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: According to Shrikant Talageri the Rigveda was not composed in one sitting and took a minimum of at least six centuries between the completion of first nine mandalas and the completion of the tenth mandala. Of the ten mandalas of the Rigveda, mandala two to mandala seven are the oldest. The Rigveda refers to kings like Srnjaya, Vadhryasva, Divodasa, Pijavana Sudasa, Sahadeva, Somaka, etc., whom Pargiter and S.N.Pradhan have identified as rulers belonging to Northern Panchala dynasty. Vasishta and Vishwamitra the composers of the seventh and third mandala were associated with king Sudasa. In Vayu Purana we have a total of 94 kings from Manu to Bhrihadbala belonging to the Ikshavaku dynasty. 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. Bhrihadbala died in the Mahabharatha war and was 29 generation after Rama 15, the famous king of Ayodhya. If we allot 40 years for each generation, the date of Rama would be 3609 B.C. Sudasa was two generation posterior to Rama and his date would be 3489 B.C. (The period during which the Rigveda was composed)16 Mandhatra who drove the Dhruyus out of North-west India was anterior to Rama by 44 generation and his date would be 5369 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, 4107 B.C. as the date of Sudasa, 5987 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.18 Similarly 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 was arrived

    Date of Mahabharata war

    2449 B.C.

    22 kings multiplied by 40 years

    880 years

    Rule of the Brihadratha dynasty from 2449-1569 B.C.

    1569 B.C.

    287 years

    1569-1282 B.C was the period of kingless reign

    1282 B.C.

    Five kings multiplied by 40 years

    200 years

    Rule of Pradyotas dynasty from 1282-1082 B.C.

    1082 B.C.

    Ten kings multiplied by 40 years

    400 years

    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 Mahabharata 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) Both Vasista and Vishwamitra were associated with Sudasa, the king of northern Panchala and entertained by him on different occasions. Vasista persuaded the river Parushni to leave to his disciple Sudasa in the famous battle of ten kings (Dasharajna). But P.T.Srinivasa Iyengar says that the hymns related to Sudasa and the battle of ten kings found in the Rigveda are without any proper reason called very early hymns by some scholars. (P.T.Srinivasa Iyengar- Advanced History of Ancient India, Hindu Period, Madras, 1942, pp:50,51)

  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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  • punarnavbharat  On October 14, 2013 at 7:29 am

    Reblogged this on punarnav bharat.

  • Pradeep Bharadwaj  On November 13, 2015 at 3:43 pm

    Respected Sir, in the calculations of age of Sri Rama you have ignored the yugas completely, is it intentional or you never gave a thought to it? My question is only to understand this in more details as this has been of great interest to me for a long time now.
    According to puranas, Sri Rama lived in treta yuga and Krishna was in the end of dwapara yuga. Age of Kali Yuga is 432000 years and double of it is Dwapara yuga which is 864000 years. Treta Yuga 1296000 years as I have read in some books, articles and so on. Going by this, Sri Rama lived 2 million years ago which falls in line with many of the Sri Madhbhagvata references of the all the 4 yugas that makes onemaha yuga. Manu started this Maha Yuga is another reference to this which is the beginning of Satya Yuga with Matsyavatara of Maha Vishnu in the beginning of Satya Yuga. Maha Vishnu reinstated the world with saptha rishis along with Manu.
    Please let me know your thoughts about this…

    • S.Srinivas  On November 14, 2015 at 1:20 pm

      Dear Pradeep,
      In history even some ten thousand years ago which we call neolithic age, we don’t have literary records but rely on artifacts like weapons, cave drawings, etc. If we have to consider Sri Rama and Ramayana as historic it is impossible to accept the Yuga theory. Also read the article about the historicity of Rama and Ramayana for more details.


  • […] Date of Mahabharatha War- An Appraisal | Ithihas This is what you get if you ignore archaeological realities and go only on literature. Within the context of literature the arguments and dates proposed in the article are perfectly logical. And each step leads logically to the next. Yet the dates are completely at odds with archaeological data. This is why people shouldn't jump to conclusions in historical research. One needs to above all depend on the cornerstone of historical research – Archaeological evidence. And where literary or any evidence susceptible to change over time conflicts with archaeological data, the evidence of archaeology must be favored […]

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