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KRONOS Vol III, No. 3
DATING THE GREAT MAHABHARATA WAR: A PREVIOUSLY NEGLECTED CLUE
*(This article is one of 22 essays contained in an Anthology presented to Dr. Immanuel
Velikovsky on December 5, 1975, in honour of Dr. Velikovsky and the 25th anniversary of
Worlds in Collision; it is our hope to publish the Anthology in its entirety. - The Ed )
Copyright 1976 by Artur Isenberg
The Mahabharata is India's longest epic poem, consisting of some 220,000 lines. Its
central theme – there are ever so many excursions into completely different matters, including
the justly celebrated philosophical discourse known as the Bhagavad Gita (Song of the Lord) – is the story of the Great Mahabharata War, the war between the descendants of Pandu and
those of Kuru.
As noted in another context,(1) scholarly opinion in respect to the historicity of the
Great Mahabharata War is divided. Some regard it as wholly legendary. Others (not including,
I believe, many contemporary scholars) argue in favour of the traditional Hindu view which
dates the War to 3102 B.C. Most modern scholars are inclined to place the War either in the
middle of the second millennium B.C. or near the beginning of the ninth century B.C. Thus
A.L. Basham writes: "Probably the War took place around the beginning of the 9th century
B.C.; such a date seems to fit well with the scanty archaeological remains of the period, and
there is some evidence in the Brahmana literature itself to show that it cannot have been much
earlier. "(2) A further clue for dating the War might well be provided by noting a previously
neglected (although, of course, not unknown) episode in the Drona Parva of the
Mahabharata, Section CXLVI.
The background is briefly summed up as follows: Arjuna, the outstanding champion
and hero of the Pandavas, has vowed to slay Jayadratha, King of the Sindhus and ally of the
Kurus, before the sun shall have set on the day in question. The Kurus know about Arjuna's
vow and do their utmost to falsify it by protecting Jayadratha, who also keeps himself
well-hidden. The sun is about to set, and Arjuna has not yet managed to come to grips with
Jayadratha. Arjuna's charioteer, the divine Krishna, addresses Arjuna:
"Behold! the ruler of the Sindhus hath, by six mighty and heroic car-warriors, been placed in
their midst! Jayadratha also, O Mighty-armed One, is waiting there, in fear! Without
vanquishing those six car-warriors in battle . . . thou wilt never be able to slay the ruler of the
Sindhus even if thou exertest thyself without intermission! I shall therefore (have) recourse to
Yoga for shrouding the sun. Then the ruler of the Sindhus will (in consequence) behold the
sun to have set. Desirous of life, O lord, . . . that wicked sight will no longer . . . conceal
himself. Availing of that opportunity, thou shouldst then . . . strike him. Thou shouldst not
give up the enterprise, thinking the sun to have really set.(3) (Emphases supplied.)
Arjuna accepts, and Krishna creates a temporary darkness. The Kuru warriors,
"thinking the sun to have set, were filled with delight . . . All of them stood with heads thrown
backwards. King Jayadratha also was in the same attitude."(4) Arjuna now fights and kills
King Jayadratha, along with many other Kuru warriors. "After . . . the ruler of the Sindhus had
been slain by the diadem-decked Arjuna, that darkness . . . was withdrawn by (Krishna)."(5)
The sequence of the events described seems clear enough, even if not easily explicable:
the sun seems to have set, only to retrace a small bit of its path – shining again – before finally
setting a second time on that day.III
A very similar sequence is recounted in II KINGS 20:9-11 :
9. And Isaiah said, This shall be unto thee the sign from the Lord, that the Lord will do the
thing that he hath spoken. Shall the shadow go forward ten degrees, or go back ten degrees?
10. And Hezekiah answered, It is a light thing for the shadow to go forward ten degrees: nay,
but let the shadow return backward ten degrees.
11. And Isaiah, the prophet, called unto the Lord; and he brought the shadow ten degrees
backward, by which it [the sun] had gone down in the dial of Ahaz. [Also see Isaiah 38: 6-8]
The "dial of Ahaz" is itself a subject of scholarly differences of opinion. It seems clear,
however, that a kind of sun dial/clock is intended, a mechanism with which Hezekiah's father,
King Ahaz, presumably became acquainted during extensive contacts with the Assyrians.(6)
The Hebrew word "ma'alot" literally means "steps", "rises"; it also means "degrees", as which
it is translated in the passage from II KINGS cited above. If it represents a Hebrew technical
term for a corresponding Assyro-Babylonian mathematical concept, "ma'alot" almost certainly
signified – as indeed it does in modern Hebrew – the 360th division of a circle. If so (and I
know of no one who doubts this), the sun would have traversed each day just about 180
"ma'alot" from horizon to horizon, depending of course upon particular features of the
landscape concerned, in approximately twelve hours. One such degree would thus correspond
to about four minutes of time, so that ten "ma'alot" would mean an extra forty minutes (or so)
– more, if the apparent solar retrogression itself consumed any time.
A forty-minute period would be reasonable to afford Arjuna the necessary time for the
combat with King Jayadratha. The reflection is worthwhile, since the Bible knows of another
occasion when the sun stood still (JOSHUA 10:12-13); but then it tarried, we are told, for an
entire day – much too long in terms of the context required in the Mahabharata passage
under consideration. The reference to Hezekiah offers a good fit, however.IV
If the events mentioned in the Mahabharata and in II KINGS do indeed refer to the
same astronomical phenomenon, the implications clearly tend to support those scholars who
argue in favour of a relatively late origin for the great Hindu epic; even the ninth century B.C.
would still be somewhat too early, assuming that Hezekiah is correctly placed in the eighth and
seventh centuries B.C. (716-687 B.C.). Caution is however strongly indicated, for the
Mahabharata is known to consist of a very large number of items of differing antiquity. It
would therefore be possible to argue that the Jayadratha episode was a late interpolation; on
the other hand, there is nothing in the episode itself to indicate its being a late addition to the
account of the Great Mahabharata War; nor do I know of any scholar who regards it as such.
Viewed within a Velikovskian perspective, the episode in the Mahabharata is worthy
of attention and receives a natural explanation, without any new ad hoc assumptions, within
the same framework which can also accommodate the incident mentioned in II KINGS 20
Still, striking as it may be, the parallel between the episodes in the Drona Parva of the
Mahabharata and in II KINGS might be dismissed as an intriguing coincidence, a little
startling perhaps, but purely coincidental after all. Such a peremptory dismissal would be much
more difficult to maintain if the episodes were tied to other unusual events in both sources,
and if the tie-in episodes also paralleled each other.
Just a few lines before Isaiah's prophecy and its fulfilment, we are told (II KINGS 19
:35): "And it came to pass that night that an angel of the Lord went out and smote in the camp
of the Assyrians one hundred eighty five thousand men; and when people arose early in the
morning, behold, they were all dead corpses." While, according to that account, the
mysterious slaying of the 185,000 men (of the army of Sennacherib) occurred before the
delayed sunset which was vouchsafed as a sign to King Hezekiah, Immanuel Velikovsky, who
has examined the sources with painstaking care, writes:
"The rabbinical sources state in a definite manner that the disturbance in the movement of the
sun happened on the evening of the destruction of Sennacherib's army by a devouring
In other words, according to the rabbinical sources cited by Velikovsky, the sequence
of events was 1) a disturbance in the apparent diurnal orbiting of the sun by ten "ma'alot"; and
2) the strange events of the ensuing night when a mysterious heavenly blast destroyed
Did something equally unusual occur during the Great Mahabharata War during the
night following the slaying of King Jayadratha?
Until the day of King Jayadratha's death, the warring sides in the Great Mahabharata
War had restricted all their fighting to the daytime: there was no fighting at night. This
customary state of affairs changed during the night following Jayadratha's slaying, and did so
with avengeance; pandemonium reigned all through that night. What is more, the leading part
in the struggle was played not by human beings, as before, but by rakshasas, demonic
creatures whose leader was a hybrid, half human, half demon, named Ghatotkacha, son of one
of the five Pandava brothers (Bhima) and of a demoness. The account of the doings of the
rakshasas that night is nothing if not graphic:
"Terrified by the leonine roar uttered by Ghatotkacha, elephants began to eject urine and kings
began to tremble. Then, thrown by the rakshasas who had become more powerful in
consequence of the night, there began to fall on the field of battle a thick shower of stones.
And a ceaseless shower of iron wheels and Bhundis(*) and darts and lances and spears and
Sataghnis(*) and axes also fell there."(8) (Emphasis supplied.)
[(*)While "Bhundi" is obviously some kind of a missile or other weapon, I have not been able
to find a description in any of the reference works available to me. "Sataghni" - the Sanskrit
word literally signifies "killing one hundred (at a time)" - is a weapon variously described by
Indologists. R. Shamasastry describes it as "a big pillar with immense number of sharp points
on its surface and situated on the top of a fort wall."(9) V. R. Ramachandra Dikshitar says it
was a club measuring four cubits in length, having "a strong handle, and also . . . a modern
cannon and hence was a projectile weapon of war . . . It was generally placed on the walls of a
fort. . ."(10)]
Still later, we are told of some demonic combatants assuming the shape of an entire
mountain flying through the air and of veritable downpours of rocks and stones.(11)
There was much more to come before that strange night was over. The human armies
on both sides hastily equipped themselves with lamps, five to each chariot, three to each war
elephant, one to each horse. The spectacle of the terrestrial armies thus blazing with lights
inspired the celestials to illuminate the heavens in a like manner:
"With thousands of lamps blazing all around, and with the more dazzling lamps of the gods . . .
set upon golden stands decked with jewels and fed with fragrant oil, the field of battle looked
resplendent like the firmament bespangled with stars. With hundreds upon hundreds of blazing
brands, the earth looked exceedingly beautiful. Indeed, the earth seemed to be in
conflagration, like what happens at the universal destruction. All the points of the compass
blazed up with those lamps all around and looked like trees covered by fire-flies at an evening
in the season of rains . . .
The battle that took place on that night was so terrible and so fierce that its like had never
previously been witnessed by ourselves or those gone before us."(12)
The account of this unusual night-battle continues, covering rather more than fifty
closely printed pages in the English translation.VII
Granting that Mahabharata accounts of battle encounters between contesting warriors
always tend to be dramatic, they nevertheless usually involve human beings, using human (and
occasionally divine) weapons. Accounts of falls of thick showers of stones, downpours of
rocks, mountains flying through the air, cascades of iron wheels – such accounts are decidedly
the exception rather than the rule, and that observation applies with equal force to double
sunsets on a single day.
If both accounts – of a disturbance in the length of the day and of an ensuing night of a
catastrophe involving heaven and earth – refer to the same natural events, the Great
Mahabharata War must have been synchronous with Sennacherib's ill-fated campaign in the
Holy Land, i.e., it must have been fought in 687 B.C. While such a date is rather more recent
than the dates usually assigned to the Mahabharata War by modern scholars, it is not out of
line with the time ascribed to that war by so respected an Indologist as Prof. Basham; as we
have seen, he places the Great Mahabharata War not earlier than the beginning of the 9th
century B.C. While still some two hundred years earlier, Prof. Basham's date is nonetheless
much nearer 687 B.C. than it is to either of the other dates sometimes mentioned, i.e., 1500
B.C. or 3102 B.C.
It would be interesting to learn what (if any) substantive objections Indologists could
bring forward against placing the Great Mahabharata War in the year 687 B.C.; it would be
just as interesting, of course, to learn what (if any) substantive supporting evidence of such a
date these scholars might provide, based upon a fresh, unprejudiced examination of all the
available literary and/or archaeological evidence.
* * *
[Author's Postscript –
Some time after writing the above essay, I addressed the following questions to one of
India's most distinguished historians, Dr. Romila Thapar:
"Do you know of any hard fact, or even strong evidence, as distinct from mere
consensus and involuted fancy guessing . . . that would rule out dating the Mahabharata War
to so recent a date as, say, 687 B.C.? If so could you refer me to the sources discussing such
evidence or detailing it?"
In a personal communication, dated 2 April 1976, which I have since been authorised
to publish, Dr. Thapar writes:
"I see no reason why it" – (i.e., the Mahabharata War) – "could not have taken place
in 687 B.C. But this of course would have to be the most recent of the wars after which the
text as we know it was put together. My own feeling is that there might have been a series of
battles and some going back much earlier, with the mythology and legends of the earlier ones
getting tagged onto the later ones."
In fairness to Dr. Thapar, it should be carefully noted that she does not commit herself
to dating the Mahabharata War in 687 B.C., and even less to the arguments adduced in my
article. Her statement was entirely in response to a hypothetical question, and she was
unaware of the reasoning outlined in my paper, not even having seen the latter when she
wrote the passage cited above.]
1. Artur Isenberg, "Devi and Venus" in KRONOS II,1 (August, 1976), pp. 89-103.
2. A.L. Basham, The Wonder That Was India (Sidgwick and Jackson: London, 1956), p. 39.
3. P.C. Roy (Translator) and H. Haldar (Editor), The Mahabharata of Krishna-Dwaipayana
Vyasa, Translated into English Prose from the original Sanskrit Text (Oriental Publishing Co.;
Calcutta,1955; Second Edition), VoL Vl, p. 343.
4. Ibid., p. 344.
5. Ibid., p. 347.
6. James Hastings, Editor: A Dictionary of the Bible dealing with its Language Literature and
Contents, including the Biblical Theology (Charles Scribner's Sons N.Y., Edinburgh, T.&T.
Clark, 1902) - article titled "Dial" by H.A. White, Vol. 1 pp. 604-605.
7. mmanuel Velikovsky, Worlds in Collision (N.Y., 1950), pp. 227-233. In China, we may
also find evidence which could conceivably refer to the very same phenomena: "When the
Duke of Lu-yang was at war against Han, during the battle the sun went down. The Duke,
swinging his spear, beckoned to the sun, whereupon the sun, for his sake, came back and
passed through three solar mansions" (Ibid., p. 236 emphasis added). This marks the third
report of such a solar irregularity from very widely separated localities. It might be worth
looking for a similar report (or legend) from Africa and the Americas, as well as Europe. It is
quite conceivable to me that such a search would turn up complementary data, permitting a
global synchronisation which, potentially, might be extraordinarily significant. Until such a
search is made (and successfully concluded), what remains is the strong probability of a
synchronism involving India and the Holy Land, and China, too. A world-wide pattern would,
of course, prove to be far more significant. (It goes without saying that, depending upon the
actual locality, what is a double sunset in one place must appear as a double dawn elsewhere.)
8. Roy and Haldar, op. cit., p. 374.
9. Kautilya's Arthasastra (Translated by Dr. R. Shamasastry, Sri Raghuveer Printing Press:
Mysore, 1951, Fourth Edition), p. 110, n. 24.
10. V.R. Ramachandra Dikshitar, War in Ancient India (MacMillan & Co., Madras, Bombay,
Calcutta, London, 1944), p. 115.
11. Roy and Haldar, op. cit., p. 376.
12. Ibid., pp. 410-411.
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