PALIBOTHRA OF MEGASTHENES
[Fragment in H.P.B.’s handwriting in the Adyar Archives.—Compiler.]
It would require more space than the subject is worth, to show how every classical writer who mentions the “Palibothra” of Megasthenes differs in some detail from another classic; and how all connect with the place the town far or near the confluence of the Ganges and Erranoboas, though the latter is a non existing river—if one has to judge by the name. And while Pliny places “Palibothra” 425 Roman miles below the junction of the Ganges and the Jumna, Strabo, following Erastosthenes, gives its distance from the mouth of the Ganges at 6,000 stadia. Arrian moreover calls the “other” river near Ganges Erranoboas. And though both Arrian and Pliny make a clear distinction between the Sona and the mythical Erranoboas, yet Prof. Max Müller followed by Mr. Cunningham do not hesitate to identify both as Sona, the same river “where the ancient Palibothra stood.” As an unanswerable corroboration of the statement, and explanation given to an objection raised by D. Wilson, he holds that “though at present Patna is not situated near the confluence of the Ganges and the Sona . . . . this, however, has been explained by a change in the bed of the river Sona . . . established on the best geographical evidence.”* The “evidence” of the geographers is no doubt unimpeachable; but this evidence does not establish either the year or even the approximate period when the Sona
* [See p. 250 of Śâstrî’s ed. of Max Müller’s History of Ancient Sanskrit Literature.]
deserted its bed. Our texts invalidate however the testimony of the Greeks if by Erranoboas the Sona is meant. Leaving the Oxford Philologist and Gen. Cunningham who accepts and insists upon the identification to settle their differences, with the evidences to the contrary brought forward by opponents who show most weighty and evident reasons why the Sona cannot be the Erranoboas (See Archeological Survey, Vol. VIII), the attention of the learned Surveyors may be drawn to the following: A more minute examination will show that the Sona has changed its course since the days of the Mahâbhârata where it is mentioned several times and since Buddha’s time—twice. And that neither of the periods of the two deviations could possibly furnish a corroborative evidence in favour of the statement of classical writers, is shown in our texts. We are not concerned with the epoch of the last deviation of that restless river, which may or may not have happened as stated in the Survey shortly “before the Muhammedan invasion”; but with that time which would reconcile the Greek statements with the actual direction of the flow of the Sona. And to our knowledge neither period will serve the purpose. For, if the geographical evidence and the topographical inferences drawn from various allusions to this religio-historical stream in the Mahâbhârata, and the Râmâyana and the travels of Hiouen-Thsang and Fa-hian, justify the conclusion that the Sona has once more wandered off its bed somewhere between the two centuries that preceded the Muhammedan invasion of India, our texts connect its first deviation positively with Buddha’s death. Thus whether the Sona changed its bed in the 6th cent. “B.C.” or the 8th “A.D.,” it was not at the time of Megasthenes (4th cent. before the Christian era) — “where Palibothra stood.” Among the many legends connected with the Lord Buddha’s Nirvana Mahanada Sona (the great red river) is mentioned among the seven rivers which ran off in various directions “to avoid witnessing the sorrow of the host of Arhats and Bikkhus (settled on the shores of various rivers) at the death of their Lord.” Though a far more natural phenomenon than the parallel one alleged to have happened 500 years later,
when “the veil of the temple was rent in twain . . . and the graves were opened; and many of the saints which slept arose and went into the holy city”, etc.—it is not even attempted to connect the deviation of the streams with the Sage’s death in any miraculous direct way. But unless the actual fact of coincidence is accepted, then the compiler of legendary lore would have to be credited with prophetic prevision; for he says distinctly that the “Mahanada Sona turned away and flowed back Eastward”; — a fact corroborating the repetition of the same phenomenon later since the Sona flows nowadays Westward.
(End of the MS.)
[The sheet of this MS. is 20 inches long—three smaller sheets glued together. On the back of it there are four lines in H.P.B.’s handwriting:
. . . “was sunk in the 3rd century together with the ship that carried it from Magadha toward “Ghangs-chhen-dzonga,” the fifth arriving at the nick of time reached its destination. So did the sixth and the seventh—all the three of which are now” . . .
This text might have been used by H.P.B. in some other article.]