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Part 1 of 4

Ancient Indian Astronomy in Vedic Texts
by R.N. Iyengar
Distinguished Professor
Centre for Ancient History and Culture
Jain University, Bangalore
(Formerly Professor, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore)
Written for Presentation at
IX International Conference on Oriental Astronomy
November 15-18, 2016, Pune, India 



"If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail."

-- Law of the instrument, by Wikipedia


Astronomy in popular perception is about stars, planets, sun, moon, eclipses, comets, meteorites and associated observable phenomena. Something of all of these was known to our ancients though not in the same form and detail as it is available now. In the context of India, the question is what was known, in what detail and when. For the siddhānta period, roughly starting with the Common Era, (CE) such questions have been fairly well answered. This has been possible since several texts of the period, specifically devoted to astronomy are available for systematic study. But for the more ancient period we have no exclusive texts other than Lagadha’s Vedānga Jyotiṣa (c 1400 BCE) which is a calendar with no reference to eclipses or planets. Hence when one talks of Vedic Times several precautions are necessary. Firstly even though for the pre-siddhāntic period many texts are available, they are neither specific to astronomy nor are they by particular authors. Second, the texts were all orally transmitted by memory for generations before they were scripted on palm leafs. This knowledge tradition has come down to us mainly in Sanskrit. Three broad classes of BCE texts can be identified namely Vedic, Purānṇic and Śāstraic. Texts of the first group including the ancillaries such as the Sūtras and the Pariśiṣṭas are preserved unchanged in their original form with practically no variation with time. The same cannot be said about the two Epics, the eighteen and more Purāṇas, Samhitās of Parāśara and Vṛddha Garga which have undergone changes in CE also. Texts on grammar, prosody, dramas of Bhāsa, Kauṭilya’s Arthaśāstra, Bharata’s Nāṭyaśāstra, Jaina and Buddhist literature making up the third group are relatively late. But these also provide insights into Indian astronomy before CE. In addition to the above clarification it is essential to bear in mind the time frame of development of the above class of literature which spans some three to four thousand years starting from an unknown past to the first millennium BCE. Hence we have to also address the question of chronology consistent with whatever verifiable information that can be found.

It is generally observed that Vedic culture personified celestial objects and their actions. Hence the texts carry a background that has to be deciphered for extracting the archaic models of the visible sky. When we read that a demon (asura) fell from the sky and went underground, we can safely infer that this picture should have been probably correlated in time and space with a meteorite fall. Similarly when it is said that an āsura covered Sun, we may suspect this event to be an eclipse. This allegorical approach was known to the Vedic tradition as recorded by Yāska (c 700 BCE) who records three types of interpretations for several hymns of the Ṛgveda. These are the adhiyajña, adhyātma and the adhidaiva; the sacrificial, philosophical and celestial (divine) meanings respectively. For example the adhidaiva meaning of the word Soma is Moon, whereas in a Vedic sacrifice as per the adhiyajña, Soma is a creeper of that name. In the Upaniṣads the philosophical meaning of Soma is manas or mind. The Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa (ŚB) has the esoteric statement:

candramā vai somo devānāmannam tā pourṇamāsyāmabhiṣuṇvanti || (ŚB. 11.1.5)
Moon is Soma the food of gods; they approach him on Full Moon.

But, Yāska, quite clearly says in the Nirukta (11.4-5) that Soma is Moon whom no gods literally eat. It is easy to see that the reference in such cases is to the waning moon said to be consumed by gods on a daily basis starting from Full Moon. The Vedic seers personified celestial objects as they beheld some cosmic transcendental unity and pattern through observable natural phenomena. Hence it should not be surprising to find in Vedic sacrifices, Hindu religion and Vedānta philosophy reflections of ancient sky pictures, however hazy they might seem now. This type of modelling sky observations by our Vedic ancestors can be called scientific naturalism.

Scientific naturalism is a view according to which all objects and events are part of nature, i.e. they belong to the world of space and time. Therefore everything, including the mental realm of human beings, is subject to scientific enquiry.

-- Naturalistic theories, by ... 8/041.html

The sky descriptions become more interesting especially when numbers are associated with the celestial divinities. In the following four articles we investigate briefly how comets, meteorites, and eclipses were experienced and pictured in the Vedic texts. Over a long period of time the effect of precession was also felt as with the loss of importance for the constellation Śiśumāra (Draco) and shifting of the Pole Star Dhruva. The astral descriptions and the religious lore behind the above astronomical entities provided the inspiration for the development of observational and mathematical astronomy in India.

Some portion of the present study has appeared in the Indian Journal of History of Science (2005, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012) in the form of papers. However, considerable new information, beyond the published material, can be found in the following pages.

1. Comets and Meteorites in the Ṛgveda


The Ṛgveda Samhitā is the most ancient literature of India available for our study. The three other Vedas namely the Yajurveda, Sāmaveda and the Atharvaṇaveda along with their ancillary texts are closely linked to the Ṛgveda in several ways. The remote antiquity of the Ṛgveda and the live tradition of oral transfer of the Vedas by complex linguistic artifices are evidences for the utmost importance attached by Hindus in preserving the original information as precisely as possible. It is an attested fact that even after several millennia, RV containing 10 books (maṇḍala) with 1028 hymns (sūkta) totaling 10552 verses (mantra) is learnt and recited with exactly the same content and sequence all over India. This is the primary source for finding the most ancient celestial observations made in the Indian skies. Even though RV is not a book on astronomy or on natural sciences, it is a collection of hymns covering a large variety of themes ranging from the physical to the spiritual, human to the superhuman, religion to philosophy, individual to the collective, earth to the sky to the universe. It spans several centuries in its compositional spread and represents a wide area of land also in its coverage with names of rivers, mountains, lands and lakes. The language of RV is by definition, Vedic Sanskrit and its style can at best be described as inspired poetry emanating out of spontaneous intuition, revelation or contemplation. Hence explaining the text strictly through analytical methods of grammar, etymology, dictionaries and linguistics will make us miss the forest for the trees.

Any one approaching RV faces the daunting problem of extracting the meanings of the hymns. This difficulty is known since the time of Yāska who already noted that RV hymns can be interpreted in several different ways. Due to the archaic nature of the Vedic language, precise meanings may remain unknown, but the overall contextual implications when read with other similar hymns should be reasonably clear.
Hence when a particular event or deity is described more number of times, a clear picture of what the ancient composers meant emerges. To approach RV in this fashion, we have to follow the ancillary texts and the traditional Sanskrit commentaries, instead of going by modern day translations. This helps us to find whether the origin of a later Vedic ritual can be traced to the sky pictures of RV. Among the various editions of RV available, the Mysore Palace edition of the Ṛgveda (abbr. MPRV) is versatile1. This gives in thirty six volumes an exhaustive introduction, the text, traditional meaning, ritual application, grammatical explanation, and the complete Sanskrit commentary of Sāyaṇa along with the ancillary texts needed to follow the Ṛgveda. The translations and interpretations of the hymns given here follow closely the commentary of Sāyaṇa and the traditional explanations given by the compilers of the MPRV edition.

Ketu in the Vedas

Astronomy is popularly understood as a subject about the sun, the moon, the planets, eclipses and comets. While the sun and the moon, even when they are lauded as deities, can be easily recognized as celestial objects it may not be so clear for a modern reader whether other objects are described in the Vedic texts. A further difficulty arises as the Hindu socio-religious pluralistic tradition in constant flux tends to attribute different meanings to the same word. A case in point is the word ketu that appears some eighty times in the RV with the following distribution in the ten books.

[I:19; II: 0; III:10; IV: 3; V: 8; VI: 7; VII: 8; VIII: 4; IX: 3; X: 18]

What strikes here as significant is the absence of the word in the second book and its increased use in the first and the tenth books. This word is interpreted in the Nirukta as knowledge, flag, herald, insignia, and as a memory trigger. Hence the RV word dhūmaketu which means comet in almost all Indian languages is taken by Sāyaṇa to mean an epithet for the sacrificial fire with a smoke banner. This is a typical example of the adhidaiva meaning [the foremost, preserver or “god” of all natural phenomena] getting masked in the orthodox adhiyajña tradition [relating to a sacrifice]. The Atharvaṇaveda (AV) has a famous hymn in which dhūmaketu is mentioned along with sun, moon and rāhu, indicating that in Vedic parlance too the word ketu should have primarily referred to a visible celestial object2. The text of the RV contains a cryptic statement yādṛgeva dadṛśe tādṛgucyate (V.44.6) that is; the seers say what they saw. Thus it would be interesting to investigate whether Comets and such other transient celestial objects were the inspiration behind some of the RV hymns.

The specific word dhūmaketu meaning literally smoke- or dust-banner occurs seven times in the RV but, only in I, VIII and X books, which are considered to be relatively later compositions in comparison with the other books. According to traditional interpretation this word qualifies agni the (sacrificial) fire. One wonders, if this were to be the unique meaning, why this epithet is absent in the other family books which also profusely refer to agni. Is it possible the word dhūmaketu with two meanings, fire (agni) and anomalous event (utpāta), as listed in the Amarakośa could be traced to RV, when in ancient times a comet with a (dusty) smoky extension, like the earthly fire which has smoke for its insignia inspired the composers of some hymns? The word utpāta denoting anomalous natural events does not appear in RV. But the word adbhuta which stands for strange and unusual objects or events is used in RV as an epithet for agni the fire. Could this adbhuta in some sense point to strange fiery transient objects observed in the sky? The Ṣaḍvimśa Brāhmaṇa of the Sāmaveda has a chapter called Adbhuta Brāhmaṇa. This deals with special rituals to be observed during unusual events, grouped as somadevatyāni adbhutāni. This includes shooting stars, meteorites and comets (ketavaḥ)3. It is notable that the Nirukta (1.6) interprets adbhutam as abhūtam, that is, unprecedented. Thus, prima-facie there is a case for dhūmaketu to be an unexpected comet or a fireball similar to a strange fire with a smoky extension.


Now we consider the seven RV hymns with the word dhūmaketu in the order of the books in which they appear. Hymn (I.27) starts comparing agni to a tailed horse4. In the second verse of the hymn this object is qualified as having wide motion (pṛthupragāmā). In the sixth verse this agni is called citrabhānu, that is one having varied colors. This fire is qualified in the tenth verse as rudra, one with ferocious form. This is followed by a prayer with a specific name for the fire in question.

sa no mahān animāno dhūmaketuḥ puruścandraḥ |dhiye vājāya hinvatu || (I.27.11)

May the great, illimitable, brilliant dhūmaketu (smoke-banner) be pleased with our rite and inspire us.

MPRV aptly points out that there can be no special similarity between agni and a tailed horse as in this hymn, even as a figure of speech. The hymn is clear that the object of its attention is stationed in the sky. If this agni were to have a tail, have perceptible movement, be large without specific measure (mahān animāno) and look like a big bright celestial herald (viśpatiḥ daivyaḥ ketuḥ bṛhadbhānuḥ| v.12) it could as well have been a comet described aptly by the word dhūmaketu. The epithet viśpatiḥ signifies the object to be closely connected with maruts, who are called viś in the RV. This point will be considered later.

Next we come across this word in a hymn by Praskaṇva of the Kaṇva family to which belong the authors of the eighth book.

adyā dūtam vṛṇimahe vasum agnim purupriyam | dhūmaketum bhāṛjikam vyuṣṭiṣu yajñānām adhvaraśriyam || (I.44.3)

We choose today at day break as messenger the good agni, the beloved of many, the smokebannered, who shines with his brightness and who is the protector of the doer of sacrifice.

Here the action of selecting agni as messenger (dūtam) is in the first person. This agni is qualified as dhūmaketu and bhārjika. The word bhārjika means shining according to Yāska5. This may mean one who is shining or may mean one who is famous as Bhā. This agni is addressed in (v.4) as guest (atithi), highlighting his transient nature. In (v.10) agni is referred also as purohita and as vibhāvasu who had shone previously at many dawns (pūrvā anu uṣaso vibhāvaso didetha). MPRV interprets purohita traditionally as, one (the fire) who is installed in the east of the sacrificial altar in the āhavanīya pit. This hymn ends in (v.14) with a request to the fire-tongued maruts to be heard (sṛṇvantu marutaḥ agnijihvāḥ). This hymn appears to be closely related with hymns of the 8th book of RV. The transient nature of the fire, named vibhāvasu or bhā with links to maruts, amply hints at this object to be a comet. As per the MPRV explanation, this hymn is an invocation to the celestial agni, the comet deity, already deified from previous tradition.

In the RV hymn (I.94) to agni every verse ends with the refrain let us not suffer injury as we have friendship with you. (agne sakhye mā riṣāmā vayam tava ). This is a prayer to agni seeking protection particularly from the fiery maruts. The first verse refers to agni as jātavedas. MPRV describes the technicalities of this word quoting the Bṛhaddevatā (BD) an important ancient authority on preserving the tradition of RV6. As per this, RV seers call terrestrial fire agni, fire in the mid-space jātavedas and fire in the sky vaiśvānara. There is a mystic meaning to the word jātavedas, but the localization of this fire is again mentioned in BD with the extra information that this fire is known to all (or seen by all) created again and again in mid-space7. This agni is thought about at every syzygy by offerings (v.4). The next verse (v.5) is interpreted differently by Sāyaṇa and Skandasvāmin. MPRV provides both the meanings, the one by Skandasvāmin reads more realistic. As per this, agni is seen all through the nights in different colours and is brighter than even the light at day break (uṣaso mahān). In (v.7) agni is praised as one who is seen to be similar from all places (viśvataḥ sadṛńg asi). Even though he is really at a distance (in the sky) he seems to be near. In (v.9), agni is requested to kill with his weapons the enemies of the devout. The next verse is

yad ayukthā aruṣā rohitā rathe vātajūtā vṛṣabhasyeva te ravaḥ |ādinvasi vanino dhūmaketunāgne sakhye mā riṣāmā vayam tava || RV(I.94.10)

When you have yoked the wind driven red (animals) to the chariot, your roar is like that of a bull. You cover forest trees by a banner of smoke. Let us not suffer injury as we have friendship with you.

Here the word dhūmaketu seems to be used in the sense of a smoke cover. However the agni addressed in this hymn has for its background not any ordinary terrestrial fire but the one in mid-space significantly coloured red. The next verse (v.11) mentions that the drops of this agni eat grass (drapshāḥ yavasādaḥ). The word yavasādaḥ literally means one who eats (burns) yavasa which is taken to be grass by tradition. But this may as well refer to destruction of grain fields. Sāyaṇa likes to interpret drapsāḥ as flames, but in the context of a fire from above, dropping of fiery matter would be apt. This is followed by a request to mitra and varuṇa to protect the poet from the strange fury of the maruts who live in the mid-space. The description of maruts is picturesque as,

avayātām marutām heḷa adbhutaḥ|| (I.94.12)

The cry (rumbling sound) of the descending maruts is strange (unprecedented).

Sāyaṇa explains this to mean, the anger of the gods known as maruts moving below the heavens happens to be severe. In the above hymn the word dhūmaketu is not used directly to refer a comet. But the hymn is about agni that is between the earth and the visible sky. The prayer is to ward off the danger posed directly by maruts, with ritualistic connotations linked to earthly fires ignited by atmospheric agents. The weapons of agni that could kill enemies, but from which protection is sought by the poet, can be conjectured to have been showers of stony meteoritic debris. This interpretation would be consistent with the action of maruts at other places in RV.

Image conceptualized in ancient Hindu texts to exist at three levels, on earth as fire, in atmosphere as lightning, and in the sky as sun.

-- Agni, by Wikipedia

The only family book using the word dhūmaketu is the 8th book of the Kaṇvas. The first verse of hymn (VIII.43) declares this to be a laudation to agni the uninterrupted doer of sacrifice. The third verse mentions agni to be burning the forests. The immediate next two verses are

harayo dhūmaketavaḥ vātajūtā upadyavi | yatante vṛthagagnayaḥ ||
ete tye vṛthagagnayah iddhāsaḥ samadṛkṣata | uṣasāmiva ketavaḥ || (VIII.43.4,5)

Individual forms of swift wind-impelled smoke-bannered fires move in the sky.
These separated fires shining in the front appear like heralds of the dawns.

In the next verse (v.6) the black dust raised by the feet of jātavedas as he travels, when fire spreads on earth, is described. The physical implication of the above verses would be that the composer is describing one or more celestial fiery objects with smoke or dust trails seen before dawn. These celestial fires are linked to fire on ground, which may indicate either a cause effect relation or a poetic similarity. The objects are many and said to be emphatically separated and moving. As a physical picture this fits the description of a meteor swarm encountered by earth while passing through the trail of a comet. Here the word dhūmaketu is used to indicate swiftly moving objects in the sky. Since the word dawn is used in plural (uṣasām), perhaps this spectacle could be seen for several days before day break in the eastern sky. The next hymn (VIII.44) is also about agni. Here in (v.7) this agni is called ancient (pratnam) and invoker (hotāram) and the guest of honour in sacrifices (adhvarāṇām abhiśriyam). This ancient agni is the object named as Dhūmaketu Vibhāvasu.

vipram hotāram adruham dhūmaketum vibhāvasum |yajñānām ketum īmahe || (VIII.44.10)

Tradition interprets the word vibhāvasu as one having light for wealth (dīptidhanam) and identifies him with agni. If here also dhūmaketu meant the sacrificial fire of the humans, why once again the composer refers to agni as the banner of sacrifices? On the other hand the matter-of-fact meaning would be:

We pray to the wise guileless invoker, the comet (dhūmaketu, the smoke-bannered) vibhāvasu, the banner of (divine) sacrifices.

It is seen that in the 8th book the word dhūmaketu refers to visible transient objects that might have included meteors and comets in a general sense. In the tenth book the hymn (X.4) is about agni the link between men and gods, who traverses in between (v.2). In the next verse (v.3) he is said to be eager to come to sacrifices on earth looking down from above with a desire to return. There appears considerable difficulty in interpreting the 5th verse with the word dhūmaketu. MPRV takes the first part as a question and constructs a meaning with which the commentator is not satisfied. The text and the interpretation are as follows.

kūcijjāyate sanayāsu navyo vane tasthau palito dhūmaketuḥ |asnātāpo vṛṣabho na praveti sacetaso yam praṇayanta martāḥ || (X.4.5)

Where is the new agni born? He is present in the old plants, grey haired, smoke-bannered. Though not needing a bath, as he is pure, he rushes to water like a bull….

This interpretation reads strained and forced. The simple meaning based on the context of the preceding and succeeding verses would be of a fire that is white in colour, seen above a forest. Its rush towards water may be a real event of a fireball entering a water body. This matches with agni being called jātavedaḥ later in (v.7), the technical meaning of which is fire in mid-space. Even though the meaning of the word dhūmaketu in this hymn remains ambiguous, it is still linked to a fiery object that approaches a water body, from above. The last appearance of the word dhūmaketu in RV is in

devo devān paribhūr ṛtena vahā no havyam prathamas cikitvān | dhūmaketuḥ samidhā bhāṛjīko mandro hotā nityo vācā yajīyān || (X.12.2)

Here, the word is used in the sense of sacrificial fire with no direct relation to the sky except for the qualification bhāṛjikaḥ as in (I.44.3). This completes a brief discussion on the seven occurrences of the word dhūmaketu in RV. It is noted that all the above hymns are addressed to agni, a prominent deity in RV. Interestingly in the tenth book agni is called bhāsāketu that means light-bannered, which is nearly the opposite of dhūmaketu, the smoke-bannered.

yamāsā kṛpaniḷam bhāsāketum vardhayanti | bhrājate śreṇidan || (X.20.3)

Sāyaṇa interprets the word bhāsāketu, as flame bannered fire or one who gives out light. It is not clear why this should not have been the name of a celestial object, for, in the very next verse this fire is described as who when he moves up penetrates the ends of the sky, illumining the firmament. Further the hymn lauds this fire as one that is standing above the sacrificial altar. Traditionally the phrase sadma minvan puraḥ eti in (v.5) is interpreted to mean that this fire measures the fireplace by his movements. This description would be more suitable for a bright celestial object that was stationary for some time and then started moving as though measuring the sky. Sāyaṇa’s explanation of this as representing the sacrificial fire amply indicates that the Vedic sacred fire on earth is a symbol or simulation of a visible bright celestial object ritualistically invoked through special hymns. In (v.9) this fire is described to move straight in a big car showing colours, white, black, red and crimson. A cosmological background is also indicated here, since the car of bhāsāketu was fashioned by the Creator. On the whole this hymn is consistent in describing a comet-like celestial object, out of which some aspect of the terrestrial religious fire, as described in the later Yajurveda Samhitā and Brāhmaṇa texts, has been modeled. Similarly the word vṛṣāketu may be related with an object seen in the night sky. This name appears in the hymn RV (X.92) attributed to Śaryāta son of Manu.

yajñasya vo rathyam viśpatim viśām hotāram aktoratithim vibhāvasum |śocan śuṣkāsu hariṇīṣu jarbhuradvṛṣāketuryajato dyām aśāyata || (X.92.1)

This ketu has some connection with vibhāvasu who was described in the hymn (I.44) considered previously. Here also vibhāvasu is called the guest of the night similar to (I.44). Sāyaṇa interprets the first half as a call to gods for worshipping vibhāvasu. His statement paricarati iti śeṣaḥ is an assumption. The second half is independently taken to mean the giver of desires (vṛṣā), the banner (ketuḥ) reposes in heaven. In line with Sāyaṇa, MPRV gives the meaning of the above verse as

You (gods, adore) the charioteer of the sacrifice, the lord of men, the invoker of the gods, the guest of night, the resplendent (agni). Blazing amid the dry (bushes) preying upon the green, the showerer of desires, the banner (of light), the adorable, reposes in heaven.

Since vibhāvasu is a guest of night (aktoḥ atithim) with its location in the sky (dyām asāyata), the word vṛṣāketu most probably refers to a comet of that name.


The above brief review brings out the major physical characters of agni called dhūmaketu, but clearly in relation with two other celestial objects namely maruts and vibhāvasu. Maruts are well known Vedic deities, taken to be representing winds and thunder storms inducing rain by traditionalists as well as by modern scholars. However, their explicit relation with dhūmaketu provides a clue to their correct decipherment as meteoritic storms. Maruts are a group of deities, usually known as the sons of Rudra and occasionally directly as Rudrāḥ. The key discriminatory feature of maruts is that they are a collection of individuals who could be seen and hence countable in some sense. They are said to be separated among themselves. They increase by two and three and their count varies from twenty-one (I.133.6) to forty-nine (VIII.28.5) to sixty-three (VIII.96.8). They could even be seen in waves of thousands (I.168.4). If these properties were to be reconciled with a physically possible natural object, maruts have to be taken as a shower of meteors. No doubt there are hymns associated with maruts that refer to lightning, rain, wind, thunderous sound and consequent shaking of trees, people and mountains. However, seen in the perspective of a celestial agni called dhūmaketu being a comet, the above actions of maruts are more valid for a swarm of meteors rather than for a monsoon thunder storm.

Maruts are closely associated with Indra in many hymns and these read like recollection of past events for a ritual. There is palpable spontaneity in the hymns to maruts with the figures of speech and epithets picturesquely describing a rare spectacle. In all, thirty-three full hymns are devoted exclusively to maruts and these deities are mentioned more than five hundred times by name in RV. Hence it is not possible here to discuss all the occurrences and the differing nuances of this word, used always in the plural, spread over the ten books of RV. Interest here will be limited to descriptions of maruts that are graphic and hence appear like direct observations or recollections of some past episodes.

Maruts come (to earth) along with agni from above. They are brilliant with terrible forms and kill people. Maruts sit as deities in heaven, above the luminous vault. They move the mountains and disturb the oceans (I.19.6, 7). Here, following Sāyaṇa, MPRV argues that however strong a wind may be it cannot possibly shake hills, and hence the word parvatān should be taken as clouds and not as mountains. But if maruts are taken naturally for what they are, namely extra terrestrial objects, they could have shaken mountains with air blasts and impacts. In the next verse maruts are described as widening with their light (raśmibhiḥ tanvanti| I.19.8) and storming the oceans with their power. The earliest ańgiras was agni, to support whom maruts were born with their glittering spears (I.31.1). Here traditionalists take maruts to be winds with the assumption that the word raśmibhiḥ should mean sūryaraśmibhiḥ. That this is an uneasy explanation is clear when we note that MPRV says that vāyu and maruts are distinctly different deities not only in the text of RV but also in the practice of Vedic rituals.

Three hymns (I.37-39) dedicated to maruts highlight their meteoritic nature, as being self luminous and spotted. The poet says in first person that he can hear from where he is located, the roaring sound of maruts (I.37.1-5).
In the next verse the poet wonders, who could be the strongest among the maruts, since they shake heaven and earth like mere trees? The common man is said to be protecting his dwellings from the (impact of) maruts.

nivo yāmāya mānuṣo dadhra ugrāya manyave | jihīta parvato giriḥ || (I.37.7)

To withstand your ferocious journey man has strengthened his dwelling with columns. Even rugged hills get crushed (at your approach).

Maruts have mowed down men on earth and have made mountains fall. Wherever the group of maruts goes, everyone is sure to hear their roaring sound (I.37.12, 13). Maruts come from the sky to the earth, but not the other way round (I.38.2). That maruts could not go back from earth is ingeniously expressed as,

yadyūyam pṛśnimātaro martāsaḥ syātana | stotā vo amṛtaḥ syāt || (I.38.3)

Children of Pṛśni! You may become mortals, but let those who laud you remain not dead.

Maruts are sure to bring airless showers to deserts (I.38.7). MPRV wonders why the word airless (avātām) has been used to describe showers (miham). This doubt arises if miham is taken as ordinary rain. An intense meteoritic shower can make the target region airless for some time, which fact was known to Vṛddha Garga a later astronomer8. It is repeatedly said that people were afraid of maruts. If these deities were really harbingers of monsoon rainfall, the following descriptions read out of place.

adha svanāt marutām viśvam ā sadma pārthivam | arejanta pra mānuṣāḥ || (I.38.10)

At the roar of the maruts, every house on the earth shook. The people also trembled.

parāha yatsthiram hatha naro vartayathā guru| vi yātana vaninaḥ pṛthivyā vyāśāḥ parvatānām|| (I.39.3)

When you overthrow what is stable and whirl away what is heavy, your course is through the forests and the mountains.

ā vo makṣū tanāya kam rudrā avo vṛṇīvahe |gantā nūnam no’vasā yathā puretthā kaṇvāya bibhyuṣe || (I.39.7)

Sons of Rudra! We pray to you for the quick protection of our progeny. Like you came once previously, come for the sake of frightened Kaṇva.

The April 2015 Nepal earthquake (also known as the Gorkha earthquake) killed nearly 9,000 people and injured nearly 22,000. It occurred at 11:56 Nepal Standard Time on 25 April 2015, with a magnitude of 7.8Mw or 8.1Ms and a maximum Mercalli Intensity of VIII (Severe). Its epicenter was east of Gorkha District at Barpak, Gorkha, and its hypocenter was at a depth of approximately 8.2 km (5.1 mi). It was the worst natural disaster to strike Nepal since the 1934 Nepal–Bihar earthquake. The ground motion recorded in the capital of Nepal was of low frequency, which, along with its occurrence at an hour where many people in rural areas were working outdoors, decreased the loss of property and human lives.

The earthquake triggered an avalanche on Mount Everest, killing 22, making 25 April 2015 the deadliest day on the mountain in history. The earthquake triggered another huge avalanche in the Langtang valley, where 250 people were reported missing.

Hundreds of thousands of Nepalese were made homeless with entire villages flattened, across many districts of the country. Centuries-old buildings were destroyed at UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Kathmandu Valley, including some at the Kathmandu Durbar Square, the Patan Durbar Square, the Bhaktapur Durbar Square, the Changu Narayan Temple, the Boudhanath stupa and the Swayambhunath stupa.
Geophysicists and other experts had warned for decades that Nepal was vulnerable to a deadly earthquake, particularly because of its geology, urbanization, and architecture. Dharahara, also called Bhimsen Tower, a nine-storey 61.88-metre (203.0 ft) tall tower, was destroyed. It was a part of the architecture of Kathmandu recognized by UNESCO.

Continued aftershocks occurred throughout Nepal at the intervals of 15–20 minutes, with one shock reaching a magnitude of 6.7 on 26 April at 12:54:08 NST. The country also had a continued risk of landslides.

A major aftershock occurred on 12 May 2015 at 12:50 NST with a moment magnitude (Mw) of 7.3. The epicenter was near the Chinese border between the capital of Kathmandu and Mount Everest. More than 200 people were killed and over 2,500 were injured by this aftershock, and many were left homeless.

-- April 2015 Nepal earthquake, by Wikipedia

Nodhā Gautama in hymn (I.64) describes maruts as having fearful forms. They are drop-like (falling objects) and shining like suns (asurāḥ ghoravarpasaḥ drapsiṇaḥ sūryā iva śucayaḥ | I.64.2). It is indicated that maruts induced winds and rains before their arrival. This seems to have been the reason for the traditional interpretation of maruts as storm deities before rainfall. In the hymns (I.86, 87 & 88) Gotama Rāhugaṇa mentions that maruts were worshipped by people since many years seeking protection. Maruts are described as having wheels of gold and rushing like boars with tusks of iron (ayodamṣṭrān vidhāvato varāhūn). The epithet asurāḥ above does not indicate any ethnic group but just that maruts as deities in the sky threw stones and other objects towards earth. The word asura is derived traditionally, as explained by Sāyaṇa, from the root asu kṣepaṇe (to throw).

Hymns (I.166) onwards by Agastya further reveal the physical side of maruts. All creatures on earth along with their dwellings shake in fear that they might get hit by the weapons of maruts. The tearing weapons of maruts hit animals like well aimed darts. Maruts are visible at a distance shining like stars (dūre dṛśo ye divyā iva stṛbhiḥ| I.166.11). Their visible hairlike extension is figuratively described as Rodasī, their companion with disheveled hairs (viṣita stukā I.167.5). Maruts, although formless, seemingly have a form. They are self born and always tremble in their path. They come in thousands like waves on water (I.168.4). They came down to earth together effortless, with burning looks and shook the mountains (svayuktaḥ divaḥ vṛthā ava āyayuḥ…bhrājadṛṣṭayaḥ dṛḷhāni cit acucyuvuḥ || v.5). The next verse, indirectly mentions that they enter the sea. Maruts on their approach gleam like serpents (ahi bhānavaḥ). The material of the weapons of maruts is made clear by Agastya as,

Far be from us, your impetuous shaft. Far from us be the stone you hurl (1.172.2)

In the second book, sage Gṛtsamada prays to Rudra

…….mā naḥ sūryasya sandṛśo yuyothāḥ…….||
pariṇo heti rudrasya vṛjyāḥ paritveṣasya durmatirmahī gāt|| (II.33.1 & 14).

….O, father of maruts, do not exclude us from seeing the sunlight…. Let not Rudra’s quoits have us as targets. Let his frightening anger avoid us.

Even though maruts poured in, the material they rained is not said to be ordinary water. It is described as Soma, ghee, milk, honey or a liquid coloured like honey. Maruts showered medicines which were accepted by Manu the ancestor of the poet (II.33.13).

If one agrees to the principle of internal consistency as an approach to understand RV, one can not assign different meanings to the same word used in very similar contexts. Doubts arise about the words parvata and giri occurring in connection with maruts. Traditionalists take this to be mountains in some verses but as clouds in other places. A typical example of this ambiguous interpretation is in hymn (III.26) attributed to Viśvāmitra. Sāyaṇa assumes maruts produce a rain of water and hence takes the word parvatān to mean clouds, where as there is nothing in the three verses (III.26.4-6) to indicate ordinary rainfall. The statement marutaḥ pravepayanti parvatān should normally mean maruts shake the mountains. This remains consistent in all places if maruts are understood to be representing meteorites or fragments of extra terrestrial objects falling on earth.

Ten of the thirty-three hymns devoted to maruts are found in the 5th book. These are important since tradition holds hymns (V.52-61) to be the inspired composition of seer Śyāvāśva. Hymn (V.52) is a laudation in which maruts are said to be capable of exceeding the nights in their travel, which means they were visible in day light also. In (V.52.7) they are praised as seen in the sky, on earth and in the rivers. Specifically they are found in River Paruṣṇī (v.9). Maruts dug a well for Gotama (v.12), as in RV (1.85.10-11) which in physical terms would mean creation of an impact crater. This hymn ends in (52.17) referring to River Yamunā. The next hymn (V.53) starts wondering who knows the origin of maruts? They release their treasury for their devotee (v.6) and help release parjanya (rain water?). Further, in (v.9) six more rivers Rasā, Anitabhā, Kubhā, Krumu, Sindhu and Sarayū are linked with maruts. The prayer in (v.13, 14) is for the material showered by maruts namely, seeds (bījam) and water (āpaḥ). Hymn (V.54) is a laudation to the force or power behind the group of maruts, who with stony weapons (aśma didyavaḥ) disturb mountains. They, children of Rudra, shake everything like a boat on water, day and night, and disturb forts difficult to enter (durgāṇi). Hymn (V.55) is a prayer in which maruts are described to make a shower out of the sea (samudrataḥ). The material carried by them is called purīṣa, which is not rain water, but assumed to be so by Sāyaṇa. Hymn (V.56) is an invocation to maruts to come down to earth from above. Effortlessly, maruts bring down the rocks of the mountains. In (V.57) they are called vāśimantah, as in (I.87.6). As per Yāska this refers to weapons made of stones or to voice. Clearly, this epithet refers to stony meteorites making rumbling sound as they approached earth at high speed. Maruts are in the form of large drops (purudrapsāḥ) and carry the name amṛtam. Hymn (V.58) contains verses in which maruts are associated with water. But in (v.5) maruts are described to be of equal measure like spokes (in wheels) and (length of) days. Traditionalists take the first verse of hymn (V.59) to describe rainfall, by stretching the word arṇava to mean clouds. However, direct reading of the verse only indicates a shower of bright materials getting into the seas. The next verse (V.59.2) does not refer to rainfall, but to the trembling earth compared to a shaking boat. Hymn (V.60) is similar to others in highlighting the power of maruts to disturb the mountains.

parvatścinmahi vṛddho bibhāya divaścitsānu rejate svane vaḥ | yatkrīḷatha maruta ṛṣṭimanta āpa iva sadhryañco dhavadhve || (V.60.3)

Hey maruts! When you start playing, even the ancient big mountain fears your sound. The lofty regions of the sky tremble. Carrying spears you rush together like a stream of water.

The comparison āpa iva in the above verse, should put to rest doubts about maruts being agents of rainfall. Their stormy shower was only like a water stream.

In the sixth book of RV, hymn (VI.66) describes maruts as samānam in the first verse. Sāyaṇa explains, maruts are always of the same form (marutaḥ sadā samānarūpāḥ) and quotes RV (V.60.5) to emphasize that there are no elders and youngsters among them (ajyeṣṭhāso akaniṣṭhāsa ete). The next verse (VI.66.2) mentions that maruts shine like fires and increase by two and three. They are dustless and created with gold, wealth and power. The MPRV meaning for the word girayaḥ in (VI.66.11) as clouds unnecessarily negates the above realistic description of maruts as visible transient objects.

The lauds to maruts in the seventh book by Vasiṣṭha are similar to the hymns by other seers. May your weapons be far from us, is the constant prayer (VII.57.4). The birth of maruts was with great commotion. They were fast, fierce and wrathful. The whole world was afraid to look at them during their brightened travel (VII.58.2).

In the eighth book there is some further interesting information about maruts. The seventh hymn describes maruts in the same way as in other books, but is emphatic on the hills and peaks getting physically affected. Like hills control themselves (bend) at the arrival of maruts, even rivers control their flows (VIII.7.5). This meaning is acceptable to Sāyaṇa also. The last three verses of this hymn show that maruts should have been extra terrestrial objects hitting hill peaks. These were thought to be connected with a celestial object, referred by the generic name agni.

girayścinni jihate parśānāso manyamānā | parvatāścinni yemire ||
ākṣṇayāvāno vahantyantarikṣeṇa patataḥ | dhātāraḥ stuvate vayaḥ ||
agnirhi jāni pūrvyaścchando na sūro arciṣā | te bhānubhirvitasthire || (VIII.7.34-36)

(As the maruts arrive) hills get hit and disturbed from their position. Even mountains are controlled. Speedy carriers bear the flying maruts through space. They are givers of riches to the worshipper. Agni was born previously (among gods) bright like the sun. Then the maruts stood surrounding him with their lights.

The above rendering closely follows Sāyaṇa, with the word girayaḥ here being taken as hills by him also. The word ākṣṇayāvāno is explained by Sāyaṇa as traveling faster than the eyes. There is one more hymn lauding maruts in the eighth book by Sobhari Kāṇva. In this we find a reference to maruts disturbing islands and deserts (VIII.20.4). In this hymn the 13th verse informs that even though maruts are many and extend widely like a sea, they are known by only one name as per ancestral tradition. In (VIII.20.17), maruts are qualified as sons of Rudra (rudrasya sūnavaḥ) and as asurasya vedhasaḥ. The word asuraḥ is explained by Sāyaṇa at many places as one who throws, derived from the root asu kṣepaṇe (to throw). However in the present verse he interprets asuraḥ as creator of clouds, which hardly fits the context. The direct meaning of one who throws (stones/missiles) is appropriate here also, since the falling objects would have been like stones.

In the tenth book hymns (X.77 & 78) are devoted to maruts. These appear to have been composed after the status and position of maruts in the sacrifices had been finalized. Oblation to maruts is mentioned in (X.77.7), which is not so conspicuous in the other books of RV. An interesting highly technical simile describes the motion of maruts as, like the nave of a wheel with spokes (rathānām na ye arāḥ sanābhayaḥ | X.78.4). Sāyaṇa explains this in detail as; even though maruts are several, they move equally spaced like spokes connected at the center of a wheel9. The descriptions of maruts in the various hymns are broadly similar, with minor differences which indicate repetition of the same natural event with variation in the details. Inducing rain was not the main function of RV maruts, as assumed by the tradition and later classical Sanskrit literature. Relation with water is a minor detail mentioned in the 5th book, but otherwise the majority of the hymns uniformly describe maruts as a collection of bright objects that moved in swarms, appearing even in day times. They made a characteristic sound inducing fear in men. They were known to bring stones hitting the hills and the ground. At least once they created a crater with water for Gotama. This poetic but nevertheless realistic description cannot possibly be valid for any event other than a cluster of meteorites or fragments of an asteroid hitting the earth.

Then the Guru marched onward, and readied U-yug-bre- mo-snar, where the twelve bstan-ma furies hurled thunderbolts at him, and tried to crush him between mountains; but the Guru evaded them by flying into the sky, and with his "pointing-finger" charmed their thunderbolts into cinders. And by his pointing-finger he cast the hills and mountains upon their snowy dwellings. Thereupon the twelve bstan-ma, with all their retinue thwarted and subdued, offered him their life-essence, and so were brought under his control...

Then the Guru, proceeding onwards, arrived at the northern Phan- yul-thang, where the three Injurers — sTing-lo-sman of the north, sTing-sman-zor gdon-ma, and sTing-sman-ston— sent hurricanes to bar the Guru's progress. On which the Guru circled "the wheel of fire" with his pointing-finger, and thus arrested the wind, and melted the snowy mountains like butter before a red hot iron. Then the three gNod-sbyin, being discomfited, offered up their life-essence and so were subjected.

-- The Buddhism of Tibet, or Lamaism With Its Mystic Cults, Symbolism and Mythology, and in its Relation to Indian Buddhism, by Laurence Austine Waddell, M.B., F.L.S., F.R.G.S., Member of the Royal Asiatic Society, Anthropological Institute, etc., Surgeon-Major H.M. Bengal Army


Our study of the word dhūmaketu shows that this fire in the sky was related with maruts and also with vibhāvasu. From a detailed study of RV text it is seen that maruts, beyond reasonable doubt, must have been showers of meteors and/or meteorites. Since comets and meteor showers can have causal connections, it appears that vibhāvasu in some places of RV refers to a comet. This word is interpreted in the tradition of Sāyaṇa as fire qualified as wealth of the night, which is the literal meaning obtained by breaking the word into its two components vibhā and vasu. Even in this sense it retains in its name a significant comet image. The word vibhāvasu occurs in the first (I.44.10), third (III.2.2) and the fifth (V.25.2, 7) books. Next it is used five times in the eighth book, twice in the 9th book and thrice in the 10th book.

In the second verse of the agni-vaiśvānara nivid (III.2) by Viśvāmitra, the birth of agni is described. As per the Bṛhaddevatā, nivids indicate the qualities of the deities addressed in such hymns. Agni is here described as brightening heaven and earth at his birth. He is qualified also as viśām atithiḥ vibhāvasuḥ. This is taken as guest of men, affluent in radiance.

Since the word viś means maruts in several other places, here also the agni referred must be related with maruts. As per the Bṛhaddevatā vaiśvānara is fire in the sky, jātavedas fire in the mid-space and agni the fire on earth. In the 14th verse of (III.2) the prayer is to the fire seen at daybreak, emblem of the sky, a big horse (uṣarbudham divaḥ ketum mūrdhānam vājinam brhat|). The implied meaning of the hymn is that, vibhāvasu was a horse-like fire seen in the eastern sky early in the morning (rochanasthām). This leads to the inference that the word here stands for a comet.

In RV (V.25.2) the reference is to the fire praised as vibhāvasu who was kindled in the past by gods and seers. Further in (v.7), this agni is addressed as vibhāvaso, because from him riches come out. Quite interestingly in the 8th verse this fire is lauded as self effulgent in the sky, making thundering sound and is said to be like a huge rock (bṛhat grāveva ucyate). It is generally observed that the word Vibhāvasu is used in RV with differing meanings, but it refers to a celestial figure, identifiable as a comet in a few places.

Many More Comet Images

The reference to dhūmaketu identifiable as Comet appears in the relatively late books of RV namely, the first, eighth and the tenth maṇḍalas. However, there are distinct references in the earlier books of RV to an ancient fire in the sky correlated with agni, vaiśvānara, mātariśvan, arvan, ajaikapāt, ahirbudhnya, pūṣan and other deities. Hence, in the earlier layers of RV transient celestial objects might have been described using nomenclature the original physical meanings of which might have been forgotten. The only way to address this issue is to see how likely such celestial fires match with known modern comet and/or meteor images. To keep the discussion brief, only three such instances are considered here.

The famous hymns (I.162 & I.163) on Aśva by Aucathya are traditionally taken to refer to the Horse-sacrifice (Aśvamedha). But these hymns primarily describe a bright horse-like moving object in the sky. This event in a slightly different form appears also in the Mahābhārata10. In hymn (I.162), the celestial horse, a replica of which is sacrificed in the Aśvamedha is described. This is the medhyāśva (sacrificial horse) born out of tvaṣṭā (I.162.19). This particular verse has two meanings referring to both the divine horse which was killed by gods and the terrestrial animal which is to be similarly sacrificed by men. MPRV quotes the Taittiriya Samhitā to clarify the close relationship between tvaṣṭā and arvan11. The deity called arvan was the first born in the sky, making sound, with wings of falcon and ankles of deer (I.163.1). This horse given by Yama was harnessed by Trita for Indra to ride. Here the word Yama is interpreted in the Nirukta as agni, which as per Sāyaṇa would indicate the simultaneous birth of agni and Indra. In (v.3) this arvan is said to be threefold with three bonds in the sky (trīṇi divi bandhanāni). Sāyaṇa interprets these three bonds to be similar to the three ropes with which an earthly horse is held12. Further, the seer describes the sequence in which he saw the horse. In (v.5) he says; I saw your reins (te bhadrā raśanā apaśyam). Next the poet saw the head of this horse. MPRV reports two types of arranging the words of (v.6), to yield meanings applicable to the earthly horse and the heavenly horse respectively. In the derived meaning, the horse is said to be going from the earth by way of heavens to the sun. The primary meaning is; the poet in first person says that he saw the head of the horse in the sky flying down towards the earth (divā avaḥ patayantam patatri….. śiraḥ apaśyam || I.163.6). This is continued in the next verse to inform: I beheld your best form at the cow’s foot (te rūpam uttamam apaśyam……ā pade goḥ|). Sayaṇa takes the word goḥ pade to mean the sacrificial place on earth, which is the secondary meaning of the hymn suited to the sacrificial tradition. However, primarily for an object seen in the sky it should have been natural to mention its location with respect to the stars and hence one should take cow’s-foot as the nakṣatra with that meaning which is proṣṭhapada (Pegasi). Reference to this location appears again in RV (III.39.5 & IX.71.5). The hymn which so far described a single object, refers in the next verse (v.10) to multiple celestial horses comparing their flight to that of a line of swans (hamsā iva śreṇiśo yatante|). This picture is a plain indication of transient celestial objects flying like birds in a line. This simile is again used in (III.8.9) to describe the arrival of yūpāḥ, the sacrificial columns of gods in the sky, which has an inbuilt comet image.

The 48th hymn in the 6th book is about agni and maruts. The sixth verse in this hymn describes the sight of agni moving in the night sky along with smoke. He with attractive colours becomes visible pushing aside the darkness and stays through the night (dhūmena divi dhāvate…śyāvāsu ūrmyāsu tamaḥ tiraḥ ā dadṛśe|). From (v.11) onwards maruts are praised to bring riches from above. In (v.21) the poet mentions that maruts cover the sky with their brightness like the sun and are the cause of killing vṛtra. The last verse mentions that the earth and the sky got created only once. Similarly the milk of pṛśni, namely maruts, showered only once. Pṛśni is the night sky dotted with stars, compared to a spotted cow. This hymn is inspired by a special sky event to sing a prayer to agni and maruts.

The hymn to keśins (X.136) has definite comet imagery. This hymn is about bright, long hairy objects in the sky. However, the hymn also reflects deeper mystical and philosophical thoughts. This hymn has the earliest reference to the concept of vātaraśanāḥ, which in later Indian astronomy became the invisible air-strings of force holding the planets in their position. This hymn perhaps indicates a cosmic view emerging out of traditional knowledge and new observations.
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Re: Freda Bedi Cont'd (#3)

Postby admin » Fri Jun 25, 2021 2:18 am

Part 2 of 4

Veiled Sun

The above analysis of RV, even though limited in extent, makes a case for the ancient seers to have witnessed some unusual and spectacular events in the sky. But, the description of the purported effects of the transient sky objects on earth is intriguing. When the hymns describe distress it would appear that the community had to face some unexpected adverse climatic conditions due to a disturbed sky. This is not a farfetched inference when it is noted that in several hymns the physical sun is said to be covered by some type of dust, so much so there was no recognizable day break for considerable length of time. There are too many hymns and legends about this event for us to ignore the absence of sunlight as a poetic license to describe the dark night of the human soul or as the prolonged winter of the northern latitudes. In RV (I.51.4) Indra is said to have established sun after destroying vṛtra. In RV (I.86) maruts are prayed to remove the darkness and create the light for which people were longing. Hymn (I.175) is about Indra stealing Sun’s wheel, which is an euphemism for the absence of normally expected rise, movement and setting of the Sun. Hymns (I.183 and 184) refer to the ending of a period of darkness. In the second book hymn (II.15) is about Indra crushing the vehicle of uṣas, which is a metaphor for a continuous dawn like condition without a visible sun. Indra had to be supplicated by men who struggled to get sunlight (II.19). Indra found the sun dissolving in darkness near the cow’s-foot (III.39.5, 6). In (4.16.9) Indra is implored in the battle for sunlight. Indra is said to have hurt uṣas, daughter of the sky which refers to absence of day break, near River Vipāśa (IV.30.9-11). This event is recounted in a slightly different form in the tenth book in hymn (X.138). In hymn (V.31.11) when the night was ending, sun’s wheel is said to have gone backwards. This is again a reference to absence of day break and nonexistence of observable sun’s movement across the sky. Even though the temporal ordering of the various events is left in doubt, the metaphoric texts lead one to perceive extreme climatic conditions preceded by uniquely spectacular celestial events. Maruts should have had an important role to play in these natural events, since they are said to reduce heat and conduct a sacrifice in the heavens (V.54.1). In (V.59.5) it is said that maruts are capable of blocking the sun by their showers (sūryasya cakṣuḥ pra minanti vṛṣṭibhiḥ|). This has been routinely taken, by many translators, to be a cloud cover on a rainy day. However, this interpretation does not match with the immediate next verse, which refers to a special event in the sky.

Like line of birds they flew in lengthened lines from heaven’s ridges to the borders of the sky. Rudra’s children are all similar with none younger or older. (V.59. 6, 7)

This must have been a wide meteoritic ring or trail of a comet obstructing the sun’s orb being seen from the earth.

In (VI.7.5) vaiśvānara is praised to have freed and set the sun in the sky for all to see. A similar statement occurs in (X.156.4) mentioning that agni has made Sun mount the sky. Several hymns to Indra are prayers for sunlight or laudation after sunlight was restored. In (VI.17.5) Indra gives splendour to Sun, which had been lost. In RV (VI.39) the reference is to a light called Indu which brightened the worlds that were not shining. Reference to the widespread abnormal darkness appears in one form or other in several places of RV, with its all pervasive cosmological, philosophical, mystical and religious influence running through the later Vedic texts13. Some hymns of RV praise Indra for having given light to sun as in (VIII.3.6). A few others (VIII.12.30, VIII.89.7) laud Indra for having fixed sun in the sky. In the hymn (X.37) dedicated to Sun, the general prayer is; May we never suffer from want of sun’s presence, which is very similar to the verse (II.33.1) from an earlier stratum of RV. One of the most cryptic descriptions of the sun being covered up is in the seventh book,

tānīdahāni bahulānyāsan yā prācīnamuditā sūryasya | yataḥ pari jāra ivācaranty uṣo dadṛkṣe napunar yatīva|| (VII.76.3)

Many days were over before the old sun rose again. In this period Uṣas was seen behaving like a maiden with her lover.

The above is a plain statement that once, there was a long gap between dawn and sun rise. It also implies that the Vedic seers considered this period to be uṣas or dawn only. Since nothing is said about the nights, it is conjectured that they could recognize the passage of time as implied in the key phrase ahāni bahulāni (many days). The immediate next verse (VII.76.4) mentions about the ancestors of the poet rejoicing after discovering the hidden light of sun. The above incident and the verse are perhaps the basis for all later legends associating Prajāpati (Creator) with uṣas (his own creation figuratively called daughter) as in the Vedic Brāhmaṇa literature14.


As is known agni and Indra are the most important deities in RV. This is true, not only in a statistical sense, but also in terms of the importance they have carried in the Vedic rituals and literature devoted to the elucidation of RV. Even though the original agni of RV was clearly celestial, the terrestrial sacrificial agni assumed greater significance in the traditional (yājñika) interpretation of RV by Sāyaṇa and others before him. The reason for this is not difficult to find. The Vedic religion of yajña on earth is a replica of what the gods did once upon a time. This yajña of the gods was of celestial origin with its effects reaching the earth. Hence this was of profound spiritual significance to the originators of Vedic religion and philosophy to raise questions about the place of man in the universe culminating in the Vedānta or the Upaniṣads. There are several instances in the Vedas where this point is stated either metaphorically or even directly. In the second book (II.21.5), Uśijs (Ańgiras) are said to have found the path by means of yajña. The allegorical reference is to the overthrow of vala to get the waters released. RV hymn (VIII.89) by Nṛmedha and Purumedha (Ańgiras) is about Indra supported by maruts as a group. In this hymn the principle of yajña is said to have originated when Indra spread between the earth and the sky for killing vṛtra. This yajña of gods had a corresponding sacrifice on earth also, which in modern parlance could be called a natural disaster. Maitrāyaṇī Samhitā mentions that gods did a sacrifice at Kurukṣetra15. This is confirmed with further elaborations in the Taittirīya Āraṇyaka16. Taittirīya Brāhmaṇa categorically states, maruts killed Prajāpati's creatures because they (maruts) were not initially worshipped by the people. Prajāpati (Progenitor of people) had to behold a particular offering and present it to maruts in order to save his creation17. A similar statement occurs in the same text about maruts disturbing the work of Prajāpati18. Since RV is the earliest among the Vedas, other texts derive inspiration from RV for their contents and practices. Thus Vedic literature has evidences to infer, the sacrifice by the gods through the agency of meteoritic storms called maruts in RV might have depleted population in the northern parts of ancient India.

The present study started by tracing the word dhūmaketu. In the sequel maruts and vibhāvasu were found to be intimately connected with the fiery dhūmaketu. Vibhāvasu could be the name of one or more comets but the evidence is equivocal. It is possible this word was used in some hymns as a qualification for agni, which depending on its location was called by different names. In one place significantly, vibhāvasu is said to be like a big rock (V.25.8) making one surmise that the ancients had guessed the basic nature of these near earth objects, sometimes called deities but at other instances as demons, correctly. It is maruts that get more space than the other two objects considered here, almost competing with Indra and agni with whom they are any way closely related. The minimal commonality in the physical feature of maruts, is their countable membership to a group (gaṇa), unlike undifferentiated masses of clouds or sheets of water. The Brāhmaṇa texts explain that maruts are viś; the groups (or clans) and this means their abundance in the skies19,20. The perception of the RV composers (I.27.12) was that as in their community traders and agricultural people (viś) were in abundance, so were maruts abundant in the sky. The Taittirīya Brāhmaṇa declares this explicitly; maruts are the most numerous among the gods21.

Three broad phases can be discerned in the description of maruts. The first, probably the earliest in time, are hymns which express awe at the approach of maruts. These also express a sense of fear that maruts are prone to kill people on earth. In the second group are prayers so that the shower of stones may avoid the worshippers of maruts. The third layer contains hymns wherein maruts are invoked to come to prayer or worship. It may not be wrong to conjecture that this trend should have been directly matching with the frequency of the storms of maruts. We also find hymns in which maruts are prayed to bring medicines and precious materials (sanāddhi vo ratnadheyāni santi | X.88.8). This should be a later view of maruts after physical examination of the falling objects and a feel for their contents. A point to be reconciled is the meaning of maruts as wind deities in later literature. We guess, with the status of Indra getting downgraded in time to a mere rain god, maruts always linked with Indra, were also brought down as wind deities. This has happened notwithstanding the fact parjanya and vāyu are the independent rain and wind deities in RV.

The later Vedic texts corroborate the above points, since they essentially describe invocations and offerings to maruts. The Taittirīya Āraṇyaka which, states that maruts were in abundance and killed people, also states that there is only one Rudra and the innumerable thousands (Rudra’s children) are not seen any more but only remembered22. It also associates a season with maruts, namely the hemanta ṛtu the dewy season which is the two month period ending with the winter solstice23. It is most likely; maruts were thought to originate from a particular object in the sky, called Rudra. In many hymns of RV maruts are the children of Rudra, and their downward gliding motion is described by the unique word skandanti from which the proper name Skanda has originated. It is noted here that not in all Vedic literature maruts are denoted as Rudra’s children. The Taittirīya Āraṇyaka differentiates rudragaṇa from marutgaṇa and mentions that the first appear in the grīśmaṛtu, the two month season ending with the summer solstice before the rainy season starts. The latter appear in the hemantaṛtu, as in the Taittirīya Brāhmaṇa. The commentators mention that both are sky deities appearing in their respective seasons. Rudragaṇa is described as being white robed and recurring with the summer season24. The second group appears red with anger as though ready for battle in the dewy season25. It is easily recognized that both are meteor groups separated by six months. This again makes a case for ancient sky observations and earthly rituals going hand in hand. It also hints at the development of observational astronomy starting with the identification of seasons, connected with the observable meteor showers, which once should have caused destruction on land. This raises the question whether marut was a generic word for all types of meteoritic activity or it referred to particular types. This cannot be answered definitively at present. Ulkā the popular word for meteorite in classical Sanskrit is already in use in RV. This word in plural occurs in (IV.4.2) where agni is asked to cast his firebrands (meteors) around. Again ulkā appears in the singular in (X.68.4) where a meteor is said to be cast down from Sun. The group nature that is special to maruts is absent in the occasional meteor called ulkā. It is not the case that the composers of the 4th and the 10th books were not aware of maruts. But they deliberately brought in a new word to discriminate maruts from other transient falling objects. The Ṣaḍvimśa Brāhmaṇa further brings in new terminologies and events tārāvarṣa or star showers, and dig-dāha meaning blaze of the cardinal directions or zodiacal light in addition to ulkā and ketu.

Modern Concepts

Only a small sample of RV hymns is investigated in the present study. But, if the events described in these were descriptions of real events, either by direct experience or based on family tradition, the situation would indicate the occurrence of an ancient natural disaster attributable to meteoritic showers, comets, dust veils and climate alteration for an extended length of time. Evidence for such a severe natural disaster to have occurred in ancient India is available also in the Mahābhārata and the Skānda Purāṇa26.

In recent years scientific evidence for near earth objects to have impacted earth in the past has been growing. The path of the Taurid group of extra terrestrial objects consisting of meteors, meteoroids, asteroids and Comet Encke intersect the orbit of the earth making earth vulnerable for impacts from these objects. Some of these objects instead of reaching the ground may vaporize in the atmosphere leading to air blasts and fires as it happened in Tungska, Siberia in 1908. It is held by astronomers that in the last 10,000 years Comet Encke split and further disintegrated to leave a trail of debris which caused dust veils that would have temporarily blocked sunlight reaching earth27,28. Thus, the Ṛgvedic descriptions of maruts killing people on earth, birth of agni and the Horse in the sky, vṛtra covering the sun, Indra restoring sunlight, breaking down of viśvarūpā son of tvaṣṭā and celestial deities coming down to earth (India) to become important in cultural and religious practices, are to be taken as natural events of low probability but not impossible to have happened in the fourth millennium BCE or earlier.

Chronological Footprint

The relatively late usage of the word dhūmaketu in RV has chronological significance for understanding the development of astronomy in ancient India. The word dhūmaketu for a transient celestial object in the RV and in the AV is in harmony with the use of the word to indicate a comet in later literature. This acquires significance since, names of some of the Vedic deities (devatā) coincide with the names of comets and other non-planetary objects described by Parāśara, Vṛddha-Garga, Nārada and Devala who have left records of what may be called scientific literature prior to the development of mathematical astronomy in India29. Parāśara knew twenty six comets (ketu) long before Varāha-mihira (6th Cent. CE) stated them in the wrong order in his Bṛhatsamhitā. The last comet of this list was called the dhūmaketu.

The most conservative dates for RV agree that the canons were closed, including the late 8th and the 10th books, by 1500 BCE. This, situation not only supports the deciphering of some RV deities as transient celestial objects, but also indicates the existence of a parallel tradition of sky observations contemporaneous with what is mentioned poetically in RV. Parāśara and subsequently Vṛddha-Garga had more things to say about comets. These conspicuously included their specific names, year number, and position in the sky, movement, color, visibility, duration, and effect on earth. They also classified meteors (ulkā) into five types. Parāśara and Vṛddhagarga mention that a graha (grasper) called Tvaṣṭā can darken Sun and Moon at odd times. Varāha-mihira, a votary of mathematics for predicting eclipses severely criticizes Parāśara for his eclipse divination methods, but retains the above legend in his writings. We conjecture that strong belief in the historical reality of such a rare event should have been in the collective memory of the community since the start of the Ṛgveda, for Varāha to accept its possibility and retain this event in the Bṛhatsamhitā.

Interestingly, maruts and correlated sky objects do not refer to the moon directly. References to the moon, months, intercalation, eclipses probably belong to another strata of RV coming after the havoc caused by maruts and the consequent climate alteration effects subsided. It is as if the original group of people left their memories of a divine (celestial) catastrophe in poetic language upon which their successors added further observation of the sky leading to lunar and solar rituals. An algorithmic calendar attributed to Lagadha became a necessity for timing the rituals. The Ṛgveda is well aware of eclipses and their recurrent nature. This is in contrast to sun getting veiled due to atmospheric dust or trail of comet debris. While the observation of a solar eclipse by Atri is easily recognized, lunar eclipses are metaphorical invoking agni to a yajña when moon appears red in colour. The number 3339 mentioned twice in RV is explained by the Brahmāṇḍa Purāṇa unambiguously as a lunar number. This symbolic connection between the above Ṛgvedic number and the eighteen year eclipse period is discussed in the next chapter.

2. Eclipse Cycle Number 3339 in the Ṛgveda


The composers of the Ṛgveda and their immediate followers were not just casual onlookers of the night sky but were inspired and clearly fascinated with what they observed. They not only named an object as dhūmaketu the smoke-bannered fire, they also noted that maruts appeared always in a group consisting of individually differentiated members, all looking similar, but moving together as if they had a central axis. The spectacle should have been so attractive the observers liked to count the numbers in the group or gaṇa, out of which gaṇita (Mathematics) evolved. It need not concern us here whether this counting was out of fear or for adoration or out of just curiosity. We need not also wonder whether these numbers were correct or not, beyond recognizing that counts of 7, 63, 108 are possible to be counted in naked eye observations of a meteor burst or shower. From the evidences presented in the previous article one can infer that when a transient celestial object such as a comet apparition intervened between sun and earth, the concept of ketu-graha as an object that could mask sun and perhaps even the moon arose.

Eclipses of sun and moon must have been experienced by the Vedic people as they became consciously sensitive to the visible sky. The codified darśa-pūrṇamāsa rite, observed to this day by some āhitāgnis, indicates a fairly sophisticated stage when time reckoning and the calendar had become important. Between such practices and the ancient worship of maruts with invocations to celestial fires, what can we infer about possible eclipse observations described in RV? This question is not simple to answer, since the word rāhu so common in later literature does not appear in RV, in stark contrast to the word ketu that appears eighty times. The first reference to rāhu by name is in the Atharvaveda where the moon, planets, meteors, rāhu and the dhūmaketu are mentioned together30. Thus, at least by the time of compilation of the Atharvaveda the Vedic community had differentiated the actions of rāhu and ketu, as agents capable of masking the celestials. In the later texts of Parāśara, Garga, the two Epics and classical Sanskrit literature, rāhu modeled as a large dark planet is taken as the cause of both solar and lunar eclipse. In the RV the well recognized solar eclipse is attributed to svarbhānu but description of lunar eclipse is not easily recognizable in the text. In hindsight this is only natural, since in contrast to the darkening of sun, moon appears red in a total eclipse. Thus for the earliest Vedic observers it was natural to postulate two different obstructing agents for the day time and night time events.

The covering of the sun by maruts, stopping of the chariot of the sun and the many prayers for restoration of sun’s light cannot be taken as references to solar eclipses. The predominant action of vṛtra was prolonged masking of sunlight, whereas any solar eclipse could have been for comparatively very short durations. However, the word vṛtra can be interpreted as one who covers and since it is said that he was won over by Indra, the same imagery might have been used in the early periods to describe solar eclipses also. Usage of the same word to denote two distinct objects can be reconciled when one can attribute the same type of action to the two objects. As is known vṛtra is the archetype asura or demon in later purāṇa legends. We infer that a negative meaning for the word asura had gradually gained acceptance during the RV period itself, as someone who could obstruct celestial objects. This is reflected in the legends about maruts that they once killed the children of prajāpati because they were not respected. Conversely those venerated by people were known as asura, who could discharge stony weapons towards earth. The homonyms asurā… pūrvadevā suradviṣaḥ listed in the Amarakośa support this conclusion31. The word sura in the sense of deva or a deity is not found in RV. The popular interpretation of asura as the opponent of sura is a later development in the Brāhmaṇa texts. However, in some places in RV, asura are in conflict with deva the celestial luminaries of the adhidaiva meaning. Thus it should not be surprising to see asura being described as personified dark objects in the sky. In fact we find the word asura, that is used to refer to maruts in RV, is also used directly or in a derivative form while describing eclipses. We see that in such cases the composers might have referred to the past actions of asura covering the sun or some other luminary. This situation no doubt brings in some ambiguity in locating references to eclipses in Vedic literature, except when the statements are explicit and hence cannot be taken otherwise.

Solar Eclipse

Indian tradition takes the RV sūkta (V.40) to be the description of a solar eclipse. Modern authors also agree with this explanation. It will be interesting to briefly review the contents of this hymn to appreciate the epithets and terminologies used.

Oh Sun! When svarbhānu the āsura struck you with darkness the worlds became
like a person not knowing where he stood. (5)

Indra! While you were removing the illusions of svarbhānu that spread
below the sun, Atri by his fourth prayer rescued Sun concealed by darkness. (6)

Let not the violator devour me with darkness. You are Mitra whose wealth is truth.
Let you and King Varuṇa protect me. (7)

Then, Atri bringing the stones together, offering prayers to deities dispelled
the darkness and placed the eye of Sun in the sky. (8)

Only the Atris and none others, could subsequently find Sun whom
āsura svarbhānu struck with darkness. (9)

Several interesting information can be gathered from the above hymn. The above verses (5- 9) are part of a larger hymn that addresses Indra. Even though the event is popularly known as Atri’s eclipse, it is Indra who is said to have removed svarbhānu. Sun prays to Atri along with Mitra and Varuṇa seeking protection. After this, it is said that Atri placed Sun in the sky. The 9th verse is somewhat unconnected with the previous verses since it refers to the family members of Atri and not to any specific Atri. The eclipse shadow called svarbhānu has the epithet āsura, which is popularly rendered as demon. But from what we found in the previous chapter maruts were the original asuras who could throw stones at earth. They had also covered up Sun once. However, in RV this word has other positive connotations as being powerful and at times even as divine. Here in the hymn RV (V.40) we see the evolution of the concept of an obstruction being called āsura a derivative of asura who had to be removed by Indra. This clear link between āsura and eclipse shadow indicates that wherever the word asura/āsura appears one has to investigate whether or not any metaphorical picture of an eclipse is embedded in the hymn. The above event is also the traceable textual source for the legend of rāhu equated with svarbhānu being known as an asura in later literature. The word asura in the purāṇas is more in the sense of an enemy of sura who in turn are equated with gods or regent deities. As already noted rāhu the eclipse causer appears in Vedic literature first in the Atharvaveda. Since svarbhānu is āsura, with tenuous connection to maruts, the word rāhu is likely to be a short form of the epithet varāhu used for maruts in RV (I.88). After a few more hymns in the same book we read in (V.49.2)32

Knowing the asura's time of returning, worship the deity savitar with hymns and praises.

This verse uses the technical word, prati-prayāṇam, which means return journey or travel. Reference to the return journey of asura and worship of Sun leaves one wondering whether this pertains to an expected solar eclipse. This hymn has viśvedevāḥ as its deities, in common with several other hymns yet to be considered that carry some type of eclipse imagery.

Viśvedevāḥ (VD)

The group of deities known as viśvedevāḥ is of considerable importance in Vedic literature and also in Hindu religious observances. It has been the practice to translate this word as Allgods, which hardly conveys the role of these deities in the Vedas. A brief review of the traditional stand on these deities is important for our further analysis, since viśvedevāḥ (VD) were also countable like maruts.

In RV apart from many isolated verses there are fifty-eight independent hymns devoted to VD. What was the role of VD in the Vedic world view? On this point, there is difference of opinion among the later texts and commentators. In one place in the ŚB it is said VD created the directions33. However, in another place they are described as the seasons34. The attributes and actions of VD are varied, but are almost always connected with time and space and hence important in our study. Bṛhaddevatā (BD) of Śaunaka an explanatory text describing the legends, organization, numbers, and actions of the RV deities, is indispensable in the study of RV. As per BD the eleven hymns starting with (V.41) in the 5th book of RV are devoted to VD35. According to BD (1.136) all the Vedic deities structured into three sub-groups taken together are known as viśvedevāḥ. The hymns about VD are also classified into three groups (BD 3.42). A list comprising of both individual deities and several sub-groups is given in BD, as making up the full VD group36. BD also provides names of some forty RV seers who had understood or realized the nature of viśvedevāḥ37. But, the hymns assigned to many of these seers are found to be about agni. The explanation of the Vedic tradition for this apparent anomaly is; when agni’s cosmic actions are described, such a hymn refers to VD38. What was this special cosmic action of agni which took the Vedic seers beyond meteors, comets, lightning and the sun that further necessitated a set of countable deities? The answer to this question is also available in the Bṛhaddevatā39

The seers of Atri family, for removing the ill effect of Sun who was seen (covered) by svarbhānu, woke up agni with twenty-seven hymns. (BD 5.12)

Thus as per the orthodox tradition all the twenty-seven hymns of the fifth book devoted to agni have some connection with eclipses. One can easily suspect that this relation between a solar eclipse and agni, other than indirectly indicating that Sun was recognized as a form of fire, should have been through a connection between VD and agni.

About the total number of deities recognized by RV there is difference of opinion among the commentators. As per the Nirukta even though there are only three natural deities localized to earth, atmosphere and sky, due to their separate activities the deities are counted as thirty three40. According to this logic still larger numbers can be recognized depending on the multiplicity of actions assigned to the thirty-three deities. In RV (I.34.11) the two aśvins are invoked to arrive along with the Thirty-three deities41. This evidently implies that the Thirty-three meant some sub-group excluding aśvins whose importance is obvious in RV. Notwithstanding such differences, quite surprisingly, there is unanimity among all the authorities that the total number of VD is 3339.

In the RV we come across many small numbers and also a few fairly large numbers. The small ones such as 3, 7, 12, 27, 49, 360 can be explained as having some physical significance and are also easily countable. A notionally large number appearing in a sacred text due to chance is more apt to be in hundreds and thousands in round figures. Curiously enough 3339 is a large number but is too precise and specific to be taken as an arbitrary count of VD due to chance. It is deliberately connected with agni which in turn has had a link with VD, and this number is repeated twice in the RV in the third and the tenth books.

The hymn RV (III.9) is by Gāthina Viśvāmitra, a legendary figure of immortal fame in the cultural history of India. This hymn has agni as its deity. The main purport of the hymn is to invoke agni who has to come from a distance, being hidden as the child of celestial waters. In brief, the legend alluded here is that agni was hiding in a cave, like a lion, till viśvedevāḥ searched him and found him out (RV III.9.4). The next verse mentions that mātariśvan has brought by force this agni who was playing at a distance42. Sāyaṇa interprets mātariśvan as atmospheric wind which can bring fire by force. The phrase sasṛvāmsamiva is explained as like bringing a son by force who was playing somewhere at will43. This simile is quite unusual, since it indicates something that was long awaited, to have happened suddenly. Beyond this the cosmic action of this agni is not made explicit in this hymn. The last verse of the hymn is about the above agni being worshipped by 3339 deities. This verse occurs again in the tenth book. The text with the translation by Aurobindo of this verse is44

trīṇi śatā trī sahasrāṇyagnim trimśacca devā nava cāsarpayan|
aukṣan ghṛtairastṛṇan barhirasmā ādiddhotāram nyasādayanta|| (RV III.9.9; X.52.6)

Gods three thousand and three hundred and thirty and nine waited upon the Fire. They anointed him with many streams of the clarity; they spread for him the seat of sacrifice, and seated him within as Priest of the call.

This verse is the famous nivid that specifies the number of viśvedevāḥ to be 3339. Why this verse and the characteristic number find mention twice in RV is not explained in the Vedic literature. However the use of this special number in RV appears to be by design since the context of the hymns (III.9) and (X.51-X.55) are fairly similar.

Saucīka Hymns

Hymn (X.52), where the number 3339 occurs for the second time in RV, is about viśvedevāḥ attributed to the authorship of Saucīka Agni. It is possible this name of the composer is notional and not meant to denote any real person. If viśvedevāḥ can be rendered as all-gods, the name saucikāgni can be translated as indicator-fire. This again makes one wonder what could have been the connection between viśvedevāḥ and agni. Quite interestingly hymns (X.51) and (X.53) are also by Saucīka Agni and these also contain cryptic metaphorical references to devāḥ and agni.

Hymn (X.51) is in the form of a conversation between devāḥ and agni, where in (v.2), agni wonders ‘how many gods have clearly beheld my form’. There is also an allusion, like in RV (III.9) considered previously, to agni hiding in secret places. The legend outlined in the hymn is briefly as follows. Agni had three elder brothers who were doing the work of carrying sacrificial offerings to gods. All the three died due to the harsh vaṣaṭ sounds uttered during the sacrifices. Hence the youngest fire known as saucīka fearing the same treatment will befall him, was hiding in (celestial) waters, till viśvedevāḥ found him and requested him to come out and help in carrying sacrificial offerings to gods. Saucīka agrees to their request under the condition that he should have prominent role in the yajña and that he should get the prayāja and anuyāja offerings. BD explains this legend at great length to conclude with the total number of VD as the sum of three different numbers, namely 3000; 309 and 3045. This establishes that bringing saucīkāgni was the prime role of the VD deities adding up to 3339. The next hymn RV (X.52) starts with agni asking VD to instruct him as to how he should pass on the sacrificial offerings to them. In (v.2) agni mentions aśvins as the adhvaryus and samidh or Moon as the Brahman in the yajña. Quite cryptically this samidh is offered as oblation to aśvins. The Vedic tradition does not identify aśvins with any specific celestial object but is quite clear that samidh should be equated with soma and the moon46. The next verse (v.3) alludes to counting of days or nights, where the reference is to one who springs to life month by month and by each day (aharahaṛ jāyate māsi māsi). The conclusion that this should be a reference to moon is unavoidable. Agni being honoured by 3339 gods is the theme of the last verse (v.6) of this hymn.

Hymn (X.53) contains nine verses attributed to VD and two to saucīkāgni. In the first two verses (v.1, 2) VD laud agni who is sitting as the leader of the sacrifice. Significantly (v.2) is the mantra arādhi hotā prescribed to be meditated upon at the start of the Vedic darśapūrṇamāsa (DP) rituals observed at New Moon and Full Moon. In (v.3) it is declared:

Agni has arrived with the life (time) given to him by the gods and has made our offerings to the gods auspicious. We have obtained (understood) the secret of the sacrifice.

Tradition attributes this statement to VD. However, as a matter of fact, the poet is here most probably eulogizing a lunar eclipse, since moon as per the previous verse was the sacrificial offering. Moon was also the Brahman, who in Vedic parlance is the presiding officer during a sacrifice. This word also can mean one who had grown big indicating a full moon. The life given to agni by the gods has to be a time period and is to be connected with the number 3339. This secret of agni, who was the tongue of gods for drinking soma, was known to the composer.

The next verse (v.4) is by agni declaring the best advice by which gods can overcome asuras, where this word is used obviously in a negative sense. This verse, like the second verse above, is prescribed for use in the DP rituals47. Linked with the moon and the Full Moon rites the word asura might be an oblique reference to an eclipse. The next verse is also said by agni, but the second-half of (v.5) is more appropriately by the human poet requesting earth and sky for protection from earthly and heavenly pollution (aṁhasaḥ). Tradition takes the word aṁhasaḥ as pāpa, which in turn is usually translated as sin, which does not fit into the context. However, if we recognize that the sky picture of moon being offered in sacrifice by agni, as an eclipse, the word aṁhasaḥ refers quite appropriately to the cosmic pollution caused due to the covering of sun or moon during an eclipse; a religious belief widely prevalent in cultures influenced by the Hindu world view. In (v.6) agni is asked by VD to follow the sun protecting the luminous path, which is a poetic but plausible reference to the ecliptic. This statement makes it clear, that in this context agni is not the Sun, but some other agent which had actually approached Moon. In (v.7) the deities eligible to take soma are asked to arrive in a chariot that is eight cornered or is bound eight fold.

Hymn (X.54) is about Indra the supreme force of RV. It was observed previously in RV (V.40.6) that the covering of the sun by svarbhānu was removed by Indra. Here in (X.54.6) also Indra is said to establish the light in the celestials.

Hymn (X.55) in the first two verses refers to Indra addressed as Maghavan with secret celestial forms. In (v.3) he is said to envelop heaven and earth with the same type of light. He oversees in various roles the five deities (pañcadevān), the Seven-times-seven (saptasapta or forty-nine) entities season by season, along with the Thirty-four (catustriṁśatā). The above three numbers should naturally refer to three sets of countable objects in the sky. Sāyaṇa’s gloss takes the five deities to be the five tribes that include humans, which meaning is unlikely as humans are not referred as devāḥ in RV. In verse (v.5) the reference is to vidhu that is Moon, whom Sāyaṇa interprets as Indra in the form of Time. The gist of this verse can be rendered as48

He is woken up from his slumber running his course with many around him…. He who died yesterday is living today.

The next verse (v.6) is even more cryptic in mentioning the arrival of the ancient red bird which has had no nest to dwell in (aruṇaḥ suparṇaḥ anīḍaḥ|). Again Sāyaṇa takes this red bird to be Indra, equated by him previously with vidhu, normally interpreted as Moon. If the poetic language is disentangled, the context can be understood to be a celestial event in which Full Moon is seen and an apparition of red colour also appears. Mention of the arrival of a red coloured bird with no permanent nest to reside, is easily recognized as a transient event associated with the total eclipse of the moon. The summary of the archaeo-astronomical information contained in the above five hymns is: in the night sky, moon’s colour turned red due to the arrival of saucīkāgni brought in by viśvedevāḥ numbering 3339.

Marriage of Sūryā with Soma

Hymn RV (X.85) is one of the most beautiful poetry in the whole of Vedic literature. This is popularly known as the marriage hymn describing the bridal procession of sūryā for her union with soma the Moon. The implied imagery of a lunar eclipse, hidden beneath the ancient enchanting poetry of the meeting of two celestial persons, is quite apparent from the beginning of the hymn. This hymn also presents a window to one of the esoteric cosmic thought that forms the basis of Hindu mysticism. There are forty-seven verses in this long hymn. We consider here only those connected with soma which in the adhidaiva sense is the moon as per the orthodox tradition of Yāska49. The gist of the astronomical information available is as follows.

Earth is held by truth and the heaven is upheld by Sun. Ādityas depend on the cosmic order, while Moon is stationed in the sky. (1)

Soma the moon is stationed near the nakṣatras. (2)

He who crushes and drinks the juice thinks that the herb is Soma. But only the seers know the real nature of the regent deity of Soma (the moon). (3)

Soma! You are protected by seven layers of covers. Humans cannot take part in drinking you. (4)

Soma! Whereas the gods drink you, you become bright again. The wind protects the Soma, while moon is the creator of the years. (5)

The above five verses introduce moon as the object of the hymn. The next seven verses (v.6- 12) describe the travel of Sun’s daughter sūryā in the sky towards her husband the Moon, in abstract terms. Her friends were Lauds and Hymns; her dress was made of Sāma music; her chariot was the Mind and her cover was the Sky. Two bright objects (śukrau) were the bullocks drawing her cart. In other words she was really invisible, till the poet was able to see her dress in colour much later in verse (v.35). In this picture the two aśvins appear as visible, hinting them to be twin stars witnessing the act. Verse (v.13) provides the locus of the celestial marriage through a metaphor.

sūryāyā vahatuḥ prāgāt savitā yam avāsṛjat|
aghāsu hanyante gāvo’rjunyoḥ paryuhyate || (X.85.13)

Traditionally this is rendered to mean:

The bullocks of the cart with the wedding gifts were whipped in the Maghā asterisms. Sūryā was carried to her husband’s place in the Arjunī asterisms.

This is the literal meaning given by Sāyaṇa also. But in view of the context of the night sky being pictured, the word gāvaḥ in the adhidaiva sense should mean rays or light, which is an accepted meaning of the word as per the Nirukta50. This leads to the direct meaning:

The light rays (of moon) are hit in passing through the Maghā stars, while sūryā is carried over by moon in the Arjunī stars.

This in plain language means the shadow on the moon started near group of six stars called Maghā the brightest among them being the ecliptic star Regulus. The eclipsed moon progressed in time towards Arjunī which refers to the two stars of the Pūrva-phalguni nakṣatra. In summary the eclipse was in the constellation Leonis. The next verse (v.14) mentions that when aśvins arrived asking for sūryā, their request was supported by viśvedevāḥ. We are not sure of the role of aśvins in the sky picture, other than inferring they should have been two closely spaced stars, but mention of viśvedevāḥ probably indicates a connection with their characteristic number 3339. Verses (18 & 19) are about the playful nature of sun and moon, where the property of being reborn is associated with the moon. The hymn from (v.20) onwards digresses on to the marriage of humans except in a few places where sūryā is referred. For example (v.35) is about the visible form of the three-fold dress of sūryā the pollution due to which only a seer can relieve. Similarly the upper cloth of a human bride is said to be afflicted by a deity, dark coppery red in colour. This reference to coppery red in relation to sūryā can be inferred to be the colour of the moon’s orb as seen from earth during a total eclipse. We have seen previously that viśvedevāḥ are the deities who bring agni. In verses (38-41) sūryā is said to have been given to agni by the gandharva who in turn got her from soma. The hymn presents a picture of the night sky, with moon being visible. Circumstances describing the journey of Sun’s daughter, named suryā to marry moon and the coppery red colour of the apparition indicate a total lunar eclipse. Mystically, this event highlights the cosmic agni-soma union.

Vedic Long Count 3339

From the above analysis a physical connection between the 3339 viśvedevāḥ and an agni who can cause eclipses is seen to exist. Even if the hymns were to be taken as mystical poetry the reference to the waxing and waning of moon and further eclipse imagery is too conspicuous to be overlooked. Most probably in the early stages of theorization, svarbhānu and sūryā, both literally indicating a connection with the sun, were taken to be the active external partners in solar and lunar eclipses caused by agni brought in by viśvedevāḥ. The intriguing aspect of this ancient theory of eclipses is the number 3339 and its intended meaning. The extant Vedic texts are essentially silent on this. Sāyaṇa’s gloss on the Taittirīya Brāhmaṇa (II.7.12.2) where this number 3339 occurs, declares that over and above the thirty-three RV deities others are supernumeraries. Some modern day scholars have also speculated on the nature of this number. Shama Shastry takes 3339 to be the number of year-gods and looks for a link with a 33 year cycle51. Sarma interprets this as a period of thirty years consisting of 371 lunar months52. Kak thinks that 3339 is the total number of gods in a year personified as agni53. He breaks the number into its factors 9 and 371 to identify the first as the bhāmśās in a tithi and the latter as the number of tithis in a solar year. While these authors have at least guessed this number to be associated with a time measure, majority of indologists and historians have presumed this to be just a part of variable Vedic mythology, wherein the number of gods increased from thirty-three to higher figures (even 33 Crores) with time. This type of speculative generalization has happened due to literalistic interpretation of Vedic texts following the sacrificial tradition ignoring the celestial nature of the deities and their actions. On the other hand, Purāṇas by tradition are supposed to be of help in understanding the Vedas. In fact the adhidaiva tradition is preserved in bits and pieces in some of the Purāṇas. Fortunately, the physical meaning of the above number 3339 and related legends are well preserved in the Brahmāṇḍa Purāṇa.

Purāṇic Harmony
The eighteen major and eighteen minor purāṇās make up an enormous body of Sanskrit literature, not easy to read, much less to synthesize to see the common cultural threads linking them to the Ṛgveda. Here, the Brahmāṇḍa Purāṇa (BP) will be considered briefly to bring out the rationale behind the 3339 viśvedevāḥ of the Ṛgveda. All the important purāṇas describe the night sky and present ancient astronomical models based on Meru and the Pole Star. In a few of the available texts the nucleus of this sky model can be traced back to the Vedas. The BP one of the earliest among the eighteen purāṇa explains the waxing and waning of moon as part of its astronomy. A few verses are given below with a working translation to appreciate the legend of somapāna (drinking of the moon), by the gods

āpūrayan suṣumṇena bhāgam bhāgamahaḥ kramāt |
suṣumṇā āpyāyamānasya śuklā vardhanti vai kalāḥ || BP. I. ( 23.61)

The bright parts (of moon) increase in the śukla pakṣa, with sun filling them up in daily
sequence through his suṣumṇā ray.

Bhakṣārtham amṛtam somaḥ pourṇamāsyām upāsate |
ekām rātrīm suraiḥ sarvaiḥ pitṛbhiḥ sarṣibhiḥ saha ||
somasya kṛṣṇapakṣādau bhāskarābhimukhasya tu |
prakṣīyante pitṛdevaiḥ pīyamānāḥ kalākramāt ||
trayaśca trimśataścaiva trayaḥtrimśat tathaiva ca |
trayaśca trisahasrāśca devāḥ somam pibanti vai ||
ityetaiḥ pīyamānasya kṛṣṇā vardhanti vai kalāḥ |
kṣayanti tasmāt śuklāśca kṛṣṇā āpyāyayanti ca || BP.I. (23.66-69)

Moon is approached by all the deities, manes and Ṛṣis for a night on Full Moon, for partaking nectar. From the beginning of the dark fortnight, parts of moon facing sun, decrease being drunk by the manes digit by digit. Three hundred and three, then thirty-three and again three thousand and three gods drink soma. Being drunk this way, the dark digits increase with corresponding decrease in the bright digits.

This is a clear enunciation of the scientific naturalism behind the 3339 gods and what their role must have been in the Ṛgveda. The nomenclature of the deities might have changed, but these were special and their count was sequential, in the order of the decreasing phases of moon adding to 3339. The above description is in tune with the Ṛgveda and the Vedic ritualistic picture of moon and drinking of soma by the gods. The tripartite Vedic division of viśvedevāḥ is also maintained in the purāṇa as the sum of three numbers 33, 303 and 3003.

Eclipse Cycle of 18 Years

The symbolism of gods drinking the digits of moon, which obviously refers to the dark fortnight, and their total number being 3339, has its origin in the Ṛgveda. For this characteristic number the above purāṇic model has to be accepted as the proper explanation. The count started on pūrṇimā to proceed till amāvāsya and stopped till the next Full Moon, to repeat again in the same fashion with gaps in the bright fortnights. In other words, this number is the count of tithis only in the dark fortnights summed up as 3339 sequentially for a special purpose. If both the fortnights were to be included, the real time elapsed by this count would be 6678 tithis. At the rate of thirty tithis per lunation, this long count is equal to 222.6 lunations, which in round figures is the eclipse cycle of 223 synodic months. It is known that for the Vedic people months were lunar but the year was solar. It is also known from Lagadha’s Vedāńga Jyotiṣa that one solar year was taken to have 371 tithis. Hence the Vedic number 3339, which is half of 6678, is a proxy for 18 solar years. Agni, viśvedevāḥ, yajña and somapāna described in various places of RV are symbols or metaphors for technically modeling the celestial phenomenon of similar lunar eclipses. The context of the number in the RV and evidence from the BP leads to the conclusion that the number 3339 was the Vedic long count of nights or tithi linked with lunar eclipses occurring near the same nakṣatra.

Other Vedic Texts

Later texts such as the Taittirīya Samhitā (TS), the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa (ŚB) and the Tāṇḍya Brāhmaṇa know the solar eclipse of RV but describe the same in different ways. The Taittirīya Samhitā has a sacrificial interpretation mentioning that the eclipse shadow, as it receded, was taken to be a barren divine animal (devapaśu). It is said that the gods discussed as to whom that animal should be offered54. There is no mention of Atri or Indra in this hymn. ŚB (V.3.2.2) also knows svarbhānu and the solar eclipse. This text attributes the release of Sun from darkness to Soma and Rudra. Soma is moon and solar eclipses occur only on amāvāsya day when moon enters sun as per the Aitareya Brāhmaṇa. Rudra is the progenitor of the marut group, which had covered Sun’s eye once in the past. This might be the reason for ŚB to link the release of Sun to Soma and Rudra. Kauṣītaki Brāhmaṇa (XXIV. 3-4) describes the eclipse quoting RV (V.40.9) and linking the event with the svarasāman, the saptadaśastoma and the viṣuvant day. Tāṇḍya Brāhmaṇa (IV.5.2; IV.6.13) refers to svarbhānu and a solar eclipse. Most probably this is also a reference to the solar eclipse of RV. However, Sengupta has treated the two events as independent and also dated them under assumptions that are not independently verifiable55. According to him The RV solar eclipse is dateable to the summer solstice day corresponding to 26th July 3928 BCE. Since the Tāṇḍya Brāhmaṇa refers to the svarasāman days along with the solar eclipse he has argued that this eclipse should have happened on the equinoctial day corresponding to 14th September 2451 BCE. Stockwell based on the interpretation of some German scholars that the RV solar eclipse occurred three days before the autumnal equinox, dated the RV eclipse to 20th October 3784 BCE56. From several considerations it appears that all the Vedic texts refer only to the original total solar eclipse of RV experienced in the 4th millennium BCE.

The Vājasaneya Samhitā (33.7), the Kāṇva Samhitā (32.7) of the Śukla Yajurveda and the khilasūkta of RV repeat the viśvedeva-nivid of RV (III.9.9). The Taittirīya Brāhmaṇa (TB) records the same hymn at (II.7.12.2). Thus, the use of the number 3339 was wide spread in ritualistic observances. TB (I.3.10) describes the legend of Indra returning on an amāvāsya after having defeated asuras. It further refers to the arrival of pitṛs at that time and they being given a boon to drink soma on amāvāsya. Their number is said to be six as being related to the six seasons. This most probably refers to a solar eclipse the details of which are not available now.

Ṛgvedic hymns describe or at least allude to eclipses in poetic fashion relating the events with agni, soma, viśvedevāḥ, yajña, Indra, svarbhānu, sūryā and the coppery red colour. But the significance of number 3339 that appears in association with VD is no where stated in the Vedas. The purāṇa text presents the meaning of the number clearly but stops short of relating it to eclipses. However, by combining the Vedic and purāṇic information we can safely conclude that the Vedic people knew the so called saros of 223 lunations, nearly equal to eighteen years, in a more fundamental and hence original form as 6678 tithi. Discovery of this number and its use in describing a natural astronomical event represents the earliest development of scientific thinking in India. This knowledge probably was treated as secret and hence its origin has so far remained shrouded in mystery. Such a special number surely would have left its foot prints on the sands of time and hence gets revealed once the archaeoastronomical metaphors are uncovered as demonstrated above.


Evidence available so far, points out that the long count number was discovered with the help of lunar eclipses. This is implied by the counting of the 3339 tithis starting from a Full Moon and carrying this count only during the dark fortnights, to end on an amāvāsyā. The expectation would have been that the subsequent Full Moon would be an eclipse night. Duncan Steel in his famous monograph on eclipses discusses how ancient civilizations could have arrived at the 18-year cycle by observing the moon rather than marking solar eclipses57.

Vedas are broadly divided into Samhitā, Brāhmaṇa, Āraṇyaka and Upaniṣad. The Ṛgveda Samhitā is the most ancient with parts of the text belonging to as ancient as the 4th millennium BCE. RV as available now is organized as sūkta, made up of mantra or metrical verses endowed with knowledge said to have been revealed to a Ṛṣi (seer). What is interesting is that the text contains special numbers, at least one of which, namely, 3339 is a long count connected with the 18-year lunar eclipse cycle. Brāhmaṇā texts are taken to be explanatory guides for the Samhitās. However, in their available format, the explanations are too convoluted with ritualistic jargon and hence not easily amenable for establishing a one-toone relation with the original hymns. In the present case the Brahmāṇḍa Purāṇa preserves a simple explanation for the above number. This leads us to the conclusion that 3339 represents the tithis, in the dark fortnights, separating two lunar eclipses of the same type. Tithi is a time unit well known to Vedānga Jyotiṣa, Purāṇas, siddhāntic astronomy and continues to be used in India to this day. The present study indicates that this concept has come down to us from RV times, even though how it was originally measured is not yet completely understood. But it may be noted, the word tithi in the sense of date in a year is explicitly used in the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa. Unfortunately those who read only the English translation of this important Vedic text miss this word since Eggeling in his translation left out this word58. Since there are some historians who hold on to the opinion that the word tithi is not of Vedic origin, it is necessary to quote the original text. This appears in the legend of Manu’s Flood (ŚB I.8.1)

sa yatithim tatsamām paridideśa tatithim samām nāvamupakalpyopāsām cakre||

This alludes to the promise of the Fish to come on a specified tithi in a specified year and that Manu awaited the arrival of the Fish on that tithi in that year with a boat ready for travel. Although no specific year or day is mentioned the word tithi has been used in this early Vedic text in the sense of date.

Now, turning our attention to Purāṇas, there is a view that in the remote past these were fewer in number. Since the present day versions contain same or similar texts in too many places, it is logical to postulate the origin of these books from a single source, which is not traceable in its original form now. Existence of itihāsa and purāṇa are known at least from the Vedic Brāhmaṇa and Upaniṣad times as evidenced in T.B (III.12.8.2) and the Chāndogya Upaniṣad (3.4.1). It is possible, like the Brāhmaṇas explaining the ritualistic and the Upaniṣad the philosophical aspects (Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad III.9) the Purāṇa once explained the physical worldly meaning of the Vedas.

The legend of gods and manes drinking nectar of moon appears in several Purāṇas. Since, at present, the texts are inflated and have many errors due to transmission and copying problems, it is difficult to discuss the numbers mentioned differently in some of these texts. For example, in the vulgate Viṣṇu and the Lińga Purāṇa texts we read,

trayastrimśatsahasrāṇi trayastrimśat śatāni ca|
trayastrimśat tathādevāḥ pibanti kṣaṇadākaram|| (VP. II.12.7)

trayastrimśatśatāścaiva trayastrimśat tathaiva ca|
trayastrimśatsahasrāṇi devāḥ somam pibanti vai ||
evam dinakramāt pīte vibudhaistu niśākare |
pītvārdhamāsam gacchanti amāvāsyam surottamāḥ || (LP. 56.11-12)

The numbers of deities mentioned above add to 36333; whereas the remaining statements are as in the Brahmāṇḍa Purāṇa. There is no reason to believe that VP and LP propose astronomical models different from the one that appears in BP. It is found that BP is more reliable for matter-of-fact astronomy than VP. Hence we can take the number 3339 as the valid Vedic long count restated in the Purāṇas also. How was this number observed, marked and counted? What could have been the influence of this number on the darśapūrṇamāsa sacrifice which draws inspiration from the saucīka hymns of the 10th book of RV? These questions are studied in the next chapter.

3. Darśapūrṇamāsa Rite, Moon’s Abode and Calendar


In the previous chapter we have seen that RV associates the occult number 3339 with the Moon in the Saucīka hymns of the 10th book. The mantras of these hymns are prescribed for use in the darśa-pūrṇamāsa sacrifice (Newmoon-Fullmoon rite or DP rite), thus hinting at a possible connection between the DP rites and the above number. As the name itself indicates, DP rite in the earliest period of its institution must have been based on directly observing the Moon, till a practical calendar was developed. The Vedāńga Jyotiṣa (VJ) of Lagadha spells out its objective as providing a way to know the correct times for observing Vedic rites. Hence, we can safely say that the algorithmic VJ calendar is later than the Vedic rituals such as the DP rite. A question of seminal importance is how the characteristic lunar number 3339 was traced and counted over a long period of time of at least 18 years, before the evolution of a formal calendar? What connections could exist among the long count, lunar eclipses, the DP rite and the VJ? In this chapter these questions are addressed, to the extent possible, by analyzing some of the Vedic texts for available clues.
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Part 3 of 4


Ancient Vedic practices prescribe offerings in fire to be carried out on various occasions. Among these the darśapūrṇamāsa-iṣṭi (DP rite) is an astronomy related religious practice, as the name directly indicates. The ritual is also known as DP-yāga and sometimes as DP-yajña. As per Āpastamba an ancient authority on Vedic rituals, DP rite is prescribed by both the Ṛgveda and the Yajurveda59. There are no explicit statements about the performance of this rite in the RV other than the Saucīka hymns which are prescribed for use in the DP rite by all the authorities. Hence, this can be taken as a clue provided by the tradition that the viśvedeva number 3339 is connected with the DP rite and the moon. The ritual is described to varying levels of detail in the texts belonging to the Yajurveda. The construction of the altars in which sacrificial oblations are offered is described in the Śulba Sūtra texts which are formulaic and hence cryptic but preserve the scientific developments of the Vedic period in some detail. The mathematics and geometry behind the construction of the different shaped altars have been investigated in the past notably by Datta60, Sarasvati61, Sen and Bag62, and Seidenberg63. A variety of geometric shapes are prescribed in the texts. But the symbolism behind them is explicitly made known only in a few cases. While the square, circle and semicircle are relatively simple the geometrical design of the śyena-citi (Falcon altar) is complex. However as the name indicates the required shape of this altar is of a bird. We may conjecture that based on some type of physical observation, experience or principle the shapes first came into vogue, the details of which are not available now. Another important formalism of the Vedic altars is in their specified area. The gārhapatya, āhavanīya and dakṣiṇa altars that are respectively circular, square and semicircular have to be equal in area. This principle demands squaring a circle and circling a square which eventually leads to estimating the irrational quantities π, √2 and √3 in terms of rational fractions.

The DP rite is among the śrauta sacrifices requiring a group of priests to assist the yajamāna (sacrificer) and his wife to complete the prescribed ritual. The details of the canonical hymns selected from different texts and the complete procedure of carrying out the ritual are available in print64. The DP rite needs four altars namely the gārhapatya, āhavanīya, dakṣiṇa and the darśa-pūrṇamāsa-vedi (DP altar). The last one is also known as dārśikivedi and sometimes as antarvedi. We have already seen the first three of these are of different shapes but of equal area. These three altars are built with bricks in five layers to carry fire in them to make prescribed offerings. The most intriguing altar is the DP altar which is not built in five layers, has no fire lit on it and for all practical purposes is just a sacred platform, nonetheless indispensably central to the esoteric principles behind the ritual. The symbolism behind the DP altar is not described in any of the texts except for intriguing and cryptic hints. But the geometrical construction of this altar, which is like an enclosed platform, is carefully detailed so that the altar acquires a special curved shape. Since the DP rite is connected with the moon it is natural to suspect that the DP altar should have some archaeo-astronomical significance linked with the moon.

Design of the DP Altar

The design and marking of the DP altar is described in several Śulba Sūtra texts65. The details are nearly same in all the texts with some minor differences. All texts mention that the altar should be constructed symmetrically about the base line (pṛṣṭhyā) in the East-West direction. Here an interesting question would be how the E-W line was drawn. The Kātyāyana Śulba text prescribes the use of gnomon for following the shadow of sun to mark the E-W direction. The Mānava Śulba text proposes observing two visible stars to mark the E-W line. The text followed by the translation of Sen and Bag is:

antareṇa citrāsvātī śravaṇapratiśravaṇau kṛttikāpratikttike tiṣyapunarvasū ca prāgdeśo’yam yugamātroditayoḥ pāśañca || Mānava Śulba Sūtra (1.3)

By the middle of a pair (of nakshatras) Citrā and Svātī, Śravaṇa and Pratiśravaṇa, Kṛttikā and Pratikṛttikā, Tiṣya and Punarvasū, having risen 86 ańgulas (above the horizon), is (fixed) is the eastern (cardinal) point, and it is (brought into a line) with the ties (of the chord).

This indicates that the line was drawn early morning, aligning it with the centre of specified pair of stars, when these stars were above the horizon by a yuga which is mentioned in other places to be equal to 86 ańgula. How this altitude which is really an angular distance was measured is a matter of conjecture. We guess that ańgula as a known linear measure was used to fix the angular position of the stars above the horizon with the help of a vertical staff. Four star pairs are mentioned for this purpose most probably corresponding to the four quarters of the year. These are: citrā-svātī; śravaṇa-pratiśravaṇa; kṛttikā-pratikṛttikā; and tiṣyā-punarvasū. The method suggested seems to be to identify a pair of visible stars early in the morning in the eastern sky and mark a line on the ground as if the line passes in between the two stars. The statement that kṛttikā (Alcyone) once arose precisely due east as per the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa gives credibility to the E-W alignment of the central axis of the DP altar for some esoteric astronomical purpose. The stars citrā and svāti (Spica-Arcturus) are on either side of the celestial equator. The two appear nearer to each other and hence these two when visible a few degrees above the eastern horizon can indicate the eastern direction. The details of fixing the staffs to make the E-W marking are not available in the texts. But from the Taittirīya Brāhmaṇa (I.5.2) it is known that Vedic people observed a desired nakṣatra before sun rise and made marks on ground to estimate the time remaining for the star to be visible in the eastern sky66.

Once the E-W line is taken as drawn, further construction is symmetric about this line. First an isosceles trapezium ABCD is drawn as shown in Figure 1. The eastern and the western sides AC and BD are respectively 48 and 64 ańgula in length. The height of the trapezium is 96 ańgula. With points C and D fixed, a rope of length 2CD is stretched in the southern direction till point F. With F as the centre and FC as the radius, an arc of a circle is made to pass through points C and D. This is repeated symmetrically on the northern side AB. Similar arcs are drawn on the eastern and western sides. This altar is not a citi wherein offerings are made in the fire; hence there are no prescriptions about the shapes of the bricks to be used on this altar. Nevertheless this altar is as important as the other three altars in the DP rite. Principally darbha grass is spread on the DP altar for seating special deities and water ablutions are offered on this altar to Ekata, Dvita and Trita the three elder brothers of Saucīkāgni of the hymns of RV (X.51-55).

Figure 1. Geometry of the DP altar
Area of the DP Altar

An important concept associated with a Vedic altar is its shape and area. As per the Śatapatha Brāhamaṇa the circular gārhapatya is supposed to represent the earth, whereas the square āhavanīya stands for the sky. Both these altars along with the semicircular southern altar are of same area equal to one vyāma. The DP altar is situated within the space enclosed by the above three as shown in Fig.2. The positioning of the DP altar between the circular earth and the square sky naturally implies that its special shape hides a cosmic symbolism. The ritual manuals discriminate the DP altar from the other three altars for some special reason. What strikes the eye is the peculiar shape of the altar which is deliberate and painstakingly explained in the manuals. The principle of equivalence of the areas encourages us to find the area of the DP altar, the construction of which is available in the Baudhāyana Śulbasūtra among others. The area of the basic trapezium (Fig.1) is 5376 square units. Since by construction CDF is an equilateral triangle, the area of the curved region cut out from the trapezium is (π/6 - √3/4) CD2. The exact length of the side CD is 96⅓ units, which is slightly more than the height of the trapezium.

Figure 2.

From these considerations the area cut out on the four sides of the trapezium can be found to be 2261 units. This gives the exact area of the DP altar to be 3115 units. It is to be noted here the above value is based on the presently known accurate values of the irrational numbers π and √3 and the exact expression for the area of the arc of a circle. Here we may pause and ask; what could have been the area the ancients desired to have for the finished altar? Since no text mentions this area but only gives the construction, we attempt to estimate the desired area to the level of approximation of the Śulba Sūtras. If the Samhitā and Brāhmaṇa texts represent earliest observations of the sky, the Śulba Sūtras are records of early Indian mathematics and geometry. The area of a circle was estimated by dividing the figure into large number of squares. In the present case for the arc of the circle in Fig.1, our ancients must have used a similar approximation which is not available in the texts. However we can take errors in such approximations to be represented effectively by errors in the values used for the irrational numbers π and √3. The Śulba Sūtra texts provide considerable information on how the above irrational numbers were handled by the Vedic people eventually arriving at approximate values. The best of the ancient approximations were π = 3.0885 (as a fraction) and √3 = 26/15 as explained in detail by Sen and Bag67. Hence the area implied to be removed from the basic trapezium was most probably equal to 2032 square units making the desired area of the final altar to be 3345 units. If the Vedic priests took the length of AB = CD as 96 instead of the correct 96⅓, the area of the DP altar would have been 3334 units. The above two numbers can be taken as fair estimates of the area desired for the altar when it was conceived for the first time in the remote past. This result is remarkable as the two values happen to be too close to 3339 the Ṛgvedic count of the deities viśvedevāḥ correlated with lunar eclipses as demonstrated in Chapter 2. Hence, we can infer beyond reasonable doubt that the desired area of the original DP altar was equal to 3339 units. This choice was not due to chance but was a deliberate selection to provide equivalence for the number of viśvedevāḥ to be seated on the DP altar in the Vedic rite. In turn, this number should have been the count of tithi in the dark fortnights between two similar lunar eclipses occurring near the same nakṣatra.

The above analysis helps us to unearth the symbolism behind the shape of the DP altar and the possible method adopted for counting the Ṛgvedic large number 3339. The Vedic and the Purāṇa texts mention that gods consume moon digit by digit in the dark fortnights. In matter of fact language this means the waning moon was observed each night and a count was kept. This is astronomically meaningful since in the dark fortnight moon would be visible all through the night after its rise. Starting from a Full Moon rising at sun set, moon rise is delayed by about an hour on each subsequent night but remains visible till sun rise. It is in this context the Vedic concept of deities drinking Moon only in the dark fortnight has to be appreciated as a naturalism which is at the root of Vedic philosophy and religion. From modern astronomy it is known that moon’s orbit is inclined to the ecliptic by about ±5°.

Since the ecliptic and the equator are inclined at about 24° with each other an observer on earth will see Moon wandering, sinuously on either side of the local E-W direction. If at a fixed time, every night the observer were to follow the location of the Moon, starting from its maximum deviation the figure over a long period of time will appear symmetric about the EW line and curved on the N-S sides like the DP-altar. Actually this will be a bounded region in the visible sky apparently flat and aptly denoted as the candra-maṇḍala (Moon’s Abode) in the Purāṇas. The extreme southern and northern positions of the moon are similar to the solstices of the sun. Vedānga Jyotisha in fact mentions ayana (N-S-N movement) for both sun and moon. But we have not come across unambiguous lunar standstill statements in the ancient texts. Nevertheless, the possible recognition of a standstill provides a clue to how the Vedic people might have kept track of the waning moon. Suppose the Vedic astronomer (nakṣatradarśa) started with a lunar eclipse near a major standstill and marked moon’s declination approximately by placing a pebble or piece of stone on the ground, about a nearly E-W line for 3339 nights, the resulting figure would be very similar to the DP altar. The counting method automatically correlates with the phase of the moon and eventually leads to the formal DP altar for purposes of calendar and religion based on cosmic concepts. A modern verification of this claim is demonstrated in Figure 3. This figure is a plot of the declination of moon for 3339 nights, starting at the bottom from 7th September 2006 with a lunar eclipse to end on the New Moon of 24th September 2024. It can be verified an eclipse will take place on the subsequent Full Moon. The resultant shape of the diagram that transfers the position of the moon on to the ground will be very robust as can be expected from Figure 3. Even with many misses and mistakes the symbolic shape of moon’s abode in the sky gets captured fairly well by the DP altar. The enveloping boundaries are not circular, but the Śulba Sūtra prescriptions are good approximations. This figure also helps us to understand how in ancient times moon might have been observed for keeping count of tithi. Even though tithi is widely prevalent in India even now, the present way of fixing the tithi was not the method followed in Vedic times. In the previous chapter we have seen that the word tithi was used in Vedic times to denote a date within a year. We do not know precisely how this was done, but it certainly depended on the phases of the moon. The DP rite as described in the Sūtra texts and the still later manuals is strictly codified with precise instructions and minute details of Vedic hermeneutics. However, for the ritual to get fixed so accurately, considerable time should have elapsed during which period variable interpretations and observations must have been prevalent. We get some inkling to this in the texts to arrive at a plausible conjecture that the DP rite should have helped in the evolution of the Vedic Calendar or Vedāṇga Jyotiṣa (VJ) of Lagadha.

Figure 3. Position of moon on 3339 consecutive nights of the dark fortnights starting from 7th September 2006

DP rites are enjoined to be carried out for 15 years or 30 years or lifelong. The Śatapatha Brāhamaṇa (XI.1.2.10) instructs:68

“One ought to perform DP-yāga for 15 years. In these there are 360 Full Moons and New Moons. There are 360 nights in a year. He gains these nights (in 15 years). If he performs the DP-yāga for another 15 years, he gains the year itself.”

The rationale here is that the lunar year has 360 tithi, where as the solar is 372 tithi long. This difference of 12 tithi can be made up in 30 years since, 12x 30= 360 to bring the two rhythms together. This, of course, does not make the solar and lunar years to correctly synchronize, due to the wrong length of the solar year. But it is only through such efforts the VJ with better intercalation could have evolved.

VJ Calendar and the Vedic Long Count

VJ is a text critically edited and studied in the past by several scholars69,70,71 . Hence, here we limit our attention to investigate how the Vedic long count could have influenced VJ. It is known that the Vedic people had a luni-solar calendar where the year was solar but the months were lunar. Intercalation was practiced to bring the solar and lunar year into harmony by various methods. The central theme of VJ is to provide an algorithm to find in advance the tithi, parvan, nakṣatra in the formalized Vedic five year cyclic calendar. Thus its focus is not observational but essentially computational. VJ has come down to us in two branches, namely the ārca-jyotiṣa and the yājuṣa-jyotṣa. The basic elements are common to both and hence the two are generally considered together as a single tradition of ancient Vedic astronomy. The basis of VJ is the five year yuga period equated to 62 synodic lunar months of 1830 days, taken equal to 67 sidereal months. There are 1768 moon rises and 1835 risings of the ecliptic star Śraviṣṭhā (Dhaniṣṭhā, Vāsava, β-Delphini), with which sun and moon came together at winter solstice c 1400 BCE. The length of a solar year according to VJ is 371 tithi or 366 days. Any three independent elements among the above parameters lead to the complete luni-solar calendar of VJ. There are several publications discussing the strength and weakness of VJ as a calendar. The glaring inaccuracy is with the length of the solar year which is too long. Hence if the formulae are used blindly, the results would perceptibly miss reality within a few years. However it has been pointed out in the past72 corrections were done in the form of intercalary months and dropping of tithi to keep the calendar in tune with the sun. There have been efforts to interpret VJ, claiming that the 19-year Metonic cycle is implied by the Ṛgvedic VJ text which would have lead to a near perfect synchronization between the lunar and solar movements73. This does not explain why Lagadha went in for a five year cycle with excess length of the solar year. Thus, the Metonic 19-year knowledge or equivalent long count could not have been the basis of VJ. It may be noted here that the five year cyclic calendar with 366 days per year was adopted also by the astronomical text Sūryaprajñapti-Candraprajñapti, (c 500 BC) belonging to the Jaina tradition74.

The Vedic year

Vedic people had recognized several types of years such as the nākṣatra, the lunar, the sāvana, the solar and the intercalary year. The Nidāna Sūtra (V.11-12) belonging to the school of the Sāmaveda states this as,

ṣaṭtrimśono navonaśca ṣaḍahono’tha sāvano’ṣṭādaśabhiḥ jyāyān ahobhiḥ sāvanāt paro
nākṣatram iti|| māsaśca tasya caiva trayodaśa cāndramasaḥ sāvanaśca
ubhāvathāṣṭādaśyuttano aṣṭā-saptatrimśate pourṇamāsyām prasādhayet ||

The year that is less (than the sāvana year) by 36, the year that is less by 9, that which is less by 6, then the sāvana year, then the year greater by 18 days. The sidereal year (less by 9) has thirteen months (of 27 each). The two kinds of years are the lunar and the sāvana. The year greater than 18 days has to be observed in (between) 37-38 Full Moon.

This was understood by taking a sāvana year of 360 tithi as the reference. The first one deficient by 36 was the nākṣatra year of twelve sidereal months making 324 tithi. Then the one less by 9 was a lunar year consisting of 13 months of 27 tithi each. The sāvanā lunar year of 360 tithi was made up of 12 synodic months. The solar year of 366 days and intercalary years of longer duration were also recognized. For our purpose the points to note are that the month was always reckoned with the help of moon’s position and the VJ solar year with 371 tithi was an approximate effort at making the sāvana year match with the position of the sun. The rich variety of years clearly indicates an effort at synchronization of two or three different observable celestial rhythms. Since it is the moon that was observed, the ancients must have first noted the synchronization between the sidereal and the synodic months. It is the near equivalence of 12 synodic months with 13 sidereal months, counted in terms of sunrises, would have lead to the concept of year as a longer measure of time than the month. This harmonizes with the earliest Ṛgvedic word denoting year as samā, used in the sense of being same, coincident, equivalent. With the recognition of seasons as dependent on the sun, synchronization of three rhythms seems to have become important. The Nidāna Sūtra refers to this equivalence more accurately in the form of a verse which was already known to the Vedic community it was addressing,

yasmin vai parivatsare sauryo māso’tha cāndramaso |
nākṣatro na vilupyate kasvittam veda kasvit ||
aṣṭāsaptatrimśate tasmin samvatsare mite |
sauryo māso’tha cāndramaso nākṣatro na vilupyate ||

Who knows that year in which the solar, the lunar, and the sidereal months are not lost, who knows that? In the year measured by 37 or 38 (full-moons), the solar, lunar and the sidereal months are not lost.

This points to the approximation of 37 synodic months with 40 sidereal months, even though the latter number is not mentioned. Similarly, for the solar cycle also to have matched, 37 synodic months should have been taken equal to three (solar) years. The number word aṣṭāsapta- trimśate gives the meaning of being between 37 and 38, not of 37 or 38, as in the above translation of Shamasastry75. Taking 30 tithi per month, one gets 1110 tithi in three (solar) years giving 370 tithi per year, which is nearly the value used in VJ. The above also hints at the presence of a three year cycle that should have existed before the improved five year cycle of VJ came into vogue. The text of the Nidāna Sūtra cited above is openly available on the internet76. However, it is to be noted that on page 72 of this web edition the words atha sāvanaḥ appear wrongly as atha sādhanam, which is not meaningful in the context.

In the available core Vedic literature there are no direct references to occurrence of eclipses during a ritual. But, a close reading of the hymns prescribed for the rites, shows several interesting statements pointing to a relation between eclipses and the ritualistic numbers. For example, the Nidāna Sūtra mentions a special sidereal year that falls short by nine (navona) in relation to the sāvana year of 360 tithi. This year had 13 months of 27 tithi making the length of the year to be 351 tithi. This corresponds to a year of 346-347 (solar) days. What was being achieved by this, unless this had some hidden connection with the eclipse year? In modern parlance, eclipse year is the time taken for the lunar nodes to be in line with the sun and the moon, when an eclipse is possible. The well known eclipse period of 223 lunation is equal to 18.03 solar years or 6585.32 days. This consists of 19 eclipse years of 346.6 days. The unknown element here is the ancient way of measuring tithi. We can however be reasonably certain that it was associated with the phases of the moon. Nevertheless tithi was known to be less than the mean solar day with its value stated to be equal to (61/62) in VJ. Desire to avoid fractions in the remote period of Vedic astronomy must have given place to approximations in terms of integers with an error of one unit. Thus, the eclipse year length might have been approximated to 351 tithi, while its actual length was nearer to 351½ tithi. Nineteen such years lead to 6669-6678½ tithi which is twice the special number 3339 already stated in the Ṛgveda twice.

VJ Parameters

With the above long count of 3339 tithi, we can understand how the basic VJ parameters might have been arrived at. The eclipse period must have been taken equal to 18 nominal solar years. This was a consequence of the older concept of 37-38 synodic months being equal to three solar years, consisting of 1110 tithi discussed above. If the solar year were to be taken equal to 370 tithi, one would directly get 18.04 years as the eclipse period. On the other hand to get a round figure; 18-year was taken as a special, perhaps occult number leading to 371 tithi per year, which is an important VJ parameter. Since we know that the correct solar day count would be 6585.32, dividing this by 18 gives the length of the nominal solar year to be 365.851 days rounded off to 366 by VJ. If one takes 223 synodic months as equal to 18 years, the first four convergent of the fraction 223/18 are 12/1, 25/2, 37/3, 62/5. The last one namely (62/5) is the VJ approximation. This was an improvement over a previous approximation of (37/3) which was known to the Vedic people as stated above in the Nidāna Sūtra. Similarly, since 223 synodic months are equal to 241 sidereal months, we can approximate the fraction (241/223) as 13/12, 27/25, 40/37, 67/62. VJ uses the last approximation of 67 sidereal months as equal to 62 synodic months, which is better than the previous one of 40/37 corresponding to three years, as mentioned in the Nidāna Sūtra.

Yajurvedic Texts

There are several instances of numbers adding to 17, 18 or 19 as special length of years embedded in the Yajurveda texts. In the Vājasaneya Samhitā (XVIII.24-28) the number sequences 1 to 33 of odd integers and 4 to 48 of even integers increasing in steps of four, are given followed by a list of symbolic animals with their ages. The ages mentioned are 1½, 2, 2½, 3, 4 and 6 adding to 19 years. This is followed by offerings to seasons and months showing the context to be part of Time worship. The same Samhitā at (XXI 12-17) repeats year numbers adding to 19 associating them, respectively with meters gāyatri, uṣṇik, anuṣṭup, bṛhatī, pankti, and triṣṭup. Similar statements occur in the Kāṇva Samhitā (30.24-28), and in the Taittirīya Samhitā (TS IV.7.10), where the animal-ages add to either 17½ or 18 years. The difference is due to the interpretation of the word paṣṭavāham, taken to be 4½ or 5 or 6. The number of syllables in each of the above named meters increases by four and the total adds to 204 corresponding to the other total namely 17 years of 12 months each. Even in the ritualistic context the hymn appears to embed some type of number equivalence between the animal-ages and the meters. If the length of the year is taken as 360 tithi, we have 17x 360 = 204 x 30. On the other hand if it is taken as 354 days, we get the length of the synodic month to be (17x354)/204 = 29½ days, which is exactly the value adopted by VJ. As already noted the nākṣatra year of 324 nights/days with 27 units per month was also in vogue in ancient times. It is observed that 17 x 324 = 204 x 27. Such interesting properties of the number 17 based on observation of the moon could have lead to the early adoption of this as Prajāpati’s number in the Vedas. The immediate next hymn of the Taittirīya Samhitā (IV.7.11-12) supports this inference. This is the famous sequence of seventeen odd integers 1 to 33, increasing in steps of 2, adding to 289 and equal to square of 17. This is followed by a sequence of even integers 4 to 48 increasing in steps of 4 adding to 312. The implied timewise equivalence of two numbers in the previous hymn makes us wonder whether the number pair (289, 312) also has some useful astronomical property. Quite interestingly 289 synodic months are nearly equal to 312 sidereal months.

Even though there is a case for the VJ parameters to have come out of the observed 18 years, lunar eclipses are not mentioned in VJ. This situation may appear anomalous. However, there is mention of moon’s lateral movement across the ecliptic, denoted as ayana similar to the seasons associated with the north-south movement of the sun. This has been ignored in the past as being of no astronomical significance77. But as demonstrated above the Vedic DP altar is correlated with the lateral wandering of the moon in the sky. VJ mentions that there are 134 ayana or north-south-north movements of moon in 67 nakṣatra months. Each ayana consists of three Ṛtu. Even though this has nothing to do with the felt (weather) seasons associated with the Sun, the lateral lunar movement is real to an observer on earth. The Vedic word Ṛtu is usually translated as Season as though indicating the felt weather. But in the earliest periods of scientific development, Vedic people had already noted that the “felt seasons” can be five or six or even seven in a year. This got formalized more accurately based on observation of sun’s position with the nakṣatra as in the Maitrāyaṇīya Āraṇyaka and later in the VJ, Parāśaratantra and the Vṛddhagarga Samhitā, the details of which require a separate chapter. Here it suffices to point out that a Ṛtu was defined as the time interval for sun or moon to cover a span of four-and-half nakṣatra space in the sky.

Moon stationed with a known nakṣatra say Maghā (Regulus) will come back to the same star after nearly 28 tithi, but not with the same phase. Thus starting with māgha-pūrṇimā, a sidereal month later, the nakṣatra will be Maghā but the tithi will not be pūrṇimā. During the course of this month, every night moon can be observed to occupy different nakṣatra position in a sinuous fashion. This happens all through the (solar) year with nearly 27 ayana for moon. VJ recognizes the similarity between sun and moon in the sense of what happens to sun in one year happens to moon in one month. Further as the year evolves, moon continuously wanders on either side of the 27 nakṣatra band closely representing the ecliptic. During this serpentine movement whenever a Full Moon occurs on the ecliptic, a lunar eclipse is possible. We have already seen how the symbolism of the 3339 viśvedevāḥ is connected with lunar eclipses. Number symbolism of meters, measures, areas appear in Vedic texts almost everywhere. The Taittirīya Samhitā starts with the DP rite hymns, elaborated in 14 anuvāka (sections). The total number of syllables in these hymns adds to between 3339 and 3349. The 9th anuvāka is about the preparation of the vedi or the DP altar with interesting etiology. The legend of an asura named Araru and his shadow falling on earth is cited. The altar is enjoined to be dug for only four ańgula, because a deeper altar belonged to the ancestors. This appears in the Taittirīya Brāhmaṇa (III.2.9)

“(If the vedi should be) excessively (i.e. too deeply) excavated, it would belong to the Fathers (i.e. the deceased ancestors) (and it would not be fit for the sacrifice to the gods). He (the Adhvaryu) excavates it to such an extent that it is equal to Prajapati, the mouth of the sacrifice. (Formerly) the vedi hid itself from the gods. They found it four angulas deep (in the earth). That is the reason why it should be excavated four angulas deep.”78

One wonders whether there is a hint here that such altars were in use for a long time before the DP ritual got fixed. Even more interesting is the further laudation of the altar79:

“…you are the self-law….you the glorious one, take the earth…. by means of its self-law and place it on the moon.”

This is the extract of the translation of the hymn by Kashyap80. As per Sāyaṇa’s interpretation also the altar was used by the ancestors of the current practitioners to establish earth on the moon as per natural self-law (svadhā)81. Even though we cannot claim that the shadow of the earth falling on moon was known to be the natural reason for the eclipse, the legends related to the DP altar, its shape and area point towards the pervasive influence of the Ṛgvedic number 3339 and its hidden meaning connected with eclipses, in the proceedings of the DP rite.

It is not surprising eclipses, their periodicity and predictability have engaged the Hindu mind since the remotest past as evidenced by the RV and other Vedic texts. While legends, folklores and beliefs were plenty; observation, explanations and physical models were not lagging behind. The various Purāṇas allude to the mythical eclipse demon Rāhu but unequivocally equate this with the shadow of the earth, as in the Brahmāṇḍa Purāṇa82. The Mahābhārata, lauded as the Fifth-veda, occupies the position of a text in transition between the Vedas and the Purāṇas. Although in the first book legendary explanations about eclipses are stated, in the sixth book a physical model in which Rāhu the dark planet moving below sun and moon but larger in size than the two celestial objects is cited as the cause of eclipses83. Between such speculative efforts and the well reasoned mathematical astronomy starting with the Common Era, there was growth of matter-of-fact observational astronomy parts of which are still preserved in the Parāśaratantra and the Vṛddhagārgīya Jyotiṣa.

Summary and Conclusion

There are many numbers in the Ṛgveda and other texts, in the form of some types of time measures. These range from the short muhūrta (RV III.33.5) to longer days, fortnights, months, years and even longer periods. Vedāńga Jyotiṣa (VJ) of Lagadha recognizes formally several other measures necessary for calendar calculations. The long count number 3339 is also a time measured in tithi linked only with the waning moon. Since as per VJ there are 371 tithi in a solar year, the long count is a proxy for 223 lunation or 18 years. This is the so called Saros eclipse cycle knowhow, supposedly inherited by the Chaldeans from their Babylonian predecessors84. But 223 is only a derived number based on the more fundamental count 3339 and the time measure tithi, which number and word appear respectively for the first time in the Ṛgveda and the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa. Hence the statement of Pingree that tithi and the VJ owe their inspiration to outside sources is unfounded85. The direction of transmission of this knowledge could as well have been from India to Chaldea. The shape and the area of the DP altar in synchrony with the Vedic long count lead us to argue that the number should have been counted by placing a pebble on ground marking the relative position of moon on successive nights. Quite interestingly in RV (V.40.8) during the solar eclipse, Atri is said to have placed the eye of the sun in the sky by bringing together the stones.

The DP rite is special in several ways. From the astronomical point of view, the DP altar holds an esoteric central role. The hymns used in the liturgy refer to the sky and there is always more than what meets the eye in Vedic rituals. In one place, the altar is said to be in the sky and protected in the north by Mitra and Varuṇa, with the invariable law86. Naturally this makes one wonder whether Mitra and Varuṇa, two of the most important Vedic deities could have been visible stars in the northern sky, with some special properties. Such cryptic statements add an extra dimension to the astronomy of the Vedic times, since the practitioners did not limit themselves to physical observations but wished to attain a position in the sky. This mystical naturalism gets highlighted by the role of the Brahman, the presiding priest of the DP rite, who blesses the sacrificer silently

may the yajamāna attain a place at the base of the heaven, near the constellation Saptarṣi87.

The northern sky region around the Saptaṛṣi-maṇḍala (U. Major) has always held prominent position in ancient texts as the base of the heaven and the centre of the universe. This region was the seat of another constellation known as Śiśumāra, identifiable with the modern constellation Draco. The first star at the head of this figure was called Dharma. Two among the fourteen stars making up the figure of this constellation were known as Mitra and Varuṇa in the ancient texts, to which the above TS hymn (I.1.11) refers. The fourteenth star at the tail end of this aquatic animal figure was called Abhaya, the original Dhruva or the fixed Pole Star.

4. Śiśumāra the forgotten Northern Constellation with Dhruva the Vedic Hindu Pole Star


Alberuni (973-1048 CE) in his book on India mentions that devout Hindus held that the Pole Star was in the constellation that looks like a four-footed aquatic animal called, Śākvarā and also as Śiśumāra88. He further says that this name sounds similar to the Persian Susumar, which is the constellation of the Great Lizard, same as the modern Draco. He further adds that “the Hindus tell ludicrous tales about this figure.” By this, he alludes to the Purāṇas that praise people with correct knowledge of the 14 stars making up the constellation to be blessed with an extra 14 years of life. Alberuni, as is well known, was interested in the philosophical and intellectual traditions of India. He translated into Arabic, apart from astronomical texts, the Yogasūtra of Patañjali. While explaining the aphorism; dhruve tadgati jñānam (YS 3.29) Alberuni again discusses the constellation Śiśumāra and Dhruva the Pole Star, as per the ancient Hindu tradition prevalent during his time89. Alberuni had admiration for Indian astronomers for their scientific approach to the subject. But, none of the siddhānta texts of the period described any constellation by the name Śiśumāra. Curiously enough, they were much more interested in establishing the first visibility conditions for the southern star Agastya (Canopus). This should not be surprising, since there was no visible star at the North Celestial Pole (NCP) during the first millennium of the Common Era (CE) which was the prime period of mathematical astronomy in India. This situation perhaps prompted Alberuni not to take the Purāṇas seriously as having preserved more ancient observations, in the form of legends and cultural beliefs. However, common people carried in their collective memory the story of a child prince by name Dhruva who was established as the fixed Pole Star and the Purāṇas had already built up a cosmological sky model around Dhruva. The orthodox Vedic tradition of the vedāntins, cultivated in parallel also held that Dhruva the Pole Star was located in the constellation Śiśumāra. From modern astronomy it is known that such a situation was possible in the remote past c 3000 BCE, when α-Draconis (Thuban) was the Pole star. Recognition of this fact has far reaching consequences for understanding the history of ancient India and of Hindu astronomy going back to Vedic times.

In this article Vedic literature is considered first, followed by the Purāṇas and a few later texts. The information thus collected brings out some aspects of dhruva-centric or polecentric astronomy that must have existed in India before the Common Era.

Taittirīya Āraṇyaka

The word dhruva occurs in many places starting from the Ṛgveda. The accepted meaning of this word is fixed, true, stationary, unchanging with shades of meaning very similar to these. For example in the Ṛgveda hymns (I.73, IV.5, VI.52, VII.88, X.173) the word is used as an adjective to indicate the firmness of objects such as the earth, the mountain, and the sky. In the 10th book the hymn (X.173) extols Varuṇa the King, as being true and steadfast. From the context of the hymn, this appears to be a prayer to a universal force, with the sky and most likely a star in the background. In the Yajurveda and the Atharvaṇaveda, eight and sometimes ten directions are named. In this nomenclature invariably udīci stands for north, ūrdhva for above and dhruvā dik refers to the lower direction in the sense of fixed earth. However, in the Taittirīya Āraṇyaka (TA) a change in this notation is seen. The phrase adharāyai diśe (TA II.20.1) instead of the more common dhruvāyai diśe, is used to denote the lower direction.

TA is an accented Vedic text, belonging to the Kṛṣṇa-Yajurveda branch. This text contains several interesting astronomical information that should be of interest to historians of science. The first praśna (section) of the text is about the six seasons and how they have to be recognized taking note of social behavior and some natural changes. Time is explained as flowing out of Sun and that Time flows like a river continuously (TA I.2). The text declares, the knowledge of Sun’s station to be available to everyone using the four tools; memory, direct observation, history and inference 90. As pointed out previously in the first Article in this series, two meteoritic showers spaced at six months interval find place (TA I.3; I.4) in recognizing the grīṣma (summer) and the hemanta (dewy) seasons. The concept of mahāmeru the imaginary mountain-like axis connecting earth with the heavens appears for the first time in Vedic literature in TA. The text alludes to seven suns and one more, the eighth called Kaśyapa, who does not leave meru but goes round the mahāmeru91. This concept of a celestial body going round meru evolved into a physical astronomical model in the Brahmāṇḍa Purāṇa as will be explained later.

We have seen in the previously that the performer of the darśapūrṇamāsa sacrifice wishes to be stationed near Saptaṛṣi at the base of the heavens. This esoteric concept finds unambiguous mention in TA where it is mentioned that the Seven Sages and Agastya are living with the stars92. This tradition of naming stars, we may presume, must have started after the earthly sojourn of the eponymous human ṛṣis. Hence, it would be of interest to identify such stars by their modern names. Through unbroken tradition, and copious textual citations, Agastya can be equated with Canopus. But the same cannot be done with the other seven stars, since the names of the sages are not mentioned in TA except for Atri. The commentators of TA have taken the Seven Sages and Agastya to be the originators of the gotra system, as mentioned in the later Sūtra literature93. Hence it is not necessary to identify the Seven Sages alluded to in TA only with the stars of U. Major, even though such equivalence appears natural. The Saptarṣi-maṇḍala is unequivocally identified with U.Major, but the tradition of ṛṣi-names of the stars has changed over time94. The name of sage Atri once again appears in TA as a star in the description of the celestial Śiśumāra, a constellation in the form of an aquatic animal (alligator, or whale or dolphin), with a star named Abhaya at its tail end, which over time acquired the legendary name Dhruva, due to its property of being fixed in position as seen from earth.

The Celestial Śiśumāra

The second book (prapāṭhaka) of TA known also as the Svādhyāya Brāhmaṇa, gives the hymns used in the daily prayers of those initiated into the Vedic rites. The nineteenth hymn of this book known as the Brahmopasthānamantra is used at the conclusion of the evening meditation, which in the most ancient times was carried out outdoors most probably near a water body. The astronomical part of the text with a free translation follows:

….dharmo mūrdhānam brahmottarāhanuḥ yajño’dharā viṣṇurhṛdayam samvathsaraḥ prajananam aśvinau pūrvapādāvatrirmadhyam mitrāvaruṇavaparapadau agniḥ pucchasya prathamam kāṇḍam tata indrastatḥ prajāpatirabhayam caturtham| sa vā eṣa divyaśśākvaraśśiśumāraḥ…| …….dhruvastvamasi dhruvasya kṣitamasi tvam bhūtānāmadhipatirasi tvam bhūtānām śreṣṭho’si tvām bhūtānyupaparyāvartante namaste namaḥ……śiśukumārāya namaḥ|| (TA. II.19.1)

….Dharma is the forehead, Brahma is the upper jaw, Yajña is the lower jaw, Viṣṇu is the heart, Samvatsara is the genital, Aśvins are the forelegs, Atri is the center, Mitra and Varuṇa are the hind legs. Agni is the first stem of the tail, then Indra, then Prajāpati and then Abhayam is the fourth. This is the shining celestial Śiśumāra…….You are fixed (dhruva), you are the place of Dhruva……You are the Lord of Beings; you are the best among them. (All) Beings go around you. Namaste!…… salutations to you the boy-child.

The commentary of Sāyaṇa clearly mentions that this hymn is to be used in the evening, turning towards the north and looking at the dhruva-maṇḍala, for meditating on the Cosmic Brahman95.

The above hymn lists fourteen stars, Dharma, Brahma, Yajña, Viṣṇu, Samvatsara, (Twin) Aśvins, Atri, Mitra, Varuṇa, Agni, Indra, Prajāpati, Abhaya, along the body of the figure of the Śiśumāra, starting from its head to the end of its tail, unequivocally said to be in the sky. Both Bhatta-bhāskara (10th Cent.) and Sāyaṇa (14th Cent.) describe the esoteric import of the hymn, along with the parts and form of the animal figure in the sky. The former commentator takes Prajāpati to be Kaśyapa the eighth sun, mentioned previously in TA as not leaving the meru96. This hints at the circumpolar nature of at least some of the stars of this constellation, which finds prominent mention in the later Purāṇas. The hymn is more about the constellation figure as a group of stars, but the equivalence of Abhaya with the Pole Star later known as Dhruva is evident from the context. The text of TA is among the so called forest books supposed to be learnt in the seclusion of a forest, as it contains secret mystical and naturalistic meanings at the same time. The play on the word Śiśumāra finally concluded as śiśukumāra (boy-child) should have been the inspiration for the legend of the fear less child prince Dhruva, placed in the sky as the Pole Star near Viṣṇu, who is the regent deity at the heart of the Śiśumāra.

In the accented text Ekāgni-kāṇḍa, also belonging to the Kṛṣṇa-yajurveda, hymns to be used in Vedic marriage rites are given. The hymn for observing and addressing the Pole Star Dhruva is:

dhruvakṣitiḥ dhruvayoniḥ dhruvamasi dhruvatasthitam | tvam nakṣatrāṇām methyasi sa mām pāhi pṛtanyataḥ || Ekāgni (I.9)

Here the quality of Dhruva as a star is said to be fixed. Dhruva is praised as the methī or the fixed column to which the nakṣatras are bound. The commentator Haradatta explains the word methī as khalevālī, a thick wooden peg fixed in the ground, to which animals are tied so that they do not stray away97. This methī became the meḍhī a pole or column in the Purāṇas, highlighting the fixity of the star Dhruva and the importance of Meru in the development of early astronomical models. As we go back in time naturally uncertainties increase, but beyond reasonable doubt the composers of the above Yajurveda texts knew Abhaya alias Dhruva as the Pole Star; that is a central star farthest in the sky, to which other celestial bodies were tied and kept in their path.

The Śiśumāra, which we meet again in the Purāṇas, based on the vivid description of the position of the 14 stars and the importance attached to its form, can be identified with the constellation Draco. It follows; Dhruva in its earliest nomenclature as Abhaya has to be equated with Thuban or α-Draconis. By back computations it is known that α-Draconis was the Pole Star during 3200-2400 BCE. In this long period, the declination of this star varied from 870 56’ to 87036’, reaching nearest to NCP with 89053’ in 2830 BCE. The naming of the Vedic star Abhaya (No-fear) as Dhruva (Fixed, Certain) in the Śiśumāra should have happened during the above period, which provides an important chronological footprint not only for the Vedic culture but also for the roots of Hindu astronomy. By 1900 BCE the separation of Dhruva from NCP increased to 50 and the circumpolar nature of the star would have been evident to observers of the night sky. The declination changed to nearly 820 by 1500 BCE and the drift of the star away from the NCP should have been glaringly evident for observers in India. In the Maitrāyaṇī Āraṇyaka Upaniṣat (aka Maitrī Upaniṣat, MAU) one of the important question posed by King Bṛhadratha to Sage Śākāyanya was, why Dhruva drifts, why the air strings holding the celestial bodies dip98. Implicit in this question is the statement: the North Star understood by us as fixed has changed its position; an unmistakable reference to the effect of precession as noticed by King Bṛhadratha. This Yajurvedic text also contains astronomical statements to the effect that the northern course of sun started at the middle of the dhaniṣṭhā star division99. This corresponds to a few centuries before the Vedāńga Jyotiṣa of Lagadha which states that the winter solstice coincided with sun at the beginning of star dhaniṣṭhā. This is a well discussed topic with the said observation dateable to c 1400 BCE100. The amount of precession between the two observations would be six to seven degrees. Thus, the drift of the Pole Star mentioned by King Bṛhadratha above is broadly consistent with 1900-1800 BCE.

The knowledge of Śiśumāra as a constellation, in contrast to the word meaning an aquatic animal, is wide spread in Vedic literature. In the first book of the Ṛgveda (I.116.18) we come across Aśvins bringing riches to Divodāsa in a cart to which were yoked a śimśumāra and a vṛṣabha. Griffith famous as the translator of RV, overlooking the astronomical culture of the Vedas, has translated this literally to mean a cart drawn by a porpoise and a bull yoked together101. In the commentary of Sāyaṇa, the word śimśumāra is identified as a variant of the word śiśumāra. Sāyaṇa also recognizes the impossibility of an aquatic animal and a land animal yoked to drag a cart pn earth and explains this as the special act of the divine twins the Aśvins exhibiting their extraordinary powers102, which obviously makes the location to be the visible sky. Even if Divodāsa were to be a human king, favouring whom the above is mentioned, it should not be difficult to recognize that the verse alludes to an event in the sky in which the constellations Draco and a group of stars resembling the head of a bull, most likely the Taurus, were meant by the poet.

The Pañcavimśa Brāhmaṇa of the Sāmaveda has an interesting story about the cosmography behind the name Śiśumāra. It is said that originally this was a Ṛṣi or seer of the same name in the earthly ocean. He did not praise Indra fully and hence got stranded on the sands. After having praised Indra fully by the śarkara sāman song he could get into the water again. Later he attained the sky as the constellation with the same name. The word śarkara means constellation which is a variant of the word śākvara as in TA. The text further says that the śarkara sāman chant is meant for crossing the oceans103. This has to be taken as a reference to the circumpolar nature of the bright stars of the Śiśumāra constellation which must have helped ancient mariners in navigating the seas. The Jaiminīya Brāhmaṇa text also has a similar legend about the constellation Śiśumāra. The Gṛhya Sūtra texts which were fixed much later than the accented core Vedic texts are prescriptive in nature about religious rites and customs to be followed by the orthodox. The religious practices of different Vedic clans which must have been prevalent since the most ancient times are codified in the formulaic Sūtra literature, not only canonizing the hymns to be used in the rites, but also fixing the actions to be followed by the main performers, participants and the priests. There are several different Sūtra texts attached to the four Vedas demonstrating not only their lateness, but also their spatial spread in accounting for the variation in the practices. However, the common feature of all these texts, in the historical context, is their memory of Dhruva as a fixed star to be invoked, seen and shown to the bride in the marriage rite. In all cases, the hymn for addressing Dhruva is same as or very similar to the one in the Ekāgni-kāṇḍa (I.9) mentioned above. The Hiraṇyakeśi Gṛhya Sūtra, in particular, prescribes worship of stars Arundhatī, Saptaṛṣi, and Dhruva even during the first kindling of the fire used in Vedic sacrifices. This text extols the Pole Star as, Brahman, fixed, non-slipping, non-shaking and as the centre of the universe.

It is noted that the Vedic people had direct knowledge of the constellation with fourteen stars, resembling in its outline an aquatic animal known as Śiśumāra, the 14th star counted from the head and placed on its tail being the fixed Dhruva or the Pole Star. The effect of precession on the sky picture was also felt as recorded in the Maitrāyaṇīya text, where Dhruva was observed to be drifting away from its original position. Notwithstanding such natural effects, the formality of showing the star Dhruva has continued in Hindu marriages over centuries coming down in the same form to this day as a ritual, even though everyone may not know which star was originally invoked by the prescribed hymns. But the orthodox successors to the Vedic tradition have preserved this information quite correctly as will be seen later.

It has to be pointed out here that the not so well known Indian scholar Aiyangar104, in his writings on Indo-Aryan mythology discussed the TA hymn on Śiśumāra as representing a constellation in the sky and hesitatingly proposed that the Dhruva of this hymn was perhaps the Pole Star. He was more interested in gathering and deriving philosophical information from the Vedic and Purāṇa stories. He did not recognize the constellation Śiśumāra in astronomical terms but drifted widely to other astral myths in an effort to match the Vedic and the Purāṇic stories without appreciating the effect of precession as recorded in the astral legends.
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Part 4 of 4

Brahmāṇḍa Purāṇa (BP)

This tradition of observing Śiśumara and Dhruva was not restricted to the closed Vedic groups but was available to everyone as depicted in the Purāṇas, which have preserved such observational knowledge in the form of cultural astronomy. The story of the young boy Dhruva, who by his penance got the boon of being fixed in the north as the Pole Star, is a popular legend widely known all over India. The origin of this story can be traced to the Viṣṇu Purāṇa (VP) and repeated in several other texts. However, the related background astronomy is preserved in the Brahmāṇḍa Purāṇa without mythological embellishments. Since the word Dhruva means fixed, certain, unchanging, it is implicit that the boy Dhruva was identified with the eponymous Pole Star. This fact becomes interesting since BP, VP and several other texts not only provide cogent information on its location in the sky but also mention the observable self-rotation of Dhruva as the driving force for other celestial bodies to move around the NCP. This theory of Dhruva, takes us to the most ancient form of Indian astronomy which was dhruva-centric, or meru-centric. It is known that no absolute dates can be put forth for any of the eighteen Purāṇa texts, which have grown over time with bulky additions. But, all or most of them retain the story of Dhruva as the Pole Star with variant readings. This is a clear indication of the branching of the Purāṇas from a nucleus which lies in the Vedic texts such as the TA and the ekāgni-kāṇḍa which knew the prominent constellation Śiśumara with 14 stars, the fixed Dhruva and the Meru connecting the earth with the NCP. Among the Purāṇas it is in BP we find matter of fact statements about Dhruva. As far as ancient astronomy and cosmology are concerned, BP preserves the original concepts, out of which the Viṣṇu, Vāyu, Lińga and Matsya Purāṇa have bifurcated with further variations. This chronological perspective finds support in the works of a few indologists also105.

The dhruva-centric model of the sky can be best appreciated in the BP as an outcome of direct observation. We consider here BP first and later look at variant information from a few other texts. In the first chapter of BP a list of the contents to be covered is provided. This promises astronomy related to Dhruva as:

sūryādīnām syandanānām dhruvādeva pravartanam|
kīrtyate śiśumāraśca yasya pucche dhruvaḥ stithaḥ || BP. I (1.84)

The movement of sun and other moving celestial bodies is explained as induced by Dhruva only. The constellation Śiśumāra, at the tail of which Dhruva stays, is also described.

This theory is further elaborated in chapters 21-24, totaling 520 verses, with many ancient concepts about Sun, Moon, eclipses and planets. Here, we restrict our attention only to a few important statements concerning Śiśumāra and Dhruva.

tatomandataram nābhyām cakram bhramati vai tathā|
mrtpiṇḍa iva madhyastho dhruvo bhramati vai tathā ||
trimśanmuhūrtānevāhuḥ ahorātram dhruvo bhraman|
ubhayorkāsṣṭhayormadhye bhramte maṇḍalāni tu ||
kulāla cakranābhiśca yathā tatraiva vartate|
dhruvastathāhi vijñeyastatraiva parivartate|| BP. I (21. 94, 95, 96)

Like the lump of clay at the middle of the potter’s wheel moves slowly sitting at the navel, Dhruva rotates. Dhruva moves in circles day and night consisting of 30 muhūrtas, at the middle of the two directions (north and south). Like the nave of the potter’s wheel stays in the same place, so also Dhruva should be known to be rotating there itself.

Chapter 21 containing 176 verses gives an account of sun’s motion, with definitions of seasons, equinox and solstice. It introduces the cosmography of Mt. Meru connecting the earth and the heavens like a vertical pole in the north, around which all celestial bodies are modeled to move in circular paths. The star Dhruva is said to be at the tip of the Meru. The starry space in the sky between the nakṣatras of ajaveethi and star Agastya (Canopus) is said to be the pitṛloka (abode of manes), where as the corresponding region in the north between nakṣatras of nāgaveethi and Saptaṛṣi (U.Major) is the devaloka (abode of gods)106. The chapter ends by declaring the famous third step of Viṣṇu to be in the north above the Saptaṛṣi wherein Dhruva, Dharma and others are located107.

Chapter 22 starts with a description of the position of Dhruva as

bhūtasammohanam hyetad vadato me nibodhata |
pratykṣamapi dṛśyam ca sammohayati yat prajāḥ||
yo’yam caturdaśaṛkṣeṣu śaiśumāre vyavasthitaḥ |
uttānapādaputro’sau meḍhībhūto dhruvo divi||
sa vai bhrāmayate nityam candrādityau grahaiḥ saha |
bhramantamanugacchanti nakṣatrāṇi ca cakravat|| BP. I (22. 5, 6, 7)

Listen to this explanation of mine which is real and observable but mystifying people. He, who is at the tail of the 14 stars looking like a śiśumāra; Dhruva the son of Uttānapāda, has become the main pivot of the pole in the sky. Verily, he rotates the sun, the moon and the planets continuously. The stars follow him who is himself circling like a wheel.

In the above the narrator (Sūta) is appealing to people to observe the sky and understand the ancient theory of Dhruva as the controller of the motion of the celestial bodies. Since Dhruva as a north star is said to be in a figure looking like a śiśumāra, this group of stars should be same as the constellation meant by the Vedic texts discussed already. BP further elaborates the self-circling motion of Dhruva and that of the stars (tārāḥ) and the nakṣatras around him. The point to be noted is the differentiation between the general stars and the nakṣatras. The latter are the 27 ecliptic asterisms and Dhruva was never one among them. There are 84 verses in this chapter, arguing for a physical model for the motion of sun seen in the day but, linked to Dhruva seen only in the night. The northern and southern sojourn of the sun also had to be explained within this model. Without going into the details, we note that Sun’s chariot is said to have only one wheel the axle of which is connected to Dhruva by two strings of light which take care of the change in the orbit of sun around the earth. We speculate that the older analogy of the potter’s wheel was unable to mimic the observed apparent motion of the sun and hence the two axle model and connection to Dhruva with two unseen strings was proposed to simulate action at a distance. This change is also seen in the example of the animal driven oil mill proposed as a physical model for understanding the motion of the stars around Dhruva.

yāvatyaścaiva tārāśca tāvanto vātaraśmayaḥ|
sarvā dhruve nibaddhāśca bhramantyo bhrāmayanti tāḥ||
tailapīḍā yathā cakram bhramanto bhrāmayanti ha|
tathā bhramanti jyotīṁṣi vātabaddhāni sarvaśaḥ|| BP.I (23.96,97)

There are so many wind-reins as there are stars. All (reins) are bound to Dhruva; themselves rotating; they make the stars to go round. As in an oil press, the wheel goes round and makes the other (the pole) rotate; so do the luminaries held in grip by the wind-strings, revolve.


In the oil mill, the central pole is rotated by the motive force provided by an animal moving in a circular path. In the Purāṇic sky model, the roles are reversed, such that the locally spinning Dhruva can make the celestial bodies at a distance to move around in their circular path, the connection being through strings (or rays) of wind (or light).

Chapter 23 of BP is indispensable to anyone interested in the history of Indian astronomy as it explains the astronomical symbolism behind the lunar number 3339, first appearing in the Ṛgveda108. Towards the end of this chapter the text describes the location of Dhruva along with other companion stars making up the animal figure Śiśumara.

evam dhruva nibaddho’sau sarpate jyotiṣāńgaṇaḥ |
saiṣa tārāmayaḥ proktaḥ śiśumāro dhruvo divi ||
yadahnā kurute pāpam dṛṣṭvā tanniśi muñcate|
yāvatyaścaiva tārāstāḥ śiśumārāśritā divi ||
tāvantyaiva tu varṣāṇi jīvitābhyadhikāni tu |
sākāraḥ śiśumāraśca vijñeyaḥ pravibhāgaśaḥ || BP. I (23. 99, 101b)

Thus, centered in Dhruva, the circle of luminaries revolves. And this Śiśumara, fixed in the sky, is to be understood as made of stars. Whatever sin one commits during day, one is divested of it upon seeing Śiśumara in the night. As many stars as there are associated with Śiśumara in the sky, so many years more, does one live on. (For this) the form of the Śiśumara should be known in terms of its parts.

The chapter ends with a good description of the Śiśumāra constellation enumerating the constituent stars numbering fourteen. This is perhaps the earliest example of a star group being represented and named by an animal figure.

uttānapādastasyātha vijñeyaḥ sottarā hanuḥ |
yajño’dharastu vijñeyo dharmo mūrdhānamāśritaḥ ||
hṛdi nārāyaṇaḥ sādhyo aśvinou pūrvapādayoḥ |
varuṇaścaryamācaiva paścime tasya sakthinī ||
śiśnam samvatsarastasya mitraścapānamāsritaḥ |
pucche agniścamahendraśca mārīcaḥ kaśyapo dhruvaḥ ||
tārakāḥ śisumārasya nāstam yāti catuṣṭayam ||
agnīndra kaśyapānam to caramo’sau dhruvaḥ smṛtaḥ || BP. I (23. 102-104, 105b, 107b)

His (Śiśumāra’s) upper jaw should be understood as Uttānapāda. Yajña (Kratu) is known as the lower jaw and Dharma as the head. At the heart is Nārāyaṇa (Sādhya). The twin Aśvins occupy the forelegs while Varuna and Aryamā are at the hind legs. Samvatsara is the genital and Mitra occupies the seat. In the tail are Agni, Mahendra, Mārīca-Kaśyapa and Dhruva. The (previous) four stars of the Śiśumāra never set. It is remembered that Dhruva is the last star after Agni, Indra and Kaśyapa.

This listing of stars on the body of the Śiśumāra is almost same as in TA with minor variations in the names, but the geometrical picture of the animal figure is same as in TA. The “addition of 14 years of life” which Alberuni found not rational, was a ploy of the narrator when BP was still orally transmitted, for encouraging people to observe and preserve the names of the constituent stars and the form of the constellation accurately.

Viṣṇu Purāṇa (VP)

The Viṣṇu Purāṇa one of the important religious texts relates the earthly story of Dhruva with poetic embellishments and devotional fervour. In the BP the boon for Dhruva to be in the sky as the Pole Star is given by Brahma, where as in the VP, Viṣṇu is said to give the boon. Interesting astro-mythological information provided in the VP is that Dhruva’s mother Sunīti stays near him in the sky as a companion star. This provides a constraint on the identification of Dhruva in the Śiśumāra constellation. In the description of the stars making up the constellation fourteen are mentioned as in BP. The only difference being the word mārīcaḥ qualifying Kaśyapa is missing in VP. The cosmological functions assigned to Dhruva in the VP are same as in BP. Both mention Dhruva as the fourth after Agni and that the last four stars ending with Dhruva do not set. The Matsya and the Vāyu Purāṇa repeat similar astral information with a few deletions, about Dhruva and Śiśumāra.

Bhāgavata and Devibhāgavata

This is again a highly respected text mainly extolling devotion to Viṣṇu and his incarnations. Many of the statements in this text about Dhruva that are in prose form (BookV.Ch 23) are same as in VP but not all the fourteen stars of the Śiśumāra are named. Dhruva is initially associated with stars Agni, Indra, Prajāpati, Kaśyapa and Dharma and is compared to a fixed object or pillar around which heavenly bodies rotate driven by Time. Dhruva’s rotation as the driving force is conspicuously absent in this text. Further the text quite categorically states that some people meditate on the figure of Śiśumāra as the body of Vāsudeva. These people are said to think of Dhruva at the end of the tail; Prajāpati, Indra, Agni and Dharma on the trunk of the tail, Dhāta at the root of the tail and Saptarṣi (U.Major) at the waist. The text further describes how the coiled figure has to be imagined with sun, moon, stars and all the planets at the various places of its universal body109. In the Devī Bhāgavata the description of Dhruva is an exact restatement of the Bhāgavata in verse form. Here also some people are said to imagine the Śiśumāra constellation in an extended form to cover the whole sky as the divine body of Viṣṇu (8.18; v. 11-26). Whatever may be the inspiration for this extension, it is easy to observe that these texts lack the care and detail with which BP describes its dhruvacentric astronomy. The texts that are liberal with religious concepts at the cost of astronomical pictures can be easily recognized as being chronologically later, when the original Dhruva was not at the NCP.

The Constellation

The constellation of Śiśumāra consisting of fourteen observable stars that make up a figure like a dolphin (or porpoise or alligator) is well preserved in the Vedic and the Purāṇa texts. The Pañcavimśa Brāhmaṇa of the Sāmaveda already discussed indicates that the circumpolar property of the bright stars of this constellation was of help in navigation. The celestial ocean in which the constellation is said to rise and move can be recognized as the Milky Way, which BP calls viyadgańgā or the heavenly Gańgā River. With all the above details, recognition of this constellation as the modern Draco should be obvious. However, Allen110 in his classical book on star names gives two meanings to Śisūmāra namely, Draco and Delphinius, the latter meaning attested nowhere in the ancient literature. The reason for this can be traced to the faulty rendering of original Sanskrit texts in popular translations. For example the vulgate Matsya Purāṇa has a footnote that makes Śiśumāra to mean the zodiac personified and no other than the child Viṣṇu111. In his translation of the Viṣṇu Purāṇa, Dutt112 takes fancifully Śiśumara in one place as the stellar sphere. Even the modern translation of the Brahmāṇḍa Purāṇa by Tagare113 adds an unnecessary footnote citing the Bhāgavata that all the stars and constellations are located as different parts of the body of this heavenly porpoise. However, as seen previously the Bhāgavata mentions that some people for meditation follow such a procedure and as far as the BP text is considered such an interpretation is impossible. As per the original texts in the BP and the VP there is no way to conceive the constellation other than placing the fourteen stars on the outline figure of a Śiśumāra for its visual picture. The statement that four of the stars on the tail, with Dhruva as the fourth do not set clearly makes these circumpolar, for the observer and narrator Sūta of BP. The one to one correspondence between the Vedic and the Purānic description leads us to the conclusion that the constellation meant should be the Draco in the northern sky. Referring to Figure 1, the ancient description stopped with α-Draconis (Thuban) without including stars κ- and λ- Draconis. The names of some of the Vedic stars can be tentatively identified with their modern equivalents. Behind α-Draconis (Thuban) are ι, θ, η stars that can be recognized as Prajāpati, Indra and Agni. The name Samvatsara literally Year, for one of the stars (5th or 6th from Dhruva) is interesting. It is said to be the genital, meaning thereby in Vedic parlance, the producer of Years. It would be interesting to investigate this further to see whether a star of this constellation which exhibited visibility phenomena could have been used as a marker for recognizing the beginning of the New Year in the 3rd millennium BCE. The stars Dharma and Brahma of TA can be identified as γ- and β-Draconis (magnitude 2.24 and 2.79) respectively. The Purāṇas changed Brahma to Uttānapāda so that his son Dhruva (Abhaya) remains at the end of the same figure, along with his mother Sunīti identifiable as star 10-Dra of magnitude 4.5. The forelegs with the two Aśvins and hind legs with Mitra and Varuṇa are identifiable as the two bends in the figure.

Figure 1. Constellation Draco with the Current (2000 AD) Pole Star at NCP (


The constellation Śiśumāra, Dhruva and Meru have influenced the cultural practices of Indians for more than four thousand years. Nevertheless the inviolable effect of precession started taking its toll on the prime position Śiśumāra had as a constellation in the cardinal north direction during the 3rd millennium BCE. We have already seen mention of shifting and moving of Dhruva in the Maitrāyaṇīya Āraṇyaka in the 2nd millennium BCE. The Mahābhārata revered the constellation, when King Drupada announced the marriage of his daughter Draupadī. The place for holding the famous archery competition was named Śiśumārapura and this was located to the northeast of the capital city114. The name and the specific mention of direction is an unmistakeable reference to the shift of the constellation towards northeast in the sky also. As the figure shifted far away from its prime north position its shape altered to bring in new names such as Nahuṣa (serpent) and Ajagara (python) in the precession legends, in which the southern star Agastya (Canopus) also finds a role. The first recognition of the southern star and its identification with Sage Agastya in the Kurukṣetra region seems to have taken place around 3100 BCE115. With passage of time the visibility interval of this star increased as also its altitude and importance of its first visibility in the Vedic annual cycle116. It is interesting to note here that many of the legends connected with Agastya are about balancing the earth and rectification of the North-South direction. A popular astral legend appearing in the Mahābhārata is about King Nahuṣa seated in a palanquin being carried in the heavens by the Seven Sages and Agastya, on their shoulders, when Agastya was kicked by Nahuṣa for being too slow117. Agastya in anger curses the heavenly King Nahuṣa to lose his exalted position to become an ordinary ajagara (python). This legend is easily recognized as an allegory for precession being felt in the form of the Śiśumāra constellation losing its prime northern celestial position, along with star Agastya coming into prominence as a new bright star in the south. An interesting study of the religious influences of the Nahuṣa-Agastya legend has been carried out by Hiltebeitel118. According to him, the identification of the heavenly Nahuṣa with the constellation Draco was first proposed by two German scholars, both Adof Holtzmann (uncle and nephew). The Mahābhārata also mentions the movement of Dhruva as a bad omen before the Great War119. This statement as also the most probable date of the war is in harmony with the middle of 2nd millennium BCE, when due to precession α-Draconis was no more at the NCP120.

Among the three elements handed down by the Vedic TA, the visible entities were the star Dhruva and the constellation Śiśumāra. As these shifted position, the two receded from the day to day lives of common people, only to remain as legends. The third one namely the meru was always imaginary, but this withstood the passage of time best, providing the basis for the cosmological view of not only Hinduism, but also of Jainism and Buddhism and appears now all over India in temple architecture. The cosmology of the Brahmāṇḍa and other Purāṇas describing multiple ring shaped oceans, mountains and continental boundaries with distances stated in thousands of yojanas along with special numbers for sun, moon and planets sounds strange on first reading. However, recent studies by Kloetzli121 on VP and by Thompson122 on the Bhāgavata, show that Purāṇas present real three dimensional pictures projected on to a two dimensional plane, in layers, as in an astrolabe. A similar study on BP is desirable since, it is the source for all the ancient astral information that has been borrowed by the other texts either totally or with additions, deletions and distortions.

A difficulty one faces with BP is regarding its fixture in writing which must have happened in the early centuries of the Common Era. All Purāṇas basically claim to narrate ancient legends. Hence, one can object that BP text describing the Śiśūmāra need not refer to Thuban as the Pole Star, but another one lying very close to the Pole. Such a possibility cannot be denied, since BP can be interpreted to state 15 stars, by counting the stars Mārīca and Kaśyapa separately. The only eligible candidate for this possible alternate identification of Dhruva is κ-Draconis, which was nearest to the NCP c 1300 BCE at declination 850 13’, violating the property of being seen to be fixed, even though it could still indicate the north direction. This possibility does not in any way affect the conclusions about Abhaya-Dhruva being known as a fixed star in the Vedic period. The other candidate suggested in the literature for being near the NCP is star Kochab (β-U.Minor). The nearest approach of this star to NCP was 83 degrees. This fact as well as the geometry of U.Minor, does not fit into the textual descriptions of Dhruva better than α- or κ-Draconis. Even though BP has a stray statement (21.144) about the equinox being located at the beginning of meṣa (rāśi) and the end of tulā (rāśi) matching with the Common Era, there are several other observations that synchronize clearly with 2nd millennium BCE. In the identification of the equinox day, BP mentions that when Sun is in the first quarter of kṛttikā (Alcyone) and Moon in the fourth quarter of viśākha (α-Libra), the day and night are equal. Similarly when Sun is in the third quarter of viśākha and Moon is at the beginning of kṛttikā it is viṣuvam (equinox). This statement appears in several of the Purāṇas and hence cannot be ignored as spurious. This has been discussed in detail in relation to other ancient astronomical statements by Koch123, to show that the record preserved in the Purāṇas holds valid for 1885-1645 BCE.

First Millennium BCE

The very fact that BP first refers to Dhruva as a fixed peg to which the stars are tied, and next to a self-circling Dhruva driving the sun, moon and stars, is evidence of correction to previous hypotheses made necessary due to the effect of precession. The further cosmological extensions with large spatial measure numbers must have been inspired by the imaginary Meru, at the tip of which Dhruva was taken to reside. This may be a development of the first millennium BCE, when there was no visible Pole Star at NCP. Texts reliably dateable to the first millennium BCE are very few. We have already seen that the Gṛhya Sūtras dateable to c 500 BCE refer to the more ancient Vedic rites. These do not refer to Śiśumāra but by unbroken tradition the location of Dhruva must have been known to the faithful. The Atharavaveda Pariśiṣṭa (AVP) an unaccented text, considered to be an appendix to the Atharvaṇa Veda, is available in 76 Chapters124. The work contains very ancient as well as not so ancient material, added most probably after c 500 BCE. The text refers to Pāṇini (AVP 43.4.16) and also to dināra a gold currency (AVP 36.26.3) of foreign origin which was in circulation in the northwest part of India at the turn of the Common Era. AVP has long chapters on stars, planets and comets like a jyotiṣa-samhitā. For the present purpose it is sufficient to note that Chapter 52 titled Grahasańgraha preserves a collection of names of stars and constellations other than the well known nakṣatras along the ecliptic. In this list the Seven Sages with names; Gautama, Atri, Vasiṣṭha, Viśvāmitra, Kaśyapa, Ṛcīkaputra and Bharadvāja, are said to be fixed in the north. This is followed by another star group fixed at the end of the middle sky, with unmistakable reference to Dhruva with Śiśumāra and a few others followed by Viṣṇupada125. Some of the stars are named differently from the Vedas and the Purāṇas, but the constellation figure of Śiśumāra, the famous ancient star Dhruva and the station of Viṣṇu are same as in the TA and BP texts. Some of the texts of the Jain tradition fixed within a few centuries after the advent of Mahāvira (599-527 BCE) contain information in the form of omens, anecdotes, and the calendar. The Bhadrabāhu Samhitā (c 300BCE) mentions a comet masking śimśumāra as a bad omen126. A more detailed statement about a comet by name Calaketu rising in the west and moving north touching Saptaṛṣi and Dhruva before turning south, is available in the Parāśaratantra127. Such statements indicate that the constellation was variedly remembered, with or without Dhruva.

Common Era (CE)

As we enter the CE the nature of Indian astronomy, as is well known, changes its colour with emphasis on mathematics. The connection between the astronomical knowledge of the more ancient period and the Siddhānta texts of the CE is not well investigated. There was no recognized star at NCP during CE and we do not come across reference to dhruva unambiguously as the Pole Star till the 15th Century. But the terminology dhruvaka for polar longitude is derived from dhruva, interpreted as the Pole, an imaginary point on the sphere. Meru finds mention in the chapters on Bhuvanakośa but not dhruva as a visible star at NCP. Brahmagupta (598-670 CE) discussing the rotation of the celestial sphere uses the phrase dhruvayoḥ nibaddham, meaning the two geometrical north and south poles of the sphere. The group of stars near the Pole was named dhruvamatsya (Polar-fish) and not as Śiśumāra. Bhāskarācārya (1114-1185 CE) in his Siddhānta-śiromaṇi, under Bhuvanakośa refers to the mouth and tail of this polar-fish and its synchronization with sun rise and sun set. In the 15th Century the present Polaris or α-U.Minor had reached close to the Pole at about 86o and a line connecting it to star markaṭi (β-U.Mi or Kochab) was recognized to rotate like a hand in a clock. This fact was used by Padmanābha to develop his astronomical instrument Dhruvamatsya- yantra for finding time as in a clock128.

Controversy among Indologists

European scholars started taking interest in Sanskrit language, grammar and the Vedic literature from the 18th Century onwards. A topic of interest to many of these scholars was the date of the Ṛgveda, the most ancient literature of India, variously assigned from 4th millennium BCE to 1500 BCE. Jacobi129 a German scholar of repute was a proponent of astronomy as a means of dating the Vedic culture. He pointed out the importance given by all the Gṛhya Sūtras to show Dhruva as the Pole Star to the bride in the Vedic marriage rites. His argument was, since there was no Pole Star during the composition of the Sūtra literature, the composers of these texts should have known a star which was at the NCP in more ancient times, which can be none other than α-Draconis (Thuban). Jacobi somehow referred only to the late marriage codes for presenting his case. His opponents prejudiced as they were against dating the Ṛgveda to any period before 1500 BCE, treated Dhruva as an independent entity mentioned only in the Sūtras without any connection to the Vedic Śiśumāra. Typical was the dismissal by Whitney130 an American academic, when he wrote “….any star not too distant from the pole would have satisfied both the newly wedded woman and the exhibitor; there is no need of assuming that the custom is one handed down from the remote period when α- Draconis was really very close to the pole, across an interval of two or three thousand years during which there is no mention of pole-star, either in Veda or in Brāhmaṇa.” Keith working in India in the Colonial Office translated into English Taittirīya Samhitā and several other Vedic texts. Notwithstanding his knowledge of the country and its culture, he was derisive of the Hindu marriage ritual to comment131 “…the argument from the pole star assumes an accuracy in the demands of the primitive Indian wedding ritual which is wholly unnatural.” While criticizing the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa text mentioning that the Pleiades do not slip from the east he wrote “a passage which consists of foolish reasons for preferring one or other of the Nakṣatras; we are in the same region of popular belief as when in the Sūtra literature the existence of Dhruva, a fixed polar star, is alleged.” As if not satisfied with the above arguments he added a foot note on page 79 of his monograph; “The pole star, Dhruva, appears in the Gṛhya Sutras only.” It appears Whitney and Keith had no understanding of the TA text, assuming that they had read it. Keith coauthored a Vedic Index with Macdonell132, which is popular as a reference book even now. Under Dhruva there is reference to Jacobi and the controversy of this being the Pole Star. But under the entry Śimśumāra/Śiśumāra the word is taken just as an aquatic animal with no archaeo-astronomical recognition of a constellation. This is misleading, since even the Monier-Williams Dictionary of 1899 listed one of the meanings of Śiśumāra as: a part of the heavens having stars of that shape.


Any attempt to trace the history of Indian astronomy cannot overlook the vast Vedic literature starting from the Ṛgveda and the Purāṇas. These texts present the oldest description of a constellation named the Śiśumāra comprising of fourteen stars including the Pole Star. The identification and constraints for locating Dhruva, the ancient Pole Star, as vividly described in the Taittirīya Āraṇyaka of the Yajurveda and the Brahmāṇḍa Purāṇa are presented in this article from a chronological perspective. It is seen that the legendary Dhruva has left his imprint permanently on the sands of time, starting from 3200-2800 BCE to the present day. The ancient Indian cultural practice of maintaining a spiritual dialogue between the visible sky and the earth (Dyāvā-pṛthvī) has passed through the Vedic Samhitā, Brāhmaṇa, Āraṇyaka to the Purāṇas with many twists and turns and still later into the period of mathematical astronomy, preserving reference to two Pole Stars, a rarity for any culture. Scientific astronomers of the early siddhānta period scrupulously avoided the Śiśumāra of the Veda and the Purāṇa but retained the term dhruva to mean a fixed reference point, which terminology they needed for the coordinate dhruvaka133. But with passage of time, as star Polaris approached the NCP, the nearby group of stars was named Dhruvamatsya (Polar Fish) and the new Pole Star was kept at the mouth of the animal, in contrast to the ancient Dhruva placed at the tail of the aquatic animal Śiśumāra (Figure 2). This ambivalence must have confused an outsider like Alberuni since the orthodox Hindus whom he knew, must have held on to their belief that the Pole Star was at the tip of the tail of the constellation Śiśumāra, looking more like an alligator and not a fish. This amply demonstrates the long memory of the devout Hindus of their ancestral astral religion carried through centuries, attempting synchronization of their faith with the universal law as perceived in the Vedas.

The best example of how the Vedic facts are remembered is available in the commentaries on the Viṣṇusahasranāma, (Thousand names of Viṣṇu) which is a part of the Mahābhārata. All the three schools of vedānta, following Śankara, Rāmānuja and Madhwa recognize this text as important for their tradition. All the three commentaries specific to the three schools interpret the 441st name nakṣatranemi, as a homonym for Viṣṇu, the controller of the nakṣatras, stationed at the heart-region of the (constellation) śiṁśumāra, quoting the Vedic and Purāṇic texts in differing details. Śankarācārya explains that Dhruva sitting on the tail of this figure rotates the stellar circle. He quotes cryptically, the Vedic authority for his explanation as viṣṇuṛhṛdayam, which is the Taittirīya Āraṇyaka hymn (II.19)134. This commentary has a gloss by Tāraka Brahmānanda Sarasvati a monk of the Śankara tradition. His date is not exactly known, but he was after Sāyaṇa and hence can be assigned to 15-16 Century CE. We have already noted that Sāyaṇa commenting on the TA hymn says that one has to see the Dhruva-maṇḍala in the evening (see f.n. 8). One may wonder, which part of the sky was meant by the Dhruva-maṇḍala, since Polaris was approaching the NCP and dhruvamatsya was perhaps known to the general populace. We can surmise that Sāyaṇa being a follower of Śankara would have known correctly the sky part of Śiśumāra with the last star being the Dhruva of the TA hymn. However, any semblance of doubt that may remain is set right by Tāraka Brahmānanda Sarasvati in his gloss. He not only elaborates on the original text and the commentary of his mentor but takes trouble to give the identification of the Śiśumāra in the sky. He first explains the meaning of this word as an animal figure looking like a Lizard or Iguana135. Next he says that Dhruva is residing at the tip of the uplifted tail of this figure, leaving the faithful with no doubt as to where to look for the Dhruva. In passing we note that Alberuni also refers to Draco as The Lizard.

We conclude that the Vedic people of the Yajurveda branch beheld the sky picture of a constellation named Śiśumāra (the modern Draco) with fourteen stars the last one being stationary without motion to be called Dhruva (α-Draconis) the Pole Star c 3000 BCE. They also preserved this information in their orally transmitted text Taittirīya Āraṇyaka which formed the basis for the meru centric astronomical models of the later Purāṇas and the still later cosmological speculations in the siddhānta astronomical texts.


Figure 2. The Path of the North Celestial Pole among the Stars due to Precession
(Author: Tau’olunga June, 2006. ... sion_N.gif) Figure adapted from the above link. The polar circle in blue colour shows the period in which visible Pole Stars are possible at the NCP. Negative years are BCE. Common Era starts from 0 year.



1 Ṛgveda Samhitā; edited by a group of ten scholars, published by the Mysore Palace, 1950. This thirty-six volume series in Kannada script is complete with Samhitā and Pada Pāṭha, Khila, Sāyaṇa’s commentary, Anukramaṇi, Ṛgvidhāna, Aitareya Brāhmaṇa, the Bṛhaddevatā and the Nirukta with elaborate traditional explanations which are indispensable to follow RV.

2 Śam no bhūmirvepyamānaḥ śamulkāhatanca yat| ….śam no grahāhcāndramasāh śamādityaśca rāhuṇā| śamno mṛtyurdhūmaketuḥ śam rudrāḥ tigmatejasaḥ || Atharvaṇaveda (XIX.9.7-10).

3 atha yadāsya tārāvarṣāṇi colkāḥ patanti, nipatatnti, dhūmāyanti| diśo dahyanti, ketavścottiṣṭhanti……..ityevamādini tānyetāni sarvāṇi somadevatyānyadbhutāni….|| Ṣaḍvimśa. Brā. (6.9.2)  

4 aśvam na tvā vāravantam vandadhyā agnim namobhiḥ | samrājantam adhvarāṇām|| RV (I.27.1)

5 bhāṛjikaḥ prasiddha-bhāḥ| dhūmaketuḥ samidhā bhāṛjīkaḥ ityapi nigamo bhavati || Nirukta ( 6.4)

6 ihāgnibhūtastu ṛṣibhirloke stutibhirīlitaḥ | jātavedā stutomadhye stuto vaiśvānaro divi|| (BD 1.67):

7 vidyate sarvabhūtairhi yadvā jātaḥ punaḥ punaḥ| tenaiṣa madhyabhāgendro jātavedā iti stutaḥ|| (BD2.31)

8 patanti gagane colkāḥ sanirvātā diśo daśa| sajvālāngāradhūmādyāḥ sūryasyābhimukhā iva || (Unpublished Manuscript No.1402, RORI, Alwar. Also quoted by Ballālasena in his Adbhuta Sāgara.)

9 rathānām na rathacakrāṇāmivārāḥ te yathā bahavo’pi sanābhayaḥ samānanābhayo bhavanti tadvadye sanābhayaḥ samānabandhanā ekasminnevāntarikṣe vartamānāḥ || (Sāyana’s commentary on RV X.78)

10 tvāṣṭrī tu saviturbhāryā vaḍavārūpadhārinī | asūyata mahābhāgā sā’ntarikṣe aśvināvubhau || mahat hayaśiro bhūtvā yattad vedavido viduḥ | tamagnim udgiran vaktrāt pibatyāpo mahodadhau|| (MB. Ādi Parvan 66.36 & 180.22)

11 tvaṣṭā vīram devakāmam jajāna tvaṣṭurarvā jāyata āśuraśvaḥ|| TS (V.1.11)

12 āhuste trīṇi divi bandhanāni|| TS (IV.6.7):

13 citrāvaso svasti te pāramśīyetyāha rātrirvai citrāvasuravyuṣṭyai vā etasyai purā brāhmaṇā abhāiṣurvyuṣṭimevāvarundhe || Tai.Sam. (I.5-7) ( In ancient times the sages feared that they may not see the dawn again. By the Citrāvasu hymn, it is said, they won the dawn.)

14 prajāpatirha svām duhitaramabhidadhyau| divam voṣasam vā mithunyena yāsyāmiti tām sambabhūva|| ŚB.(I.7.4.1-4)

15 devā vai sattramāsata kurukṣetre|| Mai. Sam. (IV.5.9)

16 devā vai satramāsata…teṣām kurukṣetram vedirāsīt| tasyai khāṇḍavo dakṣiṇārdhamāsīt| tūrghnamuttarārdhaḥ| pariṇajjaghanārdhaḥ| marava utkaraḥ || Tai. Āra. (5.1.1)

17 samvatsaro vai prajāpatiḥ| samvatsareaivāsmai prajāḥ prājanayat| tāḥ prajā jātā maruto’ghnan asmān api na prāyukṣateti| sa etam prajāpatirmārutam saptakapālam apaśyat| yāḥ pūrvāḥ prajāḥ asṛkṣī| marutastā avadhiṣuḥ || Tai. Brā. (I.6.2.2-3-4)

18 maruto yajñamajighānsan prajāpateḥ || Tai. Brā. (I.3.4.4)

19 viśo vai maruto bhūmo vai viṭ || ŚB. (III. 9.1.17)

20 maruto hi vai devaviśaḥ antarikṣa bhājanāḥ || Kauṣītaki Brā. (7.9.16):

21 maruto hi devānām bhūyiṣṭāḥ || Tai. Brā. (

22 ya eko rudra ucyate| asankyātāḥ sahasrāṇi smaryate na ca dṛśyate|| Tai. Āra, (I.12.1)

23 hemantaṛtunā devāḥ marutastriṇave stutam || Tai. Brā. (II.6.19.2)

24 viśeṣaṇam tu vakṣyāmaḥ| ṛtūnām tannibodhata| suklavāsā rudragaṇāḥ | grīṣmeṇāvartate saha | nijahan prthivīm sarvām || Tai. Āra. (1-3-3).

25 abhidhūnvanto abhighnanta iva| vātavanto marudgaṇāḥ| amuto jetumiṣumukhamiva| sannaddhāḥ saha dadṛśe ha| apadhvastairvastivarṇairiva| viśikhāsaḥ kapardinaḥ| akruddhasya yotsyamānasya| kruddhsyeva lohinī| hematah cakṣuṣī vidyāt| akṣṇayoḥ kṣipaṇoriva || Tai. Āra. (I.4.2)

26 Profile of a natural disaster in ancient Sanskrit literature. By R.N.Iyengar; Ind. J Hist. Sci., 2004; 39.1. pp. 11-49.

27 The Cosmic Winter. By Clube and Napier; Basil Blackwell; U.K. 1990.

28 Rogue Asteroids and Doomsday Comets. By D. Steel J. Wiley & Sons New York. 1995.

29 Iyengar R.N., Archaic Astronomy of Parāśara and Vṛddhagarga, IJHS 43.1, pp.1-27, 2008.

30 śam no bhūmirvepyamānaḥ śamulkāhatanca yat| ….śam no grahāhcāndramasāḥ śamādityaśca rāhuṇā| śamno mṛtyurdhūmaketuḥ śam rudrāḥ tigmatejasaḥ | Atharva Veda Samhitā (XIX.9.7-10).

31asurā daityadaiteyadanujendrāridānavāḥ| śukraśiṣyā ditisutāḥ pūrvadevāḥ suradviṣaḥ|| (Amarakośa I.1.12)

32 pratiprayāṇam asurasya vidvān sūktairdevam savitāram duvasya |
upa bruvīta namasā vijānan jyeṣṭham ca ratnam vibhajantamāyoḥ || RV (V.49.2)

33 viśvedevāḥ vaiśvanarā diśaḥ kṛtvā tāsvetām āśiṣamāśāsata || ŚB. (

34 ṛtavo vai viśvedevāḥ tadenām viśvairdevaiḥ ṛtubhiḥ samvidānaḥ || ŚB. (

35 ko nu vām vaiśvadevāni ekādaśa parāṇyataḥ|| (B.D.5.36).

36 saptarṣayo vasavaścāpi devā atharvāṇo bhṛgavaḥ somasūryāḥ|
pathyā svastī rodasī coktamantre kuhūrgungūraditirdhenuraghnyā||
asunītirilā cāptyā vidhātānurmatirha yā |
angirobhiḥ sahaitāḥ syuruktamantrāśca devatāḥ ||
vaiśvānaro hi suparṇo vivasvān prajāpatirdyauḥ sudhanvā nagohyaḥ|
apāmnapādaryamā vātajūtirilaspatiścāpi rathaspatiśca||
ṛbhavaḥ parjanyaḥ parvatā gnāśca dakṣo bhago devapatnīrdiśaśca|
ādityā rudrāḥ pitaro’tha sādhyā nipātino vaiśvadeveṣu sarve || BD (8.125-128)

37 medhātithiragastyastu bṛhaduktho manurgayaḥ|
ṛjiśvā vasukarṇaśca śāryāto gotamo luśaḥ|
svastyātreyaḥ parucchepaḥ kakṣīvān gāthinaurvaśau |
nābhākaścaiva nirdiṣṭo dyuvasyurmamamatā sutaḥ||
vihavyaḥ kaśyapaṛṣiravatsāraśca nāma yaḥ|
vāmadevo madhucchandāḥ pārtho dakṣasutāditiḥ|| BD (3.55-60)

38 āgneyam sūktamaibhiryadvaiśvadevam ihocyate |
tadviśvalingam gāyatram vaiśvadeveṣu śasyate || (BD 3.33).

39 svarbhānudṛṣṭam sūryasya apahatya tato’trayaḥ|
saptavimśatibhiḥ sūktaiḥ abodhītyagnimastuvan || (B.D. 5.12)

40 tisra eva devatā iti nairuktāḥ | agniḥ pṛthvīsthānaḥ| vāyurvendro vāntarikṣasthānaḥ| sūryo dyusthānaḥ| tāsām mahābhāgyādekaikasyāpi bahūni nāmadheyāni bhavanti| api vā karma pṛthaktvāt|| Nirukta (7.5)

41 ā nāsatyā tribhir ekādaśair iha devebhir yātam madhupeyam aśvinā| RV (I.34.11)

42 sasrvāmsamiva tmanāgnim ittha tirohitam|
ainam nayan mātariśvā parāvato devebhyo mahitam pari|| RV (III.9.5)

43 sasṛvāmsamiva | yathā svācchandyena sasṛvāmsam sarantam gacchantam putram pitā balādānayati| tadvat||
(Sāyaṇa Bhāṣya on RV III.9.5)

44 Hymns to the Mystic Fire, by Sri Aurobindo, S.A.Ashram, Pondicherry, 1998

45 tavāgne yajña ityetat pratyārdhi sviṣṭakṛcca saḥ|yasya trīṇi sahasrāṇi nava trīṇi śatānica || trimśaccaivatu devānām sarvāneva varāndaduḥ| tato’gniḥ sumanāprīto viśverdevaiḥ puraskṛtaḥ || (BD 7.75,76)

46 kaḥ samit samiddḥ candramāḥ| candramā brahmā bhavatu| …sa ca samit samiddhaḥ candramāh vām yuvayorhomārtham……āhutirbhavatvityarthaḥ|| somātmako hi candramā hūyate|| ( Sāyaṇa Bhāṣya, MPRV Edition )

47 tadadya vācaḥ prathamam masīyeti samāpya|| Āśvalāyana Gṛhya Sūtra (1.2)

48 vidhum dadrāṇam samane bahūnām yuvānam santam palito jagāra|
devasya paśya kāvyam mahitvādya mamāra sa hyaḥ sam āna|| RV (X.55.5)

49 samānām samvatsarāṇām māsa ākṛtiḥ | somo rūpaviśeṣairoṣadhiścandramā vā|| Nirukta (11.4-5)

50 svedayaḥ| kiraṇāḥ|gāvaḥ|raśmayaḥ|…….suparṇā iti pañcadaśa raśmināmāni|| Nirukta (1.5)

51 Drapsa the Vedic Cycle of Eclipses by R. Shama Shastry, Mysore 1938.

52 Sarma K.V. A Survey of Source Materials; IJHS, 20.1-4, 1985 pp.1-20.

53 Astronomical Code of the Ṛgveda by S.Kak, Munshiram Manoharlal Publn. N,Delhi 2000.

54 svarbhānurāsuraḥ sūryam tamasā’vidhyat tasmai devāḥ prāyaścittamaicchan …....te devā abruvan
devapaśurvā ayam samabhūt kasmā iyamālapsyāmaha iti || TS (II.1.2.2)

55 Ancient Indian Chronology by P.C.Sengupta, Univ. of Calcutta, 1947

56 Stockwell J.N., The Astronomical Journal, XV, 10, 1895 Boston.

57 Eclipse- The celestial phenomenon that changed the course of history, by D.Steel; National Academy of Sciences, USA, 2003.(

58 The Śatapatha Brāhamaṇa (English Translation in 3 vols. SBE series) by J.Eggeling. Motilal Banarsidas, N.Delhi, 1963. Extracts from the translation of J. Eggeling: “…Thereupon it said, in such and such a year that flood will come……when the flood has risen thou shalt enter into the ship…..And in the same year which the fish had indicated to him, he attended to (the advice of the fish) by preparing a ship; and when the flood had risen, he entered into the ship….hence that (slope) of the northern mountain is called Manu’s descent. The flood then swept away all these creatures, and Manu alone remained here.” (ŚB I.8.1)

59 yajñam vyākhyāsyāmaḥ||…..ṛgvedayajurvedābhyām darśapūrṇamāsau || Āpastamba-paribhāṣā-sūtra (1-4). (Ed.) A.M.Śāstri; Mysore,1893.

60 Datta B.B., “The Science of Śulba, a study in early Hindu Geometry”, Calcutta Univ., Kolkata, 1932

61 Sarasvati T.A., “Geometry in Ancient and Medieval India”, MLBD Publ., Delhi 1979.

62 Sen S.N. and Bag A.K., “The Śulba Sūtras with Text, Translation and Commentary”, INSA, N.Delhi, 1983.

63 Siedenberg A., "The geometry of the Vedic rituals,", in Agni, Frits Staal (ed.), Vol.2, 95-12, 1983.

64 Paranjape V.R., (Ed.) Śrauta Sanjīvini-1;Darśapūrṇamāsa Prayogaḥ. Bhāratī Prabodha Śodha Samsthā; Sonda, 2007

65 Sen S.N., and Bag A.K., ibid.

66 yatpuṇyaṁ nakṣatraṁ | tadbaṭ kurvītopavyuṣaṁ | yadā vai sūrya udeti | atha nakṣatraṁ naiti| yāvati tatra
sūryo gacchet | yatra jaghanyaṁ paśyet| tāvati kurvīta tatkārī syāt | puṇyāha eva kurute || TB (I.5.2)

67 Sen S.N., and Bag A.K., ibid.

68 Shamasastry, R., Drapsa: The Vedic Cycle of Eclipses, Panchacharya Electric Press, Mysore, 1938.

69 Sastry T.S.K (Ed.) Vedāńga Jyotiṣa of Lagadha, IJHS, 19.4. Supplement, pp l-74. INSA N.Delhi, 1984

70 Shamasastry, R. Vedāńga Jyoutiṣa, Text, Translation and Commentary, Mysore. 1936.

71 Kouṇḍinyāyana S.A., Lagadhamuniproktam Vedāńgajyotiṣam (with commentaries of Somākara and Kauṇḍinyāyan) Chaukāmba Vidyābhavan. Vārāṇasī, 2005.

72 Abhyankar, K.D., Pre-siddhiintic Indian Astronomy, ISERVE, Hyderabad. 2002

73 Holay, P.V., Vedic Astronomy, Apte Smarak Samiti. Nagpur. 1989.

74 Kanhaiyalal (Ed.) Sūryaprajñapti-Candraprajñapti, Jināgama Granthamālā, 29 Beawar. 1989.

75 Shamasastry R., Drapsa: The Vedic Cycle of Eclipses, Panchacharya Electric Press, Mysore, 1938.

76 ... _sutra.pdf.

77 Sastry T.S.K (Ed.) Vedāńga Jyotiṣa of Lagadha, IJHS, 19.4. Supplement, pp l-74. INSA N.Delhi, 1984.

78 Dumont P.E., The Full-Moon and New-Moon Sacrifices in the Taittirīya Brāhamaṇa (I Part, Text with Translation) Proc. Am. Phil. Soc., 101, 2, 1957, pp,216-243.

79 purā krūrasya visṛpo virapśinnudādāya pṛthivīm jīradānuryām airayan candramasi svadhābhiḥ tām dhīrāso anudṛśya yajante|| TS (I.1.9).

80 Kashyap R.L., Taittirīya Samhitā (Text with Translation), Vol., 1SAKSIVC, Bangalore. 2002.

81 pūrve yajamānā vedirūpam yām pṛthivīm kṛtsnabhūmerāsuryāḥ sakāśadūrdhvamādaya candramsyamṛtakiraṇaiḥ sārdham sthāpitavantaḥ idānīmtanāstu dhīmantaḥ tāmimām vedim manasānucintya tasyām yajante|| Sāyaṇa Bhāṣya (TS I.1.9)

82 tulyastayostu svarbhānuḥ bhutvādhastāt pravartate| uddhṛtya pṛthvīcchāyām nirmito maṇḍalākṛtiḥ || Brahmāṇḍa Purāṇa (I Pt.23.101)

83 Bhīṣma Parvan; Chapter 40; verses 40-47. The Mahābhārata, Crtical Edition, BORI, Poona.

84Neugebauer O., “A History of Ancient Mathematical Astronomy” Springer-Verlag. Germany 1975

85 Pingree, D "Indian Astronomy", Proc. American Philosophical Society, 122,6, pp.361-364. 1978.

86 mitrāvaruṇau tvottarataḥ pari dhattām dhruveṇa dharmaṇā || TS (I.1.11.12)

87 …..nākasya pṛṣṭhe yajamāno astu| saptaṛṣīṇām sukṛtām yatra lokastatremam yajñam yajamānam ca dhehi|| (See Ref.6 )

88 Sachau E.C. Alberuni’s India: An Account..….of India About A.D.1030. (Vols. I & II) London. 1910.

89 Pines S. and Gelblum T. Alberuni’s Arabic Version of Patanjali’s Yogasutra: A Translation of the third chapter and comparison with Related Texts. Bull. School of Oriental and African Studies, Univ. of London, 2, pp. 258-304, 1983.

90 smṛtiḥ pratyakṣamaitihyam anumānaścatuṣṭayam| etairādityamaṇḍalam sarvaireva vidhāsyate|| TA (I.2.1)

91 kaśyapo’ṣṭamaḥ sa mahāmerum na jahāti|… hi śekumiva mahāmerum gantum | apaśyam aham etat
sūryamaṇḍalam parivartamānam | gārgyaḥ prāṇatrātaḥ |gacchanta mahāmerum|| TA (I.7.1-3)

92 ṛṣayassaptātriśca yat| sarve’ trayo agastyaśca| nakṣatraiśśamkṛto’vasan||

93 viśvāmitro jamadagnirbhāradvājo’tha gautamaḥ|atrirvasiṣṭaḥ kaśyapa ityete saptarṣayaḥ | saptānām ṛṣīṇām agastyāṣṭamānām yadapatyam tadgotramityācakṣate|| (Āśvalāyana Śrauta Sūtra Pariśiṣṭa)

94 Mitchiner J.E., Traditions of the Seven Ṛṣis, MLBD N.Delhi, 2000.

95 anena mantreṇa udańmukho bhūtvā dhruvamaṇḍalam paśyan śiśumārarūpeṇa tamupatiṣṭhet || Sāyaṇa’s Commentary on TA (Edited by H.N.Apte, Anandashrama Press, Pune, 1898).

96 Taittirīya Āraṇyaka with the Commentary of Bhaṭṭabhāskara Miśra (Edited by A.M.Shastri and K.Rangacharya. Mysore 1900).

97 Ekāgnikāṇḍa with the Commentary of Haradatta (Edited by L.Srinivasacharya). G.O.L.Mysore 1902

98 kimetairvārnyānām śosanam mahārnavānām śikharinām prapatanam dhruvasya pracalanam vraścanam vātarajjunām nimajjanam prthivyāh sthānādapasaranam…|| MAU (I.4)

99 sūryo yonirvai kālasya|tasyaitadrūpam yannimeṣādikālāt sambhṛtam dvādaśātmakam vatsarasya āgneyamardhamardham vāruṇam maghādyam śravisthārdhamāgneyam| krameṇotkramena sārpādyam śraviṣṭhārdhāntam saumyam|| MAU (VI.14)

100 Vedāńga Jyoutiṣa of Lagadha (Ed. by T.S.K.Sastry) IJHS, 19.4. Supplement, 1-74. N.Delhi. 1984.

101 When to his house ye came, to Divodāsa, hasting to Bharadvāja, O ye Aśvins,
The car that came with you brought splendid riches: a porpoise and a bull were yoked together. (RV I.116.18; Translation by Griffith R.T.)

102 tasmai divodāsāya prāpayāmāsa| apica tasmin rathe vṛṣabhaḥ anaḍvān śimśumāraḥ grāha ca paraspara viruddhāvapi svasāmarthya prakaṭanāya yuktā vāhanatayā samyuktāvāstām || (Commentary of Sāyaṇa, RV I.116)

103 Caland W. English Translation of the Pañcavimśa-Brāhmaṇa, Bibliotheca Indica Series, 255, Calcutta, 1932.

104 Aiyangār M.N. Essays on Indo-Āryan Mythology, Bangalore 1898. Available at: (

105 Clarke W.E., A note on Pargiter’s Ancient Indian Historical Tradition, J Am. Ori. Soc, 43, pp. 130-131, 1923.

106 uttaram yadagastyasya hyajaveethyāśca dakṣiṇam|pitṛyānaḥ savai panthāḥ vaiśvanarapathādbahiḥ||
nāgavītyuttaroyaśca saptaṛṣigaṇadakṣiṇaḥ|uttaraḥ savituḥ panthā devayānaśca sa smṛtaḥ ||
BP (21.156) and BP (21.168)

107 ūrdhvottaram ṛṣibhyastu dhruvo yatra savai smṛtaḥ | etadviṣṇupadam divyam tṛtīyam vyomni bhāsvaram ||
yatra gatvā na śocanti tadviṣṇoḥ paramam padam | Dharmadhruvādyāḥ tiṣṭanthi yatra te lokasādhakāḥ ||
BP (21.175, 176)

108 See previous articles 2 and 3 of this series.

109 kecanaiḥ tajjyotiḥ anīkam śiśumāra samsthānena bhagavato vāsudevasya yogadhāraṇāyām anuvarṇayanti||

110 Allen R.H. Star Names and Their Meanings, Dover Publications. Inc., USA.1963

111 The Matsya Purāṇa (Text and Transl by H.H.Wilson) Arranged by N.S.Singh, Nag Publ. N. Delhi, 1997

112 Dutt M.N. English Translation of the Viṣṇu Purāṇa, Chowkamba Publ.Varanasi. 1972.

113 Tagare G.V. English Translation of the Brahmāṇḍa Purāṇa, Motilal Banarsidas Publ. N.Delhi, 2000.

114 tataḥ purajanāssarve sāgaroddhūta nissvanāḥ| śiśumārapuram prāpya nyaviśan teca pārthivāḥ||
prāguttareṇa nagarād bhūmibhāge same śubhe| samājavāṭaḥ śuśubhe bhavanaiḥ sarvato vṛtaḥ||
MB Ādi Parvan ( Ch 176 v 15,16)

115 Abhyankar K.D. Folklore and Astronomy:Agastya a Sage and a Star, Current Science, 89, pp.2174-2176. 2005.

116 Iyengar R.N. Parāśara’s Six Season Solar Zodiac and Heliacal Visibility of Star Agastya in 1350-1130 BCE. IJHS, 49.3, pp.223-238, 2014.

117 Mahābhārata, Udyoga Parvan , Ch.17, v. 14-18. (BORI, Pune Critical Edition).

118 Hiltebeitel A. Nahuṣa in the Skies: A Human King of Heaven. History of Religions. 16.4. pp.329-350. 1977.

119 dhruvaḥ prajvalito ghorah apasavyam pravartate || (Bhīṣma Parvan Ch.3, v.17)

120 Iyengar R.N. Internal Consistency of Eclipses and planetary positions in the Mahābhārata IJHS. 77-115, 2003.

121 Kloetzli W.R. Maps of Time-Mythologies of Descent: Scientific Instruments and the Purāṇic Cosmograph. History of Religions, 25,2. pp.116-147, 1985.

122 Thompson R.L. The Cosmology of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa (First Indian Edition) MLBD Publn. Delhi. 2007.

123 Koch D., Astronomical Dating of the Mahābhārata War. Erlenbach, Switzerland. 2014. (

124 Atharvaveda Pariśiṣṭa (Ed.)G. M. Bolling and J. von Negelein, Leipzig,1910

125 śiśumāreṇa sahitā dhruveṇa ca mahātmanā | pulastyaḥ pulahaḥ somo bhṛgurāńgirasā saha ||
hāhāhūhū ca vijñeyau viṣṇoścapadam uttamam| madhyāntasthāvarāṇāmtu niyatāviti buddhimān||AVP(52.10.4,5)

126 Bhadrabāhu Samhitā (Ed.) A.S.Gopāṇi, Sindhi Jaina Granthamālā. Bharatiya Vidhya Bhavan, Bombay, 1949.

127 Parāśaratantra (Reconstructed text with translation and notes) by R.N.Iyengar. Jain University Press, Bangalore, 2013.

128 Sarma S.R. The Dhruvabhrama-Yantra of Padmanābha. J. Rashtriya Samskrita Samsthan, Vol.6, pp.321- 343, N.Delhi, 2012.

129 Jacobi H.G. On the date of the Ṛgveda, (Transl. from German) The Indian Antiquary, 23, 154-159. 1894.

130 Whitney W.D. On a recent attempt by Jacobi and Tilak to determine on Astronomical Evidence the Date of the earliest Vedic Period as 4000 BC. The Indian Antiquary, 24, 361-369. 1895.

131 B.Keith (1925) The Religion and Philosophy of the Veda and Upanishads Harvard Univ. Press, USA

132 Macdonell, A. A., & Keith, A. B. Vedic Index of Names and Subjects. J. Murray. London,1912.

133 Abhyankar K.D. Dhruvaka-vikshepa system of Astronomical Coordinates, Ind. J. Hist. Sci. 41, 151-157. 2006

134 Viṣṇusahasranāmastotram with the commentary of Śankarācārya and the gloss of Tāraka Brahmānanda Sarasvati (Edited by R.Rama Sastry) ORI Sanskrit Series, 106, Univ. of Mysore 1961.

135 śimśumāro jalajantuviśeṣaḥ saraṭagodhādyākāraḥ, tadākṛti jyotiścakram – śimśumaracakram tasya pradakṣiṇāvartakuṇḍalībhūtasya unnamitapucchāgre vyavasthito dhruvaḥ ||
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Re: Freda Bedi Cont'd (#3)

Postby admin » Fri Jun 25, 2021 6:51 am

Some Purana References, from -- Astronomical Dating of the Mahabharata War
by Dieter Koch



A very good example for a mixture of old and new astronomical concepts is given in chapter 2.8 of the Viṣṇupurāṇa. Experts agree that this work was compiled in post-Hellenistic times (3rd/4th cent. AD). In VP 2.8.28ff. (quoted on p. 41f.), it is stated that the solstices are at the initial points of Capricorn and Cancer and the equinoxes at the initial points of Aries and Libra. This statement clearly stems from post-Hellenistic times, from the first half of the 1st millennium CE. However, later in the same chapter, in VP 2.8.76-79 (quoted below on p. 27f.), it states that when the Sun is in the third quarter of Viśākhā and the full moon in the first quarter of Kṛttikā, then that is the autumnal equinox. This statement is only valid for the 2nd millennium BCE. Thus, there is obviously very old and very young material mixed together in this text....

The list of nakṣatras, as known today and as found in astronomical works of the post-Hellenistic period, begins with Aśvinī. However, in lists given in the Purāṇas, the Mahābhārata, and in Brāhmaṇa texts, Kṛttikā appears in the first place (e. g. MBh 13.63(64).5ff.) Kṛttikā is more frequently mentioned than any other lunar mansion. It seems that Kṛttikā, as well as Maghā, which is approximately in square to Kṛttikā, were of exceptional importance. The reason seems to be that in ancient times the vernal equinox was in Kṛttikā and the summer solstice in Maghā; or otherwise the fact that the full moon, when it occurred in Kṛttikā, roughly coincided with the autumn equinox, and the full moon in Maghā with the winter solstice. In principle, this explanation allows an astronomical dating of this calendrical system, although not necessarily a dating of the texts that refer to it. As has been said already, the doctrine could be a lot older that the written documents in which it first appears...

An interesting text that mentions the equinoxes, which even Venkatachelam quotes, although he fails to recognize its real significance, is found in Viṣṇupurāṇa 2.8., and with some variations also in Brahmāṇdapurāṇa 1.21 and Vāyupurāṇa 50:

When the Sun is in the first part of Kṛttikā, then the [full] moon
stands in the forth (read: third) part of Viśākhā without any doubt.
When the Sun enters the third part of Viśākhā,
then one should know that the [full] moon stands at the beginning of Kṛttikā.
Then this is the holy time which is called the “equinox”.
Then [people] of devoted nature give gifts to the gods (var. to the ancestors).
By means of the Sun the equinox must be known, the time must be indicated by means of the Moon.
Night and day are equal, when this equinox takes place.
For Brahmins and ancestors, this is the beginning (mouth) that generates gifts.
Whoever has given gifts on the equinox, becomes one who has done [everything] that ought to be done.

While the Viṣṇupurāṇa might have been composed in the Christian era, there can be no doubt that the astronomical observations underlying the above verses date to the first half until the middle of the 2nd millennium BCE. Besides, the work turns out to be a conglomerate of doctrines from very different epochs. For, right in the same chapter, VP 2.8.28ff., it is mentioned that the solstices are at the initial points of Capricorn and Cancer. These verses are post-Hellenistic and were obviously written in the first half of the 1st millennium CE. Astronomically speaking, there are 2000 years between this passage and the one quoted above.

What is interesting about the cited text is that the lunar mansions are divided into four parts and that a circle of 27 (not 28) equal lunar mansions seems to be used. For, in a circle of 27 lunar man-sions, the first quarter of Kṛttikā stands in opposition to the third quarter of Viśākhā. (The fact that verse 76 mentions the fourth part must be an error, as becomes obvious from verse 77.) When the full moon takes place on the equinox, then the Sun and the Moon were found on this axis. Now, if it were known exactly where the starting point of the nakṣatra circle was assumed, these verses could be dated with a precision of 240 years. Unfortunately, this is not known. However, as has been stated, if the sidereal zodiac according to Lahiri is assumed, where the star Citrā (= Spica) is in the middle of the lunar mansion Citrā, then it results in a fairly reasonable distri-bution of the principal stars in their respective lunar mansions. Thus if the Lahiri zodiac is used as an approximation, then this astro-nomical observation from the Viṣṇupurāṇa can be dated to about 1885 – 1645 BCE....

There is also the following verse, which is found in different ver-sions in several Purāṇas:

When the Sun is in Śravaṇa [reaching] northern culmination,
then he wanders rising in the northern regions of the sixth continent [called] Śakadvīpa.
When the Sun is in Śravaṇa and Uttarāṣāḍhā,
then he wanders in the northern regions of the sixth continent [called] Śakadvīpa.
When the Sun is [reaching] northern culmination in [the month of] Śrāvaṇa,
then he wanders in the most northern region on the continent of Gomeda.

The former two versions wrongly state that the Sun reaches his northern culmination in Śravaṇa. In reality, that would be his south-ern culmination. The third version is more correct in that it mentions the month of Śrāvaṇa rather than the lunar mansion Śravaṇa. But whatever may be the original wording of the text, it clearly points to an epoch where the winter solstice was in Śravaṇa or Śraviṣṭhā, the two lunar mansions whose full moons were assigned to the month of Śrāvaṇa. As has been stated already, the solstice was at the beginning of Śravaṇa around 440 BCE, and at the beginning of Śraviṣṭhā around 1400 BCE...

A good example for a post-Hellenistic definition of the zodiac, the equinoxes, and the solstices is found in Viṣṇupurāṇa 2.8.28ff.:

At the beginning of his northward course (uttarāyaṇam), the Sun enters Capricorn, then [he enters] Aquarius and Pisces, from one zodiac sign to the other, O twice-born one.
After enjoying these three [zodiac signs], the Sun arrives at the equinox and makes day and night equal.
Then the night goes to decrease and the day grows daily.
And then, at the end of Gemini, the Sun arrives at his highest culmination. When he has reached Cancer, he makes the southward course (dakṣiṇāyanam).

This definition, which is actually equivalent to the tropical zodiac, as found in Ptolemy’s works, was valid for several centuries in India. It is found in Purāṇas and in all works of astronomy and astrology of the post-Hellenistic period, including the works of Sphujidhvaja, Varāhamihira, Āryabhaṭa and in Sūryasiddhānta.42 “Vedic” astro-logers do not like to hear all this, because they want to believe that Indian astrology as we know it today was revealed more than 5000 years ago by the holy sages of Vedic times and that their doctrines from the beginning were not tropical, but sidereal....

There are also other texts in Purāṇas that explain the daily rotation of the stars about the pole star (or the celestial pole) by the fact that they are tied to it by “wind strings” and that their circular motion is caused by the rotation of the pole star. Some scholars believe that these texts also prove a scientific understanding of the precession of the equinox in Vedic times. However, if the texts are studied more closely, this turns out to be wishful thinking. In reality these texts only deal with the daily rotation of the sky, not with precession. Other than the above-cited text from Maitryupaniṣad, they are not aware of precession...

Also, Dhruva is called a star in the tail of Śiśumāra in several places in Purāṇas, e.g. in the following verse:

After Dhruva, the son of Uttānapāda, had propitiated that lord of the world, he was placed into the tail of the constellation Śiśumāra....

Finally, Jha refers to the mysterious doctrine of the vīthīs in Vāyupurāṇa 50, which in his view alludes to the trepidation theory. His argument is as follows:

Verse-130 states that Sun's path during the Uttarāyana is called Nāgaveethee, and Sun's path during the Dakshināyana is called Ajaveethee. When Sun rises in three nakṣatras from moola to (poorva and uttara) āshādha, it is ajaveethee, and when the Sun rises in three nakshatras from Abhijit (i.e., Abhijit or Shravana or Dhanishthā), then it is Nāgaveethee.

What does it mean? Uttarāyana and Dakshināyana are here defined not in terms of human Sunrise or Sunset, but divine Sunrise and Sunset. Divine Sunrise occurs when sāyana Sun has longitudes from -27 deg to +27 deg with respect to the mean reference point 270 deg for Mean Divine Sunrise
or Uttrāyana-onset, i.e., from 243 deg (Moola) to 297 deg (Uttarāshādha) which is an evidence of both pendulum like motion of Dhruva as well as of trepidating ayanāmsha known as Dolāyana in contrast to circular motion of modern concept of ayanāmsha known as chakrāyana. Although exact degrees are not mentioned in these verses, no other explanation is possible excepting that based on trepidating Dolāyana, which puts nir-ayana Makara Samkrānti or Divine Sunrise always at 270 degrees and sāyana Makara Samkrānti from 243 deg to 297 deg...

Thus Jha believes that ajavīthī (the “path of the goats”) and nāgavīthī (the “path of the snakes”) represent the two sections of the ecliptic that lie on either side of the initial point of sidereal Capricorn and have the size of 27° each. According to the trepidation theory, which is a precursor of the theory of precession, the winter solstice oscillates within this range in a period of 7200 years. Since Jha defines uttarāyaṇa and dakṣiṇāyana sidereally, the two vīthīs always fall in opposite half-years or ayanas. And since the two vīthīs comprise 27° each, the solstitial point necessarily falls into some lunar mansion between Mūla and Dhaniṣṭhā. Jha therefore assigns the area of Mūla, Pūrvāṣāḍhā, and Uttarāṣāḍhā to ajavīthī, and the area of Abhijit, Śravaṇa and Dhaniṣṭhā to nāgavīthī. The text thus alludes to the trepidation theory, in Jha’s opinion.
In reality, however, the text does not support this. The wording is as follows:

The nāgavīthī is northerly and the ajavīthī southerly.
Mūla and the two Āṣāḍhās are the three risings of/in the ajavīthī.
Abhijit ... before ... Svāti are the three risings of/in the nāgavīthī.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to make sense out of the last line. The text is obviously corrupt. However, it is obvious that there is no mention of the triple Abhijit, Śravaṇa und Dhaniṣṭhā, and one would have to adjust the text considerably in order to make it accord with this idea. Jha’s translation shows that he does “correct” the text somehow, but he does so silently without mentioning the problem:

Northern veethee or path is Nāgaveethee and southern veethee is Ajaveethee. Sunrise (occurs) in any of three nakshatras from moola to both āshādhas which make up Ajaveethee. (And) sunrise (occurs) in any of three nakshatras likewise from Abhijit (to shravana and dhanishthā) which make up Nāgaveethee.

It must be noted that Jha suppresses the mention of Svāti, which obviously contradicts his interpretation...

In Harivaṃśa, the following verses are found:

The creatures will go into destruction together with the Kali age.
When this Kali age has been destroyed, then a new Kṛta age
will emerge, according to the rule, by nature, not otherwise.

The context of this verse treats the incarnations of Viṣṇu on the earth at the end of each yuga. And in Viṣṇupurāṇa it says:

Kṛtam, Tretā, Dvāparaḥ und Kaliḥ [form] a [period] of four ages.
One thousand of them is called a day of Brahmā, O sage.
In one day of Brahmā, O Brahmin, 14 Manus
appear. Listen [to learn] their change that is caused by time (Kāla).
The Seven Ṛṣis, the gods, Śiva, Manu, his sons, and the kings
are created and destroyed at the same time, as they were formerly.

The four ages Kṛta, Tretā, Dvāpara, and Kali, constitute a “great age” (mahāyugam, caturyugam). One thousand of them form a “Day of Brahmā”, the “Creator God”. A day of Brahmā also contains 14 Manu periods (manvantaram), each of which contains 71 “great ages”. Manu is the name of the ruler of one of these 14 periods. At the end of a Manu period, the Manu dies, and a new one takes office. The verse quoted above actually seems to indicate that the divine beings are destroyed and recreated at the beginning of each Manu period.

However all that may be in detail, it is obvious that the super-conjunction of all planets has something to do with this reabsorption of everything into God and its re-emanation from him at the end of each age. Everything, including the planets, are absorbed into God and re-emerge from him.

The Viṣṇupurāṇa has the following verses:

The yogis who contemplate Brahma, having one goal only,
to them [belongs] that highest abode that is seen by the sages.
The Moon, the Sun, and the other planets go there again and again and return [at the end of each yuga].
Even today, those who meditate on the 12 syllables, do not return.

The last line refers to the spiritual liberation that ends the cycle of birth and death.

It seems, however, that the planets unite in a super-conjunction at the end of each yuga, not only at the end of a day of Brahmā and not only at the end of a Manu period or a great age (mahāyuga)...

Thus at the time the world reaches destruction, the planets are swallowed up by Nṛsiṃha, who represents the Sun, and shortly thereafter proceed to their combined heliacal rising. They go forth from a conjunction, then separate and wander separately “as they please”...

As has been illustrated, The Mahābhārata epic contains clear evidence that a super-conjunction of all planets took place at the time of the great war. However, the traditional belief amongst Hindu astrologers is that a super-conjunction did not occur in the year of the war, but 36 years later, in the year when Kṛṣṇa died and the kali-yuga began. The date given for this event is 17th/18th February 3102 BCE. The astronomical configuration for this traditionally accepted kaliyuga date will be examined shortly. However, it should first be considered whether a super-conjunction 36 years after the war could be derived from textual evidence within the Mahābhārata itself.
To begin with, the Mahābhārata itself states that the super-conjunction and the transition from dvāparayuga to kaliyuga took place during the year of the war. This is evident from the following verse:

When the transition of Kali and Dvāpara arrived,
the battle between the two armies of the Kurus and Pāṇḍavas took place in Kurukṣetra (Samantapañcaka).

Another passage reads as follows:

When you see [Arjuna] in battle with white horses, with Kṛṣṇa as his charioteer,
wielding the weapons of Indra, Agni, and the Maruts,
and the thunder-like roaring sound of [his bow] Gaṇḍīva,
then tretā-, kṛta-, and dvāparayuga will be over.
When you see Kuntī’s son Yudhiṣṭhira in battle,
devoted to Japa and Homa and supervising his own large army,
who, like the Sun, is invincible [and] burns the army of the enemies,
then tretā-, kṛta-, and dvāparayuga will be over.
When you see Bhīmasena empowered in battle ... (10)

And another verse:

The two armies resemble two oceans that flow together at the end of the age,
that are churned up by wild sea monsters, and abound with huge crocodiles.

And on the 18th day of the battle, Kṛṣṇa says to Balarāma:

... know that the Kali age has arrived.

The “contradiction” between the astronomical tradition and the Mahābhārata can perhaps be explained by the fact that the transition between the yugas is considered to extend over a longer period of time, the so-called “dawn” (saṃdhiḥ) of the ages. However, it is impossible that a gathering of planets lasts over a period of 36 years. Nor do celestial mechanics permit another such super-conjunction to occur 36 years after a super-conjunction, where all planets disappear in the light of the Sun. An interval of at least 38 years is necessary. This is because Jupiter-Saturn conjunctions, which are always included in a super-conjunction, happen only once every 20 years, and also because Mars and the other planets must accidentally accompany them.

The question arises whether the Mahābhārata narrative also provides evidence of a second super-conjunction that would have occurred almost four decades after the war around the day of Kṛṣṇas demise.

It is interesting that in the 16th book of the Mahābhārata, shortly before the death of Kṛṣṇa, similar omens occurred as have been described for the year leading up to the great war:

When the 36th year arrived, O joy of the Kurus,
Yudhiṣṭhira saw inauspicious omens.
The winds blew in tempests, dry and raining gravel.
The birds circumambulated to the right.
The great rivers flowed backwards. The [four] directions were shrouded in mist.
Meteors descended bringing rain of coal from the sky onto the earth.
The Sun disk was shrouded in haze, O king.
He was constantly without rays at sunrise and was seen vesseled in clouds.
Terrifying halos were seen around both the Moon and Sun,
in three colours with black and harsh edges, with devouring reddish light.
These and many other incidences that indicated danger/fear,
are seen day after day, O king, that cause agitation to the heart.

There is no mention of planets in this passage. It is interesting, how-ever, that the omens described are very similar to those that occur shortly before the great battle. The only thing that is missing is the mention of the super-conjunction. However, it can be found in a related text. In Bhāgavatapurāṇa 1.14.17 it says:

See, the glare of the Sun is destroyed, the planets gather together in the sky.
Sky and earth are set on fire, as it were, by the host of living beings that are [entangled] in battle.

The burning of the sky and the earth might allude to the reddish evening or morning sky, above which the gathering of planets could be seen. However, it seems that in reality this text is referring to the super-conjunction which occurred during the war. It is likely that the super-conjunctions during the war and the one at the time of Kṛṣṇa’s death were one and the same.

In MBh 16.5(4), the death of Kṛṣṇa in the forest is described as follows:

After he had withdrawn his senses, speech, and mind,
had laid himself down and gone into mahāyoga,
Jara came to this place
at the same time, greedy, desirous of a deer, impetuous.
Lying there in yoga, Kṛṣṇa
was taken as a deer by the greedy Jara.
He pierced the sole of his foot with an arrow
and swiftly went to him, wanting to catch the [deer].
Thinking he had sinned,
he touched (Kṛṣṇa’s) feet with his head, his appearance full of pain.
Then the Great Self consoled him,
rising up and pervading heaven and earth with beauty.
When he reached the sky, the Vasus, the Aśvins,
the Rudras, Ādityas, Vasus and Viśvedevas,
rose towards him, and the sages and siddhas
and the foremost of the Gandharvas with the Apsaras.
Then O king, the holy one, with terrible glare,
Nārāyaṇa (Kṛṣṇa), the origin and the imperishable one,
the teacher of yoga, pervaded heaven and earth with beauty;
the Great Self arrived at his own immeasurable abode.
Then Kṛṣṇa joined the gods and the Ṛṣis
and the Cāraṇas, O king,
worshipped by the foremost of the Gandharvas, the best Apsarās,
the Siddhas, Sādhyas and Cānatas.
These gods welcomed him, O king.
The best of the sages praised him as the lord with their words.
(B6: after he had united with the kings of the world, Śiva, Brahmā etc.,
praised by the hosts of the gods and siddhas.)
The Gandharvas awaited him with praises,
and Indra welcomed him lovingly.

Although a conjunction of the planets is not mentioned, the text gives the impression that there are some astronomical occurrences. Kṛṣṇa rose to the sky and filled heaven and earth with beauty. After that a considerable number of superhuman beings are mentioned that “rose towards him” (pratyudyayur). Could this have a deeper meaning? Could it be a mythological representation of a super-conjunction and a synchronous heliacal rising of all planets?

If so, what then would Kṛṣṇa represent? The Moon? The verses from Harivaṃśa quoted further above describe how the planets gathered around the Moon. Perhaps Kṛṣṇa represents the last crescent of the Moon that rose in the morning, and the planets made their heliacal rising “towards him”. When holy or powerful beings gather about their leader, then this is often compared to a clustering of the planets around the Moon. The same theme can be found in the following verse from the Bhāgavatapurāṇa. Śuka, the son of Vyāsa, gives a lesson to King Parīkṣit while being surrounded by many Ṛṣis:

Surrounded by the hosts of the Brahmarṣis, Rājarṣis and Devarṣis, himself being the greatest amongst the greatest,
the Holy One (Śuka) shone like the Moon, when multitudes of planets and the stars of the lunar mansions engulf him.

This verse might indeed allude to the configuration that took place at the beginning of kaliyuga. Parīkṣit is the first king after Yudhiṣṭhira, thus the first king of the kaliyuga.

A similar description is given at the return of Rāma to Kosala. All people gather about him, and then it can be read that:

Sitting in his celestial chariot, praised by women and lauded by bards,
the Holy One shone, O king, like the rising Moon [is praised] by the planets.

And the Bhāgavatapurāṇa says:

Balarāma appeased those Vṛṣṇi men, who were prepared [for battle];
He, who destroys the impurity of the [yuga of] quarrel (kaliḥ), did not want the quarrel (kaliḥ) between the Kurus and the Vṛṣṇis.
He went to Hastināpura with a chariot that shone like the Sun,
surrounded by Brahmins and elders of the family, like the Moon [is surrounded] by the planets.


Wherever he went, O king, the inhabitants of the cities and the country
gathered around him with gifts in their hands, like the Sun risen together with the planets.

Also interesting is the following verse from Brahmapurāṇa:

No doubt this earth might be without moon, sun and planets [at the end of the yuga],
however the earth will never be without the sons of Puru.

When all the planets and the Moon are in conjunction with the Sun, it is impossible that the Moon and planets could be visible in the sky. But, why is the Sun surrounded by the planets in both these verses, whereas in the verse before that the Moon is surrounded by them? Astronomically, it does not necessarily make a big difference. It is only shortly before sunrise or shortly after sunset that the planets and the Moon can all be visible clustered together. The Sun is always very close to them. Besides, this kind of conjunction often follows or precedes a conjunction of all planets with the Sun, where they actually disappear in the light of the Sun and become invisible. This is in reference to earlier explanations of the various stages and types of super-conjunctions. Thus when in some places the planets gather around the Sun and in others around the Moon, then this is in relation to the different phases of one and the same super-conjunction.

Reverting to the demise of Kṛṣṇa, another description of his ascension is found in Bhāgavatapurāṇa 11.30 and 31. After Kṛṣṇa was hit by the hunter Jara’s arrow, his charioteer Dāruka finds him below a fig tree:

Dāruka looked for the way to Kṛṣṇa and found it:
he could smell the fragrance of Tulasī in the wind and followed it,
to his lord, who, surrounded by sharp shiny weapons, had set down there at the root of the Aśvattha tree.
Overwhelmed by a flood of love, he fell down to his feet, after he had jumped down from the chariot, his eyes filled with tears.
“O Lord, when I do not see your lotus feet, then my sight disappears and enters into darkness.
I cannot see the [four] directions and can find no peace, like a night when the Moon has disappeared.”
Whilst the charioteer was speaking these words, the chariot with the Garuḍa sign
flew up to the sky, O king of kings, in front of Dāruka who was looking upwards.
Behind the [chariot] followed the celestial weapons of Viṣṇu.
To the charioteer, who was in a state of great astonishment at this [occurrence], spoke Kṛṣṇa:

Again, this passage seems to talk of astronomical events. After all our considerations, their interpretation is obvious. The Moon has not been visible in the sky the whole night long. When Dāruka complained to his lord about the darkness, the chariot of Kṛṣṇa rises up to the sky. Could the chariot represent the last crescent of the Moon that rose in the eastern morning sky? And could the “sharp shiny weapons” that ascended to the sky behind him be the planets? Before rising, these weapons surrounded Kṛṣṇa. Does this picture symbolise the conjunction of all planets with the Moon and the Sun?

Immediately thereafter, there is talk of an assembly of gods and all kinds of supernatural beings, among which were Brahmā, Śiva and his wife Parvatī:

Then Brahmā and Śiva arrived with Parvatī,
the gods, lead by the great Indra, the sages together with the lord of the creatures,
the ancestors, Siddhas and Gandharvas, the Vidyādharas and great Nāgas,
Cāraṇas, Yakṣas and Rakṣās, Kinnaras, Apsaras and twice-born ones,
in their desire to see the ascent of the holy one, and in their longing for the Supreme [Lord],
praising and lauding the deeds and the birth of Kṛṣṇa.
They released a rain of flowers, while densely filling the sky with the rows of their celestial chariots, O king, filled with the highest devotion.

All sorts of celestial beings gathered around Kṛṣṇa and formed a kind of “conjunction” in the sky. It may also be mentioned, in an analogy to the verses quoted above: “... like the planets and stars gather around the Moon”. The host is headed by Brahmā and Śiva. This awakens memories of RV X.141.3 (brahmāṇaṃ ca bṛhaspatim), and Brahmā can perhaps be identified with Jupiter (Bṛhaspati) and Śiva with Venus (Śukra).

The holy one looked at the grandfather [Brahmā]; the all-pervading one united the all-pervading powers of his Self,
[uniting] his Self within his Self, and closed his lotus eyes.
His own person, that had given pleasure to the world and had been [full of] happiness [based on] concentration and meditation:
he burnt it with fire-like yoga concentration and entered his own [true] abode.

Kṛṣṇa causes his own cremation through the “fire” of his spiritual concentration. Could this mean – on an astronomical level – that the old Moon enters the glare of the Sun and thereby the invisible world? The text continues:

Drums resounded in the sky, and flowers (or: good thoughts) rained from the heights.
Truth, duty, firmness, fame, and glory followed him and left the earth
The gods and the other [beings], lead by Brahmā, could not see how Kṛṣṇa, whose path was unknown, entered his own abode, and they were very astonished.
As a lightning bolt runs through the sky, leaving behind a circle of clouds,
Kṛṣṇa’s departure could not be witnessed by mortal deities.
When Brahmā, Śiva, and the other [gods], saw Kṛṣṇa’s yogic departure,
they were amazed and praised it, and each of them went into his own world.

The gods broke up their assembly, separated, and each of them went his own way, like the planets use to do after a super-conjunction. The disappearance of Kṛṣṇa could allude to the disappearance of the old moon’s crescent in the light of day.

Other Purāṇas give a different description of the cremation of Kṛṣṇa, but even there some evidence of an astronomical configuration can be seen, e. g. in Viṣṇupurāṇa 5.38 and Brahmapurāṇa 212.8:

And Arjuna searched for the dead bodies of Rāma and Kṛṣṇa
and performed their funeral rites, also for the other [heroes] one by one.
The eight that are said to be his queens, headed by Rukmiṇī,
embraced the body of Kṛṣṇa and entered into the fire.
And the best Revatī also embraced the body of Rāma
and entered into the blazing fire, refreshed and cooled by the contact with him (or: it?).
And when Ugrasena and Vasudeva heard it
and Devakī and Rohiṇī, they also entered into the fire.
After Arjuna had done the funeral rites for them according to rule,
he departed and took everyone including Vajra with him.
The thousands of wives of Kṛṣṇa that departed from Dvārakā,
and Vajra and the people – Arjuna took them under his protection and went quietly away.
After Kṛṣṇa had abandoned the world of the mortals, the splendid assembly and the assembly hall
and the Pārijāta tree went up to the sky, O Maitreya.
On the day Kṛṣṇa (Hari) went to the sky and departed from earth,
on that very day the powerful era of Kali commenced.
And the ocean flooded the empty [city] of Dvārakā;
only the house of Kṛṣṇa was not flooded by the sea.

Together with Kṛṣṇa, the “bright assembly” (sabhā)81 and the “assembly hall of the gods” (sudharmā) rose to the sky. From our above considerations it is very likely that, again, this description alludes to the super-conjunction of all planets with the Sun and their synchronous heliacal rising. The super-conjunction could also be represented by the fact that some of his close relatives entered into the funeral pyre of the “Kṛṣṇa sun”. Thus perhaps that barbaric custom that requires widows to burn themselves together with their deceased husbands has an astronomical-astrological motif.

Thus it can be deduced, as the sources seem to indicate, that there were two super-conjunctions: one during the great battle, and another one almost four decades later when Kṛṣṇa died. However, the evidence supporting the second super-conjunction is rather cryptic, whereas the first one is described very clearly.

In fact, it is more likely that there was only one super-conjunction that was associated with both events, with the war and the death of Kṛṣṇa. It must be remembered that the super-conjunction occurs at the end of an age and constitutes part of the general pralayaḥ, or the “dissolution” of all things back to their origin. It is followed by a new emanation (sṛṣṭiḥ) of the cosmic order and a new age, which is accompanied by a synchronous re-emergence of the planets from the Sun. The transition from one age to the other is indicated by only one super-conjunction, not by two...

Hindus firmly believe that the Kaliyuga began on 18th February, 3102 BCE and that this date, or actually rather the counting of days and years that starts on that date, has been passed down to us through an unbroken tradition. However this must be questioned. The date of the start of the kaliyuga is not attested in any older sources, neither the Purāṇas, the Mahābhārata, or in any other Vedic text. In fact, as will be shown, it is even incompatible with these sources, although traditionalists will assume all kinds of mental handstands and somersaults in order to make those incompatibilities seemingly disappear. There are no archaeological or historical data providing any such clues that the date 3102 BCE has any significance whatsoever.

The kaliyuga era was first attested to by the ancient astronomer Āryabhaṭa, who assumed the beginning of kaliyuga to be 3600 years before the 23rd year of his life, which corresponds to the year 499 CE. Traditionalists love referring to the inscription of King Pulakeśin II in Aihole, Karṇāṭaka, which allegedly supports this dating. However, this inscription dates from the year 634 CE and is therefore even younger than Āryabhaṭa. Moreover, some authors refer to a number of title deeds written on copper plates that allegedly go back to King Janamejaya, who is said to have lived near 3000 BCE. However, these “copper grants” are obvious forgeries that served the purpose to support claims of ownership. Hence the statement found in Āryabhaṭa’s work is in fact the oldest testimony for the kaliyuga era, and over a whole period of 3600 years, the alleged tradition did not leave any trace in literary or archaeological sources. It must therefore be considered speculation. While the Mahābhārata and the Purāṇas do provide evidence that planetary clusterings were observed and considered important in ancient times, there is no available evidence that could support the kaliyuga era commencing in either 3102 or 3104 BCE.

Serious scholars therefore, do not accept the idea that the kaliyuga beginning on 18th February 3102 BCE is based on a true, unbroken tradition. Rather they assume that this date was back-calculated by Indian astronomers of late antiquity. It served as a mooring point for a theory of planetary cycles, as given in the Sūryasiddhānta, the most important work on ancient Indian astronomy....

There is a text found in several of the Purāṇas that links the beginning of the Kaliyuga with the death of Kṛṣṇa. However, instead of a conjunction of all planets, it mentions a conjunction of the Seven Ṛṣis in the lunar mansion Maghā. This text can be found in several different variations in VP 4.24.102ff., BhP 12.2.24ff., BrAP 2.74.225ff., MatsyaP 271.38ff. The text begins as follows:

From the birth of Parīkṣit until the inauguration of Nanda,
one must know, there are 1015 (var. 1050, 1115, 1500) years.

Parīkṣit is the first king of Hastināpura after Yudhiṣṭhira. His inauguration took place after Kṛṣṇa’s funeral, when Yudhiṣṭhira and his brothers renounced the kingdom and abdicated. Nanda is also called Mahāpadma in some versions of the text. He was the first king of the Nanda dynasty of Magadha. According to the Viṣṇupurāṇa, the Nandas ruled for about 100 years and were followed by Chandragupta Maurya, who seized power over Maghada in 321 BCE. The great number of variations of this text, e.g. the numbers of years mentioned, illustrates the text’s poor transmission. It is difficult to have confidence in any data given in it. Since the time between Parīkṣit’s seizure of power and Mahāpadma is between 1000 and 1500 years, Parīkṣit’s lifetime and the Mahābhārata battle would have fallen between the 20th and the 15th century BCE. This is in stark contrast to the traditional kaliyuga era, said to begin in 3102 BC. [However, traditionalists shun no effort in order to defend the Kaliyuga Era 3102 BCE. For that purpose, they are even ready to rewrite not only the whole history of India, but even the whole world history. The flowers of these absurd efforts: Buddha was allegedly born in 1887 BCE, Candragupta Maurya crowned in 1534 BCE, Aśoka in 1472 BCE, Śaṅkara was born in 509 BCE, etc. etc. (see K. Venkatachelam, The Plot in Indian Chronology, Appendix III). I shall not dwell on this, but refer to T. S. Kuppanna Sastry, Collected Papers on Jyotisha, p. 255-317, where the thinking errors in such approaches are exposed.]

The Saka Era of Varahamihira (Salivahana Saka) [Rep. from Journal of Indian History (Trivandrum), 36 (1958) 343-67.]


With reference to chronology the word Saka is used in two senses: (1) As a common noun meaning any era (as for e.g., in the terms Yudhisthira Saka, Vikrama Saka, Malava Saka, Salivahana Saka etc.) and, (2) As a proper noun to mean a particular era called the Saka-kala or Saka Era. Most Indologists believe that the Saka Era is the same as what later is generally referred to as the Salivahana Saka which commenced with the month of Caitra occurring in 78 A.D., i.e., at the end of 3179 years of the Kali Era, for it can be shown that all astronomical works and commentaries thereon, wherever they mention a Saka Era, mean only the Salivahana Era, starting, as mentioned above, from 3179 Kali elapsed. But some like the late T.S. Narayana Sastri,1 [Cf. his Age of Sankara, (Madras, 1918), Pt. I, pp. 224ff.] Gulshan Rai,2 [Cf. his article, 'The Persian Emperor Cyrus, the Great, and the Saka Era,' Journal of the Panjab University Historical Society, (JPUHS), 1 (1932) 61-73, 122-36.] Kota Venkatachelam,3 [Cf. his Plot in Indian Chronology, (Vijayawada, 1953), 49-51; Indian Eras', Journal of the Andhra Historical Research Society, (JAHRS), 20 (1949-50), 43ff; 21 (1950-52), 61-73, 122-36.] and V. Thiruvenkatacharya4 [Cf. his 'Ayanamsa and Indian chronology: The Age of Varahamihira, Kalidasa etc.' Journal of Indian History (JIH) 28 (1950) 103ff. and 'The Andra Saka' JAHRS, 22 (1952-54) 161-8.] (VT) take the word to mean a certain Cyrus Era or Andhra Era which they say, started from 550 B.C.5 [ ] Kane mentions two others of the group: Janannatha Rao, Age of Mahabara war (1931), C.V. Vaidya starting the Sakakala from Buddha's nirvana. We now find that T.S.N is the source for all these people, and almost every argument used by them is his. In his Age of Sankara he has used a Yudhisthira Era of 3140-39 B.C., and a Saka Era of 576 B.C., which he later shifted to 550 B.C. Still another view is expressed by K. Rangarajan, who takes it to mean an era which commenced from 523/22 B.C. with the first Viceroy of India appointed by the Persian Emperor.6 [ ] They also try to show that it never means the Salivahana Saka.7 [ ] What astounds us is that even where there is clear evidence that Salivahana Saka is to be taken, (in the shape of statements that 3179 is to be added to the years gone in the Saka Era to get the years gone in Kali)8 [ ] these scholars ignore it implicitly as in the case of the Saka-kala mentioned by Brahmagupta and Bhaskara II.9 [ ] When this is the fate of such clear evidence, we need not be surprised if they identify with their alleged Cyrus or Andhra Era, the Saka Era mentioned in giving the epochs of karanas (astronomical manuals) as in the case of the Pancasiddhantika (PS), the Khandakhadyaka or the Laghumanasa, or in giving the date of a work given by the author, as for instance by Bhattotpala at the end of his commentary on the Brhajjataka or in inscriptions like the Aihole Inscription, or in sundry other places as in the Brhatsamhita 1.13, in all of which cases the identification has got to be made by examining the months and tithis and ksepas mentioned therewith.

The reason why they want to identify the Sakakala with the so-called Cyrus or Andhra Era is this: They believe that there was a “plot hatched by European Indologists” to post-date by several centuries the ancient events of Indian history, and that most Indian Indologists have become unconscious victims of that plot. They try to show that the Yudhisthira and Saptarsi Eras are everywhere identical, and were actually started 25 years after the beginning of the Kali Era. Using this they try to show that it is Samudra Gupta of the Gupta dynasty that is to be identified with the Sandracottus of the Greeks, and not Candragupta Maurya, which latter identification has been taken by the European Indologists as the sheet-anchor of Indian chronology, and the chronology of the dynasties before and after that time is established therefrom. Now, the identification of Sakakala with Salivahana Saka stands in their way. Hence their attempt to identify it with the so-called Cyrus or Andhra Era whose very existence is a matter of dispute, there being no evidence for it.

Most historians have not taken these people seriously, thinking that the very extravagance of their claims would be a deterrent to the acceptance of their views. But attempts have been made by Professors Gulshan Rai and VT to give astronomical and mathematical proofs to show that Varahamihira (VM) belongs to 123 B.C. and not to 505 A.D., (as he is generally believed to be), and thereby that the Sakakala mentioned by VM is the Cyrus or Andhra Era.10 [JPUHS I (1932) 124-27; and JIH 28 (1950) 103ff. and JAHRS 22 (1952-54) 172. Following his change to 551 B.C. as the Saka Epoch, in his Popular Astronomy, VT has changed VM to 124 B.C. from 123 B. C. But the arguments for the refutation of 123 B.C. are applicable in toto for the refutation of 124 B.C. also. ] They also attempt to show that the Sakakala mentioned by Bhattotpala as stated above is the Cyrus or Andhra Era, and therefore the Saka year 888 given by him corresponds to 338 or 339 A.D.;11 [JPUHS I (1932) 73 (date given 338 A D.), and JIH 28 (1950) 123 (date given 339 A D.) In his Popular Astronomy VT, has shifted this to 338 A.D. But in his ‘Andhra Saka’ VT gives this date as 340 A.D. ( ib„ p, 173).] which would mean that Brahmagupta, Aryabhata Bhaskara I etc. must precede this date. The present article is intended to expose the hollowness of the above theory and to show that the astronomical arguments adduced in support of it (which to the lay reader may look formidable) are erroneous, and thus knock the bottom out of the claims of this set of writers.

-- Collected Papers on Jyotisha, by T.S. Kuppanna Sastry (Former Hony. Professor, Sanskrit College, Madras), 1989

The text continues:

Of the first two of the Seven Ṛṣis who are seen rising in the sky,
exactly in their middle is seen the junction star at night.
The Seven Ṛṣis stand in conjunction with this [junction star] for 100 years according to human [calculation].
And in the time of Parīkṣit they were in the [lunar mansion] Maghā, O best one of the twice-born.

The Seven Ṛṣis – whoever they might be – gather and form a conjunction in the lunar mansion Maghā. At first only two leading ones gather about the junction star Maghā (Regulus), later all the seven join them. The conjunction lasts for 100 years, during the reign of King Parīkṣit.

Then the Kali [age] began, which by nature lasts for 1200 years [of gods].
When the holy one, the part of Viṣṇu (i. e. Kṛṣṇa), went to the sky, O twice-born one,
who was born from the family of Vasudeva, then the Kali [age] had arrived.
As long as he touched this earth with his lotus feet,
so long the Kali [age] was not able, to twine around the earth.
However, when that part of the everlasting Viṣṇu had ascended from the earth to the sky,
Yudhiṣṭhira, the son of dharma, together with his brothers gave up the kingdom.
For, when Yudhiṣṭhira (Pāṇḍava) saw inauspicious omens,
after Kṛṣṇa had passed away, he arranged the inauguration of Parīkṣit.
When these [seven] great Ṛṣis enter the [lunar mansion] Pūrvāṣāḍhā,
(var. When the [seven] great Ṛṣis go from the Maghās to Pūrvāṣāḍhā,)
then, starting from Nanda, that [Kali age] will increasingly take its course.
On the day that Kṛṣṇa went to the sky, precisely on that [day]
began the Kali age. Hear its calculation from me:

Verse 112 mentions another conjunction of the Seven Ṛṣis that took place in the lunar mansion Pūrvāṣāḍhā, about 1000 years later at the inauguration of King Nanda. Hence, taking into account the verse further above concerning the years elapsed between Parīkṣit and Nanda, it follows that the correct number of years must be either 1015 or 1050 years. Hence, Parīkṣit’s life time would fall into the 15th century BCE.

The longer text version of Brahmāṇdapurāṇa (BrAP 2.74.228-233b) includes some additional verses that say that it takes the Seven Ṛṣis 2700 years to complete the whole circle of the nakṣatras and that they spend 100 years in each nakṣatra. This information is in agreement with the above-mentioned statements that the Seven Ṛṣis once formed a conjunction in the lunar mansion Maghā and 1000 years later another conjunction in Pūrvāṣāḍhā.

But who are the Seven Ṛṣis, and what kind of astronomical phenomenon is hidden behind this “theory”? Tradition identifies them with the constellation Ursa Major, and the astrologer Varāhamihira in his Bṛhatsaṃhitā (chap. 13) is in agreement:

The Seven Sages, who cause the north to shine with a bead necklace, as it were, [through whom the north] laughs with a crown of white lotus flowers, as it were, whom [the north] has as its lords, as it were,
who, commanded by the leadership of the pole star (dhruva) revolve and cause [the north] to dance [in circles], – I shall explain the motion of these [Seven Sages] according to the teaching of Vṛddhagarga.

In any case, there can be no doubt that in Varāhamihira’s opinion, the Seven Ṛṣis are a constellation near the celestial north pole.

The subsequent verses talk of exactly the same theory that also appears in the Purāṇas:

The Seven Sages were in Maghā when King Yudhiṣṭhira ruled the earth,
and the Śaka Era and [the era] of this king are 2526 [years] apart.
One lunar mansion by one they move 100 years in each.
[The lunar mansion] that from the rising in the east leads them in direct line, – that is where they are in conjunction.

King Yudhiṣṭira was inaugurated after the end of the Mahābhārata battle. According to the above verses, this happened 2526 years before the Śaka Era, which is counted from the year 78 CE. From this, it can be calculated that the year of the battle was 2449 BCE. (-2448). I shall not dwell on the absurd mental gymnastics by which traditionalists try to reconcile Varāhamihira’s statement with the kaliyuga commencement being the year 3102 BCE. More interesting are the astronomical clues given by the text....

Unfortunately, the clustering of 781 BCE does not fit King Nanda’s reign either, which must be dated to the 4th century BCE. It must be conceded that a perfect solution for these problems cannot be found. However, it must be understood that the Purāṇa text, which was written at the earliest, in the 4th century CE is not based on historical observations but rather on astrological historical speculations...

A correlation of planets and gods is not found before Brahmāṇḍapurāṇa There, Saturn corresponds to Yama, Jupiter to Bṛhaspati, Mars to Skanda, Venus to Śukra, and Mercury to Nārāyaṇa. Out of these names, the epic only uses Bṛhaspati for Jupiter and Śukra for Venus. Saturn is called Śanaiścara, Mars Aṅgāraka, and Mercury Budha. Thus Yama-Saturn is the only god that can be immediately identified as the father of one of the Pāṇḍavas, viz. of Yudhiṣṭhira. Saturn is associated with death, time, and dharma in the epic (MBh 12.192 (199).32). Yudhiṣṭhira also has the title dharmarājā, “King of Dharma”, which seems to accord well with the planet Saturn.

Could the divine fathers of the remaining Pāṇḍavas also be assigned to planets? Indra, the king of the gods, who plays the part of Jupiter Pluvius in the Vedic religion, could be identified with the planet Jupiter. The Aśvins could represent the “twin planets” Venus and Mercury, which are similar to each other in behaviour as they are inner planets. Hence Vayu remains for Mars. Making Arjuna then represent Jupiter, Bhīma, Mars, and Nakula and Sahadeva for Mercury and Venus.

However, while these specific assignments are uncertain, the basic assumption that the five Pāṇḍavas could originally have represented the five planets remains quite plausible. The heroes of the epic are often described as “bright” and “brilliant” and compared to celestial bodies, including planets, the Moon, and the Sun (see quotations on p. 337 and 339ff.). Even where heroes are compared to the Sun, there could actually be a planet behind it, because the planets are themselves often allegorised to suns. As in the following verse from the Harivaṃśa, which refers to the configuration at the end of an age and obviously describes a conjunction of all planets with the crescent of the old moon:...

In summary, it can be stated that the Western tradition of astronomical cycles is attested only since about 400 BCE (Plato, Berossus). Since Babylonian precursors of this doctrine are not known, it is likely that it was developed after 500 BCE as a side product of Babylonian planetary theories, in which planetary cycles played an important role.

If the Indian and Chinese testimonies of the super-conjunctions in the years 1198 and 1059 BCE are authentic, then of course the question arises whether the western cyclic models of history were not inspired by an Indian precursor. The idea of an eternal recurrence of the same seems to be rather Indian than Western in nature.

Still, the following points should be borne in mind:

1. The yuga theory of the Purāṇas, according to which a “great yuga” covers 43,20,000 years, is not found in the older Vedic literature and is even unknown to early works of Hellenistic Indian astrology (Yavanajātaka, Romakasiddhānta). It is thus obviously younger than the above-cited Western sources.

2. The planetary theories of the Siddhāntas are all younger than the above-cited Western sources. In pre-Hellenistic works of Indian astronomy and astrology (Vedāṅgajyotiṣa, Parāśaratantra), they do not appear.

On the other hand, the idea that all the planets come together and form a super-conjunction at the end of a cosmic age obviously first appeared in India and China. This idea is not found, e.g. in Homer’s epics.
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Re: Freda Bedi Cont'd (#3)

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Part 1 of 2

The Saka Era of Varahamihira (Salivahana Saka) [Rep. from Journal of Indian History (Trivandrum), 36 (1958) 343-67, Excerpt, from Collected Papers on Jyotisha
by T.S. Kuppanna Sastry (Former Hony. Professor, Sanskrit College, Madras)



The kaliyuga era was first attested to by the ancient astronomer Āryabhaṭa, who assumed the beginning of kaliyuga to be 3600 years before the 23rd year of his life, which corresponds to the year 499 CE. Traditionalists love referring to the inscription of King Pulakeśin II in Aihole, Karṇāṭaka, which allegedly supports this dating. However, this inscription dates from the year 634 CE and is therefore even younger than Āryabhaṭa. Moreover, some authors refer to a number of title deeds written on copper plates that allegedly go back to King Janamejaya, who is said to have lived near 3000 BCE. However, these “copper grants” are obvious forgeries that served the purpose to support claims of ownership. Hence the statement found in Āryabhaṭa’s work is in fact the oldest testimony for the kaliyuga era, and over a whole period of 3600 years, the alleged tradition did not leave any trace in literary or archaeological sources. It must therefore be considered speculation. While the Mahābhārata and the Purāṇas do provide evidence that planetary clusterings were observed and considered important in ancient times, there is no available evidence that could support the kaliyuga era commencing in either 3102 or 3104 BCE.

Serious scholars therefore, do not accept the idea that the kaliyuga beginning on 18th February 3102 BCE is based on a true, unbroken tradition. Rather they assume that this date was back-calculated by Indian astronomers of late antiquity. It served as a mooring point for a theory of planetary cycles, as given in the Sūryasiddhānta, the most important work on ancient Indian astronomy....

There is a text found in several of the Purāṇas that links the beginning of the Kaliyuga with the death of Kṛṣṇa. However, instead of a conjunction of all planets, it mentions a conjunction of the Seven Ṛṣis in the lunar mansion Maghā. This text can be found in several different variations in VP 4.24.102ff., BhP 12.2.24ff., BrAP 2.74.225ff., MatsyaP 271.38ff. The text begins as follows:

From the birth of Parīkṣit until the inauguration of Nanda,
one must know, there are 1015 (var. 1050, 1115, 1500) years.

Parīkṣit is the first king of Hastināpura after Yudhiṣṭhira. His inauguration took place after Kṛṣṇa’s funeral, when Yudhiṣṭhira and his brothers renounced the kingdom and abdicated. Nanda is also called Mahāpadma in some versions of the text. He was the first king of the Nanda dynasty of Magadha. According to the Viṣṇupurāṇa, the Nandas ruled for about 100 years and were followed by Chandragupta Maurya, who seized power over Maghada in 321 BCE. The great number of variations of this text, e.g. the numbers of years mentioned, illustrates the text’s poor transmission. It is difficult to have confidence in any data given in it. Since the time between Parīkṣit’s seizure of power and Mahāpadma is between 1000 and 1500 years, Parīkṣit’s lifetime and the Mahābhārata battle would have fallen between the 20th and the 15th century BCE. This is in stark contrast to the traditional kaliyuga era, said to begin in 3102 BC. [However, traditionalists shun no effort in order to defend the Kaliyuga Era 3102 BCE. For that purpose, they are even ready to rewrite not only the whole history of India, but even the whole world history. The flowers of these absurd efforts: Buddha was allegedly born in 1887 BCE, Candragupta Maurya crowned in 1534 BCE, Aśoka in 1472 BCE, Śaṅkara was born in 509 BCE, etc. etc. (see K. Venkatachelam, The Plot in Indian Chronology, Appendix III). I shall not dwell on this, but refer to T. S. Kuppanna Sastry, Collected Papers on Jyotisha, p. 255-317, where the thinking errors in such approaches are exposed.]

-- Ancient Indian Astronomy in Vedic Texts, by R.N. Iyengar

The Saka Era of Varahamihira (Salivahana Saka) [Rep. from Journal of Indian History (Trivandrum), 36 (1958) 343-67.]


With reference to chronology the word Saka is used in two senses: (1) As a common noun meaning any era (as for e.g., in the terms Yudhisthira Saka, Vikrama Saka, Malava Saka, Salivahana Saka etc.) and, (2) As a proper noun to mean a particular era called the Saka-kala or Saka Era. Most Indologists believe that the Saka Era is the same as what later is generally referred to as the Salivahana Saka which commenced with the month of Caitra occurring in 78 A.D., i.e., at the end of 3179 years of the Kali Era, for it can be shown that all astronomical works and commentaries thereon, wherever they mention a Saka Era, mean only the Salivahana Era, starting, as mentioned above, from 3179 Kali elapsed. But some like the late T.S. Narayana Sastri,1 [Cf. his Age of Sankara, (Madras, 1918), Pt. I, pp. 224ff.] Gulshan Rai,2 [Cf. his article, 'The Persian Emperor Cyrus, the Great, and the Saka Era,' Journal of the Panjab University Historical Society, (JPUHS), 1 (1932) 61-73, 122-36.] Kota Venkatachelam,3 [Cf. his Plot in Indian Chronology, (Vijayawada, 1953), 49-51; Indian Eras', Journal of the Andhra Historical Research Society, (JAHRS), 20 (1949-50), 43ff; 21 (1950-52), 61-73, 122-36.] and V. Thiruvenkatacharya4 [Cf. his 'Ayanamsa and Indian chronology: The Age of Varahamihira, Kalidasa etc.' Journal of Indian History (JIH) 28 (1950) 103ff. and 'The Andra Saka' JAHRS, 22 (1952-54) 161-8.] (VT) take the word to mean a certain Cyrus Era or Andhra Era which they say, started from 550 B.C.5 [In his Popular Astronomy, (Madras, 1958), pp. 135, 136, VT has changed to 551 B.C. without assigning reasons therefor.] Kane mentions two others of the group: Janannatha Rao, Age of Mahabara war (1931), C.V. Vaidya starting the Sakakala from Buddha's nirvana. We now find that T.S.N is the source for all these people, and almost every argument used by them is his. In his Age of Sankara he has used a Yudhisthira Era of 3140-39 B.C., and a Saka Era of 576 B.C., which he later shifted to 550 B.C. Still another view is expressed by K. Rangarajan, who takes it to mean an era which commenced from 523/22 B.C. with the first Viceroy of India appointed by the Persian Emperor.6 [Cf. Summary of his paper, 'On the Origin of Saka-kala, Proceddings of the Indian Historical Congress, Fifth Session, Hyderabad, 1941, p. 164.] They also try to show that it never means the Salivahana Saka.7 [In the case of Bhaskara II alone, VT concedes that the Saka Era mentioned by him is the Salivahana Saka.] What astounds us is that even where there is clear evidence that Salivahana Saka is to be taken, (in the shape of statements that 3179 is to be added to the years gone in the Saka Era to get the years gone in Kali)8 [E.G., Brahmagupta's Brahmasphuta-Siddhanta, Madhayamadhikara, I. 26; Bhaskara I's Mahabhaskariya, I. 4, and Laghubhaskariya, I. 4; Sripati's Siddhantasekhara, I. 25; Bhaskara II's Siddhantasiromani, Ganita., Madhyama., Kalamana., 28; Vatesvara Siddhanta, Madhyamadhikara, I. 10.] these scholars ignore it implicitly as in the case of the Saka-kala mentioned by Brahmagupta and Bhaskara II.9 [Cf. VT, Popular Astronomy, p. 137; Kota Venkatachelam, The Plot in Indian Chronology, Appendix, pp. xxx.] When this is the fate of such clear evidence, we need not be surprised if they identify with their alleged Cyrus or Andhra Era, the Saka Era mentioned in giving the epochs of karanas (astronomical manuals) as in the case of the Pancasiddhantika (PS), the Khandakhadyaka or the Laghumanasa, or in giving the date of a work given by the author, as for instance by Bhattotpala at the end of his commentary on the Brhajjataka or in inscriptions like the Aihole Inscription, or in sundry other places as in the Brhatsamhita 1.13, in all of which cases the identification has got to be made by examining the months and tithis and ksepas mentioned therewith.

The reason why they want to identify the Sakakala with the so-called Cyrus or Andhra Era is this: They believe that there was a “plot hatched by European Indologists” to post-date by several centuries the ancient events of Indian history, and that most Indian Indologists have become unconscious victims of that plot. They try to show that the Yudhisthira and Saptarsi Eras are everywhere identical, and were actually started 25 years after the beginning of the Kali Era. Using this they try to show that it is Samudra Gupta of the Gupta dynasty that is to be identified with the Sandracottus of the Greeks, and not Candragupta Maurya, which latter identification has been taken by the European Indologists as the sheet-anchor of Indian chronology, and the chronology of the dynasties before and after that time is established therefrom. Now, the identification of Sakakala with Salivahana Saka stands in their way. Hence their attempt to identify it with the so-called Cyrus or Andhra Era whose very existence is a matter of dispute, there being no evidence for it.

Most historians have not taken these people seriously, thinking that the very extravagance of their claims would be a deterrent to the acceptance of their views. But attempts have been made by Professors Gulshan Rai and VT to give astronomical and mathematical proofs to show that Varahamihira (VM) belongs to 123 B.C. and not to 505 A.D., (as he is generally believed to be), and thereby that the Sakakala mentioned by VM is the Cyrus or Andhra Era.10 [JPUHS I (1932) 124-27; and JIH 28 (1950) 103ff. and JAHRS 22 (1952-54) 172. Following his change to 551 B.C. as the Saka Epoch, in his Popular Astronomy, VT has changed VM to 124 B.C. from 123 B. C. But the arguments for the refutation of 123 B.C. are applicable in toto for the refutation of 124 B.C. also. ] They also attempt to show that the Sakakala mentioned by Bhattotpala as stated above is the Cyrus or Andhra Era, and therefore the Saka year 888 given by him corresponds to 338 or 339 A.D.;11 [JPUHS I (1932) 73 (date given 338 A D.), and JIH 28 (1950) 123 (date given 339 A D.) In his Popular Astronomy VT, has shifted this to 338 A.D. But in his ‘Andhra Saka’ VT gives this date as 340 A.D. ( ib„ p, 173).] which would mean that Brahmagupta, Aryabhata Bhaskara I etc. must precede this date. The present article is intended to expose the hollowness of the above theory and to show that the astronomical arguments adduced in support of it (which to the lay reader may look formidable) are erroneous, and thus knock the bottom out of the claims of this set of writers.

Khandakhadyaka or the Laghumanasa, or in giving the date of a work given by the author, as for instance by Bhattotpala at the end of his commentary on the Brhajjataka or in inscriptions like the Aihole Inscription, or in sundry other places as in the Brhatsamhita 1.13, in all of which cases the identification has got to be made by examining the months and tithis and ksepas mentioned therewith.

The reason why they want to identify the Sakakala with the so-called Cyrus or Andhra Era is this: They believe that there was a “plot hatched by European Indologists” to post-date by several centuries the ancient events of Indian history, and that most Indian Indologists have become unconscious victims of that plot. They try to show that the Yudhisthira and Saptarsi Eras are everywhere identical, and were actually started 25 years after the beginning of the Kali Era. Using this they try to show that it is Samudra Gupta of the Gupta dynasty that is to be identified with the Sandracottus of the Greeks, and not Candragupta Maurya, which latter identification has been taken by the European Indologists as the sheet-anchor of Indian chronology, and the chronology of the dynasties before and after that time is established therefrom. Now, the identification of Sakakala with Salivahana Saka stands in their way. Hence their attempt to identify it with the so-called Cyrus or Andhra Era whose very existence is a matter of dispute, there being no evidence for it.

Most historians have not taken these people seriously, thinking that the very extravagance of their claims would be a deterrent to the acceptance of their views. But attempts have been made by Professors Gulshan Rai and VT to give astronomical and mathematical proofs to show that Varahamihira (VM) belongs to 123 B.C. and not to 505 A.D., (as he is generally believed to be), and thereby that the Sakakala mentioned by VM is the Cyrus or Andhra Era.10 [JPUHS I (1932) 124-27; and JIH 28 (1950) 103ff. and JAHRS 22 (1952-54) 172. Following his change to 551 B.C. as the Saka Epoch, in his Popular Astronomy, VT has changed VM to 124 B.C. from 123 B. C. But the arguments for the refutation of 123 B.C. are applicable in toto for the refutation of 124 B.C. also. ] They also attempt to show that the Sakakala mentioned by Bhattotpala as stated above is the Cyrus or Andhra Era, and therefore the Saka year 888 given by him corresponds to 338 or 339 A.D.;11 [JPUHS I (1932) 73 (date given 338 A D.), and JIH 28 (1950) 123 (date given 339 A D.) In his Popular Astronomy VT, has shifted this to 338 A.D. But in his ‘Andhra Saka’ VT gives this date as 340 A.D. (ib„ p, 173).] which would mean that Brahmagupta, Aryabhata Bhaskara I etc. must precede this date. The present article is intended to expose the hollowness of the above theory and to show that the astronomical arguments adduced in support of it (which to the lay reader may look formidable) are erroneous, and thus knock the bottom out of the claims of this set of writers.

Varahamihira uses the word Sakakala in a few places in his works.

(1) In the Brhatsamhita he says:

asan maghasu munayah sasati prthvum yudhisthire nrpatau ǀ
sad-dvika-panca- dvi-yutah Sakakalas tasya rajnas ca ǀǀ XIII. 3

“The Sapta-rsis were in the asterismal segment Magha when Yudhisthira was ruling over the earth. Any date by the Saka Era plus 2526 gives the time from that king, i.e., the date in the Yudhisthira Era."

(2) In his Pancasiddhantika (PS) the following occurs:

sapta-asvi-veda-sankhyam Sakakalam apasya caitra-sukladu ǀ

ardhastamite bhanau yavanapure somadivasadye. ǀǀ I. 8 ǀǀ 12 [Somadivasadye is the reading as emended by the late Dr. Thibaut and MM. Sudhakara Dvivedi in their edition of the PS. From the two manuscripts of the work available from the edition and from quotations elsewhere, four readings are known: saumya-divasadye, bhaumya-divasadyah, bhauma-divasadyah and bhauma-divasakhyah. On the propriety or correctness of these readings see below.]

“Deducting 427 of the Saka Era, (from the years in the Era) at the beginning of the light half of Caitra, which falls near sunset at Yavanapura, beginning a Monday...”

(3) Br. Sam. VIII 20-21. This will be discussed, later.

(4) In Pancasiddhantika, XII. 2. but it is not used by these scholars.

In (1), a synchronism is found between the Saka Era and the Yudhisthira Era. We shall not discuss this synchronism here but rest content with saying that whatever be the Sakakala mentioned in (2), it is highly probable that the same is mentioned by (1). In (2), it is clear, the epoch of the Pancasiddhantika is given as 427 Saka elapsed, which means the date of the work must be c. 427 Saka, and thus VM’s time can be fixed. If as VT and others say the Sakakala meant here is the Cyrus or Andhra Era of 550 B.C., then the date of VM must be 427 years after 550 B.C., i.e., 123 B.C., which Gulshan Rai and VT have tried to establish by their special arguments. If it is the same as the Salivahana Saka, then VM’s date must be 427 years after 78 A.D., i.e., 505 A.D.

Here we do not propose to go into the question whether there was a Saka Era beginning from 550 B.C. or whether it is necessary to postulate such an era in view of the reference in the Brhatsamhita Sloka quoted above which is discussed in the next paper ‘The untenability of the ‘postulated Saka era of 550 B.C.’ We shall confine ourselves to showing that the Sakakala of VM’s PS is the Salivahana Saka, and therefore 427 Saka (elapsed ) corresponds to 505 A.D. As we have stated before, we shall also show that the special arguments to the contrary advocated by Gulshan Rai and VT and their conclusion that VM’s date is 123 B.C. cannot stand.

Internal Evidence for Salivahana Saka

There is plenty of internal evidence to show that the date meant by VM is 505 A.D. and not 123 B.C. It consists of the many ksepas (i.e. values of the Mean longitudes etc. at Epoch) found in the work, and the names of certain authors which it mentions. We shall take the ksepas first.

In PS I.14, VM gives a Saura period of 1,80,000 years or revolutions of the Sun, in which there are 66,389 intercalary months and 10,45,095 suppressed tithis. From this we can get that there are in this period 2,406,389 revolutions of the Moon and 65,746,575 civil days. Comparing this with the Yuga-elements derivable from the Khandakhadyaka13 [Khandakhadyaka, (Tr. P. C. Sengupta. Calcutta, 1934), I. 3-5, 13, 14; II. 1-5.] of Brahmagupta (which follows the Ardharatrika system of Aryabhata and whose elements are identical with those of a Paulisa Siddhanta quoted by Bhattotpala in his commentary of the Brhat Samhita),14 [Cf. Brhat Samhita. Ed. Sudhakara Dvivedi, Banaras, 1895, Pt. I, pp. 28-30.]— not the Paulisa of the PS— we find that this is only a sub-yuga forming a twentyfourth part of the Yuga given by them, and this suggests that the Yuga- elements of the original Saura Siddhanta, of which the Saura of the PS is a compendium, are identical with those of the Khandakhadyaka etc. mentioned above; these elements, therefore, may also be called hereafter, the Saura elements. Now, all these systems have arrived at 0° Mean longitude for the Sun, Moon, Mars etc., 3 rasis for the Moon’s ucca (Apogee), and 6 rasis for Rahu’s head (Moon’s Ascending Node), at the beginning of Kali yuga, viz., midnight at Ujjain, Thursday/Friday, 17/18, February, 3102 B.C. Taking that Saka 427 mentioned in PS I. 8, refers to Salivahana Saka 427, (equivalent to 3606 Mean Solar years after the beginning of Kali), we have 1,317,123 days, 3 nadis 9 vinadis gone in Kali, and arrive at 3 nadis, 9 vinadis, after the midnight at Ujjain, Sunday/Monday, 20/21 March 505 A D.15 [3606 after Kali is not 504 A.D. as some people may think. As there is no zero year B.C. or A.D., we apparently arrive at a date one year later as the correct date. For errors of this kind see Kota Venkatachelam, JAHRS 21 (1950-52) 4, 7 etc.; Gulshan Rai, JPUHS, i. 73, 127.] The Saura of the PS takes this midnight as the Epoch for the computation of its Star-planets (Tara-grahas), viz. Mars etc. If we compute the Mean Mars etc. for this epoch, using the Saura elements, the results agree with the respective ksepas given in the PS to the second in the case of Jupiter and Saturn, within 4" in the case of Mars and Venus, and 7" in the case of Mercury. Even this small difference is due to VM having arrived at the ksepas using the shortcut given by him in the karana and the number of days gone in Kali as the Ahargana (days from epoch).16 [PS, ch, XVI. (Thibaut and Sudhakara Dvivedi’s Edn. Reprinted by Motilal Banarsi Dass, Lahore, 1930).] If we also do the same there is complete agreement in the case of Venus also, and the difference is reduced to 1" in the case of Mars. In the case of Mercury there is difference of a few seconds still, which may be due either to VM desiring to give its ksepa correct to the minute only, or to some defect in the manuscript reading which has omitted the seconds; and one of the manuscripts has actually a reading ‘vilipti’ here.17 [See under PS, XVI. 9, ‘davo vilipti'.] For the Mean Sun and Moon, and the Moon’s Ucca and Rahu, the epoch taken is the Midday at Ujjain just preceding the epoch of the Star-planets, i.e., the midday of Sunday.18 [PS, IX. 1.] Here too, checking the ksepas in the manner given for the Star-planets, we find perfect agreement in the case of the Sun and Moon, and agreement within 4" in the case of the Ucca. In the case Rahu the available manuscripts are so vitiated that Thibaut and Sudhakara Dvivedi (T-S) have failed to give the ksepa fully. Using the letters available in the manuscripts, the relevant verse may be read as:

trighanasataghne navakaikapaksaramendu- dahanasat-sahite ǀ
svarayamavasubhutarnavagunadhrti-bhakte kramad rahoh ǀǀ IX. 6 ǀǀ

The ksepa for Rahu enunciated in this verse as reconstructed above, agrees within 1" with its value according to the Khandakhadyaka elements.19 [S. B. Dikshit has arrived at the same result independently. See his article, ‘The Original Surya-Siddhanta’, Indian Antiquary (IA). 19 (1890) 49, 54.]

This perfect agreement is the reason why S. B. Dikshit has retained the date March 505 A.D. in spite of the difficulties he encountered in interpreting PS I. 8 with reference to the Saura.20 [Dikshit, Ib., 45-54.] For, no date, within many thousand years before or after 505 A.D. will agree with the ksepas in the manner shown above, not to speak of 123 B.C. When such is the case, VT quoting from Dikshit,21 [Ib. 46-47.] a passage, which to those that have not read Dikshit’s article in full will appear to involve an irremediable contradiction, says that 505 A.D. should be abandoned in favour of 123 B.C. on account of this. As the manner of VT’s quoting22 [JIH 28 (1950) 108.] from the article may create an impression in the readers’ minds which Dikshit did not intend, and as VT himself concludes from the quotation that the agreement in the ksepas discovered by Dikshit is null and void, and as he does not realise (as seen from his remarks under the quotation) that if he gives 123 B.C. for VM, he still has the responsibility to point out that the ksepas agree with his date, we intend making the discussion a little elaborate so that we may give Dikshit’s views in full with some pertinent observations on them.

The Saura Epoch occurs before the True Vaisakha Sukla Pratipad, ending on Tuesday. Dikshit wants to reconcile this with the statement in PS I. 8, caitrasukladau. He considers the point that according to Mean reckoning, it is ‘Adhika’-Caitra Sukla, but dismisses it, giving two objections: i. Why does not VM use the term ‘adhika-caitra-suklddau’? ii. Why should he take the Adhika-Caitra instead of the regular Caitra for the Epoch?23 [It will be shown below that there is absolutely no weight in either of these objections.] Dikshit concludes by saying that 'caitrasukladau’ might stand, because Amanta-Vaisakha-Sukla is Caitra-Sukla according to Purnimdnta reckoning. So there is no trouble at all for Dikshit as far as this goes. Therefore there is no need for VT to abandon 505 A.D., go to 123 B.C., and show that the Caitra Sukla Pratipad of this year occurs on a Wednesday, which weekday also is admissible according to one manuscript reading.24 [If it is 124 B.C., to which VT has shifted in his Popular Astronomy, the weekday is Thursday, and this is an additional argument against his date.] (Cf. the readings given above). It should be remembered that VT can score a point only if the weekday, viz., Wednesday of the Caitra Sukla Pratipad of 123 B.C. alone can effect the reconciliation, and not the Tuesday of the Caitra Sukla Pratipad of 505 A.D.

But really speaking, there is no need to reconcile the Saura with any part of PS I. 8, because it has reference only to the Romaka and the Paulisa. (If it can be applied to the Saura also, as indeed it can, it is good, but we have no right to demand it as Dikshit does.)25 [Ib. IA 19 (1890) 45ff.] PS I. 8-10 give the computation of Ahargana according to the Romaka; and I. 8 and 11 (and perhaps also 12 and 13) according to the Paulisa. I. 8 gives the Epoch, which is thus the same for both. The Epoch is the beginning of Caitra Sukla which ends 427 Saka, and the exact time is sunset at Yavanapura26 [VT has mistaken (JIH 28, p. 108; JAHRS 22, pp. 172) Yavanapura for Romakapura, and giving it a longitude of 90° west of Ujjain implies a desantara of 15 nadis instead of 7 nagis 20 vinadis which is specifically given as the desantara for it, in PS III. 13: Yavanantaraja nadyah sapta Avantyam tribhaga-samyuktah ǀ. For an explicit mention see PS, XV. 25: anyad Romaka-visayad desantaram anyad eva Yavanapurat | . Yavanapura would correspond to Alexandria as calculated front the desantara.] beginning Monday, i.e., 7 nadis, 20 vinadis after sunset at Ujjain. This is equivalent to 37 nadis 20 vinadis after Ujjain sunrise on Sunday, 20th March 505 A.D. The Ahargana with which to compute the Mean Sun etc. must be reckoned from this point for Romaka and the Paulina, and their ksepas are for this point. The expression caitra-Sukladau is an indication that the months gone are to be counted from Caitra in computing the Ahargana, and the words “beginning Monday” is a check for the Ahargana, Monday being stated to be the first day of the Ahargana. For, the Ahargana got by computation may be a day more or less than the correct one (a fact well known to astronomers) because the ‘varying’ True Tithi has got to be used in the formula; and checking by Monday beginning from the Epoch, viz., 0 Ahargana, it may happen that one day has got to be added or subtracted. This can be made clear by an example.

Problem: What is the Ahargana for Saturday beginning, next to the Epoch?

By counting we see we must get 5 days for Ahargana. Let us now compute it. By the Romaka or Paulisa (or even Saura) almanac, the tithi gone at Saturday beginning is Caitra Sukla Caturthi. Using it in the above formulae enunciated in PS I. 8-11, 4 is got as Ahargana. But counting from Monday, 4 will give only Friday beginning. So we must add 1, and give 5 as the correct Ahargana if it should agree with Saturday beginning. We see here the use of the check. This is the purpose for which the weekday beginning the Epoch is given, and it is not merely to satisfy the curiosity of the reader. From this we can see that ‘Monday’ is necessary, and ‘Tuesday’ or ‘Wednesday’ will be wrong. So in PS I. 8, ‘soma-divasadye' or ‘soma-divasadyah' must have been VM’s original reading. ‘ Bhauma' must have been a scribal error, or the correction of some revisor who did not understand what was necessary, but thought that the weekday of the True Suklapratipada gone must be given here, and this must have given rise to 'saumya’, a mixing of the two. Here T-S have rightly given the emendation ’soma-divasad e'. We may venture to give another suggestion, even if it may not appear very convincing to some. The emendation of T-S is not really essential and we can adopt the manuscript reading ‘saumya’ as such and take it in the yaugika (derivative) sense, meaning 'day pertaining to the Moon’, i.e. Monday. Though there is the dictum ‘Rudhir yogam apaharati' (‘the meaning obtained by usage is stronger than that got by derivation’), still at such an ancient period as VM’s, when the weekdays must have come into use very recently, the word Saumya-divasa might not have become rudha in budha-vara as it is now. Also when other things require the derivative sense, we are permitted to abandon the rudha sense.

The above discussion has been necessitated here by a desire to remove any doubt created in the readers’ minds by Dikshit’s dissatisfaction, which may be interpreted as going against the case for 505 A.D.27 [It is only dissatisfaction and nothing more, and it may be noted that Dikshit himself gives reasons for the adoption of 505 A.D. (Ib., p. 46). Also, Bhattotpala’s reading is [x]. We have since found in the editorial work with regard to the Pancasiddhantika that his readings are generally correct. We have also found during this work that PS I 17-20 gives Monday alone.]

We may now proceed to show that the ksepas of the Romaka and the Paulisa also as well as the adhimasa and avamasesa of their rules for ahargana, agree with 505 A.D. and not with 123 B.C. We have seen that the epoch for the Romaka and Paulisa is 37 nadis, 20 vinadis from sunrise at Ujjain on Sunday, 20 March 505 A.D. (It must be noted that Dikshit does not question this.) The Romaka Mean Sun at Epoch can be seen to be 359° 34-1/2' by taking the ahargana as zero in PS VIII. 1, and working with the ksepa left. This means that 26 nadis after Epoch, the Mean Solar month Mesa begins. In the same way we get the Mean Moon at Epoch from PS VIII. 4, to be 356° 12', using the emended reading 'krtastanavakhaika'; if the reading 'krtastanavakaika' found in the manuscript and followed by TS and Dikshit is used, it is 359° 19' at Epoch for TS, and 2° 24' for Dikshit who taken that the Moon is given for sunset at Ujjain. From this we see that the Mean New Moon according to our interpretation will take place at 16 nadis, 36 vinadis after Epoch, i.e., 9 nadis, 24 vinadis before the Mean Sun comes to Mesa. According to TS’s value for the Moon, it is 24 nadis, 42 vinadis before the Mean Sun at Mesa; and according to Dikshit, 32 nadis. It must be noted that according to all the three interpretations, the Mean New Moon just precedes the Mean Solar year, i.e., the New Moon end begins the Mean Caitra and is very near the Epoch.28 [It may be asked why only the Mean Caitra and the Mean Solar year are taken into consideration in this explanation. It is because the word Caitra is given in the context of the Ahargana rule, whose constants, multipliers and divisors depend upon the Mean Sun and Moon. If we use the True month and Tithi in the computation, it is because we have no other go and that is why there has to be the check by the weekday of the Epoch.] The corresponding ksepas of the Paulisa also will be found to give the same result. Thus the word Caitra in PS I. 8 presents no difficulty, as it is mentioned only in relation to the Romaka and the Paulisa. Also, the avama and the adhimasa sesas of the Romaka and the Paulisa found in PS I. 9-11, agree, within the limits of accuracy, with the time of the day when the respective New Moon occurs, and its distance from the beginning of the Mean Solar year as found from PS VIII and III. From the foregoing facts we see that the beginning of Caitra should fall very near the beginning of the Mean Solar year, which it does if we take 505 A.D. If 123 B.C. is taken, it is about 20 days away, and so there is disagreement with the ksepas of PS I. 8-11, and those of the Sun and the Moon in PS III, VIII and IX.

In the case of the Saura, an examination of the Sun’s and Moon’s ksepas given in PS IX. 1-2 will show that the Mean Solar year ends at 3 nadis, 9 vinadis after midnight, Sunday/Monday, 20/21 March, (as we have already shown), and the Mean New Moon falls about 12 nadis, 30 vinadis after the Mean Solar year. Thus there is a Mean Adhimasa following the Epoch of the Star planets, i.e., midnight, which can be called Caitra, as Dikshit himself has accepted.29 [The rule giving this is this: ravisankramanad urdhvam yo yo masah prapuryate candrah ǀ caitradih sa jneyah purtidvitve 'dhimaso ’ntyah ||] As it is very close to (i.e. only 12 nadis, 30 vinadis from) the beginning of the Mean Solar year, and as in computing the Ahargana the practice is to see whether an Adhimasa has taken place or not in the months gone used for reckoning, and adjust the number of adhimasas got by adding one or reducing the adhimasas by one, by treating a large adhimasa-sesa as unity or not counting one just got by computation, no harm will ensue if this Adhika-Caitra is treated as regular Caitra, taking the previous regular Caitra as Adhika-Phalguna. And there is the advantage of dispensing with a ksepa for months gone at Epoch. So even if PS I. 8 applies to the Saura as Dikshit thinks, the objection which he has to using the term ‘caitradau’ for this vanishes, and there is no need to explain it in the manner he has done.30 [Dikshit, Ib., p. 51.] Thus all the difficulties raised by Dikshit are answered, and not a trace of any objection for 505 A.D. is left.
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Re: Freda Bedi Cont'd (#3)

Postby admin » Sat Jun 26, 2021 2:33 am

Part 2 of 2

We may now proceed to give another piece of evidence to show that the date cannot be 123 B.C. In PS XV we find the following sloka:

Lankardharatrasamaye dinapravrttim jagada caryabhatah //
bhuyas sa eva suryodayat praha Lankayam // 20 //

Here is a reference made by VM to Aryabhata and his two works, the well-known Aryabhatiya, and his less known work referred to by later authors as his Ardharatrika System, manuscripts of which are yet to be discovered, but whose nature is fully given by Bhaskara I (6th-7th cent.) in his Mahabhaskariya.31 [Mahabhaskariya, (Ed. T. S. Kuppanna Sastri, Madras, 1957), VII, 21-35. See the Editor’s Introduction to this edition, pp. xliv-vi.] In the Kalakriyapada of his Aryabhatiya, Aryabhata says:

sastyabdanam sastir yada vyatitas trayas ca yugapadah /
tryadhika vimsatir abdas tadeha mama janmano 'titah // 10 32 [There is a suggestion by some to emend sastih into sadbhih and take Aryabhata to 360 Kali ( e.g ., Kota Venkatachelam, The Plot in Indian Chronology, Ap. Ill, p. xxi). But with sadbhih the word ca in the verse becomes meaningless. It is T.S.N. that started this too. He says in his work that he has a copy with the reading sadbhih. (Knowing him, we have to doubt his veracity.) We can add some more arguments: (1) T.S.N.’s reading would mean that Aryabhata wrote c. 2741 B.C. Who will swallow this! What about the language. (2) Aryabhata’s first point, as of all other astronomers, is an insignificant position, is Asviui near a very faint star (V. Piscium). But the vernal equinox c. 2741 B.C. was at nearly 45° off, in Rohini. If his work was to be of any use in the matter of Ahas, Lagna, declination, shadow, solar eclipse, etc., he should have instructed an addition of about 45° to the longitude got by his work, or else these items would be got very very wrong. T.S.N. has not seen the self contradiction here, being a layman, and his trick has failed. Also manuscripts of the work give only sastih and all known ancient commentaries explain the verse only with sastih; Cf. Bhaskara I’s Arya bhatiyabhasya: sastyabdanam sastih, sastir abdah sastigunah ityarthah; Suryadeva Yajvan’s Aryabhataprakasa: satsatadhika-trisahasramitesu (3600) suryabdesu gatesu; Paramesvara’s Bhatadipika: satsatadhika-sahasratraya (3600) (Edn. Kern. Leiden, 1874, p. 58); Gargyakerala Nilakantha Somayaji’s Bhasya...sastyabdanam sasteh...kaler arabhya sagstyabdanam sastir gata...,idanim prakrtistham ayanam (TSS No. 101, pp. 12-13).]

This says that at 3600 Kali (expired) Aryabhata had completed twenty-three years of age, and 3600 Kali is 499 A.D. VM’s reference is certainly to this Aryabhata as can be gathered from the mention of him as the author of both the Ardharatrika and the Audayika systems. It follows, from this that VM must be later or at least a contemporary of this Aryabhata. So VM can belong to 505 A,D. and not to 123 B.C. Thus all internal evidence— and we have seen plenty of it—points to 505 A.D. as the time of VM.

The Ayanamsa argument examined

Now Profs. Rai and VT have advanced an argument based on Ayanamsa to show that VM must be as early as 123 B.C.33 [Rai, JPUHS I (1932) 124-27; VT, JIH 28 (1950) 104-06.] Being interspersed with mathematics, this argument may seem unassailable to some, unless its hollowness is exposed.

Being more full, we may discuss VT first. What VT says may be put succinctly as follows: (i) At the time of VM the Summer Solstice was at the end of the asterismal segment Punarvasu, (or what comes to the same thing, the Vernal Equinox had a longitude of 3° 20' reckoned from the zero point of the Ecliptic), as gathered from VM’s own statements in the PS and the Brhat Samhita. (ii) Taking the Ayanamsa (i.e. the total precession) to be zero at VM’s time, there is an Ayanamsa of 28° 15' in April 1909 A.D. (It comes to this: The Vernal Equinox has receded 28° 15' from the original position of 3° 20', and its position in 1909 is 335° 5' from the zero point of the Ecliptic), (iii) Using the correct rate of precession (ayana-calana ) per annum, 50".2585— nx0".000225, where n is the number of years before 1909, for a precession of 28° 15' to take place, n must be 2031 years, (iv) This means 2031 years before 1909, i.e. in 123 B.C., the Ayanamsa was zero, and therefore 123 B.C. is the date of PS.

We admit that if (i) and (ii) are correct, (iii) and (iv) follow automatically. But (i) and (ii) are not correct , as we shall show. Relating (i) there are the following three slokas of VM, which are quoted by VT also:34 [ Ib., p. 104.]

aslesardhad daksinam uttaram ayanam raver dhanisthadyam /
nunam kadacid asid yenoktam purvasastresu //
sampratam ayanam savituh karkatakadyam mrgaditas canyat /
uktabhavo vikrtih pratyaksapariksanair vyaktih //
Br. Sam, III. 1-2 //
aslesardhad asid yada nivrttih kilosnakiranasya /
yuktam ayanam tada ’sit, sampratam ayanam Punarvasutah // PS III. 21 //

‘‘Certainly at one time the turning of the Sun towards the south was from the middle of the Aslesa segment, and the turning north was from the beginning of the Dhanistha segment, because this is mentioned in ancient works.

“But now the turnings are from the beginning of the Karkataka and Makara rasi segments, respectively. If this does not happen (in future, on account of precession), the amount of deviation is to be determined by observation.” (Br. Sam. III. 1-2).

“When the Sun turned away south from the middle of Aslesa, it was proper for that time. But now the turning away is from Punarvasu.” (PS III. 21).

Now in the sloka from the PS, “from the middle of Aslesa” corresponds to the same phrase in the quotation from the Br. Sam. III. 1; and “from Punarvasu ” corresponds to "the beginning of Karkataka” in Br. Sam. III. 2 above, the same phenomenon of precession being described in both. So “from Punarvasu ” must be taken to mean a point three quarters from the beginning of the segment, for that is the point corresponding to the beginning of Karkataka. But VT who wants the end of Punarvasu to be the turning point, wants us to shut our eyes to the specific reference to the “beginning” of Karkataka, and take it to mean “somewhere” in Karkataka, giving the reason that the word is found in a mere Samhita and not in a karana like the PS. It seems he has not taken note of the many passages in the PS itself that specifies the ‘beginning’ of Karkataka as the point. For instance, in the sloka next but one, i.e., PS III. 23, we find “mesa-tulddau visuvad", “at the beginning of Mesa and Tula, are the Equinoxes”. One Sloka later we have again:

udagayanam makaradau rtavah sisiradayas ca saryavasat /
dvibhavanakalasamanam, daksinam ayanam ca karkatakat // PS III. 25 //

In XIII. 10, we have, “At the end of Mithuna the Sun revolves at an altitude of 24° at the N. Pole”.

Also VT says that Punarvasutah can mean only from the “end of Punarvasu”. This interpretation is wrong. It only means “from Punarvasu”, and can mean any point in it. Gramatah pattanam pratisthate does not only mean ‘he starts from the border of the village’. It can mean any point in the village.

Further, the context in which aslesardhat etc, is found, itself specifies a point If segments from the middle of Aslesa and this point is three quartets of Punarvasu. In the immediately preceding sloka, VM states that Vyatipata-punyakala occurs when Sun plus Moon equals 17 asterismal spaces, i.e., 17x13° 20', or 226° 40', as opposed to our expectation that it should occur at the middle of the 14th (i.e., at 180°) according to the definition given in the 3astras.35 [See for instance, Surya Siddhanta, XI. 1-2: ekayanagatau syatam suryacandramasau yada. |; tadyutau mandale krantyos tulyatve vaidhrtabhidhah || ; viparitayanagatau candrarkau krantiliptikak | ; samas tadvad vyatipato bhaganardhe tayor yutau ||] There is a difference of 46° 40' or 3-1/2 spaces that has to be explained. As Yoga is obtained from the combined longitudes of the Sun and the Moon, a change of 1-3/4 asterismal segments in the longitude of each, caused by the shifting of the origin of reference will explain the difference of the 3-1/2 spaces. This shifting of the origin, by the precession of the equinoxes, is mentioned in aslesardhat etc., and this must be If segments as required, and the point at f Punarvasu follows, for it is this point that is 1-3/4 segments behind the middle of Aslesa.36 [For a fuller discussion, see the writer’s Introduction to his edition of Mahabhaskariya, Madras, 1957, pp. xxv-xxxv. Further, since VT has not brought into the argument either the Caitra or the Dhanistha Paksa of the zero-point of the Ecliptic, we have avoided dragging them in and confusing the issue.]

Still another proof can be adduced to show that 3/4 Punarvasu is to be considered as the point in question. If it is the end of Punarvasu, the Vernal Equinox will be, as we have already stated, at +3° 20' from the zero point from which the longitudes of the Sun, the Moon etc. are reckoned. So, to get the declination of the Sun etc., to compute the daylight, the shadow and other things, in short, for all work usually given in the Triprasnadhikara of a siddhanta, we must be instructed to deduct 3° 20' from the longitudes got by computation, and use this for the calculation, as the longitudes from the Vernal Equinox are to be used here. In as much as such an instruction has not been given anywhere in the text, we must take it that the zero point and the Vernal Equinox were coincident, which means that the Summer Solstice was at 3/4 Punarvasu. Now in (ii), VT has budgetted for an Ayanamsa of 28° 15'. But the above fact will result in a cut of 3° 20', and VM will be lifted 240 years from the intended 123 B.C. towards the true place, 505 A.D.

Now we may pass on to consider (ii), viz., VT’s statement that in April 1909 A.D. there is an Ayanamsa of 28° 15', taking it to be zero at VM’s time, when according to VT the Vernal Equinox was +3° 20' from the zero point, i.e. there is a total ayanacalana of 28° 15', from VM’s time to 1909 A.D. VT makes up the 28° 15' necessary for him, by piecing together four different quantities: (a) the distance between the Vernal Equinox and the zero point, both referring to VM’s time, equal to 3° 20'; (b) the late L. D. Swamikannu Pillai’s (LDS) calculation of the Ayanamsa in 1909 to be 22° 25' which is the equivalent in degrees of the time from the Sun at the Vernal Equinox of 1909 to its entering the Sign Mesa in the same year according to Surya Siddhanta; (c) what VT calls a Bija (i.e. correction) of 218 days, equivalent to 2° 9'; and (d) an error of observation equal to 16'. Of these four quantities, we have already seen that VT cannot have (a), by the fact that the Summer Solstice was at 3/4 Punarvasu and not at the end of Punarvasu in VM’s time. So 3° 20' is cut off from the 28° 15'. We shall not discuss (d), for we except to point out below what mischief even this can do. That leaves us (b) and (c) to deal with.

We shall take (b) first. VT uses the Ayanamsa 22° 25' calculated by LDS in a manner not intended by him. To understand how it is so, it is necessary to make clear the principle involved in the calculation.37 [See LDS, An Indian Ephemeris. Madras, 1922, Vol. I, Pt. i, pp, 457-58: “Appendix (ii) Luni-Solar Precession as applied to Indian Astronomy—The year of Sunya-ayanamsa, A.D, 533, how determined".] LDS found from the Nautical Almanac that at 02143-day on the 21st March 1909, the True Sun was at the Vernal Equinox. He found that according to the Surya Siddhanta (Modern, not the Saura of PS), the True Sun reached the First Point of Mesa at 09492 day on 12th April 1909. From the difference between the two moments, equal to 227349 days, using the rate of motion of the sun at that interval, he calculated the Ayanamsa to be 22° 25'. Suppose LDS had used the time of the True Sun at Mesa (Mesa Sankramana as it is called) of some other Almanac like the Drk Almanac or Vakya Almanac, he would have got different Ayanamsas, for it is a well-known fact that Almanacs vary in their times of Sankramana. Which ayannamsa are we to adopt? Which is the ‘correct’, Ayanamsa? By ‘correct’ Ayanamsa is meant the total precession in degrees, of the Vernal Equinox, from a specific point on the Ecliptic, which we call the zero point, during the interval 1909 and the time when we take the Vernal Equinox to coincide with the zero point, in our case the time of VM. According to this criterion none of the present-day Almanacs gives the ‘correct’ Ayanamsa. The following is the reason: If the length of the year adopted by an almanac is the correct Sidereal year, viz., 365 days 15 nadis, 229 vinadis, so that at the end of every year the Sun returns to the specified zero point, then this way of finding the Ayanamsa will yield the ‘correct’ Ayanamsa. But the old system Indian Almanacs use, instead of the above correct Sidereal year, the Sidereal year of the Aryabhatiya (365-15-31-15, adopted by the Vakya Almanacs), or of the new Surya Siddhanta (365-15-31-31, adopted generally by LDS in his Ephemeris) and the like, which though called Sidereal, are very nearly Anomalistic, being about 8-5 or 8-6 vinadis longer than the correct Sidereal year. As a result, the First Point of Mesa moves forward leaving the zero point behind at the rate of 8'5" per annum. So if we adopt LDS’s method of using the time of the True Sun at the First Point of Mesa according to a particular Almanac to get the Ayanamsa, we must deduct from the gross Ayanamsa got, the accumulated interval between the zero point and the First Point of Mesa of that Almanac, to get the correct Ayanamsa. (This accumulated interval may be called the ‘Procession’ of the First Point of Mesa for that Almanac). It is this correct Ayanamsa that should be divided' by the correct rate of precession of 50" 2585 etc. to get the year when the Vernal Equinox was at the zero point. If, on the other hand, we use the gross Ayanamia got by LDS’s method, we should divide it by the gross rate of precession (which is the correct rate of precession ‘plus' about 8 5"), to get the year, for the gross Ayanamia increases not by the correct rate of precession but by the gross rate of precession, viz. 50" '2585 etc. etc. increased by about 8'5". This is the reason why most Indian systems give nearly V as the rate of precession. The reader will find our statement corroborated by sections 64 and 277 of LDS’s Indian Chronology (Madras, 1911).

This is the reason why LDS divided his gross Ayanamsa by 58"78 and got 536 A.D. for VM as a first approximation.37a [Using this date LDS gets 533 A.D. as the correct date.] The gross rate of precession 58" 78 is got from the rate of procession (viz. 8" 52) plus the rate of correct precession 50" 26, for it is at this combined rate of 58" 78 that the Vernal Equinox recedes with reference to the First Point of Mesa, per annum. From this we see that it is wrong to use for this purpose the actual rate of precession given, even by the system, if any, as for eg. 54" per annum In the case of the new Surya Siddhanta or 1' per annum in the case of certain other Siddhantas, and so on; for these Siddhantas have found the rates of precession by actual observation of the Sun at the Vernal Equinox, and there is likely to be an error in the observation. According to the error the rates may vary. The nearer their rates are to 58"78, the better are their observations.

It is incumbent on our part, in the present context, to answer certain remarks made by VT on the above procedure of LDS. VT remarks:38 [His article, JIH 28 ( 950) 105.] “There are the following drawbacks in the whole argument (of LDS):

"(a) It was considered that Dakshinayana began when the Sun reached the beginning of Karkataka instead of the end of Punarvasu.

“(b) The fact that the modern tropical year goes on decreasing at the rate of 0'53 seconds per century was not taken into consideration.

“(c) At least at the time of Varahamihira, the Indian Siderial year—so designated at present—was really a tropical year and the value for the precession of the equinoxes must be taken as 50" 2585 —n X 000225" and not as 54"7505 as assumed by Swamikannu Pillai.”

Of these (a) has already been answered. As for (b), in the 14 centuries considered by LDS, the time neglected, by him is about 56 seconds, equivalent in 2" of the Sun’s motion. Is this not negligible in the context? As for (c), this is against the internal evidence of the PS. Excepting Vasistha38a [Vasistha’s is 365-15-0, midway.] and the Romaka, all the other Siddhantas in it give Sidereal years. The Paulisa gives 365 days, 15 nadikas, and 30 vinadikas, the Saura, 365-15-31-30, and the Paitamaha 366 days. By what stretch of imagination can these be called Tropical years, these years that are SO far greater than the correct Sidereal year that they border on the Anomalistic? As for LDS not taking 50" 2585 for division, we have answered it by saying that this would be proper only if the correct Sidereal year, 365-15-22‘9. had been used throughout the period of which we are considering the Ayanamsa. Secondly, where has LDS assumed a rate of precession of 54"7505, and in which context?

It should not be thought that because the modern Drk Almanacs use the correct Sidereal year equal to 365-15-22.9, the time of the True Sun at their First point of Mesa will give the correct ayanamsa. These almanacs were started recently and they arbitrarily fixed for themselves such ayanamsas as would keep their sankramanas within reasonable distance from those of the old almanacs. The very fact that the sankramanas vary only within a matter of nadis, shows this, for considering the difference between the correct Sidereal year and the so- called Sidereal years of our siddhantas, even within a period of 420 years there will be a difference of one day, and for the period we are considering, viz. 1400 years or more, there should be a difference of more than three days, the Drk Sankramanas occurring earlier. To avoid the hue and cry that would be raised if the sankramanas in their almanacs are found to occur thus, more than three days earlier, the Drk Almanac makers fixed for themselves ayanamsas that would keep their sankramanas near enough to those of the old system almanacs.39 [In 1925 the Almanac makers met in Conference at Poona and adopted an ayanamsa of 22° 40' 39' for 1925 proposed by R. N. Apte, M.A., Professor of Mathematics, Rajaram College, Kolhapur, arrived at by taking the True Sun's position at Mesa-sankramana in that year according to the Surya Siddhanta as the zero point. On this see C. G. Rajan Raja Jyotisa Gapitam, (Madras, 1933), Section— Conversion of Heliocentric etc., ch. VI, p. 56.] The Caitra or the Dhanistha paksa has come in handy for them to fix their ayanamsa in this manner, but these paksas are contradictory to all schools of traditional astronomy which have adopted the Raivata-paksa alone.40 [C. G. Rajan gives the actual ayanamsa according to the Raivatapaksa to be 18° 56''45".7 in 1925; see Ib„ p. 58.]

To continue the main argument. As, in the manner already stated, the number of years got to be deducted from 1909 to find the Zero Point should be the same, whether we divide the gross ayanamsa by the gross rate of precession, or the correct ayanamsa by the correct rate of precession, and as the rates are in the ratio 7:6 approximately, the gross ayanamsa found by LDS (by using the time of sankramana of the new Surya Siddhanta) should be reduced by one seventh of itself to get the equivalent correct ayanamsa, which we find to be 19° 12'. So VT can have only 19° 12' and not 22° 23' by (b).

Now, we pass on to (c). (This is VT’s special.) What VT says amounts to this: Kali began at midnight 17/18, February 3102 B.C. But most Ephimerides give 0.579 days after sunrise on 15th February as the Epoch of Kaliyuga. So there is a difference of 2.18 (72.17) days which must be a bija correction. So we must add 2.18 days to the time of the True Sun reaching the First Point of Mesa in (b), viz. 0.9492 on 12th April. Thus the interval in days is increased by 2.18 days; which means 2° 9' more in ayanamsa, which will make up the 28° 15' required.

Now, what VT thinks to be a bija is really the interval between the times of the True and the Mean Suns reaching the First Point of Mesa. According to Indian astronomy the Sun’s Equation of the Centre is about 2° 9' at the time of Mesa Sankramana. So the True Sun is in advance of the Mean Sun by 2° 9' and reaches the First Point of Mesa earlier by about 2.18 days. As the Apogee of the Sun has an extremely slow motion according to Hindu astronomy, the 2 18 days practically continue through the ages to be the same. In (b), LDS took for calculation the interval between the True Sun at the Vernal Equinox and the True Sun at the First Point of Mesa which is quite proper. If he had taken the interval between the times of the Mean Sun at Vernal Equinox and the True Sun at the First Point, then indeed we shall be justified in adding 2.18 days; for then the interval first got would have been less by 2.18 days, on account of the Mean Sun reaching the Vernal Equinox later by 2.18 days than the True Sun. If we add 2.18 days, as we ought to now, we get the same interval of 22.735 days. Thus VT cannot have (c).

The error of observation, (d), is possible and may be allowed if required; but it must be remembered that it is arbitrary, indefinite and may be plus or minus. VT has taken (d) as error of observation, not from apriori considerations, but aposteriori, because this alone will give him, when added to the other quantities and divided by 50" 2585 etc., 2031 years to be deducted from 1909 and get 123 B.C. So the reader is warned against getting predisposed in favour of 123 B.C., simply because 1909 A.D. minus 2031 is exactly equal to 123 B.C., for this particular amount of error of observation has been arbitrarily presumed to get this very result.

In conclusion, we find that in VT’s ayanamsa of 28° 15', (a) is cut off, (c) is cut off, (d) may be ignored, and (b) is reduced to about 19° 12'. If we divide this by the correct rate of precession, 50".2585 etc., we get c. 534 A.D. as VM’s time. It may be noted how far away this is from 123 B.C., and how near it is to 505 A.D. (epoch).

The ayanamsa argument of Prof. Rai ( JPUHS I.124-27) is the saw as VT’s (a) and (b), with the difference that he takes (b) for 1931 instead of 1909. This amounts to 26° 3' 40" according to him, and committing the same mistake as VT of dividing this gross ayanamsa by the actual rate of precession, he says VM lived 1866 years before 1931, i.e., in 65 A.D. Since this does not take him to the desired 123 B.C. Prof. Rai thinks that this discrepancy may be overcome by assuming an appropriate error of observation, which in this case has to be as large as 3 degrees or so!

With showing that 427 Saka of VM is 505 A.D. and that the ayanamsa argument is fallacious, the main object of this paper is over. It is unnecessary to discuss the slokas from Jyotirvidabharana quoted by these scholars enumerating the nine gems of Vikramaditya’s court (dhanvantari-ksapanaka etc.) and the year given therein; for in the light of the foregoing discussion these must be taken as part of a romance, or an attempt at imposture by the author of the work.49a [For the unreliability of this work, see below, Sn. V of the paper on ‘The untenability of the postulated Saka era of 550 B.C.’] Nobody will take seriously this sloka jumbling men of different ages together, as no one will take seriously the other romance, the Bhoja Prabandha, for matters of history.

The Date of Bhattotpala

Both Rai and VT seek additional evidence for VM’s earlier date by making his commentator Bhattotpala himself earlier than 505 A.D.41 [Rai, JPUHS I (1932) 73; VT, JW 28 (1950) 103, JAHRS 22 (1952-54) 173.] We shall examine this now. Bhattotpala says at the end of his commentary on VM’s Brhajjataka that he finished writing it in Saka 888 (elapsed) on Caitra Sukla Pancami, which was a Thursday:

caitramasasya pancamyam sitayam guruvasare /
vasvastastamite sake krteyam vivrtir maya //

Here VT says that “the weekday does not come out correctly if we take either the Salivahana Saka or the Vikrama Saka. So the Saka mentioned by ... Bhattotpala refers only to the Saka with 550 B.C. as epoch”.42 [JIH 28 (1950) 109.] This means that if Bhattotpala’s Saka is taken as given in the Saka of 550 B.C., the weekday agrees; and so the date referred to is 888 years after 550 B.C., i.e., 339 A.D., (but in his ‘Andhra Saka’ he gives 340 A.D., cf. fn. 11 above) and so VM must be earlier still. But we have made the calculations, and we find that it is 339 A.D. that does not give the agreement; in that year the Caitra Pancami falls on Friday, ending at about 35 nadis. In his Popular Astronomy, pp. 136-37, VT has changed the date of Bhattotpala to 338 A.D., in accordance with his changing the Saka Epoch to 551 B.C. Strangely enough, here too VT asserts that he finds agreement with the weekday, viz. Thursda. 42a [It is an obvious fact that for a particular Tithi in a particular month the weekday cannot be the same in two consecutive years.] My calculation here gives Sunday, i.e. three days off, on this date. On the other hand there is perfect agreement with Salivahana Saka 888 (corresponding to 966 A.D.) if Caitra is in the Purnimanta reckoning which was prevalent in Bhattotpala’s time43 [In certain editions of Bhattotpala’s commentary on the Brhajjataka we find instead of the sloka quoted above, another saying that he finished the commentary on a Thursday in S'aka 888 on Phalguna-krsna-dvitiya. This too gives agreement with the weekday only if 888 is in Salivahana S'aka. If in the S'aka starting from 551 or 550 B.C. alleged, there is disagreement.] and place. If Saka 888 is elapsed year, Caitrasuddha- pancami falls on Thursday, at 25 nadis, February 28, 966 A.D. So we get the time of Bhattotpala’s finishing the work correctly as we expressed. Because we took the current Saka instead of the elapsed (elapsed is the more usual practice of the Hindus), we had recourse Purnimanta  reckoning, where too it is the previous Phalguna that agrees.

And there is also positive evidence to show that Bhattotpala has meant only the Salivahana Saka. He has commented on the Khandakhadyaka of Brahmagupta, who says that it is a representation of the (Ardharatrika ) system of Aryabhata.44 [See Khandakhadyaka, I. 1.] This means that Brahmagupta is later than Aryabhata (3600 Kali, corresponding to 499 A.D.) and that Bhattotpala must be later still. It is not possible to drag down, as VT and others do, both Aryabhata and Brahmagupta together into the earlier centuries, for the following reasons: The date of Aryabhata is definitely 3600 Kali, as already shown. Brahmagupta gives 587 Sakakala as the epoch of his Khandakhadyaka (I. 3). Brahmagupta elsewhere states that 3179 is to be added to the Saka year to get the corresponding Kali year (Cf. Brahmasphutasiddhanta, I. 26). Amaraja commenting on the above verse of Khandakhadyaka (1. 3) gives the Kali year corresponding to the epoch of the work (Saka 587) to be 3766 by adding 3179 to 587; and also calculates and verifies the ksepas and the weekday of the epoch taking the Kali year 3766, which is A.D. 665,45 [So VT’s statement in his Popular Astronomy, p. 137, that only 36 A.D., which date he gives for Brahmagupta, would agree with the weekday and not any other date, is wrong.] which therefore must be the time of Brahmagupta. Further, Brahmagupta is linked to Bhaskara II (who VT at least admits wrote his Siddhanta- siromani in 1150 A.D.) by an observed ayanamsa of about 11°. Bhaskara II also says that in Brahmagupta’s time the ayanamsa was so little that it was “unobservable even to that expert astronomer”.46 [Cf. his Vasana-Bhasya on his Siddhantasiromani, under Goladhyaya, Golabandhadhikara, 17-19.] So Brahmagupta cannot be dragged too far away from Bhaskara, and this condition will be fulfilled only if his epoch is in the Salivahana Saka. (TSN says in this connection that Brahmagupta, whom Bhaskara II eulogises as his learned ancient teacher, could not detect an observational error of 5'!!) And so his commentator, Utpala’s date, Saka 888, has also to be in the Salivahana Saka.

Prof. Rai advances another argument,47 [ JPUHS I (1932) 123-24.] which is his own and not given by anybody else. It is this: Brhat Samhita, VIII. 20-21, gives a rule from which, by using the Saka year, the corresponding Jovian year in the 60 year cycle Prabhava etc., can be got. He works it out for 1932 using the Saka starting from 550 B.C., and gets 52 years gone in the Prabhava series. Using the years gone in the Salivahana Saka of 78 A.D., he gets the 18th year in the series, viz. Tarana. He finds this Tarana given in North Indian almanacs. But he says this proves nothing beyond showing that the North Indian almanac- makers have adopted the Salivahana Saka for this rule. But the point at issue is which is the correct Saka to take. This can be found by working out the year from the Kali years gone till 1932, and seeing which of the two (52 or 18) it agrees with. Prof. Rai works out the Jovian years gone from the beginning of Kali, using the elements of the Surya Siddhanta,48 [The Surya Siddhanta, which Prof. Rai uses, wants actually the years from ‘Creation’ ( i.e. a point 17,064,000 years from the beginning of the Kalpa) to be used for this. But as a whole number of 60 year cycles have gone at the beginning of Kali, no harm will ensue if the Kali year is used as he does.] and dividing the result by 60 gets the remainder 52. Lo! this is the same as the remainder got by using the Saka of 550 B.C. So, that is the Saka intended by VM in his Brhat Samhita, he says. The argument seems to be perfect.

But this is the fallacy in it: If the Jovian year is to be worked out a priori using the Kali years gone, the years should be counted from Vijaya and not from Prabhava. This condition is specified in the very Surya Siddhanta whose elements Prof. Rai uses for computation, and this has been missed by him.49 [Cf. Dvadasaghna gurar yata bhagana vartamanakaih I ; rasibhih sahitah, suddhah sastya syur ‘'Vijayadayah‘' ǀǀ I.55 ǀǀ] Now counting 52 from Vijaya, we get only the 18th year of the Prabhava series, viz. Parana, and this agrees with Saka of 78 A.D. and not the Saka of 550 B.C. Thus Prof. Rai’s argument fails. In the result, it is only a proof for taking VM’s Sakakala to be the Salivahana Saka, and discarding the Saka of 550 B.C.

Prof. Rai seeks further support to his theory by stating (ib., p. 71) that, “Albiruni writing in 1030 A.D. not only talks of Bhaskaracharya, but also mentions his book ‘Karana Kutuhala’”, that the date of composition of Karanakutuhala given in the work itself, viz. Saka 1105, if taken in the Salivahana Saka would be 1183 A.D., i.e. 150 years after Albiruni, which is patently impossible, that “Weber in his Book on Sanskrit Literature (p. 262) notices this anomaly, but is unable to offer any explanation” (Weber, History of Indian Literature, English Translation, London, 1914), and that “if we take this Saka commencing from 550 B.C., the riddle is solved”, for this would take Bhaskara to the 6th cent. A.D., long prior to Albiruni.

The answer to Prof. Rai is given by Bhaskara himself who indicates that he uses only the Salivahana Saka, for he says that 3179 is to be added to the Saka year to get the Kali years gone (Cf. Siddh. Siromani, Ganita, Madhyama, Kalamana, 28). Moreover Albiruni’s words in the context do not warrant the name Bhaskara at all, nor does he mention anywhere a work Karana-'Kutuhala’ (the work named being a Karana-'Sara’). It has also to be added that Prof. Rai is not speaking the facts when he says that Weber “is unable to offer any explanation”. As a matter of fact, in contradiction to what Prof. Rai says, Weber offers on the very page that Rai refers to (page 262) several explanations: Weber says that “we have scarcely any alternative save to separate Albiruni’s ‘Bashkar’ son of 'Mahdeb' , and the author of ‘Karana- sara' from the Bhaskara, son of Mahadeva, and author of Karanakutuhala”. (Note that none of the three names, neither that of the author, nor of his father, which is really Mahesvara and which Weber himself draws attention to in a footnote, nor of the work, tallies). Weber again suggests that his translation of the Arabic words of Albiruni might be wrong, for “Albiruni usually represents the Indian bh by b-h, and for the most part faithfully preserves the length of the vowels, neither of these is here done in the case of Bashkar, where, moreover, the s is changed into sh”, and adds in a footnote that in the passage under discussion “there lurks not a Bhaskara at all, but perhaps a Pushkara”.50 [Weber’s doubts about the translation of the Arabic passage are only too well founded, for we find Sachau translating the passage as: “Further there is an astronomical Vittesvara, the son of Bhadatta (? Mihdatta) of the city of Nagarapura, called Karanasara.” Cf. Alberuni’s India, E. C. Sachau, London, 1910, vol. I, p. 156. The [x] since published by the Astronomical and Sanskrit Research Society, New Delhi, gives "[x]" ([x], [x] I.1). [x] I.21 gives the date of work as 826 [x] and the author's birth as 802 [x] I. 10 gives that 3179 years are to be added to the Saka years to get Kali years.] Even if the passage refers to a Bhaskara, Weber suggests that "we may have to think of that elder Bhaskara, ‘who was at the head of the commentators of Aryabhata, and is repeatedly cited by Prthudakasvamin, who was himself anterior to the author of the Siromani”. It is in the face of these facts that Prof. Rai coolly asserts that Weber “is unable to offer any explanation!” (Here Rai only follows T.S.N’s remarks.)

We may add here that the epoch of Karanasara, which is mistaken for Karanakutuhala, is given by Albiruni as Saka 821 (A.D. 899) (Alberuni's India, Sachau, I. 392), and obviously Prof. Rai’s Bhaskara of the 6th cent, cannot write a work 300 years later! So Prof. Rai’s argument only goes against his own theory.

Thus nothing can shake the evidence showing that the Saka mentioned by VM is the Salivahana Saka and that the date Saka 427 given by him in his PS is 505 A.D. Incidentally it has also been shown that the Saka era used by Brahmagupta, Bhattotpala and Bhaskara II is the Salivahana Saka of 78 A.D.

We propose to show in a subsequent article the untenability of certain other claims of these scholars referred to in the Introduction and that everywhere when the word Saka occurs as the name of an era, it is only the Salivahana Saka that is meant, and therefore or otherwise there is no case for postulating a Cyrus or Andhra Era of 550 B.C.
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The Untenability of the Postulated Saka of 550 B.C. [Rep. from JIH (Trivandrum), 37 (1959) 201-24.], Excerpt, from Collected Papers on Jyotisha
by T.S. Kuppanna Sastry (Former Hony. Professor, Sanskrit College, Madras)



THE UNTENABILITY OF THE POSTULATED SAKA OF 550 B.C. [Rep. from JIH (Trivandrum), 37 (1959) 201-24.]

I. Introduction

It has been shown in the preceding study that the Saka Era used or alluded to by astronomers like Varahamihira (VM), Brahmagupta, Bhattotpala, Sripati, Bhaskaras I and II, etc. is the era starting from 78 A.D., later known as the Salivahana Saka, and not the era of 550 B.C. postulated by the late T. S. Narayana Sastri (TSN) or V. Thiruvenkatacharya (VT) and called by them the Cyrus Era or the Andhra Era, respectively. Incidentally we have shown to be untenable their statements that Aryabhata belonged near to 2742 B.C., VM to 123 B.C., Brahmagupta to 36 A.D., Bhattotpala to 339 A.D. and Bhaskara II to 522 A.D., and thereby we have proved that VM belongs to 505 A.D. and Bhattotpala to 966 A.D. and indicated that the real date of Arayabhata is 499 A.D. and of Brahmagupta 654 A.D.1 [In the same way we can easily see that the date of Bhaskara II's work, the Siddhanta Siromani, is 1150 A.D., from his statement: rasa-gupa-purya-mahi (1036) sama S'aka-nrpa-samaye ’bhavan mamotpattih / ; rasa-guna (36) varsena maya Siddhanta Siromani racitah //]

In the same way it can be shown that wherever other astronomers or writers like Kalhana and Albiruni mention a Saka Era, it is this Saka of 78 A.D. they mean. The tradition of almanac-makers also supports this, for they all give in their almanacs only this Saka Era and not the alleged other one. In inscriptions and documents also, in short, in every case where a date in Saka Era is given, it is this Saka alone, though this is disputed by TSN and (till recently) by Sri Kota Venkatachelam (KV) in the case of the Aihole Inscription (to which we shall revert later).

II. VM’s Brhat-Samhita XIII. 3 considered

We shall now take up for discussion Brhat-Samhita of VM (Br. Sam.) XIII. 3 referred to by us in the previous paper, which TSN and others consider as their stronghold, and which we left over for detailed consideration later:

asan maghasu munayah sasati prthvim yudhisthire nrpatau /
sad-dvika-panca-dvi-yutah Sakakalas tasya rajnas ca //

This stanza occurs in the context of the Saptarsi-cara or the alleged ‘Motion of the Seven Sages’, (i.e., the group of stars Ursa Major or the Great Bear), among the twenty- seven asterisms, given for use in astrological prediction. To find the position of the group at any time, three things are necessary: (i) its position at a given time; (ii) the time elapsed from the given time to the time for which the position is required, and (iii) its rate of motion. The above stanza gives (i) and (ii), viz., that at the time of Yudhisthira’s rule the Sages were at the asterismal segment Magha, and the time elapsed from this time to any year in the Saka Era is the number of the year in the Saka Era plus 2526. (Requirement iii is given in the next stanza, XIII. 4, as one asterismal segment for 100 years).

Now TSN and KV argue thus: (a) This stanza is a quotation from Vrddha Garga (VG), and so VG knows a Saka Era which he mentions here. It is accepted by all that VG lived long prior to 78 A.D., the starting point of the Salivahana Saka. So this Saka must be an earlier Saka, viz., that of 550 B.C. postulated by them, (b) The first half of this stanza says the Sages were in Magha during Yudhisthira’s time. The Puranas and VG etc. say that at the junction of Dvapara and Kali yugas, the Sages were at Magha and Yudhisthira was ruling. 25 years after the advent of Kali, the Sages moved to the next asterism from Magha and in that year Yudhisthira left this world for heaven. The second half of the stanza states that the Sakakala mentioned therein started 2526 years after Yudhisthirakala. If we take Yudhisthirakala to have started from the time he went to heaven, i.e. after 25 Kali equivalent to 3076 B.C., this Saka must have started 2526 years after this, i.e. from 550 B.C., and is evidently quite different from the Saka starting from 78 A.D.

It is in the light of this conclusion, and in support of it, that TSN etc. say (as we have discussed already in the previous paper), that the Sakakala mentioned by VM in other places in his works, and also by other astronomers like Brahmagupta, is this Saka of 550 B.C. But we have proved conclusively in the previous study that in those places it is the Saka of 78 A.D. that is referred to.2 [There is one other place were VM mentions the Sakakala viz. dvyunam S'akendrakalam etc. (Pancasiddhantika, XII. 1), which we have not taken for discussion. This mention is in connection with the rough Paitamaha Siddhanta, and as no useful purpose will be served by discussing it, and as it is not taken into consideration by TSN etc. also, we have left it out.] Therefore the conclusion here arrived at by TSN etc. must stand on its own legs. We shall proceed to examine this now. Even at the outset we can say that it is extremely unlikely that VM means here alone a Saka different from what he means by the same word elsewhere in his works; and therefore he must mean the Saka of 78 A.D. here also. All the same we shall examine their arguments.

(a) The alleged quotation of Vrddha Garga

The reasoning (a) is based on the assumption that the stanza is a quotation from VG, which it is not. The actual words of VG are quoted by the commentator Bhattotpala in his commentary on this stanza: cf. tatha ca Vrddha-Gargah: “Kali-Dvaparayoh sandhau sthitas te pitrdaivatam” (At the junction of Kali and Dvapara, they—the sages—were at Magha). It is to be noted that this would be redundant if the staza in question also were VG’s, both giving the same idea, viz. the situation of the Sages. It may also be noted that this is in a different metre. What VM means by his statement in the introductory stanza, kathayisye Vrddha-Garga- matat (Br. Sam. XIII. 2) is only that he is giving the astrological predictions due to the motion of the Sages as based on the work of VG, as indicated by the word matat (‘opinion’) used here. Also in all the other caras given in the other chapters of Br. Sam, like Adityacara, Candracara, Rahucara etc., what VM means by cara is the prediction based upon the motion and not the actual motion, and so must it be here also, (the actual motions being given in a ganita work like the Pancasiddhantika). If in the case of the Sages the motion also is given, it is because it is simple, has not been given elsewhere, and is necessary for the main purpose, viz., the prediction according to the motion. Thus it is the prediction that VM says he gives according to VG. So this stanza which serves to find the position of the Sages need not necessarily be, and as we have shown, is not, VG’s.3 [This is the reason why this stanza has not been taken as VG’s by other scholars also. For e.g. Colebrooke writes: “The commentator, Bhattotpala, supports the text of his author (viz. VM) by quotations from VG and Kasyapa: ‘At the junction of the Kali and Dvapara ages’, says Garga, ‘the virtuous Sages ... stood...’ at Magha” (Miscellaneous Essays, London, 1873, vol. III, p. 313). Cunningham writes: “His (VM’s) words are, “The Seven Seers etc.,’ But unluckily for VM, his commentator Bhatta Utpala has given us the very words of Garga, who simply says, ‘At the junction of the Kali and Dvapara ages the virtuous Sages .... stood at the asterism over which the Pitrs preside, that is Magha'. On comparing this quotation with Varaha’s statement (in the stanza in question) we see at once that he (VM) has suppressed Garga’s mention of the Kaliyuga....” (Book of Indian Eras Culcutta, 1883, pp. 9-10). This shows, that Cunningham considers that VM is not quoting the stanza, but that it is VM’s own. P. V. Kane says: ‘In the preceding verse VM says that he will declare the motion of the seven sages by deriving it from the doctrine of VG. The first mistake of the writer (It is KV that he refers to here) is to hold that verse XIII.3 came originally from Garga Samhita. Really it is VM’s own verse. Utpala quotes the verse of VG, on this point, which is in a different metre, though the meaning is the same as the first half of XIII.3" (JAHRS XXI (1950-52) 41).] This being the case, it cannot be argued that Garga who came long prior to 78 A.D. knows a Sakakala and therefore this Sakakala must be the earlier postulated one of 550 B.C.

(b) The Time of Yudhisthira

We now pass on to consider (b), the second and more important reasoning of TSN etc., viz., that VM in this verse refers to Yudhisthira who lived at the beginning of of Kali and rose to heaven 25 years after Kali set in (i.e. in 3076 B.C.) and so the Saka Era beginning 2526 years after that must be the postulated Saka of 550 B.C. But we answer, there is nothing in this verse to show that in VM’s opinion Yudhisthira lived at the beginning of Kali. On the other hand, it can be shown that VM might have meant a time about 650 years after Kali, or even that he did mean this later period for the time of Yudhisthira, and therefore the Saka Era following 2526 years after, cannot be the postulated saka of 550 B.C., but can only be the well-known Saka of 78 A.D. It is a fact well known to scholars (inclusive of TSN etc.) that the junction of Dvapara and Kali (3102 B.C.) is not the only period with which Yudhisthira is associated. This is according to one school; but there is at least one other school ( e.g. that of the Jain and Buddhist writers) who take it that Yudhisthira lived about 500 years later. They use a Yudhisthira Era which began in 468 Kali (corresponding to 2634 B.C.).4 [Vide: i, Jinavijaya “rsir varas tatha purnam martyaksau (2077) vamamelanat” "nandah purnam bhusca netre maujanam (2109) ca vamatah” quoted by TSN in his Age of Sankara, (Madras, 1916 ff.), Pt. I. ch. iii, pp. 139 and 141, and also his adding 468 to get the year in the Kali Era. It has be added that TSN’s alleged quotations from this work are his concoctions. We have shown this in the ‘Date of Sankara” (see supra), ii Kota Bhaviah Chowdary’s statement: ‘According to Jain authorities Yudhisthira was crowned in 2634 B.C. only... From Puranic Kaliyuga (of 3102 B.C.).... 468 years passed up to Yudhisthira”. (JAHRS XXII (1952-54) 53 Cf. also Cunningham, Book of Indian Eras, p, 7, where he speaks of Abul Fazal giving in his Ain-i-Akbari three views on the subject, of which one is the regin of Kamsa, (uncle of Krsna and so contemporary of Yudhisthira) “above 4000 years before the fortieth of Akbar”, (i.e., 1595 A.D.), that is between 2400 and 2500 B.C.’ This would give Yudhisthira a date about 2407 B.C. or the 7th cent, in Kali.] Even of the first school mentioned, not all associate the same event of Yudhisthira’s life with the beginning of Kali, 3102 B.C. There are four sub-schools here (Fleet says three, but mentions all four, JRAS (1911) 676-78, ‘The Kaliyuga Era of B.C. 3102’). One sub-school believes that the first coronation of Yudhisthira at Indraprastha was the beginning of Kali and the commencement of the Yudhisthira Era.5 [The inscription in the temple of Hanuman at Jasalmer, Rajaputana, gives a date in this era. The speech of Hanuman in the Mahabharata, Vanaparva, ch. 151, verse 39 (Kumbakonam edn.) containing the words etat kaliyugam nama acirad yat pravartate, and Krsna’s excuse for the unfair fight with the words praptam Kaliy ugam viddhi (ib . S’alyparvan, ch. 61, verse 27) support this. Abdul Fazl expresses another view that the Mahabharata War was fought 4801 years before the 40th year of Akbar’s rule and 105 years before the end of the Dvapara age, (see ib).] Another makes the Bharata war and the beginning of Kali synchronous.6 [Eg. the Aihole Inscription. See discussion infra for details. This view is mentioned also by Abul Fazl, which is 4696 year before the 40th year of Akbar’s rule, (see ib).] A third says that Kali began at the death of Krspa and his ascent to heaven.7 [The Puranas express this view. Cf: yasmin Krsno divam yatah tasmin eva tadahani / ; pratipannah Kaliyugah tasya sahkhyam nibodhata //; Brahmanda Purana, ch. 74, verse 241 (Venk. Press edn.). Vayu has the same reading. Visnu, Matsya and the Bhagavata have almost the same reading.] The fourth sub-school says that Yudhisthira’s abdication and starting on the Mahaprasthana was at the beginning of Kali.8 [The words in the Aryabhatiya, Gurudivasac ca bharatat purvam, (Gitika, 5), which is explained by Paramesvara as ‘the day of the Mahaprasthana’, support this.] The reason why there are so many views must be explained by the fact that the traditional idea of the ages like Krta, Treta, Dvapara and Kali with their specific characteristics, was earlier than the integration of the beginning of the traditional Kali with that of the astronomical Kali answering to 3102 B.C., which was computed later by astronomers like Aryabhata so as to form a convenient point of reference for the Mean Planets. Thus the Kali Era, said to begin with 3102 B.C., is an extrapolated era, and in examining any date mentioned in this Kali Era, this fact should be borne in mind.

Now, in this multiplicity of schools on this point, which is a fact accepted by all, resulting from the integration of the traditional Kali with the astronomical Kali, there is the possibility of VM’s statement representing one other school or at least a variant of the Jain school, differing as it does, from it only by about two centuries. Kalhana, the Kashmirian chronicler of the 12th cent. A.D., is one of those that subscribe to this school; for not only does he quote in his Rajatarangini this verse of VM. but also expresses his own concurrence with it in so many words:

Bharatam Dvaparante ’bhud vartayeti vimohitah /
kecid evam mrsa tesam kalasankhyam pracakrire //


satesu satsu sardhesu tryadhikesu ca bhutale /
Kaler gatesu varsanam abhuvan Kuru-Pandavah //
I.51 //


sat-dvika-panca-dvi-yutah Sakakalas tasy rajnas ca /
I.56b I//

“Some people have been misled by the statement that the Bharata (War) was at the end of Dvapara, and have given a wrong chronology to the kings (the Pandavas, Gonanda etc.) ... The Kurus and the Pandavas came when 653 years had passed in Kali... The time in the Saka Era plus 2526 is the time of his rule, i.e. the time in the epoch beginning from his (Yudhisthira’s) rule.”

It may noted that 653 plus 2526 (the numbers here given) equal 3179, the well-known converter of Saka into Kali and vice versa. Not only is Kalhana a believer in this school, but he is also certain that VM belongs to this school, as seen by his statement ‘Samhitakaraih' (Rajatarangini, I. 55) and his quotation of VM following immediately (I. 56). Cunningham also thinks the same as seen from his statement, “As VM places the Great War 653 years after the beginning of the Kali Age....” (op. cit. p. 11). Again, Prof. P. C. Sengupta, who in his Ancient Indian Chronology (Univ. of Calcutta, 1947) in seeking to determine the date of the Bharata War astronomically (see chs. I-IIl) favours this school, and comes to the conclusion that: ‘‘The date of the Bharata Battle is thus astronomically established as the year 2449 B.C. (Kali 653), which is supported by the Vriddha Garga tradition recorded by Varaha Mihira.,’ (see p. 19). Now it must be noted that the mere possibility of following this school is sufficient for our purpose, as we have stated above.

Nor, can the objection be raised that VG and the Puranas associate the Sages with Magha at the beginning of Kali, and that in this verse too, as the Sages are declared to be at Magha in Yudhisthira’s reign, the time here should be taken as the beginning of Kali, and so the time given for Yudhisthira’s rule must be the beginning of Kali, and not 653 Kali. For, the beginning of Kali is not associated with Magha alone. The Matsya Purana says (ch. 271, st. 41) that according to the Srutarsis the Sages were at Krittika at at the beginning of Kali, and TSN and KV are aware of it (TSN quotes it and explains it, see The Age of Sankara, Madras, 1916 ff., App., pp. 166-67; so also KV, Plot in Indian Chronology, 34-36). They themselves say that in VM’s opinion also the sages were at Krittika at the beginning of Kali (TSN. ib., p. 171; KV, ib. p. 36, and ‘Indian Eras’, JAHRS XX. 77).9 [In fact, nowhere does VM say that the sages were at Krttika at the beginning of Kali. This must be an inference of Cunningham when he gives (cf. Table on p. 17 of his Book of Indian Eras ) 3177 B.C. for the beginning of Krttika according to VM, inference from the fact that according to him the Sages passed to Magha in the 7th cent, after Kali (cf. same Table). TSN and KV seem to have simply taken Cunningham’s statement as true without question. They only object to Cunningham’s treating the motion as direct, while according to them it is retrograde. But they fail to see that if the motion is retrograde, the Sages should be at Anuradha (and not at Krttika) at the beginning of Kali, if they are to come to Magha seven centuries later. The Cunningham’s inference would be wrong and their acceptance of it would also be wrong.] According to Aryabhata II and Parasara too (for details see below), the Sages were at Krttika at the beginning of Kali. They were at Sravana according to Sakalya and Munisvara, and at Rohini according to Lalla (for details, see below). So the objection raised above does not stand. Now, according to Aryabhata II and Parasara, who give Krttika, it is easily seen that the Sages will be in Magha in the 7th cent. Kali, for Magha is the seventh asterism from Krttika and the motion is about one century per asterism. Thus, there can be no objection to the Sages being in Magha in the 7th cent. Kali. It is only if the motion of the Sages is taken to be retrograde (as TSN and certain others think) according to Aryabhata II, Parasara and VM, that the Sages cannot be in Magha in the 7th cent. Kali, but would be far away from it. But it is not retrograde according to Aryabhata II, Parasara and VM, as also according to other astronomers who give rules for the motion, which we shall show.

III. (a) ‘Motion of the Sages’—Direct, not Retrograde

This requires a knowledge of the motion of the Seven Sages10 [The following are the names of the Sages, with their Right Ascension and Declination for c. 1900 A.D.: (i) Kratu (Alpha Ursa Major) 10h 58m, +62° 17'; (ii) Putaha (Beta Ursa Major) 10h 56m, +54° 55'; (iii) Pulastya (Gamma Uras Major) 11h 49m, +54° 15'; (iv) Atri (Delta Ursa Major) 12h 10m , +57°; (v) Angiras (Epsilon Ursa Major) 12h 50m, + 56° 30'; (vi) Vasistha (Zeta Ursa Major) 12h 50m, +56°; (vii) Marici (Eta Ursa Major) 13h 44m, + 49° 49'. For comparison we shall give the asterisms belonging to the corresponding ecliptic segment: Magha (Alpha Lenois) 10h 3m , +12° 27'; Pur. Phal. (Delta Lenoise) 11h 9m , +21° 4', Ut. Phal. ( Beta Lenois) 11h 4m, +15° 8'; Hasta (Beta Corvi) 12h 29m, —25° 5'; Citra (Alpha Virgo) 13h 20m , —10° 38', Svati (Alpha Bootes) 14h 11m, +19° 42'.] which we shall give in some detail because there is a lot of misconception among scholars (including TSN, KV and VT) about this, which in turn vitiates the results of their researches. It was believed by the authors of the ancient Jyotisa Samhita, like VG, that the Sages had a motion of their own among the other stars, just like the planets, the rate of motion being given as 100, or nearly 100, years per asterism (13° 20'). It may be said, even at the outset, that there is no such motion as claimed to exist by the authors of these Samhitas and followed up the Puranas and some of the later astronomers; that the Sages are always to be associated only with the Phalgunis, Hasta and Citra asterisms (see fn. 10); and that the theory of their motion is wrong, howsoever it might have originated.11 [(i) A number of explanations can be given as to how this wrong theory of motion could have originated, but as this is beside the point, we stop with saying this much. Some people believe in the reality of this motion and try to explain it accordingly, using the theory of the Precession of the Equinoxes. For e.g. (i) VT says that because the celestial Pole moves in a small circle once round the Pole of the Ecliptic in about 27,000 years, the point of inter-section of the Ecliptic with the line joining it and the mid-point of the first two stars constituting the Sages also moves. As the Sages are said to be at this point of intersection, they are also considered to move (see his Popular Astronomy, Madras, 1958, pp. 138-40). But this simulated motion can be only a small fraction of of the value of the motion according to the Samhitas which is as great as 13° 20' per century. Also, while the Samhitas say that the motion is uniform and traverses the ecliptic completely, this simulated motion will not be uniform, and will be oscillatory and restricted to a small segment of the ecliptic. Thus it will be forward and backward, the former during the past 7,000 years and more, against the opinion of VT ( cf . ib., p. 139) who says that the motion is retrograde like that of the First point of Aries. (ii) Prof. R. Krishnamurti (according to VT, ib. 139-40) holds the view that the extent of the Sages in longitude is about a tenth of the ecliptic. This extent is divided into 27 equal parts, each part ‘symbolically’ forming a Naksatra. The traversing of these 27 symbolic Naksatras will take 2700 years. If it is taken that the other 9 segments also are so divided, it will take 10x2700=27,000 years for traversing the whole ecliptic. According to him, the authority for this symbolic division is the following in the Rgveda: satm te rajan bhisajas sahasram urvi gabhira sumatis te astu / ; badhasava dure nirrtim paracaih krtam cidenah pramumugdhyasmat // ; ami yo rksa nihitasa ucca naktam dadrse kuhacid diveyuh / adabdhani varunasya vratani vicakasaccandrama naktam eti // Rgveda 1.24.9-10. But what have these rks in prayer of Varuna to do with the alleged symbolic division? What flight of imagination can create the idea of the symbolic division of the ecliptic from the two words satam and sahasram in one sentence, and the word rksa i n quite a different sentence? And then Prof. Krishnamurti seems to suggest that the motion of the Sages is only another name for the phenomenon of Precession, artificialised for the purpose of chronology. (iii) Dr. D. S. Triveda (JIH XIX (1940) 9-12) confuses the motion of the Sages with Precession itself and says that the ancient rsis, far older than Samhitakaras, had discovered a cycle of 27,000 years for the motion (the same as for Precession), but by the time of the Samhitakaras one cypher was lost, and the period was mistaken as 2700 years! He does not mention how Precession simulates the motion of the Sages.] That is why many standard astronomers and astronomical works like Aryabhata I, Brahmagupta, Sripati, Bhaskaras I and II, the Suryasiddhanta, etc., do not deal with the subject at all as being outside the pale of real astronomy. That is also why Kamalakara is constrained to say in his Siddhanta Tattvaviveka (Banaras, 1880-85), Bhagrahayutyadhikara:

Sakalyasamjna-munina kathitas sabanah
saptarsitarakabhava dhruvakas calais ca / 25a /


yair golatattvam vivrtam hi tais ca
suryadibhir naiva visesa esah /

proktas svasastre 'sti gatir muninam
ato na yukta divi golaritya // 30 //

* * *

adyapi kair api narair gatir aryavaryaih
dysta na yatra kathita kila Samhitasu / 32a /

* * *

prayo ’tha te ca munayah kila devatamsa
drggocara nahi nrnam iha satphalaptyai /36 /

“Sage Sakalya has given the motion of the Sages with their positions in his time...Surya and others who explain the nature of the celestial sphere in their works do not give it and therefore the theory cannot be sustained astronomically...Even today this motion mentioned in the Samhitas is not observed by knowing astronomers... Therefore the seven real Sages who are (only) the presiding deities (of these stars) are to be considered to be moving, unobserved by men, for the prediction of the fruits thereof.”

But the motion has been accepted as a fact by the common people and the authors of the Puranas, and an era called Laukika Era (by the people belonging to the Kashmir region) and the Saptarsi Era (by the Puranas), has been founded upon this theory.12 [We do not know when these eras were founded. The Puranas say that 25 years after Kali set in, the Sages who had been at Magha for 100 years left it for the next asterism. The dates of the dynasties of kings are given in terms of the situation of the Sages in the different asterisms. The Laukika Era is the same as the Saptarsi Era with the number of the year in each century being generally used and the centuries or the reference to the asterisms omitted. This is used in the Rajatarangipi to give the dates of dynasties and kings, as also the date of the work.] As already mentioned, there are also astronomers like VM, Aryabhata II (cf. his Aryasiddhanta or Mahdsiddhanta, Madhyamadhyaya, 11), Parasara (cf. Aryasiddhanta, Parasaramatadhyaya, 9), Lalla (quoted by Munisvara in his commentary on the Siddhanta Siromani), Sakalya (quoted by Munisvara, ib., and by Kamalakara in his Siddhanta Tattvaviveka, Bhagrahayutyadhikara 25 and under), Vatesvara, and Munisvara (see his Siddhanta Sarvabhauma), who have accepted the motion as real on the authority of the ancients and given rules for the motion, which necessarily must agree with their own observation, or else they would be meaningless even for them.13 [vide Colebrooke, ib., p. 316-17: ‘‘...a probable inference may be thence drawn as to the period when these authors lived, provided one position be conceded; namely, that the rules, stated by them, gave a result not grossly wrong at the respective periods when they wrote. Indeed, it can scarcely be supposed that authors, who, like the celebrated astronomers in question, were not mere compilers and transcribers, should have exhibited rules of computation, which did not approach to the truth, at the very period when they were proposed.”] This means that whatever be the rule, if applied to the time of the author, the position of the Sages must be got as between Magha and Svati.14 [Because the Sages are always to be seen within this limit. Though strictly speaking the position of the first two stars are to be taken into consideration, still, in practice, the situation of the whole group must have been vaguely taken as the position. The Sages are said to be at the asterism where the declination circle passing through the mid-point of the two front stars (Pulaha and Kratu) that rise first, cut the ecliptic. This would give a position beyond Magha and near Purva Phalguni, at present. (But in ancient times Magha might well have been the position an account of the Celestial Pole having been a little more to the East of its present position.) But it seems that later on it came to be considered that the asterism against which the Sages are seen generally is the position. Thus we can get Purva Phalguni, Uttara Phalguni, Hasta or Citra. The rule may also be interpreted as the segment which is seen to rise together with the two front stars. If this interpretation is accepted, we can get, on account of cara (oblique ascension), any asterism from Krttika to Magha as the position for observers in North India according to their latitude.] In giving the rules, the authors all consider the motion as direct and never as retrograde as fancied by some scholars like TSN, KV, VT etc, for which fancy there is no support anywhere.15 [The idea of the retrograde motion must have originated very late, the reason being that it can, at that period, serve to reconcile faith in the theory of the motion with observation. (Giving various positions like Magha, Krttika, Rohini, Sravana, to the Sages at the beginning of Kali, giving different rates of motion, and being satisfied with rough positions, are evidently only different means of effecting this reconciliation). The Pandits of Banaras who informed Col. Wilford in c. 1804, believed in the retrograde motion. The Kaliyugarajavrttanta, (Bhaga. Ill, ch. iii), as quoted by TSN, KV and VT, undoubtedly believes that the motion is retrograde, by stating that 25 years after Kali set in, the Sages left Magha for Aslesa (See Age of Sankara, Pt. I, App., 139ff; JAHRS XX. 62ff; JAHRS XXII. 169-70). But as can be seen from the dynasties it deals with, it is a recent work, and cannot command authority like the Puranas, for the author of this work is not known and may be only like one of us trying to reconstruct ancient history from Puranic evidence. ] Let us take the rules one by one and examine them for the facts mentioned.

VM’s rule is as follows ( Br. Sam., XIII. 3-4): The number of years gone from the time of Yudhisthira is to be found by adding 2526 to the Saka years gone at the time for which the position of the Sages is wanted. This is to be divided by 100, which gives the number of asterismal segments gone, and these are to be counted from Magha to get the position. In the context there is no mention of any retrograde motion, nor is it mentioned that the number got is to be counted backwards as in the case of the patas like Rahu. In the absence of any such specific indication we do what is normally done, i.e., count the segments forward, as in the case of all other grahas like the Sun etc. Working for VM’s time, i.e., 427 Saka, we get the middle of Uttara Phalguni as the position of the Sages, which is well within the limit for agreement with observation. If we count backwards taking the motion as retrograde, we get the middle of Pusya, which is far outside the limit, and this also shows that the rule implies only forward motion, as we have already determined.

Arybhabhata II gives the rule in the form of cycles per Kalpa, even as the Siddhantas do for the planets. He says there are 15,99,998 cycles in the Kalpa and the cycles commence 30,24,000 years from the beginning of the Kalpa. Here too there is no indication of retrograde motion. Calculating from the above date we find that at the beginning of the present Kali the Sages are at 2 38 segments (counting from Asvini), i.e., they have passed Bharani and been in Krttika for 38 years. It is easily seen that at 662 Kali the Sages will cross to Magha according to this Siddhanta. Compare this with VM’s rule that would give the crossing to Magha in the 7th century Kali (exactly speaking 653 Kali; for going back 2526 years from zero Saka, equal to 3179 Kali, we arrive at this date).16 [For c. 700 A.D. the position of the Sages would be Citra, which, being within the limit of observation, we can conclude that the date of Aryabhata II is c. 700 A.D. Though a date within three centuries earlier is possible, it is not likely; a date as late as can be within the possible period has to be fixed for Aryabhata II on other grounds.]

We now pass on to Parasara. His rule is the same as that of Aryabhata II, with the difference that in Parasara’s case the cycles begin at the commencement of the Kalpa itself. This would give for the commencement of Kali the position 2 34 naksatras, counting, of course, from Asvini, i.e., after crossing Bharani, the Sages have been in Krttika for 34 years, and at 666 Kali the Sages pass on to Magha.17 [For details see Mahasiddhanta, Ed. Sudhakara Dvivedi, Banaras, 1910, Contents in English, pp. 1-4. See also Cunningham, ib., p. 8.] See how close this is to 662 and 653, the dates according to Aryabhata II and VM, derived above.18 [Obviously, the probable date of Parasara would also be c. 700 A.D. or within some three centuries earlier. This would give sufficient time for Aryabhata II to refer to Parasara’s views in his work.]

Now for Lalla’s rule: As said before, the rule is quoted by Munisvara in his commentary on the Siddhanta Siromani. It is this: Deduct 14 from the Kali years gone and divide the remainder by 100. Asterisms are got, which are to be counted from Rohini.19 [Lalla uses the word virinci (a synonym for Brahma or Prajapati). All but Munisvara take this as Rohini, and this would give the Sages a position agreeing with observation in Lalla’s time, c. 650 A.D. But Munisvara, in order to make it agree with his own observation, takes it as Abhijit (whose deity is Vidhi, another synonym for Brahma), which is almost the same as Sravana. Naturally, Munisvara is unaware that for Lalla’s observation it is Rohini that would give the agreement. He seeks support for his interpretation from Sakalya Samhita, Prasna II, ch. ii, the statement, “Kratu was at Visnu’s star at the beginning of Kali.”] Here too it is to be noted that no backward counting is enjoined, and the rule must normally mean forward counting as in all rules where nothing is said. It is to be noted that according to this rule, the Sages pass to Rohini from Krttika, 14 years after Kali set in, i.e., they have been in Krttika for 86 years before the beginning of Kali, (agreeing with VM within half a segment). Taking the date of Lalla to be 650 A.D.,20 [It has been shown in the Introduction to the Mahabhaskariyam (Ed. T. S. Kappanna Sastri, Madras, 1957), p. xviii, that Lalla is later than Brahmagupta, having commented upon his Khandakhadyaka, and so he could not have been a disciple of Aryabhata I, and so not much earlier than 650 A.D.] the Sages would be at Citra in his time.

According to Sakalya Samhita, “Kratu, one of the Sages, enters Sravana at the commencement of Kali and the Sages have direct motion every year at the rate of 8' (which rate is equivalent to one asterism per century);” cf.

yugadau visnutarayah kratur bhadye vyavasthitah /
pratyahdam “praggatis” tesam astau lipta Munisvara //

(Quoted in Kamalakara’s Com. on his own Siddh. Tat. Viv., Bhagrahayutyadhikara, under stanza 25)

According to Vatesvara, Madh. 15,
[x] // 1692 //

So the rule would be to multiply the Kali years by 8 and divide by 800, to get the asterisms. These are to be counted forward from Sravana. It may be noted that here eastward motion, i.e., direct motion, is specifically stated. Kamalakara, too, explaining the motion as really that of the presiding sages, says in the same context that the motion is eastward, i.e., direct; cf., sa praggatir munivarair bhagata muninam (ib., 36). According to this rule, after 1100 A.D. the Sages would move to Magha, and we can place this work at the earliest in c. 1100 A.D.

Lastly, for the rule of Munisvara given in his Siddhanta Sarvabhauma. Deduct 600 from the Kali years. Double the remainder and divide by 15. The position of of the Sages in degrees in got. This divided by 30 gives the position in the rasis. This rule again clearly takes the motion as direct. According to Munisvara the Sages cross to Asvini at 600 years Kali (which is equivalent to the statement of Sakalya, for according to Sakalya’s rule too the Sages enter Asvini at 600 Kali). At the time of Munisvara, according to his own rule, the Sages would have crossed from Citra to Svati which is just outside the limit, and which position Munisvara should have accepted as agreeing with observation because the difference was not much. (It would have satisfied him better if some astronomer had said or if he could obtain, by quibbling, the Sages were at Sravistha or Satabhisak at the commencement of Kali. No such thing was available, and the best he could have was Sakalya, and he had to be satisfied with that).

Thus all authorities either state or imply only direct motion, and there is no authority for retrograde motion. That is why scholars like Cunningham (as already mentioned), “Sriyut Sris Chandra Vidyarnava, Dr. Jayaswal and many others” (in the words of Dr. Triveda, JIH XIX, 11) have considered the motion direct. There may be some like “the most famous astrologers of Banares who informed Col. Wilford”, (cf. Triveda, ib., p. 10), and the author of Kaliyugarajavrttanta who believe the motion to be retrograde. But in the light of what we have said, they must be wrong (see Fn. 15).

III (b). The Puranas on the motion of the Sages

Also, the Puranas do not say whether the motion is direct or retrograde. We cannot get any indications regarding the direction of the motion of the Sages from the Puranas themselves, as they are vitiated by emendations and interpolations, made to affect the very point which we are trying to decide. Still, some scholars resort to them for support, and it is not surprising that they fail to establish anything. Dr. Triveda is one such:21 [Cf. his article, “The Intervening age between Parikshit and Nanda', JIH XIX (1940) 1-16.] he not only does not prove his point, but proves the contrary of what he desires to prove, as also the lack of clearness in his mind. For e.g.: He says: (i) “But in fact their (the Sages’) motion is retrograde as from the word Precession, pre= purva or east, and cession from Fr. cedare— go” (ib., p. 11). (ii) “Kamalakara Bhatta also says in his Siddhanta Tattvaviveka, ‘pratyabdam praggatis tesam’; that is, in every year their motion is from West to East.” (ib. p. 11). (iii) “C. A. Young in his A Text Book of General Astronomy published in 1904 says on page 141, ‘The Equinox moves westward on the ecliptic, as if it advanced to meet the Sun on each annual return’. So it is certain that their motion is contrary to that of the Sun, and it is retrograde.” (ib., p. 11)

Let us examine his statements here, (i) If Precession is retrogade, why should the motion of the Sages be retrograde also? Are they the same phenomenon? If he means that the motion is derivable from Precession, he has not shown it, and cannot show it, because it is not so (see Fn. 11 (i) above). Even if some connection be established between the two, in the period we are considering the simulated motion would be directed only opposite to Precession (see Fn. 11 (i). He is not aware that the derivation he gives for the word ‘Precession’ would mean direct motion even for Precession, and not retrograde motion, for ‘going east’ means ‘direct motion’. (ii) Dr. Triveda’s quotation from Kamalakara is plainly against himself, for 'from west to east’ is 'direct motion’, and not otherwise as Dr. Triveda thinks, (iii) Young rightly says that the Equinox moves westward, i.e. it has retrograde motion. But what has that to do with the Sages? Triveda does not perceive that from here it can be understood that it is westward motion that is retrograde, and not eastward motion, as he thinks.

Under the delusion that he has proved the motion of the Sages to be retrograde, Dr. Triveda proceeds to apply this to the following statement in the Puranas in order to establish his thesis that the interval between Pariksit and Nanda is 1500 years (given by one reading) and not 1015 or 1050 years (given in certain other readings (cf. Triveda, ib., pp. 1-3, 12-15). We shall briefly examine this in order to expose the errors in his reasoning, for if he establishes his point by using his theory of retrograde motion, that might be taken by some as a point in favour of the theory of retrograde motion itself, even after all that has been said by us to establish that the motion is direct.

The Puranic statement is as follows:21a [See the text and the variants recorded by Pargiter, The Purana Text of the Dynasties of the Kali Age, O.U.P., 1913, p. 58.]

Mahapadmabhisekat tu yavaj janma Pariksitah /
(or yavat Pariksito janma yavan Nandabhisecanam /)
evam varsasahasram tu jneyam pancasaduttaram
(1050) //

The last foot has the variants: Satam panca dasottaram (i.e., 1510) or pancadasottaram (i.e., 1015) or pancasatottaram (i.e., 1500) (Visnu Purana, IV. xxiv. 104; Bhagavata, XII. ii 26; etc.). Triveda’s thesis is to establish the interval to be 1500 or 1510 (according to two readings given) using the Saptarsi Era given in the following Puranic statement:22 [See Pargiter, ib., p. 62. In the place of this line mentioning Purvasadha, the Kaliyugarajavrttanta gives: Sravane te bhavisyanti kale nandasya bhupateh. This is not supported by any Puranic source and hence not fit to be taken as authority.]

prayasyanti yada caite purvasadham maharsayah /
(or yada maghabhyo yasyanti purvasadham maharsayah) /
tada Nandat prabhrtyesa Kalir vrddhim gamisyati //
(Visnu Parana, IV. xxiv. 112; Bhagavata, XII. ii.32; etc.)

It is said here that when the Sages pass from Magha, (their position at the beginning of Kali when Pariksit was ruling), to Purvasadha at the time of Nanda, the Kali will worsen. From Magha to Purvasadha the Sages pass 10 asterisms in their course, taking the motion to be direct, (as we have established), i.e., about 1000 years from Pariksit to Nanda (or 3700 years if one cycle has gone), and this is supported by two readings. But Triveda suggests 1500 years for this interval, supported by the other two readings. Counting backwards from Magha to Purvasadha (in accordance with his theory of retrograde motion) he should get 17 asterisms, not counting either Magha or Purvasadha and at least 16, not counting both. Thus he should get at least 1600 years as the interval. But this will not suit his theory, and so he omits to count Sravana, and gets the 15 asterisms he wants, to give him the required interval of 1500 years! (see ib., p. 12, lines 10-11). This is proof that the author of the Puranas, who employed the Saptarsi Era for purposes of chronology, has taken the motion only to be direct and used the Era; and not retrograde, for if taken as such, at least 1600 years will be got as the interval, which is not supported by any reading of the text.23 [On page 13 of his article, Triveda gives a tabular statement of the chronology. There he counts Sravana, but to compensate for the extra 100 years that would occur, gives the period 3233 to 3133 B.C. for Magha and 3133 to 3076 B.C. for Aslesa, (this giving only 57 years for Aslesa instead of 100) against the Puranas that give 3176 to 3076 B.C. to Magha, 3076 to 2976 B.C. for the next star and so on. Triveda's scheme is supported by no Purana. Incidentally we may mention another mistake he employs to achieve his purpose. He wishes to give 1724 A.D. to 1824 A.D. for Svati (see p. 15), so that his table might agree with the statement of Wilford’s Pandits of Banaras who have told that the Sages were at Svati in 1804 A. D. So he includes Abhijit among the Naksatras counted and gives for it the century 1024 to 1124 A.D. (see p. 14), apparently unaware of the fact that this trick would make the cycle last 2800 years instead of the usual 2700 years, and that he himself has not counted it in the previous cycle (see p. 13). If this kind of trick is resorted to one can prove anything!]

One thing clearly emerges from this discussion, viz. that the motion of the Sages as given by the astronomers and the Puranas is direct and not retrograde. So VM can be right in saying that the Sages were in Magha in the 7th century Kali and in this he is supported by Aryabhata II, and Parasara, as well as the Srutarsis. Therefore Yudhisthira’s reign associated with the Sages at Magha can well be in the 7th cent. Kali, also supported as it is by a whole school of chronologists. As the Saka Era mentioned is to come 2526 years after this period, it is the Saka of 78 A.D. that must have been meant by VM in the sloka. Br. Sam. XIII. 3, and not the one postulated by TSN etc., concurring with what we have established already in the previous study from an astronomical point of view.

IV. The Aihole Inscription

Now we shall take up the Aihole Inscription and show that the Saka used in it is only that of 78 A.D. and not the other one alleged by TSN and echoed by certain other scholars. Discussing the age of VM in his Age of Sankara, Pt. I-D, pp. 224ff., TSN takes up the Aihole Inscription for consideration,24 [We have not had access to this section of TSN's work. Our authority is the long quotation in KV's Plot in Indian Chronology, ch. X. 185-90.] and tries to show that the Saka Era mentioned therein is his own Saka of 550 B.C. from the synchronism found in it between the Saka Era and the Bharata War. The portion of the inscription relevant to our discussion is the following:

trimsatsu trisahasresu bharatad ahavaditah /
saptabdasatayuktesu sa (?ga)tesvabdesu pancasu /
pancasatsu Kalau kale satsu pancasatasu ca /
samasu samatitasu Sakanam api bhubhujam //

In trying to interpret this passage, Dr. Fleet at first (Indian Antiquary, V (1876) 67-73) made the mistake of thinking that the time of the inscription is given in three eras, viz. Bharata War, the Kali and the Saka. Perhaps he was led into this mistake by the word ‘sata’ occurring thrice (saptabatatayuktesu, satesvabdesu, and pancasatasu) and the statement in the Puranas that the Kali epoch is different from the Bharata War. But subsequently, in IA VIII (1879) 240-41, Dr. Fleet acknowledged his mistake and gave the correct reading by emending satesu into gatesu (for, in the Kanarese-Telugu script in which the inscription is engraved on rock, ga, with a horizontal stroke across would become sa and the engraver might have been misled into adding the stroke here by the large number of sa letters occurring the context; or it might have been caused by weathering) and interpreting the passage as 3735 years from the Kali epoch, after the Bharata War, and 556 years after Saka kings, i.e. 556 years in (Salivahana Saka Era.25 [This Era is variously given as sakanam nrpanam (or bhubhujam) kala, sakanrpati) (or bhupa) kala, sakendrakala, in the earlier centuries and as Salivahana Saka later. The origin is also attributed to various causes: e.g. as named after the good rule of the Saka kings (Govindasvamin’s Bhasya on Mahabhaskariya), the destruction of the Sakas by Vikrama (Bhattotpala commenting on Br. Sam. VIII. 20), and after Salivahana who established his rule (later commentators and tradition).] This interpretation is accepted by all scholars (see for instance, Kielhorn, Ep. Ind., VI (1900-01) 1-12), except TSN and KV.26 [After siding with TSN in The Plot in Indian Chronology, ch. X, and speaking with some variation in JAHRS XXI (1950-52) 52-53, K.V, has changed over to the correct interpretation in his note, ‘The Aihole Inscription of Pulikesin’, (JAHRS XXII (1952-54) 210-12, wrongly numbered 206-08) without a word of regret for having talked lightly and questioned the bonafides of the very persons to whose opinion he has now been converted. On p. 212, he still seems to be unaware of the fact that Dr. Fleet has corrected himself long ago.] But the emendation of satesu into gatesu is accepted by TSN. He also accepts the fact that only two dates are given, of which one is Saka Era. This necessitates the two expressions ‘after the Bharata War’ and ‘from the Kali epoch’ to be taken together, as giving one date. If the Kali epoch is meant as important and the Bharata War is mentioned here simply to describe it, without any more trouble we get the interpretation, ‘3735 years from the Kali epoch’, which beautifully synchronises with the Salivahana Saka year 556 given, (about this number there is no dispute), for if we deduct from 3735 the well-known converter 3179 we get 556, which itself proves that this must be the Salivahana saka of 78 A.D. If, on the other hand, the Bharata War is taken as important, and also that the War was fought 36 years earlier (TSN makes it 38 to suit his calculations) according to one sub-school27 [See fn. 7 supra. Note that there is still another sub-school that takes the war synchronous with the Kali epoch. Obviously according to this school also, the interpretation is what we have already mentioned as the correct one.] taken advantage of by TSN, then there is trouble, for the War took place in 3140 B.C. according to TSN. 3735 years from this date there is no Saka epoch to synchronise with. But TSN sorely wants it to synchronise with the Saka of 550 B.C. postulated by him. He clutches at an error committed in a collection of old records published for literary study, the Pracinalekhamala, (N. S. Press, Bombay, Kavyamala Series 16), thinking that it will help him. In the Pracinalekhamala, saptabdasata is printed as sahabdasata. Whether this is a misprint or an intended emendation, we do not know. But this much we can say, that the letter is certainly pta and not ha, as anyone can verify from the photo-print of the inscription reproduced in IA V (1876) op. p. 69, ib. VIII (1879) op. p. 241, Ep. Ind. VI (1900-01) op. p. 7, etc.) and comparing the letters. Not only this; the word saha will be a repetition, because there is the word yukta giving the same meaning; also saha requires an instrumental to govern, which is not available in the verse. In spite of all this, TSN takes this saha instead of sapta and gets the number 3135, of course, as we have pointed out, with a duplicate saha serving no purpose in the interpretation) and begins to effect the synchronisation thus (see p. 189, Plot in Indian Chronology): The Aihole Inscription is 3135 years from the War, viz. 3140 B.C. So the date of the inscription is 5 B.C. And then the inscription is 556 years from the Saka epoch (of TSN), viz. 550 B.C. 556 years from 550 B.C. is 6 B.C. (so says TSN, for he wants it, and wish is father to thought). 6 B.C. is only one year off 5 B.C. (obtained above), which can be easily accounted for, and the synchronism established; which shows that the Saka mentioned in the inscription is his Saka of 550 B.C. But TSN and KV who quotes him seem to be unaware of the blunder in the calculation, and that 556 years from 550 B.C., is not 6 B.C., but 7 A.D.; and this date is 11 years off 5 B.C., and no amount of jugglery can spirit this period of 11 years off and the synchronism is far from being established. What is more, having failed to prove the 550 B.C. Saka, but thinking that it has been proved, TSN indulges in a tirade against Orientalists and their ways (see p. 190, ibid.), unconscious all the while, that it all applies to TSN himself!: “Alas! it is a great pity that these Orientalists should at first conceive a theory of their own, and then actively set themselves to work out the same by hook or by crook, by changing every authority to suit their own favourite hypotheses, and by hoisting up the fabricated text as the only true version, while they perfectly know all the while in their own heart of hearts that they have been able to achieve their objects only by fabricating evidence and meddling with the original authorities. The Orientalists simply beg the question, and beat about the bush in discussing such matters (here, explanation of the word Saka), blowing hot and cold at the same time, misjudging themselves,  and misleading others, and thereby keeping back the Truth as far away as possible from the ken of ordinary public,” How aptly these words apply to TSN himself!

V. The Evidence of the Jyotirvidabharana

Even though we have stated that the evidence of the Jyotirvidabharana does not merit any consideration (see previous paper), still because it is made much of by TSN, KV and VT (see for e,g., KV: JAHRS XXI (1950-52) 28-32, Chronology of Nepal History, Vijayawada, 1953, pp. 14-19; VT: JIH XXVIII (1950) 107-08), we shall consider that too. Their contention is that the author of the Jyotirvidabharana is the famous Kalidasa himself as claimed by the work, that he with VM and several other great scholars lived at Vikramaditya’s court,28 [Cf. the verse Dhanvantari etc. Jyotir, XXII. 10.] that he wrote the work in Kali 3068 (34 B.C.),29 [Cf. varse sindhuradarsanambaragunair (3068) yate Kalessammite / mase Madhavasamjnike ca vihito granthakriyopakramah // XXII. 21.] and that therefore VM cannot belong to 427 in the Saka of 78 A.D. (corresponding to 505 A.D.), but only in the postulated Cyrus (or Andhra) Saka of 550 B.C. (corresponding to 123 B.C.), and that thus the Cyrus (or Andhra) Saka is proved. But the work could not have been written before 78 A.D., (though it says it was written in 34 B.C.), for in that work Salivahana is mentioned as a saka-kara (founder of an era), and that he founded the Saka Era 135 years after Vikrama founded his own Saka 3044 years after Kali ( i.e. 57 B.C.).30 [Cf. Jyotir. X. 110-11, giving the several Eras of the Kali Age: (i) Yudhisthira Era for the first 3044 years, (ii) Vikrama Era for the next 135 years, (iii) Saka Era for the next 18000 years, (iv) Vijaydbhinandana Era for the next 10,000 years, (v) Nagarjuna Era for the next 400.000 ) ears, and Bali Era for the following 821 years.] How could Kalidasa, the alleged author of the work, be the contemporary (however junior it might be) of VM (said to have lived in 123 B.C.) and at the same time know the starting of the Salivahana Saka in 78 A.D.?

The late date of the Jyotirvidabharana can be established also by other internal evidence in that work. Thus in giving the rule for the calculation of ayanamsa, it is stated that 445 is to be deducted from the years in the Saka Era and the remainder divided by 60. Cf.

Sakah sarambhodhiyugo (445) nito hrto
manam khatarkair (60) ayanamsakas syuh / (1.18a)

This means that in 44 Saka the ayanamsa is zero. This can be only the Salivahana Saka, for Indian astronomical works give zero ayanamsa for c. 421 Sali. Saka (Kali 3600), (some give 444). It cannot be argued that the author means the postulated Cyrus Era here, because firstly among the six sakas given by him he does not mention this saka at all, and secondly nobody gives zero ayanamsa for this time (445 Cyrus Era would be 105 B.C.) not even VT, who, as we have seen, implies —3° 20' ayanamsa for 123 B.C. (though he takes it as the starting point for calculation) (see JIH XXVIII. 106) and our discussion on it in the previous paper). Thus, having seen that it is the Salivahana Saka that the author uses, we can say that he is later than 445 of this Saka, (523 A.D.), for this rule can be applied only later than 445 Saka, no instruction being given as to what to do if the time taken is before 445 Saka.

Again, the rule given in the Jyotirvidabharana for finding the year in the 60-year cycle of Jupiter corroborates this.31 [Cf. the rule: nagair nakhais sannihato dvidha sakah ; sakhatrisakro 'ksayamangabha jitah / ; gataptatallabdhasako 'bhrasadhrto- ; ’vaiesake syuh prabhavadivatsarah // (I. 15) . It means: 'Do the operation, {(7x+20x:/60 + 1430) divided by 625 + x} divided by 60, where x is the Saka year gone. Get the remainder. Count years from Prabhava equal to the remainder and the prabhavadi-year is got.’] If it is applied to the current year, 1881 Saka (1959-60), we get the year Virodhikrt, which we also get if we work it out according to the methods in the Siddhantas. If the year reckoned in the Cyrus Era or if the Vikrama Era is used in the rule, there is disagreement. So it is the Salivahana Saka that is required to be used in this rule and not the Cyrus Saka nor the Vikrama Saka which reigned in his time (for he says he is a contemporary of Vikrama). Thus, again, the conclusion that the author is later than the starting of the Salivahana Saka follows, and his use of that saka.32 [This kind of work we have already done, when dealing with Prof. Gulshan Rai. (See previous paper).]

In answer to these objections KV seems to have argued that Kalidasa could actually have lived earlier than the Salivahana Saka epoch and have mentioned that epoch as a future historical event on the basis of the Sastras33 [Vide his letter to Kottah Bhavaiah Chowdary referred to in JAHRS XXII. 55.] (evidently meaning the Bhavisya Purana etc.). But then how did the sastras know? Does KV want us to believe that they actually predicted future events? Clearly the sastras themselves should have been written after the Salivahana Saka epoch, and the Jyotirvidabharana should be later still. And the jumbling of people of various ages already alluded to! We are asked to take this bundle of lies as sober history!

In the same manner other romances, like the Kathasaritsagara, Bhojaprabandha, Vikramarkacarita etc., (there is no dearth of them) based on popular stories should be dismissed wherever they contradict what may be judged as solid evidence, for we do not know who their authors were, nor what equipment they had for giving historical facts.  

VI. Conclusion

Thus in all places where the word Saka is used for the name of an era, it is the Saka of 78 A.D. (what latterly came to be called Salivahana saka) that is meant. Further, there is no evidence to show that an era was started in 550 or 551 B.C. in Persia or in India as postulated by TSN and accepted by KV, which he calls the Cyrus Era, or as postulated by VT, which he calls the Andhra Era. It may be that Cyrus founded the Persian Empire in 550 B.C., but what evidence is there to show that he started an era then? No such era was in use in Persia itself, not to speak of India. Many great events happen in the reigns of great kings. But they are not necessarily the starting points of eras. (VT does not even mention a great event in 550-51 B.C. for the starting of his Andhra Era). Now, these people have taken all this trouble in order to prove the antiquity of the Indian dynasties and, in so doing, to reconcile texts of varied historical worth. Let them by all means attempt it for it is only too true that unconscious prejudice has had some hand in the writing of the history of our land. But what we wish to show here is that their stand on the interpretation of the term Saka Era, with all its ramifications, is wrong, and will not help them, as also the various other ideas of theirs which we have shown to be wrong. Also we wish to point out that attributing base motives and questioning the bona fides of people (the writings of TSN and KV are replete with these) will not only not help, but may also be “paid back with interest”, as Dr. P. V. Kane says.  
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Re: Freda Bedi Cont'd (#3)

Postby admin » Sat Jun 26, 2021 5:50 am

Determination of the Date of the Mahabharata: The Possibility Thereof, [Reprinted from Vishveshvaramand Indological Journal, Vol. XIV (1976) pp. 48-56.], Excerpt, from Collected Papers on Jyotisha
by T.S. Kuppanna Sastry (Former Hony. Professor, Sanskrit College, Madras)



DETERMINATION OF THE DATE OF THE MAHABHARATA: THE POSSIBILITY THEREOF [Reprinted from Vishveshvaramand Indological Journal, Vol. XIV (1976) pp. 48-56.]

Hindus generally believe that the story of the Mahabharata (MBh.)1 [The references to MBh. given below are to its edition issued by Gopal Narayan and Co., Bombay, Saka 1823.] is a narrative of events that actually happened, and that they all took place near the end of the Dvaparayuga and the beginning of the Kaliyuga. Some hold that the War ended with the yuga and many, supported by the Puranas, say that Krsna passed away at the end of the yuga and so the War took place a few years earlier. About the question of the time when the Dvapara ended, there is difference of opinion. The popular view is that Dvapara ended and Kali began at the time fixed for it by the astronomical siddhantas, 3179 years before the Saka era of 78 A.D., which corresponds to Friday, 18th February, 3102 B.C., sunrise, or the previous midnight according to some schools.2 [Aryabhata does not give the exact time but merely states that 3600 years of Kali had ended when he was twenty- three years of age. But the followers of his school concur with the general astronomical tradition noticed above.] We do not know the exact grounds on which the siddhantins fixed the date as 3179 years before the saka era of 78 A.D. Most probably, the first siddhantins, like the author of the ‘Old’ Suryasiddhanta and Aryabhata, fixed the point of time as a convenient epoch, when the mean planets, according to them, coincided with the zero-point of the zodiac, and the later astronomers accepted it, and adjusted their own planetary cycles to agree with the epoch exactly, or nearly there, finding the difference to be small.

But there are other dates fixed for the end of Dvapara by people like Varahamihira, on the authority of the astronomical Samhitas and tradition current in their times. Varahamihira fixes the date as c. 2449 B C,, which can be known from his statement in his Brhatsamhita that the Saptarsis stood at Magha when Yudhisthira was ruling and that the year in his era can be got by adding 2526 to the years of the Saka era. The authority for this is Vrddha-Garga’s statement:


Kalhana, in his Rajatarangini, giving the chronology of the Kashmir kings in the Saptarsi or Laukika era current in Kashmir and the Himalayan regions, accepts Varahamihira’s view in toto, saying that people who fixed other dates were misguided:


The Jain tradition, giving 2634 B.C. for the Yudhisthira era is only a variation of Varahamihira’s view. The Saptarsicara of Parasara and the Aryasiddhanta of Aryabhata II, giving Magha for the sages in the seventh century of astronomical Kali, and the Matsyapurana, giving Krttika for the beginning of Kali, support Varahamihira.

But many think that both c. 3100 B.C. and c. 2450 or c. 2600 B.C. for the Bharata events are periods too early, considering the state of society and the political conditions depicted in the MBh. They try to fix the Kaliyuga epoch coupled with Yudhisthira’s rule, by reckoning backwards from the time of the Nanda dynasty, which historians have fixed at c. 400 B.C. onwards. The Visnupurana and the Bhagavata state:


Variants: (l) [x] (1510), (2) [x] (1015), (3) [x] (1500).

The above would mean that between Pariksit’s (grandson of the Pandavas) birth and Nanda’s coronation, the interval is 1053 years (variants: 1510, 1015, 1500). From this, they fix Pariksit’s time as c. 1500 B.C. (or 2000 B.C.) and thence the time of the Bharata story.

Besides these four main periods, several other periods are fixed based on various hypotheses, some plausible, some grotesque. For e.g., some scholars take the yuga measure of 12000 years as human years instead of divine, and fix a date accordingly. One interprets the word sama and varsa used in the Puranas as half-years and brings down the story to c. 1200 B.C. But few scholars make any clear distinction between the period of the ‘events’ and the period when they were written down in the form of the epic Mahabharata, while the orthodox traditional belief is that Vyasa, grandfather of the Pandavas and Kauravas, wrote the work, and his pupil Vaisampayana narrated it to King Janamejaya, grandson of the Pandavas.

Determining the period thus, each in his own way, these scholars try to fix the year and exact date of the war from the calendrical details and various astronomical phenomena mentioned in the context of the War, like certain planetary combinations, occurrences of eclipses etc. This is not an easy matter, because there is a lot of contradiction between various sets of planetary combinations themselves and among the other phenomena mentioned. Some of these passages may be set out here:

1. [x] (MBh., Bhisma, 3. 27)
2. [x] (Bhisma, 3. 18)
3. [x] (Salya, 11.17)
4. [x] (Bhisma, 3. 15)

Another gives:

5. [x](Karpa, 100. 17)
6. [x] (Bhisma, 3. 14)
7. [x] (Udyoga , 143. 8 - 9)

In the first set cited above (i.e., 1-4), we are told that Jupiter and Saturn are near the asterism Visakha. Mars is near Uttarasadha, Abhijit ( Brahmarasi ) and Sravana. In the second set, (5-7), Jupiter is said to be near Rohini. Mars is retrograde in Magha. Jupiter is in Sravana. (This contradicts two other statements.) Saturn is said to be in Purvaphalgunl. Saturn afflicts (?) Rohini. Mars is retrograde in Jyestha and is about to go to Anuradha. To add to the confusion, many people interpret the comets of different colours mentioned in Bhismaparva, chapter 3, as planets and, that too, each one differently.

Among the contradictory phenomena we can give the eclipses mentioned:

8. [x] (Bhisma, 3. 33)

Here a lunar eclipse, and next a solar eclipse are mentioned as having occurred before the war. Then, at the time of Duryodhana’s death the statement occurs:

[x] (S'alya, 27. 10)

mentioning another solar eclipse so near, when a lunar eclipse had occurred before the first solar eclipse.

Again, several impossible and some very rare phenomena, mentioned merely to indicate that these phenomena presage evil, are taken by many as having actually occurred, adding to the difficulty:

9. [x] (Mausala, Ch. 2)
[x] (Bhisma, 3. 3)
[x] (Udyoga, 143. l1)
[x] (Karna, 94. 51)
[x] (Bhisma, 2. 2)
[x] (Bhisma 3. 32)
[x] (S'alya, 27. 10)
[x] (Bhisma, 3.31)

Scholars trying to establish their conclusions interpret these verses differently, some neglecting one set and some another, some giving acceptable meanings and some far-fetched and extremely strained ones. A few examples will show to what extent these people go.3 [See K. L. Daftari, The astronomical method and its application to the chronology of ancient India, Nagpur University, 1941. See Lecture II. ‘The date of the Mahabharata war’, pp. 13-129.]

Passage 2, cited above, is interpreted thus: The planet Mars moved retrograde again and again, towards the constellation Sravana, and occupied the constellation of Brahma, i.e., Jupiter.4 [Op. cit., p. 27-28, art. 68.] The interpreter is unaware that Brahmarasi must mean ‘the group presided over by Brahma’, viz., Abhijit. He is unaware that anuvakra is a technical term used in astronomy and not 'again and again’. Passage 3 is interpreted thus: 'The planets Mars, Venus and Mercury were in front or to the east of the eldest of the sons of Pandu who were the masters of the whole land.5 [Op. cit., p. 28, art. 70. ] To the interpreter, caramam Panduputranam means Yudhisthira, being the last counted from the last of the sons of Pandu, while it means, simply, ‘behind the sons of Pandu and in front of the Kuru kings’. Line 9 of passage 9 is interpreted: The planet Mercury arose concealed, (invisibly).6 [Op. cit., p. 29, art. 72, 74.] The meaning ‘invisibly’ is given to tiras, not realising that anc with tiras means, only 'across or obliquely’. Passage 5 is interpreted: ‘Jupiter, having made Rohini to conceal herself (i.e., set), became like the sun or moon’.7 [Op. cit., p. 30, art. 76.] The passage means only that, Jupiter by his lustre hid Rohini. Passage 6 is interpreted: Mars is retrograde in Magha, and Jupiter in Sravana. Saturn is afflicting Purvaphalguni.8 [Op. cit., p. 31, art. 78.] In the next verse (not quoted here) there is the word sahita which this interpreter takes to mean ‘waiting’, and cites as an example the Raghuvamsa verse, dvitrany ahany arhasi sodhum arhan. In 9, line 8 is said to mean: ‘The lunar eciipse has already happened (in Karttika Purnima) and a solar eclipse is going to happen in the next Amavasya’.9 [Op, cit., p. 32, art. 81.] Actually, the first part means that the dark patch on the moon10 [For the meaning of laksma as ‘dark patch on the moon' cf. Kalidasa, malinam api himamsoh 'laksma’ laksmim tanot (Abhijnana Sakuntala, I, 20).] is inverted (vyavrttam, not nivrttam). In line 16 of passage 9, grdhra is interpreted as “an evil planet”, instead of ‘eagle’ which itself indicates an evil omen.

Thus, different years are fixed by different persons as follows:

N. Jagannatha Rao / 3139 B.C.
T.S. Narayana Sastri / c. 3126 B.C.
K.V. Abhayankar / c. 3101 B.C.
C.V. Vaidya / Do.
P.C. Sengupta / 2449 B.C.
Karandikar / 1931 B.C.
P.V. Kane / c. 1900 B.C.
S.B. Dikshit / c. 1500 B.C.
K.G. Sankara Aiyar / 1198 B.C.
K.L. Daftari / 1191 B.C.
V. Gopala Aiyar / 1194 B.C.

Within the year, the dates are fixed for the different occurrences by the day’s naksatra or tithi, and the interval in days between one occurrence and another, given. Here, too, there are discrepancies and misinterpretations, leading to different dates. Though many have concluded that the war began on Karttika New Moon day, some say that it began on Margasirsa Sukla Ekadasi day. The day of Bhisma’s death is stated at places as Magha Sukla Astami, while at others as Ekadasi. Cf.:

[x] (Udyoga , 80. 7)
[x](Udyoga, 143. 18)
[x] (S'alya, 5. 6)
[x] (Salya, 35. 10)
[x] (Bhisma, 20. 51-53)
[x] (Ib., 46. 29)
[x] (Ib., 47. 3)
[x] (Ib., 51. 10)
[x] (Anusasana, 167. 5)
[x] (Anusasana. 107. 5)

But most of the scholars do not seem to have gone to the heart of the matter, placing before themselves clearly the two things that have got to be investigated, viz: (1) How much of the Bharata story is true history, and when could it have happened. (2) When was it actually written down. Scholars who have studied the problem critically are of opinion that there is a historical core in the story, but much fictitious matter has been added to it in course of time. The Bharata war must be true history, and the personages taking part in it, together with the line of the Bharatas and Yadus, whose names occur frequently in Vedic literature, even as early as the Rgveda, not to speak of the Brahmanas like the Satapatha. The state of society and the political conditions point to a time earlier than the Chandogya, one of the earliest of the upanisads, as can be seen from two statements in the work:


The latter of the above statements shows that, at the time of the Upanisad, the Kuru and the Pancala country had coalesced, while at the time of the Bharata war they were different, the Pancalas being the allies of the Pandavas. It is quite natural for stories to gather accretions when they are repeated generation after generation. Most of the superhuman and obviously exaggerated portions must have been added later. The core is generally placed between the eleventh and the ninth centuries B.C. Other story matter could have been added during a few subsequent centuries, when Krsna came to be deified. The lot of Dharmasastra matter with the illustrative stories must have been added last, in the course of several generations. Anyhow, by the first or second century B.C. or A.D., the Mahabharata must have arrived at its present form, with a few bits of interpolations here and there, made later.

As for its writing, the language is that of the early classical period, for it is clearly later than that of the genuine upanisads. The addition of the later matter and the development of the classical language must have, naturally enough, gone on together. By the first or second century A.D. most of the whole Mahabharata must have attained the present form.

It is natural for story writers to incorporate into their stories ideas current in their own time. A lot of the astronomical facts found in the work, especially in the context of the war, must have been cooked up by these later writers in the light of their own knowledge, and added by different people at different times. That explains the contradictions. It must be clearly noted that the astrological ideas mentioned in the Samhitas which developed from the 2nd century B.C. could not have been current as early as the 11th to 9th century B.C. and, even if current, are not likely to be remembered after so many generations. By the first century A.D. or B.C., the astronomical Samhitas had mostly been written, and naturally the ideas in them find a place in the work. The Calendric system of the Vedanga Jyotisa continued to be current in this Samhita period, as can be seen from the Garga Samhita, and ideas showing Sravistha as being the first star (beginning the winter solstice) are in evidence, together with its shifting to Sravana, (c. third century B.C.) as can be gathered from the Visvamitra episode. The MBh. in its Virataparva ch. 52 contains the Vedanga calendric system.

Again, in the context of the war, it is natural for writers, especially of epics, to describe portents as happening to presage evil. The Samhitas devote chapters to describe these portents. The Ketucara, on the appearance of comets, is full of portents, as also separate chapters devoted to portents like rare or unnatural, impossible or terrible phenomena. These have been included in the work.11 [See, e.g., Udyoga, 143; Bhisma, 2, 3; Karna, 94, 100; S'alya, 11, 27; Mausala, 2.] But most investigators have not interpreted these portions properly, for which a detailed study of the chapters on Ketucara and Utpatas in the Brhatsamhita of Varahamihira would be advantageous. For example, the mention of the new moon together with solar eclipse occurring on Trayodasi, the sun and the moon being eclipsed on the same day (the same month), and that on Trayodasi, Mercury moving across the sky, (i.e., north-south), the dark patch on the moon being inverted, the lunar eclipse at Karttika full moon, the solar eclipse at Karttika new moon, and again the solar eclipse at the time of the mace-fight, are all intended by the writer to be impossible things occurring. The mention of the red moon indistinguishable from the red sky (digdaha), eagles falling on the flag, appearances of comets of different colours and in groups are all portents. Ignorance of the fact that the ‘grahas’ of different colours mentioned in Bhismaparva, chapter 3, are not planets but comets, has added to the confusion, because these scholars do not realise that, in the Samhitas, the word ‘graha’ means primarily comets, (vide the chapter on Ketucara in the Brhatsamhita).

It would be clear from the above, that all the skill shown in distorting the meanings of words and trying to show when these impossible or rare phenomena and contradictory planetary combinations would actually occur, has been wasted. Excepting the time of the year when the war might have happened, there is nothing in the Mahabharata to fix the year definitely. We do not have adequate data to fix either the happenings or when the work, even part by part, was written.
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Re: Freda Bedi Cont'd (#3)

Postby admin » Sat Jun 26, 2021 7:42 am

Discourse X. Delivered February 28, 1793, P. 192, Excerpt from "Discourses Delivered Before the Asiatic Society: And Miscellaneous Papers, on The Religion, Poetry, Literature, Etc. of the Nations of India"
by Sir William Jones


Now the age of Vicramaditya is given; and if we can fix on an Indian prince contemporary with Seleucus, we shall have three given points in the line of time between Rama, or the first Indian colony, and Chandrabija, the last Hindu monarch who reigned in Bahar; so that only eight hundred or a thousand years will remain almost wholly dark; and they must have been employed in raising empires or states, in framing laws, improving languages and arts, and in observing the apparent motions of the celestial bodies. A Sanscrit [Sanskrit] history of the celebrated Vicramaditya was inspected at Benares by a Pandit, who would not have deceived me, and could not himself have been deceived; but the owner of the book is dead, and his family dispersed; nor have my friends in that city been able, with all their exertions, to procure a copy of it. ...

I cannot help mentioning a discovery which accident threw in my way, though my proofs must be reserved for an essay which I have destined for the fourth volume of your Transactions.
To fix the situation of that Palibothra (for there may have been several of the name) which was visited and described by Megasthenes, had always appeared a very difficult problem, for though it could not have been Prayaga, where no ancient metropolis ever stood, nor Canyacubja, which has no epithet at all resembling the word used by the Greeks; nor Gaur, otherwise called Lacshmanavati, which all know to be a town comparatively modern, yet we could not confidently decide that it was Pataliputra, though names and most circumstances nearly correspond, because that renowned capital extended from the confluence of the Sone and the Ganges to the site of Patna, while Palibothra stood at the junction of the Ganges and Erannoboas, which the accurate M. D'Anville had pronounced to be the Yamuna; but this only difficulty was removed, when I found in a classical Sanscrit book, near 2000 years old, that Hiranyabahu, or golden armed, which the Greeks changed into Erannoboas, or the river with a lovely murmur, was in fact another name for the Sona itself; though Megasthenes, from ignorance or inattention, has named them separately. This discovery led to another of greater moment, for Chandragupta, who, from a military adventurer, became like Sandracottus the sovereign of Upper Hindustan, actually fixed the seat of his empire at Pataliputra, where he received ambassadors from foreign princes; and was no other than that very Sandracottus who concluded a treaty with Seleucus Nicator; so that we have solved another problem, to which we before alluded, and may in round numbers consider the twelve and three hundredth years before Christ, as two certain epochs between Rama, who conquered Silan a few centuries after the flood, and Vicramaditya, who died at Ujjayini fifty-seven years before the beginning of our era.

Since these discussions would lead us too far, I proceed to the History of Nature...

But I should be led beyond the limits assigned to me on this occasion, if I were to expatiate farther on the historical division of the knowledge comprised in the literature of Asia; and I must postpone till next year my remarks on Asiatic Philosophy, and on those arts which depend on imagination; promising you with confidence, that in the course of the present year, your inquiries into the civil and natural history of this eastern world will be greatly promoted by the learned labours of many among our associates and correspondents.

-- Discourse X. Delivered February 28, 1793, P. 192, Excerpt from "Discourses Delivered Before the Asiatic Society: And Miscellaneous Papers, on The Religion, Poetry, Literature, Etc. of the Nations of India", by Sir William Jones


The unfortunate Death of Sir William Jones, on the 27th April 1794, having deprived the Society of their Founder and President, a meeting of the Members was convened on the 1st May following, when it was unanimously agreed to appoint a Committee, consisting of Sir Robert Chambers, Mr. Justice Hyde, Colonel John Murray, John Bristow and Thomas Graham, Esqrs. to wait on Sir John Shore, and in the name of the Society, request his acceptance of the office of their President. With this request, he, in terms highly flattering to the Society, agreed to comply, and on the 22d May 1794, took his seat as President, and delivered the Discourse Number XII of this Volume.



I. The Tenth Anniversary Discourse, Delivered 28 February 1793 by The President on Asiatick History, Civil and Natural

Before our entrance into the Disquisition promised at the close of my Ninth Annual Discourse, on the particular Advantages which may be derived from our concurrent Researches in Asia, it seems necessary to fix with precision the sense in which we mean to speak of advantage or utility.....

-- Asiatick Researches: or, Transactions of the Society; Instituted in Bengal, For Inquiring Into The History and Antiquities, the Arts, Sciences, and Literature, of Asia, Volume IV, 1795

Discourse X. Delivered February 28, 1793

On Asiatic History, Civil and Natural.

Introductory remarks. -- The Mosaic account of the primitive world confirmed. -- The practical use of history. -- Observations on animals, minerals, and vegetable substances. -- On the mechanical arts, &c.


Before our entrance into the Disquisition promised at the close of my Ninth Annual Discourse, on the particular Advantages which may be derived from our concurrent Researches in Asia, it seems necessary to fix with precision the sense in which we mean to speak of advantage or utility. Now, as we have described the five Asiatic regions on their largest scale, and have expanded our conceptions in proportion to the magnitude of that wide field, we should use those words which comprehend the fruit of all our inquiries, in their most extensive acceptation; including not only the solid conveniences and comforts of social life, but its elegances and innocent pleasures, and even the gratification of a natural and laudable curiosity; for, though labour be clearly the lot of man in this world, yet, in the midst of his most active exertions, he cannot but feel the substantial benefit of every liberal amusement which may lull his passions to rest, and afford him a sort of repose, without the pain of total inaction, and the real usefulness of every pursuit which may enlarge and diversity his ideas, without interfering with the principal objects of his civil station or economical duties; nor should we wholly exclude even the trivial and worldly sense of utility, which too many consider as merely synonymous with lucre, but should reckon among useful objects those practical, and by no means illiberal arts, which may eventually conduce both to national and to private emolument. With a view then to advantages thus explained, let us examine every point in the whole circle of arts and sciences, according to the received order of their dependence on the faculties of the mind, their mutual connexion, and the different subjects with which they are conversant: our inquiries indeed, of which Nature and Man are the primary objects, must of course be chiefly historical; but since we propose to investigate the actions of the several Asiatic nations, together with their respective progress in science and art, we may arrange our investigations under the same three heads to which our European analysis have ingeniously reduced all the branches of human knowledge: and my present Address to the Society shall be confined to History, civil and natural, or the observation and remembrance of mere facts, independently of ratiocinatios, which belongs to philosophy; or of imitations and substitutions, which are the province of art.

"The ambiguous expression reliqua Seleuco Nicatori peragrata sunt, translated above as 'the other journeys made, for Seleukos Nikator,' according to Schwanbeck's opinion, contain a dative 'of advantage,' and therefore can bear no other meaning. The reference is to the journeys of Megasthenes, Deimachos, and Patrokles, whom Seleukos had sent to explore the more remote regions of Asia. Nor is the statement of Plinius in a passage before this more distinct. ('India,') he says, 'was thrown open not only by the arms of Alexander the Great, and the kings who were his successors, of whom Seleucus and Antiochus even travelled to the Hyrcanian and Caspian seas, Patrocles being commander of their fleet, but all the Greek writers who stayed behind with the Indian kings (for instance, Megasthenes, and Dionysius, sent by Philadelphus for that purpose) have given accounts of the military force of each nation.' Schwanbeck thinks that the words circumsectis etiam ... Seleuco et Antiocho et Patrocle are properly meant to convey nothing but additional confirmation, and also an explanation how India was opened up by the arms of the kings who succeeded Alexander."

-- Ancient India as Described by Megasthenes and Arrian; Being a Translation of the Fragments of the Indika of Megasthenes Collected by Dr. Schwanbeck, and of the First Part of the Indika of Arrian, by J.W. McCrindle, M.A., Principal of the Government College, Patna, Member of the General Council of the University of Edinburgh, Fellow of the University of Calcutta, With Introduction, Notes and Map of Ancient India

Were a superior created intelligence to delineate a map of general knowledge (exclusively of that sublime and stupendous theology, which himself could only hope humbly to know by an infinite approximation) he would probably begin by tracing with Newton the system of the universe, in which he would assign the true place to our little globe; and having enumerated its various inhabitants, contents, and productions, would proceed to man in his natural station among animals, exhibiting a detail of all the knowledge attained or attainable by the human race; and thus observing perhaps the same order in which he had before described other beings in other inhabited worlds; but though Bacon seems to have had a similar reason for placing the History of Nature before that of Man, or the whole before one of its parts, yet, consistently with our chief object already mentioned, we may properly begin with the Civil History of the Five Asiatic Nations, which necessarily comprises their geography, or a description of the places where they have acted, and their astronomy, which may enable us to fix with some accuracy the time of their actions: we shall thence be led to the history of such other animals, of such minerals, and of such vegetables, as they may be supposed to have found in their several migrations and settlements, and shall end with the uses to which they have applied, or may apply, the rich assemblage of natural substances.

I. In the first place, we cannot surely deem it an inconsiderable advantage that all our historical researches have confirmed the Mosaic accounts of the primitive world; and our testimony on that subject ought to have the greater weight, because, if the result of our observations had been totally different, we should nevertheless have published them, not indeed with equal pleasure, but with equal confidence; for truth is mighty, and, whatever be its consequences, must always prevail; but, independently of our interest in corroborating the multiplied evidences of revealed religion, we could scarce gratify our minds with a more useful and rational entertainment than the contemplation of those wonderful revolutions in kingdoms and states which have happened within little more than four thousand years; revolutions, almost as fully demonstrative of an all-ruling Providence, as the structure of the universe, and the final causes which are discernible in its whole extent, and even in its minutest parts. Figure to your imaginations a moving picture of that eventful period, or rather, a succession of crowded scenes rapidly changed. Three families migrate in different courses from one region, and, in about four centuries, establish very distant governments and various modes of society: Egyptians, Indians, Goths, Phenicians, Celts, Greeks, Latians, Chinese, Peruvians, Mexicans, all sprung from the same immediate stem , appear to start nearly at one time, and occupy at length those countries, to which they have given, or from which they have derived their names. In twelve or thirteen hundred years more, the Greeks overrun the land of their forefathers, invade India, conquer Egypt, and aim at universal dominion; but the Romans appropriate to themselves the whole empire of Greece, and carry their arms into Britain, of which they speak with haughty contempt. The Goths, in the fulness of time, break to pieces the unwieldy Colossus of Roman power, and seize on the whole of Britain, except its wild mountains; but even those wilds become subject to other invaders, of the same Gothic lineage. During all those transactions, the Arabs possess both coasts of the Red Sea, subdue the old seat of their first progenitors, and extend their conquests, on one side through Africa, into Europe itself; on another, beyond the borders of India, part of which they annex to their flourishing empire. In the same interval the Tartars, widely diffused over the rest of the globe, swarm in the north-east, whence they rush to complete the redaction of Constantine's beautiful domains, to subjugate China, to raise in these Indian realms a dynasty splendid and powerful, and to ravage, like the two other families, the devoted regions of Iran. By this time the Mexicans and Peruvians with many races of adventurers variously intermixed, have peopled the continent and isles of America, which the Spaniards, having restored their old government in Europe, discover, and in part overcome: but a colony from Britain, of which Cicero ignorantly declared that it contained nothing valuable, obtain the possession, and finally the sovereign dominion, of extensive American districts; whilst other British subjects acquire a subordinate empire in the finest provinces of India, which the victorious troops of Alexander were unwilling to attack. This outline of human transactions, as far as it includes the limits of Asia, we can only hope to fill up, to strengthen, and to colour, by the help of Asiatic literature; for in history, as in law, we must not follow streams when we may investigate fountains, nor admit any secondary proof where primary evidence is attainable: I should nevertheless make a bad return for your indulgent attention, were I to repeat a dry list of all the Musselman historians whose works are preserved in Arabic, Persian, and Turkish, or expatiate on the histories and medals of China and Japan, which may in time be accessible to Members of our Society, and from which alone we can expect information concerning the ancient state of the Tartars; but on the history of India, which we naturally consider as the centre of our inquiries, it may not be superfluous to present you with a few particular observations.

Our knowledge of Civil Asiatic History (I always except that of the Hebrews) exhibits a short evening twilight in the venerable introduction to the first book of Moses, followed by a gloomy night, in which different watches are faintly discernible, and at length we see a dawn succeeded by a sunrise more or less early, according to the diversity of regions. That no Hindu nation but the Cashmirians, have left us regular histories in their ancient language, we must ever lament; but from the Sanscrit [Sanskrit] literature, which our country has the honour of having unveiled, we may still collect some rays of historical truth, though time and a series of revolutions have obscured that light which we might reasonably have expected from so diligent and ingenious a people. The numerous Puranas and Itihasas, or poems mythological and heroic, are completely in our powers and from them we may recover some disfigured but valuable pictures of ancient manners and governments; while the popular tales of the Hindus, in prose and in verse, contain fragments of history; and even in their dramas we may find as many real characters and events as a future age might find in our own plays, if all histories of England were, like those of India, to be irrecoverably lost. For example: A most beautiful poem by Somadeva, comprising a very long chain of instinctive and agreeable stories, begins with the famed revolution at Pataliputra, by the murder of king Nanda with his eight sons, and the usurpation of Chandragupta;

Somadeva was an 11th century CE writer from Kashmir. He was the author of a famous compendium of Indian legends, fairy tales and folk tales - the Kathasaritsagara.

The Kathāsaritsāgara ("Ocean of the Streams of Stories") is a famous 11th-century collection of Indian legends, fairy tales and folk tales as retold in Sanskrit by the Shaivite Somadeva.

Kathāsaritsāgara contains multiple layers of story within a story and is said to have been adopted from Guṇāḍhya's Bṛhatkathā, which was written in a poorly-understood language known as Paiśācī.

The work is no longer extant
but several later adaptations still exist — the Kathāsaritsāgara, Bṛhatkathamanjari and Bṛhatkathāślokasaṃgraha. However, none of these recensions necessarily derives directly from Gunadhya, and each may have intermediate versions. Scholars compare Guṇāḍhya with Vyasa and Valmiki even though he did not write the now long-lost Bṛhatkathā in Sanskrit. Presently available are its two Sanskrit recensions, the Bṛhatkathamanjari by Kṣemendra and the Kathāsaritsāgara by Somadeva.

-- Kathasaritsagara, by Wikipedia

Guṇāḍhya is the Sanskrit name of the sixth-century Indian author of the Bṛhatkathā, a large collection of tales attested [attest: declare that something exists or is the case; be a witness to; certify formally] by Daṇḍin, the author of the Kavyadarsha, Subandhu, the author of Vasavadatta, and Bāṇabhaṭṭa, the author of the Kadambari. Scholars compare Guṇāḍhya with Vyasa and Valmiki even though he did not write the now long-lost Brihatkatha in Sanskrit; the loss of this text is one of the greatest losses of Indian literature. Presently available are its two Kashmiri Sanskrit recensions, the Brihatkathamanjari by Kshemendra and the Kathasaritsagara by Somadeva.

-- Gunadhya, by Wikipedia

Not much is known about him except that his father's name was Rama and he composed his work (probably during the years 1063-81 CE) for the entertainment of the queen Suryamati, a princess of Jalandhara and wife of King Ananta of Kashmir. The queen was quite distraught as it was a time when the political situation in Kashmir was 'one of discontent, intrigue, bloodshed and despair'.

-- Somadeva, by Wikipedia

and the same revolution is the subject of a tragedy in Sanscrit [Sanskrit], entitled, the Coronation of Chandra, the abbreviated name of that able and adventurous usurper.

"Vijaka wrote Kaumudi Mahotsava to commemorate the coronation of Chandra Gupta I [319-335 or 319-350 CE]. The play has some historical value." (Winternitz)

-- Indian Civilization & Culture, by Suhas Chatterjee

From these once concealed, but now accessible, compositions, we are enabled to exhibit a more accurate sketch of old Indian history than the world has yet seen, especially with the aid of well attested observations on the places of the colures.

The following passage of the Indian comedy Mudrarakshasa seems to favour the Indian expedition: — "Meanwhile Kusmuapura (i.e. Pataliputra, Palimbothra) the city of Chandragupta and the king of the mountain regions, was invested on every side, by the Kiratas, Yavanas, Kambojas, Persians, Baktrians, and the rest." But "that drama" (Schwanbeck, p. 18), "to follow the authority of Wilson, was written in the tenth century after Christ,— certainly ten centuries after Seleukos. When even the Indian historians have no authority in history, what proof can dramas give written after many centuries?

-- Ancient India as Described by Megasthenes and Arrian; Being a Translation of the Fragments of the Indika of Megasthenes Collected by Dr. Schwanbeck, and of the First Part of the Indika of Arrian, by J.W. McCrindle

Amongst Sanskrit plays, the historical play Mudrarakshasa is unique because it contains political intrigue and is full of life, action and sustained interest. The time period of composition is prior to 800 C.E. In the play, Chandragupta Maurya is ruling from Pataliputra, having deposed the last of the Nanda kings. Rakshasa the minister of Nanda, attempts to avenge his late master. Chanakya, the minister of Chandragupta succeeds in winning over Rakshasa to his master's side.

-- Mudrarakshasa of Vishakhadatta, by Wikipedia

It is now clearly proved, that the first Purana contains an account of the deluge; between which and the Mohammedan conquests the history of genuine Hindu government must of course be comprehended: but we know from an arrangement of the seasons in the astronomical work of Parasara, that the war of the Pandavas could not have happened earlier than the close of the twelfth century before Christ; and Seleucus most therefore have reigned about nine centuries after that war. Now the age of Vicramaditya is given; and if we can fix on an Indian prince contemporary with Seleucus, we shall have three given points in the line of time between Rama, or the first Indian colony, and Chandrabija, the last Hindu monarch who reigned in Bahar; so that only eight hundred or a thousand years will remain almost wholly dark; and they must have been employed in raising empires or states, in framing laws, improving languages and arts, and in observing the apparent motions of the celestial bodies. A Sanscrit [Sanskrit] history of the celebrated Vicramaditya was inspected at Benares by a Pandit, who would not have deceived me, and could not himself have been deceived; but the owner of the book is dead, and his family dispersed; nor have my friends in that city been able, with all their exertions, to procure a copy of it. As to the Mogul conquests, with which modern Indian history begins, we have ample accounts of them in Persian, from Ali of Yezd, and the translations of Turkish books composed even by some of the conquerors, to Ghulam Husain, whom many of us personally know, and whose impartiality deserves the highest applause, though his unrewarded merit will give no encouragement to other contemporary historians, who, to use his own phrase in a letter to myself, may, like him, consider plain truth as the beauty of historical composition. From all these materials, and from these alone, a perfect history of India (if a mere compilation however elegant, could deserve such a title) might be collected by any studious man who had a competent knowledge of Sanscrit [Sanskrit], Persian, and Arabic; but even in the work of a writer so qualified, we could only give absolute credence to the general outline; for, while the abstract sciences are all truth, and the fine arts all fiction, we cannot but own, that in the details of history, truth and fiction are so blended as to be scarce distinguishable.

The practical use of history, in affording particular examples of civil and military wisdom, has been greatly exaggerated; but principles of action may certainly be collected from it; and even the narrative of wars and revolutions may serve as a lesson to nations, and an admonition to sovereigns. A desire indeed of knowing past events, while the future cannot be known, and a view of the present gives often more pain than delight, seems natural to the human mind: and a happy propensity would it be if every reader of history would open his eyes to some very important corollaries, which flow from the whole extent of it. He could not but remark the constant effect of despotism in benumbing and debasing all those faculties which distinguish men from the herd that grazes; and to that cause he would impute the decided inferiority of most Asiatic nations, ancient and modern, to those in Europe who are blessed with happier governments; he would see the Arabs rising to glory while they adhered to the free maxims of their bold ancestors, and sinking to misery from the moment when those maxims were abandoned. On the other hand, he would observe with regret, that such republican governments as tend to produce virtue and happiness, cannot in their nature be permanent, but are generally succeeded by oligarchies which no good man would wish to be durable. He would then, like the king of Lydia, remember Solon, the wisest, bravest, and most accomplished of men, who asserts in four nervous lines, that "as hail and snow which mar the labours of husbandmen, proceed from elevated clouds, and, as the destructive thunderbolt follows the brilliant flash; thus is a free state ruined by men exalted in power and splendid in wealth; while the people, from gross ignorance, choose rather to become the slaves of one tyrant, that they may escape from the domination of many, than to preserve themselves from tyranny of any kind by their union and their virtues." Since, therefore, no unmixed form of government could both deserve permanence and enjoy it, and since changes, even from the worst to the best are always attended with much temporary mischief, he would fix on our British constitution (I mean our public law, not the actual state of things in any given period) as the best form ever established, though we can only make distant approaches to its theoretical perfection. In these Indian territories, which Providence has thrown into the arms of Britain for their protection and welfare, the religion, manners, and laws of the natives preclude even the idea of political freedom; but their histories may possibly suggest hints for their prosperity, while our country derives essential benefit from the diligence of a placid and submissive people, who multiply with such increase, even after the ravages of famine, that in one collectorship out of twenty-four, and that by no means the largest or best cultivated (I mean Crishna-nagar) there have lately been found, by an actual enumeration, a million and three hundred thousand native inhabitants; whence it should seem, that in all India there cannot he fewer than thirty millions of black British subjects.

Let us proceed to geography and chronology, without which history would be no certain guide, but would resemble a kindled vapour without either a settled place or a steady light. For a reason before intimated, I shall not name the various cosmographical books which are extant in Arabic and Persian, nor give an account of those which the Turks have beautifully printed in their own improved language, but shall expatiate a little on the geography and astronomy of India; having first observed generally, that all the Asiatic nations must be far better acquainted with their several countries than mere European scholars and travellers; that consequently, we must learn their geography from their own writings: and that by collating many copies of the same work, we may correct blunders of transcribers in tables, names, and descriptions.

Geography, astronomy, and chronology have, in this part of Asia, shared the fate of authentic history; and, like that, have been so masked and bedecked in the fantastic robes of mythology and metaphor, that the real system of Indian philosophers and mathematicians can scarce be distinguished: an accurate knowledge of Sanscrit [Sanskrit], and a confidential intercourse with learned Brahmens, are the only means of separating truth from fable; and we may expect the most important discoveries from two of our members, concerning whom it may be safely asserted, that if our Society should have produced no other advantage than the invitation given to them for the public display of their talents, we should have a claim to the thanks of our country and of all Europe. Lieutenant Wilford has exhibited an interesting specimen of the geographical knowledge deducible from the Puranas, and will in time present you with so complete a treatise on the ancient world known to the Hindus, that the light acquired by the Greeks will appear but a glimmering in comparison of that he will diffuse; while Mr. Davis, who has given us a distinct idea of Indian computations and cycles, and ascertained the place of the colures at a time of great importance in history, will hereafter disclose the systems of Hindu astronomers, from Nared and Parasar to Meya, Varahamihir, and Bhascar; and will soon, I trust, lay before you a perfect delineation of all the Indian asterisms in both hemispheres, where you will perceive so strong a general resemblance to the constellations of the Greeks, as to prove that the two systems were originally one and the same, yet with such a diversity in parts, as to show incontestibly that neither system was copied from the other; whence it will follow, that they must have had some common source.

The jurisprudence of the Hindus and Arabs being the field which I have chosen for my peculiar toil, you cannot expect that I should greatly enlarge your collection of historical knowledge; but I may be able to offer you some occasional tribute; and I cannot help mentioning a discovery which accident threw in my way, though my proofs must be reserved for an essay which I have destined for the fourth volume of your Transactions. To fix the situation of that Palibothra (for there may have been several of the name) which was visited and described by Megasthenes, had always appeared a very difficult problem, for though it could not have been Prayaga, where no ancient metropolis ever stood, nor Canyacubja, which has no epithet at all resembling the word used by the Greeks; nor Gaur, otherwise called Lacshmanavati, which all know to be a town comparatively modern, yet we could not confidently decide that it was Pataliputra, though names and most circumstances nearly correspond, because that renowned capital extended from the confluence of the Sone and the Ganges to the site of Patna, while Palibothra stood at the junction of the Ganges and Erannoboas, which the accurate M. D'Ancille had pronounced to be the Yamuna; but this only difficulty was removed, when I found in a classical Sanscrit [Sanskrit] book, near 2000 years old, that Hiranyabahu, or golden armed, which the Greeks changed into Erannoboas, or the river with a lovely murmur, was in fact another name for the Sona itself; though Megasthenes, from ignorance or inattention, has named them separately. This discovery led to another of greater moment, for Chandragupta, who, from a military adventurer, became like Sandracottus the sovereign of Upper Hindustan, actually fixed the seat of his empire at Pataliputra, where he received ambassadors from foreign princes; and was no other than that very Sandracottus who concluded a treaty with Seleucus Nicator; so that we have solved another problem, to which we before alluded, and may in round numbers consider the twelve and three hundredth years before Christ, as two certain epochs between Rama, who conquered Silan a few centuries after the flood, and Vicramaditya, who died at Ujjayini fifty-seven years before the beginning of our era.


Partly from curiosity and partly from idleness, I went into the lecturing room, which M. Waldman entered shortly after. This professor was very unlike his colleague. He appeared about fifty years of age, but with an aspect expressive of the greatest benevolence; a few grey hairs covered his temples, but those at the back of his head were nearly black. His person was short but remarkably erect and his voice the sweetest I had ever heard. He began his lecture by a recapitulation of the history of chemistry and the various improvements made by different men of learning, pronouncing with fervour the names of the most distinguished discoverers. He then took a cursory view of the present state of the science and explained many of its elementary terms. After having made a few preparatory experiments, he concluded with a panegyric upon modern chemistry, the terms of which I shall never forget: "The ancient teachers of this science," said he, "promised impossibilities and performed nothing. The modern masters promise very little; they know that metals cannot be transmuted and that the elixir of life is a chimera but these philosophers, whose hands seem only made to dabble in dirt, and their eyes to pore over the microscope or crucible, have indeed performed miracles. They penetrate into the recesses of nature and show how she works in her hiding-places. They ascend into the heavens; they have discovered how the blood circulates, and the nature of the air we breathe. They have acquired new and almost unlimited powers; they can command the thunders of heaven, mimic the earthquake, and even mock the invisible world with its own shadows."

Such were the professor's words—rather let me say such the words of the fate—enounced to destroy me. As he went on I felt as if my soul were grappling with a palpable enemy; one by one the various keys were touched which formed the mechanism of my being; chord after chord was sounded, and soon my mind was filled with one thought, one conception, one purpose. So much has been done, exclaimed the soul of Frankenstein—more, far more, will I achieve; treading in the steps already marked, I will pioneer a new way, explore unknown powers, and unfold to the world the deepest mysteries of creation.

-- Frankenstein Or, The Modern Prometheus, by Mary Wollstonecraft (Godwin) Shelley

II. Since these discussions would lead us too far, I proceed to the History of Nature, distinguished, for our present purpose, from that of Man; and divided into that of other animals who inhabit this globe, of the mineral substances which it contains, and of the vegetables which so luxuriantly and so beautifully adorn it.

1. Could the figure, instincts, and qualities of birds, beasts, insects, reptiles, and fishes, be ascertained, either on the plan of Buffon, or on that of Linnaeus, without giving pain to the objects of our examination, few studies would afford us more solid instruction, or more exquisite delight; but I never could learn by what right, nor conceive with what feelings, a naturalist can occasion the misery of an innocent bird, and leave its young perhaps to perish in a cold nest, because it has gay plumage, and has never been accurately delineated; or deprive even a butterfly of its natural enjoyments, because it has the misfortune to be rare or beautiful; nor shall I ever forget the couplet of Firdausi, for which Sadi, who cites it with applause, pours blessings on his departed spirit: —

Ah! spare yon emmet, rich in hoarded grain;
tie lives with pleasure, and he dies with pain.

This may be only a confession of weakness, and it certainly is not meant as a boast of peculiar sensibility; but whatever name may be given to my opinion, it has such an effect on my conduct, that I never would suffer the Cocila, whose wild native woodnotes announce the approach of spring, to be caught in my garden, for the sake of comparing it with Buffon's description; though I have often examined the domestic and engaging Mayana, which bids us good morrow at our windows, and expects as its reward little more than security: even when a fine young Manis or Pangolin was brought me against my wish from the mountains, I solicited his restoration to his beloved rocks, because I found it impossible to preserve him in comfort at a distance from them. There are several treatises on Animals in Arabia, and very particular accounts of them in Chinese, with elegant outlines of their external appearance; but I met with nothing valuable concerning them in Persian, except what may be gleaned from the medical dictionaries; nor have I yet seen a book in Sanscrit [Sanskrit] that expressly treats of them. On the whole, though rare animals may be found in all Asia, yet I can only recommend an examination of them with this condition, that they be left as much as possible in a state of natural freedom; or made as happy as possible, if it be necessary to keep them confined.

2. The History of Minerals, to which no such objection can be made, is extremely simple and easy, if we merely consider their exterior look and configuration, and their visible texture; but the analysis of their internal properties belongs particularly to the sublime researches of Chemistry, on which we may hope to find useful disquisitions in Sanscrit [Sanskrit], since the old Hindus unquestionably applied themselves to that enchanting study; and even from their treatises on alchymy we may possibly collect the results of actual experiment, as their ancient astrological works have preserved many valuable facts relating to the Indian sphere, and the procession of the equinox. Both in Persian and Sanscrit [Sanskrit] there are books on metals and minerals, particularly on gems, which the Hindu philosophers considered (with an exception of the diamond) as varieties of one crystalline substance, either simple or compound: but we must not expect from the chemists of Asia those beautiful examples of analysis which have but lately been displayed in the laboratories of Europe.

3. We now come to Botany, the loveliest and most copious division in the history of nature; and all disputes on the comparative merit of systems being at length, I hope, condemned to one perpetual night of undisturbed slumber, we cannot employ our leisure more delightfully than in describing all new Asiatic plants in the Linnaean style and method, or in correcting the descriptions of those already known, but of which dry specimens only, or drawings, can have been seen by most European botanists. In this part of natural history, we have an ample field yet unexplored; for, though many plants of Arabia have been made known by Garcias, Prosper Alpinus, and Forskoel; of Persia, by Garcin; of Tartary, by Gmelin and Pallas; of China and Japan, by Koempfer, Osbeck, and Thunberg; of India, by Rheede and Rumphias, the two Burmans, and the much lamented Koenig, yet none of those naturalists were deeply versed in the literature of the several countries from which their vegetable treasures had been procured; and the numerous works in Sanscrit [Sanskrit] on medical substances, and chiefly on plants, have never been inspected, or never at least understood, by any European attached to the study of nature. Until the garden of the India Company shall be fully stored (as it will be, no doubt, in due time) with Arabian, Persian, and Chinese plants, we may well be satisfied with examining the native flowers of our own provinces; but unless we can discover the Sanscrit [Sanskrit] names of all celebrated vegetables, we shall neither comprehend the allusions which Indian Poets perpetually make to them, nor (what is far worse) be able to find accounts of their tried virtues in the writings of Indian physicians; and (what is worst of all) we shall miss an opportunity which never again may present itself; for the Pandits themselves have almost wholly forgotten their ancient appellations of particular plants; and, with all my pains, I have not yet ascertained more than two hundred out of twice that number, which are named in their medical or poetical compositions. It is much to be deplored, that the illustrious Van Rheede had no acquaintance with Sanscrit [Sanskrit], which even his three Brahmens, who composed the short preface engraved in that language, appear to have understood very imperfectly, and certainly wrote with disgraceful inaccuracy. In all his twelve volumes, I recollect only Bunarnava, in which the Nagari letters are tolerably right; the Hindu words in Arabian characters are shamefully incorrect; and the Malabar, I am credibly informed, is as bad as the rest. His delineations, indeed, are in general excellent; and though Linnaeus himself could not extract from his written descriptions the natural character of every plant in the collection, yet we shall be able, I hope, to describe them all from the life, and to add a considerable number of new species, if not of new genera, which Rheede, with all his noble exertions, could never procure. Such of our learned members as profess medicine, will no doubt cheerfully assist in these researches, either by their own observations, when they have leisure to make any, or by communications from other observers among their acquaintance, who may reside in different parts of the country: and the mention of their art leads me to the various uses of natural substances, in the three kingdoms or classes to which they are generally reduced.

III. You cannot but have remarked, that almost all the sciences, as the French call them, which are distinguished by Greek names, and arranged under the head of Philosophy, belong for the most part to History; such as philology, chemistry, physic, anatomy, and even metaphysics, when we barely relate the phenomena of the human mind; for, in all branches of knowledge, we are only historians when we announce facts; and philosophers only when we reason on them: the same may be confidently said of law and of medicine, the first of which belongs principally to Civil, and the second chiefly to Natural History. Here, therefore, I speak of medicine, as far only as it is grounded on experiment; and, without believing implicitly what Arabs, Persians, Chinese, or Hindus may have written on the virtues of medicinal subjects, we may surely hope to find in their writings what our own experiments may confirm or disprove, and what might never have occurred to us without such intimations.

Europeans enumerate more than two hundred and fifty mechanical arts, by which the productions of nature may be variously prepared for the convenience and ornament of life; and though the Silpasastra reduces them to sixty-four, yet Abulfazl had been assured that the Hindus reckoned three hundred arts and sciences; now, their sciences being comparatively few, we may conclude that they anciently practised at least as many useful arts as ourselves. Several Pandits have informed me, that the treatises on art, which they call Upavedas, and believe to have been inspired, are not so entirely lost but that considerable fragments of them may be found at Benares; and they certainly possess many popular, but ancient works on that interesting subject. The manufactures of sugar and indigo have been well known in these provinces for more than two thousand years; and we cannot entertain a doubt that their Sanscrit [Sanskrit]books on dying and metallurgy, contain very curious facts, which might indeed be discovered by accident in a long course of years, but which we may soon bring to light by the help of Indian literature, for the benefit of manufactures and artists, and consequently of our nation, who are interested in their prosperity. Discoveries of the same kind might be collected from the writings of other Asiatic nations, especially of the Chinese; but, though Persian, Arabic, Turkish, and Sanscrit [Sanskrit] are languages now so accessible, that in order to attain a sufficient knowledge of them, little more seems required than a strong inclination to learn them, yet the supposed number and intricacy of the Chinese characters have deterred our most diligent students from attempting to find their way through so vast a labyrinth. It is certain, however, that the difficulty has been magnified beyond the truth; for the perspicuous g rammar of M. Fourmont, together with a copious dictionary, which I possess in Chinese and Latin, would enable any man who pleased, to compare the original works of Confucius, which are easily procured, with the literal translation of them by Couplet; and having made that first step with attention, he would probably find that he had traversed at least half of his career. But I should be led beyond the limits assigned to me on this occasion, if I were to expatiate farther on the historical division of the knowledge comprised in the literature of Asia; and I must postpone till next year my remarks on Asiatic Philosophy, and on those arts which depend on imagination; promising you with confidence, that in the course of the present year, your inquiries into the civil and natural history of this eastern world will be greatly promoted by the learned labours of many among our associates and correspondents.  
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