Rivers in Ancient India (study)

by Archana Sarma | 2019 | 49,356 words

This page relates ‘The trinity of goddesses’ 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.

[The river Sarasvatī in the Atharvaveda-saṃhitā, (b): Sarasvatī and Sārasvata]

In the Atharvavedasaṃhitā, the conception of the trinity of the goddesses Sarasvatī, Iḍā and Bhāratī is also found. At one place, Sarasvatī, Iḍā and Bhāratī all are described as ‘the three goddesses’ (tisro devīḥ).[1]

In another mantra, there is an ambiguous expression of tisraḥ sarasvtīḥ,[2] which is variously interpreted by scholars. Sāyaṇācārya explain it as—

tisraḥ trisasikhykāḥ sarasvatyas rayīrūpāḥ/ yadvā iḍā sarasvati bhāratī’ti tistro devyaḥ sahacaryāt sarasvatya ucyante.[3]

Thus, according to him, tisraḥ sarasvatīḥ denotes the three forms of Sarasvatī or the goddesses Sarasvatī, Bhāratī and Iḍā are collectively called by the name of Sarasvatī because of their close association.

Max Müller quotes The Petersburg Lexicon, where it suggests,

“Three rivers named sarasvatī or perhaps simply three rivers in general.”[4]

R.T.H. Griffith takes it to mean,

“Three Sarasvatīs as the multiplication is analogous to that of the three heavens and three earths.”[5]

Srīpāda Dāmodora Sātavalekara thinks that as ‘three Sarasvatis as goddesses of learning’ and gives them the name of mātṛbhūmi, mātṛbhāṣā and mātṛsabhyatā.[6] According to him, Bhāratī is mātṛbhūmi who feeds up all, Iḍā is mātṛbhāṣā who inspires man to perform sacrifice and Sarasvatī is mātṛsabhyatā who incites man to perform good deeds.

Footnotes and references:


ā no yajñaṃ bhāratī tūyametviḍā manusvadiaha cetayantī | tisro devīrbarhiredaṃ syonaṃ sarasvatīḥ svapasaḥ sadantām || Atharvaveda Saṃhita, 5.12.8


Ibid., 6.100.1


Sāyaṇācārya’s com. on Ibid


cf., Max Müller, The Sacred Books of the east, p.512


cf.,Griffith’s note on Atharvaveda Saṃhita, 6.100.1


Śripāda Dāmodora Sātavalekara on Atharvaveda Saṃhita, 6.100.1

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