Flawed Sheet Anchors of Indian History

It is true that we don’t have a reliable written history of India from ancient sources, but we do have lots of information about Indian history from literary sources.

The chronology of Indian history rests on two sheet anchors. The first sheet anchor is the identification of Sandrokottos of the Greek accounts with Chandragupta Maurya, the founder of the Mauryan Dynasty. Sandrokottos was the contemporary of Alexander the Great. The second sheet anchor is the identification of Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī with Aśoka Maurya, the grandson of Chandragupta Maurya. Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī mentions five Greek kings in his inscriptions, one of them being Antiyoka, who is currently identified as Antiochus II. The history of India that we know today has been constructed by counting backward and forward from these two sheet anchors.

mauryaIt is well known that there is another candidate who could be Sandrokottos: Chandragupta-I of the Imperial Gupta Dynasty. Since the initial identification was based on the phonetic similarity of Sandrokottos and Chandragupta, either Chandragupta would fit just fine, for namesake! However, the balance tilts in the favour of Chandragupta Maurya because of the second sheet anchor. There has been no satisfactory alternative identification for Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī that would be consistent with  identifying  Sandrokottos with Chandragupta-I.

Let us assume for argument’s sake that historians have made a mistake in identifying Sandrokottos with Chandragupta Maurya, who should really be identified with Chandragupta-I. Chandragupta Maurya is currently assumed to have ruled during the last quarter of the fourth century BCE, while Chandragupta-I is supposed to have ruled during the first half of fourth century CE. The two Chandraguptas are separated in time by roughly 650 years. If Chandragupta-I has been shifted forward in time by over six centuries, will not this create a cascading confusion that would be obvious?

What would be the possible implications of such an error? If Chandragupta-I is moved forward by over six centuries, then the people who came before him also get moved forward and so on. Since everyone has been shifted forward by over six centuries, we would be staring at a vacuum in the Indian historical timeline. Does such a vacuum exist in Indian history? I believe it does, and it is the period before the sixth century BCE. In fact, we have a vacuum that spans eleven centuries, from the end of Indus Valley Civilization around 17th century BCE to the sixth century BCE. An artificial prop called Aryan Invasion has been devised to fill this gap. And with such a prop Indian history has been prodded into a new start in the sixth century BCE with Buddha and the kings who were his contemporaries. If we look closely into this timeline, we find that the chronology before the Buddha is rather vague and amorphous. We find no names of any historical personages before the sixth century BCE. There is only literary history before this period without any names attached to any event. Thus, the people who are placed in the sixth century BCE may as well be placed in the twelfth century BCE, demanding the construction of a new chronology of kings and events.

Looking at the implications of the flawed sheet anchor going forward, we have to accept that if the Imperial Guptas were moved forward by six centuries, then those following the Guptas also need to be moved forward. But obviously, the process will end somewhere as we cannot place ourselves six centuries ahead of our own time. In fact the process has to end much ahead of our time because we stand on much surer ground regarding the time period of historical events during the second millennium. This means that the timeline will get crowded where the people belonging to different eras will be made to face each other. This kind of chronological telescoping will result in a situation where history will declare certain people as contemporaries, even when there is no evidence to corroborate and support such contemporaneity. Is there any evidence of this phenomenon? I believe there is, and that time period is the sixth century CE.

Historians have proposed the existence of four mighty empires in the sixth century — of the Imperial Guptas, the Aulikaras, the Maukharies, and the Later Guptas. While the Imperial Guptas and the Aulikaras were contemporaries, as were the Maukharies and the Later Guptas, there is no evidence that the first two were the contemporaries of the latter two. This has resulted in a situation where three different dynasties claim to have ruled North India within a short span of time [1]:

It should be remembered that the time of both Iśānavarmā and Jivitagupta I falls between 520 to 540 AD. This is exactly the time of Malwa’s Aulikara emperor Yaśodharmā (known date 532 AD) and he has been given credit for winning the region from the Himalayas in the north to the Brahmaputra river to the east. Clearly he would have won Bengal as well. It is clear from this fact that Jivitagupta I, Crown prince Iśānavarmā and Malwa’s Yaśodharmā, all three claim to have won (emphasis mine) Himalayan region and Bengal between 520 to 540 AD.

This situation is very unlikely as it takes time to build an empire, and empires do not disintegrate so quickly. Another example of dynasties made contemporary is that of the Śakas and the Kuṣāṇas. A consequence of this flawed chronology is that  they both claim sovereignty over the same region at the same time [2]:

“Rasesh Jamindar has advanced a theory that Kanishka existed after Rudradaman perhaps in the second half of the 2nd century. He argues that Rudradaman’s domination over Sindhu, Sui Vihar (including Multan) and Kanishka’s rule over Multan and Sui Vihar is not possible at the same time. Secondly Rudradaman could not have defeated Yaudheyas after crossing the Kushana territory who were occupying the Punjab area.”

Even though modern historians make the Śaka Kṣatrapas and Mahākṣatrapas the subordinates of Kuṣāṇa rulers, the fact is that the Kuṣāṇas have not mentioned the Śakas, and the Śakas do not know of any Kuṣāṇas. Similarly, we find some small rulers minting their own coins right under the nose of the mighty Imperial Guptas [3]:

“The rule of Shakas and Shiladas came to an end in c. 340 A.D. with the rise of a tribe, which is sometimes described as the Little Kushana and sometimes as Kidara Kushana. … Numismatic evidence shows that a number of petty rulers like Kritavirya, Shiladitya, Sarvayashas, Bhasvan, Kushala and Prakasha were ruling in the Punjab during the first half of the 5th century A.D. They were probably Kidara Kushana rulers, for the name Kidara appears on their coins on the obverse.”

Not only these minor rulers, but there were other rulers also claiming sovereignty within the dominion of the Imperial Guptas at the very zenith of their power [4]:

“Unlike the Maharajas of Valkha, Subandhu does not refer to any suzerain even in a general manner, which shows that he was an independent ruler. In 416-417 AC, the Gupta power had, no doubt, reached its peak. Chandragupta II was dead at the time and was succeeded by his son Kumaragupta I, but there is no reason to suppose that the Gupta dominion had suffered any diminution at the beginning of the latter’s reign. It may, therefore, be asked how Kumaragupta allowed Subandhu to enjoy independence just on the border of the Avanti province, which was undoubtedly under Gupta rule at the time.”

These examples should raise doubts about the exact period of the Imperial Guptas’ reign. Was it really between the fourth to sixth century CE? In fact, there is strong archaeological evidence to the contrary. The age of the Imperial Guptas is considered the golden age of India. This was the age of unprecedented growth in prosperity, art and culture. However, the archaeological excavations present a completely different picture. In the period when the cities are supposed to be flourishing, there are definitive signs of rapid decay. Here is a summary of the status of Indian cities during the third to fifth century of the Common Era according to archaeological findings [5]:

After third century of Common Era, there was rapid decay in urban centres of Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, for example Hastināpura and Mathurā. During Gupta age, cities were fast deteriorating in middle Gangetic plains, for example Śrāvastī, Kauśāmbī and Rājagīra. Conditions were similar in West Bengal and Odisha. Urban decay started in North India with the rise of the Imperial Guptas (emphasis mine). The signs of urban decay in cities administered by Guptas are clear in cities such as Pāṭaliputra, Vaiśālī, Vārāṇasī, Kauśāmbī, Ayodhyā, Hastināpura and Mathurā.

It is true that we don’t have a reliable written history of India from ancient sources, but we do have lots of information about Indian history from literary sources, inscriptions, numismatics and archaeology. We can consider all this information, which comes in bits and pieces, as parts of a gigantic puzzle. If we have the framework of history right, all these pieces will fit together and fall into their proper places. On the other hand, if we don’t have the framework of history right, we will be force-fitting these puzzle pieces. Indian history is full of examples of such force-fitting.

References

  1. Goyala, S. (1986). Harśa Śīlāditya (in Hindi). Meerut, U.P., India: Kusumāñjali Prakāśana, pages 23-24 (translated from Hindi by the author).
  2. Sagar, K. C. (1992). Foreign Influence on Ancient India. New Delhi, India: Northern Book Centre, page 171.
  3. Majumdar, R. C. and Altekar, A. S. (editors). (1967). The Vakataka-Gupta Age. Delhi, India: Motilal Banarasidass, pages 21-23.
  4. Mirashi, V.V. (editor). (1955). Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum, Vol. IV, Part 1: Inscriptions of the Kalachuri-Chedi era. New Delhi, India: Archaeological Survey of India, pages xxxix-xl.
  5. Śarmā, R. (1995). Bhārata ke Prāchina Nagaroṃ kā Patana (in Hindi). New Delhi, India: Rājakamala Prakāśana, pages 225-227 (translated from Hindi by the author).

Disclaimer: The facts and opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. IndiaFacts does not assume any responsibility or liability for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in this article.

royrajaram@gmail.com'

Dr. Raja Ram Mohan Roy earned his B. Tech in Metallurgical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, and Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering from The Ohio State University, USA. He has worked as a Research Scientist and Project Manager for over 20 years in Canada. He has written four pathbreaking books on Indian civilization titled “Vedic Physics: Scientific Origin of Hinduism”, “India before Alexander: A New Chronology”, “India after Alexander: The Age of Vikramādityas”, and “India after Vikramāditya: The Melting Pot”. He is currently working on his fourth book on Indian history titled “India before Buddha: Vedic Kingdoms in 2nd Millennium BCE”.

  • sanch

    One can also see the architectural commonalities between the Ajanta Pillars and the Pataliputra pillars of the Gupta times. They share commonalities with the Greek style as well. It is to be noted that the Iron Pillar follows the same style as the Guptas. which is again of the same style as the Ajanta Pillars. Now the Ajanta pillars follow similar architectural patterns with the Udaygiri mountain pillars. The rise of the temple art as whether a part of revivalism or new formation was more evident during the Pallava times.

  • sanch

    I have always wondered about this. If the Gupta period was the Golden Age, how come there are no great archaeological evidences. It should be noted that the perfection of the Stupa came with astronomical accuracy, which was during the period of Guptas. According to the Shankaracharya sources, Adi Shankara was around 450 BCE but current history for whatever reasons place him at 8th century AD. Not just this, The Guptas are supposed to be great patrons of Buddhism as well as seen from their contribution to the Mahabodhi Temple.

  • A.K.Sinha

    Dear discussants and Dr.Roy,
    To me,we all should stop researching after drawing conclusions,which has become a trend in historiography,especially in case of Indian History.There is no denying the fact that the German and British historians and orientalists have played havoc with Indian History and if I excused would like to call the efforts heinous crime.But,we too have not been honest as a researcher from day one despite knowing the background because we all did try to interpret the literary data based upon what had been translated and interpreted by the Germans and Britishers.We all know for pretty sure that the Germans and Britishers used to employ locally available Sanskritists for translation of Sanskrit and Prakrit/Pali texts under their own dictates giving them some paltry remuneration. Neither these foreigners knew the local language nor the locals knew German or English.The works done by the local Sanskritists possibly would been transferred to the Germans and Britishers through some interpreters without assessing the correctness by any other knowledgeable.The base work done by the local Sanskritists eventually became the source material for the Germans and Britishers to translate the literary texts in German or English and hence the error factor cannot be overruled.
    The most disgusting aspect is that we all talk of corrupted version of Indian history but at the same time we still take the translated works of Germans and Britishers as source material whenever try to attempt research on variety of history topics.It is quite unfortunate that even after gaining Independence about 70 years ago no academic institution in India could make any serious attempt to revisit the translations available and check their correctness linguistically but for some isolated instances.The myth created that India does not have any written history needs to be wiped off from our minds.It is there available in the ancient literature.The requirement is that all of them should be translated honestly irrespective of Right or Left ideology and published at the first instance for scholars to interpret the data and come out with commentaries so as to enable the historians to take the work forward.Expecting historians to be knowledgeable enough to re-translate the literary texts and engage themselves in interpretations would be too much of asking.Let there be base work available first to start the work.
    We all have erred since our research starts with either the 26th letter of alphabet or or that matter anywhere between 1 to 26th of the source material and interpretation made available to us by be the Germans and Britishers.How many of us have researched from 1 of the alphabet of the source material?
    Interpolation in the literary texts is another aspect which needs due consideration while revisiting the history of India.The Institutions which had started some work in this area are now defunct due to various reasons leaving the work incomplete.I propose that all such Institutions must be revived with the intervention of the Government and first rate linguists of the country irrespective of age,region and ideology be invited to work whole time not alone for translation but also to identify interpolations in literary texts available to us.
    Recently,I was studying the works of legendary Abhinavgupt and was amazed to know that the only 10 of his over 35 works are available to us on date.Where his other works have gone?
    Fortunately,the Government of India had launched National Mission on Manuscripts.The objective was to locate and document the manuscripts scattered in collections,libraries,museums,archives,etc.I myself had seen thousands of hand written Tibetan manuscripts in Buddhist monastery at Tabo (Himachal Pradesh) way back in 1991 and all of them were in a very bad state of preservation.Obviously, a few would certainly be of importance.Likewise,the NMM must have listed many unknown manuscripts from all over the country.The point I desired to arrive at was that a large number of manuscripts which may provide valuable data on Indian history are not yet known or translated for reference to be done by the researchers.
    Another aspect which I would like to flag here is the importance of Archaeology as source of history. Unfortunately,the lack of vision and aspersions caused on the discipline itself due to ideological differences between Rightists and Leftists to suit their way of interpretations has forced field work in archaeology to take a back seat since 1990.No major work in the field of archaeology(barring a very few) has been taken up after 1980s so as add even a line in the school books of Indian history.Well,it is altogether a separate issue of discussion, but, I would like to raise that in a country like India where majority claim that it had no concept of history writing and hence does not have any authentic history.In such a situation what is the option left?Is not archaeology alone could come to the rescue in substantiating the so called scattered data available in literary texts ? But what have we been doing with archaeology since 1980-1990 ? When entered in the active profession of Archaeology in 1974/1976,I had been taught by my seniors that the function of the archaeologist is to uncover the data make the same available to historians to interpret.I had specifically been advised to keep away from interpretations as far as possible since the work of an archaeologist is only to explore,excavate and publish the data faithfully and hence should stop myself when subjectivity begins in my interpretations of the data.Though it quite tempting to interpret the data found in the field,the archaeologists must thake a precaution.
    Dating through scientific methods of the samples collected from the excavations, earlier by TFIR and later by PRL(including other scientific institutions), has done immense damage to the Indian history rather than doing any good.Everywhere confusion has been created topsy-turvying the historical stratigraphy of India in an amateurish manner .I do not know why was it done and what was in hidden agenda? Was it part of any ideology or was just accidental? It is for anybody to arrive at.Let me take example of NBPW(Northern Black Polished Ware) levels.As per the 14C dates for NBP levels as analyzed by TFIR/PRL,the date bracket had been accepted by the archaeologists between C.500-200 BCE, irrespective of the level or for that matter the geographical area within which the site lies.The archaeologists did not make any distinction that the NBPW sites located in eastern UP and Bihar must have had early origin than those located in western UP,Rajasthan,Haryana,Punjab or for that matter other sites located in other States away from eastern UP or Bihar. Later,PRL came out with the theory of calibration in 14C dating and suggested that the dates arrived at could be calibrated pushing it further backwards.The damage caused by 14C dates in respect of Harappan (Circa 2300-1700 BCE) and Pre-Harappan (Circa 2400-2300 BCE) need no elaboration in view of the fact that recent dates have pushed back the Harappan chronology to about 1000 years, if not more.The 14C dating of the samples collected from Chalcolithic cultures of Central and Western India, too, has been done,it seems,with the pre-conceived notion that the entire area got colonised only after the Harappans migrated from their home-land in the west, which again has caused a great damage to the interpretation of Indian history.I do not understand why it was not thought that the Eastern,Central,Western and Southern Chalcolithic cultures, each evolved out of their own from respective basic basal cultures and their interaction with Harappans was a much later phenomenon.It may not be out of place that unless we have a series of scientific dates for successive strata and there is an amount of consistency between them not much reliance should be given on them.
    The situation created by amateurish interpretations on the basis of scientific dates needs a careful review and re-visitation by taking up fresh excavations of at select sites.
    Let us also examine the numismatic data.We all believed that Punch-marked coins dates go as early as 4-3rd Century BCE and continued till the uninscribed coins came into circulation.The basis for dating Punched-marked coins was that coins of Alexander were found along with them at Taxila(Bhir Mound) during excavations carried out by Sir John Marshall.The question arises how immediately after the advent of coinage(Punch-marked coins) in India,which most plausibly had happened in the Gangetic valley, reached Taxila to be found underneath the coins of Alexander and dated to 4th century BC.Fortunately more than 100 sites,if not more,have been excavated after Taxila but not even one could provide a firm date to the Punch-marked coin.Does it not appear strange?Uninscribed and Tribal coins from different regions are given a date bracket of circa 200-100 BCE, including Shung,Kanv,early Satawahanas,etc.But does it appear too much of conservative estimation because uninscribed and inscribed coinage involved not only shift in technology but also use of labels through script.
    Epigraphical researches, too, are not free from Western bias since the dating of early inscriptions which do not mention any date.Moreover,the origin of script accepted to be 3rd-4th century BCE also needs serious and unbiased examination.
    Unfortunately, epigraphical studies in India is now dying because hardly a few serious scholars are still engaged in practice.The Epigraphy Branch of ASI,which used to steer the discovery,decipher,edit and publish the inscriptions is toothless and almost defunct.Other institutions are also not formidable enough to take lead.
    Well,I may be pardoned for some mistakes which may have crept in or straight comments made out of excitement besides the fact that this note has been written by me extempore,not read by me even once.

  • AChakra

    This article is an eye opener. Certainly the points raised in this article would be dismissed without discussion by the coterie whose theories stand to be proven wrong.
    But for every logical person this article makes enough sense to look into the questions raised by it

  • JustSaying

    Excellent article. Almost impossible to the explain away the points you have raised. It is amusing to think that these people never thought their perverse take on India history would ever be challenged.
    Making contemporaries out of kings who were not contemporaries at all. Quite ridiculous.

  • Denny crane

    This man’s theories are but a rehash of what people like Kota Venkateshwara and P N Oak have been saying for a long time. This theory is wholly bizarre and doesn’t deserve to be discussed, but the fact that so many Hindus seem to buy it makes a rebuttal necessary. I shall just give a few examples of the massive evidence against these theories. The First piece of evidence against these conspiracy theories are the numerous antiquities which can now be carbon dated. A most vital piece of evidence is from Patanjali whose date can be corellated with that of menander the indo greek king (he says arunadyavanH sAketaM refering to his capture of Saketa), he also uses the sentence iha pushyamitram yAjayAmaH (we sacrifice for Pushyamitra, the Shunga) illustrating the use of the present tense. He also seems to be familliar with the Mauryas as rulers in the recent past. All this dates him to 150 BC . Yavana derives from old persian Yauna itself from ionia. To deny that the Yavanas were greeks requires a whole lot of pleading.

    • Ankit Khemka

      And how did u arrive at the date of 150 BC??

    • sanch

      Yavana is a sanskrit term and is not taken from Persian. The whole myth of Aryan Invasion fails because the older mandalas of Rig Veda are centred around the Gangetic plain. That is the book of the Bharadwajas while the later mandals of the Rig Veda are centred around Indus valley. This essentially indicates an east to west migration. This would also mean the linguistics changing from Sanskrit to Old Persian. Saraswati became Harawati and Sapt Sindhu becoming Hapt Hindu. It is also to be noted that Vedic Gods are common with every European Gods but each European Gods are not in common with each other. Also, the Vedic Gods are in their natural form in India. There are no Murty-worships of Indra, Varuna, Ashwinis in the Vedic age. However all the european Gods are embodied as men in those myths. It is also to be noted that Iranian myths are only in common with Vedic Myths. This refutes any such European migration. Also, the later mandalas of the Rig Veda corresponds to the Mittani kings which have sanskrit names. Also the development of Chariots around this time affirms to the fact that the older Rig Veda are way before Chariots developed. So your idea that it has been from Persia is incorrect. Sanskrit by 150 BC was already in the classical phase where the grammatical rules by Panini around 5th century BC has been fixed. Since then there has been no change into the vocabulary rules of Sanskrit. So 150 BC doesn’t hold. Your arguments are baseless and without any evidence. According to Puranas, Mauryans are dated around 1000-900 BC so it is possible that Patanjail mentions Mauryan rulers. And more than anything Patanjali is the composer of Yogasutras . Yoga has clearly originated in the Indus-Saraswati region or atleast flourished there corroborated by the numerous seals and postures and terracotta figurines. Patanjali also mentions the type of Yoga happening before his book and then he forms the various postures. So you putting Patanjali to 150 BC when Buddha himself followed the Yogasutras is contradictory. It is also contradictory because Patanjali does not mention Buddha. Buddha, who is supposed to be a central figure and hero to India is not mentioned by any of Patanjali’s works.

  • amit_kissan

    Indian history is definitely faulty and sometimes inconsistent. The Period of the Upanishads, the Mahabharata war, Buddha’s date, King Vikramaditya’s reign, Poet Kalidasa’s time, Saint Bhartrihari of Ujjain, Raja Gobonda cHandra/ Gopichand, Adi Shankaracharya —- are all floating around with no proper date to fix them. Previously German and English historians seriously damaged and altered our history to make way for the fake Aryan Invasion Theory. But the pivot on which Aryan Invasion rested was that River Sarasvati was mythical and didn’t exist in India at Vedic times. But modern satellite photography shows signs of a shift of tectonic plates and draining of River Sarasvati many 1000 years ago. So, why don’t the scientists make some effort and correct Indian History now??

  • Rabinder Koul

    Most of these problems get alleviated if we follow the epigraphic evidence and re-read these with out arbitrarily rejecting these. VedVeer Arya has done precisely that. And found that Shaka and Shalivahana eras that are about six hundred and odd years apart, have been collapsed to same erra. That makes Buddha NirVAna to significantly older time. And fits the Ashoka Gonanda to right place. I should slo mention that Kanishka Rabataka epigraphic, where Kanishka maintain that his Grand father is Homavargiya (i.e Soma Sacrificer) clearly defines time periods much earlier than given to him. His script though called old Greek is perhaps the Old YavaNaani script from which later Greek was derived.

  • Rabinder Koul

    The epigraphic inscription in Afghanistan does not call itself Devānāmpriya Ashoka, but only Ashoka. Where as every other epigraphic source is Devānāmpriya Ashoka. So the afghanistan epigraphic evidence should not be associated with Devānāmpriya Ashoka, but some other local Ashoka of Afghanistan region. In particular if you look at the Greek script of this script is much more modern than the Scrip used at the same time in neighborhood Bactria. The Bactria scrip is archaic hence two cannot be same age. There are three or four Ashokas in India. (1) Ashoka Gonanda of Kashmir 100 years after Buddha nirvana, (2) Ashoka Mautya, (3) Ashoka gUpa also known as Dvitya Ashoka and perhaps the Ashoka of Afghanistan. Kalpana in his Rajtarangini gives the date of Kashmir Ashoka of Gonanda dynasty about 1800 BC 9I don’t remember exact date), and this Ashoka was Buddhist. As Kalpana informs us. So Buddha must be easier than that. In short there has been lot of confusion created by todays and westerns historians.

    • Shubhangi Raykar

      The name is Kalhana which may be a corrupt form of Kalyan but not Kalpana.

  • Rabinder Koul

    Chronology of the Kings is well documented, todays historians of India (who follow western misreadings) and the western historians did not understand the different Samvatas of the Indian calendar. The merged Saka and Salivahana Calendar, Saka actually is 523 BC and Salivahana 73 CE. They brought both of them together to 73 CE. Hence had to declare that some Names of the Kings were fake or identify different Kings together. They also had to discard epigraphic evidence, because it did not fit their imagination. The second mistake was identifying ChandraGupta of Maurya dynasty as contemporary of Alexander. While it was Chandra Gupta of Gupta dynasty. And lastly ignoring the sheet anchor of Indian chronology. I.e Mahabharata war and its associated there calendars.

  • NewAmerican

    Indeed history sometimes is not backed by facts but more often facts are backed by history. As it appears, Indian history is still in a discovery phase and your article hopefully brings the historians’ attention to investigate further.

  • Very interesting hypothesis backed up by cogent arguments!