Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Buddhist History Revolution: Ranajit Pal

Ranajit Pal, Non-Jonesian Indology and Alexander. New Delhi: Minerva Press, 2002. Pp. 268, including 41 black- and-white illustrations. ISBN 81-7662-032-7. US$17.00, UK£11.75. Further Details.

Reviewer: Jan-Mathieu Carbon, Corpus Christi College, Oxford

Self-described as a colloquial "must for the history buff" and a pleonastic "labour of hard work" (back cover), Non-Jonesian Indology and Alexander by Ranajit Pal is indeed both of these things -- a work at once fascinatingly suggestive, pioneering, and provocative, yet frustratingly confused and laborious. The main subject is Alexander's conquest of India, specifically locating Palibothra, the theoretical limit of his march east.

Pal in this book leads his own campaign west against those scholars, particularly Badian and his disciples, who ignore the Sanskrit and Pali sources and try to reconstruct Alexander's eastern campaign using only the Greek and Roman texts.[[1]]

He traces the origin of this methodological problem back to the work of Sir William Jones in the late eighteenth century.[[2]] Few scholars today think in an explicitly "Jonesian" framework, but Pal is right that the usual accounts of Alexander's march are founded on Jones' early premises and detective work.

Pal's hypothesis is that "Megasthenes" Palibothra was not Patna as Jones fancied, but Kahnuj in faraway Magan' (p. 9). In other words, Palibothra was located in what is now south-east Iran, not, as most scholars maintain, in modern eastern India.

As a provocative challenge to current orthodoxy regarding the extent of Alexander's Indian conquest the book is largely successful and will appeal to specialists and students alike. Pal's work is wide-ranging and offers multifarious perspectives on the impact of Alexander's conquests in Indo-Iran. More>>

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