"Yona" is a Pali word used in ancient India to designate Greek speakers. Its equivalent in Sanskrit is the word "Yavana". "Yona" and "Yavana" are both transliterations of the Greek word for "Ionians" (Homer "Iāones", older *"Iāwones"), who were probably the first Greeks to be known in the East.

Direct identification of these words with the Greeks include:
* The mention of the "Yona king Antiochus" in the Edicts of Ashoka (280 BCE)
* The mention of the "Yona king Antialcidas" in the Heliodorus pillar in Vidisha (110 BCE)
* King Menander and his bodyguard of "500 Yonas" in the Milinda Panha.
* The description of Greek astrology and Greek terminology in the Yavanajataka ("Sayings of the Yavanas") (150 CE).
* The mention of "Alexandria, the city of the Yonas" in the Mahavamsa, Chapter 29 (4th century CE).

Although the association with eastern Greeks seems to have been quite precise and systematic until the beginning of our era (other foreigners had their own descriptor, such as Sakas, Pahlavas, Kambojas etc...), these terms came to designate more generally "foreigners" in the following centuries.

Old World usage

This usage was shared by many of the countries east of Greece, from the Mediterranean to India:
* Egyptians used the word "j-w-n(-n)-’"
* Assyrians used the word "Iawanu"
* Persians used the word "Yauna" or "Yavanu"
* Indians - used the word "Yavana" in Mahabharata and other historic texts.
* Sri Lankans - used the word "Yona" in Mahawamsa and other historic texts.
* In Biblical writings, the word was "Yāvān" (and still is, in modern Israeli Hebrew - יוון)
* In Arabic and Turkish it is "Yunan"
* See Also Sanskrit Yoni

Indian references

In Indian sources, the usage of the words "Yona", "Yauna", "Yonaka", "Yavana" or "Javana" etc. appears repeatedly, and particularly in relation to the Greek kingdoms which neighboured or sometimes occupied the Indian north-western territories (which is now Afghanistan or part of Pakistan) over a period of several centuries from the 4th century BCE to the 1st century CE, such as the Seleucid Empire, the Greco-Bactrian kingdom and the Indo-Greek kingdom.

After Alexander's invasion, the Greek settlements had existed in eastern parts of Achaemenid empire, north-west of India, as neighbors to the Iranian Kambojas. The references to the Yonas in the early Buddhist texts may be related to the same.

Role in Buddhism

Edicts of Ashoka (250 BCE)

proselytism at the time of king Ashoka (260-218 BCE).] Some of the better known examples are those of the Edicts of Ashoka (c. 250 BCE), in which the Buddhist emperor Ashoka refers to the Greek populations under his rule. Rock Edicts V and XIII mention the Yonas (or the Greeks) along with the Kambojas and Gandharas as a subject people forming a frontier region of his empire and attest that he sent envoys to the Greek rulers in the West as far as the Mediterranean, faultlessly naming them one by one. In the Gandhari original of Rock XIII, the Greek kings to the West are associated unambiguously with the term "Yona": Antiochus is referred as "Amtiyoko nama Yona-raja" (lit. "The Greek king by the name of Antiochus"), beyond whom live the four other kings: "param ca tena Atiyokena cature 4 rajani Turamaye nama Amtikini nama Maka nama Alikasudaro nama" (lit. "And beyond Antiochus, four kings by the name of Ptolemy, the name of Antigonos, the name of Magas, the name Alexander").

Dipavamsa and Sasanvamsa

Other Buddhist texts such as the Dipavamsa and the Sasanavamsa reveal that after the Third Buddhist Council, the elder (thera) Mahárakkhita was sent to the Yona country and he preached Dharma among the Yonas and the Kambojas, and that at the same time the Yona elder (thera) Dharmaraksita was sent to the country of Aparantaka in western India also. Ashoka's Rock Edict XIII also pairs the Yonas with the Kambojas ("Yonakambojesu") and conveys that the Brahmanas and Sramanas are found everywhere in his empire except in the lands of the Yonas and the Kambojas.


The "Mahawamsa" or Great Chronicle of Sri Lanka refers to the thera Mahárakkhita being sent to preach to the Yona country, and also to the Yona thera Dhammarakkhita, who was sent to "Aparanta" (the "Western Ends"). [ [http://lakdiva.org/mahavamsa/chap012.html "(Mahawamsa XII)"] ] It also mentions that king Pandukabhaya set aside a part of the city of Anuradhapura for the Yonas. [ [http://lakdiva.org/mahavamsa/chap010.html "(Mahawamsa X)"] ] Another Yona thera, Mahádhammarakkhita, is mentioned as having come from Alexandria in the country of the Yonas, to be present at the building of the Ruwanweliseya. [ [http://lakdiva.org/mahavamsa/chap029.html "(Mahawamsa XXIX)"] ]


Another example is that of the Milinda Panha (Chapter I), where "Yonaka" is used to refer to the great Indo-Greek king Menander (160–135 BCE), and to the guard of "five hundred Greeks" that constantly accompanies him.

Invasion of India

The "Vanaparava" of Mahabharata contains verses in the form of prophecy complaining that "......Mlechha (barbaric) kings of the Shakas, Yavanas, Kambojas, Bahlikas etc. shall rule the earth (i.e India) un-righteously in Kaliyuga..." ". [Mahabharata 3.188.34-36.] This reference apparently alludes to chaotic political scenario following the collapse of Mauryan and Sunga dynasties in northern India and its subsequent occupation by foreign hordes of the Yavanas, Kambojas, Sakas and Pahlavas etc.

There are important references to the warring "Mleccha" hordes of the Shakas, Yavanas, Kambojas, Pahlavas etc. in the "Bala Kanda" of the Valmiki Ramayana. [

:taih asit samvrita bhuumih Shakaih-Yavana mishritaih || 1.54-21 |

:taih taih Yavana-Kamboja barbarah ca akulii kritaah || 1-54-23 |

:tasya humkaarato jatah Kamboja ravi sannibhah
:udhasah tu atha sanjatah Pahlavah shastra panayah || 1-55-2 |

:yoni deshaat ca Yavanah Shakri deshat Shakah tathaa
:roma kupesu Mlecchah ca Haritah sa Kiratakah || 1-55-3 ||

Indologists like Dr H. C. Raychadhury, Dr B. C. Law, Dr Satya Shrava and others see in these verses the clear glimpses of the struggles of the Hindus with the mixed invading hordes of the barbaric Sakas, Yavanas, Kambojas, Pahlavas etc. from north-west. [The Śakas in India, 1981, p 12, Satya Shrava; Journal, 1920, p 175, University of Calcutta. Department of Letters; India & Russia: Linguistic & Cultural Affinity, 1982, p 100, Weer Rajendra Rishi; Indological Studies, 1950, p 32, Dr B. C. Law; Political History of India from the Accession of Parikshit to the Coronation of Bimbisara, 1923, Page iii, Hemchandra Raychaudhuri; Political History of Ancient India, 1996, p 4, Raychaudhury; Indological Studies, 1950, p 4, Dr B. C. Law.] The time frame for these struggles is second century BCE downwards. Dr Raychadhury fixes the date of the present version of the Valmiki Ramayana around/after second century CE. [Political History of Ancient India, 1996, pp 3-4.]

The other Indian records describe the 180 BCE "Yavana" attacks on Saketa, Panchala, Mathura and Pataliputra, probably against the Sunga empire, and possibly in defense of Buddhism. The main mentions of the invasion are those by Patanjali around 150 BCE, and of the Yuga Purana, which, like the Mahabharata, also describes Indian historical events in the form of a prophecy:

:"After having conquered Saketa, the country of the Panchala and the Mathuras, the Yavanas, wicked and valiant, will reach Kusumadhvaja ("The town of the flower-standard", Pataliputra). The thick mud-fortifications at Pataliputra being reached, all the provinces will be in disorder, without doubt. Ultimately, a great battle will follow, with tree-like engines (siege engines)." [Gargi-Samhita Paragraph 5, Yuga Purana.]

:"The Yavanas (Greeks) will command, the Kings will disappear. (But ultimately) the Yavanas, intoxicated with fighting, will not stay in Madhadesa (the Middle Country); there will be undoubtedly a civil war among them, arising in their own country (Bactria), there will be a terrible and ferocious war." [Gargi-Samhita, Yuga Purana Chapter, No 7.]

The "Anushasanaparava" of Mahabharata affirms that the country of Mathura, the heartland of India, was under the joint military control of the Yavanas and the Kambojas. [

:tatha Yavana Kamboja Mathuram.abhitash cha ye./ :ete ashava.yuddha.kushaladasinatyasi charminah.//5 :— "(MBH 12/105/5, Kumbhakonam Ed)" .]

From the references noted above, it appears certain that the "Yavana" invasion of Majjhimadesa ("Mid India") was jointly carried out by the Yavanas and the Kambojas. The Greek Yavanas were apparently a minority foreigners in India and naturally may have obtained, in this invasion, the military support of their good neighbors, the warlike Kambojas. The evidence from the Mathura Lion Capital inscriptions of Saka great Satrap (Mahakshatrapa) Rajuvula also lends strong credibility to this view.

The "Mid India" invasion was followed by almost two centuries of Yavana rule which in the light of evidence presented above, appears to have been a joint Yavana-Kamboja rule.

cientific abilities

Several references in Indian literature praise the knowledge of the Yavanas or the Greeks.

The Mahabharata compliments them as "the all-knowing Yavanas" ("sarvajnaa yavanaa") i.e. "The Yavanas, O king, are all-knowing; the Suras are particularly so. The mlecchas are wedded to the creations of their own fancy." [

:mlecchah.svasamjnaa.niyataanaanukta.itaro.janah ||80|
:— "(Mahabharata VIII.31.80)".
] and the creators of flying machines that are generally called vimanas. [Clive Hart, "The Prehistory of Flight", (Berkeley, 1985).]

The "Brihat-Samhita" of the mathematician Varahamihira says: "The Greeks, though impure, must be honored since they were trained in sciences and therein, excelled others....." ". [

:Mleccha hi yavanah tesu samyak shastram idam sthitam :Rsivat te api pujyante kim punar daivavid dvijah :- "(Brhatsamhita 2.15)" .]

Yet another Indian text, (Gargi-Samhita), also similarly compliments the Yavanas saying: " "The Yavanas are barbarians yet the science of astronomy originated with them and for this they must be revered like Gods"." [Gargi-Samhita, Yuga Purana Chapter.]

Other references

On the 110 BCE Heliodorus pillar in Vidisha in Central India, the Indo-Greek king Antialcidas, who had sent an ambassador to the court of the Sunga king Bhagabhadra, was also qualified as "Yona".

The Mahavamsa also attests Yona settlement in Anuradhapura in ancient Sri Lanka, probably contributing to trade between East and West.

Buddhist texts like Sumangala Vilasini class the language of the Yavanas with the Milakkhabhasa i.e "impure language".

The Yonas and other northwestern invaders in Indian literature

The Yavanas or Yonas are frequently found listed with the Kambojas, Sakas, Pahlavas and other northwestern tribes in numerous ancient Indian texts.

The Mahabharata groups the Yavanas with the Kambojas and the Chinas and calls them "Mlechchas" (Barbarians). In the Shanti Parava section, the Yavanas are grouped with the Kambojas, Kiratas, Sakas, and the Pahlavas etc. and are spoken of as living the life of Dasyus (slaves). In another chapter of the same Parava, the Yaunas, Kambojas, Gandharas etc. are spoken of as equal to the "Svapakas" and the "Grddhras".

Udyogaparava of Mahabharata [ Mahabharata 5.19.21-23.] says that the composite army of the Kambojas, Yavanas and Sakas had participated in the Mahabharata war under the supreme command of Kamboja king Sudakshina. The epic numerously applauds this composite army as being very fierce and wrathful.

Balakanda of Ramayana also groups the Yavanas with the Kambojas, Sakas, Pahlavas etc. and refers to them as the military allies of sage Vishistha against Vedic king Vishwamitra [ Ramayana 55.2-3.] The Kishkindha Kanda of Ramayana locates the Sakas, Kambojas, Yavanas and Paradas in the extreme north-west beyond the Himavat (i.e. Hindukush). [ Ramayana 43.12.]

The Buddhist drama Mudrarakshasa by Visakhadutta as well as the Jaina works Parisishtaparvan refer to Chandragupta's alliance with Himalayan king Parvatka. This Himalayan alliance gave Chandragupta a powerful composite army made up of the frontier martial tribes of the Shakas, Kambojas, Yavanas, Parasikas, Bahlikas etc. [See: Mudrarakshas, Act II.] which he utilised to defeat the Greek successors of Alexander the Great and the Nanda rulers of Magadha, and thus establishing his Mauryan Empire in northern India.

Manusmriti [Manusmriti X.43-44.] lists the Yavanas with the Kambojas, Sakas, Pahlavas, Paradas etc. and regards them as degraded Kshatriyas (members of the warrior cast). Anushasanaparava of Mahabharata [Mahabharata 13.33.23.] also views the Yavanas, Kambojas, Shakas etc. in the same light. Patanjali's Mahabhasya [Mahabhasya II.4.10.] ) regards the Yavanas and Sakas as anirvasita (pure) Shudras. Gautama-Dharmasutra Gautama-Dharmasutra IV.21.] regards the Yavanas or Greeks as having sprung from Shudra females and Kshatriya males.

The Assalayana Sutta of Majjhima Nikaya attests that in Yona and Kamboja nations, there were only two classes of people...Aryas and Dasas...the masters and slaves, and that the Arya could become Dasa and vice versa. The Vishnu Purana also indicates that the "chatur-varna" or four class social system was absent in the lands of Kiratas in the East and the Yavanas and Kambojas etc. in the West.

Numerous Puranic literature groups the Yavanas with the Sakas, Kambojas, Pahlavas and Paradas and refers to the peculiar hair styles of these people which were different from those of the Hindus. Ganapatha on Panini attests that it was a practice among the Yavanas and the Kambojas to wear short-cropped hair ("Kamboja-mundah Yavana-mundah").

Vartika of Katayayana informs us that the kings of the Shakas and the Yavanas, like those of the Kambojas, may also be addressed by their respective tribal names.

Brihat-Katha-Manjari of Kshmendra [Brihat-Katha-Manjari 10.1.285-86.] informs us that king Vikramaditya had unburdened the sacred earth of the Barbarians like the Shakas, Kambojas, Yavanas, Tusharas, Parasikas, Hunas etc. by annihilating these sinners completely.

The Brahmanda Purana [ Brahmanda Purana, Upodghata-pada, 16-17.] refers to the horses born in Yavana country.

The Mahaniddesa [Mahaniddesa, pp 155, 415.] speaks of Yona and Parama Yona, probably referring to Arachosia as the Yona and Bactria as the Parama Yona.

Later meanings

The terms "Yona", "Yonaka" or "Yavana" later took on a wider meaning of Mlechchas/Barbarians and a designation to all foreign tribes or the westerners visiting India. [Padama Purana, Srshtikanda, 47.69-75.] Indian languages did not address the difference based on religion early on but after the arrival of Islam to the subcontinent, more than Mussalaman or Muslim, appellation Yavana along with Turuka, Turuska, Tajik, and Arab came to be used for invaders professing Islam as their religion.cite book |author=Parasher-Sen, Aloka |title=Subordinate and marginal groups in early India |publisher=Oxford University Press |location=Oxford [Oxfordshire] |year=2004 |pages=p. 52 |isbn=0-19-566542-2 |oclc= |doi= |accessdate=]

Contemporary usage

The word Yona, or one of its derivatives, is still used by some languages to designate contemporary Greece, such as in Arabic (يونان), in Hebrew (יוון), in Turkish ("Yunanistan"), or the Malay and Indonesian languages ("Yunani").

ee also

*Yavana Kingdom
*Names of the Greeks
*History of Buddhism



* "The shape of ancient thought. Comparative Studies in Greek and Indian philosophies", by Thomas Mc Evilly (Allworth Press, New York 2002) ISBN 1-58115-203-5

External links

* [http://www.palikanon.com/english/pali_names/y/yonaa.htm Pali dictionary definition of "Yona"]

----"Yona" is also a common transliteration of the Hebrew form of the given name Jonah"

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