Refutation of Nilesh Oak’s dating of ancient texts
Refutation of Nilesh Oak’s Astronomical Dating of Ramayana to 12209 BCE
Part 4 of 10- Āśvina month was NOT in the Vasanta season during Rāmāyaṇa time
As I described in Part 2 and Part 3 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 argued that we should not swallow the first Astronomy Poison Pill of “Caitra being in the Śarad season” in Part 2 . I pointed out that according to the evidence in the Rāmāyaṇa, Caitra was in the Vasanta season. I looked at the third Astronomy Poison Pill — that of the “Sun setting near pushya during Hemant season” in Part 3  and showed that it was a false pill. I pointed out that Araṇyakāṇḍa 16.12 in the Rāmāyaṇa does not specify the position of the Sun. In this article, Oak’s second Astronomy Poison Pill listed above will be analyzed. According to Oak, Āśvina month was part of the Vasanta season during the time of the Rāmāyaṇa, which fixes the date of the Rāmāyaṇa between 11800 BCE and 16500 BCE.
1. Āśvina month in Vasanta season?
This is how Oak describes the evidence for Āśvina month being part of the Vasanta season in a presentation he did for “Srijan Talk” :
In our times, in the month of Ashwin, … we celebrate the Dussehra. The Dussehra time comes in Sharad Ritu after the rainy season. In Ramayana times it is described as a time of Vasant Ritu, like our Holi.
“This is the Vasant Ritu and month of Ashwin is passing away. How are we going to find out Sita?” Angad is saying to his party.
Oak is referring to a verse in Kiṣkindhākāṇḍa, Sarga 53. It is number 9 in some versions and number 22 in other versions. Oak has translated the verse as follows in his book, “The Historic Rama” [5, 6]:
By proper calculations from the time of our departure, now is the lunar month of Ashwin and even that month seems to have passed. What should we do now?
The translation by Oak is not only a gross misinterpretation but contradictory in itself. How can it be the lunar month of Āśvina now when it has already passed? Let us check Oak’s translation against the translations done by other Sanskritists.
2. Comparison of Oak’s translation with other scholars’ translations
I have checked six different translations of Kiṣkindhākāṇḍa, 53.9/53.22 and none of them match Oak’s translation. Here are the six different translations of Kiṣkindhākāṇḍa, 53.9/53.22:
Translation 1: Kiṣkindhākāṇḍa 53.22: IIT Kanpur Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa Site
Translation 2: Kiṣkindhākāṇḍa 53.9: valmikiramayan.net
Translation 3: Kiṣkindhākāṇḍa 53.8–9: Gītā Press
Translation 4: Kiṣkindhākāṇḍa, 53.9: Hari Prasad Shastri
Translation 5: Kiṣkindhākāṇḍa 53.9: Manmatha Nath Dutt
We set out, engaging that our term of search should reach no further than the end of Kartika; but that hath expired. Now, what next is to be done?
Translation 6: Kiṣkindhākāṇḍa 53.22: Dwārakāprasāda Śarmā
The key word is “prasthitā” in the verse and there can be no doubt that it means departure. This is the way it has been translated by all six translators quoted above. Oak has deliberately mistranslated the verse to claim that the current month was Āśvina instead of the month when the Vānara army was sent out to look for Sītā. Since the current season was Vasanta, Oak claims that Āśvina month was in the Vasanta season. But this is clearly not what the Rāmāyaṇa says as it points out that the Vānara army left in the month of Āśvina and now it is Vasanta. This so-called “Astronomy Poison Pill” is a result of Oak’s creative translation and not supported in any other translation of that verse in the Rāmāyaṇa. However, instead of realizing his mistake Oak claims that the Gītā Press translation contradicts other evidence in the Rāmāyaṇa.
3. Seasons and months
Oak writes :
This interpretation of GP edition directly contradicts not only Valmiki Ramayana descriptions of the four months of rainy season (Shravana through Kartika), but also contradicts entire Kishkindha Kanda narration where it is clear that Rama, Laxmana and Sugriva did not begin their search for Sita until the four months of rainy seasons were over [324, 325].
The references 324 and 325 quoted by Oak are following:
Reference 324: Kiṣkindhākāṇḍa 30.64: IIT Kanpur Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa Site
Reference 325: Kiṣkindhākāṇḍa 30.78: IIT Kanpur Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa Site
Oak is referring to the contradiction of the Vānara army leaving in the Āśvina month to search for Sītā according to Kiṣkindhākāṇḍa, 53.9/22, when the Āśvina month is the third month from the beginning of the Varṣā season and four months had already passed since the beginning of the Varṣā season according to Kiṣkindhākāṇḍa 30.64 and Kiṣkindhākāṇḍa 30.78 cited above.
There is indeed a contradiction here, but it does not justify Oak’s creative licence in translating that verse. It is a result of misunderstanding between two different schemes of dividing the year in seasons of four-months’ duration and two-months’ duration.
Jain texts divide the year in three seasons of four months each. The Jain text Sūrya Prajñapti 10.10 divides the year in seasons and months as shown in the two left columns in Table 1. The two right columns show the division of the year in seasons of two-months’ duration.
Manu Smṛti 9.304 also mentions the four months of the rainy season. The text is given below:
The translation of Manu Smṛti 9.304 by Bühler is shown below :
As Indra sends copious rain during the four months of the rainy season, even so let the king, taking upon himself the office of Indra, shower benefits on his kingdom.
The commentary by Kullūka on Manu Smṛti 9.304 says that four-month seasons start with Śrāvaṇa consistent with the information provided by Jain texts as shown in Table 1.
If we look at Table 1, we will notice that in the two-month scheme, Āśvina comes after the completion of the Varṣā season and in the four-month scheme Āśvina is part of the Varṣā season. This has resulted in the confusion whether the Vānara army left in the Āśvina month to search for Sītā or in the Mārgaśīrṣa month. This is a known problem and has been discussed as follows in a note to Kiṣkindhākāṇḍa 53.9 on valmikiramayan.net:
This note says that Vānara army were summoned in Āśvayuja or Āśvina month, then again in Mārgaśīrṣa month and were given time till Pauṣa month to search for Sītā. That time was also gone by and it was the Phālguna month. Here a mention of the Kārttika month has been made referring to the verse Kiṣkindhākāṇḍa 26.17, which is as follows:
Kiṣkindhākāṇḍa 26.17: IIT Kanpur Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa Site
This verse says that Lord Rāma asked for arrangements to be made in the Kārttika month for slaying Rāvaṇa. To sum up, it is not clear when the Vānara army started the search for Sītā. It could be Āśvina, Kārttika, or Mārgaśīrṣa month, but it was not Āśvina month when the Vānara army arrived at the ocean shore in the Vasanta season. The word “prasthitā” in the verse Kiṣkindhākāṇḍa 53.9/53.22 can only mean departure; it cannot mean arrival.
Oak claims to have another set of evidence for the Āśvina month being in the Vasanta season. It is related to the Indradhvaja festival.
4. Indradhvaja festival in Āśvina month
Oak writes :
These references (121–125) assert that in Ramayana times, the flag of Indra was raised and then thrown onto the ground during the lunar month of Ashwin and also that lunar month of Ashwin coincided with that of spring season.
I have checked references 121–125 and here they are:
Reference 121: Kiṣkindhākāṇḍa 53.3–4 Gītā Press /53.16–17 IIT Kanpur Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa Site
Kiṣkindhākāṇḍa 53.3–4: Gītā Press
Kiṣkindhākāṇḍa 53.16: IIT Kanpur Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa Site
Kiṣkindhākāṇḍa 53.17: IIT Kanpur Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa Site
Reference 122: Kiṣkindhākāṇḍa 53.5 Gītā Press/53.18 IIT Kanpur Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa Site
Kiṣkindhākāṇḍa 53.5 Gītā Press
Kiṣkindhākāṇḍa 53.18: IIT Kanpur Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa Site
References 123 and 124: Kiṣkindhākāṇḍa 53.8–9 Gītā Press/53.21–22 IIT Kanpur Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa Site
Kiṣkindhākāṇḍa 53.8–9 Gītā Press
Kiṣkindhākāṇḍa 53.21: IIT Kanpur Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa Site
Kiṣkindhākāṇḍa 53.22: IIT Kanpur Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa Site
Reference 125: Kiṣkindhākāṇḍa 16.37
Kiṣkindhākāṇḍa 16.37: Gītā Press
Kiṣkindhākāṇḍa 16.37: IIT Kanpur Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa Site
These references only say that when the Vānara army arrived at the seashore, it was Vasanta season and the last day of the Indradhvaja festival took place on the Āśvina full moon day. There is no connection between the celebration of Indradhvaja festival and the arrival of the Vānara army at the seashore. Kiṣkindhākāṇḍa 53.9/53.22 has already been discussed in this article and it has been shown that Oak has misinterpreted the verse to claim that the Āśvina month was part of the Vasanta season. Oak has presented no new evidence though he claims to have done so.
It should also be pointed out that it was shown in Part 2 of this series that Caitra month was part of the Vasanta season according to the Rāmāyaṇa. Therefore, Āśvina month cannot be part of the Vasanta season. Now, I will provide additional proof from Kiṣkindhākāṇḍa that Caitra month was part of the Vasanta season.
5. Caitra month, not Āśvina, was part of the Vasanta season
Kiṣkindhākāṇḍa Sarga 1 has a beautiful description of the Vasanta season with the word Vasanta occurring many times (e.g., 4.1.22, 4.1.29, 4.1.32, 4.1.34). In verse 4.1.34 Vasanta is mentioned explicitly and in the next verse 4.1.35 Caitra is mentioned explicitly, which establishes that Caitra month was part of the Vasanta season. Here are the translations of verses 4.1.34 and 4.1.35 by Gītā Press and IIT Kanpur Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa site:
Kiṣkindhākāṇḍa 1.34: IIT Kanpur Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa site
Kiṣkindhākāṇḍa 1.35: IIT Kanpur Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa site
Kiṣkindhākāṇḍa 1.34–35: Gītā Press
The word used in the Rāmāyaṇa 4.1.35 is Caitravanānila meaning the forest breeze in the month of Caitra. Please note that the IIT Kanpur site translates it as the breeze of spring forest, but the Hindi translation by Gītā Press clearly says the winds of Caitra month.
Let us think about it. If in the Kiṣkindhākāṇḍa Sarga 1 quoted above, Caitra was part of the Vasanta season; in the Kiṣkindhākāṇḍa Sarga 26 quoted in Part 2 , Śrāvaṇa month was part of the Varṣā season; in the Kiṣkindhākāṇḍa Sarga 28 quoted in Part 2 , Bhādrapada month was in the Varṣā season; then how can Āśvina month be part of the Vasanta season in the same kāṇḍa? Given the extensive direct evidence I have presented in support of the standard configuration of seasons and months in the Rāmāyaṇa, Oak has not presented a single piece of direct evidence in support of his hypothesis that the seasons and months were off by six months from the standard configuration in the Rāmāyaṇa. Instead, he has discarded the evidence using an explanation that essentially means that Sage Vālmīki did not know what the prevailing month was.
6. Discarding evidence instead of hypothesis
Extensive evidence has been presented in this article and Part 2 of the series , which clearly show that the Rāmāyaṇa uses standard configuration of seasons and months. These verses are listed below:
1. Bālakāṇḍa 1.12.1, Bālakāṇḍa 1.13.1, Bālakāṇḍa 1.14.1, and Bālakāṇḍa 1.18.8
2. Kiṣkindhākāṇḍa 1.34 and Kiṣkindhākāṇḍa 1.35
3. Kiṣkindhākāṇḍa 26.14
4. Kiṣkindhākāṇḍa 28.2, Kiṣkindhākāṇḍa 28.54, Kiṣkindhākāṇḍa 28.55, Kiṣkindhākāṇḍa 28.57, and Kiṣkindhākāṇḍa 28.66
Oak has chosen four observations (Kiṣkindhākāṇḍa 26.14, Kiṣkindhākāṇḍa 26.17, Kiṣkindhākāṇḍa 28.54, and Kiṣkindhākāṇḍa 28.55) as conflicting observations . Oak offers the following explanation for these conflicting observations :
I conjecture that the word ‘masa’ was used in the sense of duration (~30 days) and/or time, and words such as ‘Shravana’, Kartika’ and ‘Proshthapada’ as referring to nakshatra of the sun for designating beginning, end and peak of rainy season, respectively, as is also done in our times.
Really, could this be? This means that Sage Vālmīki wrote Śrāvaṇa when it was Māgha and so on. If so, Sage Vālmīki wrote Āśvina when it was Caitra by the same logic. Therefore, the Astronomy Poison Pill of Āśvina being in the Vasanta season has no basis because it was Caitra not Āśvina. Is there any point to dating the Rāmāyaṇa if Sage Vālmīki did not even write the months correctly? Oak’s whole thesis is based on the months being named after the position of the full moon, which is exactly opposite to the position of the Sun. So, Oak has negated his whole thesis in these lines. There is no proof of seasons and months being different from the standard configuration anywhere in the Rāmāyaṇa. Instead of accepting this, Oak has discarded the evidence by claiming that these observations violate his hypothesis. In scientific inquiry, you never do that. Whenever evidence is against a hypothesis, it is the hypothesis that is modified or thrown away, not the evidence. Oak has discarded clear evidence of the Rāmāyaṇa by making the false claim of having 600 corroborations from the Rāmāyaṇa. How can he have any corroboration, if he has seasons and months off by six months from the standard configuration given in the Rāmāyaṇa? We can therefore conclude that Oak has no corroborations, not one, from the Rāmāyaṇa for the 12209 BCE date he proposes. Is it any wonder then that his bogus claim includes analogies as proof of seasons? This is because he cannot find any direct evidence for his hypothesis in the Rāmāyaṇa. Oak has misinterpreted the meaning of the Rāmāyaṇa verses to create the evidence he needs and has labeled them seductively as “Astronomy Poison Pills”. With this article, I have refuted three of the four supposed Astronomy Poison Pills he offers. I will refute the fourth Astronomy Poison Pill in my next article.
5. Oak, N.N. (2014). “The Historic Rama”, (Publisher not mentioned in the book), p. 120.
6. Ibid, p. 165.
7. Ibid, p. 186.
8. Bühler, G. (1886). “The Laws of Manu translated with extracts from seven commentaries”, Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, p. 396.
9. Oak, N.N. (2014). “The Historic Rama”, pp. 158–159.
10. Ibid, p. 161.
Note: May 22, 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 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)