Sunday, January 15, 2006


The Golden Guptas

Between the first century B.C and third century A.D, the  Kushanas in the north, Sakas in the west, Satavahannas in the Deccan emerged as three big political powers and emerged as a stabilising factor in these regions. The empires of Satavahanas and Kushanas came to an end around 3rd century A.D and a new power emerged known as the Guptas.The Guptas made a great impact on Indian history not only by their political might and strength but also their great achievements in art, science, culture and literature.

Early Guptas: About the early Guptas not much is known. Albeit the Allahabad pillar inscription of Samudra Gupta mentions Sri Gupta and Gatotkacha as his anchestors.The Puranas mention that the early Guptas controlled the region along Ganga, Prayag, Saketa and Magadha. Chinese traveler I-Tsing who travelled India from 671-695 A.D refers to Sri Gupta as a builder of a temple at Gaya for Buddhist pilgrims.

Chandra Gupta I (320-340 A.D): Chandra Gupta I, said to have laid the foundation of the great Gupta era.He married the princess of Licchavis Kumaradevi, which was supposed to be a great move for his political career. He started issuing gold coins potraying the Lichhavis. Chandra Gupta introduced a new era, the Gupta era starting with his coronation in 320 A.D. He was the first king to adopt the title of Maharajadhiraja.

Samudra Gupta (340 -380 A.D): Samudra Gupta succeded his father in 340 A.D. He was a versatile genius, proficient not only in war but also is sastras.He was also called Kaviraja( king of poets). The Allahabad pillar inscription calls him a great musician, this is confirmed by his lyricist types of coins depicting him as playing lute (Veena).The Allahabad pillar inscription gives a detailed account of Samudra Gupta's career and personality.The inscription was composed by one of his official, Harisena and engraved on the Ashoka's pillar at Allahabad. In the Allahabad pillar inscription he proudly calls himself as Licchavis Dauitra meaning son of the daughter of Licchavis.
The military achievements of SamudraGupta contain a long list of kings and rulers defeated and subdued by him.He followed the policy of capturing the kings intially and releasing them from captivity subsequently. Then he re-installed those kings by showing royal mercy and won their allegiance.His important campaign was in South India.Altogether twelve kings and princes of south are listed in the inscription. For his south India campaign he proceeded through eastern and southern parts of Madhyadesa to Orrisa and then advanced along the eastern coast and reach Kanchi and beyond. And returned to his capital by way of Maharastra and Khandesh.
After these conquests he performed Ashwamedayajana and issued gold coins depicting sacrificial horse and bearing the legend.The Allahabad inscription also lists other political powers such as Kushanas, Sakas, Murundas, Simhalas( Sri Lanka). According to Chinese source, Megavarna, King of Sri Lanka sent an embassy to Samudra Gupta to build a monastery and guest house for Buddhist pilgrims at Bodh Gaya.

Chandra Gupta II (380 A.D - 413 A.D): The Gupta empire reached it glory both in terms of terrirtorial expansion and cultural excellence during the reign of Chandragupta II. He inherited a strong and consolidated empire from his father, which he further extended.He entered in to matrimonial alliance with Vakatakas and married his daughther Prabavathigupta to Rutrasena II of Vakataka dynasty. He concluded alliance with Vakatakas before waging war against the mighty Sakas. His foremost success was his victory against the Sakas dynasty. The annexation of Sakas dynasty comprising Gujarat and parts of Malwa not only strengthened Gupta dynasty but also brought the western sea ports. This gave a tremendous impetus to overseas trade and commerce.Ujjain, which was a great centre of trade,relegion and culture during that period became the second capital of Gupta Dynasty.

Perhaps after his victory over Sakas, he adopted the title of Vikramaditya meaning a great patroniser of learned men and a liberator who overthrew the yoke of foreign rule.ChandraGupta II issued 'dated silver coins' to commemorate his victory over Saka kshatrapas.The Mehrauli iron pillar inscription (near Qutub Minar) records the exploits of a king named Chandra who is said to have vanquished the group of enemies in Vanga(Bengal),perfumed the southern ocean by his prowess and overcome the Vahlikas(across the Indus river). This king Chandra is generally identified as Chandra Gupta II and it means that his kingdom extended from Bengal to Northwest frontiers. Other than his conquests, Chandra Gupta is remembered for his patronage of literature and arts and for the high standards of artistic and cultural life.Kalidas the great Sanskrit poet was a member of his court and Fa-Hien, a chinese pilgrim who visited Chandra Gupta's kingdom, collecting Buddhist manuscripts and studying called the country as a happy and prosperous one.

Kumara Gupta II (413 A.D - 455 A.D): Kumara Gupta enjoyed a reign of more than forty years and like his grand father he issued Aswamedha type of coins. His military achievements are not known, however he organised the administration of vast empire and maintained it's peace,prosperity and security for a long period of forty years.At the end of Kumara Gupta's reign the Gupta empire was challenged by Pushyamitra, a community lived on the banks of Narmada. But it was subdued by his son Skanda Gupta and peace was restored.

Skanda Gupta II (455 A.D - 467 A.D): Skanda Gupta's succession to throne was not a peaceful one and perhaps there was a struggle between him and his brother PuruGupta. Skanda Gupta reign seems to have full of wars and his greatest enemies were the Hunas, a ferocious barbarian tribe who lived in Central Asia. One branch of them known as white Hunas occupied the Oxus valley and advanced against both Persia and India. They crossed Hindukush, occupied Gandhara and defied the Gupta empire. Skanda Gupta inflicted such a terrible defeat upon them and they dared to disturb the Gupta empire for a period of half a century.An important event during the period of Skanda Gupta was the restoration and repair of the dam across the Sudarsana lake which had been built during the Chandra Gupta Maurya's reign. This lake was also previously repaired by the Saka Kshatrapa Rudradaman I.

Decline of Guptas  The Gupta Dynasty existed for more than 100 years after the death of Skanda Gupta and he was succeded by his brother Puru Gupta. Accounts about his achievements are not known. Thereafter the only Gupta ruler worthy to rule was Budha Gupta and he was succeded by unworthy rulers unable to handle rebellions of some governors and officials and Huna invasion. Though the Huna incasion was short lived in India, the Gupta empire suffered much from it. Gupta dynasty was attacked under the leadership of Toramana, and they conquered large parts of North India including Gwalior and Malwa. Toramana was succeded by his son Mihirkula who established his capital at Sakala. Hiuen-Tsang describes how Mihirkula invaded Magadha and defeated by Gupta king Baladhitya  and how his  life was saved by the intervention of queen mother of Magadha.


North and North west Part - 6

Parthians: The Parthians also known as Pahlavas were Iranian people. Their earliest king was Vonones, who captured power in Arachosia and Seistan. Vonones was succeeded by Spalirises.

Gondophernes (19-45 A.D) was the greatest of the Parthian rulers and was the master of Saka-Pahlava areas both in easter province of Iran and north western part of India. Pahlava rule ended when Kushanas moved in. Exacavations at Begram in Afghansitan have throwed light on large number of coins of Gondophernes.


North and North west Part 5

Kushanas: Chineses accounts mentions that Yueh-Chi were a nomadic tribe settled in North-western border of China

Struggle of Kushanas: Kushanas went in conflict with the neighbouring tribe of Hiung-nu and were defeated. They were force to move out of their land and could not move towards east because of China wall.Hence they move towards South and West. While moving west, they came in conflict with Wu-sun whom they defeated easily. It's here they were divided in to two groups little Yueh-chi and Great Yue-chi. The little Yue-chi group moved to Tibet and the great Yueh-chi group moved to India.
Then Yue-Chi met Sakas, who they displaced and settled down in the place of Sakas.It's here they gave up their nomadic life and adopted agriculture and settled way of life.

Perhaps in this area they were divided in to five branches.

Prominent kings of Kushanas:

Kadphises I: Kadphises I was the first to unite all the five branches and established his rule over Afghanistan.He is also called Dharmathida or Sachadharmathida, which is take to suggest that he was a Buddhist.

Kadphises II: Kadphises II was the succesor of Kadphises I and extended the Kushana territory upto Punjab and perhaps even in the Ganga-Yamuna Doab.He issued gold and copper coins and was devotee of Lord Siva. On some of his coins, Siva holding a trident and a bull are shown.

Kanishka: (78 -101A.D)Kadphises II was succeded by Kanishka and was one of the greatest ruler of Kushana empire. He ascended to throne about 78A.D.

Kanishka's empire extended from Khotan in the north-west to Benares in the east and Kashmir in the south to Saurastra and Malwa in the south. The capital of this empire was Purushapur(modern Peshawar). Coins have been found in all the above area.

Relegion and Scholars: Kanishka was the follower of Buddihism and the fourth Buddhist council held during his reign. Kanishka's court was adorned by the presence of scholars like Parsva, Vasumitra,Ashvaghosa,Charaka and Nagarjuna. During his reign Taxila and Mathura emerged as a great centre for art and culture.

After Kushana came Vashiska,Huvishka, Vasudeva and others. The last name suggests the complete Indiansisation of Kushanas. Kushanas continued to rule upto fourth century A.D, over small principalities, independently under some sovereign rulers.


North and North west Part 4

Meghavahanas of Kalinga: In the middle of the first century B.C, Kalinga rose to power under Kharevala the third ruler of Cheta dynasty. The only source of information about this king is the Hatigumpha inscription on Udaigiri hills near Bhubaneshwar. The Kharvela inscription is said to be a unique one. It gives the bio graphical accounts of the kings not in general terms, but year wise. Kharvela invaded Magadha twice during his reign. During his second campaign, harvela carried home an image of Jain tirthankara from Magadha, which had been previously taken away from Kalinga.The wealth he acquired during his campaign were spent to build a magnificient temple in Bhubaneswar. No details are heard about his sucessors.


North and North West Part 3

Yavanas (Indo-Greeks): Yavanas, also known as Indo-Greeks and their advent in India began with Alexander the Great. When Alexander died in Babylon, the two main areas Bactria and Partia(adjoining areas of Iran) started dis-integrating. His generals declared themselves as kings.

Diodotus the governor of Bactria, revolted against Greeks and proclaimed himself as king. The other notable Indo-Greek kings were Demetrius, Menander,Eucradites and Euthydemus.

Among all these kings, the notable was Menander (165-145 B.C) who ruled for almost 20 years. His capital was sakala(modern Silakot of Pakistan).His territory extended from Afghanistan to Uttar Pradesh in the east to Gujarat in the west. Menander was converted to Buddhism by Buddhist monk Nagasena. Menander asked Nagasena questions related to Buddhism and Philosophy and they are recorded in Milindapanho or Questions of Milinda. In the history of India, Ind0-Greek rulers were the first to have carried their potraits or names of the kings in the coins.


North and North west Part 2

Sakas: The Sakas also known as Scythians destroyed the rule of Indo-Greek rule in North-western India. The Sakas or Scythians were nomadic central asian tribes who were turned out of their home land (165 B.C) by Yueh-chi(Kushanas).The in-roads made by these tribes were due to the prevailing conditions in Central Asia and North-western China.

The sakas were divided in to five branches and established themselves in various parts of India.

One branch settled in Afghanistan
Second branch settled in Punjab with capital as Taxila.
The third branch settled in Mathura.
The fourth branch settled in Saurastra and Maharastra.
The fifth branch in Central India with Ujjain as it's capital.

Although Sakas ruled different parts of the country, the most prominent rulers emerged from Western and Central India.

Nahapana was the most prominent ruler of western India and his inscriptions were found in Maharastra and in the records of Satavahana.

Rudradaman emerged as the prominent ruler in central India, and his inscriptions were found in Junargh Rock. He undertook the repairs of Sudarsan Lake dam in Kathiawad, which was built by the provincial governor of Chandra Gupta Maurya.
Ujjaiyani was the capital of Rudradaman and became the centre of culture and education.

Saka Dynasty ended in the hands of Chandra Gupta II of the Gupta Dynasty about 390 A.D.


North and North west Part 1

Sunga Dynasty: The Mauryas were succeeded by the Sungas and they ruled for 112 years from 187 B.C to 75 B.C. Tradition affirms that through out the history of Sunga Dynasty, the high positions were occupied by Brahmans.

Sources mentioning this period:

Patanjali a contemporary of Pushyamitra mentions invasion of Yavanas

Kalidasa also mentions aboutVasumitra's conflict with Yavanas in his Malavikagnimitram.

Pushyamitra Sunga(187-148 B.C): It is said that Pushyamitra Sunga killed his king Brihadratha while he was inspecting the guard of honour. The army did not revolt against him, which shows they were loyal to his Senapathi instead their king. Even after becoming the king he retained the title of Senapathi. The first event of Pushyamitra was the annexation of Vidharba by defeating Yajasena. He also faced the invading army of Yavanas who reached upto Pataliputra.It's known from the literature that Pushyamitra performed Ashvamedha after this war.

According to Divyavadhana, Pushyamitra persecuted Buddhism. But in the lights of the fact that Stupas at Sanchi and Bharhut were enlarged and provided with gates. So this allegation does not seem to be true.

Agnimithra Sunga (148-140 B.C): Pushyamitra was succeded by his son Agnimitra who had gained statecraft while serving as governor of Vidisha under his father.No events on his reign were known, nor any inscriptions or coins.

Puranas speak of ten kings of Sunga Dynasty. Bhagavatha, one of the later kings of Sunga Dynasty; in whose court Heliodorus, the ambassador of Antialkidas dwelled.

Sungas were replaced by Kanvas about whom not much is known.


Deccan and South India 235 B.C - 850 A.D - Part 5

Introduction: The Pallavas,Pandyas and the Cholas were the major powers in the southern peninsula.

Pallava Dynasty: The Pallavas played an important role after the fall of Satavahanas from the 300A.D until the rise of the Cholas in the 900 A.D.
Pallavas were divided in to two groups, the early Pallavas and the later Pallavas. The early Pallavas were mentioned in the Tamil and Sanskrit inscriptions. Their territory extended from
the western to the eastern sea. Simhavishnu was the king, who ruled during the 600 A.D

Mahendravarman I (600-630 A.D): Mahendravarman, son of Simhavishnu and was a versatile genius composed a play "Mattavilas Prahasana"(The delight of the drunkards) in Sanskrit.
In his time, scooping the entire temple out of a solid rock was introduced of which the rathas of Mahabalipuram was the finest examples.He was the contemporary of Chalukyan king Pulakesin II and
Harshavardhana of Kanauj. This period was marked with clash between Harsha and Pulakesin II on one hand and Pulakesin II and Mahendravarman II on the other. In both Pulakesin emerged vicotrious.

Narasimhavarman I: Narasimhavarman I was the son and the succesor of Mahendravarman I, who defeated Pulakesin II and advanced as far as Badami and occupied it after a siege.
After the victory, he assumed the title of Vatapikonda. He is also said to have defeated the Cheras, Cholas, Pandyas and the Kalabhrs.Narasimhavarman gave asulum to a Ceylon prince Manavarman and sent
two naval expedition to Ceylon to help him secure the throne.
He was one of the most powerful rulers of South India, who raised the power and prestige of Pallavas as far as Ceylon and South East Asia.

Narasimhavarman II
( 695A.D - 722 A.D): The reign of Narasimhavarman II was peaceful. He initiated a particular style of temple architecture known as the Dravidian style.
He also sent embassies to Chinese emperor.

Decline of Pallavas: In the first half of the eigth century, the Pallavas faced attacks from the Chalukya King Vikramaditya II who is said to have over run Kanchi thrice. They also suffered attacks from the Pandyas and the Rastrakutas during the reign of Dantivarman. Pallavas were succeded by Cholas, destined to be the greatest imperial power in the south, whose influence and power felt by Ceylon and South East Asian countries.


Deccan and South India 235 B.C - 850 A.D - Part 4

Chalukyas of Badami :The Vakatakas were followed by the Chalukyas of Badami. The Chalukyas began with a base at Badami and Aihole, then they moved northwards and annexed areas around Nasik and upper Godavari region.

Pulakesin II (610 A.D - 640 A.D): Pulakesin II was the greatest king of Chalukyan dynasty. He was the contemporary of Harshavardhana of Kanauj. The detailed account of his victories as well as the history of Chalukyas is recorded in the Aihole inscription composed by Ravikirti.

Vishnuvardhan: Vishnuvardhan, son of Pulakesin II founded the eastern branch of Chalukyas, with it's capital first at Pistapur and later at Vengi. This branch remained independent from the western branch and excercised uninterrupted sway over the kingdom up to the twelfth Century.


Deccan and South India 235 B.C - 850 A.D - Part 3

The contemporaries of Chalukya and the Pallavas in the Deccan were the Gangas and the Kadambas.

Gangas: (350 - 550 A.D)The Western Gangas, so called to distunguish themselves from eastern Ganga of Kalinga, ruled over large parts of Mysore. The region was called after them as Gangavadi.
They had matrimonial alliances with Chalukyas of Badami, Pallavas and the Rastrakutas.

Konkanivarman Dharmamahadhiraja: 
Konkanivarman Dharmamahadhiraja probably ruled in the second half of the fourth century A.D and had his capital at Kolar.

Duruvinita: Duruvinita was a prominent ruler and scholar of Kannada and Sanskrit literature.

Sripurusa: Sripurusa was another prominent ruler of the dynasty and shifted his capital Manyapura and his kingdom was known as Srirajya.

Kadamba Dynasty: Kadamba Dynasty was founded by Mayursarman, a learned brahman, it is said that he went to receive education at Kanchi, but was insulted by officials at Kanchi.
In order avenge, he took up military profession and defeated the Pallava officials. The Kadambas ruled from Banavasi from 345 - 365 A.D. Kakustavarman (435 -455 A.D) was the most powerful king and administrator of the Kadamaba dynasty, established matrimonial alliances with the Gangas and the Guptas.After his death Kadambas split in to two, one ruling from the Banavasi and the other from Triparvata. The ruler from Triparvata, Krishnavarma I united the family, but Chalukyas of Badami annexed their kingdom around 540 A.D


Deccan and South India 235 B.C - 850 A.D - Part 2

Vakatakas:  After the Satavahana rule in the Deccan in the first half of the third century A.D, the Vakatakas rose to power in 250 A.D. Vindyasakti was the founder of the Vakatakas dynasty. He was succeded by his son Pravarasena, who was the real founder of Vakataka empire in central and western India. He was the only ruler in Vakataka dynasty to have accorded the title of Samrat. He performed Vajapeya and four Ashwamedhayajanas.The successors of Pravarasena divided the empire in to two parts, the main branch and the Vatasagulma branch. The importance of their political might was felt by ChandraGupta II, who married his daughter Prabahavati Gupta to Rudrasena II of Vakataka.


Deccan and South India 235 B.C - 850 A.D - Part 1

Satavahanas of Deccan: While North India was reeling under turmoil after the fall of Mauryas, there emerged a powerful kingdom in Deccan(covering Maharastra and Andhra). During the Mauryan empire, they were part of the empire. But after the fall of Mauryan empire they declared themselves free. Founder of this dynasty was Simuka(235-213 B.C) and was succeded by his brother Krishna.

Sources mentioning this period:

Aiteraya Brahmana

Greek Writer pliny mentions about Andhras.

Notable rulers of Satavahanas

Satakarni: satakarni seems to made extensive conquests and performed two Ashwamedhayajanas. It appears he conquered western Malwa, Vidharba and Anupa. He is also referred to as Lord of Dakshinapatha. His name also appears on one of the gateways of Sanchi stup.It's well known that he had made substantial donations for renovation of Sanchi stupa and other monastries.

Satakarni II: Satakarni II seems to have ruled for 56 years. He wrested Malwa from the Sungas. After Satakarni II, Satavahanas received a set back and Nahapana seems to have conquered Satavahana territory.A large number of Nahapana coins have been found in Nasik area.

Gautamiputra Satakarni: Satavahanas became powerful again during the reign of Gautamiputra Satakarni. He overthrew Nahapana and restructered large number of his silver coins.He also recovered Northern Maharastra, Vidharbaha, Malwa, Konkan from the Sakas. Satakarni dedicated a cave in Nasik and granted land to ascetics. Gautamiputra was the first king bearing the matronym and was followed by all his successors.

His achievements are engraved in an inscription of Queen Mother, Gautami Balasara in Nasik.

Vasisthiputra Sri Pulmavi: Gautamiputra was succeded by Sri Pulmavi in 120 A.D. The coins and inscriptions of Pulmavi have been found Andhra and this means that Andhra was part of the Satavahan Empire in the second century A.D. In order to evade the on-slaught of Sakas, Pulmavi married the daughter of Sri Rudradaman. But Rudradaman defeated the next Satvahana ruler twice and seized Konkan and Anupa.

Sri Yajna Satakarni: Sri Yajna Satakarni was the last greatest ruler of the Satavahanas, his inscriptions have been found in Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Maharastra. He ruled over a large kingdom extending from Bay of Bengal to Arabian sea, thus re-conquered the lands which were conquered from his predecessors. Maritime trade and activities during his reign were indicated from the coins, depicting Fish and conch.

The succesors of Yajna were unworthy to rule and Satavahana dynasty dis-integrated.


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