Strange are the tales from the past .I heard about this quaint village near Kullu called Malana where the remnants of Alexander the Great’s soldiers stayed behind and whose lineage lives to date in this remote village? Tales such as these regale you at cocktail parties and at times leave a lasting impact, if the story teller weaves a compelling story. And in this case, an Army Officer certainly did. Likewise I read an interesting article on the origin of the Thiyyas of North Malabar based on the book “Crete to Kerala” by MM Anand Ram. Both these tales leave a lingering sense of the probable, although not adequately supported by facts.
Malana, I was told by this Army Officer, over cocktails, was a place where some of Alexander the Great’s soldiers remained behind in India .They lived a secluded life, retaining their old customs with an administration and a unique form of governance of their own .We were told that in the case of disputes, the two parties to the dispute brought forward a goat each whose throats were slit .The one whose goat died first lost the dispute. I considered this was must see place and the thought of seeing a tribe so connected to a foreign civilization was compelling beyond words.
I went to the web to check out Malana and found quite a few references with reasonable detail. The linkage to Alexander’s soldiers was tenuous. Wikipedia said it was most improbable, as there were counter claims that these soldiers took refuge in the valley of Kalash in Pakistan. Recent genetic typing of the Malani population indicates an Indo-Aryan influence rather than a Greek influence and pre dating the Greeks by more than 1000 years. I tend to trust the scientific approach a lot more. Never the less everything I read about Malana was intriguing to say the least. Here is a quotation straight off Wikipedia
“The village administration is democratic and is believed to be the oldest republic of the world.
The social structure of Malana in fact rests on the villagers’ unshakable faith in their powerful deity, Jamblu Devta. The entire administration of the village is controlled by him through a village council. This council has eleven members and they are perceived as delegates of Jamblu who govern the village in his name. His decision is ultimate in any dispute and any outsider’s authority is never required. The Malanis through this council ,ran a political system of direct democracy very similar to that of ancient Greece. Thus Malana has been named the Athens of the Himalayas]
Malanis (the inhabitants of Malana) admire their culture, customs and religious beliefs. They generally do not like to change, though some traces of modernization are visible.
People in Malana consider all non-Malanis to be inferior and consequently untouchable. Visitors to Malana town must pay particular attention to stick to the prescribed paths and not to touch any of the walls, houses or people there. If this does occur, visitors are expected to pay a forfeit sum that will cover the sacrificial slaughter of a lamb ,in order to purify the object that has been made impure. Malani people may touch impure people or houses as long as they follow the prescribed purification ritual before they enter their house or before they eat. Malanis may never accept food cooked by non-Malanis, unless they are out of the valley (in which case their Devta can’t see them). Malanis may offer visitors food but all utensils will have to undergo a strict purification ritual before they can be used again.”
So there you have it … intriguing stuff about the Malanis, isn’t it?
But where was the reference to the goat sacrifices to settle disputes? Was the army man just telling tall tales? It turned out that he did have a point, as references to these practices are made in other web links. They draw reference to the sacred temple of the deity of the Malanis, Jamblu Devta whose temple walls bear etchings of battle scenes – elephants, horses and warriors in full armour, surprising for a tribe as isolated and secluded as this. Some anthropologists believe the etchings represent the battles between Alexander and King Porous.
Unfortunately a raging fire in January 2008 burnt out almost half of the village of Malana and the sacred temple so we may never get to see this ancient monument.
The romantic side of each of us will most likely believe the legends rather than cold scientific evidence!!A similar parallel exists in the story of Greeks fleeing the catastrophic earthquake in the island of Crete and settling in North Malabar ,as told in the research work of MM Anand Ram.
As in the case of Malana, there is a lot of circumstantial evidence that makes this plausible … broken pottery, arches of houses, method of worship, physical feature et al. unfortunately, unlike in the case of Malana, there is little or no research listed on the web. Even Dr Ram’s book isn’t available and it seems unlikely to be available in future.
So what are we to take away from references to the lineage of the Thiyya community of North Malabar from the Greeks of Crete? Unlike in the case of the Malanis, the Thiyyas of North Malabar are socially integrated with the rest of the country and have migrated far and wide, resulting in inter caste and inter region marriages .Many of them have fairer skins and different features from others in Malabar but the linkage to Greeks can at best be tenuous and perhaps irrelevant now. But this is the stuff of romantic tales and the legend I am sure will keep surfacing at cocktail circuits and around bonfires for generations to come.