Journal : The River Sarasvati And Its People

Part II : Unbroken Continuum Since 8000 BC

Some Pics are borrowed from


I am uploading this address by an archeologist, by someone who has and offers the whole picture of ancient Indian history from bits and pieces we have of it. It is hard to disagree with everything he propounds. More importantly, the facts highlight the Christian, Islamic, British and American hegemonist leadership of the world is found so much on shortsight : they just did not and do not have enough history, enough cumulative collective experience behind them to judge and assess the sense of direction with an universal and time-integrated perspective.

It is like someone setting the direction without being informed enough. China, which seems to be the next partial hegemonist in line, has likewise long repudiated the wisdom from its old continuum and is ever since seized with expedience. India in her current demogogue situation, scrambled belief and broken circumstance will have to wait. But it has the continuum to empower itself when the jigsaw harmonises. It will step up when, as the saying goes, “its people will have exhausted all their follies.” The nation, which humanised even wars with set rules, will then be able to articulate and will be heard.

The Mother of Indian Civilization

by B. B. Lal, Padma Bhushan

Former Director General, ASI

Former Director, IIAS, Shimla

(Paraphrased Here Below)

I speak of the Sarasvat∂ basin and beyond in the 3rd millennium BCE, of a civilisation that had its roots deep into the 5th millennium BCE, if not earlier. It has left a lasting contribution to Indian culture, as it is even today.


The River Sarasvati

Unfortunately, there are historians who doubt even her identity. What an irony ! One of these non-believers, noted historian Prof R.S. Sharma, was in limelight during mid-1990s as a Babri Masjid protagonist, had the uncharitable generosity of remarking (Sharma1999 : 35) :

“The fundamentalists want to establish the superiority of the Sarasvat∂ over the Indus because of communal considerations. In the Harappan context they think that after the partition the Indus belongs to the Muslims and only the Sarasvat∂ remains with the Hindus.”

What an unfounded accusation ! The learned Professor goes on to say : ” The Sarasvat∂ receives much attention in the Rig Veda and several sukta sare devoted to it… It seems to have been a great river with perennial water. The Hakra and the Ghaggar cannot match it. The earliest Sarasvat∂ is considered identical with the Helmand in Afghanistan which is called Harakhwati in the Åvestå.”

First and foremost, it is imperative that we take into full account what the Rigveda itself has to say about the location of this river. Verses 5 and 6 of the famous Nad∂-stuti hymn of the Rigveda (10.75.5-6) lists several rivers known to Vedic people in a serial order from east to west, i.e. from the Ga∆gå-Yamumå to the Indus and its western tributaries. In this enumeration, Sarasvat∂ is mentioned between the Yamunå and the Sutlej.

” O Sindhu (Indus), flowing

Thou first meet the Trishtåmå,

Then the Susartu, Raså and the Vetå (Swat),

And thereafter Kubhå (Kabul),

Gomat∂ (Gomal), Krumu (Kurram) with the Mehatnu,

And (finally) you move on

In the same chariot with them (i.e. carry their waters with you).”

Does the Harakhwat∂ of the  Åvestå, identified by Sharma with modern Helmand in Afghanistan, foot this unambiguous geographical bill? Surely, not. There is no Yamunå or Sutlej in Afghanistan to sandwich the supposed Sarasvat∂ (Harakhwati).

” O Ganga, Yamuna, Sarasvati,

Shutudri (Sutlej) and Parushni (Iravati, Ravi) !

This hymn is in your praise.

O Asikni (Chenab) Marudvriddha, Vitasta (Jhelum),

With Arjikiya (Haro) and Sushoma (Sohan) !

Listen, and accept this hymn.”

Further, RV 3.23.4 mentions the Drishadvat∂ and Åpayå as tributaries of the Sarasvat∂ and there are no rivers by these names in Afghanistan. On the other hand, these two rivers are located in Haryana and Rajasthan in India.

Finally, there is the oft-quoted hymn, RV 7.95.2 :

” ekåchetat Sarasvat∂ nad∂nåm ‹uchir yati giribhya å samudråt/ ” which clearly states that the Sarasvat∂ flowed all the way from the mountains to the ocean. While there do exist mountains in Afghanistan, there is no ocean. Then, how does one make the Helmand ( the supposed-to-be Sarasvat∂) fall into the ocean and conform to the geographical description in the Rigveda ?

Having said that, which river in India meets all the three pointed descriptions referred to above, namely : (i) location between the Yamunå and Sutlej; (ii) existence of the Drishadvat∂ and Åpayå as its tributaries; and (iii) flowing into the ocean.

There does flow a river called the Sarasvat∂ (locally, sursati or sarsuti) between the Yamunå and Sutlej and thus passes the first of these tests. Today it starts at the foot of Siwalik hills and flows through Panjab into Haryana, passes by the towns of Pipli, Kurukshetra and Pehowa, and merges into the Ghaggar, which dries up near Sirsa. The dry bed of Ghaggar, which varies in width from 2 to even 8 kilometres at places (Yash Pal et al. 1984), is traceable all the way to the sea, cutting across the Indian border at Cholistan (now in Pakistan), where it is called the Hakra.

We quote from a study by Louis Flam (1999) :

” From Fort Derawar to the south, the Hakra can be aligned with the Raini and Wahinda remnants, which subsequently connect with and blend into the Nara channel. ….. In addition to the Sindhu Nadi [Indus], the Nara Nadi has been recognized as an exclusive perennial river which flowed in the north-eastern, east-central and south-eastern portions of the lower Indus basin during the fourth and third millennia BC. ….”

The Drishadvat∂, also now as dry as Sarasvat∂, has been identified with present day River Chautang. Passing by the towns of Bhadra, Nohar, etc., it joins the Sarasvat∂-Ghaggar combine near Suratgarh. Maps show the existence of a huge Sarasvati Valley settlement, Kalibangan, which came up at the confluence. And there are scores of smaller ancient towns, excavated and not, along the course of river Drishadvati.

Thus the data today available leaves no doubt that the Sarasvat∂-Ghaggar combine, which is now dry beyond Sirsa but flowed in ancient times all the way down to the sea, is none other than the Rigvedic Sarasvat∂. While Professor Sharma takes delight in dubbing Indian historians as “fundamentalist”, he does not use the epithet for scholars like C.F. Oldham (1893) and A. Stein (1942) who too have had no hesitation in identifying the Ghaggar-Hakra combine with the °Rigvedic Sarasvat∂. In fact, Stein’s 1942-paper even bears the caption : A Survey of Ancient Sites along the Lost Saraswati River …

In the basin of this Rigvedic Sarasvat∂, westwards up to the Indus and even down to Gujarat, there flourished in the third millennium BCE a mighty civilization which in many ways overshadowed some of the other contemporary civilizations of the ancient world. Having been excavated first at Harappa, this civilization came to be known as the Harappan Civilization. With the excavations at Mohenjo-daro on the Indus, it was given a name after that river. During the past five decades, hundreds of sites have been discovered in the Sarasvat∂ basin in India and Pakistan and thus a new name has come into vogue, namely the Indus-Sarasvat∂ Civilization.

Sarasvati Valley Settlements

Excavated on the Indian side, one may refer to a few important sites : Kalibangan, Banawali, Rakhigarhi, Dhalewan, Rupnagar, Kunal and Bhirrana. Each one of these has added something new to our knowledge since the days when Harappa and Mohenjo-daro were excavated. But here we shall refer only briefly to some of these discoveries. Kalibangan, located on the left bank of the Ghaggar in Hanumangarh District of Rajasthan, has shown for the first time that not only was the smaller part of the settlement – the Citadel – fortified but the larger one, known as the Lower Town, was also well protected.


Subsequent excavations at several other sites on the Sarasvat∂, as also those in Gujarat in India and at Harappa itself in Pakistan, have shown that putting up of fortifications around both the units of the settlement was indeed a normal feature with the Harappans. Further, the streets at Kalibangan show that in width these bore an inter se ratio of 1:2:3:4, the actual measurements being 1.8, 3.6, 5.4 and 7.2 metres. What a meticulous layout !

These sites have also negated the one-time theory that the Harappan Civilization was monotonous. Indeed, each site has shown its own features in respect of the integration of the two units, namely the Citadel and the Lower Town. Though not located in the Sarasvat∂ valley, we may draw attention to Dholavira in Gujarat (Bisht 1991), which consisted of three units, viz. the Citadel, the Middle Town and the Lower Town. Such divisions of the settlement do call for a re-assessment of the socio-political set-up of the Harappan Civilization. Kalibangan has brought to light a sizeable settlement which preceded the Mature Harappan stage. But even this settlement was fortified.

Further, two no less remarkable observations were made about this Early Harappan township. First, it was the discovery of an agricultural field, laid out on a criss-cross pattern, with the widely-distanced furrows running north-south and the narrower ones going east-west … a pattern which is in vogue even today in Rajasthan and Haryana. These days the farmers grow mustard in thewidely-distanced furrows and grams inthe other; and one can well imagine a similar pattern of crops having existed during Harappan times.

Incidentally, the Kalibangan agricultural field is the earliest of its kind ever brought to light through an excavation. The Early Harappan settlement at Kalibangan, which began some time at the beginning of the 3rd millennium BCE, was brought to an end by an earthquake, as evidenced by faulted strata and ruptured walls. Datable to around 2700 BCE, this is the earliest earthquake ever to have been identified in an excavation.

Kalibangan is not alone in yielding the remains of the Early Harappan settlement. Most of the other sites mentioned in an earlier paragraph also inform us about their life and their ways. Indeed, Rakhigarhi (Nath 1998-99) has thrown up nearly 4.5 metres of Early Harappan deposits, which cry for a horizontal excavation in order to throw further light on this stage. Kunal (Khatri and Acharya 1995) is yet another site which is noteworthy in this regard. It has given evidence that, at the beginning, people lived in pit-houses and thereafter constructed over-ground houses made of mud bricks. Their pottery, having a red surface, was painted in black outline with white in-filling. The designs included the pipal-leaf and the peacock, which at once remind us of their Mature Harappan counterparts.


Even in the Early Harappan Stage, people used seals though these were not inscribed as were the (later) Mature Harappan ones. Further, what is most remarkable is the discovery of silver ornaments from within a pot in a large-sized house at Kunal. These included two tiaras, small and large, each with a fully opened flower having petals topped with a decoration ! The excavator has a reasonable case for believing that these may have belonged to the chief of the settlement, throwing light on the then political set-up. And the surprise, as Carbon-14 dates suggest, the settlement at Kunal may well have begun in the last quarter of the 4th millennium BCE.

At Bhirrana, we have discovered sizeable remains of a stage of settlement that is clearly earlier than that of the earliest at Kunal. It is characterised by a pottery known in archaeological terminology as Hakra Ware, first identified at sites in the Hakra (Sarasvat∂) valley in Cholistan. The Birbal Sahni Institute of Palaeobotany, Lucknow, has provided the following C-14 dates for the early (not the earliest) levels of the site (Rao etal. 2005).

Sample No. BS 2314. Calibrated age: 1 Sigma 4770 (4536, 4506, 4504 BC) 4353 BCE

Sample No. BS 2318. Calibrated age: 1 Sigma 5336 (5041) 4721 BCE

Sample No. BS 2333. Calibrated age: 1 Sigma 6647 (6439) 6221 BCE

Even if we temporarily ignore Sample No. BS 2333, the other two samples clearly show that the ancestry of the Harappa Culture in the Sarasvat∂ Valley goes back to the beginning of the fifth millennium BCE. For all one knows, further field-work in the Sarasvat∂ basin, which is a crying need of the hour, may reveal a stage earlier than that of the Hakra Ware !

How The River Disappeared

With roots going back to 5th millennium BCE and earlier, it is evident that the Indus-Sarasvat∂ Civilization was raised by people local to the region. It was indigenous to this country and thus its authors too, to borrow an expression, were “sons of the soil.”

Let us revisit Kalibangan, a noteworthy site of the Indus-Sarasvat∂ Civilization on the bank of now-dry Sarasvat∂ river. When site excavations were over in 1960s, we were naturally keen to ascertain the reasons for drying up of this river, since the massive settlement at Kalibangan could not have flourished without the life-giving waters of the adjacent river.

With this end in view, a project combining the efforts of the Archaeological Survey of India, Geological Survey of India and an Italian firm named Raikes and Partners (headed by R.L. Raikes), was launched. Bore-holes were dug in the river-bed, which brought to light a greyish sand at a depth of about 11 m below the present flood-plain; and it was very similar in mineral content to that found in the bed of present-day Yamuna river. It was a clear indication that the source of the Ghaggar-Sarasvat∂ lay high up in the Himalayas, from where the Yamunå also originated, thus making their sand deposits identical. However, no less important was the revelation, as explained by Raikes in his 1968-paper, “Kalibangan : Death from Natural Causes,” that the Harappan settlement at Kalibangan came to a sudden end because of the drying up of Sarasvat∂.

How did the Sarasvat∂ dry up ? Geologists (Puri and Verma 1998) have shown that major seismic activity in the Himalayan region caused the rise of Bata-Markanda Divide, which is as much as 30 metres in height. It blocked the westward flow of the Sarasvat∂. Since there was the Yamunå Tear opening not far off, the water found its exit into the Yamunå system. Thus the Sarasvat∂ was left high and dry and, in consequence, its valley was abandoned by Mature Harappans. They moved north-eastwards into the region between the upper reaches of Yamunå and Ga∆gå, as is evident by the presence of many Late Harappan sites in that region but hardly a few of Mature Harappan phase.

It is also interesting to note that the drying up of the Sarasvat∂ finds a mention in the later Vedic literature as well. Thus, says the Panchavimsa Brahmana (XXV.10.16) :

” At a distance of a journey of forty days on horseback from the spot where the Sarasvat∂ is lost (in the sands of the desert), (is situated) Plaksha Pråsravana…” (Calandís translation 1931, reprint 1982, p.636).

The next question is : Is it possible to date the drying up of the Sarasvat∂ ?

As just mentioned, the Mature Harappan occupation at Kalibangan had to be given up suddenly because of stoppage of water-supply due to drying up of the adjacent river.

The radiocarbon dates show that this abandonment of Kalibangan took place around 2000 BCE (Lal 1997:245-46). It follows, therefore, that this was approximately the time when the Sarasvat∂ dried up. Now, since the Sarasvat∂ was a mighty flowing river during the Rigvedic times that dried up around 2000 BCE, the Rig Veda itself obtains for itself a date earlier than 2000 BCE. But, how much earlier … by 500 years, 1000 years or even more ? It demands reasonable projections, based on an understanding of civilisational build up and decay cycles and on actual correlating evidence – archeological, literary and liquistic.

Cf. “Alternate History” Series @

What are the ramifications of such a dating of the Rig Veda in terms of history ? To recall, according to the famous Nad∂-stuti Sµukta of the Rig Veda (RV 10.75.5-6, quoted earlier), the area occupied by the Rigvedic Aryans extended from the upper reaches of the Ga∆gå-Yamunå on the east to the Indus and its western tributaries on the west.

Indus Saravati And Indo – Aryan People

The fact occasions a simple question :

Who were these authors of Indus Sarasvati Civilisation ?

Our reply lies through a counter question : Which archaeological culture flourished in this very area during the pendency of the Rigvedic times, i.e. prior to 2000 BCE ? The inescapable answer : The Indus-Sarasvat∂ Civilization and none else. In other words, the Indus-Sarasvat∂ Civilization and the Vedas are two faces of the same coin. As discussed earlier, the C-14 dates from Bhirrana show that the Indus-Sarasvat∂ Civilization was indigenous. It thus becomes a natural corollary, arising from what has just been stated in the preceding paragraph, that the authors of the Vedas were indigenous and not invaders or immigrants, as held by some scholars.

And now to the final question : Did this Indus-Sarasvat∂ Civilization die out or has it left any impress on the Indian civilization ?

Writing in 1947, Mortimer Wheeler asserted as follows :

” What destroyed this firmly-settled civilization ? Climatic, economic, political deterioration may have weakened it, but its ultimate extinction is more likely to have been completed by deliberate and large-scale destruction. It may be no mere chance that at a late period of Mohenjo-daro men, women and children appear to have been massacred there. On circumstantial evidence, Indra stands accused.” (Emphasis added.)

A detailed analysis of Wheelerís statement has been made by many scholars (e.g. Dales1964; Lal 2002 : 69-70; Renfrew 1988: 188 &190). In summary, there is no case for an Aryan Invasion nor for the extinction of the Indus-Sarasvat∂ Civilization. Further, as fully explained in my Inaugural Address delivered at the 19th International Conference on South Asian Archaeology, held at University of Bologna, Ravenna, Italy, July 2-6, 2007, there is also no case for an Aryan Immigration (supposedly from the Bactria-Margiana region) (Cf. Lal 2007).

There is no doubt that the Indus-Sarasvat∂ Civilization did not continue ad infinitum in its Matureí form; and this is a most normal happenning with any civilization.

With over-exploitation of agricultural land,

change of climate,

drying up of the Sarasvat∂ river,

sharp fall in internal as well as external trade

and allied reasons … all the trappings of urban living

such as meticulous town-planning, weights and measures,

seals and sealings, the system of writing, etc.

began to disappear from the scene.


The cities made way for villages which must have whispered to one another : Cities may come and cities may go, but we go on for ever. But in this urban-to-rural reversal, the down-to-earth way of life still continued unhindered.

I have given a detailed exposition of this remarkable phenomenon in my 2002-book, The Sarasvat∂ Flows on : The Continuity of Indian Culture, and would not dilate on the subject here. However, to put it succinctly, there is no walk of life in which the cultural continuity is not reflected, whether it be make-up by ladies, agricultural activities, food-habits, games, bed-side stories narrated by grandmothers to children, religious worship, and so on.

The unbroken continuum from those city-folks 5000 years ago to this day is, in fact, striking. At Nausharo site, we’ve discovered a painted Terracotta female figure. The yellow colour on ornaments suggests that these were made of gold; the hair is black, while the red on the line of partition of the hair in the middle indicates the use of vermilion. It is dated 2800-2600 BCE but could as well portray an Indian woman you may accost anywhere in Indian streets today.

Likewise, at Mohenjo-daro, in Mature Harappan era … the famous bronze figure of a dancing girl, wearing spiralled bangles on the upper left arm, reminds us of rural women in Haryana, Rajasthan and Gujarat, who adorn themselves similarly in present times.

The gold cone discovered at Mohenjo-daro, called “chauk” in Hindi, is still used by ladies in Haryana and Rajasthan. Even cosmetic gadgetry is no exception. Thus, a three-in-one gadget of copper from Harappa has its modern counterpart. Of the three objects, the pointed one is used for cleaning the spaces between the teeth, the cup-ended tool is used for taking wax out of the ears, and the tweezers are for picking up tiny hair that often grow in old age on the inner side of the eyelids.

The rural people in Rajasthan and Haryana even today plough their agricultural fields in the same style as did their forefathers 5000 years ago. An Early Harappan field discovered at Kalibangan and ascribable to circa 2800 BCE has two sets of furrows, cutting each other at right angles. Of these, the ones with a greater intermediary distance (1.9m) run north-south, while the others at a distance of mere 30 cm run east-west. It is surprising, yet true, that the same pattern is followed even today by Indian peasants : they grow mustard in the wide-distance furrows and gram in the others. It is most likely that the Harappan people did the same.

We find too, bullock-carts in rural India today built on the same pattern as were the Harappan ones. And that is not all. At Harappa, we’ve discovered cart-tracks beneath the Cemetery H and thus ascribable to the late 3rd millennium BCE. It is astonishing that the gauge computed from these tracks is exactly the same as that in case of modern Sindhi carts !

Grandmothers often take the grandchildren to their beds and narrate some fairy tales before putting them to sleep. The paintings discovered on pots at Lothal, the well-known Harappan site in Gujarat, bring out some of these stories. One of them shows a crow, a pitcher, a tree, a deer and again a tree. The story depicted is a well known one, viz. that of The Thirsty Crow. According to it, briefly, a thirsty deer came across a pitcher with some water in it. He tried to drink water from it, but his long antlers did not permit him to put his head inside it. Disappointed, he was about to leave. Just then, a thirsty crow appeared on the scene. Even on finding that the water inside the pitcher was at a low level, he did not lose heart. He picked up tiny pebbles lying nearby and dropped them into the pitcher. As the level of the water rose, he drank to his heart’s content. The painting shows the crow just withdrawing his beak from the pitcher and the bewildered deer looking back at it.

Thirsty Crow

Religion is again something that gets deeply ingrained in human psyche and its elements continue generation after generation. We all know about the depiction of a figure on a seal from Mohenjo-daro that has been identified with Shiva, in the form of Pasupati. But the discovery of a terracotta linga – cum – yoni from a Harappan level at Kalibangan re-confirms the antiquity of Shaivism. Further, on a terracotta tablet found at Harappa is depicted a person piercing a buffalo with a harpoon-end long rod, evidently as a sacrificial offering to the Shiva-like deity seated on the right. The practice of sacrificing a buffalo before Shiva is still prevalent in parts of Himachal Pradesh.


Yogic åsana, a craze not only in India but across the world, goes back to Harappan times. A terracota seal shows several åsanas and, to cap, there is the famous limestone figure of a priest in dhyåna-mudrå (meditative pose). And finally, there is a terracotta from Harappa, greeting you and me with a “namaste” in typical Indian style, as is the norm to this day !

Asanas - Posture

*** **

From what has been stated in the above paragraphs, the following facts emerge :

  1. The Sarasvat∂ of the Rig Veda is not the Helmand of Afghanistan, but the present-day Sarasvat∂-Ghaggar combine in India.

  2. In its basin there flourished a mighty civilization called variously the Harappan, Indus or Indus-Sarasvat∂ Civilization.

  3. In the Sarasvat∂ basin, its roots go back to the 5th millennium BCE (radiocarbon dates from Bhirrana), if not earlier. This clearly shows that the Indus-Sarasvat∂ Civilization was indigenous.

  4. Hydrological – cum – archaeological – cum – radiocarbon – dating evidence shows that the Sarasvat∂ dried up around 2000 BCE.

  5. Since during the Rigvedic times the Sarasvat∂ was a mighty flowing river, the Rig Veda must be dated prior to 2000 BCE.

  6. According to RV 10.75.5-6, the Vedic Aryans occupied the region between the upper reaches of the Ga∆gå-Yamunå on the east to the Indus on the west.

  1. Which archaeological culture flourished in this very region and during the Rigvedic times, i.e. prior to 2000 BCE ? The only answer is : the Indus – Sarasvat∂ Civilization.

  2. Thus, the Indus – Sarasvat∂ Civilization and the Vedas are two faces of the same coin.

  3. Since, as seen from No. 3 (above), the Indus – Sarasvat∂ Civilization was indigenous, it becomes self-evident that the Vedic Aryans were indigenous. This lays at rest the view that they were invaders or even immigrants.

  4. As seen from a number of examples, this civilization did not die away but is still living in Indian culture and psyche.

Sacrificing To Shiva



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