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Saraswati ( Sarasvati ) River / सरस्वती नदी

The Saraswati River is believed to have drained the north and northwest region of India in ancient times, supporting over 1,6000 settlements. Although the river does not have a physical existence today, there are numerous references to it in the ancient Indian literature of the Vedic and post-Vedic period. Rig Veda, the most ancient of the four Vedas, describes Saraswati as a mighty river with many individually recognized tributaries. The sacred book calls Saraswati as the seventh river of the Sindhu-Saraswati river system, hence the name Saptsindhu for the region bounded by rivers Saraswati in the east and Sindhu (also Indus) in the west. Rig Veda hymns also describe life and times of the people residing in the Saraswati river valley.

The Sarasvati River is the most important Rigvedic rivers mentioned in ancient Hindu 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 meaning.

Nearly ten thousand years ago when mighty rivers started flowing down the Himalayan slopes, western Rajasthan was green and fertile. Great civilizations prospered in the cool amiable climate on riverbanks of northwestern India. The abundant waters of the rivers and copious rains provided ample sustenance for their farming and other activities. Some six thousand years later, Saraswati, one of the rivers of great splendour in this region, for reasons long enigmatic, dwindled and dried up. Several other rivers shifted their courses, some of their tributaries were ‘pirated’ by neigbouring rivers or severed from their main courses. The greenery of Rajasthan was lost, replaced by an arid desert where hot winds piled up dunes of sand. The flourishing civilizations vanished one by one. By geological standards, these are small-scale events; for earth, in its long 4.5 billion years history, had witnessed many such changes, some of them even accompanied by wiping out of several living species. But those that occurred in northwest India took place within the span of early human history affecting the livelihood of flourishing civilizations and driving them out to other regions. The river Saraswati, during its heydays, is described to be much bigger than Sindhu or the Indus River. During the Vedic period, this river had coursed through the region between modern Yamuna and Sutlej. Though Saraswati is lost, many of its contemporary rivers like Markanda, Chautang and Ghaggar have outlived it and survived till today.

Saraswati, Shatadru (Sutlej), Yamuna derived their waters from glaciers which had extensively covered the Himalayas during the Pleistocene times. The thawing of these glaciers during Holocene, the warm period that followed, generated many rivers, big and small, coursing down the Himalayan slopes. The melting of glaciers has also been referred in Rigvedic literature, in mythological terms, as an outcome of war between God Indra and the demon Vritral. The enormity of waters available for agriculture and other occupations during those times had prompted the religiously bent ancient inhabitants to describe reverentially seven mighty rivers or ‘Sapta Sindhu’, as divine rivers arising from slowly moving serpent (Ahi), an apparent reference to the movement of glaciers.[1]


  1. Saraswati – the ancient river lost in the desert- by A. V. Sankaran [1]
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