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Kalanos, also spelled Calanus (Ancient Greek: Καλανός)[1] (c. 398 – 323 BCE), was an ancient Indian gymnosophist,[2][3][4][5] a Brahmin sage,[6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14][15] and philosopher from Taxila[16] who accompanied Alexander the Great to Persis and later self-immolated, after falling ill, entered himself into a pyre, in front of Alexander and his army. Diodorus Siculus called him Caranus (Ancient Greek: Κάρανος).[17]

According to the Greek sources, he did not flinch as his body burned. He bade goodbye to some of the Greek soldiers who were his students, but not to Alexander. He communicated to Alexander that he would meet him in Babylon and curiously Alexander died exactly a year later in Babylon. [18] It was from Kalanos that Alexander learned of Dandamis, the leader of their group, whom Alexander later went to meet in the forest.[19]

Jacques-Antoine Beaufort: La mort de Calamus, 1779, Museo del Prado.

Early life[edit]

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.[16][20][21][22][23][24] Kalanos lived at Taxila and led an austere religious life.[21]

Some scholars have claimed that Kalanos was a Jain.[2][16][3] but modern scholarship rejects this notion as Jain ascetics are forbidden from using fire and intentional self-harm due to their convictions about Sallekhana. Moreover, there is no evidence of Jain occupation in Taxila at the time of Alexander.[25]

Considering the dominant Brahmanical presence in Taxila, it's likely that the ascetics Alexandar met, including Kalanos, were Brahmanical. Johannes Bronkhorst states that it's highly unlikely that Buddhists and Jains were present in the areas Alexander visited.[26][25]

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."[27] Kalanos refused the rich gifts offered by Alexander, saying that man's desire cannot be satisfied by such gifts.[24] The gymnosophists 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."[24]

Alexander's representative Onesicritus[28] had a discussion with several gymnosophists and Alexander was attracted by their thoughts on Greek philosophy, of which they generally approved, but criticized the Greeks for preferring custom to nature and for refusing to give up clothing.[21]

Alexander persuaded Kalanos to accompany him to Persis[20] 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?"[29] Kalanos lived as a teacher to Alexander and represented "eastern honesty and freedom".[29]

Death and prophecy[edit]

Alexander the Great Receiving News of the Death by Immolation of the Indian Gymnosophist Calanus - Jean-Baptiste de Champaigne - 1672

He was seventy-three years of age at time of his death.[30] When the Persian weather and arduous travels 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.[31] Although Alexander tried to dissuade him from this course of action, upon Kalanos' insistence the job of building a pyre was entrusted to Ptolemy.[30] Kalanos is mentioned also by Alexander's admirals, Nearchus and Chares of Mytilene.[32] The city where this immolation took place was Susa in the year 323 BC.[23] 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.[33][34][3] He presented his horse to one of his Greek pupils named Lysimachus.[35] He did not flinch as he burnt to the astonishment of those who watched.[24][36][37] Although Alexander was not personally present at time of his immolation, his last words to Alexander were "We shall meet in Babylon".[31][38][39] He is said to have thus 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.[40][41]

A drinking contest was held in response to his death. According to Plutarch, citing Chares of Mytilene, Promachus of Macedon drank the equivalent of 13 litres of unmixed wine and won the first prize of a golden crown worth a talent. He died three days later and forty-one other contestants allegedly died of alcohol poisoning as well.[42]


A letter written by Kalanos to Alexander is preserved by Philo.[43]

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.[44]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Plutarch, Life of Alexander, §8
  2. ^ a b Wheeler, James Talboys (1973). The History of India: India from the earliest ages: Hindu, Buddhist, and Brahmanical revival. Cosmo Publications. pp. 171–72. Retrieved 23 July 2019.
  3. ^ a b c Hunter, W.W. (2005). The Indian empire : its people, history, and products (1886). New Delhi: Asian Educational Services. p. 169. ISBN 9788120615816.
  4. ^ Hunter, William Wilson (1887). The Imperial Gazetteer of India. Trübner & Company. p. 173. Retrieved 23 July 2019.
  5. ^ Classica Et Mediaevalia. Librairie Gyldendal. 1975. pp. 271–76. Retrieved 23 July 2019.
  6. ^ Lucian (of Samosata.); Costa, C. D. N. Lucian: Selected Dialogues. OUP Oxford. p. 258. ISBN 978-0-19-925867-3.
  7. ^ Aelian (1997). Historical Miscellany. Harvard University Press. p. 113. ISBN 978-0-674-99535-2.
  8. ^ Turley, Jeffrey Scott; Souza, George Bryan (2017-06-06). The Commentaries of D. García de Silva y Figueroa on his Embassy to Shāh ʿAbbās I of Persia on Behalf of Philip III, King of Spain. BRILL. p. 226. ISBN 978-90-04-34632-1.
  9. ^ Honigman, Sylvie; Nihan, Christophe; Lipschits, Oded (2021-06-30). Times of Transition: Judea in the Early Hellenistic Period. Penn State Press. p. 264. ISBN 978-1-64602-145-1.
  10. ^ Vasunia, Phiroze (2013-05-16). The Classics and Colonial India. OUP Oxford. p. 61. ISBN 978-0-19-920323-9.
  11. ^ Worthington, Ian (2014-07-10). Alexander the Great: Man and God. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-317-86644-2.
  12. ^ Overtoom, Nikolaus Leo (2020-05-11). Reign of Arrows: The Rise of the Parthian Empire in the Hellenistic Middle East. Oxford University Press. p. 71. ISBN 978-0-19-088834-3.
  13. ^ Brill's Companion to the Reception of Alexander the Great. BRILL. 2018-09-11. p. 632. ISBN 978-90-04-35993-2.
  14. ^ Athenaeus (Mechanicus.) (2004). On Machines: (Περὶ Μηχανημάτων). Franz Steiner Verlag. ISBN 978-3-515-08532-8.
  15. ^ Athenaeus (Mechanicus.) (2004). On Machines: (Περὶ Μηχανημάτων). Franz Steiner Verlag. p. 70. ISBN 978-3-515-08532-8.
  16. ^ a b c Halkias, Georgios (2015). "The Self-immolation of Kalanos and other Luminous Encounters Among Greeks and Indian Buddhists in the Hellenistic World". Journal of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies. 8: 163–186. Retrieved 30 May 2015.
  17. ^ Diodorus Siculus, Library, 17.107.1
  18. ^ 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.
  19. ^ Stoneman, Richard (2012). The Legends of Alexander the Great. pp. 43–47. ISBN 9781848857858.
  20. ^ 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.
  21. ^ a b c Sastri, Kallidaikurichi Aiyah Nilakanta (1988). Age of the Nandas and Mauryas. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 105–106. ISBN 9788120804654.
  22. ^ MacMullen, Ramsay (1992). Enemies of the Roman order: treason, unrest, and alienation in the empire By Ramsay MacMullen. p. 317. ISBN 9780415086219.
  23. ^ 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.
  24. ^ a b c d Chatterjee, Suhas (1998). Indian civilization and culture. New Delhi: M.D. Publications. p. 129. ISBN 9788175330832.
  25. ^ a b Powers, Nathan (1998). "Onesicritus, Naked Wise Men, and the Cynics' Alexander". Syllecta Classica. 9 (1): 73. ISSN 2160-5157.
  26. ^ Bronkhorst, Johannes (2016). How the Brahmins won: from Alexander to the Guptas. Handbook of oriental studies. Leiden: Brill. pp. 34–35. ISBN 978-90-04-31519-8.
  27. ^ Plutarch (1998). The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans. New York: The Modern Library (Random House Inc). p. 847. ISBN 9781853267949.
  28. ^ Williams Jackson, A.V. (2009). History of India Vol. IX. New York: Cosimo Inc. pp. 65–70. ISBN 9781605205328.
  29. ^ a b Niehoff, Maren R. (2001). Philo on Jewish identity and culture. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck. pp. 153–154. ISBN 9783161476112.
  30. ^ a b Alexander the Great. Robin Lax Fox. 1973. p. 416. ISBN 9780713905007.
  31. ^ a b Elledge, C. D. (2006). Life after death in early Judaism the evidence of Josephus. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck. pp. 121–124. ISBN 9783161488757.
  32. ^ Warner, Arthur George; Warner, Edmond (2001). The Sháhnáma of Firdausí By Arthur George Warner, Edmond Warner. p. 61. ISBN 9780415245432.
  33. ^ The calcutta review. 1867. p. 400. Retrieved 5 March 2017.
  34. ^ Balfour, Edward (1885). The Cyclopædia of India and of Eastern and Southern Asia ..., Volume 1 By Edward Balfour. p. 434. Retrieved 5 March 2017.
  35. ^ Sagar, Krishna Chandra (1992). Foreign influence on ancient India. New Delhi: Northern Book Centre. p. 69. ISBN 9788172110284.
  36. ^ Defending the West: a critique of Edward Said's Orientalism Front Cover by Ibn Warraq. Prometheus Books. 2007. p. 108. ISBN 9781591024842.
  37. ^ Algra, Keimpe; Barnes, Jonathan; Mansfeld, Jaap; Schofield, Malcolm (1999). The Cambridge History of Hellenistic Philosophy edited by Keimpe Algra. p. 243. ISBN 9780521250283.
  38. ^ Borruso, Silvano (2007). History of Philosophy. Paulines Publications Africa. p. 50. ISBN 9789966082008.
  39. ^ National Geographic, Volume 133. 1968. p. 64.
  40. ^ National Geographic , Volume 133. 1968. p. 64.
  41. ^ The philosophical books of Cicero. Duckworth. 1989. p. 186. ISBN 9780715622148.
  42. ^ Plutach. "The Parallel Lives: The Life of Alexander". 7, 70. Retrieved 4 March 2022.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: location (link)
  43. ^ 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.
  44. ^ 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.