How far back in the past did the events described in the epics really take place?
Koenraad Elst & Nilesh Oak
Koenraad Elst (°Leuven 1959) distinguished himself early on as eager to learn and to dissent. After a few hippie years, he studied at the KU Leuven, obtaining MA degrees in Sinology, Indology and Philosophy. After a research stay at Benares Hindu University, he did original fieldwork for a doctorate on Hindu nationalism, which he obtained magna cum laude in 1998. As an independent researcher, he earned laurels and ostracism with his findings on hot items like Islam, multiculturalism and the secular state, the roots of Indo-European, the Ayodhya temple/mosque dispute and Mahatma Gandhi's legacy. He also published on the interface of religion and politics, correlative cosmologies, the dark side of Buddhism, the reinvention of Hinduism, technical points of Indian and Chinese philosophies, various language policy issues, Maoism, the renewed relevance of Confucius in conservatism, the increasing Asian stamp on integrating world civilization, direct democracy, the defence of threatened freedoms, and the Belgian question. Regarding religion, he combines human sympathy with substantive skepticism.
Nilesh holds BS & MS in Chemical Engineering and Executive MBA. He is interested in Astronomy, Archeology, Geology, Genetics, Quantum Mechanics, Economics, Ancient narratives and Philosophy. He published his first book, ‘When did the Mahabharata War Happen?:The Mystery of Arundhati’ in 2011, his second book, ‘The Historic Rama – Indian Civilization at the end of Pleistocene’ in 2014 and is in the process of completing his third book, ‘Bhishma Nirvana’. Nilesh is also Adjunct Assistant Professor at School of Indic Studies, Institute of Advanced Science, Darthmouth, MA, USA.
The dating of the Mahabharat and the Ramayan is a puzzle that refuses to yield a simple answer. Conferences after conferences have been held in India and abroad for historians to arrive at a consensus, which has remained elusive so far. Although it may interest the hobbyist historian or the lay reader only in passing, it is serious business nonetheless. For it has deep implications on the very worldview promulgated by the dominant schools of academic history.
Koenraad Elst, the Belgian historian with a phenomenal grasp of Indian (and world) history favours the mainstream consensus that the Mahabharata war and other historical events described in the text took place sometime in the second millennium BCE. His view is based on a combination of archaeological, literary and other corroborative evidence. Others, like Narahari Achar with more 'traditionalist' leanings, place it near 3000 BCE or thereabout. However, Neelesh Oak's analysis of the astronomical information available in the text, corroborated by geological, seismic and climatic data that has now emerged, pushes the date further back to the sixth millennium BCE, a good four thousand years ahead of the mainstream academic consensus. The disagreement is even starker in the case of Ramayana as Nilesh places it way back in antiquity in the 14th millennium BCE, more than 10,000 years apart from the mainstream consensus.
In this debate, held in the winter of 2016 in New Delhi, Dr. Elst and Nilesh take time off from their respective touring schedules in India to sit and talk to each other, in an attempt to arrive at some convergence of views or at least, to understand each other's arguments better.