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)



Aggrandising colonialism’s cultural ancestors

Was it not the Scottish Enlightenment (centred on Edinburgh University) which offered intellectual enlightenment to the English? Did that widened understanding of matters significant seep into the psyche of the buccaneers of the East India Company and, later, into the policies of the British rulers of India? Probably not! Were not the latter imbued with the objective of enabling their ‘natives’ to achieve a speedier access to Nirvana through being clutched to the bosom of Christ, while continuing with their own role as shopkeepers?

When scholastic writings by white supremacists did not convince subject peoples that the ‘white race’ was genetically (inherently) superior to all other ‘races,’ the British colonial mind seems to have sought appropriate intellectual and militaristic forebears in continental Europe.

Fortunately, there were the philosophers of Athens, who were not pre-occupied with the semantics of the Church; Macedonian Alexander (the Great), who allegedly introduced everything Greek to all the tribes on the way to the Indian sub-continent, was also available.

Two further developments aided the search for an appropriate cultural ancestor. European scholars of Indian philosophy were cleverly able to date Indic writings to no further back in time than about 1500BC. This allowed Abraham and his people to establish Judeo-Christianity as the religious ancestor of Europeans, with priority over Hinduism.

Then came the acolytes of these scholars, who claimed with great certitude that no ‘black peoples’ had contributed in any substantive manner to human civilisation. These black people were presumably the Egyptians, Sumerians, Persians and Indians, and anyone else with a nicer skin colour than (coppery) white. Strangely, the Mediterranean cultural ancestor and the Levantine religious ancestor could not have possessed that superior white colour!

I now ask these two questions. Who taught Heraclitus that ‘It is all fire up there’ (or words to that effect)? An unknown Indian whose name is not recorded in a text book allegedly reached that conclusion thousands of years before.

Second question: Did not the Bible draw liberally upon Sumerian writings, while the Vedas of the Indic people have been dated, through known planetary configurations, back to about 7,000 BC?

After the modern Western neo-colonials have self-destroyed themselves, or hopefully matured morally, could we recognise that we human beings are all one species? Could we also accept that each one of us will probably have different religio-cultural ancestors in each life on Earth?

Inter-cultural transfers of values and practices

Revelation from On-High (Heaven, that is) has apparently been known to occur. However, it surely is a rare event; and may be unreliable (while unverifiable).

The transfer of learning and of new ideas, or new cultural practices and their underlying belief-rationale, occurs through enduring exposure. For example, the diverse peoples of Southeast Asia became acclimatised to Hindu religious practices and their associated belief systems through ongoing contact with Indian traders; later, the latter’s priests (who, unlike Christian priests, do not seek to proselytise and convert) would also have had an impact through the observed display of their rituals.

Emperors and other militarists are, by their very roles and actions, not known to be effective transmitters of durable new cultural practices and associated values. Their ambassadors have a political role, including reporting to head office their observations on their new temporary environment.

Traders move on their own trajectories, unless paid to be spies. Together with settlers from other cultures, they have a pervasive effect on the people they encounter, but without intending to change anything. In this context, I am reminded of Megasthenes, the ambassador to (Indian) Chandrangupta’s Empire from Seleucus, the successor in the Middle East to Alexander the Great. He made some very interesting observations.

Ironically, Alexander reportedly sought to adopt, without success, certain court practices of Persian royalty. Perhaps the priestess in Siwa (Egypt) had confirmed his alleged belief that he had been sired by a god. The adoption by officials of the British East India Company of the traditions of their predecessors, the Mughals, was however so successful that they were criticised by England’s class-riven rulers as ‘going native.’

When a tribe changes religion by fiat, by the ruler’s decision (for example, the Khazars of the Caucasus and the Singhalese of (modern-day) Sri Lanka), would the cultural changes have involved more than a change of religious belief? The conversion by British evangelists of some Indians and Ceylonese did not appear to have altered their behavioural values and practices in the Asian communities I observed; only religious observance was amended.

Naturally, in time, for a variety of reasons, cultural practices will change. My extended family is an excellent exemplar. I recall a visiting academic from Greece in Melbourne in the early 1980s who was criticised for saying that. He had pointed out that Athenian cultural practices had changed over time; and that island culture, which was not the same as Athenian culture, had also changed. Somewhat unwisely, he had wondered (as I understood him) whether one could really talk of Greek culture.

In truth, is any culture uniform across a people? There are classes, castes, and sub-cultures in countries which are familiar to us, eg. Australia, Britain, Japan, Malaysia, India.

Culture is indeed a moveable feast. In modern times, a degree of fusion between hitherto separate cultures can also be expected. What value is there in cultural competition or aggrandisement?

The value of history

The examination of events which had occurred in the past, or are believed to have occurred, in (say) 5-year rolling cycles (a useful statistical approach) can, I believe, provide a more meaningful vista than a parade of individual events. To be adequately explanatory, one would also need to understand motivations.

That is, what were the triggers? A unilateral initiative or a reaction? The personal ambition of a leader? A tribal thrust reflecting historical memories, including rancour at past injustices? Tribo-religious greed for land, souls, and other resources? Expectations of gain? National stupidity? The economic forces at play? Or the imperatives of suvival?

A broader issue relates to leadership, whether in an offensive or defensive mode. Does a great leader arise from the prevailing circumstances or does a leader-in-the-making create the circumstances he or she needs? I am reminded of 2 female leaders in recent times – Mrs. Golda Meir of Israel and Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka. Then there were Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin. I believe that these ambitious leaders surfaced only because the flow of the political current was propitious. Ditto Adolf Hitler.

On the contrary, while I received a sound education under the colonial British in Malaya, my study of history was partly wasted on what I thought of as ducks and drakes. The ducks were the dukes, earls, et al of Britain. The drakes referred to were notables in Europe, eg. Charlemange, Loyala, and others.

It was only when, after the end of WW2, I read Harold Lasky and others of like mind, that I realised that taught history was totally irrelevant for an adequate understanding of humanity-on-the-hoof. Sundry tribes had been rushing here and there all over the world, including Europe; and tribal and (later) national boundaries were shifted freely.

Official history, or only some prevailing historical presentations, seem Eurocentric – and some of it truly foolish. For example, that the Greek (not Macedonian) Alexander the Great had conquered India. The Encyclopaedia Britannica had Hindu Indians praying to a range of gods, but there was no mention that these gods were only manifestations of the one and only Creator of mankind.

Then there was Muller who apparently could not accept that Hinduism is older than Judaism. There are others who cannot accept that learned Athenians and their philosophers may have learnt from Egyptians and Persians, whose civilisations also go back a long way.

In contrast, I found a series of books on history by Cambridge University about the origins of cultures all over the globe most educational.

We do need to know the long-term trends of significant events which have occurred over long periods of time, their motivations, and their consequences. I found Nehru’s ‘Glimpses of world history,’ which provide brief outlines (and their significance) of major trends throughout recorded history; Jacques Barzun’s ‘From Dawn to Decadence – 1500 to the present’; Martin Bernal’s ‘Black Athena: The Afroasiatic roots of classical civilisation’; Georg Feuerstein, Subhash Kak & David Frawley’s ‘In search of the cradle of civilisation’; Allan& Delair’s ‘Cataclysm: compelling evidence of a cosmic catastrophe in 9500 BC’; Stephen Oppenheimer’s ‘Out of Eden: the peopling of the world’; and sundry other authors of relevance, to be illuminating.

Since the past is embedded in the present, we do need to know how we were shaped. When in doubt, let us keep our minds open.

The history of nations can be confusing

My country of birth was Malaya, which included Singapore. Today, Malaysia excludes Singapore but includes Sabah, a slice of Borneo. Malaysia is now a Muslim Malay nation, regardless of the substantial development contributions by the elders of the multi-ethnic Asian communities living there.

My father was born in Jaffna, an independent Hindu Tamil territory, in colonial Ceylon. Now, Buddhist Sinhalese control the whole island (thanks to the colonial British), which was re-named Sri Lanka.

India was a conglomeration of independent principalities ruled by the Muslim Mughals from Central Asia for centuries. The Mughal rulers were the descendants of Genghis Khan of Mongolia. Genghis was the ruler of the largest contiguous empire ever. Since Alexander and Constantine are known as ‘the Great,’ Genghis could fairly be described as ‘the Greatest.’

The British then united almost all of the principalities into the nation known as India. Then, in an act (which one of my elders described as an act of bastardry), Pakistan, a Muslim nation in 2 widely separated segments, was created. An unnecessary division of a co-existing people led to inhumane consequences. The religio-political tension between these nations may delight the ex-colonials. Then, Bangladesh was hived off. Who benefited from the division of the sub-continent into 3 nations, since Muslims live as equals, and individuals have risen to power, in modern India?

Need or greed would have led to various tribes entering the lands of other tribes in Asia. Over time, boundaries became flexible, and some tribes apparently merged. No boundary seemed to be durable. What is known about these tribes? That depends upon whether their names are in Persian, Chinese, Russian, Arabic, Indian, Greek, or some other languages. In the apparent absence of indigenous records, one is limited to the claims of the colonisers or invaders.

have read that most of the tribes named in history are known by only their languages; and that ethnography is mute. Bias, even in academic circles, is not unknown, hitherto influenced essentially by Eurocentrism (the residue of colonialism). For example, an economic historian recently claimed that the major civilisational developments of mankind arose in Eurasia!

Contradictorily, and amusingly, there is apparently a school of historical thought which claims that no ‘black’ people could have contributed to the origins of civilisation. There go the ancient Indians, Egyptians, Mesopotamians (especially the Sumerians), Persians, and other peoples outside Europe. History based on where coins have been found is obviously challengeable. Ubiquitous traders respect no politico-cultural boundaries. They spread philosophy, social customs, coinage and goods.

Those who claim Athens as the font of new knowledge for Europe are challenged by the claim that Athens was established by Egypt; and that, at one time, 50% of Athenians were Egyptians, with many Athenians (such as Pythagoras) studying for years in Egypt.

We cannot all be leading nations, even in history. If, in each life, we are born into different cultures, hopefully – in time – our souls may intuitively guide us to the realisation that difference is insignificant in impact when we are all connected to one another in time and space.

The myth of racial discrimination (2)

Instead of the confusing use of the semantically misleading terms race and racial, as argued in my previous post, statements of prejudice, as well as acts of discrimination, can sensibly refer to skin colour – a major trigger of hate (or stupidity). There could, however, also be an inherited cultural sensitivity associated with ignorance.

I do admit to being sensitive about colour in one instance. I will not eat beetroot because I do not like its purple colour.

Returning to reality, being a foreigner (or outsider) can be accepted as another trigger for prejudice and discrimination. This would include entering not only ‘white space’ but also British white space (although the latter is now seemingly superseded).

Another trigger is tribal superiority and prejudice. This would cover religion (a major source of claimed superiority); cultural values and practices (eg. the taboo in Australia against killing a goat in one’s backyard for a festival); and social mores (eg. spitting in public) – quite a catchall! Using ethnicity as a marker for abuse can have no future when there is so much cross-ethnic marriage (including partnership and cohabitation).

Countering prejudice and discrimination through the law is available only to the wealthy; or to those with access to pro bono lawyers. Education? The ignorant will probably ignore any media campaign (if they are aware of it); while the opportunists will do what it takes to achieve their ends. Morality (like Grace) needs to be bestowed; although it may of course be learned.

In the sphere of international relations, where there is no place for morality, there is a strange assertion about racial discrimination. Anyone criticising Israel for one of its policies (while clearly not anti-Israel) can be accused of being ‘anti-Semitic’. Yet Western Asia has speakers of a range of Semitic languages who subscribe to a variety of religions; they are all equally Semitic!

There is clearly a need to get rid of the concept of ‘race.’ Which government will dare take necessary action? A recent attempt to go part of the way foundered on a confusion of semantics, politics, human rights, free (but responsible) speech, egoism and exceptionalism. There were hidden ‘sacred cows’ behind some of the waffle.

Is modern Australia lacking the necessary intellectual depth to deal with human rights and free public expression? When voluntary euthanasia is described during a recent debate as ‘killing’ (reflecting only a particular theology), I wonder whether there is a place for not only compassion but also for honesty in public policy.