Bhagavat Purana Much more Ancient than Believed
Antiquity of the Srîmad-Bhâgavatam or Bhâgavata-Purâna,
from the classic literature of India
The Sanskrit texts from India have always occupied a distinguished place in philosophy and universal literature. Only in Mexico, they inspired great scholars such as Jose Vasconselos, Francisco I. Madero and the Nobel Laurete Octavio Paz. There is a veritable catalog of writers, poets, linguists and philosophers of almost all nations and movements, who have greatly appreciated and praised this treatise.
Indian Sanskrit literature consists of three main sources, denominated in Sanskrit prasthana-traya, that includes: Sruti (the Vedas like Rig , Sama, Yajur, Atharva, and their commentaries called Brâhmanas together with the Upanisads), Nyaya (logic- philosophical treatises based on Vedanta-sutra) and Smriti ( Itihasas or epic poems, such as Ramayana and Mâhabhârata, the text of which Bhagavad-gîta is part, and the eighteen Purânas, the texts of traditional history and cosmogony).
The Sanskrit texts from India have always occupied a distinguished place in philosophy and universal literature. Only in Mexico, they inspired great scholars such as Jose Vasconselos, Francisco I. Madero and the Nobel Laurete Octavio Paz.
There is a veritable catalog of writers, poets, linguists and philosophers of almost all nations and movements, who have greatly appreciated and praised this treatise.
Indian Sanskrit literature consists of three main sources, denominated in Sanskrit prasthana-traya, that includes: Sruti (the Vedas like Rig , Sama, Yajur, Atharva, and their commentaries called Brâhmanas together with the Upanisads), Nyaya (logic- philosophical treatises based on Vedanta-sutra) and Smriti ( Itihasas or epic poems, such as Ramayana and Mâhabhârata, the text of which Bhagavad-gîta is part, and the eighteen Purânas, the texts of traditional history and cosmogony).
Srîmad-Bhâgavatam or Bhâgavata-Purâna (“the beautiful history of the Supreme Personality of Godhead”) is the last of the Maha-Purânas attributed to the sage Vyasa. It is, according to its own author, “the mature fruit of Vedic literature". It contains twelve Cantos for a total of eighteen thousand verses.
Its 10th Canto contains a detailed narration of Sri Krishna's life and His highest teachings are found in the 11th Canto.
It is rich in all the literary resources aimed at the didactic purpose of transmitting its philosophical system, therefore it is honored by the other puranic text. Dr. Thomas J. Hopkins affirmed: "One of the most impressive things about the Bhâgavata-Purâna, for example… it is the rigor of its thought... it is conceived systematically, with great scholarship". The eminent Bhaktivinoda, of the 19th century, states:
If the whole collection of Hindu theological works previous to the Bhâgavata were lost in fire like the Library of Alexandria and only the sacred Bhâgavata was preserved as it is, no part of the philosophy of the Hindus would be lost, except the conclusions of atheistic sects. For this reason, the Bhâgavata (Purâna) should be considered a religious work as well as a summary of the history and the Hindu philosophy .
For this reason the sages from India have compiled several exegetics text , summarized in the English presentation called Srîmad-Bhâgavatam of Krishna Dvaipayana Vyasa by Bhaktivedanta Swami, also broadly eulogized by experts of universities around the world. The first translation of the Srîmad-Bhâgavatam appeared in French, by Eugene Burnouf in 1840.
Scholars differ on the composition date of Bhâgavatam. The Bhâgavatam itself, and the traditional sages teach that it was compiled at the beginning of the age that Hindus call Kali-yuga, while the colonialist English critics believed that it was composed from various sources in the 13th century of the Christian era.
Later, other scholars have brought evidence that the text already existed in the 9th century, and this is the theory that has become more generally accepted. However, various researchers have found evidence that the text was known in the 5th century or even earlier, from there the query arises. In this article we will give a general presentation of the results achieved in a Master degree thesis at the IBCH.
This research questions the dominant paradigm in this field; admittedly the research presented here may not be sufficient to satisfy the specialists, who will only be able to evaluate it, examining the complete investigation. We will appreciate any constructive criticism that contributes more evidence to solve the problem. The general readers are also invited to accompany the scholars in this adventure in one of the most controversial discussions in history, not only of Indian, but of the entire human thought.
1. Epistemology principles
Scholars in history, philosophy and sociology of science consider as one of the basic principles in scientific investigation, distinguishing it from belief systems or pseudo-sciences, it is as expressed by Thomas S. Kuhn:
All scientific work is characterized by some divergences, and in the heart of the most important episodes in the scientific development there are gigantic divergences... As these two ways of thinking (divergences and convergences) inevitably come in conflict, it is inferred that one of the primordial requirements for the scientific investigation of the best quality, is the capacity to support a tension that, occasionally, will become unbearable. On the other hand I am studying these points from a very historical perspective, emphasizing the importance of "revolutions" for the development of science.
This refers to the elementary dynamics that allowed some significant advances in the fields of scientific knowledge, as the academic study of Hindu culture including language and literature - Indology - it is a scientific field that needs to be subjected to a continuous critical review of its paradigms. If this process is not accepted, we would come to face the problem pointed out by Carl Sagan: "When one excludes the possibility of making critical observations and engaging in discussion, she/he is hiding the truth".
Thus, in order to take this step of cognitive progress, Sagan suggests: "If we want to determine the truth on an issue, we should approach it with the greatest mental openness possible, and in full consciousness of our limitations and biases."
Regarding this investigation, it must be mentioned that some experts have found indications that, although European scholars first started the field of Indology and made considerable steps in research, their system of assigning dates was influenced by sociological and political factors, more precisely by the influence of their Christian bias and the British colonialist regime in India. One of such scholars was linguist Max Müller (1823-1900), who created the datation model that has been generalized among the Indologist and in text books; this scholar explained his motives as follows:
India cannot be preserved neither governed with some profit for us without a good disposition of the natives; and by all means we need that... The religion of Indians is a decrepit religion and it does not have many years of existence left; however our impatience to see it disappear cannot justify the use of violent and disloyal means to accelerate its fall.
This much will suffice here, to mention that due to such cultural confrontation:
A) - The antiquity of the texts, as accepted by the traditional history of India, was rejected by the epistemic obstacle expressed in 1825 by the British scholar John Bentley:
To maintain the antiquity of the Hindu books against the (biblical) absolute truths... on one hand undermines the entire context and the very same foundations of the Christian religion, because if we believe in the antiquity of the Hindu books... the above mentioned context would be pure fable and fiction.
B) The originality of the concepts of Vedic literature was challenged. In the period of Indology’s father, Sir Williams Jones, it was propounded that the predominant theological doctrine of India, the vaisnavism or bhâgavataism, had derived from Christianity. Therefore, all the texts that contained such philosophy, such as the Ramayana and especially the Mâhabhârata and the Purânas like the Bhâgavatam, were automatically considered as composed after the beginning of the Christian period.
C) The credit of authorship of the texts was challenged. It is now known that the composition of the Judeo-Christian literature was the work of many authors along its history, while the nation of Israel was formed developed from some semi-nomadic tribes that subsequently became governed by kings. Another theory (now outdated) of some Hellenistic critics of the 18thcentury stated that the Iliad and Odyssey had not been written by Homer but rather compiled from a collection of various authors. The same speculative line brought to the idea that ancient Indian literature was not composed by Dvaipayana Vyasa around the period of the Mâhabhârata war, but it was gradually compiled over a longer period of time by various authors, from the Vedas to the Purânas.
D) The historicity of the events described in Vedic literature was rejected, and classified as mere mythology. Raymond Schwab shows the roots of this prejudice: “They (the Indians) cannot understand that our religion is the universal religion for Earth, and that they can only produce mere fables and fantasies.”
E) This colonialist approach spread to the German and French scholars who did not have political interests. Even the development of natural history based on Darwinist theories and the archeological discoveries that disproved the Biblical version could only shift the entire system of datation somewhat earlier. The excavation of the ancient cities such as Mohenjo-daro proved that the ancient Indian culture was flourishing before the time of Moses, but this only brought to more and diverse theories.
The mainstream theory says that Rig-Veda is the oldest text, introduced in India around 1500 B.C. by the Aryan invader tribes coming from the Caucasus (early scholars said that came from Europe or Iran) and the other texts had been gradually compiled in the course of centuries. This theory gives some historical recognition to the Mâhabhârata war and its protagonists such as Krishna, but as the later epic rendition of a primitive society around the 10th century B.C. According to this theory, sage Vyasa and his successors the Vyasas, compiled the Mâhabhârata and related texts starting from the 5th century B.C., until the later compilation of the Purânas between the 5th and the 13th centuries. This theory has been an useful instrument for scholars but unbiased scholars have recognized that it presents several difficulties that cannot be solved, and above all it is nothing more than a non-verifiable theory.
Before a rigorous observation, the discovery of a problem is noticed, Francis Bacon called idolus specus, “cavern idols , any problem that has not been subjected to a rigorous observation, and is therefore seen through prejudices based on personal tendencies and temperament, as well as religious, social, political or racial bias that influence the perspective of study. In other words, a researcher that has fossilized mind patterns will have a distorted vision of the studied object, that fits the facts into the cage of his own paradigms and suppresses anything that could contradict them.
This biased approach is often the result of racial and national prejudices and personal beliefs, and makes new discoveries and genuine research practically impossible. However, the first requirement of scientific investigation is precisely the objectivity afforded by the elimination or at least the temporary suspension of all prejudice, by which the researcher is able to examine the facts at their face value and thus understand the phenomenon in itself. That is to say, the phenomenic application of the epojé. The psychological studies on the perception of reality have demonstrated that stronger prejudice and stronger beliefs in a particular thoery increase the inability to properly evaluate the evidence in an objective way and to recognize possible mistakes.
Another problem in establishing the antiquity of the Bhâgavatam is the
exemplified by the calculation offered by the English critics Colebrook and Wilson. According to them, the Bhâgavatam must have been compiled in the 13th century CE, because the 12th Canto gives a chronology from which it is evinced that king Pariksit, described in the beginning and in the end of the text, lived 1300 years before king Chandragupta Maurya. The chronology seems to mention also three Andhra kings, tentatively dated in the 2nd century CE, so it was concluded that the text had been compiled in a later period. The entire speculation is based on a reference from the Greek historian Meghasthenes in 400 BC in his work Indika, where he mentions king Sandrakutus, identified by later scholars as king Chandragupta Maurya. These scholars believed this to be the equivalent of the Rosetta Inscriptions, and on this calculation all the chronology of Indian history was built. The theory elaborated on Chandragupta Maurya’s grandson, king Asoka Maurya, who converted to Buddhism FINANCING its expansion and organizing its councils, and who was deemed to have lived in the 2nd century BC. Thus the battle of Mahâbhâtara was deemed to have been fought in the 10th century BC.
The weak point of this theory is that Meghastenes made no mention of Chanakya, the great minister of king Chandragupta Maurya, and neither did Chanakya ever mentioned in his works any Greek Alexander or Meghastenes who visited the court of Sandrakutus. Another problem is that the two kings mentioned by the Greek historian as preceding Sandrakutus were Xandramas and Sandrocyptus. Such names have no resemblance whatsoever with the names of Nanda or Bindusar and Asoka, the kings who lived before Chandragupta Maurya. The only phonetically acceptable resemblances are among the successors of king Chandragupta-Gupta I: Chamdramas=Xandramas, and Samudragupta=Sandrocyptus. This means that the datation system must be rethought. This theory, presented at the University of New Brunswick in Canada by Prasada Gokhale, suggest that Chanakya lived around 1534 BC and king Chandragupta I in 325 BC, when he entered diplomatic relationships with Alexander the Great.
Still another problem is that the Buddhist Asoka was a king of Kashmir and not the grandson of emperor Maurya's Asoka. This is significant, because it justifies this investigation, since it coincides with the historical version in Srîmad-Bhâgavatam.
Furthermore, probably the weakest point in the theory is the evidence that the Purânas are mentioned in earlier works, as we will mention in this presentation.
The genealogy of kings in the present age, called Kali-yuga in Hindu texts, has been confirmed by James Prinsep's archaeological investigations. Such lists are mentioned in several Purânas, and written in the future tense as they are considered prophecies. This means that we may have alternative theories that allow us to place the compilation of the puranic texts in a much more ancient date. Nonetheless, the theory of the British scholars that placed the Bhâgavatam compilation in 13th century CE remained universally accepted until the second half of the last century. Then a mention of the Bhâgavata-Purâna was found in Tahqiq-i-Hind, a text written by Alberuni, a Muslim scholar that studied India in the 1oth century CE. This creates serious doubts on the theory, and the datation shifted to the 10th century CE.
Critics of the historical antiquity of the Bhâgavatam say that the text mentions the invasion of the Huns, that happened between the 4th and the 5th century CE. However, we see that the same peoples mentioned in Bhâgavatam are also found in earlier texts, such as the Lalitavitsara, a Buddhist work that is dated in the 3rd century CE at the latest. , and also in the Mâhabhârata that is recognized as more ancient.
This evidence indicates that such race (the Huns) were already known much before the invasion of the 4th-5th century. Besides, the Bhâgavatam does not mention any invasion, but simply mention their existence.
Others argue that the Bhâgavatam was influenced by the philosopher Sankara because of the similarity of ideas and language, and Sankara is deemed to have lived in the 8th century CE. The Bhâgavatam therefore had to be a later composition.
Such idea seems rather convincing, but it does not stand to the verification of facts, because Goudapada, the teacher of Govinda, who was teacher of Sankara, mentions a verse of the Bhâgavatam in his Uttaragita-bhasya as well as two other verses of Bhâgavatam in his Sankhya-karika. There have been attempts to discredit this evidence, alleging that another later author with the same name of Goudapada had mentioned the Bhâgavatam verses, or that it was the Bhâgavatam text that quoted Goudapada’s writing. The problem in this controversy is that there is no evidence yet to support such critical approach; there is no historical reference to prove the existence of another Goudapada who may have quoted the verses in exam. On the other hand, researchers such as M. T. Sahasrabuddha have verified that such text were actually composed by Goudapada. Besides, the Shankya karika-vritti and the Uttara-gÎta do not merely quote the verses, but also directly mention the Bhâgavata-purâna.
Another confirmation is found in a separate work, the Nandî-sutrâ, a fundamental text from the Jaina school containing a list of books that should not be studied by its scholars. Such list clearly mentions Mâhabhârata, Ramayana and Purâna-Bhâgavatam, Mathara-vritti, Sankya-karika, etc. The Nandî-sutrâ is considered a work of the 4th century CE as Vallabhi, its compiler, lived 980 years after the Jain teacher Mahavira, who is supposed to have lived in the 5th century BC.
Furthermore, the Mathara-vritti, quoted by Goudapada as the inspiration for his work Shankya karika-vritti, also contains the same two verses from Bhâgavatam.
An objection was raised by Sushila S. Desai, based on an observation of Belvekar, who suggested a later modification of the original manuscripts, stating that in the Mathara-Vritti translated into Chinese by the Buddhist monk Paramartha in the 5th century CE, the verses from Bhâgavatam mentioned in Goudapada’s commentary do not appear. The major obstacle to this objection is that its validation requires a series of manuscript specimens called Collatio Codicum, showing that such verses are not present in the sources quoted. Another problem is that the Chinese translation of Paramartha may just have dropped the specific verses, specifically because the Chinese monk belonged to a school that opposed the Bhâgavata school and therefore he might have chosen to remove them to avoid giving credit to a doctrine he opposed. Thus we require a much harder evidence before we can consider such objection as valid.
Another point is Bhâgavatam rejects the monistic theory of the non-differentiated unity of the souls with God and the conception of God as ultimately impersonal and amorphous; that it comes to be the stone base of Sankara’s philosophy. To this it can be added that Sankara also mentions a verse from Bhâgavatam in his poem Meditations on the Gîta and he makes a reference to the Bhâgavata school in his Sariraka-bhasya. Besides, Prasada Gokhale found evidences that Sankara lived in the 5th century BC and that Mahavira lived at least in the 10th century BC. This means that we need to revise the conventional datation and to recognize that the objections to the antiquity of the Bhâgavatam are not satisfactory.
One of most approved bases is, J. A. Van Buitenem writes that the Bhâgavatam lauds the southern part of India (called Dravida desa) and its rivers Tamraparni, Kritamala, Payasuini and Kaveri, where it is predicted that many devote of Krishna would appear. This theory was proposed by Hindu scholars towards the end of the 19th century and was also supported by others as G. V. Tagare. Tagare argues that the topographical description begins with the Dravida or south India, making eight geographical references to this area. Also Bhaktivinoda mentions a references in 10th Canto to a pilgrimage place called the Vênkata hill, postulating that such holy place was established in the 8th century CE. In the same way, Friedhelm Hardy suggests in Viraha-bhakti there are strong similarities between some passages of the Bhâgavatam and certain poems of the Alvar poets from south India, where the Alvars lived between the 5th and the 9th century CE. He concludes that such passages in the Bhâgavatam must have been influenced by the Alvars’ poetry: this is one of the most accredited theories for a datation of the Bhâgavatam in the post-Christian period.
However a more rigorous analysis shows a series of weak points to this hipothesis. Dr. B. Majumdar writes:
This verse refers to the Alvars, the most prominent of whom lived in the 9th century CE. However the earliest of the Alvars, such as Poygi of Kanchipura, Pudan of Mamallapuram and Pey of Mylapore, became famous before the 6th century. Stiller, the inscriptions of Nanaghat from the 1st century BC and Chinna of Gotamiputra clearly prove the existence of devotees of Vâsudeva (Krishna) in the south in ancient times.
This suggests that the golden period of the Alvars might have been much earlier than generally believed. But this is not the only problem. S. M. Srinivasa Chari pointed out:
“The period when the Alvars lived. I would not like to venture to date this period for two reasons: (1) the dates are under dispute between the traditional scholars and the contemporary researchers, (2) they are not relevant for the purpose of presenting the Philosophy and Religion of Vaisnavism.”
The precise period of the Alvars has been an object of controversy; but we can also suspect that many of these mystic poets lived in different times. One of the basis for the datation between the 5th and the 9th century CE is the theory proposed by Hultzch, according to which king Paramesvara Vinnagara, lauded by the Alvar Tirumangai in his poems, was actually king Paramesvara Varman. Based on this theory, R. Chaudhuri surmised that Tirumangai was a contemporary of Narasimha Varma, a King who lived between 625 and 645 CE. Another idea presented as evidence is the identification of the Alvar Kulashekara with king Kulashekara, in 788 CE. Howewever, scholar Sambindananda admitted that there are divergences and incompatibility with such an identification and that some experts, as Bhardarkar, rejected the idea that king Kulashékara and the Alvar Kulashékara are the same person. For example, one of the two wrote in Sanskrit and the other in Tamil. Also, the identification of king Paremesvara Vinnagara with Paramesvara Varma is not completely justifiable. Because vinnagara and varma are very different names and Narasimha Varma it is also a different name. In fact there is no satisfactory evidence to support the conclusions of Hultzch and Chaudhuri, and the dates still remain uncertain.
If we turn to the traditional sources on the Alvars, such as Upadesaratnamala, Upadesaratnamalai, Guruparampara-Prabhandham, Divyasuri Charitam, Prapananmrita and Pravandasara, etc, we see that they unanimously point to a much earlier age, from 4202 to 2706 BC.
Regarding the geographical mention of the rivers in south India contained in the verses in question, it is not particularly relevant to a datation system because the Bhâgavatam also mentions rivers and areas of north India and with more frequency. In fact, the most important events described in the text take place in the north, in an area that corresponds to the present states of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, Rajastan, Madhya Pradesh, Saurastra, Gujarat, etc., with their respective rivers and pilgrimage sites. Just in the first Canto thirteen verses describe the geography from Mâhabhârata and mention the river Sarasvati as still flowing. References also exist to Prayaga or prayagah , the place of the Triveni, the confluence of the three rivers Yamuna, Ganges and Sarasvati. Studies supported by top level technology confirm that this Sarasvati river dried around 2000 BC. It is mentioned that the Sarasvati had tributary branches reaching Prabhasa in Gujarat and the western region of the Sindhu. Consequently, if we consider the few verses on the geography of the south, we also have to consider all the other geographical indications in the text.
Regarding the datation of the Venkata pilgrimage place in the 8th century CE, there is no doubt that the present temple may have been rebuilt at that time, but that does not mean much. Inscriptions found in the temple state that Indian kings mentioned their visits to this worship place already in the 9th century CE, and there are also traces of earlier foundations of a previous temple that existed before the new building.
Researchers in this field have found mentions of this holy place dating back to the 4th century BC, and other records show that this same pilgrimage place existed in times before the beginning of the Kali-yuga. Bhaktivinoda also pointed out the weakness of such recent datation: "We strongly differ from such a conclusion."
Regarding the comparison offered by Hardy, it is not very relevant, because it only relates to the common quotes in different texts and not necessarily to an exclusive origin. Such reasoning would be a faulty conclusion of the type post hoc ergo propter hoc - “if A is followed by B, then A is the cause of B". The proof of A causing B is more unlikely to obtain than to prove that A and B coexist at the same time. In fact Thomas Hopkins and others have suggested that the Alvars were rather inspired by the Bhâgavatam. Considering all these factors, we can certainly say that the theory that the Bhâgavatam originated in south India after the Alvars in the 9th century CE is at least controversial, as recognized by Buitenem: "The exact date of Bhâgavata Purâna has not been established yet... neither would I insist on of text having originated in the south."
Another theory on the datation of the Bhâgavatam has been presented by R. L. Thompson, who suggests that the stars of the constellation called Sisumara mentioned in Bhâgavatam were visible in the sky from 1000 BC to 1000 CE. This suggests the possibility that the Bhâgavatam was compiled in that period. No matter how attractive this theory is, a closer examination will show that one of the references used by Thompson is supposed to indicate the location of the star Polaris in the center of the Polar Axis. However, in Bhâgavatam is mentioned that the Polar star called Dhruvaloka was the fixed star in the center of the Polar Axis, and according to modern astronomical studies the Polar star was not in that position from1000 BC to 1000 CE, but rather in a period before 2600 BC. Such Polar star was Thuran or Alpha Draconis. That indicates that the constellation called Sisumara must have been in that alignment in much more remote times, when the Polar star was Dhruva or Thuran, which disproves such theory. Thompson admits that such astronomical observation at least gives evidence of the possibility of "...a relative astronomical date for the old manuscript". Another factor indicated by Thompson is the fact that the Bhâgavatam mentions the signs of the tropical zodiac, that must have been adopted from the Greek astronomers who invented them around 100 B. C, especially from Hipparcus. Thus Thompson concludes that such alignments can not be traced to more remote times due to the different positions of the signs and the constellations. This hipothesis of the Hellenistic influence on the Hindu texts of astronomy has been amply accepted in the academic circles, but other researchers have found evidence of different possibilities, especially of an origin of Hindu texts as independent from Hellenic culture.
With reference to the zodiac signs, Da Gemadeite explained:
There is not doubt that… the magic and astrological practices of Caldea and Egypt influenced the Greek civilization… the Greeks eagerly assimilated the oriental beliefs and the mythological figures from the peoples they met… The Egyptian calendar was perfect; it was divided according to the twelve zodiacal constellations, which in turn were sub-divided each in three parts... forming the divisions of the zodiacal circle.
G. A. Betti also states:
The Egyptians can be considered as the fathers of the Caldeans in the astronomical field… and it is known that the first Greek philosophers moved to the land of Egypt to study astronomy.
Another factor is that many of the great Greek mathematicians, such as Pythagoras in 5th century BC and Apollony of Tyana in the 1st century CE went to study in India, as Flavio Filostrato records. In this connection, O. Neugabauer writes:
We find ourselves here in an entirely new situation, because the influences of a later period have modified everything and given a vague and confused report of pre-history. This situation, especially tracing back to Ptolemy, does not offer any historical references, almost nothing is known about the astronomical knowledge of Hipparcus or Apollony.
This means there is no hard evidence to prove that the Greeks had such an influence on Greek culture. Some have used the argument of theTrigonometry Table of Hipparcus, proposed by G. J. Toomer. But as Thompson suggests, even Toomer admits the uncertain nature of such a document:
"... there are no extant Greek documents that contain Hipparcus’s table, not even in a fragmentary form. In fact, there is no explicit evidence about the nature of this Hipparcu 's table or that such work has ever existed."
In this regard, Neugabauer writes:
“We know that, from the Pahlavi translations of the astrological writings of the first and second century (in Persia) such as Teucer and Vettius Valens, and from the presence of Hindu texts as well as the Roman Almagesto dated around 250 CE under king Shapur I. During the reign of Khosoro I…, it was revised, around 550 CE as the famous Zij ash-Shah, which has been demonstrated as heavily influenced by Hindu sources.
From the perspective of Indian history, the Chanakya niti sastra mentions the science of astronomy in a period that was not connected to the Greek invasion or to Hipparcus. Furthermore we see that the texts of Buddhist literaturemention that when the Buddha was born, astrologers predicted his religious mission. Among the possible sources that mention the zodiac signs, R. Santhanam proposes the Brihat Parasara Hora, written by Vyasa’s father Parâsara, the author of other texts like Parâsara Smriti and Parâsara Samhita. Although Parâsara lived in the period of the Mâhabhârata, Santhanam states that he studied astronomy from Saunaka, the author of one of the Rig Veda poems. This is confirmed by the fact that Rig Veda mentions that the sun orbits through the twelve zodiacal signs, clearly naming Simha, Kanya, Maithuna and Vrisha (Leo, Virgo, Gemini and Taurus). Considering the antiquity of such text we need to accept the possibility that the Hindus knew about the zodiac signs before the Hellenistic times, as suggested by F. W. Franz: "The Hindus and the Chinese also had their own complex astrology systems". Also, Betti suggests:
It seems that such a time can be traced back at least forty centuries before Christ, to a people from Asía… that reached a very high level of civilization compared to other peoples and whose knowledge spread through all Asia, Europe and Egypt and, very likely, also to Mesoamerica. From the astronomy of this people we go to the Egyptian and Indian science of astronomy, thirty centuries before Christ.
This theory was amply discussed because of this point. It was suggested that the Greeks were not the first people to use the zodiac signs, but they were preceded by the Egyptians, who had contact with India before Hipparcus.
Dennis Hudson argues that at least a part of the material contained in the Bhâgavatam was known in the entire Indian territory in the 3rd century BC, and that the archaic language of the Bhâgavata Purâna could in fact constitute a genuine tradition that is much earlier, at least dated in 400 BC. However, exists researchers whose investigation directs to sustain, this date is not the last one on the explored text. R. N. Vyas insists on a period around 900 BC, on the basis of the work of G. D. Dey, mentions that some stories from the Bhâgavatam can also be found in the Buddhist Jatakas texts. One of the main objections against this theory is offered by G. V. Tagare:
The similarity among the legends in the Bh. P. (Bhâgavatam) and the Jatakas, in spite of the detailed demonstration for Gokuldas Dey, can not be considered as an irrefutable evidence to determine the date of the Bh. P., because both works could have independently tapped from ancient Indian folklore and other traditional stories.
This objection tends to invalidate Dey’s work, but an attentive examination reveals that there is no serious proof of such conclusion, either. Where is the evidence that these common stories were acquired from another source? Without supporting this research with verifiable information, a theory simply remains a possibiity. We are therefore remanded to the logic of post hoc ergo propter hoc - if A (the folklore) is followed by B (the texts), A is the cause of B". As we have already mentioned, the proof of A causing B is more unlikely to obtain than to prove that A and B coexist at the same time. This is not the only obstacle. Demanding irrefutable evidences as Tagare does, is beyond the power of scientific investigation, as K. Popper had explained: "Believing that “scientific” theories are the absolute that cannot be challenged, is more faith than science"’.
Trying to disprove the influence of Buddhist literature from the Bhâgavata Purâna, some Indologists argue that one of Chanakya’s works mentions the history of Krishna, saying that Dvaipayana Vyasa had cursed the hero's dynasty:
The reference is quite clear, although the sage or sages named here may be different from the name in Mâhabhârata and Purânas. The coincidence of the name of Vyasa is remarkable and suggests that this is the oldest tradition. The Mâhabhârata and the Purânas could not insert Vyasa in this episode, since he is supposed to be the author of these texts and in this version of the history he dies. They had to use other sages for the incident.
The problem of this interpretation is that no passage of the Bhâgavatam or the Mâhabhârata mentions that Vyasa died. Furthermore, he did not even belong to the Yadu dynasty, the family of Krishna. Thus we can see that there is a positive coincidence between the names of the sages in such treatises, because Kamba and Kanva are the same character who is also named Nárada. The Bhâgavatam mentions other sages, too, because it is a detailed work about the life of Krishna contrarily to the Mâhabhârata, whose main characters are the Pandavas heroes and Krishna is an important but technically secondary character. This it is logical to admit that that text does not give full details about all the sages, as it is the case with the text we are examining. Another point is that the Bhâgavatam indirectly mentions Vyasa in this episode, as Dr. Howard J. Resnick remarks in the translation of the text: nârada-adaya - Nárada and others". The Sanskrit word adayah clearly indicates that there were others.
Also, because the author of the text is Dvaipayana Vyasa, he is not mentioned directly; but only implicitly. It must also be noted that this Indologist builds his case by using a Buddhist work that presents Vyasa as the cause of the curse. The difficulty with such definition is that in this Buddhist work, famous as Ghata-jataka, there are several distortions of the names and even of parts of Krishna´s life. This is because the Buddhist text was produced by a school that was opposed to the Bhâgavata school, and therefore can hardly be considered a trustworthy source. However, this theory proves that the Buddhists knew about a compiler of the Bhâgavatam, named by the text itself as Dvaipayana Vyasa, and mentioned the childhood of Krishna among the cowherd boys of Vrindavana - the main subject of the Purâna we are examining.
Another point in this regard is that since Buddha is mentioned in the Bhâgavatam, it was concluded that its compilation must have been done after the times of Buddha himself. There are indeed several prophetic passages about the Buddha avãtara in the Srîmad-Bhâgavatam, but they are generally expressed in reference to the future, and the name of Buddha as an avãtara, or incarnation of Vishnu or Krishna, is also found in the hymn visnu-sahasra-nama from Mâhabhârata.
Furthermore, A. Schweitzer points out:
“Later Buddhism contemplated the belief that from immemorial time the truth that leads to redemption had been proclaimed by several Buddhas. Therefore Gautama Budha, of the race of the Sakhyas, is only one among many.”
This leads to suspect that the title of Buddha already existed before its use for Siddharta Gautama. However, our presentation will examine how this and other sources suggest that there are likely more indications on the datation, for example about the dates suggested by S. D. Gyani as around 1200-100 BC. Tagare objected:
" …it is unacceptable, since the language of the Bh. P. (Bhâgavatam) is much more modern that the Vedic language, that is presumed to have been in use in the period between 1200 and 1000 BC. Nevertheless, if Parîksit, the person to whom the Bh P. was narrated, reigned around 900 BC, as demonstrated by Ray Chaudhari, the Bh. P. cannot precede Parîksit.”
In this statement Tagare build on the assumption that re-wrote the chronology of Indian history, as we explained at the beginning of our presentation, with Chandragupta Maurya's identification with the Sandracutus mentioned by Meghastenes, to establish a date for king Parîksit. However, as we already mentioned, this assumption has several weak points. The archaic language used in the Bhâgavatam indicates a remote time of its compilation, as observed by F. Mier, Buitenen, Smith, M. Federick, Hudson and L. Rocher, etc. This contradicts the argument that tries to pass off the language of the Bhâgavatam as modern Sanskrit.
Prasada Gokhale suggests a likely date of composition between 3100 and 3000 BC.
However, although this researcher presented archaeological evidences and astronomical indications that suggest an early date for the time when king Pariksit heard the conclusion of the narration by sage Suka, as described in the text, did not elaborate on the antiquity of the text itself.
Regarding the revision of dates, P. V. Vartak has theorized 5000 BC for this Purâna, stating that "the exact date of the War of Mâhabhârata is October 16 of the year 5561 BC”. Certainly innovation is part of the process of scientific investigation, and it can create paths to approach the solution of these problems, but the astronomical analysis contradicts the theory of Vartak. This astronomical analysis has been verified by several scholars such as Count Bijornsteirna, S. Balakrishna, Henry Lawrence, P. Stapp, etc. This gives inspiration to further exploration such as the present analysis, but it seems that such theory is not satisfactory. In conclusion, “scholars have been unable to reach a clear agreement on the date of the Bhâgavatam."
Proposed dates for the Bhâgavatam
13th century CE H. H. Wilson and Colebroock
11th century CE Dasgupta
9th-10th century CE Sharma, Buitenen, etc.
9th century CE Ingalls, Hopkins
6th century CE Pargiter
5th century CE Eliade, Hazra, etc.
4th-5th century CE Tagore, Krisnamurti
3rd century CE R. Dikshitar
5th-4th century BC to 7th century CE D. Hudson
10th to 9th century BC R.N. Vyas
13th to 12th century BC S.D. Gyani
20th century BC Kedarnath Datta (Bhaktivinoda)
30th century BC Gokhale
L B. C. P.V. Vartak.
In order to estimate the antiquity of a text like this, where there is no original manuscript, philologists use a method based on triangulation, uniting the qualitative and the quantitative methods as the investigation axes, designated in philology as the internal evidence (EI) and the external evidence (EE).
The EI is obtained from the contextual philology or conformatio textus by examining the correspondences. The application of this concept identifies in the work two categories of indications: the Evidence (geographical, chronological quotes, astronomical, intertextuality) and the Contexts (social, economic, philosophical, religious, political). The EE consists of documental, epigraphifical, numismatists, sculptural evidences and other finds, to determine any discrepancy. After having recorded all the information, the data are processed in descriptive statistical measures of frequencies (absolute, relative and accumulated) that afford an objective evaluation of the problem.
4. Summary of the results
At the beginning of our presentation we expressed the question of the antiquity of the Srîmad-Bhâgavatam or Bhâgavata-Purâna of the Classic Indian literature. As a conclusion, we are presenting a summary of the data on the issue.
4.1 Internal evidence
The geographical evidence suggest a correspondence through all the twelve Cantos, with the central and northern region and north-west of India, with brief mentions of China and Siberia up to the Pamir mountains, while the southern region or Dravida is mentioned only in the 4th, 5th, 8th, 10th and 11th Cantos, with a proportion between 0.7% and 1%.
The references to rivers are mostly to Ganges, Yamuna and Sarasvati, while the rivers in the south are also mentioned in a proportion between 0.7% and 1%. In particular, the text mentions places that disappeared around 2000 years ago, when the Sarasvati dried up. Besides, among the southern rivers, the text mentions the Chandravasa and the Vatoka and other lost places that are not mentioned in the texts of the bhâgavata school dated from the 16th century CE. Also, the rivers are called with their ancient names.
The same applies to the ethnographical study, with a prominence of the clans mentioned in the Mâhabhârata, especially the Yadus, Bharatas, Yayatis, etc., and other famous clans from Asia, and more specifically from the north-western and north-central regions of India.
The fauna tends to be similar to the specimen whose remains were discovered in the archeological sites of the Sindhu cultures. Some other species characteristic of the northern region are mentioned, such as the crow, the camel, the swan - the last two are only found in the north-west region of India - and the yak, that lives in China and Tibet. Also, the mountains mentioned indicate the northern region.
We may therefore conclude that the text was composed in the period of the culture of the Sindhu and the Ganges. It is also interesting to note that the text mentions a global Flood.
Regarding the chronological sequence, there is an oscillation between the 1st and the 11th Cantos from to the spoken tradition of the Bhâgavatam, at the beginning of the Vedic Era, to the Mâhabhârata age, with the battle of Kuruksetra, the beginning of Kali yuga, with over 50% of the percentage. On the other hand the 12th Canto, containing the largest prophetic section, is deemed at 56% at the beginning of the Kali yuga, leaping forward in time towards different periods of the future history of India: 2.3% for Chandragupta Maurya, 1.7% for the period of the Nandas, etc.
On these later references three theories should be thoroughly investigated:
a) The first, and obviously less likely accepted within the mechanistic paradigm of mainstream history, according to which the prophecies are the product of the mystic precognitions of the sages that recited Bhâgavatam.
b) A second possibility: the copyists could have modified the text to support a chronological order that would emphasize the historical importance of the Kings.
c) A third scenario is due to the influence of the socio-political factor. The ministers of the Kings were brâhmana priests, so it is possible that while acting as consultants and officiating the naming ceremonies for the princes, they chose to fulfill the prophecies in which they believed by naming the Kings of such dynasties according to the lists of the Purânas, already known to them.
This possibility is suggested by the discoveries of D. Sarasvati's discoveries, who collected the royal chronicles on the succession of kingdoms in Delhi; a sample of the documents shows that the Kings were known under many names, of which few coincided with those of the puranic lists. This suggests that if such prophecies were actually from an earlier time in comparison to the chronicles, the compilers had used the most familiar names that appear in the lists so that such prophecies would be confirmed as true.
Regarding the concept of the four ages or Yugas described in the text, such concept is not only found in the cultures and cosmogonies of the ancient world, in books like the Zend Avesta, the Chinese Annals and Egyptian texts that approximately date from 2500 to 3000 BC. We also find that in America, the Sioux have preserved from their ancestral times an oral tradition about this concept of the four ages, expressed with a semiology similar to the Bhâgavatam. This suggests that such concept comes from a time previous to the Ice Age, when it is believed that man migrated from Asia to the Americas.
Astronomical evidence. The percentages vary in each Canto although a proportional tendency is seen of 50 to 75% in some Cantos in favor of the cosmographic model called Bhumandala. Parallel models are found in other cultures both in Asia and in America, which suggests that it was widely accepted in a period before the Ice Age. Also, although in a lesser degree, there are mentions of the seven-planet system, the constellation called Sisumara, the constellation of the Seven Rishis (the Great Dipper), the astronomical model of the Jyotir Veda, the conjunction of the star Rohini or Aldebarán (Alpha Tauri) that is dated in 3162 BC, together with the concept of the Milky Way as a Heavenly River and the system of Nakshatras or lunar mansions, all of which found parallels in China and Egypt, around 3000- 2000 BC. The highest percentage is 97.5% in favor of Dhruvaloka as the Pole Star, known as Alpha Dacronis up to 2600 BC, and absent from then on until the 14th century CE.
These references do not correspond to the period of the first millennium of the Christian Era, since the Hindu astronomers of the first millennium state that the puranic model contradicts their observations. This means that the astronomical observations in the Bhâgavata-Purâna coincide with the age of the Mâhabhârata and other archaic cultures.
Intertextulaity. This applies to the conscious or unconscious influence of other books on the specific work studied. Scholars say that even one single line can give evidence of such influence. The results of this variable are different in each Canto, although there is a tendency oscillating from 80% to 27% in favor of Mâhabhârata, and also for different texts like the Vedas and Upanisads, and in smaller degree for the Brâhmanas, Upavedas, Ramayana, Manu-samhita, and Pancharatras. The percentages confirm a period that is at the end of the Vedic Era and that coincides with the Mâhabhârata war.
Social contexts. A variable that registers growing values is the prominent glorification of the priestly class or brâhmanas. In all the Cantos of the text we find up to the 60.4% about the description of the four social classes and the four spiritual orders - the varnasrama, or qualified casteism that is not hereditary and has a minimum degree of brahmical corruption, etc. This social scenario is in accordance to the Rig Veda, the Briharanyaka Upanisad, etc. The same applies to other categories that were prevalent in the cultures of the Sindhu Valley; while the use of the silk and the canabis indica flourished in China around 2700 BC. This demonstrates an obvious difference in the first millennium CE, with a society divided in many castes determined by birth, and a unestimatetion from the bhâgavatas of the south in toward to the brahminical class.
Economic contexts. One of the general characteristics that define the percentage from 45 to 79% in the text is cattle raising. There are also indications on the use of elephants, horses, donkeys and mules, goats, buffaloes, sheep and camels, on the practice of hunting and consumption of meat, on GOLD and mining, on agriculture, ships and sailing, iron, silver, ivory and pearls, stones like marble, coral, diamond, lapis lazuli, emerald, sapphire, ruby etc. This evidence points toward a parallelism with the Cultures of Sindhu and in a certain measure with the period of the Mâhabhârata.
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