Indian Classical Texts: Are they History, Mystery or Mythology?

Posted in History, India, politics, Propaganda by Anuraag Sanghi on June 26, 2012

Over the last 8-12 centuries, Indian historical figures have undergone ‘religiofication’. Result – India’s political history has been ‘lost’.

From: The true believer: thoughts on the nature of mass movements  |  By Eric Hoffer  |  Page 6

From: The true believer: thoughts on the nature of mass movements | By Eric Hoffer | Page 6

“Religiofication” as Eric Hoffer defined it, was all about turning practical purposes into holy causes. As noted, this leads to the politicization of religion and the religiofication of politics.

An important element of भारत-तंत्र Bharat-tantra was restrictions on power of elites over other people. Hence, power to criminalize or demonize people was anti-भारत-तंत्र Bharat-tantra.

De-Constructing History – And Language, Metaphors Mnemonics

If Indians classics like Mahabharata and Ramayana were mythology, then they would not have so many characters. So many of these characters appear in a line or a few verses and contribute nothing to the ‘story.’ Take the chapter on the descent of Gnaga. There is the vague king called asmanjas – whose name has come to embody dilemma. There is no need for him in the story – yet he is there. He interestingly, reappears in Egypt, in the Amarna tablets as Zananzas.

Now, if we assume that this history, then a lot of the overlays have to deconstructed.

Three de-constructions that I will leave you with: –

1. Sita – the name means furrow – as she was orphan found by Janak. (Unrelated, but Sita was also a vague, Vedic goddess, who we have forgotten, who was the goddess of fertility).

This simply means that she was a child of commoner – and earth’s child. Bhumiputri. Even today, bhumiputra is a political term used in Malaysia to denote natives – as opposed to immigrants.

When her husband’s exile was confirmed, she could have easily stayed back in the royal palace – and awaited the return of her husband. But again, her upbringing comes into play. As a commoner, she valued merit over birth. She would rather enjoy life with her husband than live alone in royal palace.

Again, after marital /political discord, Sita is unworried about royal comforts – and walks out. To reclaim her common life.

When her sons’ attain age, she again walks away and goes back to earth, her common, anonymous life, to prevent any emotional conflict and the dilution of loyalty in her sons towards their royal father, who kingdom they were to inherit.

How many times, we see estranged mothers use their children against the father? Sita eliminated this possibility by going back to earth.

And walking away from her sons.

This deconstruction is consistent with Sita’s meritocratic behavior. If Sita had an iota of entitlement-based thinking, she would have accepted Ravana’s proposal for marriage, instead of a disinherited, wandering, friendless prince that her husband was. She was entitled to all that Ravana was offering. But Sita values on loyalty and meritocratic thinking would not accept that proposal.

This also contrasts against the silly, modern interpretation of defenseless, victim of a patriarchal, backward, social structure.

2. Agnipareeksha – How will a husband, test his wife’s feelings, after nearly ten years of separation? After ten years of loneliness? If she still loved a disinherited, wandering, friendless prince that her husband was?

Even after victory over Ravana, Rama did not have a kingdom or a home.Remember that Bharat was anointed king of Bharata by Dashratha, and ruling over Ayodhya.

Rama did not know that a welcome awaited him. If Bharata decided there could have been another war to reclaim Ayodhya. And another few years of agony for Sita.

How would a husband test his wife’s love in such a situation?


I think not!

What could be the alternate meanings of agni, fire in such a situation? Was ‘agni‘ a metaphor?

3. War and women in India – If you read Mahabharata, after the war, it is the women of the slain warriors who do the final funerary rites. These soldiers had come Keykaya (Iran). Gandhara (Balochistan), Pragjyotishpura (Assam-Bengal-Afghanistan) etc.

How long would it take for messengers to reach their homes, and bring the women? Were the bodies rotting for so long? Disease, pollution from thousands of bodies lying for weeks would have made Kurukshetra unlivable.

Did the wives travel with the soldiers?

I believe they did?

Remember how after the Third Battle of Panipat, some 20,000 odd women were taken as captives? Similarly if you read the accounts of Nunez, the 16th century European chronicler in India, he talks of many women accompanying the soldiers. Nunez thinks they were prostitutes – because he could not imagine loyal wives who would follow their husbands to battle.

Why is Krishna Worshipped

Krishna was a completely different story. Off the top, I can think of the ten really big achievements.

1. Unarmed Combat: – Krishna’s killing of Kaiwalyapidu, Kamsa’s rogue elephant, the deaths of Chanura and Mustika and of Kamsa himself were all chronicles in unarmed combat, where as children, Krishna and Balarama showed that even children can defend themselves. This went later to China – and we have the birth of Kung-fu.

2. Kill-and-eat: Krishna pioneered the grow-and-eat economy with dairy as the backbone of the food chain. He started with the cleaning of Yamuna – which I presume was heavily polluted by endless dumping of meat-waste. You only have to see how animal fat is extracted or glue (sares) made from animal waste (bones and skins) to understand how polluting this is.

Krishna, it was who probably, replaced animal fat with dairy fat – and his love of butter was an indicator of this change. Krishna’s jumping into the polluted Yamuna, to get his ball, and the killing of Kaaliya nag, is how he cleaned the Yamuna – by transforming a kill-and-eat food system to grow-and-eat system.

3. Animal Husbandry: He also pioneered the taming of the bull-calf – which is why he is called natho.

4.Agriculture: Balarama pioneered ploughing and irrigation – the backbone of agriculture.

5. Transportation: As a charioteer he popularized fast transportation – which is why you will find him in all parts of India.

6. Plant Breeding: He brought the legendary Parijaat tree – which is the famous Baobab tree from probably West Asia or Africa (supposedly flying on a Garuda). Baobab tree is unique tree that lives for hundreds of years, can store enough water for a small village population, and its fruit and leaves have great nutritive value.

7. Escape From Superstition: Krishna swept away all the superstitions and ancient folk-gods during the Goverdhan incident.

8. Diplomacy: He laid out principles of diplomacy during Shishupal Vadh and his peace embassy before the War of Mahabharata.

9. Marriage & Society: He also reinforced the principles of free marital choice in the Subhadra-Arjun incident with well-structured arguments and negotiations.

10. His warcraft was second to none – which is why he alone was enough for the Pandavas. He was the inventor of the discus – the Sudarshana chakra. As an expert war-charioteer, he played a crucial role in Mahabharata.

Thus Krishna’s contribution in politics, ethics, combat-and-warcraft, transportation, animal husbandry, agriculture have never been duplicated in history.

Krishna’s two most famous killings were Kamsa and Jarasanda. Both these rulers were prolific ‘imprisoners’. Krishna killed both of them – and Narakasura. All three have been mentioned as rulers who imprisoned people.

How many people were imprisoned in Ram Rajya? How many people did Yudhisthira or Yadava Krishna imprison?

Here is an interesting review of literature and treatment of Krishna in India – over the centuries. The narrative below misses out many such points  – but remains a powerful study of the forgotten colossus – the political Krishna.

Bankim Chandra Chatterjee wrote Krishna-Charitra in 1886. Since then, more than a century has gone by. This work of Bankim, one of the finest in Bengali literature, has remained within the confines of Bengali, totally unknown to the vast readership of the country as well as of the world. Bankim brought Krishna out from a maze of confusion and misinterpretations created by myriads of interpolations and inexactitudes propagated by many ill-informed and little-informed Western writers. He had the gigantic task of separating the grain from the chaff in his quest for the historicity of Krishna and, in that process, to some extent, that of the Mahabharata.

Bankim’s was the first attempt to establish the historicity of Krishna and consequently of that portion of the Mahabharata that deals with Krishna. In the process we find that Krishna emerges as a supreme human being with all the desirable human qualities in all their resplendence, and not as a God churning out miracle after miracle from his divine repertoire. Bankim put forward Krishna as an ideal before the nation to be emulated, to be followed as a ideal man and not to be worshipped as a god who remains a Utopian dream forever.

Bankim was a pioneer, a pathfinder who limited his study only to Krishna, basing his research entirely on cold logic and scientific analysis. He destroyed some extremely popular myths which had found their way into the socio-cultural milieu of the entire country, namely the miraculous slaying of Kamsa, Jarasandha, Sishupala, Jayadratha and Drona. He established them as a simple matter of normal battle, bereft of any divine interference of godly prowess or base political machination.

Bankim began to write Krishna-Charitra as a skeptic but by the time he reached the end he had become a devotee of Krishna, an ardent believer in Krishna as God.

Bankim identified the decadent ‘Babus’ in Kamalakanter Daptar, Muchiram Gur etc., lashed at them viciously and resurrected Krishna from confusion, misinterpretation and intellectual oblivion to put him up before them as an idea who must be followed, emulated, as an ideal around whom they should mould their own personalities. Like the proverbial phoenix, must arise a generation of rejuvenated youth, conscious of their responsibility in a subject country, led by the hand of the Krishna he had created. Bankim provided Krishna. We have seen the excellent impact of it in the history of our Independence.

Why did Bankim choose Krishna and not Rama, the other epic hero who could do no wrong’ the maryada purushottama considered the ideal human being throughout the length and breadth of the country? There is a reason. Bankim was mainly concerned with Bengal. He was a part of the Bengal Renaissance and his target population was the Bengali. He wrote in Bengali for the Bengali reader and Rama is not the popular deity in Bengal. It is Krishna throughout. Therefore, he decided to deal with the character of Krishna. He knew that he could get the attention of the common Bengali only if he wrote Krishna-Charitra and not Rama-Charitra. But he found the Krishna of Chaitanya, the Krishna of the brilliant Vaishnava poets Jayadev, Vidyapati, Chandidas etc., the Krishna of the Bhakti cult, a romantic, erotic and rather soppy Krishna who went about gallivanting in the groves of Vrindavana along with Radha, Chandravali and other gopis, playing his irresistible flute. The whole of Bengal was drowned in the worship of this Krishna.

Instead of the emotionalism of the lyric poet, he brought out the toughness of the epic poet. He attempted to replace the erotic Krishna of the Bhagavata, Harivamsa, Chaitanya and the Vaishnava poets by the tremendously powerful personality of the epic, totally divested of his godhood, and involved in nation building, shifting power centers, politics, diplomacy, using peace and war according to requirement’ in short, using his overpowering but human wisdom and intelligence in the struggle for supremacy, resulting finally in the establishment of truth over falsehood, of good over evil, and of right over wrong. Here we find a Krishna bathed in the brutality and complexity of real-life struggle who is far removed from the flute-wielding romantic totally immersed in inane activities like hallisha krida. We find a strategist, a diplomat and a warrior, instead of a lover, a stealer of women’s hearts and butter and cheese.

The tremendous political acumen of Krishna is highlighted in the way he used all the four principles of Dandaniti to destroy the malignant power centers, create new alliances that emerged as counter balances to the existing power structure and use diplomacy to bolster the Yadava interest. He used war and peace, he used marriages and he used his basic superior intelligence for this one purpose. Consequently, the Yadavas accepted him as their supreme commander. It took some time. It also took some effort. But in the final analysis, he emerged as the leader whose judgement and veracity could not be disputed. His political acumen combined with his sharp intellect, personal courage and physical prowess established him as a major force. The contemporary powers came to regard the Yadavas under Krishna with respect and fear. It has not been spelt out clearly anywhere in the Mahabharata but his guiding principle must have been the establishment of a Yadava hegemony on the political map of northern India. Every evidence seems to indicate that. To understand his plans and actions clearly, the political situation of the country at the time of Krishna must be visualized.

The prevalent political situation has its roots in Yayati’s lust. He gave the kingdom of Pratisthana (later shifted to Hastinapura by Hasti and his son Vaikunthan) to his youngest son Puru, depriving his other sons, Yadu, Turvasu, Druhyu and Anu. Consequently, they established themselves elsewhere in the country. For the purpose of our discussion, we shall ignore the others as they are not relevant and concentrate in the progeny of only Yadu and Puru, i.e. the Yadavas and the Pauravas.

Between Yayati and Yudhisthira and Krishna, there are twenty-six generations. Much naturally happened during these years. We find a sort of internal conflict within the Paurava and Yadava clans and also existence of bad blood between the Yadavas and Pauravas. These naturally had developed and distanced the clans and sub-clans over a period covering these twenty-six generations. The main Paurava line continued at Hastinapura. We find Dhritarastra ruling a very powerful political assemblage that included such stalwarts as Bhishma, Drona, Kripa, Kama, Ashvatthama, Vidura and Sakuni.

Another line of the Pauravas left Hastinapura (or were made to leave) and conquered Chedi from the Yadavas. This was another reason for the Yadava-Paurava enmity that began with the ouster of Yadu. Later, of course, this line re-established the Yadavas at Chedi and moved on to establish their sway in Magadha. We find one of the finest statesmen of the time, ruling at Magadha was Jarasandha, who easily was superior to any contemporary, including Krishna, in might, diplomacy and power. He even managed to alienate the Southern Yadavas from the mainline Yadavas of Mathura and bring them inseparably under his tutelage. This Paurava line became supremely antagonistic towards the Mathura Yadavas after the slaying of Kamsa. Jarasandha vowed to annihilate them totally.
The third Paurava line went and established themselves at Panchala (around Badaun, Bareilly etc.), and were known as the Panchalas. There was bitter enmity between these relations and neighbours which even the gap of generations could not dilute. In fact it went on increasing, finally culminating in the Kuru-Panchala War.

The Yadavas spread all over. The mainline Yadavas remained in and around Mathura. Other lines went to Dvaraka, Mahismati, Vidarbha. Chedi, Avanti, Dasharna, even up to Mysore. The entire Paurava kingdom practically was surrounded by the Yadavas. But though the Yadavas were a large clan, there was no cohesion among them. There was a lot of conflict within the Mathura Yadavas, mainly due to Kamsa who became king after imprisoning his father Ugrasena. There was no peace due to the power struggle between Andhakas, Shinis, Sattvatas, Vrishnis etc. The southern Yadavas were not friendly towards the Mathura Yadavas. Even though two of Vasudeva’s sisters were married to the kings of Karusha Chedi, they remained firmly on the side of Jarasandha who took advantage of the situation. He married his daughters to Kamsa, supported him in his ascendancy and brought Mathura too under his control. In this way, it was Jarasandha who controlled the entire Yadava clan for some time. Even when Jarasandha attacked the Mathura Yadavas, Vidarbha, Chedi, Dasharna, Avanti, Karusha etc. joined his imperial forces.

Besides these warring relatives, there were other power centers in the country. The most important were the Matsyas of Virata (Jaipur of today) who played a vital role in shaping the course of history of the time, Salva of Sauva (Punjab) and Paudrak Vasudeva of Anga, Pundravardhana etc. Also, there were Gonanda of Kashmir, Subala of Gandhara, etc. These were all friendly towards Jarasandha and joined the imperial forces in their campaign against Mathura.

This, in very short, was the political situation of northern India when Krishna appeared on the scene with his heroic abilities, superior intellect and tremendous political foresight. He, having been thrown into the situation, was quite clear in his objective. He had to retrieve the Yadavas from the political quagmire into which they had fallen and slowly re-establish them as the supreme power in North India to take their rightful place as the heirs of Yayati by replacing the usurpers, the Pauravas. His course of action was also clear to him. He had to bring back unity among the belligerent Yadavas. He achieved this which a master’stroke of diplomacy, a combination of brain and brawn. He slew Kamsa and his henchmen but did not assume power himself. Neither did he put Vasudeva, his father, on the throne. Instead, he brought back Ugrasena, Kamsa’s hapless father and set him on the throne. This endeared him to all the Yadavas, irrespective of clans, including Kamsa’s supporters. Then, when Jarasandha attacked to avenge the death of his son-in-law, he kindled the Yadavas with the spirit of patriotism and provided inimitable leadership in the defence of Mathura. It is a remarkable achievement of Krishna that he was able to defend Mathura with a handful of Yadavas against the colossal imperial army that included practically all the major powers of India, namely, Salva, Gonanda of Kashmir, Chedi, Bhishmaka, Virata and of course Duryodhana and his brothers. This imperial force was thwarted time and again not only by Krishna’s personal courage and prowess, but also by the leadership provided by him. All the Yadavas stood by him as one. By the time he retreated to Dvaraka in the face of the superior forces of Jarasandha, he had achieved his goal. The entire Yadava clan, the Bhojas, Vrishnis, Andhakas, Shinis, Kukuras, Sattvatas etc. swore by him and looked up to him as their natural leader in all matters of importance. Every future incident reconfirmed his position as leader and the bond of the Yadava brotherhood went from strength to strength. The path was not free of obstacles. Nevertheless, he achieved what he wanted-unity among the Yadavas. He did not succeed in bringing the southern Yadavas immediately into his fold. But by this time, the Mathura-Dvaraka Yadavas had already emerged as a major force, feared even by Hastinapura.

Having united the Yadavas, Krishna found it necessary to consolidate. Though powerful, the Yadavas were politically isolated and had powerful enemies. So, he needed political alliances, which would help him in containing or removing the enemies. His main adversary was Jarasandha and his allies. He realised that only after destroying him, could he turn his attention to Hastinapura, his final goal. That Duryodhana joined Jarasandha in the siege of Mathura, must have weighed with him considerably in his antipathy towards the Pauravas. But, first of all, the alliances.

Krishna saw that to destroy Jarasandha, he had to use the Pauravas, the other most powerful nation. For that, he needed to make an inroad into them. Luck was with him. He found the Pandavas. There were three distinct reasons why the Pandavas must be chosen as allies. First, they were individually extremely gifted, not only in the art of warfare but also in the qualities of head and heart. Most important, they too were isolated, without much political support and constantly persecuted and hunted by their kinsmen of Hastinapura. They needed help. Secondly, they were matrimonially linked with the Panchalas, the biggest hardcore enemies of Hastinapura. That too suited him very well. Thirdly, the Pandavas were his natural allies, being his first cousins, through their mother Kunti who was the sister of his father Vasudeva. Providence was therefore with him. He needed the Pandava-Panchala alliance and they needed the power of the Yadavas at their back. He therefore extended the hand of friendship which was gratefully accepted. He chose for his friend Arjuna, who he saw was the most versatile, balanced and capable among the five. Arjuna was certainly the kingpin in this alliance and he needed cultivating. He did it with such consummate grace and finesse that Arjuna could nor even think without Krishna and was always willing to do what was pleasing to Krishna. So, what began as a political need ended up as a deep emotional involvement for both. This attitude of Arjuna had far-reaching effects. It was not for nothing that Arjuna’s grandson inherited the empire. Krishna ensured it with a Yadava angle to it. It was a dubious Paurava inheritance with a strong Yadava flavor. He conceived a plan the moment he saw the Pandavas and nurtured it fondly, always progressing steadily towards the fructification of his ultimate plan.

Krishna used another traditional diplomatic instrument, matrimony, for securing political alliances. His grandfather and father used it, with only limited success. Pritha, Vasudeva’s sister, was married to Pandu who did not live long. So this alliance did not produce the expected results, except, that it provided Krishna with the invincible Pandavas and, through them, with a strong foothold in the Hastinapura sphere of influence. Two other sisters were married to the Yadavas of Chedi and Karusha. These were not successful at all as, in spite of these marriages, Chedi and Karusha remained firmly in alliance with Jarasandha. However, there was another powerful Yadava kingdom in the neighborhood of Chedi. which also was an ally of Jarasandha. This was Bhishmaka of Vidarbha and his son Rukmi. Bhishmaka was also very friendly with Sishupala of Chedi and had planned to marry Rukmini, his daughter, with Sishupala. Krishna wanted to rectify the situation and win the powerful Yadavas of Vidarbha to his side. He abducted and married Rukmini hoping that this marriage would unite the Vidarbhas with the Mathura-Dvaraka Yadavas, but this effort failed. Vidarbha was incensed with the abduction and was driven more firmly to Jarasandha. This also enraged Sishpuala of Chedi, who was already a sworn enemy of his cousin Krishna. In the end of course, we find that Rukmi came to join the Pandava forces on the eve of the war, with an expressed desire ‘to do something pleasing to Krishna.’ But how much of it was political expediency (since the Krishna of now was a much more powerful person than the Krishna of yore) and how much of it was his genuine feeling for a brother-in-law, is a matter of conjecture. But it did not matter any more. Neither Krishna, nor the Pandavas needed him.

When Krishna realised that he would have to base his activities solely on this Pandava-Panchala alliance he strove to make it more lasting and powerful. He wanted to bring the Yadavas too into this alliance. And this he decided would be done through Arjuna. He arranged the marriage of his sister Subhadra with Arjuna which was most unusual, as Arjuna and Subhadra were first cousins. Unusual but politically very useful. Also this marriage brought the Yadavas into the Panchala-Pandava alliance firmly. This marriage therefore he nurtured fondly. He brought up Abhimanyu and trained him to be the equal of Arjuna and himself. Such allegiance was not paid to the sons of Draupadi, which is significant. The new alliance becomes powerful but not enough. Now Abhimanyu had to be married. Opportunity presented itself in the form of the Matsya Princess, Uttara. Why did Arjuna prefer Abhimanyu and not any of the sons of Draupadi who were equally available and marriageable? Perhaps, Krishna’s farsightedness and well-laid plains bore fruit now. Arjuna was never in love with Draupadi. His beloved was Subhadra whom he married out of love. So, it was not surprising that he considered Subhadra and Abhimanyu to be his family. Draupadi after all was not his alone. She was more of a political entity, a matter of convenience. Also, Abhimanyu was the rephew of Krishna, Arjuna’s friend, philosopher and guide. Arjuna would always do what pleased Krishna. Who else could he choose except Abhimanyu? This marriage further confirmed the Yadava claim on Hastinapura’s throne, because Abhimanyu’s son Parikshit would be the king of Hastinapura later. And Abhimanyu or Parikshit were more Yadavas than Pauravas. Abhimanyu’s mother and grandmother were Yadavas. His father was not strictly a Paurava. Both Arjuna and Pandu did not have any Paurava blood in them. Both were ‘kshetrajna’ sons of their family.

The political outcome of this marriage was an invincible alliance of Paurava-Panchala-Yadava-Matsya which the marriage of one of Draupadi’s sons could not have brought about effectively. It brought the Yadavas into direct contact with the Matsyas. This axis very conclusively set up a balance of power which more or less neutralised the immense authority of the Hastinapura monolith.

In all this power game, what is bewildering is the marriage between Krishna’s son Samba and Duryodhana’s daughter Lakshmana. It is true that Krishna did not know anything about it. It was Balarama who went and rescued Samba and Lakshmana from the clutches of Duryodhana who had forcibly detained Samba for his misadventure of marrying aud trying to abduct Lakshmana. This is intriguing. Did the marriage please Krishna? Or was he enraged? Did it add to his negative feelings towards Duryodhana for imprisoning his son or was he happy on being presented with another, possibly useful, alliance? However, this marriage did not in any way affect the course of history, nor does it throw any light on the character of Krishna.

All through these happenings on the matrimonial front, Krishna kept himself busy, with eliminating those malignant powers that were irretrievably inimical towards the Yadava cause. No amount of diplomacy would have helped. Some he removed himself, others he tackled with the help of the Pandavas. He systematically destroyed Kamsa, Kalyavana, Hamsa Dimbaka and Sauvaraj Salva. Then he saw that unless Jarasandha was eliminated, the Magadha confederacy, the most powerful one at the time, could not be broken. He also knew that there was no power in the country that could take on the Magadha confederacy in direct conflict. Nor could he handle it alone. So he took recourse to stratagem and, with the help of Bhima and Arjuna, slew Jarasandha. Then he went on to destroy Sishupala of Chedi, Paundraka Vasudeva of Pundravardhana and other minor adversaries to clear the stage for the final holocaust which he knew must come. The Magadha confederacy was completely defused. He had realized that if all these people came to help the Kauravas, nothing could save the Pandava alliance.

An interesting gambit, which was often employed by Krishna, also bought him considerable allegiance from the erstwhile enemies. He never usurped the territory of the vanquished. He established their surviving relatives or the throne and returned the territory. He made Ugrasena, father of Kamsa, the king of the Yadavas. He gave the empire of Jarasandha to his son Sahadeva. He made Dhrislaketu the king of Chedi after his father Sishupala was slain. These kings gave their loyalty to Krishna out of gratitude for his magnanimity. Consequently we find them at the side of the Pandavas during the War. Kalhana tells us that Krishna placed one of the female relatives of Gonanda on the throne of Kashmir. He was a kingmaker and not a king. And in the history of mankind we have seen time and again that it is the kingmaker who wields real power, never the king thus made.

Therefore, Krishna succeeds in all his plans. He unites the Yadavas. He removes the enemies. He makes the Yadavas very powerful through various alliances. He uses marriage effectively for the purpose. And for the final battle, he sets up a powerful axis of Yadava-Panchala-Pandava-Matsya aided by his grateful proteges against the Hastinapura allies. All the time, the Pandava interest is never lost sight of. When suddenly, at the end of the War, Abhimanyu’s unborn son was also killed (which eventuality even he had not foreseen), he resurrected him so that he could become king. Why did he do it? Why not one of Draupadi’s sons who also had died on the same night? The tragedy of Draupadi was that nobody really cared for her. She was a queen, she was a wife and she was a woman with very feminine emotions and frailities. This Draupadi was always ignored. She was a piece on the political chess-board of the time, to be used at convenience. Arjuna preferred Abhimanyu to her sons, because he was Subhadra’s son and Krishna’s nephew. Krishna preferred him because he was Subhadra’s son and more or less a Yadava. For the same reason, he resurrected Parikshit. Draupadi’s sons were not Yadava relations and for Krishna it was necessary that a Yadava relation survived to rule Hastinapura. It was a political necessity for him. He was all for Draupadi. But whenever there was any clash of interest between Draupadi and Subhadra, he invariably chose Subhadra’s cause, because the Yadava interest coincided with that of Subhadra, not Draupadi. For Krishna, blood was always thicker than water. Therefore, it was Subhadra and her progeny who must survive to carry on a Yadava history (even if it is in the guise of a Paurava history).

The blood and water theory seems to be apposite when we consider an aspect of the Mahabharata which is not much talked about. Why did the Yadavas refrain from joining the War? Why did no one question them on this? Again it was Krishna. Krishna offered only himself without arms, and an akshauhini of Narayani Sena (probably mercenaries) who were as powerful as he was (mere sales talk, no doubt, but enough to fool Duryodhana). That is all. Satyaki joined the Pandavas out of friendship with Arjuna and Hardikya Kritavarma joined the Kauravas, out of an old enmity with Krishna, And, most surprisingly, at the end of the War when everyone died, the only survivors, besides the Pandavas, were Satyaki and Kritavarma. Krishna, one feels, prevented the Yadavas from annihilation by keeping them away. Out of all the nations, only the Yadavas survived to be supreme and to be the rulers of the earth. It was an unparalleled master-stroke which may not be a appreciated but was in total consonance with his policy of establishing a Yadava hegemony.

At the end of it all when all the dust settles down on Kurukshetra, when the earth has drained the blood of eighteen akshauhinis and is ready once again to pick up the reins of life after bathing in death, we find the Yadavas at the helm of affairs. And a little later, we find Subhadra’s grandson Parikshit on the throne of Hastinapura and Krishna’s grandson, Vajra, on the throne of Indraprastha that was founded by the Pandavas on the site of Yayati’s ancient capital. The wheel had indeed turned full circle. Yayati created a rift between Puru and Yadu by throwing out Yadu. His successor, after 26 generations, brought the Yadavas back into power in the land of their ancestors. If one is a little more gracious to Krishna, one can of course say that he brought the progeny of two brothers, who had fallen out, once again together in Parikshit who was both a Paurava as well as a Yadava.

Power brings decadence and decadence destroys a race. The Yadavas were no exception to this rule. They destroyed each other before the grieving eyes of Krishna. He had made them powerful, saved them from the war and brought them so far. But he could not save them from themselves. This was the peculiar tragedy of Krishna. Nevertheless, he succeeded in placing the Paurava-Yadava Parikshit on the throne of Hastinapura. This is where he won.

Bankim perhaps did not get an opportunity to place this aspect of Krishna-Charitraon record. He did not give Krishna the credit for being a supreme leader of men, a diplomat of indisputable caliber and unrivalled political far sight. Bankim failed to place Krishna in the political geography of the country and to underline his political acumen in bringing about a completely new political set’up. Bankim missed this master statesman, but then, as he himself has said, Krishna is an ideal person in every field of human activity. Therefore, we have no difficulty in including Krishna’s political excellence within Bankim’s comprehensive definition.

via Bankim’s Krishna-Charita by Maj. Gen. Shekhar Sen.

In the rest of the world, religion was politicized and politics underwent religiofication. But India with the tradition of भारत-तंत्र Bharat-tantra stopped at deification of political figures.

Outside India, even Gautama Buddha, a huge political reformer, in post-Saraswati India, was deified – while in India he was revered as a teacher.

Piercing this mist of religiofication, will be the biggest challenge that Indians face.


Destruction of Takshashila – a defining moment

Posted in Current Affairs, European History, History, Indo Pak Relations, language, Media by Anuraag Sanghi on August 4, 2009
The theory that Huns destroyed Takshashila in 5th century is a theory with no legs – and a case without evidence. So … then what could have happened?
Julian (?) Monastery, Takshashila

Julian Monastery, Takshashila

The importance of Takshashila

As the oldest university in the world, Takshashila has a special place in the history of the world. More so, in Indian history. It’s destruction (purportedly) at the hands of the Hunas, as proposed by Western historians (and their followers) has been rather facile  – to say the least.

There is evidence that the truth may be otherwise. This post lays out an alternative scenario, but before that let us refresh ourselves with the history of Takshashila.

Takshashila in classical texts, history, geography

The Vayu Purana traces the start of Takshashila, to Taksha, son of  Bharata (brother of Raghu Ram Chandra). Takshashila also finds a mention in Mahabharata – citing Dhaumya, as the acharya of Takshashila. It was at Takshashila, that Vaishampayana made the first recorded narration of the Mahabharata to Janmajeya.

The Gitopdesha from the Mahbharata

The Gitopdesha from the Mahbharata

It finds continued mentions in numerous Jatakas, too. For centuries, across many cultures, stories of Takshashila (and its environs) swirled, like even later,

According to a story contained in the Mujma-t-Tawarikh a twelfth-century Persian translation from the Arabic version of a lost Sanskrit work, thirty thousand Brahmans with their families and retinue had in ancient times been collected from all over India and had been settled in Sindh, under Duryodhana, the King of Hastinapur. (from Al-Hind, the Making of the Indo-Islamic World By André Wink).

The Buddhist anthology of storiesAvadana-shataka mentions that “3.510 millions of stupas were erected at the request of the people of Taxila”.

Students paid upto 1000 coins in advance to receive education at Takshashila – and there were thousands of such students. Students came from all over the world – and paid large sums of money to Indian teachers for education! Kings, brahmans, commoners – all came to study at Takshashila. Its alumni included all the stars of the Indian firmament – Atreya, Pasenadi, Mahali, Patanajali, Jivaka, Panini, Kautilaya, Prasenjita.

Its development and importance lay in the fact that,

Takshashila and Purushpura on either side of the Sindhu river were connected with the Indian trade routes on the Indian side and Central Asian trade routes on the other. Strategically located, Takshashila, the capital of Gandhar, was the terminus of several inland routes and the starting points of the great trade routes connecting India and Central Asia. (from India and Central Asia By J. N. Roy, Braja Bihārī Kumāra, Astha Bharati (Organization)).

Based on subsequent excavation and diggings, it is thought that Takshashila was the oldest city in South Asia – when Alexander landed there. So Takshashila’s historic and cultural importance is too high to become a victim of slip-shod colonial propaganda – posing as history.

Faxian, Fa Hian, Fa Hien

Faxian, Fa Hian, Fa Hien

Chinese travellers to India

An important source for ‘modern’ history, much used by Western historians are the travels of Chinese travellers (like Fa Hian/ Faxain, Huien Tsang /XuanZang). Supposedly 1000 years after death of Gautama Buddha, overlooking some gaping holes in Fa Hian’s travelogue.

How could Fa Hien miss meeting /mentioning Kalidasa – supposedly a contemporary of Fa Hien? In fact, Kalidasa is not mentioned at all in Fa Hian’s account, which supports the hypotheses that Kalidasa preceded Fa Hian. It may be pointed out that since, Kalidasa’s works are artistic rather than religious or philosophical, the lack of Fa Hain’s interest in his works is obvious. But to ignore a man of Kalidasa’s stature and learning?

Then Fa Hian misses the name of the supposed ruling ‘Gupta’ king – a dynasty which ruled over most of South Asia! And it is Fa Hian who is supposedly a significant authority on the Gupta period. Western history labelled the Gupta period as the ‘golden age’ of Indian history – which Fa Hian seems to have completely missed. Similarly when Fa-Hien visited Takshashila in 5th century AD (travelled in India during 399-414 AD), he found nothing. His travelogue makes some cursory mentions of Takshashila.

And that leaves Indian history with some rather big ‘dating’ holes! Is it that Fa hian visited India much after Kalidasa, the Gupta dynasty, the death of Buddha? Maybe a few centuries later, relative to the period in Indian history. Fa Hian’s date is well indexed. So that possibly cannot move much. It is the the corresponding Indic dates which come into question!

Another Chinese traveller, Sung Yun, who had a rather exalted view of his country and its ruler, is largely responsible for overly negative image of the Hunas in ‘modern’ history. Sung-Yun’s peeve – the Huna king did not read the letter from the Wei Tartar king standing, but in a seated position. A modern historian writing on the spread of Buddhism and Buddhist traveller’s tales thinks that,

Like most things India it (Buddhism) suffered somewhat from the invasions of the Huns, who dominated many parts of the northwest from 480 to 530; but the immediate effect of their depredations does not seem to have been very striking. At any rate, the Chinese pilgrim Sung Yun, who travelled through this region in 518-21, gives us a picture in which Buddhism is quite as thriving as it was in Fa-Hien’s time. (from The Pilgrimage of Buddhism and a Buddhist Pilgrimage By James Bissett Pratt, page 111)

Subsequent Chinese travellers to India like I Ching (I Ching or Yi Jing, Yìjìng, Yiqing, I-Tsing or YiChing), were more about Buddhism the religion that it had become, instead of a school of learning and thought. I Ching also recorded details of the works and life of Bhartrhari, the (probably) 5th century grammarian and poet. His take away from India, from Nalanda “in ten years (A.D. 675-685), during which he collected there some 400 Sanskrit texts amounting to 500,000 slokas.”

The ‘end’ of Takshashila

The colonial narrative traces the destruction of Takshashila in 499 AD, by the Hunas (Western history calls them White Huns, Romans called them Ephtalites; Arabs called them the Haytal;  The Chinese Ye Tha). Western ‘historians’ have ascribed the demise of Taxila to the White Huns, a Central Asian, nomadic tribe, roaming between Tibet to Tashkent, practicing polyandry.



Takshashila lying at the cross roads of the Uttarapatha (West calls it The Silk Route) – from Tibet, China, Central Asia, Iran – and India, fell to this mindless savagery, goes the ‘modern’ narrative. But specifically, there is no mention in Chinese, Persian, Indian texts (that I could find) of the Hunas who destroyed Takshashila. So, how and where did this story spring from?

Kanishka, a major Buddhist king, was a Yue Chi, known as Tusharas in India, related to the White Huns. Why would his tribal cousins destroy Takshashila?

History as propaganda

We have the ‘imaginative genius’ of Sir John Marshall to thank for this – a man who was “interested in Alexander’s campaign and in Graeco-Buddhist monuments at Sanchi and Taxila.” Sir John, who was “filled with enthusiasm for anything Greek” was also aware that it was at “Taxila that Alexander the Great halted and refreshed his army before advancing to do battle with Porus.” Not one to stoop below self-aggrandisement, he counts himself among the “few archaeologists now living who have devoted as many years to the excavation of a single site as I have devoted to Taxila.” He lays out the ground for the ‘destroyer White Huns’ theory, describing how

the hordes of Ephthalites or White Huns which swept over Gandhara and the Panjab in the third quarter of the fifth century, carrying ruin and desolation wherever they went. (from Taxila – an illustrated account of archaeological excavations By Sir John Marshall page 76).

Barbara Cartland and Mortimer Wheeler - both imaginative

Barbara Cartland and Mortimer Wheeler - both imaginative

And his evidence for this destruction is,

Thirty two coins, all of them silver, leave no room for doubt it was it was the White Huns who were responsible for the wholesale destruction of the Buddhist sangharamas of Taxila … several skeletons of those who fell in the fight, including one of White Hun, were lying. (ellipsis mine; from Taxila by Sir John Marshall page 791).

Join the gang!

A chorus of historians joined in Sir John’s smear campaign (published between 1940-1951) against the White Huns who were ‘guilty’ of ‘destruction of Takshashila’. Sir John lays the burden of guilt at the doorstep of the Hunas (Western history calls them White Huns, Romans called them Ephtalites; Arabs called them the Haytal;  The Chinese Ye Tha). Not surprising, since both ,

“Indian and foreign archaeologists often invoked invasion /diffusion as tools for explaining away the origins of fully-fledged archaeological cultures ranging in age from the Lower Paleolithic to the early historic period as well as individual traits concerning pottery, technology and other aspects. Africa, West and Central Asia and Europe were the favourite source areas. (From Theory in Archaeology: A World Perspective By Peter J. Ucko, page 132)

Lower Paleolithic is about 250,000 years ago and early historic period in India is 3000 years ago. Based on traveller’s tall tales, we have ‘modern’ historians who have depicted, without any evidence, that the

the White Huns, or Hephtalites, felt a kind of hatred toward Buddhism and strove to destroy all its physical as well as mental manifestations during the fifth century. This is how Taxila brutally vanished. (from Books on fire: the destruction of libraries throughout history By Lucien X. Polastron, Jon Graham page 107-108).

And this is from a book which claims to be a “historical survey of the destruction of knowledge from ancient Babylon and China to modern times”. Another book seeking to capture Central Asian history writes that these Hunas, who came,

sacking monasteries and works of art, and ruining the fine Greco-Buddhic civilization which by then was five centuries old. Persian and Chinese texts agree in their descriptions of the tyranny and vandalism of this horde.” (from The Empire of the Steppes By Rene Grousset, Naomi Walford).

It has been pointed out that

Although the exact relationship between the Buddhist communities of the Peshawar basin and the new Hun dynasty is not entirely clear, there is considerable evidence to suggest that Buddhism continued under Hun rule … (there is) textual evidence to show that Chinese Buddhist pilgrims continued to visit Gandharan sites in the Peshawar Basin into the early sixth century C.E.; The Bhamala main stupa can be compared to the 7th to 8th century cruciform stupas in Kashmir, Afghanistan, and other parts of Central Asia. (from The Buddhist architecture of Gandhāra By Kurt A. Behrendt pages 207-209).

Technically, it was also pointed out that Sir John did not stratify his digs, which creates a dating and sequencing problem. Going with self-aggrandizing nature, Sir John also focussed on ‘glamourous digs’ – without focussing on the connectivity issues.

Alexander in colonial historical narrative

For more on the decline of Takshashila, it is Alexander that we must turn to.

The Alexander mosaic, discovered in Pompeii

The 'Alexander mosaic', discovered in Pompeii

Alexander has long been a vital cog in Western colonial narrative of history. Alexander’s halo gave bragging rights – first to the Greco-Romans and then to the Euro-colonialists.

The American Department of Defense, in its Legacy Program, has a section on Cultural Heritage Training. The use of Alexander’s mythos there is self evident. Between the Greco-Roman historians and the Euro-Colonialists, has sprung an entire industry, to create a mythos surrounding Alexander.

Amongst Alexander’s first actions in India were his attempts to cobble up alliances. His most famous one was with Ambhi – the ruler of Taxila. In India, Alexander had to pay the King of Taxiles, Omphis, (Ambi) 1000 talents of gold (more than 25 tons of gold) – to secure an alliance. To cement this alliance, Alexander ‘gifted’ Ambhi with ‘a wardrobe of Persian robes, gold and silver ornaments, and 30 horses, 1000 talents in cash’. 1000 talents is anywhere between 25,000-60,000 kg of gold! Does this look like Ambhi accepted Alexander as the conqueror of the world – or Alexander ‘persuading’ Ambhi to seal an alliance?

The payment of 1000 talents in gold to Ambhi aroused much envy and outrage in Alexander’s camp. It prompted Meleager, to sarcastically congratulate Alexander for ‘having at least found in India a man worth 1000 talents.’ What seals this incident is Alexander’s retort to Meleager, “that envious men only torment themselves.” (C 8.12.17 & 18).

Black and blue

Instead of the complete capitulation and collaboration that Alexander got from the defeated Achaemenid ruling family of Sisygambis, Stateira, Oxathres (brother of Darius III; also written as oxoathres and oxyathres) et al, the foursome of Bessos, Spitamenes, Datafernes and the Scythians made Alexander’s life miserable. At Gaugamela, it was Bessos and his Indian cavalry, which broke Alexander’s formations. As a 19th century historian reports,

During the three years anterior to the passage of the Indus, Balk (Bactria) was usually Alexander’s headquarters. It was in these countries that he experienced his only serious reverses in the field. (from On the practicability of an invasion of British India By Sir George De Lacy Evans).

The tribes and kshatrapas (satraps) of Indian North West swath, delayed Alexander for nearly three years – before he could step into India. In India, Alexander had to pay the King of Taxiles, Omphis, (Ambi) 1000 talents of gold (more than 25 tons of gold) – to secure an alliance. He had to return the kingdom of Punjab to Porus – purportedly, after winning the battle. His loot and pickings from India were negligible.

To these lean pickings, Alexander’s reaction“the Macedonians frequently massacred the defenders of the city, especially in India.” What was Alexander’s response to a ‘sub-continent occupied by a complex network of peoples and states, who viewed Alexander as a new piece to be played in their complex political chess game.’ Another modern historian, an expert on Greek history writes that ‘the tale of slaughter told in the ancient sources is unparalleled elsewhere in the campaign.’ ( from Ancient Greece By Sarah B. Pomeroy, Stanley M. Burstein, Walter Donlan).

The Indian reaction

Alexander and the Indian 'Gymnosophists' - Medieval European drawing

Alexander and the Indian 'Gymnosophists' - Medieval European drawing

Alexander’s massacres in India, a colonial historian informs us (without naming a source), earned him an “epithet … assigned (to) him by the Brahmins of India, The Mighty Murderer.” This Indian Brahmanic characterization of Alexander, commonly taught to English schoolchildren and present in Eglish college texts, as The Mighty Murderer, curiously disappeared from Western-English texts soon after 1860 – and instead now “a positive rose-tinted aura surrounds Alexander” … !

Greek writers report, that Alexander finally realized that it was the Indian Brahmins who had influenced Indian princes to organize and support the Indian war against Alexander. Greek sources cite, after this realization, at ‘The City of Brahmans’, Alexander massacred an estimated 8000-10,000 of these non-combatant Brahmans. His question-answer sessions with the 10 Indian-prisoners-Brahmans (called Gymnosophists by the Greeks), related by Plutarch, shows Alexander asking inane questions – at sea, completely lost.

And arising from this frustration, came Alexander’s wanton massacres at Takshashila – which thereafter limped along for the next 1000 years, but never to fully recover.

Takshashila – the pattern!

One must also recall that Alexander’s behaviour in Babylon – a intellectual freeport, city ‘under the protection’ of code of ‘kidinnu’. The code of ‘kidinnu’ allowed creation of sanctuaries where weapons and arms were not allowed. The religious persecution by Alexander of the Zoroastrians (as per the Zoroastrian accounts) bears out Alexander’s wanton cruelty. As a modern researcher, Jona Lendering writes,

the Zoroastrian tradition is unanimous that Alexander ‘killed several high priests and judges and priests and the masters of the Magians and upholders of the religion’ (Book of Arda Wiraz 1.9),  ‘quenched many sacred fires’ (Great Bundahishn 33.14) and ’caused great devastation (Denkard 4.16 and 7.7.3). This ‘evil-destined and raging villain’ (Denkard 8.pr.20) was not just regarded as a collaborator of Angra Mainyu, but as one one of the calamities that the evil one had sent to earth to destroy what is good. Alexander even received the surname Guzastag, the Accursed, a title that had until then only been used to describe Angra Mainyu. It is possible -perhaps even likely- that several apocalyptic texts from the Avesta were composed during the reign of Alexander.

BCHP 1: Alexander Chronicle (obverse; **) Photo coutesy livius.com

BCHP 1: Alexander Chronicle (obverse; **) Photo coutesy livius.org

A set of Babylonian tablets, published in 1975, the Alexander Chronicles, mention that Alexander killed Kidinnu – most probably the famed Babylonian astronomer.

The name Kidinnu itself seems to be derived from the Sanskritic word, ‘Krishna’, the Dark One. Was Kidinnu better known by his assumed Sanskritic name? The Indo-Assyrian collaboration, represented by the Babylonian texts and schools give significant weight to this hypotheses.

More questions on the destruction of Takshashila

At the time of Takshashila’s decline in the 5th century, a significant Gupta king was Purugupta – successor of Skandagupta. Written records from Purugupta’s reign are few and far in between, he has been variously named as Vikramaditya, Prakashaditya and of course as Puru /Pura Gupta.

The most authentic link to his reign is the Bhitari seal inscription, (near Ghazipur, in modern UP). The Bhitari seal provided proof of an elongated Gupta reign – than the Skandagupta-was-the-end-of-Gupta dynasty dating. Currently dated between 467 AD, Purugupta’s reign saw many border wars.

Purugupta’s reign saw Vasubandhu, a known teacher of logic and debate, become famous and Huien Tsang reported on the debates based on Vasubandhu’s texts. Today Vasubandhu’s texts exist in Chinese and Tibetan languages – the original Sanskrit volumes remain untraceable. Purugupta also restored the gold grammage in the ‘suvarna’ coins, probably debased in Skandagupta’s time, possibly due to the cost of the fighting the Hunas.

Is it that the Porus identified by the Greeks, Purugupta? Were the marauding soldiers, mentioned in Chinese texts, mercenary soldiers hired by Alexander to replace the ‘deserting’ Greek’ soldiers, on the eve of his Indian ‘campaign’? The dating of the Gupta dynasty to end of the 5th century AD, is probably off by about 800 years.

The Indian defence system

Taksashila’s destruction raises an obvious question! And also important. What did Indian polity do to defend centres of excellence like Takshashila?

To protect such a vibrant and important centre of leaning, the Indian polity had evolved a complex structure across the entire North Western swath. Thus while, within the Indic area, borders and crowns kept changing and shifting, invaders were kept at bay. A system of alliances supporting frontline kingdoms in the entire North West Indian swath was formulated.

For instance, against the Assyrian invasion, led by Semiramis, a minor Indian king, Stabrobates, was supported to beat back the Assyrian invasion. Against Cyrus the Great, Tomyris, a Scythian Queen was supported to massacre Persian invaders. Alexander’s nightmare began immediately, as soon as he crossed from the Persian area into the area governed by the Medes – an Indic area.

Death of Crassus

Death of Crassus

A symbol of these alliances, for instance, was the House of Suren’s traditional rights to install the crown of Persian rulers. Some ancient maps show the Gandhara-Takshashila region as Suren. And it was at the hands of these very Surens that Crassus met his nemessis. At the hands of the Indo-Parthian armies – led by a Suren general.

The Sassanian dynasty was able to wrest back and defend Persian dominions from the Greco-Romans, after setting up an elephants corps in their army – evidenced, for instance, by the carvings at Taq-i-Bustan. At one time, the Sassanian rulers had increased its elephant corps to 12,000 elephants.

End of Crassus

Laurence Oliver as Crassus in Spartacus

Laurence Oliver as Crassus in Spartacus

Less than 300 years after Alexander, Romans came close to Indian border. They were led by Marcus Licinius Crassus – estimated (or allegedly) worth 200,000,000 sestertii. A writer of classical journals estimated that to be worth about 7.6 million in 1860. Inflation adjusted, about 7.6 billions. Source of Crassus’ wealth – slavery, corruption, pillage, bribery et al. Crassus is more famous in history for three things – One, for his wealth, Two – for having crucified thousands of rebellious slaves on the Via Appia, after defeating Spartacus’ Slave Army and Three, as the man who funded the rise of Julius Caesar.

It is his death, that is usually glossed over.

Roman forces retreated, when confronted by Indo-Sassanian armies with Indian elephants. For the next nearly 400 years, Romans were wary of any large expeditions into Indo-Persian territories. 500 years later (nearly), with the help of the Indian elephant corps, the Sassanians stopped the Romans at Persian borders in 363 AD. But it is interesting that the enemies of the daiwas (enemy of devas are the asuras, in Indian scriptures), the Zoroastrians (followers of Ahura Mazda, speculatively Mahishasura) allied themselves with a Suren. A 1000 years later, the Sassanian army, had forgotten their lessons – and could not use their few elephants to full effect, against the Islamic Arabs.

The rise of religion in India

Without access to the ‘Indian thought factory’, after the fall of Takshashila, in 499 AD – by the Huna (dating as per Western history which calls them White Huns, Romans called them Ephtalites; Arabs called them the Haytal;  The Chinese Ye Tha) Buddhism soon became a religion. Buddha in India, was another, in a long line of teachers. But in the rest of world, Buddhism soon became a religion.

The destruction of Takshashila (Taxila) meant that students and scholars would need to travel for an extra 60 days to reach the other Indian Universities of the time. This was a traumatic event in the status of the Indian ethos – even the Asiatic ethos.

The decline of Taksashila marked the destruction, persecution and decline in Indian education, thought and structure. Fewer believers in Indian faith systems made the trip to India. ‘Consumers’ of ideological products from the ‘Indian Thought Factory’,  were left with Desert Bloc alternative products. Buddhism soon became a religion outside India. A few centuries after decline of Takshashila, Nalanda, etc. were also destroyed by Desert Bloc invaders.

Travels of Fah-Hian and Sung-Yun, Buddhist pilgrims from China to India (400 …

By Samuel Beal

Asuras and Slavery – The Indic Disconnect

Demons, Satan and Ogres and Monsters

The world calls them by many names – demon, daemon, daimon, deuce, devil, daeva, evil spirit, ghost, fiend, imp, monster, ogre, rogue, savage, satan, villain, et al. All cultures in the world, extant and extinct have a vast array of villains. The Desert Bloc has the Satan and the Greeks had the sundry Medusa, Titans and Cyclops. The Sumerians had Gilgamesh and Enkidu take on Humbaba.

But the Indian tradition does not really have demons. The closest that Indian texts offer are the asuras – blessed by the Gods, especially by Brahma and Shiva. Unlike demons in the rest of the world, the Indian asuras are believers in God, at least in the Indian trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh. Their rivals are the devas – led by Indra. The struggle between devas and asuras is an ongoing theme in Indian classical texts. Some asuras like Ravana are highly learned, some were Brahmans before becoming asuras, like Vritrasura and there is the highly righteous asura, like King Bali.

What is one to make of the Indian asura?

Asuras in Indian texts

Indian pauranik and classical history begins to make sense only after the concept of ‘asuras’ as a verbal cue for slavery and slave masters /traders is used. In the Ramayana, there is great elaboration about Ravana’s palace and cities – and Ayodhya was itself an unremarkable city.

The Jatakas - At The Borobudur Temple

The Jatakas - At The Borobudur Temple

Jataka stories (mainly considered as children’s stories in the West) are a reflection of social mores, realities- and also cautionary tales for adults. This Jataka story (click on the link) refers to a “demon’ (another word for a slave trader) and cautions travellers and merchants about slave traders. This ‘demon’ kidnaps the merchant – but leaves the goods behind.

Similarly, the story of Bali, the ‘righteous’ Asura king, who was sent to the patalaloka, by Vamana, makes sense, the moment ‘demons’ are defined as slave-owners and enslavers.

Daas /Daasyus and Slavery

Daas and daasis in India are correctly, attendants or servants. The Pandavas, Harishchandra, Nala (of the Damyanti fame), all became dasas during adverse times. After their period of service, they could freely leave their employers. This was voluntary – and they were NOT captured, sold, resold, traded – as slaves, in slave societies were. Slaves have no control over the recompense for their output.

The word गुलाम ghulam is an import into modern Indian languages.The more wrongly and commonly used Sanskritic synonym is दास dasa – an attendant, or a servant, but not a slave. Draupadi was a daasi to the Queen of Virat-desh. The Pandavas became daasas at the court of Viraat-naresh. Raja Harishchandra became a daasa to a chandala. These were kings who became daasas. Nala, (Damayanti fame), the King of Nishada, became a daasa – but not a slave. Interestingly, in neo Assyrian period, “daughters of vassals (especially from Syria and Palestine) were sometimes sent to the Assyrian court to act as servants (ana abrakkuti)”

Therefore, once asura for slave traders /owners is used, the reading of Indian Vedas, Puranas, Upanishads, Mahabharat and Ramayana, everything, begins to makes much sense – especially historical sense. Without this interpretation, there are missing elements. For instance, the story of Bali and Vamana, the horror stricken response of readers to Sita-apaharan by Ravana and others.

Similarly, the story of Dadhichi, from whose bones the vajrastra was made to kill the ‘demon king’ Vritrasura! Or the ‘Nahusha’ story, where a ‘mere’ mortal human being was elevated to the position of Indra, to defeat the ‘asuras’. This interpretation of asuras as slave owners /traders, also adds another layer to the Rajput opposition to Mughals. And the Rajput women committing jauhar. In modern era, India’s unceasing opposition to South African apartheid was another example.

Angkor Vat - Hanuman in Lanka (errata at Kshirsagar manthan).

Angkor Vat - Hanuman in Lanka (errata at Kshirsagar manthan).

Missing Monuments

The Pyramids, the Coliseum, the Great Wall, were all monuments that were raised by slave societies. To impress the slave population?

India has no such monuments because India had no slave populations to build such showpieces – and no slaves to impress. Monuments, in the forms of temples, started showing up in India too, after 10th century AD – including in Indic ruled countries like Cambodia, Indonesia, etc.

Slave monuments

Valmiki’s Ramayana is breathless with wonder at Lanka – and makes no mention of Ayodhya as a city.

samaasaadya cha lakshmiivan laN^kaaM raavaNapaalitaam |
parikhaabhiH sapadmaabhiH sotpalaabhiralaMkR^itaam || 5-2-14
siitaapaharaNaarthena raavaNena surakshitaam |
samantaadvicharadbhishcha raakshasairugradhanvibhiH || 5-2-15
kaaJNchanenaavR^itaaM ramyaaM praakaareNa mahaapuriim |
gR^ihaishcha grahasaMkaashaiH shaaradaambudasannibhaiH || 5-2-16
paaNDuraabhiH pratoLiibhiruchchaabhirabhisaMvR^itaam |
aTTaalakashataakiirNaaM pataakaadhvajamaaliniim || 5-2-17
toraNaiH kaaJNchanairdivyairlataapaN^kivichitritaiH |
dadarsha hanumaan laN^kaaM divi devapuriiM yathaa || 5-2-18

the city which looked like the city of Gods in heaven, decorated by moats filled with lotuses and water-lilies, which was well protected, since the time of Seetha’s abduction, by Ravana and by Rakshasas with horrifying voices roaming around, which was surrounded by a golden boundary wall, that beautiful great city consisted of houses equal in height to mountains and which looked like autumnal clouds, with white and elevated main streets, decorated with flags and pennons, with excellent golden hued archways adorned with sculpted rows of vines.

So, shining and gleaming cities were out of place in India – but Indians did associate such cities with slave-societies of Asuras.

Pandavas learn their lessons …

The Mahabharata has a cautionary tale about the Khandava-dahan and the building of city of Indraprastha -which the Pandavas lost very quickly.  A reluctant Maya was pressured, persuaded and influenced to build Indraprastha for the Pandavas.

This tale in the Mahabharata is an interesting insight on monuments and man-nature conflict. The Pandavas, having secured a favorable award from Dhritarashtra, in their inheritance dispute, decided to set up a new capital. The divine architect Maya was retained to build this city. The site chosen for the new capital city – a forest, Khandava. Overcome by their hubris, the Pandavas, burnt down the entire forest – and the animals inhabiting the forest. In place of the forest came up the gleaming new city of Indraprastha.

All the kings were called to marvel at the new city. And in her pride, Draupadi mocked at Duryodhana – a guest. To avenge this mockery, Duryodhana challenged Yudhishthira for a game of chess (instead of a war) – which Yudhishthira promptly lost. They lost their new city – and were sent into exile by Duryodhana. Lessons duly learnt, the Pandavas after the completion of their exile, asked for five villages. After winning the War Of Mahabharat, they ruled from the ancient capital of Hastinapur. No more gleaming cities for them.

India and slavery

Unlike in the rest of the world, no records, ever, have been found of human trafficking in the India. Sanskrit and Indic languages have no word for slave’. Based on inertia and social design, it would be difficult to imagine, that Indians woke up in 1000 BC and decided to abolish slavery. Instead, a pre-existing, anti-slavery bias, was re-affirmed repeatedly, is a more feasible hypothesis.

Unremitting and unceasing opposition to slavery – that is what Indian history is about. In fact, there is no Sanskritic word for a slave. Ghulam is an imported word, daas /daasi is an attendant. Slavery, as a concept does not exist in India – and it was slave traders who were defined as asuras.

Slave Memory In Indian Society

There are also no historical records of slave trades, prices, quantities, ownership anywhere in India. In fact, Sanskritic Indian languages have no word for slaves.

By the 10th century, Slave memory faded out in India. The Indic word for slave owning cultures, asur, became disconnected with slave ownership. The understanding of the word ‘asura’ changed – and foreign words like ‘ghulam’ made their way into Indic languages. Historically, trade in India is governed by शुभ लाभ shubh-labh’ – and hence Indians have not been major players in drugs proliferation (unlike Japan, the West in which traded Opium in Korea and China) or in slave trade. In modern times, India, though a power in computing industry, is not a big player in spamming or in software virus.

What Did This Do In India

At least 4000 years ago, India went ahead and created a new economic model without slavery. The Occident and the Levant were using slaves till 20th century. Middle East’s labour laws even today smack of slave owner mentality.

Asuras & Devas

Durga and Mahishasura battle

Imported words like गुलाम ghulam or the xenophobic, Euro-interpretation of asuras as ‘Dravidians’, ‘foreigners’ or ‘others’ further dimmed Indian perception of slavery. Instead, created divisions within Indians. On the contrary, asuras could even be Indians – and even ‘righteous’ kings like Bali. The entire Ravana characterization was not about Sita being abducted. The outrage was the ‘asuras’ i.e. slave traders, trading her.

Similarly, the story of Dadhichi, from whose bones the vajrastra was made to kill the ‘demon king’ Vritrasur. Dadhichi was a former king, son of Atharvan, and Vritrasur was a brahman who became a slave trader – an asura. Or the ‘Nahusha’ story, where a mere mortal was made Indra, to defeat the ‘demons’.

Asuras in History

Interesting are the many Mahishasurmardini statues, coins and seals, especially by the Gupta kings and coins by many other Indic rulers, recovered from Afghanistan and Iran.  The issuance of Mahishasurmardini seals and coins continued, going by by appearances, celebrated the victory of Tomyris, over Cyrus, for the next 800-1000 years. Such coins, seals and statues have been found in modern day Iran, Afghanistan, which support this linkage.

The possible link between Ahura Mazda and Mahishasura (Sanskrit root of Mazda Ahura?) has been the source of much speculation. Ahasuerus, is the Persian King, in the Hebrew Book Of Esther and Ezra – who is considered by some to be Xerxes. The commonality of Sanskritic language, symbols between Zend Avestha and Aryan India are well known for me repeat. After all, Zarathushtra was also from Bactra (Bharata-ah).

The Persian linguistic makeover from the Dravidian-Elamite language to Sanskritic-Old Persian however did not change everything. The Elamite element in Zoroastrian revolt against the daiwas (devas), continues today in Elamite-Dravidian-Tamil Nadu, where asura kings like Ravana and Neduncheziyan are respected.

Rural, Tribals and Urban

The Desert Bloc typically, targetted tribals for slavery – and in recent history, it was the Africans. In India though, the relationship was different. The interaction of tribals with the urban populations, limited to the extent of trade of produce needed by the urban dwellers – and urban products needed by these forest dwellers.

Early Indian records like the Ramayana recognized these rights – when Ramachandra on his way to exile was welcomed into the forest by Guha, the forest king, hunter king of the Nishada tribe – the ruler of the forests. Such centuries of tradition are today being trampled by the Indian State, which continues with some colonial practices – in the name of progress and public good.

tataH niSaada adhipatim dR^iSTvaa duuraat avasthitam |
saha saumitriNaa raamaH samaagacchad guhena saH || 2-50-35

35. dR^ishhTvaa= seeing; duuraat= from the distance; nishhaadaadhipatim= the king of Nishada; upasthitam= coming; saH raamaH= that Rama; soumitriNaa saha= along with Lakshmana; tataH= thereupon; samaagachchhat= went forth to meet; guhena= Guha.

Seeing from a distance the king of Nishada coming, Rama along with Lakshmana thereupon went forth to meet Guha.

Slavery – in recent Indian history

This also adds another layer to the Rajput opposition to Mughals. And the Rajput women committing sati and jauhar was a response to the huge slave market that operated in the entire Central Asian geography and the Levant. The Central Asian region from the 10th century to the 17th century, imported Indian slaves – and exported horses.

In modern era, India’s unceasing opposition to South African apartheid was another example. But before that, suddenly intrepid Indians discovered kaala paani – a response to indentured labour, which was a close parallel to slavery.

Unremitting and unceasing opposition to slavery – that is what Indian history is about. In fact, Sanskrit language, which is a synthetic and artificial language, works on the system of relational data base system, has no word for a slave. Ghulam is an imported word, daas /daasi is an attendant. Slavery as a concept does not exist. And it is this unceasing opposition to slavery, which has made India the longest, continously extant civilization in human history.

Where Do We Go From Here

The world has looked to India for answers. But modern India looks to the West. And Western history, by drawing away our attention from the elephants in room has irrelevant answers – a trail of red herrings. It is this lack of slavery, it is these values that gives India the lowest prison populations in the world – and few positions in the Forbes ‘Most Wanted’ List.

India – Beyond Individuals

Posted in Current Affairs, History, Uncategorized by Anuraag Sanghi on January 26, 2008

Bhagvad Geeta4, 7Bhagvad Geeta4, 8“Whenever and wherever there is a decline in righteousness, O descendant of Bharata, and a rise of evil — at that time I manifest myself. To deliver all those who believe in goodness and to annihilate the evil, to reestablish righteousness, I will appear, in millennium after millennium.” Bhagwad Geetha IV, 7-8.

Who was Kalidasa? No one quite knows. After composing some of the best lyrical poetry ever, (in Sanskrit), little is known about him. His life lives in his works. Who was Ved Vyasa – the writer of Mahabharata? Or for that matter Valmiki! No one knows. About any one of these people.

Yet, whenever, India had needed, inspirations have come. To lead us … असतो मा सद्गमय From untruth to the truth … तमसो मा ज्योतिर्गमय … From darkness to light … मृतयोर् मा अमृतं गमय … from termination, to eternity …

Portrait Of Tipu SultanTipu Sultan unceasing opposition for more than 30 years (The Mysore Wars – 1767-1799) to the foreign rule before the 1857 War made the British rulers cautious about waging war in India. Immediately thereafter was the challenge of the Sikh qaum – led by Ranjit Singh. The death of Ranjit SinghRanjit Singh & Laili - His Favorite Horse in (1839) gave them another opportunity. Then followed the Afghan wars and the Sikh Wars (between 1839-1850). In 1857 was the India‘s first war of Independence.

From 1857 to the 1900, the British colonial government decimated Indian leadership. Bahadur Shah Zafar was sent to Rangoon. Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi. Ahalyabai Holkar. Tantia Tope. Leader after leader came to the fore. And India continued to redefine itself.

Swami VivekanandaFrom feudal and hereditary leaders, the leadership slowly changed. From political to social. In parallel. In 1828, Raja Ram Mohan Roy formed the Brahmo Samaj. In 1875, Swami Dayanand formed the Arya Samaj. On 24th December 1892, Swami Vivekananda reached Kanyakumari – after travelling across India. He was entertained by rajas and the रंकDadabhai Naoroji (commoners) of his day.

Then followed the political leadership. Dadabhai Naoroji’s (Congress President in 1886, 1893 1906) research and quantification of the British Loot from India started a new set of leaders against colonial rule – and a new definition of India. Tilak’s demand for ‘swaraj’ and ‘swadeshi’ Lokmanya Balgangadhar Tilakgoods unnerved the colonialists. The colonial British Government deported Balgangadhar Tilak to Rangoon. He came back stronger than before. In other countries, when old leaders and rulers were removed or replaced, those countries descended into dictatorship, confusion, poverty. In India, we had wave after wave of leaders – and each time India moved forward. In a direction which has no precedents in world history.

What Happened In Other Countries

Why do Australia and Canada still acknowledge the British Queen as the head of the state? Spain has Juan Carlos I as its king! Did you know that Belgium has Albert II as it King? And Queen Beatrix rules over Holland (The Netherlands). King Akihito is venerated by the Japanese – and is the head of the state. Sweden is ruled by King Carl XVI Gustaf. Luxembourg has the Grand Duke Henri as its equivalent to a King! King Harald V lords over Norway! Queen Margrethe II rules over Denmark. The world still has quite a few monarchies – especially in the OECD. Why?

France removed and guillotined the monarchs – and they got Napoleon Bonaparte, as dictator! Russia tried – and they got 70 years of communist dictatorship. Italy asked King Victor Emmanuel III to go – and got Mussolini. The British exiled the Kaiser of Germany – and the Germans had to put up with Hitler thereafter.

Britain terminated the Turkish Ottoman Empire – and Turkey got a benign dictator, Mustafa Kemal Attaturk, and then not so benign dictators – and is yet to recover! East Europe (Romania, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Albania, etc) promptly started fighting with each other, within and without – after the kings were removed. China became communist after the last emperor – and still has a communist dictatorship. Iran, Egypt, Iraq, Libya, most of Africa, South America – same or similar story.

This history is why Canada and Australia cling to the skirts of British Monarchy.

Republican Democracy

America became one of the first successful Republican democracies – from 1789, when George Washington became the first elected President of USA. (70 years later there was a Civil War). America survived.

Israel, (propped up by massive US aid) is another country which has been a republican democracy for more than 50 years. Switzerland (with guaranteed neutrality from the European powers) is another in modern history to survive 50 years of republican democracy. Srilanka has been another country which has survived 50 years as republican democracy – but just about.

India is the youngest Republican democracy – and we have completed a historic 50 years as republican democracy – Jan 26th 1950, till date.

Gandhiji’s Conquest

But before the republic, came the unification of India – the crowning achievement of Gandhiji. Not the political union (achieved by Sardar Patel) – but the ideological union!

Garibaldi (united Italy), Bismarck (united Germany), Simon Bolivar (liberated and united South American countries) were unifiers who succeeded with the help of armies.

Gandhiji (armed with a walking stick) unified a larger India (and Pakistan) without an army. An India and a Pakistan – bigger than what the largest empire in the history of the world, the British Empire could not conquer with its armies.

One Clean Break

To make a one clean break from the feudal-colonial past – and succeed! That is a dream – never before in the history of the world. India made history – by surviving for 50 years with a republican democracy.

In 1947, India was a feudal society with more than 500 Kings and (some) Queens at the time of Independence. (No, the British did not rule over all of modern India). Large parts of India also had to change from a colonial mindset.

How Is India Unique

However, no other country has 15 official languages.

Switzerland has only 4. Sri Lanka’s Sinhalas do not want to accept Sri Lankan Tamils as full and equal citizens – hence the 20 year old civil war.

Social Equality

The liberation of Blacks in the USA is a 1970s phenomenon. It took non-violent protests (Martin Luther King) and violent threats (Malcolm X) for some kind of real emancipation and equity to come in.

Blacks in the USA legally got full and equal liberty only in 1964 after President Kennedy’s Civil Rights Act of 1964. Earlier in 1954, President Eisenhower had to send in the army (the National Guard). In the Cold War scenario, under international media glare, during the Little Rock School stand-off, Eisenhower (a Southerner himself) reacted. The Mayor of Little Rock, Arkansas closed down the school rather than de-segregate. De-segregation (between the Blacks and Whites) happened clearly and fully only by 1970-75. Non-violent protests by Martin Luther King (inspired by Gandhiji’s) till 1968 and violent threats by Malcolm X thereafter, made desegregation a reality. Not to forget Martin Luther King’s assassination in 1968. The eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation during the Kennedy years produced the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

But, Gandhiji’s first step, after coming back from South Africa, (many decades before India’s Independence, Unification and the creation of the Republic) was to start social reform against untouchability.

Enforcement – or Help

India and America, created their own constitutions without external enforcement. Republican democracy in Germany was imposed by the Allied Powers – hence their record is blemished.


In most countries, religion divides. In India, we are different. India has the world’s second /third largest Muslim population. The Indian Christian population is equal to that of most majority-Christian countries – excluding just a few big one like USA, Russia, Mexico, Brazil, etc. Buddhists number nearly 50 lakhs. Sikhs, Parsis (Zoorastrians), Bahais, follows their own religion. Iranians, Armenians, Jews, Chinese have come to India – when persecuted in their homelands.

Racism! Anyone?

No, thanks!

India has the Caucasoid stock – spread over the North and West India; Australoid stock spread over South India and the Mongoloid stock spread over of East and North East. There is also a very small sprinkling of the Negroid stock – less than 1%.

The Challenges Ahead

The challenges ahead are defence and economics.

India’s defence unpreparedness is beyond comprehension. Worse, is the lack of threat perception. Indians (sadly and truly) limit their threat perception to the Pakistanis – and the Chinese. with the world’s largest private reserves of gold India becomes a target. The resultant global and emerging threats are unrealised. We spend billions of dollars on buying arms all over the world – but our domestic arms industry is starving.

The second is economics. The world trade systems, financial agreements, currency management continue to drag down India – and many other countries. Navigating these uncharted waters successfully is the other.

And I am sure that another set of new leaders will arrive and take India forward to another level.

Sooner – not later.

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