Monday, May 15, 2023


Devi Chandraguptam - The Forgotten Emperor

Ramagupta – the Akhenaten of India!

Did Chandragupta II of the famed Gupta empire, the great Vikramaditya, actually murder his elder brother Ramagupta to seize the throne?? What made him commit such a heinous crime and even worse marry his brother’s wife Dhruvaswamini?

Did Ramagupta even exist? Or was this just a tall tale that grew from the literary references made in some text’s centuries later? Or was this emperor just a figment of imagination?  

The story gets murkier as it weaves itself into a tale that seems impossible to unravel. Mysteriously, not just the royalty but the poets and sculptors who adorned the Gupta courts for the next two hundred years or so seem to have wantonly avoided mentioning Ramagupta’s name in any of their inscriptions or in any of their literary works. Were they ashamed of something?? Or were they instructed by the powers that be, that the Ramagupta name should never be spoken about, and more importantly, the generations to come should never ever get a whiff of his existence. What did Ramagupta do, that prompted the Guptas to completely relegate him to oblivion. What horrendous, unpardonable sin did he commit to deserve their wrath?

It looks like they succeeded in their task as he was forgotten for fifteen hundred years relegated to myths and brief utterances in some works centuries later. His name was erased with clinical precision.

The story has an uncanny resemblance to the Akhenaten story from Egypt. The renegade pharaoh, Akhenaten, had abandoned the traditional Egyptian polytheism and started a monotheistic religion worshipping the Sun god– the Aten. The monotheistic god concept of Akhenaten had few takers and after his mysterious death his name was systematically erased from all inscriptions and texts akin to Ramagupta. The similarity in the story line ends here. For the story of Ramagupta to come alive, we need to dwell into the masterful play of Visakhadatta – Devi Chandraguptam.

The story unravels:

Emperor Ramagupta was unknown to the world, until in 1923, one Sylvain Levi, an influential Indologist published some extracts of a Sanskrit play, named Devichandraguptam written by the famed poet Visakhadatta in the sixth century. He had quoted six verses from Natyadarpana, which were originally from the play Devichandraguptam. Here in these six verses the purported gist of the story emerges. To understand more we go back to the surviving fragments of Devichandraguptam - the supposed story obviously is a lot more clearer here.

The play opens in the Gupta military camp. Ramagupta has been defeated and besieged by Rudrasimha III, the Shaka ruler and his condition to free Ramagupta is an ignominious one – that he surrender his wife Dhruvaswamini to him. Ramagupta agrees to these humiliating terms.

Act 1 and 2 is about Chandragupta planning to go to the enemy dressed as Dhruvaswamini and killing the Shaka king. Act 3 is about how Chandragupta kills the Shaka king and in Act 4 Dhruvaswamini says that she no longer loves the King and is full of “ Shame, anger, despair, fear and discontent”. Act 5 is about how Chandragupta comes to know of danger from a rival and how he feigns madness on his way to the court. The last act 6 is unclear from the fragments but we can reconstruct that the enemy is none other than Ramagupta.

Although in pieces, we can still stitch the skeletal story together to understand what happened during Ramagupta’s reign that prompted Chandragupta to do something extraordinary to save the queen and the kingdom. The fragments make up a fascinating story. Soon after ascending the throne, Ramagupta was challenged in the west by the Kshtrapa Rudrasimha II, a Saka invader, and was captured and made prisoner. Ramagupta in an effort to negotiate his release does the unthinkable – despicable in some sense – offers his wife Dhruvaswamini (or Dhruvadevi). Chandragupta would have none of it - he impersonates the queen Dhruvaswamini by dressing up as her and once in Rudrasimha’s camp, kills him. And then soon after Chandragupta becomes the king.

We could surmise that this act of Chandragupta made him quite the hero with both the queen Dhruvaswamini and the people. And quite obviously, the opposite with Ramagupta. In the play Devi Chandraguptam, it becomes amply clear that Ramagupta had become envious of his brother’s popularity within his kingdom and is trying to kill him. It is not clear as to how Chandragupta kills his brother instead, but we do know that he does eventually marry Dhruvaswamini and becomes the new emperor.

This incident had serious repercussions on the prestige of the Gupta empire and Visakhadatta, the writer of Devi Chandraguptam, probably took it upon himself to restore the lost glory of the Gupta house from this shameful episode. Perhaps in order to clear Chandraguptas name from this unsavoury act, he justifies his master’s unorthodox act of killing of his own brother and marrying his widow. And in a way restores the glory of Chandragupta through his play Devichandraguptam.

Harshacharita, by the renowned poet Bana, in the 7th century and Shankara 14th century commentary on Bana’s work also talks about how the Shaka king coveted Dhruvaswamini  and how Chandragupta killed him. Not all works and inscriptions are kind to Chandragupta – the 871 AD Sanjan inscription of Rashtrakuta ruler Amoghavarsha was particularly stinging on Chandragupta. He says despite his charity the Gupta king was a despised donor who killed his brother and took away his kingdom and wife. He goes further and says that the glory of this Gupta King was “ashamed” before the glory of Amoghavarsha. The 930 AD Khambhat inscription of Rashtrakuta king Govinda IV is more brutal to Chandragupta and says he became “Sahasanka” (valorous – a title of Chandragupta) without being cruel to his elder brother and without committing the evil deed of having intercourse with his wife. The Persian version of Devichandraguptam “Majmal-ut Tawarikh“ narrates the exact story. Chakrapanidatta’s commentary on Charaka Samhita refers to Chnadragupta’s murder of his brother. All of these literary anecdotes and references strongly point to the fact that Chandragupta had an elder brother who was the legitimate heir to the throne of Pataliputra and in fact ruled the Gupta empire before he took over.

Although we have various literary works that refer to Ramagupta, what was grossly missing was that one tangible evidence of his existence – an inscription or coins issued by him. And that’s exactly what was found in 1969. The mystery surrounding the existence of Ramagupta ends in Durjanpur – a small village near Vidisha in Madhya Pradesh. A farmer clearing his land finds three Jain theerthankara statues. At the base of these three statues there is an inscription that talks about a certain Maharajadhiraja Ramagupta, an emperor, who built these statues at the behest of a Jain saint. To lend credence to the certainty of Ramagupta, the inscriptions found were in the Gupta Brahmi script of 4th-5th centuries CE, proving beyond doubt that Ramagupta was indeed a historical Gupta emperor.  More importantly there is no mention of any other Ramagupta in that period. This Maharajadhiraja who was the emperor couldn’t have been anyone else than Ramagupta, the heir to Samudragupta and the elder brother of Chandragupta.

Additionally, coins issued by Ramagupta himself have been found in eastern Malwa and in Eran with Garuda on one side and the name Ramagupta on the obverse. It is a well-established fact that the Guptas were staunch Vaishnavites and that the mythical Garuda was the emblem of the imperial Gupta dynasty. The Garuda depiction on the coins point to the fact that this Ramagupta was from the famed Gupta clan and on the basis of Palaeography, these coins were assigned to the fourth century AD, which fits the reign after Samudragupta. These coins were indeed issued by Ramagupta.

In his own Mathura stone pillar inscription Chandragupta in a departure from convention describes his ascending the throne as having been “accepted by his father”. Gupta kings are usually described as “meditating on the feet” of their fathers. This description lends weight to the fact that the ascension to the thrown was not a straight forward one – pointing to the possibility that another heir was in the contention. We can only assume that this was Ramagupta.

Epigraphic evidence clearly shows that Chandragupta ascended the throne after his father Samudragupta. However, literary evidence shows otherwise and brings in the name of Ramagupta as the original heir to the Gupta empire. Evidence from several literary works conclude that Ramagupta was a king of the imperial Gupta dynasty and the apparent heir to Samudragupta. The story of Chandragupta killing the enemy in disguise, seizing the throne, and marrying Dhruvadevi whom he rescued from the enemy seems to be the common thread across all sources of information. This cannot be a coincidence. And in the story , Chandragupta in order to save his own life from his jealous brother feigns madness and in one opportune moment kills his brother – as the story goes. This part of the story finds a resonant echo in quite an unexpected quarter- the commentary of Chakrapanidatta on the Charaka Samhitha- a treatise on Charaka’s famous ayurvedic text. Here, while giving the example for pretence the commentator refers to the murder of Ramagupta by Chandragupta after feigning madness. Although the example doesn’t necessarily exemplify Chandragupta, it does bring in some sort of proof of the existence of Ramagupta , his elder brother and emperor.

If the Devichandraguptam and the other works that talk about this incident were mere stories there wouldn’t be such an overpowering need for Chandragupta or anyone else to bury the fact that he had an elder brother Ramagupta. The Gupta dynasty and the subsequent writers centuries after, did their best to conceal this “shamefull” episode and were persuasive in their works on justifying the actions of Chandragupta. The desperation with which they tried to erase him is probably the best reason for us to believe that he actually existed.

This story is more about throwing light in into the disappearance of Ramagupta in the annals of history much like Ashoka and Akhenaten, and less about justifying the rationale for Chandragupta killing his brother. When you diligently skim Devi Chandraguptam, the truth that percolates to the top is that Chandragupta had an elder brother Ramagupta who ruled before him.

Ramagupta was indeed real - “à la manière de” Akhenaten.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Revenge of Kharavela

It was somewhere around 180 BC. The aura around Magadha was waning. Ashoka, the great Magadhan emperor, was gone. Kalinga, the land between the rivers Mahanadi and Godavari, had always been in a state of turmoil. Ever since the Nandas and the Mauryas ruled Magadha, the Kalingans have always been at the receiving end. The very mention of “Chandasoka - Ashoka the cruel”, still evoked a primordial fear in every Kalingan. His brutality in the vicious Kalinga war was still deeply etched in their memory. Ashoka which means "no sorrow" ironically created so much sorrow for the kingdom of Kalinga. The immense destruction and savagery that Ashoka heaped on them was still something that was indelible on their psyche. 

Kalingan people were freedom loving people and fought valiantly against the huge army of Ashoka. Ashoka had the largest standing army of his day and there was no way Kalinga could defeat it. But Kalinga was no pushover and this was evident from the fact that while Chandragupta Maurya conquered almost the whole of India and defeated the Greek king Seleukos, he did not invade Kalinga which was next to Magadha. Bindusara, his son, who was known as the Amitraghata or the ‘Slayer of the Foes’, never ventured into Kalinga for a good reason.  The Mauryan emperors were clearly aware of the military might of Kalinga and never invaded it. Ashoka, the third Mauryan emperor, had to wait and prepare for long eight years after his coronation to undertake that invasion. Pushyamitra Sunga, the army general was now ruling Magadha after assassinating the last Mauryan emperor Brihadratha. 

Kalinga was now a free country now. Although Kalinga was in a relatively peaceful time, the kingdom needed an heir apparent that could lift her from the woeful burden of yesteryears. Someone so powerful that he could wipe the slate of humiliation and defeat clean and write a new epoch in her history and be a beacon of light for all of her future generations. They were tired of their enervated lives with the burden of insult weighing heavily on their shoulders.

It was precisely at this time that the royal couple were blessed with a son. The kingdom was overjoyed and the Kalinga king Vriddharaja named his son “Mahameghavahana Aira Kharavela” – “the swift moving wind”, “the storm incarnate”. Kharavela was a descendant of the great Kalingan king Mahameghavahana. He was born at an auspicious moment and the astrologers that were invited to read his horoscope looked at the bright handsome features of the baby and knew that this was no ordinary child. This prince was special. Everyone predicted great things for the prince and for Kalinga. He will become as great as his ancestor, the saintly king Vasu, they said. Kalinga will shine like a bright star under him. It was as though Kalinga was reborn again.

The people had never known so much joy in the last three hundred years or so. The birth of the prince offered them a bright ray of hope of redeeming their lost glory. This meant just one thing for the people of Kalinga- the return of the sacred Jain idol of their 23rd thirthankara Parsvanatha who was an Ikshvaku prince of Benaras and had renounced the world to become a Jain monk. He lived in the ninth century BC. Earlier in history,  Mahapadma Nanda the Magadhan emperor before the Mauryas, had forcefully plundered the idol from them and  took it away. Mahavira, the last Jain thirthankara had himself visited Kalinga four hundred years ago and worshipped the idol of Parsvanatha. Their heads bowed in shame, every Kalingan had one wish – that a king as fierce as the storm would bring the idol back. And more importantly avenge their belittling and spirit crushing defeat  to Ashoka in the fateful Kalinga war.  Kharavela could be the King that will bring them glory, their lost splendor. 

Well, the astrologers predicted great things for Kalinga, didn’t they?? What more could the Kalingans want? Kharavela, the storm incarnate, will bring them glory, and let them hold their heads up high. He will bring back the idol and redeem their pride. 

For centuries, the capital city of Kalinganagara had been at the receiving end of the Magadhans and their domineering and condescending treatment. There was nothing more painful to the proud lineage of the kalingans than this servitude. They have been living with the affront of having their revered idol being taken away by the Nanda emperor and then the death blow that Ashoka heaped on them on the banks of river Daya, a century ago, was crushing.  
Magadha, the all-powerful empire, led by their blood thirsty king Ashoka had  wreaked havoc with their lives – hundred and fifty thousand were killed and an equal number were banished to the deserts of north western frontier of India, never to return. The powerful Mauryan king Ashoka had decimated them. It had sapped all courage from the Kalingans . They had lost all hope. All sense of self-respect and pride was destroyed. Ashoka left them in tatters. The pain was etched way too deep in their psyche. Who would restore their pride? 

Kharavela – The storm incarnate

Most of the information about Kharavela comes from inscriptions in the caves near Bhubaneswar called  Udayagiri and Khandagiri, famous in ancient times as the Kumari Parvata and the Kumara Parvata. According to Jaina tradition, Lord Mahavira  came to the Kumari hill from where he preached his doctrines. Ever since that time, the hill had been venerated as a sacred centre of Jainism. The Hathigumpha cave is one among many caves on the Udayagiri hill and can be considered the only surviving repository on Kharavela.  

The inscription which consists of 17 lines highlights the achievements of Kharavela. It contains a record of events during the first 13 years of Kharavela’s reign. The Hathigumpha cave (Elephant cave) was probably the place from where Lord Mahavira had preached Jaina religion in Kalinga. This could very well have been the reason for Kharavela to record his achievements here at this particular cave. The inscription is engraved partly in front and partly on the roof of the Hathigumpha cavern and unfortunately the inscription is badly damaged. Only the first seven lines can be read with any degree of certainty. The rest have been obliterated to a great extent. Sadly, this is all that is available of this great king for us to go by.  

The inscription states that in the first year of his reign Kharavela spent his time in repairing the damages to the city of Kalinga caused by a cataclysmic cyclone. In the second year, he undertook his first campaign of his reign; he sent his army westwards and destroyed the city of Mushikas. This campaign becomes very important when we come to know that this was done in defiance of the great Satavahana king –  Sri Satakarni, the third ruler in the Satavahana dynasty. Kharavela also happens to be the third ruler from the Mahameghavahana dynasty . It is quite possible that both the Mahameghvahana and the Satavahana empires evolved into independent kingdoms soon after Ashoka’s death. 

Sri Satakarni was a powerful king and the Naneghat inscription by his queen Nayanika describes her husband as “Dakshinapatha- pati” or the lord of Southern India. Sri Satakarni was ruling over some territories of Magadha, the Deccan and extensive areas of Western India and to proclaim his royal glory performed both the “Rajasuya” and the “Ashwamedha” Yagnas. At the very same time, the fierce and valiant Mahameghavahana Aira Kharavela was trail blazing his conquests down south. In that struggle for supremacy, Kharavela defeated Satakarni,  and annexed parts of the Satavahana empire. Defeating the great Satakarni who had just performed the Ashwamedha and Rajasuya yagnams was nothing short of incredible. Kharavela was no ordinary man. He was a force to reckon with. He was on a mission to prove that Kalinga was no longer a kingdom that should be taken for granted. 

The third year was marked by great rejoicings in the capital Kalinganagara and in the fourth year he subdued the Rashtrikas and the Bhojakas who were feudatory tribes to the Satavahanas. In the fifth year he repairs and extends a canal to his capital city. In the sixth year Kharavela performs the famed “Rajasuya” yagnam to commemorate his victory against the great Satavahana king Satakarni. In the seventh year his son Kudepa was born.

Kharavela was now a name that everyone heard loud and clear. To the Magadhans it sounded like a death knell. It was only a matter time before the powerful Kalingan king would march to the gates of Pataliputra. Kharavela had waited patiently for eight years building up the crescendo to finally look towards Magadha. Exactly, the same way that Chandragupta Maurya did when he overthrew the Nandas from the periphery.  

Magadhans beware! Kharavela is coming.

And finally, in the eighth year of his reign, in exactly the same number of years that Ashoka waited and planned his attack on Kalinga, Kharavela marches with a great army towards Magadha. He had lived all his life listening to how Magadha subjugated his people and banished his ancestors to the deserts thousands of kilometers away. He knew of the sacred idol that was forcefully taken away from them and about a hundred years ago how the arrogant Ashoka had massacred and decimated the Kalingan army never to rise again. Ashoka was so adamant on keeping Kalinga a spent force that he, after killing hundred and fifty thousand soldiers,  deported an equal number of able bodied men all the way to the north western border of India probably to the deserts of Balochistan. He made sure that Kalinga’s will to fight was broken. For another century. 

It took Kalinga a hundred plus years and a king like Kharavela to rise up again on its feet and muster enough courage to challenge Magadha. But this challenge was nothing that Magadha had ever seen in its history. This had vengeance written all over it. And this was no ordinary mortal. This was the great Kharavela burning with revenge marching to their gates. How dare Magadha steal their idol? For all the wrongs that Magadha committed, this was retribution time. Kharavela’s army was possessed. They had just defeated the great Satakarni. They believed they were invincible. There was no looking back now. Everyone in the Kalingan army including Kharavela was ready to die a thousand deaths for the glory of Kalinga - to die for their ancestors and bring back the idol from Magadha. If ever, they had anything to prove, to themselves or to their future generations it was this single act of bravery that would be etched in time. This war would be the defining moment for them. It was time to avenge the deaths of their ancestors. This time Magadha will pay. 

Kharavela must have rejoiced at the birth of his son. However, the shadow of shame that hung over him probably didn’t permit him to sit on his accolades and reminisce on his earlier victories. Unless he erased the memories of Magadha on Kalinga he was never going to be truly contented. The fire of revenge burnt in him like an eternal flame. “What good is my life if I don’t wipe of the shame and humiliation inflicted by Magadha on Kalinga? The holy idol of Parsvanatha still resides in Pataliputra. How can Kalinga sleep in peace? How can the souls of my ancestors who died in the Kalinga  war be at rest? Not until I avenge them, can I sleep. so he pined.

Magadha was still a formidable kingdom. Laying siege to their capital city was difficult. It was well protected by a fort to the south of it called Gorathagiri – a natural hill fortress. Kharavela knew that if he had any chance of defeating Magadha he needed to capture Gorathagiri first. His soldiers were prepared to fight till their last breath, if necessary. For, they all considered it their sacred duty to defeat Magadha and bring back the idol of their beloved Parsvanatha. It was their life's mission. With an army that was possessed by a single goal Kharavela attacked Gorathagiri with such venom that the royal walls shook with utter fear in Pataliputra. This was an attack that had destruction of Magadha written all over it. Never before had Magadha seen an army that was so hell bent on the destruction of Magadha.

Pushyamithra Sunga, the king of Magadha knew of Kharavela’s valor and rage, and surely enough began to tremble with fear at the impending onslaught. This was the Mauryan emperor who had most of North India under his control. But he wasn’t dealing with any non-descript king. This was Kharavela – the great Kalingan king at his door step intent on exacting revenge for all the wrongs that Magadha committed. He and his people knew that Kharavela was a man of extraordinary prowess and that this man defeated the great Satakarni. They also knew that Kharavela actually saved Magadha by driving away the Greek king Demetrius. Demetrius wanted to attack Magadha at the same time to share the spoils with Kharavela. Kharavela wanted none of that and instead attacked Demetrius and drove him all the way back to Mathura. If he wanted, he could have let Demetrius ravage Magadha. But he didn’t let a foreigner destroy Magadha. Or maybe, perhaps, he simply wanted the honor for himself. They trembled as they remembered the fate of a town called Pithunda, which had been razed to the ground by Kharavela not long ago. 

Panic gripped Magadha. It was unanimously decided that it was in Magadha’s best interest to surrender to Kharavela. They knew full well why Kharavela was so angry with Magadha. Their ancestors had wrongfully brought the idol of Parsvanatha from Kalinga. Kharavela and his people considered this as a great humiliation. It was evident to the people of Magadha that unless this humiliation was wiped out, Kharavela’s anger would not subside. It was therefore decided to hand over the idol to Kharavela with all honors. 

Pushyamitra sunga sent word to Kharavela that he wished to meet him. Kharavela agreed to this. Pushyamithra sunga  went to Kharavela with all his ministers and generals and surrendered and pleaded with him to spare Magadha. It is said that the Magadhan emperor touched the feet of Kharavela and beseeched him to show mercy. Kharavela must have thought of the destruction that Ashoka heaped on Kalinga and decided to go the peaceful way. He accepted the Parsvanatha idol and returned victorious to Kalinga. The fire that had been burning in the hearts of the Kalingans, ever since the Nandas carried their idol away was now put out. Magadha had surrendered. The blot on Kalinga has now finally been erased. 

Kharavela returned to Kalinga with the idol of Parsvanatha. Hundreds of sculptors started building a splendid temple for their deity. The deity was duly installed. All over the land there was great rejoicing. Kharavela's praise was on everyone's lips. He had wiped out the disgrace that had for long stuck to them.

Kharavela, unlike Ashoka, did not destroy Magadha. He didn’t want the Magadhans to remember him like the Kalingans remembered Ashoka. He knew the burden of history that the Kalingans would have to carry if he had destroyed Magadha. He didn't want to be another Ashoka.

Interestingly enough, Kharavela’s inscription describing his great victory over Magadha, and his other conquests stands within a visible distance from Ashoka’s Inscription at the Dhauli hill. From the top of the Udayagiri-Khandagiri hills one can see the Dhauli hill and vice-versa to remember the achievements of the two great monarchs, both conquerors as well as patrons of their respective religions.

The first and the second lines of the Hathigumpha inscription describe Kharavela –“ one who is endowed with the qualities as a warrior capable of protecting the whole of this earth extending as far as the four seas”. The third phrase then describes Kharavela as a prince “had the very best bodily form with graceful majesty, so lovely as to captivate the heart of grace himself – the veritable god Vishnu in human garb. The Amarakosha describes Kharavela as having a beautiful reddish body. In the Ashokan legends of Divyavadana and Mahavamsa Tika, the unsightliness of Ashoka in physical appearance is brought out blatantly.  There are no qualms in stating that it was his ungainly appearance that stood as an obstacle for him, especially when he wanted to appeal to his vast empire. The Hathigumpha inscription, as though belittling Ashoka describes Kharavela as the human embodiment of god Vishnu himself. It was as though Kharavela wanted a one-upmanship on Ashoka. In everything.

Standing on the Udayagiri hill, Kharavela must have looked at Dhauli hill where Ashoka had his inscription and said to himself  and maybe to Ashoka too– that Kalinga took his revenge on Magadha. And that Kalinga will sleep in peace now.

This great king who defeated the greatest of the empires ever to have ruled Ancient India – the Satavahanas and the Mauryas has been a forgotten figure until the 1820’s. It is sad that only fragments of his glorious achievements remain – only seven of the seventeen lines that are decipherable. The greatness of Kharavela is such that he manages to shine bright even from those fragments.

Kharavela chose Udayagiri hill to record his achievements for a particular reason. The hill overlooks the Dhauli hill that had Ashoka’s inscription on it. It was as if Kharavela  was sending a symbolic riposte to Ashoka. Surprisingly enough, Kharavela did not obliterate the Dhauli inscription of Ashoka, which eulogized his conquest of Kalinga. It looks to be a deliberate decision on the part of Kharavela not to destroy the Dhauli inscription and to let future generations know that the Kalingan revenge was complete. 

It was. 

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Porus the Great !

Porus the Great !

History has always been one sided. Always written by the victors.  So they say. The vanquished never had a say to begin with. Or maybe they did. Something similar happened on a rainy night in May of 326 BC in the North Western frontier of India (Punjab) on the eastern banks of Hydaspes (Jhelum). Mysteriously, on this rainy night the victors were silent.
Greek writers Arrian, Diodorus, Plutarch write about the battle that was fought on the banks of the river Jhelum between the armies of Alexander, the Macedonian king and Porus, the Paurava king. They tell us how Alexander fought a bloody battle with Porus and subdued him. And then, there is the famous question that Alexander asks Porus “How do you want to be treated?” To which Porus replies “Like a king”. Most historians believe that Alexander won that day, but magnanimously restored the kingdom back to Porus and went on his way back to Persia.
But is it what really happened on that day?  Did Alexander really win that battle with Porus?? If he did, why didn’t he continue his march beyond the Jhelum river?  Why did he return back?  Why is there no mention of this remarkable episode in our Indian records? Why was Porus still ruling his kingdom after he lost? Or was it all a travesty? A beautiful lie created to keep the aura of Alexander glowing? A legend created just to keep the halo of invincibility around Alexander intact? What really happened on that night??
From Persia to India
After defeating Darius and Spitamenes in Persia, Alexander finally turned his undivided attention towards India- his final frontier in his world conquest. The Persians however warned Alexander that their greatest king, Cyrus, who had conquered much of the civilized world, had been killed in a battle with Indian soldiers exactly two centuries before. And in an earlier antiquity, around 811BC, the Assyrian queen Semiramis from Babylon, who had crossed the Indus with 400,000 highly trained troops, escaped with just barely a few survivors, the rest being slaughtered by the Indians. 

Alexander, however,  was adamant on capturing India.  After all, he called himself the son of Zeus and claimed a demi-god status. He had also infamously linked his blood line to two of the greatest mythical heroes of Greek mythology- Achilles and Hercules. Now there’s no turning back. The gods themselves were on his side. How could a mortal ever stand up to him?  
Alexander’s troubles began as soon as he crossed the Indian border. He first faced resistance in the Kunar, Swat, Buner and Peshawar valleys where the Aspasioi and Assakenoi, known in Hindu texts as Ashvayana and Ashvakayana from the famed Kamboja region, stopped his advance. Although small by Indian standards they did not submit before Alexander’s killing machine. The Ashvakayanas offered stubborn resistance from their mountain strongholds of Massaga, Bazira and Ora (Swat valley) and never bowed down. The bloody fighting at Massaga was a prelude to what awaited Alexander further in India.

On the first day after bitter fighting the Macedonians along with their Bactrian mercenaries were forced to retreat with heavy losses. Alexander himself was seriously wounded in the ankle. On the fourth day the king of Massaga was killed but the city refused to surrender. The command of the army went to his old mother Kripa, which brought the entire women of the area into the fighting.  Realising that his plans to storm India were going down at its very gates, Alexander called for a truce. The Ashvakayanas agreed; the old queen was too trusting. Under the terms of the truce the 7000 mercenaries who fought for the Ashakayanas were allowed to leave the city in peace. They did so and camped 80 furlongs away from the town.
According to Diodorus, Alexander never had the intention of letting the mercenaries  go free.  He followed them to their camp site and surrounded them. Diodorus describes the massacre.  “the mercenaries formed themselves into a ring – with their women and children in the centre – so that they could defend themselves from all sides. They did so with a ‘desperate courage’. For their part, the Macedonians were ‘anxious’ not to be outfought by the outnumbered mercenaries. The battle raged and much blood was spilled. Inevitably, given their superior numbers (and the fact that they appear to have been using their sarissas – a long spear six meters in length), the Macedonians gained the upper hand. The Indian women were forced to take the place of the dead and dying men. 

Diodorus describes the event in detail: "...The women, taking up the arms of the fallen, fought side by side with their men. Accordingly, some who had supplied themselves with arms did their best to cover their husbands with their shields, while others, who were without arms, did much to impede the enemy by flinging themselves upon them and catching hold of their shields."They were, Diodorus says, ‘brave beyond their nature’. 

But the women could only delay the inevitable. All those who fought the Macedonians were ‘cut down, winning a glorious death in preference to basely saving their lives at any cost’. Diodorus further says that ‘every form of death and wounds was to be seen’ at this massacre. 

A similar fate awaited the town of Massaga .That night when the citizens of Massaga had gone off to sleep, Alexander’s troops entered the city and massacred the entire citizenry. Plutarch observes that “Alexander’s conduct on the occasion was foul blot on his marital fame”.  

However, the fierce resistance put up by the Indian defenders had reduced the strength – and perhaps the confidence – of the all-conquering Macedonian army. This battle of Massaga would have certainly dampened the already waning spirit of Alexander’s army for sure. If this is any indication of what is to come, then maybe even Zeus cannot save them in the battles ahead.
The Battle on Jhelum
It was the month of May. Early monsoons have swelled the Jhelum. Two armies were lined up alongside its banks on both sides.  On one side was Alexander - One of the world’s greatest military tacticians leading men to the war front – men who would live and die for him and for the glory of Greece. The king on the other side was Porus, the Paurava king, who has surprisingly stood up against him and against all rational thought. Here he was, Alexander the Great, the conqueror of half the world, the destroyer of Persia, the pharaoh of Egypt. Ignorance he thought. Maybe Porus didn’t know who he was. With the King of Taxila, Ambhi groveling at his feet Alexander must have thought the whole of India would offer him the same - nothing more than a meek submission.

For Alexander this was a strange situation to be in. He had convincingly defeated the mighty Darius who had ten times the Macedonian army. He had heard reports that describe Porus as a giant of a man- seven feet tall. Much taller than his stature of a miserly  five feet five inches. Must be a brave man, Alexander thought. But then, Porus’s army was nothing compared to the battle hardy mercenaries that he had gathered - Macedonians, Persians, Bactrians, and generously helped by Ambhi’s army. What possibly could Porus have in his arsenal that led him to challenge the mighty Alexander??
What was Porus thinking? Surely, he must have heard about the brutal exploits of this Macedonian king? Hasn’t he heard about the massacre at Massaga? How kings who stood up to him were executed to teach a lesson to anyone who dared to raise as much as an eyebrow? Maybe he just didn’t know who Alexander was. It looks as though Porus did not care who was on the other side. Maybe, he just loathed the idea that some foreigner was coming in to conquer his motherland. It could be this singular reason for Porus to stand up against Alexander. There is no mention in the history books of any other Indian king offering his help to Porus in this critical battle. Whatever the reason, Porus is now standing on the other side of the mighty Jhelum river ready to defend his land. Till death.
Alexander had planned the crossing of Jhelum river much earlier. He had no problem crossing the Indus 100 miles away from the Jhelum river.Transferring the boats to the Jhelum by land was by no means an easy task. So he had his men break the boats into pieces and had them haul the pieces all the way to the banks of Jhelum. Early monsoon rains had swelled the river and it was deep enough making any attempt at crossing fatal.
Alexander camped in the vicinity of the town of Jhelum on the west banks of the river. Porus drew up on the south bank of the Jhelum river to repel any crossing. Alexander saw that crossing the river at where he camped had little chance of success and tried to find alternative crossings. Alexander came up with a very deceptive strategy here. Every night he moved his mounted troops up and down the river bank while Porus mirrored his movement on the other side. His objective was to confuse and trick Porus. Craterus, Alexander’s general, with most of the army too engaged in numerous ploys to confuse Porus. Both Alexander and Craterus  kept Porus continuously on the move. On every visit to the site of the crossing, Alexander made a detour inland to stay in secrecy. It was also reported that there was an Alexander look-alike who held sway in a mock royal tent near the base. As a result, Porus, 'no longer expecting a sudden attempt under cover of darkness, was lulled into a sense of security'.

Eventually, on one of those dark nights, Alexander finally made the crossing, about 27 km upstream of his camp to cross the river with his contingent of soldiers. By chance a storm occurred that night which drowned the sounds of the crossing.  Porus upon hearing the news of the crossing sent a small cavalry and a chariot force under his son, also named Porus, to stop Alexander. Young Porus also faced an unexpected disadvantage: his chariots were immobilised by the mud near the shore of the river. It was a deadly battle. Young Porus fought with all his heart but was eventually defeated and killed. At the same time Craterus also crossed the river. Now the Macedonians attacked Porus from both sides.

It was savagely fought battle. The first wave of Porus’s war elephants trampled into the Macedonian army formations, as his archers shot heavy arrows from the long two metre Indian bow. The Macedonian army used the 17 foot long Sarissas to stop the trumpeting elephants upon them. These long Sarissas impaled the elephants to stop their advance.  Immediately after, a second wave of these mighty beasts rushed into the gap created by the first, either trampling the Macedonian soldiers or grabbing them by their trunks and presenting them up for the mounted Indian soldiers to cut or spear them. When the terrified Macedonians pushed back, the Indian infantry charged into the gap.
Alexander too charged into the melee. Before he could lead the charge against Porus, he had to confront with his brother Amar. Amar was no less a warrior than Porus and he charged headlong against Alexander. In the ensuing battle, Amar killed Alexander’s favorite horse Bucephalus, forcing Alexander to dismount. This was no ordinary feat as in battles outside India, the elite Macedonian bodyguards had not allowed a single enemy soldier to deliver so much as a scratch on their king's body, let alone slay his mount. This was a major setback to the morale of the Macedonian army. The Indian troops not only broke into Alexander’s inner cordon, they also killed Nicaea, one of his leading commanders.
Plutarch, the Greek historian and biographer, says there seems to have been nothing wrong with Indian morale. Despite initial setbacks, when their vaunted chariots got stuck in the mud, Porus’s army “rallied and kept resisting the Macedonians with unsurpassable bravery”.

Diodorus wrote about the battle tactics of war elephants - "Upon this the elephants, applying to good use their prodigious size and strength, killed some of the enemy by trampling under their feet, and crushing their armour and their bones, while upon other they inflicted a terrible death, for they first lifted them aloft with their trunks, which they and twisted round their bodies and then dashed them down with great violence to the ground. Many others they deprived in a moment of life by goring then through and through with their tusks
The fighting style of Porus' soldiers was described in detail by Arrian - "the foot soldiers carry a bow made of equal length with the man who bears it. This they rest upon the ground, and pressing against it with their left foot and discharge the arrow, having drawn the string far backwards for the shaft they use is little short for three yards long, and there is nothing can resist an Indian archer's shot, neither shield nor breast plate, nor any stronger defence if such there be."
According to the Roman historian Marcus Justinus, Porus challenged Alexander, who charged him on horseback. In the ensuing duel, Alexander fell off his horse and was at the mercy of the Indian king’s spear. However, Porus dithered for a second and Alexander’s bodyguards rushed in to save their king.

It was pitched battle. What was thought to be a easy victory, turned out to be a decisive battle that Alexander did not foresee.  This was embarrassing. How in the world can this meager Indian army resist his superior armed forces? He had attacked Porus from both flanks  but Porus hasn’t backed down one bit. Infact, the counter attack was more ferocious. He had just lost his favorite horse Bucephalus that had served him in every battle. This battle was everything but, what Alexander expected. He had to change tactics now. He immediately went back to his trusted ruse of a truce offer. 

Here’s what Curtius Quintus says about this offer of truce – “Alexander towards the end of the day sent a few ambassadors to Porus. Alexander, anxious to save the life of this great and gallant soldier, sent Texile the Indian to Porus. Texile rode up as near as he dared and requested Porus to stop his elephant and hear what message Alexander sent him. But Texiles was an old enemy of the Indian King, and Porus turned his elephant and drove at him, to kill him with his lance; and he might indeed have killed him, if Texile had not spurred his horse out of the way in the nick of the time. Alexander, however, far from resenting this treatment of his messenger, sent a number of others, last of whom was Indian named Meroes, a man he had been told had long been Porus's friend".
If we were to believe that Alexander won on that day, this incident does not gel one bit with what transpired on that night. This doesn’t seem like a victory for the Macedonians.  Quite strange that Alexander had to request for a truce. It certainly doesn’t fit the great story line that was conceived about Porus’s defeat.According to Plutarch this was one of Alexander's hardest battle- “the combat then was of a more mixed kind; but maintained with such obstinacy, that it was not decided till the eight hour of the day." 

Plutarch also wrote that the bitter fighting made Alexander's men hesitant to continue on with the conquest of India, considering that they would potentially face far larger armies than those of Porus if they were to cross the Jhelum river. More evidence that the story of Alexander’s great victory was nothing more than a concoction. Far from truth.

Says Plutarch: “The combat with Porus took the edge off the Macedonians’ courage, and stayed their further progress into India. For having found it hard enough to defeat an enemy who brought but 20,000 foot soldiers and 2000 horses  into the battle field, they thought they had reason to oppose Alexander’s design of leading them on to pass the Ganges, on the further side of which was covered with multitudes of enemies.”
If Alexander had a decisive victory on that night, the statements by Arrian, Diodorus and Plutarch would be a lot more effusive in their description of the victory. There seems to be a grudging acceptance of how Porus and his army not only fought bravely but forced Alexander to reach out for a truce. Could the story be just a façade that was created so that Bactria, Persia and other places that Alexander had won on the way to India  did not revolt on the hearing the news of his defeat to Porus??  If Porus was really defeated, how did he end up having his kingdom and more lands?? Didn’t Ambhi join the war with Alexander to annex the Paurava kingdom?? How would Ambhi agree to this? It looks more and more obvious that it wasn’t Alexander who dictated the terms of surrender.  At best it looks like a mutual agreement of peace – if it ever happened. 

More intriguingly, Alexander never went back the same route he came to India. This is completely baffling. Instead he chose to sail on the Indus and march through the deserts of Makran to reach Babylon with his entire army. This is strange. He also splits his army into two and then he himself marches along on the land all the way to Babylon. If the Achaemenid Empire and Bactria were in his control, avoiding them on the way back is mysterious. It was as though the neighbouring kingdoms of Massaga, Aornos knew very well that Alexander had lost the battle with Porus and were gearing up for a revenge attack on the way.  
If we dig deeper into the annals of history it becomes more and more difficult to accept that Porus was defeated. Something’s amiss here.
Shorn of its romanticism the story is hardly believable. Alexander a ruthless warrior who decimated every single enemy in all his conquests is suddenly befriending an Indian king and actually reinstating him back to power. Even after giving his word to Ambhi from Taxila that he would rule over his rival Porus’s kingdom after he defeats him? This doesn’t look plausible one bit. On the contrary, something more logical and closer to truth could have happened on that day. Alexander turned back because something unthinkable transpired – Porus defeated him in the war! 

The legend that was created that day was nothing but a political tool to maintain Alexander’s aura of invincibility to at least his conquered lands of Persia and the rest. Quite surprisingly no contemporary Indian account exists of this remarkable incident which logically begs the question – Did Alexander really win the war with Porus? For the rest of India, maybe this event didn’t even register – either in their minds or in any of the records. For them, it was probably just a border skirmish that was duly repelled. No wonder, we do not find the mention of this great war in any of our historical records.
Infact “the retreat of Alexander after the battle of Hydaspes indicates the catastrophic military defeat of Alexander – not a victory” says Marshal Zhukov, the Russian General. Based on literary evidence supplied by the same Roman and Greek accounts, Alexander could only reach the North West frontiers of India and that his world campaign ended in a not so splendid way. There is no question as to who ended that remarkable journey of Alexander. It was none other than Porus - Porus the Great!
But what is certain - victory or not for Porus, is that one of the greatest armies of the world that decimated and plundered everything in its path never set another foot into India. Porus, the Seven foot four inch giant stopped it dead in its tracks. 

What if Porus failed to stop Alexander? What if the Macedonians conquered Magadha and the whole of India? Well, that’s a moot question now. Porus the Great never let historians ink that “what if” scenario.  
He certainly saved them the trouble.  On that night, the brave son of India did not let any one of us down. For sure. 

Monday, July 13, 2015

Thus spake Devanampiya Piyadasi

In 1784 when Sir William Jones of the British East India Company (of the Raj) founded the Asiatic Society of Kolkata, little did the erstwhile British Raj know that they were inadvertently helping the cause of uncovering India’s history that has long been forgotten. It was through the society’s efforts, through its countless scholars that the dark curtains on Indian history were lifted and we could for once peer into our own annals of history with a clarity that we wouldn’t have otherwise had. 

  James Prinsep was one such unassuming but brilliant character from the Asiatic Society, who arrived in India from England in 1819 at age twenty, to work at the Calcutta mint. Fortunately for us, Prinsep did not find his calling in the mundane world of minting. He was fascinated with Indian History and started increasingly devoting his spare time and energy to the activities of the Asiatic Society. Among his several important breakthroughs one achievement stands out: his decipherment of inscriptions known then as “Delhi no. 1” - that put an end to a 2000 year old mystery that refused to be deciphered until he took it head on.
Young Prinsep drawn by his sister Emily


Qutb-ud-din Aybak who had overseen his slave Muhammad Bakhtiyar ravage Bihar and Bengal (read the plunder and burn of the Nalanda university in 1193 AD)  wanted to celebrate his victory and built a mosque  and named it Quwwatul Islam Masjid (Might of Islam). Slave artisans constructed this mosque from the stones of twenty-seven Hindu and Jain temples. He also added a victory tower “Qutb-al–Minar” and intended it to be highest tower in the Islamic world.  Fast forward two centuries and we have Firoz Shah Tughluk on the throne of Delhi and in his reign in the year of 1326 AD a lightning strike brought the two upper storey’s of the victory tower down.

Firoz Shah took it upon himself to restore the great tower but also wanted something of his own indelible mark that rivaled the tower – a more modest version of his victories. He had always had a fascination for “infidel towers” and he had seen these pillars littered across everywhere – in the temples, in the forts and to his surprise in fairly remote and random places too.  On a hunting trip to Topra in the upper region of Doab (between the Jamuna and the Ganges rivers)  the sultan came upon a magnificent standing stone pillar.

This pillar was cut from a single block of stone and was forty two feet in length and weighing more than twenty-five tons. What fascinated the sultan was that this “stone” pillar had a lustrous and a glazed red surface that caused it to shine like gold. Firoz shah had it transported to Delhi and re erected it in his fort- “a golden pillar to rival Aybak’s victory tower”. The thought of building his own minaret must have come to him but the sandstone pillar that he saw must have erased that thought from his mind.  The pillar must have stood in its place from time immemorial until the sultan saw it.  Firoz Shah had unwittingly opened a new chapter in the discovery of India’s long lost emperor who was deliberately relegated to obscurity by the forces prevailing at his time and later. According to a biographical source the golden pillar that was erected in the fort was given a new religious overhaul and says “After it had remained an object of worship of the polytheists and infidels for so many thousands of years, through the efforts of Sultan Firoz Shah and by the grace of god, it became a place of worship for the faithful”. On account of its wonderful sheen Firoz Shah lovingly named it the “ Minara-i-Zarin” or “column of gold". Firoz Shah himself was besotted by the pillar and its undecipherable inscriptions. He recruited the efforts of the Brahman pundits of his times to decipher the inscriptions but to no avail. Some said it was Greek, some Aramaic and Sir William Jones himself famously concluded that it was some form of Ethiopian language. The Brahmins called it “brahmi lipi” the writing of the god Brahma. But none had any clue to what it was !

 Towards the end of the 14th century the Turco-mongols led by Amir Timur ransacked Punjab and destroyed Delhi. Fortunately Timur was in awe of the golden column that stood in its splendor in Firoz Shah's fort and said he had never seen any monument comparable to the golden column. Two and half centuries later English traders visited  Jehangir’s court and inspected the column of gold and concluded that the unintelligible letters on the column resemble Greek letters and further surmised that it could be the victory pillar of Alexander the Great.

Devanampiya Piyadasi

The golden stone column with its inscriptions had piqued the interest of every scholar from its “discovery”   in the thirteenth century and quite possibly a millennium before it too.  Or maybe these columns and inscriptions were intentionally forgotten for we find no mention of anyone trying to unravel these strange inscriptions nor do we find any mention of the king who erected them.  Such magnificent pillars are found across all of India and strangely there is no mention anywhere either in the historical texts or writings about this great king. It was as though this ancient king had done something terribly wrong and seemed to have transgressed from the traditional path and drew the ire of some powerful people. No wonder these inscriptions lay undeciphered for over two millennia.

 During the first part of the 19th century a number of these pillars were discovered scattered across the length and breadth of India with the inscriptions in the “brahmi lipi”.  The Allahabad pillar and the Lauriya Nandagarh pillar were other such pillars that contained similar looking inscriptions.  Locals called these pillars as the maces of the legendary Bhima from Mahabharata.  For Prinsep this mystery was god sent. It was as though the young genius was sent to India to decipher these “primitive” scripts that no one could. Prinsep plunged headlong into this abyss of mystery. It was an arduous task as the letters were worn away and earlier inscriptions were either obliterated or overlaid with other recent inscriptions. It was as though every king wanted a piece of the eternal glory with their names and inscriptions stamped on this golden pillar.

Golden Pillar

In 1834 Prinsep had his first breakthrough. He says , “…upon carefully comparing the Delhi, Allahabad and Lauriya Nandangarh inscriptions with a view to finding any other words that might be common to them … I was led to a most important discovery; namely that all three inscriptions were identically the same … except for a few lines at the bottom which appear to bear a local import”. Prinsep then called out for help to his colleague Captain Edward Smith and to others in the field to provide him with a copy of the inscriptions that had the same No. 1 script. His call was heard loud and clear.  He was sent inscriptions from all corners of India and he now had with him many more inscriptions that he could use to find patterns and clues to unravel the dreaded No.1 Script.

Of these numerous inscriptions he was particularly intrigued by the Sanchi stupa inscription that Captain Edward Smith had sent him. It had two parts to it. The first two inscriptions had recorded grants of land from the the 4th century AD by the Guptas. The remaining 23 inscriptions were of the No.1 type and were much shorter. He was struck by the fact that virtually every inscription ended in the same two letters: a snake like squiggle followed by an inverted capital T with a dot. He concluded that these could be either obituary notices or offerings because of their extreme brevity.

Timing was everything. Prinsep was working on coins that he gathered from Saurashtra just a few days before and in his words it couldn’t have happened at a more opportune time. He had deciphered one character to mean “Ssa”  in Pali or “sya” in Sanskrit. He says “if that character represented the genitive ‘of” (just as the apostrophe‘s’ in English represents ‘of’) it was logical to suppose that the rest of each short phrase concerned a donation and the name of the donor : “Of- so-and-so the gift” must then be the form of the sentence. Both in Pali and Sanskrit the verb to give was “dana” and this led Prinsep to quickly break the two letters – the snake like squiggle letter represented the sound “da’ and the inverted T represented the sound “na” and the single dot meant “m” (which was typical of any Sanskrit writing). Together the characters formed the word “danam”.

With these two letters and the earlier discoveries he had made everything suddenly fell into place – it were these “apparently trivial fragments of rude writing that have led to even more important results than the other inscriptions.” What followed was described by Prinsep in June 1837. “While arranging and lithographing the numerous scraps of facsimiles [from the Sanchi stone railings], I was struck by all words ending in the same two letters. Coupling their circumstance with their extreme brevity, which proved that they could not be fragments of a continuous text, it immediately occurred that they must record either obituary notices, or more probably the offerings and presents of votaries, as is known to be the present custom … ‘Of so and so the gift’ must then be the form of each brief sentence; … [this] led to the speedy recognition of the word danam (gift), teaching me the very two letters d and n, most different from known forms. … My acquaintance with ancient alphabets had become so familiar that most of the remaining letters in the present examples could be named at once on re-inspection. In the course of a few minutes I became possessed of the whole alphabet, which I tested by applying it to the inscription on the Delhi column.”
This was the biggest eureka moment for all of Indian History!!  The hieroglyphics suddenly were no mystery. Prinsep deciphered the most intriguing script that befuddled every scholar from the middle age to the modern age. No. 1 was deciphered!!!!!
Prinsep concluded that the language used was a prakrit variation – a vernacular of the Sanskrit language. The word laja initially threw Prinsep off but he quickly realized that it was ‘the license of loose vernacular orthography’ and that the intended actual word was ‘Raja’.  That gave him the opening phrase: ‘Beloved–of- the- gods-beloved king’. The last two words evam aha – translate as “spake thus”.

‘Thus spake King Piyadasi, Beloved of the Gods”

He then proceeds to unravel the entire inscription

“ In the twenty-seventh year of my anointment I have caused this religious edict to be published in writing, I acknowledge and confess the faults that have been cherished in my heart … Let stone pillars be prepared and let this edict of religion be engraven thereon, that it may endure into the remotest ages”.

All good. However, the question lingered as to who this Devanampiya Piyadasi was? Who was this king who was erecting pillars and Stupas across the length and breadth of India? There was no mention of a king named Piyadasi  in the annals of Indian history.  How could the brahmanical texts miss such a great emperor like Piyadasi who supposedly ruled the entire sub-continent and more? Was it a deliberate mistake? Prinsep initially thought that it could be the Buddha himself based on the thought that no single Indian monarch had ruled over such a vast territory as was covered by the pillars and rock inscriptions. But it was quickly dismissed as the inscriptions refer to ‘such and such year of my reign’, which clearly suggested that this inscription had nothing to do with the sakyamuni Buddha. Prinsep writes “in all the Hindu genealogical tables with which I am acquainted, no prince can be discovered possessing this very remarkable name”. 

Fortuitously, at the same time, his colleague Turnour based in Ceylon (Srilanka) had in his book “The epitome of Ceylonese history” mentioned the name of one king –Devanampiatissa which was the closest to what Prinsep had discovered. Prinsep concludes that (t)his king that he unraveled was none other than the Srilankan king . He ponders “ Was it possible, then, that this Lankan king was the author of the rock edicts?” that “Devanampiyyatissa the royal convert, caused, in his zeal, the dogmas of his newly adopted faith to be promulgated far and wide? “. 

Prinsep went ahead and published his findings in the July 1837 issue of JASB that the Piyadasi-Beloved-of-the-gods, was none other than King Devanampiyatissa of Lanka. Then came the earth shattering response from Turnour from Sri Lanka. This was what the world was waiting for.

Turnour says “I have made a most important discovery. While casually turning the leaves of the manuscript brought from Siam by a Buddhist priest I hit upon an entirely new passage relating to the identity of Piyadasi”. In translation it read “Two hundred and eighteen years after the beatitude of Buddha was the inauguration of Piyadasi, who the grandson of Chandragupta, and own son of Bindusara, was at that time viceroy of Ujjain”

Turnour’s revelation literally tore open the mystic secret hieroglyphics on the golden column and threw open to the world the secret of Piyadasi - That the king Devanapiya Piyadasi of the inscription was not King Devanampiyyatissa of Lanka as Prinsep had assumed. Chandragupta’s grandson and Bindusara’s son were one and the same. He was none other than “Ashoka the Great”.  The identity of Ashoka as the author of the rock and pillar edicts was established beyond a reasonable doubt – a milestone on the road to recovery of India’s long lost history- the missing piece of jigsaw. It took Ashoka 2000 years to reveal himself to the world and emphatically say that he was the visionary behind the rock edicts. All thanks to this young genius James Prinsep! It was as though the gods wanted Prinsep to reveal to the world “the beloved of the gods” – Ashoka the Great!!! And Prinsep did deliver on the challenge – spectacularly.

To understand the greatness of Ashoka here’s what H.G. Wells says in his book “The Outline of History”: "Amidst the tens of thousands of names of monarchs that crowd the columns of history, their majesties and graciousnesses and serenities and royal highnesses and the like, the name of Ashoka shines, and shines, almost alone, a star”.

Prinsep continued his studies but in September 1838 barely a year after the discovery he was struck down by paralyzing headaches brought on by inflammation of the brain. He passed away seven months later in London at the age of forty-one. It  is as though the gods sent him to accomplish something and now that he had delivered it successfully they want him back. Even the gods wanted the world to know about their beloved son Devanampiya. What a pity that this genius died so young. What Prinsep uncovered was so monumental not just for the history of India but to the world and could very well rival the Rosetta stone deciphering. Long live Ashoka the great!!!

 Thus spake devanampiya piyadasi ….and the world listened.. …..and how!