Middle Kingdoms of India, Part 8


A Yavana image
Excavations at Bharhut, Madhya Pradesh

Apr 04, 2015 — CANADA (SUN) — A serial presentation of India's great history, religious movements and temple architecture.

The Indo-Greeks

"There is indication of the existence of a sect, information about which is lost in the dark backward and abysm of time. Shalishuka of Pataliputra - great grandson of Ashoka - "of righteous words but unrighteous conduct," is said to have helped his elder brother, renowned as Sadhuketa (banner of ascetics), establish a righteous person named Vijaya. This seems to be a reference to a Jain religious leader as "sadhu" was a term particularly used for Jain ascetics and Shalishuka's father Samprati was a patron of Jainism. Like the other Puranas, the Yuga Purana condemns the patronage of non-Brahmanical sects by the Maurya kings.

It links the end of each Yuga to a great battle: Tarakasura's at the end of Krita Yuga; Parashurama's 21 battles at the end of Treta Yuga (there is no mention of Dasharathi Rama); and the Pandavas' at the close of Dvapara. The name "Bharata" or "Mahabharata" is not applied to this war, although Keshava-Vasudeva with four arms is mentioned as appearing to destroy creatures. For the Yuga Purana, the end of Kali Yuga comes with the invasion of the Shakas, followed by drought, famine and the exodus of survivors to 12 mandalas. The founding of Pushpapura (Pataliputra) is a crucial event for this Purana and it celebrates Udayin (Udayan) for this, calling him the scion of Shishunaga. According to most Buddhist, Jain and Brahmanical texts, he was Ajatshatru's successor around 460 B.C.

The Yavanas (Greeks) are stated to have demolished the mud walls of Kusumadhvaja (Pataliputra) after approaching Saketa (Ayodhya) with Panchalas and Mathuras, following which there is anarchy. It goes on to say that the Yavanas will not remain here but are drawn away by war in their own realm. After their departure there will be seven great kings of Saketa. Thereafter, a mighty Shaka king raids Pushpanama (Pataliputra) and kills a quarter of the population, including all the youngest men, but is slain by the Kalinga king Shata and a group of Sabalas (Savaras).

In shloka 49 there is a mysterious reference to the battle of wooden weapons that Mitchiner has not glossed. In a personal communication he has stated, "The expression used is "shastra-druma-mahayuddham". "Druma" means literally 'a tree'; it is used, for e.g., by Yaska in the sense of 'wooden' in the expression "druma-maya". "Shastra" is literally a sword, knife or dagger, and is often used to denote any weapon, tool or instrument. So the overall meaning of this phrase could indeed mean a kind of caber-tossing event; or it could perhaps denote the use of wooden weapons such as bows, arrows, wooden javelins/spears and so forth."

Patanjali mentions Saketa and Madhyamika being besieged by the Yavana. A series of Indo-Greek coins have been found at Dewas near Ujjain, supporting the Yavana presence in Malwa. The Besnagar Garuda pillar inscription of Yavana Heliodorus, as an envoy from Taxila of King Antialkidas, is dated to around 140 B.C. Kharavela's inscription in Hathigumpha mentions his attacking Rajagriha and sending the Yavana king Dimita (Demetrios) packing to Mathura, showing a Greek presence in Magadha around the same time.

Panchala "Mitra" coins have been found at Pataliputra and names ending with "mitra" in inscriptions at Bodh Gaya. All these substantiate the Yuga Purana's account of a joint expedition of Yavanas, Panchalas and Mathuras. Mitichiner suggests that this occurred around 190 B.C., between the reigns of Shalishuka Maurya (c. 200 B.C.) and Pushyamitra Sunga (c. 187 B.C.), when the Indo-Greek king was either Euthydemos (230-190 B.C.) or Demetrios (205-190 B.C. as co-regent and 190-171 as king).

The Yavanas were called away by some attack on the border, such as Antiochus III's two-year long siege of Euthydemos in Balkh, or the seccession of Sogdiana from Bactria around 190 B.C. This is also when the Maurya dynasty was extinguished by Pushyamitra.

All that remains is to explain the absence of any reference to Alexander's invasion, about which all Puranas are silent. K.D. Sethna (Amal Kiran) made a valiant effort to plug this gap in his Ancient India in a New Light. But that is a different story.


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