Rigvedic rivers

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Rivers, such as the Sapta Sindhavah ("seven rivers" Sanskrit: सप्तसिन्धवः),[1] 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).

The Vedic land is a land of the seven rivers flowing into the ocean. It encompasses the entire Indian subcontinent from Gandhara to Kurukshetra.

Seven Rivers[edit]

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.[2] 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[edit]

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 (Shutudri/Sutlej, Parushni/Ravi, Asikni/Chenab, Vitasta/Jhelum, Vipasha/Beas, the latter all tributaries of Sindhu / Indus), one river is missing, probably the Kubha. 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.

Geography of the Rigveda[edit]

Geography of the Rigveda

Identification of Rigvedic hydronyms has engaged multiple historians; it is the single most important way of establishing the geography and chronology of the early Vedic civilization.[3] 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").

The same names were often imposed on different rivers as the Vedic culture migrated eastward from around Afghanistan (where they stayed for a considerable time) to mainland India via Punjab.[3]

List[edit]

Multiple hydronyms are located in Rig Vedic corpus; they are slotted according to rough geographical locations, following the scheme of Michael Witzel.[3] Alongside, opinions of scholars about modern correlates are provided:[4][5]

Indus:

  • Síndhu - Identified with Indus.[4] The central lifeline of RV.[5]

Northwestern Rivers:

  • Tr̥ṣṭā́mā - Blažek identifies with Gilgit.[4] Witzel notes it to be unidentified.[3]
  • Susártu - Unidentified.
  • Ánitabhā - Unidentified.
  • Rasā́ - Described once to be on the upper Indus; at other times a mythical entity.[4]
  • Mehatnū - A tributary of Gomatī́.[4] Unidentifiable.[3]
  • Śvetyā́ - Unidentified.
  • Kúbhā - Identified with Kabul river.
  • Krúmu - Identified with Kurrum.
  • Suvā́stu - Identified with Swat.
  • Gomatī́ - Identified with Gomal.
  • Saráyu / Harōiiu - Blažek identifies with Sarju.[4] Witzel identifies with Hari.[3]
  • Kuṣávā - Probably Kunar.
  • Yavyā́vatī - Noted to be a branch of Gomatī́. Witzel as well as Blažek identifies with Zhob River.[4][3] Dähnhardt comments it to be synonymous to Yamúnā or flowing very close to it[5] but Witzel had rejected a similar take by Talgeri.

Eastern tributaries:

  • Suṣómā - Identified with Soan.
  • Arjikiya - Blažek identifies with Haro.[4] Witzel speculates it to be Poonch or Tawi.[3]
  • Rivers of Punjab:
    • Vitástā - Identified with Jhelum.
    • Asiknī́ - Identified with Chenab.
    • Paruṣṇī - Probably Ravi.
    • Vípāś/Vípāśi/Vípāśā - Identified with Beas.
    • Śutudrī́ - Identified with Sutlej.
    • Marúdvr̥dhā - Identified with Mahuvardhavan.[4]

Haryana:

  • Sarasvati - .[6]
    • Āpayā́ and Āpayā́ - Streams/rivers of Sarasvati basin.[4]
    • Dr̥ṣádvatī - .[4][5]

Eastern Rivers:

  • Áśmanvatī - Identified with Assan.
  • Yamúnā - Identified with Yamuna.
    • Aṃśumátī - Probably an epithet for Yamúnā.[4]
  • Gáṅgā - Identified with Ganges.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ e.g. RV 2.12; RV 4.28; RV 8.24
  2. ^ Gnoli 1989 pp.44–46
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Witzel, Michael (1998). "Aryan and non-Aryan Names in Vedic India: Data for the linguistic situation, c. 1900-500 B.C". In Bronkhorst, James; Deshpande, Madhav (eds.). Aryans and Non-Non-Aryans: Evidence, Interpretation and Ideology. Harvard Oriental Series. Cambridge. pp. 337–404.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Blažek, Václav (2016). "Hydronymia R̥gvedica". Linguistica Brunensia. Masaryk University. 64 (2): 7–54.
  5. ^ a b c d Dähnhardt, Thomas Wolfgang Peter (2009). "The descent of King Lion: Some considerations on the relations between the Indus and other rivers in the sacred geography and culture of ancient India". In Filippi, Gian Giuseppe (ed.). I fiumi sacri. Indoasiatica. 6. Libreria Editrice Cafoscarina. pp. 189–208. ISBN 9788875432416.
  6. ^ Kochhar, Rajesh (1999), "On the identity and chronology of the Ṛgvedic river Sarasvatī", in Roger Blench; Matthew Spriggs (eds.), Archaeology and Language III; Artefacts, languages and texts, Routledge, p. 262, ISBN 0-415-10054-2

Further reading[edit]

General
  • 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)
  • 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.