Extent of Vedic Civilization: Sapta Sindhu, Brahmavarta and Aryavarta

From their original home in Central Asia, the Aryans moved towards South-west in around 2000 BC and settled mainly in two areas in modern Afghanistan. First was the region between modern Kabul and Peshawar while another was Kandahar which was linked Quetta via the Bolan Pass. In around 1400 BC, they further crossed various rivers and proceeded either towards Swat Valley or towards Punjab and Indo-Gangetic plains. This entire region including Afghanistan, Swat Valley, Punjab and Indo-Gangetic watershed has been referred in Rig-Veda once as the Sapta Sindhava or Sapta Sindhu (the land of seven rivers).

The seven rivers of Sapta Sindhu

The scholars have puzzled themselves in defining the seven rivers of Sapta Sindhu. The Nadistuti sukta of Rig-Veda mentioned ten rivers viz. Ganga, Yamuna, Saraswati, Sutudri, Parusni, Asikni, Marudvrdha , Vitasta , Arjikiya  and Susoma. The Shutudri is old name of Sutlej, Parushni of Ravi, Asikni of Chenab and Vitasta of Jhelum. Apart from these 10 rivers, the Kubha River (Kabul), Suwastu (Swat) Kramu (Kurram) & Gomati (Gomal) Rivers have also got place in Rig-Vedic texts. Thus, any of these might be the seven rivers of Sapta Sindhava region.

Another set of scholars believes that Sindhu and Saraswati were most sacred rivers of that era. They argue that the hymns in praise of Saraswati are some of the oldest composed 8000 years ago. As per this argument, Sapta Sindhu region comprised of river Saraswati, Indus and five tributaries of Indus viz. Sutudri (Sutlej), Parusni (Ravi), Asikni (Chenab), Vitasta (Jhelum) and Vipas (Beas) river. This term is also found in Avesta.

The Sapta Saindhavas country of the Rig Vedic period was bounded by the Himalayas and modern Tibet in the east, Turkistan in the north, Afghanistan, in the west and the Aravallis in the south.

Brahmavarta

The geographical regions mentioned in Rig-veda include Sapta Sindhuva, Panchanada, Madhydesa and Praki. These were perhaps the first references to the emergence of regions. The geographical location of these regions suggests that the Indo- Aryans preferred to settle down along the banks of Indus and its tributaries (Panchanada). Further south-east, the land between Saraswati and Drishadvati (Ghagghar) was called Brahmavarta. On the periphery of these plains lie the alluvial basins of the Gomti (Gomal), Krumu (Kurrum) and Kubha (Kabul) in afghanistan. This was the geographical extent of the Vedic Aryan settlements. The further southward migration led them to Madhyadesa region.

For your examinations, you may note the names of modern rivers and their old names:

Rig-Vedic NameModern Name
SindhuIndus
VitastaJhelum
AskiniChenab
PurushniRavi
VipasBeas
Sutudri, ShutudriSatluj or Sutlej
Gumal / GomalGomati
KrumuKurram
DrishdvatiGhagghar
SuwastuSwat

Aryavarta

In the later scriptures, the country of Aryans is also designated as Aryavarta. The boundaries of Aryavarta included parts of Modern Afghanistan, Punjab and Sindh of Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and northern India up to Vindhyan mountains. Rig-Vedic Aryans had not established settlements in the southern India. The Ganga and the mountains of the Vindhya were the barriers not easy to cross in those days.

Geographical entities in Rig-Vedic Texts

A total of 31 rivers have been mentioned in Rig-Vedic hymns, most of which belong to Indus, Ganga and lost Saraswati system. The rivers south to Vindhyas have not been mentioned. Among mountains, they have mentioned Himalayas, Arjika, Mujavant, Silament (Suleman range) etc. They have not mentioned the land south of Yamuna, not even Vindhya or Satpura ranges.  The Shatapatha brahamana mentioned eastern and western oceans.

Further, Vedic Aryans were rural and nomadic, so no important cities have been mentioned. The places were known only by name of the tribes which controlled them.

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