In the midst of all the fuss about the new
millennium in the Gregorian calendar, most of us missed another centenarian
event: the beginning of the 52nd century of the Kali Yuga in the Hindu calendar,
on March 18. This is Yugabda 5101. So why should anyone care? Isn't this just
another somewhat eccentric calendar like the Saka Era followed by the Indian
On the contrary, Indians or at least Hindus
should care. The widespread popularity of the Gregorian calendar is a vestigial
side-effect of European colonialism, and the fact that Anglo-American business
practices have more or less become the default option in much of the world.
Although we tend to take these European-derived practices as somehow rational
and even pre-ordained, there is nothing inherently scientific about them.
For example, millions of Muslims get along just
fine on the Islamic calendar, even given the fact that being a lunar calendar,
the length of their year doesn't quite match the 365 or so days in the solar
year. They also get by just fine with an Islamic system of banking that doesn't
allow for interest payments. Other non-Gregorian calendars and non-Euro-centric
practices are used elsewhere.
Therefore the Gregorian calendar is just a
convenient device. Although it is supposed to be related to the life of Jesus
Christ, it is not quite in sync -- nobody quite knows when the historic Jesus
lived, except that it was probably somewhere between 6 BCE and 40 CE. However,
this calendar is definitely ethno-centric and religio-centric.
For instance, people ask me why I refer to dates
in the Gregorian calendar as CE/BCE (i e Common Era/Before Common Era) as
opposed to AD/BC. This is because AD/BC has certain religious connotations -- AD
stands for Anno Domini or The Year of Our Lord, which is meaningless unless you
are Christian. It was Jewish historians in the US who initially started the use
of CE/BCE, which is a non-committal term with no assumptions about religion.
Interestingly, Jews have a rather ancient
calendar, wherein this year is 5759. Since Judaism has been around for some
time, this calendar must date back to some significant early event in the
history of the Jewish people. Similarly, one would assume, the length of the
Hindu calendar signifies some early event in the history of Hindus.
However, the earliest known Hindu text is the Rg
Veda, dated to about 1500 BCE. Thus the Hindu calendar should date back only
about 3,500 years. Therefore, the business about the Kali Yuga and 5,000 years
must be some convenient fiction made up by medieval Hindu scholars, right? This
is certainly what we have been led to believe by the Macaulayite educational
system in India.
According to conventional wisdom, the Hindu texts
that state that the Kali Yuga began in 3102 BCE, and that there was some
spectacular celestial configuration of planets to mark that event, are merely
fanciful mythical accounts. For after all, in 3102 BCE, Hindus were still far
from writing the earliest Vedic texts -- and they were not a civilisation until
around the 1500 BCE date of the Rg Veda.
But wait, where did the estimate of 1500 BCE come
from? Why, it came from Max Mueller, the eminent German Indologist, who dated
the Vedas after considerable study in the 19th century CE. And how exactly did
Max Mueller come upon this date? It turns out that he just made it up, based on
certain cyclical logic!
You see, Max Mueller, being a Christian
fundamentalist/missionary, took it as an axiom that the world was created in
4004 BCE, as some British bishop had deduced from a study of the Bible and
related texts. Therefore, argued Mueller, after Adam and Eve, it would have
taken a 1,000 years or so to populate Europe (with pure Aryans, of course).
Thereafter, given the Aryan Invasion Theory, it
would have taken the Aryans a thousand years to migrate from Central Europe to
India, bringing the Vedas with them. So add 2,000 years or so to 4004 BCE, put
in a little swag factor of 500 years, and hey presto, you have the Rg Veda dated
to 1500 BCE! Impeccable logic, surely.
I exaggerate slightly above, but in substance,
this is the ethno-centric and Christian-centric view that has illuminated, so to
speak, Indian understanding of its own pre-history. And this has been the state
of affairs until scholars such as Dr Koenraad Elst, Dr Subhash Kak, Dr David
Frawley, et al began to question both the Aryan Invasion Theory and the dating
of Indian pre-history.
I will not get into the wretched Aryan Invasion
Theory controversy, but it is surely interesting to look at ancient Indian
astronomy. It has long been assumed that Indian astronomy was derived from the
Greek -- after all, Euro-centrics pre-supposed that Greek civilisation was the
fount of all classical knowledge; the curious fact that the Indian and Greek
astrological signs were identical was attributed to Indian borrowing from the
It turns out, however, that Hindu texts do fairly
accurately describe historical celestial events -- for instance the singular
planetary configuration that is supposed to have taken place in 3102 BCE to mark
the beginning of the Kali Yuga did in fact take place. This leads to two
possibilities: one, that the astronomical events were actually observed then;
two, that someone, after the laws of astrophysics became known (say Newton's
time) back-caculated and inserted them into texts.
There is a problem with the first hypothesis:
ancient Indians were not known to be astronomers, unlike, say the Chinese, who
left detailed records of supernovae they observed, for instance in the Crab
Nebula in 1054 CE. Second, if Indians were accurate astronomers 5,000 years ago,
that presupposes an advanced civilisation by that time, which makes India the
oldest of all known civilisations. This does not fit in with conventional
But consider the other hypothesis. Given the
notorious state of the authenticity of Indian texts, tampering is not out of the
question. So let\rquote s say some clever 18th century Hindu mathematician
manufactured the evidence and inserted it into allegedly ancient texts.
But there is a flaw in this argument. It turns
out that Indian astronomy (and astrology) over the centuries has had an error in
it: it does not take into account the precession of the axis of the earth as it
rotates around the sun. This is the tendency of the axis itself not to be
oriented in space in fixed fashion, but to describe a cone -- it spins like the
axis of a top does.
This error has accumulated over time. So for
instance, Hindus celebrate the Winter Solstice on Makara Sankranti day, January
14th; however the real Winter Solstice is on December 22nd. Similarly, the
Indian astrological months are offset by a couple of weeks from the real dates
on which the sun enters those constellations.
Therefore, if an Indian mathematician were to
recognise this error in Indian astronomy, take it into account, correct it, and
backtrack to 3102 BCE, it would take a prodigious amount of computing power,
that was not available until the recent creation of supercomputers. Therefore,
the second hypothesis is impossible -- it was not back-calculated. The event was
in fact observed in 3102 BCE.
We are left with the possibility then that Indian
civilisation was already well-established in 3102 BCE. Which is interesting in
and of itself. Furthermore, the Hindu calendar does speak in cosmic terms -- and
it establishes the age of the universe as some 8.64 billion years, which fits in
with modern, scientific cosmology (see Carl Sagan
I understand that the Indian government has
denoted this year of the Hindu calendar as the Year of Sanskrit. Maybe in some
of those crumbling palm-leaf manuscripts rotting away unsung, unwept, and
unhonored, there are other ancient treasures like the astronomical observations
from 5,000 years ago.