Monthly Archives: April 2013

Date of Mahabharatha War- An Appraisal

On January 5th and 6th 2003, a two day seminar was organized by the Mythic Society, Bangalore on the topic ‘The Date of Mahabharatha War’. Making use of planetarium software and taking the astronomical data available in the text of the epic Mahabharatha itself as the basis, scholars assigned the year 3067 B.C. as the date of the Mahabharatha war1. This date is nearer to the traditionally accepted date (3101 B.C.)2 and the date arrived by Dr. Mankad (3201 B.C.) 3. In contrast to these closely allied dates, the one arrived by Dr. P.C.Sengupta based on Vedanga Jyotisha has a difference of nearly 500 years. According to him the date of Mahabharatha war is 2449 B.C.4 The date arrived by the Kashmiri historian Kalhana was 2448 B.C.5, one year less than that assigned by P.C.Sengupta. The date of Mahabharatha war can become the sheet anchor to reconstruct the history of ancient India including arriving at the approximate age of Lord Rama and the composition of Rigveda. In this essay I will attempt to collate both the dates, 2449 B.C. and 3067 B.C., with data from other sources which help in the reconstruction of ancient Indian chronology and find which date will reconcile with the data provided by other sources and fit into the present form of ancient Indian history.

The first source which I have taken to collate with the date of Mahabharatha war is with the Greek records which mention that from the time of Dionysus (Manu) to Sandrakottos (Chandragupta Maurya), the Indians counted 153 kings and a period of 6042 years and among these a republic was thrice established, one which counted 300 years, another to 120 years and yet another, not mentioned6. The second source is the Puranas which gives us the list of kings belonging to different dynasties who ruled India before the Mahabharatha war and after the war till the rule of Andhras.

Calculation one: First we shall reconstruct the chronology of kings who ruled Magadha after the Mahabharatha war taking 2449 B.C. as the date of the war. The Puranas mention that 46 rulers ruled Magadha till the accession of Chandragupta Maurya.7 Taking the average rule of each king as 40 years8 we get the total number of years ruled by these kings to 1840 years. If this number is deducted from 2449 we get 609 years. We know that Chandragupta Maurya began his rule from 322 B.C. If we deduct 322 from 609 we get 287 years. These years we can presume as the period of interregnum between the extinction of the Brihadrathas of Magadha and the rise of Pradyotas as mentioned in the Puranas9.

Now we shall reconstruct the chronology of kings who ruled Magadha after the Mahabharatha war taking 3067 B.C. as the date of Mahabharatha war. If we deduct 1840 that is the years ruled by 46 kings from 3067 we get 1227 years. If this number is deducted with 322, that is the year in which Chandragupta Maurya began his rule we get 905 as the remainder. From this if we deduct 287 that is, the years of kingless period; we get 618 of unaccounted years.

Calculation two: According to the Puranas10 the Brihadrathas ruled for 967 years, the Pradyotas for 173, the Sisunagas for 360 years and the Nandas for 100 years, the total of which comes to 1600 years.So the total rule of the kings who ruled Magadha after the battle of Mahabharatha war till the end of the rule of Nandas would come to 1600 years. Taking 2449 as the date of the Mahabharatha war if we deduct 1600 we get 849 years. If this number is deducted with 322, that is, the year in which Chandragupta Maurya began his rule we get 527 as the remainder. The Greek accounts speak of three kingless periods, one comprising of 300 years, another of 120 years and yet another period for which the number of years is not mentioned11. If the length of the unmentioned period had been more than 300 years it would have been mentioned first. But as it is given in the end, it must be presumed that its length of period was less than 120 years. For our sake of convenience we shall keep 107 years as the year of the third kingless period and calculate the total period of kingless rule as 527 years. Adding this number with the total years ruled by the 46 kings i.e., 1600 we will get 2127 and if we deduct it with 2449 we get 322 B.C., the year in which Chandragupta Maurya began his rule.

As per the above calculation if we take 3067 as the date of Mahabharatha war, we have to deduct 1600 years that is, the number given by the Puranas as the total years of rule by the rulers of Magadha from Brihadratha to Nandas with 3067 and it gives us 1467 as the remainder. If this number is deducted with 322 that is the year in which Chandragupta Maurya began his rule we get 1145. Then deducting this number with 527 that is the period of kingless period we get 618 of unaccounted years. So compared to 3067 B.C., the date of 2449 B.C. appears to reconcile with the facts given in reconstructing the chronology of rulers of Magadha after the Mahabharatha war till the accession of Chandragupta Maurya.

Reconciling the date of Buddha: We know that Buddha was born in 566 B.C. and was a contemporary of Bimbisara, the ruler of Magadha. In our present calculation (taking 2449 B.C. as the date of Mahabharatha, assigning 40 years of rule for 46 kings and assuming 287 years as the kingless period) by placing the dynasty of Brihadratha (22 kings) first and presuming that for a period of 287 years there was a republican form of government (kingless period) followed by the Pradyotas (5 kings) and Bimbisara-Sisunaga dynasty we get the date 1082 B.C.12 for the commencement of the rule of Bimbisara. If we try to reconstruct taking the years of the rule of different dynasties as mentioned in the Puranas, we have to assign the date 782 B.C.13 for Bimbisara. Hence the time difference between Buddha and Bimbisara will be 516/216 years if we take 2449 B.C. as the date of Mahabharatha and the difference will come to 1134/834 years if the date of Mahabharatha is taken as 3067 B.C.

But the above discrepancy can be solved if we assume that there was another king by the name Bimbisara who was a contemporary of Buddha and not the founder of the dynasty. Pargiter had taken the same assumption with regards to the association of sages like Vasishta and Vishwamitra with Rama. He had postulated that these sages were not the same as mentioned in the Rigveda but those belonging to their families (gotra) 14.

Age of Sri Rama and Rigveda: Now we will reconstruct the chronology of ancient kings of India prior to the Mahabharatha war by taking 2449 B.C. as the date of Mahabharatha war. In Vayu Purana we have a total of 94 kings from Manu to Bhrihadbala belonging to the Ikshavaku dynasty. Bhrihadbala died in the Mahabharatha war and was 29 generation after Rama15, the famous king of Ayodhya. If we allot 40 years for each generation, the date of Rama would be 3609 B.C. Sudasa was anterior to Rama by 18 generation and his date would be 4329 B.C. (The period during which the Rigveda was composed16) Mandhatra who drove the Dhruyus out of North-west India was anterior to Sudasa by 27 generation and his date would be 5409 B.C. and Manu the first king was anterior to Mandhatra by 20 years and his date would be 6209 B.C.

If we take 3067 as the date of Mahabharatha war and try to reconstruct the chronology of the Ikshavaku rulers, we get 4227 B.C. as the date of Rama, 4947 B.C. as the date of Sudasa, 6027 B.C.as the date of Mandhatra and 6827 B.C. as the date of Manu.

Reconciling with data from new research: The starting of Kaliyuga has been associated with the following events like the end of Mahabharatha war, death of Krishna and sinking of Dwarka.17 The excavation at Dwarka conducted by the late Dr.S.R.Rao shows that it must have sunk sometimes after 1600 B.C.18Similarly the river Saraswathi dried around 1500 B.C.19 In the light of above developments it appears that accepting 2449 B.C. as the date of Mahabharatha war will be more suitable than 3067 B.C. as the gap between the occurrence of the two above mentioned events will be less (849/949 years) when 2449 B.C. is taken as the date of Mahabharatha war and 1467/1567 years if we accept 3067 B.C. as the date of Mahabharatha war. The date 2449 B.C. also relatively reconcile with the accounts given by the Greek writers and the list of kings mentioned in the Puranas in reconstructing the chronology of kings who ruled Magadha after the Mahabharatha war till the accession of Chandragupta Maurya.

Notes and References

  1. The Quarterly Journal of the Mythic Society, Vol XCIV, Nos. 1-2, January-June, 2003.
  2. D.R.Mankad- Puranic Chronology, Gangajala Prakashana, 1951, p.7
  3. Ibid, p.93
  4. Prabodh Chandra Sengupta- Ancient Indian Chronology, University of Calcutta, 1947 p. 19
  5. D.R.Mankad- Op.cit, p.7
  6. Ibid, p 2. (According to Mankad such precise number as 153 kings and 6042 years of rule cannot be pure inventions of the Greeks but what was quoted to them by their Indian informants, who in all likelihood were the Pauranikas).
  7. F.E.Pargiter- Ancient Indian Historical Tradition, London, 1922, p.179 (The dynasties mentioned are Brihadratas-22 kings, Pradyotas-5 kings, Sisunagas-10 kings and Nandas-9 kings).
  8. The Puranas computed the number of kings of a dynasty on the basis of units of 40 years or caturyugas. See D.R.Mankad- Op.cit, P: 38,39
  9. Prabodh Chandra Sengupta- Op.cit, p.55
  10. Ibid, p.52
  11. D.R.Mankad- Op.cit, p.2
  12. Table showing how the date 1082 B.C. was arrived
Date of Mahabharatha War    2449 B.C.  Rule of the Brihadrathas dynasty from 2449 to 1569 B.C.
22 kings multiplied by 40 years      880 years
   1569 B.C.
     287 years 1569 to 1282 B.C. was the period of kingless reign
   1282 B.C.
5 kings multiplied by 40 years      200 years Rule of Pradyotas dynasty from 1282 to 1082 B.C.
   1082 B.C.
10 kings multiplied by 40 years      400 years The rule of Sisunaga dynasty beginning with Bimbisara from 1082 B.C.
      682 .B.C.

 13. Table showing how the date 782 B.C. was arrived based on the number of years ruled by different dynasties over Magadha according to the Puranas

Date of Mahabharatha War 2449 B.C.
Brihadrathas ruled for   967 years
1482 B.C.
Kingless period   527 years
  955 B.C.
Pradyotas ruled for   173 years
  782 B.C. Beginning of the rule of Bimbisara
Sisunagas ruled for   360 years
  422 B.C.

14. F.E.Pargiter- Op.cit, pp:139,140 (Pargiter says that the mention of a person by the simple name is no sure  criterion that the original person of that name is intended, but often means a descendant. For instance when a Vasista is mentioned in connection with Harishchandra, Sagara, Kalmasapada and Dasharatha of Ayodhya, a different person is meant in each case).

15. D.R.Mankad- Op.cit, p.341

16. H.L.Hariyappa- Rigvedic Legends through the Ages, Poona, 1953. P-241 (Vasista and Vishwamitra are the foremost seers of the Rigveda. The VII mandala and the III third mandala of the Rigveda is ascribed to them. (Mandala II to VII form the oldest core of the Rigveda- Shritant.G.Talageri-The Rigveda- A Historical Analysis, Aditya Prakashan, New Delhi,2000, p.6) Both Vasista and Vishwamitra were associated with Sudas, the Ikshavaku king and entertained by him on different occasions. Vasista persuaded the river Parushni to leave to his disciple Sudas in the famous battle of ten kings (Dasharajna).

17. K.V.Ramakrishna Rao- The Date of Mahabharatha based on the Indian Astronomical Works, QJMS, Vol XCIV, January-June, 2003, p.192

18. K.S.Valdiya- SaraswatiThe River that disappeared. University Press (India) Limited, Hyderabad, 2002. P.65 (The city of Dwarka must have sunk sometime after 3528 year BP (1528 B.C.). The unique triangular stone anchors with three holes punched in each recovered from the sunken part of the seabed, bring to mind similar anchors of the 14th century B.C. Syria and Cyprus which closely resemble these. This indicates the approximate time of the calamity that befell BetDwarka).

19. Ibid, pp: 61, 67 (In 1750 B.C. the Yamuna took an eastward diversion and became a tributary of Ganga and in 1500 B.C. the Sutlej took a westward diversion and became a tributary of Sindhu. This deprived the Saraswathi of water and it was reduced to a petty rivulet, left with only the seasonal water of ephemeral streams coming down from the Siwalik).

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Amoghavarsha Nripatunga, the ‘King of Kings’

The Rashtrakutas who overthrew the Chalukyas of Badami became the masters of the whole of Deccan and produced illustrious kings like Dhruva, Govinda III, Amoghavarsha, Indra III, etc. Their contribution in the cultural field was also immense. “If there was any period of the Indian history when Karnataka affected the fortunes of all India, it was during the rule of Rashtrakutas, for not even the later Vijayanagara Empire, which was powerful for three centuries in the South, wielded any influence on North India” says eminent historian S. Srikantha Sastri.

  • Like the Chalukyas of Badami, the Rashtrakutas were also of Kannada origin which is supported on the following grounds.
  • The personal names of their queens Asagavva, Abbalabbe, Revakannamadi, etc. show their Kannadaness of their name.
  • They gave liberal patronage to Kannada authors. The first Kannada work Kavirajamarga was composed by Srivijaya, who was patronized by the Rastrakuta ruler Amoghavarsha. Eminent Kannada poets, Pampa and Ponna, were patronized by Krishna II (Rashtrakuta ruler) and Arikesari II (the Chalukyan feudatory of the Rashtrakutas) respectively.
  • As far away as in Jura in Central India, there is a Kannada record issued by the Rashtrakutas. Even the records belonging to this family ruling in Gujarat has Kannada script though the language is Sanskrit. This shows their love for Kannada language.

One of their greatest rulers was Amoghavarsha who ruled from 814 to 878 A.D. According to the Sanjan plates when Amoghavarsha was barely 16 years of age he came to the throne and was deposed by certain rebels and his uncle Karka was successful in defeating the rebels and restoring the throne to the Amoghavarsha. Though peace loving destiny made Amoghavarsha eliminate many contemporary rulers in wars like Ganga Shivamara II, Vengi Chalukya Vishnuvardhana V, Alupa ruler Vimaladitya, Dhruva I of the Gujarat branch of the Rashtrakutas, Nolamba prince called Mangi and a Pandya prince.

Relationship with the Gangas: When Amoghavarsha ascended the throne the Gangas under Rajamalla II revolted against the Rashtrakutas and declared war and won. Rajamalla II also sheltered rebels who slaughtered a number of Rashtrakuta officers. But later Amoghavarsha sent his general Bankesha who defeated Rajamalla II at Kaidala and occupying the Ganga territories around proceeded towards the Ganga capital. But at the height of his victory he was recalled by the emperor and sent against the other enemies of the empire. Rajamalla II soon resumed the offensive and got back much of the territories occupied by the Rashtrakutas. After the death of Rajamalla II in 853 A.D. his son Nitimarga Ereyanga continued the aggressive policy against the Rashtrakutas. Amoghavarsha suffered a crushing defeat by the Gangas at a place called Rajaramadu in Kolar district in 868 A.D. Amoghavarsha realizing the futility of such wars between the two dynasties came forward with peace proposals by offering his daughter Chandrobalabbe in marriage to Nitimarga’s son Butuga I. Except for a short period during the reign of Sivamara II the Gangas never became the feudatories of the Rashtrakutas and were never ready to accept their hegemony. During the reign of Amoghavarsha the Rashtrakuta-Ganga relations underwent a change from one of subordination to friendship on the basis of equality and independence.

Relationship with the rulers of Vengi: After the conquest of Vengi, Pulakeshin II had placed his brother Kubja Vishnuvardhana as its ruler and his family continued to rule hereditary. During the rule of Dhruva he had sent his vassal Arikesarin I of Vemulavada to punish Vishnuvardhana IV (who had sided with Govinda II the brother of Dhruva in their war of succession). Vishnuvardhana IV was defeated and offered his daughter Silamahadevi in marriage to Dhruva. This friendship lasted till the time of the death of Vishnuvardhana IV in 806 A.D. Govinda III who followed Dhruva was in good terms with the ruler of Vengi who was his maternal grandfather. When Vijayaditya II ascended the Vengi throne in 806 A.D. Govinda III supported Bhima Saluki, the brother of Vijayaditya II as a claimant to the throne of Vengi. Govinda III died in 814 A.D. and was followed by his young son Amoghavarsha. His uncle Kakkaraja of Gujarat who was helping Amoghavarsha in his administration helped Bhima Saluki to occupy the Vengi throne for a short time. But Vijayaditya II defeated Bhima Saluki. A shrewd statesman, Kakkaraja abandoning Bhima Saluki concluded a treaty with Vijayaditya II by offering his sister Silamahadevi in marriage to Vishnuvardhana V, son of Vijayaditya II. Once again friendship was established between the Rashtrakutas and the rulers of Vengi. Vishnuvardhana V ruled for only one year and was followed by his eldest son Vijayaditya III in 848 A.D. He incurred the displeasure of Amoghavarsha when he conquered from the Pallavas the territories lost during the reign of Vishnuvardhana III. As the Pallava king Nandivarman III was the son-in-law of Amoghavarsha, (Amoghavarsha had given his daughter Sankha to Nandivarman III.)
the Rashtrakutas inflicted a defeat on Vijayaditya III at Vingavalli in 866.A.D. From this date onwards Vijayaditya became a very thick friend of Amoghavarsha and was called ankakara of Amoghavarsha i.e. a sworn bodyguard. It is even said that he personally took care to see that the gardens of Amoghavarsha were kept clean and did free service. Vijayaditya III led an expedition against the Nolambas and killed their king Mangiraja. The Nolambas as allies of the Gangas were helping them in their fight against the Rashtrakutas.

Though during the initial years Amoghavarsha had to face lot of trouble, he succeeded in suppressing all his enemies. Later he followed a policy of peace and entered into matrimonial relations with many of the neighbouring rulers like the Gangas, Chalukyas of Vengi and the Pallavas. The Nilagunda Records say that he was being worshipped by the rulers of Vanga, Anga, Magadha, Malava and Vengi.

Patron of Scholars: We know from the works of Jinasena, Mahaviracharya, Sakatayana and Srivijaya that they were patronized by Nripatunga Amoghavarsha. He himself was a scholar and wrote Prashnottara Rathnamala, a Sanskrit work. The first Kannada work, Kavirajamarga was composed by his court poet, Srivijaya. Amoghavarsha had tiles like Nripatunga, Atishayadhavala, Veeranarayana and Shrivallabha. When a famine occurred in his kingdom, Amoghavarsha is said to have cut his finger and made a votive offering of it to Goddess Mahalakshmi of Kolhapur. Amoghavarsha built a new capital Malkhed. Khuradadba (10th century) referring to Amoghavarsha says that the greatest king of India is ‘Balhara’.

Observation of the Arab visitor Sulaiman (851 A.D.): Referring to Amoghavarsha Sulaiman says that Balhara is the most eminent prince of India and Indians acknowledge his superiority and that he had the title of “King of Kings” which other contemporary Indian princes according to him did not have. Suleiman says Amoghavarsha was one of the four greatest kings of the world, the other three being the Emperor of Constatinople, the Khalifa of Baghdad and the Emperor of China. Regarding the commercial relation which Arab had with India during those times, Sulaiman says that extremely fine Indian cotton cloth which could pass through a small fine ring was imported by the Arabs and distributed throughout the then known world. The wood from Indian was used by the inhabitants of Siraf to build their houses and also ships. Al Istakri (951 A.D.) refers to the import of Indian drugs, perfumes and condiments by the Arabs. Masud and Bukhari say that fine shoes of Cambay and Indian swords were very much liked by the Arabs. The love of Arabs for Indian commodities and everything connected with India was so much that they used to name their favourite fair daughters as Hinda and Saif-i-Hindi after their dreamland India. The most important item of import into India from the Arab lands was the horse. Some 18 different kinds of horses were imported. Surparaka was the biggest port then on the west coast and whenever a merchant from outside came a reception was held in his honour by the guild of local merchants. Arab merchants used to frequent the Konkan coast for trade purpose and introduced Islam. Al Masudi informs us that the Rashtrakutas highly respected Muslims and even appointed them as their officials in that area.

The Rock-cut Temple at Ellora: One of the monumental constructions of the Rashtrakutas was the Rock-cut temple at Ellora constructed during the time of Krishna I. He was inspired by the Virupaksha temple which his master Chalukya Vikramaditya II had constructed at Pattadakallu, himself inspired by the Kailasanatha temple at Kanchi. This temple is hewn out of a single solid rock about 100 feet high. The main body of the temple is a parallelogram about 150 feet X 100 feet with projecting sections at the sides. The plinth is 25 feet high and the Vimana is 95 feet high. The walls of the temple have beautiful sculptures like Ravana lifting Kailasa, Shiva and Parvathi engaged in playing dice and other such lively motifs. The work of this temple was started from the top. As the stone workers chiseled out the shape of the topmost members of the monument, the sculptors and decorators completed the intricate figures and carvings.

The Unconquerable Southern Power: History of India bears evidence that usually it was the North Indian power that made all efforts to expand at the cost of the South Indian powers. If the Chalukyas of Badami under Pulakeshin II stopped Harshavardhana penetrating into the south and made him confine his activities to the north, the Rashtrakutas proved mightier still as during their rule neither the Palas nor the Gurjara Pratiharas could entertain such ideas. Not only that the Rashtrakutas inflicted severe defeats on the Gurjara Pratiharas in their own home provinces. The Rashtrakuta armies crossed the Vindhyas three times and defeated their northern opponents who were powerful and ambitious in attempting to establish their own hegemony. During the rule of the Badami Chalukyas the Pallavas were a perpetual source of anxiety and often made inroads into the territory of the Chalukyas. But during the Rashtrakuta period no southern powers ever dared to invade the formers territory.