Kalyan of Taxila

Published: February 5, 2011

The writer is author of Jhelum: City of the Vitasta (Sang-e-Meel, 2005) salman.rashid@tribune.com.pk

It happened in Persepolis (whose ruins lie northwest of Shiraz, in Iran). The histories do not assign a definite date to it, but from a timetable of events we know it would have occurred sometime in the spring of 323 BCE. The tellers of our tale are both reliable, however. We have the Greek philosopher, historian and teacher Plutarch writing about 70 CE and we have Arrian, a Greek general serving Roman masters, who wrote about sixty years later.

Having made off with his life from his Indian campaigns, Alexander was in Persepolis. In his train he had a Punjabi philosopher, a native of Taxila whose name, the histories record, was Kalanos — definitely a Greek mispronunciation of the Sanskrit word Kalyan (Fortunate). When he left his home in Taxila and agreed to accompany Alexander so that the Macedonian conqueror may learn more of Indian philosophy, Kalyan was already an elderly man. One source says he was in his late seventies at that time.

Now three years later, having endured the dreadful privation of the crossing of the deserts of Makran, Kalyan had been ill for a few months. He was drained of the will to live. One day, Arrian records, he told Alexander that since he was unwilling to follow an invalid regimen, he was prepared to end his life on a funeral pyre.

Alexander pleaded with him, no doubt saying that there were ideas that the two yet needed to talk of. But Kalyan was adamant. A funeral pyre was built under the direct supervision of no less a person than Ptolemy, one of Alexander’s confidants and progenitor of the Ptolemaic dynasty of Egypt.

From his quarters, the enfeebled Kalyan was carried in a palanquin to his pyre at the head of a procession: “horses, men, soldiers in armour, and people carrying all kinds of precious oils and spices to throw upon the flames…”. With his head wreathed in garlands ‘in the Indian fashion’ Kalyan sang hymns to his gods as he went.

From Arrian we learn that in the years the sage had spent with the motley army of Macedonian, Greek, Scythian, Persian, Parthian and Sogdian soldiers, he had earned fame and respect. There were countless in the procession who were his pupils and who showered upon their mentor gifts of gold and silver, which he redistributed among the host.

We now must turn to Plutarch who tells us that just before the pyre was set alight, Alexander approached the man who had been his friend and teacher for three years. He pleaded for the last time with Kalyan to spare himself. But the man refused and mounted the still unlit pyre. He drank his last libation and told the gathering to make this a day of ‘gaiety and celebration and to drink deep with the king….’ As for Alexander, Kalyan of Taxila said the two of them would soon be reunited in Babylon.

As the fire was kindled, Alexander ordered an impressive salute with bugles and a full-throated battle cry by the army. What overawed the gathered multitude was Kalyan’s complete imperviousness to the flames around him, for he neither let out a moan nor flinched in the least bit. This event would surely have remained alive in Persepolitan memory for years afterward.

Abiding by the savant’s bidding, Alexander did indeed turn the day into one of celebration and held a feast and a drinking contest after the funeral. One Promachus, we are told, polished off four pitchers of undiluted wine to clinch the winner’s prize of a crown, presumably of gold.

At the time of this event, no one may have given much thought to Kalyan’s words about being reunited with Alexander in Babylon. But surely, many would have called this prophecy to mind when scarcely fourteen months later, in early June 322 BCE, following a brief illness, Alexander died in that Mesopotamian city.

Kalyan was not the only philosopher that Taxila had produced, however.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 6th, 2011.

Reader Comments (26)

  • Hrithic Roshan
    Feb 5, 2011 - 11:23PM

    Dear Salman Saab,
    I am a big fan of your articles. I always eagerly wait for your next article to unearth facts about our common ancestors. Thank you for this beautiful article.Recommend

  • Ashutosh
    Feb 6, 2011 - 12:46AM

    The mention of Taxila, Harrapa or Mohanjodaro make me jealous of Pakistan as they are inseparable part of our heritage and situated in Pakistan.

    Though most Pakistanis fake as they are of Arabian decent and nothing to do with such priceless heritage.Recommend

  • American
    Feb 6, 2011 - 3:27AM

    Pakistanis should keep their religion in their hearts; no one is about to attack; it needs no protection.
    Instead, they should (re) discover their glorious past and culture, and enjoy it.
    You are not arabs. You are of Indian stock, and descendants of Saptha Sindhu.
    Sooner you figure that out, the earlier you will find a foundation to stand on. Recommend

  • Humanity
    Feb 6, 2011 - 5:44AM

    Another amazing nugget .. thank you!

    The present affairs leave one with anguish and pain. There is no much else to read here, other than what you write. Recommend

  • Singh
    Feb 6, 2011 - 7:04AM

    Dear Salman Saab,
    More you tell these untold story, you are becoming our teacher. My thirst to knowldge is keep increasing. Thanks for telling us our proud history. It is Aryan blood flowing in vein on both side of border. Your every writing bridge our soul to closeness. Many many thanks. Please write at least twice a week.
    Thanks again.
    Singh Recommend

  • Mir Agha
    Feb 6, 2011 - 11:04AM

    Why don’t you just make your book available online?Recommend

  • saad
    Feb 6, 2011 - 11:19AM

    Dear author, i dont know why you are always interested in pakistan hindu past. Recommend

  • Indian
    Feb 6, 2011 - 12:33PM

    Mr Salman Rashidji thankyou for the nice article on Kalyana Muni. (Sage Kalyana).
    Actually kalyana not only means fortunate in Sanskrit but it also means happiness or prosperity. It is heartening to see few sane people in Pakistani are still recognizing the contributions of their true ancestors even in these uncertain times. Lets hope one day Takṣaśilā (Taxila) regains it old glory and splendor.Recommend

  • GoodBoy
    Feb 6, 2011 - 12:41PM

    Even the word “Pakistan” has it’s sanskrit roots. “STAN” or “sthana”.
    In sanskrit it means a place of standing or staying , any place , spot , locality , abode , dwelling. If one wants to falsely claim it has having arabic roots then one needs to remove “sthana” from Pakistan.Recommend

  • SKChadha
    Feb 6, 2011 - 2:50PM

    Salman Rashid Sahib,

    Is it true that Vedic civilization began in India around 1500 BCE. The ‘Rigveda’ is said to be the oldest of the Vedas. It is said to be composed in Vedic Sanskrit, which is very similar to ‘Avestan’, the ancient language of the Iranian Zoroastrian sacred text ‘Avesta’. Does it mean that ‘Hinduism’ has some Zorastrian influence and ‘Rigveda’ is written somewhere in modern day Pakistan? Is it the reason that ‘Aryans’ as presumed to be descendents/ migrants from Persia?

    The Aryans basically lived in modern day Pakistan and around the confluence of rivers flowing from that area. I understand that one of that area was known as ‘Hapta Hindu’ in’ Avestan’ i.e. the language of Iranian Zoroastrian influence. The reference of ‘Sapta Sindhu’ in Rigveda meaning “seven rivers” and referring to the northwestern region of the Indian subcontinent is the same. Is it true that Ancient Vedic religion and Zoroastrianism also have much else in common? Many myths that appear in the Yasht part of the ‘Avesta’ (Zoroastrian sacred text) have their roots in ancient Indo-Iranian culture. I understand that this is the only culture known as ‘Aryan Culture’.

    The emergence of the ‘Achaemenid empire’ in Persia, saw parts of northwestern subcontinent come under Persian rule. Indian emissaries were present at the courts of Cyrus the Great or Kurush (590 BCE – 529 BCE), whose empire extended as far east as Gandhara and Sind. Alexander marched into South Asia after defeating the Persians.

    Where can we lay hand on writings and teachings of Kalyan Rishi.

    @ Saad – Bro, now call it a Zoroastrian past and enjoy historical facts. Recommend

  • SKChadha
    Feb 6, 2011 - 3:02PM

    Further, I understand that Kalyana is described to be as totally naked and known as Naga baba of hindus. We understand that incidence describes this Sadhu was not carrying any weapons as seen with the hindu naga babas. It is only the Kalyana which is known as a Jain muni named as ‘Kalyan muni’ and greeks call him as Calonus.

    Is he has to do something with Jainism?Recommend

  • Suresh
    Feb 6, 2011 - 3:57PM

    I look forward for stories from Swat valley.Recommend

  • bvindh
    Feb 6, 2011 - 4:22PM

    Nice to see that at least one Pakistani bothers about their own ancient culture. But, sadly, only three out of the ten replies seem to be from Pakistan and out of the three, two of them seem to be upset that their real roots were exposed.

    Now-a-days, all Pakistanis want to be “Arabs”.It’s funny that Pakistanis rather pretend to be Bedouin than acknowledge their real roots in the very cradle of civilization.

    On a side note, Mohammad Ali Jinnah was known to take pride in the fact that he was often mistaken for an Englishman. Maybe that was where the seeds of self-denial were sown.Recommend

  • Steven
    Feb 6, 2011 - 6:31PM

    I think what you folks forget is that no one is trying to be Iranian or Arab or Indian. Pakistan has elements of all of these things because we were with all these peoples at different times. What these terms mean nowadays meant something different only a few years ago. These are all subjective terms. There was no India but South Asia was just a land mass during the times of Alexander and the Persians. Why do Indians jump on this as evidence of their 1947 country? Why can’t you just appreciate the story and the history without being so keen to pus your modern India agenda? Pakistan has a rich history and it has many influences. As for Harappa and Mohenjendaro, these existed before Hinduism or Islam. Recommend

  • Wowem
    Feb 6, 2011 - 7:34PM

    Refreshingly educational without being pedantic. It is no surprise at all that only the better educated Indian origin respondents are genuinely interested in such important historical facts. Obviously, Ignorant Republic of Pakistan’s denizens can only see a deep sazish in Salman’s fascination with history. And when he does get to their beloved ‘Muslim’ glories they’ll find him woefully short of the blind worship they are seeking. Well done and a small glance away from all the mayhem occupying the thoughts of other writers on the same page. Recommend

  • Ashutosh
    Feb 6, 2011 - 8:22PM

    @Steven:
    Hinduism is an ancient religion. Like Jews, Hindus too was never established as a religion. Also like the Jews, one can not become a Hindu, there is no procedure to convert to Hinduism.

    Though the vedas seems to be directly linked with the Aryans, however, a deity whom the inhabitants of Harappa and Mohenjodaro use to pray, closely resembles the Hindu Deity “Load Shiva”.

    There is a possibility that the Hinduism has adopted the Vedas (believe to be written by Lord Vishnu himself) and Upanishads (the collection of teachings of various sages of ancient India) from the Aryans and the Puranas (basically Epics) where picked up from the original inhabitants (Harappa, Mohenjodaro etc.) of South Asia.

    As fas as the name India is concern it was probably derived from the river Sindhu or Indus as it was known in Europe. Also the name Hindu seems to have derived from the river Sindhu as most visitors or traders use to use to visit India from the west. So Hindu probably meant people living in and around Indus river and beyond. “Hindu” has not been mentioned anywhere in any of the ancient holy books.

    The term “Bharat Varsh” can be found in ancient literature. Bharat Varsh use to cover most places in Afghanistan, to Assam and till Sri Lanka. The Himalayas were considered as the northern limit with Man Sarovar (in China now) was probably the limit.

    Also, Indian influence should not be taken lightly as the world honoured India by naming an “Ocean” after her name.

    So, India probably existed long before the British came to India.Recommend

  • John
    Feb 6, 2011 - 8:30PM

    Pakistan’s sole history begins on 1947 while india’s history is connected to this subcontinent as Israel’s history is to mount Sinai. However, the heritage of Pakistan cannot be separated from people of present day India. One just have to look at the customs, food, and clothing to see for themselves to identify their cultural and social heritage.

    The monk Kalyan was indeed Jain Monk, Ptolemy alludes that. Alexander’s visit to India is more of a personal quest to see the end of the world for himself, and conquest was not the motive after he defeated Darius to avenge the Persian invasion 100 years ago. At the time of Alexander his geography map said that world ended after India, and he was less certain of it when left Persepolis.

    People of Persia had full geography of Indian subcontinent through their trade as far as Indonesia, mostly through Arab traders of that time-land trade via Pattiliputra (Patna) and Kashmir which joined at Multan and sea trade on west and east cost of India, as far as Indonesia. Alexander’s stay at Persepolis shattered his child hood learning of geography. That is why from Persia his army brought along surveyors and geologist. Conquest after Persia was incidental andante was less interested after Persia.

    To understand how far India subcontinent is known in Ancient world, on has to look at Persian history as well. In modern times one just has to look at the spread of Islam, essentially through established earlier trade route. Recommend

  • Sindhuputra
    Feb 6, 2011 - 10:53PM

    Several Indian respondents have wondered about a Pakistani journal publishing an article like this which is undoubtedly alien to this country’s mores and thought processes. Indeed, Salman Rasheed’s writings are an exception; he is perhaps the only leading Pakistani intellectual, I know of, who traces his country’s cultural and historical legacy to ancient Indian civilization. His compatriots mostly deny and even detest this. Why?

    To understand why, you have to be aware of the Islamic doctrine of Jahiliya – literally the domain/age of ignorance – according to which all systems of religion, culture and philosophy preceding the Islamic one are based on ignorance; true enlightenment dawned on humanity with the advent of Islam.

    No Muslim country therefore takes pride in its pre-Islamic cultural heritage, however high other people may be regarding it. Iran had its Zoroastrian, Iraq its Mesopotamian, and Egypt its Pharaonic civilizations, but none of them are taken pride of by the Muslims of these lands. Remember, Taliban blew up the giant Buddha statues in Afghanistan a few years ago. Afghanistan’s Ghandhara Buddhist civilization was a high point culture of this country once.Recommend

  • Sindhuputra
    Feb 7, 2011 - 12:36AM

    Salman Rashid is an exceptional Pakistani intellectual who explores a common intellectual and cultural bridge between India and Pakistan. I think building of such bridges will have to precede before any genuine heart to heart rapprochement between the two estranged countries can take place. All thoughtful Pakistanis and Indians should welcome Mr Rashid’s intellectual forays.Recommend

  • J S
    Feb 8, 2011 - 12:58PM

    Pakistani’s have no arab descent at all btw. whoeever made that statement has no idea what they are talking about. Yes currently we are emulating the arabs but the history of this country from swat to the makran coast is too vast for any one culture/people to completely dominate. Also, i see the surprise our indian friends read salman’s article with as if everyone else in this country has no interest in our history. I would suggest to everyone from accross the border to come have a look at some of our historical/archeological sites. I promise you that even you will forget our 60 yr old forced division and see exactly how far back we go..together. Recommend

  • Ashutosh
    Feb 8, 2011 - 5:20PM

    @J S:
    After reading your post I could not understand which side of the boarder your are from.

    However, I am sure that once the relationship between India and Pakistan is that of a friendly neighbours (not just normal), you will see that the largest number of tourist arrivals are from India.

    With the economic prosperity of ordinary Indians, now they are becoming important tourists in Middle East & South-East Asia.

    Pakistani is not only close geographically but Indians may have a lot of affinity to their history and culture.

    This might make additional resources for preservation of the monuments in Pakistan but pay provide employment and business opportunity to many ordinary Pakistani.Recommend

  • Khan Saheb
    Feb 11, 2011 - 1:57AM

    @American:
    We are not of dravidian indian stock, nothing to do with itRecommend

  • Tony Singh
    Feb 12, 2011 - 11:18AM

    @Khan Saheb:
    You may not be, but Harappa and Indus valley civilisation were their doing. BTW I am also not dravidan, (Am first Generation Indian, parents from Peshawar).but you cannot take away their contribution to South Asian History, civilisation and culture which is much more sophisticated than we Indo Aryans.Recommend

  • Feb 25, 2011 - 8:02AM

    It seems that truth is lost between political duels being fought here!Recommend

  • Anoop
    Feb 25, 2011 - 9:20AM

    How I wish I can go back to the Ancient India and have a look for myself. All this sounds magical. Thanks for this.Recommend

  • Feb 27, 2011 - 1:36PM

    What a wonderful peep in the past. Recommend

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