Diodotus-I Was Asoka




        The legacy of the Macedonians and Greeks in India is yet to be truthfully acknowledged. The pillars of Asoka are the first examples of Indian Buddhist art, and a careful study shows that at least one of them was an altar of Alexander brought from Topra near Chandigarh. This reveals the timeless heritage of Alexander in India. The Greek contribution to Indian culture goes far beyond


Vestiges of Hellenistic art at Sanchi


the Buddha icon. Buddhism, in this sense, is an universal religion in which people of many nations participated. Incidentally one of the recently discovered Bamiyan fragments is written in cursive Greek script and contains passages praising various Buddhas. This mentions Lokeśvara-râja Buddha (λωγοασφαροραζο βοδδο) which may correspond to the name Luqman.

       Significantly, just as Diodotus has only coins but no inscriptions, his contemporary and neighbour Asoka has only inscriptions but no coins. This clearly indicates that Asoka and Diodotus complement each other. H. P. Ray's satisfaction about Asoka's coins is bizarre. Asoka never refers to his neighbour Diodotus because he was Diodotus himself. It is very likely that the Asokan Pillar which was brought to Delhi from Punjab was in fact a re-inscribed altar of Alexander.

        Asoka seems to have died when Diodotus died. R. Thapar notes that his Edicts abruptly stopped appearing by about 245 BC but owing to visions centered on Patna, fails to notice that this is exactly the year of Diodotus' death. Both were fierce warriors in their youth but later became saviors, sôtêr. Pliny indicated three Kalingas of which one must have been in the Parthian region. The location of Konarak in the Gulf area also shows that Asoka's Kalinga war had nothing to with Orissa but is linked to the strife linked to Diodotus and the Parni. Sachchidananda Bhattach-arya pointed to several discrepancies in Ashoka’s version of the war.

        Again, the bilingual Kandahar Edict shows Asoka as the master of Arachosia while the coins point to Diodotus as the ruler. In fact Asoka's history matches that of Diodotus-I line by line. The studies on the Bactrian Aramaic texts by S. Shaked miss the finer points of Bactrian history.

      It can be seen that Mauryan history is linked to that of the Arsacids. According to Strabo (xi,1-12) the Parthians were a tribe of the Parni or Aparni who belonged to the larger tribe of the Dahae. The name Parthian is related to that of Parthava, the first Iranian region conquered by them. They are identified with the Pallavas in the Indian texts but non-classical sources usually describe them as Arsacids after the name of their founder Arsaces or Assak who, in the opinion to some classical authors, was a Bactrian like Diodotus. As Gotama is said to have been related to the Nandas, the Mauryas also appears to be related to the Achaemenians. Sir Mortimer Wheeler repeatedly stressed the link of the Asokan pillars with Achaemenid art. Also the Arsacid claim of descent from the Achaemenians, which is discounted by R.N. Frye and others, is in fact true.

       The name Assak is clearly linked to Asoka and gives a different derivation of the name Asoka (or Ashoka) from that based on the Sanskrit 'shoka' or 'grief'. The name may be linked to the Assakenians who were linked to Chandragupta by many scholars. The Arsacids were also called Arshakuni which shows the clear link with the Shakas. M. Witzel and H. Falk consider the Shakas to be 'foreigners' in India but as Cynthia Talbot notes, this is short-sighted. The Arsacids claimed to be linked to the Achaemenids who were also Shakas. This is indicated by names such as Dar(a)shaka in the Indian texts. Gaumata's abode was Sikayavatish which also shows the link with the Sakyas. It is likely that Chandragupta was also known by the same name Arsaces or Assak. Ashkh of the Shahnama appears to be Chandragupta.

       In the Minor Rock Edict I Asoka describes his dominion as Jambudvipa which is usually assumed to be modern India. In the version of the edict found at Nittur in Tumkur district of Karnataka, Asoka calls himself a ruler of Pathavi which echoes Parthia, Diodotus' domain. K. P. Jawasawal noted that Jambudvipa was a wider territory covering nearly the whole of civilized Asia. The name Jambu or Gambu may be linked to names like Sisygambis, mother of Darius-III.

      Asoka calls himself 'Piyadassi laja magadhe' which is uncritically thought to allude to Magadha in Bihar. Early Magadha, like Kalinga and Vaňga (Bengal) was also in the North-West. Magan in south east Iran was the early Magadha. The Mauryan homeland is given in some sources as Pippali (vana) which is blindly placed in Nepal but Pippali may be Babil in Seistan which in turn may be a transform of Kapilavastu. Babyl(on) in Iraq later became known as Babil. Names like Kabul and Vasht echo Kapilavastu which was the greatest religious centre of the ancient world. The Mauryas are linked to the Nandas who in turn are linked to the Buddhist Sakyas. Babil in Seistan also may have been the Baveru of the Jatakas. Although there is no hard evidence, Asoka is said to have been the founder of Sanchi which appears to be very likely.

       After rejecting Jones' idea of Palibothra at Patna it becomes logical to link Asoka with Kanganhalli in Karnataka where his inscribed portraits have been found. Kanganhalli (Halli=City) corresponds to Bandar-e Kangan near Patali (28°19'58" La., 57°52'16" Lo.) in the gulf area which was once India. That Moeris, the grandfather of Asoka or Diodotus-I was the same as Orontobates has already been indicated. Arrian wrote that Orontobates who fought against Alexander the Great was from the Gulf area. Bandar-e Kangan was near Konarak and Patali and about 10-days boat journey from Kanganhalli. This was once India proper.



  Bandar-e Kangan was near Patali and Konarak


       Another Bandar-e Kangan was near Firuzabad (Gour) and Katak in Iran. Kangan may be the same


Geng nearZabol, Zaranz and Gowd (Courtesy Philips Atlas)


as Gangan and may be linked to the names Ganga and the Gangaridai mentioned by the Greeks. Chandragupta’s Suganga palace is known from the records. The Ganga is not cited in the RigVeda and legend has it that it was a celestial river brought to the earth by Bhagiratha. Thus there may have been an earlier Ganga in the north-west. Curtius wrote that the Ganges flows into the Arabian sea. The Greeks used the form Gange and the names Geng, Kang, etc. are found in Seistan. The VYSKs of Kang (Herzfeld, Zoroaster and His Men, vol. 1 p. 78) may be the Vishakhas (Shakas?). The city-name Vishakhapattanam may be a memory of the Vishakhas whose history has been lost. It is not impossible that Vishakhadatta, the author of the Sanskrit drama Mudrarakshasa is Chandragupta himself. The name is given both as Vishakhadeva and Vishakhadatta which may point to Devadatta or Diodotus, a name of Asoka as well as Chandragupta (Diodotus of Erythrae).

      Diodotus' father Bindusara, who can be identified with Bagadates, is linked to Gauda in some texts which may be Gour in modern Iran or Istakhr (Asthagoura of Ptolemy?). 'Khwarra' and 'Goura' meant 'bright' or 'shinning'. Bagadates is known to have been a priest-king from Istakhr.



Snake-motifs from Kanganhalli and Jiroft


      The snake-motif of Kanganhalli leads one to the Nagas of Indian literature who were associated with snakes. Incidentally the snake was also the most important motif of Jiroft art. Nagas were seen as semi-divine and were strong and handsome. Asoka, who was allegedly very naughty in his youth, was sent to Pingala Naga for good education. Naga maidens were famous for their beauty and many Epic heroes had Naga wives. Their kingdom is called Naga-loka, or Patala-loka, which is filled with resplendent palaces, ornamented with precious gems. Nagas were usually associated with wealth and treasure. L. B. Keny notes their maritime links,


Not only were the Nagas a civilized people, but they were a great maritime race since very early times. The civilization of Burmah and some Chinese countries is ascribed to the Naga people of Magadha. They seem to have had a very early trade with the Persian Gulf also. The Buddhist literature speaks of the Nagas of the sea and the Nagas of the mountains.


  The Nagas of the sea were clearly Hindus, Buddhists and Zoroastrians from southeast Iran which was India. Nagaloka, the sphere of the Nagas was also called Patala which resembles Pattala in lower Indus near Mohenjodaro. The name Babhruvahana, son of Arjuna and a Naga Queen is significant and may be linked to Baveru and Babil.

      In the 13th edict, after declaring that he had himself found pleasure rather in conquests by Dhamma than in conquests by the sword, Diodotus says that he had already made such conquests in the realms of the kings of Syria, Egypt, Macedonia, Epirus, and Kyrene, among the Cholas and Pandyas in South India, in Ceylon and among a number of peoples dwelling in the borders of his empire. This was a great event in the history of Hellenistic civilization and led to, as Asoka saw it, the Kingdom of God.

Everywhere men conform to the instructions of the King as regards the Dhamma; and even where the kings emissaries go not, there when they have heard of the King’s Dhamma, the folk conform themselves, and will conform themselves to the duties of the Dhamma ...


   In his celebrated History of Hellenism J. G. Droysen made the far-reaching observation that in the Hellenistic era Greek and Near Eastern cultures mingled in the lands conquered by Alexander the Great to form the cultural matrix from which Christianity emerged. If Alexander was the harbinger of this Hellenistic miracle , Diodotus was its greatest champion. Tarn wrote that most of the Bactrian Greeks became Buddhists. This was due to Alexander and Diodotus-I, due to whom momentous events took place in the Orient that altered human destiny.

       Much has been written about Hellenistic culture that fails to recognize Asoka's determinant role in it. S. M. Burstein rightly emphasizes the interaction of Greeks and non-Greeks during the Hellenistic period in outposts such as Ptolemaic Egypt and Heraclea on the Black Sea but other great centres of Hellenistic culture were Hadda, Sanchi, Besanagar, Amaravati and Nagarjunakonda.

      The keynote of the Hellenistic revolution was not Hellenic imperialism but a call for Brotherhood of Man which Asoka embraced. F. Holt states unwittingly:


For W.W. Tarn, there was no question - Alexander hoped for a fusion of races, a unity of mankind, and Hellenistic history fulfilled his wish by way of Bactria.


The historiographic problem which, as Holt states, has turned Tarn's 'dream of world brotherhood', the nightmare of three generations, is rooted in two sad lapses - the inability to recognise that Gomata was the true Gotama and that Diodotus-I was Asoka.

     The Hellenistic upsurge ultimately paved the way for the rise of Christianity and Islam. J. Z. Smith writes in the Encyclopedia Britannica (1979),

Finally, the central religious literature of both traditions, the Jewish Talmud (an authoritative compendium of law, lore, and interpretation), the New Testament, and the later patristic literature of the Early Church Fathers are characteristic Hellenistic documents both in form and content.


       Only misjudgment of historians has denied Diodotus his rightful place in world history. The British science fiction writer and historian H. G. Wells was not quite aware that Asoka was Diodotus, yet wrote with great insight:


"Amidst the tens of thousands of names of monarchs that crowd the columns of history ... the name of Asoka shines, and shines almost alone, a star."


Sir Mortimer Wheeler also pays a tribute to Asoka,


'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 thought and art of the subcontinent. It is not dead today.'


The forces that drive time-history will always intrigue the scientists and philosophers, for the past can never be relived. Historians of the subalterns, on the other hand, would continue to evaluate social change by other yardsticks, but the labours of the half-Greek Asoka and the half-Barbarian Alexander whom the former silently emulated, are unlikely to be consigned to the abysm of time.