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. 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). They are the product of a sophisticated civilization extensively engaged in trade and travel with a variety of neighboring countries and regions.
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.
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").
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 ( Taj Mahal is on Yamuna banks ) 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.
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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):
- Trstama (Gilgit)?
- Anitabha (listed once, in 5.53.9, with the Afghan rivers Rasa (Avestan Rangha/Raŋhā), Kubha, Krumu, Sarayu (Avest. Harōiiu)
- Rasa (on the upper Indus (often a mythical river, Avestan Rangha, Scythian Rha)
- Kubha (Kabul), Greek Kophēn
- Krumu (Kurrum)
- Mehatnu (along with the Gomati and Krumu)
- Suvastu (Swat) in RV 8.19.37)
- Gauri (Panjkora)??
- Kusava (Kunar)??
The Indus and its minor eastern tributaries:
Central Rivers (rivers of the Punjab):
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, Apaya (RV 3.23.4, Mahabharata Apaga.)
- Asmanvati (Assan)?
- Sarayu in Uttar Pradesh
- Gomti or Adi Ganga in Uttar Pradesh Gomti
- Yavyavati (Zhob river?)
- e.g. RV 2.12; RV 4.28; RV 8.24
- H.-P. Schmidt, Brhaspathi and Indra, Wiesbaden 1968
- Gnoli 1989 pp.44–46
- Prasad, R. U. S. (2017-05-25). River and Goddess Worship in India: Changing Perceptions and Manifestations of Sarasvati. Routledge. ISBN 9781351806541.
- Kochhar, Rajesh (1999), "On the identity and chronology of the Ṛgvedic river Sarasvatī", in Roger Blench; Matthew Spriggs, Archaeology and Language III; Artefacts, languages and texts, Routledge, p. 262, ISBN 0-415-10054-2
- S.C. Sharma. 1974. The description of the rivers in the Rig Veda. The Geographical Observer, 10: 79-85.
- Michael Witzel, Tracing the Vedic dialects in Dialectes dans les litteratures Indo-Aryennes ed. Caillat, Paris, 1989, 97–265.
- 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)
- Shrikant G. Talageri, The Rigveda, a historical analysis, Aditya Prakashan, New Delhi (chapter 4)