A new dating of Buddha based on the evidence of Sumatitantra
In my previous articles, I presented evidence to show that the currently accepted version of Indian history is deeply flawed due to wrong identifications of the two sheet anchors that have been used to fix Indian history. I presented evidence to show that Sandrokottos of Greek accounts should be identified with Chandragupta-I of Imperial Gupta Dynasty, instead of Chandragupta Maurya. In my last article ‘Kumāragupta-I, not Aśoka, was Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī of major rock edicts’, I presented evidence to show that Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī of major rock edicts should be identified with Kumāragupta-I of Imperial Gupta Dynasty, instead of Aśoka Maurya.
This never before proposed identification of Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī unshackles the Indian history from the grip of wrong sheet anchors and provides us an opportunity to recreate the Indian history as it had really happened. The currently accepted version of Indian history starts in the sixth century BCE and places a number of historical personalities where they do not belong chronologically. In the revised chronological framework our age old traditions find validations and our heroes, who nourished and protected our civilization, find their true places in history. We will begin by finding the time period when Buddha really lived. Due to his central position in ancient Indian history, it is of paramount importance to correctly fix his date.
Buddha is the most dynamic and mesmerizing personality from ancient India. A number of dates for Buddha have been proposed depending on the source of information. A good summary of these proposed dates was presented in a conference paper by Siglinde Dietz titled “The Dating of the Historical Buddha in the History of Western Scholarship up to 1980” . The earliest dating of the Buddha known to Europeans was presented in the work Confucius Sinarum Philosophus sive scietia Sinesis Latine exposita in 1687. This book was compiled by 17 Jesuits and gave the year 1026 BCE as the birth of the Buddha and dated his Nirvāṇa to 947/46 BCE. In 1738, the Capuchin monk, Father Francesco Orazio della Penna gave 959 BCE as the year of Buddha’s birth. In 1756, Joseph Deguignes wrote in “Histoire generale des Huns, des Turcs, des Mongols, et des autres Tartares occidentaux” that according to the majority of historians, Buddha was born in Kashmir around the year 1027 BCE. In 1788 Sir William Jones weighed the various sources and accepted 1027 BCE as the date of the Buddha’s birth. In 1799 Francis Buchanan presented a number of dates for Buddha’s life, 1028 BCE according to Chinese, 544 BCE according to Siamese and 542 BCE according to Singhalese. In 1805 J.H. Harrington considered the Singhalese date to be credible as the Singhalese sacred era was reckoned from it and the date matched Siamese era very well. In 1823 Julius Heinrich Klaproth presented the following list of dates of Buddha’s birth, according to various traditions: 961 BCE according to Mongolian, 1027 BCE according to Chinese, between 1029 to 960 BCE according to Japanese, 1366 BCE according to Abul Fazl and 2009 BCE according to a Hindu work Bhāgavatāmṛita. In 1825 Wilson calculated 1332 BCE as the date of Nirvāṇa of Buddha according to Kalhaṇa’s Rājataraṅgiṇī.
Thus, we see that there were a number of dates for the year of birth of Buddha with majority of them being around or before 1000 BCE. Purāṇas give the earliest dates for the birth of Buddha. As quoted above, one work Bhāgavatāmṛita gave 2009 BCE as the year of birth of Buddha. This was the work that was quoted by Pandit Rādhākānta to Sir William Jones in eighteenth century :
“These ten Avataras are by some arranged according to the thousands of divine years in each of the four ages, or in an arithmetical proportion from four to one; and, if such an arrangement were universally received, we should be able to ascertain a very material point in the Hindu chronology; I mean the birth of Buddha, concerning which the different Pandits, whom I have consulted, and the same Pandits at different times have expressed a strange diversity of opinion. They all agree that Calci (i.e. Kalki) is yet to come, and that Buddha was the last considerable incarnation of the Deity; but the astronomers at Varanes place him in the third age, and Radhacant insists that he appeared after the thousandth year of the fourth. The learned and accurate author of the Dabistan, whose information concerning the Hindus is wonderfully correct, mentions an opinion of the Pandits, with whom he had conversed, that Buddha began his career ten years before the close of the third age; and Goverdhana of Cashmir, who had once informed me that Crishna (i.e. Krishna), descended two centuries before Buddha, assured me lately that the Cashmirians admitted an interval of twenty-four years (others allow only twelve) between these two divine persons. The best authority, after all, is the Bhagawat itself, in the first chapter of which it is expressly declared, that “Buddha, the son of Jina, would appear at Cicata for the purpose of confounding the demons, just at “the beginning of the Caliyug.” I have long been convinced, that, on these subjects, we can only reason satisfactorily from written evidence, and that our forensick rule must be invariably applied to take the declarations of the Brahmans most strongly against themselves; that is, against their pretentious to antiquity; so that, on the whole, we may safely place Buddha just at the beginning of the present age: but what is the beginning of it? When this question was proposed to Radhacant, he answered, “Of a period comprising more than four hundred thousand years, “the ﬁrst two or three thousand may reasonably be called the beginning.” On my demanding written evidence, he produced a book of some authority, composed by a learned Goswami, and entitled Bhagawatamarita, or the Nectar of the Bhagawat, on which it is a metrical comment; and the couplet which he read from it deserves to be cited. After the just mentioned account of Buddha in the text, the commentator says,
‘He became visible, the-thousand-and-second-year-of-the-Cali-age being past; his body of-a-colour-between-white and-ruddy, with two-arms, without-hair on his head.’ ”
There is a calculation mistake in the date though, as 1002 years from the beginning of Kali age would be 2100 BCE and not 2009 BCE as quoted by Sir William Jones. On the other hand, Pandit Kota Venkatachelam calculated the year of birth to be 1887 BCE . Both of these works are based on the assumption that Kaliyuga started in 3102 BCE, though their interpretations of Paurāṇic chronology are different.
The currently accepted year of birth of Buddha was calculated based on the identification of the Indian king Sandrokottos from Greek accounts with Chandragupta Maurya by Sir William Jones in 1793 CE . Most of the modern historians place the birth of Buddha in the sixth century BCE (sometime between 567-563 BCE) and his Nirvāṇa in the fifth century BCE (sometime between 487-483 BCE). Since Indian and Chinese dates are too early, modern historians have argued that Singhalese/Sri Lankan dates are the most reliable. However, what the historians have fed us as most reliable also results in a chronological dilemma that is impossible to resolve. This problem has been stated by Theodor Benfey in 1839 in the following words :
“… all Ceylonese chronicles begin their history with the year 543 B.C., the Nirvāṇa of Gautama Buddha. … we can hardly place the beginning of Chandragupta’s reign earlier than 312 B.C. According to the chronology of Mahavamsa, however, Chandragupta’s accession to power dates to the year 381 B.C. The difference thus amounts to 69 or 70 years. One can see from this that two types of dates – one pertaining to Indian history and others to the life of the Buddha – are joined in a synchronism, without matching up.”
Let me explain this problem further. Modern historians have calculated the date of the Buddha from the date of Aśoka Maurya, whose date of coronation has been fixed at ~268 BCE, based on his identification with Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī. According to Singhalese texts the coronation of Piyadassi took place 218 years after the Nirvāṇa of the Buddha and therefore the Nirvāṇa of Buddha took place at ~486 BCE. This will place the year of his birth 80 years earlier at ~566 BCE. However, the same Singhalese texts that mention 218 years between the Nirvāṇa of Buddha and coronation of Piyadassi are also emphatic that Nirvāṇa of Buddha took place in 543 BCE. Counting from this date the coronation of Aśoka Maurya took place 218 years later in 325 BCE, which is around the time of the invasion of India by Alexander. This will make Aśoka Maurya the contemporary of Alexander instead of his grandfather Chandragupta Maurya, who must be placed 50 years earlier in 375 BCE. Chandragupta Maurya can then no longer be the contemporary of Alexander and the identification of Sandrokottos of Greek accounts with Chandragupta Maurya fails.
Modern historians are telling us that the place farthest from the birthplace of Buddha has preserved the most authentic date of his birth. There is simply no reason for Singhalese texts to be more reliable than Indian, Chinese, and Nepalese texts. It is more likely that the most authentic information about the birth of Buddha was preserved in a place closer to his place of birth. I would like to propose that this has indeed been the case and this information is to be found in an astronomical text called the Sumatitantra, the first book on astronomy from Nepal. The relevant verses from Sumatitantra are presented and discussed in a paper titled “Mānadeva Samvat: An investigation into an Historical Fraud” by Kamal P. Malla . We should note the title of the paper, which is symptomatic of the attitude that modern historians have towards our ancient records. The objective is not to understand what they mean, but to declare as forgery whatever does not suit the accepted chronology. What is being dismissed as a historical fraud not only provides information about the date of Buddha, but also provides evidence in support of the Imperial Guptas being contemporary of Alexander. In addition, it provides the identification of Emperor Śudraka, whose writing Mṛichchhakaṭikam is well known (Film Utsava was based on it), but whose identity is unknown. Sumatitantra contains the following verses:
“jāto duryodhano rājā kalisandhyam pravarttate |
Yudhiṣṭhiro mahārājo duryodhanastayopi vā ||
ubhau rājau sahasre dve varṣantu sampravarttati |
Nandarājyam śatāṣṭañchaśchandraguptastatopare ||
rājyaṅkaroti tenāpi dvātriṃśachchādhikaṃ śatam |
rājā Śūdrakadevaścha varṣasaptābdhi chāśvinou ||
Śakarājā tatopaśchādvasurandhra kritantathā |
ityate bhāṣitammahyam jnayā rājā krameṇa tu ||
Śesā yutāścha kṛita ambarāgni (304) Śrī Mānadevābda prayujyamānā
etāni piṇḍa kali varṣamāhuḥ ||
We can extract the following information from these verses:
Yudhiṣṭhira and Duryodhana were present at the junction of Kali (with Dwāpara). Both of them continued for 2000 years, Nanda ruled for 800 years, Chandragupta for 132 years, Śūdraka for 247 years, Śaka king for 498 years and Mānadeva for 304 years.
The intended meaning of these verses will be obvious to those familiar with Indian tradition, but these verses will be incomprehensible to those not familiar with the tradition. Malla says the following about these verses :
“The above text has been transcribed, translated, and interpreted differently by different Nepali and foreign historians of Nepal, depending upon how, for instance, one translates the word, sampravarttate. Yet the fact remains that not a single of the figures for the six epoch eras mentioned in the Sumatitantra – (Yudhiṣṭhira 2000, Nanda 800, Chandragupta 132, Śūdraka 247, Śaka 498, and Mānadeva 304) matches with the known historical facts. … If the intention was to specify the duration of a king’s reign or rule, then it is clearly a pious fabrication.”
Let’s try to understand what these verses mean. It is quite obvious that these verses are not defining the ruling period of kings as no one lives for 2000 years. These verses are not defining how long the individual eras lasted, as the use of Śaka era is still continuing. What is being defined is the period between the specified eras in these verses and this yields the following very important information:
The Nanda era started 2000 years after the Kali era. The Chandragupta era started 800 years after the Nanda era. The Śūdraka era started 132 years after the Chandragupta era. The Śaka era started 247 years after the Śūdraka era. The Mānadeva era started 498 years after the Śaka era. The text Sumatitantra was written in the 304th year of the Mānadeva era.
It is well established that the Kali era started in 3102 BCE. Therefore, according to these verses, the Nanda era started in 1102 BCE, the Chandragupta era started in 302 BCE, the Śudraka era started in 170 BCE, the Śaka era started in 78 CE, the Mānadeva era started in 576 CE, and the text Sumatitantra was written in 880 CE in the 304th year of the Mānadeva era. Since there was no zero BCE or zero CE and 1 CE followed 1 BCE, 247 years from 170 BCE falls in 78 CE instead of 77 CE. We should note that the starting date of the well-known Śālivāhana Śaka era is 78 CE, and this calculation exactly matches with it. This provides a solid confirmation for this interpretation. Since Nanda is separated by 800 years from Chandragupta, this Chandragupta has to belong to Imperial Guptas as Chandrgupta Maurya was close successor to Nanda. This verse, then places Chandragupta of Imperial Gupta dynasty in 302 BCE, making Imperial Guptas contemporary of Alexander and his successors, instead of the Mauryas.
The date of the Buddha can also be calculated from the information on the Nanda era provided by Sumatitantra. We will use the following information from the Purāṇas for this purpose as given by Pargiter .
“Ajātaśatru will be king 25 years. Darśaka will be king 25 years. After him Udāyin will be king 33 years. That king will make as his capital on the earth Kusumpura on the south bank of the Ganges in his fourth year. Nandivardhana will be king 40 years. Mahānandin will be 43 years. … As son of Mahanandin by a śudra woman will be born a king, Mahapadma (Nanda), who will exterminate all kśatriyas. Thereafter kings will be of Śudra origin. Mahapadma will be sole monarch, bringing all under his sole away. He will be 88 years on the earth. He will uproot all kśatriyas, being urged on by prospective fortune. He will have 8 sons, of whom Sukalpa will be the first; and they will be kings in succession to Mahapadma for 12 years. A Brahman Kautilya will uproot them all; and, after they have enjoyed the earth 100 years, it will pass to the Mauryas.”
There are three Nandas in this list, Nandivardhana, Mahānandin, and Mahāpadma Nanda. We need to decide which one is intended in this text. To make the proper choice, we need to keep in mind that Mahāvīra and Buddha were contemporaries. In a later article I will provide information for dating Mahāvīra’s birth in 1244 BCE. To be consistent with this date, the Nanda era needs to start with the beginning of the reign of Nandivardhana. Based on this assumption, the chronology of Magadha kings is as follows:
King/ Reign in years/ Proposed Chronology
Ajātaśatru/ 25/ 1185-1160 BCE
Darśaka/ 25/ 1160-1135 BCE
Udāyin/ 33/ 1135-1102 BCE
Nandivardhana/ 40/ 1102-1062 BCE
Mahānandin/ 43/ 1062-1019 BCE
Mahāpadma Nanda and Eight Nandas / 100/ 1019-919 BCE
Buddha died during eighth year of Ajātaśatru’s reign . Thus, the Parinirvāṇa of Buddha took place in 1178 BCE, based on information presented above. As Buddha had lived for 80 years, he lived between 1258-1178 BCE.
It is not a coincidence that the most authentic information about the year of birth of Buddha and the era of Imperial Guptas is preserved in a text from Nepal. While Lord Buddha was born in present day Nepal, Chandragupta-I married a Lichchhavi princess and Lichchhavis had moved to Nepal subsequent to the rise of the Imperial Guptas. It means that the history of Nepal is also as messed up as that of India with Lichchhavis moving to Nepal around six centuries earlier than currently believed. The resulting confusion is resolved by declaring genuine documents as forgery instead of re-examining the faulty chronology.
As we have seen in this article, the information that has come to us from our ancestors may be in a cryptic form. If we don’t have the patience and attitude to understand the information, it will seem incomprehensible. We are inheritors of a unique civilization that has survived the ravages of time because it devised ways to preserve its knowledge base not only through literature but also through popular traditions. One of the most popular traditions in India is the legend of Vikramāditya, which later became entangled with the lives of historical Vikramādityas. In the resulting confusion, the legend has become historical and historical Vikramāditya has been denied his place in history. To clear the confusion, we will take a closer look at the legend of Vikramāditya in my next article.
- Dietz, S. (1995). The Dating of the Historical Buddha in the History of Western Scholarship up to 1980. In “When Did the Buddha Live? The Controversy on the Dating of the Historical Buddha”, edited by Heinz Bechert”, Sri Satguru Publications, Delhi-110007, India, pages 39-105.
- Jones, W. (1807 reprint). On the Chronology of the Hindus. Asiatick Researches or Transactions of the Society Instituted in Bengal, 2, pages 111-147 (originally published in 1788).
- Venkatachelam, K. (1956). Age of Buddha, Milinda & Amtiyoka and Yugapurana. Ghandhinagara/Vijayawada, India: Bharata Charitra Bhaskara, page 17.
- Jones, W. (1793). The Tenth Anniversary Discourse. Asiatick Researches or Transactions of the Society Instituted in Bengal, Vol. 4, pages xii-xiv.
- Malla, K. P. (2005). Mānadeva Samvat: An investigation into an Historical Fraud. Contributions to Nepalese Studies, 32 (1), pages 1-49.
- Pargiter, F. E. (1913). The Purana Text of the Dynasties of the Kali Age. London, UK: Humphrey Milford and Oxford University Press, page 69.
- Majumdar, R.C., Pusalker, A.D. and Majumdar A.K. (Editors). (2001). The History and Culture of the Indian People, Volume II: The Age of Imperial Unity. 7th Edition. Mumbai, India: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, page 37.
Disclaimer: The facts and opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. IndiaFacts does not assume any responsibility or liability for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in this article.