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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Mahabharat Times

Mahabharat Times
Continuation of Jambudwipa Series

Compared to Ramayana, which is a simple story of adventure of a prince in exile, Mahabharata is a story of generations of kings encompassing many dynasties and regions with encyclopedic detail. To restrict it to a limited geographical context is an extremely difficult exercise. Yet, attempts were made, and the most popular one is its identification with the Painted Grey Ware cultures of Upper Ganges Basin as the central stage of the epic.

Central to this geographical context is the capital city, of feuding cousins in the principal story, 


A site near Meerut was excavated by Prof. Lal in early fifties. Majority scholars are of the opinion that it is the same as Hastinapur, the capital city of Kurus in Mahabharata. Fortunately, it is one of the sites where proper archeological method was followed and the sequence of occupation over long period – from 1300 BCE to the 15th century CE – is established. See table.

If the above hypothesis of PGW context is correct, the Mahabharata battle should have had taken place towards the end of that period that is 800 BCE. Our tradition maintains that Vedavyasa, who had codified the Vedic lore into four distinct compendia, belonged to the same period. Max Muller’s sequence of 200 years per each literary tradition until the birth of Buddhism conveniently fits in.

Pre 800 BCE                  Vedic Period
800 – 600 BCE               Brahmanic Period
600 – 400 BCE            Upanishadic Period

Pargiter’s examination of Puranas had thrown up some very strong arguments against this conventional chronology. But he belonged to late 19th and early 20th Century, a fact that had forced him to fit the data – he so painstakingly collated – into a chronology agreed by majority.

His inferences have left more unanswered questions than settling the matter. Nevertheless he had to agree – though reluctantly – to a date of 2200 BCE or earlier for the beginning of Puranic tradition. 

Therefore, it can only be counterproductive if we continue to delve on conventional chronology given in our text books. 

Aryan Invasion is a closed chapter in our historiography.
Our Ancient Indian Historical Sources – Puranas and Epics – have adequate data to reconstruct India’s prehistory.
Our challenge is not to be carried away to make religious brownies but to anchor the tradition in verifiable archaeological fact.

A date is given…
Mahapadma abhisekatstu
yavaj janma  Pariksitah
evam  varşa-sahasram tu
jneyam  pancadasuttaram

1050 years have passed
between birth of Parikshit
coronation of Mahapadma

Puranas also say that Nandas ruled for 90 years and were replaced by Chandragupta Maurya. Chandragupta, known in Greek sources as Sandrocottus, came to power in 321 BCE.  Therefore, Parikshit was born in 321 + 90 + 1050 = 1461 BCE. As per the epic and puranic tradition, Parikshit is posthumous son of Abhimanyu, who died in the Great War. That takes the main story of Mahabharata to circa 1500 BCE.
Now let us look at the genealogical table of Bharata lineage. The table shows the list of kings between the close of Treta Yuga, marked by the story of Ramayana, to the end of Dwapara Yuga, marked by the Mahabharata. The capital, Hastinapura was built by Hasti, an ancestor of the heroes of the epic who reigned 20 generations before the war. Taking an average of 18 years per generation, considering factors related to a declining civilization, we may conclude that the capital was founded around 1850 BCE. See table.
If you look at the archaeological sequence of Hastinapura excavated by Prof. Lal, there is a thin layer of Pre 1200 BCE before one reaches the natural soil. This earliest level consisted of sporadic occupations with the presence of Ochre Colored Pottery. OCP is seen as a degenerate continuation of Late Harappan style by many. Even if it is an independent style, archaeological continuity at many sites is noted. Whereas, Painted Grey Ware always occurred after a short gap in occupation or presence of Black and Red pottery in between.   

Therefore, the site Hastinapura excavated by Prof. Lal  cannot be the city in Mahabharata. It is probably a settlement that came into existence a few centuries after the original city was destroyed by floods. This original capital must have been somewhere to the west-northwest of the doab. There are more than 563 candidates that show Late-Harappan occupation between Sutlej and Yamuna in the time bracket 1900-1400 BCE. The easternmost site being Alamgirpur – 30 miles to the west of Ganges – the capital cannot be further east. 
This brings us to the possibility that the city belonged to a period when Yamuna was still flowing westward into Drishadvati valley, course of erstwhile Saraswati or commonly called Ganga as a remembrance of its past glory. So the city of Hastinapura, was in the environs of the region currently known as Kurukshetra – the Land of Kurus – where the battle had taken place. 

Let us look at the simple logic. 

If Point A is the capital of the kingdom and the Point B is a city of the challenger, the battle for possession of capital can only take place between A and B and not a place away from both. 

The present identification of Hastinapur falls between the Panchala capital, Ahicchatra and the battlefield Kurukshetra. So it is reasonable to assume that the capital of Kurus was on the Drishadvati valley when a large volume of Yamuna headwaters still flowed into it.

You may ask, “Why the Drishadvati Valley?”

Archaeologically speaking, the largest concentration of Late-Harappan sites – 563 by the latest count – is between Sutlej and Yamuna with Drishadvati at its center.
Secondly, Viswamitra, the progenitor of Bharata race, The Bull of Bharatas (Bharata-Rishabha) has his wife Drishadvati, indicating a connection. I have indicated in my earlier post (Geography of Ramayana) a possible connection between Kekeya region and the rise of Bharatas.
Thirdly and most importantly, the legend of Balarama associated with the destruction of Hastinapura.


Mahabharata and most of the principal puranas relate this story. 

Balarama, angered by the abduction of his son, Samba, threatens to destroy the Elephant City. He wields his plough and makes a furrow drawing the waters of Yamuna away from the city. This indicates a riparian migration of the headwaters of Yamuna away from Drishadvati valley to its current channel. This had happened towards the end of Late-Harappan phase, hastening its end. 

We know that this archaeological phase was followed immediately by the BRW phase from circa 1400 BCE. Black and Red pottery is associated with the sites of Gujarat and Malva before its spread to the Gangetic basin. The culture has strong association with rice as its staple. BRW phase heralded the widest spread of agrarian cultures to the east and south of the subcontinent. Rice cultivation involves transplantation of seedlings and Balarama’s another name is Sankarshana – meaning ‘Transplant’ or ‘Transplanter’.  

Further, BRW culture is strongly identified with Yadavas. Puranic genealogies indicate a short tenure of Yadavas operating out of Hastinapura immediately following the Great War. Atharva Veda deride the users of Nila-Lohita (Black & Red) pottery as inferior people. Both puranic and epic tradition of Bharatas confirms that its compilation had taken place not in the cities but in the hermitages in Naimisha forest, indicating separation from mainstream civilization after the war.

All these indicate a disruption in the Bharata line after the Mahabharata. Attempts later at connecting the ruling lineage of Kāmpilya with the protagonists of Mahabharata legend had taken place during the reign of Adhisima Krishna, who claimed his descent from its heroes. See table.

His name – Adhisima-Krishna – suggests a final reconciliation of Yadava and Bharata lines and the incorporation of Yadava heroes into the epic. 

 Puranas make Adhisimakrishna a contemporary of Senajit of Magadha and Divakara of Ayodhya in the east, bringing the middle Gangetic basin into civilization orbit coinciding with the establishment of early BRW and PGW centers there leading up to the Second Urbanization.

So what was the original Hastinapura, the celebrated Elephant City?

Is it Banawali or Rakhigarhi? Both are large enough to qualify. 

Since Rakhigarhi probably falls on late Yamuna-Drishadvati course, 

I shall cast my vote on Rakhigarhi … until further evidence.

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