Rivers, such as the Sapta Sindhavah ("seven rivers" Sanskrit: सप्त सिन्धव:) play a prominent part in the hymns of the Rig Veda, and consequently in early Hindu religion. It may have been derived from an older Proto-Indo-Iranian hydronym, as a cognate name, hapta həndu, exists in the Avestan language.
Vedic texts have a wide geographical horizon, speaking of oceans, rivers, mountains and deserts. “Eight summits of the Earth, three shore or desert regions, seven rivers.” (asthau vyakhyat kakubhah prthivyam tri dhanva yojana sapta sindhun RV.I.35.8).
A recurring theme in the Yajurveda is that of Indra slaying Vritra (literally "the obstacle"), liberating the rivers; in a variant of the myth, Indra smashes the Vala cave, releasing the cows that were within. Though the two myths are separate, rivers and cows are often poetically correlated in the Rigveda, for example in 3.33, a notable hymn describes the crossing of two swollen rivers by the chariots and wagons of the Bharata tribe:
- 3.33.1cd Like two bright mother cows who lick their youngling, Vipas and Sutudri speed down their waters. (trans. Griffith)
The Seven Rivers are a group of seven chief rivers of uncertain or fluctuating identification (the number seven is of greater importance than the exact members of the group)- compare the Saptarishi of the Avesta (and also the later seven seas and the seven climes) . The Avesta's hapta həndu are preemptively equated with the Vedic Sapta Sindhavaḥ or vis-a-vis: in Vendidad 1.18 these are described to be the fifteenth of the sixteen lands created by Mazda. Note: The term Sapta Sindhava, commonly used in Hindi and other Indian languages, is the nominative plural in Sanskrit (dropping the final visarga in conformity with the convention when expressing Sanskrit words in modern languages). Sapta Sindhu, often seen in English, is in the singular, and is therefore ungrammatical.
Identity of the Seven Rivers
It is not entirely clear how the Seven Rivers were intended to be enumerated. They are often located in northern India / eastern Pakistan. If the Sarasvati and the five major rivers of India are included (Sutudri, Parusni, Asikni, Vitasta, Vipas (Vipāś), the latter all tributaries of Sindhu/Indus), one river is missing, probably the Kubha. (The Sindhu is a special case, having feminine or masculine gender). Other possibilities include the Arjikiya or Sushoma; compare also the list of ten rivers, both east and west of the Indus, in the Nadistuti sukta, RV 10.75. In 6.61.10, Sarasvati is called "she with seven sisters" (saptasvasā) indicating a group of eight rivers, the number seven being more important than the individual members (see also saptarshi, hapta karšuuar /haft keshvar in Avestan), so that the list of the Sapta Sindhava may not have been fixed or immutable. In RV 10.64.8 and RV 10.75.1, three groups of seven rivers are referred to (tríḥ saptá sasrâ nadíyaḥ "thrice seven wandering rivers"), as well as 99 rivers. The Sapta-Sindhava region was bounded by Saraswati in the east, by the Sindhu in the west and the five in between were Satudru, Vipasa, Asikni, Parusni and Vitasta.
Not all researchers agree with this interpretation. In his book Land of the Seven Rivers, writer Sanjeev Sanyal has argued that the "Sapta Sindhu" refers only to the Sarasvati and its own tributaries. If Sanyal is right, the Sapta Sindhava region only refers to a small area including Haryana and a part of north Rajasthan but leaving out most of Pakistan. According to his interpretation, "Sapta Sindhu" is only a small subset of the Rig Vedic terrain and its disproportionate importance derives from it being the original homeland of the victorious Bharata Trutsu tribe.
A number of names can be shown to have been re-applied to other rivers as the center of Vedic culture moved eastward from the central Vedic heartland in undivided Punjab. It is possible to establish a clear picture for the latest phase of the Rigveda, thanks to the Nadistuti sukta (10.75), which contains a geographically ordered list of rivers. The most prominent river of the Rigveda is the Sarasvati, next to the Indus. The Rig Veda mentions Saraswati river as between Yamuna to the East and river Sutlej to the west. The Mahabharata clearly talks about the River Saraswati drying up. The mighty and perennial Saraswati river flowed from the Himalayan Glaciers to the Rann of Kutch where it emptied into the Arabian sea. Dwaraka of Lord Krishna was part of this civilization. Ganges was also flowing at that time into the Bay of Bengal. Saraswati started drying up in 4000 BC due to tectonic plate shifts which blocked the glacier source, and made this river dependant on rains, not melting ice. Gradually the whole river was buried under the Thar desert sand dunes, leaving only disconnected pools and lakes here and there. Yamuna river soon started pouring into Ganges instead of Saraswati. When the Saraswati river started drying up, the whole civilization may have migrated to fertile lands – some to Ganges, some to south west of India from Goa to Kerala.
Geography of the Rigveda
Identification of Rigvedic rivers is the single most important way of establishing the geography of the early Vedic civilization. Rivers with certain identifications stretch from eastern Afghanistan to the western Gangetic plain, clustering in the undivided Punjab (the region's name means "five rivers). Some river names appear to go back to common Indo-Iranian rivers, with cognate river names in Avestan, notably the Sarasvati (Avestan Haraxvaiti, Old Persian Hara(h)uvati) and the Sarayu (Iran. Harayu, Avestan acc. Harōiiūm, mod. Persian Harē).
A number of names can be shown to have been re-applied to other rivers as the center of Vedic culture moved eastward from the central Vedic heartland in undivided Punjab. It is possible to establish a clear picture for the latest phase of the Rigveda, thanks to the Nadistuti sukta (10.75), which contains a geographically ordered list of rivers. The most prominent river of the Rigveda is the Sarasvati, next to the Indus. The Sarasvati river of the Rigveda is commonly identified with the present-day Ghaggar-Hakra, although the Helmand River as a possible locus of early Rigvedic references has been discussed. This is sometimes ascribed to the supposed movement of Vedic Aryans from their early seats in Seistan (Arachosia, Avestan Haraēuua), Gandhara and eastern Afghanistan into the Indus plains and beyond, though there is no archaeological evidence for such a movement.
The most prominent river of the early Rigveda is the Sarasvati, losing its prominence to the Indus in the late Rigveda. The loss of prominence of the Sarasvati is due to the drying up of the Ghaggar-Hakra. But in the earlier rigvedic hymns, the Saraswati is the most prominent river of all and if one subscribes to the Saraswati as the Ghagghar-Hakra system which might have earlier included the Yamuna and some major present-day feeders of the Indus, one could not be very much off the mark in considering the Saraswati as the most prominent river-system at that time. Rivers have been known to have changed their courses in the indian subcontinent and satellite photos have proved that.
On the other hand, archaeologists like B.B. Lal have shown the possibility of reverse westward movements of some Indo-Aryan clans from the Indus basin as well as the absence of a certain archaeological trace for any outside intrusion to the subcontinent.
Only Book 4 really mentions three Western rivers (but not yet Western places, mountains, lakes or animals), and this is in line with the direction of geographical expansion of the Vedic Aryans in the three Early Books: Book 6 knows only the Sarasvatī and rivers east; Book 3 first mentions the first two easternmost rivers of the Punjab, the Śutudrī and the Vipāś, in the context of a historical military crossing; Book 7 mentions the next two from the east, the Paruṣṇī and the Asiknī, in the context of a battle being fought on the third river, Paruṣṇī, with the enemies being the inhabitants of the region of the fourth river, Asiknī; Book 4 finally takes the geographical horizon of the Rigveda to the Indus and beyond, including the battle beyond the Sarayu west of the Indus. (Talageri 2008)
In the geographical organization of the following list, it has to be kept in mind that some names appearing both in early and in late hymns may have been re-applied to new rivers during the composition of the Rigveda.
Northwestern Rivers (western tributaries of the Indus):
- "All the other references to the western rivers (Sarayu, KubhA, Krumu, AnitabhA, RasA, Sindhu) occur in a single verse (V.53.9) by a single RSi SyAvASva, obviously a very mobile RSi who also refers elsewhere to the ParuSNI (V.52.9) and even the Yamuna (V.52.17)." (Talageri 2000)
- Kubha (Kabul), Greek Kophēn
- Krumu (Kurrum)
- Anitabha (listed once, in 5.53.9, with the Afghan rivers Rasa (Avestan Rangha/Raŋhā), Kubha, Krumu, Sarayu (Avest. Harōiiu)
- Trstama (Gilgit)
- Rasa (on the upper Indus (often a mythical river, Avestan Rangha, Scythian Rha)
- SvetyAvarI (Svetya)
- Mehatnu (along with the Gomati and Krumu)
- Suvastu (Swat) in Ghandari, hapax legomenon in RV 8.19.37)
- Gauri (Panjkora)
- Kusava (Kunar)
- GomatI (Gomal)
- Sarayu (Siritoi)
- Prayiyu (Bara)
The Indus and its minor eastern tributaries:
Central Rivers (rivers of the Punjab):
- Vitasta (Jhelum)
- Asikni (Chenab)
- Parusni (Ravi)
- Vipas (Beas)
- Sutudri (Sutlej)
- Marudvrdha, MarudvRdhA (Maruvardhvan)
East-central Rivers (rivers of Haryana):
- Sarasvati (References to the Sarasvati river in the Rigveda are identified with the present-day Ghaggar River, although originally it might have been the name of the Arghandab and Helmand rivers, as a possible locus of early Rigvedic references.)
- DRSadvatI/HariyUpIyA/YavyAvatI. Drsadvati, Apaya (RV 3.23.4, Mahabharata Apaga.) * Yavyavati (Drishadvati river), (but YavyAvatI may instead be another name of the Yamuna)
- ASmanvatI (Assan, a tributary of the YamunA)
- Ganges, GaNgA/JahnAvI
The Ganges is mentioned in these verses:
- When to his house ye came, to Divodasa, hasting to Bharadvaja, O ye Asvins,
The car that came with you brought splendid riches: a porpoise and a bull were yoked together.
Ye, bringing wealth with rule, and life with offspring, life rich in noble heroes; O Nasatyas,
Accordant came with strength to Jahnu's children who offered you thrice every day your portion.
- Ancient your home, auspicious is your friendship: Heroes, your wealth is with the house of Jahnu.
Forming again with you auspicious friendship, let us rejoice with draughts of meath together.
- RV III.58.6
- “Your ancient home, your auspicious friendship, O Heroes, your wealth is on (the banks of the JahnAvI.”
- RV III.58.6 (trs. Talageri 2000)
- Brbu hath set himself above the Panis, o'er their highest head,
Like the wide bush on Ganga's bank.
- Favour ye this my laud, O Gangā, Yamunā, O Sutudri, Paruṣṇī and Sarasvatī: With Asikni, Vitasta, O Marudvrdha, O Ārjīkīya with Susoma hear my call. First with Trstama thou art eager to flow forth, with Rasā, and Susartu, and with Svetya here, With Kubha; and with these, Sindhu and Mehatnu, thou seekest in thy course Krumu and Gomati.
- Rigveda X.75.5-6
JahnAvI, which is clearly another name of the Ganges, is named in two hymns; and in both of them, it is translated by the scholars as something other than the name of a river: Griffith translates it as “Jahnu’s children” (I.116.19) and “the house of Jahnu” (III.58.6). The word JAhnavI (and therefore also JahnAvI as well) has only one connotation in the entire length and breadth of Sanskrit literature: it is a name of the GaNgA. One of the two references to the JahnAvI in the Rigveda provides a strong clue to the identity of this word: JahndvI (I. 116.19) is associated with the SiMSumAra (I.116.18) or the Gangetic dolphin. The dolphin is not referred to anywhere else in the Rigveda. (Talageri 2000)
The GaNgA and the YamunA are the two easternmost rivers named in the Rigveda. One or the other of these two rivers (either by these names, or by their other names, JahnAvI and AMSumatI respectively) is named in seven of the ten MaNDalas of the Rigveda, including the three oldest MaNDalas (VI, III and VII). (Talageri)
The reference in VI.45.31 is definitely significant: the composer compares the height of a patron’s generosity to the height of the wide bushes on the banks of the GaNgA.
The reference in III.58.6. is infinitely more significant. Griffith translates the verse as follows: “Ancient your home, auspicious is your friendship: Heroes, your wealth is with the house of Jahnu.” Here, not only does Griffith mistranslate JahnAvI as “the house of Jahnu”, he compounds it with a further misinterpretation of the grammatical form: JahnAvyAm is clearly “on (the banks of) the JahnAvI” on the lines of similar translations by Griffith himself in respect of other rivers: ParuSNyAm (V.52.9: on the banks of the ParuSNI), YamunAyAm (V.52.17: on the banks of the YamunA), DRSadvatyAm… ApayAyAm SarasvatyAm (III.23.4: on the banks of the DRSadvatI, ApayA and SarasvatI). The correct translation of III.58.6, addressed to the ASvins, is: “Your ancient home, your auspicious friendship, O Heroes, your wealth is on (the banks of the JahnAvI.” What is noteworthy is that the phrase PurANamokah “ancient home” is used in the second oldest MaNDala in the Rigveda, in reference to the banks of the GaNgA.
The reference in I.116.19 associates the JahnAvI with BharadvAja, DivodAsa and the Gangetic dolphin (all of whom are referred to in the earlier verse I.116.18). It is clear, therefore, that the river is specially associated with the oldest period of the Rigveda, the period of MaNDala VI (which is also the only place, outside the nadIstuti, where the GaNgA is referred to by that name). (Talageri)
- But MaNDala VI cannot be ignored. Witzel is clearly aware that MaNDala VI is older than MaNDala II, and MaNDala VI refers to the GaNgA in a hymn which Witzel is compelled to admit is “an unsuspicious hymn”96 (by which he means “a hymn not suspected to be an addition”97). This places MaNDala VI squarely in the east, and this is fatal to Witzel’s claims about MaNDala II.
- (Incidentally, about JahnAvI in MaNDala III, which Witzel does not identify with the GaNgA, his failure to make the identification, while it may not be deliberate, is strange, since a strong clue to this identity is the word SimSumAra, “dolphin”, which is found in I.116.19 in association with the word JahnAvI in I.116.18. In another context, and another book, Witzel immediately recognizes the geographical connotations of a reference to a dolphin in the JaiminIya BrAhmaNa: “A dolphin lying on the sands, dried out by the North wind, could refer to the Gangetic dolphin, as in fact it does at 1.17.6 § 62”147.)
- In fact the word shimshumara is regularly translated as “Gangetic dolphin” rather than merely “dolphin” (let alone “Indus dolphin”). Monier-Williams does it in his dictionary; and Witzel did so himself in his EJVS article “Substrate Languages in Old Indo-Aryan”, EJVS 5-1 (1999), p. 30, where, in fact, he actually distinguished shimshumara, “Gangetic dolphin”, from shishula, “dolphin”! Elsewhere also (see p. 465 OF MY BOOK for the reference), Witzel immediately identified a reference to a dolphin (in the Jaiminiya Brahmana) as a reference to the Gangetic dolphin! (Talageri 2001)
- So does all this disprove my claims? Yes, if one resorts to the theory of coincidences: it is one coincidence that these two verses are placed next to each other in a text containing 10552 verses; another coincidence that the only reference to the shimshumara in the whole text occurs here (this animal being an Indus animal, but only another coincidence that it is almost exclusively identified by everyone, including Witzel elsewhere and earlier, with the Ganga); yet another coincidence that one of the only two references in the text to a lady who is a “wife or female relation of Jahnu or otherwise connected to him or his clan” occurs here (her name, by another coincidence, being exclusively identified throughout the length and breadth of Sanskrit literature, which is ignorant of this lady’s existence, with the river Ganga); yet another coincidence that the only reference outside Mandala 6 (which, by yet another coincidence, does not refer to the Indus at all, but contains the only reference to the Ganga by that name outside the nadistuti) to both Divodasa and his priest Bharadvaja in one verse occurs here....About the Jahnavi, I have already discussed the point in detail. It is difficult to know where the Puranas enter into the picture: the Jahnavi is a river of U.P. (also, and more commonly, known as the Ganga) as simply as is the Yamuna. Do the Puranas figure less in Witzel’s claim that the word refers to the “wife or female relation of Jahnu” (a “chieftain” or person known only from the Puranas as an eponymous ancestor of the Jahnavas referred to in post-Samhita Vedic literature)? .... hymn 6.45, which is a late “interpolated” hymn as per (Witzel’s interpretation of) Oldenberg’s principles, proves to be linguistically very archaic... V.6.d.iii) Witzel’s claim that “kAzI and other Gangetic lands mentioned here do not show up in the RV at all” is rather strange: Mandala 6 – Pratardana’s Mandala – refers to the Ganga (besides referring only to other eastern rivers like the Sarasvati and the Hariyupiya-Yavyavati), and Divodasa (Pratardana’s ancestor) and his priest Bharadvaja are referred to along with the Gangetic dolphin in 1.116.18, with the Jahnavi (Ganga) mentioned in an “adjacent (!)” verse. So mentions do “show up” in the RV – that Witzel does not accept them as evidence is a different story.(Talageri 2001)
One piece of evidence confirming that Jahnāvī is the Gangā, if evidence is necessary, is the fact that the second reference to Jahnāvī, in I.116.19, is adjacent to (and forms a continuum with) verse I.116.18, which refers to Divodāsa, Bharadvāja and the dolphin, all three of whom are associated with the Gangā (the reference to the Gangā in VI.45.31 is in the Divodāsa-Bharadvāja Book 6: ―In book 6 of the Bharadvāja, the Bharatas and their king Divodāsa play a central role‖ WITZEL 1995b:332-333). (Talageri 2008)
- It is significant that while the oldest Books of the Rigveda (6,3,7) do not refer to any river west of the Asiknī, including even the Sindhu (Indus), all three of them refer to the easternmost rivers: Gaṅgā (VI.45.31), Jahnāvī (III.58.6) and Yamunā (VII.18.6).
- This reference in I.116.18 is the only reference in the whole of the Rigveda to the śiṁśumāra (the Gangetic dolphin).
- And, as to VII.33.3, Griffith translates the verse as follows: “So, verily, with these he crossed the river, in company with these he slaughtered Bheda…”. About “the river”, he clarifies in his footnote that it means “the YamunA”, and refers also to VII.18.19: “YamunA and the TRtsu aided Indra. There he stripped Bheda bare of all his treasures.”
- The GaNgA and the YamunA are certainly mentioned (not “already mentioned”): four of the six Family MaNDalas (MaNDalas III, V, VI and VII) mention them; while only two (MaNDalas IV and V) mention the rivers of Afghanistan, and about one of the two (MaNDala V), Witzel himself admits that the rivers named are not necessarily indicative of the core area of the MaNDala: “all these geographical notes belonging to diverse hymns are attributed to one and the same poet, SyAvASva, which is indicative of the poet’s travels.”146
- And this is how he arrives at the conclusion that Vasiṣṭha and the Bharatas are from Iran: he takes up the Rigvedic verse VII.33.3, which refers to Sudās‘ battle with Bheda on the banks of a river. This river is the Yamunā, as per Griffith‘s footnote to the verse, and as per another direct reference to this incident in another Rigvedic verse VII.18.9. (Talageri 2008)
It is also possible that YavyAvatI may be another name of the Yamuna. M.L. Bhargava, in his study of Rigvedic Geography, incidentally (i.e. without making such an identification) makes the following remarks: “The old beds of the ancient DRSadvatI and the YamunA… ran very close to each other… the two rivers appear to have come close at a place about three miles southwest of ChacharaulI town, but diverged again immediately after… the YamunA… then again ran southwestwards almost parallel to the DRSadvatI, the two again coming about two miles close to each other near old Srughna……” (Talageri 2000)
- The later name Raupya (Drshadvati) is clearly a phonetic corruption of Hariyupiya, and the meaning, as Witzel himself notes (“hari ‘tawny, etc’ = raupya ‘golden’”) is more or less similar. And as for the Yavyavati, see what Witzel himself had to say on this point (in an unguarded moment before he took up the crusade against my geographical interpretations): about the only other reference anywhere to this river (in the Pancavimsha Brahmana 25.7.2):“nothing points to such a W. localization. The persons connected with it are known to have stayed in the Vibhinduka country, a part of the Kuru-Pancala land” (WITZEL 1987: 193). (Talageri 2001)
- The particular references given by Witzel (I1.3.8; 41.6) not only give no cause for assuming that the river of Afghanistan is being referred to, but one of them in fact confirms that it is the river of KurukSetra. II.3.8 refers to the three Goddesses of KurukSetra: BhAratI, ILA and SarasvatI. They are the Goddesses of the holy pilgrim centres in KurukSetra, of which two, ILAyAspada and MAnuSa, are referred to in III.23.4.
- Here, the reader will note that almost all other scholars see the Sarasvati as a river between the Yamuna and Sutlej in RV VI.61 (KAZANAS 1999:19). SHARFE (1996:358) has provided a very conservative list of names of various rivers as they occur in various hymns of the Rigveda. He has left out all references to Sarasvati that allude to any “heavenly river” or have other unearthly connotations, at the slightest suspicion, per his own admission. And yet he also sees a river Sarasvati (which he places between the Sutlej and Yamuna) in RV VI.49.7, VI.52.6, and VI.61.1 Before banishing Sarasvati from India to Arachosia or to the “night time sky”, Witzel should have examined the primary and the primeval significance of the word. Was Sarasvati originally a river goddess that was deified or was it a spiritual concept whose name was later transferred to some river? LUDVIK (2000) has thrown water over Witzel’s attempts here to banish Sarasvati to the “night time sky” by suggesting that in the RV, she is primarily a river goddess but becomes increasingly identified with “Speech” etc. later on. Ludvik has studied Renou and Geldner and several other scholars who wrote in “modern scholarly languages” other than English.Further, from the point of view of linguistics, “Haraxvaiti” (in Arachosia) is derived from the word “Sarasvati” and not the other way around. A simple way to explain this derivation would be to postulate an east to west migration (from N W India to Arachosia) or else indulge in a lot of linguistic jugglery (e.g., ERDOSY 1989:41) in trying to prove that the “original” Sarasvati lay in Arachosia. Had Witzel read the comprehensive study on the concept of Sarasvati in the Vedic literature by AIRI (1977) he would not have made such absurd statements. (Talageri 2001)
- As for Burrow‘s thesis (Burrow 1973) that some place names reflect the names of geographical features to the west, and thus preserve an ancestral home, they once again rather rely on an assumption of Arya migrations than prove it. [...] His cited equivalence of Sanskrit Saraswati and Avestan Haraxvaiti is a case in point. Burrow accepts that it is the latter term that is borrowed, undergoing the usual change of s- > h in the process, but suggests that Saraswati was a proto-Indoaryan term, originally applied to the present Haraxvaiti when the proto-Indoaryans still lived in northeastern Iran, then it was brought into India at the time of the migrations, while its original bearer had its name modified by the speakers of Avestan who assumed control of the areas vacated by proto-Indoaryans. It would be just as plausible to assume that Saraswati was a Sanskrit term indigenous to India and was later imported by the speakers of Avestan into Iran. The fact that the Zend Avesta is aware of areas outside the Iranian plateau while the Rigveda is ignorant of anything west of the Indus basin would certainly support such an assertion.
- ERDOSY 1989: Ethnicity in the Rigveda and its Bearing on the Question of Indo- European Origins. Erdosy, George. pp. 35-47 in ―South Asian Studies‖ vol. 5. London
- But the geographical references in the Rigveda do not differ in the Old Hymns and Redacted Hymns in any Old Book of the Rigveda, as I have shown clearly in my book (TALAGERI 2008:): the Sarasvatī, to take the point under discussion, is referred to in many hymns in the three oldest Books of the Rigveda, not only in Redacted Hymns (VI.49, 50, 52, 61: VII.96), but also in the Old Hymns (III.4, 23, 54; VII.2, 9, 35, 36, 39, 40, 95), along with other eastern places, lakes and animals (in these or other hymns in all the six Family Books), while the western rivers, mountains, lakes, places and animals are completely missing in both the Old as well as Redacted Hymns in all these Books. The picture is too large and too consistent to be “discarded” on the basis of Witzel’s selective citing of the Sarasvatī-referring hymns in Book 6 alone. 
SutudrI and VipAS
The SutudrI and VipAS are not referred to in a casual vein. They are referred to in a special context: hymn III.33 is a special ode to these two rivers by ViSvAmitra in commemoration of a historical movement of the warrior bands of the Bharatas led by SudAs and himself, across the billowing waters of these rivers. What is important is that this hymn is characterized by the Western scholars themselves as a historical hymn commemorating the migratory movement of the Vedic Aryans across the Punjab... SudAs is a descendant of DivodAsa (VII.18.25), DivodAsa is a descendant of SRnjaya (VI.47.22 and Griffith’s footnotes to it) and SRnjaya is a descendant of DevavAta (IV.15.4): SudAs is therefore clearly a remote descendant of DevavAta. DevavAta established the sacrificial fire on the banks of the ApayA between the SarasvatI and the DRSadvatI (III.23.3-4) The SarasvatI is to the east of the VipAS and SutudrI, and the ApayA and DRSadvatI are even further east. No ancestor of SudAs is associated with any river to the west of the SarasvatI. The historical movement of the Vedic Aryans across the SutudrI and the VipAS, at the time of SudAs, can only be a westward movement. (Talageri 2000)
- In II.15.6, the reference is to a mythical clash between Indra and USas on the banks of a river (Griffith’s translation: “With mighty power he made the stream move upward, crushed with his thunderbolt the car of USas.”). And which is this stream or river? No guesswork is required: the Rigveda refers to this myth in one more hymn, VI.30.11, as well (Griffith’s translation: “So there this car of USas lay, broken to pieces, in VipAS, and she herself fled away.”).
ParuSNI and AsiknI
The ParuSNI and AsiknI, also, are not referred to in a casual vein: they also are referred to in a special context. The context is a major battle fought on the ParuSNI by the Bharatas under SudAs and VasiSTha (who replaced ViSvAmitra as the priest of SudAs). The direction of the movement is crystal clear in this case as well: SudAs with his earlier priest ViSvAmitra is associated with the SutudrI and VipAS, and with his later priest VasiSTha is associated with the ParuSNI which is to the west of the two other rivers.
a. The battle is fought on the ParuSNI and the enemies of SudAs (who is referred to here as the PUru) are described in VII.5.3 as the people of the AsiknI. The AsiknI is to the west of the ParuSNI hence it is clear that the enemies of SudAs are fighting from the west of the ParuSNI while SudAs is fighting from the east.
Curiously, Griffith mistranslates the name of the river AsiknI as “dark-hued”, thereby killing two birds with one stone: the people of the AsiknI become “the dark-hued races”, thereby wiping out the sense of direction inherent in the reference, while at the same time introducing the racial motif
b. In VII.83.1, two of the tribes fighting against SudAs, the PRthus and the ParSus, are described as marching eastwards (prAcA) towards him.
Griffith again mistranslates the names of the tribes as “armed with broad axes” and the word prAcA as “forward”.
c. VII.6.5 refers indirectly to this battle by talking of the defeat of the tribes of Nahus (i.e. the tribes of the Anus and Druhyus who fought against SudAs) as follows: “Far, far away hath Agni chased the Dasyus, and, in the east, hath turned the godless westward”. SudAs is therefore clearly pressing forward from the east.
3. The first references to the Indus are in the middle upa-maNDalas (I.83.1) and in MaNDala IV (IV.30.12; 54.6; 55.3). There is, perhaps, a westward movement indicated even in the very identity of the composers of the hymns which contain these references: I.83 is composed by Gotama RAhUgaNa who does not refer to any river west of the Indus, while the references in MaNDala IV are by his descendants, the VAmadeva Gautamas, who also refer to two rivers to the west of the Indus (IV.18.8; 30.18).
Thus, we have a clear picture of the westward movement of the Vedic Aryans from their homeland in the east of the SarasvatI to the area to the west of the Indus, towards the end of the Early Period of the Rigveda: IV.30.18 refers to what is clearly the westermnost point in this movement, a battle fought in southern Afghanistan “on yonder side of Sarayu”. (Talageri 2000)
The word Sindhu in the Rigveda primarily means “river” or even “sea”; it is only secondarily a name of the Indus river: thus Saptasindhava can mean “seven rivers” but not “seven Induses”. The relative insignificance of the Indus in the Rigveda is demonstrated by the fact that the Indus is not mentioned even once in the three oldest MaNDalas of the Rigveda. Since the word Sindhu, in its meaning of “river”, occurs frequently throughout the Rigveda, scholars are able to juggle with the word, often mistranslating the word Sindhu as “the Indus” even when it means “river”. It is only in the latest parts of the Rigveda that the Indus overshadows the SarasvatI. (Talageri 2000)
- At the same time, no part of Afghanistan is “already out of sight” in “the late book 10”. Practically every single river of Afghanistan named in any Family MaNDala is named in MaNDala X as well: Sarayu (X.64.9), RasA (X.75.6; 108.1,2; 121.4), KubhA (X.75.6) and Krumu (X.75.6); alongwith many others not named in the Family MaNDalas: TRSTAmA, Susartu, Sveti, GomatI and Mehatnu (all named in X.75.6).
- While conceding that the Saraswati is described as the most divine among the rivers and
other superlatives in RV 2:41:16, Hock reminds us that the Sindhu is also glorified in superlatives in RV 8:26:18. The 8th book of the Rg-Veda is the most northwesterly book, the one which mentions Afghan flora and fauna (8:5, 8:46, 8:56). From that perspective, the Sindhu is the greatest nearby river, even in the heyday of the Saraswati which was at any rate far more to the east, beyond even the five main tributaries (Panj-âb) of the Indus. But the 8th book is younger than the family books (2 to 7), which are unambiguously located in India and near the Indian Saraswati. If the Sindhu becomes more prominent than the Saraswati at some point, this amounts to a movement from east to west, from Panjab to the frontier (Indus) to Afghanistan. Incidentally, the superlatives for the Saraswati in RV 2:41:16 are an unlikely description of a relative backwater like the Helmand except for absolute provincials who had never seen the nearby Oxus or Indus. Hock also points out that the Sindhu is once described as the mother of the Saraswati (RV 7:36:6), in a verse about rivers “coming together longingly”. Indus and Saraswati both flowed into the Arabian Sea, more or less forming a common delta. It seems that before drying up, the Saraswati had changed its course and flowed into the Indus at a more northerly location. At any rate, in the case of the Indian Saraswati, this imagery of the Sindhu being its mother and coming together with it makes sense. That is not the case for the Helmand, which forms a separate basin from that of the Indus and does not flow into the same sea.
- Elst 2007
...or to interpret the Avestan river-name Ranha (correlate of Sanskrit RasA, the Puranic name of the Amu Darya or Oxus) as meaning the Volga. Remark that in other contexts, Rasa can also mean the Narmada river, and also the mythical river which surrounds the world. Oxus and Narmada were apparently the borderline rivers of the Indus-Saraswati civilization. Elst 1999
- e.g. RV 2.12; RV 4.28; RV 8.24
- H.-P. Schmidt, Brhaspathi and Indra, Wiesbaden 1968
- Gnoli 1989 pp.44–46
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- Gherardo Gnoli, De Zoroastre à Mani. Quatre leçons au Collège de France (Travaux de l’Institut d’Études Iraniennes de l’Université de la Sorbonne Nouvelle 11), Paris (1985)
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