Massagetae, Sakai and Scythians

    Pandian kingdom was founded by an ancient Indian race whose ancestors had occupied the regions watered by the Jamuna and was situated on the southern extremity of the Indian Peninsula. This kingdom is mentioned by Pliny, the author of the Periplus of the Erythrean Sea and by Ptolemy. The name Pandian is derived from the Sanskrit Pandu, the name of the father of the five Pandava brothers mentioned in Mahabharata. Pliny mentions a race of Pandu (a genus Pandae) as the only one race in India that was ruled by female sovereigns.

  It is mentioned by Strabo that Pandian kingdom – and some others say Poros (not the legendary rival of Alexander but another one) – had sent to Caesar Augustus an embassy and gifts accompanied by an Indian Yogi (Sophist). This Yogi had committed himself to the flames of fire at Athens, like Kalanos, who had exhibited a similar spectacle in the presence of Alexander.

  Such self-burning had secret spiritual significance and purpose. It is indicated by us elsewhere in the context of Kalanos burning alive himself that Indian Yogis have practiced this practice, which seems inhuman and irrational today, since very ancient times. However, it is neither meant for ordinary worldly persons nor they can undertake it with the required spiritual attitude towards life and death.

  Alexander was ambitious to conduct his army through Balochistan (Gedrosia). He had learnt that Queen Semiramis and Cyrus (the Iranian king) each had led an expedition against Indians through Balochistan, but that they had both been forced to retreat, the former escaping with twenty men and the later with only seven. He thought that it would be a glorious achievement for him if he led his victorious army in safety through tribes of Balochistan.    This is on the authority of Nearchos who had accompanied his master – Alexander – and had rendered important services as admiral of his fleet at the banks of river Hydaspes (it is now Jhelam or river of Behat, called by the natives of Kashmir Bedasta and which represents its Sanskrit name Vitasta).

  Strabo does not put faith in this story and in support of his view quotes Megasthenes who bid to put no faith in the ancient histories of India. No army, says Megasthenes, was ever sent by Indians beyond their borders, nor did any foreign army ever enter and conquer their country except the expeditions of Herakles (Hercules), Dionysos and Alexander. But most ancient writers like Eratosthenes regard them as incredible and fabulous. Homer speaks regarding Dionysos thus: “Who formerly chased the nurses of the infuriated Dionysos along the holy mountain of Nysa.”

  However this Nysa is not the ancient Indian Nysa for Indian one was not known to Greek before the Alexander invasion. The relevant reference made by Homer in sixth book of his Iliad to Dionysos’ Indian exploits reads thus: “Now Glaukos son of Hippolochos and Tydeus’ son met in the mid-space of the foes, eager to do battle. Thus when the twain were come nigh in onset on each other, to him first spake Diomedes of the loud war cry: Who art thou, noble sir, of mortal man? For never have I beheld thee in glorious battle ere this, yet now hast thou far outstripped all men, in thy hardihood, seeing thou abidest my far-shadowing spear. Luckless are the fathers whose children face my might. But if thou art some immortal come down from heaven, then will not I fight with heavenly gods. Nay moreover even Dryas’ son mighty Lykurgos was not far long when he strove with heavenly gods, he that erst chased through the goodly land of Nysa the nursing-mothers of frenzied Dionysos.”

  However, with regard to Herakles it is related by ancient writers that he penetrated to the extremities of both east and west of the known world. Some Indian mercenaries (of Hydrakai or Sydracai tribe) were enrolled in Iranians army and this army under King Cyrus approached the Indian frontiers when he marched against Massagetae, a Scythian tribe living eastward from the Caspian Sea. Most of the Scythians, beginning from the Caspian Sea, were called Dahai Skythai, and those situated more towards the east were called Massagetae and Sakai; the rest had the common appellation of Skythians but each separate tribe had its peculiar name and greater part of them were nomads. They were living at the frontiers of ancient India.

  Herodotus (who lived in 480 – 425 BC) writes in his book ‘Histories’ thus: “The country (of Scythia) has no marvels except its rivers, which are larger and more numerous than those of any other land. These, and the vastness of the great plain, are worthy of note, and one thing besides, which I am about to mention. They show a footmark of Heracles, impressed on a rock, in shape like the print of a man’s foot, but two cubits in length. It is in the neighborhood of the Tyras. The preparations of Darius against the Scythians had begun, messengers had been dispatched on all sides with the king’s commands, some being required to furnish troops, others to supply ships, others again to bridge the Thracian Bosphorus, when Artabanus, son of Hystaspes and brother of Darius, entreated the king to desist from his expedition, urging on him the great difficulty of attacking Scythia. Good, however, as the advice of Artabanus was, it failed to persuade Darius. He therefore ceased his reasoning; and Darius, when his preparations were complete, led his army forth from Susa. Before arriving at the Ister, the first people whom he (Darius) subdued were the Getae (Goths of later times?) who believe in their immortality. The Thracians of Salmydessus, and those who dwelt above the cities of Apollonia (city of moon or Chandranagar?) and Mesembria – the Scyrmiadae and Nipsaeans, as they are called – gave themselves up to Darius without a struggle; but the Getae obstinately defending themselves, were forthwith enslaved, notwithstanding that they are the noblest as well as the most just of all the Thracian tribes.

  “The belief of the Getae in respect of immortality is the following. They think that they do not really die, but that when they depart this life they go to Zalmoxis, who is called also Gebeleizis by some among them. To this god every five years they send a messenger, who is chosen by lot out of the whole nation, and charged to bear him their several requests.

  “Before you come to Scythia, on the sea cost, lays Thrace. The land here makes a sweep, and then Scythia begins, the Ister falling into the sea at this point with its mouth facing the east… As for the inland boundaries of Scythia, if we start from the later, we find it enclosed by the following tribes, first the Agasthyrsi, next the Neuri, then the Androphagi, and last of all, the Melanchlaeni.

  “The Agasthyrsi are a race of men very luxurious, and very fond of wearing gold on their persons. They have wives in common, that so they may be all brothers, and, as members of one family, may neither envy nor hate one another. In other respects their customs approach nearly to those of the Thracians.

  ‘’The Neurian customs are like the Scythian; the manners of the Androphagi are more savage than those of any other race.

  ‘’The Melanchlaeni wear, all of them, black cloaks, and from this derive the name which they bear. Their customs are Scythic. The Budini are a large and powerful nation: they have all deep blue eyes, and bright red hair. They are the aboriginal people of the country, and are nomads, unlike any of the neighboring races, they eat lice.

  “There is a city in their territory, called Gelonus, which is  surrounded with a lofty wall, thirty furlongs each way, built entirely of wood. All the houses in the place and all the temples are of the same material. … The Geloni, on the contrary (to Budini), are tillers of the soil, eat bread, have gardens, and both in shape and complexion are quite different from the Budini.

  “Their country is thickly planted with trees of all manner of kinds. In the very woodiest part is a broad deep lake, surrounded by marshy ground with reeds growing on it. Here otters are caught, and beavers, with another sort of animal which has a square face. With the skins of this last the natives border their capotes: and they also get from them a remedy, which is of virtue in diseases of the womb.”

(Additional readings HERE. ) 

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