Common confusion of Corroboration

Shri Prabhakar Phadnis writes…

“Ref 38 Exp.35 Translation of the reference by Ganguli is as follows.

And Sini’s grandson and that bull of Kuru’s race looked resplendent like the sun and the moon when together in the firmament after the last lunation of the dark fortnight has passed away.

On any Shukla Pratipada at the time of sunset, the Sun and a small crescent of Moon are seen close together. The reference simply compares Satyaki and Abhimanyu on same Ratha to Sun and Moon Crescent setting close together on the western horizon. (सोमसूर्यौ गतौ नभस्तले). Wherefrom does Shri. Oak conclude that it refers to the Amavasya three days back? The word गतौ refers to Sun and Moon (सोमसूर्यौ) and by no means to past Amavasya.

It is an instance of Shri. Oak’s motivated, freewheeling translation with no cognizance of grammar rules! It is NOT a corroborative evidence of Amavasya as a first day of war.”

My Response…

Many readers fail to understand what specifically ‘corroboration’ is.  This is a widespread problem and thus Shri Phadnis is not alone in this common confusion of corroboration.

Corroboration is not a proof of anything. It does not allow one to define, prove or establish any conjecture.  However, repeated instances at corroboration of a certain conjecture may lead people to accept a given conjecture as possibly true, until a better conjecture may overturn this claim.

The critical point to remember is that corroboration tends to support (and thus not contradict) a certain conjecture.  Thus the value of a specific evidence in corroborating a conjecture is limited, however, the same evidence can be extremely powerful (although, not always) in falsifying another theory/hypothesis/conjecture.

Each piece of additional evidence, in principle, can turn deadly for an existing conjecture and thus an attempt by a researcher to test additional evidence against one’s theory is to be understood as a daring proposition.  It reflects boldness, audacity, rationality and above all true quest for knowledge.  Contrast this with other attempts where researchers selectively mention only those references that can support their conjectures while hoping that no one else notices other conflicting and contradicting evidence.  The entire process, in this latter case, is a sham and unscientific.

Now, let’s turn to specific issues Shri Phadnis have raised..

(1) Shri Phadnis claims that गतौ refers to setting Sun and Moon.  In his words… सोमसूर्यौ गतौ नभस्तले.

(2) He questions, “Wherefrom does Shri. Oak conclude that it refers to the Amavasya three days back?”

(3) He objects to me referring to comparison of Abhimanyu/Satyaki, fighting from one chariot, with Sun/moon of recent/past/event/gone by ‘Amawasya’.

(4) And also convincingly states that this comparison of Sun/moon with Abhimanyu/Satyaki has NOTHING to do with past Amawasya.

Let’s look at the original context and the reference…

The Mahabharata text describes a scene on the 3rd day of the War when Abhimanyu/Satyaki began attacking Duryodhana’s army, while fighting from the same chariot.

The actual reference (whose interpretation Shri Phadnis is questioning)….

Bhishma Parva  (CE 54:23, GP 58:25)

शुशुभाते तदा तौ तु शैनेयकुरुपुंगवौ
अमावास्यां  गतौ यद्वत सोमसूर्यौ नभस्थले
 शुशुभाते- beautiful, handsome, तदा -at that time, then, तौ -they, तु -and, now, शैनेयकुरुपुंगवौ – Satyaki/Abhimanyu
अमावास्यां – Amawasya (new moon day), गतौ -gone, come forth from, relating to, being in, connected with, approach, past, gone by, event, come to, departed, contained in, यद्वत – as, just as, similar to, सोमसूर्यौ नभस्थले  – Sun/moon in the sky
 Thus I translated above….
Abhimanyu/Satyaki fighting from the same chariot (context provided from previous verses to the one quoted here) looked beautiful similar to to the Sun/moon of past (gone by/ departed/event of/relating to) Amawasya.
To wit, referece to Amawasya can also be found in the translation (of Ganguli) quoted by Shri Phadnis…
“And Sini’s grandson and that bull of Kuru’s race looked resplendent like the sun and the moon when together in the firmament after the last lunation of the dark fortnight has passed away.”
In fact I would claim that above translation (of Ganguli) is erroneous (especially when we are employing this evidence as corroborative evidence for ‘Amawasya’ as the first day of Mahabharata War).
What  Sanskrit words either Ganguli employed, or Shri Phandis have in mind, for translated words ‘After the last lunation’ and again, ‘has passed away’?
 I may remind that there is only one ‘गतौ’ in the Mahabharata reference.
It is then interesting that Shri Phadnis is very much ok with accepting this day as that of ‘Shukla Pratipada’ (and thus by inference, Amawasya as the first day of the War). It indeed could have been Shukla Pratipada or Dwitiya.  It was the third day of the War and Tithis may not keep up with solar days as is well known and thus a difference of +/- 1-2 days is understandable.
So what exactly Shri Phadnis is objecting to?
We can take our guess.  My guess is then that he is only objecting to me using this reference as a corroborative evidence for ‘Amawasya as the first day of the War.
Once one understands what ‘corroboration’ means and the role of a given evidence as corroborative evidence, in support of a conjecture reached by ‘independent‘ process of theorizing/hypothesizing, the objection vanishes in thin air as fast as the ending of a solar eclipse!

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