To the Bharateeya mind, Mahabharata is part of our ‘Past’ which we refer to as ‘Itihasa’. As a culture, we are very past conscious. Our Itihasa-Purana and Katha Parampara helped us connect to the past. This is not exactly the same as History. Itihasa-Purana-Katha tradition is a richer way of connecting to the past than history. For instance – the occurrence of Mahabharata at a specific point in time is not necessary for us to shape contemporary life in its ‘darshana’. Our civilization thrives in the light of its perspective.
In its entirety, we do not look at Mahabharata as History, nor as myth. In this aspect, it is worth reading Dr. SN Balgangadhara’s What do Indians need? A history or past? The events described in the Mahabharata have some historical truths in them. But the Mahabharata itself is not history. However, if our past shows any evidence of ways of thinking that are part of the paradigm of history, it is essential that we consider, examine and appropriately place it. This article is an attempt in that direction.
The period of Badami Chalukyas is of immense significance to our civilization in multiple dimensions. Chalukya architecture is well known. The kind of statecraft, citizenry development, literature, and administration it anchored are also well known. However, in these grand achievements certain civilizational dimensions are lost. One such element is found in the Meguti Temple inscription at Aihole. It was written and commissioned by Ravikeerthi, a Jain poet. Among other things, it throws light on two aspects,
- Did we ever think of Mahabharata with a mindset comparable to that of modern History?
- If so, what is the kind of historical consciousness we had, if ever we had one, in our culture.
(Figure 1: Credit: vikipandit.com – Vishnu Image in Badami Cave Temple)
In our primary text books we may not read the name of this inscription. But schooling is not complete without some detail from this inscription. For this is one of the prominent inscriptions throwing light on the life of Pulikeshin– the Second. He was an illustrious king of the Badami Chalukya dynasty who was also known as Dhakshina-Patheshwara, Prithvivallabha and Satyasraya. It is unfortunate that the author of this inscription – written in Sanskrit with 36 lines – is not known. That no book mentions the critical relation of this inscription to the Mahabharata is a far bigger tragedy.
Full details of the award
Before we explore the Mahabharata dimension, let us get a peek into the content of this inscription. The inscription – also referred to as Prashasti – contains the following elements.
- Chalukya dynasty coming into prominence
- Circumstances under which Immadi Pulikeshi ascended the throne
- Pulikeshi’s grand victory over kings all over the South including the battle against Harsha at the river Narmada
- The year in which the Prashasti was written and its relationship with Mahabharata
- Why the Meguti Mandir was built by Ravikeerthi
- Greatness of the poet – Ravikeerthi – himself
The Prashasti begins with a customary salute to Jinendra in the beginning showing Ravikeerthi’s traditional/cultural affiliations. Apart from this, there are other culturally important references within this narrative.
- Pulikeshi performing a horse sacrifice & honouring Devatas and Brahmanas.
- Dharma-Artha-Kama-s as being very important to the king
- Pulikeshi’s sea army being compared to Varunadeva’s force
- Ravikeerthi comparing himself to Kalidasa-Bharavi
- Praise of Pulikeshi in terms of an important ‘Rajalakshana’ from Panini. A royal observance demonstrated by Pulikeshi, as written by Ravikeerthi, is described by Panini himself in 4th Century BC.
Nevertheless, its critical importance is in the context of Mahabharata.
The relationship between the inscription and the Mahabharata
Interestingly, the relationship between the inscription and the Mahabharata is quite incidental, it does not seek to say anything about Mahabharata. Yet it has the ability to alter the course of history. Towards the end of the Prashasti, as is the customary practice, Ravikeerthi makes a mention of the year when it was written – on the occasion of the establishment of the Meguti Mandir. Written in a verse, it describes how many years after the Mahabharata war this inscription was written. The verse goes like this:
पंचासात्सुकलौकालौषट्सुपंचशतसु च |
panchasatsukalaukAlaushatsupanchashatasu cha |
The first verse describes the year in which the inscription was written. In general, inscriptions mention their years in a cold number. However, this being an inscription established by a poet – he probably thought a cold reference goes without beauty – a rasabhaMga. He has chosen an entire shlOka to refer to a number. “Not only seventy years, three thousand and five years, but seven hundred years added to it would be the same number of years after the Bharatawar,” RaviKeerthi explains the year of the inscription. Most scholars read this verse as 3775 (70 + 5 + 3000 + 700) years later. On the surface it seems so. Some scholars read it differently as 2500+ but nobody reads it any later than that. Be that as it may, the key word here is “bhArata-dahAvAditah” – which means “after the Bharata war“.
With just this much, it would have some significance without specificity. But the next verse makes all the difference. “Fifty six and five hundred years after the time of the Shaka kings in the Kali Yuga” says the next verse. The Shalivahana era starts from 78CE. It is well settled in modern history that Shalivahana Shaka represents the complete routing of the Shaka power by Shatavahanas. It was the day Gautamiputra Satakarni defeated the Shaka kings and established the kingdom of Satavahanas. Hence, 556 (50 + 6 + 500) refers to 634-35 CE. These lines mean that this inscription was written in that year. In relation to this, now we compute the previous reference to the Bharata war. ‘Bharata war took place 3775 years ago’ means 3101-2 BC. Once again, like the previous verse this too is a poetic indulgence but with a deliverance of historical bang.
Thus is the importance of these two Shlokas.
The Historical Importance of this Inscription
The significance of this sloka is that it stands against a critical narrative of Indian history created by the modern historical traditions started by the west. According to Max Muller, Aryans came to India around 1500 B.C. In addition, he fixed the period of the ‘composition’ of the Vedas as 1500-1000 BC. Later historians belonging to the left liberal secular ideologies have altered these dates minimally when faced with adverse evidence but they haven’t gone past 1800 BC. Worse, this narrative has succeeded in instilling a sense of guilt in modern Indians that they are as much outsiders to this country as others and came in through an attack.
At this stage, it is necessary to clarify that this guilt must be unburdened right away, irrespective of whether a section of the population came from outside or not. If we go back far enough in time, most people would have been part of some migration at some point in time. The Aryan invasion theory is unsettling only if one accepts that early settlers have greater rights. However, this article is not focused on when the so-called Aryan Migration occurred. Rather, it is the false use of that in dating the Vedic Civilization and hence the Vedas that is the primary concern of the article.
Nevertheless, these two verses have the potential to deliver a strong blow to this narrative of modern history.
- Firstly, it takes back the Mahabharata period by at least 1500 years. If the war occurred 3775 years before 634 AD, then Mahabharata events belong to a time earlier than 3000 BC.
- If the Mahabharata itself is to be that old, then the period of the Rigveda must be earlier than that. Max-Müller assigns three hundred years to the Vedas. But SrikantaTalageri says that each mandala of Rigveda is 100 years. If the Rigveda was certainly complete by the time of the Mahabharata, the Bharateeya Parampara goes back to at least 4000 BC.
- To top it all, the Aryan Invasion/Migration year of 1500 BC comes down crashing.
- One possibility is that there was no attack/Aryan Invasion at all.
- Even if there was an attack or invasion or migration that mattered from the standpoint of the Vedic Civilization, it must have been more before 3000 BC. In which case, one has to look for fresh migration evidence.
- More importantly, the Indus-Sarasvati civilization will now have to be within the Vedic culture. Or at the least they are co-existent cultures without enmity.
- In addition, the Saraswatee river evidence in Mahabharata now gets greater credence. The river is often mentioned in the Mahabharata. In particular, Balarama’s pilgrimage starting from Prabhasa occurs throughout on the banks of the river, all the way up to the Himalayas, narrated in graphic detail. It is clear from that description in Mahabharata that the river Saraswatee was drying up. Modern paleography has demonstrated that the river dried down completely by 2000 BC. Thus, the dating of Mahabharata from the Aihole inscription fits the Saraswatee river paleography evidence. Such corroboration of independent evidence is of great importance in historical studies. It makes each one a stronger possibility.
- If all this is true, it just means that Indian history will have to be rewritten from the Vedic period to the times of Buddha. This means there is a huge gap in our knowledge of Indian history by about two to three thousand years. We need research to fill that gap. Currently, the only source material available for that is the Puranas – composed by Vyasa. It does contain historical information willfully ignored by modern historians. Purana based history research will make a comeback. In addition, Sindhu-Saraswati civilization will be researched from a Vedic perspective.
Thus, whichever way one looks at it, the four lines of this Prashasti has the potential to elaborate and extend the historical boundaries of Bharatvarsha. This inscription shatters the fences deliberately built and constraints artificially placed on Indian heritage by modern historians.
It is not so easy to win this Civilizational war. Many objections are possible to the hypotheses that I have outlined about this inscription. Some of them are listed below.
- How can we conclude that ‘bharatadAhAvAditaH’ here refers to the Mahabharata itself? Could there have been a different ‘Bharata’ war elsewhere?
- The way numbers appear in those verses – are they to be simply added to get a total number of years? How are we sure it’s a simple addition?
- The reference to ‘after the Shakaraja’ how can we say that it’s a definite reference to Shalivahana Shaka of 78 CE only?
- Why would a Jain poet make a reference to Mahabharata from the standpoint of dating or era making?
These are fair questions but there are clear answers to all of these. Jain poets have indulged in Vedic imagery, literature, narratives for as long as you can see. In Kannada, Jain poets Pampa and Ranna wrote their classics based on the Mahabharata. In the same inscription, Ravikeerthi compares Pulikeshi to Nahusha, the great Chandravamsa ancestor of Pandavas. Even if this were the Sooryavamsha King Nahusha – he is still a Vedic King, who also has a place in the Jain tradition. At another place, Ravikeerthi points out that ‘after his victory, Pulikeshi respected the Devatas and the Brahmanas. So his being a Jaina is not a hindrance. It is more likely that Jains partially lived within the Vedic tradition while having a step out. Ravikeerthi places himself in the legacy of Vedic poets Kalidasa and Bhasa in the same inscription. This shows that the Jain-Vedic traditions were not opposed to each other, but grew side by side.
The numbers in the verses presenting the years, indeed, can be read in different ways. One such possibility is here. But even that assigns the Mahabharata War to 2500 BC. Another possibility is to say that this verse does not refer to years at all. However, no one presents such an argument. Modern Indian historians, especially the leftists, have so completely ignored these verses – which alone show that they are uncomfortable with the challenge that these verses pose to their established views of chronology. Similarly, no historian has any doubt about the dating of the Shakas being exterminated. It was Gautamiputra who defeated the Shaka Empire and created a new era. Although Chandragupta indeed defeated another Shaka king, it did not result in a new era.
Finally the toughest objection – is ‘bhAratadAhAvAditaH’ referring to the Mahabharata war? Fortunately, there is no other Bharata war in the entire history of India, leave alone of prominence. However, there is a Bharata-Bahubali duel in Jain mythology. Children of the first Tirthankara Rishabhadeva, Bharata-Bahubali come face to face in a duel where Bharata loses. Baahubali, the younger brother, is filled with Vairagya. Incidentally, Rishabhadeva is also a pioneer king of the Ikshvaku-kula who finds a mention in the Bhagavata as well. However, in the Jain tradition, this is not associated with any specific year elsewhere. In particular, the Jain tradition is a scholarship, knowledge, intellectual tradition which nurtured recording and detailing. This battle finds no such reference in any other Jain literature. On the other hand, Mahabharata or Kali Yuga period is the pioneering period in the Vedic tradition. Even if this were to refer to the Bharata-Bahubali duel, if we look at the number of Ikshvaku Kings after Rishabhadeva and the equivalent number of Kings in the Puru-Bharata-Kuru lineage, the Mahabharata war itself could be dated 1000 years after this which would bring it to at least 2000 BC. The Veda/Jaina Bharateeya Parampara, thus, would continue to have a deeper historical footprint than 1500 BC. It would be difficult for modern historians to push the narrative of Aryans to come to India in 1500 and become the pioneers of a new culture. The civilizational implications of this inscription to the history of India would still not change.
Modern History and Indian History-Puranic Heritage
One may object: why such an overindulgence in the historicity of Bharateeya Parampara? From a pure Bharateeyachitta-manas-kaala standpoint, whether a particular incident occurred at a point in the flow of time is not an important concern. We do not see the flow of time in a straight line. Our time flows in the kalpa-manvantara-yuga-varsha cycles. For us, Mahabharata is an Itihasa that ‘happened thus’, it is not a history that occurred in specific years. We need to explain to ourselves why we are indulging a historical narrative around this inscription, particularly in the context of Mahabharata.
Irrespective of what numbers those verses refer to, this inscription demonstrates that there was a clear idea about the ‘time of Mahabharata’ during the Chalukya period. It cannot no longer be denied that a specific year was assigned to the Mahabharata period. In other words, it cannot be denied that Mahabharata was considered as a historical event in the pre-modern era before the western historical narratives evolved in modern times. People in the first millennium had a clear notion of Mahabharata’s time. If they had that faith, then clearly modern history cannot construct a narrative of its own that stands in contradiction, unless new evidence to the contrary emerges. Our narrative ought to be consistent with a historical narrative of the past unless there is a specific reason. More importantly, we are now obliged to take other historical evidence from within the Mahabharata, Ramayana and other Puranas more seriously and explore possibilities thrown by them.
Thus, the Aihole Prashasti of Ravikeerthi and Pulikeshi at the Meguti Temple is of enormous civilizational importance apart from the historical. It has the potential to provide a completely different direction to our history. Hence, this requires significant investment from the Bharateeya scholars of all denominations.
At this point in time, it is necessary to revisit some questions that were roughly posed in the beginning. Why is it of importance whether or not Mahabharata was a historical event? Why not read it as a story? That is how our ancestors read it. Even if they believed that the battle of Kurukshetra actually happened, they didn’t give much importance to whether or not events described in Vyasa’s Mahabharata really happened. Unlike Christian theologians and apologetics, we don’t find debates in the Indian intellectual tradition about whether or not such an event within a Purana or Itihasa actually occurred. All these questions remain relevant. The Inscriptional evidence of Aihole should not falsely force us to view Mahabharata purely from a historical dimension. Yet, any historical evidence that any of our epics may contain should not be ignored – especially when it comes handy in pushing back a narrative that harms our civilization. The vice-like grip that the paradigm of History has on our minds cannot be easily removed or weakened only with the paradigm of the Past. The ‘Past’ helps us thrive as a culture. We need a ‘History’ created from the ‘Past’ that protects the latter from the assault of a version of the former that was created in the colonial era. Crafting that ‘History’ from the ‘Past’ requires belongs to the realm of serious academics. In this case, the historicity of the Mahabharata/Kurukshetra war becomes important in the context of disproving the Aryan invasion theory. Within that context, this article seeks to provide evidence against the orientalist/leftist dating of Indian history, and along with that, the Aryan invasion; thus throwing doubt on the account of the Aryan invasion between 1800 BC to 1200 BC. Vedic Culture itself is older than that at the least.
The Itihasa-Purana tradition brings us a holistic perspective of life based on Adhyatma through the form of stories. Adhyatma was seen as the fundamental foundation of these stories by our acharyas. Our Itihasas are ‘real’ in the sense that Adhyatmic knowledge is real.
Feature Image Credit: in.worldorgs.com
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