Mahabharata Date-Discussion

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					Dear Scholars,
Here is my feedback on Chapter 7 of the book "The Mahābhārata War: its Date on the
basis of Astronomical References" by B.N.Narahari Achar

RN Iyengar
Centre for Ancient History & Culture
Jain University, Bangalore
It is true that mainstream historians have ignored the analysis of sky pictures contained in
ancient Sanskrit texts. As Prof.B N Achar (abbr: BNA) implies, this indifference on the
part of historians is due to the prevalent concept of the so called Aryans entering the
Indian subcontinent from outside around 1500 BCE. Having said so it should also be
pointed out that archaeoastronomy alone cannot be the final deciding factor in fixing
ancient dates. It is necessary to demonstrate unambiguous physical correlation between
the texts and the artifacts dug out from the geographical locations from where the
astronomical observations are stated to have been done. In the well known MB sites the
oldest cultural layers can be stretched to c 1500 BCE but nothing older than this date (Lal
 With availability of computers anyone can use a variety of planetarium software to print
out sky pictures of the past. Familiarity and working knowledge of Astronomy is
sufficient to use the software. This is certainly a powerful tool for historians. But this is
only a tool and the derived result cannot be treated as primary evidence without further
justification. MB under scrutiny here are not astronomical in a modern sense. There is
considerable ambiguity in interpreting the basic data that forms the input to the
planetarium software. Hence translation of the Sanskrit text and dispassionate
presentation of the sky data contained therein are more important even if they turn out to
be uncertain. The basic weakness of the present paper lies in the absence of textual
criticism to first establish the reliability or otherwise of the data that is used as input to
the software. This has led to a series of assumptions which are later asserted as proved or
demonstrated. This is glaringly evident when the author assumes, in the bhīsma-parvan
of MB, planets to be comet apparitions wherever the text is found to be inconvenient for
his thesis. In a serious research on ancient astronomy some assumptions may be
necessary as a way forward. But any such study is expected to report sensitivity of the
final results to the assumptions made.
One of his interpretative basis is contained in his claim “…astronomical references in the
Bhīsma Parva and the Udyoga Parva……form a very consistent set and in the context of
omens as indicating impending calamities, agree closely with the tradition of omens in
Atharvaveda and its pariśistas”. By the latter he means the Atharvaveda-pariśist a (AVP)
which he quotes in many places without critical analysis, under the assumption that it is
more ancient than the epic MB.
But, AVP contains statements which were possible only in the last centuries of the first
millennium BCE. It does not have any chapter or verses known as yuddhalaksanam. The
only yuddha or war that AVP knows is chapter 51 named grahayuddham referring to

conjunction and circling of planets among themselves. There is also a portent of bidāla-
ulūka-yuddha i.e. skirmish between cats and owls (AVP 64.6.9). The table presented as a
comparison between MB and AVP can hardly be taken as textual analysis.
Chapter 64 in AVP is titled utpātalaksanam (Character of Anomalies) and has nothing
specially to do with wars. The original verse of AVP cited by the author is
arke abhraparighādīnām pariveso arkacandrayoh|
 lāksālohitavarnatvam sarvesām ca vicāranam || (64.57)
The verse is in no way specific to “predicting war” as claimed by the author. His partial
quotations on parivesa are;
 snigdhesu parivesesu catursvetesu nārada|
sandhyāyām atra varnesu vrstim tesvabhinirdiśet ||
prthivyām rājavamśyānām mahad bhayam upasthitam|
lokaksayakaram vidyād yadi devo na varsati ||           (AVP 61.1.4 & 16)
The above verses are about clouds and rainfall. The last line above makes it clear that if it
does not rain, it creates great fear among the people and the royal families. Verse before
and after the above in Chapter 61 of AVP are also about clouds and rainfall. In no way
these are relevant for interpreting the astronomy of the Epic.
The third citation from AVP is about eclipses, which again the author quotes partially.
 tāmro bhavati śastrāya rūkso bhavati mrtyave|
bahvākāras tu bhūtānām ghoram janayate jvaram ||
dhūmavarno'gnivarno vā grāmesu nagaresu vā|
agnyutpātān grhasthānām karotīha mahāgrahah || (53.5,1-2)

A dotted line is shown for the last line of the second verse above, as if the text is missing
in the original manuscript of AVP. Actually the text is fully available and it is no portent
for a great war among kings but an omen for fire accidents among householders. There is
nothing to show any special correspondence between MB and the AVP. It is disappointing
to see the author seeking support from AVP a late text which presupposes MB, as it
knows itihāsa (AVP 1.15.1; 68.2.62) as available to the society already. What was the
itihāsa to which AVP pays obeisance if it was not MB? Disciples of Vyāsa namely,
Jaimini, Vaiśampāyana, Paila were known to AVP (43.4.14-17). AVP pays respects to
Pānini by name. One may argue that like several other texts AVP may contain old and
also later information in a layered fashion. But definitely it is not an accented text with
mantras and hence cannot claim Vedic authority like the Samhitā and the Brāhmana
texts. Even MB is traditionally known to have at least three layers. Hence to argue for the
dating of MB with the help of a text that got fixed very late is to put the cart before the
horse. The AVP text prescribes a foreign currency, the golden dināra to be given away
tato māndaliko rājā dīnārānām gavām śatam|
 pranamya śraddhayā tasmai dadyād uddhara mām iti || (AVP 36.26.3)
Thus it is obvious AVP should be assigned to the last few centuries of the first millennium
BCE, prior to c100 CE when Kushans, with dīnāra as their currency, were ruling in the
northwestern part of India.

BNA is fond of accusing me as having made ad hoc hypotheses in dating the MB
statements. This criticism of BNA refers to the MB dating of 1493-1443 BCE
demonstrated by me by reconciling the two conflicting positions of Saturn to be
astronomically valid statements separated by fourteen or fifteen years between the
gambling episode and the war (Iyengar 2003). For the present feedback, whether I am
right or wrong is irrelevant. Anyway, BNA has no qualms in taking śanaiścara as Saturn
in one place (MB V.141.7) but as a comet a few verses later in the same book. His main
effort is to somehow interpret conflicting statements about planets as referring to comets.
He claims “Vyāsa leaves no doubt to the fact that in bhīsmaparvan, the word graha refers
to a comet……” That BNA is writing without evidence will be clear to any one taking
the trouble to read the original text. In the bhīsmaparvan the word graha appears some
twenty times. Since the word is a generic one, it could be used to refer to comets. But it is
not exclusively reserved for comets as claimed. In the bhī.parvan (3.29) quoted by BNA,
the word refers to Sun and Moon. In (13.40) it refers to Rāhu, the eclipse causer. In (17.2)
seven grahas are mentioned, which obviously cannot all be taken to be comets. In (96.35-
36) the grahas are said to five in number and affecting Sun and Moon. About the
nomenclature of comets, BNA likes to take support from Varāha-mihira. Varāha in the
Brhat-samhitā on Ketucāra clearly says he is borrowing his information from Garga,
Parāśara, Asita and Devala. So what is the relevance of comets of Brhat-samhitā for the
astronomy of MB? It is true that ancient writers describe some groups of comets or
meteorites as grahaputrāh (planet-children). Hence sūryaputra might mean a comet in
MB instead of Saturn as in later traditions. But the statement “…he also refers to the
comets by the name of the parent planets, i.e., Jupiter to indicate the comet son of
Jupiter” is a figment of imagination. The difficulties of BNA are clearly with the position
of Jupiter and Saturn said to be near viśākha. The relevant verses are
grahau tāmrārunaśikhau prajvalantāviva sthitau|
saptarsīnām udārānām samavacchādya vai prabhām||
samvatsarasthāyinau ca grahau prajvalitāvubhau |
viśākhayoh samīpasthau brhaspatiśanaiścarau||
The first half-verse which is quoted by BNA, could refer to comet bodies as claimed. But
these were near U. Major in the northern sky as can be understood from the context in
second half which the learned author conveniently forgets to quote. His claim of Jupiter
and Saturn being names of comets in the second verse above is negated as these two
objects are qualified as being year-long stationary near the ecliptic stars viśākha. These
two celestial objects brhaspati and śanaiścara are said to be bright and shining. This does
not in any way mean Vyāsa intends them to be comets of that name.
 The further specious claim of BNA is that the purported usage of denoting the son by the
name of the father “….is quite according to Sanskrit grammar”. If it is so, the author
should have supported his claim with justifications from an authoritative text on Sanskrit
grammar. In the absence of such support his statement is just a piece of empty rhetoric.
The author adds the phrase “son of” in front of every planet the position of which proves
inconvenient to his preconceived chronology. This type of wishful translation is as good
as deriding the original composer of the Epic for lack of vocabulary. Similar is the
author’s dismissal that star Dhruva mentioned to be drifting during the MB war cannot
refer to the Polestar. BNA gives no reason for ignoring this astronomical statement. Is it

because he knows that α-Draconis was the Polestar during 3200-2400 BCE and its
movement as recorded in MB would assign the latter to a date later than 2400 BCE?
BNA assumes that Karna was able to predict a forthcoming solar eclipse. What is the
basis for this ad hoc assumption? Further he takes that this was near star jyesthā which is
nowhere mentioned to be so in MB. The argument of BNA that there was a lunar eclipse
on kārtika-pūrnimā and a solar eclipse in jyesthā star is an extrapolation in the realm of
possibility but not attested by the MB text. Figure 4 is supposed to represent a solar
eclipse on 14th October 3067 BCE. But was this visible in Kuruksetra? Similarly Fig.8 is
claimed to represent a lunar eclipse on 29th September of the same year. One has to just
believe the author for this assertion. Results obtained from other planetarium software do
not support the author’s claim. These and such other issues casting doubts on the results
of the author have been raised earlier also (Chandra Hari 2003). But BNA has remained
reluctant to subject his results to alternate methods of computations which are openly
available to anyone seriously interested in scientific archaeoastronomy.
Any observation will have errors and hence it is necessary to find out how sensitive the
final result is to the various assumptions done. The author claims that his results are
consistent with the text. What is meant by consistency? The author does not define this
nor state a criterion against which his consistency can be verified. Textual criticism and
the Indian tradition of astronomy about MB statements are irrelevant to the author. For
example, Bhattotpala (9th -10th Cent.) the celebrated commentator on the Br hat-samhitā
takes that the eclipse duo mentioned in MB occurred in the thirteenth (intercalary) month;
not at thirteen day interval. With difficult planetary positions being ignored whimsically
as comets, the principle followed is loud and clear. Following such a method, of course,
any date can be demonstrated for the MB war. Those who crave for modern scientific
analysis to show that the traditional Kaliyuga start was in 3102 BCE will initially feel
elated, till they realize that it is a pyrrhic victory gained by distorting planets to be comets
on the bizarre claim that “denoting the son by the name of the father” is as per Sanskrit
grammar. Other than this imaginary interpretation of the author there is no authority for
taking Vyāsa’s planets as comets. An offshoot of this is the anticlimax that his result of
3067 BCE for the MB war depends solely on imputing convoluted and spurious meanings
to well attested usages of Sanskrit words. Hence the hard work of the author is an
example to show that a straight forward reading of the text does not lead to 3067 BCE for
the MB war.

 To arrive at the author’s MB war date of 3067 BCE one has to firmly believe that ends
justify the means, because several untenable assumptions are necessary as described by
the author himself. It has to be first assumed that Karna was able to predict solar eclipses
based on portents. Only one planet namely, Saturn near star rohinī (Aldebaran) sighted by
Karna in the udyogaparvan has to be taken as a real observation. Eventhough Karna
meant that Mars was visible near star anūrādhā after having retrograded under jyesthā,
it has to be taken to mean that on the conversation night it was well past anūrādhā. This
special pleading, not voiced by the author, is essential since as per the planetarium
software results shown, Mars would have been near star śravana and invisible to Karna
on the night of conversation. Beyond the above concession, according to the author, all
other planets mentioned by Vyāsa are to be treated as comets carrying the name of

planets. Following the author, unless the planets angāraka, (Mars in retrograde near star
maghā), brhaspat, śukra, śanaiścara, in the bhīsma-parvan are assumed to be comets, the
above date cannot be arrived at. The original text itself unambiguously refers to two or
three comets or such apparitions in the sky. Hence, the approach of the author leads the
reader to reckon with a formidable array of ten or more comets simultaneously appearing
at the time of the war. Prof. Achar, after taking planets to be comets, feels no scientific
compulsion to discuss the possibility and/or probability of a swarm of comets occupying
the night sky around the purported date of 3067 BCE from the perspectives of modern
 In conclusion, those who passionately hold on to the doctrine that the MB war date
should match with the siddhāntic astronomical Kaliyuga start of 3102 BCE, will have to
unconditionally subscribe to the author’s approach of text torturing and distortion. Others
will easily infer that whatever may be the real date of Krishna and MB war, the naked eye
astronomical observations mentioned in MB do not historically belong to 3067 BCE.--
Lal, B.B. (1950-52) ‘Excavation at Hastināpura and other Explorations in the
Upper Gangā and Sutlej Basins’ in Ancient India, Bull. Arch. Survey of Ind. No.10 &11,
Iyengar, R.N. (2003) ‘Internal Consistency of Eclipses and Planetary Positions in the
Mahābhārata’, Ind.J Hist. Sci., 38.2, (77-115).
Chandra Hari K. (2003) ‘Date of the Mahābhārata War- A Review of some Recent
Studies’ in Kamath (ed) The Date of the Mahabhārata War Based on Astronomical Data,
Bangalore, The Mythic Society, (117-143).
From: Girish Nath Jha <>
Date: Dec 28, 10:47 pm
Subject: Book on Origin of Indian Civilization
To: भारतीयविविद्वत्परिरषत्
Dear scholars
A new edited volume titled "Perspectives on the Origin of
Indian Civilizations" has been published by the Center of Indic Studies, UMASSD and
DK Printworld. The goal is to assimilate various perspectives in the light of newer data
and research.

The blurb image is attached. You are requested to publicize the volume
and give your valuable feedback

Dr. Girish Nath Jha
Associate Professor, Computational Linguistics
Special Center for Sanskrit Studies,
J.N.U., New Delhi - 110067
ph.26741308 (o)

Mukesh and Priti Chatter Distinguished Professor of History of
Science, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth,

 Perspectives on the Origin of Indian Civilizations.jpg


Description: "Origin of Indian Civilization" is a recent book the blurb of which appeared on the Bharatiya-vidvat-parishat group requesting a feedback. Since I have spent considerable time on the astronomical statements contained in the Epic, I have written a discussion on Chapter 7 of the book contributed by Prof.BN Achar.