Story Of Vedic Civilisation

English: Queen_Kumaradevi_and_King_Chandragupt...
Queen_Kumaradevi_and_King Chandragupta I on a coin of their son Samudragupta

Historical Dates From Puranic Sources

Prof. Narayan Rao

Sheet Anchor Date

Professor Max Muller improved upon the work of Sir William Jones by trying to correlate the Indian history with Greek history. One ancient event the date of which is well known in the Christian era is the invasion of Alexander. However, there is no mention whatsoever of Alexander or anything connected with his invasion in any Purana or any other ancient Indian account including the Buddhist Chronicles.

Professor Max Muller then searched the Greek accounts and the narrations of the other classical European writers for the name of any Indian ruler who could be located. One such name is Sandrocottus. He is said to have succeeded Xandramese who was a contemporary of Alexander. Sir William Jones had suggested that Chandragupta of Mudra Rakshasa could be the Sandrocottus of Greek history. Professor Max Muller confirmed this identification. His main purpose was to arrive at a chronology acceptable to the intellectuals of the nineteenth century. In fact his motives and methods are best described in his own words. In his “History of Ancient

Sanskrit Literature (Allahabad Edition 1859 A.D)” Professor Max Muller writes as follows …

There is but one means through which history of India can be connected with that of Greece, and its chronology be reduced to its proper limits. Although we look in vain in the literature of the Brahmanas or Buddhists for any allusion to Alexander’s conquest, and although it is impossible to identify any of the historical events, related by Alexander’s companions, with the historical traditions of India, one name has fortunately been preserved by classical writers who describe the events immediately following Alexander’s conquest, to form a connecting link between the history of the East and the West. This is the name of Sandrocottus or Sandrocyptus, the Sanskrit Chandragupta.

“We learn from classical writers Justin, Arrian, Diodorus Siculus, Strabo, Quintus Curtius and Plutarch, that in Alexander’s time, there was on the Ganges a powerful king of the name of Xandramese, and that soon after Alexander’s invasion, a new empire was founded there by Sandrocottus who was succeeded by Sandrocyptus. These accounts of the classical writers contain a number of distinct statements which could leave very little doubt as to the king to whom they referred.

“Indian historians, it is true, are generally so vague and so much given to exaggeration, that their kings are all very much alike, either all black or all bright. But nevertheless, if there ever was such a king of the Prasii, a usurper, residing at Pataliputra, called Sandrocottus; it is hardly possible that he should not be recognized in the historical traditions of India. The name of Chandragupta and the resemblance of this name with the name of Sandrocottus was first, I believe, pointed out by Sir William Jones. Dr.Wilford, Professor Wilson and Professor Lassen have afterwards added further evidence in confirmation of Sir William Jone’s conjecture; and although other scholars and particularly M.Troyer, in his edition of the Rajatarangini, have raised objections, we shall see that the evidence in favor of the identity of Chandragupta and Sandrocyptus is such as to admit of no reasonable doubt.”

From this identification, the coronation of Mourya Chandragupta around the year 327 B.C. was taken as the sheet anchor date for Indian chronology. Though most of the modern scholars of Indian history do not know it all the dates of ancient Indian history have been arrived at by calculating backward and forward from this sheet anchor date. For example Lord Buddha (according to some of the Buddhist chronicles) was born nearly 340 years before the coronation of Mourya Chandragupta. Accordingly his year of birth was fixed as 567 B.C.

Errors In Dating

Later as more and more Puranic and Buddhist documents were discovered those which did not confirm to the aforesaid chronology were either ignored or stated to be unreliable. For example among the different documents on Lord Buddha the Ceylonese chronicles have been accepted as most reliable though those were written much later in the Christian era in Pali language. The orientalists who have continued the research after Professor Max Muller have only tried to add to the earlier chronology without questioning its validity. Certain observations about the sheet anchor date are given in Appendix II.

Having worked out a chronology acceptable to the Europeans, the indologists started looking for archeological and other evidence to confirm it and this they thought they found in plenty in the form of stone inscriptions attributed to emperor Ashoka (and some other kings such as Kharabela). Here it must be emphasized that the European indologists deserve all the credit for their efforts to work out a detailed history of ancient India. Their failure to arrive at the correct dates and details of the events was only due to the firm belief among the intellectuals of their time that the universe is less than 6000 years old. Unfortunately, in the process they have altered certain verses and otherwise mutilated the texts of the Puranas in their editions, such as Wilson’s Vishnu Purana, which are today most widely read.

The Christian missionaries have also been unintentionally guilty of such vandalism as they have often destroyed some of the manuscripts of Puranas which fell in their hands. They were doing so with the firm belief that by such destruction they are saving the posterity from these sin provoking documents. However, sufficient number of the different versions of the different Puranas is still available in the monasteries in India, as well as the libraries in Great Britain, Germany, America and other countries for a complete and correct chronology of Indian history to be worked out.

In calculating the dates from the Puranas the following procedure should be adopted to rectify the errors and discrepancies.

1. Proper distinction should be made between the Puranas and the other ancient texts. For example, Abhigyana Shakuntalam, Mudra Rakshasa, Raghu Vansa, Harsha Charita etc. are magnificent literary works and not historical documents.

2. In some Puranas the dates are given in more than one era. In such cases comparison should be made to detect any possible error. Possible grammatical errors as well as the consistency and continuity of the verses should be carefully checked.

3  The dates of events worked out from different Puranas should be tallied and compared with the dates worked out from astronomical data.

English: The iron pillar in the Qutb complex n...
The iron pillar in the Qutb complex near Delhi, India. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Story Of Vedic Civilisation

English: The Atha Naradiyamahapuranam is one o...
The Atha Naradiyamahapuranam, one of the 18 Puranas of Hinduism. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

English: The Goddess Ambika Leading the Eight ...
The Goddess Ambika Leading the Eight Mother Goddesses in Battle Against the Demon Raktabija,

Indian History And Its Historians

Portrait of Srimushnam Vyakarna Subbaravachary...
Portrait of Srimushnam Vyakarna Subbaravacharya (+1837) a reknown sanskrit scholar

Part V :  British Colonial Indology (1780 CE – 2000 CE)

In reality this field of study was dominated by German scholars. Interest in Indology only took concrete direction and shape after the British came to India, with the discovery of Sanskrit by Sir William Jones in the 1770’s. Other names for Indology are Indic studies or Indian studies or South Asian studies. Almost from the beginning, the Puranas attracted the attention of European scholars. But instead of trying to understand the Puranas, and the context in which they were developed, the Occidental went about casting doubts on the authenticity of the texts and, in fact, altering the chronology which could be found in a particular Purana. 

The extraordinary level of interest by German scholars in Indic matters is a very interesting narrative in its own right and we need to reflect upon its highlights. The German speaking people experienced a vast increase in intellectual activity at about the same time that Britain colonised India. We do not understand the specific factors that came into play during this time, other than to remark on the tremendous intellectual ferment that was running concurrently during the French revolution and the keen interest that Napoleon showed in matters scientific, including the contributions of the orient. 

Clearly the remarks that Sir William made about Sanskrit as well as the high level of interest in Sanskrit language that he triggered, contributed to the overall sense of excitement. But why was it Germany and not Britain, the center of research on the Oriental contributions. The answer lies in the intense search for nationhood that was under way in Germany during that period. When Sanskrit was discovered, and it dawned on the Germans that the antiquity of Sanskrit was very great, and that Sanskrit and German were somehow related, the Germans suddenly had an answer to the question of their own ethnic and linguistic origins.

Sir Henry Maine (1822 – 1888), an influential Anglo-Indian scholar and former Vice Chancellor of Calcutta university, who was also on the Viceroys council, pronounced a view that many Englishman shared about the unification of Germany.

A Nation Has Been Born Out Of Sanskrit

From the beginning, the great interest that Germany showed in Sanskrit had more to do with their own obsessions and questions regarding their ethnic and linguistic origins. It had very little or at least far less to do with the origin of the ancient Indic. And yet, that does not stop the proponents of AIT (Aryan Invasion Theory) in India, whose knowledge of European history appears to be rudimentary at best, from asserting that AIT is an obsession of nationalistic Hindus. Such is the fate and perversion of history that conquered nations are expected to suffer !

Different aspects of this fascinating chapter – postulation of an Aryan race and its corollaries, Indo European and Indo German people – are described by various authors … Trautmann, Rajaram, Arvidsson, and very recently by Prodosh Aich. The interesting but curious aspect of this phenomena is that while the concept of Aryan race has been well nigh discarded by most of the modern generation in the Occident, it lingers on in our narrative of Indian History, a relic of the heyday of Europe’s dominance on the world scene. In those heady times as colonial powers, they promoted racist theories eulogising their occupation of distant lands, and over strange people, as part of their heritage as an Aryan people. Kipling’s phraseology, “white man’s burden.” is at once succinct of their superiority in psyche and of the racist outlook in behaviour and strategy formulation. 

In contrast to the Germans and the French, whose interest was catalysed by the ubiquitous presence of Indic civilisation in South East Asia, the British had aparticular reluctance to study the nature and extent of the Indic civilisation. First and foremost, amongst their reasons for such neglect, was the aversion to admit that a subject people had any worthwhile civilisation to speak of, let alone one that was of far greater antiquity than their own.

Britain was the last of the three major powers in Europe to have a chair in Sanskrit; it was almost 50 years after the death of Sir William that England got around to establishing a chair at Oxford, the famous Boden chair.

 *  *  *

Rajagriha or Rajagrha (Sanskrit)

The ancient capital of Magadha, famous for its conversion to Buddhism in the days of the Buddhist kings. It was the royal residence from Bimbisara-raja to Asoka, and the seat of the first Synod or Buddhist Council held 510 BC.The famous Saptaparna cave, in which the Buddha’s select circle of arhats were initiated, was in this famous city. 


is the current name of the city and a notified area in Nalanda district in the Indian state of Bihar. The city of Rajgir (ancient Rajagriha or Rājagha; Pali: Rājagaha) was the first capital of the kingdom of Magadha, a state that would eventually evolve into the Maurya Empire. Its date of origin is unknown, although ceramics dating to about 1000 BC have been found in the city. The epic Mahabharata calls it Girivraja and recounts the story of its king, Jarasandha, and his battle with the Pandava brothers and their ally, Krishna.

Rajgir is also mentioned in Buddhist and Jain scriptures, which give a series of place-names but without a geographical context. The attempt to locate these places is based largely on references to them in the works of Chinese Buddhist pilgrims, particularly Faxian and Xuanzang. It is on the basis of Xuanzang’s records in particular that the site is divided into Old and New Rajgir. The former lies within a valley and is surrounded by low-lying hills. It is defined by an earthen embankment (the Inner Fortification), with which is associated the Outer Fortification, a complex of cyclopean walls that runs (with large breaks) along the crest of the hills.

New Rajgir is defined by another, larger embankment outside the northern entrance of the valley, and is next to the modern town.

 … to be continued

English: Sanskrit manuscript using the Ranjana...
Sanskrit manuscript using the Ranjana script, with an illustration of the Buddha sitting below the Bodhi Tree, day and night. Manuscript either from India or Nepal, date unknown.

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