His paper on the war’s dating will be part of a book of research on the Mahabharata that I-Serve plans to bring out later this year.
In support of his hypothesis, he cites research by veteran geologist KS Valdiya, author of , on paleoseismic activity in the lower Himalayas to trace the approximate time of the Mahabharata.
There exists a long tradition of astronomical dating of Indian epics (done by studying celestial events like eclipses, comets, and planetary positions mentioned in texts), some by scholars, and now with easily available software packages, increasingly by amateurs.
A quick search on the internet would have you believe that astronomy has already proved the veracity of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, with countless websites carrying contradictory data. Take the case of the discrepant dating that astronomy throws up for the Mahabharata.
This is the sky just before the Battle of Kurukshetra, according to Bhatnagar, an astronomer who has spent the years since his retirement— as additional director general from the Positional Astronomy Centre of the Indian Meteorological Department—extracting astronomical references from the Mahabharata.
By tracing the winter solstice and the autumnal equinox indicated in the text, he has found a time bracket of 1,000 years.
The dates recreated by astronomy software cannot be taken as definitive since we do not know whether the verse being dated was part the original core or if it was added later, says Subhash Kak, who teaches at the department of electric and computer engineering at Louisiana State University, and has worked on the history of Indian science.
Bhatnagar’s dates are close to those of RN Iyengar, one of India’s best known civil engineers and a scholar on the history of science, who has pegged the Mahabharata at 1493-1443 BCE.
Another veteran researcher in the field, Narhari Achar, a professor of Physics at the University of Memphis, backs the more popularly accepted date, 3067 BCE.
Says Professor Achar on email, ‘Different scholars have strong opinions and believe their own results are correct.
Deeper study of the original texts would help.’ The problem of dating the Ramayana and Mahabharata is a difficult one, as the texts are syncretic and accretive.
He then looked for eclipses within that period, and one by one, he says, it all fell into place.
“According to my research, the war would have started on 14 October 1792 [1793 BCE].” A balding middle-aged man with the benign manner of one who spends a large part of his time behind mounds of data, Bhatnagar now works as the technical director of the Delhi chapter of I-Serve (Institute of Scientific Research on Vedas, an NGO).