Sunday, June 8, 2014

Helmand is Saraswati!

Ghaggar at present.
Ghaggar at present.

We have to understand that why some Indian scholars are hell bent to prove Ghaggar-Hakra being the Lost River Saraswati? Saraswati is lavishly praised as being a mighty and deity-like river in Rig Veda. On the banks of this mythical river Rigvedic bulk of hymns were composed. From the basin of the same river, it is assumed, the Vedic religion emerged and spread throughout India in later times to become a dominant sect.

It is a general consensus among the scholars that the Vedic religion had become extinct in India about two thousand years ago. However, this is not a fact. Vedic religion is still dominant and survives as a separate section of the Hindu religion. The authority over Veda's and Vedic rituals are still limited to the Vedic people. The influence of Vedic divine supremacy and its doctrine of birth-based unequal social order still is dominant in the country. Vedic's have retained their religion with an independent identity. Hence it is incorrect to assume that the Vedic religion has become extinct in India.

About a century ago it was believed that the Vedic religion was introduced to India by invading Aryans. Later invasion theorists had to abandon the idea in lack of any proof of the existence of Aryan race and their invasion. Also nationalist scholars found the theory being divisive and making Vedic people foreigners. Vedic people needed then to find their roots in the same soil. The attempt was not an bad idea, but while doing so they wanted to maintain their age-old cultural dominant approach!

After India’s partition, many of the Indus sites became part of Pakistan. The excavations at Ghaggar basin yielded almost thousands of the ancient sites. Some were even larger than Mohenjo-Daro, wonderfully architected exhibiting their technological and trade advances. What Vedic people needed to do was to claim that advanced ancient culture to their forefathers. Finds of few fire pits at Lothal and Kalibangan gave them a flimsy clue to build a whole “Vedic Origin” theory upon it. They neglected other thousands of proofs those indicated Shaivait faith of the Indus people. But since Shiva is non-Vedic God, it seemed unwise to them to credit such an advanced culture to Shaivait, Non-Vedic people. They conveniently neglected those vital proofs to deny Non-Vedic origin of the Indus culture and focused on building a hypothetical new theory that had no ground at all!
While building the Vedic origin story, one vital thing was missing. River Saraswati. They found solution to their problem in the Ghaggar, which is now a negligible seasonal river. 1950 onwards satellite images and geological survey started indicating that in the remote past Ghaggar was a mighty River and because of the tectonic shifts its tributaries changed their channels thus limiting water flow of the Ghaggar. The pitiful condition of Ghaggar also was attributed to the climatic changes. This finding boosted the moral of Vedic scholars to blatantly claim the Ghaggar being ancient lost River Saraswati. They thought they solved the riddle of Indus culture by assigning it to the Vedic people as founders!

This again is not the fact. Vedic descriptions of Saraswati and even if taken into the consideration the changes occurred in the channels of the ancient rivers like Satalej and Yamuna, Vedic Saraswati doesn’t fit in to the picture. 

While attempting to prove the Ghaggar being ancient Saraswati, the obvious was conveniently neglected by the Vedic scholars. Let us have a look at what they terribly missed.

1. It is a well established fact that there are close similarities between Zoroastrian and Vedic religion and rituals. Vedic people call to their fire sacrifice “Yadnya” whereas Zoroastrians call it “Yasna”. The language of Veda's and Avesta also are too close to each other with striking similarities.

2. Many names of the deities too are common, although the meaning is opposite in both the religions. However we should not neglect the fact that “Ahura” of Zoroastrian religion turns “Asura” in Vedic religion. The meaning of Asura was not always demonic as is widely believed. In the beginning of Rig Veda meaning of “Asura” was as same as “Ahura”, which meant “Lord”. We find in Rig Veda “Asura” word appearing over 90 times, used as God, and mostly as an epithet of Vedic supreme God Varuna! In later times “Asura” became a synonym of demon in Vedic literature whereas Zoroastrians retained the original meaning throughout.

This does mean that at some point of the time, in the beginning, Zoroastrian and Vedic people shared similar faith. The drastic shift in the meaning, from Lord To Demon, can be attributed to the religious conflict between both the religions. This cannot have happened unless both the religious groups were geographically close to each other.

Basin of Helmand River
Basin of Helmand River

3. To explain the linguistic and religious conceptual similarities in remote past between both the religions we have to assume that both the tribes (societies) were settled geographically close to each other. It appears from Avesta (Zamyad Yast) that its geography was the southern Afghanistan, approximately in the Helmand region. The oldest name mentioned of this river in Avesta is Haraxvaiti, a cognate to Sanskrit Saraswati. (Sanskrit S changes to H in Avestan language.) Meaning of Saraswati or Haraxvaiti in both the languages is “Dammed” or “Full of ponds”. Vedic Saraswati empties its stores in “Sarswan” sea. Saraswan means a larger lake. Helmand River too feeds into the Lake Hamaun.

Interestingly, as we are aware that Indian rivers changed their courses in ancient times because of tectonic shifts or violent earthquakes, Rig Veda or other Vedic literature does not find any mention of such natural calamity. Vedic's would have mentioned it had they been through such disastrous events in Vedic literature.

4. . If we look at the map, the distance between Helmand and Ghaggar region is not less than 800 miles. This fact doesn’t help to satisfy us with the linguistic and religious conceptual similarities between Vedic and Zoroastrian faiths and their languages. We cannot assume that Either Zoroastrians or Vedic people migrated from one place to other to cause religious and linguistic impact on alien people. With linguistic similarities and dissimilarities between the languages and religious concepts of both the religions, it is not possible to assume any migration theory.

5. Which religion is older? We have no conclusive proof to determine this as there are varied opinions about the timeline of both the religions. However there are few proofs those indicate Zoroastrian religion could be little older than Vedic religion as Zoroaster finds his mention in Rig Veda as “Jaruthar” and description of his death as well. ( RV 7.1.7) Not only this, we find mention of Avestan king “Vistaspa” as “Istasva” , Ajaspa as Ijashva in Rig Veda. (RV 1.112.13). To know Avestan Kings and Zoroastar (Jaruthar) himself, Vedic people necessarily needs to be situated in the close proximity of Avestan geography.

Looking at this internal proof, Zoroastrian religion would slightly predate Vedic religion, if not more.

6. Ghaggar = Saraswati equation is also not correct because to have religious conceptual and linguistic similarities, both the different group of religions should be in contact to have exchange of the ideas. If Ghaggar were Saraswati and where Rig Veda is said to be having composed, looking at the vast distance between southern Afghanistan and Panjab-Hariyana territories, the similarities cannot be answered. Through Rig Veda it appears that Vashistha was staunch enemy of Jaruthar (Zoroaster). Vedic people knew not only religion and language of Zoroastrians but contemporary happenings as well. I would like to stress that both the religions, at the least in the beginning, emerged in close vicinity of each other. Helmand, Haraxvaiti of Avesta only can be identified with the Vedic Saraswati.

7. . If we agree that the Ghaggar-Hakra is Vedic Saraswati, then the question arises how to eliminate the geographical problem. About 800 miles distance could not have allowed any such intimate exchange of religious or linguistic concepts in ancient times. Also a fact should be considered that no Vedic element is present in any of the site those are excavated in Ghaggar basin or elsewhere.

The exact geography of Vedic people would be somewhere in farther southern part of Helmand River basin. Regions being less populated in those times, Helmand traversing almost 1200 KM distance from mountains of Hindukush to Lake Hamaun, Vedic’s may have closely settled in groups along the course of the Haraxvaiti river. As the letter S changes to H in Avestan language, lake Hamaun could be Samaun which is close to the Vedic Samudra. It is well-established fact that the Vedic people didnt know the sea. They used to call lake or even the big river a Samudra. Also no trace of any Indis culture development and its decline reflects in any Vedic literature.

Connecting Ghaggar with Saraswati is a blunder we should be aware of. The credit of founders of Indus culture cannot be attributed to the Vedic people. How Vedic religion was spread in India is a question to which we will have to give attention. Was it because of migration of whole Vedic lot from Helmand region to rest of the country or was it because of few migrant missionaries converting some non-Vedic people to the Vedic fold in the ancient times? We will discuss this as well in next chapters.


  1. Very nice article. After reading the Wiki entries on the language and history, I have come to the conclusion that Zoroastrian/Vedic split occurred sometime before 1500 BCE. The vedic faction moved towards India, crossing the Indus, and would have picked up Shiva and other deities from their. No one knows what happened to the Indus civilization, but they disappeared around 1800-1500BCE. Maybe Vedic faction had some thing to do with it. Could be that Agastya crossing was them influencing the remaining Indus civilization and converting them to a mix with Vedic as base.

  2. I dont think Zoroastrianism can be older since it was reforming against a preexisting deva faith, who would be acknowledged with vedic hymns. Certainly the ajaspa mention is accurate since this book of the rigveda is contemporary with the priest Zarathustra.But if his faith was older than the entiure veda, more mention would be made of him and the rival faith, whilst its quite the opposite: the avesta makes more mention of a rival faith and even recategorised deities into good and bad whilst in the veda they are of equal field.