A hard call—V

Raja Porus cannot be separated from the history of this region, no matter the efforts

A hard call—V

In the previous four writings for The News on Sunday, I have argued that the partition of the subcontinent in August 1947 yielded space to faith in India and Pakistan and caused disowning of the heroes, philanthropists, and benign humane souls from other faiths. Subsequently, many talented, competent, and capable individuals have been excluded from the pages of our history and text and academic writings.

This piece is an attempt to highlight the role of another son of the soil—Raja Porus, who had fought bravely against one of the greatest conquerors in the history of humankind—Alexander. Though Raja Porus was an indigenous hero who had defended the borders of the land he belonged to with peerless courage and bravery against Alexander’s onslaught, he comes down to us through Persian literature instead of local discourse. It is believed that he has been discarded on account of his faith.

Raja Porus had to fight against an extremely anxious warrior, Alexander, who had plans to subjugate the whole world. Alexander had conquered most parts of the world between Macedonia and India—including Egypt, Levant, Iraq and Iran. During his military campaigns, he had successfully subdued robust adversaries and mighty enemies from many kingdoms, nations and tribes. Only two rulers, Emperor Darius III of Persia, also known as the King of Kings, and King Porus of Paurava, could check his advance during his adventurous journey. He met stiff resistance from these sovereigns. The former had to flee from the battlefield after sensing defeat at the Battle of Issus in 331 BC. The latter checked Alexander’s advance in the ferocious Battle of Hydaspes (River Jhelum) in 326 BC.

Raja Porus, the king of Jhelum, unlike Raja Ambhi, the king of Taxila, opted to resist against Alexander, the arrogant invader, as the Greek sources reveal. Alexander had sent his envoy to Porus to convince him to pay tribute. However, Porus refused and told the invader, “We will meet on the battlefield.”

Alexander won this battle but it proved to be his last. He had to stop his campaign and give up his dream of reaching the other end of the world. Plutarch recounts that the Greeks defeated King Porus with “great difficulty”.

After the battle of Hydaspes, Porus was brought before Alexander. The latter asked how the former should he be treated. Porus responded, “Like a king”. Alexander was so impressed with the courage and bravery of Porus that he treated him in a dignified and respectful way—like a king. The source of this saga is Greek literature, the text of the winners.

However, British colonisers of the Indian subcontinent tried to paint the story quite differently—by portraying Alexander as a protagonist and degrading Porus as a villain. For example, CA Hagerman’s In the Footsteps of the Macedonian Conqueror: Alexander the Great and British India (2009) presents the European imperialist version of the story.

The prevalence of Alexander (Sikandar), at the cost of Porus, was due to antagonism between the faiths – Islam and Hinduism – in India, as many believed that Porus was a Hindu.

Contrarily, some indigenous writers question this modern European imperialist version. For example, Indian historian Buddha Prakash’s Porus the Great, an in-depth textual analysis of ancient Greek, and Aitezaz Ahsan’s The Indus Saga and the Making of Pakistan assert that a rapprochement, rather than a victory/ defeat binary, was reached between them.

Prakash holds: “Both of them [Alexander and Porus] had their own views of the engagement and the final arrangement, of which the Greek version has survived, though in garbled and contradictory editions, and the Indian version has passed into the mists of indifference and oblivion.”

Ahsan not only validates Prakash’s narrative but also hails Porus as a Punjabi prince and a victor. He questions not only the modern European imperialist version of the story but also doubts the Greeks sources. He claims: “So towering was the shadow that he cast that his name (Sikandar) was adopted even by later Muslim citizens of the Indus, many naming their sons after him. Porus and his name also preceded the advent of Islam in Indus. Somehow, the indigenous hero who conclusively blocked the tracks of the conqueror is remembered only in that literary idiom that attributes fright and panic to his elephants resulting in his defeat. No one names his son after the native son of the soil.”

Ahsan’s analysis leads us to infer that Raja Porus has been otherised due to his faith. The prevalence of Alexander (Sikandar), at the cost of Porus, was due to antagonism between the faiths – Islam and Hinduism – in India, as many believe that Porus was a Hindu. However, Poru’s faith is contested, however. Some claim that he was a Buddhist. Referring to Ahsan’s analysis of the prevalence of Alexander (Sikandar) with us, Rafiullah Khan holds that this might be due to the influence of Persian literature, such as Shahnameh and Sikandarnamah of Muslim Iran.

Whatever the reason behind the living of Alexander (Sikandar) among the Muslims of India might be, Porus has been missing altogether from the post-colonial West Punjab textbooks and academic writings. Instead of hailing Porus as a hero or dubbing him as a villain based on his faith, we should accept and treat him as our local hero who had blocked the tracks of one of the greatest conquerors in the history of humankind. Undoubtedly, he is an important chapter in our history that we cannot skip.

There is a dire need to include chapters on our local heroes, such a Raja Porus, in our textbooks. Moreover, our academia should own the responsibility for countering the narrative of the imperialists and invaders. To conclude, although it is a hard call, we have to accept the reality: instead of disowning Porus for his faith, we should hail him as a local ruler and hero, who stood against the foreign invader.

The writer has a PhD in history from Shanghai University and is a lecturer at GCU, Faisalabad. He can be contacted at mazharabbasgondal87@gmail.com. He tweets at @MazharGondal87

A hard call—V