Saturday, May 25, 2013

Who were Yavanas? (Another view by Kota Venkata Chelam)

Reproduced below is the article by Pt Kota Venkata Chelam on the origin of the word Yavana and references in Puranas. I will be writing my article on who were Yavanas based on Epic and Puranic sources and interfacing with archeological finds in Greece and Crete. It will be posted after a couple of articles in the series on Greek vs Vedic article.


Part of answer to Dr.Sirkar - Yavanas

The two questions: The learned Dr. Sirkar (Govt. Epigraphist for India,Ootacamund, South India) asked in a letter in February,1955 after receiving a copy of a booklet "The age of Buddha from Pandit Chelam) :-·

On the basis of your (Puranic) Chronology how do you account for
1. The Yavana king "Milinda" of Sakala mentioned in the "Milinda Panha" who flourished 500 years after the Buddha's Parinirvana?

2. The Yavana Monarch "Amtiyoka" whose dominions bordered on the empire of Asoka, grandson of Chandragupta Maurya, according to Maurya inscriptions?

To answer the questions raised. we felt the need for further investigation of allied history and historical research and came upon an essay by the learned Dr. D.C.Sircar himself on 'The Yavanas' in Vol.II of "The History and Culture of the Indian People" published by the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. We acknowledge that we found the essay also very useful for our purposes in this connection in furnishing our answers to his questions.

In Vol II of the "History and Culture of the Indian People" Dr. D.C. Sirkar writes about the Yavanas :-

"One of the factors that led to the extinction of the dynasty of the Imperial Mauryas was the advent of the Yavana invaders through the North—western gate of India. Indeed the most intersting feature of the post Maurya period of Indian history is the establishment of foreign supremacy in Uttarapatha, Aparanta Paschaddesa, and the adjoining region of Madhyadesa successively by alien powers, and the Yavanas were the first among them.

The word 'Yavana' was used in medieval Indian literature as a synonym of Mlechcha and indicated any foreigner. But as late as the early centuries of the Christian era it meant to an Indian, the Greeks only. The word was derived from the old Persian form 'Yauna' signifying originally the Indian Greeks and later, all people of Greek nationality. The Greeks of Ionia in Asia Minor, between the Aegean Sea and Lydia, and the people of North Western India, certainly came into contact with each other as subjects of the Achaemenion emperors of Persia since the time of Darius I (522-488 B.C.) Vide p. 101, Ch. VII of Vol. II of Dr.Sircar's "History and Culture of the Indian people", of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan series.)"

It is not a fact that foreigners established supremacy in 'Uttarapatha' in the post-Mauryan period. It is not correct to say the Sanskrit word "Yavana" is derived from the Persian form 'Yauna'. 70% of the vocabulary of ancient Persian consists of Sanskrit words. The Persian language is itself a Prakrita(Vernacular dialect) derived from Sanskrit. The original Persians constituted a branch of Bharatiya Kshatriyas. Along with some others they were Kshatriyas excommunicated from the Kshatriya caste of Bharat on account of the non-observance by them of the regulations and rituals prescribed by the Vedas for the Kshatriya caste. The regular Kshatriyas refrained from social and marital
association with the excommunicated branches. One cf such excommunicated branches was known as the 'Parasaka' and they settled down in Eastern Persia. The region was named after them and came to be known as 'Paarasika'. As they had originally belonged to the Aryan race, the country was also known by the more ancient name of Iran. Sanskrit was the parent larguage from which was derived the dialect known as Persian. The contention that the Sanskrit word 'Yavana' is derived from the Prakrit word 'Youna' of the derived Persian language is entirely baseless. The Sakas, Yavanas, Barbaras, Bahlikas and others were all branches of Kshatriya caste belonging originally to the Aryan race and the Hindu fold, but known generally as Mlechchas, having been excommunicated for their non observance of the prescribed caste regulations and duties, but they were severally referred to by their separate Kshatriya subsect names whenever necessary.
The Sakas, Yavanas, and others had their own Kingdoms in 'Uttarapatha' for thousands of years before the Mahablrarata War (3138 B.C.). Thev were Hindus (excommunicated) and not at all foreigners.

The Mauryas were not emperors, sovereigns over an empire. from the time of Chandragupta Maurya. Chandragupta Maurya was able to establish himself on the throne of the Magadha kingdom, only with the help of the famous Chanakya. His son Bindusara also was only the king of Megadha and not an emperor. In his time Magadha extended as far as 'Taxila' in the west. His son Asoka appears to have extended his dominion by conquest and got recognised as an emperor.

Even for his empire the western boundary was only at Takshasila and there were the Yavana kingdoms and Gandhara to the north west and west of it, Kambhoja and Kashmir to the north. His descendents were not so formidable and so in a few generations after him the empire dwindled gradually and came to be confined once again to the Magadha kingdom only. In 1218 B.C. Pushya-mitra-Sunga murdered the last king of Magadha of the Maurya dynasty, himself became king of Magadha, conquered and brought under his suzerainty the neighbouring kingdoms and performed the Aswamedha to establish his claim to the status of an emperor. The Maurya empire was disrupted on account of the weakness of the successors of Asoka which led to the independence of the feudatory kings and not on account of the invasions of foreign 'Yavanas.' Yavana kings were perhaps crossing the frontiers (river Indus) with small armies and indulging in marauding activities in the villages and towns across the border. But they were returning to their countries at the approach of the armies of Magadha. These Yavanas across the border of the Maurya empire were of Bharatiya Kshatriya descent and were neither Greeks nor foreigners. There were no Greeks at that time. It is wrong to identify the word 'Yavana' with the 'Greek.' The ancient Yavana kingdoms now comprise modern Afghanistan. The Yavanas and the Yavana kingdoms were in the northwestern region of Bharat from times immemorial and not of foreign advent. There was only one (Bharatiya)Yavana invasion in the time of the Maurya emperors and then it was repelled. lt is erroneous to contend that the Maurya empire was disrupted by the Yavana invasions. It is not a fact. There is no historical evidence whatsoever in support of such a contention.

Sir william Jones, one of the most intellectual of the European critics of Sanskrit literature, pronounced the Sanskrit language to be 'of a wonderful structure, more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either. (Vide Asiatic researches, Vol I, p, 422)

While thus innumerable reputed scholars unanimously declare that Sanskrit is the most ancient and the parent language of all the languages on the earth, from which all the other languages ere derived, and in particular Zind, the ancient Persian language, is 70% Sanskrit and derived from Sanscrit it is surpriseing that Dr. Sirkar should suggest that the Sanskrit word "Yavana" is derived from the ancient persian word 'Yauna'. The word 'Yavana' is frequently in use in Sanskrit literature, from times immemorial. To say that it has recently been imported into the Sanskrit language, argues little acquaintance with Sanskrit language and literature. There is a lot of information and innumerable references in Sanskrit litereture to the Yavanas and other Bharatiya Kshatriya races which subsequently spread all over the world.


Mus Mulyadi said...

hi j,

i think you write this topics for me. thank you.

quote: "The word 'Yavana' was used in medieval Indian literature as a synonym of Mlechcha and indicated any foreigner."

if the word yavana indicated any foreigner, then it can be used to another non indian tribe, right?
any reference stated yavanas from the east or (maybe) from the south?

how did ancient indian call/name a tribe? what are the words Sakas, Yavanas, Barbaras, Bahlikas etc really mean?

in the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, a greek seafaring manual, the writer call another tribe as fish-eater etc. did ancient indian did the same practice to call another tribe? are there any name that mean sea-people or elephant-tamer or snake-eater or something like that?

thank you and regard,

jayasree said...

I am concentrating on Yavanas only. My own analysis on Yavanas is yet to be posted. In part 3 of this series you will find Yavana as mentioned in Tamil texts.

If you are keen on knowing more go to this link:

Mr Dale is more informed on European connections. You can browse his blog for more info.

Jay Sekhar said...

Doesnt yavana also mean youth, or with youth looks?

Also, who was kala-yavana? Interesting name, kala meaning time and yavana meaning 'young-looking'.


The Yavana Dvaj is the banner of the Muslim (Khwaja/Khan) community of North India/Punjab. They were the Muslim sovereigns of the Kandahar and Kabul provinces (14th/15th Century), before Babur Shah was seated in Kabul (by his maternal uncle Tarkhan).

The Sanskrit word 'Yavana' means curtain and refers to the curtain of Hindukush mountains (or, Bolan Pass) separating Hindustan from Kandahar province.

Lalit Mishra said...

Just noticed that Jayashree Ji referred to Yona/Yavana as mentioned in Darius 1's inscription, which a rock solid evidence proving that the term "Yavana" has already been in existence before Alexander's invasion and hence, the dating of majority of Indian inscription based on the term "Yavana" is wrong.

Kealen69 said...

There is one problem with this article, if there were no Greeks at 1250 BC why is there such an abundance of Greek art and structures pre-dating 2000 BC? The Greeks are a hybrid race Aryans and Dorians, that has always been known fact. I don't believe the Aryans invaded India but originated from India and established kingdoms all the way to the Aegean sea. Greek, Persian and Sanskrit are closer to each other than any European language and I doubt that it is a coincidence. Personally I think we need to step away from the eurocentric attitude and start considering the possibly heavy influence India may have had on early European civilization starting with the Hittites, Phoenicians and Greeks