Refutation of Nilesh Oak’s dating of ancient texts
Refutation of Nilesh Oak’s Astronomical Dating of Ramayana to 12209 BCE
Part 3 of 10- The Sun was NOT near Puṣya nakṣatra during Hemanta season
As I described in Part 2 of this series of articles, Oak claims that he has sets of evidence, which he calls “Astronomy Poison Pills,” that make it impossible for the date of the Rāmāyaṇa to be later than 10000 BCE. There are four Astronomy Poison Pills for the dating of the Rāmāyaṇa according to Oak :
Both epics have linchpins. The linchpins come from what I call ‘astronomy observations’ due to long term phenomenon of ‘Precession of Equinoxes’. … Ramayana does not have ‘UNIQUE’ evidence like AV observation. It has 4 specific and independent astronomy observations (or set of them) that all point to 10,000 BCE or before, e.g.
(1) Chaitra as the lunar month that occurred during Sharad season (10500 BCE — 15000 BCE)
(2) Ashwin as the lunar month that occurred during Vasanta season (11800 BCE — 16500 BCE)
(3) Sun setting near pushya during Hemant season (11500 BCE — 17500 BCE)
(4) Brahmarashi/Vega/Abhijit as pole star during Ramayana times (10,000 BCE — 14000 BCE)
These are linchpins. The rest of the astronomy evidence (500+) goes in ‘supporting’ these inferences and assist in identifying specific year (12209 BCE) of the timing of Rama-Ravana war.
I refuted Oak’s first claim of “Caitra being in the Śarad season” in my previous article . I pointed out that according to the evidence in the Rāmāyaṇa, Caitra was in the Vasanta season. Astronomy Poison Pill #2 will be refuted in Part 4 of this series of articles. In this article, Oak’s Astronomy Poison Pill #3 listed above will be refuted.
According to Oak, the astronomical observation of the Sun setting near Puṣya nakṣatra during the Hemant season fixes the date of the Rāmāyaṇa between 11500 BCE and 17500 BCE. Let us try to fix the date of this supposed event independently.
1. Sun setting near Puṣya during the Hemant season
According to Ṛgveda Vedāṅga Jyotiṣa 5–6 and Yajurveda Vedāṅga Jyotiṣa 6–7, the five-year yuga began on the first day of the bright fortnight of the month of Māgha, the first day of the month of Tapa, and the winter solstice when the Sun and the moon were at the beginning of the Śraviṣṭhā (Dhaniṣṭhā) nakṣatra. As Tapa and Tapasya are part of the Śiśira season (Vājasaneyī Saṃhitā 13.25, Taittirīya Saṃhitā 18.104.22.168), the five-year yuga also began on the first day of the Śiśira season. Figure 1 shows the seasons, months, and the Sun’s position among the nakṣatras during the year at the time of the composition of the Vedāṅga Jyotiṣa. I have discussed the dating of the Vedāṅga Jyotiṣa in my earlier articles and shown that all three possible dates of the composition of the Vedāṅga Jyotiṣa belong to the second millennium BCE [3, 4]. As such, it cannot be later than 1000 BCE and earlier than 2000 BCE.
Figure 1 shows the ecliptic longitude of the Sun during the year. The ecliptic longitude of the Sun is 0° on vernal equinox, 90° on summer solstice, 180° on autumnal equinox, and 270° on winter solstice. Since the year was divided in six seasons, each season had a span of 60°. Since the beginning of the Śiśira season coincided with winter solstice, the Sun had an ecliptic longitude of 270° at the beginning of the Śiśira season. As the Hemanta season ends when the Śiśira season begins, the Sun had an ecliptic longitude of 210° at the beginning of the Hemanta season and 270° at the end. Since there are 27 nakṣatras, each nakṣatra has a span of 13° 20′ and three nakṣatras have a span of 40°. As the winter solstice took place at the beginning of the Śraviṣṭhā (Dhaniṣṭhā) nakṣatra, the Sun had ecliptic longitude of 270° at the beginning of the Dhaniṣṭhā nakṣatra. Counting from there, the Sun had ecliptic longitude of 70° at the beginning of the Puṣya nakṣatra. This means that for the Sun to be in the Puṣya nakṣatra at the end of the Hemanta season, we need to go back by over 160° from the time of the composition of the Vedāṅga Jyotiṣa. As the Sun takes approximately 72 years for the precession by 1°, it will be roughly over 11,520 years before the time of the Vedāṅga Jyotiṣa. Let us round this off to 11,500 years. For the Sun to be in the Puṣya nakṣatra at the beginning of the Hemanta season, we need to go back by another 60° which is equivalent to 4,320 years. This will be over 15,840 years before the time of the Vedāṅga Jyotiṣa. Let us round this off to 16,000 years. As it takes the Sun approximately 960 years to pass through one nakṣatra in a precession cycle, we need to take this into account as well. Let us round this off to 1,000 years. Based on the information presented above, Table 1 shows the estimated dates for various scenarios.
So, we have a time interval of 12500 BCE to 19000 BCE for the Sun to be in the Puṣya nakṣatra during the Hemanta season. Against this, Oak has given the date between 11500 BCE and 17500 BCE. The question is this: does the Rāmāyaṇa say that the Sun was in or near the Puṣya nakṣatra during the Hemanta season?
2. Evidence in the Rāmāyaṇa
Oak says the following in his book “The Historic Rama” regarding this observation :
“Ramayana text refers to the setting of the Sun near nakshatra Pushya during the season of Hemanta (autumn).”
He then quotes Araṇyakāṇḍa 16.12 without giving any translation. There is no justification given for why Oak thinks that the Sun was near Puṣya nakṣatra during the Hemanta season. He just continues to find the date of the observation that is not stated in the verse. In his blog titled “Ramayana times — Sun sets near nakshatra ‘PUSHYA’ during Hemanta rutu” Oak once again just reproduces the verses from Araṇyakāṇḍa, Sarga 16 without giving any explanation . Similarly, Oak says the following in a “Srijan Talks” presentation :
In Aranya Kand, it’s the time of Laxman, Ram, and Sita in Panchvati and it’s the time of Hemant season. Hemant season would be over with the winter solstice and Laxman is describing the sky again. Laxman says, “During this Hemant Ritu, Sun is setting on the western horizon near ‘nakshatra pushya’.”
If in our times, you go out tonight and you would be able to see. What you will find is Sun sets around “Purva Shada Utra shada Shravan.” Laxman is saying it sets around Pushya. Again, use the precession of equinoxes and you can find out exact what that happen. The timing comes 11500 BC to 17500 BC.
I have checked six different translations of Araṇyakāṇḍa 16.12 and none of them say anything about the Sun being near Puṣya nakṣatra during the Hemanta season. Here are the six different translations of Araṇyakāṇḍa 16.12:
Translation 1: Araṇyakāṇḍa 16.12: IIT Kanpur site
Translation 2: Araṇyakāṇḍa 16.12: valmikiramayan.net
Translation 3: Araṇyakāṇḍa 16.12: Gītā Press
Translation 4: Araṇyakāṇḍa 16.12: Hari Prasad Shastri
Translation 5: Araṇyakāṇḍa 16.12: Manmatha Nath Dutt
Translation 6: Araṇyakāṇḍa 16.12: Dwārakāprasāda Śarmā
As can be seen from these translations, the verse is about the nights, which are becoming longer and colder due to which people cannot sleep outside. Since it is referring to the nights, obviously it is not about the position of the Sun. Regarding Puṣya, the translations either say that it refers to the month of Pauṣa or Puṣya nakṣatra being visible at night. Dr. Jayasree Saranathan has also stated that the verse does not say anything about the Sun . Even Vartak, whose idea of shifting of lunar months from seasons due to precession has been adopted by Oak, does not interpret the verse as specifying the position of the Sun.
3. The opinion of Vartak
Vartak has given the following interpretation of Araṇyakāṇḍa 16.12 :
It is recorded in Āraṇya 16.12 that Laxmaṇa saw Puṣya Nakṣatra just after Sunset in winter. Puṣya is a faintly visible Nakṣatra and can be recognised only if it comes above the head. If Puṣya is above the head Aśvini must be at the western horizon at the Sunset suggesting Hemanta in Phālguna and Chaitra Māsas. This shows the period between 6440 to 7400 years B.C.
Clearly, Vartak did not think that the Sun was in/near Puṣya nakṣatra according to the verse. It was somewhere in the night sky and Vartak chose it to be overhead as it suited his dating of the Rāmāyaṇa. The verse does not state the position of Puṣya nakṣatra in the sky, so the conclusion drawn by Vartak is completely arbitrary. Since Vartak’s position does not suit Oak’s dating of the Rāmāyaṇa, Oak has criticized Vartak in these words :
Instead of straightforward interpretation of Pushya but also of Abhijit, Vartak made an erroneous conjecture, convenient to his timeline, namely that Laxman observed nakshatra Pushya right over his head, when the Sun was setting on the western horizon. This shifted the position of Pushya by 90° instantaneously! Only problem is that, such an interpretation is not only wrong, but also any attempt such as this, brings the entire discipline of Archaeo-astronomy into troubled waters. In an instance, Vartak shifted the timing for the interpretation of this observation by ~6000 years!
What Oak has not realized is that his criticism of Vartak applies equally well to Oak himself. Oak has also misinterpreted the verse Araṇyakāṇḍa 16.12 to suit his timeline. His interpretation is not only wrong, but his fanciful dating of ancient Indian texts has dragged the entire discipline of archaeo-astronomy into troubled waters. Not only that, but he is also playing with the faith of the millions of gullible Hindus, many of them highly educated. Oak’s fanciful dates need to be refuted by scholars before it is too late.
I will refute Oak’s remaining Astronomy Poison Pills in the forthcoming articles. Please see the “Coming Up” section below for details.
5. Oak, N.N. (2014). “The Historic Rama”, (Publisher not mentioned in the book), pp. 60–61.
9. Vartak, P.V. (1999). “The Scientific Dating of the Rāmāyaṇa & the Vedas”. Pune: Veda Vidnyāna Mandala, p. 31.
10. Oak, N.N. (2014). “The Historic Rama”, pp. 182–183.
Note: May 15, 2021
I had tagged Oak in my tweet announcing the publication of this article. Oak did not respond to this announcement on Twitter.
The link to this article was also posted in the Google group भारतीयविद्वत्परिषत् by me. Oak is member of this group. There was no reply from him in this group.
More about the author
I am a seeker of historical truths and am deeply interested in the heritage of India. I have earned a B.Tech. in Metallurgical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur and a Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering from The Ohio State University, USA. I have a deep interest in ancient Indian texts. My research besides Materials Science covers several different areas: Vedic cosmology, Vedic astronomy, Jain astronomy, and ancient Indian history.
Refutation of Nilesh Oak’s Astronomical Dating of Ramayana to 12209 BCE: Part 5 of 10- Brahmarāśi is NOT Abhijit (Vega) star (to be published on May 22, 2021)
Refutation of Nilesh Oak’s Astronomical Dating of Ramayana to 12209 BCE: Part 6 of 10- The Comet observed by Lakshmana CANNOT be identified (to be published on May 29, 2021)
Refutation of Nilesh Oak’s Astronomical Dating of Ramayana to 12209 BCE: Part 7 of 10- A bridge to NOWHERE: A tale of two Laṅkās (to be published on June 05, 2021)
Refutation of Nilesh Oak’s Astronomical Dating of Ramayana to 12209 BCE: Part 8 of 10 — Bluffing and the Game of Numbers (to be published on June 12, 2021)
Refutation of Nilesh Oak’s Astronomical Dating of Ramayana to 12209 BCE: Part 9 of 10- The grouping of seasons and lunar months from the Vedic age till now (to be published on June 19, 2021)
Refutation of Nilesh Oak’s Astronomical Dating of Ramayana to 12209 BCE: Part 10 of 10- Fatal logical Errors in the Vartak-Oak Hypothesis (to be published on June 26, 2021)