Sarasvati (texts & arch.II)

Michael Witzel witzel at FAS.HARVARD.EDU
Fri May 22 16:40:40 UTC 1998

Part II:

(I wrote:)

> >While RV 7.95.2 (cf. 7.6.7) indeed speaks of the Sarasvati flowing to
> >the/an ocean, this is not unambiguous, due to the various meanings of
> >samudra "ocean" or "confluence of rivers" (debated for more than 100 years
> >RV  ...generally quite hyperbolic

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

> A Sarasvati flowing into an ocean means a Sarasvati flowing into an ocean !

Logically correct, but *first* someone has to do the philological study
and show what samudra REALLY means (s. K. Klaus, Kosmographie 1986). I
have alluded to the century old discussion.

What, e.g., about the "northern samudra" in Atharvaveda? (Witzel 1984, but
in French) The positivistic Whitney could not believe his eyes when
translating.  But he died before he could read BG Tilak's book.

Also, RV 6.72.3 (referred to by me already last time) has rivers flowing
towards the oceans (aa samudraaNi) How many "oceans = oceans" are there in
Vedic India? SamudraaNi means: at least 3... Cf. again the northern one!

Again RV 7.6.7, mentioned last time, has: aa samudraad avaraad aa
parasmaad, aa agnir dade diva aa pRthivyaaH. Are these real oceans, the
Bay of Bengal and the Arabia Sea? When you mention heaven and earth next??
<And what about RV 33.6 calling the Sindhu the mother of the Sarasvati?>

Obviously your average "samudra" in the RV is not (just) the Indian Ocean!
And, obviously these samudra-s are not the samudra = ocean and not = the
samudra of the one passage mentioning the Sarasvati.

A little philology never hurts. Readers are invited to do their own study!

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

>> RV 3.33 *must* speak of an already smaller Sarasvati...
>>... it was no longer the larger river it *may* have been in the earlier
>> Rgvedic period (and remembered in RV 7.95).  <<

>  You contradict yourself completely here.  Initially you stated that
>  7.95.2 probably is a reminiscencing of the Haraxvaiti. But if the
>  earlier RV 3.33  refers to the smaller Sarasvati in India then how can
>  you argue that 7.95.2  refers to the reminiscensing of the Haraxvaiti???

No, it is just a little more complex (could not go into details in my
already long posting):


RV 3 and 10 have the smaller Sarasvati of today. RV 3 and 7 are
contemporary (king Sudas). RV 7.95.2 thus is anormal, with its great
Sarasvati. How to explain that?

Now, RV 7.95 is supposed to be composed by Vasistha (in Anukramani).
Indeed, the hymn seems to be solid, of one piece (no trca-s here) and thus
is not thought to be late (Oldenberg, Prolegomena, 1888!).

If we thus take Vasistha's authorship (contemporary of Sudas) seriously,
we are faced with the abnormal "great Sarasvati" at the time Sudas crosses
the confluence of the Beas & Sutlej (necessitating a small Sarasvati).

Now, Vasistha is a suspicious figure. He does not belong to the well known
RV gotras, but is mentioned in RV 7.33.3 to have come from across the
Indus.  He also has the typical Iranian idea of Yama being 'our' ancestor,
not Manu (RV 7.33.9). All of this opens the *possibility* of Iranian (and
thus Hamum-lake)  conections. And thus a remmebrance of the other
(Iranian, Haraxvaiti; note other Iranian recollections, below).  If this
should not be the case (and it is of course just a possibility for the
moment), then:

> Again, If 7.95.2 is a remembering of the Sarasvati (and not the
Haraxvaiti)  then does it not mean that the Aryans were already in the
SIVC when the Sarasvati was bigger ???

Why the "Aryans"? There is continuity at of *certain* cultural traits (NOT
RV religion etc, of course) between the Indus civ. and the Vedic civ.
Anybody living there could have heard of a great Sarasvati in the distant
past. But, such people must have had a very long memory, see above!

>> agrees with the scenario developed recently (Witzel 1995):
>> early Indo-Aryan immigration (*maximally* starting at the end of the
>> Indus civ., 1900 BC, and down to c.1400 BC

>As already shown your Internal evidence infact negates your arguments.
>Considering that you date the Rgveda to between 1500-1200BC.  Dont you
>find it strange that the Aryans were "reminiscencing" about a Haraxvaiti
>which they had left at least a few hundred years ago..

Not at all. There are many references to Afghani rivers in the RV (Witzel
1995). And other recollections of even further Iran/Central Asia (PaNi,
Daasa, Rasaa, etc.).

And, with repect to the great Sarasvati of RV 7, not "the Aryans", but ONE
poet (of unclear western origins) and then only ONCE.

Note that this is found in one of two hymns by Vasistha (7.95-96)  which
praise the Sarasvati, the homeland (RV 3.53 etc.) of Vasistha's sponsor
Sudas. In such situations a little hyperbole (typical for RV poets) is
called for.

Also, if not one or the other remembrance (see above), a mythological
explanation for the phrase is not excluded (Witzel 1984), -- << briefly:
the heavenly Sarasvati flowing from the nightime sky, called asman in
Iranian: "the rock", to the earth, like the later Heavenly Ganga >>.--

In short too many *if*s in this ONE sentence in order to take the abnormal
mentioning too literally and too seriously to build a whole theory on it.

>.and then when they
>talk of a river going underground you say that they decided to call a
>already long dead or almost dead river which goes nowhere as their
>Sarasvati (and calling it the river that flows from the mountains to the
>sea > too!)... when bigger rivers are around ?

Don't undertand that at all. The Sarasvati is in RV. The 'underground'
river Sarasvati only in Jaiminiya and Pancavimsa Brahmana, and later on.
As I have mentioned the Iranian and the RV Indian Sarasvati are *similar*
in so far as they both disappear in the desert and have many ponds there:
thus both are saras-vant "having ponds"! So why not name one after the
other? The Afghani Sarayu (Haroiiu) appear as UP.Sarayu (Sarju) and the E.
Afghani Gomati as U.P. Gomati (Gumti).

For the Sarasvati to the sea, see above: ONCE, etc etc. Things are more
complex than one brief look may indicate. And one has to fit them into the
GENERAL picture of the RV as well.

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

>> in striking contrast to that of the Indian homeland theory.  > >(for
>> example, of a pre-Indus civ. Rgveda). (And I am not even talking
>> about copper (ayas) in the RV which would be *globally* out of date
>> in a pre-Harappan Rgveda).

> Again..your facts are wrong. Please look up
> the following  RC Agrawala, 1984,  Aravalli, the Major source of copper
> for Indus and Indus related cultures

Don't get that. Of course the Indus civ. had copper (copper/bronze).So
does the RV.  But a "pre-Indus RV" of the Aryan homeland theory cannot
have copper since it was not used .. yet.

(To be clear, not to be misunderstood again. *Incidentally*, copper and
even <meteroic> iron have always been used, for example there is  an
"exotic" copper bead in a neolithic Mehrgarh grave (c. 6500 BC). )


>> we must remember the > >contemporary data of the Mitanni, at c.1380 BC

> You are completely ignoring the much earlier presence  of clearly Vedic
> names and vocabulary in west Asia, and there is nothing  Iranian about
> them. More of this later, as this message is alrady very long.

Well, in fact, not at all: I just mentioned the Mitanni, eh? And I
mentioned them earlier (Mitanni with their Asvins = Nasatya), I guess in
another "horse" message. Well known since Thieme's c. 1960 argumentation.
Their importance depends on the spin you want to give to their appearanae
at c.1380 BC in Syria/Iraq.

> > So in conclusion, I am afraid there are big holes in  both the facts
and logic that you have proposed.

I hope I have filled some of the perceived holes here.
Otherwise, tell me.

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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