Sarasvati River (Sanskrit: सरस्वती नदी, IAST: sárasvatī nadī) is 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 Hinduism since Vedic Sanskrit. The first part of the Rig Veda is believed to have originated when the Vedic people lived on its banks, during the 2nd millennium BCE.[1]

The goddess Sarasvati was originally a personification of this river, but later developed an independent identity.[2] The Sarasvati is also considered by Hindus to exist in a metaphysical form, in which it formed a confluence with the sacred rivers Ganges and Yamuna, at the Triveni Sangam.[3] According to Michael Witzel, superimposed on the Vedic Sarasvati river is the heavenly river Milky Way, which is seen as "a road to immortality and heavenly after-life."[4]

Rigvedic and later Vedic texts have been used to propose identification with present-day rivers, or ancient riverbeds. The Nadistuti hymn in the Rigveda (10.75) mentions the Sarasvati between the Yamuna in the east and the Sutlej in the west. Later Vedic texts like the Tandya and Jaiminiya Brahmanas, as well as the Mahabharata, mention that the Sarasvati dried up in a desert.

Since the late 19th-century, scholars have conjectured that the Vedic Saraswati river is the Ghaggar-Hakra River system, which flows through northwestern India and Eastern Pakistan. Satellite images have pointed to the more significant river once following the course of the present day Ghaggar River.[5] Scholars have observed that major Indus Valley Civilization sites at Kalibangan (Rajasthan), Banawali and Rakhigarhi (Haryana), Dholavira and Lothal (Gujarat) also lay along this course.[6][7]

Recent geophysical research suggests that the Ghaggar-Hakra system was a system of monsoon-fed rivers and that the Indus Valley Civilisation may have declined as a result of climate change. That is, the monsoons that fed the rivers appear to have migrated to the east at around the time civilisation diminished some 4,000 years ago.[8][note 1][9]

However, identification of the Vedic Sarasvati with the Ghaggar-Hakra system is problematic, since the Ghaggar-Hakra is not only mentioned separately in the Rig Veda river, but is described as having dried-up by the time of the composition of the Vedas and Hindu epics.[10] In the words of Annette Wilke, the Ghaggar-Hakra had been reduced to a "small, sorry trickle in the desert", by the time that the Vedic people migrated into north-west India.[11] [12][note 2][note 3][13]

"Saraswati" may also be identified with the Helmand or Haraxvati river in southern Afghanistan.,[14] the name of which may have been reused in it's Sanskrit form as the name of the Ghaggar-Hakra river, after the Vedic tribes moved to the Punjab.[14][15][note 4]

The identification with the Ghaggar-Hakra system took on new significance in the early 21th century,[16] with some suggesting an earlier dating of the Rig Veda, renaming the Indus Valley Civilisation as the "Sarasvati culture", the "Sarasvati Civilization", the "Indus-Sarasvati Civilization" or the "Sindhu-Sarasvati Civilization,"[17][18][19] suggesting that the Indus Valley and Vedic cultures can be equated,[20] and rejecting the Indo-Aryan migrations theory, which postulates a migration at 1500 BCE.[note 5][note 6]


Sarasvatī is the devi feminine of an adjective sarasvant- (which occurs in the Rigveda[21] 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’.[22] 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’.[23]

Sarasvatī may be a cognate of Avestan Haraxvatī, perhaps[24] 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).

However, the Avestan xv generally cognates with Sanskrit "ksha". The usual cognate to "sva/sa" syllable of Sanskrit is "ngha/ŋh" syllable of Avestan, as generally found in cognate-pairs like Vivasvan-Vivanghat and Rasa-Rangha.

Importance in Hinduism

The Saraswati river was revered and considered important for Hindus because it is said that it was on this river's banks, along with its tributary Drishadwati, in the Vedic state of Brahmavarta, that Vedic Sanskrit had its genesis,[25] and important Vedic scriptures like 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."[26]


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.[27]


  • The Sarasvati is praised lavishly in the Rigveda as the best of all the rivers. In RV 2.41.16,

-Ambitame Naditame Devitame Sarasvati, Aparaastasya Iva Smaasi Yashastim Amba Naskruteem-

"Oh Mother Saraswati you are the greatest of mothers, greatest of rivers, greatest of goddesses. Even though we are not worthy, please grant us distinction".
  • 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."
  • Rigveda,4.58.1 says
"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"[28]

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.[29] it is mentioned in thirteen hymns of the late books (1 and 10) of the Rigveda.[30] 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.[2] Aurobindo has proposed, on the other hand, that "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 World, the goddess of a divine inspiration...".[31]

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 (Peepal tree or Ashwattha tree as known in India and Nepal).[32][33]

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."[34] 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 disappearance 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.[35][note 7]

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.).[36]

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[37] 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


According to the Mahabharata, the Sarasvati dried up to a desert (at a place named Vinasana or Adarsana)[38][39] and joins the sea "impetuously".[40] The desert made when Saraswati dried up was the Thar desert. 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.[41][42][43][44]


Several Puranas describe the Sarasvati River, and also record that the river separated into a number of lakes (saras).[45]

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.[46] The text regards Sarasvati as a form of Brahma's consort Brahmi.[47] According to the Vamana Purana 32.1-4, the Sarasvati rose from the Plaksa tree (Pipal tree).[45]

The Padma Purana proclaims:

One who bathes and drinks there where the Gangā, Yamunā and Sarasvati join enjoys liberation. Of this there is no doubt."[48]


Contemporary mythological 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.[29] Although "materially missing",[50] she is the third river, which emerges to join in the meeting of rivers, thereby making the waters triple holy.[50]

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.[11] 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.[3] The confluence (sangam) or joining together of the Ganges and Yamuna rivers at Triveni Sangam, Allahabad, is believed to also converge with the unseen Sarasvati river, which is believed to flow underground. This despite Allahabad being a considerable distance from the possible historic routes of an actual Sarasvati river.

At the Kumbh Mela, a mass bathing festival is held at Triveni Sangam, literally "confluence of the three rivers", every 12 years.[3][51][52] 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".[53] The three rivers Sarasvati, Yamuna, Ganga are considered consorts of the Hindu Trinity (Trimurti) Brahma, Vishnu (as Krishna) and Shiva respectively.[47]

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.[54]

According to Michael Witzel, superimposed on the Vedic Sarasvati river is the heavenly river Milky Way, which is seen as "a road to immortality and heavenly after-life."[4][55][56] The description of the Sarasvati as the river of heavens, is interpreted to suggest its mythical nature.[57]

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."[15]

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

Identification theories

Already since the 19th century, attempts have been made to identify the mythical Sarasvati of the Vedas with physical rivers.[58] Many think that the Vedic Sarasvati river once flowed east of the Indus (Sindhu) river.[53] 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.[59][57][17][18] A second popular theory associates the river with the Helmand river or an ancient river in the present Helmand Valley in Afghanistan.[14][60] Others consider Sarasvati a mythical river.

The identification with the Ghaggar-Hakra system took on new significance in the early 21th century,[16] suggesting an earlier dating of the Rig Veda, and renaming the Indus Valley Civilisation as the "Sarasvati culture", the "Sarasvati Civilization", the "Indus-Sarasvati Civilization" or the "Sindhu-Sarasvati Civilization,"[17][18][19] suggesting that the Indus Valley and Vedic cultures can be equated.[20]

Rig Vedic course

Vedic rivers

The Rig Veda contains several hymns which give an indication of the flow of the geography of the river, and an identification with the Ghaggra-Hakra:

  • 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).
  • RV 7.36.6, "sárasvatī saptáthī síndhumātā" can be translated as "Sarasvati the Seventh, Mother of Floods,"[61] but also as "whose mother is the Sindhu", which would indicate that the Sarasvati is here a tributary of the Indus.[note 8]
  • RV 7.95.1-2, describes the Sarasvati as flowing to the samudra, a word now usually translated as "ocean."[note 9]
  • RV 10.75.5, 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. The sequence "Ganges, Yamuna, Sarasvati, Shutudri" places the Sarasvati between the Yamuna and the Sutlej, which is consistent with the Ghaggar identification.

Yet, the Rig Veda also contains clues for an identification with the Helmand river in Afghanistan:

  • The Sarasvati River is perceived to be a great river with perennial water, which does not apply to the Hakra and Ghaggar.[62]
  • The Rig Veda seems to contain descriptions of several Sarasvati's. The earliest Sararvati is said to be similar to the Helmand in Afghanistan which is called the Harakhwati in the Āvestā.[62]
  • 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.

Ghaggar-Hakra River

Theorical identification of the Sarasvati River with the Ghaggar-Hakra River
1=ancient river 2=today's river 3=today's Thar desert
4=ancient shore 5=today's town

The Ghaggar-Hakra River is a seasonal 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.[57][17][18][63][64][65][66][67][68] 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,[69] Max Müller,[70] Marc Aurel Stein, C.F. Oldham[71] and Jane Macintosh.[72] Danino notes that "the 1500 km-long bed of the Sarasvati" was "rediscovered" in the 19th century.[73] According to Danino, "most Indologists" were convinced in the 19th century that "the bed of the Ghaggar-Hakra was the relic of the Sarasvati."[73]

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.[15] 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,[10] let alone the migration of the Vedic people into northern India.[12][13]

Course of the historical Ghaggar-Hakra 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.[74] 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.[75]

The full flow of the paleo-Ghaggar-Hakra River was not present during the Holocene. According to Liviu Giosan et al. and Clift 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).[58][76][note 10]

In 2016, A committee constituted by Government of India constituted on Palaeochannels of North-West India: Review and Assessment, concluded that Saraswati river had two branches eastern & western. The eastern branch included Sarsuti-Markanda rivulets in Haryana and the western branches included Ghaggar-Patiali channels. The committee considers that branches met near Patiala, at Shatrana, then flowed as a large river.

Drying-up of the Ghaggar-Hakra system

Late in the 2nd millennium BCE the Ghaggar-Hakra fluvial system dried up, which affected the Harappan civilisation. Giosan et al., in their study Fluvial landscapes of the Harappan civilisation,[58] make clear that the Ghaggar-Hakra fluvial system was not a large glacier-fed Himalayan river, but a monsoonal-fed river.[note 11][note 10] 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.[58] This particular effected the Ghaggar-Hakra system, which became ephemeral and was largely abandoned.[77] 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.[77]

Painted Grey Ware sites (ca. 1000 BCE) 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.[78]

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.[79] 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.[80] Other research using dating of zircon sand grains has shown that late Pleistocene subsurface river channels near the present-day Indus Valley Civilisation sites in the Cholistan desert, in Pakistan, immediately below the dry Ghaggar-Hakra bed show sediment affinity not with the Ghagger-Hakra river, but with the Beas river in the western sites and the Sutlej and Yamuna rivers in the eastern ones.[81] This suggests that the Yamuna itself, or a channel of the Yamuna, may have flowed west some time between 47,000 BCE and 10,000 BCE, but well before the beginnings of the Indus civilization.[81]

Apart from the above reasons, the following reasons have also been proposed 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.[82]
  • 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.[82]
  • Two major shifts in the course and the volume of water associated with the river during the 3rd and 2nd millennia BC.[82] 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.[82]
  • 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.[82][83]

Helmand river

Helmund river basin with tributary Arghandab River originate in Hindu Kush mountain in north Afghanistan and fall in to Hamun Lake in southern Afghanistan at the border of Iran. Helmund basin in ancient Iranian Avestan Haraxvatī and Harahvaiti, is cognate with the mythological Iranian Avestan Arədvī Sūrā Anāhitā river and Sarasvati river.[citation needed]

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".[84]

Kochhar (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.[14]

Romila Thapar has also suggested that the Sarasvati river is the ancient Haraxvati river of Afghanistan, noticing that the descriptions of the Sarasvati flowing through the "high mountains" cannot be reconciled with the actual course of the present-day Ghaggar-Hakkar river.[15]

According to K. Klaus, 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.[85] According to Kochar, only in post-Rig Vedic texts (Brahmanas) the Sarasvati ("she who has (many) lakes"), is said to disappear ("dive under") in the desert.[14]

Contemporary politico-religious meaning

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.[3] 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 BCE.[note 5][note 6]

Michel Danino places the composition of the Vedas in the third millennium BCE, a millennium earlier than the conventional dates.[91] Danino notes that accepting the Rig Veda accounts as factual descriptions, and dating the drying up late in the third millennium, are incompatible.[91] According to Danino, this suggests that the Vedic people were present in northern India in the third millennium BCE,[92] a conclusion which is drawn by some Indian archaeologists, but not by Western archaeologists.[91] Danino states that there is an absence of "any intrusive material culture in the Northwest during the second millennium BCE,"[91][note 12] a biological continuity in the skeletal remains,[91][note 6] and a cultural continuity. Danino then states that if the "testimony of the Sarasvati is added to this,"

[T]he simplest and most natural conclusion is that the Vedic culture was present in the region in the third millennium.[20]

Danino acknowledges that this asks for "studying its tentacular ramifications into linguistics, archaeoastronomy, anthropology and genetics, besides a few other fields".[20]

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.[11]

Michael Witzel also notes that the Rig Veda indicates that the Sarswati "had already lost its main source of water supply and must have ended in a terminal lake (samudra)."[12][note 2][note 3]

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.[98]

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.[17][18][19] Danino notes that the dating of the Vedas to the third millennium BCE coincides with the mature phase of the Indus Valley civilisation,[91] and that it is "tempting" to equate the Indus Valley and Vedic cultures.[20]


In 2015, Reuters reported that "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." The Bharatiya Janata Party Government had therefore ordered archaeologists to search for the river.[99]

According to the government of Indian state of Haryana, research and satellite imagery of the region has confirmed to have found the lost river when water was detected during digging of the dry river bed at Yamunanagar. The government constituted Saraswati Heritage Development Board (SHDB) had conducted a trial run on July 30, 2016 filling the river bed with 100 cusecs of water which was pumped into a dug-up channel from tubewells at Uncha Chandna village in Yamunanagar. The water is expected to fill the channel until Kurukshetra, a distance of 40 kilometres. Once confirmed that there is no obstructions in the flow of the water, the government proposes to flow in another 100 cusecs after a fortnight. There also are plans to build three dams on the river route to keep it flowing perennially.[100]


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."[101]

See also


  1. ^ Giosan (2012): "Numerous speculations have advanced the idea that the Ghaggar-Hakra fluvial system, at times identified with the lost mythical river of Sarasvati (e.g., 4, 5, 7, 19), was a large glacier fed Himalayan river. Potential sources for this river include the Yamuna River, the Sutlej River, or both rivers. However, the lack of large-scale incision on the interfluve demonstrates that large, glacier-fed rivers did not flow across the Ghaggar-Hakra region during the Holocene. .... The present Ghaggar-Hakra valley and its tributary rivers are currently dry or have seasonal flows. Yet rivers were undoubtedly active in this region during the Urban Harappan Phase. We recovered sandy fluvial deposits approximately 5;400 y old at Fort Abbas in Pakistan (SI Text), and recent work (33) on the upper Ghaggar-Hakra interfluve in India also documented Holocene channel sands that are approximately 4;300 y old. On the upper interfluve, fine-grained floodplain deposition continued until the end of the Late Harappan Phase, as recent as 2,900 y ago (33) (Fig. 2B). This widespread fluvial redistribution of sediment suggests that reliable monsoon rains were able to sustain perennial rivers earlier during the Holocene and explains why Harappan settlements flourished along the entire Ghaggar-Hakra system without access to a glacier-fed river."[8]
  2. ^ a b 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.[96]
  3. ^ a b Witzel further notes: "If the RV is to be located in the Panjab, and supposedly to be dated well before the supposed 1900 BCE drying up of the Sarasvatī, at 4-5000 BCE (Kak 1994, Misra 1992), the text should not contain evidence of the domesticated horse (not found in the subcontinent before c. 1700 BCE, see Meadow 1997,1998, Anreiter 1998: 675 sqq.), of the horse drawn chariot (developed only about 2000 BCE in S. Russia, Anthony and Vinogradov 1995, or Mesopotamia), of well developed copper/bronze technology, etc."[97]
  4. ^ The Helmand river historically, besides Avestan Haetumant, bore the name Haraxvaiti, which is the Avestan form cognate to Sanskrit Sarasvati.
  5. ^ a b According to David Anthony, the Yamna culture was the "Urheimat" of the Indo-Europeans at the Pontic steppes.[86] From this area, which already included various subcultures, Indo-European languages spread west, south and east starting around 4,000 BCE.[87] 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.[86] Eastward emerged the Sintashta culture (2100–1800 BCE), from which developed the Andronovo culture (1800–1400 BCE). This culture interacted with the BMAC (2300–1700 BCE); out of this interaction developed the Indo-Iranians, which split around 1800 BCE into the Indo-Aryans and the Iranians.[88] The Indo-Aryans migrated to the Levant, northern India, and possibly south Asia.[89]
  6. ^ a b c The migration into northern India was not a large-scale immigration, but may have consisted of small groups,[90] 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.[86]
  7. ^ See Witzel (1984)[35] for discussion; for maps (1984) of the area, p. 42 sqq.
  8. ^ While the first translation takes a tatpurusha interpretation of síndhumātā, the word is actually a bahuvrihi. Hans Hock (1999) translates síndhumātā as a bahuvrihi, giving the second translation. A translation as a tatpurusha ("mother of rivers", with sindhu still with its generic meaning) would be less common in RV speech.
  9. ^ RV 7.95.1-2:
    "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."
  10. ^ a b Valdiya (2013) dispute this, arguing that it was a large perennial river draining the high mountains as late as 3700–2500 years ago.
  11. ^ Giosan et al. (2012, pp. 1688, 1689):
    • "Contrary to earlier assumptions that a large glacier-fed Himalayan river, identified by some with the mythical Sarasvati, watered the Harappan heartland on the interfluve between the Indus and Ganges basins, we show that only monsoonal-fed rivers were active there during the Holocene." (Giosan et al. 2012, p. 1688)
    • "Numerous speculations have advanced the idea that the Ghaggar-Hakra fluvial system, at times identified with the lost mythical river of Sarasvati (e.g., 4, 5, 7, 19), was a large glacierfed Himalayan river. Potential sources for this river include the Yamuna River, the Sutlej River, or both rivers. However, the lack of large-scale incision on the interfluve demonstrates that large, glacier-fed rivers did not flow across the Ghaggar-Hakra region during the Holocene." (Giosan et al. 2012, p. 1689)
  12. ^ 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.[93] Michaels points out that there are linguistic and archaeological data that shows a cultural change after 1750 BCE,[94] and Flood notices that the linguistic and religious data clearly show links with Indo-European languages and religion.[95]


  1. ^ Global Warming Trends: Ecological Footprints, by Julie Kerr Casper
  2. ^ a b Kinsley 1998, p. 10, 55-57.
  3. ^ a b c d The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica, Sarasvati, Encyclopædia Britannica
  4. ^ a b Witzel (2012, pp. 74, 125, 133): "It can easily be understood, as the Sarasvatī, the river on earth and in the nighttime sky, emerges, just as in Germanic myth, from the roots of the world tree. In the Middle Vedic texts, this is acted out in the Yātsattra... along the Rivers Sarasvatī and Dṛṣadvatī (northwest of Delhi)..."
  5. ^ Vedic River Sarasvati and Hindu Civilization, edited by S. Kalyanaraman (2008), ISBN 978-81-7305-365-8 PP.308
  6. ^ Mythical Saraswati River "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." — Department of Space, Government of India.
  7. ^ "Saraswati – The ancient river lost in the desert" A.V.Shankaran.
  8. ^ a b Giosan, L.; et al. (2012). "Fluvial landscapes of the Harappan Civilization". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA. 109 (26): E1688–E1694. doi:10.1073/pnas.1112743109. PMC 3387054Freely accessible. PMID 22645375. 
  9. ^ Maemoku, Hideaki; Shitaoka, Yorinao; Nagatomo, Tsuneto; Yagi, Hiroshi (2013), "Geomorphological Constraints on the Ghaggar River Regime During the Mature Harappan Period", in Giosan, Liviu; Fuller, Dorian Q.; Nicoll, Kathleen; Flad, Rowan K.; Clift, Peter D., Climates, Landscapes, and Civilizations, American Geophysical Union Monograph Series 198, John Wiley & Sons, ISBN 978-1-118-70443-1 
  10. ^ a b Wilke 2011.
  11. ^ a b c Wilke 2011, pp. 310–311
  12. ^ a b c Witzel 2001, p. 93.
  13. ^ a b Mukherjee 2001, p. 2, 8-9.
  14. ^ a b c d e Kochhar, Rajesh (1999), "On the identity and chronology of the Ṛgvedic river Sarasvatī", in Roger Blench; Matthew Spriggs, Archaeology and Language III; Artefacts, languages and texts, Routledge, ISBN 0-415-10054-2 
  15. ^ a b c d Romila Thapar (2004). Early India: From the Origins to AD 1300. University of California Press. p. 42. ISBN 978-0-520-24225-8. 
  16. ^ a b Encyclopedia Britannica, Sarasvati
  17. ^ a b c d e Upinder Singh (2008). A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India: From the Stone Age to the 12th Century. Pearson Education India. pp. 137–8. ISBN 978-81-317-1677-9. 
  18. ^ a b c d e Charles Keith Maisels (16 December 2003). "The Indus/'Harappan'/Sarasvati Civilization". Early Civilizations of the Old World: The Formative Histories of Egypt, The Levant, Mesopotamia, India and China. Routledge. p. 184. ISBN 978-1-134-83731-1. 
  19. ^ a b c Denise Cush; Catherine A. Robinson; Michael York (2008). Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Psychology Press. p. 766. ISBN 978-0-7007-1267-0. 
  20. ^ a b c d e Danino 2010, p. 258.
  21. ^ e.g. 7.96.4, 10.66.5
  22. ^ e.g. RV 7.103.2b
  23. ^ 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.
  24. ^ by Lommel (1927); Lommel, Herman (1927), Die Yašts des Awesta, Göttingen-Leipzig: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht/JC Hinrichs
  25. ^ Manu (2004). Olivelle, Patrick, ed. The Law Code of Manu. Oxford University Press. p. 24. ISBN 978-0-19280-271-2.
  26. ^ Bridget Allchin, Raymond Allchin, The Rise of Civilization in India and Pakistan, Cambridge University Press, 1982, P.358.
  27. ^ Ludvík 2007, p. 11
  28. ^ translation by Sri Aurobindo, op.cit.
  29. ^ a b Eck 2012, p. 145.
  30. ^ 1.3, 13, 89, 164; 10.17, 30, 64, 65, 66, 75, 110, 131, 141
  31. ^ K.R. Jayaswal, Hindu Polity, pp. 12-13
  32. ^ Pancavimsa Brahmana, Jaiminiya Upanisad Brahmana, Katyayana Srauta Sutra, Latyayana Srauta; Macdonell and Keith 1912
  33. ^ Asvalayana Srauta Sutra, Sankhayana Srauta Sutra; Macdonell and Keith 1912, II:55
  34. ^ Griffith, p.492
  35. ^ a b Witzel 1984.
  36. ^ 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
  37. ^ 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
  38. ^ Mhb. 3.82.111; 3.130.3; 6.7.47; 6.37.1-4., 9.34.81; 9.37.1-2
  39. ^ Mbh. 3.80.118
  40. ^ Mbh. 3.88.2
  41. ^ https://www.academia.edu/1615237Haigh_M._2011._Interpreting_the_Sarasvati_Tirthayatra_of_Shri_Balar%C4%81ma._Itihas_Darpan_Research_Journal_of_Akhil_Bhartiya_Itihas_Sankalan_Yojana_ABISY_New_Delhi_16_2_pp.179-193_ISSN_0974-3065_
  42. ^ "The journey of Jagannath from India to Egypt: The Untold Saga of the Kussites - Graham Hancock Official Website". 
  43. ^ org, Richard MAHONEY - r dot mahoney at indica-et-buddhica dot. "INDOLOGY - Sarasvati-Sindhu civilization (c. 3000 B.C.)". indology.info. 
  44. ^ Studies in Proto-Indo-Mediterranean culture, Volume 2, page 398
  45. ^ a b D.S. Chauhan in Radhakrishna, B.P. and Merh, S.S. (editors): Vedic Saraswati, 1999, p.35-44
  46. ^ compare also with Yajurveda 34.11, D.S. Chauhan in Radhakrishna, B.P. and Merh, S.S. (editors): Vedic Saraswati, 1999, p.35-44
  47. ^ a b Eck p. 149
  48. ^ Eck 2012, p. 147.
  49. ^ Manusmriti 2.17-18
  50. ^ a b Eck 2012, p. 148.
  51. ^ Ludvík 2011, p. 1
  52. ^ At the Three Rivers TIME, February 23, 1948
  53. ^ a b Eck p. 145
  54. ^ Eck p. 220
  55. ^ Ludvík (2007, p. 85): "The Sarasvatī river, which, according to Witzel,... personifies the Milky Way, falls down to this world at Plakṣa Prāsarvaṇa, "the world tree at the center of heaven and earth," and flows through the land of the Kurus, the center of this world."
  56. ^ Wilke (2011, p. 310, note 574): "Witzel suggests that Sarasvatī is not an earthly river, but the Milky Way that is seen as a road to immortality and heavenly after-life. In `mythical logic,' as outlined above, the two interpretations are not however mutually exclusive. There are passages which clearly suggest a river."
  57. ^ a b c Pushpendra K. Agarwal; Vijay P. Singh (16 May 2007). Hydrology and Water Resources of India. Springer Science & Business Media. pp. 311–2. ISBN 978-1-4020-5180-7. 
  58. ^ a b c d Giosan et al. 2012.
  59. ^ Darian 2001, p. 58.
  60. ^ Darian p. 59
  61. ^ Griffith
  62. ^ a b S. Kalyanaraman (ed.), Vedic River Sarasvati and Hindu Civilization, ISBN 978-81-7305-365-8 PP.96
  63. ^ Darian p. 58
  64. ^ "Proceedings of the second international symposium on the management of large rivers for fisheries: Volume II". Fao.org. 2003-02-14. Retrieved 2012-07-12. 
  65. ^ Mughal, M. R. Ancient Cholistan. Archaeology and Architecture. Rawalpindi-Lahore-Karachi: Ferozsons 1997, 2004
  66. ^ J. K. Tripathi et al., "Is River Ghaggar, Saraswati? Geochemical Constraints," Current Science, Vol. 87, No. 8, 25 October 2004
  67. ^ "Press Information Bureau English Releases". Retrieved 2016-10-18. 
  68. ^ PTI. "Government-constituted expert committee finds Saraswati river did exist". Indian Express. PTI. Retrieved 19 October 2016. 
  69. ^ Indische Alterthumskunde
  70. ^ Sacred Books of the East, 32, 60
  71. ^ Oldham 1893 pp.51–52
  72. ^ Feuerstein, Georg; Kak, Subhash; Frawley, David (11 January 1999). "In Search of the Cradle of Civilization: New Light on Ancient India". Motilal Banarsidass Publ. – via Google Books. 
  73. ^ a b Danino 2010, p. 252.
  74. ^ A. V. Sankaran. "Saraswati – the ancient river lost in the desert". Indian Institute of Science. Retrieved 22 January 2015. 
  75. ^ Valdiya, K. S. (2002-01-01). Saraswati: The River that Disappeared. Indian Space Research Organization. p. 23. ISBN 9788173714030. 
  76. ^ Clift et al. 2012.
  77. ^ a b Giosan et al. 2012, p. 1693.
  78. ^ Gaur, R. C. (1983). Excavations at Atranjikhera, Early Civilization of the Upper Ganga Basin. Delhi.
  79. ^ D. S. Mitra & Balram Bhadu (10 March 2012). "Possible contribution of River Saraswati in groundwater aquifer system in western Rajasthan, India" (PDF). Current Science. 102 (5). 
  80. ^ Puri and Verma 1998, Glaciological and geological source of Vedic Saraswati in the Himalayas.
  81. ^ a b Clift, Peter D.; Carter, Andrew; Giosan, Liviu; Durcan, Julie (2012). "U-Pb zircon dating evidence for a Pleistocene Sarasvati River and capture of the Yamuna River" (PDF). Geology. 40 (3): 211–214. doi:10.1130/g32840.1. 
  82. ^ a b c d e http://www.ancientindia.co.uk/staff/resources/background/bg9/bg9pdf.pdf
  83. ^ Valdiya, K. S. (2002), Saraswati: The River That Disappeared, Universities Press (India), Hyderabad, ISBN 81-7371-403-7
  84. ^ Yasht 10.67
  85. ^ Klaus, K. Die altindische Kosmologie, nach den Brāhmaṇas dargestellt. Bonn 1986; Samudra, XXIII Deutscher Orientalistentag Würzburg, ZDMG Suppl. Volume VII, Stuttgart 1989, 367-371
  86. ^ a b c Anthony 2007.
  87. ^ Beckwith 2009, p. 29.
  88. ^ Anthony 2007, p. 408.
  89. ^ Beckwith 2009.
  90. ^ Witzel 2005, p. 342-343.
  91. ^ a b c d e f Danino 2010, p. 256.
  92. ^ Danino 2010, p. 256, 258.
  93. ^ Witzel 2005.
  94. ^ Michaels 2004, p. 33.
  95. ^ Flood 1996, p. 33.
  96. ^ Witzel 2001, p. 81.
  97. ^ Witzel 2001, p. 31.
  98. ^ Jayant K. Tripathi; Barbara Bock; V. Rajamani; A. Eisenhauer (25 October 2004). "Is River Ghaggar, Saraswati? Geochemical constraints" (PDF). Current Science. 87 (8). 
  99. ^ Special Report - Battling for India's soul, state by state. Reuters. Accessed 13 October 2015.
  100. ^ Zee Media Bureau (August 6, 2016). "'Lost' Saraswati river brought 'back to life'". Zee Media. Retrieved 19 August 2016. 
  101. ^ Mukherjee 2001, p. 2, 6-9.


Further reading

  • Chakrabarti, D. K., & Saini, S. (2009). The problem of the Sarasvati River and notes on the archaeological geography of Haryana and Indian Panjab. New Delhi: Aryan Books International.
  • Eck, Diana L. (2012), India: A Sacred Geography, Clarkson Potter/Ten Speed/Harmony, ISBN 978-0-385-53191-7 
  • Ludvík, Catherine (2007), Sarasvatī, Riverine Goddess of Knowledge: From the Manuscript-carrying Vīṇā-player to the Weapon-wielding Defender of the Dharma, BRILL, ISBN 90-04-15814-6 
  • Danino, Michel (2010), The Lost River - On the trail of the Sarasvati, Penguin Books India 
  • An archaeological tour along the Ghaggar-Hakra River by Aurel Stein

External links