(ORDO NEWS) — Using a combination of data from ancient texts, modern astronomy, and radiocarbon dating, the Mahabharata War occurred 2,922 years ago.
Is it possible to find an exact date for perhaps the most important battle in our early history, the Kurukshetra War? I believe that this is quite possible, using clues from a particular episode of the war.
The fourteenth day of the Mahabharata War was decisive for both sides. On the evening of the thirteenth day, Arjuna, devastated by the death of his infant son Abhimanyu, vowed that he would kill Jayadratha – the man he considered guilty – by sundown the next day.
If he fails to do so, he will give his own life. Krishna immediately sent a spy to the Kaurava camp. The spy reported that the Kauravas planned to have six Maharathas, or leading warriors (including Karna and Ashwatthama), all day long in a protective cordon around Jayadratha.
They hoped to frustrate Arjuna’s efforts and thereby force him to commit suicide, which virtually guaranteed the outcome of the war. Upon learning of this, Krishna retired to his room, thoughtful and tense. However, the next morning he looked fine.
On the fourteenth day, things were not going well for the Pandavas. It was past noon, but Arjuna was still unable to make a sustained attack on Jayadratha. Six warriors stopped all his attempts. It was early winter, so sunsets were pretty early anyway, but today the sky seemed to be darkening even faster than usual.
Krishna tells Arjuna that it will soon look like the sun has actually set; the sun disk will darken and the sky will darken. While everyone else will think it is a “real” sunset, Arjuna must know that it is actually a “fake” and that the sun will reappear after a while.
He explains that everyone on the Kaurava side will become careless as soon as the sun goes down and start rejoicing, thinking that their troubles are over and expecting Arjuna to die. Then he should take advantage of the confusion and kill Jayadratha.
Arjuna immediately agrees and everything goes according to plan. Jayadratha, who has hidden himself, comes out and looks at the sun with his head thrown back.
Arjuna immediately attacks him, frightening the other warriors as well, who let go of their weapons and relaxed. They can’t see well and are perplexed that Arjuna is fighting,
Finally, Jayadratha is killed, and very soon the sun reappears. The Kauravas realize that the “sunset” they saw was an “illusion” and the Pandavas rejoice and kill many more people before the (real) sunset.
All this is described in detail in chapters 147 and 148 of book 7 (Drona-parva) of the Sanskrit Mahabharata, as well as in the English translation by K. M. Ganguly (7.145).
Supernatural explanations aside, this is a clear example of a solar eclipse that occurred in the afternoon and ended before sunset. If we could pinpoint the exact date of such an eclipse, we might be able to date the Mahabharata war.
Vyasa gives some more clues about possible dates in Book 6.3, in which he visits Dhritarashtra before the battle begins.
Discussing a number of bad omens he has seen lately, Vyasa laments that the moonlight is dim even on Kartiki purnamasi, that is, on the full moon night of the month of Kartika (which roughly corresponds to mid-October to mid-November).
This indicates to us that we are looking for a solar eclipse that occurred in (or even slightly later than) the month of Kartik, and that the full moon must have been shortly before the start of the war. Besides.
In order to narrow down the possible time intervals in which to look for a solar eclipse that satisfies all these conditions, I rely on studies independently conducted by various specialists.
Firstly, the famous archaeologist B. B. Lal made a breathtaking exploration of Hastinapur (the capital of the Kauravas conquered by the Pandavas after the war). In 1950-52 he excavated at the site of Hastinapur, 60 miles northeast of Delhi.
He discovered many residential layers. In the second, oldest layer, evidence was found that the dwelling was suddenly interrupted by a powerful flood of the Ganges, after which the city was abandoned for more than two centuries. Archaeologists have been able to date this flood to around 800 BC.
Interestingly, Puranic texts, including the Vayu Purana and Matsya Purana, mention that a flood destroyed Hastinapur during the reign of King Nichakshu, who was in the seventh generation after the Pandavas (he was the fifth ruler from the grandson of the Pandavas, Parikshit.
Parikshit ascended the throne of Puru after Yudhishtir). They also mention that due to severe flooding, Nichakshu and his people were forced to leave Hastinapur completely and move to the new capital, Kaushambi.
So, archaeologists have discovered in the second oldest layer at Hastinapur a very characteristic pottery of “painted gray ware”; exactly the same pottery they found in other places mentioned in the Mahabharata that were contemporary with the time of the Pandavas (for example, in Ahichatra, the capital of Drupada, father of Draupadi, and also in Kurukshetra, the place of the battle, Mathura and Barnava, or Varanavata, where the Pandavas had to flee from arson).
The Painted Gray Ware culture has been carbon-dated between approximately 700 and 1200 BC. BC.
More intriguingly, archaeological evidence of “painted gray utensils” dating back to the period when Hastinapur was abandoned has been found at Kaushambi, suggesting that the resettled inhabitants of Hastinapur may well have begun to rebuild their lives shortly thereafter at Kaushambi.
All this led Dr. B. B. Lal to identify the great flood that interrupted the habitation of the “painted gray utensils” at the end of this period with the flood experienced by Nichakshu, which forced him to resettle his people in Kaushambi.
This, in turn, led him to conjecture – based on the number of generations of rulers between the Nichakshu and the Pandavas, and given that the average reigns were not very long (maybe 13 or 14 years on average) – that the date was 800 BC. .e. for the flood Nichakshu suggests a date between 900 and 950 BC. BC. for the Mahabharata war.
Decades before these archaeological finds, F. E. Pargiter had independently come to the conclusion about the time period of the battle of the Mahabharata.
Pargiter, who was a civil servant and judge in British India, extensively researched Puranic and epic sources for their genealogical information about the various royal dynasties.
He even strictly established synchrony between the royals of different dynasties, so that he could give them a generation number and tell which kings of one dynasty were contemporaries of the kings of others.
To determine the probable period of the Mahabharata war, Pargiter studied information on royal genealogies after the war, up to the time of Chandragupta Maurya.
As detailed in his books Ancient Indian Historical Tradition (1922) and Purana Text on the Dynasties of the Age of Kali (1913), several Puranas (such as Vayu and Matsya) contain information on the number of kings in 10 modern dynasties.
Between two fixed points in time. An earlier “fixed point” is the reign of Adhisimkrishna, who was the fourth successor of Parikshit (the grandson of the Pandavas).
A later fixed point is the beginning of the reign of Mahapadma Nanda, who apparently exterminated these 10 dynasties. In fact, the Puranas give the number of kings in each of the 10 dynasties between the time of Adhisimakrishna and Mahapadma Nanda.
Chandragupta Maurya’s reign is known to have begun in 322 BC, a few years after Alexander’s invasion in 326 BC. Chandragupta Maurya), Pargiter believes that Mahapadma began to rule around 402 BC.
Taking into account the fact that it could take him about 20 years to destroy the pre-existing dynasties, Pargiter assigns the time 382 BC. for a later fixed point (when the ten modern dynasties ended).
His next task was to assign a time to an earlier fixed point. So, in each of the 10 dynasties mentioned in the Puranas, a different number of kings ruled between these two points – from 20 to 32. Kings from dynasties with a relatively large number of rulers in a fixed period of time had a shorter reign on average.
Pargiter averages the number of kings over these 10 dynasties to 26 kings. Based on a study of many royal dynasties throughout the world, he assigns an average reign of 18 years for each king, and assuming 26 such reigns, he arrives at a length of 468 years between two fixed points.
This gives it a date of 850 BC. for the beginning of the time slot that began during the reign of Adhisimkrishna.
Using the fact that Adhisimkrishna is six generations younger than the Pandavas, Pargiter suggests an approximate date for the beginning of the war in Kurukshetra – around 950 BC. This date may be somewhat earlier. This date may be somewhat earlier or later, depending on the expected length of generations.
Previously, my co-author and I independently found an approximate date for the time of King Rama (around 1350 BC).
Our conclusions were based on Professor Iyengar’s data on the dates of some ancient astronomers, Pargiter’s information on some dynasties, contemporary Rama, and also on some data in a particular Rigvedic hymn. Details on how we arrived at our conclusion can be found in our HT Books article.
So, according to the genealogical tables compiled in Pargiter, the Pandavas live 30 generations later than Rama (while Rama corresponds to generation number 65 in Pargiter’s list, Pandavas to generation 95).
This, along with our conclusion about 1350 B.C. for the time of Rama, in addition to the independent conclusions of Professor B.B. Lala and Pargitera about the approximate time of the Mahabharata war made me stop at 800-1000 BC. as in the probable interval for war. However, I wanted to try to determine the exact date.
For this, I used data from NASA’s Fred Espenak. I checked the solar eclipses seen from Delhi (the closest geographic point in the database to Kurukshetra) between 800-1000 BC.
I was looking for a solar eclipse around or around the month of Kartik that started in the afternoon and ended before sunset (fortunately, all of these details were available in the data).
I have found only one solar eclipse that meets all of these criteria. It happened on November 5, 900 BC, that is, in the month of Kartik. The eclipse began at 2:25 pm (after noon) and ended at 3:54 pm, and that was before sunset that day.
(The database specifically states whether the eclipse is still ongoing at sunset or has already ended.) I checked the historical table of moon phases (also maintained by Espenak) and found that October 21, 900 BC was a full moon. It would be “Kartika purnima” and it would be very close to the beginning of the war.
Many attempts to trace the date of the war using astronomical data involved looking for a pair of eclipses – the lunar eclipse preceded the solar eclipse.
However, when studying the text of Vyasa’s conversation with Dhritarashtra, when he visits him during Kartik Purnima before the start of the war, it becomes clear that he does not mean a lunar eclipse. He says Alakshyah prabhaya heenah pournamasim ca kartikim Chandro abhut agnivarnashcha samavarne nabhastale. (6.2.23)
This can be translated as follows. “On this full moon night of the month of Kartik, the light of the moon is dim and it is difficult to see it, because both the moon and the sky have exactly the same color, the color of fire” (my translation).
This rules out a lunar eclipse because one of two things can happen during a lunar eclipse. Either the moon is red (blood moon) and the surrounding sky is black (NASA explains that this is due to refraction), in which case, although the moon may be the color of fire, it is certainly not difficult to see (alakshya) because the sky is not the same color as the red moon.
Or else both the moon and the sky may be of the same color, black, in which case the moon is of course difficult to see, but then, since fire cannot be black, neither the moon nor the sky will be described as having the color of fire.
NASA lunar eclipse data shows that on the night of October 21, 900 BC. e. there was no lunar eclipse, which confirms my reading of the text.
Why could even a full moon appear dim and small (as Vyasa describes)? This could happen when the Moon was near its apogee (the farthest distance from the Earth in orbit) at moments very close to the full moon. Technically, this is called a micromoon.
To check if this could have happened on October 21, 900 B.C. (the night of Kartik Purnima shortly before the start of the Mahabharata war), I used the Fourmilab lunar perigee and apogee calculator and found that the apogee actually occurred on October 20, 900 BC.
Thus, on the night of the full moon, the moon was at its apogee. Thus, even on the night of a full moon, the Moon would be quite far from the Earth, and its light would appear dim.
Judging by the way things unfold on the fourteenth day, Krishna may have realized that a solar eclipse was coming soon, which is why he told Arjuna that the “sunset” was not real, but no one else would understand. Could eclipses be predicted in ancient India?
Interestingly, Professor R.N. Iyengar, in his study of the archaic astronomers Parasara and Vriddha Garga, not only dates them to about 1400 BC (in other words, about 500 years before the solar eclipse I found), but also details how Parasara himself already had 1300 years observations of the night sky for comets, eclipses, stars and planets.
All this was passed down from several generations of teachers to their students. Although Parashar and Vriddha Garga did not use mathematical astronomy.
The next development of Indian astronomy known to us is the Pancha Siddhantas. These were early works containing mathematical astronomy. Varahamihira (a much later astronomer writing in the early 6th century AD) preserved most of their texts and reproduced them.
So, of these, Vashishta Siddhanta can be dated to approximately 1100 BC, because, as the translator (Sastry, 1995) of Varahamihira’s Pancha Siddhantika notes, some discrepancies in the position of (celestial) objects between the time of Varahamihira ( about 500 AD) and the position calculated in Vasishta-siddhanta indicate a gap in time between them of 1600 years.
Date 1100 BC for the Vashishta-siddhanta would not be too surprising, given that Parashar and Vriddha Garga were working three centuries before.
The Vashishta Siddhanta gives a relatively simple mathematical calculation for predicting the onset of a lunar eclipse. It was necessary to know the longitude of the Moon, the Sun and the angle between the full Moon and the ecliptic node (which in these texts is called “Rahu”).
The book also provides some additional calculations, given the latitude of the moon, that predict the duration of the eclipse. The method used to calculate whether a solar eclipse will occur (given in other siddhantas) is also very similar to the method used to predict a lunar eclipse.
Varahamihira mentioned that the ability to predict a solar eclipse was considered a great secret. This was because those who held positions of power and had this special knowledge in advance could use it to their advantage.
Therefore, knowledgeable astronomers have generally been silent about their ability to predict solar eclipses. However, since the Mahabharata war would have taken place 200 years after Vashishta Siddhanta, it is likely that astronomers could already predict solar eclipses by that time.
Moreover, Krishna may have had access to two famous astronomers in the Pandava camp, Asita and Devale, who were brothers of the Pandava chief priest, Dhaumya. Therefore, it is quite plausible that he could consult with them and learn about the solar eclipse on the 14th day of the war.
Finally, since the Mahabharata and other sources say that about 36 years after the Kurukshetra War, there was a major flood in Dvaraka, I have tried to find supporting evidence for this flood.
Data on real historical floods or tsunamis in our part of the world are extremely scarce, and if they are, they are not very old. However, oddly enough, geologists have recently discovered some evidence of prehistoric tsunamis.
Triggered by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, geologists explored a coastal cave in Aceh, Indonesia, and found that it contained evidence of prehistoric tsunamis that mostly occurred in the Andaman-Nicobar region and most likely affected India.
In a paper published in Nature (Rubin et al 2017), geologists used radiocarbon dating to date each such tsunami. They found evidence of a tsunami in the interval 822 BC. e. – 1000 BC e. (which they interpret as the latest and earliest possible dates for this tsunami). This interval matches the date I find for the war in the Mahabharata.
Considering all this, I would say that the Mahabharata war was fought from October 23 to November 9, 900 BC.
Of course, there have been previous attempts to date the Mahabharata war. I relied on the experience of the archaeologist B. B. Lal and on Pargiter’s research to determine the time interval within which to search, and was able to get a very specific, unique date from a careful reading of the text, thanks to Espenak’s eclipse data.
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