Indus­Sarasvati Civilization 
Written by Dr. S. Kalyanaraman 
Update: 6th July 1995. 


The objective of this rather long monograph is to 
promote an understanding of and further researches into 
delineating the courses of the `lost' Sarasvati river from 
Siwalik ranges to the Rann of Kutch (sAgara) and to 
gain deeper insights into an ancient civilization that flour­ 
ished on the Sarasvati and Indus river valleys circa 3200 

The intent is to circulate this to geologists and schol­ 
ars interested in exploring further into the ancient cul­ 
tures which flourished on the Sarasvati river -- similar 
to those interested in exploring into the secrets of the 
tombs of the Pharaohs of Egyptian civilization. 
Those who have further questions or inquiries can 
contact the scholars who have studied this subject deeply 
(e.g. Prof. Gregory Possehl, at Upenn and others men­ 
tioned in the bibliography). I shall be grateful to receive 
critical comments: 

Dr. S. Kalyanaraman 
20/7 Warren Road, Mylapore, Madras 600004 India 
Tel. 011­91­44­493­6288; Fax. 011­9144­499­6380 
EMAIL (till august 95): [email protected] 

The monograph is organized in five parts: 
1. Analysis of archaeological and other evidence on 
the extent of the Indus­Sarasvati civilization in Indus­ 
Sarasvati river valleys. 

2. Extracts from bibliographical references (mainly 
Landsat imagery analysis and studies in earth sciences) 
providing leads to determing the course of the ancient, 
`lost' Sarasvati river. 

3. Rigvedic(Rk,Rca,or rk) hymns on Sarasvati. 

4. The `cult object' on Harappan seals 

5. Frequently asked questions and some answers on 
this and related topics. 

The monograph leads to a hypothesis which will re­ 
quire deeper studies to decipher the script used on seals 
and sealings found in many sites: 
Indus­Sarasvati civilization flourished circa 2500 to 
1700 BC on the river valleys of Indus and Sarasvati. 
The drying­up of the Sarasvati river led to migrations of 

The search for the language of the times may have 
to be based on identification of the ancient morphemes, 
starting from a study of comparative morphemes (with 
similar sounds and similar meanings) of the present­day 
languages spoken in South Asia. 

1. Analysis of archaeological and other evidence on 
the extent of the Indus­Sarasvati civilization in Indus­ 
Sarasvati river valleys. 


I was pleasantly surprised to find in the National At­ 
las of India (Hindi), Calcutta, 1957, Govt. of India pub­ 
lication; Bharat­BhUracanA map depicting Sarasvati­ 
Ghaggar in dotted lines apparently to denote dried­up 
river beds! 

Given the present state of archaeological knowledge 
gained since the Harappan site discovery in the 1920's, 
it's time to change the name of the maritime Harappan 
rationale for this suggestion based on locus, is provided 
and a number of research areas are proposed, for con­ 
sideration by indologists: 

Prof. Ahmad Hasan Dani writes (Ed. INDUS CIVI­ 
versity, Islamabad, 1981, pp.3­ 12): `The Indus Civ­ 
ilization is today famed for its two cities of Harappa 
and Mohenjodaro ... Harappa ... its excavation also 
started as early as 1920­21 ... On comparing the mate­ 
rial from the two places Sir John Marshall argued that 
the site of Harappa ``will probably never prove so lu­ 
crative as that of Mohenjodaro, for the reason that it 
was further removed from the main centre of the In­ 
dus culture in Sind.'' (An. Rep. of the Arch. Survey 
of India, 1923­24, pp.47­48). He opined that this civ­ 
ilization ``was developed in the Indus Valley itself and 
was probably as distinctive of that region, as the civ­ 
ilization of the Pharoahs was distinctive of the Nile.'' 
To him goes the credit of coining the term The Indus 
Civilization. But his geographic horizon no longer holds 
good and the term deriving therefrom is open to question 
... . The wide­spread nature of the Indus Civilization 
throughout Panjab and Sind had already expanded the 
meaning of the original term. Still later in the post­ 
1947 period the Indus Civilization sites have been dis­ 
covered in large number outside the present Indus region 
right up to the very borders of Yamuna in the north­east 
(Alamgirpur on the Hindon, a tributary of the Yamuna 
about 30 miles north of Delhi), along the dried­up bed 
of the river Ghaggar in northern part of Rajasthan, and 
in Gujrat right upto the mouths of Narbada and Tapti 

Harappa was a `city' site; but the rivers had nurtured 
a large number of `village' sites. I propose that on geo­ 
graphical grounds and based on the cumulative knowl­ 
edge gained about this maritime civilization through the 
excavations of the decades since 1950's which have dis­ 
covered that the culture spanned two great river valleys, 
the name of this most extensive proto­historic civiliza­ 
tion should be changed to INDUS­SARASVATI CIVI­ 
LIZATION. This suggestion is made after careful, ob­ 
jective deliberation and introspection based on research 
pursued for over 20 years. 

``Evidence from many sources, including that of ar­ 
chaeological remains associated with old river courses, 
indicates that a major river, stemming mainly from the 
same sources as the present Sutlej, flowed through North­ 
ern Rajasthan, Bahawalpur and Sind-- to the southeast 
of the present course of the Sutlej and the Indus -- in 
the third to second millennium BC. This river, known 
as the Sarawati in its upper course, at different times 
either joined the lower course of the Indus in Sind, or 
found its way independently into the Arabian Sea via 
Rann of Kutch.'' (Allchin, B., Goudie, A., and Hegde, 
K., 1978, The prehistory and palaeogeography of the 
Great Indian Desert, London, Academic Press, p. 198). 
Ghaggar which reached the Hakra branch in Bahawalpur, 
is traditionally identified with the Sarasvati river. [cf. 
Sir Aurel Stein's explorations in the valley: Ancient 
India, no.5, 1949, pp. 12­30; A. Ghosh discovered 25 
Harappan sites (Indian Archaeology--a Review, 1962­63) 
in the ``region beginning right from the Pakistan bor­ 
der (eastwards) up to midway between Hanumangarh 
(bhaTner or bhattinagara) and Suratgarh in the Saras­ 
vati valley and about 25 kms. east of Bhadra in the 
Drishadvati valley''; Dr. Mughal discovered more than 
300 sites in the Bahawalpur area)]. Banawali excavated 
by Bisht is 15 km. northwest of Fatehabad, near the 
Sarasvati river and about 120 km. east of Kalibangan. 
Bhagwanpura, Dist. Kurukshetra, is located on the right 
bank of the Sarasvati river south of Rupar and is a site 
excavated by Joshi. 

The archaeology of Indus­Sarasvati sites can be su­ 
perimposed on the ancient geography of the region as 
gleaned from literary texts. That a script was used in 
this civilization can be linked to the name of a script used 
in historical periods in the region (without any apriori 
assumptions that the brAhmI script is derived from this 
ancient script). 

Vedic and epic tradition on the river is concordant 
with the archaeological/geographical (and now landsat 
satellite) attestations. 

Etymologically, sarasvati means `abundance of lakes 
(saras)'. The synonym of sarasvatI (goddess of vAk = 
speech or language) is brAhmI which is the name given 
to the early scripts used in aSOka's epigraphs of circa 
300 B.C. . 

The sUkta 6.61 of the Rigveda is a dedication to 
sarasvatI river; sUkta 75 is the nadi sUkta dedicated to 
sindhu river. The trio: drshadvatI, Apaya and sarasvatI 
are extolled in Rk 3.23.4. Other Rks dedicated to the 
river are: 1.3.10, 1.3.11, 1.3.12, 2.30.8, 7.95.1, 8.21.17 
and 18. References are made to yajnas performed by 
king citra on the banks of the river.[Apaya may be a 
branch of the Chitang river; this may also have yielded 
the sememe: ab, Ap = waters]. 

BaudhAyana's DharmasUtra (I,1,2,9) describes Mad­ 
hyadEsa as lying to the east of the region where sarasvatI 
river disappears, to the west of the black forest: kAlaka­ 
van, to the north of the pAripAtra mountain and to the 
south of the Himalayas. 

MahAbhArata (BhIshmaparva, 6.49,50): seven di­ 
vyagangas: nalinI, pAvanI, sarasvatI, jambu, sItA, gangA 
and sindhu. The epic locates kurukshetra to the south 
of sarasvatI and to the north of DrshadvatI (iii,83.204). 
[This area is defined as Brahmavarta in Manu Smriti 
2.17]. The doab formed by these two rivers thus becomes 
the locus of the Bharata war of kurukshetra (fought on 
five lakes: samanta­ pancaka; said to be the northern 
sacrificial altar of brahmA: MB, Vana, lxxxiii). [Al­ 
beruni found, in 1000 A.D., a holy lake in Kurukshetra]. 
The epic provides an account of Balarama's sojourn along 
this river dotted with centers of learning and austeri­ 
ties. [The dividing line of Drshadvati is at Chunar near 
Varanasi; the modern name is Rakshi]. 

The dried­up bed -- wadi -- of sarasvatI might have 
constituted the great road between hastinApur and dvAr­ 
AvatI (dwAraka). Part of this road would have con­ 
stituted the road from Sind to Delhi via Bahawalpur, 
MaroT, Anupgarh, Suratgarh, Dabli, KAlibaggAN, BhaT­ 
ner (Hanumgarh), Tibi and SIrsa suggested by Major F. 
Mackeson in 1844 to the British government (Report on 
the Route from Seersa to Bahawulpore, JAS BENG., 
XLII, Pt.I, 1844, No. 145 to 153)]. A synonym of sIrsa 
is sarsuti ! sarasvatI; at this place, about 100 miles below 
Rassauli, a fortress was built. 

Hieun Tsang's reference to `five indies' is amplified 
by Cunningham to define northern India to comprise the 
Punjab proper including Kashmir and the adjoining hill 
states, eastern Afghanistan beyond Indus and the Sutlej 
states to the west of the sarasvatI river. 

Geographically, the sarasvatI basin can be traced to 
the currently known: ghaggar­nALI­hakDA­rainI­nArA­ 
wAhindA­ mihrAn­purAN channels. Ghaggar might have 
been a stream that rose in the Siwaliks and that joined 
the sarasvatI. This network runs parallel to the Indus 
across Sind. The river flowed from the Himalayas to the 
Rann of Kutch. [cf. Oldham, C.F., JRAS, 1893, p.49 on 
the Lost river of the Indian desert; Sir A. Burnes, Mem­ 
oir n the Eastern Branch of the River Indus, given an Ac­ 
count of the alterations produced on it by an earthquake, 
also a Theory of the formation of the Runn, TRANS. 
RAS, III,1834, pp. 550­88]. 

Geologically, the entire sarasvatI river bed, and the 
arm of the Arabian sea (formerly spanning into saline 
Ranns of kutch) into which the river fell are on an earth­ 
quake belt; an earthquake could have upraised this entire 
river­sea­bed profile, drying up the river. [This may ex­ 
plain the formation of the Thar desert on the left banks 
of the river in earlier earthquakes; also, perhaps of the 
Thal desert in Pakistan. Did some tracts of the thar 
desert support cultivation in ancient times? Geological 
surveys do indicate subsoil water in some tracts. Even 
today, over 2 million people in Rajasthan live in these 
tracts! The Sanskrit name is maru­sthalI. cf. Tamil 

Was this event of the dried­up sarasvatI linkable to 
the 12 years of drought in the Santanu reign -- an anec­ 
dote in the Mahabharata? Could this explain the mi­ 
grations of the Indus­Sarasvati people to other parts of 
the sub­continent? 

Another possibility is that the head­waters of saras­ 
vatI were captured by sutlej (sutudrI) shrinking the water­ 
volume carried by sarasvatI. [cf. H.Raychaudhari, The 
Sarasvati, in Science and Culture, VIII, 12, June 1943; 
Studies in Indian Antiquities, Calcutta University, 1958, 
pp. 121­41]. Yamuna is also considered a tributary of 
the sarasvatI (Wadia, D.N., Geology of India, London, 
1949, p.41). 

Could the Indo­Aryan migrations, attested in a num­ 
ber of scholarly studies, have been caused by the (grad­ 
ual?) drying­up of the river? 

Linguistically, was this IndusSarasvati a region which 
had synthesized the Indo­Aryan (Gypsy, Dardic, Pan­ 
jabi, Gujarati), Dravidian (Brahui, Tamil) and Munda 
language streams, before internal migrations began circa 
1700 B.C.? Was this a south asian linguistic area, circa 
2500 B.C.? In the lingua franca, was the river called 
khal = stream (Tamil)? [khAyal (Malayalam); khADI 
(Gujarati); khAl (Hindi)]? Was drshadvatI like gangA, 
a term absorbed from Munda? [The absorptiion of the 
Dravidian retroflex sounds render the Indo­Aryan tongues 
to be distinct from the IE; also, cf. references to Indian 
sememes in Turner's comparative indo­aryan dictionary 
and my south asian dictionary]. 

What are the dates of the formation of the Rann 
of Kutch? What are the dates of the drying­up of the 
Sarasvati river? Do the vivid landsat pictures of the lost 
river skirting the Indian desert convey enough informa­ 
tion to unravel the geological causes of the drying­up? 
Maybe, further researches to firm up these dates will 
hold a clue to unravel the apparent discontinuity be­ 
tween IndusSarasvati proto­historic culture (circa 2500­ 
1700 B.C.) and the linguistic evidence of the historical 
periods (circa 300 B.C.) of the region. [Recent excava­ 
tions in Banawali and Dholavira seem to establish the 
continuity of settlements bridging this apparent gap be­ 
tween circa 1700 and 300 B.C. belying some theories 
about the abrupt disappearance of the Harappan tradi­ 
tion, say, caused by floods on the Indus?] 

2. Extracts from bibliographical references (mainly 
Landsat imagery analysis and studies in earth sciences) 
providing leads to determing the course of the ancient, 
`lost' Sarasvati river. 

The following extracts, principally from principally 
earth sciences and LANDSAT literature establish the 
existence of Sarasvati river contiguous to the Indus river 
valley and the area of Rann of Kutch and the Gulf of 
Cambay in Gujarat. This region is studded with many 
Harappan culture sites. 


Harappa is a site on the west bank of Ravi; Kaliban­ 
gan is a site on the right bank of Sutlej; Amri is a site 
on the west bank of Indus (close to the Arabian sea); 
Banawali is located 15 km northwest of Fatehbad, near 
the Sarasvati river and about 120 km east of Kaliban­ 
gan; Lothal and Rangpur are sites below the Rann of 


Bimal Ghose et al (1979) use photographs taken in 
1972. Plate V traces the wide valley of the Sarasvati 
running from Suratgarh through Anupgarh to Fort Ab­ 
bas and Ahmadpur East. From Anupgarh another wide 
belt of discontinuous patches of dark grey tone runs 
southwestward upto Sakhi. From Sakhi, the remnant 
of a former valley can be traced towards the west ... 
the imagery reveals the presence of a narrow zone of 
saline/alkaline fields, partly obliterated by the overlying 
sand dunes, extending upto Khangarh. To the south of 
Khangarh, a narrow strip of green vegetation, produc­ 
ing a slightly darker tone than the surroundings, can 
be identified. It runs from Islamgarh, through Dharmi 
Khu, Ghantial, Shahgarh, Babuwali and Rajar to Mi­ 
hal Mungra. This was the course of the Sarasvati from 
the Himalaya to the Rann of Kutch after the river sev­ 
ered relations with Luni. South of Mihal Mungra, the 
course could be traced up to the present Hakra channel 
and there are indications of its having even crossed the 
Hakra channel (Plate VI). This signifies that the course 
of the old Saraswati might have been somewhere to the 
west of the present Hakra ... The other major courses 
of the Saraswati could be identified further to the west, 
through Mithra and Sandh, the remnants of which are 
now known as the Raini and the Wahindaa rivers. Here 
also the river shifted its course several times, and, at one 
time, flowed to the east of the Wahinda river, through 
Mundo. Finally, the river ceased to flow southward and 
met the Sutlej to the west of Ahmadpur East. 

Ramasamy, Bakliwal and Verma (1991) show satel­ 
lite photographs mosaiced, planimetrically controlled ... 
Figure 1 show the last tongue of the Saraswati river ... 
The study of remotely sensed data in the desert tract 
of Rajasthan shows that there are plenty of paleochan­ 
nels with well sprung­up tentacles throughout the desert 
(figure 3). On the northern edge of the Thar­Great In­ 
dian desert at the Ganganagar­Anupgarh plains a well­ 
developed set of paleochannels are clearly discernible in 
satellite photographs (figures 1 and 4). Bakliwal et al 
(1988) have explained that these well sprung­up pale­ 
ochannels are traces of the mighty Saraswati river which 
once ruled the desert. Yashpal et al (1980) have ar­ 
gued that the paleochannels observed in the Anupgarh 
plains are the arm of the Saraswati river, which has 
been displaced by the present day Gaggar river ... that 
the Saraswati river once flowed close to the Aravalli hill 
ranges and met the Arabian Sea in the Rann of Kutch, 
that it has migrated towards the west, the north­west 
and the north and has ultimately got lost in the Anup­ 
garh plains ... 

Yash Pal et al (1980) present in Figure 3 a synoptic 
view provided by the Landsat of the northwestern In­ 
dian subcontinent showing 6­8 km wide paleochannel of 
the Saraswati ... ; Figure 4 shows the old bed of the 
Sarasvati river ... Figure 7 shows a synoptic view of the 
Indus valley showing possible course of the Sarasvati be­ 
yond Marot through the Nara into the Rann of Kutch 


Alex Rogers, 1870. A few remarks on the Geology of 
the country surrounding the Gulf of Cambay in Western 
India, Quarterly Journal of Geological Society of Lon­ 
don, 26: 118­124 who was perhaps among the earliest 
observers of the geology of the Gulf of Cambay (close to 
Lothal), points out that from the geological formation 
of the country bordering on the Rann, it appeared that 
the drainage of the PanjAb once flowed into it: 

`` ... The rapid silting up of the Gulf of Cambay gives 
particular interest to an inquiry into the geological con­ 
ditions which probably shaped it in remote ages ... (The 
head of the Gulf) comprises within itself te Great Runn 
of Cutch ... primary or metamorphic rocks are trace­ 
able in its immediate vicinity only in a small tract on 
its west coast ... even the highest points of the granite 
peaks sho signs of weathering, and probably also of the 
erosive action of waves ... Many considerations point to 
the existence in former aagers of some large river flow­ 
ing down from the north, and falling into the Indian 
Ocean somewhere in the position of the present Gulf 
of Cambay: and it is not improbable that that river 
may have been the Indus. It may have been that the 
original course of the Indus from the Punjab was in a 
more south­easterly direction than that of the present 
day ... (In this Gulf), coinciding to a large extent with 
the black­soil belt, there can be clearly traced a natural 
depression in the surface of the country for some twenty 
miles from the head of the Gulf, terminating in a shal­ 
low lake of brackish water called the Null ... Shells of 
the genus CERITHIUM, an estuarine form, are found 
lying loose in the black soil many miles from this point 
(Bhogava); and the records of the old Revenue Survey 
of Goozerat state that there were formerly found in the 
Null large stones with holes through them, which had 
evidently served as anchors for boats of some size ... [cf. 
the ring stones found in Mohenjo­daro] ... there is his­ 
torical and well­know proof of the alteration of the level 
of the larger of these salt flats as the consequence of an 
earthquake in AD 1819 ... only a much more violent ac­ 
tion would have separated the laterites of the high and 
low levels ... this rock, again, appears at precisely the 
same level on the opposite sides of valleys in the Concan 
and Deccan, giving ample proof of dunudation ... at the 
time (some of the Vedas) were composed, the Suruswut­ 
tee, the most easterly of the Punjab rivers, which now 
loses itsels in the desert of Rajpootana, flowed into the 
Indian Ocean. This confirms to come extent the theory 
of the case of the alluvial deposit at the head of the Gulf 
of Cambay.'' 

Raverty, H.G.Major, BombayArmy, 1893, The Mihran 
of Sind and its tributaries: a geographical and historical 
study, Journal of Asiatic Society of Bengal, Vol. lxi, Pt. 
2, pp. 155­297: 

`` ... to notice some of the numerous fluctuations in 
the courses of the Sindhu, Ab­i­Sind, or Indus, and of the 
rivers of the Panj­ab. The changes in the courses of two 
of these rivers, together with the drying up of the Hakra, 
Wahindah, or Bahindah were so considerable that they 
reduced a vast extent of once fruitful country to a howl­ 
ing wilderness, and thus several flourishing cities and 
towns became ruined or deserted by their inhabitants ... 
the old course of the Biah, or `Bias' previous to its junc­ 
tion with the Sutlaj, when both rivers lost their names 
and became Hariari , Nili or Gharah ... why the army 
of Islam marched along the bases of the mountains, for 
the route was long, and the way by Sasruti and Marut 
was nearer? He (Mangu Khan) was answered that the 
numerous fissures on the banks of the river rendered the 
way impossible for the army ... Sarasti is the ancient 
name of Sirsa: Sursuti is the name of a river, the an­ 
cient Saraswati ... Sutlaj was a tributary of the Hakra 
or Wahindah ... Hakra ... appears to be the modified 
form of Sagara, the letter S being pronounced H in Ra­ 
jputana and Sindh ... Sagar is the Sanskrit for `ocean', 
`sea' etc., and it is still known as the Sind­Sagar near 
the sea coast. Tod calls it the `Sankra', which is another 
form of the name; and it is called Sankrah in the treaty 
entered into by Nadir Shah, and Muhammad Shah, Bad­ 
shah of Dihli, when ceding all the territory west of it to 
the Persians ... Hakra did once run through the so­called 
`Indian Desert' ... Ghag­gar, the Sursuti and the Chi­ 
tang were also the tributaries of Sind­Sagar or Wahindah 
or Hakra ... Mansuriyat ... this city is situated among 
the branches of the Mihran river, and from that place 
the river unites with the ocean by two channels. One is 
near the town of Loharanj, and the other bends round 
towards the east in the confines of Kaj (Kachch) and 
is called the Sind Shakar (Sind­Sagarah) which means 
the The Sea of Sind. The river Sarasat unites with the 
ocean to the east of Suminath. This last names river 
is, of course, the Saraswati, which falls into he sea near 
Pattan Som­nath, not the classical river, the tributary 
of the Ghag­ghar, described farther on, the sacred river 
of the Brahmans ... At Thatha the Sind is called Mihran 

Leshnik, Lawrence S., 1968, The Harappan Port of 
Lothal: Another View, American Anthropologist, 70, 
1968, pp. 911­921: 

`` ... The Volkerwanderung that brought the Harap­ 
pans to Lothal (2450 BC) is conceived of as a sea passage 
from the Indus ... This dating is, however, questionable 
and exploration of the Kutch area has brought to light a 
number of Harappan sites there (Joshi, J.P. 1966, Explo­ 
ration in Northern Kutch, Journal of the Oriental Insti­ 
tute, Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, 16: 62­ 
67), so the arrival­ by­sea theory will have to be reconsid­ 
ered ... In Mohenjo­daro there is a linear representation 
of a man using the shaduf, so that its presence is doc­ 
umented for the Harappan civilization as well ... Mar­ 
shall describes the Mohenjo­daro ringstones as having 
slots that were used to fasten stones to something that 
passed through the central aperture. This could have 
been the arm of a shaduf, to which the stone weights 
were lashed by rope or leather thongs. The shaduf is 
still employed near Lothal, although the stones are no 
longer pierced, but simply secured with rope. Pierced 
stones continue however to be used in this way in East­ 
ern India ... A note on the Lothal tank aas an irrigation 
reservoir ... '' 

R.D. Oldham, 1886, On probable changes in the ge­ 
ography of the Punjab and its rivers ­ a historico­geographical 
study, J. Asiatic Soc. Bengal, 55: 322­343: 
`` ... we have now seen that a dry river bed can be 
traaced, practically continuously, from Tohana in Hissar 
district to the Eastern Narra in Sind ... `` 
C.F. Oldham, 1893, The Saraswati and the lost river 
of the Indian Desert, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Soci­ 
ety, pp. 48­76: 

`` ... local legends assert (that Sarasvati) once flowed 
through the desert to the sea. In confirmation of these 
traditions, the channel referred to, which is called Hakra 
or Sotra, can be traced through the Bikanir and Bhawulpur 
states into Sind, and thence onwards to the Rann of 
Kach ... attested by the ruins everywhere overspread 
what is now an arid sandy waste. Throughout this tract 
are scattered mounds, marking the sites of cities and 
towns. And there are strongholds still remaining ... 
Amongst these ruins are found, not only the huge bricks 
used by the Hindus in the remote past, but others of a 
much later make ... Freshwater shells, exactly similar to 
those now seen in the PanjAb rivers, are to be found in 
this old river­bed and upon its banks ... After entering 
Sind the Hakra turns southward, and becomes contin­ 
uous with the old river­bed generally known as Narra. 
This channel, which bears also the names of Hakra or 
Sagara, Wahind and Dahan, is to be traced onward to 
the Rann of Kach ... Tha Hakra varies in different parts 
of its course from about two to six miles in width, which 
is sufficient for a very large river ... The only river near 
Marot was the Hakra ... 


Bimal Ghose, Amal Kar and Zahid Husain, 1979, 
The lost courses of the Sarasvati river in the Great In­ 
dian Desert: New evidence from Landsat Imagery, Geo­ 
graphical Journal, 145: 446­451: 

``Interpretation of LANDSAT imagery and field in­ 
vestigation in the western part of Jaisalmer district in 
India have revealed some hitherto unknown abandoned 
courses of the former Saraswati river. It has been sug­ 
gested that these courses were alive before the Saraswati 
occupied the Raini or the Wahinda courses, and con­ 
tributed to the alluviation of the region. The subsurface 
water in the region is contributed mainly by the Hi­ 
malayan precipitation flowing subterraneously through 
the former courses of the Saraswati ... .'' 


Ramasamy, SM, PC Bakliwal and RP Verma, 1991, 
Remote Sensing and River migrations in Western India, 
Int. J. Remote Sensing, Vol. 12, No. 12, 2597­2609: 
``The art of remote sensing has opened up many 
vistas in the study of river migration as satellite pho­ 
tographs, both in their normal and digitally enhanced 
modes, vividly show the rivers and their migratory sig­ 
natures. The rivers migrate for various reasons amongst 
which tectonic movement is one of the main causes ... 
The study has shown that Western India sow consider­ 
able signs of Quaternary tectonics ... 

`` ... (Landsat photographs, on a 1:1 000 000 scale) 
... the palaeochannels were interpreted, as exhibiting 
linear, curvilinear and loop­like features with typical 
black ribbon­like stripes ... The Landsat imagery stud­ 
ies show that the Indus river has a very wide flood plain 
on either side of its course up to a maximum width of 
100­120 km in the east and south­east. To have such a 
wide flood plain on only one side shows that the Indus 
river has preferentially migrated towards the north­west 
in the northern parts and towards the west in the cen­ 
tral and southern parts. The study of remotely sensed 
data in the desert tract of Rajastan shows that there 
are plenty of paleochannels with well sprung­up tenta­ 
cles throughout the desert. On the northern edge of the 
Thar­Great Indian desert at the Ganganagar­Anupgarh 
plains a well­developed set of palaeochannels are clearly 
discernible in satellite photographs. (Bakliwal PC , Ra­ 
masamy, SM, and Grover, AK, 1983, Use of remote sens­ 
ing in identification of possible areas for groundwater, 
hydrocarbons and minerals in the Thar desert, West­ 
ern India, Proceeding volume of the International con­ 
ference on prospecting in areas of desert terrain. The 
Institute of Mining and Metallurgy Publications, 14­17 
April, Rabat, Morocco, 121­129) have explained that 
these well sprung­up palaeochannels are traces of the 
mighty Saraswati river which once ruled the desert ... 
. (these and) the present study show clearly that the 
Saraswati river once flowed close to the Aravalli hill 
ranges and met the Arabian sea in the Rann of Kutch, 
that it has migrated towards the west, the north­west 
and the north and has ultimately got lost in the Anup­ 
garh plains ... 

`` ... When the Aravalli hills are traced back to the 
foothills of the Himalayas the water divide of the Ya­ 
muna and Saraswati rivers becomes apparent. Hence, 
it follows that the drifting of the Saraswati river from 
its easterly flow towards the Great Indian Desert would 
have been initiated by such a rise in the Aravalli moun­ 
tains and that due to the subsequent Luni­Sukri cy­ 
matogenic arching, the Saraswati migration towards the 
north­west would have been accelerated ... 

`` ... it seems that climatic changes have also played 
a subordinating role in shifting the (Sarasvati) river to­ 
wards the north. When the Saraswati flowed in a south­ 
westerly direction it was flowing against the northeast­ 
erly moving sand advance in the Thar desert. It can be 
concluded, therefore, that the Saraswati river could not 
overcome such a sand advance and hence that it started 
drifting towards the north with a rotational migration 
in a clockwise direction until ultimately it was buried in 
the Anupgarh plains ... '' 

P.C. Bakliwal and A.K. Grover, 1988, Signatures and 
migration of Saraswati river in Thar desert, Western In­ 
dia, Rec. Geol. Surv. Ind., 116: Pts. 3­8, pp. 77­86: 

`` ... Remote sensing study of the Great Indian Desert 
reveals numerous signatures of palaeochannels in the 
form of curvilinear and meandering courses with fee­ 
ble to contrasting tonal variations. The Saraswati river, 
which is believed to be lost in the desert, could be traced 
through these palaeochannels as a migratory river. Its 
initial course flowed close to the Aravalli ranges and suc­ 
cessive six stages took west and northwesterly shifts till 
it coincides with the dry bed of Ghaggar river. The 
groundwater, archaeological and pedological data with 
selected ground truths also corroborate these findings. 
The migration of river Saraswati seems to be caused by 
tectonic disturbances in Hardwar­Delhi ridge zone, Luni­ 
Surki lineament, Cambay Graben and Kutch fault facil­ 
itated by contrasting climatic variations. The stream 
piracy by Yamuna river at later stage is responsible for 
the ultimate loss of water and drying up of the Saraswati 
river ... `` 


Singhvi AK and Kar, Amal eds., 1992, Thar Desert 
in Rajasthan: Land, Man and Environment, Bangalore, 
Geological Society of India, Bangalore: 

`` ... In the south it (Thar desert) has a sharp natu­ 
ral boundary with the world's largest saline waste ­ the 
Great Rann of Kahchh, while in the north the riparian 
sub­Himalayan plains define its boundary ... Quaternary 
continental sediments in the Thar desert of Rajasthan 
comprise a succession of fluvial, fluvio­lacusrine and ae­ 
olian deposits ... The neogene tectonic movements ... 
are considered as responsible for controlling the origin, 
configuration and development of basins of deposition 
... Occurrence of aligned earthquake epicentres of dif­ 
ferent dates from 1879 to 1976 AD along it (Luni­Sukri 
lineament from the Rann to the Sambhar lake) in the 
Kachchh area suggests its neotectonic potentiality ... 

`` ... The dry bed of the Ghaggar is conspicuous 
on the satellite imagery of north Rajasthan and adjoin­ 
ing parts of Pakistan as a continuous wide belt run­ 
ning through Suragarh and Anupgarh in India to Fort 
Abbas and Ahmadpur East (in Pakistan) [(Ghose et 
al., 1979, The lost courses of the Sarasvati river in the 
Great Indian Desert ­ new evidence from Landsat im­ 
ageries, Geographical Journal, 145 (3): 446­451); Balki­ 
wal, PC and Grover, AK, 1988, Signatures and migra­ 
tion of Sarasvati river in Thar desert, western India, Rec. 
Geol. Surv. India, 116 (3­8)]. Some south­flowing earlier 
courses of this stream were detected through the western 
part of Jaisalmer district and in the Bikaner­Sardarshahr 
tract further east. Buried courses of another Himalayan 
stream, R. Drishadvati (which was also a tributary to the 
Saraswati) were found in the Churu­Nagaur tract. The 
rivers had several tributaries joining them from the Ar­ 
avallis and other rocky areas within the desert. Recent 
SEM analysis of the Quaternary sediments of the north­ 
eastern part of the desert indicate considerable glacial, 
as well as fluvial, transport of some of the sediments 
[Raghav, KS, 1991, Quaternary history of a part of the 
northeast fringe of the Thar desert of India, Ann. Arid 
Zone, 30(4)]. The survival of the Saraswati­Drishadvati 
courses depended to a large extent on the perennial sup­ 
ply of water from the mightier Sutlej (the Satadru of 
Vedic literature) which shifted its course several times 
in the sub­Himalayan plains due o neotectonism, change 
of grade etc. (Valdiya, KS, 1989, Neotectonic implica­ 
tion of collision of Indian and Asian plates, Ind. J. Geol­ 
ogy, 61: 1­13). A detailed account of former streams in 
the region is provided by Kar (Kar, A., 1992, Drainage 
desiccation, water erosion and desertification in north­ 
west India, in: Desertification in the Thar, Sahara and 
Sahel Regions, AK Sen ed., Scientific Publishers, Jodh­ 
pur). Some of the buried stream segments are potential 
ground water aquifers.. The course of the Saraswati to 
the west of Jaisalmer has an estimated reserve of about 
3000 mcm water awaiting a judicious exploitation ... 

`` ... Mughal M.R. (1982, Recent archaeological re­ 
search in the Cholistan desert, in: Harappan Civiliza­ 
tion, GL Possehl, ed., Oxford, pp. 85­95) has located a 
large number of settlements of the Hakra Ware culture, 
dating to the fourth millennium BC., and of the Harap­ 
pan culture, dated to the third millennium BC, on this 
(Ghaggar­Hakra) river in Pakistan. Nearly two hundred 
settlements of the Harappan culture have been located 
by Indian archaeologists on the Ghaggar river and is 
tributaries in Punjab, Haryana and northern Rajasthan 
[Ghosh, A., 1952, The Rajasthan Desert ­ its archaeolog­ 
ical aspect, Bulletin of the National Inst. Sci., I : 37­42; 
Bhan, S., 1973, The sequence and spread of prehistoric 
cultures in the upper Saraswati basin in: Radiocarbon 
and Indian Archaeology, DP Agrawal and A. Ghosh eds., 
TIFR, Bombay, pp. 252­263] ... Kalibangan was aban­ 
doned at the beginning of the second millennium BC., 
probably due to the drying up of the river and shifting 
of the Sutlaj away from it (Lal. B.B., 1979, Kalibangan 
and Indus civilization, in: Essays in Indian Protohistory, 
DP Agrawal and DK Chakrabarti eds., BR Publ., Delhi, 
pp. 65­97). 

Bhan, Suraj., 1973, The sequence and spread of pre­ 
historic cultures in the upper Saraswati basin in: Ra­ 
diocarbon and Indian Archaeology, DP Agrawal and A. 
Ghosh eds., TIFR, Bombay, pp. 252­263 

`` ... The Kalibangan I culture (c. 2300 ­ 2100 
BC) ... The Siswal A ware was recovered from 16 sites 
in the south­western part of Haryana adjoining north­ 
ern Rajasthan. It extended to Jind and Paoli in the 
north­eat. The comparative preponderance of the ware 
in the Drsadvati valley suggests the preference of the 
pre­Harappan folk for smaller river valleys as in north 
Rajasthan ... But the absence of the Late Harappan 
ware from north Rajasthan and the adjoining regions 
o Haryana (south of Vanawali near Fatehabad in the 
Sarasvati valley and Alipur Kharar near Hansi in the 
Drsadvati valley) suggests the survival of the Harappa 
culture in our region (as also in the north­eastern Pan­ 
jab and western UP), after the lower and mid zones of 
the Sarasvati basin had been deserted. The desertion of 
the semi­arid zone of north Rajasthan and Bahawalpur 
by the Harappans or the Harappa­influenced kindred 
folks, and their subsequent expansion further north­east 
seems to have been forced by the growing desiccation 
of the Sarasvati basin consequent upon the changes in 
the courses of the Sarasvati, Drsadvati and the Yamuna 
rivers. It was this second phase of the Harappan expan­ 
sion which was largely responsible for the colonization 
of the ancient Madhya Desa which ensued with the set­ 
tlements of Daulatpur I, Alamgirpur I etc ... With more 
than 90 OCP or Late (degenerate) Harappan sites re­ 
ported from the doab it would be difficult to agree with 
Agrawal (1967­68) that the doab was first colonized by 
the iron­using PGW people.'' 

Yash Pal, Baldev Sahai, R.K.Sood and D.P. Agrawal, 
Space Applications Centre, and PRL, Ahmedabad, 1980, 
Remote sensing of the `lost' Sarasvati river,: Proc. In­ 
dan Acad. Sci. (Earth and Planetary Sci.), Vol. 89, No. 
3, Nov. 1980, pp. 317­331: 

`` ... delineation of the palaeochannels of the Satluj, 
the Yamuna and the Ghaggar to trace the `lost' Saras­ 
vat. Study of Landsat imagery shows that the Satluj 
once flowed into the Ghaggar; it is also probable the Ya­ 
muna too was flowing into the Ghaggar river at the same 
time. The bed of this river is traceable upto Marot, from 
where it is likely to have extended through Hakra/Nara 
bed to the Rann of Kutch. The present dried bed of 
the Ghaggar was thus part of a major river, anciently 
known as Sarasvati. Analysis of satellite imagery sup­ 
ports the above hypothesis regarding the course of the 
`lost' Sarasvati ... 

`` ... Satluj and Yamuna are perennial rivers ... the 
rivers Ghaggar, Sarasvati, Markanda and Chautang all 
rise from the Siwalik Hills and are non­perennial. They 
flow mainly during the monsoon. At present none of 
them reaches the sea or joins any major river as a trib­ 
utary ... 

`` ... The sharp westward right­angled bend in the 
course of Satluj is suggestive of its diversion in the past, 
as at the point of river capture or stream diversion sim­ 
ilar elbows develop ... There is a sudden widening of 
the Ghaggar Valley about 25 km. south of Patiala ... 
can be explained only if a major tributary was join­ 
ing Ghaggar at this place. The satellite imagery does 
show a major palaeochannel joining the Ghaggar here 
... Our observations are supported by the field data of 
Singh (Gurdev Singh, 1952, The Geographer, 5,27) who 
mentions a channel starting near Ropar and leading to­ 
wards Tohana (29.35N, 75.55E). The area along this old 
course of the Satluj is called `dhaia' meaning an upland 
or high bank ... It might have required only a little tec­ 
tonic movement to disturb its previous course and force 
it into its present channel ... Our studies show that the 
Satluj was the main tributary of the Ghaggar and that 
subsequently the tectonic movements may have forced 
the Satluj westward and the Ghaggar dried. Wilhelmy 
(H., 1969, Z. Geomorphol. Suppl., 8, 76) considered ... 
the second alternative, i.e., river capture. The Satu­ 
dri (Satluj) might have been a tributary of the Vipasa 
(Beas) and through headward erosion captured the wa­ 
ters of the river coming down the Himalayas near Ropar. 
Tectonic movements may have aided the river capture ... 

`` ... the Landsat imagery of the Indus system and 
it appears that the confluence of the Satluj with the In­ 
dus may not be an ancient feature. The palaeochannel 
of the river Beas, which is quite conspicuous in Land­ 
sat imagery, joined the Indus independent of the Satluj. 
There is a distinct palaeochannel which seems to suggest 
that the Satluj flowed through the Nara directly into the 
Rann of Kutch ... 

`` ... The ancient bed of the Ghaggar has a con­ 
stant width of about 6 to 8 km. from Shatrana in Pun­ 
jab to Marot in Pakistan. The bed stands out very 
clearly having a dark tone in the black­and­white im­ 
agery and reddish one in false colour composites. There 
is a clear palaeochannel southeast of the river Markanda 
which joins the ancient bed of the Ghaggar near Sha­ 
trana ... Another channel which corresponds to the 
present Chautang (Drishadvati) seems to join the Ghag­ 
gar near Suratgarh. Near Anupgarh the ancient Ghag­ 
gar bed bifurcates and both the plaeochannels come to 
an abrupt end; the upper one terminates near Marot and 
the lower one near Beriwala. These two terminal chan­ 
nels of the Ghaggar seem to disappear in a depression 
which is suggested by salt encrustation and the physiog­ 
raphy of the area ... 

`` ... Palaeo­Yamuna was alive during the Painted 
Grey Ware (PGW) period (c. 800­400 BC) as indicated 
by the distribution of the PGW sites on its banks (Gupta 
SP etal., 1977, Ecology and archaeology of Western In­ 
dia eds. DP Agrawal and BM Pande, New Delhi, Con­ 
cept Pub., p. 79). Both the Chautang and the Ghaggar 
beds have archaeological mounds on their banks (Pande 
BM, ibid, p.55). The Ghaggar continued to be a live 
river during the pre­Harappan (c. 2500­2200 BC) and 
the Harappan times (c. 2200­1700 BC). Even during the 
PGW times, there is some indication of habitation along 
the palaeochannel, though the PGW mounds follow a 
very narrow river bed, perhaps indicating a dwindling 
water supply. The archaeological evidence for dating 
the Chautang is not very definite yet, though the late 
Harappan mounds along it appear to be a clear indica­ 
tion that it was a living river during at least the late 
Harappan time (c. 1700­1000 BC) ... 

`` ... For miles and miles around Marot one finds 
numerous place names with a suffix toba, which in the 
local language means a playa (or rann) ... It is obviously 
improbable for such a mighty river to vanish into a shal­ 
low depression (or khadins in the local languages) in its 
heyday. There is, therefore, a good possibility that the 
Ghaggar flowed into the Nara and further into the Rann 
of Kutch without joining the Indus ... 

`` ... If the bore­hole samples from these areas are 
analysed, one is sure to come across mineralogical com­ 
positions reflecting the signatures of the ancient Satluj 
and the Palaeo­Yamuna when they flowed through the 
Sarasvati bed ... A multidisciplinary approach employ­ 
ing archaeological, mineralogical, chemical and thermo­ 
luminescence, combined with remote sensing techniques 
can provide a clear and consistent history of these changes 
in the palaeochannels of northwestern sub­continent in 
an absolute time­frame.'' 

R.L. Raikes (a hydrologist) and R.K. Karanth (a ge­ 
ologist) found at Kalibangan (in 1967) through a drilling 
program, that at a depth of 11 m. below the present 
flood­plain level, a coarse, greyish sand very similar in 
mineral content to that found in the bed of the present­ 
day Yamuna. It extended over a width at least four times 
that of the bed of the present­day Yamuna and down to 
a depth, at one point at least, of 30 m. ..the material in 
short is typical flood­plain deposit of the kind being laid 
down today at a rate of about 2 m. per thousand years. 
(R.L. Raikes, 1968, Kalibangan: Death from Natural 
causes, Antiquity, 42, pp. 286­291). 


Gurdip Singh, 1971, Archaeology and Physical An­ 
thropology in Oceania, 6, 177­189: The Indus Valley 
Culture seen in the context of post­glacial climatic and 
ecological studies in North­West India: suggests that `` 
... the significant increase in rainfall at the beginning of 
the third millennium BC, attested by palaeoecological 
evidence, played an important part in the sudden expan­ 
sion of the Neolithic­Chalcolithic cultures in north­west 
India, ultimately leading to the prosperity of the Indus 
culture ... The present evidence would suggest that the 
onset of aridity in the region around 1800 BC probably 
resulted in the weakening of the Harappan culture in the 
arid and semi­arid parts of north­wes India ... '' 
Amal Kar and Bimal Ghose, 1984, Geographical Jour­ 
nal, The Drishadvati river system of India: an assess­ 
ment and new findings, 150: 221­229: 

`` ... there are indications that the riveer formerly 
flowed southwards, through the desert, and was supplied 
from streams originating in the Aravallis, thus explain­ 
ing the distribution of alluvium in the region ... Drishad­ 
vati ... means a stream with a pebbly bed ... The inter­ 
fluve between the Saraswati and the Drishadvati used 
to be known as Brahmavarta and was sacred ... Sir 
Alexander Cunningham (1871, The ancient geography 
of India, repr. 1979, Indological Book House, Varanasi) 
first identified the Drishadvati with the modern Rakshi 
... `` 

Aurel Stein, 1942, A survey of ancient sites along the 
`lost' Sarasvati River, Geographical Journal, 99: 173­ 

`` ... the sketch­map based on the latest survey shows 
how great is the contrast between the very scanty volume 
of water brought down by the Ghaggar and the width of 
its dry bed within Bikaner territory; over more than 100 
miles it is nowhere less than 2 miles and in places 4 miles 
or more. This bed is lined on both sides by dunes varying 
in height ... the Ghaggar bed above Hanumagarh, one 
notes that the number of mounds marking ancient sites 
long abandoned is here distinctly smaller than farther 
down the old river bed ... (mounds) known as ther or 
theri ... Archaeological facts prove cultivation, and with 
it settled occupation, to have been abandoned much ear­ 
lier on the Hakra than on the Ghaggar ... trial excava­ 
tion at Sandhanawala Ther, 3 miles to the north­west of 
Fort Abbas ... some serds with incised characters which 
appear on many inscribed seals from Mohenjodaro and 
Harappa, chief sites of the Indus Valley cultre ... The 
great height and sise of several thers indicate prolonged 
settlement ... the evidence shows that down to historical 
times the Ghaggar carried water for irrigation under ex­ 
isting climatic conditions much farther than it does now. 
This makes it intelligible how the Sarasvati has come in 
hymns of the Rigveda to be praised as a great river ... 
upper portion of the ancient bed ... drying up during 
historical times ... hastened by diversion of flood water 
for irrigation brought about by more settled conditions 
and the resulting pressure of population. Lower down on 
the Hakra the main change was due to the Sutlej having 
in late prehistoric times abandoned the bed which before 
had joined the Ghaggar: the resul of a law affecting all 
rivers whose course lies over alluvial plains ... 
D. A. Holmes, 1968, The recent history of the Indus, 
Geographical Journal, 134: 367­382: 

``.. Lambrick (H.T., 1967, The Indus Flood­plain 
and the `Indus' civilization, Geographical Journal, 133,4: 
483­95) believes that the union of the Sutlej with the 
Beas (and thence with the Indus) in the West Punjab 
had already occurred prior to the time of Alexander. It 
must be assumed that the Nara was continuing to flow 
as a result of seasonal overspill from both the Indus and 
the Sutlej, the latter floods using the now dry Ghaggar 
channel (which is a remnant of the Sutlej­Nara system) 
... '' 

3. Rigvedic(Rk,Rca,or rk) hymns on Sarasvati. 
The Rigvedic(rk) sources which refer to Sarasvati 
river are as follows: 

yastE stanah SaSayo yo mayobhUyemnaviSvA pushyasi 
vAryANi yo ratnadhA vasuvidyah sudatrah sarasvati 
tamiha dhAtave kah (RV 1.164.49) 

Oh Sarasvati offer that breast of yours for our nour­ 
ishment here which is on your body, which spreads hap­ 
piness by which you nourish (those who praise you) with 
all the choicest things, the one which holds all the beau­ 
tiful things, which knows the enemies' wealth and which 
offers good gifts. 

pAvakA nah sarasvatI vAjebhirvAjinIvatI yajnam 
vashTu dhiyAvasuh (RV 1.3.10) 

May Sarasvati be our purifier may she who holds food 
offer us food, the holder of wealth may desire yajna. 
cOdayitrI sUnrtAnAm cetantI sumatInAm yajnam 
dadhe sarasvatI (RV 1.3.13) 

The Sarasvati inspirer of good acts and good thoughts 
holds yajna. 

maho arNah sarasvatI pra cetayati ketunA dhiyO 
viSvA vi rAjati (RV 1.3.12) 

Sarasvati is known, by the flag (course) of great wa­ 
ter. All prayers shine very much. 

sarasvatI tvamasmAmaviDDhi marutvatI jeshi SatrUn 
tyam cicchardhantam tavishIyamANamindro hanti vr­ 
shabham SaNDikAnAm (RV 2.30.8) 

Oh Sarasvati you protect us. You who are joined 
with Maruts, who are a great fighter conquer our ene­ 
mies. Indra kills that famous and powerful of Shandikas 
who despised us. 

iyam SushmebhirvisaravAyi rujatsAnu giriNAm tavisheb­ 
hirurnibhih pArAvatahnImavase suvrktibhih sarasvatI­ 
mAr vivAsemadhItibhih (RV 6.61.2) 

We serve the Sarasvati who with flames and tides 
destroyed the peaks of mountains (the fortified towns) 
like one who plucks lotuses, with good prayers and with 
good nets for food. [ ... by her force and her impetuous 
waves, has broken down the sides of the mountains like 
a digger of lotus fibres.] 

ni tvA dadhe vara A prthivyA iLAyAspade sudi­ 
natve ahmAmdrshadvatyAm mAnusha ApayAyAm saras­ 
vatyAm revadagne didIhi (RV 3.23.4) 

Oh Agni, you were placed on the earth on an auspi­ 
cious day on the best of the places on the earth. Blaze 
with wealth among the men (on the banks of) Drshad­ 
vati, Apaya and Sarasvati. 

imam me gaDe yamune sarasvatI Satudri stomam 
sacatA parushNyA asivanyA marudvrdhe citastayArjIkIye 
SrNutdyA sushomayA (RV 10.75.5) 
Oh Ganga, Yamuna, Sarasvati, Sutudri with Parshi, 

Marudvridha with Asikni; Arjikiya with Vitasta and 
Sushnoma hear this praise. 

ambitamA ... naditamA (RV. 2.41.16) 

best of mothers ... best of rivers ... Ascertaining the 
wishes of the great sages the best of rivers (the Saras­ 
vati) incorporated AruNA with her own body; formerly 
the flow (of the AruNA) was hidden. Afterwards (the 
Sarasvati) inundated the divine AruNA wih its own wa­ 

A yat sAkam yaSay vAvaSnAh sarasvati saptathI 
sindhumAtA yAh sushvayanta sudughah sudhArA abhi 
svena payasA pIpyanah (RV 7.36.6) 

May the seventh (stream), Sarasvati, the mother of 
the Sindhu and those rivers that flow copious and fertil­ 
izing, bestowing abundance of food, and nourishing (the 
people) by their waters, come at once together. 

prakshodasA dhAyasA sasr eshA sarasvatI dharUNa­ 
mAyasI pUh prabAbadhana ratthyeva yAti vishvA apo 
mahina sindhuranyA (RV 7.95.1) 

This Sarasvati, firm as a city made of Ayas (copper) 
flows rapidly with all sustaining water, sweeping away 
in its might all other waters, as a charioteer (clears the 
road). Alternative: AyasIh pUh : (Sarasvati is) like 
a great fortified town. [With her fertilizing stream the 
Sarasvati comes forth. (She is to us) a stronghold, an 
iron gate. Moving along, as on a chariot, this river sur­ 
passes in greatness all other waters.] 

ekAchetat sarasvatI nadInAm SuchIryati giribhya A 
samudrAt rAyaSchetantI bhuanasya bhurer ghrtam payo 
dudue nAhushAya (RV 7.95.2) 

Sarasvati, chief and purest of rivers, flowing from 
the mountains to the ocean, understood the request of 
Nahusha and distributing riches among the many ex­ 
isting things, milked for him butter and water. [Alone 
among all rivers Sarasvati listened, she who goes pure 
from the mountains as far as the sea. She who knows of 
the manifold wealth of the world has poured out to man 
her fat milk.] 

[cf. Max Mueller, Sacred Books of the East, xxxii.60: 
``Here we see Samudra used clearly in the sense of sea, 
the Indian sea, and we have at the same time a new indi­ 
cation of the distance which separates the Vedic age from 
the late Sanskrit literature. Though it may not be possi­ 
ble to determine, by geological evidence, the time of the 
changes which modified the southern areas of the Pun­ 
jab and caused the Saraswati to disappear in the desert, 
still the faact remains that the loss of the Saraswati is 
later than the Vedic age, and that, at that time, the 
waters of the Saraswati reached the sea.''] 
cf. RV 10.64.9 


What was this `cult object' which occurs on Harap­ 
pan seals `called' in the lingua franca of circa 2500­1700 
BC? What does it connote? 

Using the `rebus' principle for decipherment of glyphs 
is a method that proved successful in deciphering Egyp­ 
tian hieroglyphics. This principle has been modified 
and extended to cope with the Harappan glyphs (e.g. 
svastika) and other pictorial motifs (e.g. unicorn, `cult 
object', animals occupying the `field' of the seals with 
inscribed sign sequences). 

It is a portable device that could be carried with 
hands aloft the shoulder of the carrier, as evidenced in 
Harappan tablets where this object occurs also as a field 
symbol by itself (without the ubiquitous `unicorn'). The 
structure has two elements. 

It depicts a `flow' or a `churning motion' on the upper 
element. The upper element ends in a tapering, sharp­ 
pointed edge as it is rests (or just floats) on the lower 

The lower element is a bowl which also depicts some 
`spilling' or `drops' or alternatively, some `smoke or dust' 
and `dotted droplets'. 

Mahadevan calls the structure a `filter' and sees echoes 
of `soma process. 

I call it a `drill­lathe­stove', the lapidary's tools of 
trade. The upper element looks like a drill used by the 
lapidary to drill holes in, say, faience beads. The lower 
element is the stove to bake the inscribed object. 
The rationale for this interpretation is as follows: 
The upper element is the sharp­pointed drill bit depicted 
with zig­zag lines in a churning motion. The lower ele­ 
ment is a portable stove depicted with flames or smoke 
emanating and bits of `drilled' articles depicted with dot­ 
ted circles around the bowl. 


There is a word in Gujarati (and cognate words of 
South asian languages which can be semantically clus­ 
tered) which connotes both a `drill­lathe' and a `portable 
stove'. The word is sangaDi. 
Rebus: jangaDi is an extraordinarily specific, technical­ 
professional term in Gujarati. It connotes an armored 
guard who accompanies the treasure brought into or 
taken out of the treasury. A cognate Sanskritized mor­ 
pheme is jagada = a guard. cf. also jagati = pedestal. 


What is the saraswati river civilization? 

After the discovery of the first archaeological site 
at Harappa in 1920, the civilization was referred to as 
Harappan culture. With the discovery of another ma­ 
jor site at Mohenjo­daro in the same decade, it was re­ 
christened as Indus civilization. Since 1950's a number 
of new type sites have been located. In particular, the 
sites of Rupar, Kalibangan, Lothal, Dholavira and Ba­ 
nawali. The characteristic feature of the location of these 
sites is that these are on the banks of or very close to 
the `lost' sarasvati river. Hence, the civilization should 
be re­christened as IndusSarasvati civilization. Sarasvati 
river is extolled in the Rigvedas(Rks). 

Does the river exist in part and rest of 
it has disappeared? 

A part of the river exists as Ghaggar in Haryana; 
the rest of it has disappeared in the fringes of the maru­ 
sthalI or the thar desert. 

Where were the geological excavations done? 
Landsat pictures have revealed the traces of the lost 
river right upto Hakra river and the Rann of Kutch. 
Geological surveys in a number of locations along the 
`lost' river course have established the existence of a 
river flowing down from the Siwalik ranges and also the 
changes in the courses of the Indus tributaries and the 
Yamuna rivers. As Yamuna and Sutlej captured the wa­ 
ter sources, Sarasvati might have dried up, aided by the 
upraisings of land caused by earthquakes. 

What was found in the process? 

The cumulative knowledge gained through geology, 
landsat and archaeological finds establishes the vast ex­ 
panse of this great civilization. Kalibangan and Lothal 
may not be as grandiose as the urban Harappa but are 
typical IndusSarasvati civilization sites. 
How does it relate to Harappan civilization? 
Seals of the type found in Harappa and Mohenjo­daro 
are also found in the Sarasvati river sites. Kalibangan 
also shows a ploughed field and fire­altars. 

What `message' would you like to carry to 
persons of the group? 

More researches need to be done in identifying the 
civilization that flourished along the sarasvati river. Balarama's 
sojourn along this river up from the Rann of Kutch is 
depicted in the Mahabharata. This has to be studied 
further. Sanskrit literature will have abundant material 
on the importance of sarasvati. Siddha­mAtrka is the 
name of the BrAhmi script. BrAhmi is another name for 
Sarasvati. Without apriori assumption that brAhmI was 
derived from the IndusSarasvati seal inscription script, it 
should be possible to postulate a hypothesis that saras­ 
vati river played a significant part in the sustenance of 
the civilization circa 2500 to 1700 B.C. This may mean a 
new paradigm in our protohistoric studies. Aryans and 
Dravidians and perhaps Mundas lived in harmony in this 
civilization. The so­called indo­aryan and so­called dra­ 
vidian languages may have originated from the common 
lingua franca spoken by these people on the Indus and 
Sarasvati river valleys. Thus, common words of Tamil 
can be found in Sanskrit/Vedic. I have established that 
the Dravidian etymological dictionary with 5000 entries 
can cease to exist since many of these words have cog­ 
nates in vedic/munda and many south asian languages. 

What research is going on to find the 
remains of the civilization? 

Hopefully, this perspective should lead to more in­ 
tensive geological and archaeological work on the banks 
of the lost river which has hundreds of unexplored sites. 

What kind of critical comments you are 
expecting from `general public'? 

There should be an awareness that there is an essen­ 
tial unity that binds the south asian culture. Scholars 
should help build up on these strands of unity. 

What would people do to help you out 
in your research or book, if such is in the process? 
People should provide with info on cultural habits of 
the peoples of the region traversed by the rivers. For 
e.g. the festival bhogi celebrated on winter solstice is 
not only a South Indian festival. Bhogali bihu is cele­ 
brated in Assam; RohRi in Punjab. What is the ancient 
significance of this day? What are the practices followed 
by the womenfolk and agriculturists? Is something done 
about land rights on this day or is it just restricted to 
the distribution of winter crop produce? 
Why is Sarasvati revered as goddess of speech? 
What are the anecdotes linked to Brahma? 
Why are so many brahma temples found 
along this river? 
What kind of research is already done? 

A number of claims of decipherment of IndusSarasvati 
script have been made. Mahadevan counted upto 40 
such claims in 1992. Each new claim renders every one 
of the 40+ claims suspect. The problem is acute be­ 
cause we do not have a `rosetta stone' or multilingual 
inscriptions to authenticate the correctness of a deci­ 
pherment. The next problem is the sample is rather 
small -- only 2500+ inscriptions have been reported. The 
next larger problem is the so­called cleavage between the 
so­called Indo­Aryan and so­called Dravidian languages 
which has led to two distinct language groups in deci­ 
pherment claims. [Is this cleavage valid in `semantic' 
terms? Any Prakrit dictionary will attest to thousands 
of words common to both language streams?] 

Which are the supporting organizations? 

Univ. of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia has a group 
working on this problem. Prof. Asko Parpola in Helsinki 
Univ. is a keen enthusiast. Mahadevan in Madras has 
dedicated his entire life to this problem. Univ. of Aachen 
has a team working on the architectural aspects of Mo­ 

What kind of research can foreign 
organizations support? 

Areas which can be supported are: research into lan­ 
guages of south asia and comparative lexemes and gram­ 
matical features; archaeological explorations, more land­ 
sat analyses and geological drillings of more sites along 
the sarasvati river. 

How will your earlier message about `cult' 
item fit in this series? 

The earlier message is intended to re­kindle an inter­ 
est among a large group of scholars to indicate if there 
are words in the south asian languages which may fit 
with the pictorial motif. From an artistic point of view, 
is the interpretation valid? Are there alternative read­ 
ings? What indeed were the IndusSarasvati people try­ 
ing to convey through such seal messages? 
Are there words similar to Gujrati sangADi in other 
South asian languages and what do the words mean? 

Dr. S. Kalyanaraman 

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