Refutation of Nilesh Oak’s dating of ancient texts

Sushruta Samhita was NOT written over 7,500 years ago

Refutation of Nilesh Oak’s dating of Sushruta to earlier than 5,561 BCE

The Suśruta Saṃhitā is a well known text of Āyurveda, which describes surgical operations and instruments. The date of its writer, sage Suśruta, is not well agreed among researchers as is the case of many personalities from Indian history. Many dates have been proposed for him ranging from 1000 BCE, 800–600 BCE, 600 BCE, 600–200 BCE, 200 BCE, 1–100 CE, and 500 CE [1]. In a presentation by Nilesh Oak [2] and another presentation and article based on Oak’s work [3–4], it is claimed that the time of Suśruta was earlier than 5,561 BCE based on the information in Suśruta Saṃhitā. In this article I will point out that Oak’s dating is based on a limited and selective choice of evidence. For example, he selects one part of the passage for astronomical dating while neglecting another part of the same passage that clearly negates his thesis. In addition, Oak is either not aware of or does not disclose other information from Suśruta Saṃhitā that is relevant to his dating methodology and which negates his thesis. Furthermore, the passage used by Oak for astronomical dating is a later insertion in the text. This later insertion has contaminated information of seasons rendering it unusable for dating purposes. Let’s go into the details.

1. Āśvina in Varṣā season and Mārgaśīrṣa in Śarad season

As we know Varṣā season consists of Śrāvaṇa and Bhādrapada and Śarad season consists of Āśvina and Kārttika and so on. It was proposed by Vartak that the grouping of seasons and lunar months changes by one month in every 2,160 years due to precession [5]:

This has been adopted by Oak, who uses a period of 2,000 years for the change of one lunar month [6]. I am going to call this hypothesis as “Vartak-Oak hypothesis”. According to Vartak-Oak hypothesis, seasons consist of different pairs of luni-solar months as time changes. According to Oak [2–4], an example of this changed coupling is found in Suśruta Saṃhitā. Oak quotes Suśruta Saṃhitā 1.6.10 as the basis of his astronomical dating of Suśruta [reference 2 at t = 15:50 to t = 16:50, reference 3 at t = 0:40 to t = 1:12, reference 4]. The text is as follows:

The English translation of this text is as follows [7]:

Based on Suśruta Saṃhitā 1.6.10, Figure 1 shows the grouping of luni-solar months and seasons. Please note that the passage does not mention the location of solstices and equinoxes. This is stressed by Tilak in his analysis of this passage [8]:

Figure 1: Seasons and months according to Suśruta Saṃhitā 1.6.10

However, Oak arbitrarily assigns the position of solstices and equinoxes to this passage and proceeds to date this passage. Figure 2 shows the arbitrarily assigned location of solstices and equinoxes to the information given in Suśruta Saṃhitā 1.6.10.

Figure 2: Arbitrary assignment of solstices and equinoxes to the seasons and months described in Suśruta Saṃhitā 1.6.10 [4]

Based on these arbitrary assignments of solstices and equinoxes with no basis to the quoted text, the position of summer solstice is at the beginning of Varṣā season and fall equinox at the intersection of Kārttika and Mārgaśīrṣa. Oak then dates the fall equinox to ~3,000 BCE and summer solstice to ~ 4,000 BCE as described below [4]:

According to Vartak-Oak Hypothesis, Bhādrapada and Āśvina were part of Varṣā season and Kārttika and Mārgaśīrṣa were part of Śarad season in the time period indicated above [9]. However, Oak’s analysis is based on first part of Suśruta Saṃhitā 1.6.10. Later part of the same passage tells a completely different story.

2. Phālguna in Vasanta season and Vaiśākha in Grīṣma season

Oak has chosen the statement from Suśruta Saṃhitā 1.6.10 that Bhādrapada and Āśvina were part of Varṣā season and Kārttika and Mārgaśīrṣa were part of Śarad season. Based on this cherry picking of evidence, Oak has claimed the dates of 3,000 BCE and 4,000 BCE as plausible dates for Suśruta. However, the same passage also says that Phālguna and Caitra were part of Vasanta season and Vaiśākha and Jyeṣṭha were part of Grīṣma season. If Oak had selected these combinations then the dates will belong to our times in his own scheme of things [4]. Oak has made no mention of this clear contradiction in his Sangam Talks presentation [2].

Things get interesting here. Oak has collaborated with Mr. Sanket Kulkarni for research on Suśruta Saṃhitā. An article based on Kulkarni’s presentation contains the following statement and figures [4]:

So here is acceptance that whatever Oak had presented in Sangam Talks [2] regarding the dating of Suśruta Saṃhitā was complete nonsense. So why did Oak present it then knowing it fully well that the passage contained conflicting information? Furthermore, Oak and Kulkarni cannot wash their hands of so easily by making such statement in the article. The article makes the case that the mixed up seasons from the passage Suśruta Saṃhitā 1.6.10 were the seasons during the time of Suśruta Saṃhitā, while the standard seasons are from other texts as seen in figures above. This is simply not true. The standard list of seasons is given in Suśruta Saṃhitā itself in the same chapter that the passage Suśruta Saṃhitā 1.6.10 is from. The article says that Suśruta Saṃhitā does not explain the correspondence of its own seasons with that of standard list of seasons. This is complete nonsense. The mixed up seasons from the passage Suśruta Saṃhitā 1.6.10 are recent insertion in Suśruta Saṃhitā. The list of seasons given in Suśruta Saṃhitā 1.6.6–7 is exactly same as the standard list of seasons. This is why there is no explanation why the seasons are different.

3. The standard list of seasons in Suśruta Saṃhitā

The text of Suśruta Saṃhitā 1.6.6–7 is as follows:

The English translation of the text is as follows [10]:

Thus Suśruta Saṃhitā 1.6.6–7 provides the standard combination of seasons and months that we are familiar with. The passage also gives the position of solstices and equinoxes. This standard combination of seasons and months and the position of solstices and equinoxes are shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3: Grouping of seasons and luni-solar months according to Suśruta Saṃhitā 1.6.6–7

Oak has made no mention of Suśruta Saṃhitā 1.6.6–7, which clearly negates his dating of Suśruta in his own scheme of things. This passage together with Suśruta Saṃhitā 1.6.10 has been discussed in detail by Tilak in his book Orion [8], and anyone who does research in the dating of ancient Indian texts knows about the book Orion. Here is what Tilak has written about the seasons and months in Suśruta Saṃhitā [8]:

In a very logical manner Tilak makes it absolutely clear that the passage Suśruta Saṃhitā 1.6.10, part of which Oak has used selectively, is a later insertion. It did not exist in Vāgbhaṭa’s time or Vāgbhaṭa did not regard it as genuine. Vāgbhaṭa’s time is estimated to be between 400 CE to 600 CE [11]. So the passage that Oak selectively quotes to prove an antiquity beyond 3,000 BCE for Suśruta is most likely inserted after 400 CE. It is not only a later insertion but also completely confusing. It has no Śisira season, which is a part of standard six seasons of Indian texts. It makes the list of six seasons by adding a new season Prāvṛṣa. However, Prāvṛṣa and varsā are identical in Indian literature.

“Prāvṛṣ and varsāḥ are the usual names of the monsoon.” [12]

The dropping of Śisira season and addition of Prāvṛṣ while keeping Varsā season is absurd. Thus the passage is not only a later insertion but also useless for dating. Oak has still misled people in believing that Suśruta Saṃhitā 1.6.10 can be used to prove greater antiquity for Suśruta. But what purpose does a date based on dubious evidence serve?

4. Contradictory evidences

As stated above, Oak selectively uses Suśruta Saṃhitā 1.6.10 to come up with dates of 3,000 BCE and 4,000 BCE. Oak then finds that this does not match his dating of Mahabharata to 5,561 BCE. Oak needs to take the date of Suśruta further back, so he stretches the dates to cover a wider range of 5,000 to 2,000 BCE [4]:

Why did not Oak perform this sensitivity analysis before coming up with the dates of 3,000 and 4,000 BCE? Even 5,000 BCE is contradictory to his own dating of Mahābhārata to 5,561 BCE. Oak presents evidence from Suśruta Saṃhitā, Garuḍa Purāṇa and Mahābhārata to show that the timing of Suśruta was before Mahābhārata [reference 2 at t = 16:52 to t = 18:50, reference 3 at t = 2:40 to t = 6:00, reference 4]. As Oak has dated Mahābhārata to 5,561 BCE, Oak and Kulkarni conclude that the date of Suśruta was earlier than 5,561 BCE [4]:

However, this is in contradiction to Oak’s own scheme of things as lunar months should have moved by two months in 5,561 BCE compared to seasons from the standard list. According to Oak, Māgha and Phālguna were in Hemanta season in 5,000 BCE [13]. However, according to Suśruta Saṃhitā 1.6.6–7, Māgha and Phālguna were in Śiśira season. Clearly, Suśruta Saṃhitā cannot be as old as 5,561 BCE in Oak’s own scheme of things.

I have referred to Oak’s scheme of things in this article and named it “Vartak-Oak hypothesis”. What is it? What is its basis? What is its validity? Is there evidence for it? Are Oak’s highly touted astronomy poison pills really poison pills? I will answer all these questions and refute each astronomy poison pill pertaining to Rāmāyaṇa in my next series of articles on the refutation of Nilesh Oak’s astronomical dating of Rāmāyaṇa to 12,209 BCE.

References

1. Tipton, C. (2008). “Susruta of India, an unrecognized contributor to the history of exercise physiology”. Journal of Applied Physiology. Vol. 104 (6), pp. 1553–1556.

2. Fascinating Validation Of Sushruta Samhita | Nilesh Oak | #SangamTalks. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AIuKuYZ-bd8.

3. Sushruta & his Samhita — P9 — Sushruta graced Bharat 7500 years ago!. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jvHqPKyfLyg.

4. Sushruta and his Saṃhitā — Part 9 — Sushruta graced Bharat atleast 5561 BCE!. https://medium.com/@mitra/sushruta-before-5561bce-34b7155a93bb.

5. Vartak, P.V. (2004). “The Scientific Dating of the Mahābhārata War”, Veda Vidnyāna Mandala: Pune, India, 2nd revised edition, pp. 17–18.

6. Oak, N.N. (2011). “When did the Mahabharata War Happen?: The Mystery of Arundhanti”, Bhim: USA, p. 39.

7. Bhishagratna, K.K.L. (Editor) (1907). An English translation of The Sushruta Samhita based on original Sanskrit Text, Vol. 1-Sutrasthanam. Calcutta: Kaviraj Kunja Lal Bhishagratna, p. 48.

8. Tilak, B.G. (1893). “The Orion”. 1987 Reprint. New Delhi: Cosmo Publications, pp. 64–67.

9. https://pragyata.com/mahabharata-war-date-rebuttal-to-claim-of-3067-bce/

10. Bhishagratna, pp. 46–47.

11. Subhaktha, P. K. J. P., Gundeti M.S., Narayana, A. (2009). “Vagbhata — His Contribution”. Journal Ind. Med. Heritage. Vol. 39, pp. 111–136.

12. Feller, D. (1995). “The seasons in mahakavya literature”. Delhi: Eastern Book Linkers, p. 15.

13. Oak, N.N. (2014). “The Historic Rama”, (Publisher not mentioned in the book), p. 192.

Note: April 24, 2021

Following the publication of this article, many insulting comments were made on Twitter by Oak and his followers. Here is one example:

Oak is telling this to a scientist who has earned his engineering degree from IIT Kanpur and Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering from The Ohio State University, USA. The scientific acumen of Oak can be judged from this article and my previous article on Sūrya Siddhānta. Logical reasoning capability of Oak can be judged from his citing of poetic expressions as astronomical observations. A tweet by a precocious young man summarizes the reactions from Oak and his followers. Here it is with my comment:

Oak also wrote email responses in Google group भारतीयविद्वत्परिषत्, but didn’t respond to the two main points raised in this article:

1. Oak knowingly misled people in his Sangam Talks [Fascinating Validation Of Sushruta Samhita | Nilesh Oak | #SangamTalks. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AIuKuYZ-bd8 at t = 15:50 to t = 16:50]. He knew that Suśruta Saṃhitā 1.6.10 has conflicting information which negates what he was talking. Will an intellectually honest researcher do that?

2. Oak didn’t quote Suśruta Saṃhitā 1.6.6–7, which clearly states the standard list of seasons. In Oak’s scheme of things shown below, this combination of lunar months and seasons was valid between 1500 BCE and 500 CE, which is in clear contradiction to his dating of Suśruta to earlier than 5,561 BCE.

More about the author

I am a seeker in search of the true history and heritage of India. I have strong scientific background (B.Tech. in Metallurgical Engineering from Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur and Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering from The Ohio State University, USA) and a deep interest in ancient Indian texts. My work on Indology spans three different fields: cosmology, astronomy, and history.

Email: rajarammohanroy108@gmail.com

Next: Refutation of Nilesh Oak’s astronomical dating of Ramayana to 12,209 BCE: Part 1 of 10 — Understanding the Vartak-Oak Hypothesis

Vedic Scholar, Materials Scientist, Author of books on Vedic Astronomy, Jain Astronomy, and Ancient Indian History