The Birth Date and Death date of Gautama Buddha
It is generally agreed that Gautama Buddha was born in 566 B.C. But the date of Buddha’s death is a subject of keen controversy among scholars. The Buddhist traditions unanimously point out that Buddha died in the eighth year of the reign of Ajatasatru. Unfortunately, neither the exact Year of Buddha’s death, nor the year of Ajatasatru’s reign is correctly known. We shall merely present here two salient schools of views on the date of Buddha’s death.
Evidence of Ceylonese Tradition on Buddha’s death date and its Defects : According to the Ceylonese chronicles, the Nirvana or death of Buddha took place in 544 B.C. As he lived for 80 years, then the date of his birth must have been 624 B.C. This date is stated to be confirmed by the Hathi Gumpha Inscription of Kharvela of Kalinga.
But this date conflicts with another statement recorded in the Ceylonese traditions that Asoka’s coronation took place 218 years after the death of Buddha. As Buddha died according to the Ceylonese Tradition in 544 B.C. and if we calculate on this basis, then the date of Asoka’s coronation would fall on 544-218 B.C. = 326 B.C. But this date of Asoka’s coronation is incompatible with all other available data.
From the evidence of Greek writers and from various other records we can place the date of Asoka’s coronation with tolerable degree of certainty in 269 B.C. and not 326 B.C. as per calculation of Ceylonese tradition. Hence the calculation of the Ceylonese tradition that 624 B.C. and 544 B.C. are respectively the dates of birth and death of Buddha is rejected.
The Chinese Tradition and the Evidence of the Puranas on Buddha’s death date: Some scholars calculate the date of Buddha’s death by adding 218 years (according to the Ceylonese tradition) to 269 B.C. which is the recognized date of Asoka’s coronation. Thus 269+218=487 B.C. is held to be the date of Buddha’s death. This view is supported by the Chinese tradition of “the dotted record”. In this record a dot was put every year after the death of Buddha. The calculation of this record points to the year 486 B.C. to be the date of Buddha’s death.
This is also corroborated by another calculation. It is generally assumed that Chandra Gupta Maurya ascended the Magadhan throne in 322 B.C. The Puranas fix 24 years for his reign and 25 years for Bindusara his successor. If we deduct 49 years of their reign period from 322 B.C. then the date of Asoka’s accession falls on 273 B.C. But Asoka himself admits in his edicts that he was formally crowned four years after his accession. So 273-4=269 B.C. is the date of Asoka’s coronation and if we add 218 to it then the date of Buddha’s death falls on 487 B.C. As Buddha lived for eighty years, his date of birth was probably 567 B.C. or 566 B.C. But this conclusion may not be final. At the present state of our knowledge most of the scholars hold this date as a “working hypothesis.”