Book Reviews

Did Homer Influence Vyasa?

Fernando Wulff Alonso: Mahabharata and Greek Mythology, translated by Andrew Morrow, ed. Alf Hiltebeitel, Motilal Banarsidass, 523 pages, Rs. 1495/-

The Sir Asutosh Mukherjee collection in the National Library contains a rare book by an East India Company officer arguing that the Ramayana story was strongly influenced by the Iliad, knowledge of which had been disseminated in India with the Greek invasion. This was nothing new. In the 2nd century AD, Dios Chrysostom (40-120 AD), mentioned the existence of a translation of the Iliad in India reiterated a couple of centuries later by Claudius Aelianus (e.g. the Trojan horse becomes Bhasa’s wooden elephant in Pratigya Yaugandharayana). In 1871 Weber claimed that the Ramayana was merely Buddhist legends grafted on to borrowings from Homer, an argument strongly refuted by W.T.Telang. Weber was refuting M.H.Fauche’s proposition (supported by A. Lillie in 1912) that Homer had used the Ramayana as a guide. Modern scholars did not take this seriously. Now, a Spanish professor of ancient history in the University of Malaga has carried out an extensive comparison of the Mahabharata (MBH) with the Iliad, building up a strong case for the Greek influence on thematic and stylistic grounds. The volume is the first in the “Hindu Tradition Series” with Johannes Bronkhorst emeritus professor of Sanskrit at Lausanne University as general editor.

Alonso’s hypothesis is that in the post-Alexander period the MBH composers used “an extensive index of Hellenistic materials” systematically, beginning with the Iliad’s framework of the massacre of heroes at the behest of gods. He discounts N.J. Allen’s suggestion that the similarities between Arjuna and Odysseus stem from an older Indo-European narrative tradition. Yet, he traces in the archery contest for Draupadi and for Penelope over 40 close parallels that suggest a common Indo-European paradigm. Emily West has compared Homer’s Nausicaa and Chitrangada, single princesses with a married wandering hero. Weber had cited Odysseus’ archery feat to win Penelope as having influenced the archery contests of Rama and Arjuna to win Sita and Draupadi, ignoring the fact that Rama breaks the bow and Arjuna does not massacre rivals with it. Josette Lallemant’s 1959 study argued for the MBH having influenced the Aeneid, which George Duckworth supported, arguing in 1961 that the portrayal of Turnus was based upon Duryodhana. Then, in 1968 Dumezil put forward his theory of an Indo-European tri-functional ideology well illustrated in the MBH where the Pandavas depict this: the dharma-king, the warrior, the grooms.

Alonso sees the MBH as a watershed embodying the formation of post-Vedic “Hinduism” as a reaction against Buddhism and Jainism, propagating Krishna-ite worship (as also of Shiva, which Alonso overlooks). The “discovery” of Brahmi script in Ashoka’s time is a signal development in the oral Vedic tradition, with Krishna Dvaipayana “Vyasa,” the arranger, editing the Vedas into a final form. Several scholars like Bechert and Von Simon have situated the development of Sanskrit in this period c.2nd century BC. This is also when sculpted images appear. The Greco-Roman world is interacting with India at least since the time of Darius-I (cf. Herodotus), and certainly post-Alexander. Evidence of this is the Bactrian Margiana Archaeological Complex in and around Afghanistan connecting Central Asia with Iran and India and, after Alexander, with the Mediterranean. Ashoka’s Edict XIII mentions embassies to Syria, Egypt, Macedonia, Cyrene and Epirus. His bilingual (Greek and Aramaic) and Greek Edicts exist. When Rome conquered the Greek kingdoms of Egypt and Bactria by the end of the 1st century BC, trade connections between that empire and India were established which persisted through the Kushan rule till the 3rd century AD. Roman trade routes reached the mouth of the Ganga en route Southeast Asia and China. “Yavana” is a word signifying all Mediterranean people. The Bhavishya Purana mentions Indian communities in “Misra” (Egypt), the MBH mentions Rome in the Sabha Parva, and Roman coins have been found at several archaeological sites. Philostratus’ Life of Apollonius of Tyana is about a voyage to India to engage local sages in philosophical debate. The Greco-Roman influence on art, astrology (Yavanajataka, Romakasiddhanta) shows the veneration in which Yavanas were held in India. Alonso claims that Greek fables were used extensively, and terms like “yavanika” show the influence of Greek drama. A Greek inscription in Kandahar authored by an Indian name (Sophitos son of Naratos) uses the opening verses of the Odyssey for his own woeful adventures.

Alonso notes as many as 97 major points of interconnection between Greek myth and the Mahabharata, beginning with the outer framework itself. Earlier M.L.West and Burkert had established the influence of the Near Eastern tradition, such as Gilgamesh, on Homer. Alonso takes his cue from A.Manguel’s finding that an indigenous Colombian community found that the Iliad paralleled their own story of a country torn by war imposed by gods for unknown reasons. From there, however, he perhaps goes overboard in asserting that Hinduism’s foundations lie in the encounters between different peoples adopting one another’s cultural legacies and religious concepts.

In both the Iliad and the MBH it is the gods who plan the holocaust of proliferating power-drunk rulers to relieve the burden of the earth and usher in a new age—that of the audience. Losses are exceptionally heavy on both sides—Trojans and Achaeans, Kauravas and Pandavas—across the board, from the very young to the ancient. There is, however, a major difference that Alonso fails to tackle. In Homer (Iliad and Cypria) and Hesiod, Zeus manipulates the gods deviously to shift the balance of battle every day. In Vyasa, the gods do not intervene in the 18 days of war at all, except that all the decisive moves are the avatar Krishna’s. The dharma-protector also engineers the massacre of his own clan. There is an interesting parallel, however: long before the Trojan War, Zeus destroyed almost all mankind by a flood. Before Kurukshetra was a similar annihilation of Kshatriyas in 21 battles towards the end of the Treta yuga by another avatar, Parashurama. Moreover, the massacres are doubled in the same era. The Theban War (cf. the lost Thebaid) in which Diomedes and Sthenelus took part precedes the Trojan War. Similarly, the Kurukshetra fratricide precedes the Prabhasa internecine massacre.

Alonso quotes (p. 158) Sanjaya speaking to Dhritarashtra (Sabha Parva, section 72) of the gods making a person mad first, whom they wish to defeat, which could as well have been spoken by Agamemnon. Parallel to gods espousing opposing camps in Homer in Vyasa the devas incarnate as the Pandavas, Krishna and their allies, while the asuras take possession of Kaurava heroes who are simultaneously incarnations of devas. As Zeus favours now one side then the other in battle, so Shiva empowers both Arjuna (with Pashupata) and Asvatthama (with a sword), besides being responsible for the gratuitous introduction of Draupadi (Drupada had not asked for a daughter), the rebirth of Amba as Shikhandi, the hundred sons of Gandhari and the incarnations of the five Indras as the Pandavas. The avatar Parashurama gives weapons to the Kaurava heroes Bhishma, Drona and Karna. As Homer’s gods fight one another, so Indra and Surya stand on opposite sides behind their sons. Devas and gods provide opponents with special armour and weapons.

Alonso fails to notice that this is no evidence of borrowing but is a carrying forward of a Vedic motif. In the Rig Veda Indra shatters the wheel of Surya’s chariot. In the Ramayana, Surya’s son Sugriva has Indra’s son Vali killed by Vishnu’s avatar Rama. In the MBH, Indra’s son Arjuna kills Surya’s son Karna at the behest of Vishnu’s avatar Krishna.

In both epics heroes are born of intercourse between devas and humans but, unlike Zeus, Indra plays no major role other than depriving Karna of his divine armour and earrings. Alonso argues that Zeus’ role and that of Athena in the fall of Troy and in the Odyssey are paralleled by Krishna as “supernatural authority.” However, as Bankimchandra Chatterjee had shown long back (1886), in the epic Krishna is overwhelmingly human, not supernatural, except in interpolated miraculous episodes. Homer has no parallel to the “supernatural authority” Krishna being slain by a wandering tribal.

The gods of Homer and Vyasa do not perpetrate the massacres, but use human failings on both sides to bring these about. Krishna’s manoeuvres leave the Pandava side guilt-ridden, facing consequent heavy losses, just as the adharmic conduct of the Kauravas and the Vrishnis heaps upon them curses from various quarters. A mighty female supernaturally born is the direct cause of the wars: Helen, Zeus’ sole mortal daughter and Draupadi, born from the sacrificial altar. On their opposing sides are half-god Achilles and Vasu-incarnate Bhishma. As Paris gazes on three naked goddesses with hubris, so does Mahabhisha on Ganga as the breeze uplifted her dress. Both face tragic consequences. Thetis, mother of Achilles, and Ganga, mother of Bhishma, are water goddesses who leave their husbands after giving birth to the hero and being stopped by the mortal spouse from drowning the child. The Aphrodite-Anchises story is very similar: the son Aeneas is taken away by the goddess and returned later like Achilles and Bhishma. Neither hero marries. Both are the chief warriors of their armies, yet subject to lesser mortals who are kings. The refusals of both exacerbate the war. Both receive a clandestine visit at night from the opposite camp after a decisive victory in the day who is accompanied by a god (Hermes with Priam, Krishna with the Pandavas). The visit occurs at the end of the ninth year/ninth day. Both die in the tenth year/tenth day. Just as Apollo stands behind Paris guiding his arrow to kill Achilles, so Arjuna shoots from behind Shikhandi to fell Bhishma. Both heroes are overshadowed by an awareness of their tragic destiny. Ganga’s lament at Bhishma’s death has exact parallels in the Iliad. Agamemnon and Duryodhana both insult their generals and defy supernatural powers; both commit serious offences against women (Briseis, Draupadi). In the latter case, there are two successive interventions and what is said by the first messenger is couched in very similar terms. In both cases, a god intervenes invisibly (Athena, Krishna) after intervention by an elder fails (Nestor, Vidura). The commanders-in-chief of both Achaeans (Agamemnon) and Pandavas (Dhrishtadyumna) have similarities: Both are murdered soon after victory, defenceless (drowned, suffocated); both are closely linked to the heroine (Helen, Draupadi). Their fathers lose the kingdom to a brother (Atreus to Thyestes) or a close friend (Drupada to Drona). The child born for taking vengeance succeeds and is named after an animal (goat-Aegisthos, horse-Ashvatthama). Both Hector and Duryodhana wear impenetrable armour, flee, and are killed because of a trick by a god (Athena, Krishna) and their fallen bodies are maltreated by the victor. Achilles and Duryodhana are devastated by the deaths of their closest friends, Patroclus and Karna, both of whom initially withdraw from the battlefield. Both Patroclus and Karna are deprived of their birthright and later regain royalty. Both lose the divine armour that protects them because of a god’s trick (Apollo, Indra) and die because they target the chief warrior of the opposing army (Hector, Arjuna). They ignore the warning given to them, have problems with their chariots in battle, die defenceless when killed, rebuking their slayer. Immediately after their death, the charioteer drives off. Both Achilles and Krishna die being shot in the foot. Both Patrocles and Krishna leave instructions about their obsequies with their closest friend (Achilles, Arjuna).

In the Thebaid, Diomedes’father Tydeus eats the brains of Melanippus, as Bhima drinks Duhshasana’s blood. Curses cause the deaths of the heroes in Thebes and Dvaraka. Both cities, said to be impregnable, are demolished (as are Troy and the Achaean encampment) and the women (of Troy and Dvaraka) looted. In both cases a group of 7 heroes are involved. With the Pandavas, Krishna and Satyaki make 7. But Alonso is mistaken in stating that Kritavarma leads a group of 7 kings on the Kaurava side. He merely leads the Yadava contingent. The kings of Thebes and Hastinapura are blind. Their mothers are widows impregnated by a close relative of the husband. In both, exiled heroes gain allies through marriage and in both peace embassies fail and fratricidal war results.

Both Priam and Dhritarashtra are aged, do not fight, have numerous sons whom they survive and a son who betrays them (Helenus, Yuyutsu) and is involved in their obsequies. Ominous portents attend the births of Paris and Duryodhana. However, Prima discards Paris, while Dhritarashtra refuses to kill Duryodhana. Their conduct is supported by the fathers. The god Dionysus blesses Apollo’s son Anius, king of Delos, with an unending supply of food through his three daughters which the Achaeans need for the nine years of siege. Surya gifts Yudhishthira an inexhaustible cooking pot for the period of exile. In both cases there is an ordained period before which the war cannot occur (9-10 years for Thebes and Troy; 13 for Kurukshetra; 36 for Dvaraka). Both wars end with massacres at night of sleeping soldiers and non-combatants. In the raid at night by Odysseus and Diomedes, they are helped by Athena. Ashvatthama, Kritavarma and Kripa are helped by Rudra. The killer has just one conversation with one of the victims who is immobilised (Diomedes with Dolon, Ashvatthama with Dhrishtadyumna), and then butchers the rest. In both the same character plays a critical role in the massacres: Diomedes at Thebes and Troy, along with Odysseus in the latter, and Kritavarma at Kurukshetra and at Prabhasa along with Satyaki and Krishna. In Troy and Kurukshetra, the final massacre occurs through incursion by a “horse.” Just as the wooden horse bears within it the killers, so Ashvatthama carries with him ghouls who devour the camp-dwellers. In Dvaraka the cause is a similar ruse (feigned pregnancy) that births the mortal club. Bellerophon and Ashvatthama receive divine gifts which they misuse and are struck down to wander in perpetual anguish.

Dhrishtadyumna and Athena are born fully grown, armoured, with chariots, roaring. Draupadi, Helen and Pandora are agents of the gods for destruction on earth and are irresistible beauties. Their violators are first humiliated and then destroyed. Alcmaeon, the leader of the assault on Thebes, is guilty of matricide like Parashurama at his father’s behest, and, like him, is forgiven. Both have to leave the known earth and dwell in a newly formed land. The fathers of both are holy men who are decapitated.

Helen has three husbands; Draupadi has five. Each very harshly berates one husband, who withdraws from battle. Then a more powerful brother visits him, having left the field to enquire after him, draws a weapon, violently criticises his withdrawal and for lying in bed, gets reconciled and returns to the battle. Helen has twin brothers, the Dioscuri, linked to horses. The name of one of them, Castor, means “beaver.” Draupadi has twin husbands: Nakula means mongoose. With his twin Sahadeva they groom horses and cattle. Pollux refuses immortality, preferring to share his brother’s fate in hell. Yudhishthira does the same. Like Heracles, accompanied by a divine herald, he rescues his wife and brothers from hell. Menelaus and Yudhishthira are both not notable warriors, indecisive, not spiteful unlike their brothers who criticise him referring to violence against his wife. Agamemnon announces that they will return home if Menalaus is killed. For similar reasons, Duryodhana plots the death or imprisonment of Yudhishthira.

Alonso draws parallels between Heracles (half-divine, losing kingship as Eurystheus’ birth is pre-maturely induced) and Yudhishthira (half-divine, not winning initially though Duryodhana’s birth is delayed). In both cases there is an internecine rivalry in a dynasty with supernatural origins, a supernatural intervention affects the delivery and decides the balance of power, and the excessive desire of one of the child’s parents boomerangs. The half-divine sons lose their rights to rivals who appear in a jar (Eurystheus hides in one; Duryodhana is pot-born). The hero’s father is exiled from the kingdom, commits a crime related to animals, is prohibited access to his wife. During the exile the hero is born by a god’s intervention, which the father accepts. The hero’s uncle and his son deprive him of his birth-right. His mother has to live for long in the kingdom of his rival. The hero suffers a temporary madness (Heracles kills wife and children; Yudhishthira gets obsessed with dicing) because of which he has to travel through wild, distant places, having many adventures (12 labours; 12 years of exile), and undergoes humiliating servitude in disguise for one year, living like a woman in a palace subject to a queen/princess (Heracles with Queen Omphale; Achilles among women in Scyros; Arjuna with princess Uttara). This ends with the defeat an enemy who attacks that kingdom for cattle and restoration of true identity and weapons and a marital union which propagates the dynasty (Heracles and Arjuna pass on the bride to their direct descendants). This is followed by vengeful extermination of the enemy in war. There are a large number of parallels in the Heracles-Omphale episode including characters/weapons tied to a tree, a supernatural bow, a corpse linked to the change of names. Statues of Heracles and of Bhima are destroyed by one in darkness/blindness fooled into thinking it is a person and is injured thereby.

There are other parallels with Greek myths. In the Ramayana, like Icarus and Daedalus, Sampati and Jatayu fly, and the former falls by the sea flying up too near the sun. Both Jatayu and Daedalus are involved with a male and a female travelling together (Ravana-Sita; Theseus-Ariadne). In both the woman suffers and the persecution ends with the killing of the tyrant (Minos/Ravana) who rules over an island. Both Heracles and Bhima are gourmands and cooks, prefer to fight with bare hands or primitive weapons and kill a tyrant who abuses a woman (Faunus-Omphale, Kichaka-Draupadi). Poseidon and Apollo, condemned to serving Laomedon, have to build the ramparts of Troy and tend his cattle and then the horses of Admetus. The herds wax. Nakula-Sahadeva tending Virata’s cattle and horses is an exact parallel. Ovid’s version of the Faunus-Omphale-Heracles story yields numerous parallels with the Kichaka-Draupadi-Bhima episode. Both occur during a religious festival, there is reference to drinking and eating, the violent ardour of the villain, the hero dressing as a woman, the encounter takes place in the dark. Alonso makes a laboured attempt to equate Heracles’ killing Busiris and his attendants who shackled him for sacrifice with Bhima killing Kichaka’s henchmen who try to sacrifice Draupadi. He points out that she is described as standing embracing a column, which is peculiar unless one recalls Heracles being bound to an altar or pillar for sacrifice! Both Bhima and Heracles tread dangerous territories, battle monsters and supernatural beings, are sought to be poisoned as infants, are described as having flames bursting from them. Cacus, a monster, steals cattle guarded by Heracles, is betrayed by his sister to Heracles, just as Hidimba does with her brother to Bhima. Bhima rescues a Brahmin’s daughter who is to be sent as Baka’s meal, just as Heracles does with Hesione, daughter of Laomedon, about to be sacrificed to a monster. Again, moved by the sobs of Alcestis, he brings Admetus back from death, as Kunti is moved by the cries of the Brahmin family to have Bhima succour them. Savitri and Alcestis are another parallel as wives loyal unto and beyond death.

Alonso notes parallels between Jamadagni and Heracles. Both threaten the sun with arrows and receive a gift in return (a golden cup; a parasol and sandals). Alonso then draws a far-fetched parallel between Heracles and Karttavirya-Arjuna as both threaten the sea with arrows. One wonders why he has not drawn the parallel with Rama threatening the sea!

In the Heracles’ intimacy with his nephew and charioteer Iolaus, Alonso sees a clear parallel with Arjuna and Krishna. Heracles wins princess Iole in an archery contest, but has to leave without her, returns to kill her father (who was his weapons-trainer) and brothers and carry her off. Alonso suggests that Arjuna killing Draupadi’s suitors at Kurkshetra is a parallel, even though there is no hint of the provocation being their having sought her hand. Further, he does not kill Drona, his weapons-guru.

Parallels are seen between Krishna and Dionysus. Both gods have to find refuge from persecution (by Jarasandha, Lycurgus) in the sea (Dvaraka, in the lap of Thetis in the sea), their enemies insult them (Shishupala, Pentheus) and suffer death (dismemberment of Jarasandha-Lycurgus; beheading of Shishupala-Pentheus) after a dramatic revelation of divinity.

Tiresias, blinded for striking coupling snakes or for seeing Athena and his mother bathing naked, and turned into a woman, has extensive parallels: Pandu is un-manned for killing coupling deer (but even before the curse he fails to impregnate his wives), Bhangashvana becomes a woman, has children and, like Tiresias tells the king of gods that women enjoy coitus more. Like Callimachus, Bhangashvana comes to the sacred bathing pool to refresh his horse and suffers sex-change.

Both epics stress a restoration of order on earth and in heaven after a long sequence of calamities culminating in a holocaust. The macrocosm and the microcosm are in harmony. Indra’s hubris vis-à-vis Shiva ends, as does the reign of asuras possessing mortals. Brahmins (Drona, Parashurama) who violate their dharma are either reined in or slain along with their pupils. In both, the era of half-divine heroes and those born not womb-born is brought to an end, along with direct interaction of gods with humans. Zeus specifically prohibits any child to be born of a god. Uma curses the devas to be childless. In the Odyssey, Athena is careful in helping Odysseus so as not to offend Poseidon. So is it with Surya vis-à-vis Indra with respect to Karna.

In summary, the argument is that the MBH draws extensively on its authors’ “fervour for the Homeric epics and…very diverse Greek sources” using them in versatile ways in the Pandava-Kaurava story beginning from its outline for destruction and its formulation, with supernatural interventions ensuring its end. The roles of the critical figures—the powerful semi-divine woman as the cause of destruction, the goddess and the man, their son’s fate, the adventures in exile, the double massacres and destruction of the fortified city—are modelled on the blueprint underlying the Iliad, Cypria, Thebaid and the Heraclean tales. The sheer bulk of the Greek presence leads Alonso to propose that the MBH was composed largely at one time with Greek texts in its authors’ hands. The precision of use of Greek components militates against oral transmission of Greek texts. The lack of any archaeological evidence discounts the possibility of a real event providing the nucleus of the epic. The ease with which the Greek corpus is identifiable indicates that the MBH has come down to us quite intact in the main.

This calls for rethinking of the general theory regarding the MBH’s relationship with the epic, the mythic and the didactic. Alonso argues that the MBH was written with a precise political, ideological and artistic set of objectives incorporating a multitude of dominant themes, blending all available resources in an experiment (e.g. the diverse metres and prose) which, therefore, should not be looked at from prescriptive viewpoints of “epic” and “literary.” The relationship between orality and the written must also be re-examined for this text which was assuredly written at the inception and also recited as part of the ancient oral tradition. The oral component is fully assimilated into the text which regards itself as unique in comparison to compositions of the past (the Vedas). There is also the remarkable device of numerous narrative voices being used, as in the Odyssey that point to a conscious artistry. Alonso points out that the creation of an epic to rearticulate perspectives of changing communities is well seen in Virgil’s Aeneid, seeking to rearticulate the image of Rome after the massacres ending the republic.

Alonso calls for fresh research to map out, section by section, the Greco-Roman presence in the MBH, so prominent in the main corpus and present also in the secondary tales. This will also study the modes by which that archive is put to use—references, structures, characters, exhaustive borrowing from a single or diverse sources. It will further identify components that stand outside this archive, e.g. incarnations, rebirth, the power of ascesis, the concept of sacrifice. Such a study can also lead to a re-look at lost Greek texts which seem to be embedded in the MBH (e.g. Cypria, Thebaid).

Alonso puts forward an interesting argument to discount the fashioning of the MBH during the reign of Pushyamitra Sunga, a Brahmin king (2nd and 1st century BC), since the epic criticises Brahmins who abandon their calling for weaponry. The literary nature, the sophistication of the debates, the extolling of the householder’s dharma over the ascetic’s, the new worship of Krishna and the fact of writing suggest a later date. Alonso argues that Hellenistic mystery cults put forward the possibility of life with ethics as a means of salvation despite the vagaries of Fate, which is what Krishna also represents. He offers a path to liberation other than through sacrifice, asceticism, pilgrimages, death in battle. The detailed knowledge of Greek legends and theatrical situations (as in the Kichaka-Draupadi-Bhima encounters) indicates maturity of borrowing. As stories from Ovid have been adapted, that indicates the 1st century AD or later, which is when the impact of Greco-Roman plastic arts is evident, and contacts from Alexandria have proliferated (Nagarjuna’s sea voyages; contacts with the Satavahana kingdom). Alonso makes a powerful plea for a rethinking to break away from the claim of Indian history’s isolation from the rest of the world. Following Alexander’s invasion, not only did Vedic religion undergo extensive change with bhakti coming in, but Buddhism developed the cult of Bodhisattvas and other deities in Mahayana, besides incorporating roles for the laity and women. He points to the rival Satavahanas and Sakas who not only espoused Buddhists and Jains but had commercial ties with the Greco-Roman world. Sylvain Levi suggested that Indian theatre may have been invented during the Saka Kshatrapa monarchy. He argued that it is these foreign Saka rulers who replaced Prakrit for official use by literary Sanskrit. Two kings were involved in the translation of a Greek astrological text into Yavanajataka of Sphujidhvaja, which uses Saka dating (mid 1st century to mid 2nd century AD). In iconographic motifs Greco-Roman motifs were copied. There are considerable parallels with Greek logic and philosophic concepts in Nyaya and Vaisheshika. Alonso claims to have discredited the hypothesis of Vyasa having influenced Homer.

However, what about the dominant symbol of the sacrificial ritual that is a characteristic of early times, along with the almost total absence of reference to icons of deities? Why should references to foreigners (mleccha, yavana) indicate that the Christian era was underway? Such contacts prevailed centuries before that. Incidentally, Alonso commenting on Romila Thapar, consistently refers to her as “he/his” (p.471, fn.35)! Most of the arguments advanced by Alonso can equally be applied to say that the MBH was carried to Greece and influenced the Homeric Cycle and Greek mythology.


More by :  Dr. Pradip Bhattacharya

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Views: 3886      Comments: 8

Comment The comments above literally completely missed the ENTIRE point of this article. The Iliad and Odyssey came FIRST and the Mahabharata and Ramayana were written based off of them. How do these comments so badly misunderstand the central thesis of this long a brilliantly detailed work? Probably the same people who think a plastic surgeon in 3000 BCE connected the head of an elephant to a human.

20-Apr-2023 17:40 PM

Comment Birds of a feather flock together.

The people who wrote the epics on Indian soil are none other than Greek, Egyptian, Bavarian settlers/travellers who came to India either on trade grounds or military conquests.

They are racially and ethnically similar with their Greek, Egyptian counterparts. The settlers in India have become 'Indians'. Hence their beliefs, customs, and traditions interfused with the indigenous fervour and flavour is termed as Indian culture.

Both are chauvinistic.

03-Aug-2020 10:33 AM

Comment Exhaustive research. Well compiled.

sweety shinde
01-Nov-2015 13:22 PM

Comment I may be excused for the following long quotation from my blog ‘The Nobel Prize and Rabindranath – 3’ where I had the occasion to deal with this problem. This author should be asked to study Toynbee’s Study of History where he has shown how foolish it is for any country or race to claim cultural superiority over others, for, many similar inventions and discoveries have been found to have been made by different races and regions of the world quite independently of each other. The mode of story telling in the ancient world might have been similar which may explain the similarity between these two epics – it is not only foolish but also idiotic to say without any tangible proof that one influenced the other – it might be accidental. The author should also be asked to read Saint-Beuve’s famous essay – WHAT IS A CLASSIC, T.S.Eliot has also an essay on the same theme.

‘When Rabindranath received the Nobel Prize it was the high noon of European Imperialism. The renaissance and the industrial revolution had made the European nations technologically more advanced than the rest of the world which was more or less stagnant. Their higher technology and organization enabled them to expand overseas and build extensive empires. By the close of the 19th century they had divided almost the entire globe among themselves. In their arrogance they treated the native populations of their empires as racially inferior and sub-human. The greatest victims of this imperialism were the Afro-Asian countries and their inhabitants. And the greatest imperial power was Great Britain. Its empire was so vast that the sun never set in it!

The foundations of the British Indian Empire were laid by a band of merchant adventurers and not by some military conquerors. They were attracted by stories told by European travellers about the fabulous wealth of India. Taking advantage of the distracted political conditions of the time they acquired an empire and ruled it for a century from 1757 to 1858 when, after the great Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, the British Crown took over the administration from their hands. Even after becoming rulers the main objective of these traders remained the maximum possible economic exploitation of this country and earning of maximum profits. They shook the Indian pagoda tree as vigorously as possible to amass huge material wealth and dreamt of returning home at the end each one ‘a little Nabob’. But all of them were not thieves and thugs. A few among them discovered a different kind of wealth – our ancient cultural heritage. In time their explorations gave birth to what came to be known as Indology which made the western world aware of our glorious past. For the loss of their freedom the Indians were considered as ‘a fallen race’ no doubt but their past civilization gave them some respect in the eyes of the westerners. Many of them became their admirers and active benefactors. Throughout his life Rabindranath always differentiated between the two classes of Englishmen – one ‘big’ and the other petty and ‘small’. E.B.Havell and William Rothenstein belonged to this select group of admirers of our culture. They however differed from their predecessors in one respect. Earlier the interest was restricted mainly to our past while the attention of people like Havell and Rothenstein became focused also on our contemporary cultural achievements.

When the British ruling class replaced the commercial class as our political masters the attitude of the British towards the Indians underwent a significant change. In the class-ridden British society class prejudices are very strong. Even in their own country the ruling aristocracy regarded the common people much less than their equals – to acquire voting rights the poor and the unpropertied British masses had to wait till the 1932 Reform bill. In India the commercial classes - the people who had actually acquired the empire - themselves were regarded very grudgingly as their kind but not exactly as their kin. The ruling class seldom socially mixed with them. From this we can easily imagine the attitude of such people towards the Indians. Their arrogance and jingoism knew no bounds. The colour prejudice was always there. Now it further hardened. They reminded us always - it is ‘the white man’s burden’ to civilize us - the uncultured black niggers.

In the middle of the 19th century Macaulay had predicted that through English education the Indians would imbibe western values and demand western institutions. By the closing decades of the century it had come true. In 1885 the English educated Indians established their first political party – the Indian National Congress – and soon began to demand self-rule. The British rulers refused to admit that they had become fit for it. In the field of culture they also refused to believe that the contact with the western civilization had awakened the mind of the culturally inferior Indian from its long slumber. Sometimes they even tried to prove that all of their past cultural achievements were not entirely their own. For example, according to Vincent Smith, the Taj was designed by an Italian architect! We have already seen how this general attitude is reflected in the remarks of George Birdwood. It was Havell who in his Handbook to Agra and the Taj conclusively disproved this baseless claim of Smith. He had also succeeded in convincing the arrogant westerners not only about the greatness of our past artistic achievements but also about the emergence of native artistic movements and masters like the Tagore brothers.’

kumud biswas
11-Apr-2015 21:44 PM

Comment Very exhaustive and elaborate article bringing out similarities and differences & highlighting that the Indian Epic stories possibly could have been taken to West and influenced Homeric epics. My compliments .

RC Tripathi
08-Apr-2015 06:55 AM

Comment Thanks so much for this article. You must be aware of work by Mr. Rajiv Malhotra, he has written much about this kind of stealing, taking credit --by Europeans. Please make sure that this work is also published in major newspapers in India in several languages so that people know....thanks again for a wonderful article. Here is the link to book by Mr. Malhotra:

charu UPpal
06-Apr-2015 16:53 PM

Comment made for very interesting reading ... but i could not help but feel 'sad' for the Europeans who are still trying their best to prove that theirs was a great civilization before our Indian Civilization. Already they have tried their best to do so by saying that Aryans came from Europe and 'drove away' the Dravidians to the South, etc.etc. They need to do research with an unbiased mind.

I loved your post :)

03-Apr-2015 05:56 AM

Comment Compliments for the exhaustive and insightful study.
It is interesting to note while Helen in captivity gave in to Paris, Sita in similar situation resisted Ravan and this difference in a way illustrates the sexual attitudes - pragmatism and sentiment respectively - in the Western and Eastern cultures even to this day.

BS Murthy
31-Mar-2015 08:08 AM

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