The Ghaggar-Hakra River is an intermittent, endorheic river in India and Pakistan that flows only during the monsoon season. The river is known as Ghaggar before the Ottu barrage and as the Hakra downstream of the barrage.
Ghaggar river in Panchkula
|Native name||घग्गर-हाकरा नदी (Hindi)|
|- location||Shivalik Hills, Himachal Pradesh/|
|- left||Kaushalya river|
|- right||Markanda river, Haryana, Sarsuti, Tangri river, Chautang|
|Waterbodies||Kaushalya Dam, Ottu barrage|
Most sites of the Mature Harappan Civilisation (aka Indus Valley Civilisation) (2600-1900 BCE) are actually found along the (dried-out) bed of the Ghaggar-Hakkar, while the Late Harappan Civilisation was centered on the upper Ghaggar-Hakkar and the lower Indus.
Recent geophysical research shows that during the time of the Harappan Civilisation the Ghaggar-Hakra system was a system of monsoon-fed rivers, not Himalayan-fed, and that the Indus Valley Civilisation declined when the monsoons that fed the rivers diminished at around some 4,000 years ago.[note 1] Subatlantic aridification subsequently reduced the Ghaggar-Hakra to the seasonal river it is today.
Nineteenth and early 20th century scholars, but also some more recent authors, have suggested that the Ghaggar-Hakra might be the defunct remains of the mythological Sarasvati of the Rig Veda, fed by Himalayan-fed rivers which changed their course due to tectonics.
The Ghaggar is an intermittent river in India, flowing during the monsoon rains. It originates in the village of Dagshai in the Shivalik Hills of Himachal Pradesh at an elevation of 1,927 metres (6,322 ft) above mean sea level and flows through Punjab and Haryana states into Rajasthan; just southwest of Sirsa, Haryana and by the side of Talwara Lake in Rajasthan.
Dammed at Ottu barrage near Sirsa, Ghaggar feeds two irrigation canals that extend into Rajasthan.
Tributaries of the GaggarEdit
The Kaushalya river is a tributary of Ghaggar river on the left side of Ghahhar-Hakra, it flows in the Panchkula district of Haryana state of India and confluences with Ghaggar river near Pinjore just downstream of Kaushalya Dam.
The Hakra is the dried-out channel of a river near Fort Abbas City in Pakistan that is the continuation of the Ghaggar River in India. Several times, but not continuously, it carried the water of the Sutlej and Ghaggar during the Bronze Age period. Many early settlements of the Indus Valley Civilisation have been found in this area. Hakra Ware culture is believed to be the earliest pre-Harappan culture of India. Many early settlements are found along the river beds in this area.
Along the course of the Ghaggar-Hakra river, there are many early archaeological sites belonging to the Indus Valley Civilization; but not further south than the middle of Bahawalpur district. It has been assumed that the Sarasvati ended there in a series of terminal lakes, and some think that its water only reached the Indus or the sea in very wet rainy seasons. However, satellite images seem to contradict this: they do not show subterranean water in reservoirs in the dunes between the Indus and the end of the Hakra west of Fort Derawar/Marot.
The wide river bed (paleo-channel) of the Ghaggar river suggests that the river once flowed full of water during the great meltdown of the Himalayan Ice Age glaciers at the end of the Ice Age, some 10,000 years ago, and that it then continued through the entire region, in the presently dry channel of the Hakra River, possibly emptying into the Rann of Kutch.
Analysis of sand grains using optically stimulated luminescence by Ajit Singh and others in 2017 indicated that the paleochannel of the Ghaggar-Hakra is a former course of the Sutlej, which diverted to its present course before the development of the Harappan Civilisation. The abandonment of this older course by the Sutlej started 15,000 years ago, and was complete by 8,000 years ago. Ajit Singh et al. conclude that the urban populations settled not along a perennial river, but a monsoon-fed seasonal river that was not subject to devastating floods.
Drying-up of the HakraEdit
M. R. Mughal, summing up the evidence, concludes that the Bronze Age Ghaggar-Hakra sometimes carried more, sometimes less water. Satellite photography has shown that the Ghaggar-Hakra was a large river that dried up several times. The latter point agrees with a recent isotope study.
According to M. R. Mughal, the Hakkra dried-up at the latest in 1900 BCE, but other scholars conclude that it took place much earlier. Henri-Paul Francfort, utilizing images from the French satellite SPOT two decades ago, found that the large river Sarasvati is pre-Harappan altogether, and started drying up already in the middle of the 4th millennium BC; during Harappan times only a complex irrigation-canal network was being used. The date should therefore be pushed back to c 3800 BC.
Paleobotanical information documents the aridity that developed after the drying up of the river. Most of the Mature Harappan sites are located in the middle Ghaggar-Hakra river valley, and some on the Indus and in Kutch-Saurashtra.[note 2] However, just as in other contemporary cultures, such as the BMAC, settlements move up-river due to climate changes around 2000 BCE. In the late Harappan period the number of late Harappan sites in the middle Ghaggar-Hakra channel and in the Indus valley diminishes, while it expands in the upper Ghaggar-Sutlej channels and in Saurashtra.
Painted Grey Ware sites (ca. 1000 - 600 BCE BCE) have been found at former IVC-sites at the middle and upper Ghaggar-Hakra channel, and have also been found in the bed and not on the banks of the Ghaggar-Hakra river, which suggests that river was certainly dried up by this period. The sparse distribution of the Painted Gray Ware sites in the Ghaggar river valley indicates that during this period the Ghaggar river had already dried up.
Diminishing of the monsoonsEdit
The loss of rainfall in much of its catchment area, due to a change in the mossons, was the primary cause of the drying-up of the Hakkar, while deforestation and overgrazing may also have contributed to the drying up of the river. A similar phenomenon, caused by climate change, is also seen at about the same period north of the Hindu Kush, in the area of the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex.
Late in the 2nd millennium BCE the Ghaggar-Hakra fluvial system dried up, which affected the Harappan civilisation. Giosan et al., in their study Fluvial landscapes of the Harappan civilisation, make clear that the Ghaggar-Hakra fluvial system was not a large glacier-fed Himalayan river, but a monsoonal-fed river.[note 3][note 4] They concluded that the Indus Valley Civilisation died out because the monsoons, which fed the rivers that supported the civilisation, diminished. With the rivers drying out as a result, the civilisation diminished some 4000 years ago. This particular effected the Ghaggar-Hakra system, which became ephemeral and was largely abandoned. The Indus Valley Civilisation had the option to migrate east toward the more humid regions of the Indo-Gangetic Plain, where the decentralized late Harappan phase took place.
Most of the Harappan sites along the Ghaggar-Hakkra are found in desert country, and have remained undisturbed since the end of the Indus Civilization. This contrasts with the heavy alluvium of the Indus and other large Panjab rivers that have obscured Harappan sites, including part of Mohenjo Daro. About 80 percent of the Ghaggar-Hakkra sites are datable to the fourth or third millennium BCE, suggesting that the river was flowing during (part of) this period, which is also indicated by the fact that some Indus sites are found inside the bed of the Ghaggar-Hakra.
Identification with the Rigvedic SarasvatiEdit
Since the 19th century, proposals have been made to identify the mythological Sarasvati river with the Ghaggar-Hakra river. The Sarasvati is often mentioned in the Rig Veda, which situates it as a mighty river situated between the Indus and the Ganges, while later Vedic texts describe it as disappearing in the desert. Arguments have been made that the Ghaggar-Hakra was such a mighty river, due to tributaries which were supposed to receive water from the Himalaya. Yet, more recent research shows that the Ghaggar-Hakra was monsoon-fed during Harappan times, and had already dried-up during Vedic times.
The Sarasvati River is mentioned in all books of the Rigveda except the fourth. It is the only river with hymns entirely dedicated to it: RV 6.61, RV 7.95 and RV 7.96. It is mentioned as a divine and large river, which flows "from the mountains to the samudra," which some take as the Indian Ocean. The Rig Veda was written during the latter part of the late Harappan period, and according to Shaffer, the reason for the predominance of the Sarasvati in the Rigveda is the late Harappan (1900-1300 BCE) population shift eastwards to Haryana.
The identification with the Sarasvati River is based on the mentionings in Vedic texts, e.g. in the enumeration of the rivers in Rigveda 10.75.05 - the order is Ganges, Yamuna, Sarasvati, Sutudri Sutlej), Parusni. Later Vedic texts record the river as disappearing at Vinasana (literally, "the disappearing") or Upamajjana, and in post-Vedic texts as joining both the Yamuna and Ganges as an invisible river at Prayaga (Allahabad). Some claim that the sanctity of the modern Ganges is directly related to its assumption of the holy, life-giving waters of the ancient Saraswati. The Mahabharata says that the Sarasvati dried up in a desert (at a place named Vinasana or Adarsana).
Nineteenth and early 20th century scholars, such as orientalist Christian Lassen (1800–1876), philologist and Indologist Max Müller (1823–1900), archaeologist Aurel Stein (1862–1943), and geologist R. D. Oldham (1858–1936), had considered that the Ghaggar-Hakra might be the defunct remains of a river, the Sarasvati, invoked in the orally transmitted collection of ancient Sanskrit hymns, the Rig Veda composed circa 1500 BCE to 1200 BCE.
More recently, but writing before Giosan's 2012 publication, several scholars have identified the old Ghaggar-Hakra river with the Vedic Sarasvati river and the Chautang with the Drishadvati river. Such scholars include Gregory Possehl, J. M. Kenoyer, Bridget and Raymond Allchin, Kenneth Kennedy, Franklin Southworth, and numerous Indian archaeologists. Gregory Possehl and Jane McIntosh refer to the Ghaggar-Hakra river as "Sarasvati" throughout their respective 2002 and 2008 books on the Indus Civilisation, and Gregory Possehl states:
"Linguistic, archaeological, and historical data show that the Sarasvati of the Vedas is the modern Ghaggar or Hakra."
Because most of the Indus Valley sites known so far are actually located on the Ghaggar-Hakra river and its tributaries and not on the Indus river, some Indian archaeologists, such as S.P. Gupta, have proposed to use the term "Indus Sarasvati Civilization" to refer to the Harappan culture which is named, as is common in archaeology, after the first place where the culture was discovered.
Some paleo-environmental scientists have proposed that the Hakkra was fed by Himalayan sources, which made it a mighty river,[note 5] but dried-up between 2500 BCE and 1900 BCE, due to tectonic disturbances which caused a tilt in topography of Northwest India, resulting in the migration of rivers. According to this theory, the Sutlej moved westward and became a tributary of the Indus River,[note 6] while the Yamuna moved eastward and became a tributary of the Ganges, supposedly in the early 2nd millennium BCE, while reaching its current bed by 1st millennium BCE.[note 7] The Drishadvati bed retained only a small seasonal flow. The water loss due to these movements caused the Ghaggar-Hakra river to dry up in the Thar Desert.[note 8]
Anthropologists Gregory Possehl (1942–2011), J. M. Kenoyer, and professional archaeological writer, Jane McIntosh, have suggested that many religious and literary invocations to Sarasvati in the Rig Veda were to a real Himalayan river, whose waters, on account of seismic events, were diverted, leaving only a seasonal river, the Ghaggar-Hakra, in the original river bed.
Romila Thapar terms the identification "controversial" and dismisses it, noticing that the descriptions of Sarasvati flowing through the "high mountains" does not tally with Ghaggar's course and suggests that Sarasvati is Haraxvati of Afghanistan which is also known as the Helmand river. Wilke suggests that the identification is problematic since the Ghaggar-Hakra river was already dried up at the time of the composition of the Vedas, let alone the migration of the Vedic people into northern India.
The idea that the Ghaggar-Hakra was fed by Himalayan sources has been contradicted by recent geophysical research, which shows that the Ghaggar-Hakra system, although having greater discharge in Harappan times which was enough to sustain human habitation, was not sourced by the glaciers and snows of the Himalayas, but rather by a system of perennial monsoon-fed rivers. Geologist Liviu Giosan of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and his team showed that in contrast to all Himalayan rivers in the region that dug out wide valleys in their own sediments as the monsoon declined, no such valley exists between the Sutlej and the Yamuna, demonstrating that neither the Ghaggar-Hakra nor any other Sarasvati candidate in that region had a Himalayan source.[note 1] Late Holocene aridification subsequently reduced the Ghaggar-Hakra to the seasonal river it is today.[note 9]
Clift eta l. (2012), using dating of zircon sand grains, have shown that subsurface river channels near the Indus Valley Civilisation sites in Cholistan immediately below the dry Ghaggar-Hakra bed show sediment affinity not with the Ghagger-Hakra, but instead with the Beas River in the western sites and the Sutlej and the Yamuna in the eastern ones, further weakening the hypothesis that the Ghaggar-Hakra was once a large river, but suggesting that the Yamuna itself, or a channel of the Yamuna, along with a channel of the Sutlej may have flowed west some time between 47,000 BCE and 10,000 BCE, well before the beginnings of Indus civilization.
Ajit Singh et al. (2017) show that the paleochannel of the Ghaggar-Hakra is a former course of the Sutlej, which diverted to its present course between 15,000 and 8,000 years ago, well before the development of the Harappan Civilisation. Ajit Singh et al. conclude that the urban populations settled not along a perennial river, but a monsoon-fed seasonal river that was not subject to devastating floods.
Rajesh Kocchar further notes that, even if the Sutlej and the Yamuna had drained into the Ghaggar during Rig Vedic, it still would not fit the Rig Vedic descriptions because "the snow-fed Satluj and Yamuna would strengthen lower Ghaggar. Upper Ghaggar would still be as puny as it is today."
Astrophysicist Rajesh Kocchar claims that there are two Sarasvati rivers mentioned in the Rigveda. The older one described in the family books of the Rigveda, which he calls Naditama Sarasvati, drains into a samudra. The newer one described in the tenth book of Rigveda as well as later Vedic texts, which he calls Vinasana Sarasvati, disappears in the sands. The Vinasana Sarasvati has been "accepted by all" to be the same as the Ghaggar-Hakra river. On the other hand, the description of the Naditama Sarasvati in the Rigveda matches the physical features of the Helmand River in Afghanistan, more precisely its tributary the Harut River, whose older name was Haraxvatī in Avestan. Ganga and Yamuna, he takes to be small streams in its vicinity. When the Vedic people moved east into Punjab, they named the new rivers they encountered after the old rivers they knew from Helmand.
- Giosan (2012): "Numerous speculations have advanced the idea that the Ghaggar-Hakra fluvial system, at times identified with the lost mythical river of Sarasvati (e.g., 4, 5, 7, 19), was a large glacier fed Himalayan river. Potential sources for this river include the Yamuna River, the Sutlej River, or both rivers. However, the lack of large-scale incision on the interfluve demonstrates that large, glacier-fed rivers did not flow across the Ghaggar-Hakra region during the Holocene. .... The present Ghaggar-Hakra valley and its tributary rivers are currently dry or have seasonal flows. Yet rivers were undoubtedly active in this region during the Urban Harappan Phase. We recovered sandy fluvial deposits approximately 5;400 y old at Fort Abbas in Pakistan (SI Text), and recent work (33) on the upper Ghaggar-Hakra interfluve in India also documented Holocene channel sands that are approximately 4;300 y old. On the upper interfluve, fine-grained floodplain deposition continued until the end of the Late Harappan Phase, as recent as 2,900 y ago (33) (Fig. 2B). This widespread fluvial redistribution of sediment suggests that reliable monsoon rains were able to sustain perennial rivers earlier during the Holocene and explains why Harappan settlements flourished along the entire Ghaggar-Hakra system without access to a glacier-fed river."
- In a survey conducted by M.R. Mughal between 1974 and 1977, over 400 sites were mapped along 300 miles of the Hakra river. The majority of these sites were dated to the fourth or third millennium BCE. S. P. Gupta counts over 600 sites of the Indus civilization on the Ghaggar-Hakra river and its tributaries. Only 90 to 96 Indus Valley sites have been discovered on the Indus and its tributaries (about 36 sites on the Indus river itself.) V.N. Misra states that over 530 Harappan sites (of the more than 800 known sites, not including Late Harappan or OCP) are located on the Ghaggar-Hakra. The other sites are mainly in Kutch-Saurashtra (nearly 200 sites), Yamuna Valley (nearly 70 Late Harappan sites) and in the Indus Valley, in Baluchistan, and in the NW Frontier Province (less than 100 sites).
- Giosan et al. (2012, pp. 1688, 1689):
- "Contrary to earlier assumptions that a large glacier-fed Himalayan river, identified by some with the mythical Sarasvati, watered the Harappan heartland on the interfluve between the Indus and Ganges basins, we show that only monsoonal-fed rivers were active there during the Holocene." (Giosan et al. 2012, p. 1688)
- "Numerous speculations have advanced the idea that the Ghaggar-Hakra fluvial system, at times identified with the lost mythical river of Sarasvati (e.g., 4, 5, 7, 19), was a large glacierfed Himalayan river. Potential sources for this river include the Yamuna River, the Sutlej River, or both rivers. However, the lack of large-scale incision on the interfluve demonstrates that large, glacier-fed rivers did not flow across the Ghaggar-Hakra region during the Holocene." (Giosan et al. 2012, p. 1689)
- Valdiya (2013) dispute this, arguing that it was a large perennial river draining the high mountains as late as 3700–2500 years ago.
- Puri and Verma (1998) argued that the present-day Tons River was the ancient upper-part of the Ghaggar-Hakra river, identified with the Sarasvati river by them. The Ghaggar-Haggar would then had been fed with Himalayan glaciers, which would make it the mighty river described in the Vedas. The terrain of this river contains pebbles of quartzite and metamorphic rocks, while the lower terraces in these valleys do not contain such rocks. However, recent studies show that Bronze Age sediments from the glaciers of the Himalayas are missing along the Ghaggar-Hakra, indicating that the river did not or no longer have its sources in the high mountains.
- According to Misra, there are several dried out river beds (paleochannels) between the Sutlej and the Yamuna, some of them two to ten kilometres wide. They are not always visible on the ground because of excessive silting and encroachment by sand of the dried out river channels.
According to Pal, the course of the Sutlej suggests that "the Satluj periodically was the main tributary of the Ghaggar and that subsequently the tectonic movements may have forced the Satluj westward and the Ghaggar dried." At Ropar the Sutlej river suddenly turns sharply away from the Ghaggar. The narrow Ghaggar river bed itself is becoming suddenly wider at the conjunction where the Sutlej should have met the Ghaggar river. There also is a major paleochannel between the turning point of the Sutlej and where the Ghaggar river bed widens.
There are no Harappan sites on the Sutlej in its present lower course, only in its upper course near the Siwaliks, and along the dried up channel of the ancient Sutlej, which may suggest that the Sutlej did flow into the Ghaggar-Hakra at that time.
- Raikes (1968) and Suraj Bhan (1972, 1973, 1975, 1977) have argued, based on archaeological, geomorphic and sedimentological research, that the Yamuna may have flowed into the Sarasvati during Harappan times. According to Misra, the Yamuna may have flowed into the Sarasvati river through the Chautang or the Drishadvati channel, since many Harappan sites have been discovered on these dried out river beds. There are no Harappan sites on the present Yamuna river, but there are, however, Painted Gray Ware (1000 - 600 BC) sites along the Yamuna channel, showing that the river must then have flowed in the present channel.
- According to Lal, who supports the Indigenous Aryans theory, the disappearance of the river may additionally have been caused by earthquakes which may have led to the redirection of its tributaries.
- Brooke 2015: "The story in Harappan India was somewhat different (see Figure 111.3). The Bronze Age village and urban societies of the Indus Valley are some-thing of an anomaly, in that archaeologists have found little indication of local defense and regional warfare. It would seem that the bountiful mon-soon rainfall of the Early to Mid-Holocene had forged a condition of plenty for all, and that competitive energies were channeled into commerce rather than conflict. Scholars have long argued that these rains shaped the origins of the urban Harappan societies, which emerged from Neolithic villages around 2600 BC. It now appears that this rainfall began to slowly taper off in the third millennium, at just the point that the Harappan cities began to develop. Thus it seems that this "first urbanization" in South Asia was the initial response of the Indus Valley peoples to the beginning of Late Holocene aridification. These cities were maintained for 30o to 400 years and then gradually abandoned as the Harappan peoples resettled in scat-tered villages in the eastern range of their territories, into the Punjab and the Ganges Valley....' 17 (footnote) a)Liviu Giosan et al., "Fluvial Landscapes of the Harappan Civilization," PNAS, 102 (2012), E1688—E1694; (b) Camilo Ponton, "Holocene Aridification of India," GRL 39 (2012), L03704; (c) Harunur Rashid et al., "Late Glacial to Holocene Indian Summer Monsoon Variability Based upon Sediment Records Taken from the Bay of Bengal," Terrestrial, Atmospheric, and Oceanic Sciences 22 (2011), 215-28; (d) Marco Madella and Dorian Q. Fuller, "Paleoecology and the Harappan Civilization of South Asia: A Reconsideration," Quaternary Science Reviews 25 (2006), 1283-301. Compare with the very different interpretations in Gregory L. PossehlPossehl, Gregory L. (2002), The Indus Civilization: A Contemporary Perspective, Rowman Altamira, pp. 237–245, ISBN 978-0-7591-0172-2, and Michael Staubwasser et al., "Climate Change at the 4.2 ka BP Termination of the Indus Valley Civilization and Holocene South Asian Monsoon Variability," GRL 30 (2003), 1425. Bar-Matthews and Avner Ayalon, "Mid-Holocene Climate Variations."
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... The Ghaggar River rises in the Shiwalik Range, northwestern Himachal Pradesh State, and flows about 320 km southwest through Haryana State, where it receives the Saraswati River. Beyond the Otu Barrage, the Ghaggar River is known as the Hakra River which loses itself in the Thar Desert. Just southwest of Sirsa it feeds two irrigation canals that extend into Rajasthan. ...CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
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Our studies thus show that the Satluj periodically was the main tributary of the Ghaggar and that subsequently the tectonic movements may have forced the Satluj westward and the Ghaggar dried.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Ghaggar-Hakra river.|
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- Saraswati – the ancient river lost in the desert by A. V. Sankaran
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- The Saraswati: Where lies the mystery by Saswati Paik