Dear Scholars, Here is my feedback on Chapter 7 of the book "The Mahābhārata War: its Date on the basis of Astronomical

References" by B.N.Narahari Achar Thanks RN Iyengar Centre for Ancient History & Culture Jain University, Bangalore ---Feedback: It is true that mainstream historians have ignored the analysis of sky pictures contained in ancient 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 the Indian 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 fixing ancient dates. It is necessary to demonstrate unambiguous physical correlation between the texts and the artifacts dug out from the geographical locations from where the astronomical observations are stated to have been done. In the well known MB sites the oldest cultural layers can be stretched to c 1500 BCE but nothing older than this date (Lal 1950-52). With availability of computers anyone can use a variety of planetarium software to print out sky pictures of the past. Familiarity and working knowledge of Astronomy is sufficient to use the software. This is certainly a powerful tool for historians. But this is only 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 is considerable 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 textual criticism to first establish the reliability or otherwise of the data that is used as input to the 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 bhīsma-parvan of MB, 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 be necessary as a way forward. But any such study is expected to report sensitivity of the final results to the assumptions made. One of his interpretative basis is contained in his claim “…astronomical references in the Bhīsma 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 in Atharvaveda 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 is more ancient than the epic MB. But, AVP contains statements which were possible only in the last centuries of the first millennium BCE. It does not have any chapter or verses known as yuddhalaksanam. The only yuddha or war that AVP knows is chapter 51 named grahayuddham referring to 1

conjunction and circling of planets among themselves. There is also a portent of bidālaulūka-yuddha i.e. skirmish between cats and owls (AVP 64.6.9). The table presented as a comparison between MB and AVP can hardly be taken as textual analysis. Chapter 64 in AVP is titled utpātalaksanam (Character of Anomalies) and has nothing specially to do with wars. The original verse of AVP 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 partial quotations on parivesa are; 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 it does not rain, it creates great fear among the people and the royal families. Verse before and after the above in Chapter 61 of AVP are also about clouds and rainfall. In no way these are relevant for interpreting the astronomy of the Epic. The third citation from AVP 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 missing in the original manuscript of AVP. Actually the text is fully available and it is no portent for a great war among kings but an omen for fire accidents among householders. There is nothing to show any special correspondence between MB and the AVP. It is disappointing to see the author seeking support from AVP a late text which presupposes MB, as it knows itihāsa (AVP 1.15.1; 68.2.62) as available to the society already. What was the itihāsa to which AVP pays obeisance if it was not MB? Disciples of Vyāsa namely, Jaimini, Vaiśampāyana, Paila were known to AVP (43.4.14-17). AVP pays respects to Pānini by name. One may argue that like several other texts AVP may contain old and also later information in a layered fashion. But definitely it is not an accented text with mantras and hence cannot claim Vedic authority like the Samhitā and the Brāhmana texts. Even MB is traditionally known to have at least three layers. Hence to argue for the dating of MB with the help of a text that got fixed very late is to put the cart before the horse. The AVP text prescribes a foreign currency, the golden dināra to be given away tato māndaliko rājā dīnārānām gavām śatam| pranamya śraddhayā tasmai dadyād uddhara mām iti || (AVP 36.26.3) Thus it is obvious AVP should be assigned to the last few centuries of the first millennium BCE, prior to c100 CE when Kushans, with dīnāra as their currency, were ruling in the northwestern part of India.


BNA is fond of accusing me as having made ad hoc hypotheses in dating the MB statements. This criticism of BNA refers to the MB dating of 1493-1443 BCE demonstrated by me by reconciling the two conflicting positions of Saturn to be astronomically valid statements separated by fourteen or fifteen years between the gambling episode and the war (Iyengar 2003). For the present feedback, whether I am right or wrong is irrelevant. Anyway, BNA has no qualms in taking śanaiścara as Saturn in one place (MB V.141.7) but as a comet a few verses later in the same book. His main effort is to somehow interpret conflicting statements about planets as referring to comets. He claims “Vyāsa leaves no doubt to the fact that in bhīsmaparvan, the word graha refers to a comet……” That BNA is writing without evidence will be clear to any one taking the trouble to read the original text. In the bhīsmaparvan the word graha appears some twenty times. Since the word is a generic one, it could be used to refer to comets. But it is not exclusively reserved for comets as claimed. In the bhī.parvan (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 grahas are mentioned, which obviously cannot all be taken to be comets. In (96.3536) the grahas are said to five in number and affecting Sun and Moon. About the nomenclature of comets, BNA likes to take support from Varāha-mihira. Varāha in the Brhat-samhitā on Ketucāra clearly says he is borrowing his information from Garga, Parāśara, Asita and Devala. So what is the relevance of comets of Brhat-samhitā for the astronomy of MB? It is true that ancient writers describe some groups of comets or meteorites as grahaputrāh (planet-children). Hence sūryaputra might mean a comet in MB instead of Saturn as in later traditions. But the statement “…he also refers to the comets 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 position of Jupiter and Saturn said to be near viśākha. 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. But these were near U. Major in the northern sky as can be understood from the context in second 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 two objects are qualified as being year-long stationary near the ecliptic stars viśākha. These two celestial objects brhaspati and śanaiścara are said to be bright and shining. This does not 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 the name 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 Sanskrit grammar. 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 proves inconvenient to his preconceived chronology. This type of wishful translation is as good as deriding the original composer of the Epic for lack of vocabulary. Similar is the author’s dismissal that star Dhruva mentioned to be drifting during the MB war cannot refer to the Polestar. BNA gives no reason for ignoring this astronomical statement. Is it


because he knows that α-Draconis was the Polestar during 3200-2400 BCE and its movement as recorded in MB would assign the latter to a date later than 2400 BCE? BNA assumes that Karna was able to predict a forthcoming solar eclipse. What is the basis for this ad hoc assumption? Further he takes that this was near star jyesthā which is nowhere mentioned to be so in MB. The argument of BNA that there was a lunar eclipse on kārtika-pūrnimā and a solar eclipse in jyesthā star is an extrapolation in the realm of possibility but not attested by the MB text. Figure 4 is supposed to represent a solar eclipse on 14th October 3067 BCE. But was this visible in Kuruksetra? Similarly Fig.8 is claimed to represent a lunar eclipse on 29th September of the same year. One has to just believe the author for this assertion. Results obtained from other planetarium software do not support the author’s claim. These and such other issues casting doubts on the results of the author have been raised earlier also (Chandra Hari 2003). But BNA has remained reluctant to subject his results to alternate methods of computations which are openly available to anyone seriously interested in scientific archaeoastronomy. Any observation will have errors and hence it is necessary to find out how sensitive the final result is to the various assumptions done. The author claims that his results are consistent with the text. What is meant by consistency? The author does not define this nor state a criterion against which his consistency can be verified. Textual criticism and the Indian tradition of astronomy about MB statements are irrelevant to the author. For example, Bhattotpala (9th -10th Cent.) the celebrated commentator on the Br hat-samhitā takes that the eclipse duo mentioned in MB occurred in the thirteenth (intercalary) month; not at thirteen day interval. With difficult planetary positions being ignored whimsically as comets, the principle followed is loud and clear. Following such a method, of course, any date can be demonstrated for the MB war. Those who crave for modern scientific analysis to show that the traditional Kaliyuga start was in 3102 BCE will initially feel elated, till they realize that it is a pyrrhic victory gained by distorting planets to be comets on the bizarre claim that “denoting the son by the name of the father” is as per Sanskrit grammar. Other than this imaginary interpretation of the author there is no authority for taking Vyāsa’s planets as comets. An offshoot of this is the anticlimax that his result of 3067 BCE for the MB war depends solely on imputing convoluted and spurious meanings to well attested usages of Sanskrit words. Hence the hard work of the author is an example to show that a straight forward reading of the text does not lead to 3067 BCE for the MB war. To arrive at the author’s MB war date of 3067 BCE one has to firmly believe that ends justify the means, because several untenable assumptions are necessary as described by the author himself. It has to be first assumed that Karna was able to predict solar eclipses based on portents. Only one planet namely, Saturn near star rohinī (Aldebaran) sighted by Karna in the udyogaparvan has to be taken as a real observation. Eventhough Karna meant that Mars was visible near star anūrādhā after having retrograded under jyesthā, it has to be taken to mean that on the conversation night it was well past anūrādhā. This special pleading, not voiced by the author, is essential since as per the planetarium software results shown, Mars would have been near star śravana and invisible to Karna on the night of conversation. Beyond the above concession, according to the author, all other planets mentioned by Vyāsa are to be treated as comets carrying the name of 4

planets. Following the author, unless the planets angāraka, (Mars in retrograde near star maghā), brhaspat, śukra, śanaiścara, in the bhīsma-parvan are assumed to be comets, the above date cannot be arrived at. The original text itself unambiguously refers to two or three comets or such apparitions in the sky. Hence, the approach of the author leads the reader to reckon with a formidable array of ten or more comets simultaneously appearing at the time of the war. Prof. Achar, after taking planets to be comets, feels no scientific compulsion to discuss the possibility and/or probability of a swarm of comets occupying the night sky around the purported date of 3067 BCE from the perspectives of modern Astrophysics. In conclusion, those who passionately hold on to the doctrine that the MB war date should match with the siddhāntic astronomical Kaliyuga start of 3102 BCE, will have to unconditionally subscribe to the author’s approach of text torturing and distortion. Others will easily infer that whatever may be the real date of Krishna and MB war, the naked eye astronomical observations mentioned in MB do not historically belong to 3067 BCE.-Lal, B.B. (1950-52) ‘Excavation at Hastināpura and other Explorations in the Upper Gangā and Sutlej Basins’ in Ancient India, Bull. Arch. Survey of Ind. No.10 &11, (5-151). Iyengar, R.N. (2003) ‘Internal Consistency of Eclipses and Planetary Positions in the Mahābhārata’, Ind.J Hist. Sci., 38.2, (77-115). Chandra Hari K. (2003) ‘Date of the Mahābhārata War- A Review of some Recent Studies’ in Kamath (ed) The Date of the Mahabhārata War Based on Astronomical Data, Bangalore, The Mythic Society, (117-143). --------From: Girish Nath Jha <> Date: Dec 28, 10:47 pm Subject: Book on Origin of Indian Civilization To: भारतीयविविद्वत्परिरषत् Dear scholars A new edited volume titled "Perspectives on the Origin of Indian Civilizations" has been published by the Center of Indic Studies, UMASSD and DK Printworld. The goal is to assimilate various perspectives in the light of newer data and research. The blurb image is attached. You are requested to publicize the volume and give your valuable feedback thanks -Dr. Girish Nath Jha Associate Professor, Computational Linguistics Special Center for Sanskrit Studies, J.N.U., New Delhi - 110067 ph.26741308 (o) 5

Mukesh and Priti Chatter Distinguished Professor of History of Science, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, USA Perspectives on the Origin of Indian Civilizations.jpg 765KViewDownload


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