Georg von Simson g.v.simson at EAST.UIO.NO
Fri Oct 20 09:46:49 UTC 2000

Vidyasankar Sundaresan wrote:

>>to be ascertained by the knowledge of other fields . For example, the date
>>of the Mahabharata . The knowledge of astronomy was one way to estimate
>However, knowledge of astronomy has to be supplemented by a keen
>understanding of different temporal layers in the MBh, varying
>readings in different sources of manuscripts, errors in transmission,
>etc., things which the textual scholars know well.

And, what is equally important, you should know how to interprete a given
passage. There are several astronomical phenomena mentioned in the
Bhishmaparvan of the Mahabharata, some of them apparently chosen by the
poet because of their inauspiciousness in order to convey the weird
atmosphere immediately before the outbreak of the battle, others to
indicate the astrologically proper moment to start the battle. If this is
true, we cannot use these statements to calculate the date of the battle.
And then: Even if a calculation would be possible, it would only allow
conclusions about the poet's intention, and that is not necessarily the
same as the historical date of the Mabharata war and it is neither the same
as the date of the composition of the text. Unless, of course, you believe
that the whole text is composed by one Vyasa and that this Vyasa was a
contemporary of the events he describes. The composite character of the
text does not support such a belief.
   I have tried to give an account of the chronological statements of the
epic in a recent article, published in:
   M. Brockington and P. Schreiner (eds.): Composing a tradition:
   Concepts, Techniques and Relationships
   Zagreb, 1999 (Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts), pp. 49-66.
Let me just quote my conclusion (p. 60):
"As we can see, there is no consistent chronology with regard to the events
around the battle. There seem to be different traditions, incompatible with
each other, and the nakSatras were perhaps mentioned only because of their
astrological qualities."

> The two groups
>can work together, if only they could put aside their prejudices
>about each other.

Sure, and I am delighted if I can get good advice from an astronomer. But
you must understand that philologists cannot take seriously engineers and
scientists who try to interprete ancient sanskrit texts on the basis of
(sometimes bad) English translations without having learned the difficult
art of text interpretation. That the philological experts too often enough
go astray goes without saying.

Georg v. Simson

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