Western rendition of Tomyris with Cyrus’ head – Peter Paul Rubens, 1630 | Click for image.
“Mahishasur was the most powerful man in the two universes (Swarga and Prithvi). The Devas knew that if he lived for long, human beings would stop worshipping them. So they joined hands and killed him through deceit. If this is how the gods are, why worship them?” said Daharu Asur. So passionate are the Asurs about this that Daharu started talking rapidly in his native language, not realizing that no one else could understand a word of it. After prolonged persuasion he agreed to speak in broken Hindi.
“We hate the gods and goddesses. Our forefathers stopped worshipping them and we strictly follow the path they showed us. We have learnt from our forefathers that gods can do no good to anybody. They only aim to get worshipped, at any cost,” he said. The Asurs worship only their ancestors or nature, offering them haria (rice beer) and chicken on a sacred day. (via Here, kids behead lions and Durga Puja is a period of mourning – Kolkata – City – The Times of India).
Asuras in Indic history
Indian pauranik and classical history begins to make sense only after ‘asuras’ as a verbal cue for slavery and slave masters /traders is used.
Similarly, the story of Bali, the ‘righteous’ Asura king, who was sent to the patalaloka, by Vamana, makes sense, the moment ‘demons’ are defined as slave-owners and enslavers.
Therefore, once asura for slave traders /owners is used, the reading of Indian Vedas, Puranas, Upanishads, Mahabharat and Ramayana, everything, begins to makes much sense – especially historical sense. Without this interpretation, there are missing elements. For instance, the story of Bali and Vamana, the horror stricken response of readers to Sita-apaharan by Ravana and others.
Jataka stories, cautionary tales for adults, mainly considered as children’s stories in the West, also reflect social mores and realities of the times. This Jataka story (click on the link) refers to a “demon’ (another word for a slave trader) and cautions travellers and merchants about slave traders. This ‘demon’ kidnaps the merchant – but leaves the goods behind.
An old undated photograph of Asur tribesmen.
Asuras in Indic History
Interesting are the many Mahishasurmardini statues, coins and seals, especially by the Gupta kings and coins by many other Indic rulers, recovered from Afghanistan and Iran. The issuance of Mahishasurmardini seals and coins continued, going by by appearances, celebrated the victory of Tomyris, over Cyrus, for the next 800-1000 years. Such coins, seals and statues have been foundin modern day Iran, Afghanistan, which support this linkage.
The possible link between Ahura Mazda and Mahishasura (Sanskrit root of Mazda Ahura?) has been the source of much speculation. Ahasuerus, the Persian King, in the Hebrew Book Of Esther and Ezra, is considered by some to be Xerxes. The commonality of Sanskritic language, symbols between Zend Avestha and Aryan India are well known for me repeat. After all, Zarathushtra was also from Bactra (hellenized form of Bharata-ah).
As the Achaemenid Dynasty inherited the Assyrian Kingdom, they also made for a Persian linguistic makeover. From Dravidian-Elamite language to Sanskritic-Old Persian (influenced by Sanskritic-Assyrian linguistic systems). This, however, did not change everything. The Elamite element in Zoroastrian revolt against the daiwas (devas), continues today in Elamite-Dravidian-Tamil Nadu, where asura kings like Ravana and Neduncheziyan are respected.
Rome and Persia
After the defeat and death of Darius, the eclipse of the Achaemenid Dynasty gave rise to the दुरातान्त्रिक duratantrik regimes of Greece, Rome, and the Desert Bloc regimes of Islamic dynasties and the European colonial powers. For sometime, Indic सुरतान्त्रिक suratantrik forces supported the Sassanian kingdom in Persia to over-throw the Greek rulers and keep the successor Roman Empire at bay.
The battle between Durga and Mahishasura – at Mahishasura-mardini temple, Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu
With the help of the Indian elephant corps, the Sassanians stopped the Romans at Persian borders in 363 AD. Roman forces retreated, when confronted by Indo-Sassanian armies with Indian elephants. For the next nearly 400 years, Romans were wary of any large expeditions into Indo-Persian territories. It is interesting that the enemies of the daiwas (enemy of devas are the asuras, in Indian scriptures), the Zoroastrians (followers of Ahura Mazda, speculatively Mahishasura) allied themselves with a Suren.
Only fade away
Of General Suren, not much is known – which by now, should not surprise us. Some ancient maps show the Gandhara-Takshashila region as Suren. Suren also supposedly ‘lacked strategic vision’ – these days, called ‘killer instinct’, for which he was shortly later killed. But it is interesting that the enemies of the daiwas (enemy of devas are the asuras, in Indian scriptures), the Zoroastrians (followers of Ahura Mazda, speculatively Mahishasura) allied themselves with a Suren. The House of Suren’s had traditional rights to install the crown of Persian rulers.
A 1000 years later, the Sassanian army, had forgotten their lessons – and could not use their few elephants to full effect, against the Islamic Arabs.
Model for Indic assimilation
A probable model for Indic assimilation is the synthesis of Parsis (Zoroastrian) in India. Zarathustra, a Bactrian, established the Zoroastrian faith, which became significantly popular in the Persia and the North West swath of India. The Achaemenid Dynasty succeeded the Elamites (Dravidian Indians) in Iran – and the took over the Assyrian Empire. With the change in regime, came a change in the linguistic policy. Elamite-Dravidian language was replaced by Sanskritic-Old Persian.
Till about 8th century BC, the Zoroastrians were based in Iran. Within a few years, after the fall of Zoroastrian Sassanian kingdom, under persecution by the Islamic conquerors, in Persia, the first set of Zoroastrians made their way back to India. Over the next 200 years, from 8th century to 10th century, the Zoroastrians returned to the larger Bactra – Bharat(ah).
The second major influx of Zoroastrians, was in the 17th-19th century. The second wave of immigrants mostly carry the ‘Irani’ surname and were significantly associated with setting up tea parlours. India was the mother lode to which these populations reverted. The commonalities between Vedic and Zoroastrians texts are significant and well known to repeat here.
Asur tribe photograph. Courtesy – raviwar.com
Slave Memory In Indian Society
There are also no historical records of slave trades, prices, quantities, ownership anywhere in India. In fact, Sanskritic Indian languages have no word for slaves.
By the 10th century, Slave memory faded out in India. The Indic word for slave owning cultures, asur, became disconnected with slave ownership. The understanding of the word ‘asura’ changed – and foreign words like ‘ghulam’ made their way into Indic languages.
To rediscover that the descendants of the legendary asurs are with us today – alive, well and living with their old ‘enemies‘ is a tribute to Indic mindset, which humanizes instead of demonizing. To find their history intact, after more than a 3000 years, passed on in the oral tradition, is verily a wonder.