Re: This Sarasvati Business
Ravi Chaudhary wrote: Mon Feb 10, 2003
<Can linguistics be outside a cultural environment?>
Is it useless to suggest here that the Sarasvati may not supply much to
either side of this controversy?
1. If <saras> refers to pools or ponds, it still could go either way. I
tried to point out that "pools" and "troughs" can exist within a river -- in
English, "pools" are a part of a river. In fact, for people who live off the
river, "many pools" would be an important fact
about even the most otherwise violently surging river.
Even if <saras> refers to "flowing", it may refer to nothing more than
rapids. Even a shallow, narrow river can have rapids and falls. The name
does not have to refer to the particular attributes of the river in the Rig
Veda. A tiny river could possibly be called "having an abundance of flows or
falls". (Remember that the Pacific Ocean was named accidentially at a placid
time and place, but it just as easily could have been named something
different if a typical typhoon or a hurricane had been happening at the time.
Names can be nothing more than inaccurate first impressions.)
2. On the other hand, pools can also signal a dried up river. In Australia,
northeast of Carnarvon, there is a water hole called _Rocky Pool_. It is a
pool formed among rocks. The pool has water permanently but is actually part
of _Rocky Pool River_ which is a river that is otherwise dry except on the
rare occasions when enough rainfall comes to fill it. So a dried-up river
that left pools behind can of course be called <sarasvati>.
By the way, Madhav Deshpande reference to frogs that appear in "rained-caused
pools" of water also occurs in many dried-out Australian riverbeds when they
flood with rare or seasonal rains. ("Besides the word saras occurs dozens of
times in early Vedic, for example in the famous frog-hymn (RV 7.103), where
the context makes it clear that the frogs suddenly pop up in rain-caused
pools of water that had dried up in summer.")
So, it would seem that <sarasvati> could actually be a more modern
description of a dried-out river that some memory says was once mighty and
3. As Piotr, pointed out whether a river is fast or slow, big or small, has
pools (e.g., eddies) or doesn't depends on where you are on the river. Where
we have names historically given to rivers, they can often refer to a
particular point on the river (e.g., Big Bend River, Cow Pasture River,
Regans Ford River, Los Angeles River, Battle Creek, etc.).
4. The language or the meaning of the name does not tell us who named it. In
California, for example, a surprising number of river and creek names are
English, Spanish or Native American calques of earlier names. Names like Big
Flat River, Mud River and Salt Creek are just translations of Native American
names. So nothing says that Sarasvati was not just a translation of an
earlier name given the river in a different language. Or that the original
understanding was misunderstood even though the calque occured, i.e.,
something was lost in the translation. Or that the name of the river was not
transferred somewhere along the line. As I pointed out earlier there are two
parallel rivers named after Queen Anne (one in Latin, the other in English)
in Virginia, the one apparently confused with the other.
5. As far as the Iranian river name: Just as there are Avon Rivers in the
US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, there are Rome's, Ithaca's,
Syracuse's, Tarentum's and Athen's in several places in the US. They were
not necessarily named by the local folk. Some were named by postmasters who
decided to use town names from ancient history. If scribes came from India
to write in Iranian, they might also use some of the old names where nothing
else was available. As for the sound changes, note that Rome, New York is
not spelled or pronounced "Roma". The sound change was built right in.
All of the above would indicate that the whole Sarasvati thing is not much of
a help, no matter how you translate <saras->.
Now I know this won't make anyone happy, but it is what happens when you look
into what history tells us about "cultural environments" . More than 3000
years separates us moderns from whatever circumstances were referred to in
"Sarasvati". And human behavior in terms of such namings is just too diverse
to supply any pat answers. The name itself is just not going to prove or
disprove anything, either way, about Harappan and the Indo-Aryans.