Tithi Ṡastrarth: The Kurukṣetra War Date Debate of January 2021
The cool winter evenings of January 22nd, 23rd and 24th of the year 2021 witnessed a very hot debate on the hottest topic of the Sanatana Dharma Samskŗti, that is the dating of the Kurukṣetra War date 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 organized by Draupadi Dream Trust of Smt Neera Misra and India Foundation lead by Major General Dhruv C. Katoch. After the inauguration by Sri Ram Madhav, the valedictory address by Prof Sunaina Singh (VC 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 Kurukṣetra War date was discussed by Smt Shashi Tiwari, Shri Vedveer Arya, Shri ML Raja and myself. On the second day, after my introduction to the topic, a total of four Mahābhārata chronologists debated for one hour defending their dates, Shri Vedveer Arya (3162 BCE), Shri Manish Pandit (3067 BCE), Shri Ashok Bhatnagar (1793 BCE) and Shri KK Ramamurthy (1504 BCE). On the third day, the archaeologists Shri Sanjay Munjal, Shri Alok Tripathi, Shri DP Tewari and Shri 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 23rd 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 (6073 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 is fully detailing about 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 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 has not developed at 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 the computed positions of the sun, moon, planets, comets and stars at any given date to as old as 7000 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, 4) in the methods of analysis, 5) in the final corroboration of the arrived at date with other allied disciplines – in all of these, each chronologist differs with other chronologists. Being a researcher focused on the Mahābhārata Geography and being familiar with the chronology specific verses, I served as a mediator between these chronologists whenever possible. The chronology of the Mahābhārata 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 in 2019. In February 2020, I engaged in direct talks with some of them organized for public view. I presented my comparative analysis of the Kurukṣetra War Date as part of the Sangam Talks in June 2020 (link). Here I expressed the need to have a conference focused 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 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 materialized in the online format with four chronologists discussing each other with their chosen date 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 1015 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 Shri Vedveer 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 (3 extent versions) and Matsya Purāṇa (5 extent versions) the same gap of 1015 is mentioned as 1050 years. In just one version of Matsya Purāṇa this gap is mentioned as 1500 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 1050 years instead of the 1015 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 1500 years instead of the 1015 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 1015 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 1015 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 CE which gives the Yudhisthira to Kṣemaka gap directly as 1770 years. It is the Satyartha Prakash Granth containing the genealogy of various royal dynasties. It mentions 30 kings and counts 1770 years, 11months, 10 days between them. But here the average generation gap of the 30 kings will be 59 years which is too high. The average generation gap of the 5 generations of Pradyodas of Magadha is only 27.6 years and that of the 10 Ṡishunagas of Magadha is only 36.2 years. The average generation gap of royal dynasties typically ranges between 22 to 38 years. Hence the data found in the Satyartha Prakash Granth 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 Gujerat), marine archaeology (Dvāraka excavation) and technology evolution (horses, pottery, wheel, wagons, chariots and spoked wheel chariots). The figure is shown below: –
In the above image, 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 the two scholars (Shri Ashok Bhatnagar and Shri KK Ramamurthy) in the 1K2K group and the two scholars (Shri Vedveer Arya and Shri Manish Pandit) in the 3K group.
The four scholars Shri Vedveer (3162 BCE), Shri Manish Pandit (3067 BCE), Shri Ashok Bhatnagar (1793 BCE), Sri KK Ramamurthy (1504 BCE), need to be appreciated for their time bound brilliant presentations of these four interesting Mahābhārata Dates.
Shri Vedveer Arya’s chronology approach is unique in the sense that it provided support to not only his chosen date of 3162 BCE but also supports every other date in the 3K range, including the date Shri 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 2700-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. By the term Saptarṣis, in the context of Jyotiṣa means the constellation Big Dipper with its 7 stars named after the seven Rishis Bhrgu or Marichi (name differ in different lists), Vasiṣṭha & Arundhati, Aṇgiras, Pulastya, Pulaha and Kratu. Additionally, Shri Vedveer 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.
Shri 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 Sri Manish Pandit’s date. Shri 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.
Shri 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 Ṛgveda, Mahābhārata and the Purāṇas which indirectly gives a period of 360 x 72 = 25920 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. Shri Ashok Bhatnagar has identified the position of the Autumnal Equinox between Viṡakha and Anuradha based on the references found in the Mahābhārata. From it he has derived a possible range for the Kurukṣetra War date as 2250 BCE to 1280 BCE beyond which it is impossible to occur. In this way, just like Shri Vedveer Arya’s chronology-revision, Shri Ashok Bhatnagar’s identification of this well-defined critical range of Mahābhārata War dates with upper and lower boundaries or time limits in time axis, based on the AE position, 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 2700 years, 100 year per Nakṣatra, may be subtly connected with precession cycle of 25920 years easily approximated in tradition to 24000 = 2 x 12000 = Two Mārkaṇḍeya Yugas, and into 27000 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.
Shri 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 focused 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 the 3rd day talks by archaeologists came from Dr Sanjay Munjal who mentioned that Painted Gray Ware (PGW) often associated Mahābhārata Kurukshetra War Era, originated in the east like in the Eastern UP and spread westward into Western UP and Haryana and it was more an agro-culture focusing 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 Mahābhārata 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 Mahābhārata 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 Dvāraka 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 that there is a possibility to find Dvāraka in a different site in the neighbourhood of Gujarat in the sea shore.
I have formerly analysed many probable locations of Dvāraka in the neighbourhood of Gujarat coast including where the Sarasvatī River distributaries merges 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 Dvāraka 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 Dvāraka and the modern Dvāraka city we may be able to discover the correct Dvāraka of Krishna in the correct time-line.
The Yudhisthira-Kshemaka royal dynasty lineage having 30 generations with 1015 years (alternatively 1050 or 1500 years) between Parikshit’s birth and the coronation of the historical king Mahapadma Nanda implies that even if archaeology unearths older sites in the 4th, 5th or 8th, 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 Shri Vedveer Arya’s chronology revision. Based on Shri Ashok Bhatnagar’s condition of Autumnal Equinox near Viṡakha / Anuradha they need to be confined younger to 2250 BCE. The Kurukṣetra War date in the 5K range is thus impossible.
Shri Sanjay Munjal’s range of 1800 BCE to 1700 BCE for the Kurukṣetra War established based on the latest archaeology findings falls within Shri 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 (14th October -1792 Gregorian to be precise) for the Kurukṣetra War falls within archaeologist Shri 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 Shri Ashok Bhatnagar require 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 3200 BCE, with reasonable margins, is the oldest possible date for the Kurukṣetra War even with the chronology revision proposed by Shri Vedveer Arya. The lower limit 1360 BCE is the youngest possible date for the Kurukṣetra War if we apply the minimum gap of 1015 (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 take 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 on the topic participating with more analysts from more diverse domains.
Note: The Author JIJITH NADUMURI RAVI is a former scientist of ISRO, who was part of many GSLV launches and the Chandrayan 1 study phase. He is the founder of four Wiki sites AncientVoice, Naalanda, Takshasila and RecentVoice containing a total of around 37,000 Wiki pages on Veda (Ŗgveda, Kŗṣṇa & Sukla Yajur Veda, Sāma Veda, Atharva Veda), Itihāsa (Mahābhārata, Rāmāyana), Purāṇas (Viṣṇu Purāṇa), 18 Major Upaniṣads, the Greek Epics (Iliad & Odyssey), the Avestan Texts (Gāthās, Yasts, Yazadas, Vendidād and Ziroza) and the Tamil Texts (SIlappatikāram and Tirukkural). These were developed as an alternative to Wikipedia as a reference site and contains many articles, lineage trees, geography maps and lists of 20,000 plus nouns found in the Veda, Itihāsa, Purāṇas categorized into place names (kingdoms, cities, towns, villages, holy-spots, rivers, lakes, seas, mountains, hills and so on), people names (kings, sages, women, warriors and so on) and various Samskŗt terms (astronomical, philosophical and so on). Currently he is working to create Dhārmic Holograms of Devatas and Aitihāsic personalities through an initiative called Dharma Digital, by combining ancient traditional knowledge with 21st century technology.
Featured image courtesy: Google.