Rivers in Ancient India (study)

by Archana Sarma | 2019 | 49,356 words

This page relates ‘Function of Sarasvati’ of the study on the rivers in ancient India as reflected in the Vedic and Puranic texts. These pages dicsusses the elements of nature and the importance of rivers (Nadi) in Vedic and Puranic society. Distinctive traits of rivers are investigated from descriptions found in the Vedas (Samhitas), Brahmanas, Aranyakas, Upanishads and Puranas. The research is concluded by showing changing trends of rivers from ancient to modern times.

[1. The river Sarasvatī in the Ṛgveda-saṃhitā, (g): Function of Sarasvatī]

The river Sarasvatī is highty praised in the Ṛgvedasaṃhitā. This river is described as the purifier, the giver of food, the bestower of wealth in the shape of sacrificial fruits.[1] Besides these, this river is described as the inspirer of truthful words and the instructress of right minded person.[2] Sarasvatī by her deeds makes manifest a huge river (in her own form) and enlightens all her undertakings. The people of the Ṛgvedic period used to worship a river of that name, i.e. Sarasvatī.[3]

The Sarasvatī river flows rapidly and sweeps away all other water like a charioteer clears the road.[4] Sarasvatī, the chief and the most sacred river, understood the request of Nāhuṣa and distributed butter and water to him for thousand years. Again, Sarasvatī is used to flow from the mountains to sea.[5] Sarasvatī is present in both heaven and earth as goddess or a river.[6]

Besides these, she takes both domestic and wild food—ubhe yātte mahinā śubhre andhasī adhikṣīyati pūrabaḥ. Here, ubhe andhasī is said to mean fires celestial and terrestrial or if food be intended, domestic and wild.[7]

Sāyaṇācāryā explains it as—

grāmyam araṇyaṃ.

The sixty-one hymn of the sixth maṇḍala of the Ṛgvedasaṃhitā is dedicated to goddess Sarasvatī. This hymn is started with the mantra iyamadadat. In the first part of this mantra, Sarasvatī has been addressed as a goddess; while in another she is praised as a river.[8] In the second and thirteenth mantra of this hymn, Sarasvatī is found both as goddess and a river. In the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth mantra, Sarasvatī is described as goddess. Sarasvatī is regarded as a mighty goddess riding in a golden chariot who destroys her enemies.[9]

Sarasvatī is the giver of pleasure which is indicated by the term mayobhuvaḥ[10] which is applied to Iḍā, Sarasvatī and Māhī (Bhāratī).

Sāyaṇācārya explains the term as,

sukhotpādikaḥ and sukhasya bhavavitryaḥ.

The three goddess, i.e. Iḍā, Sarasvatī and Bhāratī are invoked at the sacrifices due to many purposes and to bestow fortune, prosperity and pleasure upon their devotees. Sarasvatī is asked for pleasure (sarasvatī noḥ subhagā mayas karat)[11] and fecility (śarma).[12] Along with Rudra, Viṣṇu and Vāyu, she is entreated to grant happiness.[13] The breasts of Sarasvatī are called mayobhuḥ also.[14]

Sāyaṇācārya explains the term as—

yaḥ ca stanaḥ mayobhuḥ rasasvadinaṃ sukhasya bhavayitā.

Her unfailing breast yields riches of every kind. In one of the Ṛgvedic mantras, Sarasvatī’s breasts are called possessed of wealth, i.e. sasayaḥ, container of wealth, i.e. ratnadhā and possessed of previous wealth, i.e. vasuvid.[15] Her breasts are regarded as either the waters full of fertility, or her wordy wealth, the reservoir of knowledge.The worshipper prayed her to allow her breasts to be sucked by him and for the things that are contained within it.

Sarasvatī is also requested to grant brave progeny to her devotees. In one mantra of the Ṛgvedasaṃhitā, she is invoked, along with Sinīvālī and the Aśvins to sustain the embryo.[16] It is recorded in the Ṛgvedasaṃhitā that ṛṣī Vadhryasva, was blessed by Sarasvatī with a mighty and worthy son, who relieved his father from debt.[17] She grants fame and progeny to her votaries. She is sometimes the goddess of childbirth.

Moreover, she gave wealth to the priest of king Citra.[18] She is called rāyā yujā,[19] i.e. containing wealth and subhagā,[20] i.e. of auspicious wealth. By her grace, one gets boundless wealth na tasya rāyaḥ paryetā’sti.[21] She is the giver of immense wealth[22] hand is repeatedly implored for wealth coda rādho maghonāṃ[23], dhāta rayiṃ,[24] varivasyantu śubhraḥ[25] Here, in this passage, collectively Sarasvatī, Rākā and Bṛhaddivā have been implored for wealth—rāyaḥ… yajamāneṣu dhehi.[26]

Food is one of the very important and prominent gifts granted by her to her devotees which are expressed by the epithet vājinīvatī. The word vājinīvatī occurs as an adjective of Sarasvatī. Vājinīvatī will stand for the one who possessed of the qualities like strength, vigour, energy, food etc.

Sāyaṇācārya explains vājinīvatī, as—

vājinīvatī annavatkriyāvatī, vājo’nnnaṃ yasyāṃ kriyāyāṃ sā vājinī tadyuktā.[27]

Similarly, sarasvatī’s epithet vājinī[28] is also interpreted by Sāyaṇācārya as—

vājo balam annaṃ vā tadyukte.

She is called vājinivatī or vājinī as its waters course, grain fields become abundantly fertile resulting in profuse yield of harvest. The bank of the river Sarasvatī was the source of cultivation which helps to get food and grow immense crops by Āryans.

Footnotes and references:

[1]:

pāvakā naḥ sarasvatī vājebhirvājinīvatī | yajñaṃ vaṣṭu dhiyāvasuḥ || Ibid., 1.3.10

[2]:

codayitī sūnṛtānāṃ cetantī sumatīnām | yajñaṃ dadhe sarasvatī || Ibid., 1.4.11

[3]:

Ibid.,1.4.12

[4]:

pra kṣodasā dhyāyasā sasra eṣā sarasvatī dharuṇamāyasī pūḥ | prabābadhānā rathyeva yāti viśvā apo mahinā sindhuranyāḥ || Ibid., 7.95.1

[5]:

ekācetatsarasvatī nadīnāṃ śuciryatī giribhya ā samudrāt | rāyaścetantī bhuvanasya bhūrerghṛtaṃ payo duduhe nāhuṣāya || Ibid.,7.95.2

[6]:

Ibid 7.96.1

[7]:

ubhe yatte mahinā śubhre andhasī adhikṣiyanti pūravaḥ | sā no bodyavitrī marutsakhā coda radho maghonām || Ibid., 7.96.2

[8]:

iyamadadadṛbhasamṛṇacyutaṃ divodāsaṃ vadhryaśvāya dāśuṣe | yā śāśvantamācakhādāvasaṃ paṇiṃ ta te dātrāṇi taviṣā sarasvatī || Ibid.,6.61.1

[9]:

Ibid., 6.61.2; 6.61.3; 6.61.4; 6.61.5; 6.61.6; 6.61.7

[10]:

Ibid.,1.13.9; 5.5.8

[11]:

Ibid.,1.89.3

[12]:

Ibid.,6.49.7

[13]:

Ibid.,6.50.12

[14]:

Ibid.,1.164.49

[15]:

Ibid.

[16]:

Ibid.,10.184.2

[17]:

iyamadadādṛbhasamṛṇacyutaṃ dīvodāsaṃ vadhryaśvāya dāśuṣe | yā śāśvantamācakhādāvasaṃ paṇiṃ ta te dātrāṇi taviṣā sarasvati || Ibid.,6.61.1

[18]:

indro vā ghediyanmaghaṃ sarasvatī vā subhagā dadirvasu | tvaṃ vā citra dāśuṣe || citra indrājā rājakā idanyake yake sarasvatīmanu | parjanyaiva tatanaddhi vṛṣṭayā sahasramayutā dadat || Ibid.,8.21.17-18

[19]:

uta syā naḥ sarasvatī juṣānopa avatsubhagā yajñe asmin | mitajñubhirnamasyairiyānā rāyā yujā ciduttarā sakhibhyaḥ || Ibid.,7.95.4

[20]:

Ibid.,1.89.3;7.95.4. 6;8.21.17

[21]:

sedugro astu marutaḥ sa śuṣmī yaṃ martyaṃ pṛṣadaśvā avātha | utemagniḥ sarasvatī junanti na tasya rāyaḥ paryetāti || Ibid.,7.40.3

[22]:

Ibid., 6.61.12

[23]:

Ibid.,7.96.2

[24]:

vidyudrathā marut ṛṣṭimanto divo maryā ṛ tajātā ayāsaḥ | sarasvatī śṛṇavanyajñiyāso dhātā rayiṃ sahavīraṃ turāsaḥ || Ibid., 3.54.13

[25]:

Ibid., 5.42.12

[26]:

sarasvatī sarasthaṃ yathathaṃ svadhabhirdevī pitṛbhirmadantī | āsadyasminbarhiṣi mādyasvānmīvā iṣa ā dhe hyasme || Ibid.,10.17.9

[27]:

Ibid.,1.3.10; 6.61.4; 7.96.3

[28]:

tvaṃ devi sarasvatyavā vājeṣu vājini | radā pūṣeva naḥ sanim || Ibid., 6.61.6

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