Moon rising with its pointed ends downwards – 10th day of the Mahabharata War

Shri Prabhakar Phadnis writes…

“Ref. 48 Exp. 37.
There is something wrong here in what Shri. Oak says. The Ref. actually is in GP 113. I searched in 112 and could not find it. Ganguly translates it as …

(Drona says to Ashvatthama describing his unease at the impending final skirmish between Arjun and Bhishma pointing out bad omens …)

‘Large meteors seem to fall from the centre of the solar disc. The constellation called Parigha, with a trunkless form, appeareth around the Sun. The solar and the lunar discs have become awful, foreboding great danger to Kshatriyas about the mangling of their bodies. The idols of the Kuru king in his temples tremble and laugh and dance and weep. The illustrious Moon riseth with his horns downward.’

This translation matches the reference only in respect of the moon rising with ends pointing downwards.

Actually the day had by no means even half finished. It was most probably still some time before noon. Here onwards there were many skirmishes , repeated attacks on Bhishma and vigorous and desperate efforts by all Kaurava warriors to push the Pandava warrior back and protect Bhishma. When later Bhishma fell down, it was a little before sunset.

How Drona is talking of moon? This was 10th day, so it was a Shukla Navami. Moon would become visible, only quite some time after noon, being more than 90 degrees behind Sun. Further, being Navami, the moon would be slightly more than half and cant have pointed ends! It wont be a crescent! I am not sure whether one can see a crescent moon with pointed end downwards at any time. In Shuklapaksha, upto say 4th day, it would be a crescent, but it would set a little after Sunset, and the lower side of moon being towards sun would be lighted and upper side dark, i. e. pointed ends will be upwards! In Krishnapaksh on the other hand, 12th day onwards it will be a crescent but will rise in the east, sometime before sunrise and again, lower side being towards Sun will be bright, so pointed ends will be upwards!

My Response…

This Mahabharata reference provides a corroboration (albeit weak…because of its diminished specificity) for the first day of War as the day of Amawasya (or significant portion of 18 days of War being that of Shukla pkasha).

First the administrative stuff….

(1) In the version of Gita Press I have, the reference indeed occurs at Bhishma Parva 112:12 and not in 113.  This could be due to edition differences, but then this remains my pure guess.

(2) While GP version employs the word उपतिष्ठते (stand, be present), Critical edition has उदातिष्ठति (rise again).  Both words do a fine job for my interpretation. I only mention since we are in nitpicking mode.

(3) The narration is by Sanjay to Dhritarashtra (naturally after the fact), and not by Drona during the war itself.

(4) Since my theory is that of ‘visual astronomy observations of the sky’, the references of interest for interpretation and corroboration, by definition, are only those that are deemed as ‘astronomical’.  My theory has nothing to say about those references where statues tremble, laugh, dance and weep.

Since moon was indeed visible, the timing of observation has to be such when moon would be visible and considering the moon on Shukla Navami, the timing has to be sometime in the afternoon through  midnight of that day.

Alternately, it is equally reasonable for a narrator to infer the position of pointed ends of the moon during the Shukla (bright) paksha (fortnight).

In addition, since Sanajay is narrating to Dhritarashtra, after the fact, coupled with the fact that Vyasa wrote this ‘Arsha-kavya’ some 18 years after the War, one should not get stuck on the exact timing of the day with the usage of an analogy of that day in describing the scene of that day.

Now, let’s us look at the problem of pointed ends of the rising/risen/visible moon in the sky for the Tithi of Shukla Navami.

Anyone looking at the moon during the Shukla paksha would realize that the moon indeed rises with its pointed ends (pointed ends of the bright portion of the moon…and as Shri Phadnis points out, correctly, that this phenomena would indeed be easy to observe during first few days of Shukla paksha when crescent moon has its end sharp!) facing downwards.

Of course, one can easily confuse the whole picture if one only looks at the setting moon on the western horizon!  A bit of imagination would be useful to look at this setting moon and imagine how it would have looked while rising!

Thankfully, all that Shri Phadnis wants to assert is;   I (the author) have no case for corroboration with this reference.

Of course I disagree.

Even then, let’s turn this argument on its head, for the sake of argument (since we are in it) and let’s ask the question.. if there are any takers who are willing to use this reference as ‘corroborative evidence’ for their alternate claim for this day (10th day of War) as that of being Vadya (Krishna) Paksha?

Any takers?  I will be waiting.

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