Elizabeth Mary Rohlman

Geographical Imagination and Communal Identity in the Sarasvati Purana


The Sarasvati Purana is a Sanskrit sthala-purana composed in medieval Gujarat. Its narrative frame relates the story of Srasvati’s descent to earth as a river and her long jounrey through Gujarat to join the western ocean at Prabhasa-Somnath. The account of Sarasvati’s course through Gujarat is employed to define the boundaries of the medieval region of Gujarat, while the text’s many sub-narratives articulate the cultural and religious traditions of the region. Thus, while the Sarasvati Purana maps a sacred geography of Gujarat, it simultaneously defines the content of the region’s literary, historical, and religious traditions. However, the textual vision of these traditions is hardly unified. The fourteen extant manuscripts of the Sarasvati preserve two recensions of the text, which present two distinct and conflicting theological visions. This paper will explore the tensions of textual boundaries and sectarian boundaries present in the two recensions, and consider the ways in which these two distinct traditions participate in a cultural concept of the Sarasvati Purana as a singular text.


Elizabeth Rohlman is a Ph.D. candidate in Religious Studies at the University of Virginia. Her research focus is on the role of narrative literature, especially regional puranic literature in Sanskrit, in articulating and defining religious identity.