Archaeoastronomy and Vedic chronology

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The history of Indian astronomy begins with the Vedic period, Lagadha and composition of Vedanga Jyotisha (1400 BCE - 1200 BCE). Astronomical knowledge in India reached an early peak in the 5th century CE, with the Āryabhaṭīya. Its author, Aryabhata, uses astronomical calculations to determine the date of the Battle of Kurukshetra as 18 February 3102 BCE. This date has become traditional and is still widely cited in Hindu literature.

Modern authors attempted to date the Vedic period based on archaeoastronomical calculations. Thus, William Jones who tried to show, based on information gathered from Varaha Mihira, that Parashara muni lived at 1181 BCE.[1] Hermann Jacobi has argued that in the Rigveda and Atharvaveda the sun was in Phalguni, and in the Sankhayana and Gobhila Grhyasutra the Full moon was in Bhadrapada during the summer solstice, which would have occurred at 4500-2500 BCE.[2]

Jacobi and Tilak have both noted that the terms of the naksatras Mula (root), Vicrtau (dividers) and Jyestha (oldest) suggest that these names originated from a time when Mula marked the beginning of the year, i.e. about 4500-2500 BCE.[3] Tilak has also noted that the two week long pitrs period after the full moon in Bhadrapada occurred at the beginning of the pitryana, which would have been true at about 4500-2500 BCE.[3]


In RV 5.40.5-9, a solar eclipse is referred to: Surya is obscured by an Asura called Svarbhanu ("self-luminous"), but recovered by the Atris.

"The One" referred to in the Nasadiya Sukta and other hymns has been suggested to have originally referred to the axis mundi, and "The One who dwells beyond the seven sages" as the polar star, at the time referring to ThubanDraconis).[4]

The samvatsara "full year" in the Yajurveda has 360 days, and 12 (TS) or 13 (VS) months.[5]


The visuvant (summer solstice) period is 21 days in Aitreya Br. and 7 days in Pancavimsa Br., the summer solstice being in the middle of the period.[6]

The gavam ayana ritual in SB 4.6.2. is based on the motion of the sun.[6]

In the Maitrayana Brahmana Upanishad (6.14), the year is said to be into two portions, with the part from Magha to half of Śraviṣṭha associated with Agni, and the part from Sārpa to half of Śraviṣṭha associated with Varuna and Saumya (the moon). Aiyar has argued[7] that Agni suggests the warm half and similarly Varuna the cool half of the year, suggesting the summer solstice at the beginning of Maghā and thus implying the vernal equinox in Kṛttikā. This, according to Kak, would correspond to 1660 BCE.[8]

rising of the Pleiades (M45) as seen from Delhi in 800 BC and 2000 BC (click to enlarge).

The Shatapatha Brahmana mentions that the Krttikas (the Pleiades) "do not swerve from the east".[9][10] This would have been the case with precision at 2950 BCE[8] and was true also about 2000 BCE,[11] but was still true to within 8-13 degrees (viz., East by north) around the 8th to 6th centuries BCE, the assumed date of the text's composition.[12]

Vedanga Jyotisa[edit]

The positions of the solstices and equinoxes in the Vedanga Jyotisha, with the sun very close to the Krittika at the Vernal Equinox.,[3] would correspond to about 1370 BCE,[13][14] although the text in its present form is from a later date, around 700 - 600 BCE.[15]

The Vedanga Jyotisha, in common with Mesopotamian texts, asserts a 3:2 ratio between the durations of daylight on the longest and shortest days of the year. This corresponds to a latitude of about 35 degrees.[16] A latitude of 34 degrees would correspond to Northern India.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bryant 2001:251
  2. ^ Bryant 2001:254; Jacobi 1909
  3. ^ a b c Bryant 2001:255
  4. ^ Bjorn Merker, Rig Veda Riddles In Nomad Perspective, Mongolian Studies, Journal of the Mongolian Society XI, 1988.
  5. ^ Bryant 2001:253
  6. ^ a b Kak, Subhash: Archaeoastronomy and Literature, Current Science, vol. 73, no.7, 1997
  7. ^ paraphrased and cited by Bryant 2001:257-8
  8. ^ a b Subhash Kak. Birth and Early Development of Indian Astronomy. In Astronomy across cultures: The History of Non-Western Astronomy, Helaine Selin (ed), Kluwer, 2000
  9. ^ ŚBM kṛttikāsv agnī ādadhīta ... etā ha vai prācyai diśo na cyavante "One should found one's fires under the Krttikas ... These do not swerve from the eastern direction...All other Nakshatras deviate from the Eastern direction."
  10. ^ The SB reference was first noted by Sankar B. Dikshit (Bryant 2001:256). Dikshit, Sankar B. 1985. "The Age of the Satapatha Brahmana" Indian Antiquary 24:245-6
  11. ^ (or during the third millennium BCE) e.g., Kak, Subhash: Archaeoastronomy and Literature, Current Science, vol. 73, no.7, 1997
  12. ^ Texts of the Brahmana period do only distinguish intermediate directions, viz. eighths of the compass, and the rising of the Pleiades fell into the Eastern eighth until well after the Vedic period. See also Michael Witzel, The Pleiades and the Bears viewed from inside the Vedic texts, EVJS Vol. 5 (1999), issue 2 (December) "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2006-12-31. Retrieved 2007-09-24.  (Witzel speculates that the reference may be based on centuries old priestly traditions of times when the Pleiades were even closer to due East) and Witzel EJVS Vol. 7 (2001) issue 3 (May) "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2006-10-03. Retrieved 2007-09-24. 
  13. ^ Sastry 1985
  14. ^ Bryant 2001:259. Keith 1912
  15. ^ Subbarayappa, B. V. (14 September 1989). "Indian astronomy: An historical perspective". In Biswas, S. K.; Mallik, D. C. V.; Vishveshwara, C. V. Cosmic Perspectives. Cambridge University Press. pp. 25–40. ISBN 978-0-521-34354-1. 
  16. ^ Pingree(1978)
  17. ^ Bryant 2001:261. Yukio Ohashi 1997