Scholia Reviews ns 14 (2005) 19.

Ranajit Pal, Non-Jonesian Indology and Alexander. New Delhi: Minerva Press, 2002. Pp. 268, incl. 41 black- and-white illustrations. ISBN 81-7662-032-7. US$17.00, UK£11.75.

Jan-Mathieu Carbon,
Corpus Christi College, Oxford.

Self-described as a colloquial 'must for the history buff' and a pleonastic 'labour of hard work' (back cover) Non-Jonesian Indology and Alexander by Ranajit Pal is indeed both of these things; a work at once fascinatingly suggestive, pioneering and provocative, yet frustratingly confused and laborious. The main subject is Alexander's conquest of India, specifically locating Palibothra, the theoretical limit of his march east. Pal in this book leads his own campaign west against those scholars, particularly Badian and his disciples, who ignore the Sanskrit and Pali sources and try to reconstruct Alexander's eastern campaign using only the Greek and Roman texts.[[1]] He traces the origin of this methodological problem back to the work of Sir William Jones in the late eighteenth century.[[2]] Few scholars today think in an explicitly 'Jonesian' framework but Pal is right that the usual accounts of Alexander's march are founded on Jones' early premises and detective work. Pal's hypothesis is that 'Megasthenes' Palibothra was not Patna as Jones fancied, but Kahnuj in faraway Magan' (p. 9). In other words, Palibothra was located in what is now south-east Iran, not, as most scholars maintain, in modern eastern India. As a provocative challenge to current orthodoxy regarding the extent of Alexander's Indian conquest the book is largely successful and will appeal to specialists and students alike. Pal's work is wide-ranging and offers multifarious perspectives on the impact of Alexander's conquests in Indo-Iran.

As a scholarly study, however, Pal's methods of analysis and presentation leave much to be desired. The book reads like a draft of a manifesto that skips from one argument to the next haphazardly. Few primary sources are cited directly and instead copious use is made of secondary sources in the endnotes, to the detriment of solid argument. The confused, often obscure style of exposition diminishes the book's appeal to a great extent. The presence of Karl Jung and Robert Graves, those two masters of befuddlement, in the acknowledgments (p. 7), immediately warn the reader to turn the pages with careful fingers. Pal's writing is so terse and confused as to seem stilted.[[3]] While the author may not have English as his mother tongue, no section headings such as 'Name that Hallucinate' (p. 31) or 'Nandas were from Baluchistan Area' (p. 45) should get past the scrutiny of an editor. The book's principal failing is this general lack of structured argumentation. At the same time, the Gravesian scope of Pal's associative arguments is a testament to the breath of his knowledge as an Indologist. Because of this vast scope, only a brief summary of the major points can be given here.

The book is divided into two main chapter-articles and five rather substantial appendices. This structure is more apparent than real as the incredible mélange of sections and arguments included in each chapter or appendix immediately reveals (Table of Contents, pp. 13- 19). Those interested in reading a summarised version of his argument, however, will be satisfied to read the short preface (pp. 9-12), one of the most lucid and useful parts of Pal's volume.

The eponymous first article, 'Non-Jonesian Indology and Alexander' (pp. 27-78), outlines Pal's new approach to Alexander, which involves combining the evidence provided by Greek, Sanskrit, and other literary sources to show that ancient India was centered on the area west of the Indus river, in Indo-Iran. Pal is probably right, as N. G. L. Hammond agreed,[[4]] that 'Patna is too far East' and that Alexander's victory at Palibothra is likely to have been situated at modern Kanauj (ancient Kahnuj) in Carmania (also spelled Karmania in the book). Not a single archaeological relic of the Mauryas has been found at Patna, but as Pal himself acknowledges '[t]he great antiquity attributed to Kanauj is based mainly on textual allusions' (p. 39). Pal's anti- Jonesian mission in this chapter goes well beyond Alexander's conquests. It involves relocating many of the places and persons that are mentioned in the Greek literary sources and were previously associated with places east of the Indus to sites in what is today South-East Iran. Pal gleefully embarks on this errand and takes it too far -- ironically emulating Alexander? Greek personal and place names are associated with Sanskrit or other names with very little or no demonstration. Here is a representative sample of his awkward style of argumentation: 'It may be that Alexander also knew Chanakya or Bagoas. His name Chanakya may be linked to Kana(uj). Golla Vishaya may be Chaldea or Babylon where Bagoas' tree-park was a famous landmark. Bagoas may have been behind the Bessos affair' (p. 47). Pal repeats this flow of bold, relatively unconnected speculations in nearly all the paragraphs of the book. His provocative linguistic associations are interesting and certainly quite possible, but not very convincing since not properly analysed and evidenced. The strongest part of the first chapter comes at its very end, in the paragraph entitled 'A Call to Archaeologists' (pp. 63f.). Here Pal acknowledges the desperate need for further research on Indo-Iran: '[a] patient search [...] may one day reward the investigator with the sought-after traces of Alexander'. Indeed, that is precisely what is needed to support Pal's arguments: secure evidence of Alexander's transit, and not only conjectures based on linguistic similarities.

The second article is entitled 'Alexander's Gedrosian Campaign in Pursuit of the Prasii' (pp. 79-115) and explores the possible motivations that lay behind Alexander's most disastrous campaign: his desperate and lengthy march through Gedrosia and his victory celebrations at Palibothra. The simple explanation according to Pal is that Alexander and his admiral Nearchus were pursuing a military objective -- chasing the mighty Moeris who was in fact Chandragupta Maurya of Prasii (p. 90) -- who was defeated by Alexander at Palibothra (p. 102). This is by no means the simplest explanation, but surely an attractive one.[[5]] Pal notably attempts to bring into consideration here a Sanskrit drama, Mudraraksasa, which possibly contains allusions to the story of Alexander's final campaign and to his ultimate demise (poisoning is the theory aired). But the play is, as Pal himself admits, an 'equivocal' source (p. 48).

The five appendices survey some of the implications of Pal's argument for Indology as a whole. The first, 'The India of "Yore"' (pp. 119-37), catalogues further literary evidence supporting the location of ancient India in the area of modern Indo-Iran. The second appendix, 'Before the Ganges was Brought to Earth' (pp. 138-44), surveys the scarce references to the Ganges River in early texts both Sanskrit and Greek, to show, not entirely convincingly, that Plutarch's reference to Alexander 'reaching the Ganges' must refer to an unnamed river in Carmania and not to the modern Ganges. The third appendix, 'Karman: A Great Centre of "Indian" Civilisation' (pp. 145-52), gathers the evidence for a city called Karman (the Metropolis of Karmania), which was near Palibothra-Kanauj. The fourth appendix,[[6]] 'Indus Seals and Manu' (pp. 153-84), forms one of the most intriguing parts of Pal's book. Here, the argument that Indo-Iran was part of the heartland of early Indian civilisation is reinforced by pointing out the number of seals (taken to have been written in a primitive amalgam of early Sanskrit and Dravidian pictograms) that seem to refer to this region and to sites like Kanauj. The fifth and final appendix, 'Gotama Buddha in West Asia' (pp. 185-268), attempts to trace the early west Asian origins of Buddhism, especially as depicted in visual representations from Assyria and Persia. This is perhaps the most tangential part of the book. The 'unreality of the [early] Indian Buddha' (p. 223), while interesting in its own right, has little to do with Alexander's own encounters with Buddhism centuries later.

Pal's book is relatively well illustrated for such an inexpensive publication: forty-one black-and-white reproductions and line-drawings are strewn over its pages. Of some concern, however, is the absence of acknowledgements of the sources or copyrights for these illustrations. The book regrettably also lacks a proper bibliography, as well as a conclusion.

Indeed, the lack of any substantial evidence of Alexander's eastern conquests precludes definitive conclusions about his impact on south-west Asia and India itself. No scholars can be blamed for this, least of all Pal. He has performed an incomparable service in rectifying the western bias that has always been preponderant in studies of Alexander. No one now should look at Alexander without also going to Pal and delving further into the Sanskrit sources and their allusions to Alexander. Greater dialogue between scholars and further archaeological surveys will undoubtedly help resolve some of the debates and clarify the many remaining points of contention. With the advent of popular movies such as Alexander (directed by Oliver Stone), scholarship on the man is sure to receive even more widespread dissemination. The Great's conquests continue, not with the Prasii of course, but with the 'history buffs'. Pal will have to develop greater clarity of expression and garner more evidence for his convictions before he can successfully ride with these new waves of interest.


[[1]] A. B. Bosworth's Conquest and Empire: The Reign of Alexander the Great (Cambridge 1988) is criticised for its undue dependence on the Greek and Roman authors. Pal also argues against E. Badian on 'Alexander in Iran' in I. Gershevitch (ed.) The Cambridge History of Iran. Vol. 2 The Median and the Achaemenian Periods (Cambridge 1985). Both scholars argued in support of Jones' identification of Palibothra as Patna (p. 141). The best introduction to Alexander, as Pal seems to agree, is still Robin Lane Fox's Alexander the Great (London 1973).

[[2]] Nowhere in his book does Pal refer to specific written work by Sir William Jones. The earliest source of the Jonesian identification of Palibothra lies, I believe, in his discourse 'On Asiatick History, Civil and Natural' (The Tenth Anniversary Discourse of the Asiatick Society of Bengal, delivered 28 February, 1793). Jones, as President of the Society, cautiously wrote that: 'To fix the situation of that Palibothra (for there may have been several of the name), which was visited and described by Megasthenes had always appeared a very difficult problem', but must be identified with 'the scite of Patna' (p. 219). The complete text may be found at: rse_10.

[[3]] Some examples of Pal's strange phrases and awkward expressions: 'Although Buddhism of Nebuchadrezzar has only been hinted at, for the student of Jeremiah or Bhakti, here is a much-unexplored raw material' (p. 11); 'Jones' geographical blunder naturally left Indology creaking at the seams' (p. 32); 'Greek curriculum of education included India from a very early stage' (p. 33); 'There is numerous evidence which unmistakably points to the same figure' (p. 44); 'but Raychaudhuri had Jones to contend', (p. 50), where one needs 'contend with', etc. To his credit, however, Pal does conjure some wonderful images: 'Indology was fostered in the chrysalis of the British Raj' (p. 29). Some odd variants of spelling are regularly employed: e.g. 'Xerexes' rather than Xerxes (except at p. 126!) and 'Nebucha(n)drezzar' rather than Nebuchadnezzar. Some basic facts are incorrectly expressed, such as when we read that Nearchus had '1,20,000' infantry under his command (p. 93).

[[4]] N. G. L. Hammond, cited from personal correspondence with Ranajit Pal.

[[5]]] M. Wood's In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great: A Journey from Greece to Asia (London 1997) hypothesised that Alexander was investigating the area to see if cities could be founded along the coast to serve as trading-posts between India and the Persian Gulf. This is a sufficiently straightforward explanation of the campaign in my opinion. It is also possible that the Alexander's motivation was both economic and strategic in nature.

[[6]] The fourth appendix is erroneously called the third appendix in the Table of Contents and the fifth appendix is, following the same mistake, called the fourth. Pal also confusingly refers to this appendix and the fifth appendix as respectively the 'third' and 'fourth' articles of his book (pp. 10f.).