Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Alexander’s Wife: Sister of King Poros?

MOST Indians would know the very famous Rakhi Festival. In the festival, women tie a sacred thread or an embellished thread to the wrists of their brothers. The brothers in turn are expected to provide respect and protection to the sisters and protect their honor. In this great tradition there have been numerous examples where women have tied a Rakhi to the arch nemesis of their husbands thereby ensuring a modicum of protection for their own husbands.

If true, this one example of a rakhi brother honoring his promises to his sister may have had a profound effect on the history of India. Alexander was a Macedonian conqueror who called himself the God king. He had amassed by then the biggest Empire conquered by a single person. Alexander had many marriages. The marriages were mostly exercises in trying to forge alliances and not that of love or attraction. But he did have a favorite wife. The one he met in 327BC and married while in the Afghan region of Balkh- Soghdia in Bactria (modern day Afghanistan - Mazar-i-Sharif) was Ruk Sana, Roshanak or Roxane. Legends mention that Roxane actually did tie a rakhi to Poros.

When he reached the borders of the Indian subcontinent, he was faced with the formidable Poros. A mighty regional king with a large army and a large contingent of fighting elephants the likes of which the armies of Alexander had not encountered till then. Alexander was a mighty strategist but no strategy can overcome the deficit in the morale of an army. Seeing the mighty elephants it is said that the courage of the victorious army of Alexander wavered. They were ready for battle but for the first time were not very confident of the outcome. Even the weather then was the rainy seasons and the whole ground around the mighty Jhelum River was soft and slushy. Although this was equally bad for Poros and his chariots, the elephants were a game changer in that weather.

When news of such hesitancy and lack of confidence reached Roxane, she was fearful for the life of Alexander. In consultation with some ladies who are familiar with the customs of India, she settled on using the ancient bond of Rakhi to try to ensure that at least, in case of a defeat, her husband’s life may be spared. She met Poros and tied a Rakhi on his hand, thus ensuring protection for Alexander. It is said that it was this Rakhi tied hand that weighed all the decisions of Poros during the battle.

History tells us that Poros was defeated but Alexander was also impressed by the bravery with which the battle had been fought. He made Poros his satrap. This epic battle was not without its consequences. Elephants , as a tool of war were introduced in Western lore. This battle was also the last major battle of the Army of Alexander. The calls to return back to Macedonia increased in pitch.

The above story does not have a lot of historical records as its basis. Perhaps the story got stronger and was asked onto the collective memory and record of Alexander’s conquest in the last century. In 1941, a movie called ‘Sikander’ was released. It started the doyen of Indian cinema Prithviraj Kapoor. This movie had scenes where Roxane meets Poros and ensures an agreement to spare Alexander’s life.

Whatever may the case be. What would’ve happened if Alexander would’ve been defeated by Poros? How would the history of India be shaped? If not for Poros, would Alexander have had time enough to embark on trying to find the ancient sciences and secrets of India? Did the cultural legacy and honor in the form of Rakhi had unintended consequences? To find out this and much more, read the book “The Indus Challenge”. Hitting the bookshelves soon…. 

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