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River Saraswati

There Flowed A River: In Search Of The Vedic Saraswati

Establishing the existence of the mythical river is key to the Hindu nationalist project of validating their origin story

Still: From the film Searching for Saraswati by Shirley Abraham & Amit Madheshiya

Here’s the mother of all conundrums—all the mighty rivers described in the Vedas—the Indus (Sindhu), Jhelum (Vitasta), Chenab (Askini), Ravi (Purushni), Beas (Vipasa) and Sutlej (Shatadru)—exist. Except Saraswati—described as “ambitame, naditame, devitame (the best of mothers, the best of rivers, the best of goddesses)” in the Vedas. How a snow-fed perennial watercourse could completely vanish, leaving no trace detectable by modern sci­ence, has triggered interest and debate for over a century-and-a-half.

But, what was a pursuit for precise knowledge of the past in the late 19th and early 20th centur­ies, turned into a heated political debate in indep­endent India, ever since archeologist Braj Basi Lal introduced the trend of excavating sites approximating descriptions in the ancient Hindu epics, instead of those noted by ancient travellers, which used to be the established mode of enquiry earlier. The project was called ‘Archa­eology of Mahabharata Sites’.

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