Inscriptions are accepted as foremost primary evidence in historical studies. They belong to the genre of written documents or Lekhya Pramana approved by Shastras, according to the late Dr Nagaswamy, historian and preeminent epigraphist.
The date of the inscription mentioned in Jyothisha units of time such as tithi, star and week-day are therefore reliable. The dates of many kings and dynasties have been deciphered from the year of the Shaka or Kali Yuga found in the inscriptions.
Historicity of Mahabharata
In the same way, the year of the Mahabharata war can be derived using the well attested evidence of a 35-year gap between the war and Krishna’s exit given in four verses in the Mahabharata text (MB: 11.25.4; 16.1.1; 16.2.2; 16.3.18,19). This makes locating the year of the war easy: it was pre-Kali 35 years. Counted from the completed Kali years as of today (that we continue to use for all religious purposes) 3136 BCE was the year of the Mahabharata war. Though there is no direct epigraphic evidence for this date, five inscriptions have been located so far, bearing the name of King Janamejaya, the great-grandson of Arjuna, as donor. This article highlights one that bears strong evidence for the year of the war and the historicity of the Mahabharata.
For people, who believed that the earth was created only 5,000 years ago, it could have been a rude shock that India had a thriving civilisation 5,000 years ago. Secondly, that was the time that the Aryan Invasion Theory was gaining momentum, which denied the indigenous origin of the Vedic culture and proposed that ‘Aryans’ from Europe brought the Vedic culture to India 3,500 years ago
Janamejaya Inscription Down South
Four inscriptions have been found in Shivamogga district, Karnataka, of which one possessed by Bhimanakatte Mutt in Tirthahalli Taluk contains the requisite calendric details, enabling us to date the inscription. Interestingly, the same calendar details are found in a grant in the custody of Usha Mutt in Kedarnath. Both were issued by King Janamejaya at the time of the solar eclipse in Sahasya month in the 89th year of Yudhishthira Shaka, when the year Plavanga was running.
Yudhishthira Shaka being the first Shaka (sub-period) of Kali Yuga, it can also be said that Kali-89 was running then. After the Pandavas embraced ascetic life on hearing of the departure of Krishna, their grandson Parikshit ascended the throne on Kali-1, in the year Pramathi. It was 3179 years before the current Shaka of Shalivahana began in the year 78 CE. All historical dating by means of epigraphy takes into consideration the year of ascendance of Parikshit as the first year of Kali Yuga, i.e., 3101 BCE in Gregorian calendar (after adding zero year in between CE and BCE). That is when Krishna left for his heavenly abode.
Proof of Inscription’s Genuineness
Parikshit ruled the country for sixty years, as per Krishna. This was told at the time of destruction caused by Ashvatthama (MB: 10.16.14). So, Janamejaya ascended the throne in Kali-61, when the next round of sixty years started in Pramathi. On his 29th regnal year, Plavanga was running which happened to be the 89th year of Kali Yuga or Yudhishthira Shaka. The year number matching with the year name is proof of the authenticity of the inscription.
When checked in the astrology simulator for Vedic Siddhanta-based ayanamsa, the year number and Amavasya in Sahasya (Pushya month) matched together with a partial solar eclipse in the afternoon. It was 3013 BCE in the Gregorian year (after adding zero year between CE and BCE), or 5034 years before present (BP). By far, this is the oldest date found in an inscription in India or anywhere in the world.
This inscription refers to a land donation given by King Janamejaya to Kaivalyanatha, the disciple of Garuda-vahana Tirtha Sripada of the Munivrinda Mutt situated in Sitapura Vrikodara Kshetra, for the worship of Sri Sitarama. Today, this place is known as Bhimanakatte or Bhima-Setu. Bhima being the popular name for Vrikodara. Katte in Kannada means bank or dam. A katte is seen with huge blocks of stone across the river Tungabhadra close to this Mutt.
Bhimanakatte – Bhima’s Dam
As per local legend, this was built by Bhima when the Pandavas were staying here during exile. In tune with the legend, the Pandava-presence in this place is well attested in the inscription by a statement that the great grandfathers of the king stayed within the boundaries of the Munivrida Kshetra. This concurs with the description in the text of the Mahabharata of Pandavas moving from place to place and meeting many sages during their exile. Pandavapura and the cave of Pandava-kallu near Mysore to the South of Bhimanakatte further testify the movement of Pandavas in this part of Karnataka.
Sitarama Continues to be Venerated
The Vigraha of Sri Sitarama continues to be worshipped in this mutt, in whose possession this copper plate grant was found by the British when Robert Andrews Cole, Superintendent of Inaam Settlements of Mysore, checked the documents of the mutt after the British occupied this region. The mutt follows the Madhva tradition that came into existence only in the 13th century. This suggests that this place was continuously occupied by sages even before the Mahabharata, but acquired a distinct identity in recent centuries by following the Madhva tradition. In fact, Madhvacharya was initiated into sanyasa in this mutt which was Advaitic at that time. A mutt continuing to exist in the same place having in its custody the copper plates guaranteeing possession is proof of uninterrupted existence of ascetics for 5,000 years in this region.
Writing about this in The Indian Antiquary (Dec 6, 1872 issue), Robert Cole says, “Whatever may be the origin of the maṭha, the dam bears undoubted traces of the wondrous magnitude of the works of those days.” This region, undisturbed by any invasions, seems to have continued to maintain the status quo for thousands of years.
Controversies Around Janamejaya Grant
This copper plate inscription found in the custody of Bhimanakatte Mutt (now housed in the Archaeological Museum in Shivamogga) ran into controversy right from the time it was made known to the outside world. J.F. Fleet, a leading historian, rejected the inscriptions as fabricated or forged on the pretext that it contains very old and inadmissible dates. Following him, other colonial historians like Lewis Rice doubted the authenticity of the grant. Three reasons for this rejection can be deduced from the background of that period.
First, it was difficult for British historians to accept an advanced civilisation existing in India 5,000 years ago, the antiquity conveyed by the early Kali year in the inscription. For people who believed that the earth was created only 5000 years ago, it could have been a rude shock that India had a thriving civilisation 5,000 years ago.
Five inscriptions have been located so far bearing the name of King Janamejaya
Secondly, that was the time that the Aryan Invasion Theory was gaining momentum, which denied the indigenous origin of the Vedic culture and proposed that ‘Aryans’ from Europe brought the Vedic culture to India 3,500 years ago. The Janamejaya inscription demonstrating the authenticity of the Mahabharata, in addition to proving the reality of the much earlier Ramayana in the worship of Sri Sitarama, was found to have been made 5,000 years ago. This was definitely inadmissible according to them.
Thirdly, they could not reproduce the date of the inscription by any astronomy calculations. This issue continued to haunt scholars of independent India too, till date, with the result that this inscription was dumped as fake by almost all researchers of the Mahabharata. The reason for the inability to get the date is not hard to find. None cared to check whether the astronomy calculations or astronomy simulators comply with the Vedic calendric system.
The astronomy calculations use Julian day, which is shorter than the Vedic sidereal day to the extent that there is a lag of one Julian day for every 115 or 116 sidereal years of the Vedic calendar. One can imagine the shortage of Julian days in 5,000 years. The Indic calendric dates in terms of tithi or star could never be replicated due to this mismatch, nor could the planetary combinations be reproduced.
It is only when we use the Vedic system of ayanamsa and Siddhantic calculations that we are able to get the calendric features of the grant right. Even then, the weekday was found to be Friday (Shukra Vara) and not Saumya Vara (Wednesday), as stated in the inscription. Since everything else matched, which could not have been possible on some other weekday but only on a Friday, we understand that there was a scribal error in stating the weekday as Saumya Vara. That it was indeed a case of error by the inscriber is made known from a similar grant found in Kedarnath, in the possession of Usha Mutt, associated with Usha, the wife of Aniruddha, grandson of Krishna.
Janamejaya Grant at Kedarnath
This grant is not yet recorded in any journal of the Archaeological Department. Its existence was revealed by a group of pilgrims to Kedarnath, who happened to see the inscription and copy the transcript. Found recorded in the books of Pandit Kota Venkatachelam, this inscription is exactly similar to the Bhimanakatte inscription of King Janamejaya in all respects except the name of the receiver, the boundaries of the land and the place of issue. The donation was made by King Janamejaya on the same date but the week day is given as Soma Vara (Monday). This is not possible as the month, the year name and the year number match only with Shukra Vara. The discrepancy in the weekdays of both grants given on the same day can only be a case of scribal error which does not affect the date of the grant.
Being a daana-patra, there was no need for anyone at any time to insert Janamejaya’s name and the name of Yudhishthira, as it was not going to make any difference to the legal possession of the land. So, there is no controversy about this grant; indeed, it stands as strong evidence against any controversy on the Mahabharata as anything other than 3136 BCE (pre-Kali 35)
Both locations have been in continuous occupation of ascetics. Hence, it is no wonder that the grants were preserved without any scope of the donated land changing hands down the ages. This may not be possible with grants given to householders, which could have been sold some time later.
Doubts About Letters of Inscription
A major objection to the grant was raised by Lewis Rice in Epigraphia Carnatica (Vol VIII, 1904) pointing out that Devanagari characters and the signature ‘Sri Varaha’ are in comparatively recent Kannada letters. He proposed that the grant could have been made by Bukka Raya or Harihara in the year Plavanga in Shalivahana Shaka in the 14th Century. This cannot be so, because any king would issue the donation in his name and not in some other king’s name. Nowhere in this inscription can we find Bukka Raya’s name. The inscription is complete and not broken, thereby ruling out any scope of missing parts.
However, the plates do appear with the Varaha seal, pointing to the hand of the Vijayanagara kingdom. This is not surprising given the fact that Bhimanakatte was under the rule of Keladi Samsthana, the vassal of Vijayanagara kings.
Fear of Karmic Retribution
Whenever a region was annexed by a king, the first activity was to check the landed properties because land is wealth and it is for this wealth that kings invaded other’s territories. It has always been a practice to honour the donations given by earlier kings, for fear of karmic retribution. After checking the veracity of the grant, it was ratified by the new king. This seems to have happened with the Janamejaya grant bearing the Varaha seal. There also exists a possibility of the plates becoming worn out or the land contours changing with time, requiring a re-issue of the grant by the king of the day. In all these cases, the letters inscribed would reflect the prevailing ones on the date of re-issue.
From Sanskrit to Local
The boundaries of the Janamejaya grant, within which the Pandavas had spent their time, appear olden. The mighty Tungabhadra River was on the East of the Mutt. The Northern boundary was marked by Bhinna river in the inscription where a river by name Bere Hole is running today. In Kannada ‘bere’ means different, which is exactly what the Sanskrit word Bhinna means.
Pandavas moved from place to place during their exile
A similar change from Sanskrit to the local language is seen in the name of the river on the Western border of the donated land. It was Paashaana in the inscription which means ‘stone’ in Sanskrit. The Swamiji of the Mutt pointed out a place called Kal Mane, 8 km to the West of the Mutt. means stone in Kannada. A river called Malathy is running at this place. Due to passage of time, the river name might have changed but Paashaana remained in the local language for the place.
The grant states that Agastya ashrama formed the Southern boundary. There is a temple of Narasimha Swamy to the South of the Mutt, which, local legend says, was worshipped by sage Agastya. The transformation in letters and the names of places in the local language stand as proof for the re-issue of the grant, after the Vijayanagara takeover of the place and the gradual change in names over thousands of years.
British Verified Grant
When the British occupied this region, they also verified the grant but found nothing incriminatory about it. Had they noticed something suspicious about the inscription of the landed property guaranteed therein, they would have confiscated the land. Nothing of that sort happened. This being a daana-patra, there was no need for anyone at any time to insert Janamejaya’s name and the name of Yudhishthira, as it was not going to make any difference to the legal possession of the land. So, there is no controversy about this grant; indeed, it stands as strong evidence against any controversy on the Mahabharata as anything other than 3136 BCE (pre-Kali 35).
In tune with the practice to honour the grants of olden kings, it is not possible to reaffirm the donation in modern days, but it is within the scope of officialdom to recognise the historicity of the grant that stands as solid evidence for the Kali and the Mahabharata date.