Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Arundhati omen

A fan of Nilesh Oak's date for the Mahabharata war at the mid-6th millennium BC asks me what I think of his crucial argument for this very high chronology, viz. the observation that Arundhati/Alcor rose before its twin star, Vasishtha/Mizar in the Saptarishi/Great Bear. Here is a first attempt.

Vyasa tells Dhrtarashtra that he has seen a number of evil omens in the sky, presaging the fratricidal war between the Kauravas (Dhrtarashtra's sons) and the Pandavas (his brother Pandu's sons) with a terrible outcome. Among these evil omens is that he saw Arundhati rise before her twin star Vasishtha. Between the 12th and 5th millennia BCE, this was normal. Ever since, it was abnormal, as Vasistha would rise ahead of Arundhati. Therefrom, NN Oak deduces that the Mahabharata war must date back to the time when Arundhati was ahead, for instance in the mid-6th millennium.

For two reasons, this conclusion is incorrect. Firstly, an evil omen is normally either a case of muddled visibility (e.g. in Babylonian astrology Algol, in  Arabic "the Demon", counts as a negative influence because, as modern astronomy has found out, it is a double star of which the darker member periodically obscures the brighter member; and this temporary lack of visibility is deemed a bad omen; or the constellation of Cancer is deemed inauspicious because it has no bright stars and is thus a dark pit in the starry sky) or because it is an abnormality, e.g., in all astrologies the world over, an unforeseen eclipse, or the unexpected appearance of a comet. Now, between the 12th and 5th millennia BCE it would be normal to see Arundhati rise first, and thus not fit to serve as an evil omen.

Not having a Sanskrit Mahabharata handy, I am quoting from memory, so you may fill in relevant details. I do not know how Vyasa's observation came about, but it cannot possibly be a sighting of Arundhati rising first before the 5th millennium. But it can very well be an unusual sighting of Arundhati after the 5th millennium. So, let's drop this eccentric theory and discuss possible dates for the Mahabharata war within the usual range of dates.

"Secondly, note already that you put the tradition and the numerous Hindu believers in the tradition in the wrong. They, with their 3139 BCE, are said to be more than 24 centuries off. So, you may fight it out with them, not to speak of those convinced of a later date, like me. Moreover, your discovery fails to take into account the general picture, with its chronology determined by many other factors. Thus, the Kaushitaki Brahmana and the Shatapatha Brahmana are astronomically dated to ca. 2300 BCE, and are literarily deemed contemporaneous with the Yajurveda, thus earlier than the editor of the Vedas, Vyasa, the grandfather of the Mahabharata protagonists. The Mahabharata itself posits that the full moon in conjunction with Regulus/Magha took place after the solstice, so after 2300 BCE when this star passed the solstice. For a different information given by the epic itself: Balarama misses the battle because he goes on pilgrimage reaching the place where it stops flowing, thus after the drying of the Saraswati ca. 1900 BC.

And if you are skeptical of literary and astronomical data, consider the harder material data. The central event of the MBh is a chariot battle. Now, chariot battles were popular in a very specific window of history, viz. the bronze age when metallurgy was already sophisticated enough for strong and light chariot wheels; and before the rise of cavalry made chariots redundant. The first chariot found by archaeology dates to 2200 BC (Sintashta, Asian Russia). Its high tide in warfare was in the later 2nd and the early 1st millennium BC: many wars of that period were fought with chariots, e.g. the Trojan war of ca. 1200 BC. That is why the scriptural reference dating Pandava Arjuna's grandson Parikshit 1050 years before the coronation of Mahapadma Nanda (ca. 380 BC), i.e. in the 15th century BC, may well be right. The classical date, 32nd century BCE, is extremely unlikely to have seen chariot warfare, and for Oak's date of the mid-6th millennium BCE, this is simply impossible.

So, I don't know yet how to make astronomical sense of this alleged observation of Arundhati rising before Vasishtha. But a number of different reasons exclude the explanation that it points to a date in the 12th-5th millennium bracket.


Rohit Dhakras said...

I believe there are some celestial observations when Krishna died and the Kali Yug is deemed to have started at that date. Perhaps, the solution of the date of the Mahabharata War can be approached from this angle...(I am utterly ignorant of astronomy...so ignore any faux pau please)

Krishna said...

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Kranhi Anne said...

"For a different information given by the epic itself: Balarama misses the battle because he goes on pilgrimage reaching the place where it stops flowing, thus after the drying of the Saraswati ca. 1900 BC."
Well the river didnot stop flowing altogether but was in the dying stage, he went along the river in a boat for some part, which means the date 2100 BC would be more appropriate than a earlier date than 1900 and lower than 2300BC.
Then again it could be a later addition( it could have stopped flowing later when the story was incorporated), but 2100 BC I would say is when the balarama story was added.

Trailer of Dharma said...

In the case of Arundhati preceding Vashista being a bad omen, it is very clear why: It shakes a mythological doctrinal constant!

So from an archaeo-astronomical viewpoint, there is not much of an argument that is presented here against it.

Yes there is an issue of technology, but then again, Indians are no more under an obligation to try to place everything in the conservative archaeological frame of Europeans. Indians would start their archaeological exploration independent of such predefined limits which have been imposed on world archaeology. Of course for some time Europeans would be crying foul but some day they too would have to accommodate Indian timelines.