sarasvatī सरस्वती

Definition: Is the name of a river frequently mentioned in the Rigveda and later. In many passages of the later texts it is certain the river meant is the modern Sarasvatī, which loses itself in the sands of Patiala (see Vinaśana). Even Roth admits that this river is intended in some passages of the Rigveda. With the Drṣadvatī it formed the western boundary of Brahmāvarta (see Madhyadeśa). It is the holy stream of early Vedic India. The Sūtras mention sacrifices held on its banks as of great importance and sanctity. In many other passages of the Rigveda, and even later, Roth held that another river, the Sindhu (Indus), was really meant: only thus could it be explained why the Sarasvatī is called the ‘foremost of rivers’ (nadītamā), is said to go to the ocean, and is referred to as a large river, on the banks of which many kings, and, indeed, the five tribes, were located. This view is accepted by Zimmer and others. On the other hand, Lassen and Max Muller maintain the identity of the Vedic Sarasvatī with the later Sarasvatī. The latter is of opinion that in Vedic times the Sarasvatī was as large a stream as the Sutlej, and that it actually reached the sea either after union with the Indus or not, being the 'iron citadel,’ as the last boundary on the west, a frontier of the Panjab against the rest of India. There is no conclusive evidence of there having been any great change in the size or course of the Sarasvatī, though it would be impossible to deny that the river may easily have diminished in size. But there are strong reasons to accept the identification of the later and the earlier Sarasvatī throughout. The insistence on the divine character of the river is seen in the very hymn which refers to it as the support of the five tribes, and corresponds well with its later sacredness. Moreover, that hymn alludes to the Pārāvatas, a people shown by the later evidence of the Pañcavimśa Brāhmaṇa to have been in the east, a very long way from their original home, if Sarasvatī means the Indus. Again, the Pūrus, who were settled on the Sarasvatī, could with great difficulty be located in the far west. Moreover, the five tribes might easily be held to be on the Sarasvatī, when they were, as they seem to have been, the western neighbours of the Bharatas in Kurukçetra, and the Sarasvatī could easily be regarded as the boundary of the Panjab in that sense. Again, the ‘seven rivers’ in one passage clearly designate a district: it is most probable that they are not the five rivers with the Indus and the Kubhā (Cabul river), but the five rivers, the Indus and the Sarasvatī. Nor is it difficult to see why the river is said to flow to the sea: either the Vedic poet had never followed the course of the river to its end, or the river did actually penetrate the desert either completely or for a long distance, and only in the Brāhmaṇa period was its disappear ance in the desert found out. It is said, indeed, in the Vājasaneyi Samhitā21 that the five rivers go to the Sarasvatī, but this passage is not only late (as the use of the word Deśa shows), but it does not say that the five rivers meant are those of the Panjab. Moreover, the passage has neither a parallel in the other Samhitās, nor can it possibly be regarded as an early production; if it is late it must refer to the later Sarasvatī. Hillebrandt,22 on the whole, adopts this view of the Saras¬vatī,23 but he also sees in it, besides the designation of a mythical stream, the later Vaitaraṇī,24 as well as the name of the Arghandab in Arachosia.25 This opinion depends essentially on his theory that the sixth Mandala of the Rigveda places the scene of its action in Iranian lands, as opposed to the seventh Maṇdala: it is as untenable as that theory itself. Brunn-hofer at one time accepted the Iranian identification, but later decided for the Oxus, which is quite out of the question. See also Plakṣa Prāsravaṇa.


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