IN THE TRACES OF BUDDHA: TRAVELING IN INDIA

Professor Karolos  Mitsakis

 

The historical and cultural relations between Greece and India go back to classical Antiquity. The first Greek author, who possibly had visited India and spoke about the «Indian country» (Ινδική χώρη) is Herodotus (490 –424 B.C.). Yet, the contacts between the Greeks and the Indians became closer and more essential only at the Age of Alexander the Great (356 –323 B.C). At about the same time (3rd century B.C.) appeared the first historical novel, the so called «Alexander romance» that enjoyed anenormous popularity both in the East and West throughout the centuries. In this novel we are told about Alexander’s entry to India and his decisive duel with the Indian king Porus; we are also told about Alexander’s meeting with the Indian people, particularly with the Indian wise men (γυμνοσοφιστές), the naked sophists.

During the Hellenistic Age the historical and cultural relations between Greece and India are strengthened in many ways. In the VΙIth century A.D. a famous Byzantine author, St. John of Damascus (650 — 750 A.D) wrote his own novel «Barlaam and Joasaph» which is considered a Greek biography of Buddha.

It must be added here that a strong, indirect though, Indian influence is manifested in the Byzantine romances of chivalry (XΙΙth –XVth century A.D.). The Indian influence in this last case came to Byzantium through the intervention of Arabian versions. Quite recently (2006) a book was published under the title «Kalila and Dimna» translated directly from Sanskrit. I mention this latter only to emphasize the strong Indian influence on this kind of popular literature and for another equallyimportant reason. Till today scholars research the possible western prototypes of the Byzantine romances of chivalry and they seem to ignore the Indian sources.

Under this chapter one must add the case of Dimitrios Galanos (1760 – 1833), who spent his life in India and composed a giant «Sanskrit –English – Greek Lexicon». This historical Lexicon was published only recently (2001). Dimitrios Galanos has also translated into Greek many still unpublished important and traditional Indian texts.

The cultural relations between Greece and India in the XXth cent, are rather limited possibly because of the two world wars. The exchanges are rare but still they can be traced down. Early XXth century a noted Greek poet, Lorenzo Mavilis (1860 – 1912), and also the noted Greek prose – writer Kostas Chatzopoulos (1868 –1920) translated from the Sanskrit fragments of the Indian epic romance «Dalas and Dagamanti».

Somewhat later a well-known Greek poet and novelist Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957) had a first hand knowledge of Indian literature and philosophy and was deeply influenced by them. A proof of the above statement represents his novel «Zorba the Greek» (1946) and mainly his play «Buddha» (1971).

In the last decade of the XXth century we have a series of interesting books about India; travel accounts, anthologies and essays. Among several books I select here for your information what I consider the best.

1.             Former Prime Minister Jannis Jannetakis, India. A different way of
life (1994) (In Greek)

2.             Former Ambassador in New Delhi Vassilis Vitsaxis, Indian Poetry.
Eighty  contemporary poets  in eleven  Indian languages  and in
English
 (1995) (in Greek)

3.             B.  Theos,  Fundamental philosophies of India.  The  six systems
(together with shibaism of Kashmir) (1995) (In Greek).

4.             Professor Udai Prakash Arora, Greeks on India (1996) (In English).

5.             Dr. Marianna Benetatos, The Lotus Road: The Places where Buddha Lived, (2006) (in  Greek)