Missing of a prominent river from the map is not a mystery; it is quite natural and is attributable to environmental changes. Judged in the broader perspective of geological evolution; disappearance of rivers, shifting of their courses, capture of one river by another, slow drying up of river beds, are all normal responses to tectonism, earthquakes, climatic changes and other natural events. Some recent examples are; Oxus river in central Asia has disappeared, Jordan river no more flows through Jordan as it dries up before entering Jordan, Jhelum changed its course in 1552-55 AD and Beas changed its course during 1996 flash floods. However, upto the middle of 20th century, in the absence of any credible scientific research reports, history of India was being written on the basis of linguistic theories and guesswork and our historians just presumed that Sarasvati river was only mythical, a mere imagination. However, methods based on linguistics and politics are progressively giving way to methods based on science and technology e.g. satellite imagery, archaeology, geology, geophysics, glaceology and oceanography etc. and the role of ecology in the rise and fall of civilizations/ creation and disappearance of rivers is being increasingly accepted and appreciated.
The results of scientific research carried out during last 40 years have proved, fairly beyond doubt, that Sarasvati River was not a myth but a reality and that it was a mighty river which originated from the Himalayas and met the Arabian Sea in the Runn of Kuchchh after flowing through Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan & Gujarat states of India and Bahawalpur & Sind districts of Pakistan. These scientific evidences gathered include: -
1. Study of global climatic changes – Ecological dynamics model, which gives ecological reasons for origin, development and decay of Sarasvati river.
2. Pictures taken by LANDSAT(USA), Indian Remote Sensing Satellites [IRS-1C], French SPOT Satellites and Radar imagery from European Remote Sensing Satellites (ERS ½), which provide evidence about the flow, migration and decay of Sarasvati River.
3. References in most ancient Sanskrit manuscripts indicating different phases of development, migration and disappearance of Sarasvati River, which corroborate the satellite imagery.
4. Geological and hydrological evidences gathered by the geologists – listing the palaeochannels reflecting different stages of migration and decay of Sarasvati river.
5. Research reports from geophysicists, geomorphologists, climatologists, oceanographers and glaciologists etc.
6. Archaeological reports including marine archaeology reports.
7. Research carried out by the Rajasthan State Groundwater Board for assessing groundwater potential in Rajasthan through Hydrological drilling and dating.
1. Ecological Dynamics Model :
The scientists have explained the origin, development, decay and disappearance of Sarasvati river through ecological dynamics model. The last ice age ended around 10000 BC; with the rising temperatures releasing waters from the ice caps. Such melting of glaciers resulted in the discharge of enormous quantities of water into the Indian subcontinent which flowed in the form of numerous rivers and streams which included Sarasvati, Drishtavati and Sutlej. Such phenomenon is abundantly recorded in Vedic hymns; e.g. – “you Indra ! have set free the rivers arrested by Ahi, i.e., sepantive glaciers” [Rigveda – 4:17:1]. Further names of 10 such rivers are recorded sequentially from east to west, namely Ganga, Yamuna, Sarasvati, Sutlej (Sutudri), Ravi (Purushni), Chenab (Asikni), Manivardavan, Jhelum (Vitasta), Sohana (Sushama) and Vyas (Arjikya) [Rig Veda (10:75:5)].
Out of these ten rivers, seven are still flowing and located in the same sequence but 3 have dried up and their relicts can be seen in the form of palaeochannels. These rivers brought prosperity to north-western India, giving rise to most advanced ‘Vedic’ civilization. Sarasvati was then the mightiest river, having several tributaries, flowing from the mountain to the sea. Over the following several thousand years, the accumulated supply of water from the Himalayan Glaciers came to be depleted. Further due to tectonic movements and earthquakes Sarasvati got disconnected from its source. Thus, it became a non-perennial river and then dried up between 3000 to 2000 BC.
Thus, it was due to ecological reasons that Sarasvati river originated, became a mighty river on account of swelling water volumes and then slowly disappeared/dried up, leaving its traces in paleochannels of Ghaggar, Hakra and Nara.
Satellites Imagery :
There is an overwhelming evidence from remote earth sensing pictures taken by LANDSAT (USA), IRS-IC (India), SPOT (France), ERS-½ (Europe) that prior to 3000 BC a mighty river, described as Sarasvati in the Vedas, flowed from the Himalayas through the present Ghaggar Hakra bed in Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Bahawalpur (in Pakistan) and then through the Nara bed in Sind (Pakistan); making delta in the Runn of Kuchchh before flowing into the Arabian Sea. More than 7000 years back it was the mightiest river, having Yamuna & Sutlej as its tributaries and was flowing along the Aravalli Hills. Due to northward movement of the plate of Indian subcontinent, tectonic upheaval of the Aravallis, basement structural high of Delhi-Hardwar ridge, Sarasvati river kept on migrating towards west and northwest. Its two tributaries, Yamuna and Sutlej, migrated in opposite directions – Yamuna moved eastward to join the Ganges later-on and Sutlej moved westward and was flowing as an independent river upto the sea for hundreds of years and thereafter joined Beas, a tributary of Sind River. Studies of LANDSAT imagery have revealed that there were seven main stages of this migration of river Sarasvati. Bakliwal and Grover have described these seven stages in their book “Signature and Migration of Sarasvati River in the Desert”. In the first stage it was flowing along the foothills of Aravalli, in the 3rd stage through Bikaner and Ramdevera meeting Luni near Tilwara. In the 5th stage Sarasvati passed through Jaisalmer Runns and Gad Road to reach the Rann of Kachchh and in the seventh stage it flowed through the present dry bed of Ghaggar, through Hakra and then flowed through Nara to meet Rann of Kachchh. The differences and discrepancies in study reports of archaeologists/geologists are because they have been studying the dry channels of Sarasvati river in different stages of its north-westerly migration.
Yashpal et al studied the LANDSAT imagery of palaeochannels (Refer – “Remote sensing of the Lost Sarasvati River (1980)” and deciphered these as under :-
[Present river system and the major palaeochannels as deciphered from LANDSAT imagery (after YashPal et at-1980)]– pg 123 of Memoir 42 of GSI, Bangalore.
The study led to the description of present drainage system and palaeochannels of Sarasvati and its tributaries and it supported the following conclusions :-
(i) The Sutlej once flowed into the present Ghaggar (Sarasvati) river bed and was probably joined by the Yamuna.
(ii) The Sutlej has a sharp westward right-angled bend near Ropar suggestive of its diversion due to change in the river course.
(iii) There is a sudden widening of narrow Ghaggar valley at Shatrana (25 Km south of Patiala) indicative of a major river joining Ghaggar bed here.
(iv) Another channel which corresponds to the Drishadvati (present Chautang) joins Sarasvati (Ghaggar) near Suratgarh.
(v) That the Yamuna probably flowed into the ancient Sarasvati before joining Ganga through Chambal.
(vi) Physiographically, there is depression westward (elevation less than 230 m msl) and a corresponding uplift eastward (elevation more than 250 m msl) of the old Sutlej bed, which might have forced its westward migration.
(vii) Near Anupgarh Sarasvati bifurcates and both channels come to an abrupt end at Marot and Beriwala (in Bahawalpur Distt of Pakistan) from where Sarasvati is likely to have extended through the Hakra/Nara bed to the present Runn of Kachchh.
As per Ghosh, Kar & Husain, LANDSAT imagery has revealed hitherto unknown abandoned courses of the former Sarasvati River in Jaisalmer District of Rajasthan (“The lost courses of Sarasvati river in the great Indian Desert”). Based on study of remotely sensed data of IRS-IC Ramasamy & Verma have concluded that there are plenty of paleo-channels with well sprung-up tentacles throughout the Thar Desert which reveal the traces of mighty Sarasvati river which once ruled the desert (Remote Sensing & River Migrations in Western India). The river kept on shrinking in size due to change of course by the tributaries and finally due to some major tectonic upheavals in the Himalayas, the glacier connection of the river got severed converting Sarasvati into a non-perennial river dependant on monsoon rains. Sarasvati’s march to oblivion commenced around 3000 BC; bereft of water, the Sarasvati remained here and there as disconnected pools/lakes e.g. Didwara and Sambhar etc and ultimately got reduced to dry channel beds e.g. Ghaggar and Hakra. Thus, the satellite imagery corroborates the findings of ecological dynamic model.
Literary Evidence :
These different stages in the northwest migration of River Sarasvati do get broadly reflected in the hymns of Vedas and other ancient manuscripts – the early stages agree with the description in Rigveda, Middle stages with the hymns of Yayurveda/Atharvaveda whereas the last stages coincide with the description in Mahabharata.
In Rig Veda, Sarasvati is described as the mightiest river – “Seven sistered, sprung from three-fold sources” [6:61:12]. Again it is described as “Saptathi Sindhumata” i.e., mother of seven rivers strongly flowing and swelling in volumes (7:36:6). Prayers are offered to ten rivers including Sarasvati, the names are mentioned sequentially– “O Ganga, Yamuna, Sarasvati, Sutlej, Ravi, Chenab, Marudvrudha, Jhelam, Sohana and Vyas and other rivers listen to our eulogy (10:75:5)”.
In later part of Rig Veda, Sarasvati, Sarayu and Sindhu are worshipped as three mighty rivers [10:64:9].
Therefore, it does not appeal to reason that only one out of seven rivers, one out of ten rivers or one out of three rivers would be imaginary and mythical whereas others were and are a reality. It is true that the descriptions of Sarasvati river in vedic literature are intervined with mythological events but so are the descriptions of Ganges. Therefore, instead of denying the existence of Sarasvati river, we should separate the poetic imagination from hard facts.
In Yayurveda, it is said that five equally celebrated rivers merged with the mighty Sarasvati. The same Sarasvati got divided into five glorified flows in the country. Five tributaries were Drishadvati, Satudri (Sutlej), Chandrabhaga (chenab), Vipasa (Vyas) and Iravati (Ravi). The five distributaries are named in Skanda Purana as Harini, Vjrini, Hyunk, Kapila and Sarasvati. Thus, whereas Sarasvati had 7 tributaries, including Yamuna, during Rigveda era, it was left with only 5 tributaries (minus Yamuna) by the time Yayurveda was compiled.
Mahabharata gives a clear geographical account of Sarasvati becoming a non-perennial river vanishing and re-appearing in the deserts [3:80:118 & 9:36:1], surviving in the form of a number of lanes e.g. Brahmasar, jyotisar, Kaleswar (in Haryana), Katasar, Pandusar & Ravisar (in Rajasthan). Kurukshetra is described as located in the south of Sarasvati and north of Drishadvati [Mbh. 3:81:115]
Thus, pictures taken by Remote Earth Sensing Satellites Corroborate the references to location and course of Sarasvati River in ancient Vedic literature.
Geological and Hydrological Evidences :
Climatic changes and geotectonic movements have led to migration and abandonment of several rivers and drainage systems. Geological, hydrological and archaeological evidences support the satellite imagery of paleochannels which correspond with the course of ancient Sarasvati river. Glaciological record indicates that more than 12000-10000 years back there were glaciers all around in Himalayas which began to melt due to the warming of climate. The melting of glaciers released the pent up waters that flowed into mighty river channels, which included Sarasvati and its tributaries like Drishadvati, Sutlej and Yamuna.
According to geological and glaciological evidences, a stream of Sarasvati was supposed to have originated in Bandapunch massif. Even today Sarasvati flows from the South of Mana pass which meets river Alakananda, 3 Km away in the south of Mana village. Descending through Adibadri, Bhavanipur & Balchapur in the foothills to the plains, the river took roughly a southwesterly course, passing through the plains of Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat and finally debouched into the Arabian Sea at Great Rann of Kuchchh. Research reports prepared by geologists have concluded that at one time it had at least 3 tributaries, Shatadru originating from Mt Kailas, Drishadvati from Shiwalik Hills and the old Yamuna. They flowed together along a channel, presently known as Ghaggar in Punjab, Hakra and Nara. Research reports by geologists have revealed that the drainage systems/ paleochannels of this area came into existence more than 8000 years back as is indicated by the age of waters trapped beneath the desert in Jaisalmer of west Rajasthan.
As per Valdiya and Sridhar, ancient India had four main drainage systems, namely – Indus, Shatadru, Sarasvati and Drishadvati. All these rivers originated in the Himalaya foothills and after traversing the vast expanse their mouths came quite close to one another as is suggested by the paleo-delta complex showing three deltaic river mouths in the Great Runn of Kachchh :-
This reconstruction of rivers, based on geological surveys, corroborates the LANDSAT imagery showing that at one stage Sutlej flowed independently from the mountain to the sea after getting disconnected from Sarasvati river.
Map showing ancient drainage network (after Sridhar et al. this volume) (Ref Memoir 42 of GSI, Bangalore – Page No.165)
Celebrated geologist R.D.Oldham wrote about the lost river Sarasvati stating that the river got dried up due to the diversion of waters of Sutlej and the Yamuna [journal of Asiatic Society, Bengal, 1886 V55-322-343]. A little later in 1893, C F Oldham (Journal of Royal Asiatic Society, 1893 – V34. PP. 49-76) had also described Sarasvati river as flowing from the mountain to the sea. He also made references to the changing courses of river Sarasvati propounding the view that the vedic description of Sarasvati agrees with its ancient course (identified through paleochannels) whereas the description given in Mahabharata coincides with its later position. As per Oldham, Ghaggar is the other name for ancient Sarasvati and that 7 miles east of Sirsa is another old bed of Sarasvati and Sirsa gets its name from the ancient fortress of Sarsuti (Sarasvati). He goes on to say that when Sutlej changed its course to the westward, and abandoned the east arm of Hakra, the Sarasvati was left in the possession of the deserted channel, in the sands of which its waters were swallowed up. After intensive research and analysis, Oldham also came to the conclusion that Rann of Kuchchh was once an estuary.
NEARCHUS reconstructed the Water Network Map of Hakra Channel (Yamuna-Sarasvati-Sultej) in 1875 as under after conducting extensive geographical/geophysical surveys.
[Reconstruction of water network in the region of the Hakra channel (Yamuna-Sarasvati-Sutlej)-1874 – pg. 101 of Memoir 42 of GSI,Bangalore.
Thus, even in 1874 when drainage and palaeochannels network was reconstructed on the basis of geological surveys, Sutlej and Drishadvati were shown as the tributaries of Sarasvati, whereas Ghaggar and Hakra were described as its dried up palaeochannels, corroborating the satellite imagery.
Archaeological Finds :
Archaeological excavations and research reports further corroborate the geological findings and satellite imagery. More than 1200 ancient settlements on Sarasvati river basin have been dug out giving clinching evidence of existence of a mighty river, which sustained maritime civilization and metal-based economy prior to 3000 BC (S.Kalyanaraman in journal of Geological Society of India No.42, 1`999 PP 25-33). It has been concluded that it was possible to travel on the Sarasvati river from the gulf of Khambat to Mathura via Lothal, Dholavira, Granweriwala, Kalibangan, Banawali, Paonta-Doon, Rakhigarhi and Indraprastha. Based on the evidence gathered through exacavations, the Arachaeologists have concluded that between 7000 BC to 2500 BC an advanced civilization, vedic in nature, was flourishing along Sarasvati and Indus rivers. When Sarasvati started drying up, Vedic Aryans moved towards west beyond Indus, east beyond Ganges & south beyond Godavari. It was the continuation of Sarasvati-Indus Civilization, which was given the name ‘Harappan’ probably because the first town excavated was Harappa. Archaeological Survey of India has dug out more than 2400 settlements at the ancient Indus-Sarasvati river basins but no ancient settlements have been found along the present day course of Yamuna or Sutlej.
As per V.S.Wakankar, who is known as ‘Bhisham Pitamah’ of Archaeology, extensive excavations carried out by the Archaeological Survey of India have revealed that :
(i) Harappan and Pre-Harappan Civilizations developed along ancient Sarasvati and therefore these may be more appropriately described as part of Sarasvati-Indus Civilizations.
(ii) Most of the Rishi Ashrams described in Ramayana and Mahabharata were lined along Sarasvati river.
(iii) Perforated pottery jars and fire altars (µÖ–ÖãÓ›) are found in most of the 1200 settlements excavated along Sarasvati river indicating that civilization which flourished was vedic.
(iv) Land was fertile and barley etc were cultivated in the Sarasvati region even 7000 years back and same style of cultivating the fields continues till date in areas like Rajasthan & Haryana. [Atharvaved (6:30:1)]
(v) It is unhistoric and unscientific to say that Vedic Aryans migrated from any other region to India. They belonged to India & compiled Vedas in settlements along Sarasvati River.
The same culture and civilization continues till date, as has been convincingly described by Dr. B.B.Lal, Director General (Retd.) of Archaeological Survey of India, in his book “The Sarasvati Flows on – the continuity of Indian Culture”.
According to Prof. Max Muller, “the loss of Sarasvati is later than the Vedic age, and that during vedic age, the waters of Sarasvati reached the sea.” There are great details, in our ancient books & manuscripts, of earthquakes, volcanic activities and tectonic movements which led to decay/disappearance of Sarasvati e.g. in Mahabharata it is stated to have disappeared in Vinasana (somewhere near Sirsa). Recently water has sprung out from underground in Kalayat (Kaithal in Haryana), which relates to ancient Sarasvati river as per the Geological Department of Kurukshetra University because scientific analysis of the water revealed presence of Zircon, christolite, termaline, sterolite & chloride etc which are found only in paleochannels of very old dried up rivers which originated from the Himalayas. [News item Dainik Jagran dated 03.02.2006]
Geophysical and Geomorphological Studies :
Geophysical and geomorphological studies carried out by wilhelmy, Bakliwal and A.K.Grover (Records of Geological Survey of India, 1988, V 116, PP 77-86) have revealed that migration of Sarasvati was caused by tectonic disturbances, shifts due to the rise in Hardwar-Delhi ridge zone, Luni-Sukri lineaments causing severe earthquakes and Kachchh fault facilitated by climatic variations. The stream piracy of Sutlej by Beas and of Yamuna by Ganges at later stage is responsible for the drying up of the Sarasvati. The groundwater, and geophysical data corroborates these findings. The presence of older alluvial plains with medium textured soils below the sands of Thar desert indicates activities of some mighty rivers in the past. The geophysical surveys in Ganganagar, Bikaner and Jaisalmer areas have revealed several zones of less saline under-ground water which is dated more than 5000 years old. (Refer reports of Rajasthan Ground Water Board). Instead of denying the existence of such water zones due to same kind of inferiority complex, research work should be intensified in order to identify sources of groundwater and possible locales for rainwater harvesting.
Histo-geographical studies carried out by M.L.Bhargava (The Geography of Rigvedic India) have revealed existence of Sarasvati (Ghaggar is the relict) and Drishtavati (Chautang is the relict) and that between the two was located Brahamavarta, the original home of Aryans. Sarasvati is supposed to have joined the sea near Prabhasa , i.e., Somnath. Based on the study of paleodrainage of northern India, Wilhelmy concluded that prior to Alexander’s invasion in 325 BC, there prevailed 2 independent river systems; one comprised the Hakra-Nara courses (i.e. Sarasvati) and the other, Indus progressively shifting to the west.
Drainage of northwestern India (after Wilhelmy,1969). (Ref.Memoir 42 of GSI, Bangalore-page no. 192)
Studies in Sea level fluctuations, climatology, Radio carbon and isotope dating of groundwater have corroborated that from 8000 BC to 4000 BC, there was abundant supply of water to the Sea. The climate started drying up from 3000 BC onwards and reached an arid phase around 2000 BC. Isotopic study of groundwater in Jaisalmer and Ganganagar districts of Rajasthan by Nair and Rao has concluded that shallow groundwater was 2000 to 6000 years old and deep seated groundwater was 6000 to 12000 years old confirming that these were paleowaters, apparently indicating that these were part of Sarasvati river which became non-perennial and slowly dried up around 5000-4000 BC. R.V.Athavale of National Geophysical Research Institute has culled out evidence of 12 earthquakes from archaeological and geomorphological records of excavated Harappan (Vedic) sites. He concluded that an earthquake around 3100 BC may have resulted in Sarasvati losing Yumuna (which shifted eastward). Again due to an earthquake in 2500 BC Sarasvati might have lost Sutlej which moved westward. In 2001, during earthquakes in Gujarat, cracks appeared in dry land of Katchchh and the water sprung out, which, as per the geologists and scientists, was more than 4000 years old and related to Sarasvati River.
Sarasvati in a sense is like modern India, having forgotten its heritage of Himalayan proportions, it has lost itself in a featureless desert! Nevertheless, it is still hidden and is capable of restoring the past glory. Scientific evidences based on satellite imagery, archaeological, geological, geophysical, glaciological, oceanographical research have proved that to consider Sarasvati as mythical is unhistoric and unscientific. In fact ancient wisdom and modern technology should now combine to trace step by step evolution of mighty river Sarasvati and to remind India, particularly Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana, Punjab and Uttranchal areas, that the greatest and most ancient vedic civilization flourished in these areas more than 5000 years back when Vedas were written in the settlements along the course of Sarasvati river and its tributaries. Reverence for this glorious past is a necessary element of patriotism. Allowing propagation of a false view of one’s own cultural heritage is not tolerance but self-betrayal. The scientific evidences gathered indicate that our motherland, land belonging to India as well as to Pakistan was home to the oldest a well as the greatest civilization, which flourished alongwith the Sarasvati-Indus rivers. As custodians of this great tradition it is our duty to lead the efforts in working out more accurate view of our history. In the settlements along these rivers Vedas were composed, which are the source of invaluable & profound knowledge and which are common heritage of Hindus as well as of Muslims, of all the people who live on this land, because the history is that of the land, which has seen the rise and fall of several civilizations.