AstroArchaeology & The Historicity of the Mahabharat
School and college text books on Indian History begin with the Indus Valley Civilisation ( also known as the Sindhu-Saraswati Civilisation ) because anything earlier to that is considered non-proven or possibly un-provable myth. Hence the Mahabharata war, that shook the foundations of North Indian politics,has been consigned to the mysterious twilight zone between myth and history as has been the personality of Krishna, the foremost political figure of the time.
The Mahabharata era has been notoriously difficult to describe in terms of traditional traditional historical'hardware' like pottery, ruins, coins or even physical manuscripts. However a 'software' approach can and does lead to very positive results. Software, as we all know, is independent of the physical media that carries it. Hence information encoded in software can be extracted, decoded and processed to yield interesting results.
While extant physical manuscripts of the Mahabharata may not be older than a thousand years, the story, the information, that is contained in them has been passed down from the dawn of history, first orally and then in written form.
The information that we would be looking for in the Mahabharata are references to the positions of astronomical bodies, namely planets - including the pseudo-planets Rahu & Ketu, the sun, the moon,certain comets as they appear with reference to the 27 Nakshatras or constellations. The familiar zodiac with its 12 signs had not yet appeared in the human psyche.
On what dates would the planets be in these positions ? This would have been a very difficult question to answer before the advent of planetarium software. Traditional astrology based on various Ephemeris texts fails to be precise enough. This is because when you go back 5000 years, even the so called 'fixed-stars' of the constellation are not 'fixed' any more. The pole star begins to revolve around the axis and the equinoxes and solstices move away from the current dates. It is to their credit that given these immense difficulties in computation, both Aryabhatta as well as Varahamihira, managed to locate these astronomical events in or around 3100 BC. However, today we need not struggle so hard. Planetarium software can generate star and planet position on any date very easily. However there is a caveat here. Most software packages give positions upto the sixth place of decimal but different packages differ on the sixth digit. This causes siginificant differences in objects that move very fast, namely the sun and the moon, but these differences become less significant in the slower objects as in the case of the true planets. Nevertheless, and despite all these hurdles, modern scientists have reached some very remarkable conclusions. In this article we shall look at three significant results.
A] There are a set of 12 astronomical references in the chapter that precedes the great war. Here Krishna goes to Hastinapur to seek peace on behalf of the Pandavas, fails to do so and returns. On the way back he has a long discussion with Karna where they talk about the position of the various planets. There are references to the moon being in certain nakshatras, on the day Krishna sets out (Revati), when he arrives at Hastinapur ( Bharani) and on the day that he returns ( Uttar Phalguni). Further there are references to Saturn being in Rohini and Mars was retrograde and finally there are references to the new moon and some eclipses just prior to the war.
Based on these events K S Raghavan ( The Date of the Mahabharata War, Srirangam Printers, Srinivasanagar 1969) has identified the following dates ..
26 September 3067 BCE : Krishna departs for Hastinapur
28 September 3067 BCE : Krishna arrives at Hastinapur
8 October 3067 BCE : Krishna departs from Hastinapur and speaks to Karna about the war
22 November 3067 BCE : start of the Mahabharata War
13 January 3066 BCE : the winter solstice ( not the customary 22 December date !)
17 January 3066 BCE : Bhisma's death on the eighth day of the bright fortnight of Magha month
B N Narahari Achar of the University of Memphis, Tennessee USA, has used SkyMapPro planetarium software to generate images of the night sky on these dates and confirms that in each and every case the planetary and stellar positions match with the corresponding descriptions in the Mahabharata.
B] The birth of Krishna is another significant event in the history of India and his natal horoscope is known. Based on this chart, K S Raghavan has determined that Krishna was born on Friday, 27 July 3112 BCE at 11:40 PM. This data point ties in very neatly with and corroborates the date of the war given in the earlier section.
C] The third significant datapoint is the reference to multiple eclipses including a pair of eclipses within 13 days of each other. A 13 day 'fortnight' or a fortnight shorter than the traditional 14 days is rare but not unheard of. Dr S Balakrishnan has done a rigorous computer analysis of all possible 13 day eclipse pairs and has arrived at a date of either (1) 3129 BCE or (2) 2559 BCE. He prefers the second date of 2559 BCE.
Narahari Achar disputes this for two reasons. First errors in the positions of sun and the moon are larger because of the speed at which they move and hence different planetarium software differ on the moment of the eclipse by upto 12 hours thus casting doubts on their visibility.
Secondly he points out that the idea of an eclipse pair is erroneous. Vyasa refers to a lunar eclipse at Kartika, a solar eclipse at Jyestha and a pair of eclipses within 13 days. Prior researchers have assumed that the 13 day interval was between these two eclipses. However Achar asserts that there were three not two eclipses, the first two as described and a third lunar eclipse that happened 13 days after the second. Once again he uses SkyMapPro software to generate images of the sky and shows
29 September 3067 BCE : Lunar Eclipse, with full moon at Kartika
14 October 3067 BCE : Annular Solar Eclipse at Jyestha
28 Ocober 3067 BCE : Penumbral Lunar Eclipse ... and the gap between the second and third was less than 14 full days.
A similar triad of eclipses occured 36 years later ( 20 October, 5 November, 19 November 3031 BCE ) when another civil war broke out, this time in Dwaraka, and led to the fall of the Yadav empire.
Thus we have three data points that establish the occurance of the Mahabharata War right down to the exact calender date, a feat that is unparalled in the annals of ancient human history. Corresponding events in the civilisation on the Nile, the Tigris or the Euphrates have at best identified the century in which the events had occurred.
For the sake of brevity, this article identifies only three data points but Narahari Achar has identified many more references to astronomical information and has used planetarium software to correlate these to a set of consistent dates in the vicinity of 3067 BCE.
These astronomical references and the corresponding images of the actual sky above Hastinapur & Kurukshetra as shown by modern planetarium software like SkyMapPro serve as anchor points that attach the stories of the Mahabharata to real events and thus allow historical figures like Lord Krishna to emerge from the mists of ancient mythology.
Interested readers may please look up the complete articles and the SkyMapPro diagrams on the web/internet. Go to Google and search for the date of the Mahabharata war.
You may also like to read this post on an alternate version of the Mahabharata.
October 14, 2005
AstroArchaeology & The Historicity of the Mahabharat