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A History of Sanskrit Literature by MacDonell

For the Sarasvati is the sacred river of the Rigveda


the first place, the home of the Vedic tribes is revealed to us by the geographical data which the hymns yield. From these we may conclude with certainty that the Aryan invaders, after having descended into the plains, in all probability through the western passes of the Hindu Kush, had already occupied the north-western corner of India which is now called by the Persian name of Panjab, or "Land of Five Rivers." [6] Mention is made in the hymns of some twenty-five streams, all but two or three of which belong to the Indus river system. Among them are the five which water the territory of the Panjab, and, after uniting in a single stream, flow into the Indus. They are the Vitasta (now Jhelum), the Asikni (Chenab), the Parushni (later called Iravati, "the refreshing," whence its present name, Ravi), the Vipac (Beaes), and the largest and most easterly, the Cutudri (Sutlej). Some of the Vedic tribes, however, still remained on the farther side of the Indus, occupying the valleys of its western tributaries, from the Kubha (Kabul), with its main affluent to the north, the Suvastu, river "of fair dwellings" (now Swat), to the Krumu (Kurum) and Gomati, "abounding in cows" (now Gomal), farther south.

Few of the rivers of the Rigveda are mentioned more than two or three times in the hymns, and several of them not more than once. The only names of frequent occurrence are those of the Indus and the Sarasvati. One entire hymn (x. 75) is devoted to its laudation,

but eighteen other streams, mostly its tributaries, share its praises in two stanzas. The mighty river seems to have made a deep impression on the mind of the poet. He speaks of her as the swiftest of the swift, surpassing all other streams in volume of water. Other rivers flow to her as lowing cows hasten to their calf. The roar and rush of her waters are described in enthusiastic strains:--

From earth the sullen roar swells upward to the sky, With brilliant spray she dashes up unending surge; As when the streams of rain pour thund'ring from the cloud, The Sindhu onward rushes like a bellowing bull.

The Sindhu (now Sindh), which in Sanskrit simply means the "river," as the western boundary of the Aryan settlements, suggested to the nations of antiquity which first came into contact with them in that quarter a name for the whole peninsula. Adopted in the form of Indos, the word gave rise to the Greek appellation India as the country of the Indus. It was borrowed by the ancient Persians as Hindu, which is used in the Avesta as a name of the country itself. More accurate is the modern Persian designation Hindustan, "land of the Indus," a name properly applying only to that part of the peninsula which lies between the Himalaya and Vindhya ranges.

Mention is often made in the Rigveda of the sapta sindhavah, or "seven rivers," which in one passage at least is synonymous with the country inhabited by the Aryan Indians. It is interesting to note that the same expression hapta hindu occurs in the Avesta, though it is there restricted to mean only that part of the Indian territory which lay in Eastern Kabulistan. If "seven" is here intended for a definite number, the "seven rivers" must originally have meant the Kabul, the Indus, and the five rivers of the Panjab, though later the Sarasvati may have been substituted for the Kabul. For the Sarasvati is the sacred river of the Rigveda, more frequently mentioned, generally as a goddess, and lauded with more fervour than any other stream. The poet's descriptions are often only applicable to a large river. Hence Roth and other distinguished scholars concluded that Sarasvati is generally used by the poets of the Rigveda simply as a sacred designation of the Indus. On the other hand, the name in a few passages undoubtedly means the small river midway between the Sutlej and the Jumna, which at a later period formed, with the Drishadvati, the eastern boundary of the sacred region called Brahmavarta, lying to the south of Ambala, and commencing some sixty miles south of Simla.

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