Sarasvati and Resurgent Hinduism

published on May 8, 2013

The importance of the references to the river Sarasvati in the Rig Veda is gaining greater significance today. Sarasvati is referred to in Book One of the Rig Veda as the giver of ‘light’, not only as precursor to her worship later as the patron of knowledge, but also as the possible focal point of Rig Vedic knowledge. We shall presently see why this reference is important.

Among the great discoveries of the last two decades has been the discovery of the Vedic river Sarasvati mentioned some 70 times in the Rig Veda and which disappeared owing to a variety of natural causes, mainly techtonic shifts and whose paleochannels have now been sighted by satellite photography.

Concurrent with this was the shift from the importance of the river Indus as the main site of the Indus Valley Civilisation (also known as the Harappan Civilisation) to the river Sarasvati.

The majority of the sites of the Harappan Civilisation are now known to have been on the once existent mighty river the Sarasvati, leading some Indic scholars to use the new name Sarasvati Sindhu Civilisation (Sindhu being the Sanskrit name for the anglicised Indus). And further studies have led to renewed attempts at the decipherment of the Indus Script (The Deciphered Indus Script 2000 by Dr. N. Jha & Dr. N.S. Rajaram & Indus Script Cipher 2010 by Dr. S.Kalyanraman). These are the most recent efforts in a long line of previous scholars.

Here, we shall note the importance given to Sarasvati, not only as the river but also as the giver of ‘light’ in the Rig Veda. Western scholars have traditionally dismissed the presence of the Goddesses (hereafter referred to as Devatas/Devis) on the Rig Veda and have downplayed them. Neverthless, for a correct reading we have to see Sarasvati not only as the river Devata giving abundance and plenty to the Rig Vedic peoples but also as the giver of ‘light’.

The very first book of the Rig Veda says : ‘ . . . . Sarasvati, the mighty flood, she with light illumines, She brightens every pious thought . . . . ‘ (Book 1, Hymn 3, Line 12, Griffith translation).

The light here refers to intellection and devotion and explains the origin of Sarasvati as the patroness of learning, knowledge, music, arts etc. It is of interest to note that Book 1 is the work of Sage Agastya, also known for his famous Sasrasvati Stotram, where he hails the Devata as the source of knowledge. In the 10 books of the Rig Veda, there are 70 references to Sarasvati. Of these there are two that are directly addressed to her, but in these her descriptions are those of one who gives prosperity and plenty.

She is the mighty river that flows from the mountains to the sea. She is life giving water. There are one or two references to her as the origin of holy thoughts, but none as clear cut as the reference to the giver of light by Sage Agastya. Hence, one can infer that the Rig Veda already signalled the importance of knowledge. This fits in with the thesis propounded by Dr. N.S.Rajaram that Vedic mathematics was central to the civilisation (See his 4 articles The Origins of Indo Europeans & The Third Wave, Folks Magazine, Dec. 2012, Feb & March 2013 ) and that the geometric/algebraic notions of the period influenced Old Babylonia and Egypt and via that source the Greek philosopher Pythagoras whose theorem is well known to most readers.

What is ofcourse, startling and novel is his further argument that the formula for building the bricks for the fire altar for the Vedic homa in the Rig Vedic period was borrowed by the Indus people for the building of their cities.
This places the Vedic period before the Indus Valley Civilisation. The dates and the arguments are closely reasoned in the above mentioned articles by Dr. Rajaram.

Other scholars such as Dr. S. Kak, have written about the astronomical discoveries of the Rig Vedic period.

Sarasvati cannot be equated with the Greek Goddess of learning, Athena, since the Greeks of the time did not have the profound knowledge or the cosmic vision of the Rig Veda. It will also explain why unlike Greek thought the Vedic Agamic tradition never died out, bolstered as it was by the enormous contributions to astronomy and mathematics with which ancient India is associated. It was not merely that Greek civilisation was overpowered by the domination of Christianity, but that it did not have the sufficient resources to provide an ongoing intellectual enterprise.

The contrast with India is obvious.

In such a context Indic scholars have an additional line of inquiry to pursue. The Rig Vedic sages were not simply indulging in poetic fantasy, but immersed in deep devotion to the Devata who inspired their discoveries.

(The writer is a Political Philosopher who taught at a Canadian university).

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