Misinterpretations in ‘Searching for Saraswati’


Professor Irfan Habib’s article, “ >Searching for Saraswati” ( The Hindu, April 17) is replete with misrepresentations; I will deal with only two. Agreed, the Haryana government’s plan to revive the near-defunct “Sarsuti” stream, whose source at Adi Badri has been traditionally regarded as the ancient Saraswati’s (“ >Excavation to begin in search of Saraswati”, The Hindu, March 31), is dubious in the absence of a healthy catchment area; drilling borewells to augment its flow is ecologically absurd.

However, the proposed diversion of its waters eastward to Prayag exists only in Prof. Habib’s imagination: the quoted article’s reporter simply juxtaposed the old Triveni Sangam tradition, but other articles carry the Yamunanagar Deputy Commissioner S.S. Phulia’s statement that “the water channel would flow up to the holy town of Pehowa in Kurukshetra,” that is westward (its natural direction).

More troublesome is Prof. Habib’s misattribution of the connection between the Saraswati and the Indus Civilisation to a few pro-Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh scholars and archaeologists in the 1990s. The first to show that Harappan settlements dotted the course of the Ghaggar river was the famous British archaeologist, Marc Aurel Stein, during his 1941-42 exploration in the then Bahawalpur State, as reported in his Survey of Ancient Sites along the ‘Lost’ Sarasvati River. Stein, also a fine Sanskritist, had long accepted the Ghaggar’s identification with the Saraswati of Vedic lore, as had before him (since 1855, to be precise) generations of French, British and German Indologists, geographers and geologists. After Partition, with many more Harappan sites identified in the region (including Kalibangan, Banawali, Rakhigarhi, Bhirrana...), Western archaeologists such as Mortimer Wheeler, Raymond Allchin, J.M. Kenoyer, G.L. Possehl or Jane McIntosh endorsed this identification, all of whom Prof. Habib carefully avoids mentioning, reserving his barbs for Indian archaeologists alone. This is academically unfair.

(Michel Danino is the author of The Lost River: On the Trail of the Sarasvati (2010), guest professor at IIT Gandhinagar, and member of Indian Council of Historical Research. E-mail: )

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Printable version | Jan 27, 2020 3:40:36 AM |

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