Indian History : Between Ridiculous Historians And Honest Record Keepers

Megasthenes also mentioned the country’s caste system, more in terms of profession, status and personality descriptor. But the problem from an Indic perspective is that very little of the Indika survives in tact today and we are left with second hand accounts of Greek historians. In fact McCrindle, in “Ancient India as described by Megasthenes and Arian,“ says that the Greek writers such as Megasthenes were not highly regarded and were prone to lying. Strabo was of the opinion that Megasthenes simply created fables and as such no faith could be placed in his writings. In Strabo’s own words : “Generally speaking the men who have written on the affairs of India were a set of liars. Deimachos is first, Megasthenes comes next.”

Diodorus also held similar opinions about him. So who and what should we believe? It was Dr. Schwanbeck who, we are told, had collected all the fragments that were extant at that time, and who finally comes to the conclusion that Megasthenes can be largely vindicated of the charge of mendacity (that was leveled at a host of other Greek historians).

The Greek records mention Xandramas and Sandrocyptus as the kings immediately before and after Sandracottus. These names are not in any way phonetically similar to Mahapadma Nanda and Bindusara, who were respectively the predecessor and successor of Chandragupta Maurya. However, if Sandracottus refers to Chandragupta “Gupta”, Xandramas could be his predecessor Chandrashree alias Chandramas (the last of the main dynasty of Andhra Satavahana Kings) and Sandrocyptus to be Samudragupta. The phonetic similarity becomes quite apparent and other supporting evidence too confirms the identity of Sandracottus with Chandragupta Gupta. The correction also settles the ridiculous start of Vikram Era from 58 BC, while Vikramaditya himself is placed about four centuries later !

The Puranas transmit the Hindu tradition and historical records to successive generations. In fact we are told in the Mahabharata that ‘the Vedas are afraid of him who has not studied the Epics and the Puranas, for he would indeed kill them with his ignorance of the truth propounded in them.’

The Puranas are a class of literary texts, all written in Sanskrit verse, whose composition dates from the time of Veda Vyaasa, who lived at the time of the Mahabharata War. The Puranas are regarded by some as the Veda when studied under a magnifying glass. The word “Purana” means “old” and in fact Panini assigns the meaning “complete”( cognate with purna). Generally they are considered as following the chronological aftermath of the epics, though sometimes the Mahabharata, which is generally classified as an Itihaasa (history), is also referred to as a Purana.

Some scholars, such as van Buitenen, are inclined to view the Puranas as beginning around the time that the composition of the Mahabharata came to a close. Certainly, in its final form the Mahabharata shows puranic features, and the Harivamsa (appended to the Mahabharata), wherein the life of Krishna or Hari is treated at some length, has sometimes been seen as a purana. The special subject of the Puranas is the powers and works of the gods, and one ancient Sanskrit lexicographer, Amarasinha, regarded by some as a Jain and by others as a Buddhist, reputed to be a courtier of Vikramaditya, defined a purana as having five characteristic topics, or pancalaksana :

  • The creation of the universe, Sarga;

  • Its destruction and renovation, Prati-sarga;

  • The genealogy of gods and patriarchs, Vamsa;

  • The reigns of the Manus, forming the periods called Manavantaras;

  • The history of the Solar and Lunar races of kings, Vamsanucharita.

No one purana exhibits in detail all five of these distinguishing inclusions, but some reagrd the Vishnu Purana as most close to the traditional definition. Vyasa composed the Puranas in 400,000 “Grantha”. A Grantha is a stanza consisting of 32 syllables. Of these, the Skanda Purana alone accounts for 100,000. It is perhaps the world’s biggest literary work. The remaining 17 Puranas add up to 300,000 Granthas. Apart from them, Vyasa composed the Mahabharata, which contains nearly 100,000 Granthas.

via Indian History And Its Historians


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