The Age of the Sungas and the Satvahanas: In eastern India, Central India and the Deccan, the Mauryans were succeeded by a number of native rulers such as the Sungas, Satvahanas, etc. In north-western India they were succeeded by a number of ruling dynasties from Central Asia.


7.1 The Sunga Dynasty (185 B.C to 73 B.C)

The Sunga dynasty was founded by Pushyamitra Sunga; a Brahman of the Sunga family, his dominion extended up to Narmada River in the south and included cities of Patliputra, Ayodhya and Vidisha. The capital was Patliputra, Divyavadana and Taranath depict Pushyamitra as a veritable enemy of the Buddhists. A short Sanskrit inscription from Ayodhya mentions two Ashvamedha performed by Pushyamitra and one of his viceroys who was also his relative. He also defeated the Bactrian king Demetrius. The Sungas are mentioned by name in a brief inscription found at Barhut. In this they are clearly associated with the kingdom of Vidisha. Perhaps they inherited from the Mauryas a small part of their empire.

Ø  The Yajnas marked the revival of Vaidika Dharma in India.

Ø  The fifth king was Bhagabhadra, whose court was visited by Heliodorus, the Greek ambassador.

Ø  A Sunga king Agnimitra was the hero of Kalidasa’s Malavikagnimitram.

Ø  Patanjali’s classic Mahabhasya was written at this time.

Ø  The last ruler of Sunga dynasty, Devabhuti was killed by his minister Vasudeva in 73 B.C.


7.2 The Kanva Dynasty

The Kanva dynasty was founded by Vasudeva, a Brahman who killed the last Sunga king Devabhuti in 75 B.C, after a span of 45 years Kanvas were overthrowned by Andharas or Satvahanas of the Deccan. Susaraman was the last ruler of this dynasty.


7.3 The Chetis of Kalinga

The Hathigumpha inscription (near Bhubhaneshwar, Odisha) of Kharavela, the third ruler of the dynasty gives information about the Chetis. Kharavela pushed his kingdom beyond the Godavari in the South. He was a follower of Jainism and patronized Jain monks for whom he Constructed Udayagiri caves.


7.4 The Satvahanas or the Andhras

In Deccan and in central India the Mauryans were succeeded by the Satvahanas around first century B.C. and ruled for about 300 years with its capital at Paithan or Pratisthan on the Godavari in Aurangabad district. The Matsya Purana gives a list of 30 kings in the Satvahanas line and states that their rule altogether lasted for 460 years. The Vayu Purana gives a shorter list of about 300 years of the Satvahanas rule. Bana describes the Satvahanas as the ‘Lord of the three oceans– Trisamudradhipati, Simuka was the first important ruler and founder and the greatest competitor of the Satvahanas was the Sakas.

Ø  The fortunes of the family were restored by Gautamiputra Satakarni, who defeated Sakas and set up the capital at Paithan.

Ø  The name of the mother of Gautamiputra Satakarni (A.D. 30-104) was Gautami Balasari. She has recorded in glowing terms in an inscription at Nasik the achievements of her son. It was a matrilineal society.

Ø  Saka-Satvahana conflict was very frequent in these centuries and they fought with each other to have control over the important trade routes in north India.

Ø  Trade particularly with Roman Empire was very brisk, as is indicated by numerous Roman and Satvahana coins.

Ø  The Satvahanas may have used gold as bullion, for they did not issue gold coins; they issued mostly coins of lead. They also used tin, copper and bronze coins.

Ø  The Satvahanas were the first rulers to make land grants to the Brahmans. The called themselves Brahmans and worshipped gods like Krishna, Vasudeva, etc. and performed Vedic rituals. However they also promoted Buddhism by making land grants to the monks. The two common constructions were the Buddhist temples that were called ‘Chaitya’ and the monasteries which were called ‘Viharas’.

Ø  The most famous Chaitya is that of Karle in western Deccan. The districts were called ‘Aharas’ as in Ashoka’s times and similarly their officials were known as ‘Amatyas’ and ‘Mahamatras’. They started the practice of granting tax free villages to Brahmanas and Buddhist monks.

Ø  The official language was Prakrit and the script was Brahmi as in Ashokan times. A Prakrit text Gathasaptasati or Gathasattasai is attributed to a Satvahanas king Hala.


7.5 Central Asian Contact

1. The Indo-Greeks: With the decline of Mauryan Empire a series of invasions from Central Asia began around 200 B.C. The first to cross the Hindukush were the Indo Greeks, who ruled Bactria. Demetrius, the king of Bactria invaded India about 190 B.C. and arrested considerable part of Mauryan dynasty in the north–west. The most famous Indo–Greek ruler was Menander (165–145 B.C.), who is said to have pushed forward as far as Ayodhya and reached Pataliputra. His capital was Sakala (Sialkot). Menander, who was also known as Milinda, was converted to Buddhism by famous scholar Nagasena (Nagarjuna). The conversation between the two is recorded in a book named Malindapanho (Questions of Milinda).The Greek introduced features of the Hellenistic art in north-west part of India which is also known as Gandhara art.

  • They also introduced practice of military governorship. They appointed their governors called Strategos.
  • The Greek ambassador called Heliodorous set up a pillar in honour of Vishnu at Vidisha (Madhya Pradesh).
  • The term Horshastra used for astrology in Sanskrit had been derived from the Greek term horoscope.

2. The Sakas or Scythians (90 B.C.): The Greeks were followed by the Sakas, who controlled much larger part of India than the Greek did.There were five branches of the Sakas with their seats of power in different parts of India and Afghanistan. They were full-fledged independent rulers, curiously enough called themselves Kshatraps, a sankritised form of Persian Satrap or Governor. The King of Ujjain in 58 B.C. is said to have defeated the Saka and styled himself Vikramaditya. An era called the Vikram Samyat is reckoned from the time of his victory over the Sakas.

  • The most famous Saka ruler was Rudradaman I (130-150 A.D.), who ruled in western India and is famous for repairing the Sudarshan Lake in Kathiawar, built during the regin of Chandragupta Maurya.
  • It is recorded in the first ever long inscription in chaste Sanskrit in Junagadh which was issued by Rudradaman and highlighted his achievements.


3. The Parthians: The Sakas were followed by Parthians. Special interest is attached to Gondophernes, in whose reign St. Thomas is said to have come to India to propagate Christianity and converted him to his faith. The Parthians originally lived in Iran and invaded in the beginning of the Christian era, from where they moved to India. In comparison to the Greeks and Sakas they occupied only a small territory in north-west India in the first century.


4. The Kushans: The Parthians were followed by the Kushanas who were also called Yuchis or Tocharians. Wima Kadphises established the Kushana authority as far as Varanasi in the east, credited for issuing a large number of gold coins. Kanishka (78-144 A.D.) extended his empire from Oxus to the eastern borders of U.P (Benaras) and Bokhara in north to Ujjain in the south. He was a great patron of Buddhism and the 4th Buddhist council is said to have been held under his patronage. He patronised Asvaghosa, the writer of Buddhacharita, the biography of Buddha and Sutralankar and also patronised Charaka, the great authority in Medical Science who wrote Sasruta alongwith Nagarjuna who wrote Madhyamik Sutra Purushpura (Peshawar) was the capital of Kushanas. Mathura seemed to be their second capital. Kanishka controlled the famous ‘silk route‘in Central Asia, which started from China and passed through his empire in Central Asia and Afghanistan to Iran and Western Asia which formed the part of Roman empire.

  • Kanishka started an era known as Saka Era which commenced from 78 A. D. The Kushanas were the first ruler in India to issue gold coins on a wide scale with higher degree of metallic purity than is found in the Gupta period.
  • The Gandhra School of art received the royal patronage of Kushanas. There is a Buddhist story which says that the King of Pataliputra, unable to raise the large indemnity imposed on him by Kanishka, surrendered to him the alms-bowl of Buddha, the poet and philosopher Ashvaghosha, and a marvelous cock.
  • According to a legend, the Buddhist philosopher Ashvaghosha was especially invited from Oudh to attend the fourth Buddhist Council for systematizing and codifying Buddhist texts.
  • The fourth Buddhist Council was held under the patronage of Kanishka at the Kundalavana monastery in Kashmir, but there is another account, which locates it in the Kuvana monastery at Jallandhar.
  • According to Hiuen Tsang, the council was summoned by Kanishka on the advice of the venerable Parsva and he made Vasumitra its President and Ashvaghosa its Vice-President.
  • This council prepared an encyclopedia of Buddhist philosophy called the Mahavibhasha, which survives in a Chinese translation. The language employed was Sanskrit.

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