Sarasvati (texts & arch.I)

Michael Witzel witzel at FAS.HARVARD.EDU
Fri May 22 16:36:24 UTC 1998

One is always pleased if one's writing is read carefully. That is what
discussion is all about. But I am afraid I have been misunderstood many
times here...

I divide the message into two parts as it would become too long, with all
the puurva-  and uttara-paksas, - and hopefully, siddhaanta.

On Thu, 21 May 1998, Sn. Subrahmanya wrote:

> only recently with Mughals
> excavations that it has been found that the concentration of sites is
> on the Sarasvati and not on the Indus.

Nice, ironically, a Pakistani delivering evidence for a "Sarasvati"
theory... He does not seem to be too happy with the *spin* his work is
used for. <More on the "concentration" below>

The fact is that we do not know what the Ghaggar/Hakra -Nara river has
been called in ancient times, as was already said on this list. <<I guess
it was called something like *vipal/vibal, for the complex, for the Beas:
*vipal/vipaL/vipash, and for the later Sarasvati:
*vish(am)bal/vish(am)pal. Explanation takes too long here. Separately if

This is "just" a naming issue. You can also call it "Civilization X" since
we cannot yet read its script consistently. So far no one has convincingly
shown that the local people called the Gh.-H. by its Sanskrit name,
"Sarasvati". When (if) the happy moment of decipherment of the Indus
script arrives, one can perhaps see what the local people called
it/themselves and name the civilization and the river accordingly.

> --------------------

> >Harappan sites. But these settlements are *on* the actual flood plain of
> >the old Sarasvati/Ghagghar-Hakra, which again speaks against an enormous
> >river during the Harappan (or a supposed pre-Harappan Rgvedic) period. Or
> >does one want to live in place that is flooded each summer?

> You have your facts wrong here: The Satluj and Yamuna are perennial and
> are fed by the Himalayan glaciers. The Ghaggar, Sarasvati, Markanda, Chautang
> all arise in the Sivaliks and are non-perennial. Presently none of them
> reach the sea (Yashpal,84)

Have I ? -- Precisely my point. Once more:

The Sarasvati=Ghagghar-Hakra can only have been a great stream when the
glacier-fed Sutlej (and the Ur-Yamuna)  still flowed in her bed. Once the
Sutlej takes its own westward course (see Mughal 1995) the Ghagghar-Hakra
becomes a small river, as the Sarsuti is now (well described in the old
Imperial Gazetteer).

Thus, if the G-H. was a mighty stream in the distant past, nobody would
build villages and towns on its flood plain, to be inundated each summer
(when the ice melts in the Himalayas and when we also get some monsoon in
the area).

The Indus civ.towns ARE on the flood plain. By this time, no great
Sarasvati anymore. <<But also no Rgveda before that (see below).>>

The Rgveda tells us (3.33) that the (glacier-fed) Sutlej joined the Beas.
A look on the map will show that, due to that westward shift, the
Sarasvati lost the bulk of its water (all in Mughal 1995). Clearly the
later part of the RV ( books 3,7, 10) is LATER than the "great Sarasvati".
Thus, NO Rgvedic "Sarasvati civilization." (more on this last sentence
separately if wished).

> ---------------------

> The concentration of sites on the Sarasvati is very clear. All three - Early,
> Mature and Late - Harappan sites are on the Sarasvati. So even if we are
> accept that the river had dried up by 1400BC there is very clear
> evidence of a continous civilization.

Nobody doubts that. But you overlook one or two things:

(a) The great number of the (unexcavated) "Sarasvati" sites on the Hakra
in Cholistan is due to the fact that this is a dead, fossile river bed:
therefore, the sites have been preserved for the past 3-4000 years.

(b) this is usually NOT the case in the rest of the Panjab with its
frequently shifting rivers. Much of what had been, say, near the ancient
Ravi or Beas has long been obliterated by these rivers... Also, many
Harappan sites might be under present towns, such as Lahore, and of
course, the modern town of Harappa....

Sn sum, we still do not know the full, real distribution of Harappan Civ.
sites in *real* percentages.

> The reason some of the sites are ON the ancient bed is precisely because
> they were built AFTER the water had been captured away from the Sarasvati
> and the river became smaller !!

Exactly what I implied. (Most of) the Indus/Harappan etc civ. is later
than the "great Sarasvati". <important for the date of the Rgveda>.

More in part II.

Michael Witzel                       witzel at

phone: 1- 617 - 495 3295 (voice & messages), 496 8570, fax 617 - 496 8571
my direct line (also for messages) :  617- 496 2990

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