In the gloom of a stormy night in late May of the year 326 BCE, Alexander of Macedonia secretly crossed the Jhelum River to fight his epic battle against the Punjabi king Paurava (Porus to the Greeks). The battle took place outside Mong village in the district of Mandi Bahauddin where lore celebrates the invader’s victory by either converting him to Islam, though he pre-dates this religion by a thousand years, or making him a hero from the Quran. Paurava is of course vilified for being heathen.
The well-known exchange between the victor and the vanquished concerning how the latter wished to be treated and his response are part of lore that is related as a sign of Alexander’s greatness, not of Paurava’s equanimity in defeat. Paurava simply pales in the presence of Alexander, but history looks at the Punjabi king differently.
As Alexander came down the eastern escarpments of the Salt Range to the Jhelum River, he saw on the far bank a vast army of infantry, cavalry, chariots and war elephants. He knew a frontal assault would be suicidal so Alexander divided up his army and spread it along the river to confound his opponents about his dispositions. One dark, moonless night, he prepared to cross the river to surprise the Punjabis.
One wonders if at this moment he recalled an event of just seven years earlier. In the battle of Gaugamela (modern Iraq) against Darius of Persia one of Alexander’s general suggested, in view of the extreme disparity between the numbers of both armies, a night attack. History records Alexander irately responding, ‘I do not steal victories.’
The river was crossed and as day broke full-fledged battle unfolded. For a better part of the morning the clash continued until at long last Paurava’s Punjabis were routed. The raja himself being among the last to begin to withdraw from the field. Arrian, Alexander’s most reliable historian lauds Paurava’s valour in combat and tells us how unlike Darius of Persia ‘he did not lead the scramble to save his own skin … [but] fought bravely on.’
Alexander, so the histories tell us, was deeply impressed by the military prowess as well as the courage of his adversary and sent out an emissary to invite the defeated king to his camp. As he saw the raja’s chariot approaching, Alexander rode out with a few of his companions. Drawing nigh, the two kings, one who had carried the field and one whose lot had been defeat, dismounted and approached each other on foot.
From Arrian we know that Paurava was a giant of a man towering to well over seven feet in height. Paurava’s famous response about wishing to be treated like a king is also recorded. What is not known commonly is that Alexander retorted this answer was not complete and that Paurava should ask something for himself. Thereupon the raja said that he needed to ask nothing more. The majesty and grace of Paurava’s behaviour in defeat greatly impressed Alexander and he made peace by returning Paurava’s kingdom to him.
Note: This story first appeared in Tales Less Told - Pakistan Petroleum Limited (PPL) book of days 2009.
Labels: Alexander, Book of Days 2009, Raja Paurava, Tales Less Told
posted by Salman Rashid @ 8:30 AM,
At March 8, 2013 at 4:50 PM,
Nayyar Julian said...
There are so many myths and made up stories about Alexander and his campaign here in Pakistan. Thanks for writing this authentic version.
At March 28, 2013 at 9:21 PM,
Ayyub Kulla said...
" The battle took place outside Mong village in the district of Mandi Bahauddin" It is my village. Let us hope one day Archeology Department of Pakistan has enough budget to explore the area, particularly the village MONG. This will add heaps of heritage of wealth to the pride of the nation. The UNO should think of declaring it a WORLD HERITAGE after the exploration project is complete. Who will take the first step in this vital direction?
At October 4, 2016 at 9:27 AM,
I was aware of this story/historical fact before, but the way you have written this......it feels much more our own........our own land.
At October 4, 2016 at 2:31 PM,
Salman Rashid said...
Of course. It is your story and mine. And it is the story of the subcontinent. Our story. The story of a truly great king.