Unravelling mystery of the mighty Saraswati

 The temple site in Haryana where water continues to come out.

It was once eulogised as the mother of seven rivers flowing in the northern region, fierce and roaring in all its full grandeur. But the majesty of the erstwhile Saraswati river is long lost. The mighty river does not flow anymore, but the quest for its lost remains in Haryana has intrigued geologists like never before. And this unflinching pursuit could well be the answer to mitigate water scarcity in starved regions, besides offering a bounty of rich placer mining.

Sometime ago, a sudden gush of water from below the surface near four separate temple sites in Haryana left geologists burning midnight oil in pursuit of the lost remains of the erstwhile mighty Saraswati river. The exploration that eventually followed only reinforced their theory of the existence of numerous paleo-channels (dried river tracks beneath the earth) of the erstwhile river, deep aquifers further below and buried remains of the river. The water still continues to spill out. Geologists say the river may not flow today, but its buried channels still exist in Haryana, Rajasthan and Gujarat.

Talking to Deccan Herald, Dr A R Chaudhary, professor of the Geology  Department, Kurukshetra University in Haryana, who has pioneered this research and is in charge of a full-fledged Saraswati River Research Laboratory at the university, said that a mighty river of the magnitude of Saraswati must have had a perennial source.

He said: “Satellite imageries suggest the presence of several paleo-channels indicating a major river flow that once existed. Laboratory analysis of sediments collected from the water that came out of these two sites suggest a dense mineral content of higher Himalayan hills, which only reinforced our theory.”

Dr Chaudhary, who has been working on Himalayas and the Saraswati for about two decades, said the research is significant as it attempts to address the critical issue of water scarcity, something which could be a major problem area in the future. “The existence of deeper aquifers, and more significantly the phenomena of these getting re-charged could eventually lead to huge untapped fresh water reserves. The paleo-channels are also getting re-charged,” he said.

Here’s what the way forward is. Oil  exploration major, the Oil and Natural Gas Commission (ONGC) is gearing up to dig deep within the surface in search of fresh water trapped in these deep aquifers. The process is likely to be outsourced to the  Hyderabad-based National Geo-Physical Research Institute and Dr Chaudhary, for which talks are underway, sources said. ONGC has undertaken this project as part of its corporate social responsibility to address issues of water scarcity in the region.

A memorandum of understanding with stakeholders, including the governments of Haryana and Gujarat, have been signed by ONGC to initiate digging and scientific exploration.

Haryana has attained a special status in the endeavour to unravel the mystery
associated with this river of the Indian subcontinent. In Haryana, nearly 103 early Harappan (2500-2200 BC) archaeological sites related to the Saraswati river civilisation have been identified. These sites are spread across various districts of Haryana. The battle of Mahabharata was fought on the fields of Kurukshetra, which were dotted by hermitage sites of numerous renowned ascetics along the course of the Saraswati. So what went wrong in geological time, some 9,000 years ago. Dr Chaudhary maintained that the disappearance of the mighty Saraswati was because of the rise in the Himalayan mountain chain, among other reasons.

He said the major diversions in the course of the gigantic Satluj river, which in fact was a major contributor of the erstwhile Saraswati along with the Yamuna, could possibly have let the Saraswati to lose its flow. “The deeper aquifers related to the paleo-channels of the Saraswati, through which flowed billions of million cubic metres of fresh water for a considerable period of geologic time, hold the key for mitigation of water scarcity in the
region,” he said.

Historically, the venerated Hindu texts, are replete with references of a major
river which drained the northern part of the country. The Saraswati, Dr Chaudhary said, is supposed to have originated in the glaciated region of the Himalayas and
during its passage to the Arabian Sea, the river roared as it carried peaks of newly
upheaved mountains as flowers in its flow. The river, as per the vedas, is supposed to have bestowed upon the people huge material and spiritual benefits. Along the path of the Saraswati flourished numerous agrarian civilisations.

Investigations carried out by a team of geologists reveals that the Saraswati glacier branch of the Saraswati flowed through Yamunanagar and Kurukshetra districts in Haryana before it joined the Ghaggar river at Rasula in the Patiala district of Punjab.

Research

A buried river bed in Haryana village has revealed an estimated width of this paleo-channel to be more than 2 km. Intensive surface and sub-surface geological investigations, including detailed study of satellite imageries of Haryana, Punjab and Chandigarh, have been carried out before inferences were finally drawn.   

Dr Chaudhary said he has identified a number of paleo-channels along the vedic tract of the erstwhile Saraswati river. These widely spaced signatures include water coming out of Kapil Muni temple Sarovar and Chyavan Giri kund at Kalayat in the Jind district.
Subsurface geological studies in Kurukshetra and presence of buried river bed in the Pehowa district of Haryana have reinforced the research theory.

The analysis of sediments, including textural and dense mineral analysis of the sediments coming out with water, have been carried out to ascertain their major depositional environment and provenance.

The dense mineral assemblage from the above mentioned sites suggests that the sediments have been derived from very high pressure plate tectonic setting. The
river channel that deposited these sedim­ents was trans-Himalayan in character,
Dr Chaudhary said.

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