Astronomical dating of Odyssey and Mahābhārata (Part 2/2)

Read Part 1

There are two possibilities on how Homer knew about the eclipse which happened five centuries ago.

  1. The eclipse details was passed down through oral tradition to Homer.
  2. If Homer knew about Metonic and Saros eclipse cycles, he could have estimated the eclipse.

Currently there is no evidence that Greeks were interested in such precise observation of astronomical events. Since the eclipse did not pass through other major civilizations of the time, the data could not have come from elsewhere. The authors believe both theories to be outlandish.

Irrespective of the astronomical data, there is general consensus on the date of the Battle of Troy since the date predicted by the classical writers have been validated by archaeology. Plato gave a date of 1193 B.C.E, Eratosthenes, 1184 B.C.E and Herodotus, 1250 B.C.E. for the fall of Troy; the destruction layer in Troy VII has been dated to 1190 B.C.E.

Even though they could find a date which matches data from other sources, the authors of the paper make it clear that it is no indication that the Odyssey really happened. The paper, they state, only makes the case that if certain astronomical events listed are correct, then they refer to a historical eclipse.

While the date for the Trojan war was validated with extensive archaeology, Mahābhārata archaeology has been minimal. The dates for the war have a spread of two millennia; the Trojan war has a spread of 135 years. This date of 3097 B.C.E does not become credible unless it synchronizes with archaeological data. For example, horses play an important part in the epic and no horse remains dating to that period has been found in India[1].

While Odyssey has only few astronomical references, Mahābhārata has many. Does this mean the composers of Mahābhārata observed astronomical events with great accuracy or did they painstakingly retrofit a later day story with historical astronomical events?

Rajiv Malhotra meanwhile asks if it really matters how old Mahābhārata is?

At the same time, one comes across many Hindu scholars who are chasing useless and chauvinistic bandwagons that are disconnected from today’s relevant issues. For instance, they seem to be obsessed with ‘proving’ the age of the Mahabharata or geographically locating the Vedas, as if any Hindus were converting because the Mahabharata is not proven to be old enough! They are like ostriches with their heads stuck inside the temple, ashrama and/or political arena, while the globalized world has already passed them by.[Myth of Hindu Sameness]

In fact does it really matter how old Odyssey is or if it really happened? For those interested only in the theology of Mahābhārata it does not matter if the epic was history or poetry from an imaginative mind. But let others who are curious investigate. That too is important.

It is also important to note that research based on astronomical data was carried out in a reputed American university and the results published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. This is treated as scholarship and is neither frowned upon, not considered taboo. The observations in the paper was carried by all major news sources and none of them passed judgement on this type of research. While the world now knows about the work of Marcelo O. Magnasco and Constantino Baikouzis, the work of Narahari Achar largely remains unknown, even in India.


[1] The Bhimbetka rock shelters of the Paleolithic age have horse images, but they have not been accurately dated.

12 thoughts on “Astronomical dating of Odyssey and Mahābhārata (Part 2/2)

  1. Doesn’t the mahAbhArata have references to Bactrian Greeks? It also has atleast one reference to China ( atleast the deer skin reference in the article is correct). While Chinese believe to have had civilization around 3000 B.C. historians haven’t found enough evidence for that.
    This brings us to the more general issue that mahAbhArata was extrapolated several times. If I remember it right even mAdhvAcArya threw away from it many verses claiming they weren’t authentic. As Arvind Sharma had written, a critical edition of mahAbhArata may not be possible to develop.

  2. That’s a good point. Before Alexader, Cyrus had reached till Bactria and that would be around Buddha’s time. Not sure if they were called ‘yavanas’, but definitely the Greek reference is an example of later interpolation.

  3. Actually I remember hearing that Greeks were called Yavanas because they looked beautiful ( hence the etymological connection with “yuvan” or youth ). Don’t know if that is correct, but if so that would certainly be applicable to Persians who are way better looking than Indians 🙂

  4. very nice post, JK.
    Frog….Yavana is thought (by most historians) to be a corruption of Ionian (Hiyanians or yavanian). The greek-ionian kings were subjugated by the Persian, Cyrus, and the Persian empire pretty much reached Bactria and present day Afghanistan. The western indian civilizations were certainly in contact with the Persian empire, and very likely would have come in contact with ionians (yavanas), and the name stuck for all greeks with the coming of Alexander.

  5. Actually, “Yavana” comes from a term used by Persians to refer to Greeks, mainly “Ionian” Greeks. Perhaps: Ionia->Yauna->Yavana.

  6. Also, Achari’s paper doesnt try to consider his findings with known facts like the date of invasion of Alexander and crowning of Ashoka. He places Mauryan empire somewhere around 1500 BCE, that would mean Alexander’s campaign took place even before that. I doubt if any Greek or Persian text will corroborate aligning the campaign to such an early date.
    That is one problem, according to me, in dating the Mbh. Almost everyone is moving from these two sheet anchor events, which can be corroborated and then moving backwards, as compared to Achari’s method where he starts from the three dating methods which all take the base year in the neighborhood of 3000 BCE, as the starting date of Kaliyug.

  7. Oops, Sunil and Notreallyanonymous : I saw your comments only now. I heard this “youth” funda from a left-leaning history professor, if I remember it correctly. But that could be just his opinion and may be most historians disagree with him as you say. Thanks.

  8. Seems to me that we all are missing the archeological findings of the city of Dwarka, which would definetly play a major role in putting a timeline to events in Mahabharata. The radio carbon dating and thermoluminiscence dating methods applied on the artifacts found from under sea excavations at Dwarka, have yeilded a date of 16th – 17th century BCE. Moreover the oldest layers have also been dated to the same period at Dwarka excavations by other methods. This information may play an important role in dating the Mahabharata. But I personally believe that there is still a lot to be uncovered before we could conclude to a final date. All the dating methods, such as astronomical, archeological, scientific (radiocarbon dating & thermoluminiscence dating) need to be in sync and give same or similar dates, then only we can be conclusive about the exact dates of the truth Mahabharata.

  9. Homer, we believe, was indeed far more skilled an astronomer and calendar-maker than is generally recognised.
    In his times, the 8th century BC, the Greeks did not have a writing system, but they would have had the same requirement for knowledge of astronomy and calendar-making as that known to have existed in contemporary – and literate – Egypt and Mesopotamia.
    A reading of the Odyssey as extended astronomical metaphor is strongly supported by analysis of the extensive numerical data embedded in the epic which provides surprisingly detailed knowledge of astronomy and a luni-solar calendar system.
    Was Homer ever regarded as an astronomer? The oldest source, amongst others, comes from Heraclitus, (c. 535-475 BC) who described him as ‘Homer the astronomer, considered wisest of all Greeks’.
    A website at gives a short introduction to this study.

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