India was the last stop in Alexander’s expedition and in 326 BC he crossed the Indus river and set up is camp at the city of Taxila. His campaign to India is quite a hub of legendary stories about the conqueror’s life. One such story is about Alexander’s interaction with the ‘wise men’. An account of this encounter is written in ‘Anabasis’ by Arrian of Nicomedia. Even Strabo has left an account of Alexander’s meeting with the naked aesthetics.

It is said that Aristotle had informed about a great intellectual and spiritual bring in the forests of India and Alexander had promised him to meet the yogi if ever got a chance to reach the subcontinent.

The Legend

During his journeys, Alexander heard many anecdotes about the ‘wise men’ or the sages of India and their wisdom. When he reached Taxila, Alexander called for an assembly of Indian sages.He came to know about the spiritual men living in the forests of Taxila. So he sent his soldiers with gifts and presents to bring these men to him.

It is said that these men refused the gifts and presents as for them the soil and their fruits were enough. So failing to invite these wise men the army came back.

The Greeks called them ‘the naked wise men’ as they lived barely clothed. These men lived an extreme ascetic lifestyle shunning all the worldly aspects of life. Alexander was unpopular among them, thus facing opposition from their side with his arrival on Indian soil.

Alexander was furious, being one of the greatest conquests and decided to go to them inside the forest himself.

On his appearance, they showed no sign of interest and only stamped the ground with their feet.On enquiring, he came to know that it signified that a man could only have so much soil or earth as they are standing upon.

This opposition made Alexander skeptical of the sages and their wisdom and he decided to test the intellectuals of these men. He asked extremely difficult questions that supposedly were impossible to answer. He further declared that the person who gave the worst answer would be executed. This test was a reflection of Alexander’s own afflictions in life that he faced every day during his conquests. The cynicism of these ascetics towards Alexander’s approach and ambition irritated him. Thus, he wanted to test them.   

Alexander questions the sages

His questions ranged from nature and philosophy of the worldly life to how should one lead their lives.He asked a question about how can a person become most beloved? He got a reply -If the person is good and powerful, but not a terror. Next, he asked -how can a human become God? – if the human did something that only Gods are capable of. Other questions were:

Which was stronger life or death? – Life.

Till when should a man be alive? – Till the person thinks that living is better than dying.

After the session,Alexander turned towards the senior most of the sages, taken to be as Dandamis to review all the answers and revealing the worst of them. The sage replied that each of the men has answered worse than the one before thus making the result to become nil. As each of them answered worse than the one before them, it made it impossible to rule out the worst.

Impressed by the sage’s wit, Alexander withdrew his intention of executing them. He asked the sages to join him in his journey as his counselors. In return, Alexander offered them enormous wealth and property. Dandamis refused,And even forbidded others to do so. He replied that he was a son of god and wanted nothing from the king and asserted that his journeys across continents, lands and seas are useless and have no meaning. This made Alexander realize that he was a free man in the true sense and was extremely impressed by him.

however, in spite of wide opposition from his fellows, another wise sage named Calanus or Kalanos or Kalyana accepted the king’s offer and joined him throughout his expedition. Calanus died of ill health in Persia. Megasthenes and Plutarch have mentioned the life of Calanus in their works.

The sage who travelled with Alexander

Calanus traveled to Persia with Alexander. He had never been ill in India but in Persia, all strength left his body. He asked Alexander that he wanted to die and could not endure the change in ways of living. Alexander could not convince him to change his and yielded to his request. A funeral pyre was built under the supervision of Ptolemy, the son of Lagus a part of the Personal guard.

Calanus walked to the pyre with a procession of horses, men, soldiers, and other people carrying with them different kinds of pills and spices and some accounts even tell about silver and gold cups, and kingly robes to be thrown on his flames.

He had to be carried to the pyre as he was too weak to walk or sit on a horse and after traveling to the pyre on litter laid himself down on the pyre. It is said that Alexander was amazed to see that he did not even flinch in the fire and a huge salute was given to him after the flames died down.

Effects on Alexander

The Indian wise men or the mystics had deep effect on Alexander, that a men who can devoid of worldly treasures. his soldiers were also amazed to see the mystic walk upon his funeral pyre. Accounts tell that Alexander ordered his men to keep his hands hanging outside to signify that inspite of conquering such huge lands he is leaving the world empty handed.

Great quotes of Dandamis

God the Great King, is not a source of violence but provider of water, food, light and life. Your king cannot be a God, who loves violence and who is mortal. Even if you take away my head, you cannot take away my soul, which will depart to my God and leave this body like we throw away old garment. We, brahman do not love gold nor fear death. So your king has nothing to offer, which I may need. Go and tell your King: Dandamis, therefore, will not come to you. If he needs Dandamis, he must come to me.”

-Dandamis’ reply to Alexander’s messenger

“I have nothing to offer you. Because we have no thought of pleasure or gold, we love God and despise death, whereas you love pleasure, gold and kill people, you fear death and despise God.”

-Welcome speech to Alexander

I lie upon the forest leaves, and having nothing which requires guarding, close my eyes in tranquil slumber; whereas had I anything to guard, that would banish sleep. The earth supplies me with everything, even as a mother her child with milk. I go wherever I please, and there are no cares with which I am forced to cumber myself.”

Do not condemn the judgement of another because it differs from your own. You may both be wrong.