Saturday, February 13, 2010

Dating the Mahabharata

Whenever the topic of Mahabharata arises, I, for some unknown reason get sucked to the core of it, in trying to understand what exactly it is. It is, by itself the longest poem ever recorded. Experts agree that it is ten times the length of Homers Iliad and the Odyssey combined, and roughly four times the length of the Ramayana- another epic poem. We all know the well rehearsed story of the Mahabharata. So I will not plunge into details about it. This post is written with a view of the scientifically occurring phenomena mentioned in the poem, its relation to the modern world, and to some extent, using scientifically available data, speculate the date of the Great War.
For me, the Mahabharata is a complete package. Estimating occurrences and instances needs the help of astronomy and the understanding of star gazing- two of my vivid interests. Many schemes (kootneeti, one can say) by a whole bunch of people, good or bad, can be studied, which is essential if we are to survive. Then there are curiosities about the fantastic weapons mentioned. There are some interesting rituals which may be directly compared to some of modern experimentation. This arouses the science seeker in me. We have Krishna neeti- which stimulates my intellect- it prompts me to think out of the box while making any decision. And then there is this war, which has attained mythical status. The Mythological and History seeking qualities I have get awakened. I am still to read a book of such nature, and I guess I’ll never read one other than Mahabharata itself.
Coming back to the point of the post, I’ll turn my attention firstly on the scientific riddles presented. The first one that pops up to the mind is that of Kunti calling upon various Gods to give her Sons. Even Madri, the other wife of King Pandu calls upon the Ashwinas for obtaining sons. Does this mean that Pandu was infertile? It would seem so. And could this calling of Gods be experimentation in artificial insemenisation? We can only speculate. Another startling experiment can be the birth of the Kauravas. The book mentions that a sage made a hundred and one pieces of the “garbha” of Gandhari, and suspended these in Ghee. Sounds more like a test tube baby and cloning doesn’t it? Could this be a part of an elaborate experiment of genetic engineering and embryonic study? There are numerous mentions to growing of broken limbs, creating new eyes, etc. Could this be manipulations such as using stem cell or creation of prosthetic limbs? We can only get fascinated by this.
Coming out of the biological world, and thrusting ourselves in a more physics related world- Firstly I will talk of a mind blowing idea- that of Sanjay narrating what he saw in the war to Dhrutarashtra, and then turn my focus on a special weapon- the Brahmastra.
 It is said, that Sanjay got a picture of everything that was going on at Kurukshetra- all important events, happenings, planning etc. However, he was only able to receive. Neither he nor Dhrutarashtra were able to contact the Kauravas (assuming they would to present a broader picture). Was the war broadcasted? How else could Sanjay be in Hastinapur, and provide a live commentary to Dhrutarashtra regarding the events at Kurukshetra? Did a technology for video transmission exist? There is no other plausible explanation! It really is fascinating.
Moving over to the second point, there are mentions of numerous powerful weapons- but one stands out. The Brahmastra. It is said to destroy everything. What is more is that it’s mentioned that it was used. The description goes that when the Brahmastra was shot, it glowed with the “Brightness of a Thousand suns.” Everything in its path obliterated. People were mutilated-nails and hair fell off abruptly, to escape from its fury, those who possessed its knowledge, hid underwater (citing the example of Duryodhan). Everything in the impact region was charred and birds were burnt alive. There could not be any more dramatic description of an event. The only possible weapon which could wreak a havoc of the scale mentioned above, and whose after effects are similar to those mentioned is a nuclear weapon. The first line regarding the brightness of a thousand suns is so true, that when the Manhattan project was successful, the scientist who headed it is said to have said that very shloka as it is in Sanskrit. So, could there really have been a nuclear war at the time of Mahabharata? Did the technology exist? Or was it used before that, and the poet was inspired by that to include it in his ballad?
The thing is that, when it comes to science, I am a believer in the school of thought of “Believe what you can see and visualize”. But then, ideas of the magnitude mentioned above are indescribable without prior knowledge. This strengthens my view, that such technologies must have existed, or at least there was know-how of such things. It really is interesting. But then, a bigger question arises. If such things existed, what was the time period when they were being carried out?
Well, it’s a difficult question to answer. Websites such as Wikipedia, based on the books of Max Muller and other western historians, place the date of Mahabharata somewhere between 1200-800BC. I, however, differ with this view. If there was an epic war of the largest nature, we would have proof for it, somewhere. Indian texts do however mention that 137 generations have passed since the war to the start of the reign on Chandragupta. Detailed calculations regarding the date of Mahabharata have been meticulously carried out by Shri. Dr. P.V.Vartak. (If you want to have a look at the proof, click here). I was skeptical when I initially read it, and I thought I had a point. However, with a new tool- The Starry Night Enthusiast at my disposal, I set about checking for facts. To my astonishment, it yielded wonders. Every description regarding the planetary position- of all the visible planets, as well as those given for Uranus, Neptune and Pluto, which are mentioned match. What’s more fascinating is that around the date calculated by Dr. Vartak, there indeed was a solar eclipse-The same one which led to the death of Jayadrata. There is also a mention to a bright comet in the Mahabharata. Astronomical data confirms the presence of the Halley’s Comet in that year.  Moreover, the fact that all planets were aligned in a line also holds true. The only mind boggling thing is that, if assumed to be true, these calculations and software simulations set the date of onset of the Mahabharata War to 16th October 5561 B.C, which is astounding, baffling, but ultimately, verified, and probably true.
This whole saga has inspired me a lot. I will be spending a lot of my time in the next holidays carrying out my own research in establishing the time period of Mahabharata. You are free to contact me if you have any inputs/suggestions/remarks(click here to mail me) But then it again raises the question- Was the Mahabharata just an elaborate poem born out of pure imagination? Or was it a fact rather than fiction at a point so far off in history? If it is, then it shakes the very foundations (and rightly so!) on which the present hocus-pocus Indian history is based. In any case, we have a lot of work to do, if we are to understand it better.


  1. I personally believe that Mahabharata and Ramayana are not just poems; they are true albeit exaggerated versions of that period. Recent findings are pointing in that direction. Critics will ofcourse disagree but such things can never truly be proved or disproved; so its upto us whether to accept it as fact or fiction.

  2. Definitiley fiction...they are fantasy stories taken too seriously, because of their inter-mingling with "hindu religion". They are the LOR and HP of the olden times (albeit much longer).

    @Chinya: There was no science or any experiments going on then. Even i can write a story as follows: " There was one king. He kicks other king's ass to the moon". This doesnt imply that he built a rocket and launched him to the moon. I kno its a bad analogy..but definitely revelant. Thinking that ghee and 100 kauravas refers to artificial insemination is insane. It is actually demeaning towards scientists who work their asses off in modern times with the help of scientific tools by giving credit to some muni from the ancient times who had a really fancy imagination. (..and ya, i dont believe its 5581 BC or nething, ppl used to roam half-naked and paint walls of caves then)

    No offence. but i really didnt expect this from you.

    Similarly is the case with many other stories. When Sant Tukaram talks about " god is everywhere..even the smallest of the things (he refers to the word 'anu' or something)" ppl say "oooohh..look he knew about atoms even then..india was so advanced than the west". Fact is he didnt kno and he didnt giv a crap. Poems are not to be taken in the literal sense (thats y they are poems and not Thesis)