Chapter 4

The Geography of the Rigveda

The internal chronology of the Rigveda being firmly established, the next step in our historical analysis of the Rigveda is the establishment of the geography of the text.

The geography of the Rigveda has been the most misrepresented aspect of the text in the hands of the scholars: the geographical information in the Rigveda, to put it in a nutshell, more or less pertains to the area from Uttar Pradesh in the east to Afghanistan in the west, the easternmost river mentioned in the text being the GaNgA, and the westernmost being the western tributaries of the Indus.

This geographical information is treated in a simplistic manner by the scholars, and the result is a completely distorted picture of Rigvedic geography:

1. Firstly, taking the, Rigveda as one monolithic unit, the information is interpreted to mean that the area of the Rigveda extended from western Uttar Pradesh to Afghanistan.

It is further assumed that the habitat of the Vedic Aryans, during the period of composition of the Rigveda, was the central part of this area: the Saptasindhu or Punjab, the Land of the Five Rivers bounded on the east by the SarasvatI and on the west by the Indus.  Their eastern horizon was western Uttar Pradesh and their western horizon was Afghanistan.

The consensus on this point is so general that even in our own earlier book dealing with the Aryan invasion theory, where we have not yet analysed the Rigveda in detail, we have automatically assumed the Punjab to be the habitat of the Vedic Aryans during the period of the Rigveda.

However, as we shall see in the course of our analysis, the habitat of the Vedic Aryans during the period was considerably to the east of the Punjab.

2. Secondly, after taking the Punjab to be the habitat of the Rigvedic Aryans, the matter is not left at that.  A further slant is introduced into the interpretation of the geographical data in the Rigveda: it is automatically assumed, on the basis of an extraneous theory based on a misinterpretation of linguistic data, and without any basis within the Rigvedic data itself, that a movement from west to east is to be discerned in the Rigveda.

Thus, western places within the horizon of the Rigveda are treated as places old and familiar to the Vedic Aryans, being their “early habitats”; while eastern places within the horizon of the Rigveda are treated as new and unfamiliar places with which the Vedic Aryans are “becoming acquainted”.

The same goes for places outside the horizon of the Rigveda (i.e. places not named in the Rigveda): places to the west of Afghanistan, not named in the Rigveda, are treated as places which have been “forgotten” by the Vedic Aryans; while places to the east of western Uttar Pradesh, not named in the Rigveda, are treated as places “still unknown” to the Vedic Aryans.

3. Thirdly, and as a direct corollary to the above, it is automatically assumed that there was a movement of place-names as well from west to east.

There are three rivers named in the Rigveda to which this applies: the SarasvatI, GomatI and Sarayu.  The SarasvatI in the Rigveda is the river to the east of the Punjab (flowing through Haryana) and the GomatI and Sarayu in the Rigveda are rivers to the west of the Punjab (western tributaries of the Indus).  This is the general consensus, and it is confirmed by an examination of the references in the Rigveda.

But a SarasvatI (HaraxvaitI) and a Sarayu (Haroiiu) are also found in Afghanistan; and a GomatI and a Sarayu are found in northeastern Uttar Pradesh.  Clearly, there has been a transfer of name, in the case of these three river-names, from one river to another.

The logical procedure would be to suspend judgement, till further evidence is forthcoming, as to the locations of the rivers which originally bore these three names.  A second, and slightly less logical, procedure, would be to automatically assume that the Rigvedic rivers originally bore all the three names, since the oldest recorded occurence of the three names is in the Rigveda.

However, a west-to-east movement is assumed in respect of all three names, and consequently, the westernmost rivers bearing the three names are taken to be the original bearers of those names.

4. Thus far, the distortion in interpretation and presentation of the geographical data in the Rigveda is still relatively mild.  It is in fact too mild for some extremist scholars who would like to present a more definitive picture of a west-to-east movement into India.

Some of these scholars attempt to connect stray words in the Rigveda, often words not even having any geographical context, with places far to the west of the horizon of the Rigveda: an extreme example of this is the attempt to suggest that a root word rip- in the Rigveda indicates a subdued memory of the Rhipaean mountains: the Urals.

Some scholars, not satisfied with the idea that the Vedic Aryans came from the west, attempt to show that they were still in the west even during the period of composition of the Rigveda: the Saptasindhu, it is suggested by some, refers to seven rivers in Central Asia, and the SarasvatI in the Rigveda is not the river of Haryana, but the river of Afghanistan.

There is even an extreme lunatic fringe which would like to suggest that the GaNgA and YamunA of the Rigveda are rivers in Afghanistan.  A political “scholar”, Rajesh Kochhar, as part of a concerted campaign to show that the events in the RAmAyaNa took place in Afghanistan, transfers the entire locale of the epic to Afghanistan: “Ravana’s Lanka can be a small island in the midst of river Indus… by Vindhyas is meant Baluch hills, and by sea the Lower Indus.”1 He does this under cover of examining the geography of the Rigveda, in his book, The Vedic People: Their History and Geography (Orient Longman, New Delhi, 1999), where he decides that in the RAmAyaNa (which he examines for the geography of the Rigveda), SarasvatI is identified with Helmand and GaNgA and YamunA as its tributaries in the hilly areas of Afghanistan.2 He makes this revolutionary discovery on the basis of a verse in the VAlmIki RAmAyaNa (2.65.6) where “YamunA is described as surrounded by mountains”.3

This is the level to which “scholarship” can stoop, stumble and fall.

In this book, we will examine the geography of the Rigveda, not on the basis of interpretations of verses from the VAlmIki RAmAyaNa or the HanumAn CAlIsA, but on the basis of the actual geographical data within the hymns and verses of the Rigveda itself, under the following heads:

I. The Rigvedic Rivers.
II. The Evidence of River-names.
III. The Evidence of Place-names.
IV. The Evidence of Animal-names.

Appendix: The So-called Negative Evidence.


The rivers named in the Rigveda can be classified into five geographical categories:

1. The Northwestern Rivers (i.e. western tributaries of the Indus, flowing through Afghanistan and the north):

    TRSTAmA (Gilgit)
    KubhA (Kabul)
    Krumu (Kurrum)
    GomatI (Gomal)
    Sarayu (Siritoi)
    Prayiyu (Bara)
    SuvAstu (Swat)
    GaurI (Panjkora)
    KuSavA (Kunar)

2. The Indus and its minor eastern tributaries: 
    Sindhu (Indus)
    SuSomA (Sohan)
    ArjIkIyA (Haro)

3. The Central Rivers (i.e. rivers of the Punjab): 
    VitastA (Jhelum)
    AsiknI (Chenab)
    ParuSNI (Ravi)
    VipAS (Beas)
    SuturI (Satlaj)
    MarudvRdhA (Maruvardhvan)

4. The East-central Rivers (i.e. rivers of Haryana): 

5. The Eastern Rivers:
    ASmanvatI (Assan, a tributary of the YamunA) 

A few words of clarification will be necessary in the case of the identities of some of these rivers:

1. HariyUpIyA/YavyAvatI: HariyUpIyA is another name of the DRSadvatI: the river is known as RaupyA in the MahAbhArata, and the name is clearly a derivative of HariyUpIyA.

The YavyAvatI is named in the same hymn and context as the HariyUpIyA, and almost all the scholars agree that both the names refers to the same river.

It is also possible that YavyAvatI may be another name of the YamunA. M.L. Bhargava, in his study of Rigvedic Geography, incidentally (i.e. without making such an identification) makes the following remarks: “The old beds of the ancient DRSadvatI and the YamunA… ran very close to each other… the two rivers appear to have come close at a place about three miles southwest of ChacharaulI town, but diverged again immediately after… the YamunA… then again ran southwestwards almost parallel to the DRSadvatI, the two again coming about two miles close to each other near old Srughna……”4

The battle described on the HariyUpIyA -YavyAvatI may therefore have taken place in the area between these rivers.

However, pending further evidence (of this identity of YavyAvatI with the YamunA), we must assume, with the scholars, that the YavyAvatI is the same as the HariyUpIyA.

2. JahnAvI: JahnAvI, which is clearly another name of the GaNgA, is named in two hymns; and in both of them, it is translated by the scholars as something other than the name of a river: Griffith translates it as “Jahnu’s children” (I.116.19) and “the house of Jahnu” (III.58.6).

The evidence, however, admits of only one interpretation:

a.  JahnAvI is clearly the earlier Rigvedic form of the later word JAhnAvI: the former word is not found after the Rigveda, and the latter word is not found in the Rigveda.

The word clearly belongs to a class of words in the Rigveda which underwent a particular phonetic change in the course of time: JhnAvI in the Rigveda becomes JAhnavI after the Rigveda; brahmANa becomes brAhmaNa in the Rigveda itself (both words are found in the Rigveda while only the latter is found after the Rigveda); and the word pavAka has already become pAvaka in the course of compilation of the Rigveda (only the latter form is found in the Rigveda, but according to B.K. Ghosh, “the evidence of the metres... clearly proves that the actual pronunciation of the word pAvaka must have been pavAka in the Rigvedic age”5).

b. The word JAhnavI (and therefore also the word JahnAvI which has no independent existence, and for which there is no alternative source of information since it is found only twice in the Rigveda and nowhere outside it) literally means “daughter of Jahnu”, and not “Jahnu’s children” or “the house of Jahnu”.

And the word JAhnavI (and therefore also JahnAvI as well) has only one connotation in the entire length and breadth of Sanskrit literature: it is a name of the GaNgA.

c. One of the two references to the JahnAvI in the Rigveda provides a strong clue to the identity of this word: JahndvI (I. 116.19) is associated with the SiMSumAra (I.116.18) or the Gangetic dolphin.  The dolphin is not referred to anywhere else in the Rigveda.

The MaNDala-wise distribution of the names of the rivers in the Rigveda is as follows:

Early MaNDala I
     SarasvatI : I.3.10-12.

Middle MaNDala I
     SarasvatI : I.89.3.
     Sindhu : I.83.1.

General and Late MaNDala I
     GaurI : I.164.4.
     RasA : I. 112.12.
     Sindhu : I.44.12; 122.6; 126.1; 186.5 
          (plus the references to the Sindhu in the refrain 
          of the Kutsas in the last verses of I.94-96, 98, 
          100-103, 105-115).
     SarasvatI : I.13.9; 142.9; 164.49, 52; 188.8
     JahnAvI : I.116.19.

MaNDala II
     SarasvatI : II.1.11; 3.8; 30.8; 32.8; 41.16-18.

     VipAS: III.33.1.
     SutudrI: III.33.1.
     SarasvatI: III.4.8; 23.4; 54.13.
     DRSadvatI: III.23.4,
     ApayA: III.23.4.
     JahnAvI: III.58.6.

MaNDala IV
     Sarayu: IV.30.18.
     KuSavA: IV.18.8.
     Sindhu: IV.30.12; 54.6; 55.3.
     ParuSNI: IV.22.2.
     VipAS: IV.30.11.
     RasA: IV.43.6.

MaNDala V
     Sarayu: V.53.9.
     KubhA: V.53.9.
     Krumu: V.53.9.
     AnitabhA: V.53.9.
     RasA: V.41.15; 53.9.
     Sindhu: V.53.9.
     ParuSNI: V.52.9.
     SarasvatI: V.5.8; 42.12; 43.11; 46.2,
     YamunA: V.52.17.

MaNDala VI
     SarasvatI: VI.49.7; 50.12. 52.6; 61.1-7, 10-11, 13-14
     HariyUpIyA: VI.27.5.
     YavyAvatI: VI.27.6.
     GaNgA: VI.45.31.

     AsiknI: VII.5.3.
     ParuSNI: VII.18.8, 9.
     SarasvatI: VII.2.8; 9.5; 35.11; 36.6; 39.5; 40.3; 
          95.1-2, 4-6; 96.1, 3-6.
     YamunA: VII.18.19.

     GomatI: VIII.24.30.
     SvetyAvarI: VIII.26.18.
     SuvAstu: VIII.19.37.
     Prayiyu: VIII.19.37.
     Vayiyu: VIII.19.37.
     Sindhu: VIII.12.3; 20.24, 25; 25.14; 26.18, 72.7.
     ArjIkIyA: VIII.7.29; 64.11.
     SuSomA: VIII.7.29; 64.11.
     AsiknI: VIII.20.25.
     ParuSNI: VIII.75.15.
     SarasvatI: VIII.21.17, 18; 38.10; 54.4
     AMSumatI: VIII.96.13.
     RasA: VIII.72.13.

MaNDala IX
     Sindhu: IX.97.58.
     ArjIkIyA: IX.65.23.
     SarasvatI: IX.5.8; 67.32; 81.4.
     RasA: IX.41.6.

MaNDala X
     Sarayu: X.64.9.
     GomatI: X.75.6.
     Mehatnu: X.75.6.
     KubhA: X.75.6.
     Krumu: X.75.6.
     Sveti: X.75.6.
     RasA: X.75.6; 108.1, 2; 121.4.
     Susartu: X.75.6.
     TRSTAmA: X.75.6.
     Sindhu: X.64.9; 65.13; 66.11; 75.1, 3-4, 6-9.
     ArjIkIyA: X.75.5.
     SuSomA: X.75.5.
     VitastA: X.75.5.
     MarudvRdhA: X.75.5.
     AsiknI: X.75.5.
     ParuSNI: X.75.5.
     SutudrI: X.75.5.
     SarasvatI: X.17.7-9; 30.12; 64.9; 65.1,13; 66.5; 
          75.5; 110.8; 131.5; 141.5; 184.2
     ASmanvatI: X.53.8.
     YamunA: X.75.5.
     GaNgA: X.75.5.


The names of the rivers in the Rigveda have always formed the basis for any analysis of Rigvedic geography.

Let us examine the geographical picture presented by these river-names when the MaNDalas are arranged in their chronological order (click on the link).

Click Here

As the Chinese put it, one picture is worth a thousand words.  The graph gives us the entire geographical picture in a nutshell: (click on the link)

Click Here

1. In the pre-Rigvedic period and the early part of the Early Period (MaNDala VI), the Vedic Aryans were inhabitants of an area to the east of the SarasvatI.

2. In the course of the Early Period (MaNDalas III and VII), and the early part of the Middle Period (MaNDala IV and the middle upa-maNDalas), there was a steady expansion westwards.

3. Though there was an expansion westwards, the basic area of the Vedic Aryans was still restricted to the east in the Middle Period (MaNDala II), and even in the early parts of the Late Period: MaNDala V knows the western rivers from the KubhA (Kabul) in the north to the Sarayu (Siritoi) in the south, but its base is still in the east.  SarasvatI is still the most important river in the MaNDala: it is referred to by the eponymous RSi Atri (V.42.12; 43.11) who also refers to the RasA (V.41.15). All the other references to the western rivers (Sarayu, KubhA, Krumu, AnitabhA, RasA, Sindhu) occur in a single verse (V.53.9) by a single RSi SyAvASva, obviously a very mobile RSi who also refers elsewhere to the ParuSNI (V.52.9) and even the YamunA (V.52.17).

4. In the later part of the Late Period (MaNDalas VIII, IX, X, and the general and late upa-maNDalas) the Vedic Aryans were spread out over the entire geographical horizon of the Rigveda.

Let us examine the evidence of the river-names in greater detail under the following heads:
A. The Westward Expansion in the Bharata Period.
B. The Evidence of Some Key Rivers.

II.A. The Westward Expansion in the Bharata Period

The graph of the rivers clearly shows that there was a westward expansion of the Vedic Aryans from the time of SudAs onwards.

In the Early period, right from pre-Rigvedic times to the time of SudAs, the Vedic Aryans were settled in the area to the east of the Punjab: MaNDala VI knows of no river to the west of the SarasvatI.

However, in the MaNDalas and upa-maNDalas following MaNDala VI, we find a steady movement westwards:

a. MaNDala III refers to the first two rivers of the Punjab from the east: the SutudrI and the VipAS.

b. MaNDala VII refers to the next two rivers of the Punjab from the east: the ParuSNI and AsiknI.

c. The middle upa-maNDalas of MaNDala I contain the first reference to the Indus, but none to the rivers west of the Indus.

d. MaNDala IV contains the first references to rivers west of the Indus.

If the case for the westward expansion is strong enough even merely from the evidence of the names of the rivers, it becomes unimpeachable when we examine the context in which these names appear in the hymns:

1. The SutudrI and VipAS are not referred to in a casual vein. They are referred to in a special context: hymn III.33 is a special ode to these two rivers by ViSvAmitra in commemoration of a historical movement of the warrior bands of the Bharatas led by SudAs and himself, across the billowing waters of these rivers.

What is important is that this hymn is characterized by the Western scholars themselves as a historical hymn commemorating the migratory movement of the Vedic Aryans across the Punjab.,

But the Western scholars depict it as a movement from the west to the east: Griffith calls the hymn “a relic of the traditions of the Aryans regarding their progress eastward in the land of the Five Rivers”.

However, an examination of the facts leaves no doubt that the direction of this historical movement was from the east to the west: the very distribution of the river-names in the Rigveda, as apparent from our graph of the rivers, makes this clear.

But there is more specific evidence within the hymns to show that this movement was from the east to the west:

SudAs is a descendant of DivodAsa (VII.18.25), DivodAsa is a descendant of SRnjaya (VI.47.22 and Griffith’s footnotes to it) and SRnjaya is a descendant of DevavAta (IV.15.4): SudAs is therefore clearly a remote descendant of DevavAta.

DevavAta established the sacrificial fire on the banks of the ApayA between the SarasvatI and the DRSadvatI (III.23.3-4) The SarasvatI is to the east of the VipAS and SutudrI, and the ApayA and DRSadvatI are even further east. No ancestor of SudAs is associated with any river to the west of the SarasvatI.

The historical movement of the Vedic Aryans across the SutudrI and the VipAS, at the time of SudAs, can only be a westward movement.

2. The ParuSNI and AsiknI, also, are not referred to in a casual vein: they also are referred to in a special context.  The context is a major battle fought on the ParuSNI by the Bharatas under SudAs and VasiSTha (who replaced ViSvAmitra as the priest of SudAs).

The direction of the movement is crystal clear in this case as well: SudAs with his earlier priest ViSvAmitra is associated with the SutudrI and VipAS, and with his later priest VasiSTha is associated with the ParuSNI which is to the west of the two other rivers.

But there is more specific evidence in MaNDala VII about the direction of movement in this battle, which is the subject of various references throughout the MaNDala:

a. The battle is fought on the ParuSNI and the enemies of SudAs (who is referred to here as the PUru) are described in VII.5.3 as the people of the AsiknI. The AsiknI is to the west of the ParuSNI hence it is clear that the enemies of SudAs are fighting from the west of the ParuSNI while SudAs is fighting from the east.

Curiously, Griffith mistranslates the name of the river AsiknI as “dark-hued”, thereby killing two birds with one stone: the people of the AsiknI become “the dark-hued races”, thereby wiping out the sense of direction inherent in the reference, while at the same time introducing the racial motif

b. In VII.83.1, two of the tribes fighting against SudAs, the PRthus and the ParSus, are described as marching eastwards (prAcA) towards him.

Griffith again mistranslates the names of the tribes as “armed with broad axes” and the word prAcA as “forward”.

c. VII.6.5 refers indirectly to this battle by talking of the defeat of the tribes of Nahus (i.e. the tribes of the Anus and Druhyus who fought against SudAs) as follows: “Far, far away hath Agni chased the Dasyus, and, in the east, hath turned the godless westward”.  SudAs is therefore clearly pressing forward from the east.

3. The first references to the Indus are in the middle upa-maNDalas (I.83.1) and in MaNDala IV (IV.30.12; 54.6; 55.3). There is, perhaps, a westward movement indicated even in the very identity of the composers of the hymns which contain these references: I.83 is composed by Gotama RAhUgaNa who does not refer to any river west of the Indus, while the references in MaNDala IV are by his descendants, the VAmadeva Gautamas, who also refer to two rivers to the west of the Indus (IV.18.8; 30.18).

Thus, we have a clear picture of the westward movement of the Vedic Aryans from their homeland in the east of the SarasvatI to the area to the west of the Indus, towards the end of the Early Period of the Rigveda: IV.30.18 refers to what is clearly the westermnost point in this movement, a battle fought in southern Afghanistan “on yonder side of Sarayu”.

II. B. The Evidence of Some Key Rivers:

The key rivers in the Rigveda are:
a. The Indus to the west of the Five Rivers of the Punjab.

b. The SarasvatI to the east of the Five Rivers of the Punjab.

c. The GaNgA and YamunA, the easternmost rivers named in the Rigveda.

The evidence of these key rivers is extremely significant:

1. The Indus and the SarasvatI:

The word Sindhu in the Rigveda primarily means “river” or even “sea”; it is only secondarily a name of the Indus river: thus Saptasindhava can mean “seven rivers” but not “seven Induses”.

The relative insignificance of the Indus in the Rigveda is demonstrated by the fact that the Indus is not mentioned even once in the three oldest MaNDalas of the Rigveda.

Since the word Sindhu, in its meaning of “river”, occurs frequently throughout the Rigveda, scholars are able to juggle with the word, often mistranslating the word Sindhu as “the Indus” even when it means “river”.

However, even this sophistry is not possible in the case of the three oldest MaNDalas (VI, III and VII): the word Sindhu, except in eight verses, occurs only in the plural, and can be translated only as “rivers”.

In seven of the eight references, in which the word occurs in the singular, it clearly refers to some other “river” which is specified within the context of the reference itself:
a. III.33.3, 5; 53.9: VipAS.
b. VII.18.5: ParuSNI.
c. VII.33.3: YamunA.
d. VII.36.6; 95.1: SarasvatI.

In the eighth reference (VII.87.6) the word means “sea”: the verse talks of the sun setting in the sea.

In sharp contrast, the SarasvatI is referred to many times in the three oldest MaNDalas.  In fact, there are three whole hymns dedicated to it in these MaNDalas: VI.61; VII.95, 96.

All in all, the SarasvatI is referred to in nine MaNDalas out of ten in the Rigveda (i.e. in all except MaNDala IV, which represents the westernmost thrust in the westward movement of the Vedic Aryans).  The Indus is referred to in only six MaNDalas (I, IV, V, VIII, IX, X); and in three of these (V, IX, X), the references to the SarasvatI far outnumber the references to the Indus.

It is only in the latest parts of the Rigveda that the Indus overshadows the SarasvatI:

a. In MaNDala VIII, the references to the Indus outnumber the references to the SarasvatI (by six verses to four).

b. In the general and late upa-maNDalas of MaNDala I, the Indus, but not the SarasvatI, is enumerated with other deities in the refrain of the Kutsas which forms the last verse of nineteen out of their twenty-one hymns.

c. In MaNDala X, although there are more references to the SarasvatI, it is the Indus, and not the SarasvatI, which is the main river lauded in the nadIstuti (X.75), the hynm in Praise of the Rivers.

The SarasvatI is so important in the whole of the Rigveda that it is worshipped as one of the Three Great Goddesses in the AprI-sUktas of all the ten families of composers (being named in nine of them and implied in the tenth).  The Indus finds no place in these AprI-sUktas.

The contrast between the overwhelming importance of the SarasvatI and the relative unimportance of the Indus is so striking, and so incongruous with the theory of an Aryan invasion from the northwest, that many scholars resort to desperate explanations to account for it: Griffith, in his footnote to VI.61.2, suggests that perhaps “SarasvatI is also another name of Sindhu or the Indus”.

2. The Eastern Rivers

The GaNgA and the YamunA are the two easternmost rivers named in the Rigveda.  One or the other of these two rivers (either by these names, or by their other names, JahnAvI and AMSumatI respectively) is named in seven of the ten MaNDalas of the Rigveda, including the three oldest MaNDalas (VI, III and VII).

By contrast, the Indus and its western tributaries, as we saw, are named in only six MaNDalas, which do not include the three oldest MaNDalas of the Rigveda.

But even more significant than these bare statistics is the particular nature of the four references to the GaNgA, the easternmost river of them all:

a. The nadIstuti begins its enumeration of the rivers with the GaNgA and moves westwards.

Whether this circumstance in itself is a significant one or not is debatable; but while many scholars, without necessarily having arrived at any specific ideas about Rigvedic chronology or geography, find it important, certain others seek to deflect its importance, and even to dismiss the importance of the GaNgA itself in the Rigveda:

Griffith, in his footnote to X.75.5, takes pains to suggest that “the poet addresses first the most distant rivers. GaNgA: the Ganges is mentioned, indirectly, in only one other verse of the Rgveda, and even there, the word is said by some to be the name of a woman.  See VI.45.3l.”

b. The reference in VI.45.31 is definitely significant: the composer compares the height of a patron’s generosity to the height of the wide bushes on the banks of the GaNgA.

This makes it clear that even in the oldest MaNDala in the Rigveda, the GaNgA is a familiar geographical landmark, whose features conjure up images which are very much a part of traditional idiomatic expression.

c. The reference in III.58.6. is infinitely more significant.  Griffith translates the verse as follows: “Ancient your home, auspicious is your friendship: Heroes, your wealth is with the house of Jahnu.”

Here, not only does Griffith mistranslate JahnAvI as “the house of Jahnu”, he compounds it with a further misinterpretation of the grammatical form:

JahnAvyAm is clearly “on (the banks of) the JahnAvI” on the lines of similar translations by Griffith himself in respect of other rivers: ParuSNyAm (V.52.9: on the banks of the ParuSNI), YamunAyAm (V.52.17: on the banks of the YamunA), DRSadvatyAmApayAyAm SarasvatyAm (III.23.4: on the banks of the DRSadvatI, ApayA and SarasvatI).

The correct translation of III.58.6, addressed to the ASvins, is: “Your ancient home, your auspicious friendship, O Heroes, your wealth is on (the banks of the JahnAvI.”

What is noteworthy is that the phrase PurANamokah “ancient home” is used in the second oldest MaNDala in the Rigveda, in reference to the banks of the GaNgA.

d. The reference in I.116.19 associates the JahnAvI with BharadvAja, DivodAsa and the Gangetic dolphin (all of whom are referred to in the earlier verse I.116.18). It is clear, therefore, that the river is specially associated with the oldest period of the Rigveda, the period of MaNDala VI (which is also the only place, outside the nadIstuti, where the GaNgA is referred to by that name).

The evidence of the rivers in the Rigveda is therefore unanimous in identifying the area to the east of the SarasvatI as the original homeland of the Vedic Aryans.



The evidence of place-names in the Rigveda, usually ignored, is secondary to the evidence of river-names.  Nevertheless, significant evidence in this respect does exist; and an examination of this evidence fully corroborates the geographical picture derived from our examination of the evidence of the river-names.

The places named directly or indirectly in the Rigveda can be classified into five basic geographical regions, from west to east, on the basis of present-day terminology:
A. Afghanistan.
B. Punjab.
C. Haryana.
D. Uttar Pradesh.
E. Bihar.

To go into further detail:

III.A. Afghanistan

The only place-name from Afghanistan that we find in the Rigveda is “GandhArI”, and this name occurs only once in the whole of the Rigveda: in the general and late upa-maNDalas of MaNDala I (I.126.7).

But, the name is also found indirectly in the name of a divine class of beings associated with GandhAra, the gandharvas, who are referred to in the following verses:

I.22.14; 163.2;
VIII.1.11; 77.5;
IX.83.4; 85.12; 86.36; 113.3;
X.10.4; 11.2; 85.40, 41; 123.4, 7; 136.6; 139.4, 6; 177.2.

As we can see, the gandharvas are referred to in 20 verses in 16 hymns, and all except one of these references are in the very latest parts of the Rigveda: MaNDalas VIII, IX and X, and the general and late upa-maNDalas of MaNDala I.

The one reference in an early MaNDala (III.38.6) is not even an exception which proves the general rule, it is in itself strong corroboration of the late provenance of the gandharvas in the Rigveda: III.38 is one of the six hymns (III.21, 30, 34, 36, 38-39) which are specifically named in the Aitareya BrAhmaNa (VI.18) as being late interpolations into MaNDala III.  As we saw in an earlier chapter, these hymns have been incorporated into MaNDala III in the eight-MaNDala stage of the Rigveda, and are contemporaneous with the hymns in MaNDala VIII.

III.B. Punjab

The Punjab is known in the Rigveda as “Saptasindhu”.

There are other phrases in the Rigveda which mean “seven rivers”; but these do not constitute references to the Punjab, as seven is a number commonly applied in the Rigveda to various entities to indicate “all” or “many”: thus we have references to the seven horses and seven wheels of the Sun’s chariot, seven mouths of BRhaspati, seven RSis, seven priests at the sacrifice, seven holy places, seven castles of the aerial demon destroyed by Indra, seven holy singers, seven rays of the sun, seven flames of Agni, seven male children, seven elements, seven Adityas, seven foundations of the sea, seven races of men, seven heads, seven hands, seven tongues, seven threads, seven germs within the seed, seven metres, seven tones, and so on repeated throughout the Rigveda.

The following verses are instructive in this regard:

I.164.3: “The seven who on the seven-wheeled car are mounted, have horses, seven in tale, who draw them onward.  Seven sisters utter songs of praise together, in whom the names of the seven cows are treasured.”

VIII.28.1: “The seven carry seven spears; seven are the splendours they possess, and seven the glories they assume.”

However, the word “Saptasindhu” in the Rigveda (and, for that matter, Hapta-HAndu in the Avesta) is clearly a name for a specific region, which is generally and correctly identified by the scholars with the Punjab (the Land of the Five Rivers ensconsed between two more: the Indus in the west and the SarasvatI in the east).

The Saptasindhu is referred to in the following verses:
I.32.12; 35.8;
II. 12.3, 12;
VIII.54.4; 69.12; 96.1;
X.43.3; 67.12.

If Afghanistan is directly or indirectly referred to only in the Late MaNDalas, the Punjab is referred to only in the Middle and Late MaNDalas.

III.C. Haryana

The region in Haryana known as KurukSetra or BrahmAvarta in ancient times was considered to be the holiest place on earth.

However, neither the word Kuruksetra, nor the word BrahmAvarta, is found in the Rigveda.

But the Rigveda refers to this holy region by other names or epithets: it is known as vara A pRthivyA (the best place on earth) or nAbhA pRthivyA (the navel or centre of the earth); and two specific places in this region are named in the hymns: ILAyAspada or ILaspada, and MAnuSa.

These two places are clearly named in III.23.4: “He (DevavAta) set thee in the best place on earth (vara A pRthivyA) in ILAyAspada, on an auspicious day.  Shine brightly, Agni, on the DRSadvatI, on MAnuSa on the ApayA, and on the SarasvatI.”

The above is not Griffith’s translation: he translates ILAyAspada literally as “ILA’s place” and misinterprets it as a reference to a fire-altar (any fire-altar); likewise, he translates MAnuSa as “man”.

However, the meaning of the verse is clear.  And we find detailed confirmation of the identity and location of these two places in the MahAbhArata:

The MahAbhArata, in its TIrthayAtrA Parva section of the Vana Parva, devotes one part (III.81, containing 178 verses) to the KurukSetra region, and gives details about the locations of the major pilgrim centres in this region.

Within a span of 21 verses (III.81.53-73) it gives details about the locations of the particular places with which we are concerned here:

Mbh. III.81.53-54: “Then from there one should go to the world-famous ManuSa… By bathing (in the lake) there, a man who is chaste and master of his senses is cleansed of all evils, and (he) glories in the world of heaven.”

Mbh. III.81.55-56: “The distance of a cry east of MAnuSa, there is a river called ApagA, visited by the Siddhas;… when one brahmin is fed there, it is as though a crore of them have been fed.”

Mbh. III.81.62-64: “Thereupon one should go to the world-famous SAraka… There is also there the Abode-of-IlA Ford (IlAspada): by bathing there and worshipping the ancestors and Gods, one suffers no misfortune…”

Mbh. III.81.73: “By bathing in the DRSadvatI and satisfying the deities, a man finds the reward of a Land-of-the-fire (AgniSToma) and an Overnight-Sacrifice (AtirAtra).”6

M.L. Bhargava, in his brilliant research on the subject points out that these places are still extant: MAnuSa is still known as MAnas, still a pilgrim centre, a village 3½ miles northwest of Kaithal; the ApayA or ApagA tIrtha is still recognised at Gadli between MAnas and Kaithal; and ILAyAspada or ILaspada at SAraka is the present-day Shergadh, 2 miles to the southeast of Kaithal: “MAnuSa and IlAspada were thus situated on the right and left sides of the ApayA, about 5½ miles apart, and in the tract between the DRSadvatI and the SarasvatI.”7

What is more, ILA, the deity worshipped at ILAyAspada or ILaspada, is one of the three Great Goddesses (one, as we saw, is SarasvatI) who are worshipped in the AprI-sUktas of all the ten families of composers in the Rigveda, and specifically named in all ten of them.

The third Great Goddess is BhAratI (named in seven of the AprI-sUktas, called by another name MahI, in two others, and implied in the tenth), and M.L. Bhargava points out that BhAratI is the deity of the still extant “BhAratI-tIrtha of Kopar or Koer in the middle of KurukSetra, 22 miles east of Kaithal and 12 miles south-southwest of Thanesar”.8

It is clear that the three Great Goddesses, who are worshipped in the AprI-sUktas of all the ten families of composers in the Rigveda, are deities of places in KurukSetra: this is specifically stated in II.3.7 which refers to the “three high places” (adhI sAnuSu trISu) in “the centre of the earth” (nAbhA pRthivyA = KurukSetra).  The next verse names the three Goddesses, BhAratI, ILA and SarasvatI; and this is the only reference, outside the ten AprI-sUktas, where these Goddesses are named together.

Haryana therefore clearly occupies a central position in the Rigveda in more ways than one.

The following are the verses which refer to these places in Haryana:

a. Vara A pRthivyA:
        III. 23.4; 53.11.
b. NAbhA pRthivyA:
        III.5.9; 29.4;
        IX.72.7; 79.4; 82.3; 86.8
c. ILaspada/ILAyAspada:
        I. 128.1;
        II. 10.1;
        III. 23.4; 29.4;
        VI. 1.2;
        X. 1.6; 70.1; 91.1, 4; 191.1.
d. MAnuSa:
        I. 128.7;
        III. 23.4.

(As the word MAnuSa can also mean “man”, it is difficult to recognize the references to the holy spot of that name in other occurences of the word in the Rigveda.  Hence it will be safe to cite only the two above verses, in which the references are indisputable.)

The references to Haryana are fairly distributed throughout the Rigveda, right from the oldest MaNDala VI: VI.1.2 refers to Agni being established at ILaspada.  Even more significantly, III.23.4 tells us that DevavAta (an ancestor of DivodAsa of the oldest MaNDala VI) established Agni at that spot. (Incidentally this appears to reflect an ancient custom of maintaining a perpetual fire, a custom still preserved by the Zoroastrians.)

The references to these places are particularly profuse in MaNDala III, the MaNDala which represents the commencement of the westward expansion of the Vedic Aryans.

III.D. Uttar Pradesh:

The Uttar Pradesh of the present-day is more or less equivalent to the land known in ancient literature as AryAvarta or MadhyadeSa.  Neither the word AryAvarta, nor the word MadhyadeSa, is found in the Rigveda.  Nor is there any direct reference in the hymns to any place in Uttar Pradesh.

But, the AnukramaNIs provide us with a priceless clue: hymns IX.96 and X.179.2 are composed by a late Bharata RSi who (like many other composers in MaNDala X and the corresponding parts of MaNDala IX) attributes his compositions to his remote ancestor, Pratardana.  He, accordingly, uses the epithets of his ancestor: in IX.96, the epithet is DaivodAsI (son or descendant of DivodAsa); and in X.179.2, the epithet is KASirAja (King of KASI).

Pratardana was a king of KASI, which is in eastern Uttar Pradesh.  This can only mean that the Bharata Kings of the Early Period of the Rigveda were Kings of KASI; and, in the light of the other information in the Rigveda, the land of the Bharatas extended from KASI in the east to KurukSetra in the west.

The above conclusion is inescapable: the information in the AnukramaNIs cannot be rejected on any logical ground (short of suggesting a conspiracy theory), and it fits in with all the other evidence:

a. The evidence of Indian tradition outside the Rigveda which knows the land from KASI to KurukSetra as AryAvarta or MadhyadeSa throughout not only the Puranic and Epic literature (which, moreover, clearly describes this land as the original homeland in its traditional accounts, as noted by Pargiter), but even the rest of the Vedic literature.  The geography even of the Yajurveda is clearly an Uttar Pradesh centred geography.  That the geography of the Rigveda is also the same has escaped the recognition of the scholars purely and simply because these scholars are so mesmerised by the Aryan invasion theory, and so obsessed with the vital need to locate the Rigveda in the northwest and the Punjab for the sheer survival of the theory, that their ideas and conclusions about the geography of the Rigveda are based on the tenets of this theory rather than on the material within the hymns of the text.

It may be noted that all the pilgrim-centres of Hinduism are located to the east of Haryana.  There is no Hindu pilgrim centre worthy of particular note in the Punjab or the northwest.  This also discounts the possibility that the oldest and hoariest text of Hinduism could have been composed in those parts.

b. The evidence of the rivers in the Rigveda, particularly the evidence of the references to the GaNgA.

c. The evidence of the other place-names in the Rigveda, particularly the reference to Bihar.

III.E. Bihar

The most historically prominent part of ancient Bihar was Magadha, also known as KIkaTa.

While the word Magadha is not found in the Rigveda, the word KIkaTa is found in III.53.14. The reference is to SudAs’s battle with the KIkaTas and their king Pramaganda (whose name is connected by many scholars with the word Magadha = Pra-maganda).

This clinches the origin of the Bharatas in Uttar Pradesh: the expansion of the Bharatas under SudAs took place in two directions, eastwards into Bihar, and westwards across the SarasvatI into the Punjab.  Clearly, only a homeland in the area between KASI and KurukSetra fits into this picture.

The evidence of the place-names in the Rigveda can be summarized as follows:

Click Here



The evidence of the river-names and the place-names is so clear that it does not really require further confirmation.

However, we may note the evidence of the animals named in the Rigveda, which tends to further confirm the eastern provenance of the Rigvedic Aryans.

There are many animals which are peculiar to India: that is, animals found only in India, or only in India and places cast (such as Southeast Asia), or, if they are found elsewhere, only in places (such as the interior of Africa) which cannot have any relevance to the history of the Vedic Aryans or the Indo-Europeans.

The following are examples of some such prominent animals named in the Rigveda:

Click Here

1. The Elephant (Elaphus Maximus: ibha, vAraNa, hastin, sRNi):
    I.64.7; 84.7; 140.2;
    IV.4.1; 16.14;
    VI.4.5; 20.8;
    X.40.4; 106.6.

2. The Buffalo (Bubalus Bibalus: mahiSa): 
    I.64.7; 95.9; 121.2; 141.3;
    IV. 18.11;
    V.29.7, 8;
    VI.8.4; 17.11;
    VIII.12.8; 35.7-9; 69.15; 77.10;
    IX.33.1; 69.3; 73.2; 86.40; 87.7; 92.6; 95.4; 96.6,
        18, 19; 97.41; 113.3.
    X.8.1; 28.10; 45.3; 60.3; 65.8; 66.10; 106.2; 123.4; 
        128.8; 140.6; 189.2.

3. The Indian Bison (Bibos Gaurus: gaura):
    IV.21.8; 58.2;
    VII.69.6; 98.1;
    VIII.4.3; 45.24;
    X.51.6; 100.2.

4. The Peacock (Pavo Cristatus: mayUra):

5. The Chital or Spotted Deer (Axis Axis: pRSatI): 
    I.37.2; 39.6; 64.8; 85.4, 5; 87.4; 89.7; 162.21; 186.8; 
    II.34.3, 4; 36.2;
    III.26.4, 6;
    V.42.15; 55.6.; 57.3; 58.6; 60.2;

These animals are found mentioned in references throughout the different periods of the Rigveda.

Further, the names of all these animals are purely Aryan or Indo-European: the elephant, for example has four names, each of which has a purely “Aryan” etymology.

And the references to these animals are not casual ones.  It is clear that the animals form an intimate part of the idiomatic lore and traditional imagery of the Rigveda: the spotted deer, for example, are the official steeds of the chariots of the Maruts; and the name of the buffalo (like that of the bull, boar and lion) serves as an epithet, applied to various Gods, signifying great strength and power.  The Gods approaching the place of sacrifice to drink the libations evoke the image of thirsty bisons converging on a watering place in the forest.  The outspread tails or manes of Indra’s horses evoke the image of the outspread plumes of the peacock’s tail.

The elephant is referred to not only in its wild form, with the image of a wild elephant crashing through the forest, uprooting the trees and bushes in its path, but in its fully domesticated form as well: one verse (X.40.4) refers to wild elephants being tracked by hunters; another (IV.4.1) refers to a mighty king with his (retinue of) elephants; another (IX.57.3) refers to an elephant (perhaps a temple elephant?) being decked up by the people; and yet another (VI.20.8) refers to Tugra with his (garrisons of) elephants in what is clearly a reference to a battle. (In IV.4.1 and VI.20.8, Griffith mistranslates ibha as “attendants” or “servants”.)

In sharp contrast to these intimate references to typically Indian animals are the references to an animal which is restricted to the extreme northwest: the bactrian camel of Afghanistan and beyond.

This camel, uSTra, is referred to only in the following verses:
    VIII.4.7; 5.37; 46.22, 31.

The distribution of these references is restricted only to hymns belonging to the Late Period.  It is clear that this distribution indicates an expanding horizon of the Vedic Aryans; and this is not the expanding horizon of a people from outside India expanding into India, but of a people from within India expanding out into the northwest.

The significance of the late “appearance” of the camel in the Rigveda may be expressed in the words of a modem Western scholar, a staunch and even fanatical supporter of the Aryan invasion theory: Michael Witzel, in referring to the geography of MaNDala VIII tells us that “Book 8 concentrates on the whole of the west cf. camels, mathra horses, wool sheep.  It frequently mentions the Sindhu, but also the Seven Streams, mountains and snow.”9 This book also “lists numerous tribes that were unknown to other books.”10 Witzel further notes that “camels appear (8.5.37-39) together with the Iranian name KaSu ‘small’ (Hoffman 1975), or with the suspicious name Tirindra and the ParSu (8.6.46). The combination of camels (8.46.21, 31), mathra horses (8.46.23) and wool, sheep and dogs (8.56.3) is also suggestive: the borderlands (including GandhAra) have been famous for wool and sheep, while dogs are treated well in Zoroastrian Iran but not in South Asia.”11

Although Witzel (whose writings we will be dealing with in an appendix to this book) tries generally to twist and distort the information in the Rigveda so as to demonstrate a movement into India from the northwest, his reaction to the information in MaNDala VIII (a late MaNDala, although Witzel does not admit it) unwittingly, but clearly, shows the expanding horizon of a people from “South Asia” coming into contact with “the borderlands (including GandhAra)”.

The combined evidence of river-names, place-names and animal-names gives us a single unanimous verdict: the Vedic Aryans were inhabitants of the interior of India, and their direction of expansion was from the east to the west and northwest.


The evidence of the Rigveda is so clear that it brooks no other conclusion except that the Vedic Aryans expanded from the interior of India to the west and northwest.

However, there are certain points, raised by the scholars, which claim to negate such a conclusion and to establish that the Vedic Aryans were in fact newcomers into India who were still floundering around in the northwestern outskirts of the land.

We will examine these points under the following heads:
     A. Tigers and Rice.
     B. Soma.

Appendix A. Tigers and Rice

According to the scholars, the Rigveda does not mention either the tiger or rice; and this is significant, since it shows that the Vedic Aryans at that time were still unacquainted with that common Indian animal and that common Indian cereal.

In delineating the parts of India which had become “known” to the incoming Aryans at the time of the Rigveda, Michael Witzel (whom we have already referred to earlier) declares: “It is also important to note that the tiger and rice are still unknown to the RV, which excludes the areas, roughly speaking, east of Delhi: the GaNgA-YamunA Doab and the tracts of land South of it.”12

Let us examine the logic:

The Tiger: It is “important to note” that the scholars claim that the Vedic Aryans were unacquainted with the tiger right from the time of composition of the earliest hymn of the Rigveda to the time of composition of the latest hymn (in whatever chronological order the hymns are arranged).

But what these scholars deliberately ignore, in their desperate attempt to grab at whatever straw they think is available, is that the tiger is not restricted to the area “east of Delhi”: the tiger was a very common animal in the western Punjab (the seals of Harappa and Mohenjodaro contain many pictorial representations of the tiger, even when they do not have a single one of the lion) and in fact, the tiger in ancient times was found as far to the northwest as northern Afghanistan, northern Iran and parts of Central Asia.

Even if we follow the logic of the invasion-theorists and assume that the Vedic Aryans migrated into India from the northwest, these Vedic Aryans should have been very long familiar with the tiger well before they even glimpsed their very first elephant, spotted deer, peacock or Indian bison.

It is clearly impossible that the tiger could have been “still unknown” to the Vedic Aryans who were so intimately familiar with all these animals, and whose area of acquaintance (even assuming that they came from outside) extended upto Bihar (KIkaTa) in the east.

Incidentally, when the tiger is mentioned in later texts (including the other Veda SaMhitAs), it has a purely “Aryan” name: vyAghra, which not only has a purely Indo-European etymology, but also has cognate forms in Iranian babr and Armenian vagr.  And even in the Rigveda, while the word vyAghra does not occur even once in the text, it occurs in the name of one of the composers of IX.97: VyAghrapAda VAsiSTha.

That the tiger is not mentioned even once in the whole of the Rigveda certainly does call for an explanation, but non-familiarity with the animal cannot be that explanation under any circumstance. Possible explanations are:

a. There was some kind of a ritual taboo on the mention of the tiger during the period of composition of the Rigvedic hymns, OR

b. The word siMha (lion) which occurs in the Rigveda in the following references, stood for both the lion as well as the tiger (according to American archaeologist Mark Kenoyer, it probably stood for the tiger rather than for the lion):

     I.64.8; 95.5; 174.3;
     III.2.11; 9.4; 26.5;
     V.15.3; 74.4; 83.3;
     IX.89.3; 97.28;
     X.28.4, 10; 67.9.

Of these two possible explanations, the first is a more likely one.

Rice: Rice is not mentioned in the Rigveda, but nor is any other specific grain: neither wheat, nor millet, nor even barley (the word yava, like the word dhAnA/dhAnya, in the Rigveda is accepted by most of the scholars to be a reference to “grain” in general, and not to barley as it does in later times.  The word is cognate to the Lithuanian word javai which also means “grain”, the Lithuanian word for barley being mieZiai).  All these grains are known. to have been cultivated in the Indus sites, but not one of them is mentioned by name in the Rigveda which knows of lands as far east as Bihar (KIkaTa).

Yet not only do the scholars deduce that rice in particular was “unknown” to the Vedic Aryans, because it is not mentioned by name in the hymns; they even draw far-reaching and fundamental historical conclusions from this omission.

And yet, is it true that rice was unknown to the Vedic Aryans?  And, more to the point, do these scholars themselves sincerely believe that this was the case?

The Rigveda clearly refers to certain culinary preparations made from rice: apUpa and puroLNS (varieties of rice-cakes) and odana (rice-gruel).

These are referred to in the following verses:

     III. 52.1, 7;
     VIII. 91.2;
     X. 45.9.
     I. 162.3;
     III. 28.1-6; 41.3; 52.2-6, 8;
     IV. 24.5; 32.16;
     VI. 23.7;
     VII. 18.6;
     VIII. 2.11; 31.2.
     VIII. 69.14; 77.6, 10.

That these were rice preparations is something that cannot be easily denied outright.  Even Witzel himself, elsewhere, somewhat qualifies, although negatively, his firm assertion that rice was “still unknown” to the Vedic Aryans: “Unless the Rgvedic words (brahma-)-udana and puroLAS mean a certain rice dish, as they do later on, cultivation and ritual use of rice first appear in the Atharvaveda…”13

Griffith translates the words apUpa and puroLAS by neutral words like “cake”, “sacrificial cake” and “me al-cake”, and even suggests in one place (in his footnote to VIII.2.3, in reference to the word yava) that the sacrificial cake is “made of barley-meal”.

But in his footnote to 1.40.3, he also admits that “the fivefold gift” offered to Agni consists of “an offering of grain, gruel, curdled milk, rice-cake, and curds”.

And he clearly translates the word odana in VIII.77.6, 10 as “brew of rice” and “brew of rice and milk”.

Appendix B. Soma

In the case of Soma, the argument is to the opposite effect: according to the scholars, the Soma plant was a species of Ephedra found in the extreme northwestern parts of India extending to Central Asia and beyond.  Species of Ephedra found further eastwards were not capable of yielding the kind of juice described in the Rigveda.

Hence, the fact that the ritual use of Soma formed such an integral part of the Rigvedic religion in every period of the text (and that this feature is shared with the Iranians) proves that the Vedic Aryans entered India from the northwest, bringing the Soma plant and cult with them.

This is the argument.  But is this argument either valid or logical, or in keeping with the facts of the case?

One undeniable fact is that the Soma plant was a native of the extreme northwestern and northern regions: all the references to the sources of Soma, in the Rigveda, make it very clear that the plant grew in the mountains of Kashmir, Afghanistan, and the extreme northwest of the Punjab.

But, arguing, solely from this fact, that the Vedic Aryans, who used Soma prominently in their rituals, also came from the northwestern parts, bringing the plant with them, is like arguing that the Irish people, to whom potatoes constitute a staple food, came from America to Ireland, bringing the potato plant with them.  Or, that the medieval Europeans, who used Indian spices in their culinary diet, went to Europe from India, taking the spices with them.

Clearly, the use of a particular plant by a particular people cannot be the basis for historical conclusions about the geographical origins of that people, unless this is demonstrated by their traditional understanding of their association with the plant in question.

And the evidence in the Rigveda shows that:

1. The actual Soma-growing areas were distant and unknown to the Vedic Aryans in the early parts of the Rigveda, and became known to them only later after they expanded westwards.

2. The Soma plant and its ritual were not originally known to the Vedic Aryans and their priests, but were introduced to them in very early times by priests from the Soma-growing areas.

3. The expansion of the Vedic Aryans (and, by a chain of events, the dispersion of the Indo-Europeans, as we shall see in later chapters) into the west and northwest was a direct consequence of their quest for Soma.

The detailed evidence is as follows:

1. Soma is regarded as growing in distant areas: this area is so distant that it is constantly identified with the heavens (IV.26.6; 27.3, 4; VIII.100.8; IX.63.27; 66.30; 77.2; .86.24, etc.)

The only specific thing known about the place of origin of Soma is that it grows on mountains (I.93.6; III.48.2; V.43.4; 85.2; IX.18.1; 62.4; 85.10; 95.4; 98.9, etc.). Nothing more specific is mentioned in the Family MaNDalas or the early upa-maNDalas of MaNDala I.

The area of Soma is clearly not part of the Vedic area (nor is there even the slightest hint anywhere in the Rigveda that it ever was): it is constantly referred to as being far away (IV.26.6; IX.68.6; X.11.4; 144.4). This area is also known as the “dwelling of TvaSTR” (IV.18.3); and this is what the scholars have to say about TvaSTR: “TvaSTR is one of the obscurest members of the Vedic pantheon.  The obscurity of the concept is explained… (by) HILLEBRANDT (who) thinks TvaSTR was derived from a mythical circle outside the range of the Vedic tribes.”14

Soma is mythically reported to be brought by an eagle to the Vedic people, and even to their Gods, from its place of origin:
     I.80.2; 93.6;
     IV.18.13; 26.4-7; 27.3, 4;
     VIII.82.9; 100.8;
     IX.68.6; 77.2; 86.24; 87.6;
     X.11.4; 99.8; 144.4, 5.

That this place of origin is alien to the Vedic people is clear from the fact that this eagle is reported to have to hurry (IV.26.5) to escape the guardians of Soma, who are described as attacking the eagle (IV.27.3) to prevent it from taking the Soma away.

“TvaSTR is especially the guardian on Soma, which is called ‘the mead of TvaSTR’ (I.117.22)”15 and Indra is described as conquering TvaSTR in order to obtain the Soma.

In his footnote to 1.43.8, Griffith refers to “the people of the hills who interfere with the gathering of the Soma plant which is to be sought there”.

The Family MaNDalas are generally ignorant about the exact details of the Soma-growing areas.  Whatever specific information is there is in the later MaNDalas:

The prime Soma-growing areas are identified in VIII.64.11 as the areas near the SuSomA and ArjIkIyA rivers (the SohAn and HAro, northeastern tributaries of the Indus, in the extreme north of the Punjab and northwest of Kashmir) and SaryaNAvAn (a lake in the vicinity of these two rivers).  In VIII.7.29, the reference is to the SuSoma and ArjIka (in the masculine gender, signifying mountains; while the rivers of these names are in the feminine gender), clearly the mountains which gave rise to the SusomA and ArjIkIyA rivers, alongwith SaryaNAvAn (which also appears in X.35.2 as a mountainous area, perhaps referring to the mountains surrounding the lake of the same name).

In another place, the best Soma is said to be growing on the MUjavat mountains.  The MUjavat tribes are identified (Atharvaveda V-XXII-5, 7, 8, 14) with the GandhArIs.  These mountains are therefore also in the extreme north of the Punjab and in adjacent parts of Afghanistan.

That GandhArI (Afghanistan) in the Rigveda is associated with Soma is clear from the specific role assigned in the Rigveda to the Gandharva or gandharvas (mythical beings associated in the Rigveda with that region).  In the words of Macdonell: “Gandharva is, moreover, in the RV often associated (chiefly in the ninth book) with Soma.  He guards the place of Soma and protects the races of the gods (9.83.4; cp. 1.22.14). Observing all the forms of Soma, he stands on the vault of heaven (9.85.12). Together with Parjanya and the daughters of the sun, the Gandharvas cherish Soma (9.113.3). Through Gandharva’s mouth the gods drink their drought (AV.7.73.3). The MS (3.8.10) states that the Gandharvas kept the Soma for the gods… It is probably as a jealous guardian of Soma that Gandharva in the RV appears as a hostile being, who is pierced by Indra in the regions of air (8.66.5) or whom Indra is invoked to overcome (8.1.11). … Soma is further said to have dwelt among the Gandharvas…”16

All these places are found mentioned only in the later MaNDalas (i.e. after the westward expansion of the Vedic Aryans):

                 VIII. 7.29; 64.11;
                 IX. 65.23; 113.2;
                 X. 75.5.

                 VIII. 7.29; 64.11;
                 X. 75.5.

                 I. 84.14;
                 VIII. 6.39; 7.29; 64.11;
                 IX. 65.22: 113.1;
                 X. 35.2.

                 X. 34.1.

                 I. 126.6.

2. The special priests of the Vedic Aryans (i.e. of the Bharatas) were the ANgirases, VasiSThas and ViSvAmitras.  These priests, however, are not specially associated with the Soma plant and ritual.

The following table will make the position clear: (click on the link)

Click Here

As we can see, the nine priestly families are divided into two distinct categories: the KaSyapas and BhRgus, who are very specially associated with Soma, and the other seven families which are not.  The Bharatas separate the two groups.

Clearly, the KaSyapas and BhRgus are the two families which are specially associated with Soma.  And these are the two families which were originally alien to the Vedic Aryans: the KaSyapas are associated throughout Indian tradition with Kashmir (KaSyapa-mIra); and the BhRgus, except for one branch consisting of Jamadagni and his descendants, are associated with the enemies of the Vedic Aryans living to their north and northwest (as we shall see in greater detail in our chapter on the Indo-Iranian homeland).  Both these families are thus directly associated with the Soma-growing areas to the north and northwest of the Vedic Aryan territory.

It is not only in the statistical analysis of the number of verses to Soma that the special relationship shared by these two families with the Soma plant and ritual becomes apparent; the joint testimony of the Avesta and the Rigveda also confirms this special relationship.  As Macdonell puts it: “The RV and the Avesta even agree in the names of ancient preparers of Soma; Vivasvat and Trita Aptya on the one hand, and Vivanhvant, Athwya and Thrita on the other.”17

According to the Avesta, the first preparer of Soma was Vivanhvant (Vivasvat), the second was Athwya (Aptya) and the third was Thrita (Trita).

Vivasvat in the Rigveda is generally the Sun (note: in many references, the sky is referred to as “VivasvAn’s dwelling”, which may be compared with the reference to AuSija’s dwelling or abode in our discussion on the word AuSija in our chapter on the chronology of the Rigveda); but Vivasvat is also the name of the father of two persons: Yama and Manu.  In the Avesta also, Vivanhvant is the father of Yima.

Both Vivasvat and Yama Vaivasvata are identified in the Rigveda as BhRgus (see the discussion on the YAmAyana group of RSis in our chapter on the composers of the Rigveda); and Manu Vaivasvata is identified in the AnukramaNIs of VIII.29 with KaSyapa.

Trita Aptya is not clearly identified with any family in the Rigveda, but it is significant that he is described by the GRtsamadas (Kevala BhRgus) in II.11-19 as belonging to “our party” (Griffith’s translation).

The KaSyapas are indeed very closely associated with Soma: not only are 70.60% of the verses composed by them dedicated to Soma PavamAna, but the AprI-sUkta of the KaSyapas is the only AprI-sUkta dedicated to Soma (all the other nine AprI-sUktas are dedicated to Agni).

But while the KaSyapas are exclusive Soma priests, the fact is that they entered the Rigveda at a late stage: they became exclusive Soma priests in the period following the expansion of the Vedic Aryans into the Soma-growing areas.

The identification of the BhRgus with Soma is deeper, older and more significant: it is clear that the Soma plant originated among the BhRgus of the northwest, and it is they who introduced the plant and its rituals to the Vedic Aryans and their priests:

a. The word Soma, which occurs thousands of times in the hymns of the Rigveda, is found in the name of only one composer RSi: SomAhuti BhArgava.

b. The word PavamAna, which occurs more than a hundred times in the Soma PavamAna MaNDala, is found only once outside MaNDala IX: in VIII.101.14 composed by Jamadagni BhArgava.

c. Both the Rigveda and the Avesta, as we have seen, are unanimous in identifying BhRgus as the earliest preparers of Soma..

d. The overwhelming majority of the hymns to Soma in MaNDala IX, as we have seen in our chapter on the chronology of the Rigveda, are composed by RSis belonging to the Middle and Late Periods of the Rigveda: the only two hymns (other than hymns by BhRgus) which can be ascribed (and only, as we have pointed out, for the lack of clear contrary evidence) to.  RSis belonging to the period of the three Early Family MaNDalas are IX.71 (ascribed to RSabha VaiSvAmitra of MaNDala III) and IX.90 (ascribed to VasiSTha MaitrAvaruNI of MaNDala VII).

However, fourteen hymns are ascribed to BhRgu RSis.  Of these, two which are ascribed to Jamadagni BhArgava (IX.62, 65) of the period of MaNDala III, are clearly composed by his descendants; but the remaining twelve hymns are ascribed to remote ancestral BhRgu RSis of the pre-Rigvedic period, who are already ancient and mythical even in the oldest MaNDalas: Vena BhArgava (IX.85), USanA KAvyA (IX.87-89) and KavI BhArgava (IX.47-49, 75-79).

The oldest Soma hymns in the Rigveda therefore appear to be composed exclusively by BhRgus.

e. The Rigveda clearly indicates that it was the BhRgus who introduced Soma to the Vedic Aryans, and to their Gods and priests.  According to at least three references (I.116.12; 117.22; 119.9), the location or abode of Soma was a secret; and this secret was revealed to the ASvins by Dadhyanc, an ancient BhRgu RSi, already mythical in the Rigveda, and older than even Kavi BhArgava and USanA KAvya.  Dadhyanc is the son of AtharvaNa, and grandson of the eponymous BhRgu.

Even the symbolism inherent in the eagle who brought Soma to the Vedic Aryans probably represents this role of the BhRgus: according to Macdonell, “the term eagle is connected with Agni Vaidyuta or lightning (TB 3, 10, 51; cp. 12.12)”;18 and likewise, “BERGAIGNE thinks there can hardly be a doubt that bhRgu was originally a name of fire, while KUHN and BARTH agree in the opinion that the form of fire it represents is lightning”19 (see also Griffith’s footnote to IV.7.4)

The evidence in the Rigveda thus clearly shows that the Vedic Aryans did not come from the Soma-growing areas bringing the Soma plant and rituals with them: the Soma plant and rituals were brought to the Vedic Aryans from the Soma-growing areas of the northwest by the BhRgus, priests of those areas.

3. The expansion of the Vedic Aryans into the west and northwest was a direct consequence of their quest for Soma:

The westward movement commenced with the crossing of the Sutudri and VipAS by ViSvAmitra and the Bharatas under SudAs, described in hymn III.33; and the fifth verse of the hymn clarifies both the direction and purpose of this crossing.

Griffith translates III.33.5 (in which ViSvAmitra addresses the rivers) as: “Linger a little at my friendly bidding; rest, Holy Ones, a moment in your journey…”; but he clarifies in his footnote: “At my friendly bidding: according to the Scholiasts, YAska and SAyaNa, the meaning of me vAcase somyAya is ‘to my speech importing the Soma’; that is, the object of my address is that I may cross over and gather the Soma-plant.”

This crossing, and the successful foray into the northwest, appears to have whetted the appetite of SudAs and the Bharatas for conquest and expansion: shortly afterwards, the ViSvAmitras perform an aSvamedha sacrifice for SudAs, described in III.53.11: “Come forward KuSikas, and be attentive; let loose SudAs’s horses to win him riches.  East, west, and north, let the king slay the foeman, then at earth’s choicest place (vara A pRthivyA = KurukSetra) perform his worship.”

While some expansion took place towards the east as well (KIkaTa in III.53.14), the main thrust of the expansion is clearly towards the west and northwest: the first major battle in this long drawn out western war is on the YamunA, the second (the DASarAjña) on the ParuSNI, and the final one in southern Afghanistan beyond the Sarayu.

While SudAs was still the leader of the Bharatas in the battles on the YamunA and the ParuSNI, the battle beyond the Sarayu appears to have taken place under the leadership of his remote descendant Sahadeva in the Middle Period of the Rigveda.

Sahadeva’s son (referred to by his priest VAmadeva in IV.15.7-10), who also appears to have been a participant. in the above battle beyond the Sarayu, may have been named Somaka in commemoration of earlier conquests of the Soma-growing areas of eastern Afghanistan by his father Sahadeva.


1VPHG, p.211.



4GORI, p.41-42.

5HCIP, p.341.

6MBH, pp.381-382.

7GORI, p.32.

8ibid., p.35.

9IASA, p.317.

10ibid., p.319.

11ibid., p.322.

12IAW, p. 176.

13IASA, p.102.

14VM, p. 117.

15ibid., p.116.

16VM, p.136.

17VM, p.114.

18VM, p.112.

19ibid., p.140.

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