Length of ‘अशौच’ during Mahabharata times

A reader (of my books and also of ‘Swayabhu’ by Dr. P V Vartak) wrote…

“I read your book and specifically, numerous blog articles on the duration of Bhishma on the bed of arrows. I have also read and reread ‘Swayambhu’ of Dr. Vartak.

While your assertion of Bhishma on the bed of arrows for 98 days is logical and acceptable, I want to bring it to your attention that Dr. Vartak claims that the actual duration of Pandavas spending time on the bank of Ganga (after the war) was only for ~12 days, although Mahabharata text states that the duration was about a month.

If what Dr. Vartak is claiming is true, then indeed the duration of Bhishma (on the bed of arrows) would be reduced to 9 + 12 + X + 56 = 77+ X days (I am using your formula) and not 92+ X days as you claim.

I would like to know your thoughts and clarification.”

My response…

(1) First and foremost recognize that claim of Dr. P V Vartak for “Pandava brothers spending ONLY 12 days on the bank of river Ganga, before returning to Hastinapur” goes against his (Vartak) proposed timeline (viz. 5561 BCE as the year of Mahabharata War and 16 October 5561 BCE as the first day of Mahabharata war).

(2) The claim (of Dr. P V Vartak) also conflicts with statement of Mahabharata text which states that Pandava brothers spent one month (or up to a month) on the bank of river Ganga, after the war, before returning to Hastinapur.

(3) Let’s understand plausible motivation of Dr. Vartak in interpreting Mahabharata text reference of ‘a month’ as equal to ’12 days’.

— Dr. Vartak misunderstood (as many others have) the Mahabharata reference of Bhishma on the bed of arrows for 58 nights as referring to Bhishma’s total duration on the bed of arrows.  Against this one reference, there are 20+ chronological references that assert a duration of >92 days for Bhishma on the bed of arrows.  And while this one reference of 58 nights can be understood in alternate fashion, there is no alternate explanation (other than usual suspects  – ‘Interpolation’, ‘Krishna’s statement can not be intepreteed to be as reliable as Bhishma’, ‘convenient ignorance of evidence, ‘superstition’, ‘ambiguity’ etc.) to explain 20+ chronological evidences of Bhishma Nirvana.

— Since I have borrowed 18 day timeline of Mahabharata War (16 October – 2 November 5561 BCE) from Dr. Vartak, it follows that we both (Vartak & Oak) should agree on the day of Bhishma Nirvana.  Interestingly we don’t.  While I assert that 30/31 January 5560 BCE is the day of Bhishma Nirvana, Dr. Vartak claims 22 December 5561 BCE to be the day of Bhishma Nirvana.

It is not difficult to figure out who is right.

The day of Winter solstice in that year (and thus also the day of Bhishma Nirvana) coincides with 30/31 January 5560 BCE.  On the other hand, 22 December 5561 BCE, the day claimed by Dr. Vartak, as the day of Bhishma Nirvana is some ~40 days removed from the day of winter solstice.

–Dr. Vartak offered three plausible interpretations for Mahabharata reference of ‘Pandava brothers spending one month on the bank of river Ganga, after the war, and then prefers the last of the three interpretation by citing Nilakantha (Chaturdhar?) and Manu (Manusmruti) and quotes Manu, “दशाहात शुध्यते विप्रो द्वादशाहेन भूपति:”.

Even if one accepts (for the sake of argument) incorrect interpretation of Dr. Vartak, it does not solve the problem he set out to solve.  This is because the day he (Dr. Vartak claims) for Bhishma Nirvana is ~40 days removed from the day of winter solstice.

I do not have original reference of Manusmruti (and the context) that Dr. Vartak quotes (in Swayambhu) so I can not comment on what these 12 days for removing impurity of a king’s passing away refers to.

However I want to close my comments/response by stating a curious reference I came across within the Mahabharata text itself (which further corroborates interpreting ‘one month’ equal to  ‘one month’ and not some arbitrary number such as ’12 days’). The details of this newfound reference are below.

अशौच duration for king Pandu

After Pandu died and queen Madri went ‘satee’ with him, the sages brought their ‘remains’ (अस्थी ), along with pandava brothers and Kunti, to Hastinapur.

At this time, sages stated that king Pandu passed away 17 days ago.

आदि १२५:२९
वर्तमान : सतां  वृत्ते पुत्रलाभमवाप्य च
पितृलोकं  गत: पांडूरित: सप्तदशेsहनि
(After producing sons and while following righteous path, king Pandu passed away 17 days ago)
Bhishma, Dhritarashtra and others performed fire rights to ‘remains’ of king Pandu and queen Madri.  The descriptions of the ceremony states the following:
आदि १२६:३१-३२
यथैव  पांडवा  भूमौ  सुषुपु: सह  बांधवै:
तथैव नागरा राजन शिश्यिरे ब्राह्मणादय:
बभूव पांडवै: सार्धं  नगरं  द्वादश  क्षपा:
(For 12 nights, Pandava brothers slept on the floor and so did the citizens of Kuru kingdom. The city of Hastinapur was joyless during this time).
and after spending 12 days in performing rights for King Pandu: residents of Hastinapur, entered the city of Hastinapur, along with Pandava brothers.
आदि १२७:३
कृतशौचांस्ततस्तांस्तु  पाण्डवान  भरतर्षभान
आदाय विविशु: सर्वे  पुरं वारणसाहृयम
Thus, अशौच of King Pandu was also observed for (at least) 17+ 12 = 29 (  a month) days.  This event (and reference) also emphasizes possible duration of actual ritual of 12 days and it is possible that this is what Manu might be referring to.

One thought on “Length of ‘अशौच’ during Mahabharata times

  1. Regarding Ashouch for Pandu we have to keep in mind that when he died in the forest and Madri performed sati, there were no last rights performed. The Rishis just brougt the dead bodies (or maybe only asthis) to Hastinapur. Kouravas performed last rights after they reached Hastinapur and then observed 12 days of Ashouch. The earlier days in transit cannot be counted in the Ashouch. Traditionally, ashouch starts after Daahakriya. Alternatively, relatives perform specified ashouch period, on hearing of the death, if they are in a different place.
    In case of the war, Pandavas’ relatives were dying from day one to day 18 but no last rights were performed. Only after they did whatever they could, in the manner of last rights after end of war, the period of Ashouch of 12 days could begin.
    There is no tradition of 30 days’ ashouch in any community. Whether or why Pandavas spent a month on bank of Ganga is another matter. Since the text says 30 days, we should accept it. Maybe, after end of Ashouch, they performed some Vratas (which of course one can do only after end of ashouch)

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