Usually, when we use the term Yavana, we refer to the Greeks since this is what has been told to us. The Monier Williams Dictionary too gives the meaning of Yavana as Greek.

But then the following blogs tell a different story altogether. This blog says that Yavanas were not Greeks. This blog (you have to scroll down quite a bit) goes further and says that Yavanas were actually Egyptians.

The main Yavana who appears in the Puranas is Kalayavana, the warrior who caused Krsna to construct a whole new city named Dvaraka. He is supposed to be a son of a Yavana Queen by Sage Gaargya, when the King was unable to sire a son.

Personally, I think Yavana maps more to the Greeks, due to Ionia being near Persia, which logically would have been the westward course which Gaargya took had he travelled in that direction. But then the above cited blogs have made me rethink, because one can easily travel southwards towards Egypt as opposed to northwards towards Ionia.

So, were the Yavanas Greeks or Egyptians? Also, did the Greek/Egyptian Pantheon exist at that time? (Since it was only 5000 years ago, I am compelled to say yes, hence the clarification.)

  • Maybe you should change the title of your question to "Were the Yavanas Greeks or Egyptians?" rather than just mentioning Kalayavana. – Keshav Srinivasan Mar 31 '16 at 14:08
  • @Keshav Well I thought people will recognise Kalayavana more, but okay. – Surya Mar 31 '16 at 15:24

After the battle of Kurukshetra there was an explosion of Mleccha agriculture, population and culture originating in Mesopotamia and spreading westward across Asia Minor and the Greek peninsula.

Before that time, these areas were likely sparsely populated with nomadic herders and subsistence farmers. They would have lived much like the Native American tribes before the introduction of Europeans. The Celtic and Germanic tribes of Northern Europe lived in a similar (albeit more technologically advanced) way until the invasions of Julius Caesar shortly before the time of Christ.

It is these tribal peoples that would have joined in the Mahabharat war, along with similar tribes from Central Asia and the Fertile Crescent.

Over thousands of years the descendants of these tribes mushroomed in population then mixed and migrated to create the various ethnic and national designations we have today.

Within the Vedic literature, the term Yavana applies to the entire swath of land from the Mediterranean, through the Near East and Central Asia.

Later these people would be called Greeks etc.

Later texts indeed recognized them as such. That is why the term Yavana became especially connected to the Greeks, who after Alexanders invasion of Northern India, established the Indo-Greek dynasties.

The blog you mentioned is full of poor logical arguments. For example:

Krishna moved the Yadu dynasty to the west to avoid Yavanas, so Yavanas must not come from the west.

Krishna moved the Yadu dynasty to Dwaraka because as a fortress in the ocean, it would not be subjected to attacks by land.

Krishna was not trying to avoid Yavanas. The Yadu dynasty was not under attack from Yavanas. They were under attack from Jarasandha.

Kaliyavana only took advantage of an attack by Jarasandha ONCE to attack Mathura, because he had heard Krishna was a worthy opponent.

Regardless, the position of Dwaraka and Mathura are irrelevant in the face of Yavana invasions from the Khyber pass. Dwaraka is in fact safer from these invasions and no nearer to their source. Mathura is right on the path of invasion and was in fact taken by the Greeks.

Nor does The Yadu movement west indicate Yavanas are from the east and south as the blogger speculates. (Even leaving aside the fact that Krishna was not moving to avoid Yavanas).

  • Interesting analysis. You should cite sources though. – Surya Nov 6 '16 at 7:59

According to A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada , the Yavanas are Turks

Yavanas: Yavana was the name of one of the sons of Mahārāja Yayāti who was given the part of the world known as Turkey to rule. Therefore the Turks are Yavanas due to being descendants of Mahārāja Yavana. The Yavanas were therefore kṣatriyas, and later on, by giving up the brahminical culture, they became mleccha-yavanas. Descriptions of the Yavanas are in the Mahābhārata (Ādi-parva 85.34). Another prince, called Turvasu, was also known as Yavana, and his country was conquered by Sahadeva, one of the Pāṇḍavas. The western Yavana joined with Duryodhana in the Battle of Kurukṣetra under the pressure of Karṇa. It was also foretold that these Yavanas also would conquer India, and it proved to be true.

Source: Purport Srimad Bhagatatham 2.4.18 http://www.vedabase.com/en/sb/2/4/18

  • 1
    Srila Prabhupada seems to be suggesting that there were two races of Yavanas, the Yavanas of Turkey and the "western Yavanas". So I don't think he'd object to the claim that the western Yavanas, the ones who fought in the Mahabharata war, were Greeks. – Keshav Srinivasan Apr 21 '16 at 15:26

There is a mention of Yavans in Ramayana too and here they were mentioned to be produced from the cow Shabala. The story is about Vishwamitra, when he was a king (before becoming a sage). When he once visits Sage Vashisth 's Hermitage, he finds the wish giving cow Shabala. He demanded Shabala from Vashishth to which Vashishth disagrees. A fight breaks out there between Vishwamitra's army and Vashishth in which latter asks Shabala for help. It is then that Shabala produces armies of different soldiers from its various body parts. Yavan were also produced during this process. Since they were produced from 'Yoni' therefore they were called 'Yavans'. It might be the case that the 'Yavans' we know are descendent's of the ones mentioned in Ramayana. Here is the extract from Ramayana:

Book: Balakanda Sarga 55 Verse 2, 3

Sloka: तस्या हुंकारतो जाताः कांबोजा रवि सन्निभाः |ऊधसः तु अथ संजाताः पह्लवाः शस्त्र पाणयः || १-५५-२ योनि देशात् च यवनः शकृ देशात् शकाः तथा |रोम कूपेषु म्लेच्छाः च हारीताः स किरातकाः || १-५५-३

English translation: From the 'hums' of her mooing Kaamboja-s similar to sunshine are born, from her udder Pahlava-s wielding weaponry are born, from the area of her privates Yavana-s, likewise from her rectal area Shaka-s, and from her hair-roots Mleccha-s, Haariitaa-s along with Kirataka-s are issued forth. [1-55-2, 3]

Hindi translation: तब शबला के हुङ्कार से सूर्य के समान तेजस्वी कम्भोज नामक म्लेच्छ | और स्तनों से हाथों में शस्त्र लिए पह्लव उत्पन्न हुए || १-५५-२ योनि से यवन, गुदा से शका और | रौयों से म्लेच्छ, हारीत और किरात उत्पन्न हुए || १-५५-३

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