Rivers in Ancient India (study)

by Archana Sarma | 2019 | 49,356 words

This page relates ‘The river Sindhu in the Rigveda-samhita’ 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.

4. The river Sindhu in the Ṛgveda-saṃhitā

The Sindhu (presently known as Sindh), which in Sanskrit simply means the ‘river’, as the western boundary of the Aryans settlements, suggested to the nations of antiquity which first came into contact with them in that quarter a name for the whole peninsula. Mention is often made in the Ṛgvedasaṃhitā of the saptasindhvaḥ[1] or ‘seven rivers’, which in one passage at least is synonymous with the country inhabited by the Aryan (Indians). It is interesting to note that the same expression hapta hindu occurs in the Āvestā, though it is there restricted to mean only that part of the Indian territory which lay in Eastern Kabulistan. Its ‘seven’ is here intended for a definite number, the ‘seven rivers’ must originally have meant the Kabul, the Indus, and the five rivers of the Punjab, though later the Sarasvatī may have been substituted for the Kabul, for the Sarasvatī is the sacred river of the Ṛgvedasaṃhitā, more frequently mentioned, generally as a goddess and lauded with more fervour than any other stream.[2]

Several rivers are personified and invoked as deities in the Ṛgvedasaṃhitā. One hymn (Ṛgveda Saṃhitā, 10.75) celebrates the Sindhu or Indus. The deified river occupy on important position in the Ṛgvedasaṃhitā. The entire of one hymn (Ṛgveda Saṃhitā, 10.75) celebrates the Sindhu or Indus as river god with the exception of the fifth mantra. Again, in the sixth mantra, a number of other rivers are mentioned as affluent of the Indus.[3]

In this hymn, the rivers are addressed as representing all the divine waters. The rivers flowed by seven streams through the three fold courses. Among them, the Sindhu is the most powerful and flowed surpassing all other rivers.[4] In the sixth mantra of this hymn, there is a mention of seven major rivers like Gaṅgā, Yamunā, Śutudrī, Puruṣṇī, Sarasvatī, Asiknī, and Vitastā.[5]

Again, there is a mention of several rivers like Kubha, Mehatnu and Gomatī in this hymn.[6] Besides these, Sindhu river is addressed as white gleaming, flashing and speedy.[7] Again, Sindhu appears to be very beautiful and active. It is found that Sindhu is rich in car and robes, rich in gold nobly fashioned, rich in ample wealth and reach in store of sweets.[8] But all these epithets are feminine.

Here, in the fourth mantra of this hymn, the roaring Sindhu river is compared with a mother cow who runs to caress their calves.[9] Again, in the third mantra of this hymn, there is a comparison of Sindhu river with a roaring bull.[10]

In one mantra of the tenth maṇḍala of the Ṛgvedasaṃhitā, there is a mention of the three rivers, i.e. Sindhu, Sarasvatī and Sarayu together as goddess of flood and the mother.[11]

The Yajurvedasaṃhitā introduces us not only a geographical area different from that of the Ṛgvedasaṃhitā, but also to a new epoch of religious and social life in India. The centre of Vedic civilization is now found to lie farther to the east. The Indus and its tributaries are heard no more, for the geographical data of all the recensions of the Yajurvedasaṃhitā point to the territory in the middle of northern India occupied by the neighbouring peoples of the kurus and Pāñcālas. The country of the former, called Kurukṣetra is specially the holy land of the Yajurvedas and the Brāhmaṇas attached to them. It lay in the plain between the Sutlej and the Yamunā, beginning with the tract bounded by the two small rivers Dṛṣadvatī and Sarasvatī, and extending south-eastwards to the Yamunā. It corresponds to the modern district of Sirhind. Closely connected with, and eastward of this region, was situated the land of the pāñcālas, which, running south east from the Meerut district to Allahabad, embraces the territory between the Yamunā and the Ganges called the Doab (‘Two Waters’).[12]

The whole Yajurvedasaṃhitā is mainly divided into two parts white Yajurveda and the black Yajurveda. The text of Vājasaneyīsaṃhitā has been preserved in two recensions, that of the Mādhyandinas and of 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.[13] Again, in this Saṃhitā, it is found that five rivers flowed on to the river Sarasvatī and then became Sarasvatī, a fivefold river in the land.[14]

In the Vājasaneyіsamhitā, several rivers have been mentioned, but in the Taittirīyasaṃhitā, name of the river is hardly found.

Footnotes and references:


Ṛgveda Saṃhitā, 9.9.4; 9.9.6; 9.54.4; 9.66.6; 9.66.8; 10.43.3


Vide, Macdonell, A.A., Vedic Mythology, P.86


Macdonell, A.A., A History of Sanskrit Literature, pp. 142-43


pra su va āpo mahimānamuttamaṃ kārurvocāti sadane vivasvataḥ | pra saptasapta tredhā hi cakramuḥ pra sṛtvarīṇāmati sindhurojasā || Ṛgveda Saṃhitā,10.75.1


imaṃ me gaṅge yamune sarasvatī śutudri stomaṃ sacatā puruṣnyā | asiknyā marudvṛdhe vitastayārjīkīye śṛnuhyā suṣomayā || Ibid.,10.75.5


tṛṣṭāmayā prathamaṃ yātave sajuḥ susartvā rasayā śvetyā tyā | tvaṃ sindho kubhayā gomatīṃ krumuṃ mehatnvā sarathaṃ yābhirīyase || Ibid.,10.75.6


ṛgītyenī ruśatī mahitvāṃ pari jayāṃsi bharate rajāṃsi | adabdhā sindurapasāmapastamā aśvā na citrā vapuṣīva darśatā || Ibid., 10.75.7


svaśvā sindhuḥ surathā suvāsā hiraṇyayī sukṛtā vājinīvatī | ūrṇāvatī yuvatiḥ sīlamāvatyutādhi vaste subhagā madhuvṛdham || Ibid., 10.75.8


Ibid., 10.75.4


divi svano yatate bhūmyoparyanantaṃ śuṣmamudiyarti bhānunā | abhrādiva pra stanayanti vṛṣṭayaḥ sindhuryadeti vṛṣabho na roruvat || Ibid., 10.75.3


sarasvatī sarayuḥ sindhururmibhirmaho mahīravasā yantu vakṣaṇīḥ | devīrāpo mātaraḥ sūdayitnvo ghṛtavatyayo madhumanno arcata || Ibid., 10.64.9


Vide., Macdonell, A.A., A History of Sanskrit Literature, P.175


aṣṭau vyakhyat kakubhaḥ pṛthivyāstrī dhanva yojanā sapta sindhūn | hiraṇyākṣaḥ savitā deva āgādddhadratnā dāśuṣe vāryāṇi || Vājasaneyī Saṃhitā, 34.24


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

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