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Modi govt now tasks IGNCA to find Saraswati, but wants focus on civilisations, not river

IGNCA trustee Mahesh Sharma says focus will be on cultural aspect of the river. Work is on to find remnants of 'civilisations that may have thrived' along Saraswati.

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New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government, it appears, is not giving up on its quest to locate the mythical Saraswati river.

The river finds mention in the Vedas and as such is revered by Hindus. But despite satellite imaging as well as various geological surveys, there has been little physical evidence to prove its existence.

The central government has now tasked the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA), an autonomous body under the Union Ministry of Culture, to prove the river really existed. It has, however, advocated a change of strategy.

The IGNCA has been directed to focus its search not on finding the river stream but to explore and find evidence of “civilisations that may have flourished on its banks”.

Sources told ThePrint that IGNCA has already formed a team of experts who have been given clear-cut instruction to gather evidence to show that the Saraswati river really existed.

IGNCA trustee Mahesh Sharma confirmed to ThePrint that the project is under way. “We are working on the Saraswati river project. We have collected all the research done so far on this topic and are preparing to take it to the next step,” he said. “Very soon, we will release a research book on this.”

Sharma said the IGNCA would focus on the cultural aspect of the river.

“According to information in the Vedas and studies conducted thus far, it is known that at the time of the river’s existence, several ashrams and gurukuls used to flourish on its banks,” he said. “The river used to be the focal point of all civilisation in this area. It is believed that the river flowed from the Bandarpunch Glacier above Badrinath, passed through the Vyas cave and reached Alaknanda. It is also claimed that there was an earthquake in Haryana and the river bank spread out and went underground when it entered Rajasthan.”

A source in the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), however, said the IGNCA was carrying out the work at the behest of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

“Several studies conducted thus far have not been able to even establish the exact course, direction and geographical layout of the river,” the source said. “The IGNCA is now trying to explore the civilisations and cultures adjacent to the river as part of RSS’s agenda. At first, something substantial must be established about the real existence of the river and only then can such exploration work on other related topics begin.”

Also read: Doordarshan to telecast show on RSS-affiliated NGO, Vivek Oberoi & Paresh Rawal to host 

IGNCA has started work

Sources told ThePrint that the IGNCA has already held three meetings, in the last year-and-a-half, on the project. Two of them were held in Badrinath while the third was convened in Delhi. The autonomous body also organised a seminar in Delhi regarding the project.

Mahesh Sharma told ThePrint that the IGNCA will now involve various other arms of the central government.

“We are running this project with the help of the Central government but it is still way beyond our capacity. Very soon, we are going to start a dialogue with the other agencies concerned regarding the Saraswati river project,” he said. “After this, we will meet the ministers of tourism, culture and science & technology and discuss about further expediting the research work. If we all work together in a collective way, some meaningful results can be obtained in the next two to three years.”

The search for the Saraswati river has been fast-tracked by various BJP governments. The Vajpayee government in 2002 made a concerted effort to locate the river but the project was stalled when the Congress-led UPA government took over.

The efforts were revived by the BJP governments that took over at the Centre and in Haryana, where the river is believed to have flowed, in 2014. The two governments have reportedly spent close to Rs 50 crore on locating the river.

The Haryana government has also constituted the Saraswati Heritage Development Board with Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar as its chairman.

The governments have roped in the Wadia Institute, ASI and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) to locate the river but none of the efforts have produced any results.

Also read: After Ram Mandir, next on VHP agenda — reconstruction of J&K temples, cow protection 

  • The copy has been updated to correct the fact that Mahesh Sharma was not the former union minister.


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  1. The author seems to be illinformed or misinformed with regards to existence of river Saraswati. Recent study published in Nature magazine would be a good place to start as western scholarship is more prized in our Country than national scholars. And to the editor of Print, more is expected of you sir and bipartisanship and critical understanding is foremost of it. Thank you

  2. “But despite satellite imaging as well as various geological surveys, there has been little physical evidence to prove its existence.”

    The writer should first read the recent paper in the nature (one of the best journals in academia) (On the existence of a perennial river in the Harappan heartland) . ThePrint should invest more in there research team. This paper has been widely circulated. A decent article on saraswati should mention it. This is a lazy article.

  3. The author’s claim that studies haven’t produced results lies in contrast to what is an exciting and emergent area of research interest in India and abroad.

    Chatterjee, A., Ray, J.S., Shukla, A.D. et al. On the existence of a perennial river in the Harappan heartland. Sci Rep 9, 17221 (2019) doi:10.1038/s41598-019-53489-4

    The above is an easy place to start for anyone interested.

    For those new to reading scientific papers, the research methodology section is a good place to understand the approach of the study. The reference section is where one begins to dig deeper into existing scholarship on the topic and other allied disciplines.

    Another good place to start is Michel Danino’s most excellent book titled The Lost River. He does an excellent job presenting scholarship on the subject, but more importantly presents an excellent framing reference through which scholarship can be viewed.

    In fact, Michel has several of his academic presentations on the topic online on YouTube as well.

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