In this article, we will discuss Saraswati – The Mystery of a Lost River. So, let’s get started.
Saraswati – The Mystery of a Lost River
Saraswati is one of the main rivers of the Rigvedic Period. This river has been mentioned in the Rigveda and post-Vedic texts. This sacred river played an important role in the development of Indian culture. The godess Saraswati was originally a personification of this river but later developed an independent identity. The Saraswati river was revered and considered important for Hindus because it is said that it was on the banks of this river that the Vedic-culture developed and Sanskrit originated. According to the leading historians like Bridget and Raymond Allchin in The Rise of Civilization in India and Pakistan’ that the earliest Aryan homeland-Aryavarta/Brahmavarta, was in Punjab and in the valleys of Saraswati and Drishdvati rivers in the time of Rigveda .
According to the Rigveda, the Saraswati River originated in the hills or mountain and entered
the northern plains of India. The all important rivers of that period flowed between the Indus in
the west and the Ganga in the east. The Saraswati was placed between the Yamuna and the Sutllej, which is consistent with the Ghaggar River of the present days. The real cause of disappearance of Saraswati is still shrouded in mystery. The major works about the disappearance of the river as given the mythological literature, archaeological, glaciological, and remote sensing and GIS evidences have been presented briefly in the following:
Religious and Mythological Evidence: Hindu mythology records several legends and
anecdotes that are intertwined with the river’s geologically brief existence. Every aspect of
the river’s life, right from its source to its journey down the Himalayas and over the plains
towards the Sindhu (ancient Arabian Sea), have found mention in one religious text or the
other, like Rigveda, Yajurveda, Atharveda, Brahmana literature, Manusmriti, Mahabharata and Puranas. These descriptive legends have often proved helpful in cataloguing some of
the natural events of the period and linking some of them with the rivers changing course.
Over a 3000 year-long period since the Vedic times, the drainage pattern of many rivers
had changed much from that described in the earlier religious literature. The decline of
Saraswati appears to have commenced between 5000-3000 B.C. probably precipitated by a
major tectonic event in the Siwalik Hills of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand.
2. Archeological Evidence: Most of the archaeological sites of the then Civilization are located on the Saraswati river basin. There are four Harappan and pre-Harappan sites in Punjab,
Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. These sites are located at Rupar (present Rupnagar), Nihang
Khan, Bara and Sirsa valleys. Harappan culture flourished in the western part of Punjab
around 2500 B.C. It is believed that the Harappans entered through the Indus Valley into
Kalibagan valley on the left bank of Ghaggar (erstwhile Saraswati) and spread to Punjab
along the Saraswati River Carbon dating of the material at Kalibagan suggests that Harappan
culture flourished around 2500 B.C. in India and existed for 1000 years. So the present day
geomorphological set-up did not exist in 1500 B.C. and thus Indus, the Sutlej and the Beas
followed independent courses to the sea. At present, more than 8000 years since the Vedas
came into existence, some of the rivers mentioned therein have become defunct or have
shifted from their original courses.
Glaciological Evidence: According to the experts of glaciers and geomorphology, the
Saraswati Shatadru (Sutlei)and Yamuna derived their waters from the glaciers which had
extensively covered the Himalayas during the Pleistocene Period. The Pleistocene is the first
epoch of the Quaternary, preceded by the Pliocene and succeeded by the Holocene (from
10 million to 10.000 vears ago). The warm period that followed, generated many rivers,
big and small, coursing down the Himalayan slopes. The enormity of waters available for
agriculture and other economic activities during those times had prompted the religiously
bent ancient inhabitants to describe reverentially seven mighty rivers or ‘Sapt-Sindhu’, as
divine rivers arising from glaciers.
The Saraswati was supposed to have originated in the Bandarpanch Massif (Sarawati-Rupin
Glacier confluence at Naitwar in the western Garhwal). The river crossing the Shiwalik
entered the plains and took a roughly southerly course, passing through the plains of
Punjab Haryana Rajasthan and Gujarat and finally debouched into the ancient Arabian Sea
at the Great Rann of Kutch. In this long journey, Saraswati was believed to have had three
tributaries i.e. Shatadru (Sutlej) arising from Mount Kailash, Drishadvati and Palaeo-Yamuna
from the Siwalik (Fig. 3.10-B). Together these three rivers flowed along a channel, presently
identified as that of the Ghaggar. The rivers, Saraswati and Ghaggar, are supposed to be one
and the same, though a few researchers use the name Ghaggar to describe Saraswati’s upper
course and Harka to its lower course (Fig. 3.11-B).
Geologic studies indicate the destabilising tectonic events had occurred around the
beginning of Pleistocene, (about 1.4 million years ago) in the entire Siwalik region, resulting
into massive landslides, avalanches and mass-wasting. These disturbances, which continued intermittently, were all linked to uplift of the Himalayas. Presumably, one of these events must have severed the glacier connection and cut off the supply of glacier melt-waters to
the Saraswati River. As a result, the Saraswati became non-perennial and dependent on
monsoon rains. Consequently, the Saraswati River dwindled and became a seasonal river.
Leading scholars, like Sridhar and his colleagues have classified the rivers of north western
plains of India into four main groups, i.e. (i) Sindhu (Indus) and its tributaries, Vitasta (Jhelum, and Askini (Chenab), (ii) Shatadru (Sutlej) and its two tributaries-Vipasa (Beas) and Parusani (Ravi), (iii) Saraswati and its tributaries (Markanda, Ghaggar, and Patialewali), and (iv) Dishadvati and Lananavati. Baldev Sahai grouped them into (i) Sutlej, (ii) Ghaggar, and (iii) Yamuna systems of the Saraswati.