Overview for Historicity of the Mahabharata: Evidence of Literature, Art & Archaeology
To the faithful, everything mentioned in the Mahabharata is true to the very letter, whereas the skeptic holds that the epic is nothing more than a mere figment of imagination. How, then, can one ascertain the truth? It is here that archaeology comes to our rescue.
In 1951-52, Professor B.B. Lal excavated the key-site of Hastinapura, situated on the bank of the Ganga, in Meerut district of Uttar Pradesh. Over here he encountered in the lower levels a settlement which was distinguished by a characteristic pottery called the Painted Grey Ware, assignable to circa 1100-800 BCE. This PGW Culture has since been discovered at all the Mahabharata sites—a feature which binds them together.
Further, the excavation revealed that a heavy flood in the Ganga destroyed a considerable portion of the Painted Grey Ware settlement at Hastinapura. This archaeological evidence is duly corroborated by the Vayu Purana which states: “when the city of Hastinapura is carried away by the Ganga, Nichk¦u will abandon it and dwell in Kausambi.”
The shifting of the capital from Hastinapura to Kausambi is, in turn, supported by the fact that in the lowest levels of Kausambi has been encountered the same kind of degenerated Painted Grey Ware as had begun to appear at Hastinapura prior to its destruction by the flood.
Thus, the combined evidence of archaeology and literature duly establishes that the Mahabharata is not a figment of imagination but has a basis in historical reality. At the same time, it is on record that the epic underwent eleven-time inflation 8,800 to 1,00,000 verseshence it is difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. But let not the precious wheat be thrown away with the chaff.
B.B. Lal (Author)
An archaeologist of international repute, Professor B.B. Lal was the Director General of the Archaeological Survey of India from 1968 to 1972. In the latter year, he took voluntary retirement, better to pursue his research programmes independently. He joined Jiwaji University, Gwalior, as a Professor and later moved to the renowned Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Simla, of which he was also the Director for many years. Born on 2 May 1921, Lal had a brilliant academic career throughout. On joining the Archaeological Survey in 1946, he held charge of the Excavations Branch and participated with Sri Mortimer Wheeler in the excavations at Harappa. Soon he paved his way up, becoming in 1959 the first Director of the School of Archaeology. In 1971, Prof Lal was invited as Alexander White Visiting Professor at the University of Chicago. In 1994, he was awarded D.Litt. degree (honoris causa) by the Institute of Archaeology, St. Petersberg, Russia. The same year he was elected President of World Archaeological Congress-3. He has been President and Member of several UNESCO Committees. At home, the Nava Nalanda Mahavihara conferred on him the title of Vidya Varidhi and the Mithila Vishvavidyalaya, that of Mahamahopadhyaya. He has also been honoured by the Indian Science Congress, Indian Archaeological Society and Asiatic Society, Bombay. Professor Lal has many significant excavations to his credit, ranging from the palaeolithic times to early historical. In 1961, under a UNESCO project, he conducted excavations in Nubia, Egypt. His publications include, besides excavation-reports and other books, over a hundred and fifty research papers, published in scientific journals, both in India and abroad: in USA, UK, France, Italy, Egypt, Pakistan, Japan, etc.