Sarasvati-Sindhu civilization, soma, language and script

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Frequently Asked Questions:

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 major site at Mohenjo-daro 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 Banawali. 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 re-christened as Indus-Sarasvati civilization. Sarasvati River is extolled in the Rigvedas (Rks).

How does it relate to Harappan Civilization ?

Seals of the type found in Harappa and Mohenjo-daro are also found in the Sarasvati River sites. Kalibangan also shows a ploughed field and fire-altars.

The document, Sarasvati River, seeks to establish that Mohenjodaro and Harappa were trading outposts and the substratum or the support base of the civilization was provided by people settled on the banks of the Sarasvati River.

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 water 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 expanse of this great civilization. Kalibangan and Lothal may not be as grandiose as the urban Harappa but are typical Indus-Sarasvati civilization sites.

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.

Maru is the Sanskrit name of the desert that lies between the Indus-Sarasvati river valleys of south Asia. It is also called thar in India and thal in Pakistan. For a maritime civilization, a zone exterior to the habitation is the marsh, the inundated area, and by extension, the sea. The recent geological studies and analysis of satellite images show the tracts of sub-soil water-channels in the thar desert and the channels of the dry-beds of the 'lost' Sarasvati river which merge with the hakra [ cf. sAgara = ocean (Sanskrit) ] channels in to the Rann of Kutch and the possibility that these zones supported agriculture and hence, habitations in ancient times (circa 3000 B.C.)


Why the dates 3000 B.C. and 1500 B.C.

As the earliest and latest dates of the River ?


Radiocarbon dates for the mature civilization sites are as follows:  Harappa 3338-3208, Kunal 3016,  Kalibangan 2950-2650; Somnath 3055-2800, Lothal 2655-2185, Surkotada 2940-2540, Banawali 2560-1965, Daimabad 1961-1420. Thus, the range is from 3338 to 1420. Given the adjustment fact of + of - 250 years normally applied to these datings, the river seems to have been full flow between circa 3000 to 1500 B.C.



The radiocarbon dates for mature harappan sites of Prabhas Patan and Shortugai are 1406 and 1445 B.C. respectively. The last date of the Daimabad settlement phases is 1420 B.C. These attest also to the movements of the people southwards as the upper reaches of the river started drying up.

As noted by Mughal (1982, loc. cit. on page 62 of my Sarasvati River ) , Bahawalpur sites clearly denote two stages of desiccation of the river Sarasvati: Mid-third millennium B.C. the water supply through the river between Fort Abbas and Yazman (near Kudwala) had been cut off, but abundant water in the lower (southwestern) part was still available, thanks to a channel from the Sutlej. This is attested by the heavy clustering of sites in that area during the late third and early second millennium B.C. (Mature and Late Harappan, respectively, as he calles them). He also notes that about the end of the second millennium, the entire course of the river seems to have dried up.

Secular sequence of desiccation of the Sarasvati River as noted by Dr. Puri lists the river migration of Sutlej as the last event. This migration is noted in a number of signatures of palao-channels (cf. Yashpal's map) which show the Sutlej moving away from Shatrana (where Sutlej had been an anchorage river for Sarasvati). Sutlej's palaeo courses during the migratory sequence should have run parallel to Sarasvati River. This alone can explain the archaeological sequence of Bahawalpur sites.

B.B.Lal (1979) reports on Kalibangan two dates: 2900-2700 B.C. for pre-Harappan; 2200-1700 B.C. for Harappan. Thus, Ghaggar (Sarasvati) in the Ganganagar dist., Rajasthan, continued to be a live river during 2900 to 1700 B.C. Many Kutch and Saurashtra sites are dated to 13th cent. B.C. (cf. P. 69 of my Sarasvati River )

Hence, I suggest that it is reasonable to choose a median date between 1700 and 1300 B.C. to record the movements of people away from the river (and the emerging lakes), starting circa middle of the second millennium. [ PGW sites on Palaeo-Yamuna are dated circa 1000 to 600 B.C. (Lal, 1954-55, 1981; SP Gupta et al, 1977) ].

As the perennial sources started drying up, the river was left with lakes, thanks to inadequate supply from the perennial glacier sources.Even today, we can see a vast 10 kms. dia. lake in Bibipur, approx. 5 kms. by road from  aneshwar/ Jyotisar/ Kurukshetra/ Brahmasarovar en route to Pehoa (Prthudaka).

What Research Work needs to be done ?

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. Siddha-mAtrka is the name of the BrAhmi script. BrAhmi is another name for Sarasvati. Without apriori assumption that brAhmI was derived from the Indus-Sarasvati seal inscription script, it should be possible to postulate a hypothesis that Sarasvati river played a significant part in the sustenance of the civilization circa 3000 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 so-called indo-aryan and so-called dravidian 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. The author claims to have established that the Dravidian etymological dictionary with 5000 entries can cease to exist since many of these words have cognates in vedic/munda and many south asian languages.

What Research is going on to
Find the Remains of and
The Continuity of the Civilization ?

Hopefully, this perspective should lead to more intensive geological and archaeological work on the banks of the lost river which has hundreds of unexplored sites. Assistance and critical comments from the readers are requested There should be an awareness that there is an essential unity that binds the south asian culture. Scholars should help build up on these strands of unity.

People should provide with information on cultural habits of the peoples of the region traversed by the rivers to further understand the legacy of the civilization.

Mahavrata day and
Indian Festivals associated with the day

One example is Mahavrata Day celebrated in Aitareya AraNyaka, on the banks of the Sarasvati River. The following questions arise and some answers are attempted:


Winter Solstice

Mahavrata day (or Makara Sankranti, January 14) is significant in two respects: (1) in relation to ancient rituals; and (2) in relation to the festivities associated with the harvesting day of the winter crop.

The Sun enters the Makara raasi (the zodiac sign of Capricorn - the goat), on Sankranti day, signifying the onset of uttaraayaNa Punyakaala. In the northern hemisphere, the shortest day of the year (near December 22) when the Sun is farthest south. The winter solstice marks the first day of the Season of Winter. The Declination of the Sun on the (northern) winter solstice is known as the Tropic of Capricorn (-23 27').In the northern hemisphere, the longest day of the year (near June 22) when the Sun is farthest north. The summer solstice marks the first day of the Season of Summer. The Declination of the Sun on the (northern) summer solstice is known as the Tropic of Cancer (23 27').


The Ritual

On the banks of the Sarasvati River, there is a temple for Bhishma in a place called BaaN Ganga near Kurukshetra. Bhishma of Mahabharata chose to die during the uttaraayaNa puNya kaala. Bhishma fell to the arrows of Arjun. With his boon to choose the time of his death, he waited on a bed of arrows to depart from this world only during this period.

The ritual year, Mahavrata, started with the winter solstice.

Aitareya Aranyaka (linked to the Rigveda), interprets the sacrificial ceremony of Mahavrata and their interpretations. Mahavrata, the 'mukha' of the year, is on winter equinox. The Agrahayana festival, whose name means 'of beginning of the year', takes place on Margasirsa full moon; this places it at the end of autumn (November, perhaps early December) for the period 800 BCE to 400 BCE.

The Agrahayani rituals (together with a part of the Mahavrata) have parallels in the new year festival of the Kalash Kafirs. (Vidyanath Rao)

The Festivals

Mahavrata day (winter solstice) is sankrAnti, a festival of great antiquity across the entire sub-continent. This should be contrasted with the summer solstice (spring equinox or vishuvant). Makar Sankranti marks the commencement of the sun's journey to the Northern Hemisphere and is a day of celebration all over India. Semantically, 'sankraanti' or 'ayana' signifies a movement or shift; cf. uttarAyaNa, dakshiNAyaNa, denoting the winter and summer solstices signified by movement or apparent transition of  the sun into the zodiacal signs of capricorn and cancer. These are such important celestial events that festivals are organized on these critical dates. cf. bhogi or rohRi or bhogali bhiu of the winter solstice when winter crop produce is apportioned and old clothes, etc. are burnt symbolizing the renewal.

Pongal and the preceding day Bhogi, in the South and Sankranti in the North are celebrated to mark the withdrawal of the southeast monsoons as well as the reaping of the harvest. The festivities are spread over several days. The advent of Pongal is associated with spring-cleaning and burning of junk, symbolizing the destruction of evil. Decorative designs or rangolis are traced on floors and on the day of the Pongal, the newly harvested rice is cooked in homes to acclaim the bounty of the gods. Bhogali Bihu is the harvest festival in Assam. Wherever there are rivers or the sea, people take a dip in the waters on this day and worship the sun. Also known as Gangasagar Mela, on this day, people come from all over India for a ceremonial cleansing in the River Hooghly, a distributory of the Ganges, near Calcutta. In Gujarat, Makara Sankranti is celebrated by the flying of kites. In Andhra Pradesh, Bhogi, the first day is marked with gaiety. People wake up early to put up a bon fire (Bhoga ManTa) with all the agricultural wastes and firewood to keep warm during this last lap of winter.

Makar Sankranti, the same day as Pongal, is celebrated on 14th Jan in Rajasthan. The popular belief is that the position of the Sun bestows the most amount of PuNya (Merit). The festival is celebrated by a) having a bath in the rivers or tanks; and b) offering water (tarpaNa) to the Sun God.

As the level of water in the rivers is low at this time of the year people have a wonderful time. There is a mela held on the banks of the rivers and tanks. Till ladoos are made or bought in all households. Makar Sankranti is an occasion when the attention is focussed mainly on the poor and the needy , who cannot afford to celebrate. It is a day for daan (Giving).

Mahavrata is a day celebrated from very ancient times, prior to the first millennium B.C. Throughout history, people have celebrated this time with a variety of festivals and celebrations welcoming the "return of the sun". Remarkable parallels exist among the festivities described in ancient India texts and in a number of cultures in Mesopotamia and in Europe.

Zagmuk - Festival of Light

Zagmuk - the Mesopotamian's Festival of Light is a celebration of the Winter Solstice. Tammuz, or Enil or Marduk, refers to the same deity, the Mesopotamian god of all growing things who was believed to be imprisoned in the underworld, held captive by the dragon Tiamat. It was the duty of the nation, especially the King, to help free the god and thus ensure that the crops would grow. This was the mythological explanation for the dry, barren land that existed between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, and the eradicate flooding the agricultural plain. Marduk was their chief god, router of chaos, bringer of green things and creator of the world. The battle between god and chaos or dragon was an annual occurrence, for crops grow and die, the land becomes barren and then the flood waters come and the land is fertile again. The cycle continues. This cycle was ritualized within the New Year festival. The celebration would last for twelve days, but was more somber than the festival of Egypt. The festival climaxed with bonfires, in which a wooden image of the dragon is burned and gifts are exchanged. It is the battle of the solstice theme, good versus evil, dark versus light.

Christmas could also be reckoned as a legacy of the Winster Solstice festival. Some Christian church sects, called old calendarists, still celebrate Christmas on January 7 (previously Dec. 25 of the Julian calendar.) In 1752, 11 days were dropped from the year when the switch was from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar. The December 25 date was effectively moved 11 days backwards. Christmas was once a moveable  feast celebrated many different times during the year. The choice of December 25 was made by the Pope Julius I in the fourth century AD because this coincided with the ancient rituals of Winter Solstice, or Return of the Sun. The intent was to replace the ancient celebration with the Christian one.

Countries of the Roman Empire had a special holiday on December 25th, called the "Birthday of the Sun." The holiday came at the end of a week-long festival called "Saturnalia," which honored Saturn, the Roman god of agriculture. Celebrations included merry-making  rest and relaxation   connections with family and friends celebrating beginning of Solar year prayers for protection of Winter crops honoring Deities. During the first millennium in what is today Scotland, the Druids celebrated Winter Solstice honoring their Sun God and rejoicing his return as the days got longer, signaling the coming of spring. Also called Yule, this tradition still lives today in the Wiccan traditions and in many cultures around the world. A huge log -- the Yule Log -- is brought into an outdoor clearing and becomes part of a great bonfire. Everyone dances and sings around the fire. All the noise and great excitement is said to awaken the sun from its long winter sleep, hurrying spring on its way as the cycle begins once again and the days grow longer than the nights.


Which are the Supporting Organizations ?

Univ. of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia has a group working on this problem. Prof. Asko Parpola in Helsinki 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 Mohenjodaro. Vedic Sarasvati Nadi Shodh Pratishthan, Jodhpur is working on the delineation of the course of the Sarasvati River and in promoting the development projects in the River Basin.


What kind of Research can
Foreign Organizations support ?

Areas which can be supported are: research into languages of south asia and comparative lexemes and grammatical features; archaeological explorations, more landsat analyses and geological drillings of more sites along the Sarasvati river.

What further studies are needed and why the
Reference to the Cult Object?

A number of claims of decipherment of Indus (Sarasvati-Sindhu) script have been made. The problem remains unresolved according to Gregory Possehl, as stated in his book, Indus Age: Writing System.

For example, the Cult Object in front of the unicorn on seals has been variously interpreted as a 'filter', a 'brazier', a 'drill'.

The earlier proposal made by Kalyanaraman, providing a possible word for the cult object (normally found before the unicorn on seals), as sangaDi (a Treasure Guard) is intended to re-kindle an interest among a large group of scholars to indicate if there are words in the south asian languages which may fit with the pictorial motif.

Mahadevan counted upto 40 claims of decipherment in 1992. Each new claim renders every one of the 40+ claims suspect. The problem is acute because we do not have a 'rosetta stone' or multilingual inscriptions to authenticate the correctness of a decipherment. The next problem is that the sample is rather small -- only 2500+ inscriptions have been reported, with an average of six signs recorded on each seal/table inscription. The next larger problem is the so-called cleavage between the so-called Indo-Aryan and so-called Dravidian languages which has led to two distinct language groups in decipherment claims. [ Is this cleavage valid in 'semantic' terms? Any Prakrit dictionary will attest to thousands of words common to both language streams ? ]

Further studies will be needed to answer a number of cultural questions, for e.g.:


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