Friday, July 21, 2017

The Geography of the Rigveda!

Image result for indus river system

While we can be certain enough to locate Avestan geography at north-east and some southern part of the present day Afghanistan, the Rig Vedic geography needs to be precisely set. Let us first see what the regions, tribes and rivers Rig Veda mentions to understand the geography of Rig Veda. 


RIVER NAMES IN THE RIG VEDA

1.      We find following rivers mentioned in the Rig Veda:

a.       Rasa : ( RV I. 112.12., VIII.72.13., V.41.15; 53.9., IX.41.6,  X.75.6; 108.1, 2; 121.4.) – Frequesntly mentioned river after Saraswati and Sindhu, Rasa, finds its mention in the Avesta as Ranha/Rangha. Ranha is the 16th land created by Ahur Mazda that constituted of the people having no chiefs. (Fargard 1.19). The Rig Veda lauds her as, “Duly to each one hath my laud been offered. Strong be Varutri with her powers to succour. May the great Mother Rasa here befriend us, straight-handed, with the princes, striving forward.” (RV 5.41.15) and “Wherewith ye made Rasa swell full with water-floods, and urged to victory the car without a horse; Where with Trisoka drove forth his recovered cows,-Come hither unto us, O Asvins, with those aids.” (RV 1.112.12.)

From order of the enumeration of the 16 lands created by Ahur Mazda, some scholars think Ranha (Rasa) was close to Airyanam Vaejo, hence it could have been a river/land from the western side. The corrupt form of the Rangha was ‘Arang’ in later times. ‘Encyclopedia Iranica’ explains, Arang or alternatively used as Arvand – Rud, (Rud for river) renders Avestan Ranha, which is cognate with the Scythian name Rhâ (Rahā) transmitted by Ptolemy and with Old Indic Rasā.  Arvand-rud was the name designated by the Persians in middle Persian texts to the river Tigris. The previous identifications of Ranha with such as Oxus or Amu Darya have already been discarded. 

Hence, the scholars admit that it only could be the Tigris river from East Mesopotamia. Fereshteh Davaran also equates the river with Arang, also known as Tigris. 

The Rig Veda, at times, mentions Rasa together with Krumu (Kurram) and Kubha (Kabul) (RV 5.53.9). On this basis, some scholars think that it could be connected with Indus, or it could be any mountainous river in the vicinity of Kabul and Kurram river. However, we cannot neglect the fact that the references to the Ranha in Avesta rather are of mythological forms. Witzel also treats the river as mythical.

The Avesta describes the river as “….over the falls (River) Ranha, over the source of the (River) Ranha, over the border of this earth, over the middle of this earth, over wherever of the earth.” (Yasht 12) The description albeit sounds like mythical, but later text Bundahisn (21.1) describes the Arang (Tigris) river almost in the same fashion and as it being location of the lofty deities and abode of mythical Kar fish.

According to the Avesta, the Ranha denote the farthest point of the earth. It is quite likely that the list in Videvdad 1 intended to cover the entire known world, including its mythical limits, states P.O. Skjaervo.  Rig Vedic geography being in the close vicinity of the Avestans, it is no wonder that the farthest but a mighty, not well known but from the information either flowed to them from wanderers or was visited by some or other travellers from which Vedic society did describe her in mystical awe.

Like Avesta, Rig Veda, too, describes the river as distant and mystic or mythical. “On every side, O Soma, flow round us with thy protecting stream, As Rasa flows around the world.” (RV 9.41.6) and “WHAT wish of Sarama hath brought her hither? The path leads far away to distant places. What charge hast thou for us? Where turns thy journey? How hast thou made thy way o'er Rasa's Waters.” (10.108.1). The Rig Vedic descriptions are not dissimilar to the Avestan descriptions of the river Ranha, suggesting it mighty but a distant and mythical river.  In later Indian mythologies, ‘Rasa’ came to be termed as the underworld, i.e. Rasatal. The above deliberation confirms that the Vedic and Avestans are talking about the same river. It was distant to their known horizon and yet had mystified them to make her mentions in their sacred texts. This also confirms that the River Tigris is the Rasa/Ranha, which was a distant river to them.

b.      Sarayu: (RV X.64.9, IV.30.18.,V.53.9): Sarayu river is identified with Avestan Horoiiyu (alternately called as Harayu or Hari-rud). Hari-rud originates from the Baba mountain range, part of the Hindukush mountain range. In western Afghanistan, it flows to the south of Herat. The river especially mentioned in Rig Veda is in context with slaying of Arna and Chitraratha at the hands of Indra on its bank. (RV IV.30.18).

c.       Gomati: (RV X.75.6., VIII.24.30.): Rig Vedic Gomati is identified with the Gomal (Gumal) river of the Afghanistan and Pakistan, originating at Ghazni to confluence with Indus near Dera Ismail Khan.

d.      Kubha: (RV V.53.9, X.75.6.): Kubha is identified with the Kabul river. It originates in the Sangalakh range of the Hindu Kush Mountains in Afghanistan. This river, too, is a western tributary of Indus river.

e.       Krumu: (RV V.53.9, X.75.6): Krumu is identified with the Kurram river of Afghanistan that, too, confluences with Indus.

f.         Arjikiya: (RV VIII.7.29; 64.11, X.65.23): Originating in Afghanistan, Arjikiya has been identified with river Haro which joins Indus in Pakistan. There have also been suggestions that Arjikiya be identified with Arghastan of Afghanistan.

g.      Suvastu: (RV VIII.19.37): Identified with the river Swat that originates from Hindu Kush mountains to form a confluence with Kabul river. The Lower Swat Valley consists of many archaeological sites.

h.      YavyAvatI (RV VI.27.6): Witzel identifies this river with the Zhob river of the northern Baluchistan, whereas Talageri identifies this river with Hariyupia. Without going in to the identification debate, a fact should be noted that Zhob river is a tributary of the Gomal river of Afghanistan which is unanimously identified with Gomati river of the Rig Veda. The present name Zhob of the river originates from the Zhob city situated on her banks or alternatively has acquired the name from the Zab river of the Iraq. The name is Iranian in its origin and etymologically identical to those of the Little Zab and Great Zab rivers in Iraq and the Pamirs. 

The hymn in which Yavyavati is mentioned while enumerating the victories with aid of Indra does not indicate its either being closer or farther. Abhyavartin Caymana mentioned in the same hymn, destroying the enemy Varshikha, who belonged to Anu tribe as per some scholars. There is no dispute over the fact that Caymana of Rig Veda indeed was an Iranian character. Looking at the description mentioned above, the Zhob (Baluchistan) seems to be the most logical identification of Yavyavati, and if not, then, it could be any river that cannot be identified as other suggestions, too, are equally ambiguous.

i. Trstama: This river has been identified with the Gilgit river. This river originates from Hindu Kush and confluences with Indus at the high altitude of about 10,000 feet.

j. Kusava: Though the identification of the Kusava is disputed, many scholars identify the Kusava river with Kunar, which also is western tributary of the Indus, originating in Afghanistan.

k. The Rig Vedic river names of the other tributaries of the Indus are identified as under:

Susoma  - Sohan
GaurI – Panjikora
Vitasta – Jhelam
Asikni – Chenab
Parusni – Ravi
Vipas – Beas
Sutudri – Satlej

Let us note that the Rig Veda mentions Sutudri and Vipas as far away rivers, which the seer of the hymn seems to have traversed by wagon. “List quickly, Sisters, to the bard who cometh to you from far away with car and wagon. Bow lowly down; be easy to be traversed stay, Rivers, with your floods below our axles”. (RV 3.33.9). The geographical fact remains that the Vipas and Satlej rivers would be far away from the Helmand basin to reach, but certainly, not to the people living in the vicinity of Ghaggar.

However, identification of Vitasta, Asikni and Parusni remains ambiguous.  The identification is mainly based on the Nadistuti hymns in which these rivers, too, have been enumerated. Vipas becoming Beas or Sutudri becoming Satlej in course of the time is but plausible but Vitasta to Jhelam or Asikni to Chenab or Parusni to Ravi name changes, no matter how in corrupt forms, seems to be unlikely. Historically, the name Ravi has been derived from the river name Iravati, but there is no supportive proof that the Iravati also was called as Parusni in ancient times. 

Though there is no unanimity about the identification of the river Parusni. This river in Rig Veda is also called Mahanadi. (RV 8.74.15). Pischel suggests the word “Parus” is derived from the flocks of wool, not from bends of river, as understood by Nirukta or from the reeds as Roth suggests. Hopkins had suggested that the Yamuna could be another name of the Parusni whereas Geldner suggests that the Parusni is mere a tributary to Yamuna. Actually, as Pischel suggests that wool (urna) is connected with Parusni river, hence  “Parus”, flocks “Urna” Wool would mean flocks of the wool. (“Vedic Index of Names and Subjects, Volume 1”, By Arthur Anthony Macdonell & Arthur Berriedale Keith, Indian edition, pub. Motilal Banarasidas Publishers Pvt. Ltd.,1995, p. 499-500.) Pischel suggests, Parusni was named from richness of its sheep and as Gandhara ewes were famous, this would indicate that in all probabilities this was a river from Gandhara region. Hence Parushni rather can be a name of some Afghanistan River. 

Hence, the identification of these three Rig Vedic Rivers remains undecided. Most likely, these rivers could be eastern minor tributaries of the Indus or the tributaries of Helmand itself.

j. Sindhu: Sindhu is mentioned several times in the Rig Veda.  Sindhu is generic word for the river or riverines. Hence, at every place, Sindhu does not denote to the Sindhu river. However, in Nadisukta, it appears that the Sindhu river has received more prominence over even Saraswati. Rather, it has occupied a prominent position. As we have seen above that the ‘Sapta Sindhava’ also can mean any group of seven rivers and that could be identified with any river system, not necessarily with the river system of the Indus river. To be exact, the rivers in the Indus system are far more than what the word Sapta Sindhava (seven rivers) indicates. However, instead of entering into the debate over the identity of Sapta Sindhava, let us accept that the identification is correct and it was but natural for Rig Vedic tribes to know them since it was the nearest largest river from the place they were settled. Hence, knowing the river and its western tributaries comes as no surprise.

k. Ganga and Yamuna: The name Ganga appears in the Rig Veda only twice, though Whitney opines that only once the name is addressed undoubtedly to the Ganga river. Talageri is mistaken where he thinks the other name appearance is a reference to Ganga river. The verse (RV. 6.45.31) in question talks about the ‘Gangyaah’ (son of Ganga, not river), Bubu, from whom the Rig Vedic seer had received gifts. The river Ganga is believed to have been mentioned with her another name Jahnavi. ( I.116.19) 

However, Griffith translates the verse (1.116.19) as follows: “Ye, bringing wealth with the rule, and life with offspring, the life rich in noble heroes; O Nasatyas, accordant came with strength to Jahnu's children who offered you thrice every day your portion.” Shrikant Talageri does not accept this translation, though there is no reason why he should not. He harps that the Rig Vedic seers intend to name Ganga with its alternative name in this verse and not as the ‘Janhus children’. However, there is no dispute that the river Ganga could have been mentioned in the Rig Veda as the farthermost known river like far west river Rasa (Tigris).

Nadistuti hymn mentions Yamuna along with Ganga. Yamuna finds its mention in three verses. (RV V.52.17, VII.18.19, X.75.5). Most of the migrationist scholars tend to believe that the verses mentioning Ganga and Yamuna were compositions by the invading Vedic Aryans later on when they had almost settled in the Gangetic basin. Yamuna name derives from Yama (AV Yim), a celebrated deity from Rig Veda as well Avesta. The one important mention of Yamuna in Rig Veda is that Sudasa defeated Bheda on her banks immediately after his victory in battle of the ten kings. However, Griffith translates this verse 7.18 19 as: “Yamuna and the Trtsus aided Indra. There he stripped Bheda bare of all his treasures. The Ajas and the Sigrus and the Yaksus brought in to him as tribute heads of horses.” The original Sanskrit verse is –

“āvadindra yamunā ttsavaśca prātra bheda sarvatātāmuāyat |
ajāsaśca śighravo yak
avaśca bali śīrāi jabhruraśvyāni ||” RV  7.18.19. 

Though the translation is correct, it does not indicate Yamuna here being the river. Rather in the same book, hymn 7.33.3 in which the same incident of Bheda’s defeat is described which reads as-

 “even nu ka sindhumebhistatāreven nu ka bhedamebhirjaghāna | even nu ka dāśarājñe sudāsa prāvadindro brahmaā vo vasiṣṭ || |”

In this verse, the word Sindhu is used instead of Yamuna. Griffith translates here Sindhu as “river”, being it synonym for rivers as well. Again, in verse 7.83.4, the same episode is memorised but no mention of any river appears in it. In verse 5.52.17 (The mighty ones, the seven times seven, have singly given me hundred gifts. / I have obtained on Yamuna famed wealth in kine and wealth in steeds.) Yamuna is mentioned but is equally ambiguous and in all probabilities could not possibly be Yamuna of India. Here we find interesting juncture where there are three verses about the war. In one of them, ‘Yamuna’ is mentioned but not her banks or flow indicating its being river. In the second, the word Sindhu appears instead of Yamuna along with the reference to her banks, but it is not clear whether it is the Sindhu river or just any river. In the third, no river is mentioned. In another verse, the word Yamuna appears but its geography is not clear. Nor it is clear that whether it is addressed to any river or not.

So the question arises on whose banks Sudasa conquered Bheda?  It creates a serious anomaly in absence of definitive proof that the Yamuna mentioned in the verse 7.18.19 is intended as the present Yamuna river or just as name of some ambiguous female deity? Whether Sindhu mentioned in the verse 7.33.3 is just for the river or does it clearly intends to indicate the Sindhu river? Even if the Parusni is equated with Ravi, the distance between Ravi and Yamuna does not allow for war maneuver because it is not less than 300 to 400 miles full of mountainous terrains! Therefore, in all probability, the Sudasas victory over Bheda, unless this was a mythological war, did not take place at the present river Yamuna. It could have been any river of the same name or the Sindhu river itself! 

There is no dispute amongst scholars that the Nadisukta is (Tenth Mandala) a work of later times whereas the seventh Mandala is considered being among oldest. The mention of Ganga and Yamuna together in the verse 10.75.5 only can be said with some certainty that it was the river names those flowed through India, which earlier might just have been known as the farthest rivers from their location. The mention in Nadisukta hymn, since it is considered to be a late composition when the late Vedic tradition had travelled to India.

However, it be noted here that the word ‘Ganga’, like Sindhu, also is a generic word for the river. In Indo-Chinese languages, too, similar words like Khang, Kijang or Jong are used for the rivers. The word Ganga could possibly have been derived from Austric and thus have no Vedic Sanskrit origin. Hence, we can assume that the Vedics did not name the Ganga but the name pre-existed when the Vedic tradition had travelled to India. The map will show the respective geographical positions of the tributaries of the Indus river.

Saraswati: As we have seen in the previous chapters that the Ghaggar cannot be the Rig Vedic river on any account, we have no alternative but to accept the Harahvaiti (Sk. Saraswati, now known as Aranghab), a major tributary to the river Helmand (Avestan name Haetumant, Sk. Setumant) as the Rig Vedic Sarasvati. Besides, the fact to be noted is that the most of the rivers mentioned in Rig Veda are of Afghan origin. Helmand, too, would have carried the same name as Harhvaiti along with Haetumant, which means ‘dammed’. The meaning of Saraswati is ‘full of ponds’.

Rajesh Kochhar supports our deliberation. He states that, “There is an uncanny similarity between the Rigvedic description of Saraswati and Avestan description of Helmand. Rigveda (Rv 6.61.8) talks of Saraswati 'whose limitless unbroken flood, swift moving with a rapid rush, comes onward with tempestuous roar', while Yasht (10.67) refers to 'the bountiful, glorious Hetumant swelling its white waves rolling down its copious floods'. This suggests that the same river is meant in both the cases. If we identify nadittama Saraswati with the Helmand, we can consistently account for all its attributes.” 


We have seen all important rivers mentioned in the Rig Veda. With this, we get the clue that all rivers, except Ganga-Yamuna and Rasa which are farthermost known regions/rivers to the Vedic people, all other rivers are within the close vicinity of Aranghab or Helmand river. For example, Rangha alias Tigris is located towards the farther west of Afghanistan i.e. Mesopotamia. Ganga-Yamuna are the probable farthest eastern rivers known to the Vedics, but not to the Avestans. This was because settlements of the Avestans were towards the north of the Afghanistan whereas the Vedics were settled towards south of Afghanistan. Under such circumstances, the knowledge of these rivers is not a surprise!


Frequently referred rivers of Rig Veda are not Ganga, Yamuna, or even the eastern tributaries of the Indus, but the Afghan origin rivers and western tributaries to the Indus. We will further see that the most of the events recorded by Rig Veda also took place on the western side of the Indus. This clearly indicates that the location of Vedics being closer to them and that the Vedics were settled close by the river Helmand that is the central part of western and eastern rivers frequently mentioned in the Rig Veda. Many unidentifiable names of the rivers could be related to the tributaries of Helmand. 

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