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Mahabharata Date-discussion on a recent publication

Mahabharata Date-discussion on a recent publication

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Published by Narayana Iyengar
"Origin of Indian Civilization" is a recent book the blurb of which appeared on the Bharatiya-vidvat-parishat group requesting a feedback. Since I have spent considerable time on the astronomical statements contained in the Epic, I have written a discussion on Chapter 7 of the book contributed by Prof.BN Achar.
"Origin of Indian Civilization" is a recent book the blurb of which appeared on the Bharatiya-vidvat-parishat group requesting a feedback. Since I have spent considerable time on the astronomical statements contained in the Epic, I have written a discussion on Chapter 7 of the book contributed by Prof.BN Achar.

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Categories:Types, Reviews
Published by: Narayana Iyengar on Jan 16, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Dear Scholars,Here is my feedback onChapter 7 of the book "The Mahābhārata War: its Date on the basis of Astronomical References" by B.N.Narahari Achar ThanksRN Iyengar Centre for Ancient History & CultureJain University, Bangalore----Feedback:It is true that mainstream historians have ignored the analysis of sky pictures contained inancient Sanskrit texts. As Prof.B N Achar (abbr: BNA) implies, this indifference on the part of historians is due to the prevalent concept of the so called Aryans entering theIndian subcontinent from outside around 1500 BCE. Having said so it should also be pointed out that archaeoastronomy alone cannot be the final deciding factor in fixingancient dates. It is necessary to demonstrate unambiguous physical correlation betweenthe texts and the artifacts dug out from the geographical locations from where theastronomical observations are stated to have been done. In the well known
sites theoldest cultural layers can be stretched to
1500 BCE but nothing older than this date (Lal1950-52).With availability of computers anyone can use a variety of planetarium software to printout sky pictures of the past. Familiarity and working knowledge of Astronomy issufficient to use the software. This is certainly a powerful tool for historians. But this isonly a tool and the derived result cannot be treated as primary evidence without further  justification. MB under scrutiny here are not astronomical in a modern sense. There isconsiderable ambiguity in interpreting the basic data that forms the input to the planetarium software. Hence translation of the Sanskrit text and dispassionate presentation of the sky data contained therein are more important even if they turn out to be uncertain. The basic weakness of the present paper lies in the absence of textualcriticism to first establish the reliability or otherwise of the data that is used as input tothe software. This has led to a series of assumptions which are later asserted as proved or demonstrated. This is glaringly evident when the author assumes, in the
, planets to be comet apparitions wherever the text is found to be inconvenient for his thesis. In a serious research on ancient astronomy some assumptions may benecessary as a way forward.But any such study is expected to report sensitivity of thefinal results to the assumptions made.One of his interpretative basis is contained in his claim “…astronomical references in theBhīsma Parva and the Udyoga Parva……form a very consistent set and in the context of omens as indicating impending calamities, agree closely with the tradition of omens inAtharvaveda and its pariśistas”. By the latter he means the Atharvaveda-pariśist
a (AVP)
which he quotes in many places without critical analysis, under the assumption that it ismore ancient than the epic
 But, AVP
contains statements which were possible only in the last centuries of the firstmillennium BCE. It does not have any chapter or verses known as
or war that
knows is chapter 51 named
referring to
conjunction and circling of planets among themselves. There is also a portent of 
i.e. skirmish between cats and owls (
64.6.9). The table presented as acomparison between
can hardly be taken as textual analysis.
Chapter 64 in
is titled
(Character of Anomalies) and has nothingspecially to do with wars. The original verse of 
cited by the author is
arke abhraparighādīnām pariveso arkacandrayoh|lāksālohitavarnatvam sarvesām ca vicāranam || (64.57)
The verse is in no way specific to “predicting war” as claimed by the author. His partialquotations on
 snigdhesu parivesesu catur svetesu nārada|  sandhyāyāmatra varnesu vr stim tesvabhinirdiśet ||  prthivyāmrājavam śyānāmmahad bhayam upasthitam| lokaksayakaramvidyād yadi devo na varsati ||
(AVP 61.1.4 & 16)The above verses are about clouds and rainfall. The last line above makes it clear that if itdoes not rain, it creates great fear among the people and the royal families. Verse beforeand after the above in Chapter 61 of 
are also about clouds and rainfall. In no waythese are relevant for interpreting the astronomy of the Epic.
The third citation from
is about eclipses, which again the author quotes partially. 
tāmro bhavati śastrāya rūkso bhavati mrtyave|bahvākāras tu bhūtānāmghoramjanayate jvaram ||dhūmavarno'gnivarno vā grāmesu nagaresu vā| agnyutpātān grhasthānāmkarotīha mahāgrahah|| (53.5,1-2)
A dotted line is shown for the last line of the second verse above, as if the text is missingin the original manuscript of 
. Actually the text is fully available and it is no portentfor a
 great war among kings
but an omen for 
 fire accidents among householders.
There isnothing to show any special correspondence between
and the
. It is disappointingto see the author seeking support from
a late text which presupposes
, as itknows
1.15.1; 68.2.62) as available to the society already. What was the
to which
pays obeisance if it was not
? Disciples of Vyāsa namely,Jaimini, Vaiśampāyana, Paila were known to
pays respects toPānini by name. One may argue that like several other texts
may contain old andalso later information in a layered fashion. But definitely it is not an accented text with
and hence cannot claim Vedic authority like the
and the
texts. Even
is traditionally known to have at least three layers. Hence to argue for thedating of 
with the help of a text that got fixed very late is to put the cart before thehorse. The
text prescribes a foreign currency, the golden
to be given away
tato māndaliko rājā
gavāmśatam|pranamya śraddhayā tasmai dadyād uddhara mām iti || (AVP 36.26.3)
Thus it is obvious
should be assigned to the last few centuries of the first millenniumBCE, prior to
100 CE when Kushans, with
as their currency, were ruling in thenorthwestern part of India.2
BNA is fond of accusing me as having made
ad hoc
hypotheses in dating the
statements. This criticism of BNA refers to the
dating of 1493-1443 BCEdemonstrated by me by reconciling the two conflicting positions of Saturn to beastronomically valid statements separated by fourteen or fifteen years between thegambling episode and the war (Iyengar 2003). For the present feedback, whether I amright or wrong is irrelevant. Anyway, BNA has no qualms in taking
as Saturnin one place
but as a comet a few verses later in the same book. His maineffort is to somehow interpret conflicting statements about planets as referring to comets.He claims “Vyāsa leaves no doubt to the fact that in
the word
refersto a comet……” That BNA is writing without evidence will be clear to any one takingthe trouble to read the original text. In the
the word
appears sometwenty times. Since the word is a generic one, it could be used to refer to comets. But it isnot exclusively reserved for comets as claimed. In the
(3.29) quoted by BNA,the word refers to Sun and Moon. In (13.40) it refers to Rāhu, the eclipse causer. In (17.2)seven
are mentioned, which obviously cannot all be taken to be comets. In (96.35-36) the
are said to five in number and affecting Sun and Moon. About thenomenclature of comets, BNA likes to take support from Varāha-mihira. Varāha in theBr
clearly says he is borrowing his information from Garga,Parāśara, Asita and Devala. So what is the relevance of comets of Br
for theastronomy of 
? It is true that ancient writers describe some groups of comets or meteorites as
might mean a comet in
instead of Saturn as in later traditions. But the statement “…he also refers to thecomets by the name of the parent planets, i.e., Jupiter to indicate the comet son of Jupiter” is a figment of imagination. The difficulties of BNA are clearly with the positionof Jupiter and Saturn said to be near 
. The relevant verses are
 grahau tāmrārunaśikhau prajvalantāviva sthitau| saptar sīnām udārānām samavacchādya vai prabhām||  samvatsarasthāyinau ca grahau prajvalitāvubhau |viśākhayohsamīpasthau brhaspatiśanaiścarau
||The first half-verse which is quoted by BNA, could refer to comet bodies as claimed. Butthese were near U. Major in the northern sky as can be understood from the context insecond half which the learned author conveniently forgets to quote. His claim of Jupiter and Saturn being names of comets in the second verse above is negated as these twoobjects are qualified as being year-long stationary near the ecliptic stars
Thesetwo celestial objects
are said to be bright and shining. This doesnot in any way mean Vyāsa intends them to be comets of that name.The further specious claim of BNA is that the purported usage of denoting the son by thename of the father 
“….is quite according to Sanskrit grammar”
If it is so, the author should have supported his claim with justifications from an authoritative text on Sanskritgrammar. In the absence of such support his statement is just a piece of empty rhetoric.The author adds the phrase “son of” in front of every planet the position of which provesinconvenient to his preconceived chronology. This type of wishful translation is as goodas deriding the original composer of the Epic for lack of vocabulary. Similar is theauthor’s dismissal that star Dhruva mentioned to be drifting during the
war cannotrefer to the Polestar. BNA gives no reason for ignoring this astronomical statement. Is it3

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