Thursday, August 1, 2013

Porus - the unsung hero

In 326 BC, the famous battle of Hydespas was fought between the God like figure from Greece, Alexander 'the great' and an Indian king Porus. King Porus used to rule kindom near Jhelum river, which according to various puranic sources is Gandhar or Kekaya regions. The Jhelum river was also called "Hydespas".
King Alexander of Macedonia (Greece) was on his quest for victory. He had already won a large number of kingdoms in bloody battles covering the entire eastward region beyond Greece.
When he entered India, he was greeted by the king of Takshashila (Taxila), Ambhi. Ambhi had bitter relations with his neighbor king Porus (sometimes called as Parvateshwar or Purushottam). It is said that he helped Alexander to rage a battle against the mighty Porus.
The ever present sad mentality of people of our country to even help an outsider to settle scores with the known ones was exploited by Alexander. Alexander's army was habitual of fighting large cavalry but was never accustomed to fight war elephants and Indians were known for the use of elephants in the battle. Huge elephants with tusks dipped in poison used to carry number of archers, kings, commanders and these warriors would use the height as an advantage to attack the enemy.

Porus, was believed to be of Puru clan. Puru clan is mentioned in Rig Vedas and also in Hindu epic Mahabharata. It was believed to be started by king Puru, who was a son of king Yayati. The descendants of Puru like, Bharatas, Kurus, Pauravas used to rule various North Indian kingdoms. Porus is mentioned as the king ruling near Jhelum river, which most possibly could be Gandhar and Kekaya kingdoms.

Porus, though being a mighty figure in the story of Alexander, is somehow I believe, an unsung hero. He is mentioned as a tall 7 ft. man with huge physique. He was a great warrior. Sitting on the back of his elephant, he along with his army created havoc in the Macedonian ranks. Battle of Hydespas is believed to be most difficult, bloody and also the last battle fought by Alexander. He lost his dear horse at the hands of Porus.

The history as we read today generally says that Alexander's army though being routed by forces of Porus, eventually was able to defeat Porus because of Alexander's military tactics. It is said that Porus lost his son in the battle and Alexander asked Ambhi to bring Porus to him alive. Ambhi, who went to take Porus as prisoner, narrowly escaped the fury of the Paurava hero.
Later when Greek army was able to subdue Porus, he was brought in front of Alexander. Alexander asked him "How should I treat you Porus ?" to which Porus proudly replied, "treat me, O Alexander, as a king !".
It is said that Alexander was so much impressed by these words and also with the bravery of Porus that he not only gave him his kingdom back and also added few of his won territories to his kingdom and appointed him as his general, who were called at that time as 'satraps'.

Porus surrenders to Alexander - art by Mrinal Rai
Now there has been a lot of debate about was Alexander actually able to defeat Porus ? or is it fabricated history that we are reading. Of course, I believe that history is written by winners and all that we know about Alexander and of his era is mainly from western historians. There are lot of things to take into consideration. I did a little research from my side over Internet and there are few points to consider:
  • It is said that after defeating Porus, Alexander wanted to defeat the powerful Nanda empire in Magadha. But the soldiers of Alexander already frightened by the war elephants of Porus, became paranoid of the Nanda army when they came to know of its strength in numbers. It is said that the soldiers rebelled against the idea of marching ahead and asked Alexander to return home. Alexander tried to persuade them but in vain. It is said that Alexander returned back from the Beas river to his land without fighting the Nandas in 326 BC. Before his departure he appointed his general Phillip as satrap of the provinces he won in west of Hydespas, and Porus and Ambhi were asked to act as satraps too.
  • Phillip was murdered soon, a year later in 325 BC, as part of a conspiracy. Alexander appointed Eudemus and Taxilas as satraps till he appoint any replacement for Phillip. But Alexander died in 323 BC from illness, which left Eudemus and Taxila started ruling on their own.
  • It is mentioned in Indian history that a king named Chandragupta Maurya defeated the satraps left by Alexander and overthrew the Nanda king in 321-320 BC and became the emperor of Magadha. It is said that he took help of a king from mountain regions (sometimes mentioned as a Himalayan king) Parvateshwar, who also claimed a share in Magadha kingdom. The clever minister of Maurya, Chanakya conspired and get this king Parvateshwar killed by sending a Vishkanya (poison maiden), or sometimes it is mentioned that he was killed by giving poison. This story is particularly backed up by an ancient play called 'Mudra Rakshas'.
  • It is mentioned in Greek history that Eudemus went to help another Greek hero Eumenes in a war against a Macedonian general Antigonus in 318-317 BC. It is said that he went from India, never to return, with a plenty of war elephants that he has got from kingdom of Porus after 'treacherously murdering him'.
  • It is said that after conquering Magadha, Maurya successfully routed all the Macedonians by 316 BC

King Parvateshwar (sometimes identified as Porus) killed in a conspiracy by Chanakya- art by Mrinal Rai
Keeping all these points in place, it seems that  the king who helped Chandragupta Maurya to defeat the Nandas was none other than the king Porus himself who was later killed in a conspiracy by the mastermind of Chankya.  
Maurya did fight against a number of Macedonian satraps. He may have fought Eudemus too. Eudemus may have sought for a peace treaty and Chandragupta may have given the war elephants to him in his fight against Eumenes, and these he may have procured after capturing Magadh and killing Porus treacherously (should be somewhere between 319-317 BC).

Now to get to our point whether Alexander actually defeated Porus or not, lets take the scenario where Alexander was unable to defeat Porus. He might have surrendered and Porus may have let him go (as general gesture of Indian kings, example, Prithvi Raj Chauhan), or, Porus, who was eyeing for Magadha might have asked Alexander to help him defeat Nanda, to which his army mutinated fearing another defeat and he was forced to go back.
It must be noted that Alexander appointed Phillip as satrap of provinces west of Hydespas and Porus's kingdom was in the east. Phillip's muder can be linked to Chanakya and Chandragupta again as they were trying to win the territories in that region that time.
Timeline of the events
According to those who believe that Porus defeated Alexander at Hydespas, this entire theory of treating Porus like a king even after defeat is so 'unlike' Alexander who had a lust of victory. Returning a defeated king with his kingdom and helping him annex other territories and then suddenly started feeling 'home sick' after a great victory sounds a bit absurd. May be westerners don't want to belittle their God like figure.

Moreover it is mentioned that army of Porus was carrying figure of Herakles, who can be made synonymous with Krishna of India.

If we believe that Porus did defeat Alexander, the personality of this great king deserves a bow. The king who may have defeated the greatest conqueror who ever walked on this earth, was defeated and killed in a treacherous way.
Whether the theory is true or not, I would say that king Porus was definitely a legend of India and deserve due respect. 


Safdar Ali said...

i agree that it was porus who defeated alexendar and then his army refused to fight further compelling him to go back,because the storybigget that alexender who started fighting from such a long distance be so pleased to leave the key to india after defeating his biggest rival for one good sentence

Anonymous said...

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shree hari said...

Why must chandragupta maurya kill porus? This is so absurd.. One national hero killing the other? And didnt chanakya ask help from nanda when porus was defeated by alex?

MR said...

It may sound absurd, but could be a possibility. we have to think beyond our preconceived notions about these popular figures. They were both great heroes, but remember, there was no one kingdom called "India" and they were ruling separate states. Magadha was a lucrative kingdom for any king. Even Alexander coveted it. And we have already read enough about Chanakya's mastermind. Please refer to the play 'Mudra Rakshasa'. It does mention murder of a parvateshwar king. I just said, it could possibly be Porus himself.