King Paurava the great
28 May 2013
I sent up a happy prayer for Qureshi and for that conscientious officer of the future who will have the peeling sign repainted and ordered in three columns to make it easier to read and possible to photograph so that it may enter the realm of history. The contribution of Pakistani railway engineers to the history of British royalty must never be forgotten. For me it was an appropriate diversion for I was on my way to revisit the field of that epic battle fought on the field outside nondescript Mong in May 326 BCE between Raja Paurava of the Punjabis and Alexander from distant Macedonia. (This is the learned pronunciation. The average man would have referred to the king as Pora, which was rendered Porus on Greek tongues.)
‘Treat me as a king ought,’ replied the Punjabi.
‘For my part your request shall be granted. But is there not something you would wish for yourself? Ask it.’
‘Everything is contained in this one request,’ said Paurava the Punjabi whom we are ashamed to claim as our own.
Alexander was so moved by the dignity in defeat of this king that he declared friendship. Subsequently, he did not only return Paurava’s kingdom to him but also helped him annex the country between the Chenab and the Ravi Rivers. As for Paurava, he was the only king of the Sindhu Valley who remained steadfast in his loyalty to Alexander even after the latter had left the country – indeed even after he had died in Babylon.
Across the stubble on the rain-drenched ground – very much like Paurava would have found it for the battle was fought after a heavy shower of rain, I walked wondering where Paurava would have dismounted from the chariot of Meroes and where Alexander would have stood somewhat in awe of the towering battle-stained giant. Perhaps on the very spot where I now stood. Repeated readings of Arrian played out the scene in all its grandeur in my mind’s eye. I could almost hear the dialogue: Greek into Persian into Punjabi and back the same way through the interpreters. I could see the gigantic Paurava, his massive corselet-covered chest still heaving from the exertion of his blood-letting, standing tall and Alexander arch an admiring eyebrow as he glanced at his generals upon hearing the king’s response.
I also saw Alexander reach out and clasp the brown blood-soaked hand in his own. Then, as the import of the king’s words sank in fully, I saw him raise himself on his toes and embrace his vanquished adversary, his blond head reaching as high as the Punjabi’s breast. Here was a man worthy of admiration and friendship. Here was the only king whose grace and majesty were to find their way into the official histories. Alexander might have eulogised Paurava’s conduct in one or more of the frequent letters to his mother Olympias and his tutor Aristotle. Perhaps the king’s conduct came repeatedly under discussion among Alexander and his generals in those pre-prandial drinking bouts. Eumenes, the royal secretary, would have made elaborate note of his king’s observations on the defeated adversary. It was these letters, diaries and discussions, now lost, that formed, among other material, the basis for the works of Strabo, Plutarch and Arrian.
They tell me a monument has been raised to Paurava, or at least to the battle. I could not find it, nor was there anyone at hand to tell me where to look. (I have since been to this monument on the west bank of the Jhelum. It lies between the village of Jalalpur and the hill of Mangal Deo.) But less than six kilometres to the east of this battlefield, there was a monument. Not to Paurava and his magnificence in adversity, but to the fallen of another battle. Outside the village of Chillianwala, hard by the road, the red sandstone obelisk marks the site of the British field ambulance that served the wounded of the Battle of Chillianwala in January 1849.
There the Sikhs had rallied for the last contest as the British closed in. It was a sanguinary struggle and the plaque on the monument acknowledges the inordinately high number of deaths – especially among British officers. Few people visit this monument, and fewer still understand that the Sikhs fighting for Punjab were standing on ground barely two or three kilometres from where Paurava would have marshalled his forces two millenniums before them.
The Chillianwala monument does not acknowledge the valour of the Sikhs. But then the monument was raised by the British to honour their own. Surely Paurava would have raised a monument too, but that would have crumbled long ago. Paurava, however, would have acknowledged Alexander’s superiority in battle. This I can say with impunity for I know from the work of Apollonius of Tyana, a 1st century CE Greek visitor to Taxila, that Paurava did indeed do so.
The king, Apollonius records, had copper-plate murals put up in two temples in Taxila. Both plates depicted scenes from his encounter with Alexander. Both showed him the vanquished and Alexander the victor. Both were installed as an acknowledgement of the Punjabi raja’s friendship with Alexander some time after word arrived from Babylon that the great conqueror had died. Alexander was no more, his Greek garrison in Taxila had deserted along with its officers and Paurava was free to re-write history. He could have painted himself the destroyer of Alexander. That he did not and that he chose to tell the truth, even though unsavoury, is a measure of his greatness.
More than his valour in combat and his dignity in defeat, it was this character and greatness of Raja Paurava’s spirit that had brought me to the battlefield of Mong to celebrate my hero. Yet for us who abhor our own pre-Islamic history, he is just a shadow on the periphery of Alexander’s radiance. Nothing could be more unfortunate and unjust. It is now time to commemorate the greatest ever king of Punjab.
posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:30 AM,
- At May 28, 2013 at 1:08 PM, Nayyar Julian said...
We are biased against Raja Porus for no reasons. The man should be judged on merits. And on merit he stands much taller than Alexander.
- At May 28, 2013 at 1:19 PM, Salman Rashid said...
The trouble is we look at our ancient history with the eye glasses of religion. That is why Raja Paurava was a villain until my documentary went on air. I tell you, I am witness to the change that came thereafter. It was very gratifying.
- At May 28, 2013 at 1:24 PM, Nayyar Julian said...
But there was no religion then. Why should we drag religion. And no religion advocates distortion of the facts. I would say this is due to lack of knowledge. I hope if people know, they will decide on merit.
- At May 28, 2013 at 1:47 PM, said...
Only the pen and love of Salman Rashid could draft such a moving piece. A befitting eulogy for a brave king of the punjabis
- At May 28, 2013 at 2:02 PM, said...
You sure know how to use anecdotes, history and scenes in your stories. I can see them all in this piece. Great blog.
- At May 28, 2013 at 2:13 PM, Salman Rashid said...
Nauman and Anonymous. Thank you very much. the piece appeared in Herald (May 1999) and is part of my anthology Sea Monsters and the sun God.
Nayyar, religion has always been a part of man's psyche. Raja Paurava could have been Hindu or Buddhist. But we today in a Muslim majority country look at him with our religion-tinted glasses. Hence, he the villain.
- At May 28, 2013 at 9:42 PM, Saima Ashraf said...
The way you dig out the history, I am jealous of you:)
- At May 28, 2013 at 10:00 PM, Saima Ashraf said...
dekha? he says ''good Qureshi''. Qureshis are good. pawain manno te pawain na manno
- At May 30, 2013 at 7:27 AM, Salman Rashid said...
Saima, there's this word called sarcasm, hain? Sarcasm!
- At May 30, 2013 at 1:11 PM, Saima Ashraf said...
- At May 31, 2013 at 8:30 AM, Attiq Anwar said...
I have read it not for the first time. The point about Punjabis being proud of Provous was also taken up by Abysses in his book Indus Saga by Ahtazaz.
- At May 31, 2013 at 2:40 PM, Ayyub Kulla said...
Being resident of Mong, I can testify that the Interlocution between the two commanders of battle at Mong and surroundings is well memorized by all residents of Mong as will bear out my village mate SAJ Shirazi. Rest of the chronicle supported by the history books is well written by Salman Rashid Sahib. The present dwellers of the village consisting of Arain, Khokhar and Jat tribes came well after the battle as they claim their ancestry to Arabs from Areaha accompanying Muhammad bin Qasim, Qutab Shah accompanying Mahmood of Ghazni, etc respectively.
There is absolute need of an Archaeological Survey of this historical place to divulge much awaited historical wealth on the subject. Punjab has conferred to history just few leaders; Porus, Gru Nanak , Ranjeet Singh, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. Time will decide their true place in the history of mankind.
- At May 31, 2013 at 3:12 PM, Salman Rashid said...
Ayub Kulla, The claim of being Arab is PURELY spurious. It is RUBBISH. Modern DNA profiling can and has trashed this spurious claim by Awans and Arains. All these fools who still cling to this rubbish should get themselves genetically tested and, as we say in Punjabi, Sara kuch chatha khul jai ga.
I assure you this knowledge of the historic conversation between two kings was not common until my documentary was broadcast in 2001. I had been there several times earlier since 1997. Alexander was always the hero and the great Paurava a villain for being a Hindu.
- At May 31, 2013 at 6:05 PM, Nayyar Hashmey said...
This vivid description takes us to those ancient times when a great man fought a great battle against an equally great man. As you very rightly say, this man the great Punjabi king should have been our hero but for his religion, he is more an outsider for the very sons for whom he fought many many millennia ago. But what to lament of the semi educated, many times poorly literate men of our countryside, there are so many highly qualified, well read people who would own the foreign men more than the men of the soil who fought for the motherland.
In this regard I recall a move last year by certain citizens of Lahore who wanted to rename Lahore’s Shadman Chowk as Bhagat Singh. Much to my amazement and frustration, a man as well read as Shamshad Ahmad Khan, (Pakistan’s former Secretary, Foreign Affairs) for whom I have lot of regard and respect, opposed this move. Why, may be because Bhagat Singh did not carry a Muslim name.
Our youth today don’t even know that Bhagat Singh was as much a shaheed of this land as any other Muslim Pakistani could have been, but we don’t own a great patriot merely because he was not a Muslim (although at one time our great Quaid also fought his case in the court).
So, I think we ought to introduce some chapters in our history books whereby Pakistan’s history before 1947 should also be taught. This post 1947 history negating our real history has brought us to the present stage where there is no Pakistani in Pakistan, we are all either Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Sikhs or the Parsees etc or we are Deobandis, Brelvis, Shias, this kafir and that Kafir. There is more religion (and that too, in the name only) and less of us being Pakistanis.
Once our kids start learning our real history, then and only then will they know there was a son of Punjab who fought for the soil as devoutly as a true son of the soil would have fought.
Finally when I offer my salute to the great soul of our Raja Paurava of Punjab, who is your hero, my hero and as a matter of fact should have been of all of us, I thank you also for such a beautiful story of a great man whose valor and gallantry all of us should have been proud of.
(BTW I missed that documentary you mentioned. Is it available somewhere on the web, if yes, the link plz!)
- At June 1, 2013 at 9:45 AM, Salman Rashid said...
History began for Pakistan on 14 August 1947. Or was it in some month in the year 711? We cannot commemorate Bhagat Singh, a patriot. But in Jalandhar (India) there is a large property Desh Bhagat Hall in one room of which there are a couple of hundred pictures of the heroes of the 1857 uprising and later. Muslims are included as well. So, shame on us. By the way, my grandfather's home still stands in Bhagat Singh Chowk, Railway Road, Jalandhar.
- At November 16, 2013 at 5:09 AM, Ayyub Kulla said...
1) Having gone through your article in Tribune: http://tribune.com.pk/story/317619/arab-origins/
One can't get convinced. The harsh words, Sir, you used about the ancestry of Arain to Arab and Khokhar to Qutab Shah do not go along with many books written in the history i.e. Tareekh Frishta, Tohfa Tul Ikram and Aina-e-Haqeekat Numa. These are not written by recent history converters. Even a study by the Pakistan Journal of Medical Sciences on blood types of the major ethnicities in the Punjab showed that O is the most common blood group (among all ethnicities), except among the Arain where B is most common, the difference being statistically significant. Whilst not proof of non-local ancestry, it does illustrate a difference between the Arain and the other castes living in Punjab. The DNA research relates it to greater Jordon. (God knows better the actual Truth)
2) We were taught in Primary School this Conversation before you started visiting Mong area in early 1997, hence No Dispute on it as you wrote it.[‘What,’ asked Alexander, ‘do you wish that I should do with you?’ Purus is son of soil, we must acknowledge.
‘Treat me as a king ought,’ replied the Punjabi.]
- At January 15, 2014 at 11:08 AM, Nida Ahmed said...
Salman Uncle, we are guided by our prejudices. As you mentioned earlier in the post neither Alexander nor Paurava were Muslims. While the Persian takes prides in their history and Indian takes in theirs, we stood here tangled by our own "constructed" identity crisis.
As addressed often by my father Jawed Ahmed, we are slaves. We have no national pride. We like clinging to others such as Arabs or British rulers or even Mughals who were originally Persians. Our history didn't begin with Mohammad Bin Qasim's invasion of Sind it began with Moen-jo-Daro.
- At January 15, 2014 at 10:31 PM, rabia said...
Interesting post - just a small correction - the Battle of Chillianwala was part of the Second Anglo Sikh War and fought in January 1849.
- At January 16, 2014 at 3:49 PM, Salman Rashid said...
'Small correction?' To what? What is it that I wrote wrong?
- At May 1, 2014 at 7:15 AM, ramram said...
Very well written article. Any ideas on the Pillars erected by Alexander (the Great) (not during British construction activities of course.)
- At May 1, 2014 at 7:16 AM, ramram said...
Very well written article. Any ideas on the Pillars erected by Alexander (the Great) (not during British construction activities of course.)
- At May 1, 2014 at 2:51 PM, Salman Rashid said...
the pillars and other constructions of Alexander were made on the banks of the Beas River. Somewhere between Amritsar and Jalandhar. But nothing remained of them.
- At September 24, 2014 at 7:08 PM, omarali50 said...
rabia's comment refers to the date of the battle of Chillianwala. it is written as January 1839 in the article and was actually January 1849 (a fact which i know is well known to you, its just that the typo needs to be corrected).
btw, after the Sikh defeat at the battle of Gujrat a month later, Mian Mohammed wrote his famous verse "Mian Mohammada ik Sardar baajoon, assi jittiyan baazian haarian ney" (Mian Mohammed, for lack of one Sardar, we have lost wars we could have won..the one sardar being the great Maharaja Ranjit Singh)....which does show you that there was a certain Punjabi identity at that point that transcended religion, Mian Mohammed being a good Muslim but having no confusion about which side was HIS side in the battle between the Khalsa and the British East India Company...
- At September 25, 2014 at 6:04 AM, omarali50 said...
OK, I should have checked before I commented. In my earlier post I said the poet was mian Mohammed... But it was Shah Mohammed. And the battle he wrote about was Ferozepur, not Gujrat
- At September 25, 2014 at 4:04 PM, Salman Rashid said...
Omar Ali, thank you for pointing out that glaring typo. It is now being corrected.
- At June 21, 2016 at 3:21 PM, said...
Salmaji have you seen "Chanakya" serial in Hindi. It shows Paurava as a Hindu King. Your views on other matters depicted in that serial would be great knowledge.
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