Dr.B.G.Sidharth is the Director of the renowned B.M.Birla Science Centre and its constituent institutions. For some four decades, he has been working on : 1. Theoretical Physics & Astrophysics ( www.bgsidharth.webnode.com); 2. Astronomy & Chronology of Ancient Indian Literature and even, 3. The theory of the origin of life.

 

His work on Ancient Indian texts has been described as ground breaking. There have been several papers, many of which feature in his book, The Celestial Key to the Vedas, Inner Traditions, USA. for example :

 

 

Some articles by B.G.Sidharth in this field

 

 

“Glimpses of the Amazing Astronomy of the Rg Veda”, Indologica Taurinensia, 4 (1978); Proceedings of the Third World Sanskrit Conference, Paris, June 20-25, 1977.

 

“Did Indians Pioneer Astronomy?”, Journal of Birla Planetarium, Calcutta, 1, no.2 (1978).

 

“The Heliocentric Theory in the Rg Veda”,  Journal of Birla Planetarium, Calcutta, 1, no.2 (1978).

 

“Ancient Indian Astronomy – A Surprise”, B.M. Birla Science Centre Research Communicatioin, December 1985; paper presented at the International Symposium on Oriental Astronomies of the International Astronomical Union, November 1985.

 

“Astronomy of the Rg Veda”, B.M. Birla Science Centre Research Communication, January 1988; paper presented at the International Symposium on Ancient Astronomies, 1987.

 

“The Unmythical Puranas: A Study in Reverse Symbolism”, Griffith Observer 53, no.4 (1989).

 

“The Secret Astronomy of the Hindus”, B.M. Birla Science Centre Research Communication, January 1991.

 

“Brahma’s Day: The Great Cosmic Cycle and the Age of the Rg Veda”, Griffith Observer 59, no.11 (1995) (based on B.M. Birla Science Centre Research Report, February 1991).

 

“Is the Rg Vedic Civilization the Oldest? A Case for Rewriting History”, B.M. Birla Science Centre Research Report, August 1991.

 

“The Antiquity of the Rg Veda”, B.M. Birla Science Centre Research Communication, December 1991; paper presented at the International Symposium on Indian and Other Asiatic Astronomies.

 

“A Lost Anatolian Civilization – Is it Vedic?”,  B.M. Birla Science Centre Research Communication, December 1992.

 

 

“Calendric Astronomy, Astronomical Dating, and Archaeology: A New View of Antiquity and Its Science”, B.M. Birla Science Centre Research Communication, July 1993; paper presented at 31st ICANAS, Hong Kong, 1993 (Chinese translation of the paper appeared in the proceedings).

 

“The Astronomical Symbolism of Vishnu from the Vedas to the Puranas” from “Vishnu in Art, Thought and Literature”, Birla Archaeological and Cultural Research Institute, Hyderabad, 1993.

 

 

 

“A Date and Place for the Mahabharata”, Invited talk at the International Workshop on Application of Remote Sensing for Archaeology and Related Disciplines, National Remote Sensing Agency, December 17-19, 1993 (in Abstracts and Invited Talks).

 

“Astronomy, Symbolism, and Ancient Indian Chronology: A Date for the Ramayana”, paper presented at the International Symposium of Ancient Indian Chronology, B.M. Birla Science Centre, Hyderabad, January 1994; Also B.M. Birla Science Centre Technical Report, January 1994.

 

“The Calendric Astronomy of the Vedas”, Bulletin of the Astronomical Society of India 26 (1998): 107-12.

 

“The Indus Civilization: An Astronomical Perspective”, paper presented at the International Conference on Indus Civilization, Jaipur, February 1996.

 

“Astronomy in Ancient Indian Literature, Art and Sculpture”, paper presented at the National Symposium on Indian Astronomy Through the Ages, Hyderabad, 1997.  

 

Astronomical Meaning of the Vedas, History of Science, Philosophy and Culture in Indian Civilization, Vol. 1. The Dawn and Development of Indian Civilization, Part 4. A Golden Chain of Civilizations: Indic, Iranic, Semitic and Hellenic Up to c. 600 BC

Edited by D P Chattopadhyaya and G C Pande, Centre for Studies in Civilizations, 2007, xxxvi, 1124 p, tables, figs, ISBN : 81-87586-28-1

 

And so on  BOOKS INCLUDE :

 

THE CELESTIAL KEY TO THE VEDAS, Inner Traditions, USA,1999.

 

The following presentation based on the lecture for the Swami Bhajananda Saraswati Award for Vedic Sciences of the International Academy of Physical Sciences and the keynote address at the First Gobeklitepe Symposium, 6th Oct.2012, gives an idea of his work in this area.

 

THE ASTRONOMY, CHRONOLOGY AND GEOGRAPHY OF THE VEDAS

B.G. Sidharth, B.M. Birla Science Centre,

Hyderabad 500020 (India)

 

Abstract

We discuss the astronomical content of    the Rig Veda and subsequent literature. This reveals good knowledge of a luni solar calendar on the lines of our present day panchang. It also reveals a surprising degree of other astronomical content. All this yields a tradition of continuing observation with dates and even latitudes consistent with Anatolia. Finally all this is matched with archaeological content, starting from about 10,000 B.C.

 

The Calendar & Chronology

 

The Rig Veda has been recognized as the oldest Indo-European text. Unfortunately it has not been properly dated.

It would be foolhardy for anyone to claim an understanding of the Vedic Samhitas or texts or even the subsequent Vedic literature. They constitute a body of largely inexplicable hymns whose meanings have been dubiously extracted over the millennia.

The Vedas themselves give a hint about the content. For example the hymn Rig Veda (1.164.39) declares,

  “These hymns (Rks) are writ on the highest heavens, wherein are situated the shining ones; what can he understand who knows not this; but they who know it are here present.”

Clearly the hymns are based on an astronomical study of the sky. Such a study was forced upon human beings when, following a thaw in the ice ages, they took up an agricultural lifestyle giving up the hunter gatherer ways.

This transition or Agrarian Revolution is in fact described in the ancient text, the Vishnu Purana. This lead to the River Valley civilizations, and moreover people needed to know when to sow the seeds, when to reap the harvest and so on, all dependent on seasons.

A calendar cum clock is readily available in the sky, in the harmonious motions of the Sun, the Moon and the stars. This harmony or rta mentioned in the Rig Veda, gives rise to words like Ritu or season, ritual or rite, as festivities were seasonal and ryot or farmer (Roy, 1976).

The calendaric and astronomical knowledge in the Vedic literature was in a camouflaged and allegorical form. A very good example is the Rig Vedic hymn  (R.V.1.105.18)

 

   “A ruddy wolf beheld me once and slunk through the houses.”

This is an apparently meaningless verse. The operative words here are Vrika (she wolf) and ma sakrit. However the line becomes extremely meaningful with the insight of the scholar Yaska of Nirukta fame.

Using the grammatical rules of Sanskrit, and taking the cue from a very ancient tradition even at that time, Yaska pointed out that Vrika literally means one whose light keeps increasing and decreasing (Vivrita Jyotishka va vikrita jyotiska va vi Kranta jyotishka va).. He concluded “Vrika chandrama bhavathi” that is Vrika means Moon.

The next thing to be noticed was that the second word was really to be split as masa krita, that is the maker of the months. On the other hand even today we call nakshatras or lunar asterisms as houses – this is true even for example in Arabic, where they use a lunar calendar.

So the meaning of the obscure line is, “the Moon, the maker of the months, moves through the nakshatras. (lunar asterisms)”

This gives a taste of the extreme care with which the Vedic mantras have to be studied and interpreted taking into account the deliberate allegory.

There are several other references in the Rig Veda itself. For instance, “Varuna  (literally ‘all encompassing’) knows the twelve Moons; he also knows the Moon of later birth.”

This is a clear reference to the 13th or intercalary month needed to bring back a purely lunar calendar into step with the solar calendar, as an agricultural society, ultimately needs a solar calendar, even though a lunar calendar can be more accurate.

It must be borne in mind that while the Samhitas or hymns were much revered, their meaning had already become obscure and a matter of guess work, even thousands of years ago.

Thus the Aitreya Brahmana, a very ancient text, the oldest in this genre already makes guesses about the meaning with phrases like, “Or this could mean …” and so on.

The obscurity of the Vedic hymns is contained in some of the Rig Vedic legends, some of which are all but forgotten  today.

For example there are a number of hymns in the Rig Veda which are sung by Sunaha Shepa. The Vedic legend tells us that he was being sacrificed to the God Varuna, and he was tied down with three bonds. Sunaha Shepa himself repeatedly refers to the three bonds that tie him and prays to Varuna for release.

This obscure legend becomes meaningful if one realizes that Sunaha Shepa represents the constellation Orion the Hunter which has three stars on the waist.

Around 10,000 B.C. Orion would  be barely visible, being low, near the horizon, this being the case at a latitude of between 37 and 40 degrees North –

  Anatolia!! Sirius the dog star would have been just on the horizon, barely visible. At higher latitudes, it would not have been visible at all while at lower latitudes it would be higher in the sky. Sirius the dog st

The legend of Sunaha Shepa resurfaces again in the legend of the emperor Trisanku in the Ramayana. The name literally means 3 knots or knobs. This emperor wanted to ascend to the heavens in his mortal or human body but was barred by Indra the King of Gods so that he remained hanging midway.

Curiously enough it appears yet again in the story of Yudhishtara a hero of Mahabharata and a faithful dog (Sirius the dog star) entering the heavens – the dog is not allowed in. All this is elaborated upon in (Cf.ref. Sidharth, Celestial Key to the Vedas).

The date, 10,000 B.C. suggested by the above is explicitly spelt out in the Taittriya Brahmana (3.1.2) which declares that Aja Ekapad (or the asterism Poorvabhadrapada) is exactly at the East point, this having occurred around 10,000 B.C.

A later marker comes from the statement, again from Taittreya Samhita (6.5.3) that the asterism Krittika (Pleides) was the North star, that is at Winter Solstice, something which occurred around 8530 B.C. This was actually noticed by the 19th century scholar S.B. Dikshit – but he rejected this meaning because 8530 B.C. was much too much in antiquity.

How could it be, when the earliest civilizations like the Sumerian or Egyptian were hardly as old as 4000 B.C.? Dikshit went on to interpret, the line forcibly and wrongly, as referring to Pleides at Vernal Equinox.

There are other indications to this very date, as well as also to other dates which I have described in greater detail elsewhere (Sidharth, Celestial Key to the Vedas and references therein).

   Similarly the Tripura legend refers to a date around 7300 B.C. We can also conclude this date from the fact that the nakshatra Pushya (Beta Arietes) was at that time at the Vernal equinox.

There are indications for a date 6000 B.C. as well. For example, the Aitreya Brahmana refers to Aditi or Punarvasu (Castor and Pollax) being exactly at the East point. Interestingly, Tilak interprets this differently, but came to the same conclusion.

Another explicit date is mentioned in the Satapata Brahmana, one of the later parts of Vedic literature. It refers to Krittika or Pleides as being at the East point something which happened around 2350 B.C.

We then come to a better known and more recent source of Indian Astronomy proper, the Jyotish Vedaanga which gives a date of around 1350 B.C. and a latitude of around 35 degrees from the ratio of the longest day to night. Incidentally the present day tradition of Kumbha Mela can be traced to this epoch.

 

2. Astronomy

 

Apart from these explicit references there is much of calendrical astronomy that is couched in the Samhitas and Vedic literature. For example the famous hymn from the Rig Veda (3.9.9), sometimes attributed to Vishwamitra that declares that “3339 Devas worship Agni…” The pre-Vedic Nivids characterize these as being 3003, 303 and 33 (giving an improving series for the computation of the exact length of the year).

Or the mention of “6333 Gandharvas”. These numbers couch a determination of the length of lunar months and the tropical year to an extremely high degree of accuracy, as has been explained elsewhere.

A few other examples of astronomical references in the Rik Samhita itself, and therefore dating back to at least 10,000 B.C. are:

1.  The Earth and heaven are described as two bowls – the rotundity of the Earth was known. This is corroborated in other and later literature.

2.   An obscure hymn about the Devas or bright ones declares, “Seen only are their lowest places but they of a truth are in secret locations”, a clear reference to the fact that while the stars appear to be all at the same distance from us, actually they are at different distances, something which even 16th Century scholars missed out.

      More importantly such hymns reveal that the observations encompassed considerations like parallax, so that the motion of the Earth was known.

3.  Several hymns to the Ashwins are very curious. They reveal that the Ashwins are the planets Mercury and Venus and that their motions were meticulously studied, including their periods of revolution etc. In fact a very obscure Rig Vedic hymn declares that they have forms like the Moon, that is phases, which is absolutely true. The other planets cannot have phases as they are outside the earth’s orbit around the Sun. As Galileo realized in the 17th century, this proved a helio centric theory.

4. There are any number of other interesting references: for example, that the Moon shines by sunlight, the water cycle and so on. Many of these concepts later reappeared in texts like Vishnu Sahasranama, Aditya Hridayam and Puranas and so on.

 

3. Archaeological Consideration: Gobekli tepe and Nevali Cori

 

Finally I would like to conclude with some archaeological evidence, which is the hard evidence, the last word. If we go back to the Rig Vedic times, purely from an archaeological point of view it should be easy to disprove the dates or put them under question if there was no such evidence.

Fortunately, starting from the early 1990s, exactly such evidence has shown up in the Anatolian region (Turkey). This evidence has completely stumped historians who have believed that the earliest civilization with Megalithic elements was from around 4000 B.C. that is Sumer and Egypt According to the textbooks the earlier civilizations would have been more of the Neolithic time.

However the excavations at Nevali Cori and Gobekle tepe (both within a few kilometers of each other) near Urfa (in Turkey) have turned the history books upside down.

Here, most amazingly is revealed amongst many other sculpted artifacts,  the head of a Vedic priest, complete with the shika or pigtail.

There are also several pillars and structures with all the astronomical motifs that could be found in the Rig Veda and indicative of a high degree of artistry. Most importantly, the latitude of this place is the same 37 degrees North alluded to earlier. Undoubtedly both these structures represented perhaps the oldest astronomical observation Centre in history.

Let us examine this in a little more detail. As noted, based on the rising exactly at the East point (Vernal Equinox) of the asterism Aja Ekapad (Uttara Bhadrapada), we can conclude that this observation was made in 10,000 B.C., the date of the Gobekli tepe excavations by Klaus Schmidt and coworkers.

The motifs on the pillars can be understood on the basis of the symbols of Rig Vedic Astronomy.

Firstly in an enclosure D there are 12 oblisques or pillars, one for each month. These pillars show the figure of a fox or wolf (Vrika). As noted this is a symbol for the Moon, the maker of the months. There are two central pillars, in addition, which are aligned in the East-West direction.

There is the symbol of the thin crescent moon eclipsing the Sun with a symbol resembling H. This is a reference to the total Solar Eclipse in the constellation of Gemini the twins (the H).

Beside enclosure D is the enclosure C, which according to some archaeologists is a temple to the Boar. There are several inlaid images and even beautiful sculptures of boars. The significance of the Boar “Temple” will be touched upon soon.

There are several other familiar astronomical symbols like the Scorpion, all mentioned in the Rig Veda. (In fact the word zodiac comes from the word “zodos”, (Greek for small animal))

Another striking motif on the Gobekli tepe pillars is that of a bird with a circular disc – they represent Garuda the bird which carries Vishnu, the Sun and the Sun itself. So also images of the bird Garuda carrying a snake as described in the Puranas.

Extremely significant is a phallic motif with a headless man. It is impossible to properly interpret this symbol without referring to the following Vedic legend from the Aitreya Brahmana.

The legend goes on to say that Prajapati (Orion) had an incestuous relationship with his daughter and the incensed Gods shot him with an arrow and also beheaded him Exactly such a motif is found!! 

The legend goes on that an animal’s head was then found for Prajapati. All this describes the constellation Orion: To this day the star Betelguese (Arudra) at the head is called Mrgsira (animal’s head) while the arrow represents the three stars on the waist of Orion.

There are some hymns in the Rig Veda elaborating on the legend of Sunaha Shepa. This young man was to be sacrificed and was tied down with three bonds or pegs, as described earlier. One kept him on Earth, one was in heavens and one was in the middle.

As described all this refers, once again to Orion and importantly the latitude of Gobekli tepe and the date 10,000 B.C.

Incidentally Taurus the bull (Vrishabha) itself is a motif in the pillars there.

The variants of the Sunaha Shepa legend have been mentioned and this story appears much later in other cultures also.

There are several other astronomical motifs both at Gobekli tepe and Nevali Cori which cannot be meaningfully interpreted except in terms of the astronomy of the Rig Veda. For example the twins (Gemini) dancing with a tortoise or turtle.

As explained elsewhere, tortoise is a symbol for the slow moving equinox in the sky due to precession and the whole motif represents the equinox in Gemini the twins (Mithuna).

All this provides irrefutable proof of the Antiquity of the Vedic Civilization, on the one hand, and on the other, how wrong our picture of pre history has been. The Gobeklitepe and Nevali Cori excavations are the hard evidence for the author’s prediction.

 

4. Miscellaneous Considerations

 

1. Recently Atkinson and coworkers have confirmed a conclusion they had come to a few years ago that the Indo European languages originated in Anatolia. This was on the basis of an analysis of several words and the model of a virus spreading amongst humans. However this is obvious from the above considerations. In fact the mother language would be the Vedic language.

2. There is also direct evidence of cloth being spun in this region, going back to something like 8000 B.C.Such spinning is referred to in the Rig Veda.

3. Is there any mention in history about a civilization going back to around 10,000 B.C.? As pointed out by the author several years ago such a legend, going back to that period, namely that of Atlantis has persisted, at least from the time of Plato.

4. It is inconceivable that the rich astronomical and even pictographical content mentioned above would suddenly spring up around 10,000 B.C. without any background. 

Indeed the cave paintings in Lassaux or the later mother goddess depiction (c.19000 B.C.?) going back to much earlier times would provide such a prelude.

In the case of the mother goddess depiction it is worth pointing out that also indicated is a horn with a number of markings, perhaps indicative of months. This would represent the crescent Moon and the  days of the lunar month or months themselves.

In this connection the earlier than Rig Veda Nivids have been referred to above, wherein the exact luni-solar cycle contained in 3339 has been mentioned.

5. We have already pointed out that this astronomical tradition coincided with the beginning of the Agrarian revolution.

Indeed it appears that all grain varieties in the world can be genetically traced to varieties found in this very Gobleke tepe – Nevali Cori region.

In fact the etymology of the word Aryan (Arya) could be traced back to the Sanskrit root Ri, meaning to plough.

6. Another very ancient legend is that of Daksha (literally dextrous) or the star Vega (Abhijith). According to the legend Daksha got into the displeasure of Siva, and was destroyed by the latter.

According to a popular interpretation this legend refers to the following fact: This lunar asterism (Daksha or Abhijith or Vega) was originally one of the 28 lunar asterisms which was later axed because the luni-solar month is closer to not 28 but 27 days.

However given the above circumstances the legend could refer to the fact that a little before 10,000 B.C. the star Vega was the pole star but thereafter moved away from this important position.

In any case a knowledge of what is called precession was there. For example the Maitri Upanishad declares, Even the fixed Pole Star moves away.

It must be mentioned that such “falling” stars or asterisms is mentioned in other contexts also referring to their moving away from important celestial points.

7. It would thus appear that astronomical observations and dating of important events like eclipses was closely observed and followed over the millennium.

Yet another good example is the legend of Tripura, in which the God Siva destroys the city of the Danavas when it was in the constellation of Cancer (Karkata). Shorn of allegory, the reference here is to a solar eclipse that took place around the same time as the Nevali Cori period.

8. Finally it should be mentioned that a single date here or there would not be conclusive. Indeed there are any number of cross references pointing to the dates which have been mentioned above.

An example is the boar symbol touched upon earlier, which is depicted on several of the pillars, and even beautiful sculptures – This plays an important role in later mythology as an Avatar or incarnation of God which rescued the Vedas from a terrible FLOOD.

This itself could be a pointer to some of the violent floodings that took place in that epoch, due to the withdrawal of the great ice age and the consequent rise in sea levels.

If the Gobeklitepe enclosure C is indeed a temple to the boar, as archaeologists suppose, then it would be the only such temple outside India, where there are still a few boar (varaha) temples.In any case the relef work on the pillars represent some mythology of that time (rather than being random), as is agreed by even Klaus Schmidt the excavator.

9. It appears that there might have been two types of people at that time: a priestly class and the more primitive hunter-gatherer or Neolithic folk. The latter might have realized the complex with stone tools, while the former might have directed them.

 

References

  • S.B. Roy, “Prehistoric Lunar Astronomy” Institute of Chronology, New Delhi, 1976.
  • B.G. Sidharth, “The Celestial Key to the Vedas” Inner Traditions, Rochester, 1999 (and several references therein).

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