Unlike other invaders of medieval age, Alexander did not indulge in reckless destruction of knowledge and civilizations of the areas he conquered. He remained an inquisitive disciple, a soldier to the hilt, and a general par excellence. Indian fame had already impressed him and he was keen to see the country rather to destroy the same. Conquering India meant victory over the world.
When he reached India, the border King Ambhi extended cooperation to him. Thereafter he met next border King Puru (Porus) on the battle field. Although Puru was defeated on account of multiple reasons, the battle made Alexander realize that if he were to continue fighting he would be completely ruined. His army was grief-stricken and expressed strong desire to return.
As a matter of fact Alexander did not win any major war on the Indian soil but merely passed through the Indus Valley fighting skirmishes with the tribes of that area to safeguard the exit route of his bruised army that had got demoralized due to the might of Nanda Empire at Magdha. Alexander was the first European who carried the first-hand accounts of India’s glory to Europeans during 300 BC.
Renaissance in Europe
The period from Fourteenth Century to Seventeenth Century is known as the age of Renaissance in Europe. It bridges medieval age to modern age. Prior to Renaissance the theological shackles imposed by Roman Church had made any kind of scientific development impossible.
Although the European intellectuals had in their possession some texts of Greek and Arabs since first awakening, but they lacked courage and opportunity to put that knowledge to any practical use. As soon as the interference from Church declined, the knowledge gathered during ‘First Awakening’ and thereafter during ‘Renaissance’ electrified the spirit of exploration and inventions in every field. Geographically tiny countries also emerged as super powers on the globe to colonize others.
India after Alexander
During 563-483 BC, Buddhism and Jainism had emerged within Hinduism. Both sects had their founders as Khashatriya princes. Both preached Non Violence and stressed on living a simple life with nature. Several contemporary kings adapted to their fold. Prominent among them were Emperor Chandragupta Maurya who voluntarily gave up his newly found empire and converted himself to a Jain monk.
His grandson Emperor Ashoka turned a Buddhist and was instrumental in propagation of Buddhism to South Eastern Countries. Beside other things, several monasteries and statues of the founders were set up in all parts of India. House holders and youths started leaving simple life in monasteries according to tenants of new faiths with more stress on non-violence. Although they had certain reservations about castes and some rituals but after their founders, both the sects developed their own superficial rituals that could not withstand later events. After the retreat of Alexander, the tide of Buddhism was halted for some time in India, but it spread in the neighboring countries of South East Asia, Tibet and China.
Hinduism during Gupta Period
There was revival of Hinduism during the reign of Gupta KIngs. Hindu culture and literature witnessed progress in every field. Finest literature in Sanskrit was written during this period and the language came to be associated with the nobility. Most of the scriptures were written down during this period.
Hinduism witnessed the emergence of two prominent sub branches, such as Vaishnaites, and Shivaites. Brahmanas leading their respective branches authored mythological stories high lighting the prominence of their respective deities. Temples were constructed and rituals of stricture nature came to be observed.
ertain wrong practices also made their entry into Hindu society such as caste pride and rivalry among ruling classes. Brahmins and business community over indulged in pleasure. Gupta Empire declined in 500 AD and was followed by emergence of Kushana dynasty. After Emperor Kanishka there was again a vacuum of central authority in India and fragmentation of smaller kingdoms.
There was a spurt in rituals of idol worship. Due to patronization of ruling classes the monasteries grew richer to attract more youths who discarded their worldly duties to pick up living on alms as monks. By over indulgence in pleasures or spiritual pursuits, Hindus went astray from political realities, environmental changes around them, and overlooked the need of political unity as a nation.
If birds and animals discarded their instinctive duties given by Nature, their existence would be useless in the chain of ecology. For example if snakes, lions, eagles and cats turn vegetarians overnight and adopted total non-violence, what would be the purpose of their living? Khashatriyas in India were confronted with similar situation.
They replaced their weapons with begging bowls, discarded their ruling functions particularly in the area of security of the state and neglected vigilance to indulge in sensuality. They forget that many often offensive action was the best form of defense. Their over indulgence to principle of non-violence proved disastrous.
Smaller fiefdoms started emerging all over India on the basis of caste or families. Military training was relegated to pleasures of dance and music. Even robbers settled on the out skirts of India turned bold to over-power frontier rulers. The environment was ripe to invite death and destruction as the riches of India were alluring motivating force.
The Last Hindu Emperor
Emperor Harsha Vardhana was the last Hindu Emperor who ruled the country at the age of sixteen and continued for 41 years from his capital at Kannauj. He tried his best to forge unity once again but achieved partial success. He was defeated by Pulkeshi II of Karnataka and had to compromise on accepting River Narmada as a border between the two states. Emperor Harsha Vardhana took interest to consolidate segmented Hindu faiths together.
Buddhism and Jainism came to be accepted in the fold of Hinduism since the life styles of their followers and the philosophy of ‘Live and let live’ was perfectly in tune with Hinduism. Cultural integration among various communities of India had been taking place since the pre-Vedic periods. All those who entered India such as the Greeks, Parthians, Sakas, Huns, Gurjaras, Pratiharas, Kushans, and the Scythians had already been assimilated into the Hindu culture. The Buddha and Tirathankaras of Jainism came to be regarded as incarnations of Vishnu. Once again Emperor Harsha Vardhana put India to glory but that was short-lived and proved to be the beginning of anti-climax.
The Slide was set
Soon after the demise of Emperor Harsha Vardhana India fragmented into small states on the basis of clans and castes. There was disunity and strong jealousy among the neighboring states. Rituals eclipsed the substance and grew like cobwebs. Brahmins turned selfish and greedy, Khashatriyas turned sensual and debauch; and were less farsighted to discriminate between personal and state interests. Spiritual, economic and intellectual progress came to abrupt halt. Business men felt insecure, and people at the lower strata started looking for personal safety for life and living elsewhere.
Excess of everything is bad
Orthodoxy and lethargy prevented Hindus from going abroad across the sea to see for themselves the dangers that were lurking all around. Although the Sun of progress moved towards West but it took over thousand years to disappear.
In comparison by this time Europe was in total darkness except couple of countries like Greece and Rome that were raising powers. The effect of Renaissance was not universal in all the countries of Europe. During Renaissance age India was under the rule of Khilji, Tughlak and Lodhi dynasties. It was under Mughal rule during French Revolution.
Wars for succession always followed the death of Islamic rulers coupled with uncertainty and insecurity in the country. Provincial rulers went out of control of central authority. Indian population was frequently getting looted and massacred by Nadir Shah and Ahmed Shah Abdali as well as the local claimants to the throne.
The Niyama of Contentment (Santosha) had been greatly influential on the mindset of Indians. It helped them to have fewer demands and necessities. In the absence of necessities, there were no inventions either. That was the reason that in spite of knowledge in their possession, Indians did not invent like the Europeans who were able to put several inventions of utility items in everyday life.
Thus when Sun went down in India, Europe was basking in glory.
Chand K Sharma
(Next: Splashes – 58/72 – Darkened Horizons)