Nine Unknown Men

The Story of the Mysterious Brotherhood of Asoka the Great

Pataliputra was a city in ancient India, originally built by Magadha ruler Ajatashatru in 490 BCE as a small fort near the Ganges River. The city reached the pinnacle of prosperity when it became the capital of the great Mauryan emperors, Chandragupta Maurya and Asoka the Great.

The empire was expanded into India’s central and southern regions by Chandragupta’s successor, Bindusara. Under the rulership of Asoka the empire grew even more, though the southern parts of India and Sri Lanka remained outside of the Maurya Empire. The Hindu-Buddhist empires to the east, including the mysterious Cham Empire, must have been heavily influenced by Asoka and the Mauryan Empire, including the amazing stonework and metallurgy that they were known to have.

At the end of his life Chandragupta became a Jain, which increased social and religious reform of traditional Hinduism across his society, and a few decades afterward Asoka became a Buddhist and promoted nonviolence and tolerance across all of India as well as Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia. Asoka sponsored other ambassadors to promote Buddhism to Asia Minor, Egypt, and Mediterranean Europe.

Asoka’s Mauryan Empire began to degrade in territory after his death; and the final Mauryan king, Brihadratha, was assassinated in 185 BC, thus ending the dynasty. It is curious that his assassination was during a military parade by a Hindu Brahmin general named Pushyamitra Shunga, who was commander-in-chief of the king’s guard. Pushyamitra Shunga then took over the throne and established the Shunga dynasty. Buddhist records indicate that the rise of the Shunga Empire led to a wave of religious persecution against Buddhists who had thrived during Asoka’s reign.

The empire declined for about 50 years after Asoka’s rule ended, and dissolved in 185 BC with the foundation of the Shunga dynasty in Magadha. At the time of 185 BC and the Shunga Empire, we have a pretty good idea of how India and Sri Lanka looked as far as nation-states were concerned: south of the Sunga Empire centered on northern India was the Satavahana Empire; south of that was the Pandyan Kingdom and the island of Sri Lanka was ruled by the Tamraparni Dynasty.

It is, however, the mysterious eastern realms of the Cham that interest us here. They, too, are part of the Mauryan Asoka kingdom and like many people, including whole royal families; they converted to Buddhism from their original religion of Hinduism. Entire royal families in northern India, all the way into the Hindu Kush and the Bamian Buddhas of Afghanistan, converted to Buddhism. Major Buddhist centers like Taxila were located in what is today northern Pakistan. Most of Afghanistan was Buddhist during this period.

How is it that the Cham also went from Hindu to Buddhist in their early stages? The answer is that they were part of a thalassocratic empire—a sea-based trading empire that had ports as major cities, linked to other city-ports that were hundreds and thousands of miles away from each other.


The Nine Unknown Men of Asoka

The curious story of Asoka and the Nine Unknown Men was apparently a common one among Buddhists and Hindus in India and was mentioned by the French researcher Louis Jacolliot in the 1860s. According to Jacolliot, Asoka formed the society of the Nine Unknown Men around 232 BC. Asoka campaigned in the regions to his south, between Calcutta and Madras, a region known as the Kalingan Kingdom. The Kalingans resisted Asoka, and the emperor’s overwhelming forces are said to have killed over 100,000 Kalinga warriors and deported over 150,000 villagers to other areas of India. However, Asoka thought deeply about the violence that his victory entailed and from that time became a Buddhist and renounced military campaigns.

He was still the ruler of a powerful and prosperous kingdom that spanned across northern India all the way to Afghanistan in the west and as far south as the border of the Tamil-Nadu area. His empire also stretched eastward into Burma and Southeast Asia. Asoka is well known for his efforts to spread Buddhism throughout India, Sri Lanka, Malaya, the Cham areas, and Indonesia. Asoka’s efforts contributed to Buddhism’s rise in a later period when missionaries spread over the Himalayas into Nepal, Tibet, China and Mongolia.

Asoka became a vegetarian but did not force others to be, and he was tolerant of other religious sects of the time. He did, however, prohibit the consumption of alcohol. He wanted to bring together the most important knowledge in the world and so assembled the Nine Unknown Men.

Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier mention the Nine Unknown Men in the 1960 book, The Morning of the Magicians. They said that the Indian Emperor Asoka had founded the Nine Unknown Men, and that Pope Silvester II had met these men at one point. Much of their material, they said came from the nineteenth-century French-colonial administrator and writer, Louis Jacolliot, who insisted on the reality of the Nine Unknown Men.

According to Pauwels and Bergier: “[Asoka] renounced the idea of trying to integrate the rebellious people, declaring that the only true conquest was to win men’s hearts by observance of the laws of duty and piety, because the Sacred Majesty desired that all living creatures should enjoy security, peace and happiness and be free to live as they pleased… He sought to prevent his fellow man from putting their intelligence towards perpetrating evil, particularly the evil involved with warfare. The task of collecting, preserving, and containing all knowledge was too great for one emperor to do alone, not the least because of the other duties required by ruling an empire. So Asoka summoned nine of the most brilliant minds in India at the time. For security purposes, the identity of these men was never made public. Together, these geniuses formed a secret society that came to be known as the Nine Unknown Men.

This organization began accumulating all of the scientific knowledge possible, from natural science to psychology to the composition of matter. Asoka feared that if ordinary men were given too much scientific and technical knowledge it would be used for destruction, so only the Nine Unknown Men were allowed to study and develop scientific technology that was to be definitive. Each of the nine was charged with a specific science and was to write a book that he was to update and revise as the knowledge was expanded. When one of the nine could no longer complete the task—whether from the wish to retire, fading health, or death—the obligation was passed to a chosen successor. The number of members in the society was always to be nine. And in this way the secret society of the Nine Unknown Men has allegedly lived on for more than 2,000 years.

In 1923, the British (and later American) pulp writer Talbot Mundy serialized his novel The Nine Unknown in Adventure magazine. It has since been published in various hardback and paperback editions. His book was a fictionalized version of the Nine Unknown Men and contained a list of the nine books.

Mundy’s book starts with the project commissioned by Asoka to gather and guard advanced knowledge from around the world over the years and turn it into nine books. Mundy’s story focuses only on Book Four, a book on metallurgy that reveals the secret process of producing gold and silver in colossal amounts, to be used as an economic weapon. Mundy’s list of the nine books has come to be generally accepted by researchers and seems to have come from Jacolliot and the Theosophical Society:

  1. Propaganda: The first book dealt with techniques of propaganda and psychological warfare. “The most dangerous of all sciences is that of molding mass opinion, because it would enable anyone to govern the whole world,” according to Mundy.
  2. Physiology: The second book discussed physiology and explained how to kill a person simply by touching him or her. Known as the ‘the touch of death,’ it involved the reversal of a nerve impulse. It is said that the martial art of Judo is a result of ‘leakages’ from the second book.
  3. Microbiology: The third book focused on microbiology and biotechnology.
  4. Alchemy: The fourth book dealt with alchemy and transmutation of metals. Mundy says that according to legend, in times of severe drought, temples and religious relief organizations received large quantities of gold from ‘a secret source.’
  5. Communication: The fifth book contained a study of all means of communication, terrestrial and extraterrestrial, implying that the Nine Unknown Men were aware of extraterrestrials.
  6. Gravity: The sixth book focused on the secrets of gravitation and contained instructions on how to make a flying machine known as a vimana.
  7. Cosmogony: The seventh book contained cosmogony and all matters of the universe.
  8. Light: The eighth book dealt with the properties of light, such as the speed of light and how to use it as a weapon.
  9. Sociology: The ninth book was about sociology. It included rules for the evolution of human societies and a means of foretelling their eventual decline.

This fascinating list of books, allegedly from the time of Asoka, is an advanced look at the important sciences that should be studied by any society seeking knowledge and technology. The fact that alchemy (metallurgy in general) and gravity are being studied—as well as uses for light—is an indication of the seriousness of these books and that at least some knowledge in these various areas was accumulated. Although it is not explicitly spoken of here, the nine books hint at the knowledge of electricity and power tools used for cutting and dressing rock. Is it possible that Asoka and the Nine Unknown Men had accumulated a wide assortment of flying machines, weapons, and power tools?

Pauwels and Bergier got most of their information from the French colonial judge, author, and lecturer Louis Jacolliot (1837–1890). Jacolliot was a lawyer who lived several years in Tahiti as a colonial judge and later in India during the period 1865-1869. He wrote several pamphlets, and his important Occult Science in India was published in 1875 (the English translation was published in1884). Jacolliot was searching for the ‘Indian roots of Western occultism’ and was apparently a prolific writer for his time. He was fascinated by India and during his time there he collected Hindu and Buddhist myths, which he popularized starting with his 1874 book, Histoire des Vierges: Les Peuples et les Continents Disparus (History of the Virgins: The Peoples and the Missing Continents). It combined a lost continent in the Pacific with ancient Hindu myths. Jacolliot claimed that ‘Sanskrit tablets’ told the story of a sunken land called Rutas in the Indian Ocean. Having been in Tahiti and Tonga and seen the megaliths there, he relocated this lost continent to the Pacific Ocean. He believed that Rutas was connected to the Atlantis myth. Jacolliot’s story is very similar to the tale told by the British Colonel James Churchward in his 1924 book, The Lost Continet of Mu. It would seem that Churchward took some of his ideas from Jacolliot, as did Helena Blavatsky and Talbot Mundy.

Helena Blavatsky in her 1877 book, Isis Unveiled, quoted from Jacolliot and touted his belief in a lost Pacific continent, which she also argued for—and called Lemuria, a name proposed in 1864 by a German geologist named Philip Sclater. Like Blavatsky and her mysterious sources, Jacolliot makes reference to an otherwise unknown Sanskrit text called the Agrouchada-Parikchai, which was apparently his personal invention, a mixture of Sanskrit texts and a bit of Freemasonry.

The claim of Pope Sylvester II meeting the Nine Unknown Men is a curious one. Pope Sylvester II— originally known as Gerbert of Aurillac—was the first French Pope and only reigned for five years, from 999 to his death in 1003. Pope Sylvester II was a prolific scholar and teacher. He endorsed and promoted study of Arabic and Greco-Roman arithmetic, mathematics, and astronomy. He reintroducing to Europe the abacus and the armillary sphere, which had been lost to Latin (though not Byzantine) Europe since the end of the Greco-Roman era. He is said to have been the first person to introduce the decimal system, using Arabic numerals, to Europe.

Pope Sylvester II/Gerbert was supposed to possess a bronze head that was a computer of some kind and was capable of speech and answering yes and no questions. This bronze head was called Meridiana and was said to have a female voice that spoke to Gerbert, the new Pope Sylvester II.

This talking object, according to popular legend, told Gerbert that if he should ever read a mass in Jerusalem, the devil would come for him. The Pope then canceled a scheduled pilgrimage to Jerusalem; however, while still in Rome he read mass in the church Santa Croce in Gerusalemme (‘Holy Cross of Jerusalem’). He became sick very shortly afterward, and on his deathbed, he asked his cardinals to cut up his body and scatter it across the city.

This man is probably the most mysterious of all the Catholic popes. Could he have actually met with the ongoing secret society of the Nine Unknown Men? Clearly Gerbert is suspected of having a magical device that sounds a lot like a modern radio or wireless Internet device. A tract from the time accused him of being involved with demons, largely because of the time he had spent in Spain, but also because he had the magical, talking bronze head. Had the group known as the Nine Unknown Men given this device to Gerbert before he became Pope? Pauwels and Bergier believed this to be the case, as did apparently, Jacolliot. It is an amazing thought!

What concerns us here is that Asoka was the man who convened the Nine Unknown Men; and this spread of science, social justice, technology, and the icons and memes of Buddhism and Hinduism grew not only from India to the west but also from India to the east. Because of the many large islands and archipelagos of small islands in Southeast Asia (reaching northward in a great arch to Japan and then far eastward into the Pacific) the spread of Asoka’s philosophy and his quest for knowledge would require the use of ships.

Indeed, he had his own fleet of ships by which to spread his social message, but there were many other fleets of ships that were plying the waters of India, Sri Lanka, Malagasy, Sumatra and Java. The king of all these ancient navies was that of the Cham or Champa, which matched or surpassed the naval power of Egypt and India—but it operated in the vast archipelago of islands in Southeast Asia. Some of their cities were on the mainland—on a river and close to the coast, such as My Son in Vietnam—and mountain tribes would freely come down to these coastal ports and trade. The Phoenicians in North Africa, Cyprus, and the eastern Mediterranean did much the same with the mountain and desert tribes who came in caravans to their port cities full of many ships. Though the Phoenicians or the Cham did not rule these interior areas of Morocco or Vietnam, they were nominally within their control, mainly in an economic sense. There was no need to try to conquer nearby mountain areas—or any areas—as their superior way of building, trading, and socializing was conducive to locals wanting to be part of their society. These locals and country village people could benefit tremendously from the port facilities and shipping of cargo offered by such seagoing civilizations with a large trading network.

Similarly, Asoka and his missionaries, including specialists working for the Nine Unknown Men, were voyaging to these far-flung ports in Southeast Asia in search of knowledge, including the source of metals, gems, jade, obsidian, and quartz crystal. They were also searching for “soma,” the elixir of immortality. This search included all kinds of psychotropic mushrooms, cacti, and other plants. Herbs and medicinal plants of all kinds were part of this worldwide search for knowledge.


The above is an edited excerpt from David Childress’ new book, The Lost World of Cham, the Transpacific Voyages of the Champa, from Adventures Unlimited Press. It is published here with the author’s permission.

By David H. Childress