In an article entitled On Raja Paurava and Alexander, Salman Rashid writes:

We do not celebrate Paurava; we name no roads after him and do not teach our children of his lofty character because he shines in our pre-Islamic darkness. But can we today name even one leader possessed of just a shadow of the integrity and character shown by Raja Paurava?

I lament that we in Pakistan, those of us whose ancestors converted to Islam, insist on denying our pre-conversion history. For us, it simply does not exist. We invent tales of imaginary ancestors having arrived in the subcontinent duly converted to the one and only true faith from some place in Iran or Central Asia. Pride of place of course goes to all those who subscribe to the yarn of their ancestors heroic overland trek direct from Mecca. I know of families who possess genealogical charts connecting them to prophets of yore and, in one case, even to Adam himself!

Consequently, everything that transpired in this great and wonderful land of the Sindhu River before the arrival of these august (albeit imaginary) personalities was Kafir. To be proud of it is criminal; to acknowledge it negligent of religious duty. Not surprising then that some of us even have a problem mentioning Moen jo Daro and Harappa.

Since all our imaginary Islamic ancestors came from the west, we somehow got it into our heads that all those who came from that direction were also necessarily Muslims. An historian at Taxila once told me that Alexander the Macedonian was one of Islam’s greatest heroes. Similarly, on a visit to the village of Mong (Mandi Bahauddin) many years ago, a man floored me by not only commending Alexander as a personality of the Scripture but also for reviling Paurava (Porus in Greek) as a Hindu. But history remembers Raja Paurava as a man of rare character.

The Battle of the Hydaspes (Jhelum River) was fought in the year 326 BCE on a beautiful morning in late May after a night of torrential rain. The crystalline blue sky would have been piled up with cumulus when Paurava’s Punjabis advanced to meet their foe the Macedonian, Greek, Scythian, Persian and even a brigade of Punjabi troops from Taxila. From even before day broke, it was a hard fought contest. And before the sun had started to wester, the Punjabis were in disarray. The battle had been lost.

Arrian, the Greek historian, writing four hundred years after this epic battle pays tribute to Raja Paurava thus  and there can be no greater tribute for it comes from a foreigner: Throughout the action Porus proved himself a man indeed, not only as a commander but as a solider of the truest courage…his behaviour was very different from that of the Persian King Darius: unlike Darius, he did not lead the scramble to save his own skin … [but] fought bravely on.

With all his units dispersed, Paurava, himself grievously wounded in the right shoulder, eventually submitted to an old philosopher friend of his and permitted himself to be led into Alexander’s presence. Arrian recalls that encounter:[Alexander] looked at his adversary with admiration: he was a magnificent figure of a man, five cubits high and of great personal beauty.’ The cubit being variable in various parts of Greece, this figure would yet mean that Paurava was no less than seven feet tall! And Alexander of middling stature would have had to look up into those dark eyes and the sweat-streaked face.

It was then that the famous exchange took place that even the most ignorant among us know of. What, asked Alexander, would Paurava wish that the conqueror do with him and Paurava replied that he wished to be treated as a king. This much we all know. But Alexander had a farther query.For my part your request shall be granted. But is there not something you would wish for yourself? Ask it. And Paurava the Punjabi who we are ashamed to claim as our own said that everything was contained in this one request.

Peace was made between the victor and the vanquished and it has been said that this was one battle where both sides emerged victorious. Alexander returned Paurava’s kingdom to him and shortly after the death of the king of Taxila asked Paurava to look after the affairs of that kingdom as well. Just three years after this great battle on the Jhelum, Alexander died under mysterious circumstances in Babylon. That was June 323 BCE. Within years, the great Raja Paurava was assassinated and the story seems to have ended. But not quite.

In 44 CE, Taxila was visited by a Greek philosopher named Apollonius. The philosopher’s account (kept by his diarist) tells us of two temples, one outside the city walls and the other by the main street leading to the king’s palace. Both temples had large copper plate murals adorning their walls. The murals depicted scenes of battle from the struggle that had taken place on the banks of the Jhelum River three hundred and sixty-seven years earlier.

The account marvels at the finesse of the renditions: the colours and the forms were as though one were watching a real scene frozen in time. The murals in both the temples depicted Raja Paurava in defeat. The account goes on to tell us that these murals were commissioned by Raja Paurava when news of the death of Alexander arrived in Taxila. Consider: Alexander was dead in distant Babylon, his Greek garrisons in the Sindhu Valley had deserted and Paurava was now the unquestioned master of this country. As sole sovereign, he could have ordered the murals to turn history around and depict him in glorious victory and Alexander in abject and shameful defeat.

But the Punjabi king was not just great in physical stature; he possessed also a soaring spirit and largesse of the heart that few of us know. The king ordered the murals, so it is recorded by Apollonius diarist, in order not only to acknowledge his friendship with Alexander, but also to preserve history as it had actually unfolded. In his wisdom the king knew that the creative passage of time was bound to alter history.

When the murals were put up, Taxila was what we today know as the Bhir mound. Two hundred years later, the Indo-Greeks shifted it to the remains we today call Sirkap. It is evident that the murals were admired to be moved to the new city. In the subsequent two hundred odd years the city was rebuilt several times as the various cultural layers show. Each time the murals were safely removed to a new site or they would not have survived three and a half centuries. Finally, in 25 CE Taxila was levelled by a severe earthquake. And when nineteen years later Apollonius arrived, the city was being rebuilt under a Parthian king and the murals had faithfully been reinstalled at the brand new temples. History was not permitted to be tainted.

We do not celebrate Paurava; we name no roads after him and do not teach our children of his lofty character because he shines in our pre-Islamic darkness. But can we today name even one leader possessed of just a shadow of the integrity and character shown by Raja Paurava?

Salman Rashid is a travel writer and knows Pakistan like the back of his hand.

22 Responses to On Raja Paurava and Alexander

  1. Shaheryar Ali says:

    This Must go on to Pak Tea House!!!

  2. nocturnal says:

    Author of this article is tried to mingle two things i.e Religion and History.

    I would like to ask whether anyone ever heard of any road named after Islamic personalities like Companions of the Prophet (Peace be upon him) or any other muslim scientists or scholar from the middle east?? There may have been few examples but generally you dont find street named after Arabic personalities like ABU BAKR street or ALI ibn-e-TALIB AVENUE etc.

    Most of the names of our streets are after LEADERS OF THE INDEPENDENCE MOVEMENT or after COLONIAL OFFICERS.

    We never bothered to change street names after the independance on the massive scale (as we have witnessed in Idia during BJP government MUMBAI from bobmay etc)

    So why author is trying to paint us as a nation which HATES the pre-islamic history, why are we depicted as a bunch of people who delibrately want to ignore their PAST when the fact is we as a nation we never paid attention to this issue, IN A COUNTRY LIKE PAKISTAN where politician couldnt give a PROPER CONSTITUTION to the nation after the independence (only Bhutto was able to give this country its first proper constitution in 70s) you cant expect that people could have gone into HASSLE of CHANGING STREET NAMES.

    Now lets see this matter in the context of HISTORY.

    Can we name any of our streets after PRITHVI RAJ(GHOURI defeated him), RAJA DAHIR or any other SONS OF THE SOIL??

    What is the difference between RAJA PORUS and PRITHVI RAJ?? Both men fought against foreign invaders DIDNT THEY??

    Why after the muslim downfall in SPAIN, spanish ERASED EVERY SINGLE TRACE OF ARABIC INFLUENCE form SPAIN, they even fined poeple for speaking ARABIC language or wearing arabic dress. In 800 hundred years there must have been so many MULSIM SCINTISTS, POETS, ARCHITECTS and SCHOLARS who left their marks on SPAIN but now you hardly find anything related to the MUSLIM ERA except CORDUBA MOSQUE there in SPAIN (half demolished by the spanish people)

    Should we teach our childern that there was a massive and awe inspiring TEMPLE which was ruined by the INVADERS (MAHMOOD GHAZNAVI).

    We teach our children that BRITISH EMPIRE looted the wealth of INDIAN STATES but we dont really tell them that MUSLIM INVADER ALSO plundered INDIAN wealth by invading a temple just for the gold.

    Sikh religion is the newest religion in the south asian region, if there were any SIKH STATE in SOUTH ASIA would you expect them to HONOUR non-sikh personalities by naming their avenues after M.BIN.QASIM and others??

    A big population of the USA has EUROPEAN DESCENT i.e IRISH, SCOTTISH and ENGLISH, should they honour BRITISH SOLDIERS who were killed by the FREEDOM FIGHTERS during the war of independence after all they are their FORE FATHERS, arent they??

    In the UK WILLIAM WALLACE is a hero for SCOTTISH but for English he was a REBEL. You dont expect English to honour William wallace, like wise we see PRITHVI RAJ as an opponent and we side with GHORI.

    and if you are disagree with my point then you should gather like minded people and start a CAMPAIGN to get name of GHORI MISSLE changed to PRITHVI MISSILE (though india already has a missle called PRITHVI)

    then you dont need to call yourself a PAKISTANI as there will be no reason for this.

  3. Cubano says:

    “Why after the muslim downfall in SPAIN, spanish ERASED EVERY SINGLE TRACE OF ARABIC INFLUENCE form SPAIN, they even fined poeple for speaking ARABIC language or wearing arabic dress. In 800 hundred years there must have been so many MULSIM SCINTISTS, POETS, ARCHITECTS and SCHOLARS who left their marks on SPAIN but now you hardly find anything related to the MUSLIM ERA except CORDUBA MOSQUE there in SPAIN (half demolished by the spanish people)”

    All of these measures were a part of the Spanish Inquisition which took place between the 15th to the 18th century. The Spanish Inquisition was of a religious nature without any regards for individual rights and freedoms. It targeted Jews, Muslims, protestants, and recent Christian converts. The Inquisition was established by religious fundamentalist elements who used religion and in some parts nationalism to justify their discriminatory practices for political and financial gains. The Inquisition attempted to deliberately and systematically erase the Moorish history of Spain after the expulsion of Muslims and Jews. These ignorant attitudes started to decline after the era of enlightenment in Spain that began around the 18th century. Should Pakistanis follow the examples set by ignorant religious fundamentalists of medieval Spain and deny or attempt to erase their own history or should they learn from this example and embrace their past? I think that the answer should be obvious.

  4. nocturnal says:

    IRAN and Egypt are good examples for us, both countires admire their past civilizations.

  5. nocturnal says:

    Embracing past is not an option, you just cant alter the history.

    Question here is why emphazising on some past characters when you have a whole lot of PAST RULERS from ASHOKA to Bahadur shah zafar every single ruler has left their marks on history.

    Thing is then you have to clearly define that WHO WERE THE SON OF THE SOILS and who were the invaders or outsiders.

    There is no problem naming any street after RAJA PAURAVA as he fought against foreign troops and offered his best resistance. So there were many others.

    We should acknowledge ASHOKA as he ruled over the entire subcontinent.

    We should give those COURAGEOUS warriors who defeated Ghaznavi 11 times SADLY in 12th attempt Ghaznavi succeeded and then what he did is well known.

    Should we portray him as a BUUT SHIKAN or a PLUNDERER????

    Sher shah suri’s father came from Afghanistan so he was an outsider too like wise baber came from Central asia.

    These all people were alein to this land just like GREEKS.

    So we should return to our ROOTS as author of this article wrote.

    We should ADOPT DEWNAGRI script and should scrap ARABIC SCRIPT for URDU as sanskrit is the ancient language of this land we have got nothing to do with ARABIC as its an alien language.

    We shud EMBRACE OUR PAST, shudnt we??

  6. cubano says:

    Why shouldn’t we acknowledge Ashoka? IMO, Ghazni was a plunderer and a bigoted iconoclast. Today, he is known for breaking idols and forced conversions. At least Sher Shah established law and order and various administrative reforms that benefited the local population.

    We don’t need to change the script of Urdu. No one is saying that we should attempt to reverse the course of history. All that he is saying is that we should acknowledge our past instead of denying it and pretending that we were never associated with our non-Muslim ancestors.

  7. RR says:

    Dear nocturnal and cubano

    thanks for this lively dialogue here –
    No one is saying that we erase or undermine our Pakistani identity – but it has to be a mixed, eclectic identity composed of our non-Islamic and Islamic past, and the post-independence reality.

    We cannot have a simple, linear cultural identity – it has to be true to our past and should guide the future.

    Spain is a BAD example – even the Europeans regret all that happened so we cannot follow that. India’s BJP is another fundamentalist outfit which cannot be our guide..

  8. Abu Muhammad says:

    That was beautiful Raza. I second Shaheryar, it should go on Pak Tea House.

  9. Shaheryar Ali says:

    Spain , Spain and Spain——-

    What has been erased in Spain? Islam? There could be other sides and reasons as well, Reconquestia had a “nationalist” character as well, agreed that it brought a reactionary regime, agreed that it made life worse for Jews! [More so than moslems]. But it had national liberation character . But what was erased? Statues of Averroes stand from Cordova to Rome! Even Vatican has a mural , a tribute to Knowledge. From Spain , that was cleansed of Moslems, “Moorish Spain” conquered whole Europe. University of Paris became a seat of Knowledge From Thomas Aquinas , the “doctor of faith” to
    Bergson whole European thought and civilization represent the “reincarnation” of Moorish Spain , and they haven’t erased it , they have owned it. for hundreds of years no one could utter name of Averroes in European Universities out of respect he had to be addressed only as “great philosopher” or “great teacher”

    Who has erased whom? Europe allows free thought , a legacy of Spain, they allow subversive, atheistic Jewish philosophers and scientist to live and work, in continuation of tradition of Moors of Spain, Dr Abus Salam had to beg for grave in Pakistan

    Only “Moslems” were Not Spain, we have more moslims today, but we dont have Spain—

    Who has erased whom????

  10. nocturnal says:

    Mr. shaheryar

    Spainish inquisition started right after the muslim empire in 1481, Baghdad was the centre of knowledge and remarkable books were written there on Science and tech by the time when Spanish inquisition suppressing people from FRANCE to SOUTH AMERICA.

    Europe was still in DARK AGES while MULSIM sceintists were paving the way for modern science, Bughdad was the centre of KNOWLEDGE when european priests were still burning ppl at STAKE.

    Europe was the place where BRUNO (Gallileo’s friend and scientist)was burned at stake for heretic thoughts.

    Where Gallileo was charged with heresey too for telling the world that earth revolves around the sun. He was sentenced to life sentence, he spent rest of his life in solitary confinement.

    GAlileo died in 1642, EUROPE wasnt that ENLIGHTENED as you wrote. While MUSLIM scientist were writing remarkable books on Science and tech , europe was in utter darkness.

    So get your facts right before writing anything on history.

  11. priya says:

    lets honour the human qualities of a person whichever era it is and it does not depend on religion ,caste or creed……actually if you think in the broader sense there is no difference between us….we all praise and pray to one and only God….the omnipotent ,omnipresent and all merciful….THE GOD OF THE MULTIVERSE…..

  12. Wang Daiyu says:

    While some Muslims in China also try to like themselves to ancestors from the West, even these do not deny their ‘Chineseness’ and do feel proud of the history of all Chinese people. The phenomenon that you have mentioned is indeed strange given that most Muslims in the world actually live in South Asia!

  13. Shaheen Sultan Dhanji says:

    Raza, this needs to go on Pak Tea House ! I second Shaheryar!!

  14. […] will be a poorer place if these mad, roving fundamentalists would remove all the signs of our pre-Islamic heritage and ancient […]

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  16. Sidhusaaheb says:

    It is interesting to note how those holding extremely negative views always cite the actions of those with similarly negative view points on ‘the other side’, in order to justify their own.

    ‘Two wrongs do not make a right.’ obviously does not ring a bell with them. 🙂

  17. Sidhusaaheb says:

    BTW, I agree with Raza that the BJP and its Sangh-parivaar are, essentially, ‘the other side of the same coin’.

  18. As a reply to question 3, Indeed the answer is not as obvious and as one would expect, it is actually a fairly complicated issue. Comparing Moorish Spain to Pakistani denial. All people from any civilization should never forget their roots because this is what their foundation relies on, to keep them with a strong purpose. Letting that become the be, and end all of your identity encourages fanaticism in the culture that one comes from other than the culture that you live in.

    In some ways this is good; but in other ways in the long term it ends in your society becoming weak, one of the strengths of Andalusian, Moorish society in the middle ages was the willingness of the Ummayyad Khalifat to absorb the culture of Spain itself; in the its willingness to create a distinct Western Muslim identity. They never negated what was there already; meaning they never made a subculture apart from the main culture they became a part of the culture. They accepted the good things and left the bad things from the original culture. Even the name Andalusia comes from the name; land of the Vandals the previous culture before the Moorish Arab influence the “al” from the Arabic represents the definite article meaning “The”.

    Indeed for ethnic communities to survive in the West, needs to appreciate and respect their immediate past, but also to develop a clear ethical foundation on how Asians can survive long term, by developing a new culture were they can live adopting western ways of living that correspond to good character.

  19. piya g says:

    I agree with the writer!! We have to akcnowledge our heroes. From Porus to Tipu Sultan to Ray Ahmed nawaz Kharal to Aziz Bhatti and a lot more 🙂
    As long as Porus is concerned, I think he was a hero for our soil. You said Raja Dahir- with due respect Bin Kasim was another plunderer. It is how our history is presented to us and I think its all becuause of gaining some political benefits. It is also true that now we can not give name PRITHVI to any of our road but why????? because of our historians- no?? We needed to present hindus as evils so every hindu figure is evil for us- I am sure one day will come when we will be saying INDIA IS OUR BEST FRIEND and Indians will be saying the same for us- This all hetered is becasue our armies needs ROTI ROZI

  20. Vandana says:

    God bless you Piya for your optimism.When all Hindus are not seen as conniving, idol worshipping infidels(as they were portrayed to Pakistanis) and when all Muslims stop looking like the temple plundering invaders of the past( to Hindus),then and then alone can we move down that road of friendship.

  21. Vandana says:

    It is said that, ” without the past there can be no future.” This article should be seen in that context and not be viewed through the prism of religion. Pakistan is Islamic, no questions about that but as the writer said , it did not descend neatly packaged thus some time around 750A.D.The people pf this land existed before that and followed different religions. Pakistanis are South Asians and not Arabs.

  22. Jaya says:

    Me as a supporter of ancient Indian history would definitely support Salman Rashid. The problem with we south west Asians are that we don’t acknowledge our glorious past. For us every thing comes to an end with religion.

    Lets keep history and religion separately. There is only one true religion and i.e. Humanity. Why King Paurava or Akbar are still remembered because they promoted religion of Humanity!!!

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