10 Interesting Facts About Ancient India – Records of Greek Ambassador 300 B.C
The history of India is so vast and ancient that there is no single scripture or document which can tell us the ancientness of India. Once, the Epic war of Ramayan fought in this land, and later Mahabharat war fought to establish dharma in society.
Scholars are still trying to figure out when these events occurred and where they can get fit in international history.
There are scriptures like Rigveda that recorded many geological events and those events date has been found out by modern scientists. But sometimes the date of the events is so old that it is difficult to believe the scripture.
Another event where the north and south pole six month day and night phenomenon is recorded in Usha’s Hymn of Rigveda. The interesting part is Antarctica was discovered in the 18th century then how this event was recorded in Rigveda.
There is always curiosity within us to know how was ancient India and what was the culture? Through the Indian religious scripture, we are getting some useful information.
But what if I say that there is another book written by one greek scholar and in that book, he recorded various information about India in 300 B.C, will you believe me?
There was one Greek Ambassador during the reign of Chandragupt Maurya who wrote a book called Indika while his mission in India. I have extracted the 10 most important facts from his book and presented here.
Megasthenes – A Greek Ambassador
Megasthenes was an ancient Greek historian, diplomat, and Indian ethnographer, and explorer in the Hellenistic period ~300 B.C.
He described India in his book Indika, which is now lost but has been partially reconstructed from literary fragments found in later authors.
He must have been a learned man and a reputed officer, which explains his appointment as an ambassador to India.
Megasthenes visited India sometime between c. 302 and 288 BCE, during the reign of Chandragupta Maurya. Modern scholars generally assume that Seleucus sent him to India immediately after the treaty with Chandragupta.
His book Indika explains about the Indian geography, land, rivers, harvesting, people, religion, Mythology, and animals. Out of the many most important 10 are presented in this article.
The Saraswati River
The Sarasvati River was one of the Rigvedic rivers mentioned in the Rigveda and later Vedic and post-Vedic texts and one of the rivers from seven Indus Valley rivers (Sapt Sindhu).
It is believed that the river Saraswati dried up in a desert (probably, Thar Desert). Although, Hindu belief is that still Saraswati river flows underground and meets Yamuna and Ganga at Allahabad (Prayag).
Megasthenes recorded the Saraswati river in his book Indika. He was calling it the river Sillas. He said that Sillas has different properties than other rivers that flow underground.
A peculiarity is found to exist in one of the rivers of India,–that called the Sillas, which flows from a fountain bearing the same name. It differs from all other rivers in this respect,–that nothing cast into it will float, but everything, strange to say, sinks down to the bottom.Megasthenes
The Lenght of Country
As per current scientific data, the length of India measures 3,214 km (1,997 mi) from north to south and 2,933 km (1,822 mi) from east to west.
According to Megasthenes, he recorded the distance from the Southern Sea to the Himalayas is over 20,000 stadia which is equivalent to 3700 Km.
Conversion from https://www.convertunits.com/from/stadium/to/kilometers
After Death Memories
In Hinduism, cremation is performed by fire rites where the body of the deceased is burnt with fire so that all the remains of the body are destroyed. Because it is believed that once the soul is separated from the body, the body is no longer of any use.
The same kind of ritual was noted by Megasthenes during his reign in Indian. He notably said that the Indians do not rear monuments to the dead, but consider the virtues which men have displayed in life, and the songs in which their praises are celebrated, sufficient to preserve their memory after death.
The Indians all live frugally, especially when in camp. They dislike a great undisciplined multitude, and consequently, they observe good order.
Megasthenes says that Theft is of very rare occurrence and those who were in the camp of Sandrakottos (Chandragupt Maurya), wherein lay 400,000 men, found that the thefts reported on any one day did not exceed the value of 200 drachmae (~50 INR as of today).
This is among the people who have no written laws but are ignorant of writing and must therefore in all the business of life trust to memory. Megasthenes well understood the importance of trust in Indian society
All exchanges in India are based on trust. They have no law regarding pledges or deposits, nor do they require seals or witnesses to secure their deposits.
The Indians neither put out money at usury nor know how to borrow. It is contrary to established usage for an Indian either to do or suffer a wrong and therefore they neither make contracts nor require securities.
Among the Indians, one who is unable to recover a loan or a deposit has no remedy at law. All the creditor can do is to blame himself for trusting a rogue.
Fundamental Food Practice
Indians use a unique method for eating food in which tables and chairs are not used as in Western countries. The food is placed on a small square or circular table and the diner eats food while sitting on the floor.
Megasthenes recorded the same way of eating style. He noted, when the Indians are at supper, a table is placed before each person, this being like a tripod. There, is placed upon it a golden bowl, into which they first put rice, boiled as one would boil barley, and then they add many dainties prepared according to Indian receipts.
In fact, this practice of eating with the small square table is still very popular across all the places in India. There are various outlets like “Chauki Dhani” in India that offer traditional Indian dining for food lovers.
Megasthenes mentions some rare Indian tribes in his book Indika. However, there is no evidence that they really existed or not.
- There are men five spans (3.75 foot) and even three spans (2.25 foot) in height, some of don’t have the nose, they have only two orifices above the mouth through which they breathe.
- On a mountain called Nulo, there live men whose feet are turned backward, and who have eight toes on each foot.
- On other mountains, there lives a race of men having heads like those of dogs, who are clothed with the skins of wild beasts, whose speech is barking, and who, being armed with claws, live by hunting and fowling.
The Gold Digger Ants
Megasthenes gives the following account of gold digger ants. Among the Derdai, a great tribe of Indians, who inhabit the mountains on the eastern borders (possibly Deosai Plateau in Gilgit–Baltistan province of Pakistan) there was an elevated plateau about 3,000 stadia (555 KM), in the circuit.
Beneath the surface, there are mines of gold, and here accordingly are found the ants which dig for that metal.
According to Megasthenes records, those gold digger ants were so big in shape that one could compare with wild foxes. Their speed was amazing that perhaps they could catch hold of running man. They usually dig mines in the winter period. It makes more sense because possibly mine was comparatively hot in summers due to the presence of Gold.
History of Ancient India
Megasthenes recorded one very important information in his book Indika which was about the history of Ancient India. He recorded that from the days of father Bacchus to Alexander the Great, Indian kings generations are at 154, whose reigns extend over 6451 years and 3 months. So the average reign of the king is ~42 years.
Another statement was 138 generations have passed between Krishna and Chandragupta Maurya. So if we multiply these numbers together, we will be able to guess the period of Mahabharat war.
138*42 = 5796; 5796 + 300 B.C (Chandragupta Maurya) = 6096 B.C. So here we can say that the Mahabharat war happened before ~6000 B.C
The Caste System
Normally there was no caste system in ancient Indian society. There was another system called “Varn Vyavstha” which was given by the king Manu (A king who saved the world from the ancient flood). In this arrangement, society is classified as per duties individuals can perform, not by caste in which they born. King Manu classified society in four divisions.
- Shudras: laborers and service providers.
- Vaishyas: agriculturalists and merchants.
- Kshatriyas: rulers, warriors, and administrators.
- Brahmins: priests, scholars, and teachers.
Here Megasthenes uses caste for Varn Vyavastha because his segregation is also based on duties performed by the individual. Megasthenes noted that the whole population of India is divided into seven castes.
- First is formed by the collective body of the Philosophers, which in point of number is inferior to the other classes, but in point of dignity preeminent overall.
- The second caste consists of the Husbandmen, who appear to be far more numerous than the others. Being, moreover, exempted from fighting and other public services, they devote the whole of their time to tillage.
- The third caste consists of the Neatherds and Shepherds and in general of all herdsmen who neither settle in towns nor in villages, but live in tents. By hunting and trapping, they clear the country of noxious birds and wild beasts.
- The fourth caste consists of the Artizans. Of these, some are armorers, while others make the implements which husbandmen and others find useful in their different callings.
- The fifth caste is the Military. It is well organized and equipped for war, holds the second place in point of numbers, and gives itself up to idleness and amusement in the times of peace.
- The sixth caste consists of the Overseers. It is their province to inquire into and superintend all that goes on in India and make a report to the king, or, where there is not a king, to the magistrates.
- The seventh caste consists of the Councillors and Assessors,–of those who deliberate on public affairs. It is the smallest class, looking to number, but the most respected
From the Megasthenes book Indika it is comprehensible that India was a wealthy, welcoming, and peaceful country. One place his record says that India and any Indian king never sent an expedition abroad, nor was their country ever invaded and conquered.
The caste system of ancient India was so appropriate that everyone could get work as per their capability. Trust was the fundamental way of connecting society. This was why there were rare cases of theft.
Megasthenes recorded events in India after the post-Vedic period. Just imagine if the post-Vedic period was so peaceful and calm then just imagine about the Vedic period.
When all these false practices like the current caste system, ‘Sati Pratha’ entered into Indian society, we don’t know yet but as per Megasthenes record, it was certainly not the part of Indian society.
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