Ashoka´s pillars re-inscribed Altars of Alexander

The vanishing of the twelve magnificent altars set up by Alexander the Great has intrigued many scholars. This article shows that one of the Altars was reinscribed by Emperor Asoka, who was the famous Indo-Greek King Diodotus I. There is an indication that Alexander may have tried to promote brotherhood in these altars. It is just possible that the four-lion emblem of India may be linked to Alexander.

Even in the heyday of Assyriology, when the lure of grand discoveries drew archaeologists to Sumer and Akkad, some eminent figures opted for India. Apart from the enigma of the Indus culture, a prime attraction was the undiscovered altars of Alexander cited in several ancient texts. Alexander was the greatest ambassador of the West, and the failure to locate the altars saddened eminent archaeologists like Sir Mortimer Wheeler, who writes:

And yet it is astonishing how very little actual trace we have of his passing . . . his material presence has eluded us. It is as though a disembodied idea had come and gone as a mighty spiritual force with little immediate tangibility.

The vanishing of the altars was seen by some as an index of the insignificance of Alexander’s legacy, and was at the root of much ignorant criticism levelled against him. However, survival of relics is often a matter of chance; to the layman the accounts of Arrian, Plutarch and others may appear trivial in contrast to the lustre of the Taj Mahal or the splendour of Tutenkhamun’s relics, but the historian must tread cautiously. Natural disasters like earthquakes and floods, wilful destruction by political or religious reactionaries, and at times plain misjudgment of historians, may accumulate in order to diminish a legitimate hero. Lastly one must consider the effects of misappropriation. Had it not been for the ballasting of more than one hundred miles of the Lahore-Multan railway with bricks from the monuments of Harappa, the task of reconstructing the glories of the Indus civilisation would have been far easier. This background has other dimensions as well: only a little more than fifty years after the construction of the altars, all of which apparently disappeared, one encounters the majestic Asokan pillars. Since Asoka has a very strong presence in the northwest, it is natural to suspect a link between the vanishing of all the altars of Alexander and the simultaneous emergence of nearly the same number of hispillar edicts, many of which had lion-capitals. It can be recalled that when Philip wanted to commemorate the momentous victory at Chaeronea he set up the famous lion statue. It is more than likely that his illustrious son had also erected lion capitals in India.

Who Erected Pillars In India before Asoka?

The find-spots of relics are of great importance in the reconstruction of history, but one of the recurrent problems in Indian history is that pillars were often re-written and re-ercetd at different locations. Unfortunately this has been totally ignored by gullible historians such as H. C. Raychaudhuri and R. Thapar. Even though the weight of some of these pillars is about thirty tons, it is not safe to assume that they were erected in their present locations. Keay writes,:

The question of how these pillars had originally been moved roundIndia, and whether they were still in their ordained positions, was an intriguing subject by itself. It was now apparent that they were all of the same stone, all polished by the same unexplained process, and therefore all from the same quarry.

Significantly, although most writers placed this quarry at Chunar near Benares, Prinsep located it somewhere in the outer Himalayas. The altars of Alexander were grand structures. Plutarch writes that in his day these were held in much veneration by the Prasiians, whose kings were in the habit of crossing the Ganges every year to offer sacrifices in the Grecian manner upon them (Plut. Alexander, 62). What happened thereafter? Was there a scramble among the later rulers to use these splendid monuments for their own purposes? The fame of Samudragupta as one of the greatest rulers of India rests on his famous Allahabad inscription which was rewritten on an old Asokan pillar. Kulke and Rothermund suggest that it was shifted from Kausambi. In the fourteenth century, Sultan Feroz Shah was so impressed by the Asokan pillars that he had two of them shifted to Delhi, one from Meerut and another from Topra in Ambala district, about 90 miles northwest of Delhi. Monahan writes:

The fact that ten of the pillars bear inscriptions of Ashoka is proof they were erected not later than his reign; it does not prove that none of them was erected earlier.

In the Sanskrit drama Mudrarakshasa, Chandragupta is calledPiadamsana. From this, Raychaudhuri concludes that it is not always safe to ascribe all epigraphs that mentionPriyadarsana to Ashoka the Great. The intriguing fact is that Asoka says that pillars bearing edicts had been in existence inIndia before his time; he was not the first to use pillars for the propagation of Dhamma (Eusebia). In the seventh Pillar Edict, after recording that he has erected ‘pillars of the Sacred Law’ (dhammathambani), Asoka writes:

 Etaṃ devānaṃpiye āhā: iyaṃ dhaṃma-libi ata athi silā-thaṃbānii vā, silā phalakāni vā tata kaṭaviyā ena esa cila-ṭhitike siyā.

The Devānamṃpiya said: wherever there are either stone pillars or stone slabs, thereon this Dharma rescript is to be engraved, so that it may long endure.

This shows that there were already pillars in India before the Asokan era and also implies that, like Samudragupta, Asoka also had engraved his own message on at least some of them. To realise that no one other than Alexander could have erected these pre-Asokan pillars, one has to take a close look into an age-old blunder in Indology that has greatly falsified world history.

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