Monthly Archives: August 2012

Some Other Ancient Greeks in India


The exploits of Alexander the Great in India and the deeds of the other famous Greeks that followed him are well known. Among those famous Greeks who traveled to India , there were Kings, Generals, Diplomats, Philosophers, Historians and a whole tribe of soldiers. Many of whom have written about India and their life in India .
1.1 Apart from these, some other ancient Greeks traveled to India either as individuals or in small groups. They were mostly sailors and explorers. Some of them took the land route while many others sailed to India . The principal interest of their travel was not conquest but trade. Only a small number of these explorers have left behind a record of their travels detailing, among other things, the sea route they took, ports they sailed into, the commodities they traded and their impression of the strange country, its strange people, their customs etc. However, in most other cases the details have come down to us indirectly, through the writings of historians who gathered tales from sailors, merchants etc. who might have accompanied the voyages; or from other sources that are not now extant. The life and work of, what we may call, these other ancient Greeks is not common knowledge, except in History circles. Let us look at a few of them.
2. Before going into that, a mention has to be made of two other ancient Greeks-Skylax of Karyanda in Karia and Pyrrhon the Skeptic- both of whom do not fall in the above category.
2.1 Skylax :
Skylax, the first Greek to set foot in India, lived before Herodotus, who tells that the Persian Emperor Darius Hystargus (512–486) led a naval expedition to prove the feasibility of a sea passage from the mouth of Indus to Persia . Under the command of Skylax, a fleet sailed from Punjab in the Gandhara country to the Ocean. Continuing, Skylax followed the coast and explored the gulf of Oman and the south-eastern side of the Arabic Peninsula . In thirty months, he circumnavigated  Saudi Arabia and reached  Mediterranean through the channels of Nile and Isthmus of Suez . Skylax later wrote a book of geography titled Indika apparently a report of his expedition that set out to follow the Indus from its headwaters to its mouth.
(Source: J.W.Sedler – India and Greek world)

2.2 . Pyrrhon of Elis (365-275 B. C.)


Pyrrhon is one of the earliest Greek philosophers likely to have had a direct contact with India . According to Diogenes Laertios (second cent. A. D.) , the ancient historian of philosophy, Pyrrhon was at first a painter and his works were seen in the gymnasium at Elis . Later Pyrrho took to philosophy influenced by the works of Democritus(c.400BC). He studied philosophy with a teacher of the school of Megara (Magerian dialectics) and then with Anaxarchus (340BC), the pupil of Democritus.

2.2.1. Pyrrhon was one of the philosophers who traveled with Alexander the Great on his expedition to India . He apparently met some Indian philosophers during his stay in India . His experiences in India may have had some effect on him because on his return to India he preferred to live in solitude and in poverty. Yet, he was highly honoured by the Elians and the Athenians, who conferred upon him the rights of citizenship. He did not put his ideas into writing. His ideas have survived only through fragmentary citations in later authors and mainly through the writings of his pupil Timon of Philus. Timon admired his teacher for his modesty and his tranquil way of life.

 Pyrrhon is regarded the first skeptic philosopher and the inspiration for a school of thought known as Pyrrhonism founded by Aenesidemus(of third skeptic school) in first century B.C.
(Source: Encyclopedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition)


The 3rd century B. C. has been rather kind to historians. A good number of reports of Greeks who traveled to India during this period have come down to us, as compared to the later periods. During this period, the rulers of Persia and Greece sent their emissaries to India . It is said, an officer named Petrokles (c.280 BC) visited India and returned with some useful geographic information. However, nothing much is known about Petrokles.

3.1. Pliny, the historian, in his Naturalis Historia VI 36 mentions Patrokles. He attributes the statement, that the Caspian Sea is as long as the Black sea to Patrokles. He also mentions that Aristobulus [who accompanied Alexander the Great] stated that the Oxus is easy to navigate and that large quantities of Indian merchandise are conveyed by it to the Hyrcanian [Caspian] Sea and then transferred into Albania by the Cyrus and through the adjoining countries to the Euxine [Black Sea]. Pliny, then, adds a remark to the effect that Aristobulus and Eratosthenes -(276-194BC- the Greek mathematician known to have calculated the Earth’s circumference and to have drawn the map of the world) – borrowed this idea from Patrokles. This is Eratosthenes’s map. India is on your right hand side.
3.2. Patrokles’s name appears four times in the fragments of Megasthenes’s Indika. On all those occasions, it was in connection with measuring the size of India , the length (breadth?) of India and distance of places in India from the south sea. Patrokles, on each occasion differs from the measurements calculated by Megasthenes, Eratosthenes and by Deimachos (envoy to the court of king Bindusara).  Hipparchos (the Greek astronomer who drew up the first catalog of the stars) remarks that two competent authorities’ viz. Deimachos and Megasthenes opposed Patrokles; and that even Eratosthenes discredited the calculations of Patrokles.
3.3. Evidently, Patrokles along with Eratosthenes and Hipparchos visited India and he had some knowledge of India . All these were highly eminent persons. Obviously, the Greeks, in those times, valued their relation with India .

(Source :

 4.Eudoxos of Kyzikos (Eudoxus of Cyzicus ) :


The later half of the first century and the period thereafter in the second century BC did not witness frequent contacts between India and the Greek world because the land route was blocked by the Parthian empire (successor to the Seleukids). As regards the sea route via the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean , the sea captains had not yet learned to utilize the monsoon trade winds and had forgotten the route found by Skylax. There was, however, some improvement in the traffic following the movement of the Bacterian kings into the Indus valley. This rendered the land route less dangerous.


4.1. The beginning of the second century saw an upsurge in the sea travel between Egypt and India . This continued until the third century. It all began with the voyage undertaken by one Eudoxos of Kyzikos

4.2. By all accounts, Eudoxos of Kyzikos was a remarkable person. He was a highly cultured sea captain who was described as a geographer, fighter, diplomat and intrepid trader and one who explored uncharted lands beyond the Mediterranean . He left behind the story of his expedition from Egypt to India . He is the hero of popular novels and films.

4.3. Eudoxus (c.130BC) was born in Cyzicus an ancient town of Mysia in Asia Minor , situated on the shore side of the present peninsula of Kapu-Dagh (Arctonnesus). Nothing much is known about Eudoxus’early life. There are some references to his unhappy married life and to a series of voyages across the Indian Ocean seeking wealth for his family shipping concerns.

4.4. According to Strabo (64BC to 24 AD -a Greek historian), quoting Posidonius (135BC to 51 BC -a Greek philosopher and historian), while Eudoxus was in Alexandria , he met a nearly dead shipwrecked Indian rescued from the Red Sea shore. After the seaman recovered and learnt a smattering of Greek, he informed that he was the sole survivor of a ship that sailed from India . Eudoxus was exited with this piece of news and thereafter convinced the Egyptian king Ptolemy VIII (Physkon) to sponsor an expedition to India , with the rescued Indian seaman as the guide. Eudoxus set sail in 118 BC from Berenice Harbor with the Indian as the guide. The voyage after having reached Muzuris in South India , Kerala , located below Calicut , returned to Egypt after 70 days. Eudoxus returned with a rich cargo of precious stones and aromatics. Ptolemy VIII promptly confiscated the cargo. Ptolemy VIII, not long after, died in 116BC; bequeathing Kyrenaika to his illegitimate son Ptolemy Apion and Egypt to Kleopatra III’s son with herself acting as the regent.

4.5. Posidonius recounts that the second voyage of Eudoxus to India came about in 116 BC at the command of Kleopatra III because she was desirous of procuring more precious gems and perfumes from India . The second voyage was, however, not as smooth as the first one. On his return voyage, Eudoxus was blown off-course and stranded on a shore below Ethiopia (perhaps below Cape Guardafui , Somalia ). After a series of misadventures, Eudoxus finally returned, with his precious cargo, to Egypt in around 114 BC. By which time Ptolemy IX had become the pharaoh. Yet again Eudoxus met with the same fate when the Pharoah Ptolemy IX confiscated the cargo just as his father did earlier.

4.6. What followed thereafter was a most wonderful adventure story. Eudoxus intending to embark on a third voyage to India by circumnavigating Africa ( Alexandria ) built a big ship. As a true showman, he gave wide publicity to the voyage, put music girls on board along with physicians and artisans, and set sail to India in great style. Because of a number of mishaps on the way, Eudoxus abandoned the voyage to India and eventually landed in Cadiz in what is now Spain . Strabo remarks that Eudoxus was always attended by good fortune.

4.7. Long after Eudoxus voyage Ptolemy XII (80 to 51 BC) created a special post titledCommander of the Red and Indian Seas to organize and encourage trade with India . The best-known occupant of this office was Callimachus the epistrategos, who was the Commander between 78 BC and 51 BC.

4.8. Pliny complained that the Indian luxury trade was depleting the Roman treasury to the extent of 50 million sesterces annually. The Roman Senate even contemplated banning the use of Indian cotton in the clothing Toga that Roman citizens wore, because it was too expensive to import. Evidently, the trade with India was flourishing.

Incidentally, the captain of Eudoxus of Cyzicus’ship that sailed to India , according to some, was Hippalus. Who was this Hippalus?Was he real?

(Sources:*.html#3.4 )



5. Hippalus : 


 The contents of the book titled Periplous of the Erythraean Sea (“Circumnavigation of the Erythrean i.e., Red Sea”), written in around 75 to 90 AD by an unknown author presumed to be a Greek merchant sailor, indicates, the author had access to first-hand information about the ports in western India .The book mentions a series of ports along the Indian coast, including Muziris (Pattanam?), Colchi (Kochi?), Poduca, and Sopatma.  The book is narrated on a navigation itinerary basis, stopping at every point (a ‘port of call’) to enumerate merchandises, details about the local routes of trade, information about the natural environment, the political establishment, and the cultural and religious affairs and/or traits of the port in question. According to M.S. Megalommatis, a scholar, judging by the language of the text one could say Greek was not the mother tongue of the author. Most probably, he was an Alexandrian Egyptian captain and merchant who voyaged these seas and had intimate knowledge of the areas mentioned in the text.

5.1.The book also records the accomplishment of a certain Hippalus who, it says, understood the patterns of the Indian monsoons and discovered a sea-route from the Red Sea to Southern India . The book also makes a special references the port of Kodanganallur (anglicised to Cranganore, and also known as Muziris or Shinkli), in present day Kerala on India ‘s West coast. Pliny refers to this port as primum emporium Indiae.

5.2. There are two issues concerning Hippalus that are debated (a) the Sea route from the Red Sea to the Indian ports were  already known to the earlier Greeks. Hippalus did not discover them; and (b) Hippalus was not a real person and that the term was coined to represent a system of trade winds or to the sea/sea route.

5.3.As regards the first issue, we know that Skylax as far back as in fifth century BC traced a sea route to and out of the Red Sea . Further, as recorded in Arrian’s Indica ( 21, 1)Nearchus, a Macedonian General and a friend of Alexander, commanded a fleet to carry the men back from India to Persia and Mesopotamia . It is said, he was the first to realize the importance of the monsoon winds for sailing in that region, he, therefore waited for the commencement of the northeast monsoon to begin the voyage from India .After his conquest, Alexander sent out voyages of exploration to Arabia and the Caspian Sea but he died soon thereafter. (Apart from this ,the Arabians and Indians must, of course, have known and made use of the monsoon winds for centuries.)


Perhaps, because these events were too far back in time, they were either forgotten or lost in antiquity.


5.4. The other issue, which questions the existence of Hippalus, is a little more debatable. To start with, Pliny (79AD) does not mention him ; and in Ptolemy (c.168AD), Hippalus is the name of a sea. The French historian Andre Tchernia explains that Pliniy’s contention was because in the earlier times, the name of the wind was written as Hypalus and it was only in the Roman times the spelling Hippalus came into use . Some historians, therefore, wonder if Hippalus were to be a real person, then it is strange that his exploits were hardly known to the succeeding generations

5.5. Regardless of the view one might take on the above issue, the fact is that after the first century there was an upsurge in the sea traffic between Greece/Egypt and India . This was mainly on account of the drastic reduction in the time and the risks involved in sailing to India .The sailors setting out of Egypt ,now, went from the Red Sea to India over open sea , instead of hugging to the African coast as had been the practice till then. This made it possible to sail confidently for days without sight of land. The new route was shorter and free from the Arabian pirates. The Greek sailors also introduced a new shipping calendar and planned their voyages accordingly. These practices soon turned the Egypt-India sector into a major sea route and the Greek merchants sailed further crossing the Bay of Bengal on to the Southeast Asia region. Naturally, the trade between Egypt and Southern India flourished during this period. “Previously, not twenty vessels … dared to peep outside the straits…but now, great fleets are sent as far as India and the extremities of Aethiopia, from which the most valuable cargoes are brought to Egypt and thence sent forth again to other regions.’ ; so runs Strobes oft-quoted remark (Strabo, 17.1.13. [798]). Emperor Tiberius (42BC to 16AD), was however concerned over Rome ‘s increasingly adverse balance of payments. He complained, “The ladies and their baubles are transferring our money to foreigners”.
 5.6. The key to this success story was the Greeks’ coming to understand the phenomenon of monsoon, the Indian monsoon. What is this monsoon? Let us see.
 Monsoon is an anglicized form of Mausum, an Arabic/Hinditerm meaning weather or season. It is specially refers to the heavy rainy season that commences in June, dies away in September, each year, and is very vital to the climate, the economy and to the life on Indian subcontinent.
The south-west monsoon is born off the Madagascar coast to Somalia due to a high-pressure area .The wind direction at this point is south easterly. The moisture-laden winds from this high-pressure area around Madagascar travel northwards to Somalia . As soon as they cross the equator, south-easterlies turn right to assume a south-westerly direction.
It is in Somalia that south-west monsoon assumes its true character. It becomes a jet stream by May. That jet drives the south-west monsoon from Somalia to India . The Jet streams are relatively strong winds concentrated within a narrow stream in the atmosphere. The Somali jet-stream helps the south-west monsoon gain force and hence it hits the Indian subcontinent with great force
5.6.1. The two key ingredients needed to create a successful monsoon in India are a hot land mass and a cooler ocean. In India , for instance, the landmass of the Great Thar Desert , the adjoining areas of north and central India , in addition to the Deccan plateau absorb much heat from the sun during the summer months; while the temperatures over the Indian Occasion remain comparatively lower

Since the Indian Ocean is bound on the north by a large land mass, the effects of “differential heating” are intense. The air mass over the subcontinent, consequently, heats up, expands, and rises up in to the air. This causes a low-pressure area over the northern and central Indian subcontinent. To fill up this void, the cooler, heavier and moisture-laden winds from the Indian Ocean rush on to the subcontinent. The damp, chilly layer that hangs Over India will be as thick as three miles.

As the cool air arrives, the winds also shift. During the dry season, the winds blow offshore – from land to sea. Then, as the monsoon begins, the winds blow onshore – from sea to land. This phenomenon perhaps explains why the early Arabs named the monsoon “Mausin,” or “the season of winds.” The southwest Monsoon generally begins around the middle of June and lasts until September.



5.7. The real impotence of this phenomenon to the Greek/Egyptian sailors was that in the Indian winters the winds blow from the Sea on to the subcontinent; While in the Indian dry season, the winds reverse and blow from land to the sea. The Greeks could, therefore, sail into India during the Indian winter and sail back to Egypt during the Indian summer; thus taking advantage of favorable winds  on both occasions .This rendered the sea crossing a lot easier and faster than before. It is said, Hippalus set out in August sailing into the wide Arabian Sea directly towards the Malabar Coast . Further, Dr. Lionel Casson in his recent translation and commentary on “The Periplus Maris Erythraei,” says the ships left Egypt in July to take advantage of strong winds out of the north in the Red Sea and while returning, the ships usually departed in December or January to catch a favorable shift in winds.


5.8. Dr Lionel Casson says , a round trip to India covered about 3,500 miles. Dr. Casson, in his another book Rome’s Trade with the East: the Sea voyage to Africa and India, says that in those times the ships could make between four to six knots with fair wind. Accordingly, the mariners of those days could do about 100 miles per day, if they sailed through the night. That means to say the voyage from Egypt to Malabar might have taken about three weeks or a little less. According to Pliny, Eudoxus voyage to India and back took seventy days. In one-step, voyages were reduced from months to weeks, and profits soared.
 5.9.One of the fallouts of Greeks’ increased trade with Southern India was, the  perspective they gained of India ’s geography. The Greek geographers till then thought the Indian coast stretched from West to East. Now they could recognize the North _ South direction of India ’s West coast and its projection into the Indian Ocean .
5.10. Finally, Hippalus, real or otherwise, continues to hog the limelight. A crater on the moon is named after him .He is also a prominent character in Sprague de camp’s bestseller The Golden Wind.
 6. Pantainos (c.180 to 200AD) :
Very little information is available about Pantainos’s early life. It is said, to start with, he was a stoic philosopher. He later became a Christian. He established, in 180 AD, the famous Catechetical School in Alexandria (which later became the first Christian University ) to teach the beliefs and the philosophy of the new religion. He is regarded as the teacher of Clement of Alexandria , the first member of the Church of Alexandria . Clement called him “Sicilian bee” while Pantainos called himself “teacher of gentiles”. He is believed to be the author of the well-known Letter to Diognetus or atleast of its conclusion.
 6.1. Because of his zeal and learning, Pantainos was sent as a missionary to Malabar Coast, in South India, to preach Christianity. The Church in Kerala believes that Pantainos while in India came across Matthew’s Gospel in Aramaic.
(Source: J.W.Sedler – India and Greek world)
7.Frumentios of Tyros:
Frumentios in his childhood accompanied his uncle to India on what seems to have been a tourists’ trip, but remained there for many years as  the household superintendent under an Indian king. On his return to Alexandria , he was appointed Bishop of India in the year 336, and presumably returned to India to spread the Christian gospel.
7.1. Interestingly, the Ethiopian Christian tradition states that a certain Frumentios of Tyros was in Ethiopia in around 360 AD. While on a visit to India , he along with his brother Aidesios of the Äthiopiern was imprisoned but was later released and appointed as teacher to the prince. He preached Christianity while in India . On return to Alexandria , he was appointed Bishop of Ethiopia and was called “Apostel Abessiniens”.

Were they both talking about the same person?






According to Philostorgios (c.368 to 433AD)who is described as lateantique church historian, the Roman Emperor  Constantine (fourth century AD) dispatched a certain Theophilos to India to preach Christianity and that while in India he found some Christian followers of the Apostle Bartholomew. There is also a tradition that says Theophilos visited India and Maldives in AD 354, Mar. However, the details of his life are unknown and what little is known is disputed.
8.1.It is believed he came from one of the islands near Somalia . There is also an opinion that his travels were in connection with to trade and politics and were not related to religion.

Philip Mayerson in his essay A Confusion of Indias: Asian india and African India in the Byzantine Sources , says that after the fourth century the term India came to be applied rather loosely to refer to the subcontinent India , Axum/Ethopia or even to South Arabia and this has lead to much confusion. Mr. Mayerson says, Theophilos was not sent to India but was sent to perform missionary work among Homerites in Arabia Felix.

9. Kosmas Indikopleustes (Indian voyager):


He was a Greek traveler and Geographer who lived in Alexandria during the first half of the sixth century. He was a contemporary of Emperor Justinian I .He came from a family of traders and in his early years was trained to become a merchant. His business took him to various regions around Egypt . He voyaged in the Mediterranean , the Red Sea , and the Persian Gulf . The farthest he traveled was to the Cape Guardafui . He gathered information about these and other surrounding regions. It is not certain that he actually visited India .
9.1. The sub title “Indicopleustes” meaning “Indian voyager” stuck to him perhaps because in those days the entire region of Arabian Sea , the Red Sea and its sublets fell under the broad name Indian Ocean .
 9.2. In his later years (ca. 540), he became a monk and entered the monastery of Raithu on the peninsula Sinai. In around 550AD, he wrote a richly illustrated twelve volume monumental work titled Christine Topography. One copy of the manuscript is in the Vatican Library while the other is in the Laurentian Library of Florence . A feature of the book is the cosmology the author projects. According to that, the earth is flat and heavens are in the shape of box with a curved lid. Cosmos aimed to disprove the pre-Christian geographers who asserted the earth was spherical in shape.
  9.3. If the cosmology is set aside, the book is an interesting and reliable guide to the world that has since disappeared.

In the words of Philip Meyerson , Christian Topography is the work of an anonymous Alexandrian merchant and an aspiring theologist who centuries later was given the name Cosmos and soubriquet of Indicopleustes although he never visited India .



It is sad that the Greek/Egypt trade with India collapsed after third century AD. The fall of the Roman Empire , and the succeeding dark ages brought instability to Western Europe and caused a near collapse of the trade network leading to a massive contraction of interregional trade. The Greek/Egypt and India trade was one of its early causalities.


Posted by on August 31, 2012 in History


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Greeks in India Before Alexander

Greece and India Before Alexander

In his speech at a banquet hosted in his honor by Greece President Karolos Papoulias and in his address at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy, on 26 April 2007, the President of the Indian Republic. Shri A. P. J. Abdul Kalam referred to exchanges between India and Greece that began well before Alexander’s march into India in 326 BC. Let us take a look at what these exchanges were.

Pre-historic era
Were there Greeks in India before the advent of Alexander the Great? Was Alexander the first Greek to conquer India?
The ancient Greek historians Pliny (VI..xxi.4-5), Solinus (52-5) and Arrian (Indica, I. ix) all assert that Alexander was not the first Greek to invade and conquer India.  Their accounts are a mixture of myths and history; and it is not easy to separate the one form the other.
According those historians, with some variations, Dionysus was the first Greek King to invade India. And, an incredibly long period of 6451 years and 3 months separates Dionysus from Alexander’s conquest of India. During that interval about 153 0r 154 kings reined. Diodorus Siculus (60 – 30 BCE) another historian mentions that there were three kings bearing the name Dionysus separated by long periods of time.  According to Diodorus it was the first Dionysus, the eldest – Dionysus of India (Indos) who conquered India.And, after his conquest he reigned over India for 52 years and died of old age,  thereafter his sons ruled in unbroken succession. Arrian (Indica, I. vii) drawing from the book of the Greek Ambassador Magasthenes writes “Dionysus founded cities and gave laws to those cities and introduced the use of wine among the Indians as he had done among the Greeks, and taught them to sow land, himself supplying the seeds….It is also said Dionysus first yoked oxen to the plough and furnished them with implements of agriculture, and also made husbandmen of the Indians He also mentions lot of other things introduced by Dionysus.
Dr. Nagendra Singh in his monumental Encyclopedia of Hinduism (pages 1712-15) after a lengthy discussion surmises that Dionysus the eldest, the Indos is the nearest equivalent to Prithu Vainya – Prithu the son of Vena in Indian mythology. Prithu is celebrated as Adiraja the first anointed monarch and the starter of royal dynasties. He is also the earliest among the monarchs to be hailed as Chakravarthin who ‘at the head of his army marched to every part of the world’. It was figuratively described that Prithu chased and conquered the earth which was fleeing from him like a cow. He was ‘Raja daivyena sahasa’ King with God-force. .It was after his name that the earth we live came to be known as Prithvi. The Atharva Veda( 8.10.24) credits Prithu with introducing the art of ploughing; leveling the whole arable earth; encouraging cultivation, cattle –breeding, commerce; building of cities and villages. Prithu is also said to have released the rapture of wine (Soma) from the earth for the delight of the gods.

It appears Prithu the Indian monarch runs parallel to the Greek Dionysus the Indos. I hesitate to suggest that both refer to one and the same person.

In case the the claim of the Greek historians that Dionysus marched in to India about 6451 years before the time of Alexander is taken seriously , it then throws the whole chronology of the Indian history as it is now acepted into a vortex.

[There are several other versions of the Dionysus legend. In one of the versions (Diodorus Library of History, Book III, 62-74) Dionysus is described as : “ The most ancient Dionysus was an Indian, and since his country, because of the excellent climate, produced the vine in abundance without cultivation, he was the first to press out the clusters of grapes and to devise the use of wine as a natural product, likewise to give the proper care to the figs and other fruits which grow upon trees, and, speaking generally, to devise whatever pertains to the harvesting and storing of these fruits. The same Dionysus is, furthermore, said to have worn a long beard, the reason for the report being that it is the custom among the Indians to give great care, until their death, to the raising of a beard. ….Furthermore, there are pointed out among the Indians even to this day the place where it came to pass that the god was born, as well as cities which bear his name in the language of the natives; and many other notable testimonials to his birth among the Indians still survive, but it would be a long task to write of them.”

Another version of the legend mentions that Dionysus did not die in India. It says: “ Then he made a campaign into India, whence he returned to Boeotia in the third year bringing with him a notable quantity of booty, and he was the first man ever to celebrate a triumph seated on an Indian elephant..And the Boeotian and other Greeks and the Thracians, in memory of the campaign in India, have established sacrifices every other year to Dionysus

Let us now turn to recorded history



A.Sindhu –Hindu _ India

Persia, in the ancient times, was the vital link between India and the Greeks of Asia Minor . In the Avesta of Zoroaster, what we today  call as India is named as  Hapta Hendu,   the Avesthan for the Vedic Sapta Sindhavah– the Land of Seven Rivers, that is, the five rivers of the Punjab along  with the Sarasvati ( a river which has since disappeared) and the Indus. The word “Sindhu” not only referred to the river system but to the adjoining areas as well. 

The name of Sindhu reached the Greeks in its Persian form Hindu (because of the Persian etymology wherein every initial s is represented by h).The Persian term Hindu became the Greek Indos/(plural indoi) since the Greeks could not pronounce “h” and  had no proper “u”. The Indos in due course acquired its Latin form – India . . Had the Sanskrit word Sindhu reached the Greeks directly, they might perhaps have pronounced it as Sindus or Sindia

B.The Great Persian Empire

3. King Cyrus, the founder of Persian Empire and of the Achaemenid dynasty (559-530 B.C.), added to his territories the region of Gandhara, located mainly in the vale of Peshawar . By about 516 B.C., Darius son of Hystaspes annexed the Indus valley and formed the twentieth satrapy of the Persian Empire . The annexed areas included parts of Punjab . This became the twentieth satrapy, the richest and most populous Satrapy of the Persian Empire . In the inscription at Nakshi–e-Rustam(486.BCE) a reference is made to the  tributes paid  to Darius by Hidush and others vassal such as Ionians, Spartans, Bactrians, Parthians, and Medes. 

4. Thus, the Indus region became the easternmost boundary of the vast Persian Empire, which sprawled across all of western Asia to include, after 546 B.C., most of the Greek cities on the coast of Asia Minor. The skills and labor of all of Persia ‘s subjects, Greeks included, were employed in imperial building projects. Many Greeks served as officials or mercenaries in the various Achaemenid provinces. Indian troops formed a contingent of the Persian army that invaded Greece in 480 B.C. Indian troopers were also a part of the army that faced Alexander at Gaugamela in 331 B.C. 

The Greeks and Indians were together thrown into the vast Persian machinery. The requirements of war, administration and commerce in the far-flung Persian Empire provided numerous occasions for the Indians and Greeks to work together. Most of such interactions may have been inconsequential; but it is likely some genuine exchanges of ideas might have taken place. 

C.Scholars and Historians

-Hekataios and Herodotus

5. The term Indos(India) first appeared in Greek literature in about 5th century B.C. in the works of Hekataios of Miletos (B.C. 549–486) and Herodotus of Halikarnassos (484-425 B. C.), The word  Inder or India,  in Greek and in Persian, originally referred only to the Indus region, which then   was under the Persian Empire. Herodotus, however, used the term in a wider sense to denote the whole country and classical Greek usage followed his example.

6. Long before Alexander’s march into India, Greek writers, such as Hekataeos and Herodotus, possessed some information about India . This information however was not gained directly by visit to India or by study of its texts. Most of what the Greeks knew of India came to them by word of mouth, percolated through Persia , from its soldiers, merchants and officials in the Persian Empire . That perhaps explains why the early Greek writings of India look like a strange concoction of facts and fantasy. Hekataeos mentions the river Indus, Herodotus speaks of the Gandarioi race, perhaps inhabitants of the Peshawar valley, whose town was Kaspapyros( Peshawar ?). Herodotus mentions the name of one of the deities, worshipped in common by the Vedic Indians and the Persian Zoroastrians, namely Mitra; but he takes Mitra for a female deity. The knowledge so gained through Persia was also the source for those few Indian names that appear in the surviving remnants of Hekataio’s Geography (ca. 500 B.C.) Unfortunately, his work is now in fragments and it is nearly impossible to tell precisely what Hekataios did know about India . Like his predecessor, Herodotus also did not visit India , but he was a tireless collector of anecdotes from many sources

 -Ktesias (405-397 B.C.)

7. The last of those Greeks, before Alexander, who wrote about India, was Ktesias of Knidos. He had a better access to information on India than his predecessors did.  Ktesias was a medical doctor by profession; he served for eight years (405-397 B.C.) as the personal physician to the Persian king Artaxerxes Mnemon (404–358 B.C.), son and successor of Darius II. . He did not claim he visited India . He may have had occasions to meet Indians or Persian officials who served in the empire’s Indian territories. Even from the vantage point of the Persian court at Susa , India still seemed  a strange and virtually unknown country. Upon his return to Greece , Ktesias wrote a book called Persika, covering the entire history of the Near East from its beginnings down to his own time, as well as a much smaller work called Indika, about India . With respect to India , the information Ktesias has to offer is occasionally accurate, though more often exaggerated. He did take care, nonetheless, to distinguish between things he had himself seen and the information he acquired by hearsay.

Both his works have disappeared; but there are a number of citations, together with extensive excerpts made by the Byzantine Photios – Patriarch of Constantinople in the 9th century. 

8. What the early Greeks knew about India did not amount to much and it was not accurate either. Nevertheless, the writings of Hekataios, Herodotus and Ktesias did not only evoke some awareness of India ‘s existence among the educated Greek but also added a very important chapter to cultural history of India and Greece . Presumably, these histories  had some effect on the Greek intellectual life. Herodotus explained in his works how foreign contacts might produce a relativistic point of view.

 D.Explorers and travellers.

9. The first Greeks to set foot in India were probably servants of the Persian Achaemenid Empire (550-330 B.C.) – that vast polity which touched upon Greek city-states at its western extremity and India on the east. Most of the persons who made the trip to India are unknown to us. They are the anonymous seamen, merchants and hangers-on who followed the sea-lanes from the Red Sea to the Malabar Coast (?).However, despite these rather extensive contacts, Hellenistic literature provides incredibly few accounts of such travels. 

10. The first Greek who is supposed to have actually visited India and to have written an account of it was Skylax of Karyanda in Karia. He lived before Herodotus, who tells that Darius Hystargus (512–486) led a naval expedition to prove the feasibility of a sea passage from the mouth of Indus to Persia . Under the command of Skylax, a fleet sailed from Punjab in the Gandhara country to the Ocean. 

Skylax later wrote a book of geography titled Indika apparently a report of his expedition that set out to follow the Indus from its headwaters to its mouth.

Herodotus did not appear to have a high opinion of Skylax as a historian.


11. Alexander’s expedition to India was a landmark in the History of the region and it vastly increased the Greeks’ knowledge of India . A number of his associates – Callisthenes, Onesikritos, Aristobulos, Nearchos, Ptolemaios – wrote about India ; their works remained standard sources on the country for centuries afterward. The picture of India that Alexander’s companions and successors presented to the Greek world, helped historians to reconstruct events in ancient India , though partially. Greek’s association with India has left a indelible mark on India ’s cultural, artistic and political history. 

12. In comparison to Greek sources, the Indian sources are very scanty. There is hardly any writing concerning the events of those times. While Alexander’s invasion of India opened the way to further Indo-Greek relations, Indians do not appeared to have entered the Greek world until nearly the Christian era. There is also no evidence of Indian Ambassadors being in the courts of Egypt or Roman Empires, except in the Ashoka’s edits where the emissaries to Syria , Egypt , Macedonia and Libyaare mentioned .



India and the Greek World; 
A study in the transmission of culture 
Sedlar, Jean W. 
New Jersey, 1980

 Encyclopaedia of Hinduism (pages 1712-15) By Dr.Nagendra Singh

 Please also read : Some other Greeks in India

Posted by on August 31, 2012 in History


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The Rig Veda and the Gathas-revisited

On 22 Apr, 2007, I posted a write- up  discussing the close relation between the Rig-Veda and the Gathas concerning the language, the locale, the names of the principal characters etc. I mentioned there in, the language of the Gathas (the older scriptures), known as Avesthan was remarkably similar to that of the Vedic Sanskrit of the Rig Veda. Further, in the Rig Veda the devas are worshipped as gods and the asuras are put down as demons, while in Zoroastrianism the treatment of these deities is reversed.   (Topic: Rig Veda and the Gathas )

The issues raised in the post of 22 Apr, briefly, were – when and why the terms deva/asura came to acquire different meanings in the two texts. Was this because of a conflict between the two sects? If so, when and where the” conflict “ took place?

Following that post there were a few comments and discussions in the Forum. I also looked around a few sites and read a few books on the subject because I was not totally convinced that there was a “conflict” per se. In the mean time, a friend on the Forum recommended an article entitled “Vedic Elements in the Ancient Iranian Religion of Zarathushtra “ written by Mr. Subhash Kak, a scholar from Jammu & Kashmir. The article was well written and it helped me to take a view on some, though not on all the issues raised in the post of22 Apr 2007. These efforts yielded additional information on the ancient kingdoms of Kassite s, Mittanis and Hattusa that existed sometime during 18th century B. C to 16th century B. C. in the Mesopotamian and North –West Syria regions. Based on the additional information I prepared a fresh article on the subject and hence this post.

Now, shall we resume our little talk about the Rig Veda and the Gathas?

1. I have veered to the view that the “conflict” was mostly surmised. There is no evidence pointing to any such “conflict”. I agree we may safely discard that hypothesis, at least for the present.

2. the Vedic religion, in some form, was present in the Mesopotamian region during the times of the Mitanni ,the Hittite, the Kassites (c 1750 BC) who worshiped Surya.

3. The Hurrian (1500 B C to 1270 B C) was located in the present-day western Syria , in the mountainous regions of Upper Euphrates and Tigris. The name Mitanni or Maitani first appears in the “memoirs” of a military officier who lived at the time of Amenhotep (1525 – 1504 BC). These memoirs were in connection with the Syrian wars (ca. 1480).

3.1 The ethnicity of the people of Mitanni is difficult to ascertain.The names of some Mitanni kings reveal Indo Aryan influence. They appeared to follow the Vedic religion. The ruling aristocracy was maryanni , meaning “young warrior” a derivative of the Sanskrit marya. The Mitanni warriors were called Marya, the term for warrior in Sanskrit as well.

3.2 Washukanni, or Waššukanni (also spelled Washshukanni, Wassuganni, Vasukhani, or a combination of these variants) was the capital of the kingdom of Mitanni from 1500 B C. The name is similar to the Sanskrit phrase for “a mine of wealth.” Washukanni flourished as a capital city for two centuries.

3.3 The names of the kings also point to the Indo-Aryan influence. The founder of the Kirta (1500 B c to 1490 B C). His name is also mentioned as “Krta” or with its element such as Krtadeva, Krtadhaja, and Krtadharman etc.

The names of the other Mitanni kings are also of Indo Aryan origin. For instance: Tushrata(Dasharatha–possessing ten chariots), Baratarna ( Paratarna -great sun), Biridaswa (Brihadashwa- possessing great horses), Artatamna (Rtumna-devoted to the divine law), Saustatar ( Saukshatra -son of Sukshatra, the good ruler), Saumathi( Son of Sumathi) , Sattawaza (he who has won seven prizes), Shuttarna(Sutarna – good sun),Sumaala( having beautiful wreaths), Parsatatar(Parashukshatra -ruler with axe) and Mattiwaza ( Mativaja -whose wealth is prayer) –are the Mitannian names of the kings and other males of the time.

Šattiwaza (c.1325-1280) before his accession to the throne carried a Hurrian name Kili-Teššup, like that of several of his predecessors. In his treaties, he invokes, among the many Hurrian and Mesopotamian deities, the Indo-Aryan deities Mitra, Varuna, Indra, and the Nasatyas.

3.4 A famous treaty entered between the Hittite ruler Suppiluliuma and the Mitanni king, Mattiwaza,(Mattiraja) in about 1380 BC, at Boghazkoy, invokes not only the Babylonian gods to witness the treaty but also the deities of Vedic origin such as Mitra, Varuna, Indra and Nasatya (Ashwins). The names of these deities are in the forms that appear in the Rig-Veda (S. Konow: Aryan gods of the Mitani people, 1921).

They occur in the treaty as ila_ni Mi-it-ra-as-si-il, ila_ni A-ru-na-as-si-il In-da-ra, ila_niNa-sa-at-ti-ya-an-na. Since the form for Na_satya is quite different in the Avestan language (Naonhaithya), it is likely that the Mitannian did not speak Iranian but Indo-Aryan (E.Meyer: Sitzungsberichte der K. Preuss. Akad. Der Wissen, 1908). Of these gods, only Mitra (Mithra) is invoked in the Avesta (Indra and Nanhaithya appear in the Avesta as demons and Varuna may have survived as Ahura Mazda – Asura Mahat).This indicates that the religion of the royalty was Vedic and the Iranian influence was yet to spread to the Mitanni region.

The differences that appeared in the Rig-Vedic and Avestan terminologies must have therefore materialized at a much later stage .Some of the important changes that took place on the Iranian side, might have come about just prior to or at the time of the Zarathrustra.

3.5 As regards the language of the Hurrian kingdom, the common language Hurrian was neither Indo Aryan nor Semitic but was closer to Urartian. The Hurrians adopted the Akkadian cuneiform script for their language in about 2000 BC . It appears there were different groups and sub groups who spoke different dialects and followed different sets of deities. The royal family of Mitanni was speaking Hurrian as well.

3.6 Kikkuli, a master horse trainer (assussanni, the Sanskrit form of which is aśva-sana) of Mittani, was the author of a chariot – horse training manual written in the Hittite language (an extinct language of Indo European family). The text (dated c1499 B. C) is notable for the information it provides about the development of Indo European language and for its content as well. Kikkuli’s horse training text includes numerical terms such as aika (eka, one), tuwa (dwe , two), tera (tri, three), panza (pancha, five), satta (sapta, seven), Na (nava, nine), vartana (vartana, round).The terms used to denote the horses of different ages or stages of training are – saudist– “foal” or “untrained”; yuga– “young horse”; dāyuga to mean “horse in its second year of training” etc. The text employs terms such as babru (babhru, brown), parita (palita, grey), and pinkara (pingala, red) to denote colors. These terms are of Sanskrit origin.

Further, Kikkuli’s text, though in Hittite, has a few loanwords from Luwian and Hurrian languages. Whenever Kikkuli found it difficult to put across the Mitanni concepts inthe Hittite language, he switched to his own language (Hurrian) and switched back to Hittite.

3.7 Hence, the Indo-Aryan element of the Mitanni could be placed 1500 BCE , if not earlier.

4. Hittites is the conventional English name for an ancient people who spoke an Indo European language and who established the kingdom of Hattusa in the North Western region of Syria in 14th century B C. Hittite is the earliest attested Indo European language. The Hittites referred to their language as Nesili (or in one case, Kanesili), meaning “in the manner of (Ka) nesa.” Jay Friedman, University of California,in his paper Verbs in the Rig-Veda and Old Hittite 
confirms the Indo European nature of the Hittite language.

4.1 A cognate appears in a Hittite text found at Bogazköy in the name Ak/gniš, a god of devastation and annihilation. This term refers to AGNI (Sanskrit), the god of fire in ancient and traditional . In the Gathas of Zarathustra, the term atar is used to denote the concept of fire. The term atar does not appear in Rig-Veda. This points to presence of Vedic type of religion in the region .

5. kassites are the ancient people of the Middle East who established a dynasty that ruled for about 450 years, starting around 1600 BCE. Their capital was Dar Kurizgalu; about 150 km north of Babylon.The kassite spoke a language that was similar to Sumerian.

5.1 The names of some Kassite kings were of Vedic origin (for example: Shuriash = Surya, Maruttash = Marut, Inda-Bugash = Indra-Bhaga),

5.2 The fifth king among the Kassite dynasty took the name Abirattas’ (abhi-ratha ‘facing chariots (in battle)’. (T. Burrow, The Sanskrit Language , London, Faber and Faber, 1955).

5.3 The tenth king of the Kassite dynasty Agum (II) (c.1595-1545) took the throne-name Kakrime derived from Sanskrit term KAK meaning “ to enable , to help”(Sanskrit – saknoti, he is able, he is strong: Shakti,)( The American Heritage Dictionary of the English LanguageIndo-European Roots)

6. What is interesting in the case of Mitannis and Kassites is, the language of the common people was not Indo Aryan, the religion of the people did not appear to be Vedic. Yet, for some unknown reason many of the kings assumed Sanskrit – throne-names. It appears there were traces of Indo Aryan influence in the region.

The Indo-Aryans names do not appear in texts till 15th century BCE. The Mesopotamian texts of the 18th and 17th centuries BCE do not show evidence of this trend (of assuming Sanskrit-throne names). This trend, therefore, was comparatively recent.

What is not clear is, how these “traces of Indo Aryan influence“ came into being? When and why they faded away?

7. Mr. Kak in his paper makes a number of points:
( )

a) Following the collapse of the Sarasvati – river based economy around1900 BC, groups of Indians might have moved West and that might explain the presence of the Indic Kassites and the Mitanni in West Asia .

b) The old Vedic religion survived for a fairly long time in corners of Iran. The evidence of its survival comes from the daiva-inscription of Khshayarshan (Xerxes) (486-465 BC).

c) The ruling groups-Kassite and Mitanni – represented a minority in a population that spoke deferent languages. They, however, remained connected to their Vedic traditions. They were neighbors to the pre-Zoroastrian Vedic Iran . In addition, there were other Vedic religion groups in the intermediate region ofIran which itself consisted of several ethnic groups.

d) As per the Mitanni documents , the pre-Zorastrian religon in Iran included Varuna. Since Mitra and Varuna are partners in the Vedas, the omission of Varuna from the Zoroastrian lists indicates that Zarathushtra might be from the borderlands of the Vedic world where the Vedic system was not fully in place.

e) The pre-Zoroastrian religion of is clearly Vedic. Zarathushtra’s innovation lay in his emphasis on the dichotomy of good and bad The Zoroastrian innovations did not change the basic Vedic character of the culture in Iran. The worship ritual remained unchanged, as was the case with basic conceptions related to divinity and the place of man.

I also believe that Zarathushtra did not try to overthrow belief in the older Iranian religion, he did however, place Ahura Mazda at the centre of a kingdom of justice that promised immortality and bliss. He attempted to reform ancient Iranian religion on the basis of the then existing social and economic values

8. Now, let us come to the question of why the same set of deities came to be viewed differently and why there was division. This concerns mainly the asuras/ahuras versus the devas/daevas debate.

In the older texts, that is, in the Rig Veda and the Avesta, these differences are not quitesharp.In the Rig Veda, the asuras were the “older Gods”, a class of deities without negative connotations,who presided over the moral and social phenomena of the primeval universe; while devas the “younger gods” presided over nature and the environment. In the Vedic account of creation, some of the “older gods”(asuras) went over to join the ranks of the “younger gods” (devas). The remaining asuras were exiled to the nether world. While this distinction between asuras and asuras-who-became-devas is preserved in the texts of the Rig Veda, the later texts employ the term asura to represent allnon-devas or those opposed to devas.

In Zoroaster’s Gathas, where the battle between good and evil is a distinguishing characteristic of the religion ,the daevas are the “wrong gods”, the followers of whom need to be brought back to the path of the ‘good religion’

9. It is not clear what led to the rivalry between two groups and how rival groups perceived the same set of deities differently.It is possible that at some common point of time, the ancestors of both branches worshiped the same set of deities. Later, it is possible; each group supported its chosen set of deities, leading to rivalry between the two groups. The differences that appeared in the Rig-Vedic and Avestan terminologies must have materialized a long time after the demise of the Mittani and other kingdoms. Some of the important changes that took place on the Iranian side, might have come about just prior to or at the time of the Zarathrustra.

It is likely that the rivalry had its roots in the division of theIndic and Iranian branches of Proto-Indo-Iranian culture. However,the differences persist even today; while their causes have disappeared long ago, and even have been forgotten.

10. Mr. Kak states that the Vedic and the Zarathushtrian systems are much less deferent than is generally believed. He mentions the Kashmiri system which recognizes a three-way division consisting devas, asuras, and daevas. He also brings in the argument of three gunas –Satva, Rajas and Tamas- of Indian thought. I am familiar with the “Gunas” concept; But not as well as to comment on Mr. Kak’s argument.

11. I do believe that the Rig Veda and the Gathas have to be studied together to gain a fuller understanding of either of the texts. Parallel research on the Gathas and on the Vedic, religion prior to Zarathushtra will therefore be useful for better appreciation of the Zoroastrian and the Vedic texts.


Posted by on August 31, 2012 in History, Indian Philosophy


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Unacknowledged Heroes of WW2– the Indian Story


Unacknowledged Heroes of WW2– the Indian Story

Whenever the subject of World War –Two (WW2) comes up for discussion it invariably veers to and ends in the role played by the major powers like Germany, usa, uk, ussr etc. A number of other nations – big and small- that had no heart in the war were dragged into the cauldron by major powers, for a variety of reasons. The contribution made towards the war efforts by these reluctant warring nations was enormous. They suffered countless losses and untold misery in pursuit of someone else’s cause. Yet, their efforts, their contribution and their suffering have largely gone unnoticed and unacknowledged.

It would be far more interesting to talk of the role played by such reluctant warriors than to chew over the role of the inevitable major powers of WW2.Let us start with theIndia story. I invite the other members on the Forum to share their views on the reluctant involvement of sates like the states, the African states, and others.

1.India roped in

The undivided India was one of the nations that were sucked into the WW2 to serve the cause of the British Empire and the Allies, though it was not distressed by the causes that ignited the war.

British India was a key allied nation during the World War 2.The then India included the present day India , Pakistan and Bangladesh. Apart from the provinces directly ruled by the British there were a large number of Princely States within the British Raj that provided large donations to the Allies to combat the threat of Nazism and Fascism .India sent millions of troops to fight the Axis powers in South East Asia , North Africa and southern Europe.

2. Indian contribution not given due credit

The role of the Indian armed forces in World War II — including campaigns in the East Indies, Hong Kong, Malaya, Singapore, Burma, Iraq, Iran, the Vichy-controlled Levant, British Somaliland, Abyssinia, the Sudan, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Italy as well as duty in places like Greece, Cyprus, Aden, and Socotra Island — is often obscured because it is wrapped under the general description of “British” operations. The roles played by the European forces are well recorded and are accessible. However, the official history of Indian armed forces remains unfamiliar and is difficult to find.

3. The number of Indian men

When the Second World War broke out, not a single unit of the Indian Army was mechanized to respectable standards. Motorization was selective, and scales of weaponry extremely sparse. Nevertheless, the number of men that gave to the Allied Cause was 205,000 in1939; this number rose to 2,644,323 by 1945. The Indian soldiers were largely drawn from agricultural communities. Though the Indian heart was not in the war, the Indian war record is nevertheless impressive.

 4. Theaters of war

During World War II, the Army of under British command fought many battles on several fronts.

In the Western desert , in Eritrea ,and Italy ,the Indian forces engaged German and Italians .

-The Indian Divisions took part in the North Africa theatre against Rommel’s Afrika Korps. In the of Bir Hacheim, the Indian gunners played an important role by destroying the tanks of Rommel’s panzer divisions.

– the 4th and 5th Indian Divisions distinguished themselves in a series of hard-fought campaigns in the East African Campaign against the Italians in Somali-land,, Eritrea and Abyssinia, and then in Libya against the Germans. From North Africa the 5th  division was moved toIraq to protect its oil fields.

– The third (Indian) Motor Brigade badgered the Corps using trucks and machine guns

– Indian forces- consisting the fourth, 8th and 1oth Infantry Divisions and 43rd Gurkha Lorried Infantry Brigade   played a major role in liberating Italy from fascism. They fought the famous of Monte Casino and the torrid battle on the Gothic lane in late 1944 and 1945. The British Army of was the third largest Allied contingent in the Italian Campaign after the Us and British forces.

-The British eighth Army depended on the fourth Division of Indian Army to break the Axis formations

-In Malaya , Singapore and Burma, the Indian Army engaged the unstoppable Imperial Japanese in its drive through South-East Asia. The Chinese, the American, and the British formations could not repulse the Japanese. Then the 14th Division of the Indian Army- consisting one million men of which 700,000 were Indians- went on the counter offensive, swept the Japanese out of South-East Asia.
– The Indian Air Force fielded ten squadrons during World War 2. Flying in the China-Burma-India theatre, these squadrons carried out assault mission against Japanese troops stationed in Burma . It was because of the efforts of Indian Army the advance of Imperial Japan came to a halt.
– The Royal Indian navy ships were active in all theatres. HMIS sunk a Japanese raider


5. War causalities

As per the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, total deaths in the Indian Army were 87,040 which included Army (79,326), Air Force (897), Navy (501),Merchant navy (6,114) and civilian deaths (193) .The wounded numbered 64,354; while the POWs were 79,489. Apart from these, the pro-Japanese Indian National Army (INA) suffered 2,615 dead and missing.

On top of these deaths came the deaths in the Bengal Famine of 1943 .It is estimated that the wartime pressures and failure to implement the ‘famine code’ resulted in the death of over five million  people due to starvation , malnutrition and related illnesses .


6. Exploitation by the British

The through widespread acquisition and use of raw materials, foodstuffs and resources produced by the Indians. The vital agricultural supplies of sisal, maize, wheat, tea, sugar, rubber, jute and cotton came from the Indian sub continent. In addition, although the British largely discouraged the development of industry in India , it nevertheless took advantage of India’s rich mineral wealth in bauxite, iron, steel, manganese, tin, coal, timber, and gold.

The British officials showed little or no concern for local interests as they instigated ruthless price controls, coerced colonial labor, and unapologetically dictated colonial economic policy.

Overall, the war exacted a heavy economic price on India, which diverted more than 80% of its annual budget to the war effort, and extensively shared the huge and intolerable economic cost of war.

7. The British Empire and Commonwealth in World War II:

Selection and Omission in English History Textbooks

( )

Mr. Stuart Foster, Institute of Education, University of London; in his remarkably candid paper has discussed how the text books in England are Anglo-centric centric and how they fail to give credit to the rich and diverse contributions of all races of the British colonies and their sacrifices in the struggle against the Axis powers during the WW Two.

He also goes on to document the exploitation, the racial discrimination and says how by disguising the true history of colonialism and by writing the black people out of British history, the official historians have marginalized and further oppressed the under privileged.

Mr. Foster’s paper is highly educative and interesting.

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Posted by on August 31, 2012 in History


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The cultural diversity of the Indian subcontinent

The diversity in the Indian cultural scene is not merely in its ethnic or racial composition. It is spread to every walk of life. Starting with geographical features and climatic conditions there are vast regional and intra regional differences. It is often said our strength lies in harnessing these diversities. Let us dwell on that.

1. Prof. Arnold Toynbee defines civilization as a pattern of interactions between challenges and responses. The challenges may come from different directions; say from environment or from social and cultural stresses. To these, the people living in a land mass over a great period of time develop their responses to ensure individual and collective survival. What is important in such situations is, the responses should always be individually satisfying and socially relevant. The web and warp of these responses and corrections, over a period, weave the cultural pattern of a society. The story of the Indian subcontinent is no different.

2. Bharatha Varsha

2.1. Indians in their daily prayers still refer to themselves as those belonging to the land -mass of Jambu-Dwipa (Sanskrit) a geographical area comprising the present day India, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Syria and Corinth. Within this vast stretch of land, Indians identify themselves as those residing in Bharatha Varsha. They call it a country situated to the north of the ocean and to the south of the Himadri, the snowy mountains, and where the descendants of Bharata (a distant ancestor of Rama) dwell.

2.2..Rig Veda mentions Bharathas ruled the land that spread over the banks of the rivers Parushni (Ravi) and Vipasa (Beas) .Kautilya (c. 350-283 BC), the renowned author of the Artha shastra, names Bharatha Varsha as the land that stretched from Himalaya to Kanyakumari ; he also called it Chakravarthi –Kshetra ( the land of the Emperor). An epigraph of Kharavela (209 – 179 B. C?) who ruled over the region of the present day Orissa, found in Hathigumpha (near Bhubaneshwar in Orissa) uses the nomenclature of Bharatha Varsha. There are, of course, innumerablereferences to Bharatha Varsha in various Puranas.

3. Composite Culture

3.1. Rig Veda often regarded as the source, if not the beginning, of Indian culture repeatedly refers to the composite character of its society and to its pluralistic population. The other ancient records also state that even from the early years of its history Bharatha Varsha, the Indian land mass, has been multi-racial, multi-cultural and multi-lingual. For instance , its society included , among others , Bhalikas ( the Balks) ,Kiratas( hill tribes), Bhotas ( Tibetans), Hunas (from Jungara),Sakas(Scythians),Parasikas ( from Persia), Airakas( from Iraq),Yavanas (from Iona), Maidas ( from Media) and Kambhojas ( from North western region ).

This composite culture was the result of continuous influx of people from other regions and a dynamic interaction with them.

4. The influx

4.1. The influx of foreigners continued down the ages. About 500 years B.C.E the Greeks, the Sakas (Scythians) came to India. The Persians have of course been a part of the Indo-Aryan heritage even from the times of the Rig Veda. In the early centuries before the present era, the Kushans from Central Asia entered through the North-West. In the first Century A.D., the Spanish Jews as also St.Thomas, the Apostle, reached the Malabar Coast in South of India. This process continued with the arrival of Huns in the fifth century, Arabs in the eighth century, and with the Mughals who invaded and settled in 15th century. Around the same period, Portuguese landed on the coast of their home. On the other side of the sub continent, the Mongoloid Shans entered Assam while Mongolians inhabited the upper tracts of the North. Thereafter the western traders such as the Dutch, the French and the British vied with each other to get a foothold in India. Eventually the British prevailed not only over its rivals but also over the native Indian rulers. The British Empire lasted in India for nearly a century thereafter. The continuous influx of foreigners over a long period rendered Indian scene complex and colorful.

5. Assimilation and Amalgamation

5.1. The much-hailed composite culture did not come easily. It demanded its price. The several foreign invasions and aggressions caused large-scale cultural stress. Indigenous populations were exposed to cultural and social influences that were altogether alien to them. They had to under go untold hardship and misery. There were long periods of political subjugation, economic exploitation and religious suppression and there was general degeneration in the quality of man and his life. The ordinary man in India was no longer at peace with himself, his age-old style of life was shaken rudely and his view of his fellow beings and life was confused .The process of assimilation and amalgamation spread over a long period is still going on. It is an on –going dynamic process.

5.2. A number of Scholars and various Commissions have studied the racial and social amalgamation in India.

Meghasthenes (350 B.C.E to 290 B.C.E) a Greek traveler and Geographer, in his book Indika wrote “It is said that ,India being of enormous size when taken as a whole, is peopled by races both numerous and diverse, of which not even one was originally of foreign descent, but all were evidently indigenous”. He gives a detailed classification of the ethnic groups in of his time. The racial groups described are too numerous to be mentioned here. Please check the following link

5.3. Among the other studies on the subject, in the recent past, the report of the British anthropologist Sir Herbert Hope Risley, the Census Commissioner for India in 1901, is fairly well known. Let me add a word of caution here; Risley’s theories and classifications are now only of historical interest. The Government of India and the National Census of independent India do not recognize any racial groups in India. The erstwhile group names are generally considered as linguistic terms, rather than ethnic terms.

Risley’s account of racial characteristics of Indian population provides an interesting aspect of the composite nature of the Indian populace.

Turko-Iranian (the frontier provinces)

Indo-Aryan (punjab, Kashmir, Rajasthan)

Scytho-Dravidian (Madhya Pradesh, Saurastra)

Aryo-Dravidian (U.P, Rajasthan,Bihar)

Mangolo_Dravidian (Bengal,Orissa)

Mongoloid (Nepal,Assam,Himachal Region)

Dravidian (South India, M.P, Chota Nagpur)

Negrita (Kadars and Mala-pantarans of Kerala)
Proto-Austalaid (tribes)

6. Cultural Diversity

6.1. The reasons for cultural diversity may lie in the combination and interdependence of geographical, economic and ethnic factors. Toynbee’s thesis of the “challenge of environment” mentioned earlier, might explain to some extent why and how unique cultures developed in certain regions. This may even pertain to a region such as the Indian subcontinent.

6.2. The diversity in the Indian cultural is not merely in its ethnic or racial composition. It is in every walk of its life. Starting with the geographical features, climatic conditions, and the vast regional and intra regional differences one can go on to religion , customs ,attitudes, practices, language , food habits, dress , art , music , theatre and notice that no two regions are alike in these matters. Each group, each sub group has its own set of identities. Then, what is it that holds India together ?.

When the Indian nation was formed not many Western observers and academicians thought it would survive long because the land mass encompassed too many variables. The newborn nation tried to rope in a variety of people who spoke different languages, .who followed many faiths, who were culturally and racially divergent; and to bind them into a nation looked unnatural.

For instance Aldous Huxley, the famous thinker, wrote in 1961, “When Nehru goes, the government will become a military dictatorship—as in so many of the newly independent states, for the army seems to be the only highly organized centre of power”.

In the year 1967, The London Times wrote, “The great experiment of developing within a democratic framework has failed. (Indians will soon vote) in the fourth—and surely last—general election”.

These fears have, of course, been belied.

6.3 Mr. Ramachandra Guha, a scholar of modern day India, in his brilliant essay “The miracle that is India ” discusses the complexity of the Indian situation and comes up with his views on why India as a nation survives amidst apparent contradictions. I try to sum up his views briefly.

-The pluralism of religion was one cornerstone of the foundation of the Indian republic. A second was the pluralism of language. Linguistic pluralism has worked. Instead of dividing, as elsewhere in the world, it tamed and domesticated secessionist tendencies.

– It has sustained a diversity of religions and languages. It has resisted the pressures to go in the other direction, to follow by favoring citizens who follow a certain faith or speak a particular language.

– That unity and pluralism are inseparable in is graphically expressed in the country’s currency notes.Denominations on the Indian currency note are given not just in Hindi and in English but in all Indian languages

– The economic integration of is a consequence of its political integration. They act in a mutually reinforcing loop. The greater the movement of goods and capital and people across India, the greater the sense that this is, after all, one country

– As a modern nation, India is simply sui generis. It stands on its own, different and distinct from the alternative political models on offer—be these Anglo-Saxon liberalism, French republicanism, atheistic Communism, or Islamic theocracy

– One might think of independent India as being Europe’s past as well as its future. It is ‘Europe’s past, in that it has reproduced, albeit more fiercely and intensely, the conflicts of a modernizing, industrializing and urbanizing society. But it is also its future, in that it anticipated, by some 50 years, the European attempt to create a multi-lingual, multi-religious, multi-ethnic, political and economic community

– The future of as a nation-state lies not in the hands of God but in the mundane works of its men women. So long as the Constitution is not amended beyond recognition, so long as elections are held regularly and fairly and the ethos of secularism broadly prevails, so long as citizens can speak and write in the language of their choosing, so long as there is an integrated market and a moderately efficient civil service and army, and—lest I forget—so long as Hindi films are watched and their songs sung, India will survive

6.4. M. C. Chagla, a legal luminary and a statesman, said there is an Indian- ness and an Indian ethos, brought about by the communion and intercourse between the many races and many communities that have lived in this land for centuries. He said, there is an Indian tradition, which overrides all the minor differences that may superficially seem to contradict the unity. This, according to him, is what holds India together.

7. Unity in Diversity

Heinz Werner Wessler says India ’s traditional multi-cultural society that came into being in the pre-modern context, is probably the most important resource for a political and cultural vision of “Unity and Diversity”. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Independent India’s first Prime Minister, often said India’s strength is “the unity in diversity”. While a majority accepts this motto, some lay stress on its inevitability. Because, they remark, the motto may imply to mean that while we recognizes the actually existing diversity we also appreciate the need for unity. Hence, they say, unity and diversity are not contradictory but complementary. At the same time, the modern state in principle always approves of diversity and looks for ways to enable minorities to identify themselves with the state as much as possible. This is a complex situation.

8. Concept of a Nation

8.1. Nations are, in the words of Ernest Renan, ultimately a consensus among people who wish to be included in a nation. Over the centuries, the notion of an nation has exerted a powerful influence on the peoples who make up India. However, it was not easy to turn it in to a reality because of several constraints. India was not a homogeneous country, by any classification. In addition, the boundaries of India changed very often. It was difficult to sustain the image of a nation since the four famous criteria of the State viz. land; people, government, and sovereignty were not always present. An amorphous feeling of belonging may bring together people of different culture, language, and even religion. However, that alone will not transform them into a nation. There has to be a political awareness of belonging to a single entity. That solidarity and commitment to the concept and reality of nation is essential. In India, the essentials for a nation did not materialize until recently.

8.2. Whatever may be the debate about political unity and cultural diversity in India, the fact is the diverse peoples of India have developed a peculiar type of culture far different from any other type in the world and have learned to live together as one people. This unity transcends the countless diversity of blood, color, language, dress, manners, sect et al.

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Posted by on August 31, 2012 in General Interest, History


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Buddhism of Tibet

India -Tibet and Buddhism

1. Early Days

1.1 India and Tibet (known to Tibetans themselves as Bod and to Indians as Bhota Desha) have had a long and a continuous cultural contact. The links between the old neighbors intensified when in 620 AD the emperor Sorang – sGam-Po (569 – 650 AD) sent his emissary to Kashmir to evolve a suitable script for the Tibetan language and to invite Buddhist scholars to Tibet. Interestingly this move, it said, was initiated at the wish of two women one from Nepal and the other from China who were married to the monarch .The two queens were pious Buddhists .It does not however mean Buddhism was not known in Tibet until then. It appears that at least a hundred years earlier when LHa- THo- THo ruled the land a number of Buddhist texts were available in Tibet but not many could read the script. The initiative taken by the monarch not only brought in a gentler religion and a mellowed way of life but also a new “religious speech” (CHos – sKad) enriched by Sanskrit. Since then Tibet has regarded India as its sacred land and India in turn looks upon Tibet as its religious frontier. The mutual regard and respect has continued to this day.

2. Buddhism Enters

2.1 The introduction of Buddhist influence into Tibet was neither sudden nor violent. It was a gradual and a gentle process. This was a remarkable feat considering that the Tibetans and their religion at the time were “wild “and that the Monarch did not resort to violence or repression to usher in Buddhism. The Tibetans were mostly nomadic in nature, Spartan in their ways of life and were fiercely warlike. The religion native to Tibet called Bon –pronounced Pon – meaning “to mutter magic spells”, often described as shamanism, fetishism filled with rituals, spells, dances etc. had a strong influence on its followers. Yet the transformation brought about following the introduction of Buddhism is astounding. Today there is no gentler race than the Tibetans .No other people have preserved the high ideals of Buddhism as the Tibetans have even in the face of persistent trials, tribulations, displacements of immense proportions forced on them. How did this come about?

3. Synthesis

3.1 The religion that Indian monks planted in Tibet was not the one practiced in India at the time. In order to become acceptable to the populace of Tibet it was necessary Buddhism evolve itself into a new form by letting in Bon practices and ideas while firmly retaining its basic Buddhist tenets. In the process Buddhism took in materials and attitudes native to the soil, lent them a new sense of direction and grafted them with the Mahayana doctrines. It allowed many Bon attitudes, ideas, tribal gods, goddesses, and the associated rituals and instilled in them the spirit of piety (Karuna). Thus While the form was traditional to the soil, the soul was Buddhist. Bon at the same time also adopted numerous Buddhist practices, attitudes and ideas.

3.2 It is important to remember that the Indian monks who brought in Buddhism were not missionaries in the usual sense of the term. They were not interested in conversions.

3.3 Some call the Tibetan religion as Vajrayana. It may perhaps be more appropriate to recognize it as Bon- CHos (Buddhism grafted on Bon). Because, what we have here is a harmonious synthesis of two religious practices and ideas rather than domination of one over the other. For this reason, we may say Tibet has manifested a truly unique CHos (Dharma) with its own scheme of values.

4. Vajrayana

4.1 The form of Buddhism that took root in Tibet belongs to Vajrayana (the path of the thunderbolt) an offshoot of the Yogachara branch of the Mahayana. Vajrayana had its origin in South India, blossomed in the universities of Nalanda, Vikramashila and Odantapura in North India .It later took root in Tibet and Mongolia. Its characteristics are involvement in Tantric rituals, incantations (Mantras) and visualization of deities. At the same time the adaptable integration of the body (Kaya – Snkt,), speech (Vacha – Sanskt) and mind (manas – Sanskt.) is also a main plank of the Vajra (Diamond) path.

4.2 The Yoga – Tantra ideology (known to Tibetans as Grub –Thob) developed during the early part Christian era by a class of Indian seers called Siddhas became the driving force of the Vajrayana. Siddhas brought in the concept of Bhodhi –chitta.

4.3 As per the concept, Bhodhi-Chitta resides in all of us in its twin aspect :(1) as ordinary consciousness soiled by actions and agitated by thoughts, and (2) as a hidden pool of tranquility, unaffected, “ever washed bright”, beyond the phenomenal involvements. The former aspect is mind (Manas -Sanskrit) (Yid – Tibetan) and the latter is consciousness (Chitta – Sanskrit) (Sems – Tibetan). The object of the Tantra is to transform the former (characterized by Stress – Klesha) into the latter (experienced as Bliss – Sukha).

4.4 To illustrate the Bhodhi – Chitta, the mind is like a pool of water. The agitated water should become still before what lies beneath (consciousness) becomes visible. Beating or stirring the water does not help. The pool should be left undisturbed .The art of letting the mind alone (“let go”, “open hand”) to allow it to settle naturally into silence and tranquility is at the core of the disciplines advocated by the Siddhas. The instruction is “cast aside all clinging and essence will at once emerge”.

This concept gives rise to another one viz. Vipasyana meaning clear vision, which comes about because of stilling the constitutional mind.

4.5 These concepts entail a process that lays stress on utilizing the mind to reach a state of “no mind”, refinement and sharpening of the mind, purifying it and making it “like a cloud less sky”, “like a wave less occasion”,” like a bright lamp in a windless night” etc. In short, the object is to attain a clear, bright and a stable state. This process is also called as emptying the mind. The Tantra here not only suggests a path from a cruder form of thought and emotions to a higher level of functioning but also prescribes practices that transform and elevate the human being.

5. The Masters

5.1 The credit for evolving a wonderful synthesis of the two religious practices goes to the Tibetan monks and their Indian Gurus the prominent among whom, in the early stages, were Padmasambhava and Santarakshita. Padmasambhava built the first Buddhist monastery in Tibet (bSam Yas) around 749 AD modeled on the Odantapura monastery while combining three styles of India, Tibet and China. He persuaded the great scholar Santharakshita of Nalanda to preside over the monastery. Both were men of great learning. While Padmasambhava had his roots in Tantra, Santarakshita was a quiet ascetic in the traditional mold. The Padmasambhava – Santarakshita team was a curious combination of dissimilar capabilities .One complimented the other. One would argue, thunder and coerce while the other could explain, expound, teach and convince. One had a mass appeal; the other had the quiet regard of the elite. One emphasized magic, rituals and success; the other highlighted the value of virtues, contemplation and wisdom. Padmasambhava stood for powerful action; Santarakshita symbolized gentle being. The two great men together molded the attitudes and approach of later day Tibetans. If the Tibetans have successfully accommodated the thunderbolt (Vajra) with the abiding peace of vacuity (Shunya) then a large share of the credit must go to these Masters each working in his own way for the betterment of humanity.

5.2 If the Padmasambhava – Santarakshita team introduced the Buddhist excellence the other team of Dipankara and Brom firmly established Buddhist influence in Tibet Dipankara, a prince from Bengal earlier in his life, presided over the Vikramsila University. He was a great Mahayana scholar in the mould of Santharakshita. He was 60 when he arrived in Tibet where he lived for 13 years until his death in 1054 AD. He was fortunate in securing a very capable and devoted Tibetan disciple in Brom. The two together strived to clean up the cobwebs since settled in the Tibetan Buddhism and to restore the traditional values and virtues.

5.3 Another revered name in the annals of Tibetan Buddhism is TSong –Kha – Pa (1357 – 1419 AD), a scholar of great renown and author of the celebrated Lam – Rin CHen Mo. He is worshipped even today as a living presence, next only to Buddha. The Chinese emperor honored TSong –Kha – Pa’s nephew as a Bhodhi Sattva. Later in 1650, the Mongolian emperor conferred the all-powerful status of Dalai Lama on a descendent of TSong –Kha – Pa. Since then the successive abbots have been the religious and secular heads of Tibet.

TSong –Kha – Pa brought large scale and enduring reforms in the Buddhist monastic organizations in Tibet. The achievements of TSong –Kha _Pa and his contribution to Tibetan Buddhism in particular and to Dharma in general are too numerous to recount here.

6. India’s Debt to Tibet

6.1 India owes a debt of deep gratitude to Tibet for preserving Yoga-Tantra tradition and keeping it alive even though it has become extinct in the land of its origin.

6.2 Further, because of the large-scale destruction of Buddhist and Hindu texts stored in Nalanda when Muslim forces attacked it during the middle periods, many ancient texts are no longer available in India. The only credible source for such ancient texts is the body of Tibetan translations carried out centuries earlier by Tibetan monks.

6.3 More importantly, the extraordinary sprit of tolerance, non-violence and resilience displayed by the large population of ordinary men and women displaced from their homeland is a true tribute to Buddha and his ideals.

1. Tibetan Tantric Traditions
– Prof. S K Ramachandra Rao
2. The Buddhist Tantras
– Alex Wayman

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Posted by on August 31, 2012 in Buddhism, History, Sri Sankara


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Learning Process in Buddhism

Instructions – Black and White

1.Tibetan Buddhism makes a distinction between the written/spoken interpretation of a text by a scholar (Black Instruction) and the explanation by a Master based his own experience (White Instruction).The latter is more valuable.

To receive “White Instructions”, one has to approach a Master, receive initiation from him and practice it.


2. The learning process is in four stages:

 a) Study of texts

 b) Oral percepts and personal notes

 c) Initiation with practical guidance and

 d) practice-meditation and worship

They are in the order of increasing importance.


3. The teacher’s role is to help the pupil progress from one stage to the next. The responsibility is, however, on the pupil. He will have to exert and ultimately be free of the teacher.

The Buddha said, “The enlightened ones show the way. Going is your concern.”



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Posted by on August 31, 2012 in Buddhism


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