Posts filed under ‘theory’

River Saraswati


Myths, if our schoolbooks are to be believed, are all the foundation ancient India stands on.  If our eminent historians have it entirely their way, soon our children shall believe that ancient India was a concept born out of jingoism, opium and/or bed-time stories.  Let us take one myth at a time, and search for some history there. If there is no real history to be found anywhere in the sanskrit texts, I must confess that our ancestors were an unimaginably creative lot, and we should hang our heads in shame for becoming a call-center race. If, on the other hand, there is even a shred of reality in these myths, we should see to it that our historians are rehabituated in professions related to performance arts, for no other profession is likely to appreciate their antics.

Allow me to deal with one myth (as Romila Thapar calls them) at a time, because presenting real academic proof is not to be done with the generic sweep.

River Saraswati:

The river Saraswati is considered to be a product of folklore and myth according to the politicians and a majority of the Indian press.  Since most of our politicians prefer the thumbprint to the signature, I suggest we turn to people who know what they are talking about. The historians:

“Even the issue whether the Saraswati was a major river in ancient times or a nala as available evidence would indicate could be a subject of debate.”

– Irfan Habib at the History Congress

I consider myself to be a moderately devout Hindu and a proud Indian, and it does not please me to see Saraswati being called a drain. But that does not justify debunking what an academician of such stature has said. Probe a little further, shall we? Using the “available evidence” as Mr. Habib suggests:

I am no expert in the field of history. All I have is common sense, the Internet, and access to public libraries. Before we begin, I find it apropos to quote Prof. B. B. Lal, a retired Director-General of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), from the Hindustan Times:

NEW DELHI, INDIA, November 23, 2002: Eminent historian and archaeologist, Professor B. B. Lal has dismissed as baseless the allegations of misrepresenting history in the new history text books for class XI at a lecture organized by the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT). He claimed that for some time, four myths had been perpetuated, obscuring India’s past. These are the Aryan invasion of India, the Harappans being Dravidian-speaking people, the Rigvedic Saraswati being the same as the Helmand of Afghanistan and the extinction of Harappan culture. The attempt to correct these myths in new history books has been criticized by some historians as a distortion and misrepresentation of ancient Indian history. Prof. Lal, supplementing his talk with evidence from recent discoveries, said the Vedas were erroneously dated back to 1200 BCE by German scholar Max Mueller. The Vedas include many references to the river Saraswati, which had dried up before 2000 BCE, therefore the time of Vedas has to be before 2000 BCE. The Harappan civilization itself was found dating back to fifth millennium BCE. Prof. Lal explained that since there were no Harappan sites in South India nor were Dravidian sites found in North India, it was a myth that the Harappans were pushed down South.

So, if we are to trust our historians and/or our archaeologists, the Vedic river Saraswati is no myth. To remove all the shards of subjectivity from this, we seek help from the satellite LandSat MSS2, which marks out the Saraswati river paleochannel (Remote Sensing Geology, Ravi P. Gupta: pp. 529; Springer, 2003). Additional arguments supporting this proof can be found at the Geospatial Resource Portal.

It is, therefore, evident that the Vedic river Saraswati was as real as Ganga or Nile or Amazon. Was it, indeed, a mere drain, as Irfan Habib would like to insist?

Before I answer the question, I wonder why I ask the question in the first place. In the Rigveda, a few rivers are mentioned in the following order:  Ganga, Yamuna, Saraswati, Shatadru, Parusni, etc. Shatadru is modern Sutlej, a river of no negligible dimensions or volume. And we all know that Ganga and Yamuna are not drains (in terms of size, not pollutants). Why would the Rigveda mention a small drain while listing down the most magnificient rivers? Moreover, as the satellite images show, a river originating in the Himalayas and ending at the Arabian Sea after meandering through the plains for more than 500 kms, is probably bigger than Mr. Habib’s imagination.

This BBC report manages to shed some light on the matter: India’s Miracle River.


River Saraswati is no myth. And I was able to arrive at this conclusion with ample evidence provided by several geologists and archaeologists in the form of research papers, books, and conference presentations. Many of these resources are available on the Internet and in easily accessible libraries. If a reputed historian such as Mr. Habib has a more limited pool of available evidence, then, I am afraid, it simply shows lack of honest endeavour.

I can’t help notice that his comment, which, I quoted at the beginning of this article, reeks of cheap thrill; very much like the “your mom” jokes born in America. If so, I would say Irfan Habib is to academics what Chetan Bhagat is to literature.


April 22, 2009 at 2:49 pm 23 comments

J Krishnamurti and Yogavaasishta

I should apologize in advance to my regular readers who expect a poem or a short humorous post in this blog. I am not sure at all about any reader liking this. In fact, I am quite sure that nobody will like this. The hardcore Krishnamurti followers will perhaps hate the ‘Hindu’ tag that I am naively putting on him. And extreme right-wing Hindus will certainly not like the idea of a Hindu text abolishing several concepts popularly believed to be very Hindu. But let me put this whole thing up anyway.

A note on Sanskrit phonetics:

I have italicized all Sanskrit words in this article. The following phonetic regulations are to considered for correct pronunciation of those words:

  • aa – the second ‘a’ in ‘alarm’. (alaarm).
  • c – ‘ch’ in ‘chant’.
  • i – ‘i’ in ‘him’.
  • ee – ‘ee’ in ‘peel’.
  • N – hard ‘n’. Unfortunately, there is no European equivalent to this sound.
  • Use of capitals:
    • t – the soft ‘t’ used in French, (‘t’ in ‘tu’).
    • th – ‘th’ in ‘thank’.
    • d – ‘th’ in ‘the’.
    • T – the normal ‘t’ in English. ‘t’ in ‘tea’.
    • D – the normal ‘d’ in English. ‘d’ in ‘do’.

“I would like to talk about the whole problem of existence. . . . All values are changing from day to day, there is no respect, no authority, and nobody has faith in anything whatsoever; neither in the Church, nor in the establishment, nor in any philosophy. So one is left absolutely to oneself to find out what one is to do in this chaotic world. What is the right action?” – JK, Beyond Violence, Ch 1: Existence

I had wandered into the library of the KFI (Krishnamurti Foundation India) Chennai this Friday afternoon for want of something to do. I had expected the place to be a pile of books meant for the coffee-table philosophers (people who feign interest in philosophical or religio-philosophical matters only to secure a position among the heavyweights of a pseudo-intellectual circle) engaging in Jiddu Krishnamurti for their fall/winter conglomerations. To my pleasant surprise, they had a rather impressive collection of books on several subjects. Having bought a few books by J K recently, and having managed to reach the middle of only the second among them, I decided to select a non-Krishnamurti work from the shelf. For no reason whatsoever, I picked up yogavaasishtha

At this point, I should provide a brief introduction to the yogavaasishtha

Yogavaasishtha is a philosophical treatise written by the great Sanskrit poet and scholar Vaalmiki. The original treatise comprises of 30,000 slokas. It is written in the form of a dialog between sixteen year old Raama and the great sage Vasishtha. The book is one of the best discourses on monism, propounding that everything in the universe is a projection or manifestation of a singular consciousness. It is also a beautiful book even only in terms of its poetic charm. For a more elaborate description of this treatise, I urge you to visit – A Brief Introduction to Yogavaasishtha. Yogavaasishtha starts with Raama as a dejected prince who finds life and its achievements quite pointless by noticing, quite correctly, that all happiness and sorrow of life is transient. The sage Vasishtha decides to tell Raama about permanent bliss, liberation, bondage of life, etc. Broadly speaking, the book deals with the problem of inharmonious existence and impermanence.

As I kept on reading this wonderful treatise, I was repeatedly hit by the similarities between this ancient Hindu text and the teachings of one of the greatest contemporary teachers, J Krishnamurti. I would like to draw parallels between Krishnamurti’s book “Beyond Violence” and Yogavaasishtha.


February 16, 2008 at 10:26 pm 7 comments

Hermeneutics and Art: thoughts about a utopian perfection

It was probably a year ago while writing my diary one night when I realized that my interpretations of the day’s events had already changed since when they had happened. My reactions and thoughts regarding a certain incident that morning were not the same as they were that morning. The few hours that had gone by had brought about a frightening change in perspective. While the modification itself might not have been totally salubrious, the interesting fact was that my reflections alone were enough to make that happen. The metamorphosis, on the whole, was an accommodation of a broader vision — a process imbibing maturity.


June 28, 2007 at 8:34 am Leave a comment

Origin as an aesthetic experience: creation as art

Creation as an expression of truth and truth as beauty

In the previous post, I have put forth a view on the origin of aesthetics, and perhaps even a reason for its existence, endorsing the idea that creation always arises from the duality of reconciliation. (more…)

June 22, 2007 at 5:51 am 1 comment

The origin of aesthetics

There is a remarkable verse in the atharva veda which attributes all that is great in the human world to superfluity. It says:

ritam satyam tapo raashtram sramo dharmasca karmaca
bhutam bhavishyat ucchiste viryam lakshmirbalam bale

(Translation: Righteousness, truth, great endeavours, empire, religion, duties, enterprise, heroism and prosperity, the past and the future dwell in the surpassing strength of the surplus.)

The meaning of it is that man expresses himself through his super-abundance which largely overlaps his absolute need. The renowned vedic commentator Sayanaacarya says:


June 21, 2007 at 10:54 am 1 comment

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