Braveheart Porus

Jagjit Puri puts together various accounts by Greek and Indian historians in an effort to answer who emerged victorious in the battle between Alexander and Porus

Most historians agree that the brave fight put up by Porus’ men disheartened Alexander’s army
Most historians agree that the brave fight put up by Porus’ men disheartened Alexander’s army

Punjab has a distinctive culture that distinguishes it from the living patterns of other places. Its indigenous traits gradually mixed with those brought by invaders and resulted in a vibrant language, lifestyle and civic society that make the region unique.

It was the only region where the ever-advancing army of Alexander the great found one of its toughest resistances when it met with the army of Porus. The morale of Alexander’s army was completely shattered by a singular act of brave men of Porus, who tied themselves with their chariots so not have any choice of deserting. Alexander could thus go only as far as the river Hyphasis (modern Beas). At this point his army, it is generally believed, rebelled and refused to go further.

Most historians agree that it was the brave fight put up in Punjab by Porus’ army that disheartened Alexander’s army.

However, there are no known early records of this battle in the Indian history. Most of the accounts are by Greek historians like Juslin, Plutarch, Diodoros, Curtius and Arrian.

Most of these accounts are believed to be subjective by modern Indian historians, as many believe that Alexander was not real victor of this battle.

So who really won the battle of Hydaspes (Jhelum as called by ancient Greek historians) in 325 B.C.? Was it Alexander the Great, or was it Porus or Raja Puru as he was known in his kingdom.

According to the authors of Cast and Tribes of Northern India (P-1839) Manu had four sons and one daughter. Manu’s daughter’s name was Ila. Her fifth descendant was Puru who is credited with starting Puru Vansh. The Purus ruled over a territory near Taksila. They were independent and kind kings. Porus, is the most renowned descendent of the Purus in history, known for his epic battle against Alexander the Great.

But several ethnic groups in the Indian subcontinent have tried to claim Porus as their own ancestor. Many academicians believe that he was a Yadava or Yaduvanshi king. Col James Tod was the proponent of this view (Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan, pp 283), which was also held by Dr. Ishwari Prashad, another renowned historian.

While experts may differ over the dynasty of everyone agrees he was a great warrior. Thus accounts of Greek historians that he was defeated are greeted with scepticism.

This is an account recorded by Arrian, a Greek historian.

"The Alexander-Porus’ battle has 30,000 foot soldiers and 4,000 cavalry taking part, while 300 chariots and 200 elephants were also used (Arrian, The Campaigns of Alexander, 275). As many as 20,000 of the Indian soldiers and 3000 of the cavalry were killed in this battle (Arrian 279)."

But in the few hours that the battle was fought, it would have been impossible for the Greek Army to slaughter sheep in those numbers much less soldiers of Porus. The Greeks were also not in possession of an incendiary device allowing them to kill such large number of soldiers in the estimated hours the battle took place. Without doubt, Arrian’s account is not trustworthy. There are several similar descriptions of the Battle of Jhelum, all authored by Greeks historians. (See the Invasion of India by Alexander the Great as described by Arrian, Q Curtius, Diodoros, Plutarch and Justin, first published in 1896, reprinted by Infuse Publications, 1992.)

There is no comprehensive Indian narration of this massive bloody conflict. Alexander, according to Greek sources, was finally able to defeat Porus by resorting to a cunning manoeuvre, involving a surprise crossing of the river. The light-armed Macedonian cavalry, mounted on horses, created panic among the slow-moving ranks of Porus’ army riding elephants. The chaotic elephants proceeded to stampede their own infantry. The 6.7-feet tall and handsome Porus was captured. He had received nine grievous wounds and could barely stand, but when brought before Alexander and asked what treatment he expected, Porus declared boldly: "As a king should treat a king." Impressed by his valour, Alexander let Porus retain his possessions. Let us now re-evaluate the battle between Porus and Alexander, which is popularly known as the Battle of Jhelum.

Historian Dr Buddha Prakash has analysed the inconsistencies between the accounts given by Juslin, Plutarch, Diodoros, Curtius and Arrian. He has observed, "The accounts of the Greek writers about the end of the battle are full of confusion and contradictions. What is clear from these accounts is that Alexander and Porus made peace and became friends. From the unanimous remarks of these authors that Porus was reinstated in his state and the territories conquered by Alexander in India [That is territories other than those ruled by Porus] were added to his dominion. (Buddha Prakash, Political and Social Movements in Ancient Punjab (1976) 171, 310).

The author further points out that it is evident from Arrian’s narrative that Alexander took the initiative in opening talk with Porus, who was reluctant to have any talks with Alexander he rebuffed his envoys and emissaries many times. But Alexander showed so much perseverance that ultimately, through the instrumentality of an old friend, Porus agreed to meet him. He zealously preserved his dignity and status in his talk with Alexander. The outcome of the peace parleys was an enlargement of the kingdom of Porus by the surrender of a large chunk of territory by Alexander". (Buddha Prakash, Porus 678).

These facts emerge from most historical accounts. 1. Alexander encountered stiff resistance; 2. Porus retained his kingdom and remained its king after the battle. In fact, Alexander even ceded some territory to him.

But a few questions remain unanswered. Why was a defeated king (Porus) was given an even larger kingdom after his defeat by Alexander? Did Porus have some singular advantage, despite being taken prisoner, as narrated?

Also after the confrontation with Porus the invading army was so overwhelmed by the courage of the Porus’ army that it finally dictated Alexander’s retreat from Indus. An account by Greek historian Plutarch confirms this view. He writes:-As for the Macedonians, however, their struggle with Porus blunted their courage and stayed their further advance into India. For having had all they could do to repulse an enemy who mustered only twenty thousand infantry and two thousand horse, they violently opposed Alexander when he insisted on crossing the river Ganges also, the width of which, as they learned, was thirty-two furlongs, its depth a hundred fathoms, while its banks on the further side were covered with multitudes of men-at-arms and horsemen and elephants. —Plutarch, Vita Alexandri, 62.

While both Porus and Alexander have been acknowledged as great warriors in history but who emerged victorious in the battle of Jhelum remains unanswered.