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

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.

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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

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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 .

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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

 
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Posted by on September 7, 2012 in General Interest, 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.
Prithu_-_Crop

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.”

dionysus-mosaic-1
 
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
Triumph_of_Dionysus
 triumph-of-dionysos

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.

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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 .

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Source: 

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
 
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Posted by on August 31, 2012 in History

 

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