Antiquity of Indian Lunar Months

A seeker wrote…

“I seriously doubt whether the month names, Chaitra Vaishakh etc were actually in use in the days of Mahabharata or Ramayana events. Also, when did the nakshatras themselves get the names they now have? Is there any definitive time established for it? Mere mention of the month names is no proof. Maybe the month names were far later added by latter day editors to suit the seasons described in the original texts, according to month/season co-ordination then prevailing. But this is all conjecture.”

My Response:

Conjectures are good. They are like seeds or nets. Seeds may or may not germinate. And nets may or may not catch fish. But sow (the seeds) we must and throw (the net) we must.

It is ok to doubt, too.

We do not exactly know when Nakshatras themselves got the names they have now. We do know that the names have indeed changed over a period of time (Tishya & Pushya, Prosthapada and Bhadrapada, Mularbarhi and Mula, Bhaga and Phalguni and Arjuni,etc.)

It is also true that mere mention of the month names (Chaitra, Vaishakha, etc.) is no proof.

Still, it is amazing how much we can learn about our past history if we put our mind to it.

This seekers also wondered…

“What about the possibility that “months names were added far later by latter day editors to suit the seasons described in the original text, according to month/seaons co-ordination them prevailing?”

My Response:

Interpolation is always a possibility. Translation, transliteration and transposition errors are also trivially true things about all ancient writings.

Even then it is critical that one does not jump to ‘ready excuse’ of these errors or ‘hide behind’ these errors.

The seeker was proposing the above conjecture in the context of trying to solve a problem, in his own way. This is all welcome. All I would say is that there is no need for such a conjecture, at least in this case, since it would not solve the very problem this seeker is/was trying to solve. At least I do not see how it can be solved.

Frankly even if references to Indian lunar months are removed, the problem would still not go away. Of course I do not see a problem here, in fact what I see is a wonderful corroboration of Mahabharata references of seasons with that of my proposal (5561 BCE)….originally proposed by Dr. P V Vartak. Thanks to the precession of Equinoxes!

I would love to be wrong.

Indian lunar months are mentioned in Ramayana (12209 BCE) and Mahabharata (5561 BCE). Indian Solar months are also mentioned (e.g. Taittiriya Samhita).


5 thoughts on “Antiquity of Indian Lunar Months

    • Yashodhan,

      Rig-Veda has decent amount of astronomy information (not necessarily observations). Of course my knowledge of RigVeda is meager. Interpretation of astronomy observations (from Rigveda) necessitates too many external assumptions, which makes it difficult, if not impossible, to employ them in dating RigVeda.

      For a relative chronology (AND ONLY RELATIVE CHRONOLOGY) works of Shri Shrikant Talageri are excellent.

      All I can say is that the lower bound (latest) on most of, if not all, Rigveda is same as and before the timing of Mahabharata.

      Dr. P V Vartak has dated many of the references from RigVeda. The work at times is speculative…so take it with a grain of salt, or do your own research/criticism. Having said that, his work is very original, VERY!, and IMPRESSIVE.

  1. The question is – when did the 27 nakshatras get their names. It was obviously not a single time event. A lot of thought and discussions must have gone into recognizing that the path of movement of Sun, Moon and Planets can be mapped with the help of prominent stars or group of stars. Identifying 27 such reference points along the ecliptic, more or less equidistant was a great achievement, most probably a group effort. Once they were selected, they obviously needed to be given names! The lunar months got their present names only thereafter. When did all this happen? Even well before Ramayana? Very difficult to believe. Hence the speculation that the month names mentioned in Ramayana or Mahabharata have been inserted later. The matching of the season described and the month name suggests that. For example, Krishna describes season suitable for war when he invited Karna for war in 7 days, when his peace effort failes. Month name kartik matches this description! So I speculate that at some later stage, someone inserted the name kartik in the mahabharat text as it matched the season described by Krishna. No month name may have been mentioned originally!

    • I presume you are making this ad hoc hypothesis to match Krishna’s statement of ‘no rain, no mud, ample grass, clean waters’ to match with lunar month of Kartik?

      If so, what do you suggest the timing of this interpolation, i.e. when in antiquity (500 CE, 1000 CE, 1500 CE, or 500 BCE, 1000 BCE, etc.) the description of Krishna would have matched lunar month of Kartik?

      It is lot easy (Occum’s razor) to presume/pretend ‘Krishna’s comment about ‘no mud, no rain, ample grass’ etc. to be inserted/interpolated and (not that I am suggesting such a thing) that would NOT affect any timiline for either a year or the day of the War.

      On the other hand, if one makes a case for insertion of lunar months/names, long afer original text of Mahabharata was in place, one has a burden to go through all (numerous, too numerous) references to lunar months and names, spread throghout the 18 parvas of Mahabharata.

      IMHO, the better approch is to try to solve the problem of war occurring in otherwise rainy season (and Krishna’s conflicting statement) is via Paleo-meterology.

  2. We do not know know when exactly 27 nakshastras got their names. In addition, their names have changed over time, although identification is been preserved (possibly due to sequence of them.. one after another).

    Valimiki’s Ramayana has names of lunar months in them. Thus, unless someone is going to make a case of ‘insertion’ of lunar months in Ramayana text in later times, we can say that Lunar months and nakshatras with their names existed long before Ramayana, and thus, 12200 BCE (unless someone is also going to make a case for better proposal thatn 12200 BCE).

    You say, “very difficult to believe”. That is not surprising. Many of the things of our past and also future (new scientific theories.. geocentric to heliocentric, ptolemy’s epicycle and eqants were too fantastic to be believed, however even Copernicus could not eliminate them…. not until Kepler. People found ‘gravity’ (force between two bodies separated by large distances and no magneticism involved) unbelievable ..(in a way they were right, but we did not understand that until Einstein).

    My point, I can sympathize with your comment , “very difficult to believe”. But that is neither a proof of anything nor does it disprove anyting.

    To your point, yes, it is possible that someone may have inserted ‘Kartik’ afterwards, as all ancient literature in plagued with it. In fact insertion and twisting of original/factual narration happens soon after the event, and we don’t have to go to epics. We can see that in case of ‘biographies/hagiographies’ of kings, saints, freedom fighters and artists.

    On the other hand Mahabharata is filled with mention and names of lunar months throughout all Parvas. So, your speculation/conjeture would demand lot more testing. Mention of lunar months is not limited to isolated mention of ‘Kartik’ in one place.

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