THEME 31 – Sindhu River; its Route to its Source in Tibet and Destination in Sindhu Samundar (Arabian Sea)
Selected extracts from Return of the Aryans by Bhagwan S. Gidwani, published by Penguin Books, India, ISBN 0-14- 024053 – 5
(Main Reference: page 131 to 167 from Return of the Aryans)
Note: While many details of the route of Sindhu River as discovered in 5,000 BCE by the explorers of the contingent from Sindh, have already been summarized in Chapter 7, there has been a continuous request by many that more detailed description of the route should be given. In response to that request, we submit hereunder a little more detailed description. However we must state that it is still a summary of what is contained in Gidwani’s Return of the Aryans. Due to copyright considerations and space limitations, it is not possible for us to reproduce the entire material from Return of the Aryans.
Bhararjogi’s thoughts now shifted to expeditions he had organized as 19th Karkarta (elected supreme leader of the people of Sanatan Dharma) to discover the source and destination of Sindhu River. Like other ancients, he was enamoured of voices that seemed to come from heavens above, and enticed by unending parade of God’s glory in the sky and on earth; but his greatest affection was for Sindhu River, which had sustained countless generations of his clan from time immemorial. Always, he had longed to know where the gracious river came from and where it rested.
Many people had volunteered to join the expeditions and finally 220 men were selected—including Nandan’s two younger brothers.
The Sindhu expedition was split in two parts – with one group proceeding to the north and the other to the south.
Bharat, accompanied by Yadodhra, was to lead the group of eighty men on the route to the south. Bharat’s wife was concerned and asked him, `Why are you taking only eighty men while the other group has 140?’ But Bharat countered, ‘Did you not always say that I was equal to at least sixty men?’ And his wife’s retort was, ‘No, I have always said you are equal to a thousand men, so why don’t you go alone?’
Bharat explained to his wife that he was taking Yadodhra, who had studied currents and much more; and he was hopeful that the southward journey would be swift and easy. In any case, as Karkarta, he could not be away for too long, and if the expedition took too much time, he would return and leave Yadodhra in charge.
The Northern Route – Source of Sindhu River: Poets have well described, often in detail, the Northern Route which Hindu explorers (selected by Karkarta Bharat) took to discover the source of Sindhu River in 5,000 BCE. Often though, poets have failed to resist the temptation to ascribe to demons the trial and tribulations on the route and to gods, the inspiration and achievements.
Only four survivors returned from the group of 140 that went to discover the source of Sindhu River. For nine years they were all unheard of and given up for lost.
Then at last, after nine agonizing years, four survivors returned, exhausted, dazed and crazed, unable for days to tell a coherent story of their incredible journey, covering 320 yojnas (1,600 miles) each way. In terms of time and distance, they had covered less than a mile per day, but except initially, each was a day of danger—and sometimes of disaster. Only twenty-four had survived to reach the source of the Sindhu as it rose at an altitude of 16,000 feet (southwestern Tibet, annexed by China). Nandan’s two brothers were among those twenty-four, though they were not among the four who finally returned.
Initially, the progress of the 140 men on the northern route along Sindhu River was brisk. They had mules, horses and great enthusiasm. It did not take them long to reach the confluence of Sindhu River, at an elevation of 2,000 feet, with the River from Kubha (so named by Sadhu Gandhara of India – who was then virtually the ruler of Afghanistan)
(Note: Sadhu Gandhara was the father of Dhrupatta who became the 20th Karkarta after retirement of Bharat. The Sadhu, after the death of his wife in India, became an explorer and traveled to many far-distant lands well before the emergence of Aryans. He married a lovely lady in Russian lands and his son Kush eventually succeeded him as the undisputed ruler of Afghanistan. Sadhu Gandhara abolished slavery in Afghanistan, put a stop to brigandage, established agriculture and extensive house- building programs to replace locals living in caves)
Kubha is now known as Kabul River and mentioned also in the Rig Veda as a tributary of Sindhu River—map reference: 33.55w; 72.14e). From Kubha River, the expedition moved to a spot beyond which lay what poets have described as Taraka Desa (the land of demon Taraka). At this spot, a Rishi who was a devotee of god Skanda—and assumed the name of Skanda Dassa—had established an ashram.
Later Vedic legends somehow picture Skanda as a war-god, born from marriage of Shiva and Parvati, who destroyed the terrible demon Taraka, whom all the gods including Shiva could not destroy. Some early legends also hold that the marriage of Shiva and Parvati was contrived by gods to give birth to this demon-killer god Skanda. However, in pre-ancient, pre-Vedic times, god Skanda was regarded as a fertility god, gentle and kind, and concerned with improving earth’s bounty; and his killer-instincts were related only to destroying weeds or jungle growth which obstructed crops, plants or fruit trees. Thus in the pre-Vedic era, god Skanda gave no evidence of wishing to kill demon Taraka; all that god Skanda was reputed to have done was to keep a watch on demon Taraka who was under a curse that if ever he came to fertile lands, his demonic powers would be taken away. But meanwhile, so long as he remained away from fertile lands—he could roam free in the region of turbulent storms, named as Taraka Desa. Thus, as poets tell us, Demon Taraka was trapped in the region of Taraka Desa as he had no wish to give up his demonic powers.
It was this terrible land of Taraka„ Desa that the expedition had to cross in order to reach Skanda Desa where god Skanda himself was reputed to be on watch to see that demon Taraka remained trapped in his region.
Rishi Skanda Dassa, with fifteen disciples, joined the expedition. Rishi was convinced that when Taraka Desa ended, they would reach the auspicious spot from which god Skanda himself was supposed to be watching—and the hope was that the source of Sindhu would be found there. Yet, it was Rishi himself who warned them that the route through Taraka Desa would be long, hard and treacherous. From his brief excursions up and down, he knew something of the sudden dangers that might be ahead in that mountainous region.
The 140 members of the expedition knew little about mountains. They were simply going forward, in faith, to discover the source of Mother Goddess Sindhu, and if mountains came in the way—well, they would somehow cross them with God’s help. Rishi cautioned them that gods may not be able to see them all the time through the blinding snow and fog that they had to battle through. Certain that this man of God knew the ways of gods better, they heeded his advice and now equipped themselves with loads of goods which the Rishi obtained for them—dry foodstuff, skins to-wear, stitched skins to serve as sleeping bags, tents, thick ropes, rope ladders, poles with sharp edges on one end, and .hundreds of other items including balms, and herbal remedies. All these were in addition to their own equipment which also included axes, spears and hammers. They looked in dismay at these vast loads collected by Rishi and asked, ‘How can we carry them all the way?’ Rishi’s ominous response was, ‘Maybe you won’t have to carry them all the way. The mountains may demand their due.’
They loaded their mules and along with Rishi and his disciples, moved into Taraka Desa. Their horses were left behind at Rishi’s ashram as it was feared that they would be useless in this rocky terrain.
Initially it seems that demon Taraka was in a playful mood and though the journey was slow and painful, they could still manage it.
But soon the lofty mountains began to close in towards the Sindhu River. Like a torrent in fury, the deep, relentless, dark and grey River hurled itself through ravines of naked rocks. Their mules, terrified by this forbidding terrain and the roar of thunder became a source of danger to them. They had to let the mules go. The mules retraced their steps to return faster than they had come and the Rishi feared ‘that they even failed to hear his blessings’.
Perilously, the expedition continued, through terrible storms. They heaved a sigh of relief, thinking that their journey was nearing its end when the saw the valley widening itself and a clear, jade green river foaming down to meet. Sindhu River. It was the river that came from the mountain range which Sadhu Gandhara had named Hindu Kush to mark the birth of his son, Kush, at the foot of those mountains.
Compared to the torrential, forbidding grey waters of the Sindhu, this tributary River appeared so inviting with its clear, transparent waters that despite the icy cold, they went in for a brief swim. Here they had their first casualty. An avalanche of boulders hurtled down suddenly from mountainside. Expedition-leader was killed; His head was smashed. The waters changed colour from jade green to grey, as boulders and mud kept pouring in. They called this River Girgit (which meant a chameleon). Later this river would come to be known as: Gilgit River (map reference: 35.47n; 74.35e).
There would be more casualties, thereafter. Sindhu was narrowly confined within mountain walls with no outlet and forced to turn south¬west. Another, River joined the Sindhu from the east. Reinforced, Sindhu twisted and swirled down the trough between Hindu Kush to the west and the huge ramparts of Nanga Parbat to the east.
This meeting of Rivers – though a confluence is regarded as holy – actually frightened them. They were in the midst of appalling storms and landslides and fearsome noise, as though demon Taraka, was ¬challenging them to a demonic duel.
They named this tributary River Asura* (NOTE: River Asura is presently known as Astor. Meaning of Asura has changed with time. Asura, then, meant a god who had fallen from grace, banished from godhood and assumed demonic qualities though he continued to have potential to regain godhood after penance and good deeds).
Inch by painful inch, they went on, sometimes protected by clefts, crevices and caves from blizzards, landslides and falling rocks. Entire area was filled with chasms and gorges seemingly made by some superhuman, malignant will. They heard the earth and sky shake and rumble. They did not know then that they were passing through an unstable region subject to severe storms and earthquakes which had left their mark on the terrain.
They lost three more men where Asura River met Sindhu. Often they gave up skirting along Sindhu River to take other passes to shelter themselves from falling rocks, though they always kept a distant watch on the River, so as to retrace their steps to follow its course.
Finally, they reached another confluence of Rivers, after having battled through snow and fog and taken a route both treacherous and circuitous. Every confluence, holy though it may have been, held immense terror for them.
At last, Rishi Skanda Dassa saw a few plants and shrubs ahead, and assured them that the land of god Skanda (Skanda Desa) must be near. No one, it seemed, was in the mood to believe him, but Rishi pointed far into the tributary River. It was a glacier, or rather, the remnant of a glacier afloat on the ice-bed of the River. ‘Sikhara! .Sikhara!’, Rishi shouted with joy (Sikhara meant a temple-tower, normally, with rounded top. The broad base of a Sikhara was intended to give an atmosphere of solid strength and steadfastness and the top itself of single-mindedness and refinement). Whether the glacier looked like a Sikhara or not cannot be checked but it seems that they were all impressed and even bathed at the confluence. They named it the Sikhara River. (It is now known as Shigara or Shigar River).
From the confluence of the River Sikhara (Shigar), the Rishi rushed. They all followed him and reached a spot which Rishi immediately declared was Skanda Desa (the land of god Skanda). He had good reason for saying so, for legend had it that demon Taraka could not hold sway where the land became fertile, due to the benign hand of the gentle fertility-god Skanda. Rishi was, certain that from this great height, god Skanda was watching Taraka , trapped in the region which they had just left, where not a single blade of grass grew.
The expedition rested in this land of god Skanda (the land of Skanda is presently known as Skandu or Skardu—now in Pakistan after India’s partition and its first town on upper Sindhu, 7,500 feet above sea level – map reference: 35.18n; 75.37e).
Rishi’s search was over. He had reached the end of his quest—the land of god Skanda. With his fifteen disciples, he remained there, while the expedition prepared to move on.
One of god Skanda’s functions, as the legend then had it in pre-ancient times, was to keep an eye on demon, Taraka—trapped between Taraka Desa (Tarbela) and Skanda Desa (Skardu). But more than that, god Skanda himself was said to be doing penance for demon Taraka’s troubled spirit. The only way of doing penance, according to this gentle god was not so much by prayer but through toil.
For himself too, the Rishi wanted a life of toil, to establish an ashram, to tend the earth and make it fertile. But that had to wait. He collected herbal remedies so that he could treat the sick among the expedition-members. Thereafter, he devoted his energy to repairing and making tools and equipment for their journey since so much had been lost on the way. To their food-store, Rishi added nuts and berries collected on the mountainside.
It was only after the expedition members left that Rishi set about establishing his ashram at Skanda Desa along with his disciples. He started planting walnuts, apples, melons, nectarines, apricots and several crops of cereals.(Rishi’s ashram at the entrance of Taraka Desa is presently known as Tarbela -now a town in Pakistan after the partition of India—map reference: 34.08n; 72.49e).
Later, faraway, in small pockets and caves, Rishi came across locals. He encouraged them to cluster around his ashram and in course of time they too became devotees of the fertility-god Skanda.
Rishi, being a devotee of the fertility-god himself, did not believe in Brahmacharya (sexual abstinence) but in the institution of marriage. He felt that the right time for Brahmacharya was below the age of seventeen and above seventy two. Most of his disciples, at his original ashram were married couples. It was not uncommon for bachelors, unmarried girls, widows and widowers to join his ashram but somehow soon they all felt, encouraged to marry.
Rishi’s sorrow at the new ashram at Skanda Desa was that of the fifteen disciples who came with him, only five were bachelors—the rest had left their wives behind. The bachelors were already preparing to lose their identity as bachelors, with the influx of local girls into the new ashram but Rishi waited until he was satisfied that the local men and women joining his Ashram clearly understood that a woman has to be married to only one man and a man has to me married to only one woman and that marriage is an indissoluble link for life.
Rishi, too had left his wife behind. He made many excursions, near and far, into the fringes of Taraka Desa to study the right season and proper route to travel to his old ashram, to bring his wife and the wives of ten others. There are those who say that he prayed not only to god Skanda but also to demon Taraka, and even a poem is attributed to him, questioning the gods for their harsh treatment of demon Taraka, who in his earlier life had been a holy man.
I ask not what his sin was
Nor how he broke your laws
But to banish him for all time!
Does the punishment fit the crime?
He deserves no mercy, you say!
Gods! You too may need mercy, one day!
While gods may have been indifferent to Rishi’s plea, it seems that demon Taraka was delighted with Rishi’s sympathy for him. The result was that all the demon’s thunderbolts were kept in abeyance while Rishi traveled back to his old ashram, with his five bachelor disciples and thirty-eight locals, without a single casualty.
After a brief rest there, Rishi left the old ashram again with his wife, the wives of ten disciples and 176 others—men, women and children—this time taking care not to separate men from their wives or parents from their children. He appointed his worthiest disciple as the head of the old ashram.
Guided by Rishi, the entire group, carrying assorted loads and children in protective baskets reached Skanda Desa without mishap. All along the way, demon Taraka, the poets say, was playful but never vicious. His demonic laughter howled after them right through the journey. He also hurled boulders but only just after the group left a particular spot or just-before they reached it so nobody was ever hurt.
Rishi even-performed two marriages on the way and it is said that the laughter of demon Taraka followed the rhythm of the marriage¬-mantra recited at the ceremony.
Again a poem has been attributed to Rishi; interceding with gods on behalf of demon Taraka, who clearly had listened to his prayers for safe journey:
Banished he is, banished in pain
Yet he heard and heard again;
Count! For all the mistakes he made,
Has he not fully, finally paid ?
Rishi’s pleas seeking forgiveness for demon Taraka were, however, not too excessive. Like others of his era, he realized that the demon Taraka, was only a myth which presented an aspect of the innermost self. All gods, all demons, all heavens, all hells, all worlds and all voids were within us—and the myth was intended simply as a story, in the setting of a dream, to manifest the symbol of images within us. Thus, a myth was not to be confused with actual events but had to go to the very heart and essence of reality to take us on a voyage of the spiritual discovery of our deeply felt longings and dreams. The adventures and exploits of gods and demons were simply markers to the way of the spirit. Even his own god. Skanda and all the idols were no more than symbols to lead man, to the One Supreme and to focus man’s faith on Him and Him, alone.
Rishi was not one to take a myth literally and dissect it as a reflection or replica of day-to-day events; but then nor was he the one to take a myth lightly. All he saw was that demon Taraka, like other troubled spirits, had a human face.
Poets here tell us that not only god Skanda but also demon Taraka blessed the land where Rishi established his new ashram, and it is said that poplars, walnuts, lemons, melons, nectarines and apples grew to enormous sizes. Those who did not believe in such myths of course saw that the land grew green and fertile from endless toil of Rishi and the ever growing number of disciples around his ashram.
Meanwhile, the expedition to discover the source of Sindhu River plodded on. They had thought their troubles were over on reaching Skanda Desa, but greater ordeals awaited them.
Tragedy struck at the confluence of the River which they named the River of Sorrow (Shok River). Fed by mighty glaciers on slopes of the Nanga Parbat Massif, Karakoram and Kohistan ranges, River Shok did not, at first, present a terrifying appearance. Through storms, and fog, they did not see a mighty glacier sliding down the River; nor did they see when the ice dam broke with its implacable waters rising cliff-high. They lost six more men in a single catastrophic sweep of the River. Two were wounded, unable to move. They were to be carried back to Skanda Desa to Rishi’s Ashram, when the sun reappeared.
They died during the night.
Clearly, the explorers were now in a region far more severe and merciless than Taraka Desa. He who led them asked for volunteers to return to Rishi at Skanda Desa while he would lead just twelve men onwards to risk their lives. He cajoled; he begged; and he ordered—but they all refused to return.
The fearsome journey continued, slowly, painfully. For days on end, they had to find shelter under mountain clefts, unable to advance even a few yards. Yet they reached another confluence, where Sindhu joined one more River. There, blocks of solid ice were falling around them. The invisible sky rumbled and it felt as though the earth below their feet was shaking and rattling. They named that River Ghar ghar— an imitative sound to describe fearsome conditions of thunder and rumbling. (Presently, River Ghar ghar is known as Zanskar—in the Ladakh region; map reference: 35.00n; 78.00e)
The distance between Shok and Ghar ghar (Zanskar) Rivers, as they met the Sindhu was possibly 150 miles and yet it took months to cross—and often shelter had to be sought in ice-covered caves.
What kept them going was not faith alone. In some of those caves, they found evidence that men had been there, long before them. There were no footprints, no skeletons, and yet there were unmistakable traces of some travelers having passed through, or even lived there. They saw that evidence in a cave in which they were trapped by ice. While trying to break out with their axes; they misjudged and hit wrong spots. Suddenly, they came upon a strange find – a few beads with holes through them. Surely the holes were man-made; and the beads were similar to those found near Sindhu River. (Such beads were also discovered in Lurkan region (presently known as Larkana, in Sindh, which, after Partition of India is now part of Pakistan—near the Mohenjo Daro ruins—map reference: 27.19n; -68.07e).
Later, in another cave, they found a stone idol, merely the face, crudely chiseled, but unmistakably that of god Rudra.
Earlier, while taking shelter in a cave in Taraka Desa they had found a two-sided statue with the face of god Rudra on one side and god Shiva on the other side. Rishi explained that
Subsequently, they found a stone axe and also a round plate. They did not know what the plate was for. Engraved on the plate were three: triangles. Again, they found a rattle—the kind that a child plays with, and a flute.
“We will go on”, they resolved. If a Hindu has been here before and crossed over, how can we fail!
Their resolve to go on was all the more strengthened as they recalled that earlier in a cave in Taraka Desa, they had found a statue with a figure on each side. Clearly, it was the figure of god Shiva on one side and god Rudra on the other. Rishi Skanda Dassa had explained to them that according to some authoritative legends, Rudra was the ancient name of god Shiva. According to him, as legends had it, beautiful Parvati named him Shiva, after their marriage. However, initially, even Shiva’s favourite mount, the bull Nandi, would not move out of his pen if told that Shiva wanted him. He reacted only to a single name¬ – Rudra.
When one of the team members remarked, ‘Well, what does a bull know!’ Rishi smiled and said, `Maybe, but it affected not only the bull but many, as names can sometimes tend to divide. Some continued to call themselves devotees of Rudra, while others styled themselves as devotees of Shiva. And really, if you talked to an ill-informed devotee of Shiva, he would tell you that Rudra was not as adorable as Shiva. The fact is that Bull Nandi soon learnt that Shiva and Rudra were the same but indeed many of us continue to see sharp distinction – and even rivalry – between the two.’
Some team members asked, ‘Why did Parvati want god Rudra to be named Shiva?’
Rishi replied, ‘Who knows! Many myths abound; and a single myth at times leads to a hundred legends and a thousand refinements. One story goes that Parvati was unhappy with Rudra’s name because his full name and title was “Rudra Pasupati (Lord of beasts)”, and he was known as a fierce protector of animals, birds and trees. Parvati wanted him to be known not as the Lord of beasts but as her own Lord, with a new alluring name*. (NOTE: That this rivalry continued far beyond in time, is clear also from Vedic texts in which all other gods are asked to come to the place of sacrifice but Rudra alone is asked to go away. The aversion to Rudra in Vedic texts, has given rise to the false and frivolous theory that Rudra was viewed with distaste because he was foreign to the Vedic Aryans, belonging to the pre-ancient Hindus of Sindhu-Saraswati civilization; thus this theory vainly – and even foolishly – tries to prove that Aryans did not spring from the ancient, flourishing culture of the ancient Hindu civilization but were foreigners who broke into the Indian subcontinent ).
The explorers continued to find trinkets, toys and fragments of statues in caves in which they sheltered and even figures carved on cave-walls – and they repeated ‘Others have been here. How can we fail?
Between Rivers Shok and Ghar ghar, the team lost three men. If one life can be considered more valuable than another, then indeed they lost three most valuable men. He, who was leading them, was dead. The physician was dead. The third, the artist, with the task of charting the route to keep the record for future explorers, was also dead.
It is the artist’s death which later caused controversy, after a poet sang ‘ But should he have died when he did?’ Many then told the story in greater detail. The barks, leaves and wood strips on which the artist drew, had lost their shape and form. The pigments and colours had dried up. All he had was a long pointed needle, but he was forbidden to use it for etching on skins, which were being used for clothing, tents and sleeping bags. But then, he had sharp eyes and a memory for detail. He was hopeful that on his return, in warm sunshine of his home, with a. cup of soma wine in one hand, and a paint brush in the other, he would draw and paint a thousand pictures of every little twist and turn in the route. Thus he went on trying to remember all and giving names to rivers, mountains, gorges on the way.—so that an accurate route-chart be drawn for future Hindu explorers – and Karkarta Bharat had said, “You will not be the last to go on that route; your charts must speak to those that follow you, so, they neither falter nor fail.”
Clearly, the artist hoped he would be able to recall many route features. To many features, he gave names to help him recall the scenes and lest he forgot, he would tap everyone’s head playfully and make them repeat the name. The last name he had given to a place was Tribhanga where over high cliffs rose a pinnacles of ice in various forms and figures, standing, high above the cliff-tops; and when the sun came out, even slightly, the ice pinnacles changed their colours, though blue was often predominant. One such pinnacle, slim and taller than the rest, stood out, distinct from the rest, and they all had to agree with the artist that it was the figure of a lovely woman, decked in all her jewelry and colourful dress, striking a playful dancing pose, with one leg bent and the body slightly turned at the hips. But the artist did not tap everybody’s head repeatedly to make them remember Tribhanga, for he knew that ice formations can be temperamental, changing from moment to moment; and what appeared to be the figure of a dancing girl today would later possibly look like a ferocious lion or a clowning monkey. But others charged him with trying to keep to himself the memory of the voluptuous dancer¬ –Tribhanga (NOTE: *Later, under inspiration of Rishi, Tribhanga was acknowledged as the goddess of dance. Dancers paying homage to her would keep changing their dress during the performance, but the final act would always be in a red dress—from the blood donated by the artist as his last act in life or the first in after-life.).
Whenever, explorers approached a confluence, the artist made imitative sounds to describe the features of the approaching river as an aid to remembering it for the future for his charts. . As he heard the rumble of the new river, he repeated “Ghar ghar, Ghar ghar”. It was just then that boulders fell and the earth seemed to give way—and the team leader and the Vaid (Physician) were killed and the artist was buried under a mass of huge stones from mountain side..
They dug him out. He was unconscious. When they saw his legs, they knew he would never walk again. They put him on a stretcher. Long after, he opened his eyes and through pain and delirium, he saw his friends roped to his stretcher, carrying him perilously, over treacherous, pathless terrain. Weakly, he begged them to leave him behind. He pleaded. They ignored his pleas. Later, he asked for his sketching needle. That was not surprising for he would often be waving it in the air to make imaginary etchings, so that they remained embedded in his memory. They gave him the needle, though for some time his hand was too shaky to hold it.
After a while, when they set the stretcher down, they found that they had been carrying a dead man. With that needle, he had slashed his wrist to bleed to death. The blood had congealed.
They knew he had died by his own hand to save them from the peril of carrying him. But to take one’s own life! Was it not a denial of God! No, in their hearts, they knew that in this case, it was a renewal of faith—a sacrifice to a cause that was bigger than one’s own life. Yet, none would admit to the other that the artist killed himself and it was as though by common—but unspoken—consent that the fiction arose that he too died along with the Vaid and team leader.
The expedition moved along in the domain of falling rocks of ice, where blizzards ran wild and the cold was congealing. The artist was no longer with them to cheer them up or speak of the vastness and grandeur of the mountains. They had eyes to see but had lost the heart to admire.
Many died around them. Something even died within them. Each step was like a mile. In the thin cold air, they had difficulty in breathing. Their minds and bodies fought desperately to conquer fatigue and they feared that they would not be able to go on. They did not then know what later Hindu explorers of the Himalayas would discover—that the higher one goes, the severer is the environment, and lungs are unable to push in that rarefied atmosphere the required amount of oxygen for the bloodstream.
But these men—untrained and inexperienced—what did they know of the mountains! They came from the lowlands of Sind and knew little of the conditions they were to face. In fact they would not even have had an idea of how to clothe and equip themselves for the journey but for Rishi’s assistance. They understood nothing of the constant headaches, breathlessness, inability to drag their bodies, and sometimes, even loss of control over their muscles. Often they could not find an even patch on the terrain to rest. Caves were not easy to come by. They often had no strength to make an ice-shelter (igloos).
Yes, something had died within them and they felt it deeply. But their new leader cried out, ‘We shall not die of this cold, nor of the mountains; no, we shall die of having lived!’ His words, by themselves, perhaps made no sense, but they all understood.
From Ghar ghar River in Ladakh with painful steps they skirted Sindhu River, as it crossed the south-eastern boundary of Jammu and Kashmir (elevation: 15,000 feet-4,600 meters), while the mighty Himalayas closed in on them. Almost each yojna (5 miles) took its toll of life. They were dazed most of the time and sometimes moved as though in a trance; but often they were not moving even, an inch. Then there would be times when their bodies seemed to them like terrible dead loads—standing apart from their mind and spirit. Many lost their equipment. But others lost their lives, and somehow, the equipment matched with the living. They could no longer build fires to cremate bodies. They had no idea that cold ice could protect dead bodies and that future explorers might find them for cremation.
They had crossed possibly about 40 yojnas (200 miles) from River Ghar ghar when they heard a continuous noise above the wind. They paused to listen. It was the sound of a lion’s roar, but a constant, unending roar. For some reason—or perhaps for no reason—the twenty-four who had survived felt that they had reached.
Indeed they had.
They had found, at long last, the source of the River Sindhu—this great trans-Himalayan River rising at an altitude of 16,000 feet.
Silently, the twenty-four survivors stood at the source of the River and heard its lion-like roar with mixed feelings—each thinking perhaps his own thoughts—their minds dwelling possibly on those that fell on the way, and wondering how many would fall on the return journey. The feeling was inevitable—how far we travelled, how hard the way, how high our hopes, and ….
Yet there was a quiet glow in their hearts. In silent awe, they faced the source of Sindhu. They were unable to speak. It was their leader who realized the inappropriateness of silence on an occasion so auspicious . Surely, a prayer was called for. Maybe the men were even waiting for him to begin the prayer.
He was their 12th leader. Eleven before him had died on the way. It was for him to speak. He was a simple man who knew how to pray, privately, silently, but not how to lead in prayers. He began,
‘Tat Tvam Bhagwant’ (Thou art from God); ‘Tat Tvam ,Bhagwant’.
He kept repeating the phrase, not knowing what to add. They joined his chant, repeating after him. ‘Tat Tvam Bhagwant.’.
He kept repeating the chant and the others followed. Louder and louder they chanted, so that the Sindhu may hear them above its lion-like roar.
As they repeated the chant; it had the effect of a mantra on them: Peace entered their hearts. The questions, whirling in their minds, ceased. They felt blessed. At last, the leader spoke loudly, clearly:
‘Daughter of God, who art our Mother Goddess! With the roar of the lioness you leap and, at your command, mountains part to give way, to tear for you a route to our land, so that you may nourish us, sustain us, give us your grace and bind .us with your everlasting love….’
He did not finish, but stood along with the others, eyes closed in silent meditation. Later, they felt he had made a long speech. He had not. Like all of them, he had felt that words were no longer necessary. And like all of them, he was simply reaffirming: in his heart their love for Mother Goddess Sindhu. After a long while, he opened his eyes, and repeated the chant again:
‘Tat Tvam Bhagwant.’
There are those who say that this oft-repeated :chant—Tat Tvam Bhagwant—along with the few simple words of the expedition leader- came to be regarded as a mantra, though much was added to it later. The mantra itself was called by the shortened, simplified name Tibata Mantra (an abbreviation of Tat Tvam Bhagwant) and that is how possibly the entire region of Sindhu’s source got the name of Tibet. That may be so. But on inspiration of those Sindhu pioneers, the River would come to be known even to Tibetans of later ages as Seng-ge-Kha-bab (out of the lion’s mouth).
Doubts were expressed about how many reached Sindhu’s source. Some poets had said that twenty-four survivors were present at the source of Sindhu whereas others said that twenty-two saw the spectacle. Both figures are correct, as another poet explains:
Twenty-four reached that awesome height
But only Twenty-two saw that-glorious sight
For two, it was as dark as the darkest night,
Robbed as they were by the Giver of light.
Shining he was, yes, softly, up, high, above
Shooting from ice below, cruel arrows somehow.
The poet could have made an effort to be clearer—but then, that is how poets are. What he meant was that it was the reflection of the sun’s rays, as they fell on ice and snow, that blinded the two men. It was then unclear how men can lose their eyesight simply by the sun’s reflection leaping back from ice. Later, as more Hindu explorers went into the Himalayas, the realization came that the sun’s rays, even those of a softly shining sun, reflected through ice and snow, can be deadly to eyesight.
The twenty-four survivors remained in Tibet for months. They needed time to heal their wounds and prepare for the journey home.
Throughout, they could see that birds reigned supreme in the sky. Every kind of bird was there—pheasant, cuckoo; nightingale, robin, mynah, lark, owl, hawk, eagle, jungle-fowl and even ducks, cranes and gulls. Streams abounded with fish. They saw many animals but no men. It was a region of wild flowers, edible roots and fruit trees. They built fires and for the first time after such long deprivation, they ate cooked food, and it seemed to them that its aroma was so great that it would reach their own homes far away.
Forests surrounded them – large willow trees, oaks, birches, teak, bamboo, spruce, fir, pines, spreading yews, poplars; thorn trees, babul and several others. They experimented. From these trees, bushes and vines, mixed with the rushes found in streams, they made ropes stronger than they had before. They sharpened their spears and axes and made many more—though wooden, for they did not come across metal there. From willow trees, they found that they could make better baskets than from bamboo. From the durable Khrespa tree, they made not only bowls and food-containers, but also a sort of helmet for their heads, which though it would not save them on their return from falling blocks of ice or boulders, was a protection against small rock: splinters and ice stones. Every basket and container was wound with thick ropes so that most of these could be dragged, instead of being carried—and ropes, which had often saved their lives, would in any case be necessary, even if baskets had to be discarded. Skins to wear, skins as sleeping bags and even for tents, they had enough, for many had .died and their- gear was carried by the living. Even so, the skins were tattered. Pine needles and thread from River rushes helped to repair them.
This silk-like thread also proved useful as a lining within two folds of skins, to provide better protection against biting cold. Patiently, they made ropes from thread, which were then flattened with rock hammers and tied at appropriate spots to hold as lining between two layers of skins. The Guild of Tailors, back home, would not have thought much of their handiwork but it served its purpose.
Their first task was to build a hut. They saw many animals nearby—mostly small—but they also heard the sounds of bigger animals. Once they had heard the growl of a lone tiger. From a distance, they had seen bears, a wild boar and a leopard. These wild animals were not likely to attack them with so many smaller animals around. Even so, they built their hut well above the ground, with strong support from the poles and planks they had cut from trees. Even the stairs, which they made to lead to the hut entrance, were light and portable, and when they were out, the stairs were kept away from the hut. They were trying to make a quick job of building the hut, but the leader wanted excellence, which would stand the wind and the vagaries of various seasons.
‘Are we going to be here for ever?’ one of them asked. ‘Some of us are’, the leader had replied.
They knew he had decided that the two blind men in the group had to stay back. One more, whose arm had lost all its feeling and strength had also to be left behind. Who else! they wondered.
Somewhere, they knew there would be human habitation in this region. But they were not too keen to discover people as yet. People, they knew, could be temperamental—and the group of twenty-four felt they were far too few and much too weak to take the risk.
(Later, the men who were left behind and also subsequent Hindu explorers would discover how simple, kind and gentle the people of the region were, though often they lived poorly and in unfortunate circumstances).
To domesticate cattle, the twenty-four survivors erected two large pens outside the hut, one on ground level, and another interconnected with it by a movable ramp, on a higher level. It took several trips to the forest and a long time to coax and cajole cattle into the pens and be responsive. The first cup of milk that their cattle yielded was like nectar to them—better than any soma wine that they had ever tasted. Later the cattle became so mild that the blind could milk them.
They prepared to return. The two blind men and the one with the disabled arm had to remain. Three bachelors were selected to be with them. It was their fault. The leader organized endurance contests amongst bachelors for running, climbing and obstacle clearance. They assumed that those who did the worst would be left behind. Each strained to excel—and those that did, were chosen to remain. The leader justified it by saying, ‘We know what dangers we will face, and we have faced them before, but what of the unknown dangers these men – and the disabled we leave behind – may encounter!’
The return journey was as terrifying as before. They did not suffer as much from the overpowering headaches, fatigue; depression and breathlessness which had earlier tortured them; their acclimatization to higher altitudes of rarefied atmosphere had by now been achieved somewhat. But danger from falling rocks, cascading ice and sudden landslides lurked everywhere. A chaos of ice and snow, trembling mountain slides and rumbling rocks, blizzards and avalanches were with them all the time. Yet they were fortunate. It seems their leader had developed a sixth sense which warned them of hazards ahead. At every change in the wind, at every faraway rumble, he seemed to guess the right direction of his group, the right time to rest, and the right spot to choose for shelter.
Not for too long, though. They could see their leader, ahead of them, as always, scouting the route. Suddenly, he was lost from view. The snow and ice under him had given way. Two others, though much behind, but tied to him with the same rope, were being pulled forward. Others held them. With every ounce of their strength, they pulled at the rope, hoping that somehow their leader would come back to them at the end of it. Impossible!
Then came blizzards—terrifying, unending and deadly. Whatever was not tied to their bodies was blown away—and they too were in the same danger, throughout. Much of their equipment was lost. In the thick fog, they could not see each other, at a distance even of inches. All seemed to be lost. One of them at last reached Skanda Desa. The Rishi himself, accompanied by many others, led the search for more survivors. Two more were found the next day, half-dead, but they revived at Skanda Desa. Later, another was found faraway, trapped in a cave surrounded by ice and boulders. He was not in a terrible state. He alone had his sleeping bag, tent and enough food to sustain him for a few days. But it would, have taken him months to break out from the cave. Rishi’s party took four days to break through, after they had been warned by a continuous bark from a ‘half-wolf’ belonging to a local devotee at Rishi’s Ashram. Meanwhile five bodies were located. No more, even though the search went on for months.
The four returning survivors continued their journey from Skanda Desa after a rest there. The journey to Rishi’s old ashram at the entrance of Taraka Desa posed no real danger. Rishi himself accompanied them with a large, group. It was a route which by now had become familiar to Rishi and his disciples and more so to his mules. Already, Rishi had established sixteen shelters on the way, and hoped to have ninety-two more built. Some of his local devotees were even housed at five of those shelters to plant trees and bushes there. ‘Why?’ many asked. The question was natural; there was so much land around Skanda Desa itself, with springs, streams and tributaries of Sindhu; why, then, go into the inhospitable, rough terrain of Taraka Desa? Rishi’s reply was simple: ‘This is also God’s earth. Who knows another Hindu like you may wish to cross over to pay his homage to-the high mountains beyond. Why should any demons bar his way?’
Even before the four survivors reached Rishi’s old ashram, some of Rishi’s men had rushed to lowlands to convey the glad tidings of their safe return, along with the- news of the six who had remained behind in Tibet.
There was joy—wild and tumultuous. All 140 had been feared lost. That ten of them survived unleashed a wave of happiness. Yet, it also renewed pain—of those whose loved ones would never return: True, in the years gone by, they had given up hope of their ever coming back, but with the return of these four, grief for others, allayed for so long, came back to wrench their hearts more cruelly than before. Even so, every house was brilliantly illuminated with myriads of twinkling earthen lamps—put up also by those who had lost their loved ones.
Bharat, Dhrupatta, Yadodhra, Nandan and others had sped forward to Rishi’s ashram to welcome them on behalf of the clan and to escort them back home. The four survivors embraced Nandan first, for he was the one who had lost both his younger brothers on their return journey from the source of Sindhu River.
Even as the four survivors embraced Nandan, each of them was perhaps thinking of the question which Nandan’s youngest brother had posed, on their return journey from the source of Sindhu. He had asked: ‘What came first? The mountains or the Sindhu River which. flows through these mountains?’ How, they wondered: could their Mother Goddess Sindhu be of later creation! Yet they paused as they looked at the vast, formidable mountain range, which they had named the Himalayas (the perpetual abode of snow – hima means snow; alaya means abode).
Nandan’s youngest brother fell on the way, while his question remained unanswered.
Verdict on Antiquity of Sindhu River : For years, Yadodhra (who later came to be regarded as a Sage) considered the question and finally gave his verdict on the Antiquity of Sindhu River which is captured in a Memory Song, as under:
“..Sindhu River was always there, long before the mountains came. And then slowly, imperceptibly, the mountains rose but each day no more than one-millionth measure of one angula (finger breadth; 2cm.), and thus the mountains were uplifted gradually, completing in each cycle of a million days the rise of one angula (2cm.).
“. . . If the mountains had come in all their might and height in one single sweep, perhaps the rivers would have been blocked and mountains themselves would have lost the sure foundation that they now have – and who would wish to obstruct the flow of Mother Goddess Sindhu or provide mountains with floating foundation, rendering them unsure of their place on earth !…. Nature works with patience, and neither will mighty mountains bang into waters and earth; nor will rivers explode suddenly to rise to the height of the mountains and the sky.
“. . . Everything evolves gently, slowly, smoothly as a continuous drama in Time with the same tranquil calmness of The ONE who fashioned it all.” .
(From “Verdict on antiquity of Himalayas, surrounding mountains and Mother Goddess Sindhu, pronounced by Sage Yadodhra).
Yadodhra had worked on this theory for several years. By his reckoning, for a mountain to rise one meter, it had to take 140,000 years and for each thousand meter rise, 140 million years had to pass. On the basis of this calculation, it would appear that the highest peak on Himalayas should have taken about 1,238 million years to form.
Yadodhra was undoubtedly the foremost among those who sought to discover natural and physical laws and came to be known as a Sage. His Ashram was a beehive of scientific activity (though he chided those who characterized his Ashram as a beehive and assured everyone of his own findings that bees were lazy and indolent and certainly could not be compared to his diligent, hard-working students). His students were busy – some, to plant crops and flowers in different kinds of soils, others to treat various metals and yet others to study the effect of still water, dripping water and rushing water on diverse materials and even on rocks and stones. Some would make and mix various dyes and paints, others would chart the growth pattern of various trees. Their activities were believed endless but to what end? “Until the mystery is no more”, Sage Yadodhra would reply.
Sage Yadodhra saw Hand of God in everything but this did not limit his investigations, because he believed with Sages of those times that God Himself followed physical laws which He had created for observance by His creation.
Amongst the six left behind in Tibet, only the man with the disabled arm, was married. As it is, mostly bachelors had been selected for the expedition. Years later, Rishi Skanda Dassa travelled to this region, with a team that included unmarried girls. But for this purpose he was a little late; for, by then the five bachelors were already married to local girls from communities they located in the Tibet region.
Rishi, however, was able to revive strength in the disabled arm of the one who was left behind. Yet, somehow, nothing is known about him—whether he crossed the mountain to return or just remained there.
The clan heard from the four survivors of the trials and triumphs of the 140 men who went out on the northern route to trace the course of Sindhu River, 130 of whom lost their lives while four returned and the other six remained behind.
These four men told the story of each one of the 140 men and how ultimately twenty-four of them reached the source of Mother Goddess Sindhu River—this greatest of the trans-Himalayan Rivers rising at an enormous altitude (16,000 feet), near Mount Kailas in southwestern Tibet. They did not know then that it was one of the longest Rivers in the world, though certainly they knew that it was longer than any that crossed their land; nor did they know of its annual flow of 450,000 square miles, of which about one-third would be in the Himalayan mountains and foothills, while much of the rest would find its way in their own land. Nor did they then know that its annual flow was twice that of the Nile in Egypt and three times that of the Tigris and Euphrates combined. No, they did not know all that—for the age of statistics, and even of the written word, had not yet arrived. Nor did they know of the existence of. the Nile, Tigris or Euphrates. If they had been called upon to estimate the distance they had covered, they would possibly have considered it to be colossal, beyond reckoning; but actually, they had covered only about 1,600 miles each way. (Sindhu River is 1,800 miles long, from its source in Tibet to the Sindhu Sea—Arabian Ocean).
Indeed, many of these details would remain unknown to the four survivors who returned and to others of those times.
Yet, these men who were not the children of the mountains and were brought up in the warm sunshine of the lowlands of India, were among the first to witness the source of this great River, hidden in the midst of the most formidable mountains of the world.
Destination of Sindhu River & Links with Sanatan Dharma: Journey to discover destination of Sindhu River posed no real danger. None of the trials and tragedies that assailed their compatriots on Northern route, came in their way. The contingent of eighty to discover the destination was led by Karkarta Bharat and included Yadodhra, who later would come to be celebrated as a Sage.
Spellbound, they watched the foaming bodies of water with waves of enormous magnitude and frightening power as Sindhu River merged with the River of Rivers (Sindhu Samundar – now known as Arabian Sea)
Bharat and his men mingled with people of the region and were charmed by them. They all seemed to delight in poetry, song and music. They loved conversation not only because each thought they had much to learn from others but also for sheer pleasure. Their huts and cottages were smaller than Bharat’s people, though better equipped and more decorative. Their boats were superior. Their tools were advanced and they loved their wines.
These sea people were forever friendly, laughing, joking, making merry and loved life; they painted beautifully but there was no evidence of great architecture; it was prohibited to hunt in the forest or to kill birds; they raised poultry and cattle in pens; meat was eaten by a few on special occasions; They generally ate fish and seafood, poultry, eggs and vegetables. They fished no more than three days in the week saying that fish need time to grow and multiply. They had no notion of money and relied on barter. Trees could be cut down only in parks on fringe of the forests, with the requirement to replant. There was equal respect for men and women and both went in for fishing, farming, weaving and other activities though generally, it was the man’s task to cook food while women served communal meals.
There were no temples as the earth, sky and the sea were themselves regarded as temples, and a person could pray anywhere; most of them however kept idols – made with great art and intricacy – though the Guest-huts reserved for visitors, parks and public places were kept free of idols as each visitor may have his own favourite gods, so the argument was – ‘Why impose a god when they possibly believe in another?’ or even ‘ why impose a god at all, when they believe only in the One-Supreme?’
There were no whores, no slaves, and no priests.
They belonged to an ancient order which they called Sanatanah or Sanathana – all pervading, ageless, insoluble, awake, alert, infinite, abiding and eternal – and one that is indestructible and imperishable like the soul itself and it imposed a requirement to watch that no action should be performed or contemplated to hurt or harm another or offend against nature.
Many including the Shreshtha (Headman of the area) had come to see them off. Bharat, Yadodhra and their contingent saw the Sindhu Samundar for the last time and embraced Shreshtha and others affectionately.
Bharat was silent but Yadodhra spoke pointing to Shreshtha’s heart
and his own, to show that they were the same people, from the same
race. Shreshtha, despite language barrier, had no difficulty in understanding him. He, in any case, had always thought that all men were brothers and that God and the human soul were the same.
On the way back, Yadodhra was lost in thought. More than finding
the destination of Sindhu river, more than the sight of the vast, unending ocean, what enchanted him the most, was the discovery of these people with pre-ancient link with the Sanatan Dharma, of which his father Ekantra had spoken with such feeling and emotion, He did not, then, know that later, people from the Sindhu-Saraswati region would meet the people from the greater Ganga civilization and discover a common ancestry, culture and link binding all of them as one people, from one single race. There, they would see, how their own holy river, Saraswati, meets with the Ganga and Yamuna rivers, leaving some of its waters to merge with these two rivers and yet charting a majestic path of its own to even carry some of the waters of Ganga and Yamuna to their own Sindhu river, as both the Saraswati and Sindhu flowed to Sindhu sea. Nor did Yadodhra, then, know that people from his region would one day meet people of the magnificent Dravidian civilization in the south and discover the long-forgotten link that once bound them together, in their ways of living, thought, attitude, ideals and culture, though the language they spoke was different.
But Yadodhra’s mind was not on the unseen future. He was thinking
of the past. He was convinced that somehow, hidden in the mists of
centuries gone by, there had been a close and continuous living contact between his people and the people who lived by the side of the confluence of the Sindhu River and the Sindhu sea. At last he spoke to Bharat.
‘These people – truly, they are the people of the Sanatan Dharma!’
But Bharat replied, ‘No, they are more ancient than that. They are the people of the Sanathana. It is from them that Sanatan Dharma came.’
So Somehow, discoverers had believed that once the source and destination of Sindhu was revealed, they would have far greater insight into secrets of Mother Goddess. There was joy of discovery and thankfulness but clearly also, a realization that ‘with each discovery, the mystery deepens’ – and a Memory Song of those times tells us:
” She reveals much to conceal more
Behind each gate, a closed door,
Play your games, God, it matters not
I know what is in my lot
And if in searching You, I fail
You will find me – is it not? ”
End of Chapter 7