Astipura and Saraswati River in Kurukshetra

      Most of the tourist books and pamphlets give the exact location of the tourist places. However, Astipura was an exception. Most of the books and websites had not even mentioned this place, leave alone specify its exact location. There was only one book which said, Astipura is located to the west of Thanesar in Kurukshetra. However, there was one small problem. It did not tell us if it was one kilometre, or five kilometres, or twenty kilometres from Thanesar!

      I stated this problem to Vikram, my guide. He asked many local people but none seemed to know Astipura. After spending three days with me, I noticed that my passion and enthusiasm had rubbed off on him. I decided to give up our futile search. But, he would have none of it! He said, "Sir, I have lots of contacts. I know people who know each and every spot in Kurukshetra. Give me 15 more minutes and I will locate it for you." Fifteen minutes and 10 phone calls later, Vikram was ready to eat his words!

      I suddenly hit upon an idea. I told Vikram, "Let us go to Neelkanthi Yatri Nivas. Since it is a hotel run by the Haryana Tourism Department, they "will surely be able to tell us the location."

      Vikram agreed that it was an excellent idea. We hopped into the taxi and sped off to Neelkanthi Yatri Nivas. Since I had taken a few meals here during the past couple of days, I was familiar with the hotel staff. I narrated my problem to one of them, He thought for a while and suggested, I recommend that you meet Mr. Purohit, the Curator at Krishna Museum. He is the most knowledgeable person in this part of the world. If he can't solve your problem, then no one else can."

      With renewed hope and enthusiasm, we drove to the Krishna Museum. At the entrance of the museum, we asked a security guard to take us to Mr. Purohit. Having been a victim of government red-tapism on many occasions, I expected a long delay. I was in for a pleasant surprise! Within a couple of minutes, we were escorted to the chambers of Mr. Purohit. I had one more pleasant surprise as I entered the room. I had expected Mr. Purohit to be one of those typical government servants. However, he looked more like a corporate executive, working on his laptop. I nervously went in and introduced myself. Mr. Purohit shook hands with me and asked me about the purpose of my visit. I told him I was writing a book on Krishna. This interested him and he began to mention all the places in and around Kurukshetra that were associated with Krishna and Mahabharata. I told him that I had just one more place to visit since I had covered the rest of the places in the past couple of days. He was curious to know which was left. I replied, I have been desperately hunting for Astipura for a long time. Do you know its location?"

      "Astipura," he repeated. He looked at Vikram and asked him, "How long have you two been hunting for this place?"

      Vikram replied, "Since the past two hours."

      Mr. Purohit guffawed, "Two hours you said? You call that a long time? My dear friends, I have been searching for it for the past two years and have not yet found it!"

      He explained the kind of research that he was doing, He showed us many articles and books that mentioned his research work. He informed us that, currently, his two pet projects were the identification of the location of Saraswati and identification of the location of Astipura. I asked him to tell us more about his findings.

      Mr. Purohit informed us that he had discovered the lost river Saraswati at a place behind Bhor Saidan, about 15 km of Kurukshetra, on the Pehowa road. He told us that the scientists from ISRO had taken pictures from satellites and had reported that this location possibly matched what was described in the Vedic scriptures. Excavation at the riverbed also led to the discovery of painted greyware and pottery which were used during the Mahabharat era.

      He said, "If you want to look at the site, please go to Bhot Saidan village. Behind the Bhor Saidan temple, you will see a narrow muddy road. This will lead you to the riverbed." Regarding the location of Astipura, he told us that he had zeroed down' on two places. One was at Kaithal, which was 45 km southwest of Kurukshetra. The other possible location was Sharmshipura, near Jyotisar, five kilometres from Kurukshetra. He also cautioned us that searching for Astipura may be futile since there was a strong chance that the erstwhile Astipura may have been taken over by agricultural lands.

      We thanked Mr. Purohit for sharing his findings with us and bid him goodbye. We boarded the taxi with a renewed determination to locate River Saraswati and Astipura. I was quite excited to hear about this river from the curator since I had read contradictory articles and views in many books and websites. There are many who believe that this river existed during the era of Krishna. However, there are many cynics who say that this was only a mythical river which existed only in the scriptures. Though I had read that this river was supposed to have flowed through the fertile plains of Haryana, I never knew I was so close to seeing it!

      We went back towards Bhor Saidan Temple and took a narrow lane behind it. Mr. Purohit had informed us that most of the houses in this village were built with bricks that belonged to the pre-historic era. Seeing them, I understood what he had meant. The bricks were very thin and looked fragile. They were less than half the size of modern bricks. We drove about 500 metres and had to halt our vehicle since no road existed beyond this point. We looked around and saw only fields. An old Sardari (Sikh) was passing by, on his motorbike. He realised we were tourists and stopped his vehicle. I told him the purpose of our visit.

      Sikhs are supposed to be one of the friendliest and helpful people in the world and this gentleman certainly lived up to that reputation. He got down from his motorcycle and asked us to accompany him. We walked about 100 metres with him. He stopped and his trained eyes pointed towards a patch of wetland which was around one kilometer from the place where we stood. He asked us to focus our eyes in that direction. Suddenly, we noticed a small stream flowing near the wet patch of land. We also saw a dried riverbed, as described by Mr. Purohit. He declared triumphantly, "My friends! That is a tributary of River Saraswati. Many people say that this river never existed. It is sheer rubbish! Recently, the Government of India has also clicked photographs of these places using satellites and it has been proved beyond doubt that this river is Saraswati. "The location as mentioned in the scriptures matches the location as gauged by the satellites."

      He was prepared to take us much closer to the flowing tributary. However, because of the paucity of time, we had to excuse ourselves. We thanked him and hurried back to our taxi to continue our journey towards Shamshipura.

      Shamshipura is a small village, five kilometres from Kurukshetra, close to Jyotisar. As I approached Jyotisar, I saw a board telling us that a right turn would take us to Shamshipura. I got down from the car and walked to my right. Soon, I arrived at Shamshipura village. I asked the locals about Astipura and none of them seemed to have heard about it. I decided to explore the surroundings and spent an hour searching for the lost Astipura. I saw only agricultural lands everywhere. I remembered Mr. Purohit's words that it was quite likely that the erstwhile Astipura may have been converted into a field.

      I felt sad that a place, so rich in heritage and history had probably ceased to exist in its original form and was converted to agricultural fields to cultivate crops! Asti means 'remains (ashes) of a cremated body'. Did Astipura indicate a cremation ground? Whose cremation had taken place here? In the midst of the mustard crops, could I see smoke ascending towards the Heavens?

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