Mainstream Indian history writing is a mess. It still follows many norms, structures, timelines that were specifically and arbitrarily designed and imposed on Indians by Britishers, Christian evangelists to undermine Indian culture and nationalism. The most peculiar example of that being the arbitrary dating of Rig Veda by Max Muller (which he himself later admitted). Then, came the Marxist historians who took over from the colonial historians and carried forward their legacy in looking and writing Indian history with a heavily biased, one-sided lens. Their bias is so much so that they unnecessarily prolonged the Ayodhya Ram Janmabhoomi case with their non-sense arguments, petitions. Thanks to prominent archaeologists such as B.B. Lal, K. K. Mohammad (in case of Babri Masjid), they are badly exposed. Supreme Court of India in Ram Jamnabhoomi case, discarded their arguments as their personal opinions, devoid of historical facts and logic. Arun Shourie has written a well-researched book on the frauds of these historians who by the way are still in prominent positions and dominate Indian history writing.
Eminent Historians: Their Technology, Their Line, Their Fraud by Arun Shourie.
As my quest for finding the non-Marxist, non-colonial narrative of events of Indian history began, I was shocked, surprised, awed by the true Indian history and our great ancestors, especially by their bravery, courage, art & culture, language, intelligence, hard-working nature, simplicity, thoughts & practices, diversity, spirituality, strength, unity and their uncompromising love for their culture and country. One such event is the invasion of north-western India by Alexander. While the west hails him as one of the, if not the greatest military general of all time. He is addressed as Alexander the Great even in his Wikipedia entry. But his quest in India tells a different story. Below, I have reproduced content from NCERT class XI’s Ancient History book which was in circulation at the time of Vajpayee government in India. The chapter is mostly influenced by R.C. Majumdar’s analysis of Alexander.
Alexander’s quest in India
In the fourth century B.C. the Greeks and Persian fought with each other for the supremacy over western Asia. The defeat of Achaemenian king Darius III in the hands of Alexander became a turning point. Alexander dismantled the Persian empire, conquered most of western Asia including Iraq and Iran. He then turned his attention to India. After the conquest of the Persian empire, Alexander marched to India through the Khyber pass in 326 B.C. It is interesting to know that the history of Alexander’s campaign of India is reconstructed on the basis of accounts available in Greek and Roman sources. Surprisingly, no Indian source mentions anything about Alexander or his campaign. It is also surprising that while Greek sources give a very detailed account of Alexander’s campaign to India, they are completely silent about Kautilya. However, the identification of Sandrocottas or Androcottas of Greek sources with that of Chandragupta Maurya and fixing 326 B.C. as the date of Chandragupta’s accession to the throne has become the sheet anchor of the chronological framework of Indian history (this is actually challenged by some Indic historians).
Once Alexander reached the Indian soil, the king of Takshasila (Taxila, near Rawalpindi in Punjab) offered to help Alexander. Only a couple of Indian princes followed the ignoble example of Taxila. Most of the numerous kings and republican Chiefs in Afghanistan, Punjab and Sindh offered brave resistance, though in vain. Despite the fact that petty chieftains were no match for the seasoned troops of Alexander and knew that they had no chance of success, they refused to submit without a fight. The Greek writers have paid glowing tributes to the bravery and patriotism of a large number of them. After crossing the Hindukush, Alexander divided his army into two parts. One part was kept under his own command and the other under the two of his best Generals. Alexander himself undertook the task of conquering the northwestern part of India. The Greeks had to face strong resistance from Hasti, a tribal chief whose capital was Pushkalavati. He stood the Greek siege for full 30 days till he fell fighting. These local people fought the invader to the last man. When the king of Assakenoi fell fighting, his army was led by the queen. They “resolved to defend their country to the last extremity”. So great was the enthusiasm for the defence of the country that even women took part in the fighting. Even the mercenaries “preferred a glorious death to life with dishonour”. After a brave resistance of several days, Massaga, the capital city, was captured by Alexander. The mercenary army of 7000 was granted their lives by a special agreement which Alexander had himself concluded with them. But in the night they were surrounded and slaughtered mercilessly by him and his soldiers. This massacre has been condemned even by the Greek writers. After defeating Assakenoi and others Alexander joined his other division of the army. A bridge was constructed on the Indus river at Ohind about 24 km. above Attock. After crossing the Indus Alexander proceeded towards Taxila. When he was about 7 km. from Taxila, Ambhi came forward to Alexander and recognised him as his sovereign. However, the most powerful among the north-western Indian was the ruler of a kingdom between the Jhelum and the Chenab whom the Greeks call Porus, probably a corruption of Paurava. When he was summoned by Alexander’s envoys he proudly replied that he would undoubtedly do so, but at his own frontiers and with arms. Alexander made elaborate preparations to fight him.
It must be remembered that Porus was a ruler of a small state, perhaps no bigger than a modern district in Punjab. Porus fought bravely and with nine wounds on his body, was led a captive before Alexander. The latter asked him how he would like to be treated. “Like a King” came the proud and prompt reply. Alexander secured the alliance of this brave king by restoring his kingdom and adding to it the territories of “15 republican states with their 5000 cities and villages without number”. In course of his advance to the next river, Beas, Alexander had to fight hard with the Kathaioi (Kathas) whose casualties amounted to 17,000 killed and 70,000 captured.
Alexander’s advance was arrested on the bank of the Beas, for his soldiers mutinied and refused to proceed further (end of July 326 B.C.). It is difficult to say whether this insubordination of the soldiers was due to merely war-weariness, as represented by the Greek writers, or partly to the fear inspired by the mighty empire of the Nandas which lay beyond the river. But it is interesting to note that in the course of their reply to Alexander’s pleading to go on further, the troops laid great stress on the calamity that would befall the whole army if Alexander met with an accident in the course of the campaign. While saying this the heroic resistance and patriotic spirit displayed by the whole population of the tiny republics must have loomed large over the soldiers. Many ancient Greek historians have recorded that the retreat was because of the terror of mighty powers of the Nanda empire.
Whatever may be the real reason, Alexander had to bow to the decision of his mutinous soldiers and decided to return. Near the confluence of the Jhelum with the Chenab, he had to fight with a confederacy of republican states led by the Malloi (Malavas) and the Oxydrakai (Kshudrakas). All the towns of the Malavas became citadels of resistance. In one of them, 5000 brahmans left the pen for the sword and died fighting and only a few being taken, prisoners. While taking another town by assault, Alexander was severely wounded, and when it was captured, his infuriated soldiers killed everybody they found irrespective of age and sex. Another ganasanghas, the Agalassoi (Arjunayanas) also fought with great valour, and when one of their towns was captured by Alexander, all the citizens, numbering 20,000; after a heroic resistance threw themselves into the fire with their wives and children. There is a long list of such sagas of bravery, patriotism and sacrifice. In September 325 B. C. Alexander reached Patala and began his homeward journey. He proceeded with his army by land but sent the ships under Nearchus. Alexander reached Susa in Persia in 324 B.C. and died there the next year (probably owning to injuries he suffered in India). Before leaving India, he had put several kshtrapas in charge of different parts of the conquered territories. But some conquered ganasanghas rebelled and there were other troubles even before he left India. After his death, the Greek edifice collapsed within a short time.
Impact of Alexander’s Campaign
The invasion of Alexander the Great has been recorded in minute details by the Greek historians who naturally felt elated at the triumphant progress of their hero. It is a great puzzle that why Indian tradition should have remained silent over such an event. Was it because Alexander only touched the western border of the then India and returned without leaving any lasting impact on Indian people. His campaign can hardly be called a great military success as the only military achievement to his credit was the conquest of petty ganasanghas and small states. The exertion, he and his army had to make against Porus, the ruler of a small state, do not certainly favour the hypothesis that he could have faced the might of Nandas with ease. Further, whatever little he could conquer in this campaign was lost within three months of his departure, as most of the conquered areas asserted their independence.
Source: Above section reproduced from NCERT Ancient India XIth pg 120-123. NCERTs are open source books but this book isn’t currently in circulation. If you want the whole book (pdf), contact me via email (visit about section of the website).
While there is no doubt that Alexander was a very capable and vastly successful military leader. But he was also a ruthless invader. His army massacred civilians, soldiers who had already surrendered. Barring few kingdoms, he faced stiff resistance from every sphere of the population be it Khastriyas, Brahmans, Vaishyas, Shudras, women and even children. Greek historians themselves have recorded that in his campaign in the lower Sindhu valley alone, his army killed and massacred 80,000 natives and sold multitudes of them as slaves. His quest in India also led to the first recorded incident of Jauhar in the Indian subcontinent.
As far as him being given the tag of the greatest military general of all time. Well, he wasn’t even the greatest of his own time. Indians never in history have invaded a foreign country to spread their culture and influence at the tip of the sword. That doesn’t mean Indians were weak, unadventurous or ‘not great’ compared to Alexander. India had numerous kings who were great military generals as well as equally loved and adored by the civilians of their kingdom. Chandragupta Maurya, Harsha, Bhoja, Lalitaditya Muktapida, Samudragupta, Krishnadevaraya, Rajaraja Chola, Maharana Pratap, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj to name a few. In case of each of these kings, not only their armies but even their civilians would have sacrificed their lives for their kings. This happened with a number of these kings. Legends of loyal soldiers and generals sacrificing their lives for Maharana Pratap and Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj are still remembered and narrated to this day (Tanhaji movie released recently). If a military general is to be called “Great”, he should at least be able to inspire his army to fight impossible battles that he wants them to fight. Greek historians themselves said that Alexander’s army disobeyed his orders and refused to march forward. That means he wasn’t a great military general. Either that or that was an excuse by Greek historians to save his face as he himself might have been scared of the mighty Nandas who would have definitely decimated his army given that the tiny kingdom of Porus nearly defeated him.
So, for Indians, he was nothing more than another ruthless invader who hardly had any lasting impact on India. He scarred few of the north-west tiny kingdoms and ran away. There is no surprise that there is no record or memory of his quest in mainland India. Indians rightly regard him as a precursor of Nadir Shah and Tamerlane.