Thursday, June 28, 2007

Foreign tribes Indian clans

The noted historian Jadunath Sarkar mentions an absurd story, started by the British, about the construction of Jaipur city. In 1820, two years after the Kingdom of Jaipur signed a subsidiary alliance with the English East India Company, the Calcutta Government Gazette stated, "the plan of the (Jaipur) city was laid out by an Italian, who had gone thither in his early youth, and who was specially sent by the Rajah to Europe……It is probable that this story may not be correct in every particular, but it is certain that the arrangement of the buildings and streets of Jaipur is superior to the genius of a Rajput or any other inhabitant of India."[1]

The tendency to ascribe foreign ownership to Indian achievements was not limited to only common Europeans of the 19th Century, but was also found in the European historians of the time. Neither were their canards limited to buildings or cities but were extended to the Indian People and the numerous ethnic groups among them.

The writing of Indian History in the colonial era was heavily influenced by such canards. A post-independence historian KM Munshi remarked, "Few people realize that the teaching of such histories in our schools and universities have substantially added to the difficulties, which India has had to face during the last hundred years…"

Indian Historians born and educated in the colonial era faced a mighty wall of European assumptions and theories that blocked off honest research into this important subject. An eminent historian, KM Pannikar, wrote A Survey of Indian History in the year of Indian Independence (1947). In this monumental work Pannikar took note of the "tendency of European Historians to believe that anything good in India must have had a foreign origin."

An example of this tendency, Pannikar writes, were the "doctrines sedulously put forward by some European writers that for at least two centuries after the fall of Mauryan Empire (187 BCE) Northwestern India was under Greek and Kushan Kings." This was further extended to the thesis that "large segments" of the population in that region today are descended from those foreigners.

It is necessary to study this period and that region from a more modern and objective point of view. In our school text books, where most Indians would faintly remember this period, the brief outline of these foreign states is shown without any comment on their background, and almost no indication of what resistance they faced from the inhabitants of the northwestern region.

It should be noted that during this period that the greater part of North India continues under the Sunga and Kanva Empires, while the south sees the emergence of the Satvahan Empire.




Foreign Tribes: Yavanas

The destruction of the Persian Empire by Alexander the Great began the unraveling of the socio-political landscape of West and Central Asia. His Hellenic Empire initially failed to provide stability in this vast region due to infighting among his successors. Alexander's greatest general Seleucos was defeated by Chandragupta of the Maurya Empire in the Indian continent. Peace between the Seleucids and the Mauryas finally gave stability to Asia and delayed the unraveling for almost 100 years.

The forces causing this unraveling, namely the Bactrian Greeks, the Parthians, Scythians, and the Kushans, then stepped in. The first to have an impact on Northwestern India were the Bactrian Greeks...termed as Yavanas in that period.

The origin of this term is very interesting. The province of Ionia (modern Turkey) in the Persian Empire of Darius and Xerxes was peopled by Greeks. These Greeks formed part of the Persian army and were called Yauna in Persian. Another element in the same army were Indian archers and foot-soldiers from the frontier lands of Afghanistan and Baluchistan, and some mercenaries from the Indus region. These Indians fought alongside the Yauna Greeks in the many wars of the Persian empire...the term Yauna was Sanskritized to Yavana but did not enter the Indian lexicon as a generic term for Greeks until much later.

Alexander's invasion and retreat affected the northwestern parts of the Indian continent—and only for the briefest of time. The tough fighting in India forced him to make alliances and leave local Indian rulers in charge of some territory—in others Greek and Macedonian garrisons were placed in Sindh, Multan, and Kabul. These were defeated and driven away by the local resistance, which came under Chandragupta, the founder of the Maurya Empire.

Seleucos succeeded to the empire of Alexander and attempted to recover the Indian territories in 306 BCE but was defeated by Chandragupta. The two emperors reached a settlement where the Greeks gave up regions approximating to Baluchistan, Kandahar, Kabul, and Herat to the Mauryas.

Subsequently rebellions in Parthia over half a century eliminated Greek presence in that region and so only Bactria, north of the Kabul valley, remained with a Greek population of soldiers and administrators. After their invasion of Kabul and Punjab, the local resistance, severe infighting among their own chieftains, and the pressure from the Parthians, Sakas, and Kushans, permanently ended Greek presence in Bactria.

Foreign Tribes: Saka and Kushan

In 208 BCE, the Seleucid Emperor Antiochus III attempted to recover the rebellious provinces of Parthia and Bactria, which had been independent since 250 BCE. The Bactrian capital (modern Balkh) was besieged for two years until the ruler Euthydemus convinced Antiochus to make a settlement, for otherwise the barbarian hordes form the north would destroy Greek people and their civilization in Bactria.

These northern barbarians were the Saka (Scythians), originally inhabitants of the Central Asian plains around the River Syr. The break-up of the Seleucid Empire, and later the Maurya Empire, created a vacuum which the Saka filled, coming into conflict with both Parthia and Bactria. At the same time they lost their Central Asian home to another tribe, the Yeuh-Chi.

From 138 BCE to 88 BCE the Saka fought ferocious battles with the Parthian emperors, which cost the lives of Phrates II and Artabanus I. The Saka were eventually subdued by Mithradates II, who recruited many of them as nobles and generals and settled them in his eastern provinces...it were these Saka of eastern Iran who led military campaigns into India from its westernmost extremity (modern Baluchistan) roughly in the period 80 BCE - 20 BCE.

In this time another section of the Saka had pushed into Bactria and briefly occupied it...these were ejected by the Yeuh-Chi. The early history of this new tribe and its neighbors comes from Chinese sources, hence their name in their own language is unknown. Around 165 BCE the Yeuh-Chi nomadic tribe lost its leader in a struggle with the Hiung-nu….both tribes lived in the mountain ranges and plains of modern Sinkiang and Kan-Su provinces, which were not part of China in those days.

The Yeuh-Chi migrated westward and clashed with another tribe, the Wu-Sun, and defeated them. The Wu-Sun lands were not found suitable for habitation and the Yeuh-Chi crossed the mountains north of the Pamir knot into Central Asia and usurped the Saka lands around the River Syr.

A decade or two later the Wu-Sun had recovered from their defeat and were looking for revenge...they formed an alliance with the Hiung-nu and invaded the Yeuh-Chi lands. The Yeuh-Chi managed to save themselves from this invasion but had to migrate further south. They captured Bactria (125 BCE) and occupied its cities, forts, and villages. In the process the Yeuh-Chi became settled down and formed five separate kingdoms, one of which was called Kushan.

Around 15 CE this Kushan kingdom defeated the other four kingdoms and absorbed them into a single unit. From this time the ruling class of this growing empire was called Kushan.

Structure of State

It is important to understand that the Bactrian, Saka, and Kushan invasions of Northwestern India were regular military campaigns of states, and not the mass invasions of tribal hordes, as is often portrayed by colonial/leftist historians. Long before these invasions, the Sakas and Kushans had settled down as rulers/soldiers—the former in eastern Parthia and the latter in Bactria and the adjoining regions.

And they formed a fraction of the population even in those regions, as the example of the Bactrian Greeks before them illustrates. The Periplus of the Erythraian Sea, written by an Egyptian Greek merchant, describes the "Bactrians" as a warlike nation. However, the Chinese sources that narrate the conquest of Bactria by the Yeuh-Chi, describe the very same "Bactrians" as unskilled in war and devoted to commerce! This is because the Greek work refers to the Greco-Macedonian ruling class and soldiers recruited locally——the wars in India, the constant rebellions, and the infighting among the Greeks so thinned this population that the conquest of Bactria was made easy.

As will be seen later the same fate overtook the Indo-Greek kingdoms. The Greek section of the population was even more of a fraction in the densely populated Indian plains, and was further reduced by the constant wars, rebellions, and infighting. Moreover there was no influx of Greeks from outside to boost the population.

State formation by these foreigners in India, and their political systems, had its root in the break-up of the Maurya Empire. For over a century the Mauryas maintained an efficient centralized administration in this northwestern region. Interestingly Chandragupta had started his empire by making alliances with the Himalayan rulers (one was Parvatak) and recruiting his army from the warrior clans dispersed by Alexander's invasion.

After conquering the Nanda Empire of Magadha, Chandragupta became the master of that army and administrative system. The eastern and central parts of India were directly administered by the Maurya Emperors. The rest was divided into provinces under centrally appointed governors...additionally every city or town in the empire, whether the capital Pataliputra or Taxila in the northwest, was also administered by a centrally appointed council. Local autonomy was granted to individual villages but even here officials of the empire measured the land, controlled the distribution of canal water, and managed the forests.

It is not known what happened to the alliance with Parvatak, or what Chandragupta promised to the warrior clans he recruited from the northwest—did he return their kingdoms or republican states to them? Ashokan Rock Edicts refer separately to tribes/people in the northwest, east, and the south, as following the emperor's laws….this seems to suggest limited internal autonomy but not independence. The latter would have been possible if these peoples had erected their own inscriptions or struck their own coins.

On Ashoka's death in 236 BCE, one of his sons Jalauka is said to have formed his own kingdom in Kashmir, and to have defeated invading foreigners (Bactrians?). Another son named Virasena declared independence in nearby Gandhar but both these instances of the Maurya Empire's break-up were ultimately defeated and the royal dynasty continued for several generations——three of these, namely Kunal, Dasrath, and Samprati, maintained the empire intact and left behind their records.

In 206 BCE Greek writers mention an independent Indian kingdom in Kabul ruled by Subhagsena, probably a Mauryan governor. The warrior clans in other parts of the northwest would have also recovered their kingdoms by fighting such independent governors. And worse, each governor would fight his neighbor in the ambition of becoming emperors themselves!

In such conditions began the foreign invasions. With the multiplicity of states and clans, the invaders would have to make equal alliances with some, fight others for their land, and reduce others to vassalage. In other words the foreigners, a small minority, would maintain their position of paramount rulers in the northwest through an intricate series of alliances. But the Indian warrior clans and kingdoms would only have submitted temporarily, and would make repeated attempts to rebel and end the foreign presence...such attempts not succeeding due to the lack of one supreme leader and the conflicting ambitions of such disparate elements.

But the same foreigners would fail to establish colonies for their people due to a lack of fresh immigrants coming in from outside to boost their numbers.

A comparison is apt with the latter day Islamic invasions. Covering a long period of over a millennium, and occurring in separate waves of Arab, Turk, Mughal, and Afghan, these invasions led to the establishment of kingdoms and empires in parts of India. Unlike the Bactrian, Saka, or Kushan kingdoms, the ruling class in the Islamic states continued to draw fresh immigrants of soldiers from Central Asia, Iran, Afghanistan etc. to man their armies and maintain an edge over the Indian kingdoms.

But despite all this, despite the constant immigrations, and the formation of solid Islamic colonies in Indian cities, the Islamic population never exceeded 15-20% of the Indian population. And the majority of these were locally converted non-soldierly communities. The foreign element in India's Islamic population would form a tiny proportion (3-5%?) of the Indian population!
The Bactrians, Sakas, and Kushans, in a far smaller time period, and with no continuous immigrations from outside, would have practically no representation in the Indian population of today.

Politico-Military impact

[1] J Sarkar mentions this in his History of Jaipur and goes on to state wryly, "Yes a black man can do nothing good. That is why some Europeans have started the canard that the Taj Mahal was designed by an Italian…..Vidyadhar the true designer (of Jaipur) occupies a proven position in the Jaipur government service, as State records show."