SASIGUPTA AND THE POISONING OF ALEXANDER
by Ranajit Pal
After Mary Renault called him the Persian boy, scholarly interest in Alexander has noticeably declined in the west. The great Emperor had an acute sense of history and included professional writers in his train, yet it is ironical that great mystery surrounds his last years. Did he die a natural death or at the hands of conspirators? Did he defeat the Prasii as Justin wrote? Did he speak about the Brotherhood of Man in the banquet at Opis as Sir W.W. Tarn held? What was the background of his deification? Historians of Alexander have rarely benefitted from new sources - textual or archaeological, and new writers had to be content with only reinterpretation of old documents but Indian literature now ends the impasse and offers a deep insight into many aspects of his life.
One new finding - the identification of Megasthenes' Palibothra with Kahnuj in Carmania (instead of Patna in eastern India), calls for sea changes in the ancient history of the Orient. It sheds new light on the strange and exciting adventures of Alexander in Indo-Iran and resolves the mystery of his sudden death and of many other long-standing puzzles. It also belies the claims of E. Badian and P. Green that Alexander was a thoroughgoing tyrant, ruthless and cruel. Badian was unaware that behind Alexander’s clarion call for Brotherhood of Man stands a Prophet of Prophthasia who had once adorned the Persian throne and that the sage Kalanos was the great Buddhist scholar Asvaghosha. The very name Sasigupta tells a story (Sashi=Chandra) that has remained unheard due to the callousness of historians. Palibothra in the north-west brings to the fore a great Sanskrit drama, the Mudrarakshasa, which is widely recognised as a mine of historical information. Most strikingly, the drama shows the great respect of Chandragupta for Alexander, the benevolent hero he himself had managed to poison.
Though it remained virtually unknown for centuries, in modern India the Mudrarakshasa is a popular drama, yet its interpretation is still in infancy. To appreciate this court drama it is essential to recreate the ambiance in which it was first staged and realise that it had nothing to do with Bihar. The word Mudra in Sanskrit stands for a signet-ring and the plot is woven around the stealing of the signet-ring of Rakshasa, the minister of the Nandas. This need not immediately remind one of the possession of Alexander’s signet-ring by Perdikkas which was probably stolen and which played a crucial role in the succession battle. In the play Parvataka is killed as he passes under a mechanically operated Torana or coronation arch. Can this be related to the warning of the Chaldeans who came to Alexander and asked him to enter Babylon from the eastern side? Was there a conspiracy to kill Alexander by a crashing gate? After all this was a well-known Babylonian tactic. This may not sound convincing but there is more. Bhagurayana who spies on his master may be an echo of Bagoas the younger who is widely suspected to have been an agent. The name of the bard Stanakalasha is a simple inversion of Callisthenes who was probably caught up in the tragic course of events. There are slanted references to the aging chamberlain who is clearly Permenio. The flaunting of wealth by the treasurer in the play points to Harpalus’ misadventures. Poisoning, Poison-maidens and forged letters have all been discussed in relation to Alexander’s death and these are also the central elements of the play. Rakshasa, after whom the drama is named is clearly Roxyartes or Oxyartes as can be seen from the name of his daughter Roxane. It is more than likely that Tissaraxa, one of Asoka’s wives, was related to Raxasa’s line.
The other principal character of the play is Chanakya, the minister of Chandragupta. A careful study shows that he was none other than Bagoas the Elder, Prime Minister of Artaxerexes-III Ochus. In the drama Abhayadatta attempts to poison Chandragupta but the plot is detected and he is forced to drink the draught. This is exactly what one reads about Bagoas the Elder’s death – that he attempted to poison Darius-III but was forced to drink his own cup of poison. The name of Darius-III in the Babylonian records is Arta-Sata. This, in fact, is the same as Sarva-Arta-Sata or Sarva-Artha-Siddhi, the name of the Nanda king in the play. Sarva was the name of Shiva, a protector god.
Classical writers reported that Bagoas poisoned Ochus, gave his flesh to cats and made knife handles with his bones. It is astonishing to find that the Mudrarakshasa also recounts an identical story. Chanakya refused a decent burial to the Nanda king he had poisoned and animals feasted on the flesh of the Nandas. It is uncanny to realise that apart from Chanakya and Chandragupta the play has among its dramatis personae the ghost of Alexander, his wife Roxane, his infant son and his father-in-law Oxyartes. From the drama itself it is difficult to explain why, after all his misdeeds and bungling, Rakshasa was installed as the Prime minister in preference to the mighty Chanakya, but if one remembers that Roxane, his daughter, became the regent after Alexander’s death, this appears only natural. The original inspiration of the Mudrarakshasa may have been derived from Alexander’s foray into dramatics at Patala. It is probable that it was written under the patronage of Sasigupta, once a darling of Alexander. The Mudrarakshasa, which is one of the great Sanskrit Classics, belongs to world literature.
Palibothra, the Indian capital, was famous for its peacocks; Lane Fox writes, “.. Dhana Nanda’s kingdom could have been set against itself and Alexander might yet have walked among Palimbothra’s peacocks”. Curiously, Arrian wrote that the great Emperor was so charmed by the beauty of peacocks that he decreed the severest penalties against anyone killing it. Where did he come across the majestic bird? Does this fascination lead us to Palibothra? After all Justin wrote that he had defeated the Prasii. A closer examination of the histories of India and Iran shows that this is indeed the truth, but before going into details it is expedient to examine an age-old riddle which has been glossed over by all the writers though its bearing on the history of Alexander is immense. Where exactly was Palibothra?
In the closing years of the eighteenth century Sir William Jones made the so-called discovery that Palibothra was Patna in eastern India. In Jones’ day history was written on the basis of texts alone and though learned contemporary scholars like Rennell did not agree, the ‘discovery’ was hailed as a landmark in Orientology by popular vote. It is alarming to note that there is no archaeological corroboration of Jones’ hypothesis at all. Excavations at Patna have failed to unearth a single inscription, sculpture or coin of not only the Nandas or Chandragupta but even of Asoka. The famous archaeologist A. Ghosh categorically stated that the history of Patna is based on texts, not archaeology. Kulke and Rothermund also express scepticism about the Jonesian story. Moreover as Wheeler pointed out, urbanisation of Eastern India cannot be traced before the period of Bindusara. It is impossible to visualize the enormous wealth of the Nandas in Patna of the fourth century BC. The absurdity is heightened by the fact that Persian emperors assumed the name Nanda - Darius-II was Nonthos - and that the name Nunudda occurs in the Persepolis fortification tablets. This clearly indicates that Palibothra must have been in the north-west.
VICTORY OVER THE INDIANS AT KAHNUJ IN CARMANIA
The relocation of Palibothra throws overboard the entire history of Alexander’s expedition after the revolt at Hyphasis and focusses on another great figure of 4th century BC - Chandragupta. Palibothra in the north-west leads to a sweeping reformulation of the early history of India. Nearly all the historical figures appear to be from the north-west. Gomata of the Behistun inscription must have been Gotama Buddha. Bagapa of Babylon was surely Gotama whose title was Bhagava. Diodotus-1 turns out to be the true Asoka.
The name Palibothra, which means ‘city of the Bhadras’ (City = Kala, Bala, Pala, Polis etc.) indicates a location in Gedrosia which was the Bhadrasva of the Indian texts. Another hint is in name Batrasasave of an important city in Carmania. This is linked to Palibatra or Palibothra. A clearer hint leading to the exact location of Palibothra is available from Alexander’s history. Owing to Jones’ error the direct implication of Alexander’s famous week-long celebration of “victory over the Indians” at Kahnuj in Gedrosia has been lost. Writers like Bosworth and Badian failed to realise that the victory over the Indians could have been celebrated only at the chief Indian city. In fact, this clearly attests to a Palibothra in the north-west. Numerous other evidences indicate that in the fourth century BC south-eastern Iran was a part of India. V. Elisseeff remarks that from the archaeological viewpoint eastern Iran was closer to India. Vincent Smith agreed with authors like Stephanus and Pliny that Gedrosia and Carmania were within ancient India but due to the blind faith in Jones’ hypothesis the majority of the Indologists have ignored this. Bosworth writes that the victory was celebrated near Khanu or Kahnuj. The name itself shows the absurdity of the Jonesian premise. The name Kanyakubja, which is thought to be synonymous with Kanauj occurs in the Ramayana and certainly dates from an era far earlier than the age of the Maukharis (6th Cent. AD) when Kanauj in eastern India was a great city. Therefore the significance of the presence of another ancient city of the same name in far away Carmania is immense. As Khuvja was the name of Elam, Kanyakubja can be easily seen to be Kahnuj. Incidentally it is in this area that one encounters hoary primogenitors like Manu who ruled Dilmun, Magan and Melukhkha. Palibothra was the chief city of the Indians which suggests that it was only a different name of Kanauj which had a similar position in the Indian texts. Dow in his `History of Hindostan' identified Sandrocottos with Sinsarchund who, according to Firista, ruled from Kanauj.
Through the mist of vague reports and Jonesian misinterpretation it is difficult to recreate the course of events that led to the revolt at Beas which came as a serious jolt to Alexander’s plans. Did the army refuse to fight the Prasii or only to march eastwards? The important point which all the writers miss is that the empire of the Prasii was not in the east as Jones taught but lay westward in the Gedrosia-Carmania-Seistan area. If Alexander had really wanted to move eastward it could not have been to conquer the Prasii. If he had learnt that the fertile plains of the Ganges were only few days march away and wanted to be there for mere expansion of his Empire, he could have expected little resistance. Reluctance of the army cannot have been due to apprehension of the Great strength of the Easterners as Jonesian writers fancied but due to the lack of any tangible political or military gain from the venture. If this was the case then Alexander had to bow down to the wishes of his men and curtail his ambitions. On the other hand if the reluctance of the soldiers and officers was to confront the Prasii it appears sensible enough as the latter were a formidable force to reckon with. However, its military might was certainly overblown by magicians and other secret agents of Chanakya and Chandragupta to frighten the Greek army. As Meroes or Sasigupta had already fought beside Porus, the Prasiian army cannot have been left intact though it could still have been a formidable fighting force. A century later the Jats and other fierce fighters of Seistan under the Surens humbled the mighty Roman army.
Although the revolt was engendered by genuine misgivings of the soldiers it would be simplistic to not to view it as a part of a grander design. It offers the first glimpses of the formation of a secret clique in which Harpalus probably played a key role. Coenus who acted as a spokesman of the soldiers had taken a leading role in securing the conviction of Philotas. Both he and his brother Cleander, who was later executed by Alexander, were close to Harpalus whose exploits were parodied in the play Agen. However, here the chief orchestrator must have been Bagoas who, together with Sasigupta, conspired with Harpalus, Eumenes, Perdikkas, Seleucus, Apollophanes, Cleander, Philip and others.
Coming down to the lower Indus area near Brahmanabad, Alexander reached the great city of Pattala in 325BC and found it deserted. Pattala is an echo of Pataliputra and the name Moeris of its ruler again shows the dubious nature of Jones' identification. The absence of any archaeological relic of the Nandas or Chandragupta from eastern India shows that the latter belonged to the north-west. Thus Moeris of Pattala cannot be any other than Chandragupta Maurya. The true objective of the Gedrosian voyage now becomes apparent - Alexander was chasing Chandragupta through the desert. Bosworth’s opinion that ‘stories about Cyrus and Semiramis were later to attract him to the Gedrosian desert’ is based on ignorance. In order to ensure food supplies for his army Alexander had imposed a levy which had adversely affected the local population. Blind to the reality, Badian goes on to compare Alexander with Chengiz Khan.
Chandragupta is described as the king of Patna by Jonesian historians who have no truck with archaeology. This however did not deter B.M. Barua, one of the greatest scholars on Buddhism, from stating boldly; ‘To me Candragupta was a man of the Uttarapatha or Gandhara if not exactly of Taksashila.’ Curiously the Satrap of the Taksashila area under Alexander was another Gupta whose history has been treated in the most perfunctory manner. After capturing the rock fort at Aornos near Taxila Alexander left Sasigupta in command. Sasigupta of Taxila who is first heard of in 327BC is clearly the Chandragupta of Barua. McCrindle also noted the discrepancies but missed the real Chandragupta. Bosworth writes without any circumspection, ‘There were also refugees like Sisicottos, who had first served with Bessus and then co-operated with Alexander throughout the Sogdian campaigns (Arr. iv, 30. 4). Such men had every reason to encourage the king to invade, and he himself needed little encouragement.’ Bosworth fails to note that Chandragupta was also a refugee like Sasigupta and that ‘Sashi’ is a synonym of ‘Chandra’, but Raychaudhuri surely knew the meaning of Sashi, yet he wrote in an equally desultory manner, ‘Chandragupta’s first emergence from obscurity into the full view of history occurs in 326-25 B.C. when he met Alexander.' So poor was the prognosis that even when H.C. Seth pointed out that Chandragupta could be Sasigupta, Raychadhuri took shelter under makeshift arguments.
Even his worst detractors do not deny that Alexander was one of the greatest military tacticians of all times. The Gedrosian operation was in fact a brilliant three-pronged attack against the armies of Moeris and his allies. Alexander must have studied why both Cyrus and Semiramis were defeated by the fierce Massagetae who are none other than the Mahageatae or the Magadhans. Apart from the great fighting qualities and numerical strength of the Prasii, the desert terrain presented intractable logistical problems. To circumvent this he decided to carry supplies in ships. This is why the ships kept near the shoreline and the army also marched along the coast. Bagoas and Moeris knew this and despite the great care taken by Alexander to ensure food supplies, his enemies nearly succeeded in thwarting his plans by conniving with his Satraps. Harpalus and Bagoas probably were certain that Alexander would perish in the desert.
After the surrender of the ruler of Patalene near the Indus delta Alexander placed a large column of veterans under the command of Craterus but instead of taking them along with him he sent them through the Bolan Pass (or Mulla Pass) to the Helmand valley from where they were to make their way to Carmania and unite with the main forces. This was a fairly strong force comprising three phalanx battalions, a large number of elderly troops, infantry and cavalry and the whole of the elephant corps. The elephants already smell of Chandragupta whose major point of strength were these stately animals. One can recall his gift of 500 elephants to Seleucus. About 40 year later, as we learn from the Babylonian records, his grandson Diodotus-I (Asoka) was to repeat a gift of twenty elephants to Antiochus-I. There can, therefore, be no doubt that the main purpose of Craterus’ men was to encircle the Prasii.
While recounting the gruesome stories of bloodshed and turmoil that tarnished the expedition, writer’s on Alexander have lost sight of a Satan-like figure who literally revelled in murder and mayhem – Bagoas the elder. Diodorus writes (xvii.5.3), ”While Phillip was still king, Ochus ruled the Persians and oppressed his subjects cruelly and harshly. Since his savage disposition made him hated, the chiliarch Bagoas, a eunuch in physical fact but a militant rogue in disposition, killed him by poison administered by a certain physician and placed upon the throne the youngest of his sons, Arses. He similarly made away with the brothers of the new king, who were barely of age, in order that the young man might be isolated and tractable to his control. But the young king let it be known that he was offended at Bagoas’ previous outrageous behaviour and was prepared to punish the author of these crimes, so Bagoas anticipated his intentions and killed Arses and his children also while he was still in the third year of his reign. The royal house was thus extinguished, and there was no one in the direct line of descent to claim the throne”. Since Artaxerexes-III is referred to as Nindin or a Nanda in the Babylonian texts this immediately recalls the account in the Indian texts that Chanakya had decimated the Nanda line.
 Tarn, who was strongly criticised by E. Badian, was a great scholar whose wide knowledge of the history of both the European and Asiatic peoples gave him an intuitive insight which remains unmatched. Another scholar of the same genre was Sir George Macdonald who posed many pertinent questions about Arsacid history.
 Archaeologists have found little in India or Iran that can be directly linked to Alexander and reference to Alexander in Indian literature is scanty though not non-existent. There were about 20 contemporary accounts of Alexander but these are not extant. Aristoboulos and Ptolemy wrote many years later. Historians have been forced to use the later accounts of Arrian, Plutarch and other secondary sources.
 Badian’s pompous rhetoric often betrays a shallow and parochial outlook. Probably Droysen did not know about Buddhism or Gotama, yet his 1877 work is nearer the truth than Badian’s. W. Smith’s “A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Bibliography”, which was published only three years later, is a gem of high scholarship.
 Even Tarn who identified Kuh e-Khwaja on Lake Hamun as Alexandria Prophthasia did not read the message hidden in the name Alexandria Prophthasia which means Alexandria of the Prophets. From Sir Aurel Stein’s discovery of a Buddhist shrine at Kuh-e Khwaja it can be seen that one of these Prophets was Gotama Buddha who is the same as Gomata mentioned in the Behistun inscription. See note 22.
 It is likely that Bardiya sat on the throne with Gomata beside him. R. Pal, ‘Non-Jonesian Indology and Alexander’, Minerva Press, to be published. See also ‘Goatama Buddha in West Asia’, Annals of Bhandarkar Oriental Reasearch Institute, vol 77.
 H.C. Seth’s suggestion that Sasigupta could be the same as Chandragupta was pooh-pooed by H.C. Raychaudhuri and others as too daring a dissertation.
 The business of the play is diplomacy and politics, to the entire exclusion of any amourous interludes. In this respect it is unique in world literature.
 Although Keith and others have assigned the present redaction to 9th century AD, the original story appears to be much older. Futile attempts has been made to link it to later kings and fit it to Bihar even though ancient commentators like Dhundiraja associated it with the rise of Chandragupta Maurya.
 Even Badian suspects that it was stolen. Perdikkas had probably stolen it from Roxane. In the play it is stolen from Rakshsa’s wife.
 After Alexander had crossed the Tigris and was approaching Babylon, a group of Priests of Marduk came to see him. They beseeched him not to enter the city at this time for, they said, they had received an oracle from the Gods prophesying that, if he did, misfortune would befall him. Alexander did not trust them and continued his journey to Babylon but he did listen to another of their requests - to enter the city from the east.
 Drinking the poison cup could have killed Darius-III but probably not Bagoas. One reads in the Indian texts that Chanakya made Chandragupta drink small doses of poison daily to gain immunity against the poison. Doubtlessly he himself could have taken the same protection.
 The name is linked to Sarapis mentioned by Greek authors. All arguments which claim that Sarapis was a god whose worship was not established until the reign of Ptolemy –1 in Alexandria, are flimsy. The name is linked to the Sarvastivadins, one of the earliest Buddhist clans. It is probable that Buddhism developed as a deviant form of Shaivism.
 Diodorus Bk xvi. See also Lempriere’s Classical Dictionary.
 Chanakya’s demoniacal hatred for the Nandas can only be explained by his loathing for Buddhism. The name Sarvarthasiddhi of the Nanda king(Darius-III) shows his inclination for Buddhism. It is possible that apart from the greed and treachery of the generals, the enemies of Alexander united under an anti-Buddhist, Zoroastrian platform.
 Lane Fox, Robin, Alexander the Great, London, 1973, p. 372.
 It appears from Asoka’s Edicts that ritual slaughter of the bird (Mayura) was practiced by the Mauryas.
 ‘Ancient historians today generally supplement the record of the ancient writers with the findings of archaeology, including the study of inscriptions, sculpture and coins.’, remarks a comtemporary writer (R. Stoneman, ‘Alexander the Great’, Routledge, 1997, p.6), in a tone reminiscent of Sir Mortimer Wheeler’s allusion to philately in reference to archaeology of the north-western border provinces. Archaeology does not merely supplement history, it provides the basis on which alone true history can stand.
 Unfortunately baffled by the lack of any archaeological corroboration, Indian historians have tried to underrate archaelogy itself. As a result, today the main body of Indian ancient history is based on fables. Although A. Ghosh, H.D. Sankalia, B.M. Barua, Debala Mitra and others have expressed grave doubts about Jones’ identification, R. Thapar and others have accepted the shoddy 1903 work of Waddell, a writer who was notorious for wild speculations and who had no scientific bent.
 Kulke, H. and Rothermund, D.,"India", Routldege, London,1990,p. 61.
 In view of the strong evidence from the north-west, F.R. Allchin’s proposal for futher digging in the residential quarters of Patna is likely to be fruitless.
 In fact Darius-II and many other Persian emperors were Indo-Iranians in origin.
 No primary relic of Gotama has been unearthed from eastern India except his ashes which were surely brought from the northwest. His mortal remains were also found mostly from the North-West which must have been his arena. Gotama was a contemporary and namesake of Gomata and stalwarts like Olmstead, Toynbee and Dandamaev realized that Darius had lied in the Behistun inscription - Gomata was not an impostor. His immense popularity is attested by Herodotus’ report that the whole of Asia rose in revolt in his support. He was a great benefactor who abolished taxes and freed slaves; his Palace was at Sikayavati which links him to Sakya, Gotama’s title; he proscribed Zarathustra just as Gotama had banished Devadatta and Al-beruni stated that the Zoroastrians drove the Buddhists eastward. In the highly authentic Ajanta caves child Siddhartha is shown dressed as a foreigner. Thus Bagapa, Viceroy of Babylon during Darius’ reign was surely Gotama whose title was Bhagava. Bagapa must have been the chief priest of E-Sangila. Before his death Gotama lamented his happy days at the Isigili mount which is the E-sagila. There is a reference in the fortification tablets(PF 756) to Gaumata in a religious context which indicates that Bardiya was killed, not Gaumata. After Darius-I’s death Gotama was probably banished by his son Xerexes who crushed the Daevas or Buddhists. Pal, R. ,”Gotama Buddha in West Asia”,Annals of Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, vol.77, p.67-120
 “Greeks in Bactria and India”, p. 481.
 “He gave orders for villagers along his route to be strewn with flowers and garlands, and for bowls full of wine and other vessels of extraordinary size to be set out on the thresholds of houses …. The friends and the royal company went in front, heads wreathed with various kinds of flowers woven into garlands, with the tones of the flute heard at one point, the tones of the lyre at another …. The king and his drinking companions rode in a cart weighed down with golden bowls and huge goblets of the same metal. In this way the army spent seven days on a drunken march….” (Curtius, 9.10.25-27).
 ”The Iranian region, with its affinity for the Orient, permitted the development of two different cultural areas: the northwestern one, more properly Iranian, with the localities of Tepe Giyan, Tepe Sialk, Tepe Hissar, and Anau; and the south-eastern one, which can be considered Indian, of Baluchistan and the centers of the valley of the Zhob and of Quetta and Amri “. Encyclopedia of World Art, See under Asiatic Prehistory.
 Bosworth, A.B., ‘Conquest and Empire’, Cambridge, 1988, p. 150. Khanu is also given as Kahnuj in modern maps.
 Pal, R., “Non-Jonesian Indology & Alexander”. S. Ratnagar notes that Manium is the same as Mannu but fails to reconise the significance of Manu and Magan. “Encounters”, Oxford Univ. Press, p.39.
 Pal, R., “Non-Jonesian Indology & Alexander”, Minerva Press, to be published. Only Tarn intuitively came near the truth; ”He had found a number of disconnected states and peoples in the North-West, and had had no relations with, even if he had heard of, the most powerful of the Indian kingdoms, that of Magadha on the Ganges”. Tarn, “The Greeks in Bactria and India”, p. 129.
 This is indicated in the Mudrarakshasa.
 "To me Candragupta was a man of the Uttarapatha or Gandhara if not exactly of Taksashila. His early education, military training and alliances were all in that part of India. He added the whole of the province of Gandhara and the surrounding tribal states (Punjab and N.W. frontier province) to the growing Magadha empire together with the territories ceded to him by Seleukus....". Indian Culture, vol. X, p. 34.
 “We know of one Indian chief Sasigupta, (Sisicottos), already in the conquerer’s train. His had been probably some little hill-state on the slopes of the Hindu Kush, whence he had gone two years since, to help the Iranians in Bactria against Alexander. When their case was lost, he had gone over to the European”. Cambridge History of Ancient India, ed . E.J. Rapson, p.314.
 "We do not know what induced Sandrocottos to leave his home and take service under the latter monarch (Nandrus), but we incline to attribute it to a sentiment of patriotism forbidding him to seek office or advancement under a power which had crushed the liberties of his country. What the nature of his offence against Nandrus was does not appear, but he so dreaded his resentment that he quitted his dominions and returned home..". McCrindle, ‘Invasion of India by Alexander the great’, p. 405.
 Raychaudhuri’s text on Political history of ancient India is worshipped as a Bible in India.
 In the Greek texts Bagoas is described as an Egyptian. But his being an eunuch may link him with Babylon which was famous for eunuchs Usually princes who had no claim to the throne were turned into eunuchs. The Babylonian scribes and learned men were often eunuchs. Also his famous house at Babylon makes it very likely that he was from that city. That there were Dramils in Babylon is well known.