Validating Traditional date of Mahabharata War - XX
by Jayasree Saranathan on 20 Feb 2021 0 Comment

The fall of Bhishma seven days after a lunar eclipse


The two armies arrayed against each other, with the Pandavas facing east and the Kauravas facing west. Contrary to the popular belief, the narration of the war does not start from the first day. It started after the fall of Bhishma. Sanjaya, the charioteer of Dhritarashtra endowed with divine vision to see the events of the war, was in the battlefield at that time. After seeing the fall of Bhishma on the 10th day of the war, he rushed back to Hastinapur to convey the news to king Dhritarashtra. Only at the end of the 10th day he started narrating the events right from the time the armies gathered on Magha day followed by Gitopadesa given by Krishna, Yudhishthira seeking permission, blessings and tips from Bhishma, Drona and others on how to defeat them and the war scenes right from the first day.


Bhishma was such a main figure in Mahabharata! It was on the day of Bhishma’s fall we come across the next astronomy feature. On the 10th day, Sikhandin proceeded towards Bhishma with Arjuna causing heavy damage to the Kaurava army that was rushing to protect Bhishma. At that moment Drona, acquainted with every omen (nimittani nimittajña?) started narrating many inauspicious terrestrial and atmospheric nimittas to his son, Aswattama, and asked him to counter the Pandavas. [Mbh: 6-108] The one and only celestial nimitta told by him at that time was the description of a lunar eclipse.


From the first day of the war on Shukla Dwadasi at sun rise, the 3rd day witnessed the Full-Moon. That happened to be a lunar eclipse as stated by Drona on the 7th day after that, i.e. on the 10th day of the war. The late narration is due to the fact that the result of an inauspicious eclipse would get manifest only within seven days from the eclipse.


Lunar eclipse on the third day of the war


Drona expressed that the moon rose up with head downwards due to the wheeling of the apasavyam graha! [Mbh: 6-108-12]

apasavya? grahas cakrur alak?ma?a? nisakaram

avaksiras ca bhagavan udati??hata candrama?


This being a crucial verse establishing the occurrence of a lunar eclipse while the war was on, the exact translation is given here.



apasavya? grahas = contrary, opposite (Mb.5.138.27) (stem: apasavya) a reference to Rahu that moves in opposite direction.

cakrur = made, performed (third person plural tense paradigm perfect class parasmaipada vk?)

alak?ma?a? = bad, inauspicious sign (stem: alak?a?a)

nisakaram = the moon (SB 2.7.33) (stem: nisakara) (accusative)

avaksiras = avAk- siras, head turned downwards (adjective) having its upper end turned downwards, headlong (Monier-Williams, Sir M. (1988)

ca = and (connecting word)

bhagavan = the god


udati??hata = arose (SB 3.26.70)

candrama? = the moon


Overall meaning:

 “The Moon god rising with its head downwards (was) made inauspicious by the apasavyam graha (Rahu).”


This verse is in clear contrast to the “candrasuryav ubhau grastav” verse having no reference to Rahu or Ketu (Part 12). By having stated ‘apasavyam graha’, Drona had clearly indicated the eclipse by Rahu, the planet that goes in opposite direction.


The word ‘avaksiras’ refers to the moon’s ‘heads downward’ position which is just the opposite of the normal appearance of ‘heads up’ when the crescent moon rises. The pointed ends of the crescent moon are generally recognized as the ‘horns of the moon’. When they are described downwards, it refers to lunar eclipse. (This applies to solar eclipse also). One can find this expression used in the context of eclipses in Siddhanta Shiromani by Bhaskara II. By looking at the angles of the ‘horns’ of the moon or the sun, one can judge the duration of the eclipse. [Siddhanta Shiromani: Ch. 8, verses 7&8, trans. Pundit Bapu Deva Sastri]


One can interpret this verse as waning moon rising in the sky on the night before Drona made this observation. But the waning moon doesn’t appear with horns down.


A reading of Brihat Samhita reveals what this verse says. In the chapter on Rahu, ten types of eclipses are outlined on the basis of the movement of the obscurity of the disc. The second type is “Apasavyam” that commences at the right side of the disc and moves over to the left. [BS: 5-44] This is ominous of suffering from rulers and robbers according to that text. The same idea of inauspiciousness caused by the apasavyam graha is expressed in the verse as “apasavya? grahas cakrur alak?ma?a?.”


Drona has given a picture perfect description of the movement of the shadow from right to left that made the rising moon inauspicious with its heads downwards.


Similar appearance was noticed in the solar eclipse of 26 December 2019 when the moon slid across the solar disc making the sun appear with horns down.


-        The month was Pushya but the sun had just entered Capricorn at that time. It may be recalled that Rahu was at the beginning of Leo when the comet fell down.

-        It caused the moon to move faster and in a slightly altered orbit with the ascending node pushed a little. It is not known how far it moved, but there is an interesting discrepancy noticed between the simulated version and the verse of Mahabharata.

-        The simulation shows the lunar eclipse to have occurred at pre-dawn of the next day in the star Punarvasu. The sun-moon opposition is there, but the moon is beyond the required distance of 13 degrees from Rahu to have an eclipse. [The moon must be within 13 degrees from the nearest node for a lunar eclipse. The sun must be within 19 degrees from the nearest node for a solar eclipse]


Computer simulation doesn’t concur with the Mahabharata version that an eclipsed moon was rising in the evening (udati??hata). The eclipse occurred 12 hours before the simulated version. It shows more than the required span of 13 degrees to make a lunar eclipse possible. But the fact that the eclipse did happen goes to prove that Rahu shifted towards Pushya at the time of collision.


In Part 10, we found that Rahu moved towards the sun (in the words of Karna and Vyasa) because the moon shifted to a newer orbit. Now the lunar eclipse of the rising full-moon at evening could be possible only if Rahu had shifted to within 13 degrees of the moon that extends till the 4th degree of Pushya! This shows that the collision caused the moon to swing downward in its path cutting the ecliptic in such a way that the point of intersection of the lunar orbit and the ecliptic (sun’s path) shifted from where it was until then. In that orbit that is shorter than normal, Rahu could be seen to have shifted towards the sun, though in reality it was pushed further in its path towards Pushya. This shift caused the lunar eclipse 12 hours earlier than normal (from the location found in the simulator).


It is likely this eclipse was not predicted beforehand. There is a practice – continuing till date – to make year-long predictions including expected eclipses, well ahead, at the time of year beginning. In Mahabharata times, such predictions were made at Uttarayana, when the year began. This is corroborated by the “sa?vatsarasthayinau” verse (Part 19) [Mbh: 6-3-25]


Drona was apparently taken aback by the nimittas witnessed on the 10th day of the war that happened to be the 7th day after the lunar eclipse, portending danger to the life of Bhishma. The other nimittas expressed by Drona in the same context tally excellently with the views given in Brihat Samhita.


Brihat Samhita says that “If within seven days from the termination of an eclipse, there should appear a halo around the sun or moon, there will be disease in the land.” [BS: 5-94] If within seven days of an eclipse “there should occur any meteor-fall, the ministers will die, if clouds of various hues should appear, mankind will suffer from various fears.” [BS: 5-93] Drona reported meteors falling from solar disc. He also reported Parigha (halo) [Mbh: 6-108-9] around the sun and Parivesha (halo) around the moon. [Mbh: 6-108-10]


These were witnessed within seven days of the eclipse of the moon, which portends something bad. The meteor fall on this day could be a continuing collision of the tail part of the comet showering down as meteors. The 10th day of the war coming within seven days after the Full Moon (that was eclipsed), is a clear indication that the war was started in late waxing phase (Shukla Paksha) with most of the war days seeing the waning phase (Krishna Paksha). Only in this sequence of days there could be late moon-rise on the 14th day of the war – this information very clearly given in Mahabharata. [Mbh: 7-161: v.1 &2]


The full moon and the lunar eclipse happening on the 3rd day of the war comes with a surprising parallel in Arjuna and Bheema forming ‘ardha-candra’ vyuha to counter ‘Garuda’ vyuha formed by Bhishma. The choice of Ardha Candra in whose horns Arjuna and Bheema positioned themselves seems to convey the impending eclipse on that day of full moon. However the vyuha was not successful for the Pandavas as Arjuna and Krishna were severely attacked by Bhishma, forcing Krishna to pick up his weapon (discuss, cakarayudha) to slay Bhishma, only to be pacified by Arjuna.


This sequence establishes that Bhishma fell on the seventh day of the waning phase of the Pushya month that happened to be the 10th day of the war. At the time of deciding to cast down his life Bhishma must have been thinking that he could leave the world soon, as Magha was nearing. But alas, the Magha that followed was Adhika Magha! It made him wait throughout the adhika masa and leave the world in Shuddha Magha when the sun turned northward on Shukla Ashtami of Shuddha Magha! Did Bhishma fail to judge the arrival of Uttarayana?


The sequence of events explained so far also answers an important question – why Bhishma failed to know the delay in the arrival of Uttarayana when he decided to lay down his life on the 10th day of the war? Could someone who could calculate diligently the number of extra days spent by the Pandavas in exile, fail to know the arrival of the Uttarayana?


The answer lies in the unexpected reduction in the lunar month of Kartika and Margashirsha. Kartika had a 13-day phase, so too Margashirsha. As a result the Adhika Masa occurred after Pushya, (unusually) in the month of Magha, thereby pushing forward the Nija masa that is acceptable for religiously important dates such as Uttarayana. Bhishma, busy with war activities had failed to track the changes in time on account of the changed conditions of the moon. By the time he realized the change in time, he had already fallen and had no option other than waiting for the adhika masa to pass.


The war continued even more violently, violating the norms of war. The next mention of a celestial sighting was late moon-rise on the night of the 14th day of the war. On that evening Krishna induced premature sunset to deceive Jayadratha to come out of hiding so that he can be avenged by Arjuna for the slaughter of Abhimanyu. Many have mis-interpreted the disappearance and subsequent appearance of the sun as a solar eclipse which we know by now is not true. After clearing that doubt on the 14th day and validating the late moon-rise that night, we will move on to describe the solar eclipse at the end of the war. There were twin eclipses only during the war and not in Kartika, as wrongly proposed by many researchers.


(To be continued…)


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