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Indian Astronomy | Astronomical Dating of Events | 103

Mathomathis would like to present article on Indian Astronomy | Astronomical Dating of Events | 103 by the author Kosla Vepa Published by Indic Studies Foundation, 948 Happy Valley Rd., Pleasanton, Ca 94566, USA. Previous article can be found here (Indian Astronomy | Astronomical Dating of Events | 102) Their website can be located The studies is also conducted by N.S. Rajaram PhD. Author’s in the volume 1 of their research start their discussion on a topic called Why are History and the Chronology Important by Kosla Vepa PhD.

Majumdar, the great historian, asserts that history records the achievements of man. According to him, history deals with facts, which can be known only from records kept. Western Scholars, while acknowledging that unlike other ancient civilizations, the ancient traditions in Bharat (India) have been preserved without a break down to the present day, have generally argued that Bharatiyas lack a sense of history and that there is a dearth of ‘historical texts’ in Bharata, that contain records of dates and events. Hence, they deny the existence of any ‘historical record’ for Bharata. These scholars have discounted the fact that two of the greatest epics of the world, Ramayana and Mahabharata are traditionally regarded as itihasas, i.e., historic texts and that there are in addition, a host of supporting texts in the form of Puranas. Ignoring the fact that Bharata has its own sense of history and the purpose of history, which differs from their own concept of history, the scholars have systematically misrepresented the chronology of Bharata so as to fit some misguided theory and have often proposed rather fanciful hypotheses. For example, one scholar even suggested that Lord Krishna , the most important personality in the whole epic, was not in existence at the time of the Mahabharata war! All of the itihasa and Purana – texts mentioned above have been considered less trustworthy as records of dates and events because of possible interpolations as they were transmitted orally over a very long period of time.

However, these texts do contain references to astronomical events, many of which are genuine and can be regarded as inscriptions in the sky. If properly deciphered and validated, the astronomical events can form the basis of providing reliable chronology. Recently powerful computer software products marketed generically as planetarium software have become commercially available. These computer programs can project the view of the sky at any time, and at any place in the world, all at the touch of a mouse. The planetarium software can therefore be used advantageously to project the view of the ancient sky and validate the “deciphering of celestial inscriptions,” by comparing the descriptions in the texts with the actual views of the sky. The author has shown that the astronomical references in various texts can be simulated using the planetarium software resulting in a reliable inference of the date of the events. The present essay examines a number of such texts and shows that a consistent and reliable chronology of ancient Bharata can be established on the basis of simulations using the planetarium software. Our own sense of time is rooted in astronomy, for it arises from the three fundamental motions namely, the rotation of the earth, the revolution of the earth around the sun and the revolution of the moon around the earth. It is not at all surprising that a ‘chronology’ can be established on the basis of astronomy. It is a tribute to the wisdom of the ancient rishis (sanints) of Bharata who have preserved for posterity that chronology in terms of astronomical events as recorded in various texts.

The plan of the essay is as follows. First, the astronomical references in the epic Mahabharata, from which a date can be ascertained, are discussed. The methodology of arriving at a date is explained. The date arrived at is supported by star maps from the planetarium software. It is important to stress that the date of the war is determined solely on the basis of astronomical references in the epic Mahabharata alone and the date is established independently of any other source, as the sheet-anchor for the chronology of Bharata. The consistency with other texts of Vedic and other traditions is then discussed. This is followed by a discussion of the consistency with the genealogy lists from Puranas texts. A further step in establishing the chronology of Bharata is given in the simulations of the dates of certain inscriptions, namely, the dates of Vikrama samvat, Buddha nirvana, and the date of Adi Guru Sankaracharya. This essay goes a long way in demonstrating a consistent chronology of Bharata through the simulations using planetarium software, with the date of the Mahabharata War as the sheet-anchor and is largely in agreement with the chronology as advocated by Kota Venkatachelam and a host of other scholars.

The Date of the Mahabharata War

The importance of the date of the Mahabharata war as the sheet-anchor for the chronology of Bharata is too well known to be stated again. According to tradition, the war between the Kauravas and Pandavas took place at the transition between Dwapara and Kaliyuga, around 3000 BCE. However, ever since Western Scholars showed interest some hundred years ago in the epic and began to discuss its ‘historicity’, a lively debate (or rather a war of dates!) has been going on. While some scholars declare that the whole epic is a myth denying any historical truth to the story of the epic and ignore the tradition, many do believe that the war actually took place, but are divided as to the magnitude of the event and as to the date when it actually took place. Some scholars portray the epic as an exaggerated account of a family feud. A plethora of dates ranging from before 5000 BCE to around 1000 BCE have been proposed on the basis of estimates arrived at by using diverse methodologies (some based on fanciful assumptions) and there appears to be no consensus for the date.

Among the diverse methodologies used, one methodology that is of special interest here is the one based on astronomical references (of which there are more than one hundred and fifty in number, and occur scattered throughout the epic). More than 40% of all the articles and books (totaling more than 120 in number) dedicated to determining the date of the War are based on the astronomical references. Although the astronomical references are scattered throughout the epic, most of the ones pertaining to the war occur in Udyogaparvana and Bhishmaparvana of the epic. Practically all scholars have characterized the references in Bhishmaparvana as astrological omens and inconsistent and treat them as unsuitable for a ‘scientific’ analysis. The earlier works using the astronomical references were tedious and calculations were done manually and hence chose to use only a couple of the astronomical events out of the many available in the epic. More recent studies have used the computer software ‘planetarium software’ and consequently have considered a much larger number sample of astronomical references in the epic. Still, until recently there appeared to be no convergence of the dates. Some scholars have introduced ad hoc hypotheses in attempting to find some degree of coherence among the apparently ‘inconsistent’ astronomical references. It is clearly shown that the astronomical references are quite consistent and that such ad hoc hypotheses are totally unnecessary. The present article summarizes the results of a research conducted by the author over the past several years using planetarium software and the results have been published in several research publications. The research has shown conclusively that

  • The astronomical references in the Bhishmaparvana are not merely ‘astrological effusions fit for mother goose’s tales’ (as once characterized by Professor Sengupta), but follow a Vedic
    tradition of omens and describe mostly comets and not planets as generally assumed
  • The few true planetary references in this parvan are identical to those in Udyogaparvana, Sharma (quoted by Iyengar in his paper in [25], p. 151) assumed that Vyasa met Dhirtarashtra not just once on the eve of the war, but several times and the planetary positions refer to different times. Author Iyengar assumed that part of the text in Bhismaparvana actually belongs to sabhaparvana and would rearrange the text of the epic to suit his model.
  • These common references lead to a unique date for the war, 3067 BCE.
  • All other astronomical references in the epic are consistent with the date
  • The date agrees with the date given earlier by Professor Raghavan and is consistent with the traditional date~3000 BCE.
  • Using the planetarium software, it can be easily demonstrated that all other dates proposed by different authors are inconsistent with the planetary configurations referred to in above.

Astronomical References in Udyogaparvana

Krishna mission for peace is so important that astronomical events in reference to that mission are recorded.

  • Krishna leaves for Hastinapura in the maitri muhurta in the month of Karthika on the day of Revathi nakshatra.
  • On the way he halts at a place called Vrikasthala and reaches Hastinapura on the day of Bharani nakshatra
  • The meetings and discussions for peace go on till the day of Pusya nakshatra, when Duryodhana rejects all offers of peace. War becomes imminent.
  • Krishna leaves Hastinapura on the day of Uttara Phalguna. Karna accompanies him in his chariot and has a long conversation with him.
  • During the conversation Karna describes some omens he has seen that indicate a great harm to the Kuru family which include the following:
    • Shani is afflicting Rohini
    • Angaraka has performed a retrograde motion before reaching Jyestha and is prograde again having past Anuradha
    • The moon had lost all its luster on the full moon of Kartika and a solar eclipse would appear to take place next new moon day
  • At the end of the conversation, Krishna sends a message to Bhishma and Drona through Karna that seven days from that day there is going to be an Amavasya at Jyestha and that war
    rituals be started on that day. This must be the Amavasya that Karna refers to as the eclipse day.

Except for Professor Sengupta, these astronomical references are generally agreed to be genuine and pertinent by most scholars. Professor Sengupta does not have “faith in the astrological omens” described by Karna in the 5th Point. However, he does believe that the reference to ‘jyestha Amavasya’ is extremely important, but considers the reference to two eclipses occurring within thirteen days eclipses to be an interpolation.

Astronomical References in Bhishmaparvana

Sage Vyasa maharishi meets with Dhritarashtra just prior to the war and describes the omens he has seen. These are some of the most misunderstood astronomical references. On a superficial reading, and assuming that the astrological references to graha pertain to planets (as most scholars have done), the references are confusing and contradictory as each planet is seen in two different positions at the same time as given in the example below:

Purported planetary positions derived by Sharma by a superficial analysis
No Body Location
1 Sun
  • In opposition to the moon, i.e., between δ-Scorpio and ι-Libra
  • Rohini (Aldebaran or Antares)
2 Moon
  • Pleiades, a lunar eclipse described although not by its name
  • Near the Sun, i.e., near one of the Rohinis, (Aldebaran or Antares)
3 Mercury (Dark Planet)
  • Antares
  • Spica
4 Venus (White Planet)
  • Between α-Pegasi and α-Andromedae, retrograde
  • Spica
5 Mars
  • Regulus, retrograde
  • Altair retrograde
6 Satrun
  • Aldebaran
  • Near ι-Librae for one year together with Jupiter
  • δ-Leonis
7 Jupiter
  • Altair
  • Near ι-Librae for one year together with Saturn
8 Rahu Or Ketu
  • Approaching the sun
  • Between Spica and Arcturus
  • Pleiades
Source: Sharma, Archaeoastronomy Exercise,
Note:According to Sharma these planetary positions are described by Vyasa in his conversation with the king Dhritarashtra on the eve of the battle.

Characterized them as probable interpolations and hence may be even unreliable. But, by a careful analysis the author has shown that Vyasa is very systematic in his description and follows a very genuine Vedic tradition of omens. The astronomical omens occur in four segments because, they pertain to four different aspects of the impending disaster:

  • An imminent war,
  • Great harm to the Kuru family
  • Destruction of both armies and
  • Disaster to the entire population.
References in (MB VI.2. 20-23)
Vyasa tells Dhritarastra“I observe the sun every day both at sunrise and sunset and have seen him as if encircled by long arms.”
‘yuddhalaksana’in Atharvaveda Parisistha

“(In predicting war) one should always consider the line of clouds and halos around the sun and the moon and observe whether they

“I see the sun surrounded by appeared in color or not.”(64.5.7)
halos on all sides, halos which are tri-colored, dark in the middle and white and red towards the edge and Accompanied by lightning.” “Which are blue and red towards the edges and dark in the middle and Accompanied by lightning.”(61.1.4)
“I have been watching days and nights, the fierce sun, the moon and the stars shining incessantly and have been unable to distinguish between day and night. Surely this forebodes utter destruction.” “Whenever the sun is surrounded at sunrise and sunset by tri-colored clouds, it indicates a great calamity to the earth and royal families.”(61.1.15)
“On the full moon night of krttika, the moon with a fiery tinge was hardly visible, devoid of glory and the horizons were also of the same hue.” “The color of the moon at the time of an eclipse indicates a battle if it is red and disaster to cities and villages if it smoky or fiery.”(53.5.1-2)

It is clear that these are omens for an imminent war according to a Vedic tradition. In the second segment, Vyasa describes some omens, which forecast a great destruction, especially to the Kuru family:

Rohinim pidayananesa stitho rajan sanaiscarahS
vyavrttam laksma somasya bhavisyati mahadbhayam// MB(VI. 2. 32)

“Oh King, Saturn is harassing Aldebaran and the spot on the Moon has shifted from its position. Something terrible will happen.”

abhiksnam kampate bhumirarkam rahustathagrasatS
sveto grahastatha citram samatikramya tistatiSS// MB(VI. 3. 11)

“The Earth is experiencing tremors intermittently and Rahu (Moon’s Node) has seized the Sun. Svetagraha has transgressed Spica.” These are identical to the omens described by Karna to Krishna in udyogaparvana. Vyasa describes in the third segment further indicators, in the form of comets, of the calamity to the entire army. He names specifically a number of comets, sveta, dhumaketu, mahagraha, parusa, pavaka, dhuma, lohitanga, tivra, pavakaprabha, syama, ghora, and dhruvaketu, as can be seen from the original Sanskrit verses. All these names can be found in the list of comets given by Varahamihira. The word graha (from the root grahrto grasp or to seize) refers to any heavenly object, which can move and hence can ‘grasp’ or ‘seize’ a star. Thus, it can refer to a planet or to a comet. It is true that nowadays in Indian astronomy, the word graha denotes only a planet. But, Vyasa leaves no doubt to the fact that in Bhismaparvana, the word graha refers to a comet:

“grahau tamararunasikhau prajvalitavubjau” MB (VI. 3. 24) ‘the two grahas blazing with coppery red hair’. The heavenly object graha blazing with red hair in the context here can only refer to a comet. It may be noted that the word comet itself derives from the Greek word for hair. Vyasa refers to son of Sun, suryaputra, explicitly, but he also refers to the comets by the name of the parent planets, i.e., Jupiter to indicate the comet son of Jupiter. While this is quite according to the Sanskrit grammar, it is this notation that has caused so much confusion and most scholars have interpreted them literally as referring to planets alone (instead of the comets which must have been meant). This has resulted in inferring conflicting planetary positions, when in actuality no planetary position is indicated. In the final segment, Vyasa describes the omens, which indicate the destruction of the entire population:

caturdasim panchadasim bhutapurvam ca sodasim imamtu nabhijanami amavasyam trayodasim //MB(VI. 3. 28) candrasuryavubhau grastavekamase trayodasimS aparvani grahavetau prajah samksapayisyatahS*// MB(VI. 3. 29)

“I know New Moon coinciding with fourteenth, fifteenth and also on the sixteenth day, but I have never known it coinciding with the thirteenth day. In one and the same month, both the Sun and the Moon are eclipsed on the thirteenth. These ill-timed eclipses indicate destruction of the people.” This segment contains the famous reference to sequence of two eclipses within an interval of thirteen days and in fact, almost identical to the omens described in Atharvaveda Parisistha : yadi tu rahurubhau sasibhaskarau grasati paksamanantaramantatahI purusasonitakardamavahini bhavati bhur naca varsati madhavahII (AP 53.3.5)

The important references to planets consist of those that are common to both Udyoga and Bhismaparvana include the following

  • Conjunction of sani and rohini
  • Retrograde motion of angaraka just before reaching jyestha
  • A lunar eclipse on the karthika purnima, followed by
  • A solar eclipse at jyestha

These events lead to a unique year for the war. All other references in the epic are consistent with this date.


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