In the first part of the project that lasted for three years, he studied the gene pool of the three main tribes mentioned in the epic, Bhil, Kol and Gond, to establish their continuity since ancient times with contemporary tribal and caste populations of the Indian Subcontinent.

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‘We are studying various tribal and caste groups mentioned in the Mahabharata,’ he says, ‘The second thing about [the epic] is that we know that it happened somewhere in the Kurukshetra region; to understand this further, we are also studying the genes of the present Kurukshetra population to see their affinity with other Indians and world populations.’ Nanditha Krishna is a historian and environmentalist, and director of the CP Ramaswami Institute of Indological Research in Chennai.

She turned to botany and zoology to establish the historicity of the Ramayana.

Contemporary dialogue on India’s ancient past often resembles the battlefield of Kurukshetra, cleaved into two factions, the Left and the Right, mythology versus history, truth versus bunkum.

Beyond the political battleground, if you take a popular vote on this subject, it will show up the duality that the Indian mind is so at ease with: most believe that the truth of our past lies somewhere in between received history and mythology.

According to a recent news report, the ICHR will soon be taking up research projects on new approaches to writing ancient Indian history based on Sanskrit texts, and revisiting the theme of Aryan immigration into India.

It is clear that the epic dating enterprise will be getting a fillip in times to come.Bhatnagar’s dates are close to those of RN Iyengar, one of India’s best known civil engineers and a scholar on the history of science, who has pegged the Mahabharata at 1493-1443 BCE.Another veteran researcher in the field, Narhari Achar, a professor of Physics at the University of Memphis, backs the more popularly accepted date, 3067 BCE.He then looked for eclipses within that period, and one by one, he says, it all fell into place.“According to my research, the war would have started on 14 October 1792 [1793 BCE].” A balding middle-aged man with the benign manner of one who spends a large part of his time behind mounds of data, Bhatnagar now works as the technical director of the Delhi chapter of I-Serve (Institute of Scientific Research on Vedas, an NGO).The dates recreated by astronomy software cannot be taken as definitive since we do not know whether the verse being dated was part the original core or if it was added later, says Subhash Kak, who teaches at the department of electric and computer engineering at Louisiana State University, and has worked on the history of Indian science.