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Why Is The Year Of Alexander’s Death Important To Indian History?

07 Sep

The major problem with the events in ancient Indian History is not so much as their historicity but as their chronology. That is the reason that the dates of the Mahabharata war, the date of Nirvana of the Buddha or of Mahavira or even of Sankara are still matters of debate, study and research.

Although the ancient Indians were great calculators of time, they, somehow, did not standardize the dates of important events in a uniform manner. That might have been because  the ancient India, except for the two relatively brief imperial periods of the Mauryas and the Guptas, 321 BCE  to 185 BCE  and 320 AD to 467 AD , for  rest of the period  was largely politically and culturally fragmented into regional segments. There were  also numerous ancient Indian calendars, each with its own commencement year, which were used by different dynasties or religious communities or regions.

The chronology, which we now refer to, was put in place during the later years of the 18th century (around the year 1793) largely due to the efforts of Sir William Jones. It was built around two factors: One, the date of the death of the Alexander the Great; and two, the identification of Sandrocottus mentioned in the Greek accounts with Chandragupta Maurya. Of the two, the former, that is, the date of the death of Alexander the Great is verifiable from other sources. However, it is the identity of Sandrocottus with Chandragupta Maurya that is still a matter of debate. Thus the chronology of Indian History, as we now follow, is supported on one leg by a fact and on the other by an assumption.

This was, broadly, how the chronology was worked out.

The first fixed point in this chronology was the year 326 BCE, when according to the Greek writers Plutarch and Justin a young Indian prince Sandrocottus met Alexander then camping at Taxila. After the death of Alexander in 323 BCE, his empire broke up and Sandrocottus of Palibothra established himself and ruled over a large region.

Now, the Indian scholars of 18th century identified Sandrocottus with Chandragupta Maurya and Palibothra with Pataliputra (in the region of present day Patna), because of the phonetic similarities.

That was how the death of Alexander and equating Sandrocottus with Chandragupta Maurya became the sheet anchor of the ancient Indian chronology.

The working of the dates of the Buddha, Asoka and others was attempted along the following lines.

1. Alexander the Great died in the year 323 BCE (taken as an undisputed date).

2. Sandrocottus equated with Chandra Gupta Maurya began his reign in the year of Alexander’s death (323 BC).

3. According to the list of Kings given in the Puranas, Chandragupta Maurya ruled for 24 years, so did his successor Bindusara (323 -24-24 =275 BCE)

4. Asoka came to the throne some years after the death of his father Bindusara because of the succession wars (275 -6 = 269 BCE), Asoka ruled for 36 years (269-36 = 233 BCE).

5. According to the Sinhalese chronicles, Asoka’s coronation took place 218 years after the death of the Buddha. Therefore, the Buddha’s Nirvana might have taken place in the year 487 BCE (269 + 218).

6. The Buddha lived for about 80 years. He therefore might have been born around 567 BCE. His date might therefore be between 487 BCE and 567 BCE.

**

Another method was also employed. The king Bimbisara (Vidhisara) was a contemporary of the Buddha. Bimbisara sent his personal physician Jivaka to attend on the Buddha. His son Ajathashatru of the Sisunaga dynasty of Magadha succeeded Bimbisara. When Ajathashatru came to the throne, the Buddha was 72 years of age. The Buddha died 8 years later. All generally accept these events.

According to these events and with reference to the Puranic records the time of Bimbisara is reckoned as 580 – 552 BCE and that of Ajathashatru as 552 – 527 BCE.

Since the Buddha died 8 years after Ajathashatru came to throne, the year of the Buddha’s death is taken as 544 BCE. And, the life of the Buddha is therefore taken as between 644 and 544 BCE.

***

The dates of the Buddha’s birth and death are still uncertain .The most commonly used dates are between 644 BCE to 544 BCE. Yet, all dates within 20 years of either side are also acceptable.

In any case, the Buddha’s period is in the sixth century BCE.

***

Identifying Sandrocottus with Chandragupta Maurya, though looks rather convenient, has given rise to a number of unanswered questions. It sometimes looks as though Sandracottus might not have been Chandragupta Maurya afterall.

1. According to the Greek accounts, Sandrokottus deposed Xandrammes and Sandrocyptus was the son of Sandrokottus. In the case of Chandragupta Maurya, he had opposed Dhanananda of the Nanda dynasty and the name of his son was Bindusara. Both these names, Dhanananda and Bindusara, have no phonetic similarity with the names Xandrammes and Sandrocyptus of the Greek accounts.

1. a. Some scholars surmise that Sandracuttos mentioned by the Greek writers might actually refer to Chandragupta of the Gupta dynasty. The kings before and after Chandragupta Gupta were Chandramas and Samudragupta. The phonetic similarity is quite apparent for Chandragupta Gupta and not Maurya.

Chandragupta of Guptas is now placed in fourth century AD. In case he is indentified with Sandracottos, then the entire chronology will shift back by about eight hundred years .Then the Buddha might as well have been in the 14th century BCE.

2. The Greek accounts cover the period from 4th century BC to 2nd century AD. None of them has mentioned the names of Kautilya or Asoka. It was with Kautilya’s assistance that Chandragupta had come to the throne. Asoka’s empire was bigger than that of Chandragupta and he had sent missionaries to the Yavana countries. However, both of them are not mentioned. The Greek writers did not say anything about the Buddhist Bhikkus though that was the flourishing religion of that time with the royal patronage of Asoka. The Indian scholars wonder why the Greek accounts are silent on Asoka and Buddhism.

The ancestry of Chandragupta is still shrouded in mystery and not known for certain. There are divergent views regarding the origin, and each view has its own set of adherents. Please check the following site for further discussions on the issue. Please also visit Talk: Ancestry of Chandragupta Maurya

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancestry_of_Chandragupta_Maurya

Please check the following for the other side of the issue:

http://www.salagram.net/aryaninvasion-page#12. Chandragupta, the Sandrocottus

**

The another reference point that is often relied upon is the work of the famous astronomer Aryabhatta who wrote his definitive mathematical work in 499 AD. Aryabhatta through his astronomical calculations,  claimed that the year of completion of his work (499 AD) also marked 3,600 years of the Kali Yuga. It , indirectly,  meant, that Kali Yuga commenced in or around 3101 BC.

The other method was calculating the dates from the start-year of the Islamic lunar calendar (622 AD). According to that reckoning, Mahmud of Ghazni attacked India in 1000 AD.

But again, the modern European system of dating is not entirely accurate either.  That is because,   Christ was born at least four years before what we consider to be its start-year of 1 AD , supposedly the year of his birth. Apart from that ,  there have also been both slippages of days and days added artificially by the Church  at different times in European history.

Nevertheless, the present dating system is commonly accepted; and, is compared with many Indian calendars.  Of course, one needs to be constantly reminded that all dates of ancient Indian history are somewhat fluid; and,  in the dating of some events one has to accommodate  a certain ‘give and take’ of a few decades or even a couple of centuries , at times .

***

Talking of chronology in Indian History, Shri Niraj Mohanka (not a professional historian) has produced a remarkable set of spreadsheets – 23 columns wide, 350 rows deep and over 8,000 cells in MS Excel – basically on the chronology of Indian history. The like of which I had not come across. As the chronology in Indian History is always a matter of debate, one may quarrel a bit with the dates indicated by Shri Mohanka, this way or that. But that does not, in any manner, take away the sheen from the dedication and the amount of scholarship and work that has gone into producing the document.

Please check : http://www.newdharma.org/royal_chron.htm

In the webpage, the following link opens up a Microsoft Excel file that contains four spreadsheets (see the four lower Tabs when you open up the Excel file):

1) Royal Chronology of India (Columns K through P on the right-hand side describe other civilizations – Egypt, Israel, Iraq, Iran and China).  On Page 21 of this file is a Population Chart of India from 8000 B.C.E. to 2200 C.E.  On Page 42 is a list of assumptions and sources used to build the timeline.

2) The History of World Religion- major religions [Eastern AND Western] have roots in the Vedas

3) Comparison of All Religions

4) Festivals of India

In the webpage please click on the above picture

 
11 Comments

Posted by on September 7, 2012 in General Interest, History

 

Tags: , ,

11 responses to “Why Is The Year Of Alexander’s Death Important To Indian History?

  1. sreenivasaraos

    March 20, 2015 at 7:23 pm

    raogaru,

    a learned and erudite piece indeed, and i loved reading it as i am very fond of history.

    the major claim to sandracottus as having belonged to the gupta dynasty is due to the names of his predecessor and son rhyming with ‘greekified’ names found in the ‘greek’ accounts (strabo/arrian/plutarch and pliny). in my humble estimation, such rhymes alone cannot be a clinching factor. one should perhaps take this only as an unsolved mystery, and not question the mauryan connection with the greeks.

    the mauryan sandracottus married helena, daughter of seleucus nikator. could it be possible that the first gupta king would have done it?

    ‘buddhism’, ‘chanakya’ are not found in the greek historians’ accounts. so what, one may ask. does it show that chanakya did not exist or that buddhism did not thrive then? the warriors with alexander, who rendered the first accounts, perhaps gave no importance to religion or to a scheming and clever court advisor. unfortunately, megasthenes’ work ‘indica’ is untraceable and it could have given us great insights.

    btw, can you please check my blog ‘earliest greek literature’ posted a week back?

    thanks and regards,

    vs gopal

     
    • sreenivasaraos

      March 20, 2015 at 7:25 pm

      dear shri gopal,

      thank you for the comments and for the recommendation.

      yes sir, i agree with your observation. sandrocottus was most likely the chandragupta maurya; and his being the founder of the gupta dynasty are very remote. i tried to present the other side of the view too just to complete the picture.

      as regards buddhism not being specifically mentioned , i think , it might be because , in the early 3rd century b. c. buddhism was not yet a major faith in india; it would become so only during the reign of the emperor ashoka (ca. 274-236 b. c,), who lent the weight of the state to promoting it.

      certainly, megasthenes never mentioned buddha or buddhists by name. but, he referred to the brachmanai and sarmanai as distinct categories. the sarmanai, he referred to, might have been buddhists, jains, or the other sadhus. even the other greek sources often refer indiscriminately to all indian ascetics as “brahmins”, although some of the ascetics in question might easily have been buddhists or jains.

      as regards megasthenes, he resided for several years at pataliputra, the capital of the maurya state. thus unlike alexander’s companions, he knew a portion of india beyond the indus valley. hiscomplete indika is no longer extant; however, extensive citations from it have been preserved in other hellenistic writings. project south asia has put together his fragmented citations. kindly see.

      http://www.mssu.edu/projectsouthasia/history/primarydocs/foreign_views/greekroman/megasthenes-indika.htm.

      i was away from home during the last week and i could not visit sulekha and your article; sorry sir. i am now posting my comments on that separately.

      with best wishes

      and

      regards

       
  2. sreenivasaraos

    March 20, 2015 at 7:27 pm

    dear sir

    a very interesting piece of writing. read mr. gopal’s comment and your reply too.
    it is true that the chronology of indian history is based on conjecture and speculation.
    you have thrown up an interesting set of arguments to counter current thinking. why indeed are asoka and kautilya not mentioned in the greek works? we have only questions, no plausible answers. solving this might hold the key to several of the questions raised, maybe even turn our secular history in its head.

    thanks for the links too. they are extensive and would have taken considerable effort to compile them.

    Melody Queen

     
    • sreenivasaraos

      March 20, 2015 at 7:27 pm

      dear melody queen,

      thank you for the comments. yes, the chronology in indian history is truly an engaging pursuit. several scholars have devoted their lifetime to its study. those efforts combine in themselves the study of histories of india, china and greek; the study of our scriptures; the study of puranas, buddhist and jaina lore; the study of the list of kings etc. sometimes i feel we are rather too hasty in accusing our ancients of not having a “sense of history “ or a “chronological sense”, i feel that the flow of the indian history followed the normal patterns and phases; and that the events and sequences were recorded in an unique manner. perhaps we somewhere or somehow failed to notice the clues or to decipher their way of narrating their story.

      many alternatives look plausible and look quite reasonable too. yet, i doubt if the present set of dates could easily be replaced. even in case that does not happen, the study is not futile for it leads to a better understanding and appreciation of our past and of ourselves.

      did you visit the amazing spread sheets on chronology prepared by shri mohanka?

      i understand that shri shrikant talageri will soon be coming out with a book that addresses the questions of the sarasvathi, the mahabharata etc.

      please keep talking.

      regards

       
  3. sreenivasaraos

    March 20, 2015 at 7:29 pm

    dear shi rao

    such a wealth of information as usual. this challenge to the theories of early western indologists is noteworthy and must be read by our historians, most of whom still follow the white man’s version as meekly as before.

    i went through the link provided by you and what struck me is megasthenes’s description of the castes — all linked to profession/work and no mention of untouchability at all, on the other hand he is struck by the indian philosopher’s stand that no one should be a slave to another and lead a life of dignity.

    any comments on the geography and shape of india mentioned there? gangadhira (my spelling may be wrong) or the gangetic plain is mentioned as another country,

    please keep writing and publishing too.

    Padma raghavan

     
    • sreenivasaraos

      March 20, 2015 at 7:30 pm

      dear padma raghavan,

      thanks for the comment and thank you for asking.

      i appreciate your effort to follow the links to ancient records. i agree with your observations on the then status of indian society.

      i think you were referring to gandhara (g?ndä`r?) region now in nw pakistan and had taxila and peshawar as its chief cities ; and extended up to the present-day kandhahar in afghanistan. it was once a province of the persian empire and was conquered (327 b.c.) by alexander the great. the region passed to chandragupta maurya. (incidentally, it was the home state of gandhari of mahabharata.)

      as regards the geography and the shape of india there was a considerable discussions in the ancient times.

      pliny, the historian, in his naturalis historia vi 36 mentions that 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. 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-(276-194bc- the greek mathematician known to have calculated the earth’s circumference and to have drawn the map of the world) 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.

      the fragments mention as follows about the then shape of india


      according to eratosthenes, and megasthenes …india is bounded on its eastern side, right onwards to the south, by the great ocean; that its northern frontier is formed by the kaukasos range as far as the junction of that range with tauros; and that the boundary towards the west and the north-west, as far as the great ocean, is formed by the river indus. a considerable portion of india consists of a level plain, and this, as they conjecture, has been formed from the alluvial deposits of the river,–inferring this from the fact that in other countries plains which are far away from the sea are generally formations of their respective rivers, so that in old times a country was even called by the name of its river. “

      eratosthenes did eventually drew a map of the world. india figures prominently in that map but forms the eastern end of the world. to view eratosthenes’s map please check.
      the world according to eratosthenes, ca. 220 b.c.
      http://www.henry-davis.com/maps/ancientwebpages/112a.html

      as you can see the gangetic plane was shown as separated from taprobaneisland (sri lanka) by the southern sea.

      please also see my a note on muzaris for another ancient maps of india; particularly the south india.
      http://ssubbanna.sulekha.com/blog/post/2007/05/a-note-on-muziris.htm

      it was perhaps during the first century bce that the greek traders became fully aware of the southern india .according to strabo (64bc to 24 ad -a greek historian), quoting posidonius (135bc to 51 bc -a greek philosopher and historian), while eudoxus (c.130bc) 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 bereniceharbor with the indian as the guide. the voyage after having reached muzuris in south india, kerala,(surmised to be located below calicut ), returned to egypt after 70 days. eudoxus returned with a rich cargo of precious stones and aromatics.

      for more on muzaris and pattanam; please see some other ancient greeks in india

      http://ssubbanna.sulekha.com/blog/post/2007/05/some-other-ancient-greeks-in-india.htm

      please also check more on ancient egypt and india
      http://ssubbanna.sulekha.com/blog/post/2007/05/some-other-ancient-greeks-in-india.htm

      i have a request .now, i have lost touch with the later developments on muzaris and pattanam. in case you come across any news in the local pres or media about the recent position on the subject would you kindly post your remarks on the a note on muzaris?

      please keep talking.

      regards

      ps: i do hope the links open.

       
  4. sreenivasaraos

    March 20, 2015 at 7:34 pm

    dear sri srinivasarao

    thanks for a very informative article (as usual)

    1. i read somewhere the magadha dynasties are well defined starting from jarasandha etc to nandas etc. is it correct ?

    2. there are opinions that chankya and kautilya are different . pl opine

    regards

    Palahali

     
    • sreenivasaraos

      March 20, 2015 at 7:34 pm

      dear palahali,

      jarasandha was one of the most powerful rulers of magadha, which according to according to mahamahopadhyay haraprasad sastri, was the vast territory to the south of the ganga and north of the vindhya ranges extending from mudgagiri (monghyr) in the east to the charanadri (chunar) in the west. theanga region which was around bhagalpur area, it is said was also a part of magadha in the antiquity.

      jarasandha was the son of brihadratha, who founded his dynasty. it is said that was followed by pradyota dynasty, sisunaga dynasty, nanda dynasty, maurya dynasty, sunga dynasty, kanva dynasty and the gupta dynasty. please check:. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/magadha#kings_of_magadha

      for more on jarasandha of magadha, please check http://www.newdharma.org/royal_chron.htm; and then go to royal chronology on the left margin that takes to a most wonderful spread sheet of ancient indian chronology. please download that sheet. then please go to column a – 189 & g – king jarasandha (magadha).

      you may also go down the sheet to a-231 & g mahapadma nanda and to chandragupta maurya. the slot next to mahapadma nanda takes you to kantilya. please place the cursor on those entries explanation.

      kautilya and vishnugupta are the names by which arthashastra identifies its author. those names are traditionally identified with chanakya http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/kautilya. however, some scholars forward the view that the traditional identification of vi??ugupta with kau?ilya was caused by a confusion of editor and originator and suggest that vi??ugupta is in fact a compiler of the original work of kau?ilya. some even go further and say that cha?akya and kau?ilya are actually two different people. the traditional opinion still prevails.

      thank you for asking.

      regards

       
  5. sreenivasaraos

    March 20, 2015 at 7:36 pm

    brilliant! well expressed, i am going to quote you. please do not say no.
    (non-commercial purpose)
    http://ancientindians.wordpress.com

    Satyask

     

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