A final rejoinder to make the case for the date of the Mahabharata war.
Dr. B. N. Narahari Achar, is Professor Emeritus at the University of Memphis in the Physics Department. He earned his B,. Sc (Hons) degree from Mysore University and M. S. and Ph. D. degrees from the Pennsylvania State University. He taught at the Pennsylvania State University and Bucknell University before joining the University of Memphis. His primary research area is in the theory of Solids and recently in the application of Fractional Calculus to Physics. His other interest is in the ancient astronomy of India and applications of Planetarium software in its study. He has contributed to the determination of the Date of the Mahabharata war. He is currently working on tracing the history from Rigveda to Nandas through Mahabharata, Parikshit and Janamejaya. He has developed a new model for the structure of RigVeda.
Prof. Achar writes in his commentary that all the Mahabharata text states is that the war took place sometime during the transition from Dwarpa to Kali Yuga and that this information is not sufficient to determine the exact date of the Mahabharata war, however, this lack of specific information need to not affect traditional celebrations of Gita Jayanti. Achar also insists that any extraneous data such as the beginning of Kaliyuga in 3102 BCE (the so-called Aryabhata tradition) or that Kaliyuga started with the passing away of Krishna in 3102 BCE (the so-called Bhagavata tradition), lead to inconsistencies.
I wholeheartedly agree with the above points of Prof. Achar. He was among the first few individuals to test the existing claims for the year of Mahabharata war using astronomy software and this attempt of his ought to be recognized for what it is worth.
Agree. The faithful already have all the information they need for the celebration of traditional festivals. It is those who enquire ‘scientifically’ who want a mapping of the event of the war on to the Julian Calendar, an exercise which is labeled as the dating of the Mahabharata War.
1. Season when Krishna left on peace mission
Let’s begin by stating his critical claim, made in his commentary.
Prof. Achar asserts the upper limit of 3200 BCE and lower limit of 1800 BCE for the year of Mahabharata war. He relies on the following reference of the Mahabharata text.
Udyoga Parva (CE 81:7)
कौमुदे मासि रेवत्यां शरदन्ते हिमागमे |
स्फीतसस्यसुखे काले कल्यः सत्त्ववतां वरः ||७||
Prof. Achar describes this reference as “an absolutely clear reference to seasons when kṛṣṇa sets out for his peace mission”. It is then interesting to note the confusion that is generated in the rest of his commentary.
Prof. Achar’s translation is 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).
i) Prof. Achar translates, incorrectly, ‘कौमुदे मासि’ as referring to the ‘lunar month of Kartika’, instead of ‘the month of lotuses’. This is incorrect. However, we will let it pass. This is because we will show that this faulty identification of ‘कौमुदे मासि’ with that of ‘lunar month of Kartika’ is of no consequence in showing the falsity and inconsistency of claims made by Prof. Achar.
Here is an extract from Monnier William’s Dictionary:
“कौमुद kaumuda as m patr. fr. Kumuda. ārṣ br. The month Kartika (October-November) MBh Xiii Moon light. Moon shine from its causing the kumudas to bloom . Moon light personified as the wife of Chandra.” etc
The reader can see if this is correct or not.
ii) Oak continues: In explaining the implications of this reference, he writes….
Here Vyāsa provides the information for determining the limits for the date of the war which can be done in the following way. kṛṣṇa reaches Hastinapura on kārtika paurṇimā and it is the end of sharad ṛtu. For kārtika paurṇimā, the moon can be anywhere from bharaṇī to rohiṇī.
He(Achar) then writes…
For it to be in the autumn season (sharad ṛtu) the sun must be near or just beyond Autumnal Equinox (AE).
Oak interprets to mean that Prof. Achar claims the season when Krishna left on peace mission was that of Hemant ritu.
The purpose of determining the limits of the date of the war is for the benefit of the ‘scientifically minded’ who want to map the date of the war on to the Julian Calendar. 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. (The faithful already know the Rtu, Sharat. They don’t need any further information about the season.) That is the reason for requirement of Autumnal Equinox to fall between Vishakha to Jyeshtha, which corresponds the position of the Sun, with the Moon’s position ranging from Bharani to Rohini, corresponding to Kartika paurnima. This can happen approximately between 1800 BCE to 3200 BCE. There is no claim anywhere that Krishna went on the mission of peace in Hemanta ritu
2. Claim (& confusion) of upper and lower limits [3200 BCE – 1800 BCE]
We speculate that these claims stem from his confusion of the season of Krishna’s visit on peace mission (Hemant), confusing ‘month of lotuses’ with that of lunar month of Kartika and then again of aligning the lunar month of Kartika with Sharad season (instead of Hemant season).
What Prof. Achar appears to have done, erroneously, is that after claiming lunar month of Kartika to be part of Hemant season, he went to on align it with the point of equinox. The lunar month of Kartika coincided with the Sharad season during ~2500 BCE + /- 2000 years [4500 BCE – 500 BCE].
The confusion is Oak’s own making. Kaumuda masa refers to Kartika. Kartika paurnima in relation to Autumnal Equinox is a mapping requirement.
3. Eclipse evidence
Eclipses are dime a dozen and while the evidence is indeed useful in eliminating certain claims, it is never decisive to determine the upper and lower limits on the chronology of specific events. Since Prof. Achar’s emphasis is on upper limit of 3200 BCE and lower limit of 1800 BCE for the year of Mahabharata war, the critique of his eclipse arguments is not made, here. Interested readers may read criticism of his eclipse claims by likes of Prof. R N Iyengar or Shri K Chandra Hari.
The upper and the lower limits arise from the mapping of Kartika paurnima to the Julian Calendar and not from any eclipse calculations. Oak’s reference to fifteen year old comments by Chandrahari on eclipse calculations is odd indeed. Achar’s simulations showed a lunar eclipse at Kartika paurnima in 3067 BCE. Chandrahari’s contention was that no lunar eclipse could have occurred on that day as the required conditions for a lunar eclipse were not satisfied. Iyengar did not make any calculations of that particular eclipse and he simply repeated Chandrahari’s criticisms. Oak is perhaps not aware of the fact that two recent calculations, independently by Koch and by Kaul did show that there was a lunar eclipse on that Kartika paurnima day, completely contradicting Chandrahari. To be fair, there is however, disagreement on the magnitude of the eclipse among Achar, Koch and Kaul. There has been a lot of discussion on the internet about the eclipse season with three eclipses, a lunar (on Kartika paurnima), followed by a solar eclipse at Jyeshtha and a third lunar eclipse which occurs ‘aparvani’ The discussions have centered around the magnitudes and observability and not on the occurrence. But all that is a separate matter. The allusion to Chandrahari’s comments is irrelevant. In any case, it has nothing to do with the limits on the date of the war.
Mistakes made by Prof. Achar in his research on chronology of Mahabharata war are quite a few. The selective use of evidence, introduction of ad-hoc hypotheses for rest of Mahabharata descriptions of planets as not planets but rather comets, lack of clear statement for his theory are some of these glaring blunders, to name a few.
These comments are to be ignored. Vyasa himself says that he is recounting the omens he has observed, and Achar has shown how these omens are in agreement with Atharvaveda Parishishtha. Vyasa himself clarifies that by GRAHA he is also referring to comets. The reader can refer to the paper by ACHAR in BORI:
Achar B N N(2004)”On astronomical references in Vya sa- Dhritarashtra samvada in Bhishmaparvan of Mahabharata.” Annals of BORI, LXXX IV for the year 2003, pp14-22.
Now to Oak’s claims:
The claim of 3067 BCE as the year of Mahabharata war is falsified by the astronomy observation of Mahabharata text, par excellence, Arundhati-Vasishtha (AV) observation which assert upper limit of 11091 BCE and lower limit of 4508 BCE for the year of Mahabharata war.
Oak’s whole thesis is based on a single shloka from the epic:
वा चैषाविश्रुता राजंस्त्रैलोक्ये साधुसंमता |
अरुन्धती तयाप्येष वसिष्ठः पृष्ष्ठतः कृतः || MB (VI.2.31)
“My dear King, Arundhati (saintly wife of Vasistha) who is revered by the righteous all over the three worlds, has left her husband Vasistha behind.” (Oak’s translation)
This shloka appears in the second chapter of Bhishma Parvan, when Vyasa visits Dhritarashtra on the eve of the war. Vyasa opens his conversation with the shloka:
इह युद्धे महाराज भविष्यति महान्क्षयः |
यथेमानि निमित्तानि भयायोपलक्ष्यते || MB(VI.2.16)
“Oh king, there will be a great disaster from this battle, just as have been witnessed the omens causing a great fear.”
Then follows a list of omens, omen after omen, running over two chapters. The reference to Arundhati is also necessarily such an omen. Arundhati, is revered by all in three worlds as a great pious woman, one who always follows her husband. Even such a person, (note the stress on तयािप), instead of following him is now leading him. This extraordinary behavior of a pious woman constitutes an omen indicative of a disaster that follows. However, Oak regards it differently. According to Oak’s findings, before 11091 BCE, Arundhati was following Vasishtha. From 11091 BCE to 4508 BCE she is leading Vasishtha. After 4508 BCE she again follows Vasishtha. This is depicted in the figure provided by Oak:
Now in 5561 BCE, Arundhati has been leading Vasishtha for 5500 years, how could she be revered as “a pious woman who follows her husband” by all t he righteous people in three worlds?
The change in her behavior occurs in 11091 BCE. She was following Vasishtha, but changes into leading Vasishtha. That is when the change triggers an omen. Not in 4508 BCE, when the change is in the opposite direction and certainly not in 5561 BCE. In 5501 BCE, she is still leading Vasishtha, but the amount by which she leads is decreasing. For some five thousand and five hundred years, Arundhati is leading Vasistha, not following! If Oak were to use this information, then the War should have taken place in 11091 BCE and not in 5561 BCE.
Vyasa is giving a list of omens. An omen is a transient phenomenon, which was not there before, happens and is no more after some time. An omen indicates an impending disaster. Oak’s finding cannot qualify as an omen.
Oak takes liberty with finding meanings of words, making up his own explanations and associating /inventing astronomical phenomena. For example, according to the epic,
a) Krishna leaves for his peace mission on Revati nakshatra in Kartika masa. But, according to Oak, the month is not Kartika,but ‘month of lotuses’, although he agrees with Revati nakshatra.
b) It is Kartika Paurnima when Krishna is in Hastinapura, and there is a lunar eclipse. Not according to Oak. He interprets Karna’s words, “सोमस्य लक्ष्म व्यावृत्तं” as not referring to a lunar eclipse. According to him, the disappearance of the characteristic mark of chandra’ refers to the appearance of moon near a New Moon!
c) Krishna and Karna ride together on Uttara phalguni nakshatra, Oak agrees with this.
d) Seven days from that day is Amavasya and a solar eclipse is going to occur. As per Krishna,
सप्तमाच्चापि दिवसादमावास्या भविष्यति |
संग्रामं योजयेत्तत्र तां ह्याहुः शक्रदेवताम् || MB (V.140.18)
The nakshatra is specified by the adhipati Shakra (Indra), and hence jyeshtha. Oak interprets this as vishakha whose adhipati is Indragni. It is dual devata and not separately as Indra and Agni. But, Oak takes shakra as referring to Indra of Indragni and takes it as referring to Vishakha. Shakra refers to Indra only and hence to Jyeshtha.
e) Karna’s words सोमस्य लक्ष्म व्यावृत्तं राहुरर्कमुपेष्यति |MB(V.141.10) refer to the lunar eclipse on Kartika paurnima and the coming solar eclipse at Jyeshtha nakshatra. Krishna’s and Karna’s statements establish the following sequence of events:
Revati nakshatra-> Kartika paurnima lunar eclipse->Uttara phalguni, Krishna and Karna ride together->Amavasya in seven days at Jyeshtha, a solar eclipse day-> war.
But, the sequence of events made up by Oak is as follows:
Revati nakshatra -> Amavasya.at Vishakha ->Kartika paurnima -> Dhritarashtra -Vyasa meeting -> war.
Oak declares that war began on Jyeshtha Amavasya, the day after Vyasa meets with Dhritarashtra and the solar eclipse takes place on that day.
Oak’s sequence is contradicted by the explicit statements in Udyogaparvan
सप्तमाच्चापि दिवसादमावास्या भविष्यति.. तां ह्याहुः शक्रदेवताम् | and सोमस्य लक्ष्म व्यावृत्तं राहुरर्कमुपेष्यति | already quoted. These refer to the lunar eclipse already over and the solar eclipse yet to take place. Furthermore, by the statement of Vyasa in Bhishma parvan:
अलक्ष्यः प्रभयाहीनः पौर्णमासीं च कार्तिकीम् । MB(VI.2.23) व्यावृत्तं लक्ष्म सोमस्य.MB(VI.2.32), referring to the lunar eclipse on Kartika paurnima and ..अर्कं राहुस्तथाग्रसत्MB(VI.3.11) referring to the solar eclipse on Jyeshtha Amavasya, both have already taken place by the time Vyasa meets Dhritarashtra on the eve of War. The war could not have started on the Jyeshtha amvasya solar eclipse day.
A clearer picture of the eclipses during and immediately after Krishna’s mission, can be obtained by looking at the sky view simulations in 3067 BCE and 5561 BCE with the appropriate dates after the Revati nakshatra. The events are summarized in the table:
Krishna’s peace mission starts on Revati Nakshatra
According to Achar
According to Oak
Month of lotuses
Sept 29, 3067 BCE Lunar eclipse
Sept 1, 5561 BCE No lunar eclipse Ashvini
Uttara phalguni Krishna- Karna ride together
Oct. 8, 3067 BCE
Sept 9/10 5561 BCE
Oct 14, 3067 Solar eclipse at Jyeshtha
Sept 17, 5561 BCE No solar eclipse. Sun at Vishakha
Oct 28, 3067 BCE Lunar eclipse
Oct 1, 5561 BCE Rohini
No lunar eclipse. Kartika Paurnima
Oct 16/17, 5561 BCE solar eclipse. Sun at Moola
It should be noted that there is no lunar eclipse on Kartika Paurnima nor a solar eclipse on Jyeshtha nakshatra in 5561 BCE. The solar eclipse occurs on Moola nakshatra.
Oak criticizes Achar for using the reference of Saturn afflicting Rohini.
प्राजापत्यं हि नक्षत्रंग्रहस्तीक्ष्णो महाद्युतिः
शनैश्चरः पीडयति पीडयन्प्राणिनॊऽधिकम् ।MB(V.141.7)
A truly unique one, which has no basis what so ever. In 5561 BCE, Saturn is near Uttara phalguni and Hasta and no where near Rohini. He explains“when Rohini is setting on the western horizon Saturn is the only other planet in the eastern part of the sky. This observation is then described as Saturn afflicting Rohini”
He does not realize that this explanation of ‘affliction’ is not according to any Shastra. Moreover, the total absurdity of this idea can be seen by examining the eastern view of the sky at the time of the setting of Rohini. The relative position of Saturn and Rohini practically remains the same for nearly a year, so essentially the same area of the eastern sky is seen at the time Rohini sets in the west. However, the time at which Rohini sets changes every day by about four minutes. Hence as time goes on different planets come into view in the eastern sky, and sometimes Sun is also in that part and Saturn cannot be seen at all. For example on 30 th sept/1st Oct 5561 BCE, (Which is Kartika Paurnima, according to Oak), Rohini sets at 5:55 am and Saturn is clearly seen on the eastern sky just as Oak says. However, on 10 Sept 5561 BCE, the day Karna and Krishna ride together, Rohini sets at 7:17 am. Mercury and Saturn are both in the eastern part of the sky. However, the Sun is also up and neither of the planets can be seen.Are both Mercury and Saturn afflicting Rohini? Or, neither can afflict it as they cannot be seen? That is the day when Karna is describing the planetary positions to Krishna. Karna does not say that Mercury is afflicting Rohini. Furthermore, during the course of the year, while Saturn stays practically in the same position between Uttara phalguni and Hasta, many other planets pass through the eastern part of the sky when Rohini is setting, but they are not said to afflict Rohini. Oak’s interpretation is absurd.
f) Oak also criticizes Achar for using the retrograde motion of Mars in
कृत्वाचाङ्गारको वक्रं ज्येष्ठायां मधुसूदन | MB(V.141.8)
Oak formulates his own explanation of ‘vakra’ motion. ‘Retrograde’ motion discussed in the astronomical context is only an apparent effect produced by the relative motions of Mars and Earth in their orbits. It is similar to how a car in the neighboring lane appears to move backwards when when the car you are driving overtakes it, even though both are moving in the same direction. It takes too long to go into Oak’s absurd explanation of Vakra motion.
And what could be his motivation to search for Saturn-Aldebaran conjunction all the way to 500 CE and for the duration of 4000 years? Especially when he is convinced on the duration of 1400 years (3200 BCE-1800 BCE) for the year of Mahabharata war? Only Prof. Achar may able to shed additional light.
There are three parts of the note “Thoughts on the date of the Mahabharata War”
i) The war takes place sometime during the transition from Dvapara to Kali
ii) The information from the time specification of Krishna’s mission of peace can determine the lower and upper bounds of the date of the war between 3200 BCE and 1800 BCE as this involves a mapping of Kartika to Autumn season on the Julian Calendar.
iii) This part shows how the date can be derived uniquely based on planetary configurations only (as had been done some fifteen years ago) and independently of parts i) and ii) and the conclusions there of. It is gratifying to know that two solutions obtained in this part fall within the limits established independently in part ii)
The note was to highlight Vyasa’s ingenuity to satisfy the needs of readers depending on their ‘scientific curiosity’.
Oak’s Arundhati-Vasishtha theory as forming the basis of dating the Mahabharata war is untenable for
(a) That event as described by Oak does not qualify as an Omen.
(b) Kaumudi masa refers to Kartika month and not Oak’s ‘month of lotuses’.
(c) The sequence of eclipses which occur around Krishna’s Peace mission (Lunar eclipse on Kartika paurnima->Krishna Karna Ride->Solar eclipse on Jyeshtha nakshatra)are not reproduced by Oak.
(d) War did not start on Jyeshtha amavasya.
(e) Oak has an absurd theory for Saturn afflicting Rohini and an equally absurd accounting for the retrograde motion of Mars.
Oak’s comments on “Thoughts on the Date of the Mahabharata War” are rejected. I consider this chapter closed. I do not have either the energy or the time to prolong this discussion further.
Oak uses Popper’s phraseology, ‘falsification’ ‘scientific validity’ etc. He lists 27 pieces of data from the epic in his book, which he considers that only his theory can account for. In the short list of half a dozen events around Krishna’s diplomatic mission, it has been shown that Oak’s date of 5561 BCE cannot reproduce any of the events. The sequence of events, as per Oak’s date, is
Krishna’s departure(Revati)-> Full Moon(Ashvina)->Krishna-Karna- ride(uttaraphalguni)->Amavasya(at Vishakha) -> Kartika paurnima full moon-> war on Amavasya(at Moola, Solar eclipse).
This is completely contradicted by the data in the Epic, except for the nakshatra Revati. Uttaraphalguni is inferred and not explicitly stated in the Epic. The sequence in the Epic is shown below.
Krishna’s departure (Revati)->Full Moon(Kartika, Lunar eclipse)-> Krishna-Karna ride(Uttaraphalguni)->Amavasya (at Jyeshtha, solar eclipse)-> war (does not begin on an amavasya). Krishna and Karna ride together after Kartika paurnima, but in Oak’s case, they ride together before Kartika paurnima.
Oak invents phenomena to suit his results. Calls the month, month of lotuses instead of Kartika. When he cannot find lunar eclipse, he explains सोमस्य लक्ष्म व्यावृत्तं as referring to the appearance of moon near an Amavasya. When he finds an Amavasya at Vishakha, instead of Jyeshtha, he interprets शक्रदेवताम् as referring to इन्द्राग्नि, which would refer to Vishakha. When he cannot find Saturn near Rohini, he interprets the पीडा as referring to the appearance of Saturn in the eastern sky as Rohini sets in the west. He has his own interpretation of वक्र motion of Mars. What he has accomplished is ‘falsification of Data’