Tithi Shastrarth: The Kurukshetra War Debate Of January 2021

Tithi Shastrarth: The Kurukshetra War Debate Of January 2021A scene from the Mahabharata (Wikimedia Commons)
Snapshot
  • When did the War of Kurukshetra actually happen? Dedicated researcher and former ISRO scientist, Jijith Nadumuri Ravi, sheds some light.

The cool winter evenings of January 22, 23 and 24 of the year 2021 witnessed a very hot debate on the hottest topic of Sanatana Dharma Samskŗti, that is the dating of the Kurukṣetra War of the Kauravas and the Pāṇḍavas mentioned elaborately in the six Parvas (volumes) of the Mahābhārata, viz. the Udyoga Parva, Bhīṣma Parva, Drona Parva, Karṇa Parva, Ṡalya Parva and Sauptika Parva.

The three-day event is jointly organised by the Draupadi Dream Trust of Neera Misra and India Foundation led by Major General Dhruv C. Katoch.

After the inauguration by Sri Ram Madhav, the valedictory address by Prof Sunaina Singh (V-C Nalanda University), the guest of honour by Prof Kumar Ratnam (ICHR) and Dr Balamukund Pandey (Itihas Sankalan), the three days of sessions were moderated by Prof Santosh Sukla (School of Sanskrit and Indic studies, JNU), Shri Come Carpentier (Director, India Foundation) and Dr BR Mani (Rtd. ADG ASI and Rtd. DG National Museum).

On the first day, the literary evidence and epigraphic evidence for the Kurukshetra War was discussed by Shashi Tiwari, Vedaveer Arya, ML Raja and I.

On the second day, after my introduction to the topic, a total of four Mahābhārata chronologists — Shri Vedaveer Arya (3162 BCE), Shri Manish Pandit (3067 BCE), Shri Ashok Bhatnagar (1793 BCE) and Shri KK Ramamurthy (1504 BCE) — debated for one hour defending their dates.

On the third day, the archaeologists, Sanjay Munjal, Alok Tripathi, DP Tewari and Bhuvan Vikram presented the findings from archaeology contributing to the dating of the Kurukṣetra War.

Below is my personal notes and observations of the debate between the four Archaeo-Astronomers who debated on 23 January 2021.

The Mahābhārata has 100,000 verses as per its own internal reference. Going by the Critical Edition of the Mahābhārata (73,784 verses) and Hari Vamṡa (6,073 verses), we have a total of 79,857 verses, still making it our largest Itihāsa (four times bigger than Rāmāyaṇa with 18,670 verses and the largest extend epic of the world whose verses are available to us today without loss.

Six volumes of such a large body of text like Mahābhārata fully details the Kurukṣetra War, signifying the importance of this War as a great event of that ancient period.

This is why, not all of it can be a poetic imagination, because if it were mere imagination, it can be rendered in a few 100 verses.

But around 27,000 verses (bigger than the whole of Rāmāyaṇa) is dedicated to narrate the Kurukṣetra War. This is why the historicity of the Kurukṣetra War is an inevitable conclusion.

Several verses in the Mahābhārata give out a huge amount of geographical information such as the names of cities like Hastinapura, Indraprasta, the names of hundreds of kingdoms, towns, villages, holy-spots, rivers, mountains, lakes, forests and so on.

This is my subject of expertise. I have tabulated them and also plotted them to create high-resolution maps of Bhārata Varṣa as described in the Mahābhārata and Rāmāyaṇa.

This huge geographical information in the Mahābhārata also helps the archaeologists to look for evidences in the places mentioned in the Mahābhārata.

Similarly, several verses in the Mahābhārata rendered as the words of Vyāsa, Kŗṣṇa, Balarāma and Karṇa contain astronomical information, such as the position of planets with respect to the stars, the solar and lunar eclipses, the occurrences of full moon and new moon with respect to the seasons etc.

These astronomical observation data help us to locate the Kurukṣetra War chronologically in a time axis. Since computational astronomy was not developed during the ancient period, all such data is the results of direct observation of the astronomical event.

Today, there are many software tools that can display the ancient sky with computed positions of the sun, moon, planets, comets and stars at any given date to as old as 7,000 BCE, though with some loss of accuracy, the older we go back into the past.

Hence many scholars (Mahābhārata chronologists) are using these tools called the Planetarium software and the Pachanga Software to corroborate the astronomical observations in the Mahābhārata with the computed sky of various dates.

However,

1) In the choice of the Mahābhārata verses that are considered as relevant for the dating,

2) In the interpretation of the meaning of those verses,

3) In the corroboration of the interpretation with the computed sky charts,

4) In the computation models used,

5) In the methods of analysis,

6) In the final corroboration of the arrived at date with other allied disciplines — each chronologist differs with other chronologists.

Being a researcher focussed on the Mahābhārata Geography and being familiar with the chronology of specific verses, I served as a mediator between these chronologists whenever possible.

The chronology of the Mahabharata is also an important information which is interconnected with the Mahābhārata Geography. Hence, solving the chronology question is also important to the Mahābhārata Geography.

I tried to reconcile with each date by running a Gmail discussion group engaging many chronologists in my contact list in 2019. In February 2020, I engaged in direct talks with some of them organised for public view.

I presented my comparative analysis of the Kurukṣetra War dates as part of the Sangam Talks in June 2020 (link). Here, I expressed the need to have a conference focussed on the sole problem of Kurukṣetra War date.

The plan was to assemble a dozen of currently active chronologists with a Kurukṣetra War date to debate with each other in front of an audience of observers from the field of archaeology and other allied disciplines who can then evaluate each of the dates critically.

Finally, the first such conference materialised in the online format with four chronologists discussing with each other their chosen dates of the Kurukṣetra War.

In the first day session of literature analysis, I presented the Yudhiṣthira- Kṣemaka generation gap. From Yudhisthira, who took part in the Kurukṣetra War, to Kṣemaka, there are 30 generations of kings as per Viṣṇu Purāṇa.

Yudhishthira’s heir was Abhimanyu (born to Arjuna) and his son was Parikṣit. From Parikṣit to Kṣemaka, there are 28 generations. Parikṣit was born one year after the Kurukṣetra War.

From the birth of Parikṣit to the coronation of Mahapadma Nanda, the Viṣṇu Purāṇa counts 1,015 years.

A date of Mahapadma Nanda can thus yield a date for the Kurukṣetra War. As per the currently accepted chronology, the coronation of Mahapadma Nanda is dated to around 350 to 400 BCE — F. FE Pargiter (382 BCE), RK Mookerji (364 BCE), HC Raychaudhuri (345 BCE).

Based on the proposed chronology revision of the Indian Chronology and the World Chronology by Vedaveer Arya, this happened around 1662 to 1664 BCE.

Thus, as per currently accepted chronology, the Kurukṣetra War must be occurring around 1360 BCE to 1397 BCE and as per the revised chronology, it must be occurring in around 2677 BCE.

In the Vāyu Purāṇa (three extant versions) and Matsya Purāṇa (5 extant versions), the same gap of 1,015 is mentioned as 1,050 years. In just one version of Matsya Purāṇa, this gap is mentioned as 1,500 years. Such differences are quite typical of information transmission loss when information passes through several centuries.

Alternatively, it could also hint upon the attempts of the Purāṇic authors to accommodate some missing generations. If we use the value of 1,050 years instead of the 1,015 years, the Kurukṣetra War occurred between 1395 BCE to 1432 BCE based on the existing chronology and in around 2712 BCE based on the revised chronology.

If we use the value of 1,500 years instead of the 1,015 years, then the Kurukshetra War should take place between 1845 BCE to 1882 based on the existing chronology and in around 3162 BCE based on the revised chronology.

If we give an average generation gap of 36.25 years for the 28 kings from Parikṣit to Kṣemaka, the gap between Parikṣit and Kṣemaka will be 1,015 years, making both Kṣemaka and Mahapadma Nanda contemporary.

This contemporariness is not that relevant in our calculations, as we have a direct statement in the Purāṇas about the 1,015 years between the birth of Parikṣit and the coronation of Mahapadma Nanda.

Viṣṇu Purāṇa is exhibiting better data integrity in comparison to other Purāṇas.

There is another source dated to 1872 BCE which gives the Yudhisthira-to- Kṣemaka gap directly as 1,770 years. It is the Satyartha Prakash Granth containing the genealogy of various royal dynasties. It mentions 30 kings and counts 1,770 years, 11months, and 10 days between them. But then, the average generation gap of the 30 kings will be 59 years, which is too high.

The average generation gap of the five generations of Pradyodas of Magadha is only 27.6 years and that of the 10 Ṡishunagas of Magadha is only 36.2 years.

We have already seen the average generation gap of the 28 kings from Parikshit to Mahapadma Nanda is 36.25 years. The average generation gap of royal dynasties typically ranges between 22 to 38 years.

This could indicate missing generations of kings or the inaccuracy of the data.

Finally, I plotted around 20 Kurukṣetra War dates arrived at by different researchers in the range of 800 BCE to 5600 BCE in time axis and compared them with the habitable zones (the range in which the Kurukṣetra War should occur) defined by various associated domains like linguistics, climatology, geology (tectonic shifts), hydrology (drying up of Sarasvatī River), bathymetry (submergence events of 1500 BCE and 3700 BCE in the Western ocean especially near Gujarat), marine archaeology (Dwaraka excavation) and technology evolution (horses, pottery, wheel, wagons, chariots and spoked wheel chariots). The figure is shown below:

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

You can see that the dates span in to three groups. The 5K group contains dates older than 5000 BCE. The 3K group contains the dates close to 3000 BCE. The 1K2K group spans in the 1000 BCE-2000 BCE range.

I presented this on the second day session as part of my introduction to the topic. Then the debate between the chronologists commenced. The debate was between two scholars (Ashok Bhatnagar and KK Ramamurthy) in the 1K2K group and two scholars (Vedaveer Arya and Manish Pandit) in the 3K group.

The four scholars, Vedaveer (3162 BCE), Manish Pandit (3067 BCE), Ashok Bhatnagar (1793 BCE) and KK Ramamurthy (1504 BCE), need to be appreciated for their time bound brilliant presentations of these four interesting Mahabharata Dates.

Vedaveer Arya's chronology approach is unique in the sense that it provided support to not only his chosen date of 3162 BCE but it also supports every other date in the 3K range, including the date profferred by Manish Pandit, like a tree trunk supporting the branches.

He uses the 'Saptarṣi Cycle', whose position at a specific point (Saptarṣis at Magha Nakshatra) during the lifetime of Yudhisthira to narrow down the Kurukshetra War Date to 3162 BCE.

This cycle is a 2,700-year cycle, with the Saptarṣis staying for 100 years in each of the 27 Nakshatras. The limitation of this cycle is that it is astronomically not observable.

But it is associated with the traditional Bhāratīya chronology conventions. The term Saptarṣis, in the context of Jyotiṣa, means the constellation Big Dipper with its seven stars named after the seven Rishis Bhrgu or Marichi (name differs in different lists), Vasiṣṭha and Arundhati, Aṇgiras, Pulastya, Pulaha and Kratu.

Additionally, Vedaveer Arya uses his revised Indian Chronology, based on the epigraphical evidence and the related concept of a difference in the Ṡaka and Ṡakānta Calendars and the revised date of Buddha Nirvana at 1864 BCE.

Manish Pandit's chronology approach is unique as it uses the astrological idea of the Saturn-Rohini conjunction as causing devastating results such as wars even today like the 9/11 event, and the fact that this dreadful conjunction occurred close to the Kurukshetra War.

This usage of astrology into solving the Mahābhārata dating puzzle is the uniqueness of Manish Pandit's date. Manish Pandit’s dating of Mahābhārata at 3067 BCE also corroborates several events in the Mahābhārata like the Balarāma’s Pilgrimage, Kŗṣṇa’s Peace Mission, the war time eclipses and planetary observations and Bhiṣma’s demise at the commencement of Uttarāyana.

Ashok Bhatnagar has introduced a unique concept which is the cycle of the precession of equinox. This cycle is one of my interest areas as I have traced it in Rigveda, Mahabharata and the Puranas which indirectly gives a period of 360x72 = 25,920 years. The Precession of Equinox leads to the four celestial points (Winter Solstice-WS, Vernal Equinox-VE, Summer Solstice-SS and Autumnal Equinox-AE) to shift its position with respect to the fixed stars in the sky.

Compared to the Saptarṣi Cycle, the precession cycle is astronomically observable. Ashok Bhatnagar has identified the position of the Autumnal Equinox between Viṡakha and Anuradha based on the references found in the Mahabharata.

From it, he has derived a possible range for the Kurukshetra War as 2250 BCE to 1280 BCE beyond which it is impossible to occur.

In this way, just like Vedaveer Arya's chronology-revision, Ashok Bhatnagar’s identification of this well-defined critical range of Mahabharata War dates with upper and lower boundaries or time limits in time axis, based on the AE position, and is like a tree trunk supporting all other 1K-2K dates in the range of 2250 BCE to 1280 BCE, including the date of Sri KK Ramamurthy.

My additional view is that the Saptarṣi cycle of 2,700 years, 100 years per Nakṣatra, may be subtly connected with the precession cycle of 25,920 years easily approximated in tradition to 24,000 = 2x12,000 = Two Mārkaṇḍeya Yugas, and into 27,000 that is 10 times the Saptarṣi cycle period.

Since it is not an astronomically observable phenomena, it might have been used by our tradition to name each century with the name of a Nakṣatra, so that events like the birth, coronation or death of kings can be recorded using that.

KK Ramamurthi's uniqueness is that his date of 1504 BCE falls directly in alignment with Dr SR Rao’s dating of the Dwarka submerged city (1528 BCE +/-20 years) and the (one of the two) bathymetric sea level rise event (1500 BCE +/- 50 years.)

His date stays healthy with respect to all other domains like hydrology (Sarasvati partial dry up around 1900 BCE), technology evolution like horse driven spoked wheel, lightweight fast war chariots, and horse burials with chariot burials — all of which are already available by 2000 BCE or before.

The third day focussed on the archaeological findings supporting the Kurukṣetra War. Archaeologists Dr BR Mani, Dr Sanjay Munjal, Dr Alok Tripathi, Dr Bhuvan Vikram and Prof D P Tiwari presented their findings on this day.

The main highlight of yesterday's talks came from Dr Sanjay Munjal, who mentioned that Painted Gray Ware (PGW), often associated Mahabharata Kurukshetra War Era, originated in the east like in Eastern UP and spread westward into Western UP and Haryana, and it was more an agro-culture focussing on farming and much less of a culture that does large scale warfare.

On the other hand, the Ochre Coloured Pottery (OCP) culture containing within it many weapons and tools whose sites are generally older than the PGW has more affinities with a warrior cultural settlement and hence close to the description of the Mahabharata Kurukshetra War Era.

Dr Sanjay Munjal also defined 1800 BCE to 1700 BCE as the archeologically probable date for the Kurukshetra War based on the current understanding which is based on the analysis of the hundreds of excavated PGW sites and OCP sites excavated in the regions where Mahabharata events played out.

This includes the cities like Indraprasta, Hastinapura, Kurukshetra, Varanavata, Ahichatra, Kampilya and to some extent, Kanyakubja (Kanauj), Kausambi, Ayodhya, Sravasti, and Kashi.

Dr Alok Tripathi informed us that the 1528 BCE date given for the Dwaraka excavation by Dr SR Rao in 1982 is not reproduced in the latest excavations done in 2000 to 2007 which gave only dates in the historical era (1st century CE onwards).

However, the bathymetric record of 1500 BCE sea level fluctuation is still available so there is a possibility to find Dwaraka in a different site in the neighbourhood of Gujarat in the sea shore.

I have formerly analysed many probable locations of Dwaraka in the neighbourhood of Gujarat coast, including where the Sarasvatī River distributaries merge with the sea.

There are around seven such mouths of Sarasvatī draining to the Rann of Kachchh and others close to Karachi. There are many candidate sites for Dwaraka in this region aligning with the ancient shore lines of 1000 BCE, 1500 BCE, 3000 BCE and beyond, based on the bathymetry analysis.

Along with the currently excavated sites around Bet Dwarka and the modern Dwarka city, we may be able to discover the correct Dwaraka of Krishna in the correct time-line.

The Yudhisthira-Kshemaka royal dynasty lineage having 30 generations with 1,015 years (alternatively 1,050 or 1,500 years) between Parikshit's birth and the coronation of the historical king, Mahapadma Nanda, implies that even if archaeology unearths older sites in the fourth, fifth or eighth, or 10th millennia BCE or beyond in future for the Mahābhārata cities like Hastinapura and Indraprasta, they (Nanda, Kshemaka, Parikshit and Yudhisthira) need to be confined at least younger to 3200 BCE based on Vedaveer Arya's chronology revision.

Based on Ashok Bhatnagar's condition of Autumnal Equinox near Viṡakha/ Anuradha, they need to be confined younger to 2250 BCE. The Kurukṣetra War dates in the 5K range is thus impossible.

Sanjay Munjal's range of 1800 BCE to 1700 BCE for the Kurukṣetra War established based on the latest archaeology findings falls within Ashok Bhatnagar's range of 2250 BCE to 1280 BCE for the Kurukṣetra War established based on archaeo-astronomy.

His zeroed-in date of 1793 BCE (14 October -1792 Gregorian to be precise) for the Kurukṣetra War falls within archaeologist Sanjay Munjal’s range of 1800 BCE to 1700 BCE.

This is an interesting correlation between Dyaus (astronomy) and Dhara (archaeology). The agreement of Dyaus and Dhara in defining a Kurukṣetra War date is a condition I set forth as part of my topic introduction.

Hence, this date of 1793 BCE of Ashok Bhatnagar requires special mention. Similarly, a consensus can be arrived soon to narrow down the probable range of Kurukṣetra War dates to between 3200 BCE and 1360 BCE, taking into account all possible cross-reviews and the subsequent revisions (if any) of each of the scholars who presented their dates.

The upper limit of 3200 BCE, with reasonable margins, is the oldest possible date for the Kurukṣetra War even with the chronology revision proposed by Vedaveer Arya.

The lower limit 1360 BCE is the youngest possible date for the Kurukṣetra War if we apply the minimum gap of 1,015 (attested in Viṣṇu Purāṇa) between Parikshit’s birth (who was born within a year after the War) and the coronation of Mahapadma Nanda (345 BCE is the lowest date available for this event in current accepted Indian Chronology).

This is the conclusion I can make, based on a logical analysis of all the Kurukṣetra War dates subject to the current understanding of allied disciplines like archaeology.

However, each of the researchers need to get enough time to cross examine each other’s analysis. Research is hard. Going through thousands of connected data points takes a long time. Multiple scholars going through each other’s works and evaluating them will take even more time. By hurrying through it, we are only harming the process with no real winners.

Patience is the most important virtue in the area of research. Hence, I look forward to more such chronology analysis conference events where the best conclusion for the Kurukṣetra War date can be arrived with much more researchers with a Kurukṣetra War date participating with more analysts from more diverse domains.

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