Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Taxilian Minds

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Defeated in his attempt to conquer India by Chandragupta Maurya, Seleucus Nicator, one of Alexander’s successors, made peace and exchanged embassies with the Mauryan. And so, in the year 300 BC, Megasthenes came to India as the ambassador from the Greek court in Syria. He remained here a full fifteen years, travelled across the length and breadth of India and went home to write his Indica which survives to this day, albeit in fragments.

His book is a collection of tales wondrous as well as items of real history. One among the latter is the story of the philosophers of Taxila. Now, Megasthenes was in Taxila, a mere twenty-five years after Alexander’s departure while those who had witnessed the passage of the westerners were still alive and talking of the event. Consequently, the items concerning this city in the Indica can largely be relied upon for their veracity.

When Onesicritus, the Greek sailor, came bearing Alexander’s message for the philosophers to present themselves in court, he had a long tete-a-tete with them in order to understand their tenets of philosophy. Mandanis, the sage of Taxila is said to have told him that to expect the philosophy of the wise men of Punjab to reach him through the filter of three interpreters was like forcing pure water through mud and expect it to exit clean and pure on the other side. Nevertheless, the man did favour the Greek with a discourse on a belief similar to that of the Stoics.

We now read and hear of the philosophy of riches not being about a surfeit of worldly possession, but a paucity of need. The first Punjabi ever known to have held these views was Mandanis, for he told Onesicritus that possessions only filled the head with worry. Nevertheless, after Alexander himself paid a visit to them, two of the sages of Taxila did visit the court and dined with the king. An exchange took place between them and the visiting pupil of Aristotle and Alexander seems to have been taken by the Punjabis’ wisdom because he asked them to join his train in order that he may learn more from them.

Mandanis was outright dismissive. He was not leaving the dharti that had so long been as a mother to him. But Kalyan agreed and we know that he eventually died in Persepolis but not before he had prophesied Alexander’s death within the year. Now, when Megasthenes visited Taxila, he found that Kalyan was vilified in his hometown.

Why, he had set his heart upon lucre offered by Alexander should he travel with the king. For this unseemly act, he had ‘wrought the perdition of his soul’ and had lost the respect of his fellow citizens, it was said. Kalyan, or at least his memory, was ‘despised and trodden upon’ by the people of Taxila. As for Mandanis, he had risen in the eyes of the Taxilians for rebuffing Alexander with such boldness and for refusing to leave home. He was virtually worshipped in Taxila during Megasthenes’ time.

While it tells us a good deal of the philosophers’ character, this little incident is a vivid window on Taxilian minds as well. Here was a society that was revolted by the notion of greed for material things. This was a society that was enriched by the fewness of wants, a society that respected similar traits in its teachers and, surely, among its leading classes.

A recent television show featured a bureaucrat holding forth upon how the part of the subcontinent that is now Pakistan, was utterly devoid of any cultural development until the coming of Islam. This charlatan knew this was the kind of thing to keep him on television and which would be favoured by radicalised and ignorant television watching masses. He therefore chose to lie through his teeth.

Alas, we have fallen a long way from Taxilian society. We have fallen for we have divorced ourselves from our glorious ancient past.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 00:00,


At 1 December 2013 at 13:09, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are so many reasons for us to read our true history. But, alas, it has been altered so much. Your Taxila work is a great read indeed Rashid.

Janjua from Taxila

At 1 December 2013 at 13:33, Blogger Ts Makhdoom said...

Excellent. We need to see reality and understand who we really are and what we should be

At 1 December 2013 at 13:35, Blogger Ts Makhdoom said...

Excellent. We should understand who we really are

At 1 December 2013 at 18:23, Blogger Memoona Saqlain Rizvi said...

Superb. Wish we go by the same principle now n become generous enough to acknowledge ancient wisdom of our land.

At 1 December 2013 at 19:04, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

When we know these stories from our past, only then will we have real pride in who and what we are.

At 2 December 2013 at 23:30, Blogger Memoona Saqlain Rizvi said...

Yes and for this we need to read,read&read authentic, unbiased research with open n equally unbiased minds.
Yours is a gr8 contribution. Proud of you n your work.


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My Books

Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand

Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

Gujranwala: The Glory That Was

Riders on the Wind

Books at Sang-e-Meel

Books of Days