When myth becomes reality

Netflix now has Arjun: The Warrior Prince on its stream. I watched most of it to get a feel for some of the details of the story. I know the general outline of the Mahabharata, but I know the Bible or the Iliad far better (in case you can’t be bothered to follow the link, it’s only a small part of Arjun’s early life).

Depending on the sources you trust, the events of the Mahabharata date to around ~1000 BC. They were probably refined at a later date, perhaps around 500 years later.

I watched a fair amount of Arjun: The Warrior Prince. In some ways, it reminded me a lot of the Iliad and the Odyssey. These two works are a melange of influences and time periods, synthesizing true recollections of the large polities with highly stratified social systems and literacy of the Bronze Age, with the simple chiefdoms of the Dark Age Greece. The issue is disentangling the different periods.

One assumes the same is true of the Mahabharata and Ramayana.

The “wild card” here is that the most recent work has now likely confirmed the arrival of agro-pastoralists from the steppe in the period between 1500 and 1000 BC. By the time the historical analogs of the Pandavas were settled in the Gangetic plain, they’d likely been there for many centuries.

32 thoughts on “When myth becomes reality”

  1. Just few sideline remarks…

    Who lived in Troy? Greeks, not. Who lived in Anatolia? Battle for Troy was about 500 years before Greeks entered history. And another 100 years before was Iliad translated to Greek language. From which language? Who orally carried this epic for 600 years? Where Greeks lived at the time of battle for Troy? Who were Dorians and Sea People (called by Egyptians and Wiki)? Who lived in today’s Greece at the time of Troyan battle? Why Achilles on Greek vases was wearing the clothes with symbols from Vinca (5-6000 BC) which is since than until today the official coat and arm of Serbia (cross with 4C). Btw. swastika was discovered in Vinca at the same time, it was a part of Serbian mythological alphabet (‘rising sun’). What does it mean Troy (Ilion) – Iliad? The name of Serbian god Ilya. Babylon – ‘the gate of Ilya’ (btw. founded by the first Aryan leader after his return from Hindustan, Baghdad got name after him and the city of Nineveh was built and named after him). The first name of Jerusalem. The first name of London. Who gave all these names?

    1. Minoan and Mycenaean civilisations were not Greeks. At that time Greeks haven’t lived on mainland. When they were expelled from Egypt (together with Jews and Serbs) they were accepted by Serbs on Medislands, Jews were accepted by Serbs in Serbal (former name for Sinai) where, on the Mt Serbal (still is the same name in Arabic) Moses received 10 commandments from the God.

  2. From the referred paper…

     Steppe communities …integrated farther south … they mixed with a more southern population that we document at multiple sites as outlier individuals exhibiting a distinctive mixture of ancestry related to Iranian agriculturalists and South Asian hunter-gathers. We call this group Indus Periphery…
     they were genetically similar to post-IVC groups in the Swat Valley of Pakistan
     Indus Periphery-related people are the single most important source of ancestry in South Asia
     we develop a model for the formation of present-day South Asians in terms of the temporally and geographically proximate sources of Indus Periphery-related, Steppe, and local South Asian hunter-gatherer-related ancestry
     Our results show how ancestry from the Steppe genetically linked Europe and South Asia in the Bronze Age, and identifies the populations that almost certainly were responsible for spreading Indo-European languages across much of Eurasia.

    No-name people everywhere, we don’t know who are they, where they come from (e.g. steppe people – where they come from, what are their genes)…

    The last one is interesting – which Indo-European languages (what’s happened with Indo-Germanishe languages?)? Why not: ‘Steppe languages were spread from one side to India and to other side to Europe’…

    Sanskrit was already in India when steppe people came or they brought it with them? Considering that Sanskrit is similar to European languages it means that it is similar (identical) with Steppe language(s), too. It means that Steppe people spoke Sanskrit? If they spoke Sanskrit why was needed to bring it to India. Why not say – “Steppe people spoke Sanskrit and they took it to Europe.” Or, their language was named Indo-European hundreds (thousands) of years before they actually went (if they went) to Europe? And how their language was the same (or very similar) to the language spoken in India if they did not have previous contacts? And, what about Indo-Aryans and/or Indo-Iranian languages? What is the relationship between Indo-Iranian and Steppe languages? I am so confused…

    I would like to send to these 50 guys several hundreds, for e.g. Tibetan toponyms, identical with rivers, mountains and places in Serbia to explain how they get there. One mountain in Tibet is Serbi (or Servi) Milan. Or, maybe several hundreds of Serbian toponyms in India? What about Steppe’s toponyms, where they are? Did they bring any toponym to Europe together with their language? And which language was spoken in Europe before these guys came over there? And how they converted locals to speak their (Sanskrit, Steppe, Indo-European) language? They had to work very hard and reach every corner of Europe to do their missionary work. Or, maybe it wasn’t necessary because their language was identical (similar) to the language of locals? Locals spoke Sanskrit? …Ok, hang on, let’s start from the beginning…

  3. Trouble is that in India this myth lives on – quite viscerally – with millions willing to kill/die for them.

    Modern Indian cultural imagination is anchored in ancient history in a way it wasn’t even true of Tacitus-quoting Nazis of the mid 30s Germany. The Classical Greek historians used to say of Indians as having little interest in history. It seems we are making up for the lost time and ancestors lost in its mists.

    1. Actually no, bhakti movement and bhakti has transformed Hinduism. Today people are not as motivated from mahabhart, though ramayan plays a part in north India, even there Bhakti transformed worldview, otherwise with older mahabharat alone to motivate people, I would assume greater tendency for belligerance than it is now, this is just speculation though.

    2. Indian interest in history is by and large obsession with the past; imagining some golden age when everything was honky dorey, till it was screwed up by interlopers and outsiders.

    3. Would disagree here, Bhakti had limited impact on North, and the reason was in the North already had a heavily sanskrtized Gupta Empire on whose edifice the subsequent Kingdoms were built. Its only in Mughals and Sultanates time where these Hindu Kingdoms power had receded, and they hardly had any power to stop Kabir, Meerabai or Tukaram. Many a times they were seen as opponents to the North Indian Hindu elites (Tulsidas was thrown out of his Brahmin group when he wrote Ramayana, Meerabai is remembered less than Padmavati in Rajput Land).

      As soon as the muslim power receded, the hindu power tried to appropriate them in the same sanitized sanskritized form. For example the Marathas became more and more sanskritzed as time moved on even though their initial rise was more egalitarian in the lines of Bhakti movement. The same with Goraknath sect.

      1. “…the Marathas became more and more sanskritzed as time moved on even though their initial rise was more egalitarian…”
        The Bhosales were actual Marathas by caste – approximately OBC. Later, power passed on to the Peshwas who were Chitpawan Brahmins and quite orthodox ones. They restored Brahminical Hindu customs. The loss at Panipat in 1761 can be interpreted as the result of caste rivalries (and resulting disunity) between Brahmins and Marathas.

        1. Yes, but i was making a larger point, as soon as the hindu forces strengthened irrespective of regions in North , they did go back to the sanskrit mode. The only permanent Bhakti imprint in the north is Guru Nanak.

          Also Shivaji for all his conquest still had to be Sanskrtized to become a Chattrapati. And even in places where the Peshwas writ was weak ,the Scindias, Bhosle, Holkar etc still did a lot of orthodox stuff even though they were caste marathas. So the Peshwas power accelerated the process but by no means it was not happening earlier.

          1. Not sure what you mean by “Hindu forces”. Shivaji was Hindu and folk Hinduism remained strong under him. The Peshwas were Hindus in the Brahmin-first mould and Bhakti movement remained strong in Maharashtra during and after them.

            Do you have any examples of the “orthodox stuff” perpetrated by Scindias, Bhosales and Holkars ? The Bhosales, especially, emerged as strong proponents of caste equity.

      2. Saurav, what does the “Bhakti movement” and “Goraknath sect” mean to you? They mean a lot to me and I have long studied them.

  4. So many Serbian tribes lived in different regions of India (India proprie dicita, Pori regis triputaris, India maritime, India interior, India extra Gangem…I will write about their names some other time).

    So-called Free Indians (according to Greek writers) were those who lived outside of mountains (in phonetic) Himovati, Jamine, Sarasvate. Among them were: 1) Braća (=Brothers) In MAHABHARATA (I need to reread this carefully) they are presented as very bad people because: they did not have castes, their Brahmans could be from any rank, because they ate all meats, they drank alcohol…etc. 2) Kući – their women were buried and burned together with dead husbands…etc. Further on the south lived Serbs, who were wearing wild animals’ skins, further down was the Indian kingdom Karvata with river Kršna and capitol city Bičonazor and Bima and old capitol Kaljani with cities Devovara, Bidara, Nerobuda area…..

    1. Milan, are you referring to the argument between Karna and Salya?

      If so, yes they were accused of eating meat and alcohol. Their Brahmins were criticized for not practicing Brahmin Varna Dharma. Not on the basis of birth so much as merit, competence, capacity and disciplined regular practice.

      1. Anan,

        I read Mahabharata superficially when I was 16-17. At that time I wasn’t aware of ancient Serbian connections with India. Because I said that I would reread it carefully when I get some free time. The fact I mentioned earlier (to be honest I can’t remember from my own reading) was from the book written 150 years ago. There are so many other facts from the ancient past including thousands of SA toponyms collected from old British colonial maps and ancient writings. When I get time I will translate the chapter dedicated to SA (there are chapters dedicated to ancient Serbs in Egypt, Greece, Mesopotamia, Europe, China…). There are hundreds/thousands of Serbian tribes names/ toponyms, some of them unchanged, some localised.

         One example – in ‘India proprie dicita’ was Por’s kingdom – Pori regis triputaris, where lived Malići – Maliki, who, at the time of Alexander lived on the river Hidroati from the southern side of the Kečin hill. Alexander almost got killed there. On the west from them lived tribes Oćedračići (or Dračići), Drakulići (Ptolomei calls them Casperaei – very strong and brave tribe), further on the west lived Muzići, very big tribe with the city Niš (btw, the same name as the second largest city in Serbia where first Aryans started their expedition, also, the hometown of the Emperor Constantine where he declared the Christianity as the official religion of Roman Empire in the 313AC) on the river Koven…etc…etc…

        (Note: ć – pronunciation as in word: Ciao; č – as in word: CHarles; š = sh)

        I have no local knowledge and I don’t know about local micro-geography because I would expect from future local researchers to investigate such things.

        Thanks for your input and direction (I know that you are the expert in Mahabharata) to save me time to find this detail in the book. Cheers.

        1. Milan, Karna was very angry and was insulting them. He also accused their wives of having many lovers they were not married to. Which I thought was deeply inappropriate for Karna to say.

          Of course if a wife has 5 legal husbands that is fine, because she is legally married to them and entitled to a physical loving relationship with each of her husbands.

          The context was Karna insulting people from Salya’s kingdom and accusing them of being worse than Iranians and the people of North west Turin. Maybe Iraq, Lebanon or Turkey. It never occurred to me that they could be Serbs before.

          You have changed the way I interpret texts I remember reading long ago.

  5. Razib

    If i may the Mahabharata to me seems a sort of successor of the “the battle of ten kings” (of the rig veda) perhaps the oldest “Story” of the subcontinent. Its a less flashier story with a more believable plot line 😛

    1. The post Vedic poets took the ‘battle of ten kings” as a template and added a lot of flesh and bones on it. They even managed to slip in Gita.

    2. Saurav, my understanding of the battle of the ten kinds in the Rig Veda is that they are thought to have occurred far, far earlier than this Chatur Yuga in ancient pre history. They involve beings that are not considered human beings. They are possibly more a description of inner mystical experience versus something that happened on the planet earth; although I would not completely discount the possibility that that they refer to a historic event on planet earth.

      1. If you already mentioned Rig Veda, can you tell me about Srbinda in Rig Veda (book 8, XXXII.2)?
        ‘Srbinda’ in Serbian is the augmentative of SRBIN, what in Serbian means – Serb.
        Srbinda means – big Serb, real Serb or true blue Serb…Another reading material for me…

        1. Milan,

          Are you reading through a translation of the Rig Veda. If so, please use one that has phonetic pronunciation (alongside english translation) and physically pronounce the words. That will give you more insight into the meanings and any connections to Serbia.

    1. In Collegiate India of 80s, it was fairly straightforward to buy a lot of …. from corner stores. When we inhaled and mixed a few with alcohol, the resulting dreams used to be like a lot of posts from a couple of posters here, especially when coupled with music from Floyd. However, we dropped this habit rather quickly, because of headaches and other issues the following morning.

  6. Some striking similarities exist between the Iliad’s Achilles and Mahabharata’s Karna. Both were semi-mortals upon whom divine powers of invulnerability were bestowed at birth. Both had their individual kryptonite weaknesses – Achilles’s heel, Karna’s dependence on his ‘kavach-kundalas’. Like the fabled shotgun on the wall, both these kicked in at crucial times resulting in their deaths.

    1. Karna’s Achilles heel were the two curses, the fact that he was allied with Duryodhana and Adharma, and the fact that Krishna joined the Pandavas.

      Arjuna could not kill Karna even without the kavach-kundalas; Krishna had to intervene.

      1. 🙂
        Forgot to add the most important: Both Karna and Achilles felt “insulted” by folks on their own sides and refused to fight for significant periods of the respective wars and had to be appeased/begged to return and take charge of their respective armies.

        1. Arjun, based on your and Anan’s comments (thank you for great insights) some could make conclusion that these two guys are from the same background/culture. Even, there is a fairly close time distance between two epics. Who knows, maybe you and Anan are on the verge of great discovery. Researchers wanted. I must go back to read both books again, this time with open eyes.

  7. Historian Witzel believes that the descendant king Parikshit actually existed. What ever one may consider of the those before him. Probably the tales began under his rule and kept gathering momentum.

    1. I have been told that many Iranian kings claimed descent from Arjuna, Abhimanyu, Parakshit, Janamajeya, etc. Some Iranian king lists claimed descent from Pahlava (which I interpret to mean the line of Arjuna and Krishna’s sister Subadra). See map:


      Iran means land of the Arya. I believe this is actually true. Although Iran evolved and enriched herself with the added sweetness of Zorastrianism later on. Thank goodness the Zorastrians have improved and enriched SAARC too.

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