Evidence for the flooding of Vedic rivers at the end of the last ice age

This article examines and interprets verses, relevant to the Vrtra myth, from Mandala VI – the Bharadvaja family book. It then examines scientific evidence I have found thus far, compares that against the interpretations of the verses and then presents conclusions.

Examination of relevant verses from Mandala VI

The verses are grouped in the four major sequential themes of the myth itself – the events leading to and the actual birth of Indra, the events immediately after his birth, the manner of his slaying Vrtra and the outcome of the slaying.


Theme Relevant verses Remarks and Inference
Events and/or conditions prior to the birth of Indra 6.017.08
Yea, Indra, all the Deities installed thee their one strong Champion in the van for battle.What time the godless was the Gods’ assailant, Indra they chose to win the light of heaven.6.020.02
Even as the power of Dyaus, to thee, O Indra, all Asura sway was by the Gods entrusted,When thou, Impetuous! leagued with Visnu, slewest Vrtra the Dragon who enclosed the waters.
The vedic deities were helpless against the power and control of Vrtra and installed their only hope, their strong champion – Indra, to do battle with Vrtra.Vrtra is a dragon that has enclosed the waters and not a Dasa or Dasyu. The indications are that Vrtra is a personification of a natural phenomenon, not a human adversary.Indra was not alone in the slaying of Vrtra, but had the help and support of Visnu.
Events and/or conditions at the time of Indra’s birth 6.040.02
Drink thou of this whereof at birth, O Indra, thou drankest, Mighty One for power and rapture.The men, the pressing-stones, the cows, the waters have made this Soma ready for thy drinking.6.047.02
This sweet juice here had mightiest power to gladden: it boldened Indra when he siaughtered Vrtra,When he defeated Sambara’s many onslaughts, and battered down his nineand ninety ramparts.
In this single verse, the Bharadvajas also hold the view that Indra, immediately upon his birth, drank Soma for power and rapture.
Battle between Indra and Vrtra 6.017.09
Yea, e’en that heaven itself of old bent backward before thy bolt, in terror of its anger,When Indra, life of every living creature, smote down within his lair the assailing Dragon.6.017.10
Yea, Strong One! Tvastar turned for thee, the Mighty, the bolt with thousand spikes and hundred edges,Eager and prompt at will, wherewith thou crushedst the boasting Dragon, O impetuous Hero.6.017.11
He dressed a hundred buffaloes, O Indra, for thee whom all accordant Maruts strengthen.He, Pusan Visnu, poured forth three great vessels to him, the juice that cheers, that slaughters Vrtra.6.020.02
Even as the power of Dyaus, to thee, O Indra, all Asura sway was by the Gods entrusted,When thou, Impetuous! leagued with Visnu, slewest Vrtra the Dragon who enclosed the waters.
The weapon used by Indra to slay Vrta is a bolt fashioned by Tvastar. The bolt we are told has a thousand spikes and a hundred edges. What might such a weapon be a personification of?Again, we have an indication that in the battle with Vrtra, Indra was not alone. We was aided by the Maruts, Pusan and Visnu.
Events and/or condition after the battle 6.017.12
Thou settest free the rushing wave of waters, the floods’ great swell encompassed andAlong steep slopes their course thou tumedst, Indra, directed downward, speeding to the ocean.6.030.03
E’en now endures thine exploit of the Rivers, when, Indra, for their floods thou clavest passage.Like men who sit at meat the mountains settled: by thee, Most Wise! the regions were made6.030.04
This is the truth, none else is like thee, Indra, no God superior to thee, no mortal.Thou slewest Ahi who besieged the waters, and lettest loose the streams to hurry seaward.6.072.03
Ye slew the flood -obstructing serpent Vrtra, Indra and Soma: Heaven approved your exploit.Ye urged to speed the currents of the rivers, and many seas have ye filled full with waters.
The unmistakable inference from these verses is the flooding of rivers rushing down steep slopes, onwards to the meet the ocean. Indra had to cleave the mountain to make passage for the rivers. In as many as four verses, we are told the rivers flow to meet the ocean/sea.Elsewhere in Mandala VI, the rivers flowing down the mountains and meeting the sea are identified as the seven tributaries of the Indus.By correlation then, the rivers that were flooded with waters after the slaying of Vrtra/Ahi must refer to the sapta sindhu (seven tributaries of the Indus).

Examination of scientific evidence

Next let us examine some of the scientific evidence we have been able to find on Himalayan glacial systems at the time of the last ice age.

Below is an extract based on the research by University of Washington geologist David Montgomery, a professor of Earth and space sciences, and his team.

Geological evidence points to the existence of at least three lakes, and probably four, at various times in history when glacial ice from the Himalayas blocked the flow of the Tsangpo River in Tibet, said University of Washington geologist David Montgomery, a professor of Earth and space sciences.

Carbon dating shows the most recent lake, about 780 feet deep, burst through the ice dam between 1,100 and 1,400 years ago, rapidly draining some 50 cubic miles of water. The second lake, more than 2,200 feet deep, dates from about 10,000 years ago, and likely held more than 500 cubic miles of water. When that ice dam broke, it caused one of the greatest floods on Earth since the last ice age. The Tsangpo is the world’s highest river, with an average elevation of 13,000 feet, about 500 feet higher than South America’s Lake Titicaca, the highest lake. The Tsangpo flows to the eastern edge of Tibet before it turns south and plunges through a deep gorge into India, where it eventually becomes the Brahmaputra River and flows into the Bay of Bengal.


Admittedly, the study relates to the flooding of the Tsangpo  / Brahmaputra river system, far to the east of the likely geography of the Bharadvajas, but the conditions and the overall environment is not that far removed. Thus far in my search, this is the best evidence I have that indeed the “undamming” of glacial lakes in the Himalayas did cause the flooding of its rivers. I do need to find evidence closer the the Bharadvaja home, yet for now, given that the glacial system for all the rivers is the same, I will most certainly accept this as strong proof that the Bharadvaja verses in the section above do refer to melting of glaciers at the end of the last ice age in the Himalayan system.

Author’s Notes:

The extract of the scientific evidence presented in the article is based on the following link: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/12/041220010147.htm

I have yet to corroborate this directly with any papers or material published by Prof. David Montgomery. I am in the process of doing so and will update this article thereafter.


The Vrtra myth – an overview

When I first came across the Vrtra myth in Mandala VI, based on the content, I treated it as a subject by itself. However, as I read more material from other Mandalas, especially Mandala IV – the Vamadeva family book, it is now apparent that the myth surrounding the slaying of the dragon Vrtra by Indra and the myth surrounding the birth of Indra are inextricably interwoven. It is best therefore to deal with the two subjects collectively and under the aegis of the Vrtra myth.

For those not familiar with the Vrtra myth, in its simplest form, Vrtra is a dragon that imprisoned the waters of the world. The major gods such as Varuna, Mitra and other Vedic deities were powerless against this dragon. It was only Indra, with the help of Visnu, who had the courage to confront and slay Vrtra and thereby release the waters for the benefit of humankind.

So why did it get to such a point, or more pertinently, why did Indra allow the dragon to obstruct the waters in the first place? Simply put, Indra did not exist then. The various accounts in the Rig Veda tell us that Indra was born after Vrtra had gained inexorable control over the waters. That immediately after being born, he obtains his weapon – the thunderbolt, drinks copious quantities of soma and with the aid of Vishnu, slays the dragon.

Deconstructing and correctly interpreting this myth has always been a challenge and no one view conclusively explains or is more convincing than any other.

Questions abound and the differing answers proposed are compelling in themselves and collectively.

Key questions that arise are:

Who or what was Vrtra?

Was Indra simply the personification of the powers and phenomena of nature or a person who walked the earth?

Does the myth tell us something about an historical event?

If indeed there was a historical event, when and where did it occur?

Was the event terrestrial or did it occur in the skies?

What do the outcomes of the myth, such as the release of waters, signify?

And finally, what purpose does this myth serve in the psyche of the vedic people?

I have no doubt, in order to find answers to these questions, will require exhaustive research, and the approach both arduous and convoluted. The method I propose to adopt is to study the writings on the subject by each seer family independent of one another. I would look at similarities and differences, indications of evolution and finally emergence of patterns that might help to put together a final and acceptable version.

Also, I propose to break down the subject into 4 key constituents – the events leading to and the actual birth of Indra, the events immediately after his birth, the manner of his slaying Vrtra and the outcome of the slaying.

Evidence for the flooding of Vedic rivers at the end of the last ice age

Interpretations from Mandala IV – end of an ice age?

Political interpretation – creation of a new hero/god?

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