The Enigmatic Sarasvat

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Tensing Rodrigues

Last time we seem to have satisfactorily answered the question: If Komkan and Aparamt were geographically distant and ecologically disparate, how did Aparamt come to be associated with Komkan? We ascribed it to the sarasvat migrating from Aparamt (on the south-western periphery of the Sarasvati valley) to Goa on Komkan coast, and naming their new home in memory of the beloved country they had left behind. But, however convincing it might have appeared, the explanation leaves a few questions unanswered.

The other bramhan, the  desasth, who are supposed to have abandoned the Sarasvati valley and made the Yamuna – Ganga doab their home, do not seem to have any love lost for Sarasvati, their ‘best mother’ (RV 2.41.16), and its hinterland. If anything, they spilled venom on that land; they called it the ‘immoral region of the northwest’, ‘outside the arya heartland’ and its people ‘‘not of pure arya ancestry’; they denounced the once prosperous south-western periphery of the Sarasvati valley, the Kathiyavad cluster. The sarasvat, on the other hand, named themselves after their ‘best mother’; and they swore by Aparamt, their motherland. [The Sarasvat Odyssey, ……]

While the desasth dispersed eastwards along the lower reaches of Yamuna, the sarasvat moved westwards towards Kathiyavad. The attachment of the sarasvat to the Sarasvati valley and their eventual gravitation towards Kathiyavad suggests a rather divergent profile of them. A profile that takes them closer to the ksatriya, or rather kirat-ksatriya, who were the builders of the trading empire at Kathiyavad. How could this be explained?

Though the Yamuna – Ganga doab bramhan seem to have no attachment to river Sarasvati, yet their literature is full of praise for the river. “(16) Best Mother, best of Rivers, best of Goddesses, Sarasvati, We are, as ’twere, of no repute and dear Mother, give thou us renown. (17) In thee, Sarasvati, divine, all generations have their stay. Be, glad with Sunahotra’s sons: O Goddess grant us progeny. (18) Enriched with sacrifice, accept Sarasvati, these prayers of ours, Thoughts which Great Samadas beloved of Gods bring, Holy One, to thee.” sings Hymn 41, Book 2 of Rg Ved. They worshipped Sarasvati, yet they looked down upon the Sarasvati valley, supposedly their motherland. A crucial piece in the jigsaw puzzle of the history of the bramhan seems to be missing.

The bramhan who came from the Central Asian steppes were neither acclimatised to the coastal environment nor had a natural inclination for maritime travel; both of which seem to have led the sarasvat to undertake the perilous journey from Kusasthali in Kathiyavad to Kusasthali in Goa. Not to mention their matsyabhaksak diet; for which reason Sahyadrikhand had to import them specifically from Trihotra. These basic divergences of the sarasvat from the original bramhan, defy explanation. The difference between the sarasvat diet and that of the desasth, how could have an explanation.  When the bramhan came into India, they continued with the matsyabhaksak – mamsbhaksak diet they had inherited from the steppes of Central Asia. It is only when they reached the eastern end of the Indo-Gangetic plain, that is the Yamuna-Ganga doab, that they seem to have come under the jaina influence and dropped fish and meat from their diet. Vaidya holds that “many of the subcastes of Brahmins especially in northern India were then non-vegetarian and they continue to be so down to this day.” [Vaidya, 1926: History Of Medieval Hindu India, Vol. 3, 381]

The kasmiri brahman and the sarasvat parted ways with the rest of the lot before the latter headed east. So these two brahman communities continued with their fish-meat diet. The case of the kasmiri brahman is well documented. Kuttanimata by Damodaragupta mentions ‘consuming meat, mamsarasa, and fish consumption as a desgun of Kasmir’. [Witzel, 1991: The Brahmins Of Kashmir] Bühler writes: “Another peculiarity of the acara of the Pandits is the universal consumption of meat. … A natural consequence of the practice of eating meat is that at the annual varsika sraddha, the anniversary funeral sacrifice, the pindas offered consist of meat.” [Bühler, 1877: A Detailed Report Of A Tour In Search Of A Sanskrit MSS TO Kashmir, Rajputana And Central India, in The Journal Of The Bombay Branch Of The Royal Asiatic Society, 23] However, there are no studies available of sarasvat diet.

A genetic study of the sarasvat traces the route taken by them, specifically kaundinya gotra sarasvat bramhan families from Lotli bearing the surname Pai (LKP), from their supposed Central Asian Steppe homeland to north western India and thence to Lotli (Loutulim), Goa. [Mascarenhas et al, 2015: Genetic and Cultural Reconstruction of the Migration of an Ancient Lineage, in BioMed Research International, Vol 2015, Article ID 651415] There is no clue as to when this odyssey happened; the estimates given by the authors are based on certain assumptions which need to be validated before the estimates are accepted. But what is of critical importance to us is the starting point and the route. 

 The subjects of this study are Y haplogroup R1a1 individuals carrying the defining SNPs Z93 and L342.2, with branch L657 thereof being the most abundant. Further dissecting the patrilineages within L657, they carry the STR profile DYS456 < 16, DYS458 > 15, and GATAH4 > 12; Mascarenhas et al call this haplotype LPKSTR. In the case of the LPK sarasvat sample, the major source of ancestry seems to be from somewhere between Bactria Margiana Archaeological Complex and the Indus Periphery; that is from southern Afghanistan or eastern Iran, to be more specific. That means two things: one, their starting point was most probably Near East, not Central Asian Steppes; two, they crossed through the Bolan pass, not through the Khyber pass. The shortest route from Near East to Sarasvati valley is through Bolan; from the Central Asian Steppe to Sarasvati valley is through Khyber. It is well established now, including by the Reich-Narasimhan study that the bramhan migrated from the Central Asian Steppes to the Sarasvati valley. This adds to the enigma of the LPK sarasvat. A certain characteristic of LPK that the authors studied, the rate of extinction of gamvkari vamgod, shows similarity between Lotli, Kuththali (Cortalim) and Kelsi (Quelossim) sarasvat. That seems to spell a possibility that the Lotli, Kuththali and Kelsi sarasvat belong to one clan; that is, all of them. Who are these sarasvat
then? It definitely requires further investigation.