Refutation of Nilesh Oak’s dating of ancient texts
Refutation of Nilesh Oak’s Astronomical Dating of Ramayana to 12209 BCE
Part 6 of 10- The Comet observed by Lakshmana CANNOT be identified
As I described in previous four articles of this series, 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.
The first Astronomy Poison Pill of “Caitra being in the Śarad season” was refuted in Part 2 . I pointed out that according to the evidence in the Rāmāyaṇa, Caitra was in the Vasanta season. I refuted the third Astronomy Poison Pill — that of the “Sun setting near pushya during Hemant season” in Part 3 . I pointed out that Araṇyakāṇḍa 16.12 in the Rāmāyaṇa does not specify the position of the Sun. I refuted the second Astronomy Poison Pill — that of “Āśvina month being part of the Vasanta season” in Part 4 . I pointed out that Caitra, not Āśvina month, was part of the Vasanta season based on clear evidence in the Rāmāyaṇa. I refuted the fourth Astronomy Poison Pill — that of “the description of Brahmarāśi/Vega/Abhijit as pole star” in Part 5 . I showed that Brahmarāśi cannot be Abhijit (Vega) star because Mars can never be near the Vega star. At this point, I would like to remind the reader of my statement in Part 1 of this series :
Oak has misinterpreted the meaning of the Rāmāyaṇa verses to create the evidence he needs and called them ‘Astronomy Poison Pills’. He has come up with a time period between 17500 BCE and 10000 BCE spanning 7,500 years, when these supposed Astronomy Poison Pills were valid. Then, Oak claims to have found an observation so unique that it has happened only once during those 7,500 years. That year is 12209 BCE, the date of Rāma-Rāvaṇa yuddha. Never mind that this unique event involves a comet that is visible from the Earth every 3.3 years. It has been visible from the Earth more than 2,000 times between 17500 BCE and 10000 BCE.
I have shown that all four supposed Astronomy Poison Pills concocted by Oak are due to gross misinterpretation of the Rāmāyaṇa verses. In this article I will refute the assertion by Oak that a unique event involving a comet took place in the wide timespan between 17500 BCE and 10000 BCE that fixes the date of the Rāmāyaṇa to 12209 BCE.
1. The description of evidence by Oak
This is how Oak describes the evidence for 12209 BCE in his book “The Historic Rama” :
What could be the rare and infrequent event that we could use which also was described in Ramayana? An observation came to mind and I decided to try it out. … The observation occurs in Yuddha Kanda of Ramayana text. … Laxman refers to a comet afflicting nakshatra Moola, as Rama and his Vanara army walked towards Lanka. … This meant I had to look for a comet that would have been visible in the vicinity of nakshatra Moola, and only in the vicinity of nakshatra Moola. … Numerous days and simulations later, I noticed a small comet flutter by nakshatra Moola. The comet in the Voyager simulation is identified as 2P/Encke. … The timing of this observation was that of September 12209 BCE. … The comet was in apparition during the month of September and was brightest around 9–10 September 12209 BCE.
Oak says that the unique event specifying the timing of the Rāmāyaṇa took place on 9–10 September, 12209 BCE. Based on the information provided by Oak says that the unique event specifying the timing of the Rāmāyaṇa took place on 9–10 September, 12209 BCE. Based on the information provided by Oak, I tracked the trajectory and apparent magnitude (brightness) of Comet 2P/Encke in Voyager 4.5 software that Oak has used for his research. Figure 1 shows the sky map in Voyager 4.5 software during this timeframe when Comet 2P/Encke was at its brightest and closest to the yogatārā of Mūla nakshatra, Shaula star. The date was 9 September, 12209 BCE and the apparent magnitude of Comet 2P/Encke was 6.6 in Voyager 4.5 software. This is consistent with the information given by Oak in his book “The Historic Rama” . Figure 2 shows the same sky map as Figure 1 except that it displays the coordinates of Shaula star instead of the coordinates of Comet 2P/Encke. This enables us to determine how close Comet 2P/Encke was to the yogatārā of Mūla nakshatra. The data is shown in Table 1, where the last two columns, difference in longitude and difference in latitude, determine the apparent closeness of two astronomical bodies.
In his book, “The Historic Rama”, Oak claims a unique event of “a comet that would have been visible in the vicinity of nakshatra Moola, and only in the vicinity of nakshatra Moola” based on the Rāmāyaṇa. The question is this: does the Rāmāyaṇa say that the comet was visible only in the vicinity of the Mūla nakshatra?
2. Evidence in the Rāmāyaṇa
Oak quotes Yuddha Kāṇḍa 4.52 in support of his claim that the comet observed by Lakshmana was seen only in the vicinity of Mūla nakshatra. I have checked six different translations of Yuddha Kāṇḍa 4.52 and none of them confirm this assertion made by Oak. Here are the six different translations of Yuddha Kāṇḍa 4.52:
Translation 1: Yuddha Kāṇḍa 4.52: IIT Kanpur Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa Site 
Translation 2: Yuddha Kāṇḍa 4.52: valmikiramayan.net
Translation 3: Yuddha Kāṇḍa 4.51–52: Gītā Press
Translation 4: Yuddha Kāṇḍa 4.52: Hari Prasad Shastri
Translation 5: Yuddha Kāṇḍa 4.52: Manmatha Nath Dutt
Translation 6: Yuddha Kāṇḍa 4.51–53: Dwārakāprasāda Śarmā
As can be seen from these translations, the verse only talks about a comet being in the Mūla nakshatra at that moment in time. Oak places his own condition that the comet should be visible in Mūla only and in no other nakshatra for the entire duration during which the comet is close to earth. There is no basis for that in the verse in the Rāmāyaṇa. The comet was in the Mūla nakshatra at the time of observation by Lakshmana. That is all the verse says. Nothing is said about where the comet has been before or where it was going to be after. Nothing is said about whether it was visible in another other nakshatra or not. Oak has grossly misinterpreted the verse to make it a very specific observation of “a comet that would have been visible in the vicinity of nakshatra Moola, and only in the vicinity of nakshatra Moola”, while the verse gives a very general information that cannot be used to date the Rāmāyaṇa. I will provide evidence to support my claim in the next section.
3. Multiple instances of a comet in the Mūla nakshatra
Oak has claimed a unique astronomical observation of a Comet being visible only in the Mūla nakshatra between 17500 BCE and 10000 BCE [1, 7]. This Comet 2P/Encke has an orbital period of 3.3 years. It has been visible from earth more than 2,000 times between 17500 BCE and 10000 BCE. Instead of searching for another instance of Comet 2P/Encke being in the Mūla nakshatra due to its frequent appearance, I searched for the appearance of 1P Halley’s Comet as it has an orbital period of 75–76 years. After all, there is no identifiable description in the Rāmāyaṇa that can be used to identify the comet as 2P/Encke. I was able to find 30 instances of Halley’s Comet being in the Mūla nakshatra using Voyager 4.5 software and 23 instances of Halley’s Comet being in the Mūla nakshatra using Stellarium software. The details of these instances are shown in Tables 2 and 3 below:
In Tables 2 and 3, the instances highlighted in green are instances when Halley’s Comet was closer to Shaula compared to 2P/Encke Comet and brighter than 2P/Encke Comet on Sep 9, 12209 BCE instance as detailed in Table 1. One example each from Voyager 4.5 simulation and Stellarium simulation is shown in Figures 3 to 6. Sky maps for each instance shown in Tables 2 and 3 are shown in Appendix 1 and Appendix 2.
These instances are for Halley’s Comet only and not exhaustive as I may have missed some instances of Halley’s Comet in the Mūla nakshatra over a long period between 17500 BCE and 10000 BCE. We can only imagine how many more instances are there if we search for other comets. This is proof enough to refute the dating of the Rāmāyaṇa to 12209 BCE based on the astronomical observation of a comet being in the Mūla nakshatra. There are far too many instances satisfying this observation to pinpoint it to 12209 BCE. However, there is much more data in Tables 2 and 3 that nullify any attempt to date an astronomical observation involving a sighting of a comet.
4. Mismatch in the appearance years of Halley’s Comet
It is well established that Halley’s Comet appears every 75 or 76 years . I have selected instances from Tables 2 and 3 showing incompatibility of Voyager 4.5 and Stellarium data with this well-established fact. The selected data is shown in Table 4. Though data is consistent with 75- or 76-years’ orbital period in either Voyager 4.5 or Stellarium, the data is incompatible when compared. For example, Halley’s Comet appeared in 10216 BCE according to Voyager 4.5 and in 10163 BCE according to Stellarium. As the difference is 53 years, both cannot be true. How can we then decide which one is true or if any of them is true? To know the answer, we need to know more about the comets and their trajectories.
5. On the trail of a Comet
So, what are comets exactly? This is the description of comets according to NASA :
Comets are cosmic snowballs of frozen gases, rock and dust that orbit the Sun. When frozen, they are the size of a small town. When a comet’s orbit brings it close to the Sun, it heats up and spews dust and gases into a giant glowing head larger than most planets. The dust and gases form a tail that stretches away from the Sun for millions of miles. There are likely billions of comets orbiting our Sun in the Kuiper Belt and even more distant Oort Cloud.
Comets lose mass as they pass near the Sun, while they gain mass when they pass through the Kuiper Belt. As the mass and shape of a comet changes with time, neither its time of arrival nor its brightness can be predicted with accuracy. Forget about thousands of years, even the next appearance of Halley’s Comet cannot be predicted, which is only 40 years from now. Here is information about the next appearance of Halley’s Comet :
Although astronomers know Halley’s Comet will return sometime in 2060 or 2061 to the vicinity of Earth, the moment it first becomes visible cannot be predicted accurately. The orbits of all comets are somewhat unpredictable. This is due in part to the gravitational forces of the planets that act on them as they pass through the solar system. Also, each time a comet passes by the Sun, jets of evaporating gas spew out of the surface. These jets act like rockets and change the orbit of the comet slightly. As a result, no one knows exactly when Halley’s Comet will return.
In a detailed technical analysis of the orbit of Halley’s Comet, Munoz-Gutierrez, Reyes-Ruiz, and Pichardo draw the following conclusion :
The corresponding time-scale for the prediction of Halley’s orbit to within present-day observational constraints is less than 100 yr, suggesting that the orbit of Halley’s Comet cannot be accurately predicted for time-scales much greater than this.
If this is the case for the most studied comet, what can we say about the appearance and brightness of Comet 2P/Encke?
6. Was Comet 2P/Encke Visible in Mūla Nakshatra only in 12209 BCE?
Oak claims that Comet 2P/Encke was visible only in the Mūla nakshatra in 12209 BCE making it the unique astronomical observation defining the time of Ramayana . However, as shown in Figure 1, its maximum brightness was only 6.6 according to Voyager 4.5. This brightness is lower than what is visible by naked eye. An astronomical body must have apparent magnitude less than 6.5 to be visible :
The faintest stars visible with the naked eye on the darkest night have apparent magnitudes of about +6.5, though this varies depending on a person’s eyesight and with altitude and atmospheric conditions.
Thus, contrary to what Oak claims, Comet 2P/Encke was always invisible in 12209 BCE even in Voyager 4.5 simulation. A comet always goes through multiple nakshatras. It is the case with 2P/Encke in 12209 BCE as shown in Voyager simulation by Oak . As the brightness of 2P/Encke in 12209 BCE is always below visibility in Voyager 4.5 simulation, Oak cannot claim that Comet 2P/Encke became visible in the Mūla nakshatra only. It is common sense that Lakshmana would have referred to a very bright comet not to a barely visible comet.
In fact, Comet 2P/Encke was much brighter in the past contrary to the simulations shown in astronomy software such as Voyager 4.5 and Stellarium. Comet 2P/Encke was much brighter even in 1829 CE :
Encke is becoming fainter with each pass due to the loss of material. As it does not return to the Kuiper Belt, the loss of material is not replenished in some way and so it is diminishing with time. Its highest magnitude on record was 3.5 in 1829.
So, it is known that Comet 2P/Encke had a maximum brightness of 3.5 in 1829 CE. I tracked the brightness of Comet 2P/Encke in that year in both Voyager 4.5 and Stellarium. The results are shown in Figures 7 and 8.
According to Voyager 4.5, the maximum brightness of Comet 2P/Encke in 1829 CE was 7.1, while according to Stellarium, the maximum brightness of Comet 2P/Encke in 1829 CE was 6.57. None of them has the value close to the observed value of 3.5 in 1829 CE. In addition, Comet 2P/Encke attained maximum brightness on January 11 according to Voyager 4.5 and on 24 April according to Stellarium. Furthermore, Comet 2P/Encke was in different parts of the sky during these two dates. This tells you that the trajectory and brightness of comets shown in astronomy software are completely unreliable. This raises the question whether Comet 2P/Encke was even in the Mūla nakshatra on 9 September, 12209 BCE.
7. Where was Comet 2P/Encke on 9 September, 12209 BCE?
We have seen that the Comet 2P/Encke was in the Mūla nakshatra on 9 September, 12209 BCE according to Voyager 4.5 simulation as shown in Figure 1. However, it was nowhere near the Mūla nakshatra on that day according to Stellarium simulation as shown in Figure 9.
In this figure, -12208 is equivalent to 12209 BCE. The equivalency of dates is proven by the corresponding Julian dates. For Voyager 4.5 simulation, it is JD -2737662.59711 and for Stellarium simulation it is JD -2737662.5909. So, these dates are identical. However, the position and brightness of Comet Encke is totally different. Stellarium simulation shows the apparent magnitude as 26.50 meaning it was not visible at all. The position is close to Śatabhiṣaja nakshatra. This clearly negates the whole thesis of 12209 BCE dating of the Rāmāyaṇa as there is no basis of choosing one astronomy software over another.
Ironically, this has been pointed out to Oak by another well-known Indic researcher, Vedveer Arya .
Oak has simply affirmed it as an issue and then brushed it under the carpet . I have not seen him resolving this issue, which completely debunks the 12209 BCE dating of the Rāmāyaṇa.
However, Arya has made a mistake in claiming that Comet 2P/Encke was in the Mūla nakshatra in the first week of July 12209 BCE. In Stellarium simulation, Comet 2P/Encke was in the Mūla nakshatra in the first week of July 12210 BCE as shown in Figure 10 below. At that time Comet 2P/Encke was not visible from the Earth as its apparent magnitude was 18.36. In Stellarium simulation, Comet 2P/Encke was closest to earth on 17 April, 12210 BCE, when its apparent magnitude was 7.59 as shown in Figure 11. So in Stellarium simulation, Comet 2P/Encke was not visible at all during its orbit in 12210 BCE. Of course, it was much farther in 12209 BCE than 12210 BCE according to Stellarium simulation. This again tells us that the trajectory and brightness of comets shown in astronomy software are completely unreliable. Astronomy software cannot be used to corroborate the position of comets in remote antiquity due to the unpredictability of comets’ trajectories. If they are unreliable for a period less than 200 years ago, how can they be reliable for a period over 14,000 years ago?
Oak’s claim is based on the Comet 2P/Encke being visible in the Mūla nakshatra only in 12209 BCE. However, the Rāmāyaṇa only says that a comet was in the Mūla nakshatra at the time of observation by Lakshmana. Nothing is said about whether it was visible in another nakshatra or not. I was able to find 30 instances of Halley’s Comet being in the Mūla nakshatra between 17500 BCE and 10000 BCE using Voyager 4.5 software and 23 instances of Halley’s Comet being in the Mūla nakshatra using Stellarium software. Analysis of the data showed that the data from Voyager 4.5 is incompatible with data from Stellarium. This is due to the unpredictability of a comet’s trajectory and brightness. Comets lose mass as they pass near the Sun, while they gain mass when they pass through the Kuiper Belt. As the mass and shape of a comet changes with time, neither its time of arrival nor its brightness can be predicted with accuracy.
Comet 2P/Encke had a maximum brightness of 3.5 in 1829 CE. According to Voyager 4.5, the maximum brightness of Comet 2P/Encke in 1829 CE was 7.1, while according to Stellarium, the maximum brightness of Comet 2P/Encke in 1829 CE was 6.57. None of them has the value close to the observed value of 3.5 in 1829 CE.
Though the Comet 2P/Encke was in the Mūla nakshatra on 9 September, 12209 BCE according to Voyager 4.5 simulation, it was nowhere near the Mūla nakshatra on that day according to Stellarium simulation. Instead, Comet 2P/Encke was closest to earth on 17 April, 12210 BCE in the Stellarium simulation. This shows that the trajectory and brightness of comets shown in astronomy software are completely unreliable. Astronomy software cannot be used to corroborate the position of comets in remote antiquity due to the unpredictability of comets’ trajectories. This is especially true for Comet 2P/Encke as it has been losing mass during its approach to the Sun but not gaining mass like other comets as it does not pass through the Kuiper belt. This means that Comet 2P/Encke was much brighter in 12209 BCE if it made an appearance in that year, which itself cannot be predicted. All things considered, 12209 BCE dating of the Rāmāyaṇa is based on astronomy software generated illusion. It has no basis in reality and therefore must be discarded.
7. Oak, N.N. (2014). “The Historic Rama”, (Publisher not mentioned in the book), pp. 68–72.
8. Yuddha Kāṇḍa has not been uploaded on IIT Kanpur Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa Site yet. The translation has been provided to me by Professor T.V. Prabhakar and Ms. Tulika Sharma. I gratefully acknowledge their assistance. According to them, the source of the information is Valmiki Ramayana with Selected Commentaries published by Rashtriya Sanskrit Vidyapeetha, Tirupati, Edited by Prof P.M. Nayak and Prof P. Geervani, 2012.
12. Munoz-Gutierrez, M. A., Reyes-Ruiz, M., and Pichardo, B. (2015). “Chaotic dynamics of comet 1P/Halley: Lyapunov exponent and survival time expectancy”, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Vol. 447, pp. 3775–3784.
Note: June 5, 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.
I had tagged Oak in another tweet addressed to Prachyam inquiring if they were still going to make 12209 BCE movie after it has been debunked. Oak did not respond to this tweet as well.
I had also tweeted the following to inquire if Prachyam was going to make movies based on Oak’s bogus claims. Oak keeps on claiming that Agastya was a Pole Star in 12000 BCE even after I have debunked it. Agastya (Canopus) was 12 degrees away from South Celestial Pole in 12000 BCE and cannot be called a Pole Star by any stretch of imagination.
In this thread Oak made an insulting comment. It is shown below with my response. As Oak did not reply to my comment, it is obvious that his 12209 BCE date of the Ramayana has been debunked and he has no counterargument in support of his date.
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 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)