Refutation of Nilesh Oak’s dating of ancient texts
Refutation of Nilesh Oak’s Astronomical Dating of the Ramayana to 12209 BCE
Part 10 of 10 — Fatal logical Errors in the Vartak-Oak Hypothesis
“If the facts are contrary to any predictions, then the hypothesis is wrong no matter how appealing.” — David Douglass
As I have stated in my earlier articles, Vartak proposed that the grouping of seasons and lunar months changes by one month every 2,160 years due to precession, and this hypothesis was adopted by Oak, who uses a period of 2,000 years for the change of one lunar month [1–3]. I have called this hypothesis the “Vartak-Oak hypothesis” . According to this hypothesis, seasons consist of different pairs of luni-solar months as time changes. However, as I have shown in my previous article , there is no evidence of it in Indian literature. In this final article of my ten-part series rebutting this Vartak-Oak thesis I am going to explain the reason for this.
1. The Vartak-Oak Hypothesis
The Vartak-Oak hypothesis is based on certain assumptions and its validity is dependent on the validity of those assumptions. Oak’s first assumption is that the vernal equinox has always been in the middle of the Vasanta season (see Figure 1). This fixes the summer solstice at the beginning of Varṣā, autumnal equinox in the middle of Śarad, and the winter solstice at the beginning of Śiśira. Here it is in Oak’s own words :
Varsha (rain) season begins from the day of summer solstice (SS) and continues for two months. This is followed by Sharad (pre-autumn) season and the day of autumnal equinox (AE) is the midpoint of Sharad season. Two months leading up to the day of winter solstice (WS) constitutes the Hemant (autumn) season. Shishir (winter) season begins from the day of winter solstice and continues for two months. This is followed by Vasant (spring) season and the day of vernal equinox (VE) is the midpoint of the season. Two months leading to the day of summer solstice constitute Grishma (summer) season.
Oak’s second assumption is that seasons and luni-solar months get decoupled due to precession. Accordingly, seasons have consisted of different luni-solar months in the past and will consist of different luni-solar months in the future. This assumption is based on the peculiarity of the Indian calendar in which months are named after the nakshatra in which the moon resides during full moon. As the position of the Sun is opposite to the position of the full moon, and the position of the Sun changes in the background of nakshatras due to precession, the months are supposed to slide compared to seasons due to precession. Oak has assumed a period of 2,000 years for the shift of one luni-solar month with respect to the seasons. However, what is scientifically proven is precession whereas the shift of luni-solar months relative to seasons due to precession is not. Let us analyze Oak’s first assumption of Indian seasons being fixed to equinoxes and solstices.
2. Seasons, Equinoxes, and Solstices
As I have pointed out in my previous article , Indian texts describe the Śiśira season beginning with winter solstice and the Varṣā season beginning with summer solstice. Accordingly, vernal equinox falls in the middle of Vasanta season and autumnal equinox in the middle of Śarad season. This is in accordance with Oak’s first assumption as shown in Figure 1. The question is its validity over time. Is it valid now? As we know, Makara Sankranti is celebrated on 14th or 15th January each year. It is also called Uttarayan, signifying that the course of the Sun has turned northward. However, the Sun turns northward on 21st December and the Uttarayan celebration is off by 24–25 days from the actual day it should take place. Since the Śiśira season begins with Uttarāyaṇa in the Hindu calendar, it can be considered to begin on Makara Sankranti. This means that Oak’s first assumption is no longer valid. Another way to examine this assumption is by figuring out the Hindu day and month on the winter solstice. Since the Hindu calendar is a luni-solar calendar, the lunar months do not fall on the same date in the western calendar. So, we need to look at the date over many years and take the midpoint as the representative day and month. Table 1 shows the day and month of the Hindu calendar on winter solstice during the past 30 years, according to Drik Panchang .
Months are full moon ending in Drik Panchang. The earliest Hindu date on winter solstice in the past 30 years was Mārgaśīrṣa bright 2nd in 1998, and the latest Hindu date was Pauṣa bright 4th in 2009. The Middle of these dates is Pauṣa dark 3rd. It is about 27 days before the beginning of Māgha month. If we apply the traditional definition of the Śiśira season beginning with Māgha month, then Śiśira begins around 27 days after winter solstice. This date is closer to the Makara Sankranti celebrated on 14th or 15th January. As it is still accepted that the Śiśira season consists of Māgha and Phalguna by the majority , Oak’s first assumption is not necessarily valid. Seasons and months have moved together from the solstices and equinoxes instead of getting decoupled. Now, let us analyze Oak’s second assumption of decoupling of seasons and months by one month every 2,000 years due to precession.
3. Precession and Luni-solar Months
As described earlier, Oak’s second assumption is that seasons and luni-solar months get decoupled due to precession. In the Indian calendar, months are named after the nakshatra in which the moon resides during full moon. The position of the Sun is opposite to the position of the full moon. As the position of the Sun changes in the background of nakshatras due to precession, the months are supposed to slide compared to the seasons. Let us understand this using some illustrative sky charts.
By trial and error, I have chosen four years — 12229 BCE, 5563 BCE, 1463 BCE, and 2010 CE — when the Sun had ecliptic longitude close to 270° and the moon had ecliptic longitude close to 90° at the same time. This means it was winter solstice and full moon for the chosen years. Figures 2 and 3 show the positions of the Moon and the Sun respectively in 12229 BCE, close to the year of the Rāmāyaṇa, according to Oak. The moon is close to the yogatārā of Uttarāṣāḍhā nakshatra and month should be Āṣāḍha on the winter solstice.
Figures 4 and 5 show the positions of the Moon and the Sun respectively in 5563 BCE, close to the year of the Mahābhārata, according to Oak. The Moon is close to the yogatārā of Citrā nakshatra and month should be Caitra on the winter solstice.
Figures 6 and 7 show the positions of the Moon and the Sun respectively in 1463 BCE, during the period of standard configuration, according to Oak. The moon is close to the yogatārā of Maghā nakshatra and month should be Māgha on the winter solstice.
Figures 8 and 9 show the positions of the Moon and the Sun respectively in 2010 CE, close to our times. The Moon is close to the yogatārā of Ārdrā nakshatra and month should be Mārgaśīrṣa on the winter solstice.
So, we see that the luni-solar months should change relative to solstices and equinoxes due to precession, yet we find no evidence of it in the literature. The question is, why?
4. Tropical vs. Luni-solar months
The answer lies in the two sets of names for months discussed in my earlier articles in this series [3, 7]. As discussed, one list named the months as Tapa, Tapasya, Madhu, Mādhava, Śukra, Śuchi, Nabha, Nabhasya, Īśa, Urja, Saha, and Sahasya. Another list named the months as Māgha, Phālguna, Caitra, Vaiśākha, Jyeṣṭha, Āṣāḍha, Śrāvaṇa, Bhādrapada (Proshṭhapada), Āśvina, Kārttika, Mārgaśīrṣa (Agrahāyaṇa), and Pauṣa. Generally, Tapa was used interchangeably with Māgha, Tapasya with Phālguna, Madhu with Caitra, and so on as shown in Table 2.
The months Tapa, Tapasya, etc., are tropical months and always remain synchronized to the seasons. There is no question of them getting decoupled from the seasons. The months Caitra, Vaiśākha etc., are luni-solar months, and due to their association with full moon being in specific nakshatras these months could get decoupled from the seasons due to precession. The reason there is no evidence of this in Indian texts is because of the later origin of the names of these months. It has been described in detail in the book “Bhartiya Jyotish Sastra” by Sankar Balakrishna Dikshit. Here is the relevant text from this book :
It can be clearly seen that the Madhvādi and Aruṇādi systems of names have a close association with the seasons and not the nakshatras. These names are not found in the Rigveda Saṃhitā, but the Brāhmaṇic works of the Aitareya, the Taittirīya and the Vājasneyī Saṃhitās appear to attach considerable importance to Madhu and other names. In these works, however, one does not come across terms like Caitrī etc., involving nakshatras and having for their derivations such definitions as these:
(i) That the full moon day on which the moon becomes full near the star Citrā (Spica) is to be termed Caitrī-Pūrṇimā, and
(ii) That lunar month in which the Caitrī-Pūrṇimā occurs, is termed Caitra.
To come to know that the moon always becomes full near particular nakshatras is the first stage; that introduction of names like Caitrī, Vaiṣākhī, etc. for these full-moon nights after a lapse of time is the second stage and the third stage is the establishment of a complete nomenclature to start with, as being governed by the rule “Sāsmin Paurṇamasīti” (Panini 4–2–21) meaning “it is so called, because the full moon night of that name falls in that month”.
… The above lines show that the phenomenon of the moon becoming full near certain stars had been noticed in the times of Taittirīya Saṃhitā and Brāhmaṇa. Still it must be remembered that the names Caitra etc., had definitely not come into vogue in those times.
… In short, it can be said that only the terms ‘Phālgunī’ etc., had come into vogue at the time when Brāhmaṇa works were compiled. Nowhere in the Saṃhitā and Brāhmaṇa do the words Phālguna, Caitra, etc., occur in the sense of names of months, and this shows that these terms were not then in vogue. Much time must necessarily have elapsed before the term Phālguna, Caitra, etc., came into vogue, even when the terms Phalgunī, etc. had gained currency. This point can be easily understood if one considers as to how long a time has to elapse before a scientific theory becomes an established truth.
In short, the terms Caitra, etc., were not in vogue in the Saṃhitā and Brāhmaṇa period. Thus it can be proved from the historical point of view that these terms came into use after a very long period of time after the terms Madhu, etc., became current.
Thus, there is no evidence for the Vartak-Oak hypothesis because the list of luni-solar months did not exist in remote antiquity. We can divide Indian history in three periods: 1. Early Period — use of Tapa, Tapasya etc., for tropical months; 2. Intermediary Period — use of both Tapa, Tapasya, etc., for tropical months as well as Māgha, Phālguna, etc., for luni-solar months; and 3. Current Period — use of Māgha, Phālguna, etc., for luni-solar months. Therefore, the issue of decoupling of luni-solar months from the seasons has become relevant now. It was not an issue before as the concept of the luni-solar months did not exist in far antiquity. The question then is, what happens now?
5. Who has the authority?
Let us assume that the full moon is residing in a different nakshatra during the same season due to precession. It has been the convention to name the month after the nakshatra in which the full moon resides. How is the month going to change relative to the season? What is the actual mechanics of it? Do you look at the moon and the stars to know what is the month? You just look at the calendar and follow it like everyone does. It is a convention, and it is man made. We have decided to accept it and follow it. The calendar is not going to change by itself just because the positions of astronomical bodies in the sky have changed. It needs a person or an association with an authority to do it and implement it. If there is no urgency to do it or no authority to do it, things can just continue the way they are regardless of the astronomical positions. Consider the change from Julian to Gregorian calendar. It was done by the authority of Pope Gregory XIII in October 1582 . It was adopted initially by the Catholic countries of Europe and took several centuries for the rest of the world to adopt it.
How things are going to work out in India is not clear. The Government of India formed the Calendar Reform Committee, which recommended that the luni–solar months be linked to the tropical months, but this is not being followed :
When a standard All-India calendar was being created in 1952–7, the Calendar Reform Committee recommended that the luni–solar months be linked to the tropical months. This suggestion was not followed, since the calendar had been linked to the sidereal months for approximately one millennium. The Indian government instead created a tropical solar calendar with months named after the classical sidereal nakshatra months, which was not accepted by most Indians.
It is clear that the Hindu calendar needs to be reformed, but it is unclear who has the authority to do it. How it will be resolved or whether it will be resolved cannot be predicted.
In this series, I have critically examined the astronomical dating of the Rāmāyaṇa to 12209 BCE by Oak. Oak’s claim is based on Vartak’s idea that seasons and months get decoupled due to precession. I have named this hypothesis the “Vartak-Oak Hypothesis”. In my first article in this series, I described and explained Oak’s claims of season and month combinations based on this hypothesis. 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. In the next four articles, I showed that the so-called four Astronomy Poison Pills touted by Oak were neither potent nor could be swallowed. 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.
I refuted the assertion by Oak that a unique event involving a comet took place in 12209 BCE in Part 6 . I showed that the 12209 BCE dating of the Rāmāyaṇa is based on astronomy software generated illusion. It has no basis in reality and therefore must be discarded. I refuted Oak’s claim that Rāvaṇa’s Laṅkā was located on the Equator in Part 7 . I pointed out that Laṅkā on the Equator was an astronomical concept and a hypothetical city. I refuted Oak’s claim of over 575 corroborations for the 12209 BCE date in the Rāmāyaṇa in Part 8 . I showed that Oak does not have even one corroboration, and I did this so by going over each claim that is described in the book, “The Historic Rama”. I showed in Part 9 that there is no evidence of decoupling of seasons and month in Indian literature . In this final article I have given a detailed explanation for the lack of evidence in support of the Vartak-Oak Hypothesis.
Despite repeated requests in the भारतीयविद्वत्परिषत् mailing group and on Twitter , Oak has failed to make public the exact details of 575+ corroborations he claims for 12209 BCE date of the Rāmāyaṇa. This kind of stonewalling and refusing to share data with scholars who have undertaken a serious investigation of his work is both unprofessional and unethical. It is against the spirit of scientific enquiry and detrimental to genuine research in Indology.
8. English Translation of Bhartiya Jyotish Sastra (History of Indian Astronomy) by Sankar Balakrishna Dikshit, Translated by Prof. R.V. Vaidya, Part 1, History of Astronomy during the Vedic and Vedāṅga periods, Government of India Press, 1969, pp. 28–30.
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.