A new dating of Mahāvīra based on Mālava era

A new dating of Mahāvīra based on Mālava era

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In my previous article “A new dating of Buddha based on the evidence of Sumatitantra”, I presented my reasoning for the dating of Buddha in the 13th-12th century BCE. Another very prominent personality of ancient India was Mahāvīra, the 24th Tīrthaṅkara of Jainism. Since, Mahāvīra was a contemporary of Buddha, the dating of Buddha in the 13th-12th century BCE implies that Mahāvīra also belonged to the same time period. In this article, I will derive a new dating of Mahāvīra in the 13th-12th century BCE from a completely independent consideration.

According to well established Jain traditions given in Paṭṭāvalīs, the Nirvāṇa of Mahāvīra took place 470 years before Vikram era. The Jain texts provide the following breakdown of the intervening period [1]:

Pālaka – 60 years

The Nandas – 155 years

The Mauryas – 108 years

Puṣyamitra – 30 years

Balamitra-Bhānumitra – 60 years

Naravāhana – 40 years

Gardabhilla – 13 years

Śaka – 4 years

Total – 470 years

Counting from 57 BCE, this gives 527 BCE as the year of Nirvāṇa of Mahāvīra. Since, Mahāvīra lived for 72 years, he lived between 599 BCE to 527 BCE, according to Jain traditions. This creates a problem for modern historians as they have placed the birth of Buddha sometime between 567-563 BCE and his Nirvāṇa sometime between 487-483 BCE. Thus, the Nirvāṇa of Mahāvīra more than 40 years before Buddha would make him too much a senior than Buddha, so they had to bring the date of Mahāvīra closer to the date of Buddha. Jacobi had achieved that by proposing that the period between the Nirvāṇa of Mahāvīra and Vikram era should not include the 60 years of Pālaka [2]:

Pālaka had, most probably, no place in the original chronology of the Jains. He is, I am inclined to believe, a mere chronological fiction of the Jains introduced in order to make it better agree with the Buddhist chronology of Ceylon.”

The argument is really strange, because it is the modern historians, who have put so much faith in the Buddhist chronology of Ceylon and derived the date of Buddha from Ceylonese chronicles. Why would Jains of India have bothered about the belief of the Buddhists in Ceylon? Based on this spurious argument of neglecting the rule of Pālaka, the coronation of Chandragupta Maurya is taken 155 years after the Nirvāṇa of Mahāvīra. The coronation of Chandragupta Maurya took place 255 years before the Vikrama era, according to the list above, or in 312 BCE. The Nirvāṇa of Mahāvīra is thus placed in 467 BCE and his birth 72 years earlier in 539 BCE. The whole argument totally neglects the other piece of information in the Jain texts, according to which Mahāvīra’s Nirvāṇa coincided with the coronation of Pālaka, who had ruled for sixty years. Another variation of this force-fitting of evidence has been given by Seth, who has argued that Mahāvīra’s Nirvāṇa took place in 488 BCE [3]. To arrive at this date, he simply neglects the rule of Naravāhana, thus deducting 40 years from the 470 year interval between the Nirvāṇa of Mahāvīra and Vikram era. Counting from 58 BCE as the beginning of the Vikram era instead of 57 BCE and assuming 430 years between the Nirvāṇa of Mahāvīra and Vikram era instead of 470 years, he arrives at 488 BCE as the year of the Nirvāṇa of Mahāvīra. The aim is to show that the Nirvāṇa of Mahāvīra took place before the Nirvāṇa of Buddha as implied by some Buddhist texts. The evidence to this effect is not very solid, as pointed out by Basham [4]:

We suggest that the Pāli record may not in fact refer to the death of Mahāvīra at Pāvā, but to that of Gosāla at Sāvatthi, which the Bhagavatī Sūtra also mentions as having been accompanied by quarrelling and confusion. At a later date, when the chief rival of Buddhism was no longer Ājīvikism but Jainism, the name may have been altered to add to the significance of the account.”

Having shown that the current dating of Mahāvīra by modern historians is as arbitrary as the dating of Buddha as described in my previous article, I will now turn my attention to deriving a new date of Mahāvīra based on Jain traditions. Our most important clue lies in the Jain traditions, which hold that the Nirvāṇa of Mahāvīra took place 470 years before Vikram era. It is my proposition that over the course of more than two millennia, Jains have substituted the Mālava era with the Vikram era as they are both related to the history and legends of Vikramāditya. Readers may wonder what difference it makes, as according to modern historians, both Mālava era and Vikram era are identical. In fact, the history books teach us that there is another era, Kṛita era that is identical to both Mālava era and Vikram era. The question is how do they know that? There is an inscription of Aulikara king Naravarman written in the year 461 in which Mālava era has been called Kṛita era [5], but there is no inscription that equates either Mālava era or Kṛita era with Vikram era. Thus, the separation of Mālava and Kṛita era from Vikram era is the key to fixing the ancient Indian chronology.

In my series of articles, I have been laying out the framework of an alternate chronology, which, though based on the same evidences is significantly different from the accepted Indian history. The focal point of this chronological reconstruction is the contemporaneity of Alexander with Imperial Guptas, instead of the Mauryas. I have already given logical reasoning and proofs for this in my articles, such as the evidence found in the first astronomical text of Nepal, Sumatitantra.

Another proof of the contemporaneity of Alexander with the Imperial Guptas is found in an inscription known as Gokak plates. The details of Gokak copper plates were published by N. Lakshminarayana Rao in Epigraphia Indica [7]. These plates were discovered in 1926 from a house in Gokak in the then Belgaum district of the Bombay Presidency and mentions an “Aguptāyika era” that has totally perplexed the historians. Aguptāyika means related to Guptas and it is mentioned as follows in the Gokak plates [7]:

When forty five after eight hundred of the years of the Aguptayika kings in (i.e. belonging to) this ever flowing and prosperous spiritual lineage of the wise Varddhamana, the twenty fourth of the Tirthankaras, had elapsed, the illustrious adhiraja Indrananda, the son of Vijayananda-Maddhyamaraja, the bright son who had risen in the firmament of the illustrious and pure Sendraka family and who was the favourite of the illustrious Dejja-Maharaja, born of the Rashtrakuta dynasty, gave, in order to increase the merit of his ancestors as well as of himself, land measuring fifty nivartanas by the royal measure in the village of Jalara situated near the mountain in the division of Kashmandi to Aryyanandyacharya who belonged to the Jambukhanda-gana and was well versed in sacred knowledge, systems of philosophy and penance, for offering worship incessantly to the idol of the divine Arhat, for the (maintenance of) teachers, the sick and the old and for the service of ascetics.”

Rao, the author reporting the finding of Gokak plates, tried to connect Aguptāyika era to Chandragupta Maurya as stated below [7]:

The grant registered in the charter was made when 845 years of the Aguptayika kings had expired. This date is specially noteworthy for we do not know anything of the Aguptayika kings with whom it is connected. This is the first inscription known to us making mention of these kings. No details about them are, however, recorded in this document except that they belonged to the spiritual lineage of Varddhmana, the 24th Jain Tirthankara.  The name of the era started by these personages namely the Aguptayikas or the reckoning to which it belonged are questions which can be decided only by future researches. Paleographically the document may be ascribed to about the 6th or 7th century of the Christian era. No reckoning is known at present which would give for 845 an equivalent in the sixth or seventh century of that era. If however, we follow the Jain tradition and place the commencement of the reign of the Maurya emperor Chandragupta in B.C. 312-13 – for this appears to be the correct date of his accession – and consider it to be the starting point of the Aguptayika era we get A.D. 532-33 as the date of our record.”

However, the argument was found unconvincing even for modern historians, as an era related to Chandragupta Maurya would be named after Mauryas, not Guptas. So, we have the following statement from noted historian D.C. Sircar about the Aguptayika era [8]:

Aguptayika era may be roughly assigned to 845-645 = 200 B.C. … But we can scarcely accept the evidence of a single inscription regarding the existence of a genuine era starting from about 200 B.C. in the face of the overwhelming negative evidence. … The story may have been fabricated by the astronomer at Dejja-Maharaja’s court.”

But, it is interesting to note that the evidence put forward by the Gokak plates fit perfectly well with the revised chronology. The term Aguptayika in this inscription refers to the Imperial Guptas, and not Chandragupta Maurya, and hence strengthens the fact that the Imperial Guptas were ruling many centuries prior to their currently assigned time and were contemporaries of the successors of Alexander.

Another major evidence is the founding of Nalanda University by Kumāragupta-I. According to modern historians, Kumāragupta-I ruled between 415 to 455 CE and therefore the Nalanda University is considered to have been built in the 5th century. However, famous Buddhist philosopher Nāgārjuna was not only educated at Nalanda University, but also taught there. The timing of Nāgārjuna is first century CE. So, according to modern historians, Nāgārjuna studied and taught at the Nalanda University more than three centuries before the university itself came into existence. If we allow the Imperial Guptas as contemporaries of Alexander, then Kumāragupta-I founded the Nalanda University towards the end of the 3rd century BCE or beginning of the 2nd century BCE. Nāgārjuna could then have studied at Nalanda University, which already existed. This also means that Nalanda University is more than six centuries older than currently thought. The establishment of Nalanda University by Kumāragupta-I is also a very strong evidence in support of my thesis that Kumāragupta-I, not Aśoka, was Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī of major rock edicts. In Kumāragupta-I, we have a great emperor who had converted to Buddhism and established a major Buddhist University. His character matches well with what is described in major rock inscriptions of Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī. These arguments show that we have good reasons to believe that the Imperial Guptas were the contemporary of Alexander, instead of the Mauryas. Using these information, we can now easily fix the starting date of Mālava era, which is very crucial for arriving at a correct dating of Mahāvīra.

Our most important clue comes from a Sun temple in Mandsaur. This temple has two dated inscriptions with second inscription being a continuation of the first one [6]. According to the initial inscription, the Sun temple was built by a guild of silk weavers in the Mālava year 493, when Kumāragupta-I was ruling the world. The final inscription mentions that the Sun temple was repaired by the guild of silk weavers in Mālava year 529. These inscriptions using Mālava era during Kumāragupta-I’s rule lead us to the starting date of the Mālava era. As Kumāragupta-I was the great grandson of Chandragupta-I, who met Alexander during his invasion of India in this alternative chronology, the date of Kumāragupta-I would fall towards the end of the third century BCE to the beginning of the second century BCE. As this time period would correspond to Mālava years 493 and 529, the starting date of Mālava era should fall somewhere towards the end of the eighth century BCE. Two eminent scholars working on this proposition were Śrī Kota Venkatachalam and Śrī K.D. Sethna, who have proposed the dates of 725 BCE and 711 BCE for the starting date of Mālava era, respectively.

They arbitrarily brought Malwa Gana era from 725 B.C. to 57 B.C., and dared proclaim that this was identical with the Vikrama Era or Azes Era.” [9]

Counting from 315 B.C. as the accession-date of Chandragupta I, we get for the years 95-135 of Kumāragupta I the reign-period 220-180 B.C. … Then, to reach the starting-point of the Mālava Era, we may count either 493 years backward from 218 B.C. or 529 from 182 B.C. We arrive at 711 B.C.” [10]

The problem with these two dates is their arbitrariness. The dates have been proposed to fit the alternative chronological scheme without any additional justification for the specific starting dates. The starting dates of eras, usually have some historical or astronomical significance, such as the start of the rule of a new dynasty, victory over enemies or assumed planetary alignment. In this case, the starting date of Mālava era has to have some relation to the region known as Malwa. The most obvious connection is to the story of Vikramāditya, who was the emperor of Malwa region, according to Hindu-Jain traditions. Vikramāditya ruled from the city of Ujjayinī, the capital of Malwa region.

Traditionally, it is assumed that the word Vikramāditya is composed by joining the words “Vikrama” and “Āditya”. Vikrama means valour, and Āditya means Sun, and thus the meaning of Vikramāditya is the “Sun of Valour” or “Brave as the Sun”. However, this was not the intended meaning behind the legend of Vikramāditya. The word Vikramāditya can also be composed by joining the prefix “Vi” with the words “Krama” and “Āditya”. The prefix “Vi” imparts the meaning of deviation or opposite to the word following it. The word “Krama” means “order” and “Āditya” of course means Sun. Putting it all together, Vikramāditya means change to the opposite in the order of the Sun.  Let us ponder for a moment at what happens to the apparent motion of the Sun at Ujjayinī. During the first half of the year, the Sun appears to move northwards towards Ujjayinī and continues to do so till the day of the summer solstice, on which day the Sun stands vertically up at Ujjayinī. The next day the Sun appears to reverse its journey and starts going south. This fact that the Sun changes its course at Ujjayinī, formed the basis of the legend of Vikramāditya. It was because of its location at the Tropic of Cancer that Ujjayinī became the most prominent centre for astronomical research in ancient India. This intimate connection between Vikramāditya and Malwa became the reason for the confusion between Mālava era and Vikrama era.

Since the Mālava era was also called Kṛita era, there has to be a justification for the word Kṛita as well. The most obvious connection is to the Kṛita Yuga or Satya Yuga, but here lies a momentous problem. Kali Yuga is believed to have started on the midnight between 17th and 18th February, 3102 BCE and supposed to last for 432,000 years. Since Kṛita Yuga can only start after the end of Kali Yuga, it is not due for a long time to come. I believe that the solution to this problem lies in the time cycle of Jains. Sreenadh, in an article titled “Āryabhaṭa and Jain Yuga system” has given a detailed breakdown of the timeline of Jain Yugas based on the starting point of 3102 BCE and 4800 year time cycle as follows [11]:

  1. Utsarpiṇī (3102 BCE to 702 BCE)
  1. Duḥṣamā Duḥṣamā (3102 BCE to 2702 BCE)
  2. Duḥṣamā (2702 BCE to 2302 BCE)
  3. Duḥṣamā Suṣamā (2302 BCE to 1902 BCE)
  4. Suṣamā Duḥṣamā (1902 BCE to 1502 BCE)
  5. Suṣamā (1502 BCE to 1102 BCE)
  6. Suṣamā Suṣamā (1102 BCE to 702 BCE)
  1. Avasarpiṇī (702 BCE to 1698 CE)
  1. Suṣamā Suṣamā (702 BCE to 302 BCE)
  2. Suṣamā (302 BCE to 98 CE)
  3. Suṣamā Duḥṣamā (98 CE to 498 CE)
  4. Duḥṣamā Suṣamā (498 CE to 898 CE)
  5. Duḥṣamā (898 CE to 1298 CE)
  6. Duḥṣamā Duḥṣamā (1298 CE to 1698 CE)

The Jain time cycle consists of two halves, Utsarpiṇī and Avasarpiṇī. Each half is further subdivided in six parts. Each part consists of a combination of Suṣamā and Duḥṣamā. Suṣamā denotes happiness and Duḥṣamā denotes unhappiness. Suṣamā Suṣamā denotes extreme happiness, while Duḥṣamā Duḥṣamā denotes extreme unhappiness. The Jain time cycle starts with a period of extreme unhappiness and gradually moves to a period of extreme happiness in the first half. In the second half, it starts with a period of extreme happiness and ends with a period of extreme unhappiness.

Though there are different versions of Jain time cycles, it is interesting to note that one of these versions begins the Jain time cycle in 3102 BCE, which is also the beginning of Kali era. Avasarpiṇī, the second half of the Jain time cycle, started in 702 BCE with a period of extreme happiness. It is my proposition that the start of Avasarpiṇī marked the beginning of the Mālava era. Since the start of Avasarpiṇī is marked by the period of extreme happiness, Mālava era was also called the Kṛita era by Hindus as Hindus consider Kṛita Yuga to be the best of ages.  As both the Mālava era and the Vikrama era have Jain origins, Jain authors later got confused between these eras.

They had the memory of the era starting 470 years after the Nirvāṇa of Mahāvīra. If we count 470 years from the beginning of Mālava era in 702 BCE, the Nirvāṇa of Mahāvīra took place in 1172 BCE. As Mahāvīra had lived for 72 years, he lived between 1244-1172 BCE. In my previous article, I had shown that Buddha lived between 1258-1178 BCE based on the evidence of Sumatitantra. The new dates are consistent with the evidence of Buddhist sources according to which Buddha and Mahāvīra were contemporaries. These new dates for Buddha and Mahāvīra take the history of India back by about seven centuries and provide an opportunity to fix many chronological problems plaguing the ancient history of India.


  1. Raj Bali Pandeya, Vikramāditya of Ujjayīnī, Shatadala Prakashana, Banaras, India, 1951, page 26.
  2. P.H.L. Eggermont, “The Purāṇa source of Merutuṅga’s list of kings and the arrival of  Śakas in India” in Papers on the Date of Kaniṣka, edited by A.L. Basham, E.J. Brill, Leiden, Netherlands, 1968, page 69.
  3. Kailash Chand Jain, Lord Mahāvīra and his times, Motilal Banarasidass, Delhi, India, 1991, pages 77-78.
  4. A.L. Basham, History and doctrines of the Ājīvikas: A vanished Indian religion, Motilal Banarasidass, Delhi, India, 1951, page 75.
  5. Ajay Mitra Shastri, Vikrama era, Indian Journal of History of Science, Volume 31, No. 1, 1996, pages 35-65.
  6. J. F. Fleet, Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum, Vol. III: Inscriptions of the Early Guptas, Government of India, Central Publications Branch, Calcutta, India, 1888, pages 84-88.
  7. N. L. Rao, Gokak plates of Dejja-Maharaja,  Epigraphia Indica, Volume 21, 1931-32, pages 289-292.
  8. D.C. Sircar, Indian Epigraphy, First edition, Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi, India, 1965, page 326.
  9. K. Venkatachelam, The plot in Indian Chronology, Bharata Charitra Bhaskara, Gandhinagara/Vijayawada, India, 1953, page 30.
  10. K. D. Sethna, Ancient India in a New Light, Aditya Prakashana, New Delhi, India, 1989, page 499.
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Dr. Raja Ram Mohan Roy

Dr. Raja Ram Mohan Roy earned his B. Tech in Metallurgical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, and Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering from The Ohio State University, USA. He has worked as a Research Scientist and Project Manager for over 20 years in Canada. He has written four pathbreaking books on Indian civilization titled "Vedic Physics: Scientific Origin of Hinduism", “India before Alexander: A New Chronology”, “India after Alexander: The Age of Vikramādityas”, and “India after Vikramāditya: The Melting Pot”. He is currently working on his fourth book on Indian history titled “India before Buddha: Vedic Kingdoms in 2nd Millennium BCE”.