Sindhu and Sarasvati: Battle for Akhand Bharat
by Vijaya Rajiva on 20 Jul 2013 12 Comments

The Sindhu and Sarasvati rivers were at the centre of Rig Vedic consciousness, closely followed by the Iravati (Ravi), Sutudri (Sutlej), Vipasa (Beas), Chandrabhaga (Chenab), Vitasta (Jhelum). Hence the reference to the land as Sapta Sindhu (seven rivers). The Sarasvati, mentioned some seventy times in the Rig Veda, dried up in post-Vedic times and was rediscovered in the last four decades through satellite imagery which spotted its paleo channels. This was a landmark breakthrough and provided Indic scholars the basis for challenging much of the traditional history of India as written by Western scholars and their followers in India.

As the Vedic peoples moved eastwards from the Punjab/Haryana region (where the Rig Veda was composed), they discovered new territories and rivers. Hence, the stotram for the water purification ceremony from the Puranas:

Gange cha yamune chaiva Godavari Sarasvati Narmada Sindhu Kaveri Jalasmin sammidham Kuru

O ye Rivers Gange, Yamune, Godavari, Sarasvati, Narmada, Sindhu and Kaveri! Reside together here in this water

There is a close bond between Sindhu and Sarasvati in Rig Vedic consciousness and the phrase ‘akhand bharat’ (undivided Bharat). Eminent historian and archaeologist Shivaji Singh has spelled this out in his definition of the word ‘aryam’ as characterising akhand bharat. Quoting the famous line from the Rig Veda, Krinvanto visvam aryam (Make the world aryam), he explains that aryam is that mindset, world view, attitude, which works for the spiritual and material welfare of humankind (Vedic Culture and its Continuity, 2010).

Elaborating, he points out that the word ‘aryam’ has nothing to do with the racist use of the word ‘aryan’ by Western scholarship, nor is it a linguistic construct. The battle for akhand bharat is thus a battle for the definition of sacred geography (the land from the Himalaya and the northwest to Kanyakumari in the south and from Dwaraka in the west to undivided Bengal in   the east) but also the more universal meaning of aryam.

The question arises as to whether the sacred geography of akhand bharat is closely linked to the sanctity of the Sindhu and the Sarasvati and the meaning of aryam, and if so, why and how.

The Meaning of Aryam or Aryattva

One of the clearest explanations of this ideal of Aryam is provided by Shivaji Singh: “The essence of Vedic culture lies in its perception of Aryattva, a virtue the achievement of which is considered to be necessary for civilised living. The slogan Krinvanto viswam aryam (Rig Veda 9.63.5) is an appeal to the divine almighty power to help achieve this ideal. Unfortunately, however, many historians have misunderstood this Aryattva”.


Scholars have often confused the Vedic Aryans with Indo Aryans, forgetting that the two concepts are different. ‘Arya’ being the self-designation of the Vedic people, ‘Vedic Aryan’ represents a historical reality. As against this, the term ‘Indo-Aryan’ is a linguistic construct denoting speakers of a sub-group of languages within the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European family, and being a construct, its validity is subject to verification.

Although language and culture are intimately connected, Arya does not denote a speaker of a particular language. In the Vedic view, a person speaking a Dravidian language is Arya if he possesses the virtue called Aryattva… (p10). Arya is defined one who is noble and refined in ideas and action, and these depend on a “world view characterised by a belief in certain concepts like Rta, Satya, Tapas, Yajna, Brahma etc.” (p10)

Aryattva is a blending of virtues that lead to the highest material and spiritual achievement. Rta simply means the order and harmony of the universe which the Rig Vedic Rishis saw in their physical environment, Nature. Yajna, the ritual of the fire, homa, is not only a tribute to the fire Deva, Agni, but embodies the orderly working of the universe reflected in Vedic astronomy. The intricate celestial relationships that the Rishis actually observed with the naked eye are clearly explained by BN Narahari Achar in ‘Sarasvati River and Chronology: Simulations using Planetarium Software’ (cited in Vedic River Sarasvati and Hindu Civilisation, 2008, ed. S Kalyanaraman).

Satya (usually translated as Truth) represents the mirroring of the cosmic order in society and the individual’s alignment with this cosmic order. Likewise, Tapas or self-discipline (austerity) was practiced by the Rishis for the welfare of society and therefore the universal application of this to individuals who embody Aryam/Aryattva.

These ideals of virtuous living came to the consciousness of Vedic Rishis as they saw the heavens, the earth around them, the rivers, forests and lakes and all living creatures. Aryam was a holistic ideal which passed into Hindu consciousness and society as Dharma. A recent contemporary explanation of Dharma and Rta is provided by Shrinivas Tilak, A Reawakening to a secular Hindu nation (p13-16, 2008).

Dharma in Tilak’s interpretation (though not explicitly stated by him) is related to Aryam/ aryattva which is the social derivative of Rta as the Vedic seers envisioned it. Tilak provides a very lucid explanation of other aspects of Dharma.

The Vedic peoples engaged in international trade and were familiar with maritime travel and also engaged in the intellectual fields of mathematics and astronomy. The ideal of Aryam came to them on the banks of the Sindhu and Sarasvati. This was the basis of their spiritual bond with the two rivers.

Sacred Geography

Sindhu and Sarasvati were not only rivers that provided the livelihood of the Vedic peoples. In a previous article, the writer spoke of the role of the Sarasvati as the giver of ‘light’ (‘Sarasvati and the Resurgence of Hinduism’, Haindava Keralam, 08/05/2013). In the Rig Veda, Sarasvati is not only a river but the giver of ‘light’. Western scholars have traditionally dismissed the presence of the Goddesses (hereafter referred to as Devatas and Devis) in the Rig Veda and downplayed their importance.

Nevertheless, for a correct reading we have to see Sarasvati not only as a river Devi 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 patron of learning, knowledge, music, arts, etc. Book 1 is the work of Sage Agastya, also known for his famous Sarasvati Sthrotram (Ya kundendu tushaara, haara dhavala…) where he hails the Devi as the source of knowledge.

The ten books of the Rig Veda contain seventy references to Sarasvati. Of these, two are directly addressed to her, as 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 some references to her as the origin of holy thoughts, but none as clear cut as the reference to the giver of ‘light’ by Agastya.

Hence, one can infer that the Rig Veda signalled the importance of knowledge. This fits in with NS Rajaram’s thesis that Vedic Mathematics was central to the civilisation and that the geometric/algebraic notions of the period influenced Old Babylonia and Egypt and thence the Greek philosopher Pythagoras whose theorem is well known to most readers (See ‘The Origins of Indo-Europeans’ and ‘The Third Wave’, Folks Magazine, Dec. 2012, Feb, March 2013).

Pythagoras (570 BC-495 BC) always wanted to visit India. There is a missing period of ten years in his life and scholars have speculated that he may have come to India during that time. He had, of course, visited Egypt and Babylonia. If he did come to India, it is reasonable to assume that he learned his Mathematics directly from India and not through Old Babylonia and Egypt.

It is not accidental that Sarasvati is deified as the source of ‘light.’ Rajaram points out that the mathematical formulae used for the bricks for the Vedic fire altar were borrowed by the Harappan civilisation (via the Sulba Sutras) whose peoples lived on the banks of the Sarasvati and Sindhu.

The Sindhu has been mentioned in the Rig Veda more than a dozen times, the most arresting being in Book X, where the power and might of the river are invoked. It would seem that this aspect overawed the Vedic peoples.

Verses from the Rig Veda make this abundantly clear:

1)      The singer, O ye Waters in Vivasvan’s place, shall tell your grandeur forth that is beyond compare. The Rivers have come forward triply, seven and seven. Sindhu in might surpasses all the streams that flow.

2)    Varuna cut the channels for thy forward course, O Sindhu, when thou rannest on to win the race. Thou speedest over precipitious ridges of the earth, when thou art Lord and Leader of these moving floods.

3)     His roar is lifted up to heaven above the earth: he puts forth endless vigour with a flash of light. Like floods of rain that fall in thunder from the cloud, so Sindhu rushes on bellowing like a bull.

4)    Like mothers to their calves, like milch kine with their milk, so, Sindhu, unto thee the roaring rivers run. Thou leadest as a warrior king thine army’s wings what time thou comest in the van of these swift streams.

(Rig Veda, Griffiths translation, Book 10.75.1-4)


Shivaji Singh says the Sindhu’s contribution to the Indian ethos is tremendous. The Rig Veda highly adores Sindhu for its benefactions, and the reverence for the river has continued down the ages. The water purifying mantra (ganga cha yamune chaiva…) still repeated at the very beginning of Hindu religious perfomances, stands witness to the fact that Sindhu has traditionally been considered as one of the seven most important rivers of the subcontinent. Changes and modifications in political boundaries cannot alter this fact. Culture is far more durable than Politics (email communication).

Sacred Space and Akhand Bharat

Akhand Bharat, then, in which Sindhu and Sarasvati are integral parts, is a sacred space unique to the subcontinent. Here live the Devas and Devatas that the Rig Vedic Rishis sighted and were commemorated by them in the Rig Veda. As time went by, some of the names changed and more names were added to the Hindu pantheon. They still continue to inhabit the land mass from the Himalaya to Cape Comorin and from west to east.

In a discussion of rashtra as a culturally nuanced space, Shrinivas Tilak observes: “As a culturally integrated unity, the idea of rashtra inevitably developed a nuanced network of ideology, outlook and traditions inspired and informed by the particular geo-morphological features of the Indian landmass.” (Rewakening to a secular Hindu nation, p.20)

This culturally integrated unity which Hindus call the motherland was given several thousand years ago by the Rishis of the Rig Veda who first lived on the banks of the Sindhu and the Sarasvati.

The writer is a political philosopher who taught at a Canadian university

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