AN ALTAR OF ALEXANDER NOW STANDING AT DELHI
by Ranajit Pal (An expanded version of this paper appears in Scholia, vol. 15.)
Apart from legends, today the fame of a historical figure is also determined by his archaeological relics. Alexander fell an easy prey to unwary critics mainly due to two factors; his image was tarnished by a vilification campaign launched by the Generals, [i] who probably poisoned him, and secondly there appears to be very little archeological evidence of his historic voyage [ii]. Sir Mortimer Wheeler wrote with a touch of sorrow,
And yet it is astonishing how very little actual trace we have of his passing... his material presence has eluded us. It is as though a disembodied idea had come and gone as a mighty spiritual force with little immediate tangibility.
However, it has to be remembered that the survival of relics is often a matter of chance. To the layman the accounts of Arrian, Plutarch and others may appear insignificant in contrast to the lustre of the Taj Mahal or the splendour of the relics of Tutenkhamon but the historian must tread more cautiously. Natural disasters like earthquakes and floods, wilful destruction by political or religious reactionaries and at times plain misjudgment of historians may add up to diminish a legitimate hero. Lastly one must also take into account the effects of misappropriation. Had it not been for the ballasting of more than hundred miles of the Lahore-Multan railway with bricks from the monuments of Harappa, the task of reconstructing the glories of the Indus civilisation would have been far easier. This has other dimensions as well; Alexander was keenly aware of the importance of monuments and erected colossal stone altars to record for posterity his presence in northwest India yet nothing survives. In contrast one is confronted with the spectacular emergence of the
An Asokan pillar with a lion-capital
pillars of Asoka a little more than fifty years later. If one notes that that Asoka was an Indo-Greek whose native province was also the northwest [iii], it becomes natural to suspect a link between the sudden appearance of his Pillar edicts and the disappearance of Alexander's altars.
Who Erected Pillars In India Before Asoka?
The find-spot of a relic is of great importance in the reconstruction of history but one of the many problems in Indian history is that pillars were frequently re-written and re-erected at different locations. Unfortunately the effect of this misuse by later rulers has often been overlooked by gullible historians. Even though the weight of some of the Asokan pillars is about thirty tons, it is not safe to assume that these were erected in their present locations. In the fourteenth century Sultan Feroz Shah was so impressed by the Asokan pillars that he had two of them shifted to Delhi, one from Meerut and another from Topra in Ambala district, about 90 miles northwest of Delhi. F. J. Monahan[iv] wrote,
The fact that ten of the pillars bear inscriptions of Ashoka is proof they were erected not later than his reign; it does not prove that none of them was erected earlier.
The fame of Samudragupta as one of the greatest conquerors of India rests on his famous Allahabad inscription which was rewritten on an old Asokan pillar. Kulke and Rothermund[v] suggest that it was transported from Kausambi. In the Mudrarakshasa Chandragupta is called Piadamsana. From this H.C. Raychaudhuri concluded that
... it is not always safe to ascribe all epigraphs that make mention of Priyadarsana, irrespective of their contents, to Ashoka the Great.
Although Asoka was the first to use pillars and other monuments for the propagation of Dhamma, the intriguing fact that emerges from his edicts is that pillars similar to those bearing his edicts had been in existence in India before his time; in the seventh of his Pillar Edicts, after recording that he has erected 'pillars of the Sacred Law' (Dhamma-thambani), Asoka writes,
The Devanampiya speaks thus: this inscription of Dhamma is to be engraved wherever there are stone pillars or stone slabs, that it may last long.
The crucial question that arises now is who erected these pre-Asokan pillars?
Asoka's 13th Edict Echoes Nebuchadrezzar's Inscription
The thirteenth edict of Asoka occupies a special place for the poignancy of its diction. The humane tone of remorse and the account of the subsequent change of heart of the Emperor after victory in the bloody battle of Kalinga sounds very authentic and moving. One cannot but contrast it with the imperial and swaggering style of Darius' edicts. But as pointed out by Bhattacharya [vi] the reasons for which he fought the battle in the eighth year of his reign are not clear. Kalinga was most probably not modern Orissa [vii] as none of the Orissa edicts mention the war in which one hundred thousand men were killed and fifty thousand taken away as captives. From archaeological data regarding urbanism in the third century BC it can be said that deporting fifty thousand people (to Patna?) would have been an impossible task. Even if one considers a different geographical location, war on such a scale can safely be ruled out as there is no indication from other sources. There can be little doubt regarding victory in a war and the remorse and change of heart of the emperor but the propagandist element in the edict cannot be missed. Asoka is clearly emulating Nebuchadrezzar who also narrated his victory in his eighth year in which many thousands were killed and many more deported. In fact, as we know from the stories of the Old Testament Nebuchadrezzar was one of the greatest heroes whose fame had reached the farthest corners of the ancient world. D. J. Wiseman writes [viii],
His royal inscriptions are marked by the absence of war-like stances and, despite their reuse of paleo-Babylonian traditional epithets, they emphasise 'moral' qualities.
The similarity with Asoka's tone cannot be missed. The great king of Babylon was an easterner and it is likely that he was from Seistan [ix] which was also a primary area for Asoka or Diodotus-I.
Gomata Of Seistan Was The True Gotama
It is impossible to study a historical figure without first ascertaining his locale and his era. The Rumminidei edict is unique as it alone lends some credence to the theory that Gotama was an easterner but here also one cannot escape from the possibility that it was brought in from a different location[x]. Even though he was unable to pinpoint Jones' blunder, the eminent archaeologist A. Ghosh wrote in clear terms,
... the existence of kiln-burnt brick houses distinguished the town from the village.. . An application of this criterion would deny a civic status even to those places which were renowned cities at the time of the Buddha. [xi]
Very few Indologists were prepared to accept the consequences of the fact that the bricks from Lumbini date only from the third century BC [xii]. Vincent Smith [xiii] notes many curious aspects of the Rumminidei inscription; not only that it is not inscribed by Asoka, it does not even claim to have been incised by a royal command. Presumably it was both drafted and engraved by a local authority. A similar inscription found at Kapileswara in Orissa, on the basis of which Chakradhar Mahapatra [xiv] claims that the real home of the Buddha is Orissa, is of a later date.
The nothingness of the archeological finds at Lumbini and elsewhere can only be explained by noting that Gotama was not an easterner - Gomata of the Behistun inscriptions was the true Gotama. [xv] The Avesta speaks of clashes between Zoroaster and Buddha which shows that Gotama was from the northwest. One of the greatest failures of Assyriology was to gloss over the fact that Bagapa of Babylon was Gomata who was the same as Gotama Buddha whose title was Bhagava [xvi]. As early as 1915 Dr. Spooner wrote [xvii] that both Gotama and Chandragupta were from Persia. Although Piprahwa was called Kapilavastu in the Kanishka era, B. N. Mukherjee's enthusiasm [xviii] about its identification as Gotama's birth-place is entirely misplaced; no Buddhist artefacts datable to 6th century BC has been found here. Debala Mitra, who carried out excavations at Lumbini, writes,
In spite of the record of the activities of Ashoka at Kushinagara, nothing that is definitely earlier than the Kushan period, has been found in the excavations [xix].
Most of the problems disappear once Kuh-e-Khwaja is recognised as the true Kapilavastu. This is where Sir Aurel Stein discovered a Buddhist shrine in the early years of the last century [xx]. Both Herzfeld and Ghirshman described the frescoes of Kuh-e-Khwaja as the earliest known examples of Gandhara art which clearly shows its links with Buddhism.
Echo Of Alexander's Directives In The Rumminidei Edict
The identification of Kapilavastu is of great relevance in t he history of Alexander. Historians have not pondered over the fact that Alexander spent nearly two months with the Ariaspians of the Kuh-e-Khwaja area in Seistan. This was when he was hotly pursuing Bessos, his hated enemy [xxi]. His naming of this area as Alexandria Prophthasia clearly shows that Stein's discovery was linked to the birth-place of Gotama. It is significant that the Greek historians also referred to the traditional sanctity of the district. It was said that the Ariaspians enjoyed special privileges as they had given succour to the starving army of Cyrus the great. This is surely not the full story as the holiness of Seistan is well recorded in the Iranian tradition, in particular, the Shahnama. The Indian texts throw more significant light on the history of Ariaspians or Hariasvas who are described as a lost tribe [xxii]. From the Mahabharata we learn that King Hariasva never ate flesh in his life [xxiii]. It is likely that the sage Asvaghosa (Calanus) whose name is given as Sphines or Aspines belonged to the clan of the Ariaspians. Alexander noted that their system of justice was very much like that of the Greeks [xxiv]. Impressed by their way of life and civic administration, Alexander extended their boundaries and conferred nominal freedom. Though not explicitly stated, waiving part of the taxes payable to the state must have been an element of his decree. It is important to note that Alexander's conflicts with his officers started after his stay in Seistan. The Philotas affair, the slaying of Cleitus and the Callisthenes tragedy are all linked with the Alexander's fascination for Gotama and Ariaspians.
The Lion Of Chaeronea And Asoka's Lions
Wheeler was amazed by the double-lion capitals at Persepolis but could not recognise that these could have been erected by Alexander. When the Sarnath pillar was first discovered it created a flutter of sensation on an international scale. Sir John Marshall wrote [xxv],
The Sarnath capital, on the other hand, though by no means a masterpiece, is the product of the most developed art of which the world was cognisant in the third century B.C.
But what puzzled scholars like Foucher was that if it assumed that Asoka was a native of Bihar as R. Thapar and other Indologists imagine, his fascination for the lion symbol remains an enigma. The lion is an intrusive element in Indian art. On the other hand the lion symbol was much favoured in Mycenae. It was also a symbol of great importance for the Macedonians.
Philip's lion statue at Chaeronea
When Phillip wanted to commemorate the great Macedonian victory at Chaeronea, he setup the famous lion statue. It is thus very likely that his illustrious son had also erected lion capitals in India; it is well known that he always carried a small golden lion. However, it can be argued that Asoka borrowed the lion symbol from Nebuchadrezzar's Babylon - lions guarded the famous E-Sagila - or from the Sumerians who also had a preference for the lion symbol; Gudea's double lion mace-head is well known [xxvi]. As Cumont noted, the lion was a symbol of ancient Lydia. Four lions also guarded the Meghazil tomb near Amrit, but the fact that Asoka was an Indo-Greek closely related to Seleucus' line makes it more likely that his lions were Greek-inspired. However, though truth is indestructible it is often stranger than fiction - the historians job has been made nearly impossible by Asoka who had no qualms about overwriting on the much-sought-after pillars of Alexander.
Alexander's Altar That Once Stood Near Hyphasis
The Englishman Thomas Coryat who came to Delhi in 1616 was one of the first westerners to notice the Asokan pillars after the middle ages. Coryat was greatly impressed by the superbly polished forty feet high monolithic column and presumed that it must have been erected by Alexander the Great 'in token of his victorie' over Porus. In Coryat's time the script of the inscriptions in the pillar was undeciphered but today, thanks to Prinsep, we know that it contains an inscription of Asoka; yet there is more to it than meets the eye. From Asoka's own inscription it is almost certain that some of his pillars were not erected by him.
After the mutiny at Hyphasis Alexander gave up his plans to march further east and to commemorate his presence in India erected twelve massive altars of dressed stone as a thanksgiving to the deities who had blessed his success. Arrian wrote,
He then divided the army into brigades, which he ordered to prepare twelve altars to equal in height the highest military towers, and to exceed them in point of breadth, to serve as thank offerings to the gods who had led him so far as a conqueror, and also as a memorial of his own labours. When the altars had been constructed, he offered sacrifice upon them with the customary rites, and celebrated a gymnastic and equestrian contest.
Surprisingly, although most of the writers place the altars on the right bank of the river, Pliny placed them on the left or the eastern bank. He wrote (vi, 21),
The Hyphasis was the limit of the marches of Alexander, who, however, crossed it, and dedicated altars on the further bank.
Alexander's altar was initially at Topra near Chandigarh
Pliny's information suggests a reappraisal of the age-old riddle of Alexander's altars. Precisely how far east had Alexander and his men come? This has been a matter of inconclusive debate; Sir E.H. Banbury held that the point where Alexander erected the twelve altars cannot be regarded as determined within even approximate limits but the Indian evidence now sheds new light on the problem. Masson placed the altars on the united stream of the Hyphasis and Sutlez[xxvii]. McCrindle also wrote that the Sutlez marked the limit of Alexander's march eastward[xxviii] and this is precisely the locality from which Feroze Shah transported a colossal pillar to Delhi. R. Thapar ignores Alexander's momentous voyage[xxix] and writes that though at present there is no archaeological evidence, Topra was probably an important stopping place on the road from Pataliputra to the northwest. This clearly skirts the central issue. It is impossible to think that anyone other than Alexander could have erected such a grand pre-Asokan pillar in this locality. There can be little doubt that the Delhi-Topra pillar [xxx] which now bears Asoka's seventh edict is in fact one of the missing altars of Alexander the Great [xxxi].
Who Was Asoka ?
Asoka emerges as the first figure of Indian history about whose era and persona we are fairly well informed. His Edicts speak of a love and sympathy for men and other beings which has very few parallels in world history, [xxxii] yet some very important aspects of his life are still unknown [xxxiii]. Asoka is not known to be represented in any coin or statue. From his study of Buddhist art, Alfred Foucher, one of the greatest commentators on Indian art, raised many questions that apparently had no precise answer. Foucher was surprised to find that the symbols of Buddhism like the lion, the lotus etc. had no antecedents in the art of Eastern India where one must expect them. This is linked to the fact that no original Buddhist texts have been unearthed from modern India. G. Tucci pointed out that even the Stupa is of west Asian origin. Similar views were held by A. Coomaraswamy. "Mahalake hi vijitam" ('Vast is my empire'), proclaimed Ashoka. How extensive really was his dominion in the West? It is impossible to recognize the real Asoka without answering this question. Foucher was not aware of the blunder of Jones or the fact that Kuh-e-Khwaja in Seistan was Kapilavastu[xxxiv], yet solely from his profound study of art history he came to the very significant conclusion that the Mauryan empire must have extended in the north-west to the Hindu-Kush, and to the west as far as Aria and Seistan.
Foucher's remark, in a sense, opens a Pandora's box. If Seistan and Bactria were within the Maurya empire it is not unnatural to expect that the Indo-Greek rulers of Bactria and Seistan were somehow related to the Mauryas. From the fact that Seleucus' daughter became a member of the Mauryan royal family, it can be easily argued that Asoka could have been an Indo-Greek[xxxv]. Asoka's name Asoka Vardhana links him with Parthian Kings like Vardanes, Satibarzanes etc.. R. Thapar suggests that Antiochus could have been his half-brother. It turns out that Asoka's history matches that of Diodotus-I almost line by line.
Devanampiya And Devadatta
R. Thapar writes that the classical writers did not refer to Asoka [xxxvi]. This is clearly absurd ; they must have used a different name, not Asoka or Piyadassi. A careful study shows that Devanampiya, the most common name of Asoka in the Edicts is in fact the same as Devadatta[xxxvii] or Diodotus. The interpretation of Devanampiya as `beloved of the Gods' is superficial. Asoka states that his ancestors were Devanampiyas, which shows that it is a patronymic, not a title - even Chandragupta was a Devanampiya or Diodotus (of Erythrae). 'Nam' in Persian and 'Nomos' in Greek means 'law' another Persian word for which is 'Dat'. Thus Devanam is the same as Devadat. Piya or Priya may have had the sense of a redeemer as in the case of the name of Priam of Troy. Many Parthian Kings assumed the titles Priapatius and Assak. As can be seen from the Shahnama, the Avesta and Xerexes' inscriptions, `Deva' initially meant a clan, not god. Ignorance of this has led to senseless translations of Asoka's Edicts as `Gods mingled with men'. Only oblique scholarship has obscured that the name Devadatta occurring in the second line of Asoka's famous Taxila pillar inscription refers to Asoka himself. The line "l dmy dty `l " [xxxviii] which Marshall and Andreas translated as `for Romedatta', refers to Devadatta.
The Kandahar Edict clearly shows Asoka as the master of Arachosia, whereas the coins indicate that Diodotus was the sovereign of this region. The problem can be resolved only by assuming that Asoka was the same as Diodotus-I. Asoka died exactly when Diodotus died; Asoka's Edicts stopped appearing in 245 BC[xxxix] the year of Diodotus' death. According to Wheeler, the first Edicts were inscribed 'in and after 257BC'. A.K. Narain and others maintain that Diodotus proclaimed himself as king by about 256 BC. The great Indologist F. W. Thomas noted that in his Edicts Asoka did not mention Diodotus Theos who should have been his neighbour[xl]. It is difficult to imagine that the man whose religious overtures won the heart of nearly the entire civilized world failed to impress upon his god-like neighbour. Asoka does not mention Iran also in his Edicts; the nearest foreign king that he mentions being Antiochus. This may indicate that the Syrian King stationed at Seleucia near Babylon was indeed his neighbour. Asoka does not refer to Devadatta because he was Devadatta himself.
Hellenistic Influence On Mauryan Art
The Indo-Greek identity of Asoka throws a flood of light on the history of Mauryan art. Here one must pay tribute to scholars like Sir John Marshall, Alfred Foucher and Niharranjan Ray who were not aware that Asoka was Diodotus-I yet made no mistake in recognising the Hellenistic content of Mauryan art. Marshall realised that the lion capitals of Asoka represent a new era in Indian art that has no precursors. Their fixed expression, authentic spirit, canon-based form and stylisation all betray a strong Hellenistic inspiration. Niharranjan Ray echoes a similar sentiment[xli]. Ray doubted that the impetus could be from Achaemenid Persia and traced it to Hellenistic art. The history of the Topra pillar leaves no doubt about how this stimulus was transmitted. The failure to recognize that Chandragupta was in fact Sasigupta who was once a satrap of Alexander has been at the root of many problems in the interpretation of Gandhara art and Mauryan art. However, though Marshall and Ray came very close to the truth, they failed to see Alexander's hand behind the lions of Asoka.
Nebuchadrezzar And Brotherhood Of Man
Although there is considerable Achaemenian influence[xlii] in Asoka's writing and art it is not difficult to see that his true hero was Nebuchadrezzar whose history is linked with Jainism- Buddhism. As already indicated, Asoka's 13th Edict echoes the campaign of the Babylonian king in his 8th year. Nebuchadrezzar was widely seen as a universal liberator, not a national hero. He was a captor of the Jews yet Jewish Prophets like Jeremiah hailed him as a saviour. Like Asoka, NebuChadrezzar also changed his religion, gave up animal food, was a great temple builder and propagator of religion based on righteousness, (Dhamma) not priestly cults.
Gotama was also strongly influenced by Nebuchadrezzar. The Emperor's horror of the withering tree as told by Daniel in the Old Testament reminds one Gotama's horror of withering, decay and death which played a central role in his renunciation. The same impulse can be seen behind the quest for immortality of Gilgamesh. The great king of Babylon was an easterner and it is likely that the dream is in some way related to the defoliation of the Seistan area which was once a granary of Iran. A strong sentiment against defoliation is also discernible in Buddhist literature and art.
The true significance of Alexander's fascination for Nebuchadrezzar has largely remained unappreciated. Critics who have scoffed at Alexander's call for Brotherhood of Man are not aware that Nebuchadrezzar also wanted to establish a Brotherhood of Man based on righteousness as contrasted to the hegemony of a holy priesthood. Woolley suggested that he introduced a religious reformation that involved congregational worship as contrasted to the priestly rituals. Only Tarn suspected that there may be some religious background to the fact that the Brahmans (the priestly party) were always the strong opponents of Alexander. He was, like Alexander, one of the greatest conquerors of history yet he became a great builder of temples, gave up all animal food and chose to live like a hermit in the forest and courted death by refusing food. This has been senselessly interpreted as madness by some writers unfamiliar with eastern religions. Many Greeks, not only Alexander, saw Nebuchadrezzar as a saviour. Antimenides, brother of the poet Alcaeus fought on behalf of Nebuchadrezzar. Apart from Greek military superiority this is why Alexander was so heartily welcomed in Babylon[xliii].
Alexander And Asoka
The corpus of Asoka's inscriptions is extensive but one is mystified by some things he did not say. Curiously he never names his father or his illustrious grandfather[xliv]. He also maintains a measured silence on Alexander. He opens the famous seventh edict with the sentence,
In the past, kings searched for means whereby people's interest in Dhamma would increase, but the people did not respond accordingly with a greater devotion to Dhamma.
Who are these kings? The most probable answer is Alexander and Nebuchadrezzar . Plutarch writes that in his days the altar's of Alexander were held in much veneration by the Prasiians, whose kings, he says, were in the habit of crossing the Ganges every year to offer sacrifices in the Grecian manner [xlv] upon them. It can be seen from the Mudrarakshasa that even though he played a part in his poisoning, Sasigupta had great respect for Alexander who was once his master. From whatever little we know of Bindusara he probably had the same attitude. This could also have been true of Asoka [xlvi]. His proscription of samajas or revelling parties may be due to his horror of Alexander's poisoning in such a party.
Like Cambyses, Alexander got a very bad press. If his hands were stained by the blood of Cleitus, Asoka was the ruthless terminator of 99 brothers in his youth. This may be echoed by the 'Brother's war' of the classical historians. Susima, Asoka's elder brother who was killed by him before accession to the throne, may be a close relative of Susina (Abd Susin) whose coins have been found from Persepolis. Only Tarn recognised the links between Alexander and Asoka, [xlvii]
For when all is said, we come back at the end to his personality; not the soldier or the statesman, but the man. Whatever Asia did or did not get from him she felt him as she scarcely felt any other; she knew that one of the greatest of the earth had passed. Though his direct influence vanished from India within a generation, and her literature does not know him, he affected Indian history for centuries; for Chandragupta saw him and deduced the possibility of realising in actual fact the conception, handed down from Vedic times, of a comprehensive monarchy in India; hence Alexander indirectly created Asoka's empire and enabled the spread of Buddhism.
Had he been alive, Tarn would have been delighted
to learn that it is mainly due to Jones' blunder that Alexander's true legacy
remains hidden; his direct influence did not vanish from India within a
generation, it only assumed a highly embellished Asokan garb. It is very likely
that excavations near the Topra area would yield relics of Alexander which are
of crucial importance in world history.
[i] The very existence of the junta depended on a falsification and defamation campaign which was extensive and thoroughgoing. That Ptolemy ha d to defend Alexander only shows the extent of such a campaign. Needless to say Sasigupta could justify his role only by blackening Alexander. Some Athenian Greeks swayed by Demosthenes' fiery rhetoric spared no effort to belittle Alexander.
Jones' false discovery of Palibothra at Patna shifted the focus to the east and
misled such erudite scholars as Rostovtzeff and Tarn into believing that
Alexander is not mentioned in Indian literature and had little influence on
Indian civilisation. For an elaboration of the consequences of Jones'
mislocation of Palibothra at Patna in lieu of Kahnuj in Gedrosia see 'Sasigupta
and the Poisoning of Alexander', to be published.
See Pal, R., 'Non-Jonesian Indology and Alexander', Minerva Press, New Delhi,
Like Vincent Smith, Monahan was a distinguished British historian who was a
member of the Indian Civil Service, 'The Early History of Bengal', 1925,
Kulke, H., and Rothermund, D., 'A History of India', Rupa, 1991, p. 86.
'A Dictionary of Indian History', University of Calcutta, 1972, p.70.
Three Kalingas are mentioned in the Inscriptions. This is natural in view of the
fact that early Magadha was in the north-west. The present writer has suggested
that there were two Bengals, the earlier one being in the Gulf area. See Pal,
R., 'Non-Jonesian Indology and Alexander', Minerva Press, New Delhi, to be
"Nebuchadrezzar and Babylon", British Academy, 1985, p. 98.
There is a lot of controversy about the correct form of the name which is
probably NebuChandressar. The Chandresvaras were an ancient tribe of India. See
Although some of the points made by Monahan can now be seen to be untrue, his
statement is still relevant, "The monoliths in question are believed to have
been quarried in the neighbourhood of Chunar in the district of Mirzapur.
Quarries yielding the same kind of sandstone are worked there to this day, and
no other place is known where the huge blocks required for the purpose could
have been obtained. When it is considered that the weight of each of the
monoliths is estimated at about 50 tons, it will be apparent that their
transport to and erection at such distant sites as Topra near Umballa, Sanchi in
Bhopal, and the Nepalese Terai, were no mean engineering feats". 'The Early
History of Bengal", Varanasi, 1975 (reprint), p.225.
Ghosh, A., `The City in Early Historical India', Simla,1972, p70.
This is not an isolated phenomenon. Christmas Humphreys writes, 'The Lumbini
Gardens where Gotama was born, lie in the difficult Nepal Terai, and Kusinara
where the Buddha passed away has little to show ...". 'Buddhism', Penguin Books,
1990, p. 42. S.K. Saraswati wrote about Rajagriha in Bihar, `The Buddhist
remains, except for stray and isolated images, are scanty..'. Even the
identification of the Sattapani cave, the site of the first Council, is not
beyond doubt'. Saraswati blamed this to religious bigotry, a precipice much used
by Indian scholars but disproved by the example of Babylon which provided
archaeological proof of textual history even after countless acts of
destruction. Saraswati, S.K., in "2500 years of Buddhism", ed. Bapat, P.V.,1956,
p. 279. Debala Mitra writes about Bodh-Gaya, 'The earliest vestiges that are
visible now are of the first century BC...'. About Sarnath she writes, 'The
earliest remains at Sarnath date from the days of Ashoka, who erected a
'Asoka', Arihant Publishers, Jaipur, 1988 (reprint), p. 223.
'The Real Birthplace of Buddha', Cuttack, Grantha Mandir, 1977.
The location of Kapilavastu has been so hotly debated. "The mystery of
Kapilavastu will continue for many years to be the sport of unverified
conjecture", wrote Vincent Smith, a keen observer of the Indian scene.
Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, vol. ,p .
A.L. Oppenheim saw the wide gaps in the studies on Mesopotamian religion.
J.R.A.S., 1915, p. 63-89, p. 405-455.
"The identification of Kapilavastu, the capital of the Sakyas, with Piprahwa in
the Basti district of UP is nearly confirmed by the discovery of thirty- one
seals during the excavations at that place which bear the inscriptions of the
Kushana period referring to 'the community of the monks of Kapilavastu
(residing) in the Devaputra vihara'. An inscription on the lid of a pot also
mentions the same monastery, which should have been in Kapilavastu, must have
been located in the area of the discoveries of the seals. In other words, the
city itself was in the Piprahwa area." P.H.A.I., O.U.P. '96, p. 577. Nalanda has
been identified in an equally reckless manner.
Debala Mitra, 'Buddhist Monuments', \par 20 Geog. Jour., Aug 1916, p. 362.
Though both Herzfeld and Ghirshman dated the temple to the Parthian era, this
was rejected by Tarn. Scholars are not aware that what goes as Buddhist art
today is in fact Hellenised Indian Buddhist art that was patronised by Alexander
and Asoka and dates only from the 4th century BC. Only Stein could imagine what
pre-Asokan or pre-Alexandrite Buddhist art could look like.
Geog. Jour. (Aug. 1916) p. 362.
Lane Fox notes the event but fails to read the significance of the name
Prophthasia. 'Alexander the Great', p. 282.
'Puranic Encyclopedia', by Vettam Mani, Motilal Banarasidas, p.57.
[xxiii]Anusasana Parva, ch. 11, verse 67.
This cannot but remind one of the Lichchavis who had close connections with
'Cambridge History of Ancient India', ed. E.J. Rapson, p.562.
Pal, R., 'Gotama Buddha in West Asia', Annals of Bhandarkar Oriental Research
Institute, vol. 77.
In this context it has to be borne in mind that in ancient times the two rivers
united at a point forty miles below their present junction.
McCrindle, J.W., "Invasion of India by Alexander the Great", New Delhi, p.
"Asoka and the Decline of the Mauryas", Oxford University Press", 1961, p.230.
For both Raychaudhuri and Thapar, Alexander does not belong to Indian history
The precise location is Firozabad near Delhi.
Philostratos' statement that Apollonius of Tyana on his journey into India in
the second century A.D. found the altars still intact and their inscriptions
still legible probably indicates that they were in places where Alexander had
erected them. It is almost certain that Apollonius could not read the
inscriptions as they were not in Greek.
[xxxii] H. G. Wells described his reign as one of the brightest interludes in the troubled history of mankind, 'A Short History of the World', p. Wheeler wrote, 'This book is not a history, but in its last chapter the impersonal disjecta of prehistory may fittingly be assembled for a moment in the in the likeness of a man. Ashoka came to the throne about 268 B.C. and died about 232 B.C. Spiritually and materially his reign marks the first coherent expression of the Indian mind, and, for centuries after his empire had crumbled, his work was implicit in the though t and art of the subcontinent. It is not dead today.' 'Early India and Pakistan', Thames and Hudson, 1968, p. 170.
Apart from his Edicts, archaeology has unearthed very little inscribed material
and though some punch-marked coins have been associated with him, this has been
disputed. Palaces unearthed near Patna have been said to be his, but in the
absence of inscriptions this is clearly unacceptable. Even Taxila, so often
mentioned together with his name in the texts, has proved disappointing.
Pal, R., 'Non-Jonesian Indology and Alexander, op. cit.
Wheeler wrote, 'It is just possible that Ashoka had Seleukid blood in his veins;
at least his reputed vice-royalty of Taxila in the Punjab during the reign of
his father could have introduced him to the living memory of Alexander the
Great, and, as king, he himself tells us of proselytizing relations with the
Western powers'. Wheeler came very near the truth yet he narrowly missed the
true face of Asoka. 'Early India and Pakistan', Thames and Hudson, 1968, p.
D.C. Sircar added that Asoka was unknown because there was no foreign
representative in his court. This is clearly absurd; the emperor who claims to
have sent emissaries no distant corners of the globe cannot have been unknown to
the western world.
After his conversion to Buddhism Asoka had to change his name Devadatta as it
was a hated name among the Buddhists.
B.N. Mukherjee works into the name proper and translates it by the senseless
phrase 'for the creation of law '. 'The Aramaic Edicts of Asoka', Indian Museum,
R. Thapar is unaware that the reason why Asoka's edicts stopped appearing after
245 BC is that he died in that year. The year of Asoka's death given by Thapar
and others is 232 BC but this is clearly a mistake. Diodotus' son, who was also
a Diodotus, died in 232 BC.
'Asoka', in Cambridge History of Ancient India, p. 453.
'Compared with later figural sculptures in the round of Yakshas and their female
counterparts or the reliefs of Bharhut, Sanchi and Bodhgaya, the art represented
by these crowning lions belongs to an altogether different world of conception
and execution, of style and technique, altogether much more complex, urban and
civilised. They have nothing archaic or primitive about them, and the
presumption is irresistible that the impetus and inspiration of this art must
have come from outside.' 'Age of the Nandas and Mauryas', Motilal Banarasidas,
1967, p. 376.
[xlii] Many scholars felt that Asoka was influenced by Darius' inscriptions though his spirit was nobler. The picture at Persepolis of a lion devouring a bull may be Mauryan. Darius or Xerexes could never show the bull, the pride of the Achaemenians, being devoured. Darius always depicted scenes of lion-hunting. Asoka used some words from Darius' Edicts. Barua held that the habitual script of Asoka's scribes was not Brahmi but west Asian Kharoshti and that his artists followed the style of Persepolis. Even the mason's marks were Persepolitan.
Alcaeus' lines may well have inspired Alexander and his
From the ends of the earth you are come,
With your sword hilts of ivory bound with gold ....
Fighting beside the Babylonians you accomplished a great labour,
And delivered them from distress,
For you slew a warrior who wanted only a palm's breadth of five royal cubits.
This could be due to two reasons. As Taranatha wrote he may have been a nephew
of Bindusara, not a son. Another reason could be his silent disapproval of
Chandragupta's role in the murder of Alexander.
This could only be a reference to Buddhistic worship which understandably had
many similarities with Greek practices.
As a member of Chandragupta's family it is likely that Asoka did not know the
full truth about Alexander's poisoning by the Generals and his grandfather or
[xlvii] Tarn, 'Alexander', p.142