[This article was written and put somewhere on the internet, I think with the help of Dr S Kalyanaraman, sometime in 2009, in reply to a criticism of my chronology by Prof. B.N. Narahari Achar in an article printed in 2009. I just realized it is important that I upload it on my blogspot for the record]
An article or paper, entitled “An examination of the chronology of ṚgVeda based on astronomical references using Planetarium Software”, by B. N. Narahari Achar has very recently been published on the Internet. The title expresses in a nutshell the aim and scope of the article.
At the very outset, Achar makes it clear that his article is a response to the internal and absolute chronology of the Rigveda postulated in my recent book “The Rigveda and the Avesta ― the Final Evidence” (Aditya Prakashan, November 2008, New Delhi):
“Recently Talageri has published an absolute chronology of ṚgVeda based on his analysis of ṚgVeda and Avesta. He has also established a relative chronology for different maṇḍala-s (Books) of the ṚgVeda. It will be interesting to examine this chronology in the light of the chronology based on astronomical methods using Planetarium software”. [Following this, Achar notes that I have dated the Early books VI, III, VII at 3400-2600 BCE, the Middle books IV, II at 2600-2200 BCE, and the Late books V, I, VIII, IX, X at 2200-1400 BCE].
After this introduction, Achar proceeds to present his chronology based on astronomical methods, and finally concludes his article as follows:
“The dates derived from astronomical references span a range from 7000 BCE-2200 BCE. The references are derived from almost all the books of ṚgVeda. These dates are consistent with the dates of Mahabharata war derived on the basis of astronomical references and Planetarium software by this author. However, the range of dates for ṚgVeda based on astronomical references and verified by Planetarium software does not agree with either the relative or absolute chronology proposed by Talageri”.
In short: both, my relative chronology as well as my absolute chronology for the Rigveda, are disproved by the evidence of the astronomical references in the Rigveda verified by Planetarium software.
The use of “astronomical” evidence in the dating of the Vedic period has always been very popular in Hindu and Indian circles, and although I have my views on this matter, I have refrained from expressing them since I have a genuine respect for many of the writers, including Achar, who use astronomy in their analyses. However, this article by Achar directly refers to my own chronology and it becomes necessary for me to make my views clear. Achar’s article represents just the tip of the iceberg so far as this “astronomical” dating goes. There is, for example, an active Hindu scholar in Pune who claims to have accurately dated to the exact day no fewer than 68 events in the Mahābhārata by astronomical methods: his date for the actual Mahābhārata war is more than two thousand years earlier than the date proposed by most other Hindu scholars (including Achar) ― he places it in the sixth millennium BCE. As another rational Indian writer wryly put to me in a private mail, these scholars are able to accurately date, to the year, month and day, the exact moment when Rāma crossed his garden, bent down towards a rose bush (assuming rose bushes enter into the Rāmāyaṇa scenario), plucked a rose, and smelt it. I have no doubt at all that Achar is a more serious scholar than this extreme example would suggest, but this “astronomy” business has gone very far in derailing other more serious and rational methods of chronological analysis, and I think it is time one takes a hard look at the whole subject.
I. Achar’s Examination of the Astronomical References in the Rigveda and His Conclusions Thereof.
Achar examines five main astronomical references in the Rigveda: the legend of the ṛbhus, the legend of vrṣākapi, the legend of maṇḍūkas, the legend of Yama and his dogs, and the solar eclipse associated with the sage Atri. He also presents nine different diagrams (or sky-map figures) depicting the map of the sky on different dates associated with these five legends as well as with the occurrence of the vernal equinox in kṛttikā, ārdrā and punarvasu.
The legend of the ṛbhus: Achar points out that the ṛbhus occur in 11 hymns. According to him, the three ṛbhus represent the three seasons (of the lunar year of 354 days) at the end of which they take rest for 12 days in the house of the sun. And they are awakened from their sleep by the hound. Tilak interprets this legend as referring to the time when the year commenced with the equinox in Canis Major. Achar (using Planetarium software) depicts the sky-map of this position (Figure 9: occurrence of autumnal equinox at Canis Major in 7240 BCE). Sengupta, however, interprets this as referring to the heliacal rising of Canis Major after the summer solstice. Achar depicts the sky-map of this position (Figure 5: heliacal rising of Canis Major after the summer solstice in 2770 BCE).
The legend of vrṣākapi: Tilak concludes that the legend of vrṣākapi in hymn X.86 of the Rigveda represents the sun at vernal equinox when the Dog Star started the equinoctial year. It is not clear which Figure depicts the sky-map of this position (Is it Figure 9, which I have connected above with Tilak’s interpretation of the ṛbhus?).
The legend of maṇḍūkas: The frog-hymn, VII.103, is interpreted by Jacobi as referring to the beginning of the year in the rainy season, which starts after the summer solstice. The first month was bhādrapada, the full moon near the nakṣatra proṣṭhapada, with summer solstice occurring in the uttaraphālguṇī nakṣatra. Achar further informs us that Law says the summer solstice in uttaraphālguṇī corresponds to vernal equinox in mṛgaśiras. Achar depicts the sky-map of this position (Figure 1: equinox at mṛgaśiras in 4240 BCE, if mṛgaśiras is identified as zeta tau; and Figure 2: equinox at mṛgaśiras in 3820 BCE, if mṛgaśiras is identified as beta tau).
The legend of Yama and his two dogs: The reference in X.14, which refers to the spirit passing between the two-spotted, four-eyed, dogs of Yama, is, according to Sengupta, actually a reference to the two stars α-Canis Minoris and α-Canis Majoris, and the hymn refers to a time when the two stars crossed the meridian at the same time. Achar depicts the sky-map of this position (Figure 6: two dog-stars point to south pole in 4350 BCE).
The legend of the solar eclipse observed by Atri: A solar eclipse is associated with Atri, and described in hymn V.40. Sengupta determines the date of this eclipse to be July 26, 3928 BCE. Achar depicts the sky-map of the position of the stars at this time (Figure 7: solar eclipse at uttaraphālguṇī, 3928 BCE).
Other positions of the stars referred to in the Rigveda: Achar depicts some more sky-maps of other positions referred to in the Rigveda (Figure 3: equinox at punarvasu in 5700 BCE; Figure 4: equinox at ārdrā on May 4, 5440 BCE; Figure 8: equinox at kṛttikā in 2220 BCE).
Thus, as Achar points out in his conclusion, the range of dates derived by him range from 7000 BCE-2200 BCE.
II. An Examination of Achar’s Conclusions.
Achar examines the hymns of the Rigveda, pinpoints various astronomical references in these hymns “derived from almost all the books of Ṛgveda”, derives a range of dates (cutting across the different books) for these references ranging from 7000 BCE-2200 BCE, and “verifies” these dates using Planetarium software. In the process, he claims to have disproved both the relative (internal) and absolute chronology given in my book.
An examination of his article, however, does not seem to substantiate this claim:
1. The very first fact is that the Rigveda does not contain a single definite reference, to the positions of the stars in the sky at any particular point of time, which could be useful in deriving any absolute date: not only is there no actual reference whatsoever to any equinox at any of the stars or constellations named by Achar, but even the very stars and constellations or nakṣatras named by him (kṛttikā, ārdrā, proṣṭhapada, uttaraphālguṇī, mṛgaśiras and punarvasu) are not mentioned even once not only in the hymns cited by him but anywhere at all in the whole of the Rigveda (though the last named word, in its literal sense, occurs as an epithet of Indra and Soma in one verse). Nor does the word bhādrapada occur even once in the whole of the Rigveda. How then does Achar (or, for that matter, do any of his predecessors, Tilak, Jacobi, Law or Sengupta) derive such definite and concrete dates from specific astronomical positions?
An examination of the references given by him would illustrate their methodology. We can first take up, for example, the solar eclipse referred to in hymn V.40, so accurately dated by Sengupta to July 28, 3928 BCE. An examination of this nine-verse hymn shows that it is indeed a reference to an eclipse: after four verses in praise of Indra (which make no mention of this eclipse), the fifth verse informs us that a demon named Svarbhānu pierced the sun and plunged a bewildered world into darkness. The next four verses are in praise of Atri who is said to have discovered the sun concealed in gloom and, with the power of his prayers, restored it back in the sky, a feat that none but he had the power to do.
The reference is certainly to an eclipse; but there is not a single word in the entire hymn which gives even the faintest clue of any kind which could enable anyone to pinpoint the exact date of this eclipse, whether it took place in 5000 BCE or 4000 BCE or 3000 BCE or 2000 BCE or 1000 BCE; later dates can be safely excluded only because even the most skeptical western scholar would not date this hymn later than 1000 BCE. It is just a poetic (and family-biased) description of an eclipse, period!
And yet Sengupta not only manages to pinpoint the exact date to July 28, 3928 BCE, but Achar even “verifies” this date with that most infallible of modern testing equipment: computer software! It would have been helpful if Achar had explained to less knowledgeable readers (a) the particular distinguishing characteristics of the eclipse which took place on July 28, 3928 BCE, which immediately set out this eclipse as distinct and different from the thousands of other eclipses before and since, and (b) the particular words and phrases in hymn V.40 which describe these characteristics in clear and unambiguous terms so that there can be no doubt that the hymn refers to this particular eclipse. However, no such information is given.
Likewise, hymn VII.103 is only a description of the frogs greeting the first arrival of the monsoons after the blazing heat of a pre-monsoon summer. The hymn is generally treated as a good-humoured (see the last verse which praises the frogs, or the Brahmins that the frogs represent in the hymn) satire on the priests, but it could have deeper philosophical meanings or ritual significance. However, this hymn also provides no clue whatsoever to indicate that it refers to the first-monsoon-shower of a particular year rather than to a first-monsoon-shower in general. Yet, scholars like Jacobi and Law, on the basis of serious discussions, involving astronomical terms nowhere used or hinted at in the actual hymn under discussion, manage to pinpoint the exact year or astronomical era to which the hymn “refers”.
Similarly, the interpretation of the ṛbhus as the three seasons (of the lunar year of 354 days) is perfectly plausible. But, again, there is nothing, in the different hymns which refer to the ṛbhus, which can tell us that it refers to the lunar year of a particular year or astronomical era. Nevertheless, Tilak interprets this legend as referring to the time when the year commenced with the equinox in Canis Major. The arbitrariness of the interpretation is shown by the fact that Sengupta interprets this same “astronomical reference” as referring to the heliacal rising of Canis Major after the summer solstice.
The other two references given by Achar do not represent references to simple natural phenomena like the three earlier references above (which refer to an eclipse, a first-shower of the monsoons, and the three main Indian seasons of a lunar year). But they are as “astronomically” ambiguous as the earlier ones:
The vrṣākapi hymn X.86, as Achar admits, is difficult to interpret. It contains so many cryptic phrases that a determined interpreter could give it any meaning he desired with the help of all kinds of “symbolic” interpretations; but, even so, it is extremely difficult to interpret it as a reference to a particular configuration of the stars at a particular point of time. But this does not prevent Tilak from giving it a definite chronological twist, and concluding definitely (on the basis of a reference in X.86.4 to a dog chasing a boar and seizing it by the ear) that vrṣākapi in the hymn represents the sun at vernal equinox when the Dog Star started the equinoctial year.
The reference, in hymn X.14, to the departed soul moving across the pathway towards the land of the Fathers in the company of the two dogs of Yama (the Sārameyas), is interpreted by Sengupta as a reference to the two stars α-Canis Minoris and α-Canis Majoris, and the hymn is therefore interpreted as a reference to a time when the two stars crossed the meridian at the same time.
The key to both these interpretations is the interpretation of any reference to a dog in the Rigveda as a reference to the Dog Star Canis Majoris, and any reference to two dogs as a reference to the two stars Canis Majoris and Canis Minoris. These interpretations fail to note that the identification of these stars as dogs is a feature of western astronomy (Latin canis = dog). Did ancient Indian astronomers also identify these stars as dogs; and, if so, what is the evidence that they did so as far back as the Rigvedic period? Even assuming, for the purpose of argument, that they did do so, these interpretations involve a chain of assumptions: first, that the composers of the Rigveda identified these stars as dogs; second, that any reference to a dog or dogs in the hymns is automatically a reference to these stars; and third, that any assumed reference to these stars, or to any other star, is automatically an astronomical statement to the effect that that star started the equinoctial year or something of a similar nature. On this basis, Achar presents us with a number of diagrams or sky-maps “verifying” the chronological conclusions of these scholars arrived at on the basis of “analyses” of such “astronomical” references in the Rigveda.
The western scholars obsessively see “non-Aryans”, and conflicts between “Aryan” invaders and “non-Aryan” natives, symbolically represented in every word and phrase in the Rigveda (see TALAGERI 2000:338-362). In the process, one of the many important things (which prove their interpretations wrong) that they ignore is that many of the native Indian “non-Aryans”, that they identify in the mythology of the Rigveda, are found, with similar names and functions, in the Indo-European mythologies of distant Europe, and many of the “conflicts” between the “Aryan” invaders and the “non-Aryan” natives within India, so identified by them, are similarly represented in those distant mythologies.
In a similar manner, the “astronomical” interpretations of these Indian scholars ignore the presence of the same “astronomical” features in the mythologies of other nations: a) In the Avesta (Vendidad 13.9, 19.30), two dogs guard the bridge over which the dead must go to reach paradise. This is almost identical to the Rigvedic myth. b) In Greek mythology, Hermes (identified as a name cognate to Saramā and Sārameya), who was depicted by the ancient Greeks in the form of a dog, is in charge of conducting the souls of the dead to the Underworld (Hades), and the gates of Hades are guarded by a three-headed dog Kerberus or Cerberus (identified as a name cognate to Śarvara, the name of one of the two dogs of Yama, the Sārameyas). c) In Nordic mythology (Baldrsdraumar 2.7-3.4), a dog stands guard on the road to Hel (the Underworld). d) In Egyptian mythology, Anubis, the God of the dead, is depicted as having the head of a canine species (the jackal), and is accompanied by a fleet of dogs who conduct the soul of the dead to the Underworld. e) In the Aztec mythology of Mexico and Central America, the soul of the dead, on its way to the Underworld, has to cross a river guarded by a yellow dog. Are all these myths also related to astronomical positions of the Dog Star at specific points of time in the remote past? Obviously, what we have here is the diffusion of mythological ideas, or perhaps a natural universal association of the dog, and of canine species in general, with the phenomenon of death (note the common belief that dogs start howling when they sense the approach of Death), and nothing more. It is only the obsession with discovering “astronomical” references in the ancient texts which gives these ordinary references such special meanings.
Such obsessions result in an inability to see anything otherwise than through the particular glasses worn by the interpreting scholar. In my second book, I have shown (TALAGERI 2000:420-424), with one Rigvedic event as an illustration, how the historical Dāśarājña battle is converted by the western scholars into a battle between Aryan invaders and non-Aryan natives, by Dr. Ambedkar into a battle between Shudra kings and Kshatriya kings, by Bhagwan Singh into a skirmish between a Harappan merchant and river pirates, by Sethna into a battle between the good and the bad spiritual forces in man’s inner self, by Arya Samaj scholars actually into a sermon on the qualities and duties of an ideal king, and by Tilak into a symbolic representation of “the annual fight between light and darkness as conceived by the inhabitants of a place [in the arctic region] where a summer of ten months was followed by a long winter night of two months” ( TILAK 1903:346).
In a sense, Lokmanya Tilak must be regarded as the pioneer of this school of “astronomical” interpretations of innocent phrases in the Vedic texts. He was also the pioneer of a similar and related school of “arctic” interpretations of similar innocent phrases in the ancient Indian texts. The utter inanity and preposterousness of his “arctic” interpretations have been brought out in my second book (TALAGERI 2000:379-382). But, while the enthusiastic votaries of his “astronomical” school today are not at all enthusiastic about his “arctic” interpretations, it appears that the same kind of logic is behind both the schools of interpretation pioneered by him: general phenomena are picked up and transformed into area-specific or time-specific phenomena, and momentous conclusions reached on their basis. Thus, Tilak first interprets Mitra and Varuna as representations of the two sides (day and night) of the solar day, then he takes a giant leap into the dark and rhetorically “proves” that they actually refer not to the two halves of the solar day of 24 hours but to the two halves of the solar year. Likewise, he discusses Vedic verses which refer to long nights or which refer to the arrival of the dawn, and then rhetorically “proves” that they refer not to the ordinary night and dawn known to us but to the months-long night and the days-long dawn of the arctic; and all this, in turn, then “proves” that the hymns and verses in question were either composed in the arctic areas or else represent arctic “memories”. In a similar way, his “astronomical” interpretations (and those of other astronomers of his school) largely depend on transforming general natural events of everyday or periodic occurence into special natural events relating to specific points of time in the remote past.
2. An important aspect of this “astronomical” evidence presented for the antiquity of the ancient Indian texts is its claims or pretensions to its scientific-ness. This is not astrology, which has at least as many skeptics as it has adherents, this is astronomy: a precise science! And now, in recent times, particularly in the writings of Achar, this astronomy is represented by the latest and most modern, sophisticated and scientific means of investigation and analysis: computer software! The title of Achar’s article tells us that this is “An Examination …. using Planetarium Software”, and the article starts out by telling us that he will be examining my chronology “in the light of the chronology based on astronomical methods using Planetarium software” and ends by assuring us that what he has presented us with is “the range of dates for ṚgVeda based on astronomical references and verified by Planetarium software”. Little wonder that it gives the impression of rock-solid credibility.
However, what are these dates “verified” by this Planetarium software? Achar tells us that the “dates derived from astronomical references span a range from 7000 BCE-2200 BCE”, and that it is these dates which are “verified by Planetarium software”. But a date can be “verified” only when you already have that date in front of you. In the case of all the references given by Achar, the dates in front of us are not dates mentioned or found in the Rigveda itself: they are dates proposed by earlier scholars such as Tilak, Jacobi, Law and Sengupta, based on astronomical calculations of certain specific positions of the stars and constellations and of certain equinoctial positions. As Planetarium Software is based on those same scientific rules of astronomical calculations on which those scholars based their calculations, naturally this software can only “verify” their dates. If we manually add a row of figures correctly on a piece of paper using ordinary arithmetical laws of addition, and then verify the total on a calculator or computer, naturally the calculator or computer will “verify” the total figure arrived at manually. But this does not “verify” that the individual figures totaled together were genuine or factual figures.
In this case, no one need doubt that the sky-map diagrams shown by Achar genuinely represent the positions of the stars and constellations, and the celestial phenomena, that they claim to represent: thus Figure 7 perhaps “verifies” what Sengupta had shown by astronomical calculations made without necessarily using computer software ― that an eclipse took place in 3928 BCE. But how does it verify the genuineness of Sengupta’s claim that this eclipse is referred to in the Rigvedic hymn V.40? Likewise Figure 6 may “verify” what Sengupta had shown by his astronomical calculations ― that the two Dog Stars crossed the meridian at the same time in 4350 BCE. But how does it verify that the Rigvedic hymn X.14 refers to this position of the stars?
As we saw, not one of the “astronomical” references given by Achar is actually found in the Rigveda. All the references given are references to ordinary periodic phenomena which are given extraordinary “astronomical” significance not warranted by the actual hymns themselves. Achar, in the text of his article, does not specify as to which of the nine sky-map diagrams or Figures given by him refers to which of the Rigvedic references given by him; and the reader is often left groping in the dark as to which verses of the Rigveda, according to Achar, are represented in his Figures 3, 4 and 8 (which refer to the occurrence of the vernal equinox in punarvasu, ārdrā and kṛttikā).
Achar is also impartial in his “verification” of the “astronomical” references, found by himself and his predecessors, in the Rigveda. Having concluded that the “legend” of the maṇḍūkas in the Rigveda VII.103 refers to a period of time when there was vernal equinox in mṛgaśiras, Achar “verifies” the date with his Planetarium Software. But two different dates have been proposed for the same “event”: 4240 BCE if mṛgaśiras is zeta tau (Figure 1), and 3820 BCE if mṛgaśiras is beta tau (Figure 2). Achar’s software “verifies” both these dates as equally valid!
Likewise, when two scholars interpret an “astronomical” reference in the Rigveda differently, and the two interpretations naturally yield two different dates, the software “verifies” both the dates as correct for the same reference: Figure 9 shows the occurrence of autumnal equinox at Canis Major in 7240 BCE (in accordance with Tilak’s interpretation of the legend of the ṛbhus as referring to the time when the year commenced with the equinox in Canis Major ― unless I am wrong in correlating Figure 9 with Tilak’s interpretation) and Figure 5 shows the heliacal rising of Canis Major after the summer solstice in 2770 BCE (in accordance with Sengupta’s interpretation of the legend)!
3. Does this mean that astronomy has no role to play in the dating of ancient Indian texts and events? Obviously not: astronomy is a science, and any genuine astronomical evidence can always play a definitive ― perhaps even a conclusive ― role in solving certain chronological problems. But the key word here is genuine evidence: phrases and verses picked up selectively from the texts and given a special “astronomical” meaning (which, in the process would also attribute certain specific astronomical knowledge, as well as the usage of certain cryptic terminology, to the ancient composers of those phrases or verses) cannot be used to arrive at momentous chronological conclusions. If the ancients had things of astronomical significance to say, surely they would have expressed them in reasonably straight terms, and not left only cryptic phrases for future generations to decipher!
And the dates yielded by the “astronomical” analyses of different verses should reveal a consistent chronological pattern. But it does not seem to trouble Achar that the dates as “verified” by him, for these “astronomical” references in the Rigveda, fall into a chaotic jumble with no fixed or logical order or pattern for the different books of the Rigveda. As he tells us, the dates cut across the different books of the Rigveda: “These dates are derived from almost all the books of Ṛgveda”. Apparently, it does not matter which verse in which book yields which date, as long as all the dates yielded go back into the remote past.
Nevertheless, he actually claims to find some consistency in his dates: “These dates are consistent with date of Mahabharata war derived on the basis of astronomical references and planetarium software by the author”. His dates for the Rigvedic references range “from 7000 BCE-2200 BCE”, and his date for the Mahābhārata war falls in the late fourth millennium BCE. In what way are these dates “consistent” with each other: did the Mahābhārata war take place right in the middle of the period of composition of the Rigveda? Again, it is clear that here we have once more the principle that all dates going back into the remote past (which includes any and every date between 2000 or 2500 BCE to 10000 BCE), for ancient Indian texts and events, are “consistent” with each other, regardless of whether or not they show a logical order or pattern.
Achar finds that the chronology for the Rigvedic references, with dates ranging “from 7000 BCE-2200 BCE”, derived by him with the help of the most sophisticated and scientific computer software, “does not agree with either the relative or absolute chronology proposed by Talageri” ― and, therefore that my chronology for the Rigveda is wrong.
We have just examined the credibility of Achar’s chronology. Now for an examination of the credibility of my chronology:
III. My Internal and Relative/Absolute Chronology for the Rigveda.
Achar claims that the chronology for the Rigveda derived from his astronomical investigations “does not agree with either the relative or absolute chronology proposed by Talageri”, or, in other words, that my relative chronology and absolute chronology for the Rigveda are wrong. By “relative” here, it appears he may be referring to the internal chronology for the different books of the Rigveda given in my book, since he stresses the fact that his dates cut across the different books of the Rigveda without exhibiting a particular order or pattern. Hence, it will be pertinent to examine the correctness of my internal chronology and my absolute chronology for the Rigveda.
1. Internal Chronology: I have shown in my books that the ten books of the Rigveda were composed in the following order: 6,3,7,4,2,5,8,9,10 (with parts of book 1 spanning the periods of composition of books 4,2,5,8,9,10); and that they were composed as follows: books 6,3,7 in the Early Rigvedic period, books 4,2 in the Middle Rigvedic period, and books 5,1,8,9,10 in the Late Rigvedic period (the hymns of book 1 having been given their final form in the Late Rigvedic period, this book must be included in that period).
Michael Witzel, in his review of my earlier book, writes: “the composition of the RV occurred in complex layers ― not in the tidy sequential patterns imagined by Talageri” (WITZEL 2001:§1). Achar seems to hold similar views ― that the different books of the Rigveda were not composed in any sequential order but in sporadic spurts of composition which cut across the different books of the Rigveda.
Now, in any analysis of the internal chronology of the Rigveda, the division of the 1028 hymns into 10 books should prima facie have been taken as suggestive of the possibility that the different books were composed in different periods rather than that they represent mixed collections with no reference to period of composition. This possibility could have been abandoned if the data indicated otherwise, but the data, far from suggesting otherwise, massively reinforces it in every possible way.
To begin with, the western academic scholars themselves (see TALAGERI 2008:132-135 for details) have classified the books of the Rigveda into two groups: the family books (2-7) and the non-family books (1, 8-10), and testified, on the basis of their own analyses, that the family books were composed and compiled before the non-family books. Further, they have detached book 5 from the other family books and concluded that it agrees with the non-family books rather than with the other family books. By their analysis, the books of the Rigveda can be classified into three categories: the earlier family books (2-4, 6-7), the later family book (5), and the later non-family books (1, 8-10). This fully agrees with my own classification into Early books (6,3,7), Middle (4,2) and Late books (5,1,8,9,10); except that the Early and Middle books are clubbed together in one category in the western classification, and the internal order within the groups is not analyzed. [In sum, we get four categories: Early family books 6,3,7; Middle family books 4,2; Late family book 5; and Late non-family books 1,8,9,10]
It will be seen that every analysis of the data reinforces this classification:
An analysis of the (ancestor-descendant) relationships between the composers of the hymns establishes the chronological order 6,3,7,4,2,5,8,9,10 (1 alongside 4-10) (TALAGERI 2000:37-50).
An analysis of the references within the hymns to earlier or contemporaneous composers (TALAGERI 2000:53-58) and to the kings and (non-composer) ṛṣis mentioned within the hymns (TALAGERI 2000:59-65) confirms the above chronological order.
An analysis of the (adherence to “purity” of the) family identity of the composers of the individual books (TALAGERI 2000:50-52) confirms the exactitude of the above chronological order, with a steady progression in dilution of the family identity of the composers from book 6 (in which every single hymn and verse is composed by composers belonging to one branch of one family) to book 10 (where every single family has hymns, and a large number of hymns are by composers who are either unaffiliated to any family or whose family is unidentifiable).
An analysis of the system of ascriptions of hymns to composers (TALAGERI 2000:52-53) shows a quantum change from the Early and Middle books (6,3,7,4,2), where hymns are composed by descendant ṛṣis in the name of their ancestor ṛṣis, to the Late Books (5,1,8,9,10), where hymns are composed by ṛṣis in their own names.
An analysis of a large category of personal name types shared in common by the Rigveda with the Avesta and the Mitanni (TALAGERI 2008:20-43) shows a fundamental distinction between the Early and Middle books on the one hand and the Late books on the other, with these name-types being found in 386 hymns in the Late books (and in all other post-Rigvedic texts), but found in the Early and Middle books in only 8 hymns which have been classified by the western academic scholars as Late or interpolated hymns within these books.
An analysis of another category of personal names shared by the Rigveda with the Avesta (TALAGERI 2008:16-20, 47-48) shows a fundamental distinction between the Early books on the one hand and the Middle and Late books on the other, with these names being found in 60 hymns in the Middle books and in 63 hymns in the Late books (and in all other post-Rigvedic texts), but completely missing in the Early books.
An analysis of the geographical names and terms in the Rigveda (TALAGERI 2000:94-136, TALAGERI 2008:81-129) shows a progression from east to west, with the eastern names found distributed throughout the Rigveda and the western names appearing in the books in chronological progression. And again, these names (found in all other post-Rigvedic texts) reinforce the above chronological order: the Indus and rivers to its west are found named in the Middle and Late books, but are missing in the Early books. The names of western animals, places, mountains and lakes are found in the Late non-family books, but are missing in the family books (Early, Middle and Late).
An analysis of other important and historically significant words (TALAGERI 2008: 48-49, 189-200) again reinforces the above chronological order: for example, spoked wheels, or spokes, invented in the late third millennium BCE, and camels and donkeys, domesticated in Central Asia around the same time, are found in the Late books, but missing in the Early and Middle books.
An analysis of the meters used in the composition of the hymns of the Rigveda (TALAGERI 2008:54-80) again reinforces the above chronological order. The dimetric meters used in the Rigveda clearly developed from each other in the following order: gāyatrī (8+8+8), anuṣṭubh (8+8+8+8), pankti (8+8+8+8+8), mahāpankti (8+8+8+8+8+8) and dimeter śakvarī (8+8+8+8+8+8+8). Gāyatrī and anuṣṭubh are found throughout the Rigveda; pankti is found in the Late (family and non-family) books, but missing in the Early and Middle books; mahāpankti and dimeter śakvarī are found in the Late non-family books, and are missing in the family books (Early, Middle and Late).
An analysis of the sacred numerical formulae in the Rigveda (HOPKINS 1896b) shows that the use of certain numbers, in sacred numerical formulae used as phrases in the hymns, is commonly found in the Late books, but missing in the Early and Middle books.
A detailed and path-breaking analysis (HOPKINS 1896a) shows large categories of words found in the Late books (1,8,9,10, and often 5), but missing in the Early (6,3,7) and Middle books (4,2) except in a few stray hymns classified by the western academic scholars as Late or interpolated hymns within these books. These include such categories as words pertaining to ploughing or to other paraphernalia of agriculture, words associated with certain occupations and technologies (and even with what could be interpreted as the earliest references to the castes), words where the r is replaced by l (playoga and pulu for prayoga and puru), a very large number of personal names (not having to do with the name types, common to the Rigveda, Avesta and Mitanni records, analyzed by me), various suffixes and prefixes used in the formation of compound words, certain mythical or socio-religious concepts (Sūrya as an Āditya, Indra identified with the Sun, the discus as a weapon of Indra and the three-edged or three-pointed form of this weapon, etc), various grammatical forms (cases of the resolution of the vowel in the genitive plural of ā stems, some transition forms common in later literature, the Epic weakening of the perfect stem, the adverb adas, etc.), particular categories of words (Soma epithets like madacyuta, madintara/madintama, the names of the most prominent meters used in the Rigveda, etc.), certain stylistic peculiarities (the use of reduplicated compounds like mahāmaha, calācala, the use of alliteration, the excessive use of comparatives and superlatives, etc.), and many, many more. Also, Hopkins notes many words which are used in one sense in the earlier books, and in a different sense in the later books: words like muni, tīrtha, vaiśvānara, hita, etc., or which are only used as adjectives in the earlier books, but figure as names in the later books (he cites śaviṣṭha, svarṇara, durgaha, prajāpatin, adhrigu as examples) [note also words like atri, kutsa and auśija (TALAGERI 2000:79-88), which have a different sense in the earlier books as against the later books, and even the word trita, which is a name in the later books but occurs once with the meaning “third” in book 6].
The evidence in support of the chronological order 6,3,7,4,2,5,(1),8,9,10, given in my book, and most especially for the division into Early, Middle and Late books, is too massive, overwhelming and uni-directional to be dismissed on the basis of dates derived by any “astronomical” analysis of references in the Rigveda, even were we to ignore the fact that these references are actually fictitious or non-existent ones as we saw above. In fact, the very fact that his methods give Achar a range of dates which cut across the different books should lead him to radically rethink the validity of his approach and conclusions.
2. Relative/Absolute Chronology: Achar notes that I have dated the Early books 6,3,7 at 3400-2600 BCE, the Middle books 4,2 at 2600-2200 BCE, and the Late books 5,1,8,9,10 at 2200-1400 BCE, and he finds this incompatible with the dates for the Rigveda derived by him on the basis of astronomical references in the Rigveda, which range “from 7000 BCE-2200 BCE”.
Even without reference to Achar’s “astronomical” dates, I feel that perhaps some clarifications are due on my part with regard to my dates for the three periods of the Rigveda:
1. In the first place, I had given more or less the same range of dates in my second book (TALAGERI 2000:75-78): i.e. I had categorically stated that “by a conservative estimate, the total period of composition of the Rigveda must have covered a period of at least two millenniums”. As I have always stood for a date in the mid-second millennium BCE as most likely for the Mahābhārata war (see TALAGERI 1993:), this automatically indicated a range of dates 3500-1500 BCE or so.
But this was my estimate: I had no means of proving my dates, and nor did I foresee at the time that I would be proving anything in the foreseeable future. And I felt my dates could err on the conservative side: that the earlier dates could possibly go even further back in time than 3500 BCE. But this was also an estimate and could be wrong. Either way, I knew I was in no position, then, to justify or defend my views.
However, my analysis (in my third book, TALAGERI 2008:1-201) of the names and culture common to the Rigveda, the Avesta and the Mitanni records conclusively showed that this culture, in West Asia, already represented the remnants or residual elements (as western scholars like Mallory and Witzel put it) of a long dead ancestral culture, while in India it was the culture of the Late books and hymns of the Rigveda, which was preceded by the earlier culture of the Middle and Early books of the Rigveda whose geographical data showed them to be composed in the areas to the east of the Sarasvatī river within India. In short, the ancestors of the Mitanni kings of West Asia, and of the Kassite kings before them, were emigrants from India during the Late Rigvedic period (i.e. during the period of the Late books and hymns).
As the Mitanni kingdom, in parts of Syria and Iraq, flourished from around 1500 BCE or so, and the Kassites were known two centuries before them in around the same areas, the Vedic ancestors of these Mitanni and Kassite kings must have left India at the very latest by the last centuries of the third millennium BCE. So what I have proved in my third book is only about the Late Rigvedic period: I have conclusively shown that the Late Rigvedic period was in progress as early as the last centuries of the third millennium BCE.
But this still does not tell us anything about when this Late Rigvedic period started, or what range of dates we should assign to the Middle Rigvedic period which preceded the Late Rigvedic period, and to the Early Rigvedic period which preceded both. We can still only estimate all these earlier dates, and my earlier estimates still hold good (and still as conservative ones).
2. Can the above situation be coordinated with the general Indian claim that the Mahābhārata war took place around 3100 BCE, and that the Rigveda was also completed by then: that the Late Rigvedic period therefore extends backwards far beyond 3100 BCE, and that the ancestors of the Mitanni and Kassite kings migrated westwards some time after the war (anytime between 3100 BCE and 2000 BCE), while the culture of the Late Rigvedic period continued to remain the culture of northernmost India for over a millennium after the completion of the Rigveda in 3100 BCE? This would be a pleasant idea, but it would require a great deal of stretching of the facts and a great many wishful assumptions:
Just as the Mitanni records reasonably prove that the beginnings of the Late Rigvedic period can not be later than 2000 BCE, there are other opposing factors which reasonably prove that the ending of the Late Rigvedic period can not be before 2000 BCE: the references to spoked wheels (which were invented in the last centuries of the third millennium BCE) and to domesticated camels and donkeys (also found domesticated in Central Asia at around the same time), all of which appear in the Late books and hymns of the Rigveda. It would be impossible for a Rigveda completed around 3100 BCE to refer to spokes, camels or donkeys. Also, the sudden rise of numerous personal names ending in -aśva and –ratha, found in the Late books and hymns (but missing in the Early and Middle books) and in the Avesta and the Mitanni-Kassite records, also testifies to the new culture of the spoked-wheeled chariot. It cannot even be argued that the references to spokes, camels and donkeys, and to personal names ending in -aśva and –ratha, may be post-Rigvedic interpolations into a Rigveda actually completed in 3100 BCE, not only because it would be pointless quibbling against the facts and data, but because these words are distributed too smoothly over the different Late books of the Rigveda, and too integral a part of the books, to be interpolations; also, if they had been interpolations, they would have been interpolated into hymns in the Early and Middle books as well.
Even otherwise, the cultural atmosphere of the Mahābhārata is also one rich in horse-driven chariots with spoked wheels, which would be natural in 1500 BCE but not in 3100 BCE. Also, it may be noted that the only notable name of an actual Mahābhārata character (excluding mythical persons like Yayātī and his sons) mentioned in the Rigveda is Śantanu, the grandfather of Dhṛtarāṣṭra and Paṇḍu, who appears in a hymn composed by his brother Devāpī in book 10, the last and latest book of the Rigveda. This confirms that the Mahābhārata took place at a time subsequent to the invention of spokes and the domestication of the camel and donkey (all of which appear in all the earlier Late books). Therefore, the date for the Mahābhārata war and for the completion of the Rigveda must be placed in the mid-second-millennium BCE rather than in the late fourth millennium BCE.
3. The Late Rigvedic period was in progress at the turn of the third-second millennium BCE, but it can only be a matter of speculation as to when this Late period started and the earlier or Middle Rigvedic period ended. The beginnings of the Early Rigvedic period would therefore be a matter of the most pure speculation of all, at least from the point of view of textual evidence. All that can be definitely said is that the beginnings of the Early Rigvedic period must go far back beyond the second half of the third millennium BCE, since it was still the Late Rigvedic period which must have been in progress throughout most or the whole of this half-millennium. How far back can only be a matter of speculation, but my estimate is that extremely early dates like 7000 BCE or even 5000 BCE, while not impossible dates, are not very likely ones. If someone can prove me wrong with convincing or even feasible evidence, even astronomical (but convincing astronomical) evidence, I will be really happy. But mere wishful thinking can not take the place of data and logic.
As to when the Late period started, all that can be said is that the Late books of the Rigveda can be again divided into three groups: book 5 is undoubtedly the oldest of the Late books, and stands out from the rest in being a family book, in having the pankti meter (but not yet the mahāpankti and śakvarī), and in being still unacquainted with western animals, places, lakes and mountains. Book 10 is undoubtedly the latest, being distinguished from all the other nine books in countless ways. And books 1,8,9 form a group between these two books. The only question now is: did the ancestors of the Mitanni kings migrate from India during the period of composition of book 5, or the period of books1-8-9, or the period of book 10? In effect, the later, within the Late period, they migrated from India, the further back from 2000 BCE the Late period can be speculated to have started. But even if they left in the earliest of the three periods, the period of book 5, the starting point of the Late Rigvedic period still goes back beyond 2000 BCE at the latest. [The rare name Indrota, common to the Mitanni records and book 8, however, would indicate that the Mitanni left well after the period of book 8, and this pushes the beginnings of the Late Rigvedic period much further back].
4. Another important point which must be clarified here is the relative position of the other Vedic texts (the other Samhitās, the Brāhmaṇas, the Āraṇyakas, the Upaniṣads and the Sūtras) vis-à-vis the Rigveda in terms of their period of composition. If the Rigveda was completed by 1400 BCE or so, does this mean that the other texts follow each other in a chronological line after 1400 BCE?
Assuming that this is so would be wrong. There is nothing to indicate that the periods of the different texts are mutually exclusive. While the points of completion of the different texts may indeed be in line with their hitherto accepted chronological order, there is no reason to believe that the entire bodies (so to say) of the different texts were necessarily composed in mutually exclusive periods. The composition of the oldest texts in most of these categories may already have started at different points of time in the Late Rigvedic period, along with the composition of the hymns in the Late books of the Rigveda: it is only that the Rigveda was preserved with much greater care and exactitude than the other texts and therefore the Late books preserved older linguistic forms than the other Vedic texts. The exact chronological details must await detailed investigation, including an examination of genuine astronomical details or data which may be available in these texts.