Historical Dates From Puranic Sources
Prof. Narayan Rao
According to the modern Indian history books Lord Buddha is believed to have been born in the Sixth century B.C. and Chandragupta Mourya is believed to have been the ruler of Magadha Empire soon after the invasion of Alexander in the year 327 B.C. There is a common misconception among laymen as well as historians that these and the other dates given in the official version of Indian history are proven facts.
However, a careful and critical examination of the sources from which these dates have been derived show that these dates are only as true as the creation of the universe in (or around) the year 4006 B.C. Most people, including historians, believe that the dates mentioned above and the other dates of Indian history have been derived mainly from archaeological evidences, inscriptions on stone pillars and accounts of the foreign travelers. But no complete history, whether correct or incorrect, can be written from such discontinuous sources.
History has to be written mainly from historical accounts. The modern pioneers of Indian history namely Sir William Jones, Professor Max Muller, Professor Wilson and the other indologists of early nineteenth century knew this and the first sources they looked for were the scriptures known as Itihasa and Purana such as Mahabharata, Bhagavata Purana, Vishnu Purana, Vayu Purana, Matsya Purana and Bhavishya Purana.
The Puranas give the dates of the historical events in Kaliyugabda, Vikram Sambat, Sakabda and other Indian eras still in use at present. From these narrations it is possible to get the dates of all important historical events in the Christian era.
Dawn Of Indology
However, Sir William Jones and the European orientalists of early nineteenth century ran into a serious difficulty in determining the chronology from the Puranas. It must be recalled that during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries it was firmly believed by the Scientists and other learned men that the universe was created in or around the year 4006 B.C. The theory of evolution suggested by Darwin and the idea of the universe being millions, or even billions, of years, old were not accepted by the Scientists till late nineteenth century. The earlier European orientalists could not possibly believe in the chronology of the Puranas which places the age of the universe at a few billion years (in contrast to then scientifically accepted age of less than 6000 years).
Their misgivings were strengthened because of the following.
1. The narrations of the events of the first three eras, namely Krita Yuga, Treta Yuga and Dwapara Yuga, in the Puranas appear more mythical than factual.
2. All the narrations of the events after the battle of Kurukshetra are written in future tense. All narrations are made in a mythological language involving the Gods (rather unnecessarily) in the events. This could be very confusing to scholars not familiar with the Indian traditions.
3. There are some discrepancies in the accounts of the different Puranas partly due to the errors in copying, proof reading etc. including modern printing and partly due to deliberate alterations to suit the purposes of the royal families in whose courts the scriptures were maintained. These could be corrected by comparing the different Puranas as well as the different versions of the same Purana. This could be hardly expected to have been done in an unbiased manner by the early European orientalists who were exploring a field hitherto completely unknown. The later orientalists, like Pargiter, could not do a proper evaluation as they were already biased by the earlier work.
4. Many translations, or rather narrations, of the Puranas in the Vernacular languages contain accounts much in variation from the original Sanskrit texts from which those are purported to have been derived. Kamban Ramayana and Ramcharit Manas of Tulsidas are two such examples. In addition there are famous literary works like “Abhigyana Shakuntalam”, “Mudra Rakshasa” and “Harsha Charita” which are more popular but can be very misleading for the purpose of chronology.
Thus the European orientalists like Professor Max Muller and Sir William Jones came to the obvious, but grossly erroneous, conclusion that though the accounts of the Puranas are based on a hard core of historical facts, the chronology is all wrong.
Having thus dismissed the straightforward method of determining the chronology of Indian history, the orientalists started looking for other sources including their own conjectures. Sir William Jones actually suggested a chronological table of events starting with the year 4006 B.C. which he believed to be the year of creation of Swayambhuba Manu. This chronological table taken from the “Complete works of Sir William Jones” is given in Appendix I. Though most of the modern historians do not know it, the chronology they use is a modified version of the table given in Appendix I.