2000 years ago, the Greek ambassador to India, Megasthenes, travelled throughout India recording his observations. The following are extracts taken from his book "Indica".
"India has many huge mountains, abounding in fruit trees of every kind, and many vast plains of great fertility, beautiful, very much alike, and intersected by a multitude of rivers. The greater part of the soil is under irrigation, and consequently bears two crops in the course of a year. It teems with animals of all sorts, beasts of the fields and fowls of the air, all of differing degrees of size and strength.
It is prolific besides in elephants which are of monsterous bulk, as its soil supplies food in unsparing profusion, making these animals far exceed in strength those which are bred in Libya. The inhabitants in like manner, having abundant means of subsistence, exceed the ordinary stature, distinguished by their proud bearing. They are also found to be well skilled in the arts, as might be expected of men who inhale pure air and drink the very finest water. And while the soil bears on its surface all kinds of fruits, underground, it also has all kinds of metals, for it contains much gold, silver, copper and iron in large quantities.
In addition to cereal, there grows throughout India, much millet, which is kept well watered by the profusion of river streams, and much pulse of different kinds, as well as rice, and many other plants, useful for feed which grows almost spontaneously. It is accordingly affirmed that famine has never visited India, and there has never been a scarcity in the supply of nourishing food. For since there is a double rainfall in the course of each year, one in the winter season, when the sowing of wheat takes place, and the second at the time of the summer solstice, which is the proper time for sowing rice, sesame and millet, the inhabitants of India almost always gather in two harvests annually, and even if one crop fails, they are always sure of the second crop.
The fruits are of spontaneous growth, and the esculent roots which grow in marshy places and are of varied sweetness, afford abundant sustenance for man. The fact is almost all the plains of the country have a moisture which is alike congenial, whether derived from the rivers, or from the rains of the summer season, which are want to fall every year at a stated period, with surprising regularity, while the great heat which prevails, ripens the roots which grow in the marshes, espescially those of the tall reeds.
There are practices observed by the indians which contribute to the prevention of famine. Whereas amongst other nations it is usual during war, to ravage the soil, among the indians, the farmers are regarded as a class that is sacred. The tillers of the soil are never disturbed, even while battle is raging, for whilst those on either side annihilate each other, those engaged in farming are protected. They will never ravage an enemys land with fire, nor cut down its trees.
India possesses many rivers both large and small having their source in the mountains, upon uniting, these rivers fall into the main river known as the Ganges. Here (Hastinapur?) they possess a vast force of the largest sized elephants. Because of this their country has never been conquered by any foreign invader, for all nations dread the size and number of these animals. Thus Alexandra, the Macedonian, after conquering all asia, did not wage war upon them, for when he arrived with his troops on the river Ganga, he gave up all hope of victory when he heard how they possessed four thousand elephants, well trained and equipped for war.
There is another river called the Hindus, about the same size as the Ganges. In its passage through the vast stretch of level country it receives many tributary systems which are navigateable. besides these rivers there are a great many others of every description which permeate the country and supply water for the nurture of garden vegetables and crops of all sorts.
Now to account for the rivers being so numerous, and the supply of water so abundant, the native philosophers and those proficient in the natural sciences, say that those countries which surround India are on a higher level and so their waters naturally flow down from all sides to the plains beneath, where they gradually saturate the soil which moisture and generate a multitude of rivers.
Among the Indians, there are officers appointed to look after foreigners, to make sure no foreigner is wronged. Should any lose their health, a physician is sent to attend him, if he dies, his burial is taken care of, and his property delivered to his relatives. The Indians all live frugally, espescially when in a camp. Averse to undisciplined multitudes, they consequently observe good order. Theft is a rare occurence, and this among a people who have no written laws, are ignorant of writing, in all buisness of life, relying to memory. They live nevertheless very happy, being simple in their manner and frugal.
They never drink wine except at sacrifices. Their beverages is a liquor composed from rice, and their food is principally a rice pottage. The simplicity of their laws and their contracts is proved by the fact that they seldom go to law, they have no suits about pledges or deposits, nor do they require either seals or witnesses, but make their deposits and confide in each other. Their houses and property they generally leave unguarded, these things indicate they possess good sober sense.
Their favourite mode of exercising the body is by friction, applied in various ways, but espescially by passing smooth ebony rollers over the skin. In contrast to the general simplicity of their lifestyle, they love finery and ornaments. Their robes are worked in gold and ornamented with precious stones, and they also wear flowered garments made of the finest muslin. Attendants walking behind hold up umbrellas over them, for they have a high regard for beauty and avail themselves of every device to improve their looks. Truth and virtue they hold in high esteem, hence they accord no special privileges to the old unless they possess superior wisdom.
The king leaves his palace not only in time of war, but also for the purpose of judging causes. Another purpose for which he leaves is to go to the hunt. Crowds of women surround him, and outside of this circle spearmen are arranged. The road is marked off with ropes, and it is death for men and women alike to pass within the ropes. Men with drums and gongs lead the procession. The king hunts in the enclosures and shoots arrows from a platform. At his side stand two or three armed women. If he hunts in the open grounds, he shoots from the back of the elephant. Some of the women are in chariots, some on horses, and some even on elephants, all of them equipped with weapons.
The present king of ava, who evidently belongs to the Indu-chinese type, although he claims a ksatriya origin, leads a life of seclusion similar to that of the sandrakottos. He changes his bedroom every night to guard against sudden treachery. Of the somones he tells that those who are held in most honour are called the hyloboi. They live in the woods where they subsist on leaves of trees, wild fruits and wear garments made from the banks of trees. They abstain from sexual intercourse and also from the consumption of wine. They communicate with kings, who consult them by messengers regarding the causes of things, and who, through them, worship the deity.
Next in honour to the hyloboi are the physicians, since they are engaged in the study of the nature of man. They are simple in their habits but do not live in the fields. Their food consists of rice and barley meal, which they can always get for the mere asking, or receive from those who receive them as guests in their houses. By their knowledge of pharmacy they can make marriages fruitful and determine the sex of their offspring. They effect cures by regulating diet, rather than administering medicine. The remedies most esteemed are ointments and plasters, all others they consider to be most pernicious in nature. This class and the other class practice fortitude, both by undergoing active toil, and by the endurance of pain, so that they remain for a whole day motionless in one fixed attitude.
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Last Updated (Monday, 13 February 2012 17:41)