Friday, February 19, 2021


The cut-off date in the Mahābhārata debate


 (Pragyata, 15 Feb. 2021)

Last January, Srimati Neera Mishra’s Draupadi Dream Trust organized a three-day zoom conference on the chronology of the historical battle at the heart of the much-expanded epic Mahābhārata. Specialists from different disciplines took part in the debate; we do not have the ambition for a tour d’horizon of the different positions. Let’s just summarize the contrast between the archaeologists’ option for the -2nd millennium and the (professional and self-taught) astronomers’ choice for the late -4th millennium. (It could have been even earlier, in the -6th millennium, but Nilesh Oak hadn’t been invited.)


Jijith Nadamuri Ravi, engineer and sanskritist, made a good overview, and in his account, the archaeologists made a convincing case why the archaeological evidence doesn't allow for a date prior to the -2nd millennium. There wouldn't be much of a debate over the date, and there wouldn't be claims for the -4th millennium or earlier, if there hadn't been traditionalists and others basing themselves solely on the astronomical data, impervious to any other evidence. Only, a second look at this astronomical evidence shows up one pointer, a central one, that sends the date of the battle to the -2nd millennium even on astronomical grounds. I've shown it before on various forums, but all those who want to deduce the Mahābhārata date from astronomy doggedly keep on ignoring it.


In the story of Bhīṣma’s self-chosen death, the asterism Māgha, centred around the major star Maghā/Regulus, is said to be on or past the solstice axis: the asterism/star itself is just past the Summer Solstice, so that the calendar asterism, situated in opposition where the sun is when the full moon is in the physical asterism, is past the Winter Solstice. Indeed, Bhishma elects to give up the ghost when the sun is "past the Winter Solstice/Uttarāyaṇa" and "in Māgha". He dies when the moon is with Rohiṇī/Aldebaran, which is some 98° past this point, a distance covered by the moon in 7 1/2 days; hence it is said that Bhīṣma died on Māgha Śukla Āṣṭamī, the 8th day, therefore also called Bhīṣmāṣṭamī. This implies that he died 8 days past the Solstice/ Uttarāyaṇa. (Or more, if the New Moon didn't exactly coincide with the solstice axis anymore.)


Now, when did Maghā/Regulus pass the Solstice? The earth's polar axis describes a precessional cycle of 25772 years, or ca. 71 years per degree of arc. In this cycle, Maghā is today 60° past the solstice axis. We calculate backwards: 60 x 71 years ago, i.e. 4260 years ago, i.e. ca. -2240. Moreover, we are already on the 8th day of the asterism defined by this star, and 8 days translate precessionally into 568 years, so the end result is ca. -1672. All this may have some imprecision about it, so we don't commit ourselves to a specific year, but certainly to the 2nd millennium. We leave it to others to argue out -1478 vs. -1728 etc., but we do stick to this non-negotiable conclusion: it must have been well past -2240, the cut-off time when Maghā passed the solstice axis. 


This makes it impossible for the Mahābhārata battle to have taken place in 3139, as “the tradition" (but not the Mahābhārata itself, only an "invented tradition" dating to much later, probably ca. +500) says, nor in 3067, nor 5561, nor any other year prior to -2240. If you at all must deny the king-lists and the archaeological evidence pointing to the -2nd millennium, and exclusively stick to the astronomical evidence, well alright, here is astronomical evidence. Unlike all the rest of it, this is not convoluted or contradictory, it is simple and straigntforward. And it excludes the high chronologies.


Ashish said...

This is a Good Analysis.

Most of the chronology & Analysis of Mahabharat War take into account Aryabhatt's reckonings.

Wonder how he came up with figures of 3100 BCE , and whether he did this intentionally?

Anonymous said...

Sir, this is a broad chronology I'm working on, and would love to know your views on it. I confess, it's a Pargiter-like reconciliation of Paurāṇika data, but I think of this only as a 'best-fit model' because it lines up at several places with linguistic, archaeological, geological and Ṛgvedic data.

I arrive at this best-fit model by building atop works by Shrikant Talageri, Subhash Kak, Pargiter, Jijith Ravi, Giacommo Benedetti and Tonoyan-Belyayev. I also arrive at this model by working backwards from a Mahābhārata date of 1900-1500BC. Please bear with me. I do not fit all data into Paurāṇika evidence, rather- I find that Paurāṇika data can be reconciled with hard historical evidence.

1. 10000BC - the Holocene Onset
Era of Svāyambhuva Manu, and formative period of Indra-Vṛtra myth. I say this because the geological events that happened at Holocene onset are echoed in early legends. Hiraṇyākṣa beats the earth down and submerges it under water- the rising of sea levels. Indra defeats Vṛtra and unleashes the world's waters, maho arṇah- the release of rivers from glacial sheets Pamir (Meru) to Kailāsa. Purāṇas say that Svāyambhuva Manu and his early descendants fashioned idols of mother goddess and worshipped her. Kenoyer has found evidence of goddess idol-worship in Bagor II at 9000BC.

2. 8000BC to 7000BC - Early Neolithic micro-revolutions
The earliest Deva-Asura wars, from the 12 mentioned in Purāṇas. Savage, bloody and amoral conflict between various nomadic and semi-nomadic tribes on varying stages of progress towards settled living. Example is the Tārakāsura war. This early culminates in the earliest Neolithic micro-revolution remembered by Paurāṇika tradition, the Samudra Manthana.

If the Nostratic proto-language hypothesis has any weight, then a possible dispersal event is the exile of Mahābali.

3. 6200BC to 5500BC - Neolithic Revolution
6200BC is known as the geological event called 8.2Kiloton event. This was a few centuries of widespread aridity that set back nascent agriculture and civilisation. In Paurāṇika tradition we arrive by now at 6th Manvantara, and the aridity is blamed on a ruler named Veṇa. His son, Pṛthu, is unanimously called the first king and first cakravartin. Before him there were no cities, no organised agriculture and no complex metallurgy. After him there were large markets, agriculture and prosperity.

This is the period when Mehrgarh and Bhirrana begin to come into the archaeological record.

If Anatolian is sister to PIE and not a daughter, as some speculate, then Pṛthu's dynasty offers dispersal events. The Purāṇas are explicit that his line migrates out of India, and leads to a general decline.

Continued in Part 2...

Anonymous said...

Part 2:

4. Around 4500BC - 7th Manvantara begins, break in Indian skeletal record in this period could be linked to Vaivasvat Manu's flood myth. But I make this linkage only because so many other 'points' in this best-fit model map well to timelines. A lot in the model from here on is informed through Talageri's works.

Dispersal of proto-Anatolian and proto-Tocharian happen through the last of the Deva-Asura wars, which also coincide with expansion of Nahuṣa, Yayāti and their early descendants to the Sarasvatī river system. Yayāti's expansion emerges in archaeological record through rise of Sothi-Siswal culture. Daityas and Ādityas become past tribes from here on, and thus they begin to be mythologised as Devas and Asuras in the hymns being composed by the emergent Druhyu, Ānava and Pūru tribes.

5. 3500BC to 2600BC - Dispersal of Western IE languages
These are dispersed primarily through the Druhyu tribes, and some Ānava tribes. Purāṇas remember Śaśabindu and Māndhātṛ as cakravartins, and they are responsible for some dispersal events. Also responsible are Sagara and Arjuna Kārtavīrya. With the latter around 3000BC, arise Jamadagni and Viśvāmitra. The period of primary Ṛgvedic composition has commenced.

I place the Rāmāyaṇa around 2600BC because of genealogical count from Vaivasvat to Rāma. But I think there is a beautiful synchronism to be found.

Ṛgvedic Divodāsa battles an Asura named Śambara, and Daśaratha also battles an Asura named Śambara. The latter is saved in battle by Kaikeyi, who hails from Kekaya which at the time is allied to the Bhāratas as well (Abhyavartin Cāyamāna era). This also explains why Kaikeyi names her son Bharata- a favourable name to her people at the time. Rāma meets the aged Ahalyā, who is sister to Divodāsa. To me, this is clear evidence to place Rāma just a few decades prior to Sudās. Rāma’s era might also be the opening of north and south India, and the arrival of Agastya ṛṣis to the north- very soon they will encounter Sudās’ people and be found in the Ṛgveda. Rāma's expansion of empire is chronicle in the archaeological rise of OCP in the latter half of 3rd millennium.

6. 2600BC to 2200BC - Dispersal of Eastern IE languages
Here, of course, the battle has been decisively won by Talageri, through the "recorded evidence of the last five IE-speaking branches on the Paruṣṇī river." I have previously written a paper on how I link Sudās' expansions to the consolidation of Mature Harappan archaeology during this same period.

In Paurāṇika tradition, we are told that by the time of Hiraṇyanābha in Aikṣvāku dynasty there exist sāmans, apart from raw ṛcas. We are also told that a couple of ministers in Kuru courts institude kramapātha and śikṣā. This is near 2200 BC, and the closing period of Ṛgvedic composition then happens sometime by 2100BC. Even through genealogical reconstruction we find that Dilipa and Pratipa are placed here- who are the final rulers to be mentioned in Ṛgveda. By 2100BC the Pūru-Bhārata period is over and the Kuru-Bhārata period begins.

7. 1900BC to 1500BC - the era of the Mahābhārata
Here, I believe that the combined evidence of the Sarasvatī river (paper by Sastry and Kalyanasundaram), work of Subhash Kak, and work of Giacommo Benedetti find enough evidence to place the great war sometime during this period.

In conclusion, I feel there is a best-fit model for Indian chronology that maps the hard evidence found in archaeology, linguistics and Ṛgveda along several chronological markers working backwards from a date of Mahābhārata between 1900-1500BC.

There might appear a good deal of tautology/circular logic in this model. But if the premise that Purāṇas hold historical evidence is correct, then it should be no surprise that they line up at several places with hard data.

Gururaj B N said...

A few weeks back, I saw a video taking the date of Indian civilization back to 15th millennium BC. In the 19 minutes long video, t he narrator spoke a lot about various astonomical dates which passed in too rapid succession to make sense to me. The video also showed some archaeological excavations to support the claim of this date. But, rather obviously, the narrator refused to link his astronomy based dates to any strata of the archaeological excavation shown in the visuals. When I pointed out this glaring omission in the comments section, the owner merely thanked me for viewing the video! It is this kind of work which brings disrepute to the Hindu scholars.

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