Inscriptions Discovered by General A. Cunningham
Theosophist, November, 1883
[this article is part of the series: “Some Inquiries Suggested by Mr. Sinnett’s ‘Esoteric Buddhism'”]
We have carefully examined the new inscription discovered by General A. Cunningham on the strength of which the date assigned to Buddha’s death by Buddhist writers has been declared to be incorrect; and we are of opinion that the said inscription confirms the truth of the Buddhist traditions instead of proving them to be erroneous. The above-mentioned archæologist writes as follows regarding the inscription under consideration in the first volume of his reports:
“The most interesting inscription (at Gaya) is a long and perfect one dated in the era of the Nirvana or death of Buddha. I read the date as follows:—Bhagavati Parinirvritte Samvat 1819 Karttike badi 1 Budhi—that is, ‘in the year 1819 of the Emancipation of Bhagavata on Wednesday, the first day of the waning moon of Kartik.’ If the era here used is the same as that of the Buddhists of Ceylon and Burmah, which began in 543 B.C., the date of this inscription will be 1819 – 543 = A.D. 1276. The style of the letters is in keeping with this date, but is quite incompatible with that derivable from the Chinese date of the era. The Chinese place the death of Buddha upwards of 1000 years before Christ, so that according to them the date of this inscription would be about A.D. 8oo, a period much too early for the style of character used in the inscription. But as the day of the week is here fortunately added, the date can be verified by calculation. According to my calculation, the date of the inscription corresponds with Wednesday, the 17th of September, A.D. 1342. This would place the Nirvana of Buddha in 477 B.C., which is the very year that was first proposed by myself as the most probable date of that event. This corrected date has since been adopted by Professor Max Müller.”
The reasons assigned by some Orientalists for considering this so-called “corrected date” as the real date of Buddha’s death have already been noticed and criticized in the preceding paper; and now we have only to consider whether the inscription in question disproves the old date.
Major-General Cunningham evidently seems to take it for granted, as far as his present calculation is concerned, that the number of days in a year is counted in the Magadha country and by Buddhist writers in general on the same basis on which the number of days in a current English year is counted; and this wrong assumption has vitiated his calculation and led him to a wrong conclusion. Three different methods of calculation were in use in India at the time when Buddha lived, and they are still in use in different parts of the country. These methods are known as Souramanam, Chandrarmanam and Barhaspatyamanam. According to the Hindu works on astronomy a Souramanam year consists of 365 days 15 ghadias and 31 vighadias a Chandramanam year has 360 days, and a year on the basis of Barhaspatyamanam has 361 days and 11 ghadias nearly. Such being the case, General Cunningham ought to have taken the trouble of ascertaining before he made his calculation the particular manam (measure) employed by the writers of Magadha and Ceylon in giving the date of Buddha’s death and the manam used in calculating the years of the Buddhist era mentioned in the inscription above quoted. Instead of placing himself in the position of the writer of the said inscription and making the required calculation from that standpoint, he made the calculation on the same basis of which an English gentleman of the nineteenth century would calculate time according to his own calendar.
If the calculation were correctly made, it would have shown him that the inscription in question is perfectly consistent with the statement that Buddha died in the year 543 B.C. according to Barhaspatyamanam (the only manam used in Magadha and by Pali writers in general). The correctness of this assertion will be clearly seen on examining the following calculation.
543 years according to Barhaspatyamanam are equivalent to 536 years and 8 months (nearly) according to Souramanam.
Similarly, 1819 years according to the former manam are equivalent to 1798 years (nearly) according to the latter manam.
As the Christian era commenced on the 3102nd year of Kaliyuga (according to Souramanam), Buddha died in the year 2565 of Kaliyuga and the inscription was written in the year 4362 of Kaliyuga (according to Souramanam). And now the question is whether according to the Hindu almanack, the first day of the waning moon of Kartik coincided with a Wednesday.
According to Suryasiddhanta the number of days from the beginning of Kaliyuga up to midnight on the 15th day of increasing moon of Aswina is 1,593,072 (the number of Adhikamasansas (extra months) during the interval being 1608 and the number of Kshayathithis 25,323.
If we divide this number by 7 the remainder would be 5. As Kaliyuga commenced with Friday, the period of time above defined closed with Tuesday, as according to Suryasiddhanta a weekday is counted from midnight to midnight.
It is to be noticed that in places where Barhaspatyamanam is in use Krishnapaksham (or the fortnight of waning moon) commences first and is followed by Suklapaksham (period of waxing moon).
Consequently, the next day after the 15th day of the waxing moon of Aswina will be the 1st day of the waning moon of Kartika to those who are guided by the Barhaspatyamanam calendar. And therefore the latter date, which is the date mentioned in the inscription, was Wednesday in the year 4362 of Kaliyuga.
The geocentric longtitude of the sun at the time of his meridian passage on the said date being 174° 20’ 16” and the moon’s longitude being 70° 51’ 42” (according to Suryasiddhanta) it can be easily seen that at Gaya there was Padyamitithi (first day of waning moon) for nearly 7 ghadias and 50 vighadias from the time of sunrise.
It is clear from the foregoing calculation that “Kartik I Badi” coincided with Wednesday in the year 4362 of Kaliyuga or the year 1261 of the Christian era, and that from the standpoint of the person who wrote the inscription the said year was the 1819th year of the Buddhist era. And consequently this new inscription confirms the correctness of the date assigned to Buddha’s death by Buddhist writers. It would have been better if Major-General Cunningham had carefully examined the basis of his calculation before proclaiming to the world at large that the Buddhist accounts were untrustworthy.