2. Astronomical data and the Aryan question


The determination of the age in which Vedic literature started and flourished has its consequences for the Aryan Invasion question.  The oldest text, the Rg-Veda, is full of precise references to places and natural phenomena in what are now Panjab and Haryana, and was unmistakably composed in that part of India.  The date at which it was composed is a firm terminus ante quem for the entry of the Vedic Aryans into India.  They may have come from abroad or they may have been fully native, but by the time of the Rg-Veda, they were certainly Indians without memory of a foreign homeland.

In a rather shoddy way, Friedrich Max Müller launched the hypothesis that the Rg-Veda had to be dated to about 1200 BC, and eventhough he later retracted it, that arbitrary guess has become the orthodoxy.1 It is forgotten too often that in his own day, other scholars rejected this extremely late date on a variety of grounds.  Maurice Winternitz based his estimate on purely philological considerations: “We cannot explain the development of the whole of this great literature if we assume as late a date as round about 1200 BC or 1500 BC as its starting-point.”2 Isn’t it refreshing to find how logical and unprejudiced the early researchers were?  You cannot credibly cram the complicated linguistic, cultural and philosophical developments which are in evidence in Vedic literature, into just a few centuries.

But since this argument of plausibility can always be countered with the argument that unlikely developments are not strictly impossible, we need a firmer basis to decide this chronological question.  The most explicit chronology would be provided by astronomical markers of time.


    1The story of Max Müller’s chronology and its impact is told by N.S Rajaram: The Politics of History, Voice of India, Delhi 1995, ch.3.

    2M. Winternitz: History of Indian Literature (1907, reprint by Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi 1987), vol. 1, p.288.

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