) and others in the Thar Desert.[12]

When discussing the region of Sarasvata, only regions in India, and more specifically ones surrounding Sarasvata are mentioned in texts.[13]

The Buddhist scripture Majjhima Nikaya when discussing rivers in midland of Jambudwipa (a name for India in the text), it mentions the list as follows: Bahuka, Adhikakka, Gaya, Sundarika, Sarasvati, Payaga and Bahumati.[14] Varahamihira in his Bṛhatsamhitā too mentions the river in midland India, because he places the Sarasvatas, people living on the banks of the Sarasvati[15], in the Madhyadesa (Middle Country.)[16]

Modern identification of Rig Vedic rivers

Northwestern Rivers
Rig Vedic Avestan Modern name Location
Trstama Gilgit?
Susartu Sohan Punjab
Anitabha Amita Kashmir
Rasa Ranha Brahmaputra Tibet, Arunanchal Pradesh, Asom, Bangladesh
Svetya Spenda
Kubha Kabul
Krumu Kurrum
Suvastu Swat in RV 8.19.37
Gauri Panjkora?
Kusava Kunar?
Indus and its minor eastern tributaries
Rig Vedic Avestan Modern name Location
Sindhu Veh Indus Tibet, Kashmir, Northern Areas, Punjab, Sind
Susoma Sohan Punjab
Arjikiya Haro Haro?
Amaravati Aravand/Diglit Gilgit Kashmir, Northern Areas
Central rivers (rivers of the Punjab region)
Rig Vedic Avestan Modern name Location
Vitasta Jhelum
Asikni Chenab
Parusni Ravi Punjab
Vipas Beas
Sutudri Sutlej
East-central Rivers (rivers of Haryana)
Rig Vedic Avestan Modern name Location
Sarasvati Ghaggar
Drsadvati (RV 3.23.4) Apaya (Mahabharata Apaga)
Eastern rivers
Rig Vedic Avestan Modern name Location
Asmanvati Asnavand Assan?
Yamuna Yamuna
Ganga Ganga
Sarayu Sarayu Uttar Pradesh
Gomti (Adi Ganga) Uttar Pradesh
Silamavati? Sila Kashmir
Yavyavati Zhob?

See also


  1. Rgveda 2.41.16; 7.95.2 and so on
  2. It is almost parallel to the Sindhu or the Indus river.
  3. Both of them are in Himachal Pradesh.
  4. Aitareya Brāhmana 2.19.1,2
  5. Pañcavimśa Brāhmana 25.10.1
  6. Taittiriya Samhitā
  7. Ādiparva 95.26
  8. Vanaparva 12.14
  9. Vanaparva 36.41
  10. Vanaparva 100.13
  11. P. 69 Haryana, Ancient and Medieval By H. A. Phadke
  12. P. 69 Haryana, Ancient and Medieval By H. A. Phadke
  13. P. 91 Cosmography and Geography in Early Indian Literature By D. C. Sircar
  14. P. 130 Geography of ancient India in Buddhist literature By Debarchana Sarkar
  15. Bṛhatsamhitā XVI. 21
  16. Bṛhatsamhitā XIV.2
  • The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore