The story of Alexander the Great is very familiar to most Indians (at least we think we do). We are taught in history classes that Alexander invaded India in 326 BCE. He fought a fierce battle with King Porus (battle of the Hydaspes River) in modern day Pakistan. Porus was defeated but Alexander spared his life and allowed him to rule the area under his name. Alexander then reached the Beas River in Himachal Pradesh and decided to turn back after his army started revolting (many people in the ancient world including the Greeks also believed that India was the end of the world and it would not make sense to keep advancing).
As Alexander started his long journey back to Macedonia he awarded most of the lands captured by him to various Satraps (Persian name for governors). Over the course of time many of these Satraps became emperors controlling large tracks of land themselves. Unfortunately very little is taught in Indian schools about these satraps appointed by Alexander or the lasting legacy that they left on the long history of India.
Indian history teaches that the Mauryan Empire came into existence immediately after Alexander’s arrival in northwestern India. Chandragupta Maurya (340 BCE to 298 BCE) is credited with founding the Maurya Empire and establishing the first “Indian” empire by defeating the Greek Satraps. How do we explain such a major Indian empire coming into existence just 15 years after Alexander’s arrival at the Beas River?
In Greek and Latin Chandragupta Maurya is known as Sandrokottos or Androcottus. Very little is known about him or his lineage. Some Indian historians claim that he is the illegitimate child born to a Nanda prince and a maid. Others claim that he was raised by peacock tamers. But history is murky. The dates attributed to reign of Chandragupta Maurya are not set in stone and that is what makes his story very interesting.
Noted Indian historians like Dr. Ranjit Pal (Ph.D from IIT Kharagpur and life member of “Indian Society for Greek and Roman Studies”) are now beginning to make a compelling case about revising the history of India during the time of Alexander (I recommend reading his book “Non-Jonesian Indology and Alexander). The main area of contention is the location of the city of Pataliputra (which is mentioned in the classic work by Greek writer Megasthenes called Indica).
Sir William Jones (1746 – 1794) was the founder of the Asiatic Society and one of the first individuals to suggest an existence of a group of languages now known as Indo-European languages (he wrote a book called “The Sanscrit Language” in 1786 in which he suggested that Sanskrit, Greek and Latin had a common root which we now know to be true). But he also made a claim that Pataliputra (Palibothra) is Patna (Bihar). This effectively placed Alexander, Chandragupta Maurya and Ashoka in Eastern India. This is called the “Jonesian Theory” and is widely accepted as a fact in India and elsewhere.
But many Indians would be surprised to learn that this theory is based on very thin evidence. Till date no relic of any Mauryan King including the great Ashoka or the Greeks has been found in Patna. This is true for the Nanda kings who the Mauryans supposedly captured. So where were the Mauryans actually ruling and who is Chandragupta Maurya?
Dr. Ranjit Pal argues that Palibothra of Megasthenes is not Patna of Bihar but Patali (near the city of Kerman in Iran). The names of many Indian cities can also be found in other countries and names like Patali, Konarak, and Salem are good examples (it would be a mistake to assume that these Indian cities are older. It is more likely that Patali (Iran) is much older than Patna (India). The name Patel which is popular among people in Gujarat is likely related to Patali. Gujarat is part of Western India and close to Iran where Patali is).
So if Megasthenes was talking about Patali in Iran and not in India then that would mean that Alexander never visited India that we know today. Instead of Chandragupta Maurya setting up the Mauryan Empire following Alexander’s retreat there is evidence to show that Chandragupta was a contemporary of Alexander and fought and lost a major battle with Alexander in Patali. This will mean that the Mauryan Empire was mostly an empire that existed in Northwestern India (including Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran) and probably did not exist in modern day Central and Eastern India (which could be the reason why the archeological evidence is missing).
After capturing Taksila (city in Pakistan), Alexander left the city under the control of one of his Satraps known as Orontobates (some accounts indicate that Orontobates was a Persian. Alexander’s army just like most armies in the world today had soldiers and generals from lands that they captured). Orontobates was also known as Tridates. He later on assumed the name of Sasigupta (known in Greek as Sasicottos).
Sashi and Chandra means moon in Sanskrit. Many historians now believe that Orontobates a.k.a. Sasigupta is none other than Chandragupta Maurya (this explains why there is very little information in the Indian context as to who Chandragupta was before he became emperor of “India”). This Persian was an important member of Alexander’s conquests. Diodorus (ancient Greek historian) indicates that it was Tridates who handed the Persian treasury over to the Greeks after Alexander defeated the Persian Empire led by King Darius III.
Why did Chandragupta revolt against his longtime friend Alexander? Did he secretly continue to resent the defeat of the Persians by the Greeks under Alexander after all these years? Did he participate with other Persians in Alexander’s army to poison and kill their leader? If you believe in the ancient Sanskrit drama Mudrarakshasa the answer is a resounding yes.
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Category: Culture & Religion