Megasthenese who lived between 350 and 290 BCE was a Greek ethnographer born in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) and was the author of the work Indica. He is regarded by the Western school as one of the founders of the study of Indian history. He is also the first foreigner Ambassador to be mentioned in the Indian history..
Megasthanese came to India through the Punjab region as he mentions the rivers in his work. providing a full account of the rivers (thought to be the five tributaries of the Indus that form the Punjab region), From there he seemed to have proceeded by the ‘royal road’ to Pataliputra. (the preset day Patna) and at that time the capital of Chandra Gupta Maurya. He lived in the court of Chandra Gupta Maurya for several years as an ambassador. He mentions the caste system but it is different from the present day system.
Megasthnes also mentions the Himalayas. He also travelled south where the Pandya empire was at its peak. He visited Madurai, their capital, which was a flourishing city at that time. He also mentions the island of Sri Lanka.
At the beginning of his Indica, Megasthenes refers to the older Indians who know about the pre historic arrival of Dionysus and Hercules in India, a story very popular amongst the Greeks during the Alexandrian period. Particularly important are his comments on the religions of the Indians. He mentions the devotees of Heracles (believed to be Lord Krishana) and Dionysus (Lord Shiva) but he does not write a word about Budhists something that gives ground to the theory that the latter religion was not widely known before the reign of Ashoka who was the grandson of Chandra Gupta Maurya.
According to Encyclopaedia Britannica the major problem of his work is ‘an uncritical acceptance of Indian folklore and a tendency to idealize Indian culture by the standards of Greek philosophy’.
One wonders what folklore the Encyclopaedia Britannica thinks that he accepted as true. Is it the story that everyone knew of, of the aeroplane that Ravanan, the King of Lanka had, in which he came to India and abducted Sita? Now after more than two thousand years it is proved to be much more than a folklore as we know that the Hindu epics are not talking about impossible things.. Maybe Megasthanese understood how advanced Indians were and was right in idealizing their culture.
Takshasila, the first university in the world, was flourishing at that time. Students came from all over the known world. Takshasila taught yoga for physical and mental well being, ayurveda and other sciences and arts like astronomy, archery, law, political science, music and dancing. After leaving the university the students excelled themselves in their own fields.
Some of the most famous scholars who were the products of Takshasila were Chanakya (also known as Kautilya) who was the Prime Minister of Chandra Gupta Maurya. He authored the book Arthasastra which to this day is considered the greatest book on state craft. Another great student from Takshashila university was Vishnu Sharma , the author of the great book that teaches the art of political science in the form of simple beautiful stories called the Pancha Tantra (meaning the five techniques).
Charaka, the famous ancient Indian ayurvedic physician was a product of Takshashila university. Jivak was another genius who came out of the famous university. He was a doctor and an expert in pulse reading (understanding the health status of the body by just listening to the person’s pulse!) He studied at Takshasila for seven years. Among his specialities was also surgery.
With the university producing such great physicians and surgeons it is quite possible that even in those days they were able to transfer a foetus from one person’s womb to another. So maybe among the ‘folklores’ that Encyclopaedia Britannica refers to is the story that the foetus from Devaki’s womb was transferred to Rohini’s womb so Balaraman is really Devaki’s seventh son and Sri Krishnan the eighth.
They saved Balaraman from getting killed at the hands of Kamsan by saying that Devaki had a miscarriage but in fact the foetus was transferred to Rohini’s womb. Now the western world knows that such things are possible but Megasthanese knew two thousand years ago that if Indians said it, it must be true. Similarly there is the story of the mother of the Kauravas, Gandhari, having a hundred children. Perhaps that only shows that cloning was known to the Indians even in ancient days.
Another very common ‘folklore’ is about the elephant headed God, Ganesha and how he got his elephant head. The story goes like this: he was killed by accident and to revive him they had to get a head and the first living thing they found was the elephant and they killed the elephant and transplanted the elephant head. Today we have heart transplants, liver transplants, lung transplants etc. but we still have not advanced enough to have a head transplant.
Now the scientific community is all excited about the finding of the God particle. Since my knowledge of science is limited I don’t quite understand it. But what I do know is that India had a contribution to make in this discovery. Chidambaram in the south is the only Shiva temple which has the idol of Shiva as a cosmic dancer. Everywhere else it is the lingam that is worshipped. A bronze icon of Nataraja, the cosmic dancer was made by sculptors in Tanjavur and given to the European Organisation for Nuclear Research in Geneva where it was placed in their lab. It may symbolise a link between Saivite philosophy and modern science.