A rejoinder to falsify the claim of 3067 BCE as the year of the Mahabharata war.
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 issue at stake is the claim of Prof. Achar that the Mahabharata war occurred somewhere between the time period of 3200 BCE to 1800 BCE. Prof. Achar claims that the internal Mahabharata evidence leads us to this time interval and no date before or after is possible.
Is this claim true or false?
The objective of this note is to show that:
1. The claim of Prof. Achar, based on the Mahabharata reference of Udyog 81:7 and his translation of it, leads us to the time interval of 3200 BCE – 1800 BCE for the occurrence of the Mahabharata war which in my view is false.
2. The claim of Prof. Achar for the timing (season) of Krishna’s visit on the peace mission does not match with his own proposal (day and time of the season) for the day of this mission.
1. Udyog 81:7
This Mahabharata reference describes the time when Krishna left from Upaplavya, for Hastinapur, on a peace mission.
Udyoga Parva (CE 81:7)
कौमुदे मासि रेवत्यां शरदन्ते हिमागमे |
स्फीतसस्यसुखे काले कल्यः सत्त्ववतां वरः ||७||
The first line of this reference is the critical line. And 3 sets of words are the most critical: (1) कौमुदे मासि, (2) शरदन्ते and (3) हिमागमे. A straightforward translation would be as follows:
(Krishna left from Upaplavya, on a peace mission) during the ‘month of lotuses’ (कौमुदे मासि), after the passing away of Sharad season (शरदन्ते) and at the beginning of Hemant season (हिमागमे).
This translation would provide the time in the language of seasons (after the passing away of Sharad and at the beginning of Hemant). This then can be compared with other inferences from the Mahabharata evidence (more than 200 specific observations) to see if it corroborates or not with the rest of the evidence.
Of course, in any language, and especially in Sanskrit, a word can have many meanings and thus multiple translations are possible. It is important to keep in mind that ‘multiple meanings’ does not mean ‘any’ meaning. The ultimate test of any translation is in the inference it leads us to and how that inference compares with the evidence.
1.1 Plausible translations of Udyog 81:7
Let’s look at some of the alternate and plausible translations. We will focus on the alternate translations of these 3 sets of words – कौमुदे, शरदन्ते, and हिमागमे. We will employ the spoken Sanskrit dictionary, one of the most comprehensive, if not the most comprehensive dictionary that incorporates content from various other dictionaries (e.g. Monnier Williams, Apte, etc.).
1.1.1 कौमुदे मासि
The word कौमुदे can be translated in many ways and thus कौमुदे मासि can be translated to mean ‘ month of festival’, ‘month of moonlight’, ‘lunar month of Ashwin’, ‘lunar month of Kartika’, ‘Month of moonshine’, ‘month of water-lilies (lotuses).
The word शरदन्ते can be split into शरद and अन्त to understand its multiple plausible meanings.
Thus, शरदन्ते can be translated as ‘at the end of Sharad’, ‘in Sharad’, or ‘inside Sharad’.
The word हिमागमे can be split into हिम and आगम to understand its multiple meanings.
1.1.4 Multiple plausible translations (without losing the context)
While multiple meanings do exist, we must consider the context in which each word or set of words is translated.
Thus, combinations such as, ‘in or inside’ Sharad and during Hemant’ would not make any sense and should be discarded. This leads us to the following plausible translations:
A. At the end of Sharad and at the approach of Hemant, or
B. After the passing away of Sharad and during the Hemant
The combination ‘कौमुदे मासि’ can be translated as ‘month of lotuses’, ‘month of moonshine’, ‘month of festive season’, ‘month of Ashwin’ or ‘month of Kartika’. The ‘month of Ashwin’ or ‘month of Kartika’ when combined with specific translation of ‘शरदन्ते हिमागमे’ would lead to very specific inferences.
2. Prof Achar’s Translation
Against this background of multiple plausible translations of Udyog 81:7, let’s look at Prof. Achar’s translation. Prof. Achar translates 81:7 as follows:
In the month of Kartika, on the day of Revati after the passing away of sharad ṛtu and in the dewy season, and at a time when the earth had an abundance of crops on it that foremost of men of prowess (set forth for Hastinapura).
2.1 Analysis of Prof. Achar’s translation of Udyog 81:7
Prof. Achar translated कौमुदे मासि’ as ‘the month of Kartika’, translated शरदन्ते as ‘after the passing away of Sharad season’ and translated हिमागमे as ‘in the dewy season’.
Since Prof. Achar has introduced a new word – ‘the dewy season’, not explored by us (via Sanskrit-English dictionary) until now, let’s quickly look up that word in the same dictionary.
The translation of ‘dewy season’ refers to ‘Shishir ritu’. If we search the word in the dictionary, we find multiple meanings though most of them refer to the cold season.
Based on various meanings suggested for हिम, or शिशिर, we can all agree that it refers to the cold season. If we combine this knowledge, we can paraphrase Prof. Achar’s translation as follows:
(Krishna left from Upaplavya, on a peace mission) in the month of Kartika and the timing of this event was ‘after the passing away of Sharad season and in the dewy season, i.e. either in the Hemant or Shishir season.
2.2 Prof. Achar’s emphasis on Udyog 81:7
Prof. Achar considers Udyog 81.7 as a decisive reference to claim an upper limit of 3200 BCE and lower limit of 1800 BCE for the time interval of the Mahabharata war. According to Prof. Achar, Udyog 81:7 clearly defines the season when Krishna left from Upaplavya on his peace mission. In his words – “This is an absolutely clear reference to seasons when kṛṣṇa sets out for his peace mission.”
3. Primer on Seasons
Before we jump into calculating the consequence of Prof. Achar’s translation for the time interval of the Mahabharata war, we must understand the Julian calendar, the 6 seasons (Vasanta, Grishma, Varsha, Sharad, Hemant & Shishir) described in the Mahabharata and their demarcation on the Julian calendar.
3.1 The Julian Calendar
We will explain only necessary and sufficient information about the Julian calendar for our purpose.
The Julian calendar is a solar calendar which emphasizes on aligning and adjusting days, so that they match the points of solstices & equinoxes and thus maintain the congruence of seasons with the calendar.
The Julian calendar is used, by convention, as a reference calendar for events prior to 1582 CE and thus all events of BCE (before common era). The Julian calendar assumes 45 BCE as the reference year when the days of solstices and equinoxes were supposed to have aligned with 21 June & December, 23 March & 23 September, etc. However, the Julian calendar does experience a shift of one day for every ~128 years and thus as we go back in antiquity (from 45 BCE), we find that the days of cardinal points (solstices & equinoxes) would shift by one day for every ~128 years.
3.2 Six Seasons of Mahabharata & their demarcation on the Julian calendar
Varsha (rain) season begins from the day of summer solstice (SS) and continues for two months. This is followed by Sharad (pre-autumn) season and the day of autumnal equinox (AE) is the midpoint of Sharad season. Two months leading up to the day of winter solstice (WS) constitutes the Hemant (autumn) season. Shishir (winter) season begins from the day of winter solstice and continues for two months. This is followed by Vasant (spring) season and the day of vernal equinox (VE) is the midpoint of the season. Two months leading to the day of summer solstice constitute Grishma (summer) season.
3.3 Six seasons & Julian calendar in our times
The seasons and corresponding positions of nakshatras of our times (last ~2000+ years) can be illustrated as follows:
The day of summer solstice occurs during the lunar months of Jyeshtha/Ashadha and the day of winter solstice occurs during the lunar months of Margashirsha/Pausha. The day of autumnal equinox occurs during the lunar months of Bhadrapad/Ashwin and the day of vernal(spring) equinox occurs during the lunar months of Phalgun/Chaitra.
3.4 The Precession of Earth’s Axis (aka Precession of Equinoxes)
The precession of the Earth’s axis (precession of equinoxes) is the phenomenon of the earth’s axis moving in a circular path that takes about to complete one cycle in about 26000 years. As the earth’s axis moves through a circular path, it traces a circle in the sky. At any given time, where the earth’s axis points to, along this circular path, is called the point of ‘North celestial pole’ (NCP). If a distinct and visible star is close to this point of NCP, it attains the status of a ‘North pole star’ for a time, i.e. until the NCP moves far away from the position of the star.
This phenomenon has many consequences. One of the key consequences and one that is relevant for our discussion is that the season shifts by one lunar month about every ~ 2000 (2167) years.
3.4.1 The seasons & lunar months (2500 BCE – 500 BCE)
Thus, if we go back by more than 2000 years, we will notice the shift of season by about one lunar month, due to the phenomenon known as precession of Earth’s axis (aka precession of equinoxes).
Notice that the seasons have shifted by about one lunar month. The day of summer solstice occurs during the lunar months of Ashadha/Shravan and the day of winter solstice occurs during the lunar months of Pausha/Magha. The day of autumnal equinox occurs during the lunar months of Ashwin/Kartika and the day of vernal(spring) equinox occurs during the lunar months of Chaitra/Vaishakha.
3.4.2 The seasons & lunar months (4500 BCE – 2500 BCE)
If we go back by an additional 2000 years, i.e. back by approximately ~4000 years from our times, we will notice the shift of seasons by about 2 lunar months.
Notice that seasons have shifted by about two lunar months in comparison to our times. The day of summer solstice occurs during the lunar months of Shravan/Bhadrapad and the day of winter solstice occurs during the lunar months of Magha/Phalgun. The day of autumnal equinox occurs during the lunar months of Kartika/Margashirsha and the day of vernal(spring) equinox occurs during the lunar months of Vaishakha/Jyeshtha.
4. Prof. Achar’s translation & inferences due to his translation
We will analyze claims of Prof. Achar by keeping his identification of ‘कौमुदे मासि’ with the lunar month of Kartika.
4.1 Lunar month of Kartika & season of early Hemant
This would mean Prof. Achar’s translation/interpretation must refer to the time interval that began around ~500 BCE and continues in our times, as shown in 3.3 (Six seasons & Julian calendar in our times).
4.2 Lunar month of Kartika & season of late Hemant
This would mean Prof. Achar’s translation/interpretation must refer to the time interval that has begun in our times (2018 CE) and will continue until about ~3500 CE, in the future.
4.3 Lunar month of Kartika & the dewy (Shishir?) season
Since Prof. Achar has translated हिमागमे as ‘in the dewy season’ and since the Sanskrit-English dictionary translates ‘dewy season’ as as the ‘Shishir’ season, we will also explore this scenario.
This would mean Prof. Achar’s translation/interpretation must refer to the time interval that will begin around ~3500 CE (in future) and will last until about ~7500 CE (in the future). During this period of about ~4000 years, the lunar month of Kartika would indeed occur during the dewy season (Shishir).
This shows that Prof. Achar’s identification of कौमुदे मासि’ with the lunar month of Kartika and translation of हिमागमे with ‘in the dew season’ would lead to a long-time interval that began with ~500 BCE and would last, in the future, until about ~7500 CE.
This conclusion is in direct conflict with Prof. Achar's claim that Udyog 81:7 and his translation of that reference, lead us to the time interval of 3200 BCE – 1800 BCE for the Mahabharata war.
5. Contradictions Galore
At this point, we would have considered our rejoinder to the faulty claim of Prof. Achar as complete. Unfortunately, this is not the case. This is because, after insisting on:
1. The identification of कौमुदे मासि’ with the lunar month of Kartika,
2. Translation of शरदन्ते as ‘after the passing away of Sharad season’
3. Translation of हिमागमे as ‘in the dew season’,
Prof. Achar generates a series of contradictory explanations and justifications. Let’s look at some of them.
5.1 हिमागमे ≠ Hemant (really?!)
Prof. Achar states in his rebuttal that he had never claimed the season of Krishna’s visit on the peace mission to be that of Hemant ritu.
“There is no claim anywhere that Krishna went on the mission of peace in Hemanta ritu”
Yes, it is true that Prof. Achar has never explicitly stated the season of the Krishna peace mission to be that of the Hemant season. He does not have to. Isn’t this implied from his translation of ‘शरदन्ते हिमागमे’ as “after the passing away of sharad ṛtu and in the dewy season”. Prof. Achar need not explicitly state it as Hemant ritu.”
Of course, this raises very serious concerns about his interpretation and inferential skills. If not ‘Hemant’, what season did he have in mind? What is the season that follows after the passing away of Sharad ritu?
5.2 Alleged confusion due to ‘Julian calendar & 4 seasons
Prof. Achar tries to justify his action and confusion of trying to align the timing of Autumnal equinox with the lunar month of Kartika by stating that he did so because:
“The seasons on the Julian Calendar are only four: Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. The mapping requires that Kartika paurnima fall in the autumn season.”
This is a feeble excuse. Any researcher of Mahabharata ought to make themselves familiar with the seasons of the Mahabharata and be able to map them on the Julian calendar as shown in section 3 (Primer on Seasons). There is no reason to force-fit 6 seasons of Mahabharata into 4 seasons of the western world. Per this exercise, according to Prof. Achar, शरदन्ते हिमागमे refers to the ‘autumn’ season of the western world (defined as beginning with the day of autumnal equinox and ending with the day of the winter solstice).
Let’s find out if this twisted logic was sufficient as a face-saving exercise. It was not, as we will see in the next section.
5.3 Contradiction between two claims (translation & the actual date)
According to this force-fitting of 6 seasons of Mahabharata into 4 seasons of the western world, Prof. Achar claimed that the timing of Krishna leaving from Upaplavya on the peace mission occurred sometime after the day of Autumnal equinox (AE) and before the day of winter solstice (WS).
On the other hand, the day claimed by Prof. Achar for Krishna leaving from Upaplavya on the peace mission is 26 September 3067 BCE and guess what? The day of 26 September 3067 BCE does not fall after the day of Autumnal equinox (AE) but rather 18 days before the day of Autumnal equinox (AE), i.e. during the very early part of Sharad season.
If a picture is worth a 1000 words, this contradiction is worth representing in the picture form.
The claim of Prof. Achar that Udyog 81:7 leads to a time interval of 3200 BCE – 1800 BCE for the Mahabharata war is falsified.
Current and future researchers (& consumers) of ancient Indian history research should spend time to comprehend what it is that led Prof. Achar to such disastrous inference. Such an analysis would require a longer discussion beyond the purview of this rejoinder.
The entire episode can be summarized in the immortal words of sage Patanjali, Yoga sutra – Samadhi pad 9:
(Delusion follows from words that have no correspondence with reality)