About Hinduism and India

History text books are blank about Indian History prior to the invasion of Alexander the Great. Although it is mentioned that fear of military might of Nanda Dynasty at Patliputra (Patna), forced mighty Alexander to retreat, but nothing much is known about powerful Nanda dynasty, and the dynasties prior to that. As escape route, everything prior to that period has been classified as Hindu mythology.

This black out could be the result of motivated destruction. Until the Indians themselves trace out the truth of their past, we have to confine only to the known facts.  One of the stark fact accepted by Western historians is that students from other countries did come for studies to India’s world renowned universities at Nalanda, and Takshashila. Certainly they would not have come to Indian universities to learn ‘snake-charming’ and orthodoxy!

Indo – Greek Center of Learning

When Alexander came to India he was highly impressed by the Takshashila University. Leaving aside what lay ahead, Alexander was inspired by Takshashila at the out skirts of India that he established a great university at Alexandria in Egypt as a center of Indo Greek learning. Thereafter Alexander established the Hellenistic Empire comprising of Egypt, Asia Minor, Iran, Bactria and North-West India, through which the transfer of learning from India to Greece increased.

A large number of Indian texts were translated into Greek and kept in the library at Alexandria. Alexander himself took hundreds of Brahmin scholars to Greece. Many soldiers married Indo-Iranian women and took them to Greece. Trade routes and diplomatic channels were also established.

In 323-30 BC Alexandria emerged as the greatest city in the Mediterranean region. Amongst its most notable institutions were the library and the museum, being Europe’s first organized research institution. Alexander’s successor attacked India but was defeated by newly emerged Emperor Chandragupta Maurya to whom defeated Seleucus had to marry his daughter for bargaining peace. Greek ambassador Megasthanes has left ample accounts of Indian glory for the consumption of subsequent historians of western countries.

Pythagoras – Father of European Knowledge

Modern Knowledge started in Europe with Pythagoras, who carried Indian Mathematics. His life history was recorded centuries after his death, and even that information has come to us in fragments. He was born around 560 BC, on Samos, an island near the coast of Asia Minor. After studying music and gymnastics, he went to Egypt. He stayed at Babylon and other places where Indian philosophy of Upanishads, Mathematics and Geometry were well known.

While he was there, Iran invaded Egypt, and Pythagoras was also brought to Iran as a captive. From Iran, he went to India and stayed in Punjab and Himalayas.  Pythagoras discarded Greek robes and donned local trousers. Before Pythagoras, trousers were not known to Europe. Thus not only he introduced Indian Geometry to Europe, but Indian costumes also.

Indians living at high altitudes in the Himalayas wore woolen trousers, which is evident from the statue of Indian King Kanishka, discovered in Afghanistan. The Emperor is shown wearing a long double-breasted coat and trousers. Variants of trousers like pajamas and salwar were worn in the northern plains of Indo-Iran.

Spread of Indian Philosophy 

Turning away from Ionian culture Pythagoras identified himself with the East. After living twenty years in the East, Pythagoras returned to Europe and settled in Croton, a Greek-speaking town of South Italy. He formed an order of ascetics and preached that world was held together like human society. Also he preached that all needed to cultivate order in personal life.

Pythagoreans believed in transmigration of life through different life forms. He claimed to recall the details of his own previous incarnations. He preached the kinship of all forms of life, which is the fundamental principle of Hinduism. He also preached non-violence and prohibited killing of animals for food. Pythagorean propagated that who indulged in immoral acts, would be reborn as animal in next life.

The reaction started by Pythagoras resulted in a boom of scholars in Greece like Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and many others. However, till then the Greeks accepted only four elements such as, Earth, water, Air, and Fire, out of the five basic elements suggested by Indians. They were unable to understand ‘space’ and therefore excluded that.

Ideas that Awakened Europe

Some of the notable scholarly works at Alexandria University that provided foundation to Western thought and brought ‘first awakening to Europe’ are as under:-

  • In 300 –250 Aristarchus, a Greek astronomer working at the museum in Alexandria, advanced a heliocentric theory of the solar system, anticipating Copernicus by many centuries.
  • 250-200 Eratosthenes, a Greek astronomer in Alexandria prepared a map of the heavens that included 675 stars, and calculated the circumference of the Earth, which was fairly accurate.
  • During first Century a Greek physician, Discordia, while serving with Roman armies, studied plants as a source of drugs and wrote De Matera Medica.  The five-volume work dealt with 600 plants and almost 1000 drugs, and is known to be the Europe’s first systematic pharmacopoeia. The Arabs preserved it.
  • In Egypt, Ptolemy published a book on astronomy in 127 AD, which came to be known as Ptolemaic system. He wrote that Earth was motionless and was placed at the center of the universe. All other planets and heavenly bodies revolved around Earth. Ptolemy’s perspective continued to dominate astronomy and religious belief until Nicholas Copernicus in 16 th century dared to suggest that instead of Earth, Sun was the center of the Solar system. Even Copernicus was far behind the Indian astronomers who had stated that there were millions of galaxies (Koti koti Brahmanda).
  • In 200 AD During this century, Plotinus wrote the Enneads. He saw the universe as a series of emanations from an absolute reality the ‘One’. He was closer to Hindu thought.

Destruction of Alexandria

In 47 AD the great library in Alexandria was partially destroyed in a fire during a war between Julius Caesar and the followers of Pompy, the Great. It caused a great loss to ancient treasures of knowledge as about 40,000 volumes were consumed by fire.

Rome rose as a big power in the second century BC.  Romans destroyed much of Greek civilization as well as their knowledge.  They expanded their empire to include North Africa, Asia Minor and South Europe. Greek cities were destroyed, learning was disrupted and scholars were killed.

A few Greek scholars escaped to other parts of Europe, and continued their pursuit of knowledge in a low profile till the Byzantine period. In 529, Justin Ian, the Byzantine Emperor closed the nine-hundred-year old Academy of Plato in Athens and completely destroyed the last remains of Greek knowledge in Europe, alleging that to be a hotbed of paganism and heresy. The scholars were killed or converted.

Many of these Greek scholars, fearing for their lives and intellectual freedom fled to Persia, where they established a kind of Academy in exile.

The Renaissance in Europe

This was the period, when Sun was setting in the East and rising from the West. By this time Islamic rulers had ushered an era of darkness in India. Volumes of intellectual Hindu-Heritage were burnt as ‘Kufar’ and Brahmins had faced the worst through annihilation. Fortunately some books had escaped destruction. Most of the knowledge that ushered Europe in the age of Renaissance had been compiled from ancient Hindu texts, and the same was patented to ‘credit’ new inventors, with European nations gaining political control over the globe.

Fortunately for the mankind, some texts had been hidden and preserved. Those were taken abroad in original or by translation through which the modern Science in Europe took its roots. This period is known as the age of Renaissance and the re-appearance of ancient text. However many of the original masterpieces were plagiarized and came to be identified with European authors. There were no protests from Hindus who had been living a darkened life under medieval Islamic rulers.

Modern science began during 1400-1500 with the Renaissance in Europe, sparked by ancient texts such as Euclid’s geometry, Ptolemy’s geography and Galen’s medicine. The Indian Knowledge thus lost its identity.

Chand K Sharma

(Next: Splashes – 54/72 – Spread of Knowledge Abroad)

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