The Lost Vedic River Sarasvati, Part 4


BY: SUN STAFF - 2.10 2020

Goddess Saraswati
Raja Ravi Varma, c. 1896

A serial presentation of writings about the sacred River Sarasvati.


Failed Efforts to Hijack the Sarasvati away to Afghanistan

In order to force fit the literary descriptions of River Sarasvati in the so-called Aryan invasion model (its offshoot, AMT), certain scholars have gone to the extent of locating it in Afganistan. The sixth mandala of the Rigveda is admittedly the earliest mandala of the text. Taking advantage of this fact, Alfred Hillebrandt (a professor of Sanskrit in the 1880's at the university of Breslau, Germany) distinguished two Rigvedic Sarasvatis , western and eastern. According to him, the scene of action in the sixth mandala of the Rigveda is the Arachosia region in Afghanistan, and the Sarasvati depicted in that Mandala is river Arghandab flowing there (Hillebrandt, 1891/1999 : 2.209-12).

It was , this western Sarasvati, the Arghandab, in his opinion, that had blessed Vadhryasva with a son named Divodasa. He locates the Panis, Paravatas and Brisayas, mentioned in the sixth mandala, in and around Arachosia, identifying them with Parnians of Strabo, Paroyetai of Ptolemy, and Barsaentes of Arrian, respectively. However, as it was next to impossible for him to locate the Bharata princes performing yajnas on the banks of Sarasvati, Drishadvati and Apaya associated together, he admitted that the Sarasvati of the seventh and all other mandalas of the Rigveda, except the sixth, was the eastern Sarasvati that flowed through Kurukshetra.

Alfred Hillebrandt who may be overlooked, for he was writing all this over a century ago when the Aryan Invasion Theory was accepted as Gospel Truth and when Sarasvati had not been rediscovered. On the same grounds, similar other speculations like that of Brunnhofer, who identified Sarasvati with Oxus or, for that matter, those of Roth and Zimmer, who thought that Sarasvati could be Indus and no other river, may be disregarded. These speculations were never taken seriously, and Macdonnel and Keith, the authors of the Vedic Index, had rejected them as early as in 1912.

Even before them, Max Muller, who was no friend of Indian nationalists, maintained that though lost in the desert, the modern Sarasvati was in the Vedic period a large river which reached the sea either independently or after joining the Indus. In view of such a background, it certainly surprises one to find that scholars like Irfan Habib and R.S. Sharma still argue that Sarasvati of the earlier portions of Rigveda existed in Afghanistan, not in India!

Archaelogical sites on River Indus and River Sarasvati
From 'Lost River ' On the Trail of the Sarasvati' (M. Danino)

In their paper entitled, 'The Historical Geography of India 1800-800 BC', presented to the 52nd Session of Indian History Congress held in 1992, Irfan Habib and Faiz Habib opined that the name 'Sarasvati' in the Rigveda stands for three different rivers. They designate them as Sarasvati-1, Sarasvati-2, and Sarasvati-3. According to the Habibs, Sarasvati-1 is the Avestan Harakhvaiti or Harakvaiti, 'the river which gave its name to the 10th land created by Ahur Mazda', the region later known to the Achaemenians as Harakhuvatish and to the Greeks as Arachosia.

The Habibs recognize Sarasvati-2 as the Indus itself and assign all descriptions of a mighty Sarasvati in the text to this river. Sarasvati-3 , according to them, is the Sarasvati of the 75th hymn of the tenth book of the Rigveda ( the famous Nadi Sukta) in which 'Sarasvati appears among the tributaries of the Sindhu'. It is Sarasvati-3, they conclude, which is 'the sacred Sarasvati of the later Vedic and post-Vedic literature' and which is shown as Sarasvati-Ghaggar-Hakra in the Survey of India maps.

Thus, Ifran Habib and Faiz Habig revive more than a century of old discarded theories of Hillebrandt, Roth and Zimmer at a stretch. However, unlike Hillebrandt, who identified Sarasvati with Arghandab, the Habibs equate it with the Helmand 'above its junction with Arghandab' because the latter has 'much smaller volume of water' to match when referred together with big rivers like Sarayu and Sindhu as in Rigveda 10.64.9. However, the equation of Sarasvati with Helmand is simply out of the question. As I have already discussed elsewhere (Singh, 1997-98: 140), Helmand is Avestan Haetumant, the river that gave to the 11th land created by Ahur Mazda (Vendidad, 1.14). Had the Avestan Haetumant been known to the Rigveda, it must have been known as 'Setumant', not as 'Sarasvati'.

In fact, the Habibs have done away with this problem just in three paragraphs, covering less than a page of their paper. They have not even referred to the objections, not to speak of countering them, that led to the rejection of the theories propounded long ago by Hillebrandt, Roth and Zimmer, which they seek to revive. Nevertheless, a senior leftist intellectual like R.S. Sharma takes this placing of the so-called 'earliest' Sarasvati in Afganistan as a proven fact. On page 35 of his book, Advent of Aryans in India, published in 1999, he states: "The earliest Sarasvati is considered identical with the Helmand in Afganistan, which is called Harakhvaiti in the Avesta." Need we remind him that Helmand is called Haetumant, not Harakhvaiti in the Avesta?