The Great Buddhist Emperors of Asia

by Shibani Dutta | 2018 | 86,618 words

This study deals with the patronage of Buddhism in Asia by the ruling powers and nobility. It further discusses in detail the development of Buddhism under the patronage of the royal dynasties in the religious history of Asia right from the time of 3rd century B.C. (i.e., the reign of Ashoka) to the reign of Kublai Khan in 13th century A.C....

Chapter 2b - King Dhammaraja Milinda (Circa 165 B.C.–130 B.C.)

King Milinda or Menander was one of the rulers of the Indo-Greek Kingdom from 165 B.C to 130 B.C (the first date. Osmund Bopearachchi and R.C. Senior, the other. Boperachchi). The most famous of all the Greek Kings of India is Menander (pronounced as Milinda in Indian Pali sources). This man of great personality found a prominent place in the writings of classical writers like Strabo and Plutarch. As a scholar and a patron of Buddhism, he was able to secure a place in Indian Buddhist tradition also. He is immortalised in the history of Buddhism for his services rendered to the cause of Dhamma. He has been identified with the Buddhist King Milinda of the Milindapanha.

A.L. Basham puts his date “at least two centuries earlier than, ‘Periplus of the Erythraen sea’, a Greek text written towards the end of the first century A.C”.[1] Hemchandra Raychaudhuri opines, “Menander has been identified, with the king Milinda who is mentioned in the ‘Milinda-panho’ as a contemporary of the Buddhist Thera (Elder) Nagasena, and also in the Avadana-Kalpalata of Kshemendra. This monarch was born at Kalsigrama in the ‘Island’ of Alasanda or Alexandria”.[2]

Menander’s territories covered the eastern dominions of the divided Greek empire Bactria and extended, to India [modern day Pakistani province of the NWFP (North West Frontier Province), Punjab and parts of Himachal Pradesh and the Jammu region. His capital is supposed to have been at Sagala, a prosperous city in northern Punjab (believed to be modern Sialkot), Pakistan.

A.L. Basham says, “Menander is said to have become a Buddhist, but the Besnagar column, to which we have already referred, shows that the Greeks also sometimes supported the orthodox creeds, for it was erected by the ambassador Heliodorus in honour of the early Vaishnavite deity Vasudeva”.[3]

He is one of the few Bactrian kings mentioned by Greek authors. Among them Apollodorus of Artermita, quoted by strabo, claims that the Greeks from Bactria were greater conquerors than even Alexander the Great, and the Milinda was one of the two Bactrian kings (the other was Demetrius) who extended their power farthest into India. “How inferior is Jambudvipal! How false is its great name! There is neither any Shraman nor Brahman who can discuss with me and clear my doubts.”. These were the words of great king Dhammaraja (righteous) Milinda. The waves of questions and doubts used to arise in his mind like the waves on sea water. Sagala town had been completely devoid of Shramanas and Brahmans for twelve years. The king used to find out the residences of Shramanas, Brahmans and Scholars and asked them questions. The Buddhist monks most probably ran into the Himalayas.[4]

The historians have been able to discover the names of many Bactrian kings with the help of numismatics. But detailed information regarding them is not available. It is difficult to say that king Milinda was the greatest ruler of the time in the north-west India. He belonged to Ithudesam racial dynasty and was one of the powerful kings at that time. Prof. Trabo says, “Milinda (Menander) had conquered larger number of kingdoms than even Alexander[5] the great”.

The Greeks of Bactria attacked Punjab from Balkha around 175 B.C. and settled down there firmly. After making Punjab their permanent home, they lost touch with their homeland. They started taking pride in their new country. They soon adapted to the Indian[6] customs and traditions. Most probably the aggressors who came to India accepted Indian civilization and religion, Bactria which was the landmark between Hindukush mountains and river Oxas came under the kingdom of Selucus Nikator. later on, in the 3rd century B.C., their country was liberated under the protective umbrella of a Greek king. This event took place when emperor Ashoka was the ruler of India. They established their supremacy over the states west of river Indus (present Baluchistan and Afganistan). Afterwards, this great kingdom was split into various small provinces. All these states were administered by the Greek kings. King Milianda, a ruler of afghanistan, was one of those[7] kings. It is said that the founder of Greek Kingdom in Punjab around 200 B.C. was Dhimitra (Demetrius)[8], the father of Milinda.

King Milinda was more powerful than any other Greek king of Bactria. He established his capital at Sagala (Sialkot). A land area from Kabul to Kathewer and entire Punjab came under his rule. A vivid description of his capital sagala appears in the famous non-canonical Pali text “Milinda-panha” (Questions of king Milinda)

Sagala was a centre of trade and commerce for the Yavanas (foreigners). Geographically, the town was situated on the landmark surrounded by beautiful mountains. The artists and sculptors beautified the town with plenty of rest houses ponds, lakes, gardens, parks, fields and forests. The town was free from all enemies and people faced no danger. Houses were strongly-built and multi-storied. The royal gate of the town was huge and attractive. Roads cross-roads and courtyards were artistically created. Shops and markets were fully decorated with valuable goods and articles. Alms-receiving centres were built at different places for monks and mendicants. The roads and streets were busy with horse and elephant riders, the charioteers and pedestrians. Batches of handsome men and beautiful women used to roam about here and there. Sagala town was inhabited by a variety of people like warriors, scholars, sculptors, servants, shramans, landlords and rich men. There were many shops selling textile items, cosmetics, gold, silver, brass, bronze etc.. There were flower and perfume shops too. The town looked like a great treasure of diamonds and precious stones. All kinds of food and drinks were available in the town. It was as fertile as uttarkuru and as attractive as Alaknanda (Devapur)[9].

King Milinda tried to conquer the kingdom of Magadha. He captured Mathura and posed a serious threat of attack to Pataliputra. At that time, Agnimitra, a king belonging to sunga dynasty was busy in celebrating horse sacrifice. The cavalry chief of Milinda captured the horse of Agnimitra[10] and took it before the king. He decided to attack pataliputra, but he had to postpone it since the Shakas from central Asia were waging war against Punjab. King Milinda had to rush to Punjab[11] in order to prevent the Shakas. In the west, Menander seems to have repelled the invasion of the dynasty of Greco Bacatrian usurper Eucratides, and pushed them buck as far as paropamisadae, thereby consolidating the rule of the Indo-Greek kings in the northern part of the Indian Subcontinent.

The reign of Milinda was long and successful. Ample findings of coins testify to the prosperity and extension of his empire (with finds as far as Britain). Precise dates of his reign as well as his origin remain elusive. However, guesses among historians have been that Menander was either a nephew or a former general of the Greco-Bactrian king Demetrius-I, but the two kings are now thought to be separated by at least thirty years. Menander’s predecessor in Punjab seems to have been the king Apollodotus Menander’s empire survived him in a fragmented manner until the last Greek king Strato II disappeared around 10 A.C.

Milinda (Menander) was not only a brave warrior but a great scholar and debater also. He studied Vedas, Puranas and Philosophies in depth. In the translation entitled. “The Questions of king Milinda” (Minlinda-panha), T.W Rhys Davids narrates,.King of the city of Sagala in India, Milinda by name, learned, eloquent, wise, and able; and a faithful observer, and that at the right time, of all the various acts of devotion and ceremony enjoined by his own sacred hymns concerning things past, present and to come. Many were the arts and sciences he knew.holy tradition and secular low; the Sankhya, Yoga, Nyaya, and Vaisheshika systems of philosophy; arithmetic, music, medicine the four Vedas, at Puranas, and the Itihasas; astronomy, magic, causation and magic spells; the art of war; poetry, conveyancing in a word, the whole nineteen. As a disputant, he was hard to equal, harder still to overcome; the acknowledged superior of all the founder of the various schools[12] of thought. He could debate on philosophical so well that even the well-known scholars were frightened to enter into dialogue with him. None in entire India equaled him in debate and discussion.

At last he met a Buddhist monk named Ven. Nagasena who had great scholarship and intelligence. The stories about the former birth of Nagasena and king Milinda are given in the book “The questions of Milinda” in Pali and in ke-ha-se pibquen (sermon on Nagasena Monk) in the Chinese language. According to “Nase-pibquen sutta”, while staying at singekocag (shravasti), Lord Buddha wasted up with the task of bringing the disciples on the track of Vinaya discipline. Out of disgust, he left the company of the indisciplined monks and went into the forest of Parleyaya Chongthu, The Lord sat there under an old banyan tree in deep meditation.

Likewise, a great tusker from “neighbouring forest was also got fed up with the fellow elephants and arrived at a place where Lord Buddha was meditating” The Buddha with mettle compassion. called the tusker near. The king of the elephants remained there serving the lord for many days. But when the Tathagata departed from the forest, the wisest animal of the forest felt very sad. He could not forget the Lord Buddha for whole of his life.

In the next birth, the tusker was born in a Brahmin family, on reaching the age of maturity, the elephant got a strong feeling of renunciation. He took the robes of a mendicant and began to live in the mountains. He became very friendly with another mendicant who had been staying on the same mountain. This new mendicant (Sanyasi) told the old Sanyasi, “Brother, this world (Samsara) is very faulty, where there is nothing but sorrow and sorrow and nothing else. In order to get out of this wheel of samsara (existence) I have become a mendicant so as to lead a life of celibacy”. The second sanyasi (mendicant) replied—“No brother, I am leading such a life for the reason of merits and virtues, to be born as a great king in the next birth” It is my wish.

In the next life, a prince named Beenun (Milinda) was born on the sea coast. The second mendicant was born in Kipin-kum region. Due to his strong desire to experience “Nibbana. in his previous life, the baby looked as though he wore saffron robes. A she-elephant gave birth to a calf on the very day of that baby’s birth. The calf of the elephant was called.Nag”. It was because of this co-incidence the human baby was also named.Nagasena..

Nagasena had a maternal uncle named Lohan who was a monk of great Spiritual powers. Nagasena began studying books on religion. As he had a sharp mind and wisdom, he completed his studies very fast. On completion of twenty years at age, Nagasena was fully ordained in Hosen Vihara. Then he went from place to place with strong determination to achieve Nibbana. The rest of the story is quite similar to.Milinda-panha. (questions of king Milinda).

The story in.Milinda-panha. is as follows:.During the reign of kashyapa Buddha, there lived a renowned monk in a Vihara (Buddhist church) on the bank of the Ganges. One day the monk while brooming the Vihara asked a novice (shramana),.O novice! throw away this garbage.[13]. But that novice was hesitant in obeying the order or that senior monk. Thinking the Shramana (novice) to be quite arrogant, the monk beat him with a broom. Out of fear he began crying, and threw away the garbage. But he made a vowed determination, “By the merit of throwing this garbage until I achieve the Nibbana, where I take birth; I shall become bright[14] like a midday sun”. After throwing the garbage, the novice took path in the river Ganga. There for the second time he uttered his determined vow. “Wherever I take birth, like the speed of running water waves, I shall be endowed with the knowledge[15] of casual chain”.

The monk kept the broom at its proper place and went to the river for bathing. There he listened to the Shankappa (vowed determination) of that Shraman (novice) He then vowed himself thus, “If this novice inspired by me determines, then in like manner cannot I reap the fruits of this?” He further vowed,.Wherever I am born, like the waves on water, I shall be endowed with the supreme knowledge of the dependent origination, and shall became capable of answering the complications and riddles of life itself..

We get some information regarding the life of Ven. Nagasena in the “Milinda-panha”. He was born in a house of a Brahmin named Sunuttar at a village named Kanjal in Punjab near the foothills of the Himalayas. He studied the scriptures of Brahminism such as Vedas, vyakarana etc. later on, he was introduced to a learned monk named Rohan. The influence of the teaching of this monk made him inclined towards Buddhism. After becoming the disciple of Rohan, Ven. Nagasena went with him to a place called Rakshital in the Himalayas via[16] Vibhajja vastu. In those days a teacher (Guru or Acharya) used to impart knowledge by recitation method and Nagasena mastered the Buddhist scriptures in this way with an urge for learning more and more about the Buddha Dhamma, Nagasena travelled to the Vihara of a very learned monk Ven. Ashva Gupta. He tested the knowledge and talents of Ven. Nagasena for some days. One day, the responsibility of giving sermon after mid-day meal fell on Nagasena. His real personality was unfolded after this sermon. In order to entrusted Nagasena in the hands of still more learned monks, Ashva Gupta decided to send him to Acharya Dhammarakashita Ashokarama in Pataliputra. In those days, it was difficult to reach Pataliputra on foot at a distance of 100 yojan. Ven. Nagasena contacted one of the caravans which used to carry merchandise. The owner of the caravan agreed to accept him and provide necessary facilities free of cost.

During his stay in Ashokarama under the spiritual guidance of Acharya Dhammarakshita, Ven. Nagasen a mastered the doctrines of Buddhism and studied the doctrines of Buddhism and studied the Tripitaka thoroughly. But once again he was called at Rakshital in Punjab. He obeyed the monastic order and travelled to Sagala. There he started staying at Asankhey Monastic college.

According to.Milinda-panha. king Milinda was a master of 19 types of knowledge, such as: learning, memory, Sankhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, mathematics, music, medicine, four Vedas, all Puranas, history, palmistry, mantras, tantras, logic, warfare, hobby and oceanography. He was unconquerable in debating and dialogues. He defeated even the Lokayat, the Puranakashyapa, the Makkhali Gosaal, the Nigantha Nataputta, the Sanjaya Belatthiputta, the Ajita Kesa Kambali and the Pakudha[17] Kacchayana.

The same list of non-Buddhist thinkers also appears in Tripitaka. But they could not live for such a long time. It is quite likely that the said philosophers might have been the traditional representatives of their founders like the Buddhists. The other possibility is that the scripture[18] writers were not quite aware of the time factor, and as such their names seem to have been placed here. In the edicts and inscriptions of Ashoka, the reference to the word “Jivaka” or “Ajiivaka” appears here and there. There is no mention of Purankashyapa etc. Ashoka seems to have made use of the word.Jivaka. for the leaders of all non- Buddhist philosophers who belonged to the shramana culture.

The news spread that Ven. Nagasena had reached Sagala with 80,000 monks who were staying in the Sankheya monastery. King Milinda became speechless[19] with fear when he came to know about Ven Nagasena from his Minister in charge of religious affairs. The king asked his minister, Is the monk Ven. Nagasena prepared to debate with me?. “Yes, may lord, he is ready. Ven. Nagasena can discuss with Indra, Yama, Varna, Kuber, Prajapti, Suryam, Tusitadev, Lokpal or even with their forefather Mahabrahma, what to talk about human[20] beings”. The king told his minister, “Devamantri, then send a messenger to inform the order of monks that the king was interested in meeting them”. “Yes, my lord, I shall do so. The minister sent the messenger to Ven. Nagasena to tell that the king liked to meet him”. Ven. Nagasena also replied,.Let His Majesty come..

Then king Milinda, accompanied by 500 Yavanas and a mightly force rode a chariot pulled by strong horses. He arrived at the Sankheya Parivena Monastery where Ven. Nagasena was lodging. As the king had fear of defeat, he told his minister, “Devamantri!” Do not tell me who was Ven. Nagasena. I myself will recognise him?..Yes, my lord, Let His Majesty himself recognise him..

It was a disciplined gathering of eighty thousand monks. A batch of forty thousand monks, senior to Ven. Nagasena sat in front of him. Another batch of forty thousand monks younger than Nagasena sat behind him. Thus, King Milinda could see Ven. Nagasena in between 80,000 monks. Venerable Nagasena was sitting unmoved and fearless like a saffron-robed lion. The king could recognise him from him gallant posture and said,.This is venerable Nagasena..

“Yes, my lord, this is Ven” Nagasena. Your majesty has rightly recognised Nagasena..

Ven. Nagasena appeared to be an embodiment of knowledge, scholarship, patience and deep study to king Milinda. He said, “I have seem many orators and debaters, I have faced many discussions and debates, but I never experienced so much fear as I am experiencing today”. He further said,.Today, definitely I shall be defeated and Ven. Nagasena will win because my mind is wavering..

At the very outset, the king asked questions on the Buddhist theory of soullessness and tried to test the knowledge on soullessness as taught by Lord Buddha. He asked, “Dear Venerable, by what name are you known”..I am known by the name, Nagasena. My fellow monks also know me by the same name. But this name is for practical purpose only, because in reality, there is no such person..

“Venerable, if there is no such” person, then who gives robes and food? Who enjoys this? Who practises morality (shilas)? Who meditates? If it is so, then there is neither sin, nor virtue, nor the doer of sin and virtue nor even the cause of it, nor even its fruits. If someone kills you then who is killed? What then is Nagasena? Is this hair, Nagasena?.

“No, O great king!”

“Is this bodily hair, Nagasena?”

“No, O king.”

“Are these nails, brain Nagasena?”

“No, O great king.”

“Is then your body, basic elements (earth, air, fire, water) or the Skandhas like rupa (body), sanna (perception), vedana (feeling), Sankhara (formation), Vinnyana (consciousness), Nagasena?”

“No, Maharaja (great king), not even that.”

“Then even none of these five Skandhas is Ven” Nagasena?.

“No, O king.”

“Then is there any different person apart from your body, Ven”


“No, O great king, not like that.”

“Venerable sir, I am now tired of asking as to what Nagasena is” But I could not find out who this Nagasena is, what then is Nagasena. a mere word? What at last is Nagasena?.

“O great king! Did you come here in foot or by a vehicle?”

“Ven” sir, I came by a chariot..

“Great king, then let me know, what is your chariot? Is chassis the chariot?”

“No, Venerable Sir?”

“Is an axle a chariot?”

“No, Venerable Sir.”

“Then are the wheels a chariot?”

“No, Venerable Sir.”

“Is the chariot’s climbing step, rope, rein or whip the chariot?”

“No, Venerable Sir.”

“Then, O great king, chassis poles etc” together make a chariot?.

“No Venerable Sir.”

“O great king, I am tired of asking you several questions about the true nature of the chariot and I cannot find out what this chariot is. What is chariot—a mere word? After all, what is this chariot? You are telling a lie that there is chariot. O great king (Maharaja), there is no powerful king like you in the whole of Jambudvipa. Why should you be afraid of telling[21] a lie?”

“Venerable Nagasena, I am not telling a lie, chassis poles etc” are the parts of chariot, and on the basis of practical utility, the word “chariot” has come into usage..

“Maharaja, very good” You have understood what a “chariot” is, likewise on the basis of my hair etc. Only for a practical purpose (utility) the word.Nagasena. is coined. In other worldly sense, there is no person like Nagasena”.

That was why nun Vajra had said in presence of Lord Buddha, “How on the basis of different parts of particular type of vehicle, the word ‘chariot’ has been coined” Likewise on the basis of skandhas. Such as rupa, sanna, vedana, sankhara and vinnyana, the word ‘lifeessence[22] ’ has come into being”.

Then the king asked, “Ven” Nagasena. Will you enter into discussion and debates with me?.

Ven. Nagasena replied,.Great king! if you discuss like a scholar, then I shall not..

“Venerable Sir, how do the scholars discuss and how do the kings discuss?”.Maharaja, the scholar while discussing grapple the opponents with logic. Then, they unfold the grapples. They catch hold of each other with logical premises. Then they get rid of each other’s hold.

Then they place before each other their respective arguments, later they criticise each other’s arguments. But even after such a hot discussion, there is no hatred and anger against each other. Great king, this is called a scholastic or intellectual dialectics. In discussion with the king, if there is any criticism then immediately the king’s opponent is fined or sentenced; let him be punished like this Maharaja, this is a discussion as per the discipline of state craft..

“Venerable Sir, I shall discuss in a scholarly manner” You may discuss with me in full confidence as if you are holding discussions with my monk or with any novice, or with any lay Buddhist, or even with anybody staying in a rest house or Vihara, you discuss with me with confidence..

In order to test the presence of mind of Ven. Nagasena, King Milinda asked an interesting question. He said,.Venerable Nagasena, may I ask you a question? Nagasena’s reply was,.Yes king you may.. “Venerable, I have already asked”..King, I have already replied too.. “Ven” Sir, what answer did you give?..King, what question did you ask?.

The discussion between the two great personalities was decided to be held at royal rest house. After a preliminary question, the king returned to the palace. Next day his ministers Antakaya, Mukunder and Sabbadina went to the king and asked, “Lord, with how many monks will venerable Nagasena come?” The king replied, “Let him come with as many monks as he likes”. The ministers went on asking on the same point, “Is he going to come with ten monks?” King Milinda expressed his generosity in his reply “Let full arrangements of his welcome be made”. The king further told his ministers, “I say, let him come with as many of his fellow monks, as he desires” Sabbadina, why are you saying only ten monks? Are we not in a position to offer meals to the monks..

King Milinda asked questions to Ven. Nagasena for several days. Ven. Nagasena continued to give scholarly answers to his questions. These discussions and dialogues between them were later compiled in a book “Milinda-panha” or “The questions of King Milinda”. The authorship and the period of compilation cannot be ascertained. However, the book seems to have compiled between the period of Kind Kanishka and emperor Harshavardhana.

“Milinda-panha” (Milinda’s questions) is considered to be a Theravada treatise. It is learnt that the book was originally written in Sanskrit. Considering its importance in the Theravada tradition, the Sthaviravadins translated it into Pali. In the ancient comments on the “Abhidhammavatara., we come across a Sanskrit sentence in the questions of Milinda” According to that, monk Ven. Nagasena might have been a Mahayana monk. Likewise, the discussions between “Milinda and Nagasena also took place in Sanskrit language” It is understood that Mahayana tradition prevailed prominently in the region where Nagasena was born and the place where he studied.

Rahul Sankrityayan, a great scholar, opines,.A majority of Yavana (foreigner) kings were Buddhists, and that was why the Satrapates of Ujjain, and the Satrapates at Sanchi had close relations with the Sthavirvadins. Mathura was not only the capital of Satrapates, but it was also a prosperous centre of trade and commerce from east and south to Takshashila. Due to this, the Sarvastivadins got an opportunity for the propagation of their tradition. But they differed with the Magadha Sarvastavadins. That was why the Sarvastavadins of this place were known as Arya-Sarvastavadins..[23] It is quite evident that there were Arya-Sarvastavadins up to Takshashila and in the neighbourhood. It may be presumed that Ven. Nagasena might have been on Arya-Sarvastavadin monk.

A Chinese version of.Milinda-panha. is also available. It is confined only up to the third section of the Pali version. The questions answers in the Chinese version too, are similar to Pali version. It can, therefore, be safely concluded that “Milinda-panha” was a treatise written in Sanskrit, and it definitely belonged to Mahayana tradition. It is a well-known fact that all Buddhist scriptures translated into Chinese were originally in Sanskrit. It is also likely that both Chinese and Pali versions were translated on the basis of Sanskrit.

At the end of the Pali version of Milinda’s Questions, we learn that King Milinda had become a monk, and had even reached up to the stage of Arhant. It is difficult to find out the historic truth of his story. Actually, true information regarding King Milinda as available from the coins found at different places.

Menander has left behind an immense corpus of silver and bronze coins. No other Indo-Greek king can match him in this regard. During his reign, the fusion between Indian and Greek coin standards reached its apogee. Twenty two kinds of coins belonging to his period have been found at various places. These sites found at various places. These sites include places up to Kabul in the north-west, up to Mathura in the south-west and up to Kashmir in the north. These places in different directions give also an idea of the extent of the kingdom of Milinda. His name is quite legible in most of the coins. His facial figure can be seen on eight coins and his full figure with long nose in some other coins is very attractive. On some coins his figure is quite young, while on some others his face looks very old. Such change of figure points out that king Milinda might have ruled for fairly long time Greek language is seen on one side of the coins while we find Pali language[24] of those days.

The words found on twenty one coins are;

One side Basileos Soteros Menandrou
Other side Maharajass Tadrass Menedrass.

The pictures of ridding horses, elephants, camels, pigs and the Buddhist wheel of life (Dhamma Cakka) and the leaves of palm tree are found on some coins. As the Dhammacakka is the main symbol of the Buddhists, the coins with this “Cakka” (wheel) bear ample testimony to the fact that the king was a Buddhist only, one coin is entirely different, and it clarifies a point that king Milinda had embraced Buddhism On one side of this solitary coin it is, written. “Basileos Dikain Menandrou,” while on the reverse side it is written. “Dharmaraja” (righteous king). It has been practice and tradition for the Buddhist kings ever since Lord Buddha, more particularly after emperor Ashoka, to use this word “dhamma”, obviously, Ashoka’s name had become Dhammashoka, The use of the word “Dikaiou” (Dharmikassa) clearly points out that the king had, definitely become a Buddhist.

Plutarch writes about the king. “King Minander was a great scholars”. He was a justice loving and popular king. After his death, there was a quarrel over the distribution of his ashes. The people of the kingdom came forward to build great stupas and chaityas over his relics. Menander was the last Indo-Greek king mentioned by ancient historians and so the development after his death is, therefore, difficult to trace. The story of a quarrel over his mortal remains is quite similar to the incident of quarrel over the distribution of lord’s ashes and relies. The construction of stupas and chaityas over bodily relies and ashes was a true Buddhist tradition. The very construction of stupas over king Milinda’s ashes proves beyond doubt that he was a Buddhist emperor.

According to story regarding the “Milinda-panha”, Milinda was born at a village named Kalasi (Kalesigame), situated in Alesonde or Alexandria island in the Mediterranean sea. We come to know from Buddhist legend that king Milinda embraced Buddhism after his defeat in the discussion with Ven. Nagasena. Later on, he completed the construction of.Milinda Vihara. which was dedicated to Ven. Nagasena. Besides this, he engaged himself in more activities for the cause of Buddhism.

There were many foreign Buddhists holding the poet of ministers in his court. The yavanas (foreigners) were familiar with Buddhism even before the period of king Milinda. After the third Buddhist council, emperor Ashoka sent Ven Dhammarakshita to Aparantak (yavana countries. Quite obviously, Buddhism reached Greek kingdoms, but it is difficult to ascertain how far this mission succeeded. James Bissett Pratt rightly says, “Milinda is of interest to us not because of his conquests but because of the famous and illuminating conversations he carried on with one of the ablest of Buddhist scholars[25] and thinkers, the great Nagasena”.

King Milinda might have contributed to the expansion of Buddhism in central Asia both because of his conversion and because of his territorial expansion. He did not allow the lamp of Dhamma, lit by Dhammashoka to be, extinguished, According to “Milinda-panha”, a classical Pali Buddhist text on the discussions between Milinda and the Buddhist sage Nagasena, king Milinda embraced the Buddhist faith. Thereafter he dedicated himself to the spread of Buddhism in his kingdom and in the neighbouring countries. In “Milinda-panha”, he is introduced as a learned, wise and able administrator. His wisdom physical strength and valour had no parallel in all over India. After his debate with sage Nagasena, he ceased to have any doubt about the Triple Gem and he became a follower of Nagasena. He arranged to construct a dwelling place called Milinda Vahara and started living there. Later, Milinda handed over his kingdom to his son and renounced worldly life. We may conclude that emperor Milinda is one of the luminaries of the illustrious line of Buddhist kings and he has been able to carve out a unique place for himself in the history of Buddhism.

Footnotes and references:


The Wonder that was India, A. L. Basham, p. 221.


Political History of Ancient India, H. C. Roychowdhury, pp. 338-339.


The Wonder that was India, A. L. Basham, p. 60.


Milinda Panha, Ven. Jagdish Kashyapa, p. 8.


History of India, Narendra Krishna Sinha, p. 106.


A Concise History of Indian people, H. G. Rawlinson, p. 52.


Oxford Student’s History of India, Vincent Smith, p. 62.


Mahabodhi, S. Paranavitan, Vaisakha Number 1969, p. 122.


Atthi Yonakanam nanaputabhedanam Sagalan-nama nagaram nadi-pabbata-sobhitam ramaniya-bhumippadesabhagam aram-uyyanoìpavana-talaka-pokkharani-sampannam nadi-pabbata-vana-rama-neyyakam sutavantanimmitam...........................................nihata-paccatthika-pacca-mittam anupapilitam vividha-vicitra-dalha m attala-kotta-kam varapavara-gopuratoranam gambhiraparikha-pandara-pakara-parikkhittantepuram suvibhatta-vithi-caccara-ca-tukka-singhatakam suppasaritaìnekavidha-varabhandaparipuritantarapanam vividha-danagga-sata-samupasobhitam Himagirisikharasankasavarabhavanasatasahassa- pati-manditam gaja-haya-ratha-patti-samakulam abhirupanaranari-ganaìnucaritam akinna-janamanussam puthu-khattiya-brahmana-vessa-suddam vividha-samanabrahmana-sabhajana-sanghatitam bahuvidhavijjavanta-naravira-nisevitam—Kasika-Kotumibarakadi-nanavidha-vatthaìpana-sampannam suppasarita-rucirabahuvidha- pupphagandhapana-gandhagandhitam asimsaniya-bahuratana-paripuritam disamukha-suppasaritapana-singaravanijagananucaritam kahapana-rajata-suvannakamsa-patthara-paripuram paj-jotamana-nidhi-niketam pahuta-dhanadhanna-vittupakaranam paripunna-kosakotthagaram bahy-annapanam bahu-vidha-khajja-bhojja-leyyapeyya- sayaniyam Uttarakuru-sankasam sampannasassam Alakamanda viya devapuram, (The Milindapanha,...................., pp. 1-2).


Cf. “Pushymitra”, H.G. Rawlinson, p. 91.


Cf. “Pushymitra”, H.G. Rawlinson, p. 91.


Jambudipe Sagalanagare Milindo nama raja ahosi, pandito byatto medhavipatibalo, atitaìnagata-paccuppannanam samantayogavidhanakiriyanam karanakale nisammakari hoti; bahuni c. assa satthani uggahitani honti, seyyathidì am: suti sammuti sankhya yoga niti visesika ganika gandhabba tikiccha catubbeda purana itihasa jotisa maya hetu mantana yuddha chandasa mudda, vacanena ekunavisati; vadidurasado duppasaho, puthutitthakananam aggam akkhayati, (The Milindapanha,.............., pp. 3-4).


Atite kira Kassapassa bhagavato sasane vattamane Gangaya samipe ekasmim avase mahabhikkhusangho pativasati. Tattha vattasilasampanna bhikkhu pato va utthaya yatthisam-munjaniyo adaya buddhagune avajjenta anganam sammajjitva kacavaram byuham karonti, (The Milindapanha,...................., p. 2).


Imina “ham kacavarachaddana-punnakammena yavaìham nibbanam papunami etth” antare nibbattanibbattatthane majjhantikasuriyo viya mahesakkho mahatejo bhaveyyan, (The Milindapanha,...................., p. 3).


Yavaìham nibbanam papunami etth. antare nibbattanibbattatthane ayam ummivego viya thanuppattikapatibhano bhaveyyam akkhayapatibhano. ibid, p. 3.


Kajangala as well as in Vibhajjavastu was also in Sialkot District.


Milindapanha, Ven. Jagdish Kashyapa, p. 6.


Milindapanha, Ven. Jagdish Kashyapa, p. 6.


Ibid, p. 6.


Ibid, p. 6.


Katham bhadanto nayati, kinnamo si bhante ti.. Nagaseno ti kho aham maharaja nayami, Nagaseno ti mam maharaja sabrahmacari samudacaranti, api ca matapitaro namam karonti Nagaseno ti va Suraseno ti va Viraseno ti va Sihaseno ti va, api ca kho maharaja sankha samanna pannatti voharo nama mattam yad-idam Nagaseno ti, na h’ettha puggalo upalabbhatitì i.......... Tam -aham maharaja pucchanto pucchanto na passami ratham, saddo yeva nu kho maharaja ratho, ko pan. ettha ratho, alikam tvam maharaja bhasasi musa-vadam, na -tthi ratho, tvam si maharaja sakala-Jambudipe aggaraja, kassa pana tvam bhayitva musa bhasasi, (The Milindapannha,...................., pp. 25-27).


Samyutta Nikaya, P.T.S., 5.10.6.


Buddhacharya, Rahul Sankrityayan, Bhumika, p. 7.


Milindapanha, Ven. Jagdish Kashyapa, p. 6.


The Pilgrimage of Buddhism, James Bissett Pratt, pp. 108-109.

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