You are reading the most detailed analysis on the historicity of Mahabharata
Mahabharata is always associated with Hinduism and has an immense impact on Hindus and their cultural traditions. Many people in India consider Mahabharata as real history and they quote events from the epic as true accounts of history. Therefore it has become a topic of debate if the Mahabharata narrates the real history.
We are trying to find answers to two questions here – Did Mahabharata really happen? Is Mahabharata real?
IndianYug team has been researching this subject for a long time now, and we think that we are in a position to finally answer this question.
If you ever try to find the answer, if Mahbhrata is a real account of history, by asking questions or surfing the internet, you will most likely get one side of the opinion. People of faith would say that it is indeed real and there is not a shred of doubt that it is indeed our Indian history.
Most even come up with a list of points to show that Mahabharata happened for real. Furthermore, they claim they have real proof of Mahabharata and its historicity.
On the other hand, people of the scientific community and skeptics out-rightly reject it as history and call it mythology. They, however, do not answer the question as to why does it have such a profound impact on Hindu Society.
How can the collective memory of so many diverse cultures be wrong? Mythology is normally believed by one or two cultures. Not so many as in the case of Mahabharata.
So where does the truth lie? is Mahabharata a myth or reality? We will be looking at all aspects of the argument that proponents of history and proponents of mythology propose.
I do recommend reading interesting facts about Mahabharata that you may not know about
To be clear, Mahabharata is not only an epic of faith for Hindus, as it is widely recognized. Other religions like Sikhism, Jainism, and Buddhism also have various associations with Mahabharata and is an integral part of these religions and culture.
In a nutshell, anything that has some origin in India also has some association with Mahabharata. This in itself is a strong argument that part of the epic must true to have this kind of impact on the collective memory of such diverse societies.
Bhagvat Geeta and its Significance in Mahabharata
Bhagvat Geeta which is one of the most well known and important holy books in Hinduism is a part of Mahabharata.
Bhagvat Geeta is said to be a documented narrative of god Krishna to Arjun to fulfill his moral obligation and fight in the war of Kurukshetra. If Mahabharata is not real then who wrote Geeta and what was the purpose?
We have tried to answer some of the questions by first analyzing what are the available evidence from which it can be inferred that Mahabharata is real. I must tell you these are very strong facts and not mere faith-based arguments.
Let us now examine them. Let us observe the ‘Scientific proof of Mahabharata’
Facts proposed by those who support Mahabharata happened for real
1. Records of Bharat dynasties and real historical lineage
It is mentioned in Aadiparva, the book of the beginning. Which is the first of eighteen books of the Mahabharata, chapter 62 about the records of the Bharat-Dynasty (interestingly the name of India ‘Bharat’ has the origin from it), and its lineage are recorded.
More than 50 kings and their dynasties starting from king Manu have been presented in detail. A fictional tale as we know would hardly use 5-6 of them.
2. It is written as Itihas (History)
In Mahabharata, it is clearly written that it is an “Itihas’ (Sanskrit word for History). The words “Puraan” and “Itihas” were specifically coined by the ancient people to categorize the “ancient” and “recent” events. Both the words denote history that has occurred at different times.
If the intention of the writer was to write a poem or a work of fiction, he would have stated it to be a “Mahakavya” (epic) or “Katha” (story) which was a tradition at that time.
3. Description of the modern world in ancient times
If you get a chance to read the description of Kaliyuga as mentioned in Mahabharata. Whatever Krishna predicted about future civilization in Kalyug (Modern Times) came true, but please note that these were not prophecies but are the part of Geeta.
And remember – this was written thousands of years ago! Fiction? Unlikely because there are way too many corroborations and tallying circumstances for it to be fiction.
4. Archaeological evidence of the lost city of Dwarka
Marine archaeology while exploring the ancient submerged city of Dwaraka in Gujarat, uncovered further evidence in support of statements in the Vedic scriptures.
An entire submerged city at Dwaraka, the ancient port city of Lord Krishna with its massive fort walls, piers, wharves and jetty has been found in the ocean as described in the Mahabharata and other Vedic literature.
5. Real places mentioned in Mahabharata and archaeological evidence
More than thirty-five sites in North India have yielded archaeological evidence and have been identified as ancient cities described in the Mahabharata. Copper utensils, iron, seals, gold & silver ornaments, terracotta discs and painted grey ware pottery have all been found in these sites. Scientific dating of these artifacts corresponds to the non-Aryan-invasion model of Indian antiquity.
All places mentioned in Mahabharata are real places, all are identified and still exist with the same name. For instance, Hastinapur is in UP with multiple evidence of Mahabharata in Hastinapur. Indraprastha is the present-day Delhi. Dwarka is located on Gujarat coast. Kurukshetra where the war actually happened is in present-day Haryana very near to Delhi.
Interestingly this is not limited to only India. The Kekaya kingdom is located in today’s Pakistan, the Madra Kingdom is located in today’s Pakistan. The Gandhara Kingdom is located in today’s Afghanistan. The Kambojas Kingdom is located in today’s Iran. The Parama Kamboja Kingdom is located in today’s Tajikistan.
Recently researchers have found the city of Dwarka under the sea in the said place. Mahabharata cities are not limited to present-day India because Mahabharata referred to the Indian subcontinent as Bharat.
6. Progression from Ramayana
Mahabharata is a continuation of the dynasties from Ramayana and it has a well-established coherence in the chain of events. Even the relations between different kings and their dynasties in both the great “epics” match with each other.
If both were mere “epics” written by two entirely different persons, at two different points in times, why would everything match even minute details? Mahabharata occurs thousand of years after Ramayana. What is the need for the author of the Mahabharata to borrow the same ideas and characters as those of the author of Ramayana?
7. Astronomical references
The Udyoga Parva of Mahabharata narrates that, just before the War, Lord Krishna went to Hastinapur in the month of Kartika on the day when the moon was at the asterism Revati.
On His way to Hastinapur, Krishna took rest for a day at a place called Brikasthala, and on that day the moon was at the asterism Bharani. The day on which Duryodhana turned down all the efforts of Krishna and made the war inevitable, the moon was resting at the asterism Pushya.
8. The myth of Aryan invasion theory
European scholars brought the nomadic Aryan tribes, into India after 1500 BC. How could these Aryans create Sanskrit language, gain so much knowledge and write all these texts before 700 BC?
Great Indian thinkers including Lokmanya Tilak, Sri Aurobindo, and Dayanand Sarasvati rejected the European theory.
9. Historical references that are true
Maurya, Gupta, and Indo-Greek dynasties are also recorded in our Purana. These dynasties are accepted only because they are also recorded by Greek historians.
What about the dynasties that existed before the Greek historians?
10. Famous Oppenheimer quote
The architect of the modern atomic bomb who was in charge of the Manhattan Project was asked by a student after the Manhattan explosion, “How do you feel after having exploded the first atomic bomb on earth”.
Oppenheimer’s reply to the question was, “not the first atomic bomb, but a first atomic bomb in modern times”. He strongly believed that nukes were used in ancient India.
As he witnessed the first detonation of a nuclear weapon on July 16, 1945, a piece of Hindu scripture ran through the mind of Robert Oppenheimer: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds”. It is, perhaps, the most well-known line from the Bhagavad-Gita, but also the most misunderstood.
11. Flying vehicles and nuclear war
The Indian Epics, especially the MAHABHARATA, pick up the thread of the tale of devastation and destruction. Sanskrit scholars could not understand what was being described in the Epics until the dropping of the first atomic bombs on Japan happened. The effects of radiation poisoning also became clear.
Now, these details have been provided with details in Mahabharata. Details provided in Mahabharata can be roughly translated in English below:
Flying a swift and powerful Vimana (Aircraft) hurled a single projectile Charged with all the power of the Universe. An incandescent column of smoke and flame as bright as ten thousand Suns rose in all its splendor….it was an unknown weapon, an iron thunderbolt, a gigantic messenger of death, Which reduced to ashes.
The Entire race of the Vrishnis and the Andhakas….the corpses were so burned as to be unrecognizable. Their hair and nails fell out, pottery broke without apparent cause and the birds turned white. After a few hours, all foodstuffs were infected. To escape from this fire, the soldiers threw themselves in streams to wash themselves and their equipment
12. Real places with evidence that correlates with Mahabharata
One of the good examples is a place, a few kilometers from Gwalior, Morena (M.P.), India, where the mother of Pandavas the heroes of Mahabharata, Kunti invoked the Mantra given by Maharishi Durvasa and summoned Surya Bhagwan (Sun God) who appeared on a seven horsed chariot.
The dazzling heat of the chariot and the horses melted the rock, leaving imprints on the rock. A picture showing the same.
13. The enormity of details provided
The Mahabharata is the longest known epic poem and has been described as “the longest poem ever written”. Its longest version consists of over 100,000 shlokas or over 200,000 individual verse lines (each shloka is a couplet), and long prose passages. About 1.8 million words in total, the Mahabharata is roughly ten times the length of the Iliad and the Odyssey combined. (Source: Wikipedia)
In today’s world of smartphones and computers, it may seem easy to maintain coherence with a large amount of data. Consider this in ancient times, where there was no Ctrl+F to search through the enormous documents, maintain consistency and infer stories and cite references.
14. Physics in Mahabharata
Whether it is time travel, quantum mechanics or gravity all find some mention in Mahabharata!
One of the very first-time travel stories recorded in history appears in the Mahabharata. The story follows a king, his daughter, and their search for a perfect suitor.
Revati was the only daughter of King Kakudmi, a powerful monarch who ruled Kusasthali, a prosperous and advanced kingdom under the sea. Thinking no one could prove to be good enough to marry his beautiful daughter, Kakudmi took Revati with him to Brahmaloka, the home of Brahma, to ask the god’s advice about finding a suitable husband for her.
Brahma was listening to a musical performance when they arrived, and so they waited patiently until the performance was finished. Finally, King Kakudmi humbly bowed and made his request:
“O Brahmâ! To whom shall I betroth this daughter? I have come to you to ask on this point I have searched for many princes and seen also a good many of them and none of them is to my liking and so my mind is not at rest.”
Brahma laughed at the foolishness of the King.
“O, King! The princes that you thought would become the bridegroom of your daughter, all died; their sons and grandsons and their friends even have all passed away.”
Time, as God Brahma goes on to explain, runs differently on different planes of existence. During the time they had waited in Brahmaloka to see him, 27 Chatur-Yugas, had passed on Earth.
Everything that Kakudmi had and owned, his friends and family, his sons and wife, his armies and treasures, had vanished with the time that had passed.
The King and his daughter were overcome with astonishment and grief for everything they had lost, but Brahma comforted them and recommended a worthy husband currently on earth: Balarama, the twin brother of Krishna.
There are many claims of radioactivity like in Jodhpur which is at least 710 Km distant from the war of Kurukshetra. Radioactivity has been quoted as one of the scientific arguments presenting evidence at different places in India including giant unexplained crater near Bombay.
Now, these are very strong arguments for Mahabharata to be real history. We examined each of the points and the facts are presented below
Facts that do not support Mahabharata happened for real
1. The Enormous scale of destruction is not possible
Four million dead during the war of Kurukshetra is documented in Mahabharata. While scientific studies estimate the world population to be around 115 million in 1000 BC.
If Mahabharata has to be validated as history it has to have occurred before 4000 BC, remember we have good historical records from 5000 BC onward. The world population estimate at that time is about 7 to 28 million in the whole world.
In addition, the fact that only 12 people survived the war. Out of 4 million only 18 people surviving is in itself a miracle, add to that the facts that the righteous (Pandavas) were all surviving and rest 4 were the Kauravas or the not so righteous opponent.
Strength of the armies mentioned in Mahabharata can be found below
Pandava (the righteous brothers) Kauravas (the opponent)
153,090 chariots and chariot-riders
153,090 elephants and elephant-riders
459,270 horses and horse-riders
(total 1,530,900 soldiers)
240,570 chariots and chariot-riders
240,570 elephants and elephant-riders
721,710 horses and horse-riders
(total 2,405,700 soldiers)
Akshauhinis described in the Mahabharata as a battle formation consisting of 21,870 chariots (Sanskrit Ratha); 21,870 elephants; 65,610 horses and 109,350 infantry as per the Mahabharata
2. Astronomical references are cyclic in nature
Have you heard about the number of years it will take to see a similar lunar eclipse? How do they estimate that?
It is because astronomical data is cyclic in nature and repeats itself every thousand if not hundreds of years, and below are the predictions for the date of Mahabharata
- P. V. Vartak calculates a date of 16 October 5561 BCE using planetary positions.
- P. V. Holey states a date of 13 November 3143 BCE using planetary positions and calendar systems.
- Aihole inscriptions give the date of the Kurukshetra war around 3102 BCE.
- K. Sadananda, based on translation work, states that the Kurukshetra War started on 22 November 3067 BCE.
- B. N. Achar used planetarium software to argue that the Mahabharata War took place in 3067 BCE.
- S. Balakrishna concluded a date of 2559 BCE using consecutive lunar eclipses.
- R. N. Iyengar concluded a date of 1478 BCE using double eclipses and Saturn+Jupiter conjunctions.
- P. R. Sarkar estimates a date of 1298 BCE for the war of Kurukshetra.
- V. S. Dubey claims that the war happened near 950 BCE
If one event has so many different predictions for a date with a range that exceeds a range of 4500 years. One thing can, therefore, be said about the event. You did not have good references for the date! The astronomical dating premise is certainly ruled out.
A very important point while discussing the timeline of Mahabharata that needs to be considered is the problem of iron. Iron is clearly established to have started around 1500BC or later. In Mahabharata, there are multiple mentions and use of the iron weapons.
This puts Mahabharata to be a comparatively recent event.
3. The Aryan theory is not ruled out by historians.
Purana themselves have elaborate details about Aryan’s immigration’ which would be the right word to use. This theory has not been ruled out by historians and has enough archaeological evidence to support it.
4. Ancient Nuclear war theory is disapproved
Before I get into the details we must understand why people keep referencing that an ancient atomic bomb was indeed used in Mahabharata, (including our friends from Ancient Aliens series) in the form of a weapon called Bramhastra’ The exact translated version of the text is given below
Vaishampayana said: “When the thirty-sixth year (after the battle) was reached, the delighter of the Kurus, Yudhishthira, beheld many unusual portents. Winds, dry and strong, and showering gravels, blew from every side.
Birds began to wheel, making circles from right to left. The great rivers ran in opposite directions. The horizon on every side seemed to be always covered with fog. Meteors, showering (blazing) coals, fell on the Earth from the sky.
A single projectile charged with all the power in the Universe… An incandescent column of smoke and flame as bright as 10,000 suns, rose in all its splendor… It was an unknown weapon, an iron thunderbolt, a gigantic messenger of death which reduced to ashes an entire race.
The corpses were so burned as to be unrecognizable. Their hair and nails fell out, pottery broke without any apparent cause, and the birds turned white.
After a few hours, all foodstuffs were infected. To escape from this fire, the soldiers threw themselves into the river.
The Sun’s disc, O king, seemed to be always covered with dust. At its rise, the great luminary of day was shorn of splendour and seemed to be crossed by headless trunks (of human beings). Fierce circles of light were seen every day around both the Sun and the Moon. These circles showed three hues…
There seems to be an eerie reference to the atomic bomb explosion and radioactivity. Right? But there is nothing remotely like this story in any archaeological publications.
Archaeological information about the excavations of Mohenjo-Daro, Harappa, and other Indus Valley sites is widely available online and in print, and there is simply no such thing as radioactive skeletons or skeletons in large numbers or holding hands or sprawled in any way that the archaeologists saw reason to print.
Furthermore, the vast majority of radioactive isotopes produced in a nuclear blast have extremely short half-lives measured in seconds, hours, or days, and are reduced to safe levels very quickly.
Those that pose the greatest threat to human health are Cesium-137 and Strontium-90, which have half-lives of 30 and 28 years, and so even these would have been reduced to well below the natural background levels thousands of years ago.
Other long-lived isotopes are produced by nuclear explosions but at much lower amounts.
Note that despite the atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, no harmful radiation persists today in either city. Put together all the radiation data, and we know for a fact, with no doubt, that any claims of modern radiation in India proving a prehistoric nuclear war are false. So we have good reason to regard the entire story with great skepticism.
So how about this giant unexplained crater near Bombay? Lonar Crater — which is some 775 kilometers southeast of Jodhpur, even farther away — is indeed a real crater. Rim to rim it measures about 1.8 km. It is blasted out of thick layers of volcanic basalt, deposited over the plateau 66 million years ago. If the crater was indeed formed by a nuclear blast 8-12,000 years ago, dating techniques should make this easy to determine.
For a long time, the accepted age of Lonar Crater was 52,000 years; far too old to have been part of this alleged nuclear war. This had been determined by thermoluminescence dating, which tells us when the sample was last molten.
But two newer measurements, using argon-argon radiometric dating instead, found older dates of 570,000 years and 656,000 years, with non-overlapping margins of error.
Reference Dunning, B. “Defusing India’s Ancient Atomic Blasts.” Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, 18 Oct 2016.
5. The submerged part of Dwarka is a post-Mauryan site
The comparative study of surrounding sites indicates that the date of the structures of Dwarka may be between the Historical period and the late medieval period. The paper reviews the earlier hypothesis about the identification and dating of these structures in light of new evidences from the recent underwater explorations.
It is very difficult to say the findings are from ancient age and do not meet the criteria as per Lord Krishna’s Dwarka narration and as per Purana and other ancient texts.
According to ancient Sanskrit literature, Lord Krishna founded the holy city of Dwarka, which subsequently got submerged undersea.
Marine archaeological explorations off Dwarka have brought to light a large number of stone structures, which are semicircular, rectangular and square in shape in water depth ranging from the intertidal zone to 6 m.
They are randomly scattered over a vast area. Besides these structures, a large number of varieties of stone anchors have been noticed along with the structures as well as beyond 6 m water depth
Hence it nowhere corroborates with the ancient Dwarka city narrative
6. Fictional stories with real settings are common
With all due respect to the epic, there are multiple instances of fictional stories using real settings, places, and people. These are easy examples to understand. A Few of them that I can mention here is Marvel comics Character ‘ Captain America’ and we all know about Harry Potter, right!
7. Fictional stories do sometimes predict technologies not yet available to them
The Cable Guy (1996) In this film starring Jim Carrey as a disturbed cable guy who tries to make friends there is a scene that predicted the future with creepy accuracy. Jim’s character screams in the rain how every American will have a mix of cable TV, computer, and phone all in one. He even says you will play Mortal Kombat with a friend in Vietnam, predicting online gaming and Google TV at the same time
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) Many consider it the greatest space movie ever made. The Oscar-winning masterpiece by Stanley Kubrick has turned out to be the cinematic equivalent of Nostradamus since it predicted not one or two things about the future but several, including tablet computing, the International Space Station, space tourism, and Siri—yes HAL, we’re talking about you. (One of the most fascinating movie villains of modern cinema is this evil voice-controlled computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey.)
WarGames (1983) This awesome eighties film that gave us a young, fresh-looking Matthew Broderick? Well, this silly, low-budget flick predicted hacking and cyber warfare during a time when the Internet as we know it, didn’t even exist. Quite impressive if you think about it: Matthew Broderick as the first hacker in pop culture, no?
8. Archaeology and evidence about the Mahabharata does not correlate
Archaeological explorations and excavations at various places which are mentioned in the Mahabharata like Hastinapura, Kurukshetra, Panipat, Tilpat, Baghpat, Mathura, and Bairat, have given evidence of pottery called Painted Grey Ware, which goes back to c. 1000 BCE.
This shows that these sites were inhabited around this time, and the nature of the remains suggests that the people who lived here shared a pastoral and agricultural living.
There is another sort of evidence from Hastinapura: The Matsya and Vayu Puranas state that during the reign of king Nichakshu (fifth king in the Puranas. There is a strong local tradition that the Purana Qila in New Delhi marks the place where Indraprastha, the capital of the Pandavas, once stood.
Shams Siraj Afif’s Tarikh-i-Firuz Shahi (14th century) states that Indraprastha was the headquarters of a Pargana (district).
A 14th century stone inscription found in Naraina village in west Delhi also mentions Indraprastha.
The 16th-century Ain-i-Akbari of Abul Fazl states that Humayun’s fort was built at the place where Indraprastha, capital of the Pandavas, was located long ago.
In fact, till the end of the 19th century, there was a village called Indarpat inside the fort walls.
Excavations carried out at the Purana Qila between 1954 and 1971 revealed several archaeological levels ranging from the 4th century BCE to the 19th century CE.
The discovery of a few stray pieces of PGW indicated the possibility that an older settlement was located somewhere nearby. However, there is no way of knowing for sure whether this settlement had any connection with the Mahabharata.
9. The enormity of the details provided, long chain of lineage and physics
I must say that I could not find any evidence that can provide you with an answer as to how it was done. All we can say is that it is a brilliant epic with unprecedented creativity and literary skills.
But we have precedence where we did not know how pyramids of Egypt were built and it looked quite impossible for ancient people to have created a structure of that proportion. Now we fully understand how ingenious our ancestors were and how they built them!
So one day we may also find the answer to above questions.
So is Mahabharata fact or fiction, Did Mahabharata really happen?
We are trying to verify the truth of the narrative here, not the setting itself. The way to verify a narrative will be to:
- Remove any poetic license, hyperbole and religious faith here.
- Seek credible independent sources which document the narrative with evidence
- Find archaeological evidence, artifacts and documentation that can be clearly traced back to the events of the narrative
We don’t have very strong evidence for Mahabharata as of today on the given parameters. Our evidence available till date establishes
- It is an iron age narrative
- It was set in a universe that has no bearing on scientific reality as we know it – magic and demigods were an integral part of the narrative with various supernatural (believed to be at present) powers and events.
- The authors, redactors, and the re-tellers of the epics may have changed the original story, clearly demonstrating that they were aware of the fictional nature of these stories; refer to Jain and Buddhist text which have competing narratives.
- The usual things provided as evidence have mostly been falsified
- The Indus Valley civilization was strictly Bronze Age and had nothing to do with the epics
- The Gulf of Khambhat has been officially dismissed by the Govt. of India, and their funding revoked and research erased
- The submerged part of Dwarka was a post-Mauryan site
- In fact all geographical locations associated with the epics are strictly post-Buddha and largely Puranic
So is Mahabharata real, did Mahabharata really happen as we know today? We have presented positive evidence that points to the fact that it is a work of fiction inspired by real incidents and perhaps real people. However, the narrative is full of fantasies with no evidence to substantiate the facts and therefore not “real”.
As it is often said “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”
Without a shred of doubt, Mahabharata is the greatest epic written but the entire narrative cannot be said to be real, based on the present evidence and facts available.
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