Yavanas in India

The following are pertinent extracts from ‘Early India: From the origins to AD 1300’ by Emeritus Prof. R. Thapar. They should put to rest any exaggerated claims about Hellenic Greek influence in ‘India.’ The author distinguishes between Greeks from the Mediterranean (Hellenic) and Hellenistic culture in West Asia. She also makes clear that the word ‘Yavana’ applied (until recently) to all Westerners in the Punjab to terrain further East.

“In 327 BC Alexander, continuing his march across the empire of Darius, entered the Indian provinces. The Greek campaign in north-western India lasted for about two years. It made little lasting impression historically or politically in India, and not even a mention of Alexander is to be found in any Indian source.”

“A significant outcome of Alexander’s campaign, that was neither political nor military, was that he had with him literate Greeks who recorded their impressions of India … They sometimes provide a corrective to the fantasies in other Greek accounts, even though in these the imagination of the authors is not always curbed.”

“One of the enduring images was that of Alexander in conversation with sophists … This image was seminal to the view that Indian ideas entered the Hellenistic and Mediterranean world subsequent to Alexander and contributed to various schools of thought that did not necessarily conform to established views in the European tradition.”

“Indians, on the other hand, did not say much about the Greeks, and what they did say varies. The term used for them was Yavana … Yavana became a generic term for people coming from the West and was used as recently as the last century. Some later brahmanical texts were bitterly uncomplimentary and hateful about the Yavanas, perhaps because of a lingering memory of Alexander’s hostility to the brahmans during his campaign …” (Note: allegedly, he had a large number of them put to death.)

“The mingling of Hellenistic Greeks and Indians in the second century BC came about through the Hellenistic kings, who ruled in the north-west as successors to those who had succeeded Alexander. Some differentiate between the Greco-Bactrians who ruled over Bactria and the Indo-Greeks who included India in their domain; others refer to them as Indo-Bactrian Greeks or use Indo-Greeks in a more general sense. Indian sources refer to them as Yavanas.

This term makes no distinction between what some would call the Hellenic Greeks, living on the mainland of the peninsula of Greece, and the Hellenistic Greeks. The latter were those of Greek descent or of mixed descent, but broadly conforming to Greek Culture and living in the eastern Mediterranean and West Asia. Hellenistic culture drew on Greco-Roman culture of the Eastern Mediterranean, as well as Iranian sources and some Central Asian influence, and can be regarded initially as Greco-Roman colonial culture.”

“The Greek settlements in Bactria traced their origins to the Achaemenid period (c. fifth century BC) when the Persian kings settled Greek exiles in the region. These were reinforced by Greek artisans settling in the cities of Bactria.”

“The history of the Indo-Greeks has been reconstructed mainly on the evidence of their coins. … The coins are symbolic of an intermingling of Hellenistic with Indian or Iranian cultures.”

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The Alexander mythos (2)

“Indian civilization is distinctive for its antiquity and continuity. Apart from its own vitality, the continuity of Indian civilization is largely due to its ability to adapt to alien ideas, harmonize contradictions and mould new thought patterns. Her constant contacts with the outside world also gave India the opportunity to contribute to other civilizations.

Whilst other ancient civilizations have long ceased to exist, Indian civilization has continued to grow despite revolutionary changes. The ancient cultures of Egypt, Mesopotamia and Persia have not survived. But in India today, Hindus seek inspiration from concepts similar to those originally advanced by their ancestors.

Jawaharlal Nehru says in his book The Discovery of IndiaTill recently many European thinkers imagined that everything that was worthwhile had its origins in Greece or Rome. Sir Henry Maine has said somewhere that except the blind forces of nature, nothing moves in this world which is not originally Greek.”
However, Indian contacts with the Western world date back to prehistoric times. Trade relations, preceded by the migration of peoples, inevitably developed into cultural relations. This view is not only amply supported by both philological and archaeological evidence, but by a vast body of corroborative literary evidence as well: Vedic literature and the Jatakas, Jewish chronicles, and the accounts of Greek historians all suggest contact between India and the West. Taxila was a great center of commerce and learning. “Crowds of eager scholars flowed to it for instruction in the three Vedas and in the eighteen branches of knowledge.” Tradition affirms that the great epic, the Mahabharata, was first recited in the city.” (An Advance History of India, R. C. Majumdar, H. C. Raychanduri p.64) Buddha is reputed to have studied in Taxila. Pythagorean and Platonic philosophy owe their origin to Indian thought and spirituality.

Alexander’s raid, which was so significant to Western historians, seemed to have entirely escaped the attention of Sanskrit authors. From the Indian point of view, there was nothing to distinguish his raid in Indian history. Jawaharlal Nehru says, ” From a military point of view his invasion, was a minor affair. It was more of a raid across the border, and not a very successful raid at that.”

“The Europeans are apt to imagine that before the great Greek thinkers, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, there was a crude confusion of thought, a sort of chaos without form and void. Such a view becomes almost a provincialism when we realize that systems of thought which influenced countless millions of human beings had been elaborated by people who never heard the names of the Greek thinkers.”
(source: Eastern Religions and Western Thought – By Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan
(Source: ‘Ancient rishis’ pathway to Hinduism)

 

The Alexander mythos (1)

Alexander is supposed to have invaded the Punjab in 326 B.C. Every schoolboy is taught and is expected to know, that he invaded India’s Northwest. Strangely, this event, so significant to Western historians, seemed to have entirely escaped the attention of Sanskrit authors. (source: India Discovered – By John Keay p. 33).

British historian Vincent A. Smith, conservatively appraised the impact of Alexander’s invasion as follows:
“The Greek influence never penetrated deeply (into the Indic civilization)…On the other hand, the West learned something from India in consequence of the communications opened up by Alexander’s adventure. (source: In Search of The Cradle of Civilization: : New Light on Ancient India – By Georg Feuerstein, Subhash Kak & David Frawley p. 252-253).

British historians used to talk of Alexander as “the world conqueror” who “came and saw and conquered” every land he had visited.
However, the facts as recorded by Alexander’s own Greek historians tell a very different tale. And Marshal Zhukov, the famous Russian commander in World War II, said at the Indian Military Academy, Dehra Dun, a few years back, that India had defeated Alexander.

Alexander fared badly enough with Porus in the Punjab. Indeed, Porus put him on the spot when he told him: “To what purpose should we make war upon one another. if the design of your coming to these parts be not to rob us of our water or our necessary food, which are the only things that wise men are indispensably obliged to fight for? As for other riches and possessions, as they are accounted in the eyes of the world, if I am better provided of them than you, I am ready to let you share with me; but if fortune has been more liberal to you than to me, I have no objection to be obliged to you.” Alexander had no reply to the questions posed by Porus.

Instead, with the obstinacy of a bully, he said: “I shall contend and do battle with you so far that, howsoever obliging you are, you shall not have the better of me.But Porus did have the better of Alexander. In the fighting that ensued, the Greeks were so terrified of Indian prowess that they refused to proceed farther, in spite of Alexander’s angry urgings and piteous lamentations. Writes Plutarch, the great Greek historian: “This last combat with Porus took off the edge of the Macedonians’ courage and stayed their further progress in India….

Alexander not only offered Porus to govern his own kingdom as satrap under himself but gave him also the additional territory of various independent tribes whom he had subdued.” Porus emerged from his war with Alexander with his territory doubled and his gold stock augmented. So much for Alexander’s “victory” over Porus. However, what was to befall him in Sindh, was even worse. In his wars in Iran. Afghanistan, and north-west India, Alexander had made so many enemies that he did not dare return home by the same route he had come. He had, therefore, decided to travel via Sindh. But in Multan the Mallas gave him hell.
(source: Alexander’s Waterloo in Sindh – By K R Malkhani).

(From Surya’s tapestry)

 

 

Cultural diffusion – from East to West?

Stephen Oppenheimer in ‘Eden in the East: The drowned continent of Southeast Asia’ writes that the Universal Flood drowned the huge continental shelf of Southeast Asia’; and that this had caused a population dispersal which fertilised the Neolithic cultures of China, India, Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the Eastern Mediterranean, thus creating the first civilisations.

Oppenheimer’s theory is that “ … the roots of the great flowering of civilisation in the fertile crescent of the Ancient Near East lay in the sinking shorelines of Southeast Asia. The Sumerians and Egyptians themselves wrote about the skilled wise men from the East, a fact often dismissed as the embellishment of a fertile imagination.”

Oppenheimer points out that the myths of the Sumerians, “with their religious connotations,” were “among the first written records in the third millennium BC;” and that “in the majority of cases the structure and content of the Mesopotamian myths show them to be derived from earlier Eastern sources;” and that “we may suppose that the direction of diffusion was East-to-West.” That claim must be equivalent to putting a cat into an aviary! If true, the dates of diffusion may be much earlier than 6,000 years ago.

He states as a ‘myth-type’ the parable of the ‘two warring brothers’ which had arisen in eastern Indonesia, and to have travelled with the Austronesian expansion along the north coast of New Guinea into the Southwest Pacific “at least 6,000 years ago.” As a most probable clash of cultures (eg. nomadism vs. agriculture), this parable (an example is that of Kulabob and Manup in eastern New Guinea) is reminiscent of Cain and Abel. Oppenheimer concludes “ … these myths antedate Genesis by several thousand years.

Other “shared Eurasian myths” include the Flood; the “watery creation and separation of Heaven and Earth;” the tree motif in the two-brother parable “derived from the Tree of Life;” and the Garden of Eden as a “fertile lost Paradise.” “The family of immortality myths may be the oldest of all, recalling the importance of ritual burial which goes back well before the end of the Ice Age.”

Significantly, Oppenheimer also says “My personal view is that although there was much technology transfer over a prolonged period, the most important new lessons from the East were … how to use hierarchy, politics, magic and religion to control other peoples’ labour.” What a claim! But he does remind us of “the stratified hierarchies still surviving in Austronesian traditional societies from Madagascar through Bali to Samoa;” and the retention of honorific titles in countries such as Bali and Samoa.

In the event, did European colonialism fail in teaching some of its ‘natives’ how to govern themselves in a democratic manner? Perhaps class-riven Britain and social rank-driven Europe were not then appropriate role models!

Revising history (1)

“Our re-examination of the early history of India, the land of the sages and seer-bards, has led to a view of ancient times that is radically different from text-book versions. This revised history even challenges our ideas about humanity and ultimately about the reality we live in.”

“ … we are now able, and indeed obliged, to question the foundations of our present civilisation. How advanced or enlightened really is our current post-industrial civilisation?”

“… are we in danger of destroying ourselves because the prime values of our society are out of sync with the laws of life?”

“We tend to feel superior to whatever and whomever has preceded us. This is captured in the idea of progress, which has governed Western thought for the past two hundred years.”

“Carl Gustav Jung stated that ‘ modern man has suffered an almost fatal shock, psychologically speaking, and as a result has fallen into profound uncertainty.’ This confusion is evident in the countless problems that vex out world, some of which are seemingly insurmountable, such as the unabated devastation of our environment caused by a runaway technology whose only purpose appears to be to stimulate the consumption of goods.”

“Though part of the world is enjoying un-paralleled material abundance, the majority of humanity is still forced to live at a subsistence level. In fact, a hundred million people are starving to death every year.”

“The psychological path of the so-called developed world has frequently been called into question, and its dis-ease is rapidly spreading over the entire planet.”

“Religious traditions are faltering under the onslaught of secularism, cynicism, and a general hopelessness.” … … “Yet it would be wrong to say that there have been no positive developments at all, or that there are no glimmers of hope on the horizon.” … … “If science and technology have triggered a multitude of problems, they are also helping us to free ourselves from the limiting concepts of nation, race, religion, and culture that previously divided mankind.”

“Our contemporary problems of over-population, pollution, ozone depletion, dwindling of natural resources, threat of nuclear war, terrorism, and so forth are global problems and require that we tackle them together.”

“ British physicist Paul Davies inferred (from a finding in quantum physics) … that non-local connectedness is a general property of Nature. Thus what we do locally has an impact on the whole world.”

“… we can no longer regard the Western European view of world history as universal … … We must acknowledge the contribution to world history and world thought that has been made by the Hindus, Maya, American Indians, Brazilian forest tribes, black South Africans, and other ’minority’ or traditional groups. Their voice is our voice. To create a global culture we must recognise our global heritage.”

“This also means that we have to come to grips with the Eastern spiritual roots of Western humanity.”

(These are extracts from ‘In search of the cradle of civilisation’ by Feuerstein, Kak and Frawley)

(Comment: We need to accept that, through reincarnation – for which there is enough evidence – pride in our current culture, religion or tribe has to be set against the probability that we have belonged to other traditions over a series of lifetimes on Earth.)

 

Are all cultures reflective of a religion?

The brutal slicing out of the clitoris – we know what it is, where it is, and what it can do – of girls and young women has been claimed to reflect a cultural tradition. Was this practice derived from a major accepted religion?

The marrying off of a daughter as soon as she reaches puberty, reportedly to a much older man, has been claimed to reflect another cultural tradition. Which religion recommends or endorses this practice involving child-brides?

In another culture, a woman’s feet are bound, thus keeping them small and not particularly reliable for walking. (I have seen such women travelling by rickshaw in British Malaya.) Which religion endorses this cultural practice?

In an old culture, a widow is reportedly induced to throw herself onto her husband’s funeral pyre by her relatives. Which religion’s doctrine requires this practice?

In Australia, I have seen a figure walk down a street covered from head to feet in what I think of as a walking tent. The gender of the occupant of the ‘tent’ was not clearly discernible. I have read in our media that some such persons have sought the right to drive a car along extremely busy streets, in spite of the probability that lateral vision may be compromised by the face covering. Which religion requires this practice of covering the whole body?

A focus by a religious sect on the ‘netherlands’ of women has resulted, in a secular nation, in a doctrine banning contraception and abortion. Is this cultural stance reflected in the doctrines of other sects of this religion?

In another nation, one’s caste (defined by one’s occupation) allegedly over-rides class. This means that, while one may be able to rise up the class structure, all the descendants of any one caste are traditionally required to be defined and treated as members of that caste. Is this cultural tradition supported by any version of Hinduism?

A culture defines the way things are done, by how they live, by members of a community. These ways do change, just as the underpinning values change through the generations. Immigrants know how cultures evolve in the nations they left behind, even as they seek to retain the cultures they brought with them.

The leaders of an ethno-cultural community may claim the primacy of their cultural practices in a multicultural nation, by seeking the legitimacy hopefully available within their religion. Regrettably, religion’s foundation (or core) beliefs may not sanctify all the diverse cultural practices of its followers.

What society is then left with are not only competitive religious sects and religions, but also ego-related competitive cultural practices. How then about adopting this principle – horses for courses?

This would mean that, in suburban Australia, where there is no risk of a storm involving a horizontal wall of sand many feet high cutting its way through (I have experienced such a storm well away from human settlements), there is really no need to cover one’s hair, face and body as if one is living in a desert.

We do not need child-brides, and such other ‘traditional’ cultures transplanted into this emerging cosmopolitan polity. In time we will rid ourselves of religious edicts imposed by historical controllers of humanity.

Revised cultural traditions will also enable a swifter tribo-cultural integration into (urban) Australia.

Institutional prejudice – is it always racism?

An employer chooses not to employ a physically handicapped applicant who is able to do the job: is that racism? An applicant for a job who has a ‘foreign’ (ie. non-Anglo) name has, as has been known for some time, reduced chances of getting even an acknowledgement in the Western world: is that racism or just prejudice? What kind of prejudice – tribal? A coloured employee in a workplace is assumed by white visitors to be a low-level worker, frequently: this is obviously a culturally-conditioned perception. Does it reflect prejudice? Not necessarily. Is it institutional racism, since the trigger is skin colour?

Australia’s Racial Discrimination legislation, under Section 18(c), accepts that words can ‘hurt and humiliate’ a complainant. The legislation deems such words as discrimination as well, although no act disadvantaging the complainant in any way was involved. Is this trivialising the concept of discrimination?

Worse still, the oral abuse may have been triggered by the headgear (a turban, skull cap, or hijab), or other apparel, which identifies the wearer as different from the abuser’s people. Is this not religious or cultural prejudice?

Hitherto, it has been the residue (dregs?) of the White Australia supremacists who have sought to defend ‘white space’ (physical or cultural) from those not like them. However, it may not be long before Australia’s multicultural society produces non-white or non-Christian residents publicly responding to the yobbos who abuse them.

The term racism, misused as it has been to cover a wide range of prejudices, will proceed from being confusing to being ridiculous. The concept of races was coined by European colonisers, mainly the British. The white race was posited against all others. This mythical race was claimed to be genetically (innately) superior to the coloured races. Its weaponry was more powerful, and its greed excelled anything previously seen in the history of mankind. The buccaneers who sought to over-run and exploit other peoples would not have known about the cultural and religious advances of some of these other peoples.

Those who create legislation in the English-speaking nations of the world are now probably conditioned to the misuse of the terms race and racial. They may experience some difficulty in splitting prejudice into its correctly-defined categories.

One can only hope that the terms race and racial will follow that wondrous bird, the dodo. There have been no races on Earth.