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Born Swami Sphines
c. 398 B. C.
Died 323 B. C.
Cause of death
Nationality Indian, Hindu
Other names Calanus, Kalyan, Sphines

Kalanos, also spelled Calanus (c. 398 - 323 BCE) was a Hindu Rishi[citation needed] (sage), who accompanied Alexander the Great to Persis and later committed suicide by self-immolation.[1] It was from Kalanos that Alexander came to know of Dandamis, the leader of their group, whom Alexander later went to meet in the forest.[2]

Early life[edit]

Kalanos' actual name was Swami Sphines[3][4] and as he greeted people he met with the word "Kale", Greeks called him Kalanos.[5] It is also suggested that his name came from "Kalyana"[6][7][8] or "Kalyanamastu", a form of greeting which still is prevailing in India.[9] Kalanos lived at Taxila and led an austere life.[6]

Meeting Alexander[edit]

Plutarch records that when first invited to meet Alexander Kalanos "roughly commanded him to strip himself and hear what he said naked, otherwise he would not speak a word to him, though he came from Jupiter himself."[10] Kalanos refused the rich gifts offered by Alexander saying that man's desire cannot be satisfied by such gifts.[9] They believed that, even if Alexander killed them, "they would be delivered from the body of flesh now afflicted with age and would be translated to a better and purer life."[9] Alexander's representative Onesicritus[11] had a discussion with several sages and Alexander was attracted by the criticism on Greek Philosophy by Kalanos.[6] Alexander persuaded Kalanos to accompany him to Persis[5] and stay with him as one of his teachers or yogi.[3] Alexander even hinted use of force to take him to his country, to which Kalanos replied philosophically, that "what shall I be worth to you, Alexander, for exhibiting to the Greeks if I am compelled to do what I do not wish to do?"[12] Kalanos lived as a teacher to Alexander and represented "eastern honesty and freedom".[12]

Death and prophecy[edit]

He was seventy-three years of age at time of his death.[13] When the Persian weather and travel had weakened him, he informed Alexander that he would rather like to die than live as an invalid. He decided to take his life by self-immolation, a Hindu practice.[14] Although Alexander tried to dissuade him from this course of action, upon Kalanos' insistence the job of building a pyre was entrusted to Ptolemy.[13] Kalanos is mentioned also by Alexander's admirals, Nearchus and Chares of Mytilene.[4] The city where this immolation took place was Susa in the year 323 B.C.[3][8] Kalanos distributed all the costly gifts he got from the king to the people and wore just a garland of flowers and chanted Indian hymns.[15] He presented his horse to one of his Greek pupils named Lysimachus.[16] He did not flinch as he burnt to the astonishment of those who watched.[9][17][18] Although Alexander was not personally present at time of his immolation, his last words to Alexander were We shall meet in Babylon.[14][19][20] He is said to have prophesied the death of Alexander in Babylon, even though at the time of death of Kalanos, Alexander did not have any plans to go to Babylon.[21][22]


A letter written by Kalanos to Alexander is preserved by Philo Judaeus.[23]

A painting c. 1672 by Jean Baptiste de Champaigne depicts "Alexander the Great receiving the news of the death by immolation of the gymnosophist Calanus" is displayed at Chateau de Versailles et de Trianon, Versailles.[24]


  1. ^ Bar-Kochva, Bezalel (2010). The image of the Jews in Greek literature : the Hellenistic Period. Berkeley: University of California Press. pp. 60–63. ISBN 9780520253360. 
  2. ^ Stoneman, Richard (2012). The Legends of Alexander the Great. pp. 43–47. 
  3. ^ a b c Evans-Wentz, Paramhansa Yogananda (2005). Autobiography of a yogi. Kolkata: Yogoda Satsanga Society of India. p. 378. ISBN 9788190256209. 
  4. ^ a b The Sháhnáma of Firdausí By Arthur George Warner, Edmond Warner. 2001. p. 61. 
  5. ^ a b M'Crindle, J.W. (2004). The invasion of India by Alexander the Great. Whitefish, Montana: Kessinger Pub. pp. 46, 315, 388–9, 346. ISBN 9780766189201. 
  6. ^ a b c Sastri, Kallidaikurichi Aiyah Nilakanta (1988). Age of the Nandas and Mauryas. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 105–106. ISBN 9788120804654. 
  7. ^ Enemies of the Roman order: treason, unrest, and alienation in the empire By Ramsay MacMullen. 1992. p. 317. 
  8. ^ a b Yādnāmah-ʾi Panjumīn Kungrih-ʾi Bayn al-Milalī-i Bāstānshināsī va Hunar-i Īrān. Ministry of Culture and Arts, Iran. Vizārat-i Farhang va Hunar. 1972. p. 224. 
  9. ^ a b c d Chatterjee, Suhas (1998). Indian civilization and culture. New Delhi: M.D. Publications. p. 129. ISBN 9788175330832. 
  10. ^ Plutarch (1998). The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans. New York: The Modern Library (Random House Inc). p. 847. ISBN 9781853267949. 
  11. ^ Williams Jackson, A.V. (2009). History of India Vol. IX. New York: Cosimo Inc. pp. 65–70. ISBN 9781605205328. 
  12. ^ a b Niehoff, Maren R. (2001). Philo on Jewish identity and culture. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck. pp. 153–154. ISBN 9783161476112. 
  13. ^ a b Alexander the Great. Robin Lax Fox. 1973. p. 416. 
  14. ^ a b Elledge, C. D. (2006). Life after death in early Judaism the evidence of Josephus. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck. pp. 121–124. ISBN 9783161488757. 
  15. ^ Hunter, W.W. (2005). The Indian empire : its people, history, and products. New Delhi: Asian Educational Services. p. 169. ISBN 9788120615816. 
  16. ^ Sagar, Krishna Chandra (1992). Foreign influence on ancient India. New Delhi: Northern Book Centre. p. 69. ISBN 9788172110284. 
  17. ^ Defending the West: a critique of Edward Said's Orientalism Front Cover by Ibn Warraq. Prometheus Books. 2007. p. 108. 
  18. ^ The Cambridge History of Hellenistic Philosophy edited by Keimpe Algra. 1999. p. 243. 
  19. ^ Borruso, Silvano (2007). History of Philosophy. Paulines Publications Africa. p. 50. ISBN 9789966082008. 
  20. ^ National Geographic, Volume 133. 1968. p. 64. 
  21. ^ National Geographic , Volume 133. 1968. p. 64. 
  22. ^ The philosophical books of Cicero. Duckworth. 1989. p. 186. 
  23. ^ Sullivan, Denis F. (2000). Siegecraft : two tenth-century instructional manuals by "Heron of Byzantium". Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection. p. 168. ISBN 9780884022701. 
  24. ^ Melissa Calaresu, Filippo de Vivo, Joan-Pau Rubiés (2010). Exploring cultural history : essays in honour of Peter Burke. Farnham, Surrey, England: Ashgate. p. 259. ISBN 9780754667506. 

See also[edit]