The Indian invasion of Alexander covered only a brief period of about two years. But it had its direct and indirect effects, permanent or temporary.
These effects were political, commercial and cultural. As an invasion, it was like a passing episode without leaving any lasting impression on the Indian mind.
It was just a military adventure of a great soldier, and passed off like a brief storm. In the words of historian V.A. Smith:
“The campaign, although carefully designed to secure a permanent conquest, was in actual effect no more than a brilliantly successful raid on a gigantic scale, which left upon India no mark save the horrid scars of bloody war. India remained unchanged. The wounds of battle were quickly healed; the ravaged fields smiled again as the patient oxen and no less patient husbandmen resumed their uninterrupted labours; and the places of slain myriads were filled by the teeming swarms of a population. India was not Hellenised. She continued to Jive her life of splendid isolation, and forgot the passing of the Macedonian storm. No Indian author, Hindu, Buddhist, or Jain, makes even the faintest allusion to Alexander or his deeds.”
The military expedition, as such, thus came and passed like an evil spectacle.
Its influence, however, could be marked in some other ways as outlined below.
Alexander’s invasion of India carried both a political lesson and a political result. The lesson was that divided into small kingdoms, republics and tribal units, the North-West India suffered badly from hands of the foreign invaders. Unity and not the disunity became the need of the time. The presence of small Macedonian garrisons in the Indus valley was like a reminder of India’s lack of political unity for some time at least.
The political result of the invasion was noteworthy. Alexander destroyed the power of the many existing states and wiped out the independent existence of some of them. When soon after his departure, the process of building a powerful Indian empire began, the states of the North-West were easily conquered and they formed a part of that empire.
Alexander, in-fact, made the work of Chandragupta Maurya simpler, and paved the path for his imperial power in the Greek invaded areas. Rightly, therefore, observes historian R.K. Mookeiji: “Alexander’s invasion promoted the political unification of the country. Smaller states which handicapped unity were now merged in the larger ones, such as those of Paurava, Abhisara or Taxila. These conditions were favourable for the rise of an Indian Empire to be shortly founded by Chandragupta.”
Alexander did not fight with the real political power of India which was represented by the Nanda Empire. He fought with much smaller powers and won victory. Even then, a small king like Porus showed to him the courage of the Indian side. The political myth created by the Greek writers that the Western army was superior to that of the Indian proved meaningless when Chandragupta Maurya not only drove out the Greeks from the Indian soil, but also defeated the most powerful Greek ruler after Alexander, Seleukos Nikator, and forced him to surrender a large part of his territory. Politically, thus, India rose as a mighty power of Asia soon after the invasion of Alexander the Great.
Alexander’s invasion opened up the land routes between the Greek world in the West and the Indian sub-continent. It is said that the Greek hero opened as many as five different lines of communication between India and the West during the course of his campaigns. Of those, four routes were on land, and one by sea.
His voyages and campaigns enlarged the geographical horizon of both the western and eastern peoples. As a result, overland trade and maritime commerce began to develop between India and the West. After the destruction of the Persian Empire over which the Greeks began to rule, the lines of contact between India and the Western Asia and through that with Europe became more effective and direct.
The land routes to the West ran mainly through Kabul, the Mulla Pass of Baluchistan and Gedrosia. In his conquered territories, Alexander founded cities, military posts, and Greek settlements. Those places developed into centres of trade in course of time, and many of them survived for a long time. The geographical separation between the West and East was thus reduced to a large extent in the wake of Alexander’s invasion.
Culture knows no racial or geographical frontiers. When civilized peoples meet each other even in hostility, their contact brings about mutual understanding of cultural values. The Greek invasion of India provided scope for such an exchange. India was rich in religion and philosophy at the time of the Greek invasion.
The Greeks also were the pioneers of Western civilisation with a rich philosophy of their own. The historians, scholars and writers who came with Alexander closely observed the Indian philosophical systems and noted them in their descriptions. Alexander himself was curious to hear and know about some of the most difficult systems of Indian ascetics and philosophers.
The description left by the Greek writers caused much curiosity in the advanced Greek minds of that time and of later periods. The Hindu and the Buddhist religious faiths and philosophies had an impact on the Greek world of philosophy following Alexander’s time.
The Indians, on their part are supposed to have been impressed by the Greek coinage. King Saubhuti, whom the Greeks called Sophytes, struck coins in imitation of the Greek coins. Similarly, the Indians came to know of the Greek astronomy. And later on, they came to appreciate the Hellenistic art. Long after Alexander, this influence came to its admirable form in shape of the Gandhara School of Art. The images of Buddha, under this art, showed a remarkable mixture of the Greek and the Indian art of image making. Of course, this art perfected itself at the time of Emperor Kanishka who brought sculptors from the Greek settlements of Bactria for the work, and who were far remote from the days of Alexander the Great.