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PROTO INDO-GREEK CULTURE
Shiv Nadar University
After conquering fields of Persia, in 326 B.C., the Macedonian king started his Indian campaign in what is now Pakistan. There was clash of these two rich cultures. The effects of same can be seen till today. We notice a great similarities in their culture, language and religion. These two civilizations were advanced in science, technology.
We notice a great synchronism between these two societies of the world as they run today. Both these civilizations were advance in trigonometry and astrology. Their epics have similar kind of story line and have same kind of myths, gods and goddesses, with identical description of war. Even languages of these two civilization have common words. There is no other explanation to all these, other than considering the fact that that when Alexander came to India there was complete mash of these two great civilizations of their time.
Do you ever felt the Homeric poems and Ramayana’s stanzas following the same kind of description and story line? Sita, wife of a very powerful man and very beautiful women stolen by a person and they flee across the water body to some other faraway place. How about comparing it with an instance from ILLIAD. Helen who is also a very beautiful women and wife of brother of most powerful man around in Greece, abducted by Paris and taken across an ocean to the city of troy. This is how these two stories began in this two great poetic epics.
What’s with number 10? Can you give any reason of this number being so significant with the war? It strikes a point, a ten year siege of Troy and 10 days of war fought between Ram and Ravan. Sita was in the forest for two years before she was abducted and it almost took more than an ear for them to reach the forest, thus the total war of Ramayana is estimated to have last for 10 Years. The description of war in both the texts is enormous. The Greek warriors and soldiers making sacrifice before going to war and praying for their safe return from the war. It’s no different from Ram who is in a way a demigod praying for strength from gods and even performing proper rituals which included idol worship, praying for their dominance in the war.
The gods openly helped warriors, as can be seen in Ramayana Indra sending his flying chariot for Ram also in Iliad Hephaestus making armor for Achilles. There has been cases in both the texts when the gods when ignored turned against the men. Later they are saved by the gods who were worshiped and were given proper sacrifice if we consider the Greek case. As Apollo came in protection of Greeks against Hera. A very similar example can be observed in Indian mythology. Indra the god of rains once became furious for not being worshiped and sent continuous heavy rains on Gokul, the village of Krishna, since Krishna had asked the locals to worship Govardhan hill instead of Indra. Krishna saved the village by hiding the villagers under the Govardhan hill. One similar example can be the plague sent by Phoebus Apollo, over Greek army and for which Achilles calls assembly of the Achaean army on the tenth day. So we are back again to 10.
Sita lamenting, missing her husband and hoping for the well-being of her husband in the war is indeed very descriptive and amazing in Ramayana, and it showcases the human emotions very well. There is a lot of narration of wives of the warriors from the Ravana’s side, lamenting for having their husbands going for war. Just as Andromache lamented and tried to stop Hector from going to the war, Ravana’s wife Mandodri asked his husband to return Sita, not go to war and to take care of their children. When Sita heard news about his husband Ram preparing for war, she also lamented for his husband and her brother in law Laxamana. Similar event can be seen in Iliad. Andromache the wife of glorious hector lamented for his husband and reminded him of his awaiting death. There is very beautiful description of Hector’s goodbye to her wife, before going for war, filled with lots of emotions. Both the texts uses same kind of tools for describing emotions. Brisies’s lament for the dead Patroclus, and Mandodri’s lament for Ravana also one of several lamenting scenes from these two epics.
They were aware of their doom, though they did not back down form their destiny and fought in the war. This kind of Heroic acts are very common in both the texts, and are very beautifully narrated in both the texts. Achilles proud renouncement,
“Look here I am, favorite of Zeus
And a goddess was my mother,
Yet death awaits me”.
makes the text very interacting and to look very powerful.
Ramayana was destined to die if he fought with Ram, and the Mandodri knew it and she warned Ravana, as Andromache warned Hector. This common feature actually gives these two texts a very grand look, in which a person takes the harder path and chooses death and misery over simple and safe life.
Ramayana is even more similar to the Greek epic of Proserpine.
There is lot of ways to correlate Hindu and Greek cultures when it comes to mythology and gods. These two ancient cultures were polygamous. For one the Greek and Hindu religion have lots of gods where as other cultures are mostly involve a single god. It was these two civilizations who brought the concept of one god responsible for a particular job. Idol worship which is still in practice in Hinduism was also the way how the Achaeans worshiped their gods. The offering of flower, sweets and sacrifices is very common to both the religions. In Greek texts Olympian gods fought against Titans, and in Hindu texts it can be seen that there is continuous war going on between gods and Asuras
The triple deity. To start with let’s discuss the main three gods and goddesses of both the civilizations. The three brothers according to Greeks namely Zeus, Poseidon, Hades were three main gods who ruled the universe. When it comes to Hinduism Vishnu, Brahma, and Mahesh were the three main gods and creator of the universe. The three main Hindu goddesses Durga, Saraswati, and Lakshmi are quite similar to the three goddesses of the Greek culture namely Hera, Athena and Demeter.
Zeus & Indra. Zeus the king of gods, and the controller of the lightning and the dark clouds, can be interpreted as the Greek version of the Hindu god Indra, who was also the king of the gods and possessed similar kind of power. The lightning bolt of Zeus is very similar to the Vajra of Indra in most of the aspects. These weapons struck with a great flash and lightning and both were considered to be the most power full weapons in their respective cultures. Though we have already seen the Zeus as one of the three main gods and comparable to Hindu three main gods. Both these gods were in charge of the councils of gods, and both these religion believed at a place very high usually atop of highest on mountains. The Indralok atop the mount Meru is quite similar to the council of Greek gods atop highest of mountains Olympus. Having already discussed the Vajra of Indra and the lightning bolt of Zeus, we cannot leave behind the comparison of trident of Poseidon with the trishul of Mahesh. Not only they were same by the name they had similar shape and power of action.
Yama & Hades. They were the guardians of the adobe of the dead. They lived in the place similar what we can commonly term as hell or the place very down below. The both are disliked and feared gods in their respective religions. Yama’s black water buffalo and hades fearsome dogs Cerberus, are indeed similar.
It doesn’t ends here!! Almost for every Greek god you can his/her one similar god in Hindu culture. Poseidon and Varun both were gods of oceans. Cronus and Mahakala are the oldest, fearsome gods of their respective religion. Both are the gods of space and time. Hephaestus and Vishwakarma both were the worker gods, they built cities and manufactured weapons for the gods. Hephaestus is the craftsman of Olympus, he built places for gods and goddesses on Olympus. Similarly Vishwakarma built the golden city of Lanka and Dwarka and is the Hindu god of the architecture.
Several others are mentioned below: Eros and Kāmadeva Ares and Kartika Muses and Gandharvas Apollo and Surya Athena and Saraswati Hera and Lakshmi. The list goes on and on.
Both these religions believed in afterlife. According to the Hindu texts, after death the spirit is carried by Yama, and it’s he who decides the soul goes to heaven or hell. It’s quite similar to the Greek believe of underworld.
The Celtic Vedic Connection
Both these cultures have similar mythological structure to explain the unknowns and reason the unreasonable of their times. The Rig Vedas are the creation stories in several forms and even had description of developing gods of later Hinduism. At the time when these cultures were in age of discoveries and were beginning to reason out things, the science was not so developed. In order to provide a valid explanation to the things which they couldn’t understand, were given the existence of power of higher order. This lead to the creation of several myths and when these cultures came into collision these myths were shared. Both the cultures answering the doubts and giving explanation of each other’s unknowns. That’s why today we can observe these two civilizations having same kind of explanations to events which were above reasoning capacity of the ancient time.
The Sapt Rishi. In Hindu mythology there were seven sages, who married to seven sisters named krttika. They were believed to live in the northern skies. One day fire god saw the seven sisters and fell in love with them. Another demigod named Svaha fell for the fire god. To endure fire god’s love she disguised herself like the krttika sisters and gave birth to a child. Soon rumor spread that six of those seven sisters were the mothers of the child, because the seventh sister Arundhati was very loyal to her husband. The rest of six were boycotted by their husbands and went away to become Pleiades (modern name given to the cluster of those six stars).
Similarly according to Greek mythology, Pleiades were the seven daughters of Atlas and half-sisters of the Hyades. One day Orion, a giant Boeotian hunter saw the sisters and fell in love with them. He chased them trying to win their affection, and after several years Zeus turned them into birds and made them flew away. Those six sisters are seen as the cluster of six stars in the northern skies. Orion was eventually slain by Artemis; was then placed in the sky as a constellation. One of the seven Pleiades sisters, Merope deserted her sisters, and there are several explanations to this in different texts.
The cause of this Fusion
Mahabharata and Iliad, were the oldest of texts of these two cultures having their origin of nearly 8th century B.C., but the fact that the formal Ramayana, which has so much similarities with the Homer’s epic Iliad was written (4th century B.C.) well after the Alexander’s invasion of India. Though it is believed that Ramayana existed in forms of plays and grand narratives, in several parts of the world including China, Cambodia, Iran, Korea etc. But as an epic takes it a lot of additions of stories before it even become and epic. There are several versions of Ramayana as we see today, having a little different storyline. Some form of Ramayana presented Ram and Ravana as normal human beings who fought over a women. Fragment of a vase of recovered in Peshawar, recently which had the painting depicting Greek play ‘Antigone’. Aristotle and Bharat had similar theories on the nature and origin of the theater. At the time Greeks invaded India, Homeric poems were in fashion and were common mode of entertainment of the Greeks. This could have been the reason of similarities between these two texts. Ramayana seems to be inspired from Iliad and Odyssey.
The godly nature of Ramayana was believed to be added after the invasion. There is lot of uncertainties in Ramayana about its time period and it does not follow geographic pattern which strengthens the fact that Ramayana was developed in several parts and additions and modifications were made with time. The Homeric influence on Ramayana could be one of many modifications made to the text.
We have observed from the British invasion that, an invasion is not just limited to being territorial. It even involves imposing of our own culture on the captured territory, like Germans invading the nearby territories and then torturing Jews and asking them to change their religion and then live a happy life. Similar kind of imposition might have been the reason for total culture fusion of these two civilizations. Both become advanced in same science fields like astronomy and trigonometry.
Greeks are believed to have adopted mythology from Vedic culture, one such example of Sapt rishi was presented in the above text.
Proto Indo Greek Language
When British came to India, they learned Sanskrit, to know more about the Indian culture. They were very curious to know more and more about the vast Indian culture, and they dint know they were going to make a remarkable discovery. A British judge stationed in India, who had good knowledge of Latin and Greek tried learning advance Sanskrit and was shocked to notice the facts many words, numbers were same in Latin and Sanskrit were same. For example ‘trayas’ in Sanskrit and ‘tres’ in Latin meant three. Not only the same few words were so common in every European language, as for example Father meant ‘pitar’ in Sanskrit, ‘petar’ in Latin, pater in Greek, padre in Spanish, ‘pere’ in French, ‘fadar’ in Gothic and ‘vader’ in German.
The English originated from these western languages like Latin, similarly Hindi originated from Sanskrit. One explanation to all these similarities between these two languages is considering that Latin and Sanskrit were originated from same language, which is now extinct. Many scholars like Karl Verner, have even tried reconstructing the original language and observing how it must have been sounded like.
Another explanation of this shocking fact can be swapping of words between this two languages during the Alexander’s campaign of India. This is more promising when we consider the facts that many Prakrits of Sanskrit were written after the Greek invasion, and it is also possible the other way round that mercenaries employed by Alexander might have taken Sanskrit words with them when they returned home. The fact that Sanskrit was lingua franca made it a necessity for the Greek invaders to learn, when they dreamt of capturing India, which brought Sanskrit to spread widely with Greeks.
These two civilization are the base of the western and eastern cultures. Buddhism and Hinduism had evolved in India where as we consider the civilization as founder of the western cultures and practices as we believe today. When Alexander invaded India there was collision of these two cultures which caused these cultures to fulfill and nourish more by adopting each other’s strengths and practices. They adopted each other’s believes, myths and perception of gods. With help from each other they started working on similar scientific fields.
When these culture came across each other there was fusion of language, skills, epics etc. The Greek plays were performed and so were the Indian plays in front of the Greeks. The oral narration of Iliad was in fashion at the time when Alexander invaded India, and thus this might have been the reason of similarities of the texts of Ramayana and Iliad. The Ramayana can be consider as the fusion of Odyssey and Iliad.
There was even a fusion of languages, Latin and Sanskrit has several common words, and are same in many aspects. The fact that Sanskrit being lingua franca helped it to grow and reach out to other societies very fast. This diverse sharing of common type of language and having similar kind of narratives, myths, gods and goddesses makes them very similar.
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