The Logic of Rigvedic Geography
Shrikant G. Talageri
[This article has been modified on 14/5/2020 in order to restate the extent of the western expansion of the Rigvedic horizon, in the light of a much-needed re-evaluation of the identity of the Sarayu in the Rigveda with the Heart or Harirud river of Afghanistan].
The identification and analysis of Rigvedic geography has always been a central pillar of Rigvedic studies. On the basis of the fact that the geographical range of the geographical names (mainly of the rivers, but also of certain lakes, mountains and places in the Rigveda) extends from Afghanistan in the west to Haryana and westernmost Uttar Pradesh in the east, it was taken by the Indologists as evidence that this was the range or horizon of the area familiar to the Vedic "Indo-Aryans".
This is perfectly logical: the geographical data, particularly in ancient texts when there was no culture of globetrotting and international reporting (or gossip), definitely does tell us the geographical location of the texts. The Indologists who detailed and analyzed the geographical data in the Rigveda were right in their basic premise: the text was definitely composed in that particular area and the composers definitely lived within that area.
The only point of dispute is the further interpretation of this data: it was assumed, on the basis of the extraneous Aryan Invasion Theory, that this area was the initial area (the Rigveda, being the oldest Vedic text, representing the initial or earliest stage of this invasion or immigration into India) known or familiar to these immigrating people. Therefore, also, that the more western geographical names within this total horizon represented areas known first, and the more eastern names represented new areas which became progressively familiar only as they moved eastwards. The internal data was assumed, without internal examination, as showing an expansion of the Vedic "Indo-Aryans" from west to east.
However, I have shown in my books and articles that, when the data is examined from the point of view of the relative internal chronology of the different parts (Books= Maṇḍalas) of the Rigveda, the data irrefutably demonstrates a progressive movement outwards from east to west:
1. The non-riverine data shows that in the period of the Old Rigveda (Books 6,3,7,4,2), and even of the oldest Book in the New Rigveda (Book 5), the Rigvedic people were not familiar at all with the geographical names of the western lake, mountains, places and animals: all these are completely missing in these six older Books, and appear in the Rigveda only in the four latest Books, the four non-Family Books of the Rigveda: Books 1,8,9,10.
The eastern lake, place and animal names (there are no mountains in the eastern data), in sharp contrast, are found distributed throughout the ten Books of the Rigveda.
This is not selective data: it is what the total geographical data in the Rigveda shows. It is absolute evidence, and simply cannot be rejected by any honest scholar who goes by the data.
Nevertheless, faced with this rock-solid data and evidence, there are still people who raise quibbling objections and refuse to accept the evidence. According to them, the mention or non-mention of any geographical name in any Book of the Rigveda does not automatically show familiarity or non-familiarity with that geographical object: after all, the aim of the rishis was not to provide geographical lists of objects known to them.
While this is certainly true, if the logic of geographical references is taken to an unthinking and unreasonable extreme, nevertheless the geographical logic in itself (if applied with reasonable common-sense or viveka-buddhi) is definitely right, or else it would be as valid to claim that the Rigveda was composed in Bengal, Maharashtra or Tamilnadu―or in Indonesia, China or Saudi Arabia―as to say that it was composed in the area from westernmost U.P. to Afghanistan.
The main argument of the objectors is that the mere mention of the name of a river does not automatically indicate whether the composer is actually an inhabitant of the area of that river, or whether he is a visitor to the area of that river, or whether he is just referring to that river (known to him only from hearsay) in some particular context. So we cannot decide geographical locations and chart out expansionary movements on the basis of such mentions.
In this case―see the chart of the rivers and the facts about the non-riverine data above―the data is too massive and unidirectional to be denied. Nevertheless, let us examine the data to see whether the geographical data consists of mere "mentions" or whether it is more substantial in import.
We will examine this subject under the three following heads:
1. Validity of the geographical data in the Rigveda.
2. The Sarasvati.
3. The Jahnāvī.
4. The Hariyūpīyā and Yavyāvatī.
5. Ibha: the Elephant.
I. Validity of the geographical data in the Rigveda
To begin with, the evidence of the non-riverine data in the Rigveda is absolute.
The eastern non-riverine names are found throughout the Rigveda, in all the ten Books of the Rigveda:
VI. 1.2; 4.5; 8.4; 17.11; 20.8 (5 hymns, 5 verses and names).
III. 5.9; 23.4,4,4; 26.4,6; 29.4,4; 45.1; 46.2; 53.11,14 (7 hymns, 9 verses, 12 names).
VII. 40.3; 44.5; 58.2; 69.6; 98.1 (5 hymns, 5 verses and names).
IV. 4.1; 16.14; 18.11; 21.8 (4 hymns, 4 verses and names).
II. 3.7; 10.1; 22.1; 34.3,4; 36.2 (5 hymns, 6 verses and names).
V. 29.7,8; 42.15; 55.6; 57.3; 58.6; 60.2; 78.2 (7 hymns, 8 verses and names).
I. 16.5; 37.2; 39.6; 64.7,7,8; 84.17; 85.4,5; 87.4; 89.7; 95.9; 121.2; 128.1,1,7,7; 140.2; 141.3; 143.4; 162.21; 186.8; 191.14 (17 hymns, 20 verses, 23 names).
VIII. 1.25; 4.3; 7.28; 12.8; 33.8; 35.7,8,9; 45.24; 69.15; 77.10; 87.1,4 (10 hymns, 13 verses and names).
IX. 33.1; 57.3; 69.3; 72.7; 73.2; 79.4; 82.3; 86.8,40; 87.7; 92.6; 95.4; 96.6,18,19; 97.41,57; 113.3 (14 hymns, 18 verses and names).
X. 1.6,6; 5.2; 8.1; 28.10; 40.4; 45.3; 49.4; 51.6; 54.4; 60.3; 65.8; 66.10; 70.1; 91.1,4; 100.2; 106.2; 123.4; 128.8; 140.6; 189.2; 191.1 (21 hymns, 22 verses, 23 references).
But the western non-riverine names are completely missing in all the six Family Books and are found only in the four latest non-Family Books of the Rigveda:
I. 10.2; 29.5; 34.9; 43.6; 51.1; 52.1; 61.7; 84.14; 88.5; 114.5; 116.2,16; 117.17,18; 121.11; I26.7; 138.2; 162.3,21 (16 hymns, 19 verses and names).
VIII. 2.40; 5.37; 6.39,48; 7.29,29; 34.3; 46.22,23,31; 56.3; 64.11; 66.8; 77.10; 85.7; 97.12 (12 hymns, 15 verses, 16 names).
IX. 8.5; 65.22,23; 86.47; 97.7; 107.11; 113.1,2 (6 hymns, 8 verses and names).
X. 27.17; 28.4; 34.1; 35.2; 67.7; 86.4; 91.14; 95.3; 99.6; 106.5 (10 hymns, 10 verses and names).
This data is as conclusive as the data in the Rigveda as a whole. Just as we can confidently say that the Rigveda as a whole was not composed in, or by the inhabitants of, Bengal, Maharashtra or Tamilnadu―or Indonesia, China or Saudi Arabia―so also we can confidently say that the Old Rigveda was not composed in, or by the inhabitants of, the western areas within the geographical horizon of the Rigveda: it was composed in, or by the inhabitants of, the eastern areas within the geographical horizon of the Rigveda.
However, let us examine whether the river names in the Rigveda are mere "mentions" or indicate much more:
An actual examination of the data shows that the data is very clear on the matter of the area inhabited by the Vedic "Indo-Aryans": we are directly and very specifically told by the Rigvedic composers in categorical words that the Vedic people were the inhabitants of the banks of a particular river:
VII.96.2: Pūrus live on both banks of the Sarasvati.
This one direct and categorical reference alone sets the base for the whole story: it refers to an entire tribe (in fact, the very tribe, the Pūru, who represent the Vedic Indo-Aryans and are the People of the Book), it is found in the Old Books, and its declaration is very clear, specific and objective since it is in a hymn to that deified river, and not in a sycophantic ode to any individual.
[There are only three other verses in the whole of the Rigveda which specifically mention anyone as living on the banks of a specific river. All of them are in the New Rigveda and we will see them presently].
This very clear statement that the Pūru, the People of the Book, are actually the inhabitants of the banks of the Sarasvati, is backed by the whole force of the data in the Rigveda.
Let us start with the evidence in the five Old Books (6,3,7,4,2):
1. Four of the five Old Books, 6,3,7,4, are directly associated with the main Bharata Pūru kings―with Divodāsa (Book 6), Sudās (Books 3,7) and Sahadeva and Somaka (Book 4). While the fifth Old Book 2 is not directly associated with any Bharata Pūru king, the Book notably does not refer to any river other than this Bharata Pūru river.
[The word Bharata itself is found (in 11 hymns and 15 verses) only in the six Family Books, except for one reference, and that one reference is found in the Kutsa section of Book 1 (in I.96.3), which continues the Bharata history and is associated with Sahadeva. After the period of the Family Books, the Rigveda expands from a Bharata Pūru text to a general Pūru text].
2. There are three full hymns (26 verses) wholly in praise of the Sarasvati, the only full hymns in the Rigveda with a river as the deity: VI.61; VII.95,96. Incidentally, one of the verses prays to the river, "let us not go from thee to distant lands" (VI.61.14), emphasizing the bond between this particular river and the composers of the text.
3. Of the 31 hymns in these five Old Books which refer to any river at all:
a) 20 hymns refer to the Sarasvati (one of which also refers to two eastern tributaries of the Sarasvati, the Dṛṣadvatī and Āpayā): II.1,3,30,32,41; III.4,23,54; VI.49,50,52,61; VII.2,9,35,36,39,40,95,96.
b) 1 more hymn refers to two other eastern tributaries of the Sarasvati (the Hariyūpīyā and Yavyāvatī): VI.27.
c) 2 hymns refer to the rivers further east (Gaṅgā/Jahnāvī, Yamunā): VI.45; III.58.
All these 23 hymns out of the 31 refer only to the Sarasvati and rivers east of it.
Of the remaining 8 hymns:
1 hymn refers to an eastern river and a central one: Yamunā and Paruṣṇī.
3 hymns refer to central rivers Vipāś, Śutudrī , Paruṣṇī and Asiknī.
1 hymn refers to a central river and a western one: Vipāś, Sarayu.
3 hymns refer to western rivers Sarayu, Sindhu, Rasā.
4. The linear east-to-west expansion indicated by the references to these central and western rivers in these 8 hymns (III.33; IV.22,30,43,54,55; VII.5,18) must be noted:
a) First these Old Books refer to the activities of the ancestors of Sudās (Bharata, Devavāta, Sṛñjaya="Vadhryaśva", Divodāsa, Pratardana, Pijavana, Devaśravas) in the area of the Sarasvatī river.
b) Sudās first performs a yajña (described in III.53, which does not name any river but refers to an eastern land Kīkaṭa, and which describes the yajña taking place in vara ā pṛthivyāh, i.e. still on the eastern banks of the Sarasvati) and lets loose his horse "east, west and north".
c) Then, in III.33, Sudās sets off on a campaign of expansion of his kingdom, and crosses the first two rivers of the Punjab from the east, the Vipāś and the Śutudrī.
d) After that, in VII.5,18 (which also refers to his earlier eastern conquests on the Yamunā), with a change of rishi, he reaches the third river of the Punjab from the east, the Paruṣṇī (VII.18), and fights a historic battle with a coalition of Anu and Druhyu tribes fighting from the western area of the fourth river of the Punjab, the Asiknī (VII.5).
e) Finally, in IV.30 (which also mentions the Vipāś), in the period of his descendants Sahadeva and Somaka, the westward expansion culminates in the battle to the west of the Sarayu.
f) In the 4 remaining hymns, IV.22,43,54,55, all in Book 4, the Paruṣṇī is mentioned once more (IV.22), and two other western rivers appear as an aftermath of this expansion westwards described in the earlier hymns: the Rasā and the Sindhu (IV.43,54,55).
Therefore, the Old Books of the Rigveda (6,3,7,4,2) do not leave us guessing as to the specific roles, in Vedic history, of the rivers named by them: they very categorically describe in clear words the westward expansion from the eastern Homeland.
5. To this may be added the evidence of the sixth Family Book, Book 5, which is also the oldest of the five New Books (the other four being non-Family Books):
Here also, the core of the text is still solidly centered around the Sarasvati. Of the 7 hymns which refer to any river at all:
a) 4 hymns refer exclusively to the Sarasvati: V.5,42,43,46.
b) 1 other hymn refers to the western river Rasā (V.41)― but it may be noted that this is the same rishi, Atri, who refers (above) to the Sarasvati in V.42.
We can make this assertion because unlike the hymns of the five Old Books (6,3,7,4,2, where all the hymns are by and large attributed to the ancestral rishi), the hymns of the New Books (at least of 5,8,9,10) are generally attributed to the actual composer rishi.
So this indicates a rishi travelling to different areas, in this case clearly from the east to the west.
c) The remaining 2 hymns, V.52-53, strengthen this picture: both the hymns are composed by the same rishi, Śyāvāśva, who in one hymn (V.52) names both the eastern Yamunā and the central Paruṣṇī, and in the other (V.53) actually names six western rivers: Sarayu, Kubhā, Krumu, Anitabhā, Rasā, Sindhu.
And this phenomenon is recognized even by Witzel, who points out: "all these geographical notes belonging to diverse hymns are attributed to one and the same poet, Śyāvāśva, which is indicative of the poet’s travels" (WITZEL 1995b:317). The travels are clearly from the east to the west.
6. The non-Family Books (1,8,9,10) now represent stages where the geographical horizon of the Rigveda is now spread out over the entire Rigvedic area from westernmost U.P. in the east to Afghanistan. Now there is no question of tracing movements and expansions in the hymns, because it is obviously a well settled and thriving culture: as I have shown elsewhere, the period of the New Rigveda is the period of the Mature Harappan civilization, and the trade with the Mesopotamians (Sumerians, Akkadians) is testified by Mesopotamian words like bekanāṭa and mana found in Book 8.
The period also reflects rishis wandering over the entire region, and receiving gifts from different kings in different areas. There are (as already pointed out earlier, in the context of the verse describing the Pūrus as the inhabitants of the banks of the Sarasvati river) three other verses which refer to people "living" on the banks of three different rivers:
VIII.21.17-18: Citra and other kinglings live on the banks of the Sarasvati.
VIII.24.30: Nārya lives on the banks of the Gomatī.
I.126.1: Svanaya Bhāvya lives on the banks of the Indus.
However, the nature of these references is totally different from the Pūru-Sarasvati reference: they are references to individual kings who are totally unknown and unimportant otherwise and whose tribal identity is also uncertain, and who are mentioned only in dānastuti hymns by grateful rishis to whom they give gifts (the Gomatī, for example, has no other mention in the Rigveda, and the Indus also is not mentioned at all in four of the five Old Books: 6,3,7,2).
Nevertheless, there are many factors, in the river-names, which again point to the eastern origins and the earlier east-to-west expansion:
1. The four non-Family Books―out of a total of 41 hymns which refer to any river at all―continue to refer solely to the Sarasvati in 17 hymns and to the Sarasvati along with other rivers in 4 more hymns (including the nadī-sūkta, X.75), and to another eastern river (Jahnāvī) in 1 more hymn. In addition, of course, the eastern Gaṅgā and Yamunā are mentioned in the nadī-sūkta (X.75).
[In 2 other hymns, there are references to two other rivers (Aṁśumatī and Aśmanvatī) which have been identified by many scholars with the Yamunā, however the identification is not universal, and we will treat them here as unknown rivers to avoid unnecessary quibbling on irrelevant issues].
2. They also refer for the first time (along with western rivers already named in the latest parts of the Family Books: i.e. the Sindhu, Sarayu, Rasā, Kubhā, and Krumu) to many new rivers of the west: in 24 hymns: Tṛṣṭāmā, Susartū, Śvetyā, Gomatī, Mehatnū, Śvetyāvarī, Suvāstu, Suṣomā, Ārjīkīyā: I.44,83,112,122,126,186; VIII.7,12,19,20,24,25,26,64,72; IX.41,65,97; X.64,65,66,75,108,121.
3. They seem to have already lost sight of the eastern tributaries of the Sarasvati named in the Old Rigveda: the Dṛṣadvatī , Āpayā , Hariyūpīyā and Yavyāvatī: these are not named even in the nadī-sūkta. This could also be because, by this time, the Sarasvati had started drying up, and these tributaries had either already dried up or had become shells of their former selves.
Without going into more details, most of which have already been dealt with many times before, the one thing clear from all this is that the whole of the geographical data in the Rigveda unanimously points to an eastern origin, and clearly describes in very specific terms an east-to-west expansion, and the more we examine different aspects of the data, the more clear this becomes. And it is not merely on the basis of "mentions" (which are massive and unidirectional enough in themselves) but of actual statements and descriptions in the text as well.
Let us now examine the few specific geographical names whose identity many people try to dispute in order to try to reject the evidence.
The evidence is so clear that the only chance left for the objectors is to quibble over the identifications of the geographical names. They can only try to make small dents and chips in the evidence which is so massive and unidirectional that it simply cannot be made to prove the opposite of what it does prove. At the most desperate attempts can be made to invalidate one or two of the countless pieces of evidence―but you cannot manufacture even one or two pieces of new evidence to the opposite effect. And the edifice of the evidence is so strong that it will remain standing solid even if you prise out a few bricks from it.
Nevertheless let us examine the validity of the identifications. It must be noted that we are not discussing here the etymology of the names: whether it means this or that, or even whether the word is Indo-Aryan (=Indo-European) or non-"Aryan". Those are different and old battlefields. Here we are only discussing whether, for example, the identification of a particular Vedic river-name with a particular river is right or not: the main identification under attack is the identification of the Rigvedic Sarasvati with the Ghaggar-Hakra (Sarsuti).
For that matter, determined objectors, from either side, can object to any identification. The invasionist writer Rajesh Kochhar not only identifies the Rigvedic Sarasvati with the Helmand of Afghanistan, he even identifies the Rigvedic Gaṅgā and Yamunā as its tributaries! The staunchly Hindu writer, S.D.Kulkarni (who belonged to the Hindu Invasionist school of writers, which included Tilak, described in TALAGERI 2000:362-384), also identified most of the Rigvedic rivers with rivers in Central Asia, and even identified Rasā with the Tigris or Euphrates (the choice apparently being ours!).
We will not bother here to discuss crank identifications. Most of the identifications are correctly made by the Indologists, and if anyone has objections to any of these identifications, it is up to them to disprove the same by taking on the Indologists. But some names require to be elaborated.
II. The Sarasvati
That the Sarasvati of the Rigveda is the present-day Ghaggar-Hakra river which flows through Haryana, Rajasthan and Sind out into the sea is an accepted fact in the interpretation of the Rigveda.
Then why do we have to deal with this identification here?
The answer is: this name Sarasvati is a classic example of the totally and shamelessly fraudulent nature of the present-day "scholarship" which lies through its teeth and brazenly propagates lies and falsehoods on a war-footing in order to further political agendas (note again that, inspite of strong differences and sharp criticism, I have never made such allegations against the admittedly biased and blinkered traditional western Indology). Today there is a massive political campaign in the media and academia to propagate two blatant lies:
1. That the Sarasvati of the Rigveda is a river of Afghanistan.
2. That the Hindu "right-wing" is trying to propagate a new theory that the Sarasvati of the Rigveda is the Ghaggar-Hakra.
First let us see what the consensus has been, on this point, until the importance of the identification of the Sarasvati in the AIT-OIT debate became clear to the AIT-supporting present political "scholars" (especially after books written by myself and some other writers after the 1990s, and new developments in satellite-mapping and geology) and made them take up damage control on a war-footing.
1. THE CONSENSUS:
The first western scholar to propose that the Ghaggar-Hakra was the Vedic Saraswati was the French geographer Louis Vivien de Saint-Martin in 1855 in his very massive and detailed book "Geography of India’s North-West According to the Vedic Hymns".
After that, this identification has been fully endorsed by almost every single eminent Indologist, geologist and archaeologist in the last over 160 years. A representative list, first of the western scholars down the ages, and then the Indian (and Pakistani) ones: Max Müller, Keith and Macdonell, Monier-Williams, Pischel, Geldner, Hopkins, R.D.Oldham, C.F.Oldham, Wilson, Renou, Benfey, Muir, Lassen, Stein, Jane McIntosh, Wilhelmy, Mortimer Wheeler, Bridget and Raymond Allchin, Gregory Possehl, JM Kenoyer, Jean-Marie Casal, Kenneth Kennedy, Rosen, Southworth, Pargiter, Gowen, Burrow, Basham, Shamsul Islam Siddiqui, AH Dani, BB Lal, SP Gupta, VN Misra, Dilip Chakrabarti, M. Israil Khan, S.R.Rao, K.S.Valdiya, A.D.Pusalker, H.C.Raychaudhary, D.C.Sircar, Ashok Aklujkar, and many more.
A few scholars (Bergaigne, Lommel, Lüder), on the basis of the present-day poor condition of the Ghaggar-Hakra, had expressed doubts, and concluded that the Rigvedic river may have been "a celestial river" and not an earthly one, and on the same grounds Roth suggested that it could be another name for the Indus. Roth's suggestion was partially accepted by Zimmer, Griffith, Hillebrandt and Ludwig, and yet all these scholars, Roth included, accepted that in many hymns of the Rigveda, it did indeed refer to the Ghaggar-Hakra!
Only a few scholars, such as Brunnhofer, Hertel and Hüsing held that the Rigvedic Sarasvati was in Afghanistan or even in Iran: but since these scholars located the whole of the text in Afghanistan and Iran, and this identification of the Sarasvati was only a part of their whole scenario, their writings on this point were outright rejected by all the other Indologists.
Michael Witzel is now frequently cited as an authority. Here is what Witzel himself had to say on this matter before the full implications, for the AIT, of the identification were made clear by me in my books:
In this paper on Rigvedic history written in 1995, Witzel categorically tells us “Sarasvatī = Sarsuti; Ghaggar-Hakra” (WITZEL 1995b:318). He concludes the paper/article with a summary of the “Geographical Data in the Rigveda” in detailed charts covering ten pages (WITZEL 1995b:343-352), giving the geographical data classified into columns as per five areas (which he classifies as West, Northwest, Panjab, Kurukṣetra, East) from west to east.
In these charts, he specifically locates every single reference (mentioned by him) to the Sarasvatī in Books 6, 3 and 7 exclusively in Kurukṣetra: VI.61.3,10 (WITZEL 1995b:343, 349), III.23.4 (WITZEL 1995b:343, 347), VII.36.6 (WITZEL 1995b:344, 349), VII.95.2 (WITZEL 1995b:344, 349) and VII.96.1,2 (WITZEL 1995b:344, 349). Further, wherever, in the main body of the article, he gives geographical areas in sequence from west to east in these three Books, the Sarasvatī is inevitably to the east of the Punjab (WITZEL 1995b:318, 320).
He does locate some of the references to the Sarasvatī, in three of the other Books (2, 8 and 10), to the West (i.e. Afghanistan): II.41.6 (WITZEL 1995b:343, 346), VIII.21.17-18 (WITZEL 1995b:344, 350) and X.64.9 (WITZEL 1995b:345, 352). But:
a) In doing so, he creates an uncalled for dual entity in the Rigveda, a Sarasvatī in Kurukṣetra as well as a Sarasvatī in Afghanistan: to use his favourite phrase, "Occam's razor applies" and cancels out his argument.
b) And even then, it may be noted that the references to the Sarasvatī in Kurukṣetra appear exclusively in the earlier Books, and the alleged references to the Sarasvatī in Afghanistan appear exclusively in the later Books!
But a closer look at each of the three references:
a) He places a doubtful question mark after his location of the Sarasvatī of Book 2 in the West (Afghanistan), in both the places where he locates it there on his charts: “Sarasvatī? 2.41.6” (WITZEL 1995b:343, 346); and, in the main text of his article, he uses the word “probably” when suggesting, without any particular reason to do so, that the Sarasvatī of this Book, in II.3.8, could refer to “the Avestan Haraxvaiti rather than […] to the modern Ghaggar-Hakra in the Panjab” (WITZEL 1995b:331).
b) Then he vaguely admits, in a footnote, that “since Gārtsamāda Śaunaka is made a Bhārgava, he could be later than Book 6” (WITZEL 1995b:316): that is, since Gṛtsamada, the rishi of Book 2, was originally a descendant of Śunahotra Āngiras of Book 6, Book 2 could be later than Book 6. Since the earlier Sarasvatī of Book 6 is placed by Witzel himself in Kurukṣetra, the later Sarasvatī of Book 2 could hardly be the river of Afghanistan.
c) Moreover the references to the Sarasvatī in Book 2 are clearly associated with Kurukṣetra and not with Afghanistan: in II.3.8, which Witzel, above, suggests could refer to the river of Afghanistan rather than the Ghaggar-Hakra of Kurukṣetra, the Sarasvatī is actually mentioned alongwith the other two great goddesses of Kurukṣetra, Iḷā and Bhāratī, and, the previous verse II.3.7 refers to “the three high places” of these three goddesses “at the centre of the earth”. And Witzel himself points out, in the course of his description of Kurukṣetra, that it “became the heartland of the Bharatas well into the Vedic period. it is here that 3.53.11 places the centre of the earth” (WITZEL 1995b:339).
Likewise, Witzel’s location of the Sarasvatī of Book 8 in Afghanistan is neutralized by the fact that he locates the same verses, VIII.21.17-18, on the same page (WITZEL 1995:350), once in Iran (i.e. “eastern Iran” = Afghanistan) and once also in Kurukṣetra. And, for what it is worth, the location in Afghanistan is followed by a speculative question mark, but the location in Kurukṣetra is not!
That leaves only Witzel’s speculative location of the reference to the Sarasvatī in Book 10 in Afghanistan. Book 10 is undoubtedly the last Book in the Rigveda, and there is no logical reason why it should be supposed that the Sarasvatī referred to in X.64.9 should be a different one from the Sarasvatī referred to in the rest of the Rigveda. Also note, the reference which specifically states that the Sarasvatī is in Kurukṣetra (X.75.5) in the vicinity of the Gangā and Yamunā, is in the same book of the Rigveda.
See also the following straight statements by Witzel in 1995:
“[…] since the Sarasvatī, which dries up progressively after the mid-2nd millennium B.C. (Erdosy 1989), is still described as a mighty stream in the Ṛgveda, the earliest hymns in the latter must have been composed by c.1500 B.C.” (WITZEL 1995a:98).
“Prominent in book 7: it flows from the mountains to the sea (7.59.2) ― which would put the battle of ten kings prior to 1500 BC or so, due to the now well documented dessication of the Sarasvatī (Yash Pal et al. 1984) […]. Two hymns (7.95-96) are composed solely in praise of the Sarasvatī.” (WITZEL 1995b:335, fn 82).
Here, Witzel not only identified the Sarasvatī of the Rigveda with the Sarasvatī of Kurukṣetra which dried up progressively after 1500 BCE (i.e. The Ghaggar-Hakra), but noted that it “flows from the mountains to the sea” (a description now often sought to be transferred to the Harahvaiti of Afghanistan, with the Hamun-i-Hilmand lake now sought to be identified as the “sea” described in the verse). Of course, he did not say "the Vedic people are the Harappans".
But then he later realized that this would be the implication of this for the AIT, and went into damage control mode.
It is clearly this desperate bid to deny the identity of the Vedic Sarasvati with the Ghaggar-Hakra that is new and revisionist.
2. THE SARASVATI IN THE RIGVEDA:
The Sarasvati is found in the Rigveda in contexts where it can only be the Ghaggar-Hakra of Haryana and not any river of Afghanistan: it is found in many hymns in four (2,3,6,7) of the five Books of the Old Rigveda (III.4, 23, 54; VII.2, 9, 35, 36, 39, 40, 95) as well as in the Redacted Hymns (VI.49, 50, 52, 61; VII.96). The only 3 full hymns to the Sarasvati in the Rigveda are in these books: VI.61; VII.95,96, and the most well-known ode to the river "ambitame, devītame, nadītame" (best of mothers, best of Goddesses, best of rivers) is again in these books, in II.41.16.
As we already saw, these four books of the Old Rigveda (2,3,6,7) are located completely in the east:
a) they know the eastern place names Kīkaṭa,Iḷaspada(also called vara ā pṛthivyā or nābhāpṛthivyā, i.e. "the best place on earth" or "the centre of the earth"), the eastern lake Mānuṣā, and eastern animals like the buffalo, the gaur (Indian bison), the elephant, the peacock and the spotted deer, and the other eastern rivers Gaṅgā/Jahnāvī, Yamunā, Dṛṣadvatī, Āpayā, Hariyūpīyā, Yavyāvatī, Śutudrī, Vipāṣ, Paruṣṇī, Asiknī,
b) but not the western place names Saptasindhava, Gandhāri, the western lake Śaryaṇāvat(ī) and the western mountains Mūjavat, Suṣom and Arjīk, or western animals (whose names are found in common with the Avesta) like the uṣṭra, varāha, mathra, chāga, vṛṣṇi, urā and meṣa, or the western rivers Marudvṛdhā, Vitastā, Ārjīkīyā, Suṣomā, Sindhu and its western tributaries Triṣṭāmā, Susartu, Anitabhā, Rasā, Śveti, Śvetyāvarī, Kubhā, Krumu, Gomatī, Sarayu, Mehatnu, Prayiyu, Vayiyu, Suvāstu, Gaurī, Kuṣavā.
All these western geographical features (except three of the western river names) appear exclusively in the New Rigveda.
Further, the only remaining book in the Old Rigveda (Book 4) which represents the Indo-Aryan expansion westwards (already described), and which mentions these three western rivers (Sindhu, Sarayu, Rasā), otherwise found only in the New Rigveda, is also the only book in the whole of the Rigveda which does not refer to the Sarasvati at all, thereby emphasizing the fact that there was no Sarasvati river in the vicinity of those rivers in the west (in Afghanistan) at that time.
Therefore, this Sarasvatī which is located in such an utterly and purely eastern milieu, so totally devoid of western associations, cannot be a river of Afghanistan but has to be the river of Haryana.
3. SARASVATI AS A MEMORIAL NAME:
But to move to the next step, is it possible that the name of the Sarasvati of the Rigveda, although located in Haryana, represented a memory of an older Sarasvati in Afghanistan (the Haraxvaiti of the Avesta) through which the "invading/migrating Indo-Aryans" entered India?
Some of the Indologists, to fit the name into the AIT scenario, did suggest that the name of the Sarasvati in the Rigveda represented a memory of an older Sarasvati in Afghanistan through which the invading/migrating Indo-Aryans entered India. But even they did not suggest that the Rigvedic Sarasvati itself was the river of Afghanistan. And this is what George Erdosy (like many other Indologists) has to say about this:
“As for Burrow’s thesis (Burrow 1973) that some place names reflect the names of geographical features to the west, and thus preserve an ancestral home, they once again rather rely on an assumption of Arya migrations than prove it. […] His cited equivalence of Sanskrit Saraswati and Avestan Haraxvaiti is a case in point. Burrow accepts that it is the latter term that is borrowed, undergoing the usual change of s- > h in the process, but suggests that Saraswati was a proto-Indoaryan term, originally applied to the present Haraxvaiti when the proto-Indoaryans still lived in northeastern Iran, then it was brought into India at the time of the migrations, while its original bearer had its name modified by the speakers of Avestan who assumed control of the areas vacated by proto-Indoaryans. It would be just as plausible to assume that Saraswati was a Sanskrit term indigenous to India and was later imported by the speakers of Avestan into Iran. The fact that the Zend Avesta is aware of areas outside the Iranian plateau while the Rigveda is ignorant of anything west of the Indus basin would certainly support such an assertion” (ERDOSY 1989:41-42).
The evidence, showing which of the two rivers, the Ghaggar-Hakra of Haryana or the Haraxvaiti of Afghanistan, bore the original name Sarasvati, is very clear:
1. Linguistically, the word Sarasvati of the Rigveda is accepted by everyone to be the older and original form of the name and the word Harahvaiti is linguistically the derived form. There is no controversy in this.
2. Chronologically and geographically, the word Sarasvati appears in the Rigveda long before the word Harahvaiti appears in the Avesta, and the actually recorded historical contexts also make the direction of movement of the name, taken from the east to the west by the proto-Iranians, clear. This is found in four stages:
Stage 1: As we saw, the name Sarasvati is found recorded many times in the oldest parts of the Old Rigveda, in which all the proto-Iranian tribes are recorded as inhabitants of the Punjab to the west of the Paruṣṇī. As this has been dealt with in detail elsewhere. I will not repeat the details here.
This coalition of proto-Iranian tribes in the Punjab is led by a king Kavi: VII.18.8 (Avestan name Kauui), and an old priest Kavaṣa: VII.18.12 (Avestan name Kaoša). This Kavi Cāyamāna (descendant of Abhyāvartin Cāyamāna, who is located in the oldest book of the Rigveda, in VI.27.5,8, as an inhabitant of Haryana, and is described as a Pārthava) is clearly the eponymous ancestral king of the Kauuiian dynasty of the Avesta, who were supposed to be of Parthian stock.
The exodus westwards of these defeated tribes is referred to in VII.5.3 and VII.6.3.
Stage 2: The name Sarasvati is also recorded right up to the latest parts of the New Rigveda, which as a whole chronologically follows the Old Rigveda.
The New Rigveda contains the names of certain kings with proto-Iranian names (identified as such by Indologists, including Witzel), still remaining in the western Punjab, in the following references:
VIII.4.19; 5.37-39; 6.46; 23.28; 24.28; 25.2; 26.2; 32.2; 46.21,24.
These proto-Iranian kings, extending out into the northwest as far as Bactria, are the only kings in the Rigveda donating Bactrian camels, a new animal of the northwest and beyond, to the Vedic priests: VIII.5.37; 6.48; 46.22,31.
Stage 3: As we already saw, the Avesta shares a common culture of names with the New Rigveda. The -aśva names found only in the New Rigveda are found in the Avesta in the name of an ancestor of Zaraθuštra, the composer of the oldest part of the Avesta (the five Gāθās): of Haēčat.aspa
In fact, the very word gāthā itself is found only in the New Rigveda:
I. 7.1; 43.4; 167.6; 190.1.
VIII. 2.38; 32.1; 71.14; 92.2; 98.9.
IX. 11.4; 99.4.
So the oldest part of the Avesta (the five collections of the Gāθās) is clearly contemporaneous to, or later than, the New Rigveda, and till this point of time there is no mention anywhere of the Harahvaiti river of Afghanistan.
Stage 4: The word Harahvaiti is found for the first time, and only once, in a late part of the Avesta, long after the Gāθās: in the Vendidad (I.13). By this time, the Iranians are settled all over Afghanistan and southern Central Asia, the areas of which are enumerated in the Vendidad and at a few places elsewhere in the Avesta.
Significantly, the Avesta still remembers the earlier Saptasindhu or the Punjab (Haptahəndu in Vd. I.19) and Mānuṣa in Haryana (Manusha in Yt. IX.1.1) to their east.
All this evidence proves two things:
1. The original name Sarasvati for the river of Haryana, and the very late (and single) record of the name Harahvaiti for the river of Afghanistan.
2. The movement of the Iranians from Haryana to Afghanistan, taking the name of the Sarasvati with them and giving it to a river of Afghanistan.
So clearly, the Sarasvati is the Ghaggar-Hakra., and the Ghaggar-Hakra is the original Sarasvati.
III. The Jahnāvi
The Gaṅgā is the easternmost river mentioned in the Rigveda. It is found mentioned twice in the Rigveda as Gaṅgā (VI.45.31; X.75.5), and twice as Jahnāvī (III.58.6; I.116.19).
It is significant that while the oldest Books of the Rigveda (6,3,7) do not refer to any river west of the Asiknī, including even the Sindhu (Indus), all three of them refer to the easternmost rivers: Gaṅgā (VI.45.31), Jahnāvī (III.58.6) and Yamunā (VII.18.6).
However, for various reasons, the Indologists avoid translating the word as a name of a river, in fact of the river Gaṅgā.
The two references to Jahnāvī in I.116.19 and III.58.6 are respectively translated as follows:
Griffith: "Jahnu's children" and "the house of Jahnu".
Wilson: "the family of Jahnu" in both references.
Jamison: "the wife of Jahnu" and "at (the house of) the wife of Jahnu".
Geldner: "Jahnavi" and "the tribe of Jahnu".
Grassmann: same as Geldner in both references.
As can be seen, the translations vary. The sense of the verse is a bit forced when attempts are made to give the same meaning in both the verses: Geldner and Grassmann both leave the word as it is in I.116.19, while translating as "tribe of Jahnu" in III.58.6. Jamison has to add "(the house of)" before "the wife of Jahnu" in III.58.6 to make it look correct: "yours the wealth at (the house of) the wife of Jahnu". However, all the translations would have been grammatically reasonable if they had taken Jahnāvī as the name of a river.
So let us examine the word: is it the Gaṅgā by its other name, or does it have anything to do with some "Jahnu"?
In this case also, the evidence is unidirectional:
1. The word Jahnāvī is found in these two references in the Rigveda and nowhere else after that in this form: in later texts, Epics and Puranas onwards, the same word is found in a different form Jāhnavī. Both the words are two variants of the same word.
The word in the Epics and Puranas does not refer to any female person: it refers only to the river Gaṅgā, although a myth is manufactured to explain this name. In later times, wherever any female child is given this name, it is always in the clear understanding that she is being given a name of the river Gaṅgā. Therefore the only identity of the name is as a name of the river.
There is no logic in assuming (and that too against the grammatical sense of the word in the two verses) that the word refers to a female person, since there is nothing in the context of the two verses to explain why this "woman"― who is totally unknown outside these two verses―is so important in the Rigveda that she is mentioned twice in ambiguously-worded verses.
2. But the context of the name in the reference in I.116.19 gives incontrovertible evidence that Jāhnavī is the river Gaṅgā.
Here is the full translation by Jamison of the two verses I.116.18-19 which contain this reference:
"When you drove the course for Divodāsa and for Bharadvāja, Aśvins, urging your steeds onward, your accompanying chariot conveyed wealth. A bull and a river dolphin were yoked to it.
Conveying wealth with good rule and a full lifetime with good descendants and good men, Nāsatyas, you two of one mind journeyed here with the prizes of victory to the wife of Jahnu, who was setting your portion three times a day".
a) This is the only place in the Rigveda, outside Book 6 (the Book of Bharadvāja and Divodāsa) where the two central figures of Book 6, the rishi and the king, are mentioned together in one verse.
b) Book 6 contains the only reference in the Rigveda (other than in the list of river names in the nadī-sūkta, X.75) to the Gaṅgā by that name: the idiomatic use of the word in that reference (VI.45.31) shows that the river was central to Book 6 and naturally to its rishi and king. Book 6, notably, does not mention any river west of the Sarasvati.
c) This reference in I.116.18 is the only reference in the whole of the Rigveda to the śiṁśumāra (the Gangetic dolphin).
d) This reference in I.116.19 is one of the only two references in the whole of the Rigveda (the other being III.58.6) to the Jahnāvī―whose only identity is as another name for the Gaṅgā.
The cumulative evidence―of these four different and uncommon words (Bharadvāja, Divodāsa, śiṁśumāra, Jahnāvī), all pointing to the Gaṅgā, all brought together in this one reference contained in 2 verses out of the 10552 verses in the Rigveda―can only be called evidence, it cannot be coincidence.
[Strangely, Witzel himself identifies the word śiṁśumāra elsewhere as "Gangetic dolphin" as opposed to just "dolphin" for śiśūla (not that there is any distinction): see WITZEL 1999:30].
THE GAṄGĀ IN VI.45:
The biggest problem is not the data but the blatant dishonesty among the "scholars". As we saw above, the Sarasvati was accepted as the Rigvedic name of the present Ghaggar-Hakra by a complete consensus among the scholars, but as soon as the AIT-OIT debate blew up in the last three decades, and the identification exposed the untenability of the AIT, the scholars not only started writing exactly the opposite and completely denying the identification but even started a political media campaign to brand the identification as a new one being invented now by the OIT supporters!
Witzel, for example, who had consistently identified the Sarasvati with the Ghaggar-Hakra (see above), now suddenly received divine revelations about the identity of the Rigvedic Sarasvati:
“The river Sarasvatī found in book 6 (T., p.102) may be discarded […]. In the hymns 6.49, 50, 52, 61, the order of arrangement is disturbed and especially the group 6.49-52 is very suspicious. […] All this points to an addition of materials at an unknown time. Therefore, the Haryana river Sarasvatī (mod. Sarsuti) is not found in the old parts of book 6” (WITZEL 2000b:§7).
But the geographical references in the Rigveda do not differ in the Old Hymns and Redacted Hymns in any Old Book of the Rigveda, as I have shown clearly in my book (TALAGERI 2008:): the Sarasvatī, to take the point under discussion, is referred to in many hymns in the three oldest Books of the Rigveda, not only in Redacted Hymns (VI.49, 50, 52, 61: VII.96), but also in the Old Hymns (III.4, 23, 54; VII.2, 9, 35, 36, 39, 40, 95), along with other eastern places, lakes and animals (in these or other hymns in all the six Family Books), while the western rivers, mountains, lakes, places and animals are completely missing in both the Old as well as Redacted Hymns in all these Books. The picture is too large and too consistent to be “discarded” on the basis of Witzel’s selective citing of the Sarasvatī-referring hymns in Book 6 alone.
Not content with this, Witzel goes on to make the following juvenile comments: “Incidentally, it is entirely unclear that the physical river Sarasvatī is meant in some of these spurious hymns: in 6.49.7 the Sarasvatī is a woman and in 50.12 a deity, not necessarily the river (Witzel 1984). (At 52.6, however, it is a river, and in 61.1-7 both a river and a deity ― which can be located anywhere from the Arachosian Sarasvatī to the Night time sky, with no clear localization)” (WITZEL 2000b:§7).
These are clearly not the words of a scholar making serious statements on an academic subject: that the Sarasvatī of VI.49.7 “is a woman” is ludicrous, to say the least! And if, in any reference, Sarasvatī is the name of a deity or a woman, even an amateur student of the subject could tell Witzel that the circumstance presupposes the existence of a river named Sarasvatī, since the word Sarasvatī is clearly originally the name of a river: it means “the one with many ponds” (WITZEL 1995a:105). The deity came into existence as a riverine deity, and women came to be named Sarasvatī after the name of the river/deity. So, ultimately, all the references show the existence of the river Sarasvatī. And the claim that the Sarasvatī in VI.52.6 and VI.61.1-7 is a river “which can be located anywhere from the Arachosian Sarasvatī to the Night time sky, with no clear localization” is nothing but a piece of unscholarly and juvenile temper which has to be treated with the contempt it deserves.
But Witzel’s primary ire is directed at the implications of the reference to the Gangā in Book 6, the oldest Book of the Rigveda. In his review of TALAGERI 2000, he angrily dismisses " river names ... found in what T. claims, on flimsy grounds, is the RV’s ‘oldest book’, RV6” and tells us: “One can immediately throw out the reference to the Ganges that appears at RV 6.45.31 (Gāngya). […] Applying the principles pioneered by Oldenberg, RV 6.45 can be shown to be a composite hymn built out of tṛcas at an uncertain period. The ordering principle of the old family books clearly points to the addition of all these hymns in mixed meters at the end of an Indra series. Such late additions must not be used as an argument for the age of the bulk of Book 6” (WITZEL 2001b: §7).
In later writings, he is even more categorical: “The Ganges is only mentioned twice in the RV, once directly in a late hymn (10.75.5), and once by a derived word, gāngya in a late addition (6.45.31). This occurs in a tṛca that could be an even later addition to this additional hymn, which is too long to fit the order of arrangement of the RV, see Oldenberg 1888” (WITZEL 2005:386, fn 76).
This is what he writes after the publication of TALAGERI 2000, which highlighted the lethal implications, to the AIT, of this reference to the Gangā in the oldest book of the Rigveda.
Now see what he had written before TALAGERI 2000:
1. In his 1995 article, he refers to this reference as follows: “BOOK 6 […] mentions even the Gangā in an unsuspicious hymn (though in a tṛca section)” (WITZEL 1995b:317).
[Just above this, he also notes that “Book 5 […] even knows, in a hymn not suspected as an addition, of the Yamunā”].
Although he notes that it is in a “tṛca section”, Witzel does not see it as an obstacle to the Gangā being counted as part of the geography of Book 6 proper. He not only notes that this hymn is an “unsuspicious hymn” meaning "a hymn not suspected as an addition", he regularly counts the Gangā among the geographical data in the Rigveda for Book 6 (WITZEL 1995b:318, 320, 343, 345, 348, 352).
2. Two years later, in 1997, Witzel classifies the Rigvedic hymns into six levels of composition. The first two levels, without specifying any particular hymn, he names the “Indo-Iranian level” and the “Pre-Ṛgvedic level”. Thus he takes care of the assumed earlier stages of the Indo-Iranian period when the common Indo-Iranian poetic traditions are assumed to have been first formulated. The next four levels classify the actual Rigvedic hymns into the “Early Ṛgvedic level”, “Later Ṛgvedic level”, “Late Ṛgvedic ritual compositions” and “Early Mantra type compositions”. In the last category, he places Books 9 and 10, and in the second-last level, he places most of Book 1. In the fourth level, he places Books 3 and 7.
In the “Early Ṛgvedic level”, he names only the following: “Śamyu Bārhapatasya 6.45.1 [sic], some early Kaṇvas (in book 8)” (WITZEL 1997b:293). Thus, however vaguely (and with Bārhaspatya mis-spelt as Bārhapatasya), he categorically classifies hymn VI.45 in the “Early Ṛgvedic level”.
3. By 2000, Witzel is even more categorical, and much more systematic and specific in his classification. At around the time of publication of TALAGERI 2000 itself, Witzel writes as follows:
“Even now, however, three RV periods can be established, as follows:
1. early Ṛgvedic period: c.1700-1450 BCE: RV books 4, 5, 6.
2. middle, main Ṛgvedic period : c.1450-1300 BCE: books 3, 7, 8.1-47, 8.60-66 and 1.51-191, most probably also 2; prominent: Pūru chieftain Trasadasyu and Bharata chieftain Sudās and their ancestors, and
3. late Ṛgvedic period: c.1300-1200 BCE: books 1.1-50, 8.48-59 (the late Vālakhilya hymns), 8.67-103, large sections of 9, and finally 10.1-84, 10.85-191; emergence of the Kuru tribe, fully developed by the time of Parīkṣit a descendant of Trasadasyu.” (WITZEL 2000a:§6).
Witzel not only provides us with tentative dates for the different periods, but he systematically places Book 6 distinctly and categorically before at least Books 1-3 and 7-10.
Is hymn VI.45 excluded from this classification? Far from it, in his footnote to the “early Ṛgvedic period: c.1700-1450 BCE”, he writes: “With Indo-Aryan settlement mainly in Gandhāra/Panjab, but occasionally extending upto Yamunā/Gangā, e.g. Atri poem 5.52.17; the relatively old poem 6.45.13 [sic] has gāngya […]” (WITZEL 2000a:§6).
Later, he reiterates: “Even the oldest books of the RV (4-6) contain data covering all of the Greater Panjab: note the rivers Sindhu 4.54.6, 4.55.3, 5.53.9 ‘Indus’; Asiknī 4.17.5 ‘Chenab’; Paruṣṇī 4.22.3. 5.52.9 ‘Ravi’; Vipāś 4.30.11 (Vibali) ‘Beas’; Yamunā 5.52.17; Gangā 6.45.31 with gāngya ‘belonging to the Ganges’ […].”(WITZEL 2000a:§6).
Finally, he leaves no room for any doubt as to what he is saying: “G. van Driem and A. Parpola (1999) believe that these oldest hymns were still composed in Afghanistan […]. This is, however, not the case as these books contain references to the major rivers of the Panjab, even the Ganges (see above).” (WITZEL 2000a:§6).
All this above is what Witzel is writing shortly before reading TALAGERI 2000: he repeatedly refers not only to Book 6 in general, not only to hymn VI.45 in general, but specifically to the verse in that hymn which refers to the Gangā, as pertaining to the “early Ṛgvedic period” and as constituting part of the geographical data of “the oldest books” and “the oldest hymns”, and he even takes up issue with other western scholars who think otherwise!
He categorically places the reference to the Gangā in VI.45.31 (as well as the reference to the Yamunā in V.52.17) before Books 1-3 and 7-10: i.e. before the Battle of the Ten Kings on the Paruṣṇī (in VII.18, 83), before the crossing of the Vipāś and the Śutudrī (in III.33), and before the establishment of the sacred fire at “the centre of the earth” in Kurukṣetra by the ancestors of Sudās (in III.23); and naturally long before the introduction of camels to Vedic ṛishis by kings with proto-Iranian names (in VIII.5, 6, 46).
But immediately after reading the analysis of the Rigveda in TALAGERI 2000, there is a magical transformation in Witzel’s attitude: suddenly, he realizes that this reference “occurs in a tṛca that could be an even later addition to this additional hymn” and finds this revelation so compelling that he has no alternative except to “immediately throw out the reference to the Ganges that appears at RV 6.45.31 (Gāngya)”!
This is what the scholarship of AIT-supporting "scholars" is all about.
IV. The Hariyūpīyā and Yavyāvatī
The Hariyūpīyā and Yavyāvatī in hymn VI.27 are two other rivers which are usually considered to have a question mark, since the two words are almost non-existent outside this hymn (only the second name being found once in the Panchavimsha Brahmana).
The context of the reference to the two rivers in the hymn is a historic battle fought on their banks, and it is clear that they are two eastern tributaries of the Sarasvati.
However, faced with what seemed to be a blank wall, many of the Indologists assumed it to be a river of Afghanistan, and arrived at the Zhob as the closest phonetic equivalent of the word Yavyāvatī, and some of them then identified the Hariyūpīyā with the Ariob or Haliab river not far from it. However, Edward Thomas, as far back as 1883, even as he was describing an invasionist scenario, recognized the two words as referring to "a tīrath in Kurukṣetra" (THOMAS 1883).
In his review of my 2000 book, Witzel insists that they are “western” rivers which “point to Eastern Afghanistan, to the river Zhob, and (perhaps) the Hali(-Ab)” (WITZEL 2000b:§7). [He places the (-Ab) in brackets because otherwise it would give the impression that Witzel is endorsing a connection between Rigvedic -ūp- and -āb, which is obviously not there, since the -āb stands for "water" or "river"].
However, the evidence shows that the two rivers are not the Zhob and Hali rivers, but eastern tributaries of the Sarasvati (present-day Ghaggar-Hakra):
1. The entire geographical horizon of the six Family Books (2-7), as we have seen in detail, shows that the east is the habitat of the Vedic Aryans, who expanded westwards only in the time of Sudās: Book 6, which refers to these two rivers in hymn 27, is not familiar with the areas west of the Sarasvati: not even with the areas of the Punjab. If these two rivers referred to the western rivers, it would present an inexplicable contradiction.
Note that while the two rivers are mentioned in such an important context in this hymn in this Book (6) which is located entirely in the area in the extreme east of the Rigvedic horizon, there is absolutely no mention of them anywhere in later Books and hymns where the westward expansion has been completed, not even in the nadī-sūkta (X.75)!
2. The Hariyūpīyā is clearly the name of a tributary of the Sarasvati, and in fact another name for the Dṛṣadvatī: while the name Hariyūpīyā is a one-time word not found anywhere outside hymn VI.27, the Dṛṣadvatī is known in later texts (e.g. the Mahabharata III.129.7) as Raupyā= the silver-golden one. The name is clearly a derivation of the word Hariyūpīyā both phonetically (which is obvious) and meaning-wise: Witzel points out that "hari 'tawny, etc' = raupya 'golden'" (WITZEL 2000b:§7).
3. The Yavyāvatī, which is clearly, again, either another name for the same river or for another river extremely close besides it, since the battle takes place on the banks of both, is found mentioned in only one place outside this hymn: in a reference in the Pancavimsha Brahmana 25.7.2. Incidentally, the geographical data in this text is examined in detail by none other than Witzel in another paper, where he locates the text in the "Kuru country, near Kurukṣetra" (WITZEL 1995a), and further, in another paper later, referring in particular to the word Yavyāvatī in this text, he points out that "the river Yavyāvatī is mentioned once in the RV; it has been identified with the Zhob in E.Afghanistan. At PB 25.7.2, however, nothing points to such a W. localisation. The persons connected with it are known to have stayed in the Vibhinduka country, a part of the Kuru-Pañcāla land” (WITZEL 1987:193). [His earlier reference to the Zhob is also accompanied by a doubtful “may be” and a question mark: “may be the Zhob river in N. Baluchistan?” (WITZEL 1995b: 317)].
So it is clear that, regardless of the idle speculations of the Indologists, the evidence in the texts shows that these two rivers were eastern tributaries of the Sarasvati in Haryana.
V. Ibha: the Elephant
I have already dealt with this word in very heavy detail in a separate article: "The Elephant and the Proto-Indo-European Homeland". However, it is an extremely important word―it is perhaps the most important single word which helps to pinpoint the location of the Proto-Indo-European Homeland. And, therefore, it is also the single most controversial word in the Rigveda, that it has to be dealt with here very briefly.
In the linguistic debate on the subject of the Proto-Indo-European Homeland, the discussion of flora and fauna holds a special position. As Mallory and Adams put it: "generally, those concerned with locating the Indo-European homeland through its lexicon tend to employ the evidence of its reconstructed fauna […] and flora" (MALLORY-ADAMS:2006:131). But despite all the arguments and bickering on the subject, the fact is that the reconstructed fauna and flora generally represents animals and plants arguably found in all the historical Indo-European areas, and so they cannot really point to any one area as the Homeland.
The only exception is the word for the elephant/ivory: it is found independently in four of the most ancient languages: Indo-Aryan íbha-, Greek eléphas (Mycenean Greek erepa), Italic (Latin) ebur, and Hittite laḫpa-. With a transfer of meaning to "camel", it is found in two more branches: Germanic (e.g. Gothic) ulbandus, and Slavic (e.g. Old Church Slavic) velibodŭ.
This one word is absolute proof of the Indian Homeland because:
1. The elephant is native on the one hand to India and southeast Asia, and, on the other, to sub-Saharan Africa. India is the only historical Indo-European speaking land which has the elephant native to it.
2. As per Mallory and Adams, the criterion for determining a word to be definitely Proto-Indo-European is "if there are cognates between Anatolian and any other Indo-European language", to which they add: "This rule will not please everyone, but it will be applied here" (MALLORY-ADAMS 2006:109-110). Here, there are direct cognates between Anatolian (Hittite) and three other independent branches, and indirectly two more.
However, honesty and objective study is not a requirement in Indological or Indo-European studies, and so the "scholars" keep rejecting the identity between the four (or six) words or simply stonewall the evidence. In fact, in the process, they even insist that the word íbha- in the Rigveda does not mean "elephant" at all, but something like "servant, attendant"!
There is therefore a need to break down this wall of conspiracy.
The elephant is referred to in the Rigveda by three terms: íbha-, vāraṇá, and hastín. [Later on there are many more: gaja, mātaṅga, kuñjara, dantī, nāga, karī, etc. In the Rigveda itself, Griffith and Wilson translate two more words as "elephant": apsah in VIII.45.56 and sṛṇí in X.106.6]
The tern hastín is generally dismissed by Indologists as the meaning is very literal, "(the animal) with a hand", and they treat this as evidence that the Indo-Aryans, when they first "entered" India, were so struck by this magnificent and unknown animal that they invented this very commonplace name for it.
But the word íbha- cannot be so explained. In the AIT scenario, it would have been treated as a word borrowed by the incoming "Aryans" from the natives. That cannot be done here because:
1. There is no equivalent word in any other non-Indo-European language of India, from which it could be alleged to have been borrowed.
2. It is already an archaic word in the Rigveda, found five times in the text, but already missing in the Atharvaveda and later Vedic texts, till revived in the later Sutras and Classical Sanskrit and Pali texts.
3. It is found directly in four other Indo-European branches, and indirectly in two more.
The word would therefore not be just an Old Rigvedic word but a very much pre-Rigvedic word. That this is so is proved by the fact that the word íbha- has no known etymological derivation: Pāṇini therefore merely gives the meaning in his Uṇādi-Sūtras (which lists words for which he is not able to provide the etymology) as hastī "elephant".
Therefore it is clear that íbha- is that rare type of Vedic word which has already undergone a process of Prakritization in the Rigveda. the logical pre-Prakritization form of íbha- would be *ṛbha-. Like the related word ṛbhu in the Rigveda, which, as MacDonell points out comes "from the root rabh, to grasp, thus means 'handy', 'dexterous'" (MACDONELL 1897:133), this word can also be derived from the same root. [A regular epithet of the ṛbhus is su-hastah "deft-handed" in IV.33.8; 35.3,9; V.42.12; VII.35.12; X.66.10].
Ironically, the name directly found in four Indo-European branches, and indirectly in two more, has an exactly similar etymology to the word hastin which is dismissed by the Indologists as being too literal: the reconstructed PIE form is *lebh/*ḷbhonth-. This is exactly the Sanskrit root √ṛabh-/√labh-!
It explains all the variations in the Indo-European words:
1. The initial r/l in Greek eléphas (Mycenean Greek erepa) and Hittite laḫpa-, as opposed to Indo-Aryan íbha- and Latin ebur.
2. The suffix *onth- in the Greek elephantas and the Germanic words (ulbandus-, etc., and the related Slavic words)―explained by the suffix -vanta (*ṛbha-vanta would be "tusker", as the more regularly settled meaning of *ṛbha- in all four branches was "tusk, ivory").
There is even more to this evidence: right down to the fact that the ancient importance of ivory-trading in India explains the dual meaning of ibha- in the Rigveda: ibha- "elephant/ivory", ibhya "rich". The same root is later associated with lābha, "profit", and the Goddess of Wealth, Lakṣmī, is associated with elephants, and is called both Lābha-Lakṣmī and Gaja-Lakṣmī.
This much is enough at this point to the identity of the word íbha- with the elephant, and to round off the subject of the clear historical message of Rigvedic geography.
Added 14/5/2020: The Identity of the Sarayu river:
An alert reader of another article of mine alerted me to make a correction I should have made long ago. It is about the identity of the extremely important river Sarayu in the Rigveda. In my very first book in 1993, I identified it with the Siritoi river, a western tributary of the Indus, on the basis of the identification by P.L. Bhargava in his invasionist book "India in the Vedic Age: A History of Aryan Expansion in India". But the westward expansion of the Bharata Pūrus (Indo-Aryans) in Book 4 was actually much deeper northwestwards than I had taken it to be.
It was definite that the Sarayu of the Rigveda was in Afghanistan as it represented the westernmost thrust of the Bharata Pūrus. But subsequently, I have found many reasons to doubt my earlier exact identification with Siritoi rather than with the Harirud (Herat):
1. The Siritoi is a very minor tributary, and in fact so minor that it will be difficult to locate it on a map. It is in the south, in northern Baluchistan, and it is a western tributary of the Zhob, which is a southern tributary of the Gomal, which is itself a western tributary of the Indus.
2. In a late hymn in X.64.9, the reference is to the Three Great Streams Sarasvati, Sarayu and Sindhu. It would be surprising for an obscure tributary to be clubbed together with the two Great Rivers of the Rigveda. However, if it is identified with the Harirud (Herat), it makes sense, since these are three Great Rivers located within present-day day India, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
3. As a look at any map will show, any expansion across the Beas and Sutlej (Vipāś and Śutudrī) and then across the Ravi and Chenab (Paruṣṇī and Asiknī), and in the vicinity of the rivers Sindhu, Kubhā and Krumu (mentioned in V.53.9 with the Sarayu) will lead us close to the Harirud (Herat) in Central Afghanistan and then further northwestwards, rather than southwards in the region of the Siritoi.
The Harirud river starts out from Central Afghanistan and flows westwards. The Kubha (Kabul) river starts from around the same area, but flows to the east and becomes a tributary of the Indus. This also explains why Sarayu is mentioned in V.53.9 separately (although in the same verse) from the Sindhu and its tributaries, Kubha, Krumu, Anitabhā and Rasa which are mentioned together. The area of this verse is Central Afghanistan.
4. This is actually the central area of the Avestan Iranians.
5. It also explains the appearance in subsequent Books of the Suvāstu (Swat in the northernmost Khyber-Pakhunkhwa province of Pakistan), and the Bactrian camel.
Further, I recently find that in his original book, in 1956, Bhargava does not specifically identify the Sarayu with the Siritoi. He identifies it, of course, as "the river Sarayu, which was a western tributary of the Indus" (BHARGAVA 1956:68). But he is not specific: "The name Sarayu is mentioned more than once in the Rigveda, and the fact that is never associated with Yamunā, Gangā or any of the eastern rivers but is mentioned along with Kubhā, Krumu and Sindhu proves that in Rigvedic times it was the name of a river of the north-west of India, for there could be no meaning in associating a river of eastern India with the rivers of the north-west frontier. Unfortunately it is not possible to identify this river because it has changed name, as did several others" (BHARGAVA 1956:70).
However, in his much revised reprint of the book in 1971, which was the book referred by me in 1993, he seems to make up his mind and specifically writes "Gomatī and Sarayu [….] two of the western tributaries of the Indus, now known as the Gomal and the Siritoi" (BHARGAVA 1956/1971: 132). Clearly, a wrong guess.
Having accepted the identification in my first book, and since it tallied with the general geography and history (i.e. the expansion into the westernmost area in the Rigveda, west of the Indus), I simply carried on with it out of sloth (perhaps subconsciously realizing that it would mean a correction of all my earlier writings where I referred to the Sarayu as the Siritoi or as a "western tributary of the Indus"!). On the same ground, I had classified the geographical horizon of the Rigveda as "southern and eastern Afghanistan" rather than simply as "Afghanistan" in my earlier books, and I mechanically continued to copy-paste this phrase in subsequent books and articles. I am grateful to reader Arunabha Roy for nudging me into action to amend this error.
BHARGAVA 1956: India in the Vedic Age: A History of Aryan Expansion in India. Upper India Publishing House Pvt. Ltd. Lucknow, 1956.
BHARGAVA 1956/1971: India in the Vedic Age: A History of Aryan Expansion in India. Upper India Publishing House Pvt. Ltd. Lucknow, reprint.
ERDOSY 1989: Ethnicity in the Rigveda and its Bearing on the Question of Indo-European Origins. Erdosy, George. pp. 35-47 in “South Asian Studies” vol. 5. London.
GRIFFITH 1889: The Hymns of the Rig-Veda. (tr.) Griffith, Ralph T.H. Munshiram Manoharlal, rep. 1987, Varanasi.
JAMISON-BRERETON 2014: The Rigveda―The Earliest Religious Poetry of India. Oxford Univ. Press, New York, 2014.
MACDONELL 1897: Vedic Mythology. Macdonell, A.A. Verlag von Karl J. Trübner, Strassburg, 1897.
MALLORY-ADAMS 2006: The Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European World. Mallory J.P. and Adams D.Q. Oxford University Press, 2006.
TALAGERI 2000: The Rigveda: A Historical Analysis. Talageri S.G. Aditya Prakashan (New Delhi), 2000.
TALAGERI 2008: The Rigveda and the Avesta: The Final Evidence. Talageri S.G. Aditya Prakashan (New Delhi), 2008.
THOMAS 1883: The Rivers of the Vedas, and How the Aryans entered India. Thomas, Edward. The Journal of the American Oriental Society, 1883 (p.357-386).
WITZEL 1987: On the Localization of Vedic Texts and Schools. Witzel, Michael. in “India and the Ancient World –History Trade and Culture Before AD 650” ed. by Gilbert Pollet, Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta, vol. 25, Departement Orientalistiek, Leuven.
WITZEL 1995b: Rgvedic History: Poets, Chieftains and Politics. Witzel, Michael. pp. 307-352 in “The Indo-Aryans of Ancient South Asia”, ed. by George Erdosy. Walter de Gruyter. Berlin.
WITZEL 1997b: The Development of the Vedic Canon and Its Schools: The Social and Political Milieu. Witzel, Michael. in “Inside the Texts, Beyond the Texts”, ed. by M.Witzel, Cambridge 1997 (being the proceedings of the International Vedic Workshop, Harvard univ., June 1989).
WITZEL 1999: Substrate Languages in Old Indo-Aryan. EJVS 5-1, 1999.
WITZEL 2000a: The Languages of Harappa. Witzel, Michael. Feb. 17, 2000.
WITZEL 2000b: The Home of the Aryans. Witzel, Michael. in “Anusantyai, Fest schrift fur Johanna Norten zum” 70, Geburtstag. Ed. Almut Hintze, Eva Tichy, JH Roll, 2000.
WITZEL 2001b: WESTWARD HO! The Incredible Wanderlust of the Rgvedic Tribes Exposed by S. Talageri, at http://users.primushost.com/~india/ejvs/ejvs0702/ejvs0702a.txt