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The Sapta Rishi Cycle

The Sapta Rishis and the Great Bear (Ursa Major) constellation aka the Big Dipper

At the beginning of the process of creation, Brahma created eleven Prajapatis (used in another sense), who are believed to be the fathers of the human race. The Manusmriti enumerates them as Marichi, Atri, Angirasa, Pulastya, Pulaha, Kratu, Vasishtha, Prachetas or Daksha, Bhrigu, and Narada. He is also said to have created the seven great sages or the Saptarishi to help him create the universe. However since all these sons of his were born out of his mind rather than body, they are called Manas Putras or mind-sons.


From Koenrad Elsts book

2.4.1. The Saptarshi cycle

A lesser-known Hindu system of time-reckoning is the Saptarshi cycle of 3600 years (possibly based on the 60-year cycle, see ch. 2.4.5. below).  At any rate, by the Christian age we find writers who take this concept of a 3600-year cycle literally, and it is hard to either prove or refute that this may have been a much older tradition.

The medieval Kashmiri historian Kalhana claimed that the previous cycle had started in 3076 BC, and the present one in AD 525.  J.E. Mitchiner has suggested that the beginning of the Saptarshi reckoning was one more cycle earlier, in 6676 BC: “We may conclude that the older and original version of the Era of the Seven Rsis commenced with the Seven Rsis in Krttika in 6676 BC, used a total of 28 Naksatras, and placed the start of the Kali Yuga in 3102 BC. This version was in use in northern India from at least the 4th century BC, as witnessed by the statements of Greek and Roman writers; it was also the version used by Vrddha Garga, at around the start of the Christian era.”22 This would roughly coincide with the start of the Puranic dynastic list reported by Greco-Roman authors as starting in 6776 BC.

Indeed, the Puranic king-list as known to Greek visitors of Chandragupta’s court in the 4th century BC or to later Greco-Roman India-watchers, started in 6776 BC.  Pliny wrote that the Indians date their first king, “Liber Pater” (Roman equivalent of Dionysus), to “6,451 years and 3 months” before Alexander the Great (d. 323 BC), while Arrian puts “Dionysus” as head of the dynastic list at 6,042 + 300 + 120 = 6,462 years before Sandrokottos (Chandragupta), to whom a Greek embassy was sent in 314 BC.23 Both indications add up to a date, give or take a year, of 6776 BC.  This would, according to the implicit chronology of Puranic tradition, be the time of Manu’s enthronement, Manu being the Aryan patriarch who established his kingdom in North India after having survived the Flood.  One of Manu’s heirs was Ila, ancestress of Yayati, whose five sons became the patriarchs of the “five peoples” who form the ethnic horizon of the Vedas, one of them being Puru; in Puru’s tribe, then, one Bharata started the Bharata clan to which most of the Vedic seers belonged.

It so happens that in the 7th millennium BC, the oceans were still in the process of recovering the ground they lost during the ice Age, when the sea level was for thousands of years nearly a hundred metres below the present level.  The importance of the Glaciation, which peaked ca. 16,000 years ago, in the reconstruction of Eurasian migration histories can hardly be overestimated.  The Channel between Britain and France, with sea bottom at ca. 40 metres, was a walkway until it was inundated again in ca. 6500 BC, when the sea was already more than halfway back to its normal (or at least its present) level.  This means that for centuries before and for some more centuries after that time, the sea level was progressively rising.  Since large populations had settled in the coastal areas vacated by the receding sea at the beginning of the Ice Age, the progressive melting of the ice-caps led to the progressive flooding of ever higher-situated population centres, for several millennia until perhaps 5,000 BC.

One can imagine what would happen if today the sea level would rise a mere 10 metres: densely populated countries like the Netherlands and Bangladesh would get largely submerged, along with major cities like New York and Mumbai, and at least a quarter of the world population would have to move.  But that was, for several millennia, the human condition: one after another, low-lying villages had to be abandoned to the rising sea.  It must have seemed like a law of nature to them that the sea was forever rising, forcing men to seek higher habitats.  And this process was probably continuous only when looked at from a distance, the reality being more like periods of stable sea levels followed by sudden jumps, catastrophes when considered on the scale of a human lifetime.  Most probably, that is the origin of the Flood story.24 The Puranas describe Manu as the leader of mankind after the Flood, and if we apply a realistic average length to the rulerships of the kings mentioned in the Puranic dynastic lists, Manu may have lived in the 7th millennium BC, the time of the rising waters, warranting the suspicion that the Flood story is related to historical events at the end of the ice Age.

The myth of Atlantis and other submerged continents probably has a similar origin.  The Tamils have a tradition of a submerged land to India’s south, of which the Maledives and Sri Lanka are remaining hilltops: KumArIkhaNDam or, in the parlance of the Madras-based Theosophical Society, Lemuria. The city in which their poets’ academy or Sangam (recorded in the early Christian era, but claimed to be ten thousand years old) was established, was said to have been moved thrice because of the rising waters.  Though it is hard to see how poets working at the turn of the Christian era could have a memory of events five millennia older, one cannot dismiss as pure fable a story which tallies neatly with the known geological facts of the rising sea level at the end of the Ice Age.

And if such memory was possible, the existence of a system of time-reckoning going back that far is not impossible either.  But we must admit that for the time being, this is merely “not impossible”.  However, even if we let the Saptarshi cycle start only in 3076 BC, unrelated to Manu and the Flood, this is still hard to reconcile with the theory of an Aryan invasion in the 2nd millennium BC.