Hindu civilisation began from the banks of the Sindhu and Saraswati rivers. While Saraswati dried up three to four thousand years ago, Sindhu still flows majestically. It is a river that in ancient times was much more sacred to the Hindus than even the mighty Ganga. But the civilisational memory of Sindhu river has become dim for the Hindus.
Interestingly, while all rivers of Indian subcontinent are referred to as a female (Ganga, Saraswati, Narmada, Yamuna, etc.), Sindhu is the only river to be referred to as a male. it is a “he,” not a “she.”
Many rivers and river valleys worldwide have played a significant role in the evolution, sustaining and development of civilizations. Notable amongst these are the Nile, Tigris-Euphrates, Sindhu (Indus) and Hwang Ho-Yang Tse Kyang. Mighty civilizations grew up on the banks of these great river systems. These rivers not only catalyzed the production of crops but also facilitated their growth of trade by providing convenient transport lines.
Symbol of Strength
The mighty Sindhu (Indus) river symbolizes the power and permanence of the ancient Indian civilization which evolved over a period of thousands of years. The archaeological discovery of the Indus Valley civilization which flourished along its banks, has reinforced the antiquity of the Indian civilization.
The river’s name comes from Sanskrit word ‘Sindhu’. It is mentioned in the Rig Veda, the earliest (c. 1500 BC) chronicles and hymns of the Aryan people of ancient India, and is the source of the country’s name. words like Hindu, Hindustan and India have been derived from Sindhus and ‘Indus’, the name given to Sindhu by foreigners. The journey of Sindhu through India transports you to a civilization going back five thousand years. The Indus Valley civilization is synonymous with Harappa and Mohenjodaro.
A great Trans-Himalayan river, it is one of the longest rivers in the world with an astonishing length of 2900 km. Rising in south-western Tibet, at an altitude of 16,000 feet, Sindhu enters the Indian territory near Leh in Ladakh. The river has total drainage area of about 4,50,000 square miles, of which 1,75,000 square miles, lie in the Himalayan mountains and foothills. After flowing eleven miles beyond Leh, Sindhu is joined on the left by its first tributary, the Zanskar, which helps green the Zanskar Valley. Many interesting mountain trails beckon the mountaineering enthusiasts to the Zanskar Valley. The Sindhu then flows past Batalik. The mighty Indus when it enters the plains is joined by its famous five tributaries – the Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas and Sutlej – giving Punjab — “Land of five rivers” — its name.
Sindhu is divine. In the beginning was the word. The first recorded word was the Veda. The earliest mention of this great river is in the Vedas. The Sindhu — the cradle of Indian civilization — finds its most dramatic description in the Rig Veda (c. 1500 BC). “Sindhu in might surpasses all streams that flow. His roar is lifted up to heaven above the earth; he puts forth endless vigour with a flash of light ….Even as cows with milk rush to their calves, so other rivers roar into the Sindhu. As a warrior king leads other warriors, so does Sindhu leads other rivers… Rich in good steeds is Sindhu, rich in gold, nobly fashioned, rich in ample wealth”.
Sindhu is too alive and too divine to be “it”, and so Sindhu is “he”! When the Vedic seer invokes the Sindhu. The Veda refers to the Ganga only twice, but it makes as many as thirty references to the Sindhu! It is the oldest name in Indian history – and in Indian geography. This is the great Sindhu that gave Sindh and Hind — its name. The Rig Veda compares the sound of the flowing Sindhu to the roar of thunderstorm, indicating the sense of awe inspired by the river in the minds of Aryans. Later on, in the Vedic period, the word Sindhu came to denote the sea, from which the vastness of the river can be gauged. In the Ramayana, Sindhu is seen to be given the title “Mahanadi”, which means “the mighty river”.
In the Mahabharat, the Sindhu is reverentially mentioned along with other two holy rivers, the Ganga and Saraswati. References to the Sindhu are also seen in many ancient literary works like those of Kalidasa, Bana, Panini. The fame of the mighty Sindhu had spread even beyond the subcontinent and it found reflections in the literary works of the Greek and Roman empires. It finds mention in some of the earlier literature of India. Kalidasa says in the Raghuvansha that on the advice of his maternal uncle Yudhajat, Rama conferred Sindh on Bharata. Rama’s ancestor Raghu’s triumphant horses had relaxed on the bank of the Sindhu.
Another great Sanskrit poet, Bhasa, had done a whole play, “Avimark” on the romance of Prince Avimark with Princess Kurangadi of Sindhu-Sauvira. The Bhavishya Purana says that Shalivahana, the grandson of Maharaja Vikramaditya of Ujjain, established law and order in ‘Sindhusthan” and fixed his frontier on the Sindhu. Anshnath, the eleventh Jain Tirthankar, was a Sindhi. He died in Bengal. The Jaina Dakshinya Chihna (eight century) speaks of Sindhis as “elegant, with a lovely, soft and slow gait. They are fond of songs, music and dance and feel affection for their country”.
There is a legend that the great Buddha had graced Sindh with his visit. Finding the climate extreme, and the area dry and dusty, he had permitted the bhikshus to wear shoes here. He had also permitted the use of padded clothing, forbidden elsewhere. Here Sthavirtis, the Prince of Rorik or Roruka (Aror or Alor, near modern Rohri) became his disciple. When the Buddha went round his native Kapilavastu in a chariot, it was mentioned that the “four auspicious horses, of lotus colour, had come from Sindhudesh”. To this day, historic Buddhist stupas are found in Sindh. The Divyavadana (Tibetan version) reports: “The Buddha is in Rajgriha. At this time, there were two great cities in Jampudvip (north India), Pataliputra and Roruka. When Roruka rises, Pataliputra declines; when Pataliputra rises, Roruka declines”.
Here was Roruka of Sindh competing with the capital of the Magadha empire. When Bimbisar was the king of the Magadha, he sent Rudrayan, king of Sindhu-Sauvita, a rare portrait of the Buddha. The two powerful ministers of Sindh at the time were Hiroo and Bheru, their names still common amongst the Sindhis!
Chandragupta Maurya first won Sindh and then Punjab. It was from this base that he displaced the Nandas, occupied Pataliputra and established the great Mauryan empire. Sindh was part of Dasaratha’s empire. When Kekayi goes into a sulk, Dasaratha tells her, “The sun does not set on my empire. Sindh, Sauvira, Saurashtra, Anga, vanga, Magadha, Kashi, Koshal — they are all mine”. When Sita was kidnapped by Ravana, Rama sent the vanaras (monkeys) to look for her, among other places, in Sindh with its “remarkable swimming horses”. Kashmir’s ancient royal history Rajatirangini has many references to Sindh and the Sindhis. Kuya’s son Sindhu rose to lead the elephant brigade of Kashmir. He was advisor to Queen Dida. A top honour was “Sindhu Gaja”, Elephant of Sindh.