Saraswati, the Vedic Goddess and River

Saraswati, the Vedic Goddess and River

The river Saraswati has shattered the mountain peaks with her fast and powerful waves, just as easily as one uproots the lotus stems; let us invoke her, who strikes what is far and near, with holy hymns and prayers.

– Rig Veda 6.62.2

Goddess Saraswati, goddess of the word/speech (vak devi), wisdom, learning, inspiration, expression and the arts. She is the personification of the highest knowledge (maha vidya the one who gives the realisation of the essence (sara) of our own Self (swa). She represents purity and elevated mind – the sattva guna.

Saraswati is one of the earliest Vedic goddesses and was also worshipped as the ancient river Saraswati that flowed in Vedic times. The Nadistuti hymn in the Rigveda (10.75) mentions the Saraswati river as flowing between the Yamuna in the east and the Sutlej in the west (two rivers still flowing in north-western India).(1)

The Brahamanas and the Mahabharata also mention the Saraswati river. The Mahabharata refers to Saraswati as vedanam matram pasya, the mother of the Vedas. The  Saraswati river is believed to have gone underground around 1500 BCE.(2) In recent times satellite imagery has confirmed the presence of underground water in a river-course-like pattern in Western India(3) and in 2015 underground fresh water was discovered in Haryana’s Yamunanagar which is being considered as the waters of the lost Saraswati river. The  government of India is now attempting to revive the river’s course using ancient scriptures as a guide.

Speaking on the association of Goddess Saraswati with a river, Sri Aurobindo explained  in The Secret of the Vedas: “Saraswati means, “she of the stream, the flowing movement”, and is therefore a natural name both for a river and for the goddess of inspiration.”

Saraswati in the Rig Veda

The Rig Veda contains many hymns in praise and adoration of Saraswati, invoking her as ‘best of mothers’, ‘best of rivers’ and ‘best of goddesses’. Saraswati simultaneously represents divinity, an aspect of human consciousness and the great ancient river. Here’s a few excerpts:

Rig Veda verses 2.41.16 to 2.41.18 go as follows:(4)

ámbitame nádītame dévitame sárasvati |
apraśastā́ iva smasi práśastim amba nas kr̥dhi

O best Mother (ámbitame), best River (nádītame), best Goddess (dévitame), Sarasvati, are we (smasi) likely (iva) without (the power of) expression (apraśastā́), O Mother (amba), create (kr̥dhi) for us (nas) expression (práśastim).

tuvé víśvā sarasvati śritā́ ā́yūṁṣi deviyā́m |
śunáhotreṣu matsuva prajā́ṁ devi didiḍḍhi naḥ

In you (tuvé) the divine (deviyā́m), O Sarasvati, all (víśvā) forms (or, energies) of life (ā́yūṁṣi) are set (śritā́). Take delight (matsuva) in us, who have joy in the sacrifice (śunáhotreṣu); O Goddess (devi) bestow (didiḍḍhi) progeny (inner offspring) (prajā́ṁ) on us (naḥ).

imā́ bráhma sarasvati juṣásva vājinīvati |
yā́ te mánma gr̥ tsamadā́ r̥ tāvari priyā́ devéṣu júhvati

O Sarasvati, you, who are full of substantial energy (vājinīvati), welcome (juṣásva) these words (upwelling) from the soul (imā́ bráhma), which (yā́), O Truthful one (r̥ tāvari), we Gritsamadas (who delight in a clear mind) offer (júhvati) as expressive thoughts (mánma) to you (te), dear among the Gods (priyā́ devéṣu).

The Rig Veda verse VII.95 contains the first hymn to the river Saraswati by the great Sage Vashishtha. In the hymn, Vashishtha states:(4)

एकाचेतत् सरस्वती नदीनां शुचिर् यती गिरिभ्य आ समुद्रात्।
रायश् चेतन्ती भुवनस्य भूरेर् घृतम् पयो दुदुहे नाहुषाय॥

ékācetat sárasvatī nadī́nāṃ śúcir yatī́ giríbhya ā́ samudrā́t |
rāyáś cétantī bhúvanasya bhū́rer ghr̥ tám páyo duduhe nā́huṣāya

Of (all) the rivers (nadī́nāṃ) Sarasvati alone became conscious (ékācetat), flowing (yatī́) pure (śúcir) from the mountains (of the superconscient higher planes) (giríbhya) up to the (lower) ocean (of the inconscient) (ā́ samudrā́t); being conscious (cétantī) of the riches (rāyáś) of the manifold (bhū́rer) world of becoming (bhúvanasya) she has yielded (duduhe) for the human who dwells near her (nā́huṣāya) milk (páyo) and clarified butter (ghr̥tám).

In another place he says:

अयम् उ ते सरस्वति वसिष्ठे द्वाराव् ऋतस्य सुभगे व्य् आवः।
वर्ध शुभ्रे स्तुवते रासि वाजान् यूयम् पात स्वस्तिभिः सदा नः ॥

For you (te), O divine Stream (sarasvati), O goddess of Delight (subhage), this (ayám) most luminous seer (vásiṣṭho) has opened ( āvaḥ) the doors of the dynamic Truth (dvā́rāv r̥ tásya). Grow (várdha) (in him), O brightly shining one (śubhre), and bestow (rāsi) on your affirmer (stuvaté) the plenitudes (vāj́ ān). O you (yūyám) (Gods) guard (pāta) us (naḥ) ever (sádā) with perfect states of being (suastíbhiḥ).


Read also: Basant Panchami: Honouring Saraswati, the Goddess of Wisdom and Light


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