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Astronomical dating of Odyssey and Mahābhārata (Part 2/2)

Read Part 1

There are two possibilities on how Homer knew about the eclipse which happened five centuries ago.

  1. The eclipse details was passed down through oral tradition to Homer.
  2. If Homer knew about Metonic and Saros eclipse cycles, he could have estimated the eclipse.

Currently there is no evidence that Greeks were interested in such precise observation of astronomical events. Since the eclipse did not pass through other major civilizations of the time, the data could not have come from elsewhere. The authors believe both theories to be outlandish.

Irrespective of the astronomical data, there is general consensus on the date of the Battle of Troy since the date predicted by the classical writers have been validated by archaeology. Plato gave a date of 1193 B.C.E, Eratosthenes, 1184 B.C.E and Herodotus, 1250 B.C.E. for the fall of Troy; the destruction layer in Troy VII has been dated to 1190 B.C.E.

Even though they could find a date which matches data from other sources, the authors of the paper make it clear that it is no indication that the Odyssey really happened. The paper, they state, only makes the case that if certain astronomical events listed are correct, then they refer to a historical eclipse.

While the date for the Trojan war was validated with extensive archaeology, Mahābhārata archaeology has been minimal. The dates for the war have a spread of two millennia; the Trojan war has a spread of 135 years. This date of 3097 B.C.E does not become credible unless it synchronizes with archaeological data. For example, horses play an important part in the epic and no horse remains dating to that period has been found in India[1].

While Odyssey has only few astronomical references, Mahābhārata has many. Does this mean the composers of Mahābhārata observed astronomical events with great accuracy or did they painstakingly retrofit a later day story with historical astronomical events?

Rajiv Malhotra meanwhile asks if it really matters how old Mahābhārata is?

At the same time, one comes across many Hindu scholars who are chasing useless and chauvinistic bandwagons that are disconnected from today’s relevant issues. For instance, they seem to be obsessed with ‘proving’ the age of the Mahabharata or geographically locating the Vedas, as if any Hindus were converting because the Mahabharata is not proven to be old enough! They are like ostriches with their heads stuck inside the temple, ashrama and/or political arena, while the globalized world has already passed them by.[Myth of Hindu Sameness]

In fact does it really matter how old Odyssey is or if it really happened? For those interested only in the theology of Mahābhārata it does not matter if the epic was history or poetry from an imaginative mind. But let others who are curious investigate. That too is important.

It is also important to note that research based on astronomical data was carried out in a reputed American university and the results published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. This is treated as scholarship and is neither frowned upon, not considered taboo. The observations in the paper was carried by all major news sources and none of them passed judgement on this type of research. While the world now knows about the work of Marcelo O. Magnasco and Constantino Baikouzis, the work of Narahari Achar largely remains unknown, even in India.

Notes:

[1] The Bhimbetka rock shelters of the Paleolithic age have horse images, but they have not been accurately dated.

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My op-ed in Mail Today: Cultural Liberalism

This was the same piece that was published in Pragati, but enhanced with few hundred words, based on suggestions from Ranjith and Oldtimer. Also thanks to Nitin for first publishing it in Pragati.

Governments usually ban books and movies when they think it has or can upset religious sentiments resulting in a break down in law and order. While that may be the official reason, the ground reality is that it is connected to politics. The Communists became a pot among kettles when they banned Taslima Nasreen’s book Dwikhandito in West Bengal and when Chief Minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya ordered the cancellation of the screening of “Taurus”, a film which showed Lenin in a less admirable light. With all these bans, the governments made it clear that they would rather appease than take an honorable stand.

As usual there will be mob violence and selective outrage, but let not the Iranian Ayatollahs and Bangladeshi fundamentalists be our role models. Instead, it is illuminating to read these lines which Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul wrote in the M.F. Hussain verdict, “A liberal tolerance of a different point of view causes no damage. It means only a greater self restraint. Diversity in expression of views whether in writings, paintings or visual media encourages debate. A debate should never be shut out.”[JPG/PDF]

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The Spicy History of Malabar

Calicut_1572
(Calicut as seen in 1572)[1]

On May 21, 1498, two Tunisian merchants in Calicut, Kerala, were surprised to see a European from Algarve,  the southernmost region of mainland Portugal, walk into their house. Their conversation went like this

Tunisian: “What the devil brought you here?”
European: “We came in search of Christians and spices.”

The European was a degredado, a felon or an outcast like a converted Jew. As Europeans renewed world exploration once again in the 15th century, degredados, who were considered expendable, were first released onto the shore in strange lands. If this volunteer came back with his body parts intact, the brave sailors would follow.[2]

This particular degredado had landed from a Portuguese ship and people of Calicut who were used to seeing foreigners knew that he was not Chinese or Malay. Suspecting that he was from the Islamic world they threw a few Arabic words at him and seeing no response, they took him to the house of the Tunisian merchants. Since the man was not harmed, the commander of the Portuguese carrack São Gabriel, Vasco da Gama, set foot on the ground in Kerala and became famous for doing what Christopher Columbus set to do five years back — naming random places, India.

If Vasco da Gama and the Tunisian merchants were to land in present day Calicut, they would be amused to see posters opposing globalization and anti-globalization rhetoric in the words of the rulers. The shocked foreigners would have told Malayalees that Kerala was a globalized land much before the time of Buddha till the 17th century and was wealthy too. Even the degredado, who would have known more history, would have rolled in Kapad beach hearing one of those Achyutanandan sing song speeches.

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The Genetic Distance between Karunanidhi and Mallika Sherawat

Some Aryan invasion/migration theories are highly entertaining. One fascinating version originates in Central Asia around the middle of the fourth millennium B.C.E when an “unknown disturbance” triggered a cluster of Indo-European tribes on a trip across the continent. This group of nomadic people, wandered around, looking for a place where there is sun, water and grass for their cattle. They reached India, around 1500 – 1200 B.C.E,  “forgot” about their wanderings through Central Asia, Iran and Afghanistan, and hence did not write anything about it in the vedas[1]

This Aryan migration theory created two groups of people — the Aryans who came from Central Asia and Dravidians, the people who were already in India.  In our diverse nation, these Aryans helped bring  up new differences.  Thus Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Karunanidhi still talks about the Aryan-Dravidian battles and Marxist historians write about the light skinned IE speakers over powering the dark skinned Dravidian speakers. Also, we have been told that the concept of caste groups came  with the Aryans while  tribals were the original inhabitants of the country.  These Aryans also helped historians to categorically state that the vedas were composed not by Indians, but by the Central Asians.

If these theories were true, shouldn’t there should be scientific evidence to back it up? Shouldn’t we see a genetic difference between caste and tribal groups and between Indo-European and Dravidian speakers? Also, shouldn’t there be genetic markers which show Central Asian incursion into India around the 1500 – 1200 B.C.E time frame? In fact some genetic studies have shown relatively small genetic distance between Indians and West Eurasians and this has been used as proof of Aryan migration, but recent studies tell a different story.

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Lessons from the Renaissance

In 1503, the much awaited clash of the titans was to take place in the Salone dei Cinquecento, the imposing chamber of Palazzo Vecchio in Italy. Piero Soderini, an Italian statesman commissioned Leonardo da Vinci to paint Battle of Anghiari on one wall and Michelangelo Buonarotti, the Battle of Cascina, in the opposite wall. Even though the artists were contemporaries, they had never competed directly before. Both of them lived in Florence and had a strong dislike for each other and thus this contest was eagerly awaited for the people expected  this contest would push each artist to produce his best.

They worked on the initial drawings, but  both did not complete the task. Leonardo was known for not completing most of his projects and he turned his attention elsewhere. Pope Julius II summoned Michelangelo   to Rome for an even more prestigious project – to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

Thanks to the work of artists like Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Giotto, Brunellesci, Donatello, and Rapahel and writers like Erasmus, Francois Rabelais, and Shakespeare, there was a resurgence in art, philosophy and literature from the late 13th century, which we  know as Renaissance.

Renaissance fostered an atmosphere in which value was placed on human excellence, demonstrated with real examples that  have set the standards for the modern age. While sitting through a lecture on Renaissance, the question in my mind was: Are there lessons we can learn from the 14th century Italians? Can we also achieve that level of greatness?

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