Adventures on an Indian Visa (week 23): Heartlands

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Day 155

This morning we leftall the wonder & chaos of happening, maddening Delhi, & headed south on a packed train for a couple of hours, before arriving at the city of Mathura. A thorough investigation of the ‘Life of Appollonius of Tyana’ by Philostratus had pointed me to this city as a possible area in which to place the Indian Jesus. On looking at the text, I saw that after Appollonius & his companion, Damis, pass’d eastwards beyond the Hyphasis River, they;

(i) Crossed a part of the the Himalayas
(ii) Reached the Gangeatic plain
(iii) Reached a city called Paracas

Analyzing those steps one-by-one…

(i) They Crossed a part of the Himalayas
They say that from this point they crossed the part of the Caucasus which stretches down to the Red Sea; and this range is thickly overgrown with aromatic shrubs

(ii) They Reached the Gangeatic plain
After crossing the top of the mountain (range), they say they saw a smooth plain seamed with cuts and ditches full of water, some of which were carried crosswise, whilst others were straight; these are derived from the river Ganges

(iii) They Reached a city called Paracas
They tell us that the city under the mountain (range) is of great size and is called Paraca, and that in the center of it are enshrined a great many heads of dragons

It is the city of Paraca which gives us a significant lead. In writing about the Indian journeys of Appollonius, Philostratus drew on the memoirs of his Syrian companion, Damis. That his name sounds a bit like Thomas is fascinating, & another Indian them’d name, Bharata, sounds like the text’s ‘city of Paraca’. If this was indeed the case, then we are drawn to Hastinpur, which sits only a few miles from the first risings of the Himalayan foothills. The city has a very ancient role as the capital of emperor Bharata, as given in the Mahabharata. That there were in Paraca, according to Philostratus, ‘enshrined a great many heads of dragons,’ strengthens the assumption, for 200 years before Appollonius visited the city, Samrat Samprati, the son of the Buddhist emperor Asoka, is said to have built a great many Jain temples in the city, all of which were destroyed by centuries of foreign invaders. These long-lost dragon statues would then connect with the serpent iconography of Jainism known as the Naga.

So far so good, & now for the deeper reason I’ve dragg’d us to Mathura. Philostratus tells us that the Sacred Ridge of a certain Iarchus was a four-day camel ride away from Paraca. This points to Mathura, 100 miles to the south of Hastinpur, which was ruled at the time of Jesus by a Greek speaking dynasty.

Apollonius of Tyana, whether he was a magician, as the vulgar say, or a philosopher, as the Pythagoreans say, entered Persia, traversed the Caucasus, Albanians, Scythians, and Massagetae, penetrated the most opulent kingdoms of India, and after crossing the very wide river Phison came to the Brahmans, so that he might hear Iarchas sitting on a golden throne and drinking from the fountain of Tantalus, and discoursing amid a few disciples about nature, about customs, and about the course of the stars. The 4th century Illyrian priest, Jerome

According to Philostratus, the sage Appollonius was going to meet at the ridge, Iarchus spoke Greek – & of course.

I ar ch u s
I ss a
J e s u s

Meanwhile a ‘factochisp’ occurs when a truth is altered by corruption through tranmission. In the case of Iarchus, the philochisps are subtle & quite common. The ‘a-to-e’ chisper & the softening of the ‘ch’ to ‘sh’ are both easy to hear, while the I becoming J is common in antique orthography. Indeed, the earliest Greek names of Jesus began with an I, as in Ἰησοῦς (Greek) & Latin (Iesvs), & it was only about the turn of the first millennium that the J sound began to take precedent.

On finding the sacred hill on which Iarchus dwelt, Appollonius passed four months in study & talks with his new guru, after which he composed the following letter;

Apollonius to Iarchas and the other sages greeting. I came to you on foot, and yet you presented me with the sea; but by sharing with me the wisdom which is yours, you have made it mine even to travel through the heavens. All this I shall mention to the Hellenes; and I shall communicate my words to you as if you were present, unless I have in vain drunk the draught of Tantalus.

An approximate date for the meeting of Jesus & Appollonius may be discerned through the latter’s encounter with a certain king called Gondophares directly before he reaches the Gangeatic plain. The reign of Gondophares is given by the Takht-I Bahi as AD19 to AD45. In addition, while Appollonius is residing on the Sacred Ridge, he witnesses a certain King Vardanes, who ruled Parthia between 38 and 47AD.

Philostratus describes many statues at Sacred the Ridge, which fits in with the Mathura School of statue sculpture dated to that very era. The Ridge is not in Mathura itself, but – I assumed – must be the Govardhan Hill, 20 k to the west. So, after taking a hotel for the night in Mathura, a fine enough city by the, I check’d my notes again;

An important clue comes from the mention by Philostratus of Heracles’ assault on the Sacred Ridge, which reads; ‘on many parts of this rock you see traces of cloven feet and outlines of beards and of faces, and here and there impressions of backs as of persons who had slipped and rolled down. For they say that Dionysus, when he was trying to storm the place together with Heracles, ordered the Pans to attack it, thinking that they would be strong enough to stand the shock; but they were thunderstruck by the sages and fell one, one way, and another, another; and the rocks as it were took the print of the various postures in which they fell and failed.’ Megasthenes, a Greek geographer of the third century BC, places Heracles in the Mathura area, describing him as being; ‘Held in especial honour by the Sourasenoi, an Indian tribe who possess two large cities, Methora and Cleisbora, and through whose country flows a navigable river called the Iobares.’ Megasthenes also describes the Pandyan Kingdom, of which Mathura was a part, as being named after Pandaea, the only daughter of Heracles.’

Day 156

This morning we jump’d in a rickshaw & sped oer the plains to Govardhan. Rising ominously from the Gangeatic plain, the Govardhan Hill. The place is essentially a small town clsuter’d around a not insignificant temple complex, all of which nestles underneath this low, ochre red hill. According to Philostratus, the Sacred Ridge of Iarchus was the same size as that of the Acropolis in Greece…

The hill, the summit of which inhabited by the sages is, according to the account of our travelers, of about the same height as the Acropolis of Athens; and it rises straight up from the plain, though its natural position equally secures it from attack, for the rock surrounds it on all side

& though I had never visited Athens myself, VP has confirmed the two hills were indeed very similar in size & shape. Govardhan can be connected to both elements of Jesus’ name, as in; Jesus = Iarchus / Krishna = Christ. The hill at Govardhan is famous among the Hindus for being lifted by Krishna in defiance of the rain god Indra, who had sent a deluge to the local area.

The full story describes how Krishna observed huge amounts of offerings being prepared in honour of the old god, Indra, by the population of a village beside Govardhan. After debating with them as to the true nature of the Dharma, they were soon converted from the old sacrificial ways of worship, and began to concentrate instead on doing their ‘karmic duty,’ which as farmers would be to focus on agriculture and cattle rearing. Angry at the sleight, a furious Indra threw a seven-day deluge at the farmers, flooding the plains in the process. In face of this, the gallant, young Krishna rode to the rescue, protecting the farmers, along with all their families and cattle, by the aforesaid raising of the hill. When Indra witnessed this miraculous feat, he bowed in awe to Krishna’s greater power and subsequently halted the rains; the result of which was Krishna taking his place among greatest gods in the Hindu pantheon. To a modern mind, this defeat of Indra is an allegorical account of the initiation into Indian theology of a new brand of Hinduism. The old Indra-centric worship of the Vedic brahmins was superseded by a fresh and exciting devotion to Krishna, a rejection of the old ways that fits in perfectly with the anti-Brahmanical stance championed by Issa and Ashvaghosa. With Jesus having spent time in the Mathura area, it is through his relationship to Krishna that he should be connected, in some way, to the Govardhan Hill.

Baby Krishna

Digging through the poetical metaphor, we can see that Iarchus had allowed the locals to use the hill during flooding, & that this later became mythologized as Krishna lifting the hill.

Apollonius says that he himself ascended mostly on the south side of the ridge, following the Indian, and that the first thing he saw was a well four fathoms deep, above the mouth of which there rose a sheen of deep blue light; and at midday when the sun was stationary about it, the sheen of light was always drawn up on high by the rays, and in its ascent assumed the look of a glowing rainbow. The ‘well four fathoms deep’ is the Manasi Ganga of today – a sacred pond said to form the ‘mouth’ of Govardhan. A tall, standing stone with what appears to be a snake imprinted into it emerges from the waters, sporting a hole which the local brahmin consider as the navel which connects the visible earth with the subterranean world of the serpent-gods called nagas. They also consider the Govardhhan hill to be the highest point upon the whole earth, both of which notions have the following correlation in Philostratus:

And they say that they are inhabiting the heart of India, as they regard the mound as the navel of this hill, and on it they worship fire with mysterious rites, deriving the fire, according to their own account, from the rays of the sun; and to the Sun they sing a hymn every day at midday

As for Iarchus being Jesus, the healing techniques reflect Jesus’ own mastery of medicine, & the events described in the third extract are mirror’d in the Gospels’;

After sunset they brought to him all who were sick and those who were possessed by devils. The whole town came crowding round the door Mark 1-32

This discussion was interrupted by the appearance among the sages of the messenger bringing in certain Indians who were in want of succor. And he brought forward a poor woman who interceded in behalf of her child, who was, she said, a boy of sixteen years of age, but had been for two years possessed by a devil. …. “Take courage,” said the sage, “for he will not slay him when he has read this.” And so saying he drew a letter out of his bosom and gave it to the woman; and the letter, it appears, was addressed to the ghost and contained threats of an alarming kind… There also arrived a man who was lame. He already thirty years old and was a keen hunter of lions; but a lion had sprung upon him and dislocated his hip so that he limped with one leg. However when they massaged with their hands his hip, the youth immediately recovered his upright gait. And another man had had his eyes put out, and he went away having recovered the sight of both of them… Yet another man had his hand paralyzed; but left their presence in full possession of the limb. Life of Appollonius of Tyana

If I’m right, Jesus was running an ashram of sorts at Govardhan, a decade after his supposed crucifixion. The town is a very holy place, & in only a few days, half a million souls are actually due to walk the entire 21 K around the hill in an ancient ritual known as a Parikrama in celebration of its lifting by Krishna. Its done to coincide with the festival of Diwali, the Hindi Christmas, which is in a few days too. All this has already attracted a great deal of beggars, who were rather annoying actually, so we didn’t linger long, & headed back to Mathura for a fine meal. But, yeah, a cool day, that, that was cool. To come to India & not have a clue as to who Appollonius of Tyana was, then 5 months later trace his footsteps to an obscure Indian hill where Jesus seems to have gone to after the Crucifixion is definitely a more different international experience than lying on a Benidorm beach.

DAY 157

Today’s port of call was a night & a morning in Agra, an rather unpleasant place full of scruffy hotels that contravertedly is home to the ‘paradise on earth’ that is the Taj Mahal. Built in the 17th century by a grief-stricken Mughal King for his dead wife, it really is a spectacular & celestial place of beautiful, polished marble & an aristocratic air of human superiority – a once-in-a-lifetime experience ensured by the architect having his hands chopped off on its completion.

Seeing as the Taj is the international symbol of true love, experiencing it compell’d me to Call Sally Cinnamon up for a first wee chat in ages, which had a positive vibe (she misses me), the end result being the composition of the following sonnet;

I was staring at the back of this rickshaw driver’s neck
As I dragged my bags thro’ Agra, the Taj now just a speck
Of love dust immemorial, my mind’s eye to recall
Whene’er long life yearns deeply for some sheer uplift of soul;

In that place grew pure poetry, man-made & yet divine,
A funerary megalith whose Mughal marble wine,
Endrenches human spiritus with splendour thro’ its form,
All races & all nations round its majesty must swarm.

As I depart for Gwalior I think of absent touch,
For she was like a queen to me, I loved her love so much,
& haunted by her happy smile I’ve wandered far, alone,
Til mental peace has found me all my fuck-ups to atone.

So, I shall get my mobile out & make that magic call –
Her voice was soft & happy – back in Sally-love I fall.

Day 158

This morning, after one last gaze at the sheer wonder of the Taj Mahal, we caught a bus to the fine bustling sprawl of Gwalior, where we were met by Bhagat, the 40-year-old principle of a couple of schools in the city. After putting us up in a hotel, me & Mr Steve (as VP has been happily monicker’d), went back to the school for a ‘gig.’ They had built a stage, hired a PA & sorted us out instruments – a guitar & a harmonium – plus three drummers who we quickly got up to speed.

Then, all of a sudden, 600 kids & their teachers were ushered into the yard & we were playing a wicked wee gig actually. The Sarita School provides an education for the poor of the area, & for all of them it was the first time they had seen a guitar being played. After the gig, we were inundated by autograph hunters, even in the streets afterwards a mental buzz that I took to like a duck to water but had Victor questioning whether he could handle the true trappings of fame.

Day 159

This morning me & VP play’d some songs to a number of blind kids in this blind school, who were really finickity over our unsophisticated attempts at accurate tunings. Still, it was a really nice vibe. Which the then carried on as we mov’d or the night to the nearby Snehelya orphanage, thro which connection we’ve ended up in Gwalior playing music to kids. There’s a festival in East Lothian which my band has play’d at & is run by coke-heads, so I’m like is all the money getting up their noses are really into this mythical Indian orphanage. I was obviously wrong to doubt them, & it’s a very cool place, with its own compound & various blocks for the neighbourhoods ‘undesirable’ children, abandon’d by poor villagers for various ‘conditions.’

VP & arriv’d the orphanage with bags full of sweets like venerable Indian Santas, if only to sprinkle a little happy dust for a few moments, & let the kids know that East Lothian is always thinking about them.

It is set in a compound in the middle of ‘bandit country’, protected by armed guards. Inside it is an oasis of peace for thirty kids with varying degrees of disability. They were all delighted to see & play with me. I even found a guitar there & we played them a gig – but as they only spoke Hindi it was difficult for them to appreciate my lyrical genius. The maddest moment was seeing this blind kid with a Burnley top on – honestly. Apparently it was donated after a recent visit by the RAF, but either way it was cool to see.

The Snehelaya set-up is very colonial, with the medical volunteers having an upper floor to themselves & waited on hand & foot. This afternoon, we went out with a roving ambulance, pulling into villages to give out health advice & medicine. While they were doing this I wandered into a local school & gave an impromptu English lesson to kids – great fun, especially when I sent out a kid for talking to much – just like me when I was his age. On the way back karma struck again, for some guy who had just had a bike accident. Tho’ in pain, his face lit up when our ambulance rounded the bend he had just skidded off.

A power cut tonight got me into writing, both poetry & a couple of songs on the rooftop with a guitar donated by a Linkey Lea organiser. I also got friendly with the local farmer – the place aspires to self-sufficiency. His house was in a corner of the compound, a bathroom sized single roomed cottage about three feet tall! How he fits his wife & five kids inside at bedtime I will never know.

Day 160

We left the orphanage this morning in a flurry of fond farewells. It was quite poignant saying goodbye to the kids – we don’t realise how lucky we are guys – both to live in the West & to be able-bodied. Returning to Gwalior for one more night, there was time for some conventional sight-seeing, which saw us ascend the great hill at the heart of Gwalior – the Gibraltar of India – where the Man Singh Palace was a wonder to behold. Most disturbing, actually, was the sight of a thousand or so bats ‘sleeping’ upside down in one of the empty rooms – an unnerving experience but highly interesting. Back on the plain there was another, built for the Maharaja of Gwalior, whose opulence was quite ridiculous to see in a country of such extreme poverty as India.

Completed in 1874, the dining room was a wonder to behold, while much of the regalia was scattered about the palace & opened to view. It was an excellent hour of museum-going, at a cost of only £3.50. It was also interesting to learn that despite the Maharajas having lost any actual power, the Gwalior version has set himself up in politics & in a few weeks will attempt to take control over the state. Some things never really do change, I guess.

So it’s Diwali today – the Indian Christmas – & Bhagat & his family wanted us to share in the festivities. This ‘Festival of Light’ is based upon a poem – the Ramayana – & is meant to celebrate the day which Rama returned home after rescuing his beloved Sita from the clutches of the Sri Lankan demon, Ravana, & reflects the candles that Rama’s subjects lit around their city upon his return. Just like them, Victor & I also lit candles all about the school, which was a great many indeed & quite some time to finish.

After this, we shared in the worship ceremony, in which Bhagat’s father, the founder of this school, & a wonderful man in his own right, read out a hymn from the Vedas which was sang along to be the women of the household. After this, we all consumed far too much food (at separate times I may add) while a million firecrackers erupted through Gwalior, whose quality puts our own Guy Fawkes efforts to shame. In particular I loved the ‘butterfly,’ which upon being lit would flit & sparkle randomly about the place, just like the real thing.

Day 161

Today, we finally left Gwalior, with Bhagat very kindly picking up the hotel bill. We are zooming south on the Shatab-di Express, the fastest train in India, as wide as a plane & pretty luxurious compared to the rusty charabangs I am used to travelling on. It took about an hour to reach Jhansi, an otherwise nondescript typical city. Sharing a rickshaw with a yank, we pull’d into the village of Orrcha, which spreads about the wonderful 500 year old palace & fort of the old kings of Orrcha. It is a quiet little temple town, whose elegant ruins are quite simply magnificent, haunted by vultures & flanked by two gorgeous swimmable rivers. Perfect poet’s country, & I penn’d the following sonnet based on a local legend here;


Beside the bonnie banks of Betwa’s stream
A beauty dwelt, beholding her a dream,
Whose reputation to great Akbar flew
By regal claws she to his throne-room drew,
But noble are Bundellas & their Queens
& so played out the wondrous of scenes
As with a poem she made devlish dig;
“Hello King! You are King, not dog, nor pig,
& I am nothing but a plate well-used…”
Lord Akbar gasped, & gazed on her, confused,
While shell-shock’d audience grew hushly sure,
Such grave insult His Highness shan’t endure;
But no! Life’s nobler motions to protect,
He sent her home, alive & with respect.


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