Malana: Greek, Indian scholars to trace roots of village claiming descendence from Alexander the Great's army

A rare Byzantine manuscript on display during the ‘Greek World and India’ conference in Delhi last week. The Indian Express Malana

A detailed examination of the history of Alexander the Great in India, particularly in Malana of Himachal Pradesh, a village whose residents claim to be direct descendants of soldiers in the conqueror's army, will be conducted by Greek and Indian scholars.

This was among the host of issues discussed at the first international conference on ‘Greek World and India’, held in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) last week, The Economic Times reported.

After defeating the Achaemenids of Persia, Alexander entered the northwestern frontiers of the Indian subcontinent in 327 BC. By the following year, he had advanced into the Punjab, where he defeated Porus in the Battle of the Hydaspes.

Malana of Himachal Pradesh india
Malana of Himachal Pradesh.

However, faced with a mutiny from his homesick and war-weary generals who were also seemingly fearful of the formidable Nanda army lined up on their way ahead, Alexander was forced to turn back.

But several groups of soldiers and generals stayed back — and legend has it that some of them settled in the isolated Himalayan village.

“These people believe in their continuity as descendants of soldiers in Alexander’s army, but genetic ties have not been studied or established so far,” Dr Anil Kumar Singh, assistant professor of Greek Studies in JNU and one of those steering the conference, said.

“Besides Malana in Himachal Pradesh, there are places near the Beas river in Punjab and in Jaisalmer in Rajasthan, where Alexander is supposed to have camped. But we need to establish the facts about these places,” Dr Singh said.

Around 40 leading scholars from the two countries participated in the event, organised by the Greek Chair at JNU, the Hellenic Institute of Byzantine and Post Byzantine Studies in Venice, and the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, under the auspices of the Embassy of Greece in India.

The conference, which was proposed by Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias during his visit to India earlier this year, aimed to spotlight the latest research on the interaction, communication, and exchange of influences between the Greek world and India from the Hellenistic era to modern times.

A proposal to study the 2,000-year-old historical, cultural, and trade ties between the civilisations would be drawn up, Dr Singh said.

The JNU event underlined the steady strengthening of relations between Greece and India, which also extend to the educational and cultural field, officials said.

Several scholarships were announced at the end of the conference — the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki will offer three scholarships for JNU students, while the announced as the education cooperation between the two countries expands, the officials said.

Minister of State for External Affairs and Culture, Meenakshi Lekhi proposed that India and Greece should work closely within the UNESCO framework to inscribe their common tangible and intangible heritage, including the Indo-Greek Mathura Art, Unani medicine, and music.

“Greece and India had some fantastic exchanges in old times, they were competing but understanding each other as well,” Lekhi said at the inauguration of the conference.

A highlight of the event was the digital exposition of a unique Byzantine manuscript, with miniatures depicting Alexander’s life, part of the collection of the Hellenic Institute.

Its “digital journey to India bears testimony to the efforts undertaken by our countries to honour and further explore their cultural bonds,” Dendias, who addressed the conference virtually, said.

He also quoted Rabindranath Tagore during his visit to Athens in 1926: “We, the younger generations of both Greeks and Indians, must always strive to live up to the level of our glorious past.”

Indian scholars will participate in a follow-up conference in September 2023 at the Hellenic Institute.

READ MORE: Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias: "Greece and India represent two of the greatest civilisations in history."