Paleoastronomy is defined as ‘The relationship of information about the sky to historical records; a fusion discipline between paleontology and astronomy’. The Mahabharata is rich in legends about astronomical and geological phenomena and many have referenced the verses of this epic poem in attempts to date the events it describes in minute detail.
But the task of dating the Mahabharata can become unwieldy, simply because of the shear volume of information it contains about events. So many eclipses, meteor showers, violent winds and planetary alignments are mentioned that setting them all into consecutive order challenges event the best of experts.
The first name in dating the Mahabharata is Aryabhata, the Indian astronomer and mathematician associated with the 3102 BC Kaliyug start date. Yet, he didn’t actually calculate that date. Instead, he mentioned his age, the current date and how many years into the Kali Yuga had passed when the Aryabhatiya was composed. Later, others used his incidental dates to conclude that the Kaliyug began 3102 BC. The first title in Indian Paleoastronomy is the Surya Sidhanta. This treatise on astronomy was cited in the Aryabhatiya and in Surya Sidhanta we do find the astronomical criteria for the beginning of the Kali Yuga.
In recent years, Paleoastronomy has become accessible to anyone with a computer and a modicum of curiosity to find out – first hand – if the planets really did align, or if there was some natural event that accounts for the inexplicably intense weapons purportedly used in the legendary Kurukshetra War. Thanks to NASA, there is ephemeris data covering the span from 3000 BC to 3000 AD. And several planetarium programs that use it. I decided to try my hand at Paleoastronomy, using the Open Source program named Cartes du Ciel. I was inspired to research a planetary alignment mention in Mahabharata 5.142 and 5.143. Here, Krishna and Karna are conversing and exchange the following details:
Karna: Diverse frightful visions are seen, O slayer of Madhu, and many terrible portents, and fierce disturbances also…That fierce planet of great effulgence, Sanaischara (Saturn), is afflicting the constellation called Rohini…The planet Angaraka (Mars), wheeling, O slayer of Madhu, towards the constellation Jeshthya, approacheth towards Anuradhas…O thou of Vrishni’s race, the planet Mahapat afflicteth the constellation Chitra. The spot on the lunar disc hath changed its position; and Rahu also approacheth towards the sun. Meteors are falling from the sky with loud noise and trembling motion. ~ MBH 5.143
Krishna: O Karna, say unto Drona and Santanu’s son and Kripa that the present month is a delightful one, and that food, drink, and fuel are abundant now. All plants and herbs are vigorous now, all trees full of fruits, and flies there are none. The roads are free from mire, and the waters are of agreeable taste. The weather is neither very hot nor very cold and is, therefore, highly pleasant. Seven days after, will be the day of the new moon. Let the battle commence then, for that day, it hath been said, is presided over by Indra. ~ MBH 5.142
After figuring out the meaning of the Jyotish terms and names, I settled on the interpretation that:
- Mars would have to be somewhere between the constellations of Scorpio and Sagittarius;
- Saturn would have to be in the constellation of Gemini, near the star named Aldebaran;
- The mystery planet, called Mahapat, which Jyotish does not take account of, would have to be somewhere between the constellations of Libra and Scorpio, near the star named Spica;
- The changing position of the spot on the moon could be due to an asteroid impact on the dark side of the moon disturbing the axis;
- Rahu approaching the Sun simply means the Moon was approaching the ecliptic and would intersect the path of the Sun, which is normal for the New Moon phase;
- Meteors falling from the sky is what I set out to prove was behind most of the extreme and violent weather reported in the Mahabharata leading up to the Kurukshetra War.
Assuming Mahapat to be Neptune, I did find this alignment present during the period of October 15 to November 25 in the year 1651 BC. The new moon mentioned would have fell on November 18 and, accordingly, the Kurukshetra War would have been launched 7 days after, on November 26, when the unfavourable planetary alignment had ended. It’s a tidy bit of Paleoastronomy! But it can’t be right. It’s too late and I found something unexpected in the data that I think would surely have ended all discussion of war 13 days before it even began.
On November 13 1651 BC, the asteroid named 1999 SF10 passed over the coordinates 20°12’11.65″N 68°21’42.82″E, just off the coast of Gujarat near where Dwaraka would have been in ancient times. 1999 SF10 approached to within 0.0166 AU at 1800 hours local time to Kurukshetra. On that day and at that time, India would have been dead-center on the backside of Earth, like the rear bumper of a car on a racetrack. Earth’s northern hemisphere tilts out on its axis into oncoming orbiting asteroid traffic then. The 60 m asteroid with the ‘licence number’ 1999 SF10 was travelling at a velocity of 33.2km/s, while Earth was travelling at 29.8 km/s.
I tracked the asteroid’s path from October 11 to November 25 1651 BC and was astonished to see how 1999 SF10 suddenly popped into view in the SW of the target coordinates, curved around and then accelerated toward the target! 1999 SF10 still shows up in the data, so we can be sure it didn’t slam Earth, but this asteroid is part of the Apollo Group of Earth-crossers and we now know asteroids and some comets, like 96P/Machholz, travel in families. This comet was visible from Hastinapur on December 21, 1665 BC. This point bears some significance to the prediction of war made for the ‘fourteenth year hence’ made in MBH 2.78.
Now, I know 1651 BC is an unacceptably late date, according to the experts, but MBH 5.84 describes exactly what would be witnessed by someone 1380 km away from an asteroid impact off the coast of Gujurat. While Krishna was on his way to Hastinapur from Upaplavya, south of Hastinapur these were the conditions reported:
- no clouds in the sky, yet the roll of thunder accompanied by flashes of lightning was heard;
- fleecy clouds in a clear sky rained incessantly in the rear;
- the seven large rivers including the Sindhu (Indus) though flowing eastwards then flowed in opposite directions;
- fires blazed up everywhere and the earth trembled repeatedly;
- the contents of wells and water-vessels by hundreds swelled up and ran out;
- the whole universe was enveloped in darkness;
- the atmosphere filled with dust and the cardinal points of the horizon could not be distinguished;
- loud roars were heard in the sky without any visible cause;
- this phenomenon was noticed all over the country;
- a south-westerly wind, with the harsh rattle of the thunder, uprooting trees by the thousands, crushed the city of Hastinapur.
As an aside, I also wanted to point out that eastward flowing Indus River. This isn’t the first instance I’ve seen what appears to be a mistranslation of east and west in the Mahabharata. If these passages from the Mahabharata don’t describe the meteor event of 1651 BC, then it appears there was a very similar one to it in 3102 BC and 1999 SF10 and the Mahabharata give us insight into asteroid impact conditions.
Fast-forward to the present and 1999 SF10 is still a threatening NEO (near earth object) that is just 40 m shy of official PHO (potentially hazardous object) status, but there’s ample reason to suspect that every 1.4454 years this asteroid visits the graves of some of its more violent relatives buried on Earth in 1651 BC and perhaps 3102 BC too. I’ve compiled a Google map and short video of what I suspect are craters, marking the graves of a few of 1999 SF10’s deceased family members. May they rest in peace.
After a bit more research, I think the feature I named as ‘Girnar Crater’ is more likely an upheaval dome resulting from tectonic activity. Luna Crater has been officially dated to around 4000 BP. As for Khirasara Crater? Well, perhaps the experts in ‘craterology’ can affirm or refute my claim to discovering a new impact crater. Or, perhaps they will dismiss it all together as quaint imaginings of a novice’s adventure in paleoastronomy.