This section is from the book "Some Contributions Of South India To Indian Culture", by S. Krishnaswami Aiyangar. Also available from Amazon: Some Contributions of South India to Indian Culture.
In respect of the question as to the situation of Ophir, whether it was somewhere in southern Arabia or whether we should look for it on the continent of India or the Malay peninsula, the decisive factor would be the three years' navigation from Akaba to the region of Ophir and back, which would mean a voyage of more or less 18 months up and 18 months down. An eighteen months' voyage being regarded as the fact, it must have been generally a coasting voyage so far as the westerners were concerned : it would seem to indicate the coast of India as answering to Ophir, though Malay peninsula may be possible. A station on the south coast of Arabia would hardly answer this indication satisfactorily. All this would have reference however, only indirectly to the Indians having sailed across even the Arabian Sea. Direct evidence of Indian navigation is however not wanting. Even the Rig Veda knew of hundred-oared ships, although these have reference more to eastern navigation than to western. The Baveru-Jataka however is certain evidence of western navigation, by the Indians as also the Supparaka Jataka. But behind this period lies the far older one of possible communication between the Persian Gulf ports and the west coast of the Indian peninsula. Some antiquarians incline to the opinion that the early Sumerian civilisation, the mother of Babylonian, may after all be Indian.1
1 Hornell. op. cit., p. 208.
Early Indian Voyage to Babylonia and the West,
Whatever might be the ultimate verdict of scholars in regard to this question, there could be no doubt even on the indirect evidence available to us of early communication between Babylon and India. There is considerable reason for the opinion, if it is not yet put beyond doubt, that the Indians borrowed the week-days, from the Babylonians, rather than from the Greeks, leaving the possibility open that they might themselves have originated it. We have already urged reasons2 and are pleased to find ourselves supported in this position by Dr. Vogel in an article published in the "East and West," January, 1912. We have direct evidence of the westward navigations of the Hindus in two references. The first is that Q. Metellus Celer received from the King of the Suevi, some
1 H. R. Hall, Ancient History of the Far East. pp. 173-174-. 2 Vide Beginnings of South Indian History, pp. 304 ff.
Hindus who had been driven by storm into Germany in the course of a voyage of commerce according to Cornelius Nepos.1 The other is contained in the visit of an Indian named Sophon (Subhanu) to which reference is made in a Greek inscription2 found in the ruins of a shrine between the Red sea port of Berenice and Edfu near the banks of the Nile. The few sentences of Kanarese found by Dr. Hultzsch embodied in a Greek Farce contained in the Papyrus of Oxyrhynchus3 and the same learned Doctor's find of a silver coin of Ptolemy Soter in the bazaars of Bangalore would only be evidence of communication and not of the Indians' voyaging westwards.
With the beginning of the Christian era and with the discovery of the south-west monsoon by Harpalos, voyages of communication became more regular and we have even reports of Indian embassies to the Emperor Augustus, one of which is said to have reached him at Torragona in Spain and another in Cyprus. The westward navigation and communication had become so great that there are constant references to Yavana ships coming to the west coast bringing gold in their well-rigged ships to pay in
1 Macrindle's Ancient India, p. 110.
2 The inscription is quoted in H. G. Rawlinson's India and the Western World, p. 99; .J. R. A. S., 1904, p. 402. 3 .J. R. A. S., 1905, pp. 399, exchange for the spices that they carried from that coast of the Indian Peninsula.1 What is perhaps a more important point from the Indian side is that these Yavanas had at one time suffered defeat at sea at the hands of the Chera ruler of the west-coast who is said to have punished them by tying their hands behind their back, pouring ghee or oil on their heads, and holding them up to ransom after this punishment.2 There are other references to Yavanas. Yavana women are referred to as immediate servants of South Indian monarchs, particularly the Pandya king, and Yavanas are said to have constituted his body-guard. One of these references is to Yavana women handing him western wine in golden cups for the delectation of their royal master.3 The other is much more interesting as it exhibits these Yavanas constituted as a bodv-guard of cavalry men. The Pandya king is described as being in camp in solitary bed overnight, and his tent constituted the centre of the camp which was surrounded by tents of womenguards enclosed by partitions of cloths; and then came the tents of men-sruards, yavana and mleccha and their camp of occupation. The whole camp was enclosed within a stockade of wooden palisades, sometimes even of the steel javelins that
1 Aham 148, Beginnings of South Indian History, p 12.
2 Padirruppattu, pp. 22-3, Mah. Svaminath Aiyar's edition.
3 Navkirar in Puram 56; also Nedunalvadai 11. 101-2 and the soldiers carried.1 The question arises whether these could all be Greek and whether the Indian king could have obtained so many Greek men that could hire themselves out for service of this character. The dress and other details of the description seem to lead to the inference that these might have been people other than Greek. It seems far more likely that they were Arabians who hired themselves out for service like this in this fashion. That the ancient Arabs were known by the designation Yavana is warranted by the term Ethiopian applied to the inhabitants of Abyssinia. The term is derived from Atyab -meaning incense, and Yavan - the Yavana collectors of incense in the region of the Somali country.2 Those that constituted the original inhabitants of this locality are regarded by scholars, to be colonists from Arabia. If that is so the term Yavana must be the ordinary designation for an Arabian at any rate, as much as for a Greek. However it is an open question whether the carpenters from Yavana 3 who are said to have worked with a number of other foreign workmen from various divisions of India in the building of Kaveripatam were Greek
Silappadhikaran, XIV, 122-33.
1 Mullaippftttu, 41-46. pp. 214-18; 'Silappadhikaram V. pp, 9 12, The term Yavana is rendered Sonagar by the earlier and mleccha by the later Commentator. 2 SchofiE's t'eriplus; p. 62.
3 Manimekhalai, Canto XIX, pp, 107-10; cf. also passage From Perum Kada (Tarn Brhatkatha) quoted thereunder.
Yavana or Arabian. It may even be Chinese Yavanas. It would be hazardous to attempt to be precise in the face of the statement contained in the Pattinappalai,1 that one quarter of Kaveripatam close to the sea was set apart as the quarters of the sea-going inhabitants of various countries who had come in for residence in the course of their voyages and who spoke a multitude of tongues, almost in the samestyle as Berosus speaks of a multitude of people of all nationalities collecting in the Babylonian market. The picture that we can form of this branch of Indian enterprise from the classical geographers would only confirm this indirectly.