By Dr Narahari Achar (edited by Dr Manish Pandit)
References to Planetary positions in the epic Mahabharata and Oak’s interpretations.
Mr. Oak considers a total of 27 references as very crucial to be accounted for in his quest to date the Mahabharata war. Out of these, 24 astronomical references are taken from Udyoga and Bhishma parvas and 3 references from Drona, Karna and Salya parvas, respectively. He groups
them into eight groups and lists them as pertaining to the five planets: Saturn (3), Jupiter(3),Mars (5),Mercury (2) and Venus (2) with the number in parentheses indicating the number of references. He groups into one group four references pertaining to ‘sweta graha’, ‘Shyama graha’, ‘Tivra graha’, and a reference to ‘Great Comet’. Three more references pertain to ‘Seven
planets’ , on the first day of War, on the 14th day of War and on the 17th day of war ̧ respectively.
This accounts for a total of 22 references. The remaining five forms a group of references to eclipses. Oak’s claim is that his theory is the only one which can account for all the 27 references and more.
Such listings are not new and have been known from the times of Dikshit, Kane , Sengupta and many others. One thing certain is if one considers this listing as ‘true’ and translates ‘graha’ as a ‘planet’, then, these astronomical references appear to be inconsistent, incoherent and contradictory. Some scholars resign to that fact and consider these references to be ignored.
Others try to interpret these references in a way so as to find some consistency. Achar has tried to explain the apparent inconsistencies in one way. He recognizes that these astronomical references are omens, ‘graha’ may also mean not just a planet, but anything that can grasp(grih) a
nakshatra,such as comet, an asteroid and of course a planet. Then he invokes the rules of seeking the meaning of a word, justifications for application of such rules and arrives at the date 3067 BCE for the war. He explains in a consistent way all the astronomical references getting support
from Varahamihira, Atharvaveda Parishishta, and RigVeda. He also pays attention to the order in which these references appear in the epic in interpreting them.
Oak on the other hand does not pay attention to the ‘ominous’ nature of these references nor does he pay any attention to the chronological order of the references in the epic. He considers ‘graha’ means a ‘planet’ always. Hence he is forced to seek his explanation somewhere else. He does
this by interpreting words like ‘pidayati’,‘vakra’, and ‘adhika masa’ according to his own fancy.
Even words like ‘samipasthau’ which simply means ‘staying nearby’ do not escape his assault.
When on the date specified by him,(5561 BCE), Jupiter and Saturn which are situated on opposite sides of Vishakha nakshatra, at about 45 degrees away(3 to 4 nakshatras) on either side, he declares they are close enough. He has a strange explanation for the well-known concept of
‘vakra’ motion. These concepts will be examined in detail later.
The basic problem is that he does not recognize that Arundati- Vasishtha situation refers to an omen, it is just one of the many in Chapter 2 of Bhishma parva, being the 31st shloka out of 32 shlokas. His ‘discovery’ cannot qualify as an omen. His explanations cannot be accepted.
Moreover, many of the atronomical references Oak considers as pertaining to planets actually pertain to comets and as such they are not of much help for chronological studies.
In discussing Oak’s theory, we will take the references that Oak himself lists. It will be shown that his theory cannot account for a majority of these references as he lists, despite the claims and assertions of Mr. Oak.
I. References to Saturn
Oak lists the following three as referring to the position of Saturn:
(1) Saturn near Vishaka for a year (along with Jupiter)
On October 16, 5561 BCE, (first day of War according to Oak), Saturn is at Hasta and Jupiter is near Uttarashadha (positions attested by Oak himself). The angular separation between them is more than 90 degrees.(some seven nakshatras apart). Saturn is retrograde from about October 26, 5562 BCE to March 14, 5561 BCE near uttaraphalguni, for a period of about 5 months. Jupiter is retrograde from Mar 4, 5561 BCE to July 1, 5561 BCE at purvashadha , for about 4 months. Neither Saturn nor Jupiter can be
described as being close to Vishakha as they are more than 40 degrees (three nakshatras) away from Vishakha and certainly not close to each other. It is difficult to understand how Oak considers his simulation satisfactory.
Conclusion: Ref 1 is not satisfied by Oak’s theory.. However, Saturn was near uttara phalguni earlier in the year. Ref 2 is satisfied.
Oak explains ‘Saturn afflicts Rohini’ in the following way: As Rohini sets in the West, Saturn is in the Eastern sky and looks down on it.
However, if we see how Varahamihira defines affliction, then we note that Oak’s explanation is at complete variation to Varamihira in the following way:
A nakshtra is said to be afflicted (pidita) when
(a) It is tenanted by Sun(ravi) or Saturn (ravisuta)
(b) It is spoilt by Mars(kshitisuta)by either cutting through or by retrograde (vakra) motion
(c) When it is involved in an eclipse
(d) When it is stuck by a meteor
(e) When it is manifestly crushed by moon
(f) Or when something unnatural happens to it.
When a nakshatra is thus thus afflicted all the people and things coming under its jurisdiction
will be harmed. Note that the object of affliction is a nakshatra, and the condition of ‘affliction’ is different for different astronomical bodies.
For Rohini to be afflicted by Saturn, Saturn must be at Rohini. Oak’s explanation cannot be accepted. In 5561 BCE, Saturn is nowhere near Rohini. Ref 3 is not satisfied.
Thus Saturn’s positions as per his list (Oak’s claims not withstanding) two out of three are not satisfied in 5561 BCE as shown by his own simulations.
(Notes: The references (1), (2) and (3) are out of sequence chronologically. In reference (3) the first part is from Udyoga parva and is as stated by Karna during the Krishna-Karna-ride together. The second part is from Bhishma parva and refers to the same astronomical
configuration. Achar accepts this configuration as a primary configuration(Saturn at Rohini).
References (1) and (2) are from BhishmaParva and are statements of Vyasa on the eve of
War.. Please also note the shloka previous to (1) :
It refers to two ‘grahas’ with coppery red hair. It can only refer to comets and not to Saturn and Jupiter. This is a fundamental error. The position of Saturn is a crucial astronomical reference in determining the date of the Mahabharata war.)