Rivers in Ancient India (study)

by Archana Sarma | 2019 | 49,356 words

This page relates ‘3e. Some epithets of the 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.

3e. Some epithets of the Sarasvatī

In the Purāṇas, various epithets are used for rivers in general. Some of them are really remarkable and striking, such as śivā, puṇyā and śivajalā. Usually, such adjectives imply the munificence and benevolent nature of rivers. They flow and give water to the earth. The rivers bring along with them many beneficial boons for human happiness. They feed the world as if it were their own children. Perhaps, it is due to this fact that they are affectionately called mothers of the world.[1]

In the Purāṇas, there are two types of rivers. They are those which flow only in the rainy season and the others, which are always in transition. Sarasvatī is considered to be of the latter type. The Vāmanapurāṇa says that it is the Sarasvatī alone, which, irrespective of seasons, never ceases to flow.[2] It is probably to denote this very character of the Sarasvatī that the various Purāṇic adjectives such as pravāhasaṃyuktā,[3] vegayuktā,[4] srotasyeva[5] etc., have been designated for it. By nadītamā,[6] the Sarasvatī was known as nadīmātā in the Ṛgvedic times. The Purāṇas consider the Sarasvatī as a mighty river and let it retain its former position; they only substitute nadītamā with Mahānadī (a great river).[7] Mighty rivers have several characteristics of their own as distinguished from those of smaller ones.

It is generally said that small rivers originate either from the Mountains or from the big rivers. If they originate from big rivers, they flow as their tributaries. Likewise, if they originate from the Mountains, they run down and join big rivers. In both the circumstances, they have but a little life. But such an opinion cannot be advanced against big rivers. These rivers originate from the Mountains and ultimately made their way to the oceans. That is why, a big river is called samudragā,[8] flowing up to the ocean. For this reason, Sarasvatī river is also called sāgaragāminī (flowing to the ocean).[9]

Sarasvatī river contains auspicious waters (puṇyajalāvahā).[10] Because of its sacredness, various epithets have been used for it, e.g. puṇyadā,[11] puṇyajananī, puṇyatīrthasvarūpiṇī, puṇyavdbhir niṣevyā, sthitiḥ puṇyavatāṃ,[12] tapasvināṃ taporūpā, tapasyākārarūpiṇī, jvaladagnisvarūpiṇī,[13] tīrtharūpātipāvanī,[14] śubhā,[15] puṇyā,[16] puṇyajalā,[17] pāpanirmokā,[18] sarvapāpapraṇaśinī,[19] atipuṇyā,[20] puṇyatoyā,[21] etc. A collective epithet saridvarāḥ has been used for the Sarasvatī.[22] Besides this, a most striking epithet for the Sarasvatī is brahmanadī.[23] It was the brahmanadī Sarasvatī wherein sage Paraśurāma took his avabhṛtha bath. Thus, the Sarasvatī was closely associated with Brahmā.

Footnotes and references:

[1]:

Bhaṭṭācārya, Ranasaṅkara, Itihāsa-Purāṇa Kā Anuśīlana, p.219

[2]:

dṛṣadvatī mahāpuṇyā tathā hiraṇvatī nadī | varṣākālavahāḥ sarvā varjayitvā sarasvatī || Vāmana Purāṇa,34.8

[3]:

ityaṛṣervacanaṃ śrutvā mārkaṇḍeyasya dhīmatāḥ || nadī pravāhasaṃyuktā kurukṣetraṃ viveśa ha || Ibid., 33.1

[4]:

taṃ dṛṣṭvā munayaḥ prītā vegayuktāṃ sarasvatīṃ | pitāmahaṃ mānayantīṃ te tu tāṃ bahumenire || Ibid., 37.22

[5]:

sarvaṃ viśvaṃ parivyāpya srotasyeva hi dṛśyate | hariḥ sarassu tasyeyaṃ tena namnā sarasvatī || Brahmavaivarta Purāṇa, 2.7.3

[6]:

ambitame nadītame devitame sarasvatī | apraśtā iva smasi praśastimaṃva naskṛdhi || Ṛgveda Saṃhitā, 2.41.16

[7]:

saritsā hi samāhūtā maṅkaṇena mahātmanā || kurukṣetraṃ samāyātā praviṣṭā ca mahānadī || Vāmana Purāṇa,37.31,40.8;Bhāgavata Purāṇa.,5.19.18

[8]:

cf., Bhattacarya, Ramasankara, Itihāsa Purāṇa Kā Anuśīlana, p.223

[9]:

Padma Purāṇa, 5.27.119

[10]:

Vāmana Purāṇa, 32.24

[11]:

puṇyadā puṇyajananī puṇyatīrthasvarūpinī | puṇyavadbhirniṣevyā ca stḥitiḥ punyavatāṃ mune || Brahmavaivarta Purāṇa, 2.6.2,12 kathaṃ sarasvatīdevī gaṅgāśāpena bhārate | kalayā kalahenaiva sambhūtpuṇyadā sarit ||

[12]:

Ibid., 2.6.2

[13]:

tapasvināṃ taporūpā tapasyākārarūpinī | kṛtapedhmadāhāya jvaladagnisvarūpiṇī || Ibid., 2.6.3

[14]:

sarasvatī nadī sā tīrtharūpāvanī | papipāpedhmadāhāya jvaladagnisvarupiṇī || Ibid., 2.7.4

[15]:

kathaṃ ca sara āsādya kṛtvā tīrthāni parśvataḥ | prayātā paścimāmāśāṃ dṛśyādṛsyagatiḥ śubhā || atadvistarato brūhi tīrthaṃ brahmavidāṃ vara || Vāmana Purāṇa, 32.2

[16]:

ādyaṃ brahmasaraṃ puṅyaṃ tato nāgahradaṃ smṛtam || karuṇā ṛṣiṇā kṛṣṭaṃ kurukṣetra tataḥ smṛtam || tasya madhyena vai yāhi puṇyā puṇyajalāvahā || Ibid., 32.24;34.6

[17]:

yajñavidyā mahāvidyā guhyavidyā ca śobhanā ānvikṣikī trayīvidyā daṇḍanītiśca kathyate || Padma Purāṇa, 5.27.119

[18]:

Ibid.

[20]:

bividyamānā salilaistaijasenānilena ca | meroruttarkūṭeṣu patitā’tha caturṣvapi || Vāyu Purāṇa,42.9

[21]:

sarvā hyekaśilā bhūmirvṛkṣavīrudvivarjitā | āplutā padamātreṇa dyudakena samantataḥ || Ibid., 37.29

[22]:

Ibid.133. 24

[23]:

tātaścā vabhṛtha snānavidhūtāśeṣa kilbiṣaḥ | sarasvatyāṃ brahmanadyāṃ reje vyabhra ivāṃśumān || Bhāgavata Purāṇa., 9.16.23

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