Planetary references in epics
A vast store of ancient Sanskrit literature exists in India. The most ancient among them, the four revered Vedas, the Vedan gajyotisa and the great epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata, contain numerous references to astronomical phenomena and observations. Several scholars have, in the past, attempted determination of the dates of these texts by applying modern astronomical knowledge to the celestial phenomena described therein.
Sky simulation software for use on small computers have become available during the past decade to generate views of the sky over a given place for any time in the past or future up to a few thousand years with sufficient accuracy. We find that these can be used to simulate the phenomena described in Rgveda, Ramayana and a few other texts in order to determine the date of these texts. We show that astronomical references in Rgveda represent the sky views of dates belonging to the period from 700 BC to 2000 BC and those mentioned in Ramayana refer to sky views seen sequentially on dates around 5100 BC.
All civilization from very remote antiquity showed keen interest in astronomical phenomena as evident from vide ranging references to them in ancient scriptures (Saha 1955). The natural cycles that affected the conditions of human life most were the alternation of daylight and night, recurrence of the phases of the Moon and recurrence of the seasons. Even prehistoric man could not help noticing these cycles, but found it difficult to establish simple and accurate relations among them, as their periods are not commensurate with each other. Thus began a tradition of keeping long records of astronomical observations in some form or the other, initially for time reckoning.
The earliest organised societies founded themselves on agriculture and agricultural practices depend on seasonal weather conditions. With these agricultural practices also grew social and religious festivals over a course of time. Prediction of the seasons and the phases of the Moon thus became the most urgent need of the earliest organised societies in order to devise a realiable calendar to regulate the civic, social and agricultural activities.
Shukla (1987) has reviewed the astronomical content found in the ancient Sanskrit literature. Numerous references to astronomical phenomena and observations are found in the Vedas, the Vedangajyotisa and the great epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata. Several schools have attempted in the past determination of the dates of these texts by applying modern astronomical knowledge to the celestial phenomena mentioned therein.
Dikshit (1986)) has done pioneering work on this subject. Abhyankar (1998, 2005) has carried the work forward and traced the antiquity of earliest Vedic calendar to 7000 BC based on the reference to solstices and equinoxes. Achar (2003) has determined the date of Mahabharata was as 3067 BC by using astronomical references in it.