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Dating the events in Mahabharata – a hypothesis

A hypothesis inspired by tweets by INI Blogger Varnam on some recent Egyptian finds though not directly related to this topic.

It is known from the Mahabharata that Arjuna spent significant time during the forest exile away from his brothers.  

The popular narrative is he went to visit Indra.

But then as with every episode where “celestials” are invoked the Mahabharata eventually describes what really happened. In this case there is an extensive description of Arjuna fighting alongside others who are clearly not “vedic indians” in some foreign territory.
It is understandable why the popular narrative disposes this off as some imaginary land because Arjuna clearly spent those years living amongst non-vedic people.

Some clues to where this could have been comes from the narrative itself:

 - His path to this foreign land was by land through the Himalayas

- The pimary tribe he fights are called NivataKavacha

- A city he passes by after one of the major battles is called Hiranyapuri .  The tribes are referred to as Kalakeyas and Paulamas taking off from some female dieties referred to as Pulama and Kalaka.

- A principal character in this episode is Matali, described as Indra’s charioteer

- Significant part of the narrative has to do with chariot riding skills and new weapons that Arjuna acquires

The Battle of Kadesh from 1274-75 BC stands out as the most likely candidate for the conquest in a foreign land that Arjuna participated in.

- It was the most significant Chariot car battles

- It involved a number of allies fighting for the Hittite King, almost all of who spoke an Indo-European language of one kind or another

- That list includes the Mittani who in a treaty a century before list the Vedic Gods Mitra, Varuna, Indra, Nasatya

- The principal Hittite character in the battle is Muwattali. Muwattali interestingly names his sons after Teshub (a Hurrian god of Thunderbolt who parallels Indra and is known for slaying the dragon Ilyunka who parallels Vrtra)

Whether a 1274-75 BC date for the period of exile agrees with other theories is a whole other subject of debate. As an example here is one analysis that puts the date of the Kurukshetra War around 1194 BC. The linguistics based theories that have examined the Vedas put it in a broad range betwen 1200 BC and 800 BC, taking a mid-date of around 1000 BC (Witzel’s theory is challenged to a degree by this find on Iron in India before 1200 BC).

Without delving into that contentious debate which gets us into the treacherous terrain of where the Vedic people originated, some things to consider:

- The city state political structure from the Hittite, Hurrian Mittani era is consistent with the narrative in Arjuna’s conquests

- A similar narrative is also found in the Uttara Kaanda with Ravana’s conquests of foreign City States where also are encountered - the Nivatakavachas, the Kalakas and the tribes who trace their origins to Varuna. The city of the Kalakas is called Asma nagara and that of the Nivatakavacahas as Manimati.

- The Hittites are credited with the advent of Iron weapons considered superior to the Egyptian bronze weapons in the Battle of Kadesh. One of Arjuna’s objectives in making the trip away from his brothers was the acquisition of superior weapons. (However the hypothesis of Iron in India only in 1200 BC is challenged by this find.)

Open questions:

- Who exactly were the Nivatakavachas - Egyptians if we assume Arjuna fought for the Hittites as one of the many Indo-European speaking allies. (The narrative in Uttara Kanda traces the lineage of Ravana on his maternal side to Heti and Praheti - Set and Osiris perhaps. Also note Ravana is advised against hostilities with the Nivatakavachas)

- Which city state is associated with the female dieties Pulama and Kalaka ? (Kadesh also refers to a female diety. Also there is a Kaska and Pala conflict from an earlier era along the Hittite frontiers. The Hittite called the Pala language palaumnili)

The quest goes on ….

Postscript: The narrative in the Uttara Kanda on the origin of Rakshasas merits attention for parallels with the Egyptian myth of creation. Uttar Kanda describes Rakshasas to have evolved from water and are described as those who protected the primordial water. In the Egyptian myth of creation, people are described to have evolved from the sweat and tears of Ra and are also called the “cattle of Ra”.

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15 Responses

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Offstumped and vinay, Vikhr Akula. Vikhr Akula said: RT @offstumped: Dating the events in Mahabharata – a hypothesis: [...]

  2. Umesh says:

    This raises interesting theories.
    a) Burning of the Khandava forest
    b) Creation of IndraPrasta.

    This symbolic of new urban society post the dissolution of the Indus Valley civilisation(I prefer the Saraswati civilisation term).

    Btw, One thought, is there a reference to Gandhara in the Ramayana. This might provide a more contiguous geographical narrative with Gandhara being Kandahar and all.

  3. Umesh says:

    Found it. The descendants of Bharat, Ram’s brother ruled from Gandhara. This is interesting. Keep Writing, Yossarin..

  4. Arjuna says:

    How insulting! I fought the war in 3067 BC. Watch this documentary for proof.

  5. seadog4227 says:

    What about dating through stellar details as well as royal lineages, which gives a much earlier date?

  6. Umesh says:

    A lot of Indian mythology has been consigned to a fictional value. While Hymns in RigVeda which speaks of the Battle of Bharatvarsha under King Sudas has been merited certain historical value, Mahabharata and Ramayana have been illustrated as pure fiction.

    The above hypothesis is just a step in improving the authenticity quotient of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana.

    There is theory ,that, Ramayana is actually later than Mahabharata. But, people have found it difficult to explain description of animals ( Multi-tusked elephants , or in other terms,)like the Wooly Mammoth in the Ramayana.

    Yossarin’s article above is an interesting step in the direction of providing historical provenance.

    Possibly the royal lineages are correct. But, it is important to at least bring the historical credibility factor of the epics.

    Essentially, it is a long drawn out process. Let us do this patiently.

  7. offstumped says:

    Seadog = The analysis linked above with a date for the Kurukshetra war in 1194 BC is based on stellar and lineage data.

    Umesh – thanks, yes it has to be a patient and open minded quest. Problem with both Witzels of the world and the nativists is that they both became prisoners of their political templates.

  8. Navnath says:

    Here’s an unverified reference to usage of iron in India as far back as 2000 BC.

    Here’s another article (pgs 54-61) in which there is reference to kurukshetra war taking place around 3017 BC.

    The author points out that the date of war has been fixed from stellar evidence.

  9. offstumped says:

    Navnath – iron was used well before iron age. Difference is in quality of process and reliability of tools which made it precious. Widespread commoditization happened only during iron age.

    The 3000 BC dating needs to be much more rigorous, to be taken seriously. There are known flaws with these stellar methods given that the observations were made by naked eye and the system of record keeping was oral.

  10. Umesh says:

    Even before arjuna went on a search for Divyaastras , he did have a substantial array of weapons. He used the agneya Astra to burn the Khandava vana and facilitate creation of Indra prasta.

    Post the Divyaastra soujourn he is supposed to have acquired Pasupatastra.

    This does talk of a journey to acquire technologically stronger weapons. Also, in Old-Vedic terminology Agni was a stronger deity, but, later Vedic deities had Indra and then ofcourse the trinity. Brahma, Vishnu, Maheswara. Possibly, this journey is also a reflection of migration of the Hindu thought into the trimurti from the so-called 33 Million Gods.

    For people who start blasting me for the above, I still stand by Sanatana dharma theory of Vedic philosophy. But, the explaination is a form of evolution of thought in common minds.

  11. Navnath says:

    Agree, the dating needs to be rigorous, but consider the following-

    Knowledge regarding reality can be acquired in a number of ways: science (as we know it), direct experience, intuition etc. Science with the acceptable methods it deploys (deduction, objectivity etc.), by definition, invalidates other methods of knowing.

    Now consider for a moment that science is the only way of knowing.

    Then from that standpoint, given that our ancestors didn’t have sophisticated instruments to gather stellar data, how do you reconcile with the fact that just by naked eye observations they calculated distance between earth and the sun almost accurately or the period of earth’s revolution around the sun with 99.9% accuracy as verified later?

    I am not denying there are flaws with the stellar methods, but what I am trying to establish is that our ancestors may have used, say intuition or some other way of higher knowing in conjunction with naked eye observations to infer what they “saw”.

    Another point: We live in a world where science is recognized as the only way of knowing and written word as the only means of record keeping (and oral, ‘is merely performed’…:)).

    So for you (of this world) to dismiss the oral tradition from the days of yore as a means of record keeping as unreliable is frivolous.

  12. Hi. I would recommend reading of a book called “Dating the era of lord ram”.

    I find it very diff to believe that Mahabharat could have occured around 1200 BC, as even the Dwaraka undersea findings tend to indicate around 3000 BC.

    I guess this needs a lot more analysis. However, I would not dismiss the stellar observations analysis as we have one of the most detailed astrology / astronomy charts. The kind of observations made in Mahabharat (incl what could possibly have been Hailleys comet, cannot be dismissed as imagination.

    Lets hope things become clearer in future. :-)

  13. offstumped says:

    RightwingIndian – Dating finds in Dwarka at 3000 bc (even if accurate) doesnt in anyway suggest anything about the date of events in Mahabharata.

    Its possible the western seaboard was well inhabited from a previous era. If you look at the narrative in Mahabharata the Mlecchas are described as controlling the western seaboard and the trade.

    Navnath – AlBeruni goes to great lengths comparing the astro-mathematical computations across Indian and Greek traditions. He points to the many inconsistencies. Much of that mathematical tradition you point to on distances comes from the first 1000 yrs of AD.

  14. Navnath says:

    >> Much of that mathematical tradition you point to on distances comes from the first 1000 yrs of AD.>>

    True, but they didn’t have sophisticated instruments or modern science approved methods at their disposal either to verify the accuracy of their findings. Yet some of the calculations, as later verified, came out to be correct. How and Why?

    Going back to dating the Kurukshetra war, note that current researchers used data from some PARVA of Mahabharat (written word!!!… remember, you can argue about when the Parva was written, but cannot dismiss it saying it never existed) as was said to have been observed during the time of the war…

    (from what I understood)mars retrograde near scorpio (?), saturn retrograde in krittika, a solar and a lunar eclipse in a span of 13 days, and presence of a comet. By process of elimination some came to 3067 BC and others to 3039 BC. In any case, their basic assumption was that these events observed during the war are true and vedic astronomy between now and then is accurate and consistent.

    The second one is a fairly dangerous assumption and you can possibly argue about the efficacy of their methods and mathematics, etc.

    But the first assumption is very simple. Its just an account of observation of events (not predictions), which are independent of timeline or accuracy of calculations. In other words, you don’t need to be a master astronomer to observe and record these events today (nor in the past).

    Now for argument sake, lets assume that the Parva in which the astronomical events were observed, was written anytime between 0 AD to say, 1600 AD (1600 AD arbitrarily: just before europeans started analyzing and dating events from the text).

    So why would someone living just centuries before us concoct “observed astronomical events” that would coincide with a date in 3000 BC? Did he have a political agenda of some kind that made that date important? If it was arbitrary, then why didn’t he pick astronomical events that occurred in say, 8000 BC. Wouldn’t it have been sexier to have great ancestors that had a great war 10,000 years ago?

    I am trying to argue that you can make mistakes in calculations that would put the date a few decades before or after the actual event in 3000 BC, but you CANNOT dismiss an entire system of astronomy calculation and record keeping during the period, needless to say naked eye observation of eclipses and comet sightings, solely based on one’s worldview.

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