'(The Blog) With No Name', perhaps best described as a stream of notes and thoughts - 'remembered, recovered and (sometimes) invented'.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Trojan Horse And Indian Elephant

The story of the Trojan Horse is well-known. It was only a couple of days back that I learned about an Indian equivalent (possibly an upgrade!) to it.

The story I am reffering to is part of the Buddhist legends surrounding the legendary king Udayana. This set of legends provided source material for two classic plays by Bhasa - 'Pratijnayaugandharayana' and 'Swapnavasavadatta'. Anyways, I am not getting into those classics here (I can't!) but only looking at one of the key episodes in the story, as retold in the 'Amar Chitra Katha' volume titled 'Vasavadatta'.

Udayana was blessed with many talents - one among them was the ability to charm and command elephants by playing some special notes on the 'Veena'. But this special gift also led to his being captured by his rival king Pradyota. The latter employed a trick: he sent an 'artificial' but 'working' elephant - manufactured by his craftsmen in accordance with the highest standards of elephantine beauty; not to speak of biomechanics! - into the jungles of Udayana's kingdom. Udayana, hearing about the magnificent beast, went into the jungle with his 'Veena' in a bid to tame and capture it - and when he got close, he was easily caught by Pradyota's soldiers who were hiding in the hollow belly of the decoy elephant!

As far as I know, the Trojan Horse myth is not due to Homer (8th-9th century BC). Perhaps it is a later Greek story; it could also be that Virgil's Latin classic Aeneid (1st century BC) was the first work to feature it. Greek myths were known in Northern India after Alexander's time and the story of the horse (if it were Greek) might have been part of the package - and Bhasa might have known it. Of course, if Aeneid was the original source of the story and was also known in India, that would be a big surprise to me!

It is also possible that the elephant story was 'purely' Indian invention or maybe even a Bhasan one. The basic concept of the decoy is something universal to mankind and so such stories, which connect with such a primal thing could well exist all over.

Either way, there is one way the Indians score over the Greeks. 'Their' horse was only a massive effigy; 'Our' Elephant was an automaton good enough to fool one of our own smart kings!

Note 1: The rest of the story relates how Udayana, while in captivity, 'patao's Pradyota's daughter Vasavadatta and escapes with her. The proceedings also throw light among other things, on how leprosy was viewed in those times.

Note 2: One ccould mention another episode where elephants show a strong response to musical notes ( and even use these notes to communicate among themselves!) - read 'Cigars of the Pharaoh', the Tintin adventure!


  • At 10:56 PM, Blogger Sue said…

    Had read the Vasavadatta story when I was a kid..never thought abt the Trojan horse similarity (when I came across the Trojan horse later)..excellent post! enjoyed reading it.

  • At 7:47 AM, Blogger R.Nandakumar said…

    thanks sue.

    my own case is the other way round. i heard of the horse when i was 6 or 7. but i did not know about the elephant till the other day!

  • At 11:38 PM, Blogger Random Vandamme said…

    From elephants to horses to hypothesis: every thing seems to be working on 'gut' feelings. Udayana, captured by an elephant, esaped (eloped) with a 'horse'! May his luck shine on me.


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