c. 398 BC
|Cause of death||Self-immolation|
Kalanos, also spelled Calanus (c. 398 – 323 BC) was a gymnosophist, a philosopher from Taxila who accompanied Alexander the Great to Persis and later committed suicide by self-immolation. 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.
Plutarch indicates his real name was Sphínēs and that he was from Taxila, but since he greeted people with the word "Kalē!" - perhaps kallāṇa (mitta) "Greetings (friend)" - the Greeks called him Kalanos. Kalanos lived at Taxila and led an austere life.
Early Western scholarship suggested Kalanos was a Jain, but modern scholarship rejects this notion as Jain ascetics are forbidden from using fire and deliberate self-harm due to their convictions about ahimsa and because Taxila and Gandhara were centers of Buddhism and had no Jain presence at all.
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." Kalanos refused the rich gifts offered by Alexander saying that man's desire cannot be satisfied by such gifts. 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." Alexander's representative Onesicritus had a discussion with several sages and Alexander was attracted by the criticism on Greek Philosophy by Kalanos. Alexander persuaded Kalanos to accompany him to Persis and stay with him as one of his teachers. 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?" Kalanos lived as a teacher to Alexander and represented "eastern honesty and freedom".
Death and prophecy
He was seventy-three years of age at time of his death. When the Persian weather and travel had weakened him, he informed Alexander that he would prefer to die rather than live as an invalid. He decided to take his life by self-immolation. Although Alexander tried to dissuade him from this course of action, upon Kalanos' insistence the job of building a pyre was entrusted to Ptolemy. Kalanos is mentioned also by Alexander's admirals, Nearchus and Chares of Mytilene. The city where this immolation took place was Susa in the year 323 BC. Kalanos distributed all the costly gifts he got from the king to the people and wore just a garland of flowers and chanted vedic hymns. He presented his horse to one of his Greek pupils named Lysimachus. He did not flinch as he burnt to the astonishment of those who watched. Although Alexander was not personally present at time of his immolation, his last words to Alexander were We shall meet in Babylon. 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.
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.
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