The Puranic chronology gives a timeline of Hindu history according to the Hindu scriptures. Two central dates are the Mahabharata War, which according to this chronology happened at 3138 BCE, and the start of the Kali Yuga, which according to this chronology started at 3102 BCE. The Puranic chronology is referred to by proponents of Indigenous Aryans to propose an earlier dating of the Vedic period, and the spread of Indo-European languages out of India.
The Puranas contain stories about the creation of the world, and the yugas. Mahabharata, Ramayana and the Puranas also contain genealogies of kings, which are used for the traditional chronology of India's ancient history. Michael Witzel doubts the reliability of these texts, concluding that they "have clearly lifted (parts of) lineages, fragment by fragment, from the Vedas and have supplied the rest ... —from hypothetical, otherwise unknown traditions—or, as can be seen in the case of the Mahābhārata, from poetical imagination."
Gavin Flood connects the rise of the written Purana historically with the rise of devotional cults centering upon a particular deity in the Gupta era: the Puranic corpus is a complex body of material that advance the views of various competing sampradayas. Wendy Doniger, based on the study of indologists, assigns approximate dates to the various Puranas. She dates Markandeya Purana to c. 250 CE (with one portion dated to c. 550 CE), Matsya Purana to c. 250–500 CE, Vayu Purana to c. 350 CE, Harivamsa and Vishnu Purana to c. 450 CE, Brahmanda Purana to c. 350–950 CE, Vamana Purana to c. 450–900 CE, Kurma Purana to c. 550–850 CE, and Linga Purana to c. 600–1000 CE.
The Puranas, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana also contain lists of kings and genealogies, from which the traditional chronology of India's ancient history are derived. The Vedic Foundation, for example, gives the following chronology of ancient India:
- 3228 BC – Descension of Krishna
- 3138 BC – The Mahabharata War; start of Brihadrath dynasty of Magadha; start of Yudhisthir dynasty of Hastinapur
- 3102 BC – Ascension of Krishna; start of Kali Yuga
- 2139 BC – End of Brihadrath dynasty
- 2139–2001 BC – Pradyota dynasty
- 2001–1641 BC – Shishunaga dynasty
- 1887–1807 BC – Gautama Buddha
- 1641–1541 BC – Nandas
- 1541–1241 BC – Maurya dynasty
- 1541–1507 BC – Chandragupta Maurya
- 1507–1479 BC – Bindusara
- 1479–1443 BC – Ashokvardhan
- 1241–784 BC – Shunga and Kanau dynasty
- 784–328 BC – Andhra dynasty
- 328–83 BC – Gupta dynasty
- 328–321 BC – Chandragupta Vijayaditya
- 326 BC – Alexander's invasion
- 321–270 BC – Ashoka
- 102 BC – AD 15 – Vikramāditya, established Vikram era in 57 BC
The historicity of the Mahabharata War is subject to scholarly discussion and dispute. The existing text of the Mahabharata went through many layers of development, and mostly belongs to the period between c. 500 BCE and 400 CE. Within the frame story of the Mahabharata, the historical kings Parikshit and Janamejaya are featured significantly as scions of the Kuru clan, and Michael Witzel concludes that the general setting of the epic has a historical precedent in Iron Age (Vedic) India, where the Kuru kingdom was the center of political power during roughly 1200 to 800 BCE. According to Professor Alf Hiltebeitel, the Mahabharata is essentially mythological. Indian historian Upinder Singh has written that:
Whether a bitter war between the Pandavas and the Kauravas ever happened cannot be proved or disproved. It is possible that there was a small-scale conflict, transformed into a gigantic epic war by bards and poets. Some historians and archaeologists have argued that this conflict may have occurred in about 1000 BCE."
Despite the inconclusiveness of the data, attempts have been made to assign a historical date to the Kurukshetra War. Popular tradition holds that the war marks the transition to Kaliyuga and thus dates it to 3102 BCE. A number of other proposals have been put forward:
- P. V. Vartak calculates a date of October 16, 5561 BCE using planetary positions.
- P. V. Holey states a date of 13 November 3143 BCE using planetary positions and calendar systems.
- K. Sadananda, based on translation work, states that the Kurukshetra War started on November 22, 3067 BCE.
- B. N. Achar used planetarium software to argue that the Mahabharata War took place in 3067 BCE.
- S. Balakrishna concluded a date of 2559 BCE using consecutive lunar eclipses.
- R. N. Iyengar concluded a date of 1478 BCE using double eclipses and Saturn+Jupiter conjunctions.
- P. R. Sarkar estimates a date of 1298 BCE for the war of Kurukshetra.
- V. S. Dubey claims that the war happened near 950 BCE
The Puranas contain stories about the creation of the world, and the yugas. There are four yugas in one cycle:
- Satya Yuga, a time of truth and righteousness;
- Treta Yuga
- Dvapara Yuga
- Kali Yuga, a time of darkness and non-virtue.
According to the Manusmriti, one of the earliest known texts describing the yugas, the length is 4800 years + 3600 years + 2400 years + 1200 years, for a total of 12,000 years for one arc, or 24,000 years to complete the cycle, which is one precession of the equinox). These 4 yugas follow a timeline ratio of (4:3:2:1).
According to Bhagavata Purana 3.11.19, which is dated at 500-1000 CE, the yugas are much longer, namely 1,728,000 years, 1,296,000 years, 864,000 years and 432,000 years
The Vedic-Puranic chronology has been referred to by proponents of Indigenous Aryans, putting into question the Indo-Aryan migrations at ca. 1500 BCE and proposing older dates for the Vedic period. According to the "Indigenist position", the Aryans are indigenous to India, and the Indo-European languages radiated out from a homeland in India into their present locations. According to them, the Vedas are older than second millennium BCE, and scriptures like the Mahabaratha reflect historical events which took place before 1500 BCE. Some of them equate the Indus Saraswati Civilisation with the Vedic Civilization, state that the Indus script was the progenitor of the Brahmi, and state that there is no difference between the people living in (northern) Indo-European part and the (southern) Dravidian part. Subhash Kak, a main proponent of the "indigenist position," underwrites the Vedic-Puranic chronology, and uses it to recalculate the dates of the Vedas and the Vedic people:
The idea of "Indigenous Aryanism" fits into traditional Hindu ideas about their religion, namely that it has timeless origins, with the Vedic Aryans inhabiting India since ancient times. The Vedic Foundation states:
The history of Bharatvarsh (which is now called India) is the description of the timeless glory of the Divine dignitaries who not only Graced the soils of India with their presence and Divine intelligence, but they also showed and revealed the true path of peace, happiness and the Divine enlightenment for the souls of the world that still is the guideline for the true lovers of God who desire to taste the sweetness of His Divine love in an intimate style.
- The Vedic Foundation, Introduction: "The history of Bharatvarsh (which is now called India)'is the description of the timeless glory of the Divine dignitaries who not only Graced the soils of India with their presence and Divine intelligence, but they also showed and revealed the true path of peace, happiness and the Divine enlightenment for the souls of the world that still is the guideline for the true lovers of God who desire to taste the sweetness of His Divine love in an intimate style.
- The earliest text to explicitly provide detailed descriptions of Krishna as a personality is the epic Mahabharata which depicts Krishna as an incarnation of Vishnu.
- Conventionally dated sometime between the sixth and fourth centuries BC.
- Conventionally dated 345–321 BC
- Conventionally dated 322–185 BC
- Conventionally dated 340–298 BC
- Conventionally dated c. 320 BC – 272 BC
- Conventionally dated c. 230 BC–AD 220
- Conventionally dated approximately AD 320–550
- Conventionally dated: reign AD 320–335
- Conventionally dated 304–232 BC
- Trautman 2005, p. xx.
- Witzel 2001, p. 70.
- Flood 1996, p. 359.
- Collins 1988, p. 36.
- Warder 2000, p. 45.
- Singh, Upinder (2006). Delhi: Ancient History. Berghahn Books. p. 85.
- Singh 2009, p. 19.
- The Sauptikaparvan of the Mahabharata: The Massacre at Night. Oxford University Press. p. 13.
- Singh 2009, p. 18-21.
- Witzel 1995.
- Hiltebeitel 2005, p. 5594.
- Singh 2010, p. Chapter 7, Pp. 202-252, 302.
- "Experts dig up 950BC as epic war date". The Telegraph (Calcutta). February 1, 2015. Retrieved 2016-10-01.
- Trautman 2005, p. xxx.
- Trautman 2005, p. xxviii.
- Ramasami, Jeyakumar. "Indus Script Based on Sanskrit Language". Sci News. Sci News. Retrieved 8 September 2015.
- Kak 1987.
- Kak 1996.
- Collins, Charles Dillard (1988), The Iconography and Ritual of Śiva at Elephanta, SUNY Press, ISBN 978-0-88706-773-0
- Flood, Gavin D. (1996), An Introduction to Hinduism, Cambridge University Press
- Hiltebeitel, Alf (2005), "Mahabaratha", in Jones, Lindsay, MacMillan Encyclopedia of Religion, MacMillan
- Michaels, Axel (2004), Hinduism. Past and present, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press
- Samuel, Geoffrey (2010), The Origins of Yoga and Tantra. Indic Religions to the Thirteenth Century, Cambridge University Press
- Singh, Upinder (2009), History of Ancient and Early Medieval India: From the Stone Age to the 12th Century, Longman, ISBN 978-8131716779
- Singh, Bal Ram (2010), Origin of Indian civilization (First ed.), Dartmouth: Center for Indic Studies, University of Massachusetts and D.K. Printworld, New Delhi, ISBN 8124605602, archived from the original on 2016-03-04
- Trautmann, Thomas (2005), The Aryan Debate, Oxford University Press
- Witzel, Michael (1995), "Early Sanskritization: Origin and Development of the Kuru state" (PDF), EJVS, 1 (4), archived from the original (PDF) on 11 June 2007
- Witzel, Michael (2001). "Autochthonous Aryans? The Evidence from Old Indian and Iranian Texts" (PDF). Electronic Journal of Vedic Studies. 7 (3).
- Frawley, David (1993), Gods, Sages and Kings: Vedic Secrets of Ancient Civilization, Motilal Banarsidass Publ.