HINDUISM TODAY .......KATGARH,
INDIA, February 15, 2003: Dozens of archeologists have fanned out across the
northern Indian state of Haryana in the last seven months to look for traces of
the Saraswati River. A group of geologists and glaciologists, armed with
satellite imagery maps and remote sensing data, are studying rocks, glaciers and
sediments in the Himalayas, seeking any trace of the river's course. Last
summer, the Culture Ministry appointed a special committee of experts to prove
that the Saraswati was not a mythological river. If the panel succeeds, the
birth of Hinduism would be pushed back at least 1,000 years by establishing that
the ancient Indus Valley civilization was Hindu in character. "Saraswati is not
only a matter of Hindu faith, but also fact," said Ravindra Singh Bisht,
director of the Archaeological Survey of India, who supervises excavation along
what is believed to be the course of the river. "The overwhelming archeological
evidence of ancient settlements along the course of what was once the Saraswati
River proves that our earliest civilizations were not confined to the Indus
river alone. Those who wrote the Hindu Vedas on the banks of the Saraswati were
the same as the Indus Valley people." HPI adds: Be advised that a lot of
negative comments are made about Hinduism in this article in the course of its
report on the scientific investigations
A Hindu Quest for Some Holy
Attempt to Unearth Ancient Waterway May Affect Indian History and Politics
By Rama Lakshmi
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, February 15, 2003; Page A23
KATGARH, India -- In a verdant valley amid the foothills of the Himalayas,
Hindu villagers prayed in silence and piously threw petals into a small puddle
they believe was a mighty river some 4,500 years ago. Not far away, an
archeologist leaned over a trench to examine freshly excavated pieces of broken
"We have found remains of so many ancient settlements here. There must have been
a very important river flowing," said Sanjay Manjul, 35, squinting as he held up
a piece against the sun. "It must have been our holy Saraswati River."
Manjul is not the only one looking for the Saraswati, which was mentioned in the
oldest Hindu religious text, the Rig Veda and which devout Hindus believe
disappeared mysteriously thousands of years ago. Dozens of archeologists like
him have fanned across the northern Indian state of Haryana in the last seven
months to look for traces of the river. A group of geologists and glaciologists,
armed with satellite imagery maps and remote sensing data, are studying rocks,
glaciers and sediments in the Himalayas, seeking any trace of the river's
A heady mix of religion, politics, science and archeology drives their efforts,
and the results of the search may not only challenge some fixed notions about
the earliest civilization on the Indian subcontinent, but could also confirm
fears among India's secular historians that the country's Hindu-nationalist
ruling party is trying to rewrite history to suit its agenda.
For decades, history books have maintained that the Indus Valley people, who
settled an area that straddles modern India and Pakistan about 3000 BC, were the
subcontinent's earliest civilization, preceding the birth of Hinduism.
Historians have held that the Aryans, said to be the descendents of an
Indo-European race who came to India from near the Caspian Sea around 1500 BC,
gave birth to Hindu thought.
Hinduism became the region's predominant religion. Today, 84 percent of India's
1 billion people are Hindus.
That predominance, however, did not prevent India from embracing secularism when
it achieved independence in 1947 and enshrining it in the country's first
constitution. Ruled by the staunchly secularist Congress party for most of the
past five decades, India pursued policies designed to ensure equality for
Muslims, Christians and followers of other minority religions.
Nevertheless, many Hindus regarded their religion and culture as supreme. A
political force since the 1920s, Hindu nationalism reached the peak of its
influence in 1998, when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) formed a coalition
government with several other parties. The BJP-led coalition set about a slow
but systematic program to place historians sympathetic to Hindu-nationalist
ideology in charge of research institutions and to introduce changes in history
textbooks in schools.
Last summer, the Culture Ministry appointed a special committee of experts to
prove that the Saraswati was not merely a mythological river, dismissed by
historians as nothing more than a figment of the imagination of Hindu sages who
praise it as the "greatest of mothers, greatest of rivers and greatest of
goddesses" in the Vedas. If the panel succeeds, the birth of Hinduism would be
pushed back at least 1,000 years by establishing that the ancient Indus Valley
civilization was Hindu in character.
"Saraswati is not only a matter of Hindu faith, but also fact," said Ravindra
Singh Bisht, director of the Archaeological Survey of India, who supervises
excavation along what is believed to be the course of the river. "The
overwhelming archeological evidence of ancient settlements along the course of
what was once the Saraswati River proves that our earliest civilizations were
not confined to the Indus river alone. Those who wrote the Hindu Vedas on the
banks of the Saraswati were the same as the Indus Valley people."
The BJP-led government already has taken steps to make these findings official.
In October, it ordered several significant changes in the history textbooks, one
of which was to change the name of the Indus Valley civilization to the
Saraswati River civilization.
The first real boost to the Saraswati believers came in the 1970s, when American
satellite images showed signs of channels of water in northern and western India
that disappeared long ago. When popular folk memory was matched with the images,
some historians ecstatically claimed they had cracked the riddle of the revered
river. In 1998, groundwater experts dug wells along the dry bed identified in
the images and they found potable water, even under vast stretches of desert.
"We still need to study the sediments to prove the origin of the river was in
the Himalayan glacier like our Vedas claimed," said Baldev Sahai, a member of
the Culture Ministry's expert committee, who was the first, in 1980, to use
remote sensing data to study the course of the river. "After that, we can
proudly claim to be the oldest living civilization and culture with an unbroken
link to our past."
Once the entire course of the river, "from the Himalayas to the Arabian sea" is
established, the Culture Ministry plans to turn archeological sites of lost
cities along the Saraswati into tourist hubs. And water specialists in the
government wish to give new life to the Saraswati River, by reviving old water
The Hindu-nationalist government's quest for the Saraswati has split historians
along political lines, with some accusing the government of giving a deliberate
Hindu slant to Indian history and others alleging that much of Indian history
was written from a Eurocentric perspective by British colonizers and needed to
"Hinduism was not brought to us by a foreign race called Aryans. It was born
here on our land. The Rig Veda was composed here on the banks of Saraswati by
indigenous people around the time of the Indus Valley period," said Arun
Kesarwani, professor of ancient history at Kurukshetra University. "That is why
the quest for Saraswati is important. It will shatter all the prevalent theories
But many say that history is being distorted to suit the ruling political
"This is an assault on history," said historian Arjun Dev. "This version of the
past is crucial to their political and religious ideology of Hindu supremacy.
They will go to any lengths to achieve this -- even put forth a fake, invented
"It is propaganda work," said Suraj Bhan, a retired archeologist. "The quest for
Saraswati is not about history, it is myth-making."
For the devout Hindus who pray at tiny ponds and puddles, the Saraswati is both
a real river and a deity.
"In our hearts we know this is the water of holy Saraswati," said Prem Vallabh,
75, head priest at a Saraswati temple. "We don't need any scientific proof."
© 2003 The Washington Post Company