Thursday, May 14, 2015
Regrettably no account of Chandragupta Maurya's campaigns against Seleukus Nicator survive ala Caesar's Commentaries on his decade long wars against the Gauls.
So this gives agenda driven Western historians a further face saving measure about the ultimately pitiful and fruitless Greek adventure in India.
Firstly historians neglect to mention that Alexander's rival Porus was not even a proper king with an empire but just happened to be a glorified chief of a frontier republic who only took on the Macedonian warlord because he alone in that area had the traditional four division army.
And Alexander very nearly lost even this engagement.
Now there are Indian nationalist historians who see his disengagement from India as a strategic retreat and some go as far as to claim that he was defeated by Porus but I am inclined to give Alexander benefit of the doubt. Bactria and Persia were the verge of rebellion and Porus was apparently pacified so Alexander saw fit to deal with them. Furthermore his ill conceived and disastrous trek through the Gedrosian desert (present day Makran) where he left he lost half his men and suffered a wound from the local tribesmen that ultimately killed him only convey his ego and vain glory were fully intact. Especially considering it was believed that the god Dionysus returning victorious from his conquest of India used that route(I'm still not quite sure what that legend means).
To this end he left his Indian and Central Asian holding in the charge of a very able Seleucus Nicator I, associated with Macedonian nobility. Alexander being clannish to the core filled the best posts in his empire with his brethren. Not unlike how belligerent and tribal Saddam Hussein gave away the most plum jobs to members of his al Tikriti clan or today the rural collectivist and aggressive Mahinda Rajapakshe of Sri Lanka has jobs for his 40 odd brothers, nephews and nieces at his disposal.
Fortunately for Alexander though, nepotism did work in his favor and these Macedonian individuals performed with distinction on the battlefield.
Nevertheless there were inevitably rumblings from the more "original" Greeks over Alexander's fondness for Persian customs including that of proskynesis( the traditional Persian manner of bowing or prostration before a superior). It was one thing for this eccentric and crank to think himself of a God by assuming the title of Pharaoh thanks to his mentally unbalanced mother(she thought of herself as possessed by various Middle eastern fertility goddesses and to this end ,stuck snakes inside her vagina).
Not only that but he went as far as to marry a Bactrian woman (Roxanna) as well as two Persian noblewomen thus engaging in polygamy. As if all this wasn't bad enough he compelled a good chunk of his soldiers to engage in a mass marriage with Persian women in a display of his Hellenizing cosmopolitanism.
The Greeks had enough. As it was Macedonians were a derided group considered outside Greek society proper(their equivalent of mlecchas) who were ridiculed as a people "From whom one couldn't even get a decent slave" and now these barbarian nobility were forcing them to make nice with the Persians-the very people who burned their beloved Athens to the ground.
That coupled with the might of the Nanda army which made Porus's look miniscule and substandard in comparison sapped their morale and loathed the very idea of carrying on further into the Gangetic valley(Alexander believed that following the path of Ganges would lead him to the end of the world)
At the same time it has to be mentioned that while Greeks married various Persian women no Greek woman was forthcoming for a Persian aristocrat. So there was certainly a strong racial and eugenic element to the Alexander's Hellenized coupling. It may well have been an intention to wipe out Persian genes at least of those of the ruling classes.
In that light, Chandragupta Maurya's results seem even more impressive. Not only was there a failure of Seleukus to achieve his aims as the Roman historian Appian demurely states and Strabo also gingerly mentions that "Seleukus gave...them(the northwestern India and Bactrian holdings)...onto Sandracottus(Chandragupta) upon terms of intermarriage and receiving in exchange five hundred elephants"
It was with the help of these elephants that the Seleucid Empire which covered pretty much all the Near East was born. Chandragupta Maurya could well have asked for that and have his empire stretch up to the Mediterranean but the turbulence in his native Magadha was constant and unceasing (due to the Nanda loyalists) and he needed to keep an eye on his subjects. Not to mention quite a few Pauravans(the tribesmen of Porus) Persians, Bactrians and Gandharans who had served in his army on the understanding that they would be given their lands and sovereignty upon the defeat of the Greeks. However CGM had reneged on those promises and these tribes were also up in arms.
So Chandragupta Maurya was given the honor of marrying a Macedonian noblewoman(Elena) which other general or warlord had no matter how cozy his relation with their Macedonian overlords.
On that alone I may say QED
I would like to start off with the title which to my mind is itself misleading because I don't think there exists a specific dichotomy between Puranic and Vedic Hinduism.
To be more precise the dieties associated with the Puranas such as Shiva,Brahma,Vishnu,Ganesha, Karthikeya, Durga are not theologically distinct from Indra, Agni,Vayu, Varuna et al but a continuation and or amalgalm of them.
One of the reasons I prefer the Ramayana apart from the fact that it reads as a great thriller and adventure story is that it is more concise, linear,coherent and has sense of continuity and parallel story of the "Vedic era" as opposed to celebration of inconsistencies, jumbled structure and confusion that comprises much of the narrative of the Mahabharata.
As with all great kings, the geneology is of prime importance hence we see the Ikshaku stalwart Sagar defeated the mlecchas from northwestern India, brought Ganga down to earth on the physical and spiritual realm and hosting and sponsoring the Sagara Manthana(churning of the ocean) which implies a gathering of scholars and sages who would churn the scriptures of their essence to generate new ideas and philosophies as one churns milk to make various lacto products.
Much of this finds its way into the corpus Vedanta /Upanishads. Upanishads loosely translated meaning sit close and listen ie the guru when he was feeling generous would explain the result of the ideas in the Vedas to his pupil rather than them simply memorize and chant the relevant portion all day.
Now the King Sagara was quite a few generations removed from Rama so one would assume that the Sagara Manthana was completed during his reign. But that is unlikely as there are indications it was a long project which went on for decades if not centuries. Hence an older vanara narrated to Rama how he gathered herbs during the Sagara Manthana (probably contributed to the creation of deity Dhanvantri who codified the Ayurveda)
It is around this time that Shiva makes his first appearance in a very "Vedic" era as a restrainer and upholder of Ganga's flow as well as Nilakantha, capturing the left over toxic residue of the Sagar Manthana(probably the objectionable and evil ideas) and making sure the Shaivite scholars keep their lips sealed about these matters even if their psyches were affected so that the ideas do not spread out thereby cause harm to others.
Later on another sage associated with Shiva and his dieties(Karthikeya or Subramanya, the latter term once associated with Indra but later applied solely to Skanda/Karthikeya) but also the most famous Vedic verse Gayatri Mantra.
All the while the antagonists Parasurama and Ravana all have prior run ins with Shiva where they incur his displeasure.
So what do we see? Vedic and Puranic deities are developing in parallel rather than in a linear fashion where Puranic follows Vedic as is commonly assumed.
Vedic dieties are nothing more than the building blocks for Puranic dieties - take a Chandra here, some Rudra there , burn some Kama in the process and you've got yourself a Shiva!
And on and on it goes with other dieties.
Vedas and Puranas are therefore not a separate and discrete entities but constantly compliment each other. Now there was greater quality control in the Vedas as they were the base and dealt with plainly religious matters and not much political history but since Puranas did deal with both, quite a few wild eyed Puranic accounts of various kings which defy logic and sound history not to mention Vedic tradition found its way into the canon over the years. Especially in the medieval era.
But all in all if you want an elegant understanding of the evolution ,nature and structure of Vedic Hinduism,look no further than the Ramayana.