Saturday, 30 December 2017

Redefining the Geography of the Sapta Sindhu

History has been full of assumptions, theories and hypotheses. As E.H Carr has said, “History is a continuous dialogue between the past and the present.” As newer evidence and theories arise, our perceptions of history change accordingly. One such issue is of the exact geographical location of the Sapta-Sindhu (abbreviated as SS). This article proposes the theory that SS is the region of Saraswati and its six tributaries (Satluj, Yamuna, Markanda, Ghaggar, Dangri and Chautang) in Haryana region and not the oft repeated Punjab region of river Indus + 5 Punjab rivers + Saraswati.

The 7 rivers of Saraswati valley form the original Sapta Sindhu.  (Map Courtesy- K.S Valdiya Report)


Sapta Sindhu is not clearly defined in any of the ancient texts. The Rigveda merely mentions the story of Indra slaying Asura called Vritra and released the waters of the ‘Sapta Sindhu’ obstructed by Vritra. Few verses mention the name Sapta-Saindhavah or the region of the Sapta Sindhu but don’t define it. This ambiguity has given rise to theories regarding the region of Sapta Sindhu.

Theory One- It considers the Punjab region as the zone of SS. The rivers Indus or Sindhu, Shatadru (Satluj), Parushni (Ravi), Vipasa (Beas), Asikni (Chenab) and Vitasta (Jhelum) and the Saraswati constitute the SS, thus placing the region of Rigveda in the Punjab region. This is by far the most circulated theory originating from the 19th century Indologists like Oldham, etc. This entire theory was crystallized in the 20th century when in 1921, John Marshall discovered the Indus Valley Civilization and now it became pertinent to place the Aryans in the Punjab region to prove the Aryan invasion from the north-west. More you place the SS to the northwest, the better.

Theory Two- Some historians, in their eagerness to prove the invasion, tried to place the Saraswati itself outside India, into Afghanistan. The Avesta mentions the Helmond River of southern Afghanistan as Harahvaiti, which is similar to Saraswati (S becomes H in Avesta just like Sindhu became Hindu). Avesta also mentions the region as Hapta-Handu, which is similar to Sapta Sindhu. Thus, the SS is in Afghanistan and the ‘Vedic Aryans composed Rigveda in Afghanistan before invading into India’. The discovery of Saraswati in India itself rubbishes this theory and hence doesn’t warrant any further discussion.

It is the first theory that this article seeks to counter. The problems in this theory are summarized as follows-

The entire process of zeroing in on the Sapta Sindhu appears like a layman’s effort. Given the crude methods of historical study then, the historians could have proceeded something like this- The word Sapta-Sindhu has the word ‘Sindhu’, which not only means a river but also the name of Indus river. Thus, Sapta Sindhu must include Indus River. Now we must find 6 other rivers. The most obvious candidates are the five tributaries of Indus mentioned in the Rigveda- Shatadru (Satluj), Parushni (Ravi), Vipasa (Beas), Asikni (Chenab) and Vitasta (Jhelum). The last remaining river was considered as Saraswati due to the fact that it was mentioned the most in Rigveda.

A primary reading of the Rigveda will tell you that Saraswati is the most important river of the SS region. If we consider the pattern of human settlement, the river having crucial significance in the lives of people will be in the center of the settlement. The humans will seek to spread on both the sides, keeping the river in the center due to its geographical and religious significance.

This theory relegates the Saraswati to the easternmost corner of the SS with the central region occupied by the Doab of Ravi and Beas. This is completely contrary to any pattern of human settlement. If the Vedic Aryans indeed considered Saraswati as the most important river, their spread must be around the Saraswati and not keeping it in one corner of the Sapta Sindhu region.


The theory presented in this article is that it is the Saraswati and her 6 tributaries Satluj, Yamuna, Markanda, Ghaggar, Dangri and Chautang that form the Sapta Sindhu region. But before going to the details of these rivers, let’s first look at why should the region around the Saraswati be considered the fittest candidate to locate the Sapta Sindhu. The intention is to prove that if the entire focus of Rigveda and later texts has been on the Saraswati and its surrounding region, this has to be the most plausible location of the Sapta Sindhu (SS)

If SS is the most holy land, the holy places mentioned in the texts must lie in that region. For example, for Christianity, the holiest land is of Israel wherein lies Jerusalem, Bethlehem, etc. Let Christianity expand anywhere in the world, the holy land retains its importance. The Crusades of Europeans to reclaim Jerusalem prove the point. Similarly, if Vedic Aryans consider SS as their core region, the holy places mentioned in the ancient texts must lie there.

The Rigveda chiefly mentions two holy places in the SS region, namely Ilayaspada and Manusha. RV (3.23.4) calls Ilayaspada as the best place on earth (Vara A Prithivya) while elsewhere, they are called the center of the earth (Nabha Prithivya). Now these two places must be located in the core SS region.

Phenomenal study has been done by Shrikant Talageri in his book The Rigveda-A Historical Analysis. He mentions the Tirthayatra of Balarama from Mahabharata (3.81) where he visits chief Tirthas on the banks of Saraswati. MBh (3.81.53) mentions Manusha, which M.L Bhargava has identified as Manas near Kaithal in Haryana. Similarly, Ilayaspada has been identified at Shergarh near Kaithal. A point to be noted is that Saraswati flows just to the north of Kaithal.

If the ‘best place’ and the ‘central place’ are located along the Saraswati river, the region surrounding these holy places must be the SS and not the lands to its west till the river Indus that will render these holy places to one corner.

Moreover, the Puru-Bharata clan is the most important one in Rigveda. The Rigveda seems to be written completely in the favour of Puru-Bharatas. The RV (7.96.2) mentions Purus living on the ‘grassy banks of Saraswati’ showing the Purus owning the most important land of those times. Also, the Vishnu Purana (4.10) talks of an earlier story of king Yayati, who ruled the major sections of northern India then, giving away the ‘central’ land to Puru (i.e Saraswati valley). The Vishnu Purana calls Puru the supreme monarch of “earth”. The surrounding regions went to his brothers- southern region to Yadu (Yadavas), western to Turvasu, northwestern to Druhyu and northern part to Anu. Thus, the descendents of Puru ruled the central part of the kingdom, which the Rigveda points to be the Saraswati valley. This is confirmed by the Mahabharata which says the Kuru-Jangala kingdom of the Saraswati valley, ruled by the Pandavas belongs to the Puru clan.

Plus, the holiest sites of those days are around the Kurukshetra region ruled by the Puru clan, on the banks of Saraswati and its tributaries, as mentioned in the travels of Balarama in Mahabharata. There are as many as 360 Tirthas in the Kurukshetra region, all near the prominent rivers. Best example is of the ancient Pruthudaka Tirtha located on the confluence of Saraswati and Markanda in today’s Pehowa in Haryana. (You can check a big list of such Tirthas around Kurukshetra from here )

In short, if the most-mentioned and celebrated clan in the Rigveda (Puru)  is situated around the most important river of the Rigveda (Saraswati) and rules the holiest places of those times (Kurukshetra region), this region has to be in the center of Sapta Sindhu.

Even the earliest place of settlement as mentioned by the Puranas is called Brahmavarta, set up by Swayambhuva Manu. The Manu Smriti (2.17) records, “The land, created by the gods, which lies between the two divine rivers Sarasvati and Drishadvati, the (sages) call it Brahmavarta.” Thus, the divine land of the earliest settlement is also in the Saraswati valley. Hence, wherever we search, the most sought after land is in the Saraswati valley.

Lastly, archaeology also points out to a rough trend of better preference to the Saraswati valley than the Indus valley for human settlement. For the moment, consider the Aryan Invasion Theory to be true. By 1900 BCE, the Saraswati has dried up in its lower course and people are moving towards north. The late and post-Harappan settlements can be either in the Indus Valley where water is available in plenty or in the upper reaches of Saraswati in Haryana region where river survives a bit. In this situation, the Aryans invade and populate northern India. The settlements in this transition period are concentrated in the Saraswati valley, not in the Indus Valley

Late Harappan Settlements concentrated in Saraswati Valley and parts of Ganga Valley

Even the Painted Grey Ware (after 1200 BCE), considered to be the pottery of early Aryans, is found in the Haryana and west UP region chiefly. Remember, it is these same Aryans who are composing Rigveda around the Saraswati during this same time (1200 to 1000 BCE)

Painted Grey Ware sites after 1200 BCE in Saraswati Valley

Now assume the Aryan Invasion is not true and that the Indus Valley Civilization is indeed the Vedic civilization. Yet again, majority of the mature Harappan sites are concentrated in the Saraswati valley including its lower course and not in the Indus Valley. In short, archaeology points out that the Indus Valley was never preferred much for human settlement as compared to the Saraswati Valley. 

Compare the Harappan sites in the two boxes- One of Indus Valley, other of Saraswati Valley. Even the dense sites around Ganweriwala are on banks of Saraswati.

Thus, all evidences tend to point out that the Saraswati valley is preferred for geographical, religious and settlement purposes. It is indeed the chief area where the Sapta Sindhu ought to be located.
Now, let us see exactly which 7 rivers can possibly constitute the Sapta Sindhu.


A clarification at the start- These 7 rivers that we will be seeing are not being found artificially to somehow add up to seven rivers of the Sapta Sindhu or just to prove the theory. They were substantial rivers in ancient times and their old palaeochannels have been unearthed by the geologists recently. The information has been compiled in the report “Palaeochannels of Northwest India: Review and Assessment” by K.S Valdiya, submitted to Ministry of Water Resources in 2016.

Zoomed map of the Seven Rivers of the Saraswati Valley, based on old palaeochannels

As noted earlier, the seven rivers are thus from west to east direction-
  • Satluj- Satluj originates at Rakas Sarowar near Kailas and flows through Himachal Pradesh and enters plains in Punjab. It used to flow southwards from Ropar and meet the Saraswati at a place called Shatrana, south of Patiala. The combined river was 6-8 km wide at Shatrana. Yashpal el al (1980) have found palaeochannel of Satluj from Ropar to Shatrana broadly in N-S direction, extending for 75 kms with a width of 1 to 6 km. C. F Oldham in 1873 opined that this channel shifted towards the west from Ropar and began joining the Beas thus depriving of the Saraswati of its crucial waters.
  • Ghaggar- Ghaggar originates at Sirmaur in Himachal and flows through Panchkula and it demarcates the boundary between Punjab and Haryana. It used to join the Satluj in ancient times. Today it traces the old path of the Saraswati after Sirsa in Haryana, enters Rajasthan and then vanishes in the Cholistan desert near Bahawalpur.
  • Tangri- Tangri or Dangri originates in Morni hills of Himachal and flows through Ambala district. It used to join the Saraswati just downstream from Pehowa. Today it joins the Ghaggar Hakra. It’s palaeochannel have been marked by the satellite images by Bhadra et al in 2009.
  • Markanda- Known as Markandeya River. Markanda originates from Dharti Dhar in Himachal and enters plains at Kala Amb. Study by Bajpai and Kshetrimayum in 2011 analyzed underground sand sediments and concluded the Markanda indeed met the Saraswati near Pehowa-Thikri-Malakpur region
  • Sarsuti- Sarasuti is considered the original flow of the Saraswati but with its course shifted little to the west. The river originated at Adi Badri in the Siwalik Hills and flows through sites like Mughalwali, Mustafabad, Kurukshetra, Pehowa, Fatehabad and beyond Sirsa traces the course of today’s Ghaggar-Hakra. Study by Chaudhari et all in 2008 revealed the course of Sarsuti near Bhor Saidan in Kurukshetra district to be around 2 km wide. Soil samples from Bir Pipli, Kanepla, etc in Kurukshetra district reveal a palaeochannel that flowed till 2000 BCE.
  • Drishadvati- Chautang River today is a seasonal river arising out of the Siwaliks that flows through central Haryana and meets today’s Ghaggar-Hakra near Suratgarh in Rajasthan. In ancient times, this was the Drishadwati River which used to combine with Yamuna and together used to meet Saraswati. Bhadra et al in 2009 used remote sensing satellite data to delineate the channel of Drishadvati in Haryana.
  • Yamuna- Yamuna originated at Yamunotri and originally joined the Tons or Tamasa river. But later on, it flowed down from Paonta Sahib and took a west turn to flow through central Haryana, joins the Drishadvati and finally meets the Saraswati near Suratgarh in Rajasthan. Clift et al (2012) did a study on the sediments at IVC site at Ganweriwala, allegedly on the banks of the Saraswati. They reveal similarity with sediments of Yamuna plains showing the Yamuna used to empty in the Saraswati in ancient times.

If these rivers are indeed considered as Sapta-Sindhu, it will considerably narrow down the core area of Rigveda and also explain the overbearing religious importance of the region of Kurukshetra in later times.

On a concluding note, this article was a crude attempt to define geography of the Rigveda in a new way. There exist strong arguments as to why the Sapta Sindhu be located in its postulated location in Punjab. But as I said in the start- History has been full of assumptions, theories and hypotheses- There is no fun without them!

Friday, 16 August 2013

Soma - The Energy Drink of Ancient India

No separate introduction is needed for Soma. A drink, a booster of energy, a giver of energy,wealth and health, a God. There are many dimensions to a single name. Owing to it's ample references in the Rigveda and all other post-Vedic scriptures, we can conclude that Soma surely was an important constituent of Yagyas and for pleasing Gods.

An entire 9th Mandala of the Rigveda is dedicated to Soma. Soma is the third-most mentioned noun in the Rigveda with nearly 1500 mentions.  Almost in every Yagya, an oblation is offered to Soma. Apart from that, there are separate Soma-Yagyas. The Soma was either consumed by the people, believed to be consumed by Gods like Indra,Varuna,Mitra or offered to the fire, Agni. It depended on the usage of the plant.

Soma Characteristics 

It becomes important to discuss characteristics of Soma.

  • Soma is a plant found on mountains. That is why Soma has adjectives like Parvatavrudha and Giristha. Rigveda (RV) 9.18.1 clearly mentions that Soma was found on mountains. So does Atharvaveda (3.21.10). 
  • A proper description is given by well-known Ayurvedic scholar Sushruta in his Sushruta Samhita saying that Soma is found growing on mountains like Himalayas, Sahyadri, Mahendra, Malya, Arbuda, Devgiri, Vindhyas,etc. It also mentions that Soma grows in aquatic habitats like Sindhu (Indus) river, Manas Sarovar, etc. This just proves that there were many varieties of Soma whihc were used.
  • Since the varieties existed, the color also varied. Colors like brown,green, ornage and bright red existed.
  • The confirmation also comes from Avesta, in both Yasna and Vendidad, where Haoma ( i.e Soma) is said to be growing on mountains. The Avestan and Vedic rituals were quite common in those days like fire worship, sun worship and Soma consumption. 
  • There is a lot of debate among modern day scholars regarding the actual Soma herb. Various species like Euphedra, Sarcostemma, etc
  • The description of Soma plant comes in the commentary of Dhurtaswamin. It says Soma is dark,sour, without leaves, milky and fleshy, produces phlegm and vomiting and is a food for goats.  

Preparation of Soma

The preparation of Soma also finds mention in the Rigveda. It is mentioned throughout that the Soma plant is pressed and the juice is obtained. The stalk of the Soma is pressed as mentioned in RV (9.67.28) and RV  (9.74.2). The Sanskrit name for stalk is Amsu. The stalk is said to be pressed with stones RV (10.94.1). The stones are 4 in number and the Rigveda mentions that the Soma flows like a 'flood' after being pressed. 

Now the juice is not consumed just like that. Proper purification is required for making it consumable. RV (9.3.9) mentions that the Soma is passed through woolen straining cloth for purifying it. At other places, a fleece or a sieve is also used. The Soma that is thus purified is called Pavamana or pure Soma. This pure Soma is given to Indra. The Soma is mixed with water or milk and consumed by others. Oblations to other Gods are offered by mixed Soma. 

The Soma is collected in Darbhas or pots and it's oblation is offered in Grahas or vessels. The Soma is either directly fed to fire RV (1.94.14) and RV (8.42.11) or is drank like that by the priests and the Yajamana. An instance mentioned in the Bhagvata Purana where king Marutta of Vaishali dynasty had conducted a never-like-before Yagya. The priests and Indra himself were given infinite Soma and they got intoxicated by it.  Ashwini Kumaras had no right to drink Soma but rishi Chyavana gave them Soma to drink in return of them granting him youth. Other kings like Dasharath, Nimi, Sharyati,etc have also performed Somyagyas.

Vaivasvata and Trita Aptya, both composers of Rigveda, are said to have excelled in the preparation of Soma. 

Eulogies and Allegories of Soma

Pertaining to it's important position in the rituals, certain eulogies were created in the name of Soma. 
  • Soma bestows supreme energy. Indra is said to drink Soma and under it's intoxication, goes on a war with Vritrasura and defeat him.
  • The person who drinks Soma becomes pure at heart as it washes away the sins.
  • Soma drives away all the enemies and prevents it's drinkers from coming in contact with any unwanted tribe. Besides, it bestows the best of health.
  • Treasures like cows, wealth,etc are received. 
  • Soma is said to be brought on the Earth from the heavens and thus it pleases the Gods the most. Soma is said to be like a smell that spreads everywhere and attracts the Gods towards it, thus inviting the Gods to bless the Yagya being performed. 
  • Being the best of all the herbs, Soma is also said to be the king of all herbs (Vanaspati). He is also called the king of people. 
  • Soma is also considered to be the moon or Chandra with the 27 Nakshatras as his wives. 
  • Soma also is equated to trees, birds, cows, mind,etc at different places in the Rigveda. 

Lord Soma or Chandra with his chariot driven by an antelope

Soma-Yagyas or Somyaga

Since Soma has such an important position in Yagyas, let's talk something about Somyagas. Every Yagya is not a Somyaga. Soma is offered only in specific Yagyas to Gods like Indra,Mitra,Varuna,etc. We find that Somyagas have continued from the Vedic period right till the Brahmana-Sutra period. 

There are 3 types of Ygyas mainly - Pakayagya, Haviryagya and Somyagya. Each has 7 types. The 7 types of Somyaga is mentioned by different rishis like Gautama, Satyavrata Samashrami and Dhurtaswamin. They are -
  • Agnishtoma
  • Atyagnishtoma
  • Ukthyah
  • Shodashi
  • Vajapeya
  • Atiratra
  • Aptoryamah
Different scriptures like Yajurveda, Ashvalayana and other Grihya Sutras deal with Somyagas and the rituals and verses to be recited there. Let's not go deep in the rituals of Somyaga. But one thing to note is that in almost every ritual you have one Soma hymn from Rigveda being recited to please Soma. 
For example - In the Sankhyayana Grihya Sutra (1.26.3), depending upon the star in which the child is born, oblations are given. Oblation to Soma in a Yagya is given if the child is born in the Mrugashirsha star.

Apart from this, we also find in the Grihya Sutras an option to using Soma like Kusha needles,etc. It could be because of the decline in the use of Soma as also it becoming less available. 

The rituals might show slight variance, but the concept of using Soma in Yagyas has lasted for centuries and continues even today. The Yagyas are done for the betterment of general public or for specific purposes. 
For more reading - Yagya - A ritual or culture

Thursday, 30 May 2013

64 Kalā - The 64 types of arts

We often hear in the descriptions of Lord Ganesha or Lord Krishna that they were well versed in 64 art forms or ChatuhShashthi Kala. These are 64 different art forms that are listed which are taught to all as a part of learning. A person knowing all of these along with the 14 Vidyas was known to be near perfection.

This list appears in the Kamasutra under the heading Bahya Kala or external art forms. Here is a list of these art forms.

  • गीतं - Singing
  • वाद्यं - Playing instruments
  • नृत्यं - Dancing
  • नाट्यं - Acting
  • आलेख्यं - Painting and writing
  • विशेषच्छेद्यं - Aiming at a point
  • तन्दुलकुसुमबलिविकारः - Making offerings of rice and flowers 
  • पुष्पस्तरणं - Covering with flowers
  • दशनवसनाङ्गरागाः - Cleansing teeth,clothes,etc
  • मणिभुमिकाकर्म - Arranging jewels
  • शयनरचनं - Arranging bed
  • उदकवाद्यं - Playing instruments in pots or bowls like Jalataranga
  • चित्रयोगः - Drawing using soil
  • माल्यग्रन्थानविकल्पाः - Preparing garlands of flowers
  • शेखरापीडयोजनं - Decorating crowns,etc
  • कर्णपत्रभङ्गाः - Decorating ears with flowers
  • नेपथ्ययोगाः - Dressing up for acting
  • सुगन्धयुक्तिः - Preparing aromatic perfumes
  • भूषणयोजनं - Making ornaments
  • ऐन्द्राजालं - Magic tricks
  • कौतुमारयोगः - Applying various ointments and pastes on one's body
  • हस्तलाघव - Tricks of hands ( हाथचालाखी )
  • चित्रशाकापूपभक्ष्यविकारयोगः - Preparing vegetables and sweets
  • पानकरसरागासवयोजनं - Preparing various juices
  • सूचिवयकर्म - Stitching with needles
  • सूत्रक्रीडा - Puppetry 
  • वीणाडमरुवाद्यानि - Playing Veena, Damru,etc
  • प्रहेलिका - Cracking riddles
  • प्रतिमाला - Preparing utensils
  • दुर्वाचकयोगः - Speaking in languages that others don't understand
  • वाचनं - Reading
  • नाटकाख्ययिकादर्शनं - Telling stories and acts 
  • काव्यसमस्यापूरणं - Completing incomplete poems
  • पट्टिकावेत्रबाणविकल्पः - Using arrows,etc
  • तर्ककर्माणि  - Debating
  • तक्षणम् - Carpentry
  • वास्तुविद्या - Knowledge of construction
  • रौप्यरत्नपरिक्षा - Testing jewels
  • धातुवादः - Purifying impure metals
  • मणिरागज्ञानं - Seeing the colour of precious stones
  • आकारज्ञानं - Finding quarries of minerals
  • वृक्षायुर्योगवेदः - Calculating the age of trees
  • मेषकुक्कुटलावकयुद्धविधिः - Making lambs,goats,etc fight
  • शुकसारिकप्रलापनं - Teaching parrots to speak
  • उत्सादनं - Flying kites
  • केशमार्जनकौशलं - Art of cutting hair
  • अक्षरमुष्टिकाकथनं - Guessing the words in other's mind
  • म्लेच्छितकुतर्कविकल्पः - Making arguments for deceiving someone
  • देशभाषाज्ञानं - Knowing the other languages 
  • पुष्पशकटिकानिर्मितिज्ञानं - Gardening
  • धारणमातृका - Preparing load bearing objects
  • संवाद्यं - Elocution
  • मानसीकाव्यक्रिया - Composing poems in mind
  • अभिधानकोशः - Knowing lexicography
  • छन्दोज्ञानं - Knowledge of metres of singing
  • क्रियाविकल्पः - Art of writing a treatise
  • चलितकयोगः - Building shrines
  • वस्त्रगोपनानि - Concealing clothes
  • द्युतविशेषः - Gambling 
  • आकर्षक्रीडा - Kusti or Malla Yuddha
  • बालक्रीडानकादि - Preparing toys for kids
  • वैनायकीविद्याज्ञानं - Art of vanishing problems
  • वैजयकीविद्याज्ञानं - Art of winning
  • वैतालकीविद्याज्ञानं-  Knowledge of Tantras

It thus appears from the list that these art forms cover almost all of the aspects of human life from dressing, art and craft, sports, learning and general chores. 

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Marriages between Vedic and Non-Vedic tribes

I have already discussed some Exotic Tribes of India like Rakshas , Gandharva and Apsara , Yaksha, etc. We see that these tribes exactly cannot be termed non-Vedic since their origins can also be traced to Vedic rishis but their way of living, their culture and rituals are quite different from the actual Vedic people.
We see that Rakshas are non-Vedic people but in case of Ravana, he is a devotee of Shiva. Daityas are non-Vedic but in case of Bali, he is said to have performed 99 Yagyas with his Purohit Shukracharya.  The Yakshas are non-Vedic but in case of Kubera, he is worshipped as a lord of wealth.The Gandharvas and Apsaras are also seen to be in close relation with the Vedic people. The Kirata, Kimpurusha, Kinnara lived adjacent to Vedic kingdoms and in the Himalayas but not much is mentioned about them.
The Danavas and Daityas ,although belonging to the Asura group, we find that martial relations were established signifying intermixing to some extent.

The style of marriages also seem to be influenced by different communities. Let's see the 8 types of marriages in Hindu customs-

  • Brahma Vivaha - Where the parents of the bride and groom decide the marriage and with the consent of all.
  • Prajapatya Vivaha - Where the bride and the groom are married off at a young age. The responsibility of the bride lies on the groom's father and not on the groom himself till both of them attain the right age. Prajapati directly means one who takes care, Possibly that's why this type is called Prajapatya since the father takes are of the bride.
  • Daiva Vivaha - Where the bride is poor and her marriage is performed as a charity by rich people.
  • Arsha Vivaha - This type is applicable for those communities where the groom has to pay an oblation to the bride to get her. 
  • Asura Vivaha - Where the bride is not suitable for the groom but still they marry. Asura communities seem to have such type of marriages. 
  • Gandharva Vivaha - This is proper love marriage where the consent of parents is not necessary. Gandharvas and Apsaras used to marry the person of their choice. 
  • Rakshas Vivaha -  This type involves abduction of the bride if she is ready for marriage. The Rakshas tribes used to marry in this way. 
  • Paishacha Vivaha - The bride is intoxicated and is not in her senses while marrying. That's why it was called Paishacha vivaha on the name of Pishacha. 
( The tribe names are given to marriage styles but they being given due to peculiar behaviour of those tribe is just my view. )

As I mentioned earlier, the intermixing of these tribes with Vedic people has happened. The Puranas provide valuable information about the kings and rishis who married brides from other tribes. Most of the marriages are from Apsaras and Naga. This seems credible when it comes to geography. The Nagas have lived in the Indian subcontinent but others have lived either far in Himalayas ( Yakshas, Kinnara, Kimpurusha,etc) or far south ( Rakshas) or far east ( Kirata). Less information is available about the martial relations of other exotic tribes like Vidyadhara, Charana, Siddha, Pishacha, Vanara, Pannaga, etc. So a natural interaction would be between people who live next to the Vedic people. Let's view them - 

  • Pururavas Aila and Urvashi - Pururavas was a Chandravanshi king. Urvashi bore 6 sons from him.
  • Prachetas and Pramlocha - Soma was the son of Atri. His adoptive daughter was Pramlocha who was married to Prachetas, a descendant of Dhruva.
  • Trinavindu and Alambusha - Trinavindu was the king of Vaishali kingdom and a Chakravarti Samrat
  • Agnidhra and Purvachitti - Agnidhra was the grandson of Swayambhuva Manu.
  • Raudrashva and Ghrutachi - Raudrashva was a king in the Puru dynasty of Hastinapur.
  • Vishwamitra and Menaka - Although they didn't marry, they bore a daughter Shakuntala who married Dushyanta. Their marriage took place by Gandharva Vivaha.
  • Ruru and Pramadvara - He was a rishi. Pramadvara was daughter of Vishvavasu Gandharva and was brought up by Sthulakesha rishi.
  • Vatsaka and Mishrakeshi - Vatsaka was a Yadava prince.
  • Rucheyu and Jwala - Rucheyu was the son of Raudrashva, the Puru king. Jwala belonged to the Takshaka tribe of Nagas.
  • Arjuna and Ulupi - This couple is quite well known from Mahabharata.
  • Shantanu and Satyavati - Shantanu was the great grandfather of Pandavas and Satyavati was Vyasa's mother.
  • Yadu and Dhumavarna's daughters - Yadu was the son of Yayati and Dhumavarna was one of the Nagas who married his 5 daughters to Yadu.
  • Purukutsa and Narmada - Purukutsa was an Ikshavku king. Son of Mandhata.
  • Kusha and Kumudvati - Kusha was Rama's son. 
  • Somashrava - He was a disciple of rishi Yajnavalkya. His mother was Naga princess and father was Shrutashrava rishi. 
  • Yayati and Sharmishtha - Sharmishtha was the daughter of Vrishaparva Daitya. 
  • Yayati and Devayani- Devayani was the daughter of Shukracharya, the priest of Danavas and Daityas
  • Vishrava and Kaikesi - Vishrava was a descendant of Pulastya and father of Ravana. Kaikesi was daughter of Sumali Rakshas.
  • Bhima and Hidimba - Hidimba was a Rakshasi who met the Pandavas after they fled the Lakshagriha in Varnavati. Ghatotkacha was their son.
Apart from this, there were many inter- marriages between the non-Vedic tribes too. For example, Ravana's maternal grandfather Sunali married an Apsara, Daitya Hiranyakashapu married an Asura princess, daughter of Hiranyakashapu called Sinhika was married to a Danava, Shachi, Indra's wife was the daughter of Danava Puloman., etc.
But strangely, we don't find any Vedic princess being married to a non-Vedic groom.

From this, we can conclude that the ancient people were not that averse in marrying with non-Vedic tribes. Although the names given above are less, at least we can establish that Vedic kingdoms had alliances with these non-Vedic tribes and kingdoms which had the capacity of influencing the politics of the land. In the case of Arjuna and Ulupi, the Naga kingdom to which she belonged supported the Pandavas during the Mahabharata war. Similar was the case with the Rakshas tribes who supported the Pandavas because of Hidimba and Ghatotkacha. 

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Ratha - The Indian Chariot

Ratha, or the chariot is considered to be the best mode of transport in ancient India, especially during wars. It symbolizes energy and the zeal to move forward. But do we know everything about what is a Ratha ?

We only have a faint imagination of seeing Arjuna or Duryodhana fighting the Mahabharata war on Rathas in the B.R Chopra Mahabharata serial.  Although the chariots used in those serials were made up of low quality wood, the actual Rathas were quite powerful and could carry heavy loads.

The development of Ratha can be imagined. First man used to walk and travel. Later on, he started to ride the back of animals which was quite tedious but faster than walking. But some brilliant mind got the idea of a wheel and thus constructed a chariot moving on wheel which would be pulled by muscle power of animals while man can comfortably sit in the chariot.
Thus began the science of building a Ratha. Further developments took place.

  • The material which was used to build a Ratha was light.
  • The number of wheels, animals attached were varied.
  • The concept of Sarathi who drives the Ratha was consequently developed.

Lord Surya, with his chariot of 7 horses.

The concept of building a Ratha has not been properly described in scriptures, but we have scattered references mostly from Rigveda to describe the Ratha. 
  • The Ratha is said to be constructed of wood. The specific trees used were Khadir ( Khair in today's terms which is also used in Hom-Havan) and Shimshapa ( or Sheesham in today's terms). This information is given in RV ( 3.53.17-19)
  • The wheels used to have spokes for higher speeds and for being light in weight.
  • Different animals were used to pull the Ratha. Horses were most preferred during wars. But apart from horses, bulls, mules and wild ass was also used. RV (6.75.7) clearly tells that horses pull a Ratha faster than a bull. RV (3.53.17) tells us that bulls were indeed used to pull chariots. Use of wild ass in the Ratha of Ashwini Kumars is stated in RV (1.116.2) 
  • Almost every God had a Ratha. Hymns from Rigveda talk of Rathas of Indra, Agni, Ashwini Kumars, Usha,etc. Almost every king at war had a Ratha. 
  • Mahabharata and Ramayana wars have ample references to kings fighting on Rathas. Why others ? Our very own Krishna spoke the verses of Bhagvad Geeta on a chariot. 
  • We have an extra special hymn in Rigveda. It is 6.75. It is composed by Payu Bharadvaja. King Prastoka Sarnjaya had sought help from Payu to win a war. So Payu created this hymn in praise of all war-related things including bow, arrow, Sarathi, Ratha, different parts of Ratha,etc. It contains information about different parts of Ratha. 
Apart from this, horses having 34 ribs were used in wars and to draw Rathas. 
Now, a Ratha should have specific dimensions to bring the best out of it. For that, we have different Shulba Sutras which describe how a Ratha should be constructed. 

It is said that the Ratha of king Priyavrata, the son of Swayambhuva Manu, was so powerful, that it created seven big ditches in Earth ,when he was circumambulating the Meru mountain, which became the seven seas. The land that got separated from the seas is the seven continents or Sapta Mahadweep. 

Arjuna's peculiar chariot with his favourite 4 white horses

The Ratha had become such an integral part of people's life, that it seeped into Sanskrit language.
The most ace warrior was thus called " Maha-Rathi". 
The unit for measuring distance "Rathanya" came from Ratha travelling a decided distance.
The names of kings ended with Ratha. For eg- Dasharatha, Ashtiratha, Bhagiratha,etc.

The Ratha also inspired construction of temples. The best example is of Konark temple in Udisha. 
The wheels on the temple of Konark. They are 12 in number signifying the months of a year.
Each wheel has 8 spokes signifying the 8 Prahar of a day.

Now another question- Were Rathas being used only in wars ? Was there any other use ?
Let's look at the different types of Rathas- 
  • Sangramik Ratha- For wars.
  • Deva Ratha- For Gods.
  • Karni Ratha- Special Ratha for women, particularly queens.
  • Vainayik Ratha- For giving training of driving a Ratha.
  • Pushya Ratha- For processions of kings.
  • Kreeda Ratha- For competitions and races.
To add, the Kreeda Ratha was used extensively. Chariot racing is a famous game, even today. 
Even rituals needed Rathas. A Vajpeya Yagya needs a special Ratha "constructed from wood and having wheels with 17 spokes. ".

Rathas are used even today. The processions of different Gods are conducted on Rathas and are called Rathotsav. The most famous is the Ratha Yatra of Jagannath Puri. 

Off lately, there has been a lot of farce created due to the false Aryan Invasion Theory over excavation of Rathas in different parts of world. Wherever the Rathas are explored, countries go in a frenzy claiming that theirs is the original homeland of the so-called "Aryans". Varying Rathas made of wood, heavy, non-spoked have been found which date back to 3000 BC in Europe. Similar excavations have been made in the Mesopotamian and Hittite- Mittani civilizations in central Asia. In India, a toy in the form of a Ratha has been found in Daimabad, Maharashtra which dates to 2200 BC.

What ever may be the archaeological excavations, one thing is for sure, Rathas had a very dear place in the hearts of our ancestors, just like horses. !!!

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Puranas - The History Manuals of Ancient India

यो विद्याच्चतुरो वेदान्ताङ्गोपनिषदो द्विजः | न चेत्पुराणं संविद्यान्नैव स स्याद्विचक्षणः ||

"The Dvija who knows the Vedas with it's Angas and Upanishads cannot be called a proficient person unless he has thoroughly studied the Puranas. "

Perhaps the above verse tells why the Puranas are so important for knowing the Indian History. The descriptive information of our ancient world with it's kings,sages, kingdoms and all the important events occur in the Puranas. The additive thing is, all this was transmitted orally. 
Perhaps this is the reason why Puranas hold such a special position in our scriptures. 

The Matsya Purana describes the following 5 characteristics or Pancha- Lakshana of Puranas- 
  1. Sarga - Regarding the creation of universe from the Virat Purush.
  2. Pratisarga- The other creations of the divine.
  3. Vansha- Regarding the genealogies of sages.
  4. Manvantara- Description of various Manus and Manvantara.
  5. Vanshanucharita- The description of Surya and Chandra Vansha.
For history students, the last 3 Lakshanas matter the most. These are the proper historical descriptions from where we get the info about the different sages, kings and their stories. 

Just think about this, how much of the above information is given properly in the Vedas ? Very few. Perhaps without Itihasa and Puranas, we wouldn't have known to which vansh did Ram or Krishna belong, or where were their kingdoms situated. Imagine the darkness around us if we didn't know even the basic info about our own Gods.
That is why it is said - इतिहासपुराणंच पञ्चमो वेद उच्यते | or Itihasa and Puranas are rightfully called the 5th Veda. 

Many a times questions are asked, Puranas have proven antiquity but what about authenticity ? So can we furnish any proof saying that the contents of Puranas are original and not or have just been shuffled ?
The answer lies in the genuine tradition of Puranas. Puranas are composed majorly by Ved Vyasa during the Mahabharata era around 3000 BC. But the information of kings and sages can go as back as 8000 BC. So technically, Vyasa was describing about the events and people in his Puranas who lived 5000 years before him..! But from where did he get this information ?
The answer is, the Suta,Magadha and Stutipathak tradition. These were bards in the court of every king who used to record every event and pass it through generations. The earliest evidence of the existence of Suta, Magadha and Stutipathak goes to the era of king Prithu, almost 110 generations before Vyasa. From that time, we have these bards collecting information and passing on through generations. 
In the Mahabharata era, we have this information split into various bards in different kingdoms. This information was collected together by Vyasa and compiled in the Puranas. Thus the Puranas became a full fledged books which contained the names, genealogies and stories of different kings and sages. That is why, it is mere waste of time doubting the authenticity of Puranas.
Also go through my 1 yr old post of Credibility of Puranas

As for a formality, the general information on Puranas is thus- 
There are 18 Maha Puranas namely Brahma, Brahmanda, Brahmavaivarta, Agni, Garuda, Narada, Linga, Matsya, Bhagvata, Vishnu, Kurna, Varaha, Bhavishya, Vamana,Markandeya, Padma, Shiva and Skanda.
There are 18 Upa Puranas too.
The combined verses of the 18 Maha Puranas totals upto 4000000 i.e 4 Lakhs ..!!!
The Skanda Purana is the largest with 81000 verses thus making it the third largest scripture in Hinduism after Mahabharata and Yoga Vasishtha.

For a reader, we shouldn't take only 1 Purana. Consider the 18 Puranas as one book. The reason for this is, the information is scattered into various Puranas. Thus only the name of X king appears in one, his story in other and his genealogy in the third. For a complete view. we need to look in all the Puranas.

Technically, Puranas also have incomplete information. But we should be grateful that we have at least the present information. Some of the stories are intangible. But still, the crux and the central ideas are to be taken. Through these years of propagation, there is some corruption in names or contexts. But that is an obvious effect after almost 5000 years of propagation from 3000 BC till now. 
But sitting here, using the Puranas, I am able to tell who was my ancestor some 250 generations back. It was Swayambhuva Manu..!!

Puranas also contain some religious stuff like information on different pilgrimage sites, stories of Gods and their description and above all, brilliant philosophy that parallels with that of Bhagvad Geeta. The dialogues of Krishna with his colleagues, speeches of kings,etc are filled with deep philosophical thought. Bhagvata Purana is considered the best among the Puranas.
Plus, the Puranas are classified after the sects they belong to i.e Shaiv, Vaishnava and Brahma. We get brilliant knowledge and spiritual guidance.

At last, the Puranas complement the Vedas and make them complete. As Narada rishi says,

वेदाःप्रतिष्ठितादेवि पुराणैर्नात्नसंशयः |
"Without any doubt, the Puranas increase the reputation of the Vedas."

Monday, 18 February 2013

River Saraswati, as described in scriptures.

River Saraswati has been the biggest issue of discussion with regards to it's existence. There is a confusion whether it was a river or a Hindu goddess. The answer is, perhaps both. But most importantly, it was the biggest and widest river in the Indian subcontinent.

The Aryan Invasion theorists say that river Saraswati is a myth and she was just a goddess of knowledge. Well, I would counter that by one single logic- There is a goddess called Kali and also a river called Kali in Karnataka. So does that river become mythical ?
It has been a common practice to name objects, whether rivers, mountains or lakes, on the names of popular gods and goddesses. The sole reason why our planets got their names as Venus or Mars from the Greek and Roman gods. Plus, the satellite images of Saraswati are quite clearly showing the existence of a huge channel of an extinct river which flows through the heart of Rajasthan.

The course of Saraswati photographed by satellites.
A huge course in the heart of a desert... !!!!

 We will discuss the geography and logic behind the existence of Saraswati later on. For now, we are concerned with different references to Saraswati in ancient scriptures.
We will traverse through scriptures in their chronological existence through history viz Rigveda and Atharvaveda ---> Yajurveda ---> Ramayana --->Mahabharata and Puranas ---> Brahmanas

Saraswati in Rigveda- 

एकाचेतत्सरस्वती नदीनां शुचिर्यती गिरिभ्य आ समुद्रात्। रायश्चेतन्ती भुवनस्य भूरेर्घृतं पयो दुदुहे नाहुषाय॥ - 
RV 7.95.2
Pure in her course from the mountains to the oceans, Saraswati river bestows milk and butter to Nahusha.

अम्बितमे नदीतमे देवितमे सरस्वति। अप्रशस्ता इव स्मसि प्रशस्तिमम्ब नस्कृधि ||

RV 2.41.16
Best of mothers, best of rivers, best of goddesses Sarsawati, we are untrained and ignorant. Give us knowledge and wisdom.

इयं शुष्मेभिर्बिसखा इवारुजत्सानु गिरीणां तविषेभिरूर्मिभिः।
पारावतघ्नीमवसे सुवृक्तिभिः सरस्वतीमा विवासेम धीतिभिः॥
RV 6.61.2
O Saraswati, your mighty currents break the mountains as easily as lotus stems. Let us invite with holy hymns and songs.

यस्या अनन्तो अह्रुतस्त्वेषश्चरिष्णुरर्णवः।अमश्चरति रोरुवत्॥
RV 6.61.8
Whose limitless, unbroken flow, swift moving with rapid rush comes forward with a roar. 

आ यत्साकं यशसो वावशानाः सरस्वती सप्तथी सिन्धुमाता।
याः सुष्वयन्त सुदुघाः सुधारा अभि स्वेन पयसा पीप्यानाः॥
RV 7.36.6
May the glorious seventh stream Saraswati, mother of Sindhu charged with large volume of water flow vigorously and give milk and water.

This was a short description of Saraswati in the Rigveda. In totality, Saraswati has been mentioned 71 times throughout the Rigveda.

Saraswati in Atharvaveda- 

देवा इमं मधूनां संयुतं यवं सरस्वत्या मधि मनावकर्क्रियुः| इन्द्र आसित सिरपतिः शतक्रतुः किनश आसन मरुतः सुदानवः ||
AV 6.30.1
God bestowed the people living on the banks of Saraswati with sweet and juicy barley, where the Maruts become the farmers and Indra, the lord of agriculture.

Saraswati is mentioned almost 35 times throughout Atharvaveda, sometimes as a river and sometimes as a goddess.
Yajurveda ans Samaveda also mention Saraswati river.

Saraswati in Ramayana- 

सरस्वतीम् च गङ्गाम् च उग्मेन प्रतिपद्य च |
उत्तरम् वीरमत्स्यानाम् भारुण्डम् प्राविशद्वनम् ||
Valmiki Ramayana 2.71.2
Arriving at the confluence of Saraswati and Ganga rivers, Bharata entered the woods of Bharmuda, the north of Viramatsaya region.

Saraswati is mentioned almost 6 times in Valmiki Ramayana. The above reference shows that the river did exist during Ram's times.

Saraswati in Mahabharata- 

Balrama had gone on a 42 day pilgrimage which is properly described in the Mahabharata. Right from the origin of Saraswati to it's disappearance is properly mentioned.

परभवं च सरस्वत्याः पलक्षप्रस्रवणं बलः |
     संप्राप्तः कारपचनं तीर्थप्रवरम उत्तमम ||

Mbh 9.53.11
While ascending the Himalaya, Balrama came to Plaksha Prashravana, the origin of Saraswati from where he went to Karpachanam ( Origin of Yamuna). 

सरस्वती पुण्यवहा हरदिनी वनमालिनी |
      समुद्रगा महावेगा यमुना यत्र पाण्डव ||

Mbh 3.88.2
The holy flow of Saraswati [ ...] meets the sea with rapid flow. 

ततॊ विनशनं गच्छेन नियतॊ नियताशनः गच्छत्य अन्तर्हिता यत्र मरु पृष्ठे 
सरस्वती चमसे च शिवॊद्भेदे नागॊद्भेदे च दृश्यते ||
Mbh 3.80.118
The Saraswati disappears in the desert at Vinshana and reappears at Chamasa, Shivodbheda ans Nagodbheda. 

Mahabharata (3.83) mentions the location of Kurukshetra as lying to the south of Saraswati and north of Drishadvati, clearly indicating the geography of Haryana. Similar thing is mentioned about Brahmavarta, the kingdom of Swayambhuva Manu in Bhagvata Purana and Manusmriti (3.17)
Mahabharata also mentions a number of lakes like Bindusar, Brahmasar, Jyotisar, etc which the Saraswati occupies. A clear cut indication that Saraswati had become a small river then and was only occupying lakes.
Since the geography of Mahabharata revolves around the Krur kingdom from where the Saraswati flowed, Saraswati is mentioned 235 times in Mahabharata. 

Saraswati in Puranas- 
 Vamana Purana (32. 1-4) describes the origin of Saraswati, as told by rishi Markandeya. It tells about the Plaksha (Pipal) tree from where the Saraswati originates from where it flows westward and occupies a lake called Sannihita. 
Apart from these, Saraswati and it's origin at Plaksha and vanishing at Vinshana has been mentioned in Bhagvata, Vishnu, Skanda, Vayu Puranas.

The flow of Saraswati, photographed from Bheem Pul in the Himalayas.
This river today is called Ghaggar- Hakra  known to be the remnant of the mighty Saraswati.

Saraswati in Brahmanas- 

Tandya Brahmana is the most useful for this prupose. (25.10.11) mentions Saraswati to be sluggish (शिथीलभूत ) and following a meandering course ( वक्रोपेतभूत ).
(25.10.12) mentions Saraswati to be drifting westward ( प्रत्यन्मुखी )
The same info of Saraswati originating at Plaksha and vanishing at Vinshana is mentioned and the distance between the two is said to be 44 Ashvins. From the info I gathered from the article of D.S Chauhan, this distance is about 2600 KMs. So if Vinshana has to be in Gujarat, Plaksha has to be in the Himalayas.

From the above verses quoted, any keen observer will come to know the trend of Saraswati's references from a huge river with a rapid flow to a small river which was vanishing in desert.
The chronological order of scriptures Rigveda and Atharvaveda ---> Yajurveda --->; Ramayana -->;Mahabharata and Puranas --->; Brahmanas tells us the diminishing nature of the Saraswati from a mighty river in Rigvedic times to a small river about to vanish during the Puranic times. 

Saraswati was NOT a myth. It was an actual river on whose banks majority of the Harappan sites have been found. She is also a goddess of knowledge and also an extinct river. Only if secular historians understood that...........