My journey through Greece, a discovery of India
Touring Greece this summer, I found this in the magazine on the flight from island of Crete to capital Athens.
…this land on earth, inhabited and sanctified by the Gods, this land whose history was written and continues over the centuries to be written by people, sent by distant Gods. … you will constantly wonder if the distant Gods settled here or if the people brought the gods from distant centuries, places and planets and settled them here, there to have them far and close to them. These Gods … their creation, a creation that is quintessential of the human mind, of the restless human spirit.
… And you will discover, that by philosophizing like those people, that is, by mobilizing the utmost function of the spirit in search of Gods existence, you will find the path to the truth.
…, that this revolution of the human mind, this struggle between good and evil, between the beautiful and the ugly, amongst all that is contrary, the paths open towards finding of truth about our existence. And on this path, the divine philosophy was founded, the supreme functioning of the human mind to the true God, far from false visions, prophecies and hallucinations away from phobias and prejudices.
…, you will find the ancient Kingdoms that accepted the people from distant lands, who were persecuted by barbaric traditions, by welcoming them and giving them asylum, defying the threats of great stranger.
…, born by gods, conquered looted and mutilated over the centuries by foreign and cruel conquerors. And through this pillage and anguish, within the fire that burned everything, remained a small spark that gave birth once again, to assimilate amongst all, the values of this land.
Bereft of context, one might think of India upon reading this; however, it was written by the CEO of Sky Express describing Greece to tourists. This piece prompted me to further explore Greek history, and soon I found many similarities with our own Indian experience.
Greece was conquered by the Romans and then converted to Christianity by brutal force. Afterwards, Greece was ruled by the Ottoman Turks who perpetrated another barbaric and savage Islamic rule beginning in the 15th century. Pre-Christian Greece is credited with some of the most revolutionary ideas and advances known to mankind. Those same advances are now claimed by the Christian world as their own that they tried so hard to obliterate. Again, we can find parallels here for the claims which the Islamic world makes for many advances in mathematics, astronomy, metallurgy, health, medicines and other sciences that originated in pre-Islamic India.
The similarities don’t end here. To the Ramayana and Mahabharata are the Iliad and the Odyssey, and to the trichotomy of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva are Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades.They even have many mythological characters with human bodies and animal heads like our own. Finally, they are proud for surviving Islamic rule and retaining their pre-Islamic characteristics. The Greeks held back the advance of marauding Islamists from dominating Europe just as Indians fought on their western frontier over centuries that was responsible for holding back the invaders of Islam from expanding further in Asia.
Additionally, the Greek countryside continues to have many roadside shrines not unlike our own small temples at every street corner. They have had several periods of puritanical iconoclastic campaigns in their history to remove these images by fundamentalists, a vital link and a reminder of the pre-Christian Greece that the Abrahamic religions often derisively call idolatrous pagan culture. This also reminds me of the various roadside shrines in Mexico and other Latin American countries that the Catholic church in their hatred of native cultures and idols tried so hard to erase. This is similar to the fundamentalist Islamists’ campaigns in the Indian subcontinent against various Hindu temples under their occupation in the past and even Islamic dargahs now.
However, there are also some noticeable differences between how India and modern Greece handled their affairs post-independence. They made a clean break from their colonized past and implemented a transfer of population, not unlike what was proposed by Dr. Ambedkar in India, and avoided the tragic riots and massacres that occurred post Indian independence. They also reclaimed their places of worship immediately after independence, changing converted mosques back into churches and thus avoiding the festering religious controversies that bedevil modern India.
My physical journey through Greece has ended but my discovery of India through Greece has continued. Now read this:
Ayodhya, AD 1528
The destroyers came from out of the desert. Ayodhya must have been expecting them: for years, marauding bands of bearded, black-robed zealots, armed with little more than stones, iron bars and an iron sense of righteousness had been terrorizing the Hindu kingdoms.
Their attacks were primitive, thuggish, and very effective. These men moved in packs – later in swarms of as many as five hundred – and when they descended utter destruction followed. Their targets were the temples and the attacks could be astonishingly swift. Great stone columns that had stood for centuries collapsed in an afternoon; statues that had stood for half a millennium had their faces mutilated in a moment; temples that had seen the rise of the Hindu Kingdoms fell in a single day.
This was violent work, but it was by no means solemn. The zealots roared with laughter as they smashed the ‘evil’, ‘idolatrous’ statues; the faithful jeered as they tore down temples, stripped roofs and defaced tombs. Chants appeared, immortalizing these glorious moments. …
In this atmosphere, Ayodhya’s temple of Ramlalla(infant Ram) was an obvious target. The handsome building was an unapologetic celebration of all the believers loathed: a monumental rebuke to monotheism. Go through its great doors and it would have taken your eyes a moment, after the brightness of an Indian sun, to adjust to the cool gloom within. As they did, you might have noticed that the air was heavy with the smoky tang of incense, or perhaps that what little light there was came from a scatter of lamps left by the faithful. Look up and, in their flickering glow, you would have seen the great figure of Ramlalla himself.
Did they notice this, the destroyers, as they entered? Were they, even fleetingly, impressed by the sophistication of an empire that could quarry, sculpt then transport marble over such vast distances? Did they, even for a moment, admire the skill that could make a kissably soft-looking mouth out of hard marble? Did they, even for a second, wonder at its beauty?
It seems not. Because when the men entered the temple they took a weapon and smashed the back of Ramlalla’s head with a single blow so hard that it decapitated the god. The head fell to the floor, slicing off that nose, crushing the once-smooth cheeks. Ramlalla’s eyes, untouched, looked out over a now disfigured face.
Mere decapitation wasn’t enough. More blows fell, scalping Ramlalla, striking the helmet from the god’s head, smashing it into pieces. Further blows followed. The statue fell from its pedestal, then the arms and shoulders were chopped off. The body was left on its front in the dirt; the nearby altar was sliced off just above its base.
Only then does it seem that these men – these Muslims – felt satisfied that their work was done. They melted out once again into the desert. Behind them the temple fell silent. The votive lamps no longer tended, went out. On the floor, the head of Ramlalla slowly started to be covered by the sands…
The ‘triumph’ of Islam had begun.
This is a prologue to the book published in 2018 by Catherine Nixey, The Darkening Age – The Christian Destruction of The Classical World. I haven’t changed any word but have transplanted the story from Palmyra, Syria AD 385 to Ayodhya, India AD 1528.¹ The only replacements are Athena with Ramlalla, Christianity/Christians with Islam/Muslims and Roman Empire with Hindu Kingdoms. Every time I read through this, I relive my own history. Just change the title and it could easily be Kashi in AD 1669,² Mathura in 1670³ or Somnathª in 725, 1024, 1299, 1395, 1451, 1546 and 1665.
There has been so much destruction and violence committed by self-righteous possessors of ‘one true god’, ‘only true savior/prophet’, ‘only true book’ and ‘only true way of worship’ that the diversity of spiritual and faith traditions around the world is being destroyed. Palmyra destruction described above is more than a millennium old, but we see the same pattern repeated even today with the destruction of Bamiyan Buddhas by Taliban and Palmyra again by ISIS in recent times.
While the physical structures are poignant reminders of what has been lost, the intangible cultural heritage of humanity in the form of diverse languages, native and ethnic traditions, and myriad ways of worship are under attack continuously by zealots facilitated by petro dollars and missionary money. When the world has been turned into a competing marketplace for harvesting souls and dominating the earth by Abrahamic religions, you can see in Greece what could be lost further and forever if India with its critical mass of resources, philosophy and ‘pagan’ worship doesn’t stand for all the native and diverse traditions that are under attack throughout the world, be it in Asia, Africa or Latin America.
Sanjay Gupta frequently writes on the civilizational and cross-cultural issues. His interests include the comparative study of various cultural and social phenomena and their evolution with respect to Indic civilization. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science, and an MBA from Georgia Tech, Atlanta, USA. His professional career includes founding several technology and non-technology ventures.