- Tracing the History
- Sindhu-Saraswati Civilization Timeline
- From Modern History back to the Mahabharata
- Dynasty of Kings
- Astronomical Evidence
- Dating of the Epic by Experts
Tracing the History
The Mahabharata can be dated in 3 different ways:
1. By linking the events of Mahabharata with the Mohenjo-Daro, Harappan civilization.
2. By working back from recorded history through a dynasty of kings.
3. Directly, independent of any other event in history, with reference to the unique astronomical events described in the epic.
This is being attempted presently.
Sindhu-Saraswati Civilization Timeline
Unwilling to participate in the fratricidal war, Balarama goes on a pilgrimage from Dwaraka and Somnath (in Gujarat) to Adibadri (now in Bilaspur Chhattisgarh) virtually tracing Saraswati in the reverse flow. Balarama is anguished to see the drying of the river. The complete drying up of Saraswati caused the abandonment of the Mohenjo-Daro/Harappan cities and the south westwards migration. The Harappan excavations are carbon dated as belonging to 3500 BCE. Therefore, the Mahabharata must have taken place around 3000 BCE.
From Modern History back to the Mahabharata
By definition, a ‘peak’ marks the beginning of a decline. Mahabharata is one of the celebrated peaks of the Hindu society. Besides the utterance of the Bhagavad-Gita, the Chandogya-upanishad was delivered during the Mahabharata period. Although Lord Krishna won the day and helped Arjuna make up his mind and fight the war, Arjuna’s worst fears as to the consequence of the war certainly turned out to be true. Kings from 56 kingdoms participated in the 18-day war and lost their armies and lives. With this sudden removal of authority, anarchy set in and the Kali-yuga came into being.
The sequence of events –
• The Mahabharata war
• The destruction of kingdoms
• The decline of Vedic ritualism and
• The advent of Buddhism
The beginning of the decadence is appropriately named Kali-yuga – the Dark Ages.
Dynasty of Kings
Megasthenis (5th century BCE) who accompanied Alexander in his expedition to India, talks of 138 generations of kings between Lord Krishna (Mahabharata) and Chandragupta Maurya. We can reach alternative dates for Mahabharata from this 6th century BCE record.
Chandragupta Maurya à 330 BCE
No. of generations to Mahabharataà 138
- At 20 years/generation à 3090 BCE
- At 25 years/generation à 3780 BCE
It does not matter whether Ramayana and Mahabharata are historical records of actual events or imagination of prodigal minds. These epics contain accurate descriptions of astronomical events with reference to which these epics can be dated.
Duryodhana goes to his cousin on the other side – Sahadeva and requests him to fix an appropriate date for him to start the war. True to his profession, Sahadeva fixes the next new moon day for the start of the war unmindful of a victory for Duryodhana translating into a defeat for himself and his brothers. As always, Lord Krishna steps in to save the Pandavas. A day ahead of the appropriate date fixed by Sahadeva, Lord Krishna goes to the river to perform the obsequies to the forefathers that are performed on the new-moon-day. Puzzled by this, the sun and the moon go to Lord Krishna to check how he was performing the new-moon-day rites one day earlier. In answer, Krishna quips that since both the sun and the moon were there in alignment, the time was equivalent to the new-moon-day.
Our take home from this story are Duryodhana’s faith in his cousin Sahadeva, Sahadeva’s commitment to his profession and Krishna’s smartness. What is often ignored is that the new moon had occurred in 13 days instead of the usual 14 days in that fortnight. Here is an astronomical marker that we have got on the dating of the Mahabharata war.
This astronomical event of a short duration fortnight (Kshaya-paksha) is not all that rare. It occurs once every 22 years. Fortunately, there are other events occurring close to each other which find mention in the epic.
While Krishna tricked the sun and the moon, to get an extra new-moon-day, the regular new-moon-day also occurred the following day. That is the story. Once in a rare while the sun, moon and the earth stay aligned for over two days.
Bheeshma waited for 58 days (from the day of his fall which was on the tenth day of the 18-day war) on the bed of arrows, for the onset of Summer Solstice (Uttarayana) before breathing his last.
Dating of the Epic by Experts
The combination of these three events makes a unique dating possible.
Mahabharata and Ramayana have been in vogue for over 3000 years. At that time, it was not given to the people to work back and describe astronomical phenomenon that had occurred a millennium earlier. Therefore, the description could only have been by observation.
The first astronomer to have attempted a dating of the Mahabharata war with reference to the astronomical events described in the epic is, not surprisingly, the celebrated 5th century AD mathematician, Aryabhata. He places the Mahabharata war at 3137 BCE. Another is another illustrious astronomer who followed him – Varahamihira (505 AD). In Brihad-samhita he places the great war at 2449 BCE. There have been several attempts to pin a specific date to Mahabharata war based on astronomical features found in the epic. Some of the better-known datings are:
Fairly universally accepted date for the start of Kali-yuga à 3102 BCE
Prof. C.V. Vaidya and Prof. Apte à 3101 BCE
Mr. Kota Venkatachalam à 3139 BCE
A recent study by Dr. P.V. Vartak à 5561 BCE
The conclusion on sifting through this evidence is that the Mahabharata period is 3000 BCE or earlier.