Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Ambrosia to Alchemy: Was Alexander Foxed by Poison disguised as Amrit?

Since the time man has faced the reality of death and eventual decay of the human body, the hunt for a solution started. Generations of men in recorded history have craved for a healthy, glowing and radiant body and a life that lasts forever. The stories are embedded in legends from Ancient Indian Vedic texts to Greek mythology. The solutions have been variously called Amrit, Ambrosia, Elixir of Life and many other names.

One of the foremost references is in the ancient Indian story of Samudramanthan.  An epic undertaking in which, gods and demons or the asuras collaborated. The objective was to churn the universe or the ocean of nothingness so that gifts that the universe holds could be obtained. The giant serpent Vasuki became the rope and Mount Mandar became the churn and gods and asuras started the churning. It went on for a 1000 years. At the end of it, a pot of Amrit came out. This was the prize everyone was waiting for. A liquid so potent, that it will give the drinker strength and immortality. Legend goes that the gods ran away with the Amrit and the asuras gave chase. The chase lasted for 12 earth years or 12 nights and days for the gods and asuras.

It is believed that Amrit drops fell at four places on the earth during this chase. These blessed places: Allahabad, Haridwar, Nasik and Ujjain are now revered and a massive festival takes place every twelve years at these locations. This is the Kumbh Mela. It is believed that taking a bath in the rivers at these locations during the auspicious times ensures the body is released from the cycles of birth and death and attains oneness with the universal consciousness.

The legends of such a drink also abound in the Greek Mythology. The gods living on mount Olympus are given the Ambrosia by doves. Drinking the Ambrosia is supposed to give the gods immortality and exceptional strength. A drinker of Ambrosia converts his blood into Ichor a divine golden liquid. It was reserved for the gods and no mortal was given it. Tantalus son of Zeus tried to steal ambrosia and give it to mortals. He was stopped and cursed to forever stand in a pool of water from which whenever he tried to stoop down and drink the water would disappear and when hungry he would have branches of fruit laden trees overhead, but they would be blown just outside his grasp when he tried to eat them.

Another word for Ambrosia that appears in the Greek classics is Nectar.  The Greek word ambrosia shares a close relationship with the Sanskrit Amrit. Both denote “undying” as an attribute in their own forms.

Apart from the legends, the history of mankind is filled with quests of finding the elixir of life. The word elixir was not used until the 7th century A.D. and derives from the Arabic name for miracle substances, "al iksir".  The Elixir has had hundreds of names (one scholar of Chinese history reportedly found over 1,000 names for it.), including (among others) Amrit Ras or Amrita, Aab-i-Hayat, Maha Ras, Aab-Haiwan, Dancing Water, Chasma-i-Kausar, Mansarover or the Pool of Nectar, Philosopher's stone, and Soma Ras.  

The hunt for the elusive elixir that grants eternal life and eternal youth has been recorded in history. In ancient China, various emperors sought the fabled elixir with varying results. In the Qin Dynasty, Qin Shi Huang sent Taoist alchemist Xu Fu with 500 young men and 500 young women to the eastern seas to find the elixir, but he never came back (legend has it that he found Japan instead). The science of alchemy has been an ongoing quest to find not only a way to convert lead to gold but also to find or formulate the elixir of life. 13th Century polymath Albertus Magnus is rumored to have given the Stone to Thomas Aquinas shortly before his death. Magnus’s writings also claim that he witnessed the transmutation of lead into gold. The mysterious 18th century nobleman Comte de St. Germaine was believed by some to possess the Elixir of Life. According to legends that were probably spread St. Germaine himself, he was actually hundreds of years old.

Another historical figure reputed to have created the Philosopher’s Stone was Nicholas Flamel. The historical Flamel was a successful French bookseller who lived from 1330 to 1418. Almost two hundred years after his death, texts surfaced that were attributed to Flamel. According to these texts, Flamel learned alchemical secrets from Jewish alchemists while traveling in Spain, and that he had obtained an original copy of the Book of Abramelin the Mage. 

In the context of India, Alexander the great is rumored to have been motivated on his quest for India by the chance to learn the secrets of Amrit. Alexander had utmost respect for Aristotle, he used to say that “my father gave me life but Aristotle taught me how to live”. It is believed that Aristotle guided him in his quest.  Unfortunately, Alexander died young. The cause of his death is still a mystery. Was it natural or was it caused by poison – the Pundits are still debating.

Is there a connection between Amrit and Alexander? If so, why did he die so young? Was he trapped into believing that something he got from India as Amrit, was actually poison disguised as Amrit? You can know this and much more from “The Indus Challenge” soon to hit the stands!

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