By Sri Nandanandana dasa (Stephen Knapp)
(An Excerpt from “Advancements of Ancient India’s Vedic Culture”)
As devotees and followers of the Vedic path, we already accept the premise that Lord Krishna appeared 5,000 years ago and spoke the Bhagavad-gita in the Mahabharata war. But it is always nice when scholars, other researchers and science can add support to what we already propose. So let’s take a look at this.
One aspect that can show us the early nature of Vedic society, and with a little more reliability, is highlighting the time when Lord Krishna was present. This is another point that has generated many opinions, but is now much clearer than ever with more recent research and findings.
Astrophysicist Dr. Narahari Achar, a physicist from the University of Memphis, clearly showed with astronomical analysis that the Mahabharata war took place in 3067 BCE. Examining the Mahabharata, books 3, 5, and 18, his sky map software showed that all these descriptions converge in the year 3067. Achar also acknowledged that some 30 years earlier, in 1969, S. Raghavan had arrived at the same date.
In determining the date of the Mahabharata war at Kurukshetra, astronomical references in the epic can be used, of which there are more than one hundred and fifty. Most of these that pertain to the war, though there are many scattered throughout the texts, is in the Udyoga and Bhisma Parvas. Those in the Bhisma Parva are especially systematic and are also in accordance with the astrological omens described in the Atharva Veda and its Parishishtas, referring mostly to comets. When these are put together with the retrograde motion of Mars before reaching Jyestha, this leads to the unique date of 3067 BCE for the date of the war, which was previously proposed by Professor Raghavan. 1
This corroborates with the view that the age of Kali-yuga started in 3102 BCE, according to Dr. Achar. As stated in the Puranas, Kali-yuga had already begun, but its full influence was held back because of the presence of Lord Krishna. Then when Lord Krishna departed from this world, which is said to have occurred 35 years after the war of Kurukshetra in 3067, making it the year of 3032 BCE, then Kali-yuga began to show more of its effects. 2
In the time line for the passing away of Grandfather Bhisma, for example, it is said that Bhisma passed away on the Magha (January-February) shukla ashtami, after the winter solstice, which leads to the date of January 13, 3066 BCE for the winter solstice. 3
So, in considering the chronology according Professor Raghavan, we have:
Lord Krishna’s departure from Upaplavya nagara on the mission for peace–September 26, 3067 BCE
Krishna reaches Hastinapura–September 28, 3067 BCE
Lunar eclipse–September 29, 3067 BCE
Krishna rides with Karna–October 8, 3067 BCE
Solar eclipse–October 14, 3067 BCE
The war begins–November 22, 3067 BCE
Fourteenth day of the war, continued into the wee hours of the morning–December 8, 3067 BCE
Balarama returns–December 12, 3067 BCE
Winter solstice–January 13, 3066 BCE
Bhisma’s passing away–January 17, 3066 BCE 4
Departure of Lord Krishna– 3031 BCE.
About when Vedavyasa composed the main Vedic texts– 3000 BCE
About when the Sarasvati had dried up or disappeared–1900 BCE
The above accounts for 48 days from the time of Bhisma’s fall to the time of his passing. However, it is generally accepted that Grandfather Bhisma had 58 sleepless nights between the time of his fall and the time of his passing. Yet, if you count the 10 days that he lead the armies into war in which he may also have not been able to sleep, that would give the full 58 sleepless nights that are described.5
From the internal evidence in the Mahabharata text, the coronation of Maharaja Yudhisthir can be determined to be 36 years before the beginning of Kali-yuga, or about 3138 BCE. One scholar, Dr. Patnaik, had calculated the date of the starting of the Mahabharata war to be October 16, 3138 BCE from references available in the epic itself.
Of course, different scholars may arrive at variations in their calculations, and there have been a few different versions of the Mahabharata, and over the many centuries since it was written, additions and accretions are found. For example, verses 2.28.48-9 mention roma and antakhi in Sanskrit, which some scholars interpret to mean Rome and Antioch. This places these mentions not earlier than 300 BCE since Antioch was founded in 301. 6 However, this does not limit the age of the earlier form of the Mahabharata, which is known to have been written shortly after the war of Kurukshetra.
Nonetheless, as B. N. Narahari Achar explains, other scholars have proposed varying years for the Mahabharata war, from 3102 BCE to 3139 BCE. However, none of these dates can produce the astronomical configurations described in the Mahabharata.
Another point of consideration is that it is generally accepted by most Vedic scholars that the age of Kali-yuga began in February 17-18 of 3102 BCE, which also coincides with the astronomical configurations. This also is given credence from the Aryabhatta Tradition in which Aryabhatta, who lived 476-550 CE, explains that when he was 23 years old, 3600 years of Kali-yuga had elapsed. Aryabhatta, one of the great mathematicians and astronomers of India in the 5th century CE, examined the astronomical positions recorded in the Mahabharata. In his work, the Aryabhattiya, he calculated that the approximate date to be 3100 BCE, justifying the date of the Kurukshetra war to have been fought about 5000 years ago, as the tradition itself and most Hindus have always said.
This again identifies the year of 3102 BCE. However, the Mahabharata itself does not describe when Kali-yuga began. All it says is that the war took place some time during the interval of Dvapara and Kali-yugas, and it certainly took place before Lord Krishna left this world. But there is evidence that Kali-yuga had already begun before Lord Krishna disappeared.
In the Bhagavata Purana (1.15.36) it is explained, “When the Personality of Godhead Lord Krishna left this earthly planet in His selfsame form, from that very day Kali, who had appeared partially before, became fully manifest to create inauspicious conditions for those who are endowed with a poor fund of knowledge.”
Therefore, Kali-yuga had already appeared, but it was only due to the presence of Lord Krishna who was holding back its influence. But after He left this world, Kali’s full potency took effect, which is also stated in the Kali-raja Vrittanta. Thus, the war is most likely to have been in 3067 BCE and the beginning of Kali-yuga accepted as 3102 BCE.
Some people, such as Max Muller and others, have had trouble accepting this date as the time of the Mahabharata, because they felt that the descriptions of the planetary positions of the Saptarishis (Ursa Major) were not real. However, a similar description is also given in the second chapter of the twelfth canto of the Bhagavata Purana, which helps verify the time of the Mahabharata.
One particular point to consider is that it has been shown that the positions of the Saptarishis, as explained in the work of Anthony Aveni, noted author of The Empire of Time: Calendars, Clocks and Cultures, that in many cultures, even in Africa and American Indian cultures, it is believed that the entire solar system revolves through the galaxy of the Milky Way, around the brightest star of the Pleiades, in the Taurus constellation. These are known as the Seven Sisters or Krittikas in the Vedic tradition. The brightest star in the Pleiades is Alcyone, and the sun completes one revolution around this star in approximately 3000 years. This has made the Pleiades a sacred object in the sky in many cultures. But the point is that it is this periodic revolution that is why the Saptarishis repeat their positions described in the Bhagavata Purana every 2700 years. Thus, when calculations are based on the position of these stars, we have to realize that the Vedic texts, including the Ramayana and the descriptions therein, could be relating to time periods much earlier than we think.
Additional evidence that can help establish the time of Lord Krishna was in Mohenjodaro, where a tablet dated to 2600 BCE was found which depicts Lord Krishna in His childhood days. This shows that Lord Krishna was popular at least prior to this date. 7
We also have records from Greek travelers who came to India following Alexander’s invasion which have left references to Krishna. Authors like Pliny referred to Krishna as Heracles, based on Hari Krishna. They record that Heracles (Krishna) was held in special honor by the Sourseni tribe (Shuraseni, based on Shura the father of Vasudeva and grandfather of Lord Krishna) in such places as the major city of Methora (Mathura).
The Greek records go on to record that Heracles (Krishna) lived 138 generations before the time of Alexander and Sandrocottas, which was about 330 BCE. This then calculates, based on about 20 years per generation, to roughly 3090 BCE, which is about the right time considering 3102 BCE is the date when Kali-yuga began. Thus, Lord Krishna was a genuinely historical figure who lived about the time of 3200-3100 BCE, having lived to 125 years of age.
WHEN LORD KRISHNA LEFT THIS WORLD
The above information leads us to the approximate date when Lord Krishna left this world. As B. N. Narahari Achar again describes: “According to the epic Mahabharata, Krishna first appears [in the epic] at the time of Draupadi’s wedding, and His departure is exactly 36 years after the war. No information about His birth is available in the epic itself, although there is information about His departure. Krishna observes omens (Mahabharata 14.3.17), similar to the ones seen at the time of the war, now indicating the total destruction of the Yadavas. [Astrological] Simulations show that in the year 3031 BCE, thirty-six years later than 3067 BCE, there was an eclipse season with three eclipses. A lunar eclipse on 20 October was followed by an annular solar eclipse on 5 November, followed by a penumbral lunar eclipse on 19 November, within an interval of 14 days and at an aparvani time. Thus the date of departure of Lord Krishna is consistent with the popular tradition that He passed away 36 years after the war. The information about His birth can be gathered from the Harivamsha and the Bhagavata Purana…. It should be understood, however, that the date of His departure from this world is established on the information in the epic and on the basis of [astronomical] simulations, and it turns out to be 3031 BCE.” 8
MORE PROOF OF THE EXISTENCE OF LORD KRISHNA
Sometimes there are comments and even controversies amongst those who are less informed regarding whether Christianity or Vedic culture came first. Some people point out that the devotional elements within the Vedic tradition, especially in regard to the Bhakti movements, must have come from Christianity first and then appeared in the Vedic Vaishnava tradition, the followers of which exhibit much love and devotion to Lord Krishna and Vishnu and His other avataras. But this idea, that Vedic culture came from Christianity, which some Christian preachers in India still try to use in their attempts to convert people, could not be further from the truth. The fact is that there is archeological proof that the Vaishnava tradition of devotion to Lord Vishnu existed many years prior to the appearance of Christianity.
Not far from the Buddhist site of Sanchi in Central India, we take a 45-minute ride on the very bumpy road to Vidisha or Besnagar where we find the Heliodorus column, locally known as the Khamb Baba pillar. This was erected by Heliodorus, the Greek ambassador to India in 113 BCE. Heliodorus was sent to the court of King Bhagabhadra by Antialkidas, the Greek king of Taxila. The kingdom of Taxila was part of the Bactrian region in northwest India, which had been conquered by Alexander the Great in 325 BCE. By the time of Antialkidas, the area under Greek rule included what is now Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Punjab.
Heliodorus writes on the stone pillar the time it was erected and the fact that he had converted to Vaishnavism, or the worship of Lord Vishnu. The inscription on the column, as published in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, says:
“This Garuda column of Vasudeva (Vishnu), the god of gods, was erected here by Heliodorus, a worshiper of Vishnu, the son of Dion, and an inhabitant of Taxila, who came as Greek ambassador from the Great King Antialkidas to King Kasiputra Bhagabhadra, the Savior, then reigning prosperously in the fourteenth year of his kingship. Three important precepts when practiced lead to heaven: self-restraint, charity, conscientiousness.”
This shows that Heliodorus had become a worshiper of Vishnu and was well versed in the texts and ways pertaining to this religion. It can only be guessed how many other Greeks became converted to Vaishnavism if such a notable ambassador did. This conclusively shows the Greek appreciation for India and its philosophy.
It was General Alexander Cunningham who was doing an archeological survey in 1877 who first took notice of the significance of the column. However, he did not attend to the inscription that was on it because it was covered with vermilion. This was because the pilgrims who worshiped had a custom to smear the column with vermilion.
It was only in January of 1901 when a Mr. Lake uncovered the paint from what he thought was some lettering. Once the ancient Brahmi text was translated, the historical significance of the column became ever more apparent.
The British Sanskritists, due to their superior views of themselves, had developed the idea that much of the Vedic traditions and legends of Lord Krishna had to have been incorporated from the Bible and the stories of Jesus. However, this Heliodorus column was the archeological discovery that proved to the disappointed British that knowledge of Krishna and the Vaishnava tradition predated Christianity by at least 200 years. The column indicated that the Indians did not adopt legends of Christ to put in their Puranas to be used for the stories of Krishna as the British had hypothesized since this gave proof that knowledge of Krishna predated Jesus by almost 200 years.
Another point to consider is that if a Greek official was so impressed with the philosophy of Vaishnavism that he converted to it in 200 BCE, then it means that Vaishnavism and the element of spiritual devotion to God, as found in the Bhakti tradition, had to have originated several hundred years if not several thousand years earlier in order for it to have developed to a stage wherein the Greeks were so much impressed by it. So this is a serious historical site to see.
The Heliodorus column also indicates that the Vedic tradition accepted converts at that time. Only after the difficulties between Hindus and Muslims was there a hesitancy on the part of Hindus to accept converts to the Vedic tradition. The Vedic religion saw itself as universal and welcomed all people into its embrace. As Raychaudhari writes: “The Beshnagar record testifies to the proselytizing zeal of the Bhagavatas [Vaishnavas] in the pre-Christian centuries, and shows that their religion was excellent enough to capture the hearts of cultured Greeks, and catholic enough to admit them into its fold.”
This evidence further shows that Greece was but a part of Vedic culture and repeated what it and its philosophers had learned from the Vedic sages rather than being a source of the higher levels of philosophy as some people think. Furthermore, this evidence bears witness to the fact that the Christian tradition and its main element of devotion or bhakti to God was found in Vedic culture long before it appeared within the confines of Christianity. In fact, much of the deeper spiritual philosophy in Christianity is but a repeat of what had been previously established and much more deeply developed in the older Vedic tradition. So to fathom the deeper aspects of the different levels of devotion to God, one can investigate the Vedic and Vaishnava tradition to learn the finer details.
Additional archeological finds include the Mora Well and Ghosundi Inscriptions, which tell us that the rich and complex Vaishnava conception of God and full expansions of the Godhead into the material universes were already well established in the first two centuries before Christ. Seven miles west of Mathura in the small and unimposing village of Mora, General Cunningham made another vital find regarding the historicity of Vaishnavism. In 1882, on the terrace of an ancient well, he discovered a large stone slab filled with inscriptions. Although more than half of the writing had already peeled away on the right side, the remainder was legible. It was transcribed, and a facsimile of the inscription was published in the Archaeological Survey of India’s Annual Report. The message was clear. Not only was Krishna worshiped in the centuries before Christ, but also His expansions or associates, especially “the five heroes of the Vrishni Clan.” Scholarly research makes evident that these five are Krishna (Vasudeva), Balarama (Sankarshana), Pradyumna, Samba, and Aniruddha.
This was the proof that the complex theology, metaphysics, and cosmology of Sanatana-dharma and Vaishnavism definitely existed in an advanced state centuries before Christ. The Mora Well inscription is an important archeological proof of this historical fact.
Furthermore, in the village of Ghosundi in the Chitor district of Rajasthan is found the Ghosundi Inscription, which largely duplicates the message of the Mora Well Inscription. Kaviraja Shyamala Dasa first brought this evidence to light in The Journal of the Bengal Asiatic Society. Today, the inscription can be inspected in the Victoria Hall Museum in Udaipur.
The surviving part of this inscription relevant to this chapter reads as follows: “[this] railing of stone for the purposes of worship is [caused to be made] in the Narayana-compound, [dedicated] to the Blessed Ones [bhagavabhyam] Samkarshana and Vasudeva, the gods…”
The inscription is in a form of Sanskrit script called Northern Brahmi script, which dates the inscription as being from the second century BCE in either the late Maurya or early Sunga periods. An almost identical inscription also was uncovered nearby and is called the Hathi-vada Inscription. According to K. P. Jayaswal of the Archaeological Survey of India, these inscriptions demonstrate that not only the Kshatriyas but also the Brahmanas or priestly and intellectual class worshiped Krishna as the “Lord of all,” and, thus, Vaishnavism was entrenched in the entire Indian society.
The same point is made in the famous Nanaghat Cave Inscription in the state of Maharashtra, where Vasudeva and Sankarshana (or Krishna and Balarama) are included in an invocation of a Brahmana. On epigraphical grounds, this inscription is dated conclusively as coming from the second half of the first century BCE. Additionally, Raychaudhuri reports:
The Nanaghat Inscription shows further that the Bhagavata [Vaishnava] religion was no longer confined to Northern India, but had spread to the south and had captured the hearts of the sturdy people of Maharashtra. From Maharashtra it was destined to spread to the Tamil country and then flow back with renewed vigor to the remotest corners of the Hindu Vedic world.
There is also much numismatic evidence that corroborates the antiquity of Krishna. For instance, excavations at Al-Khanum, along the border of Afghanistan and the Soviet Union, conducted by P. Bernard and a French archeological expedition, unearthed six rectangular bronze coins issued by the Indo-Greek ruler Agathocles (180?-?165 BCE). The coins had script written in both Greek and Brahmi and, most interestingly, show an image of Vishnu, or Vasudeva, carrying a Chakra and a pear-shaped vase, or conchshell, which are two of the four main sacred symbols of God in Vaishnavism.
DATE OF LORD RAMA
Another point we could discuss is the approximate date of Lord Rama. Lord Rama appeared in the Solar Dynasty, but even the time frame of His appearance may shed more light on the antiquity of Vedic culture. Naturally, scholars have different views on when He may have existed. Some say He was here a few thousand years before Lord Krishna. In fact, in an April 2011 edition of the Times of India, Saurabh Kwatra writes that using the zodiac and the recorded tithis, days marked according to the phases of the moon, he calculated that the birth of Lord Rama, as related in the Valmiki Ramayana, was December 4th, 7323 BCE. While using other forms of planetary computer software, others have come up with other dates.
Though these may be some of the more recent calculations, still the tradition places the era of Lord Rama much earlier than that. For example, the Vayu Purana (70.48) says:
tretayuge chaturvinshe ravanastapasah kshayat
ramam dasharathim prapya saganah kshayamlyavan
This relates that the misbehaving Ravana was killed with his kiths and kins in a war with Rama in the 24th Treta-yuga. We are presently in the 28th chaturyuga (cycle of 1000 yugas) of the Vaivasvat manvantara. Furthermore, this is corroborated by Rupa Goswami in his Laghu Bhagavatamrita that Rama appeared in the Treta-yuga of the 24th yuga cycle. There are 71 cycles of the four yugas in a manvantara period, which would mean the appearance of Lord Rama would be about 18 million years ago.
Another interesting point is that in the Suderkand section of the Valmiki Ramayana (5.4.27) elephants with four tusks are mentioned as standing at the gates of Ravana’s palace. Also in 5.27.12 an ogress named Trijata sees in her dream Lord Rama mounted on a great elephant with four tusks. The fact that they knew of elephants with four tusks is very intriguing since, scientifically speaking, a quick reference to the elephant with four tusks is called a Mastondontoidea, which is calculated to have evolved around 38 million years ago, and is suspected of becoming extinct around 15 million years ago. This would help verify the ancient date of Lord Rama to be around 18 million years ago. Interesting… isn’t it?
The more we look in the right places for the right evidence, the more we see that the Vedic tradition indeed holds the universal spiritual truths.
1. B. N. Narahari Achar, Origin of Indian Civilization, Edited by Bal Ram Singh, Center for Indic Studies, Dartmought, USA, 2010, p. 203.
2. Nicholas Kazanas, Origin of Indian Civilization, Edited by Bal Ram Singh, Center for Indic Studies, Dartmought, USA, 2010, p. 53.
3. B. N. Narahari Achar, Origin of Indian Civilization, Edited by Bal Ram Singh, Center for Indic Studies, Dartmought, USA, 2010, p. 225.
4. Ibid., p. 231.
5. Ibid., p. 244.
6. Nicholas Kazanas, Origin of Indian Civilization, Edited by Bal Ram Singh, Center for Indic Studies, Dartmouth, USA, 2010, p. 53.
7. V. S. Agrawal, India in the Days of Panini, 1953.
8. B. N. Narahari Achar, Origin of Indian Civilization, Edited by Bal Ram Singh, Center for Indic Studies, Dartmought, USA, 2010, p. 246-7.