Rivers in Ancient India (study)

by Archana Sarma | 2019 | 49,356 words

This page relates ‘The river Sarasvati in the Vajasaneyi-samhita (Introduction)’ 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.

2(a). The river Sarasvatī in the Vājasaneyī-saṃhitā (Introduction)

The whole Yajurvedasaṃhitā is mainly divided into two parts—white Yajurveda and the black Yajurveda. The text of Vājasaneyī-saṃhitā has been preserved in two recensions that of the Mādhyandinas and the Kāṇvas. It is divided into forty chapters called adhyāyas.

In the thirty-fourth Adhyāya of the Vājasaneyīsaṃhitā, there is a mention of Saptasindhu, the seven rivers. The river Sarasvatī is highly praised in the Vājasaneyīsaṃhitā. But only a few mantras refer to her as a river.[1] In this Saṃhitā, it is found that five rivers flowed on to the river Sarasvatī and then became Sarasvatī, a five-fold river in the land.[2] In the Rājasūya ceremony, the Adhvaryu first takes water brought from the Sarasvatī, the sacred river of the earlier people. In this Veda, the word Sindhavaḥ means the rivers in general.

In one mantra of the Vājasaneyī-saṃhitā,[3] already existing in the Ṛgvedasaṃhitā, she is mentioned both as a river and as goddesses of speech.

Explaining the first part of this mantra, Mahīdhara presents her as showering waters over the entire world—

Sarasvatī ketunā karmaṇā prajñayā vā maho mahat arṇaḥ udakaṃ pracetayati prajñāpayati preyati sarvasyāṃ bhūmau vṛstiṃ kārayati.[4]

In this context, it may be said that this would be impossible for a river; she may, therefore, be supposed as the cloud.

The second part of the mantra mentions her as the goddess of speech. Even as the goddess of speech, she is spoken of as possessing light and thus, capable of illuminating the whole universe.

Mahīdhara explains the above expression as—

viśvāḥ sarāḥ dhiyaḥ sarvaprānisthā buddīṅ virājayatī dīpayati sarvajantubuddhīḥ prakāśayati.[5]

Footnotes and references:


maho arnaḥ sarasvatī pra cetayati ketunā | dhiyo viśvā vi rājati ||  Vājasaneyī Saṃhitā, 20.86; 34.11


pañca nadyaḥ sarasvatimapi yanti sasrotasaḥ | sarasvatī tu pañcadhā so deśe’bhavatsarit || Ibid., 34.11.


maho arnaḥ sarasvatī pra cetayati ketunā | dhiyo viśvā vi rājati || Ibid., 20.86


Mahīdhara’s com. on Ibid., 20.86


Mahīdhara’s com. on Ibid., 20.86

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