The Sarasvati River (Sanskrit: सरस्वती नदी sárasvatī nadī) is one of the main Rigvedic rivers mentioned in ancient Sanskrit texts. 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 goddess Sarasvati was originally a personification of this river, but later developed an independent identity and gained a different meaning.
The identification of the Vedic Sarasvati River with the Ghaggar-Hakra River was accepted by most of scholars already in the 19th and early 20th century, including Christian Lassen, Max Müller, Marc Aurel Stein, C.F. Oldham and Jane Macintosh, while Rajesh Kochhar believes that the Helmand River of southern Afghanistan corresponds to the Sarasvati River. According to proto-historian Michel Danino, in ancient times a mature river flowed into the Ghaghar-Hakra valley and into the Rann of Kutch, which he identifies as the Rig Vedic Sarasvati river.The dried up seasonal Ghaggar River in Rajasthan and Haryana reflects the same geographical view of Rig Vedic Sarasvati river described in the Mahabharata.
- Etymology 1
- Ghaggar-Hakra River 2.1
- Helmand river 2.2
- Course of the Saraswati 3
In the Rigveda 4
- Praise 4.1
- Course 4.2
- As a goddess 4.3
Other Vedic texts 5
- Yajur Veda 5.1
- Brahmanas 5.2
- Late Vedic 5.3
Post-Vedic texts 6
- The Mahabharata 6.1
- Puranas 6.2
- Smritis 6.3
- The Saraswati Civilisation 7
- Present-day Sarasvati 8
- See also 9
- Notes 10
- References 11
- External links 12
Sarasvatī is the devi feminine of an adjective sarasvant- (which occurs in the Rigveda 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’.
Sanskrit sáras means ‘pool, pond’; the feminine sarasī́ means ‘stagnant pool, swamp’. 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’.
Sarasvatī is an exact cognate with Avestan Haraxvatī, perhaps 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 Sarasvati River is generally identified with the Ghaggar-Hakra River. 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.
Evidence from survey fieldwork and recent satellite imagery have been adduced to suggest that the Ghaggar-Hakra system in the undetermined past had the Sutlej and the Yamuna as tributaries, with the Rann of Kutch as the likely remains of its delta. In this scenario, 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.
The wide river bed (paleo-channel) of the Ghaggar river suggest that the river once flowed full of water during the great meltdown of the Himalayan Ice Age glaciers, some 10,000 years ago, and that it then continued through the entire region, in the presently dry channel of the Hakra River, possibly emptying into the Rann of Kutch. It supposedly dried up due to the capture of its tributaries by the Indus system and the Yamuna river, and later on, additionally, the loss of water in much of its catchment area due to deforestation and overgrazing. It has been proposed that the Sarasvati of the early Rigveda corresponds to the Ghaggar-Hakra before these changes took place (the "Old Ghaggar"), and the late Vedic end Epic Sarasvati disappearing in the desert to the Ghaggar-Hakra following the diversion of Sutlej and Yamuna. This is supposed by some to have happened at the latest in 1900 BCE.
Michel Danino in his book The Lost River - On the trail of the Sarasvati states that a tectonic subduction changed the slope of the land leading to stoppage of contributions of Yamuna and Sutlej from reaching the Surusati river causing it to dry up lower down the river-bed.
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.
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".
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. 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.
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.
Course of the Saraswati
According to some geological and glaciological studies, the Sarasvati originated in the Bandapunch Massif, from the Sarawati-Rupin glacier confluence at Naitwar in western Garhwal. Descending through the foothills via Adibadri, Bhavanipur, and Balchapur, the river took a roughly southwesterly course, passing through the plains of Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, and Gujarat, to finally debouch into the Arabian Sea at the Great Rann of Kutch. Three major tributaries are proposed: the Sutlej, the Drishadvati, and the Yamuna. The river flowed down the present Ghaggar-Hakra River channel, and that of the Nara in Sindh.
An ancient drainage network formed of several paleochannels, largely buried under the sands of the Thar Desert, is located in western Rajasthan and nearby states, parallel to the Aravalli Hills. Which and how many of these channels (from only one to as many as seven have been suggested) belong to the Saraswati is disputed. 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. 
It is unclear whether the full flow of the paleo-Saraswati was present during the Holocene. Some studies suggest that the Yamuna and Sutlej were lost during the Pleistocene, and that the Saraswati was a much smaller river, fed entirely by monsoon rains rather than glacial streams, during the mid-late Holocene (including the Vedic period). Others dispute this, citing evidence that it was a large perennial river draining the high mountains as late as 3700–2500 years ago.
A Hindu legend states that the Saraswati river still flows underground, and meets the Yamuna and Ganges at their confluence in Prayag (Allahabad).
In the Rigveda
The Sarasvati River is mentioned in all but the fourth book of the Rigveda.
- 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,
- The phrase sárasvatī saptáthī síndhumātā of RV 7.36.6 has been rendered as " Sarasvati the Seventh, Mother of Floods" in a popular translation. While this takes a tatpurusha interpretation of síndhumātā, the word is actually a bahuvrihi.
- 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
The Sarasvati is mentioned in 13 hymns of the late books (1 and 10) of the Rigveda. 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. 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.
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.
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." 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. 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.
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). The Asvalayana Srautasutra and Sankhayana Srautasutra contain verses that are similar to the Latyayana Srautasutra.
According to the Mahabharata, the Sarasvati dried up in a desert (at a place named Vinasana or Adarsana); after having disappeared in the desert, reappears in some places; and joins the sea "impetuously". MB.3.81.115 locates Kurukshetra 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.
- Several Puranas describe the Sarasvati River, and also record that the river separated into a number of lakes (saras). In Skanda Purana, five distributaries of the Sarasvati are mentioned.
- 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.
- According to Vamana Purana 32.1-4, the Sarasvati rose from the Plaksa tree (Pipal tree).
- In the Manu Smriti, the sage Manu, escaping from a flood, founded the Vedic culture between the Sarasvati and Drishadvati rivers. The Sarasvati River was thus the western boundary of Brahmavarta: "the land between the Sarasvati and Drishadvati is created by God; this land is Brahmavarta."
- Similarly, the Vasistha Dharma Sutra I.8-9 and 12-13 locates Aryavarta to the east of the disappearance of the Sarasvati in the desert, to the west of Kalakavana, to the north of the mountains of Pariyatra and Vindhya and to the south of the Himalaya. Patanjali's Mahābhāṣya defines Aryavarta like the Vasistha Dharma Sutra.
- The Baudhayana Dharmasutra gives similar definitions, declaring that Aryavarta is the land that lies west of Kalakavana, east of Adarsana (where the Sarasvati disappears in the desert), south of the Himalayas and north of the Vindhyas.
The Saraswati Civilisation
A new study titled, ‘Fluvial landscapes of the Harappan civilisation’, has 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 collapsed some 4000 years ago. The study was conducted by a team of scientists from India, the US, the UK, Pakistan and Romania between 2003 and 2008. While the new finding puts to rest, at least for the moment, other theories of the civilisation’s demise, such as the shifting course of rivers due to tectonic changes or a fatal foreign invasion, it serves to strengthen the premise that the civilisation that we refer to as the Indus Valley Civilisation was largely located on the banks of and in the proximity of the Saraswati river.
More than 70 per cent of the sites that have been discovered to contain archaeological material dating to this civilisation’s period are located on the banks of the now dried out Sarasvati river. As experts have been repeatedly pointing out, nearly 2,000 of the 3,000 sites excavated so far are located outside the Indus belt that gives the civilisation its name. According to experts who have studied the map of all relevant underground channels that are intact to date and connected once upon a time with the river, the Saraswati was probably 1500 km long and 3–15 km wide. The latest study, whose findings were published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, too is clear on the river’s existence and its role in sustaining the ancient civilisation. The report said that the Saraswati was “not Himalayan-fed by a perennial monsoon-supported water course.” It added that the rivers in the region (including Saraswati) were “indeed sizeable and highly active.”
There are 360 mature Harrappan sites in the Sarasvati basin, the Ghaghar Akra and its tributaries. This system certainly dried up and we find a drastic change in the settlement patterns between the mature Harappan and later Harrappan sites. Kalibangan a Harappan site in Rajasthan was suddenly abandoned in 1900 BCE. Scholars believe that the Sarasvati river system disappeared creating a domino effect on other settlements.
The Union Water Resources Ministry had then quoted in writing the conclusion of a study jointly conducted by scientists of Indian Space Research Organisation, Jodhpur, and the Rajasthan Government’s Ground Water Department, published in the Journal of Indian Society of Remote Sensing. Besides other things, the authors had said that “clear signals of palaeo-channels on the satellite imagery in the form of a strong and powerful continuous drainage system in the North West region and occurrence of archaeological sites of pre-Harappan, Harappan and post-Harappan age, beyond doubt indicate the existence of a mighty palaeo-drainage system of Vedic Saraswati river in this region… The description and magnanimity of these channels also matches with the river Saraswati described in the Vedic literature.”
- Sarsuti is the present-day name of a river originating in a submontane region (Ambala district) and joining the Ghaggar near Shatrana in PEPSU. Near Sadulgarh (Hanumangarh) the Naiwala channel, a dried out channel of the Sutlej, joins the Ghaggar. Near Suratgarh the Ghaggar is then joined by the dried up Drishadvati river.
- Sarasvati is the name of a river originating in the Aravalli mountain range in Rajasthan, passing through Sidhpur and Patan before submerging in the Rann of Kutch.
- The Saraswati River in Bengal, formerly a distributary of the Hooghly River, has dried up since the 17th century.
- Indische Alterthumskunde
- Sacred Books of the East, 32, 60
- Oldham 1893 pp.51–52
- The ancient Indus Valley:new perspectives By Jane McIntosh
- 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.
- http://www.thehindu.com/features/magazine/a-personal-odyssey /article391403.ece
- e.g. 7.96.4, 10.66.5
- e.g. RV 7.103.2b
- 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.
- by Lommel (1927); Lommel, Herman (1927), Die Yašts des Awesta, Göttingen-Leipzig: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht/JC Hinrichs
- Studies in Proto-Indo-Mediterranean culture, Volume 2, page 398
- "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.
- Mughal, M. R. Ancient Cholistan. Archaeology and Architecture. Rawalpindi-Lahore-Karachi: Ferozsons 1997, 2004
- J. K. Tripathi et al., “Is River Ghaggar, Saraswati? Geochemical Constraints,” Current Science, Vol. 87, No. 8, 25 October 2004
- Gaur, R. C. (1983). Excavations at Atranjikhera, Early Civilization of the Upper Ganga Basin. Delhi.
- Yasht 10.67
- Klaus, K. Die altindische Kosmologie, nach den Brāhmaṇas dargestellt. Bonn 1986; Samudra, XXIII Deutscher Orientalistentag Würzburg, ZDMG Suppl. Volume VII, Stuttgart 1989, 367-371
- P. 54 The Indo-Aryan Controversy: Evidence and Inference in Indian History edited by Edwin Bryant, Laurie Patton
- Clift et al. 2012
- Giosan et al. 2012
- Valdiya 2013
- At the Three Rivers TIME, February 23, 1948
- 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.
- 1.3, 13, 89, 164; 10.17, 30, 64, 65, 66, 75, 110, 131, 141
- Pancavimsa Brahmana, Jaiminiya Upanisad Brahmana, Katyayana Srauta Sutra, Latyayana Srauta; Macdonell and Keith 1912
- Asvalayana Srauta Sutra, Sankhayana Srauta Sutra; Macdonell and Keith 1912, II:55
- Griffith, p.492
- for discussion; for maps (1984) of the area, p. 42 sqq.
- 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
- Mhb. 3.82.111; 3.130.3; 6.7.47; 6.37.1-4., 9.34.81; 9.37.1-2
- Mbh. 3.80.118
- Mbh. 3.88.2
- D.S. Chauhan in Radhakrishna, B.P. and Merh, S.S. (editors): Vedic Saraswati, 1999, p.35-44
- compare also with Yajurveda 34.11, D.S. Chauhan in Radhakrishna, B.P. and Merh, S.S. (editors): Vedic Saraswati, 1999, p.35-44
- Manusmriti 2.17-18
- Clift et al. 2012. "U-Pb zircon dating evidence for a Pleistocene Sarasvati River and capture of the Yamuna River." Geology, v. 40. 
- Giosan et al. 2012. “Fluvial landscapes of the Harappan civilization”. PNAS 109 (26). 
- Gupta, S.P. (ed.). 1995. The lost Saraswati and the Indus Civilization. Kusumanjali Prakashan, Jodhpur.
- Hock, Hans (1999) Through a Glass Darkly: Modern "Racial" Interpretations vs. Textual and General Prehistoric Evidence on Arya and Dasa/Dasyu in Vedic Indo-Aryan Society." in Aryan and Non-Aryan in South Asia, ed. Bronkhorst & Deshpande, Ann Arbor.
- Keith and Macdonell. 1912. Vedic Index of Names and Subjects.
- 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.
- Lal, B.B. 2002. The Saraswati Flows on: the Continuity of Indian Culture. New Delhi: Aryan Books International
- Oldham, R.D. 1893. The Sarsawati and the Lost River of the Indian Desert. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society. 1893. 49-76.
- Puri, VKM, and Verma, BC, Glaciological and Geological Source of Vedic Sarasvati in the Himalayas, New Delhi, Itihas Darpan, Vol. IV, No.2, 1998 
- Radhakrishna, B.P. and Merh, S.S. (editors): Vedic Saraswati: Evolutionary History of a Lost River of Northwestern India (1999) Geological Society of India (Memoir 42), Bangalore. Review (on page 3) Review
- Shaffer, Jim G. (1995). Cultural tradition and Palaeoethnicity in South Asian Archaeology. In: Indo-Aryans of Ancient South Asia. Ed. George Erdosy.
- S. G. Talageri, The RigVeda - A Historical Analysis chapter 4
- K.S. Valdiya. 2013. "The River Saraswati was a Himalayan-born river". Current Science 104 (01). 
- Valdiya, K. S. (2002). Saraswati: The River That Disappeared. In: Universities Press (India), Hyderabad.
- Is River Ghaggar, Saraswati? by Tripathi,Bock,Rajamani, Eir
- Saraswati – the ancient river lost in the desert by A. V. Sankaran
- Map "પ્રદેશ નદીનો તટપ્રદેશ (બેઝીન) સરસ્વતી (Regional River Basin: Saraswati Basin)". Narmada, Water Resources, Water Supply and Kalpsar Department.