The period from the decline of the Mauryas to the rise of the Guptas (2nd century BCE to 3rd century CE) is known in Indian history as the “post-Mauryan period.”
The Sungas ruled the area of Magadha from 185 BC to 73 BC. The Sunga Empire was established after the Mauryas. The capital of the Sungas was Pataliputra and Vidisha (Besnagar). Pushyamitra Sunga was the founder of the Sunga dynasty. Pushyamitra Sunga‘s son, Agnimitra Sunga, was the hero of Kalidasa’s drama Malavikagnimitra. During this time, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and the Mahabhasya were written. The Kanvas succeeded the Sungas in about 73 BC.
- Pushyamitra Sunga was the Brahmin army chief of Brihadratha, the last king of the Mauryas.
- He killed Brihadratha during a military parade and settled on the throne in 185 or 186 BC.
- This had been an internal rebellion against the last Mauryan king, according to some historians. Some claim it has been a Brahminic reaction to Buddhism’s pervasive Mauryan patronage.
- The capital city of Pushyamitra Sunga was Pataliputra.
- He successfully defeated attacks by two Kings of Greece, namely Menander and Demetrius.
- He thwarted a Kalinga king Kharavela assault, too.
- He triumphed over Vidarbha.
- The challenge was to protect his kingdom against the invasions of the Bactrian Greeks from the northwest.
- He performed two Ashvamedha sacrifices.
- Buddhist sources refer to him as the persecutor of Buddhism and a destroyer of stupas.
- Divyavadana mentions that Pushyamitra Shunga sent an army to persecute Buddhist monks as far as Sakala (Sialkot) in Punjab.
- The Ashokavadana asserts that Pushyamitra announced a reward for killing Buddhist monks in Shakala.
- Vibhasa, another 2nd-century text, states that Pushyamitra burned Buddhist scriptures, killed Buddhist monks, and destroyed 500 monasteries in and around Kashmir.
- Archaeological evidence shows destruction to Buddhist establishments at Takshashila and the Sanchi stupa in the 2nd century BC (that is, during Pushyamitra’s reign), and the Buddhist ruins at Kaushambi, indicated that the destruction of the local monastery might take place during the reign of Pushyamitra Shunga.
- Brahmins did not suffer during the Mauryan rule. Ashoka’s edicts mention the Brahmins before Shramanas. The appointment of a Brahmin general (Pushyamitra) signals that the Brahmins were honored at the Mauryan court.
- The politically active Buddhists might have supported the Indo-Greek rivals of Pushyamitra, which enraged him to persecute them.
- He performed Vedic sacrifices like Ashvamedha, Rajasuya, and Vajapeya.
- Pushyamitra Sunga patronized the Sanskrit grammarian Patanjali.
- According to the Puranas, he ruled for 36 years. He died in 151 BC.
- He was the son of Pushyamitra, who had succeeded him to the throne.
- He ruled from approximately 151 BC until 141 BC
- By this time, Vidarbha broke away from the empire.
- Agnimitra was the hero of Kalidasa’s poem, Malavikagnimitram.
- His son Vasumitra succeeded him as king.
- Vasumitra’s successors are not known.
- Various names crop up in several accounts such as Andhraka, Pulindaka, Vajramitra, and Ghosha.
- The last Sunga king was Devabhuti. Bhagabhadra preceded him.
- Vasudeva Kanva, the minister of Devabhuti, killed him around 73 BC. After this, the Kanva dynasty was established at Magadha from 73 to 28 BC.
Many Puranas like Vayu, Brahamānda, Matsya, Vishnu, and Bhagavata Puranas are related to these periods. The Sungas revived Brahmanism and horse sacrifice. They promoted the growth of Vaishnavism and the Sanskrit language. According to the Heliodorus pillar, Indo-Greeks, and the Shungas seem to have reconciled and exchanged diplomatic missions around 110 BC.
Effects of Sunga Rule
Hinduism was revived under the Sungas. The caste system was revived with the rise of the Brahmanas. Another significant development at the time of Sunga’s reign was the emergence of various mixed castes and the integration of foreigners into Indian society. The language of Sanskrit gained more importance during this time. Even some Buddhist works were there in Sanskrit during this time. The Sungas patronized art and architecture. There was an increase in the human figures and symbols used in art during this period.
The Sunga dynasty was established in 185 B.C. The center of the Sunga Empire was Magadha which extended to Malwa in Central India. Art under the Sunga period comprises a large part of the decoration of the stone railings and gateways of Buddhist stupas originally started under king Ashoka, at Sanchi in Bhopal. Bharhut in Nagod state and Amravati on the Krishna river.
The Mathura school of art flourished during this period as well:
- The main theme was Buddha – depicted as a Human
- Purely indigenous style
- The material used in this school was the spotted red sandstone
- The Standing Buddhas of the Sravasthi Sarnath and Kausambhi belong to this school.
- The halo around the head of Buddha was profusely decorated
The Kanva dynasty was founded in 75 BC by Vasudeva Kanva, the Devabhuti minister, and the last Sunga king. The Kanvas were Brahmins and considered themselves descendants of Rishi Kanva. This period witnessed the rule of four kings, and the rule extends for about 45 years. The four Kings are Vasudeva, Bhumimitra, Narayana, and Susarman. The Kanva ruler permitted the Sunga kings to continue their rule in obscurity in the corner of their former dominions. The Magadha Empire was almost finished by this time. At that time, the northwest region was under the Greeks, and parts of the Gangetic plain were under different rulers’ territories that have been limited to the Sunga law regions.
Susarman had been the last king of the Kanva dynasty. He was killed by the Satavahana king. By 30 BC, both the Kanvas and Sungas were swept away by the southern forces, and the eastern Malwa region was incorporated within the ‘Satavahanas’ dominions.
The Satavahanas dynasty ruled central India from 235 BC to 220 CE. They are also termed Andhras in Puranas. The Satavahanas were among the earliest adopters of Telugu. The capital cities of the Satavahana dynasty were Kotilingala (Karimnagar), Amravati, and Paithan. The Satavahana dynasty was founded by Simuka (c. 230 – 207 BCE). The important rulers of the Satavahana dynasty are Satakarni and Gautamiputra Satakarni.
The Satavahana dynasty king Hala (c. 20 – 24 C.E.) is known for compiling a collection of Maharashtri poems called Gaha Sattasai. The Satavahanas (c. 200 CE.) built the Buddhist stupa at Amaravati. The Satavahana kingdom mainly comprised modern-day Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, and Maharashtra. At times, their rule included parts of Karnataka, Gujarat, and Madhya Pradesh.
They were the first native Indian rulers who issued their coins with the portraits of the rulers. The practice of issuing such coins was started by Gautamiputra Satakarni, who derived the method from the Western Satraps after defeating them. The coin legends were in the Prakrit language. Some reverse coin legends are in other languages such as Telugu, Tamil, and Kannada. They patronized the Prakrit language more than the Sanskrit language. They promoted both Buddhism and Brahmanism, although they were Hindus, and they claimed Brahminical status. They successfully defended their territories from foreign invaders and fought many battles with the Sakas (Western Satraps).
Satakarni I (180 – 124 BC)
Satakarni I became the third king of Satavahana. Satakarni I was the first Satavahana king, who used military conquests to extend his kingdom. He conquered Kalinga upon Kharavela’s death. He also forced the Sungas back into Pataliputra. He ruled present-day Madhya Pradesh too. He had assumed the title of ‘King of Dakshinapatha’ after annexing the Godavari Valley. His queen was Nayanika, who wrote the inscription of Naneghat, which identifies the king as Dakshinapathapati. He performed Ashvamedha and revived Vedic Brahminism in the Deccan.
- King Hala compiled the Gatha Saptashati, also known as Gaha Sattasai in the Prakrit language.
- The book is a collection of poems having mostly love as the theme.
- Nearly forty poems are attributed to Hala himself.
- Brihatkatha was composed by Hala’s minister Gunadhya.
Gautamiputra Satakarni (106 – 130 AD or 86 – 110 AD)
- Gautamiputra Satakarni is known as the greatest king of the Satavahana dynasty.
- Gautamiputra Satakarni defeated the Greeks, Pahlavas (Indo-Parthians), and the Sakas.
- His kingdom extended from the Krishna river in the south to Malwa and Saurashtra in the north and from Berar in the east to the Konkan in the west.
- Gautamiputra Satakarni defeated Nahapana, an important king of the Western Satraps.
- He is also known as Ekabrahmana.
- His mother’s name was Gautami Balasri, and so he was called Gautamiputra, which means son of Gautami.
- Gautamiputra Satakarni’s son Vasisthiputra Sri Pulamavi or Pulumavi II ruled after the Gautamiputra Satakarni.
- He was the son of Gautamiputra Satakarni.
- He extended the Satavahana dynasty’s power up to the mouth of the Krishna river.
- He issued coins on which ships were inscribed.
- The coins reveal the naval power and maritime trade of the Satavahanas.
The Decline of the Satavahanas
- The last great ruler of Satavahanas was Yajna Sri Satakarni. His reign is dated differentially: CE 152-181, CE 165-195, CE 170-199, or CE 174-203. He regained some of the territories lost to Shakas (the Western Satraps) under Vashishtiputra Satakarni. He defeated the Western Satraps and reconquered their southern regions in western and central India.
- There are two inscriptions of Yajna Sri Satakarni at Kanheri, Maharashtra.
- Pulamavi IV is believed as the last king of the main Satavahanas dynasty.
- Pulamavi IV ruled until 225 AD.
- After his death, the empire was divided into five smaller kingdoms.
- Silver coins called Karshapanas were used for trade.
- The most important part of the Satavahanas was Kalyani on the western Deccan.
- Gandakasela and Ganjam on the east coast were the other significant seaports.
- The Satavahanas patronized Brahmanism and Buddhism
- They built chaityas and viharas. Vasishthiputra Pulamavi repaired the old Amaravati stupa.
- Their architecture in Nagarjunakonda was also notable.
- Satavahanas revived Brahmanism with the performance of various sacrifices, including the Ashvamedha and the Rajasuya.
- They also patronized the Prakrit language and literature.
The Chetis of Kalinga
- The Hathigumpha inscription near Bhubaneswar, Orissa, of Kharavela, the third ruler of the dynasty, provides information about the Chetis.
- It is said that Kharavela had defied the Satavahana ruler, Satakarni, and became free of the Magadha empire. He pushed his southern conquests beyond the Godavari.
- Kharavela was a follower of Jainism and patronized Jain monks for whom he constructed caves in the Udaigiri.
- This inscription was engraved by King Kharavela (the third Cheti king).
- Other names of the Cheti dynasty are Cheta or Chetavamsa, and Mahameghavahana.
North-West India had various small principalities such as Kambojas, Gandharas, etc. which constantly fought with each other. The area did not have powerful kingdoms like Magadha and thus could be easily raided through passes in Hindukush.
Foreign Invasions after Post-Mauryan Period
Foreign Invasion in India has affected the Indian culture, society, and traditions of ancient India. India is abundant with natural resources, and it is one of the reasons it has attracted empires from various civilizations. There is a long list of Invaders of India who have invaded with the motive to capture the land of richness. The Foreign Invasions in India, like the Greek and Persian invasions, were the most significant in ancient Indian history.
Iranian Invasion – 518 BC
Iranian ruler Darius penetrated into NW India in 516 BC and annexed Punjab, West Indus, and Sindh. This was the 20th province of Iran and contributed 1/3rd of the total revenue of Iran due to its fertile lands. Xerxes, the successor of Darius, employed a large number of Indians in the war against the Greeks.
Foreign Invasions in India Results of the contacts
- It gave impetus to trade and commerce.
- With this, the Kharoshthi script came into India.
- Iranian influence is clearly seen in Ashokan sculptures.
- Iranian invasion eventually led to Alexander’s invasion.
In 333 BC and 331 BC, Alexander defeated the last king of the Darius dynasty, Xerxes. Alexander crossed the Hindukush mountains in eastern Afghanistan in 327 BC after he had invaded the domain of the Persian king.
After annexing Iran, Alexander moved via the Khyber Pass into India. Ambhi, Taxila’s ruler, readily submitted. He met Porus at Jhelum where he defeated him in the Battle of Hydaspes but later restored his kingdom to him. Alexander was marching to the river Beas, but his army declined to follow him. From 326-325 BC, he remained in India, after which he withdrew.
Result of the Contact
Direct communication was formed between India and Greek through four distinct Land and Sea routes, which led to increased trade and commerce. Cities established: Alexandria in Kabul, Boukephala beside Jhelum, and Alexandria in Sindh. Alexanders’ expeditions have given us clearly dated records of his campaign, valuable geographical accounts, and information about Indian society and economy.
- The Indo-Scythians were a branch of Scythians who migrated into Bactria, Afghanistan, and northwest India from southern Siberia.
- After their nomadic flight from Central Asia because of conflict with Chinese tribes, the Indo-Scythians migrated and invaded India.
- The Indo-Scythian rule was established in India around 200 BC and lasted until 400 CE.
- Maues (Moga) was the first ruler while Rudrasimha III (who belonged to the Western Satraps) was the last.
- Central Asian Scythian invasions had a profound influence not only in India but also in Bactria, Parthia, and Rome.
- The Sakas were a particular Indo-Scythian tribe. However, all Indo-Scythians came to be known as Sakas in Indian literature.
- Vikram Samvat started in 57 BC when a King called Vikramaditya in Ujjain defeated the Shakas.
- Rudradaman I (AD 130-150) was a famous king who ruled over western India. He repaired the Sudarshana lake in Kathiawar.
- The Junagarh inscription, written in 150 CE, is the first major inscription that was written in Sanskrit. Saka ruler Rudra Daman I wrote it.
- Indo-Scythians were Buddhists and followed Indo-Greek practices to a very large extent.
- Indo-Scythian holdings in India were spread mainly into four regions:
- Western Satraps (around Gujarat)
- Northern Satraps (around Mathura)
- Gandhara and Punjab
- The Bimaran Casket is one of the earliest descriptions of the Buddha. It is attributed to Indo-Scythian King Azes II (around 15 BC).
- The Mathura Lion Capital (1st CE) is also attributed to the Indo-Scythians.
- The Indo-Parthians were a branch of the Parthians who, in the first century, ruled north-western India.
- They ruled today’s Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haryana, Punjab, and Kashmir from about 12 BC to around 100 CE.
- Gondophernes I (Takht-i-Bahi inscription) founded the Indo-Parthian kingdom.
- After his death, the empire faced continuous fragmentation.
- They had Zoroastrianism as their primary religion.
- It is believed that St. Thomas had come to India during this period for the propagation of Christianity.
Kushanas was a branch of the Yuezhi tribe with central Asia as its original home. They came to Bactria first to displace the Sakas. Kujula Kadphises or Kadphises I was the founder (60 CE) of the Kushana dynasty. He occupied the valley of Kabul and issued coins in his name. His son Wima Kadphises or Kadphises II controlled all of Northwest India as far as Mathura was concerned. Kushans issued gold coins with high-sounding titles like the ‘Lord of the Whole World’.
Main Kushan Rulers
Heraios was probably the first king of the Kushan dynasty. He may have been an ally of the Greeks, as he shared the same style of coinage. The main Kushan rulers were the following:
Kujula Kadphises set himself up as king of a kingdom called Guishuang. He invaded Anxi (Parthia) and took the Gaofu (modern-day Kabul)
- Vima Kadphises was the son of Vima Taktu (Ruler of Kushan in 80-105 CE) and the father of Kanishka I. He issued an extensive series of coins and inscriptions.
- Kadphises invaded Hindu Kush’s southern area, captured Kabul, and defeated Gandhara and the Taxila empire.
- The chief Kadphises later died in 78 AD.
- By that time Kushans had replaced the Indo-Greek prince Saka and Indo-Parthian groups along India’s frontiers.
- Kadphises’ successor was Vima Kadphsis, who controlled great parts of North India.
- Kadphises’ coins indicate that his authority extended to Banaras, and also to the basin of the Indus.
- This king’s valor spread from the Narmada to Saka Satraps in Malwa, and his authority was recognized by Western India too.
Kanishka (78 – 120 AD)
- The rule of Kanishka I, the second great Kushan emperor, and fifth Kushan king, who flourished for at least 28 years from 127
- The Kushan Empire saw rising success, especially when having contacts with Rome, during the 2nd century, and with China during the 1st and 2nd centuries.
- Kanishka was the founder of the Saka era which starts in 78 AD.
- He conquered Magadha and extended his power as far as Pataliputra and Bodh Gaya.
- According to Kalhana, Kanishka invaded Kashmir and occupied it. Kanishka’s coins are found in many places like Mathura, Sravasti, Kausambi, and Benares; also, he fought against the Chinese and acquired some territories from them.
- Kanishka incorporated the Kashgar, Yarkand, and Khotan territories into his Kanishka empire, a large one stretching from Gandhara in the west to Benares in the east, and from Kashmir in the north to Malwa in the south.
- His capital was Purushapura or Peshawar of the modern-day. Mathura was another important town in his empire.
The Gandhara region at the core of the Kushan empire was home to a multiethnic society tolerant of religious differences. Desirable for its strategic location, with links to the overland silk routes and links to the ports on the Arabian Sea, Gandhara had suffered many attacks during its long history — by the Achaemenid Persians, by Alexander the Great (327/26–325/24 BC), by the Mauryans from India, the Seleucid Empire, Graeco-Bactrian kings and their Indo-Greek successors (3rd-2nd centuries BC), as well as Scythians.
Kanishka and Buddhism
- Kanishka followed and embraced Buddhism in the early part of his rule. However, his coins exhibited not only the images of Buddha but also Greek and Hindu gods. It reflected Kanishka’s tolerance towards other religions. In the age of Kanishka, Mahayana Buddhism came into vogue.
- Buddhist scriptures are full of praise for the Kushan Kanishka, “King of Kings” (circa 100 AD), whose benevolent patronage during his lifetime embraced Buddhism like no other.
- Kanishka provided support to both the Greco-Buddhist Art school in Gandhara and the Hindu Art school in Mathura.
- The Kanishka stupa at Peshawar was his greatest contribution to Buddhist architecture.
- Kanishka had also sent missionaries to Central Asia and China for the propagation of the new faith
- He patronized Buddhist scholars such as Nagarjuna, Asvagosha, and Vasumitra.
- Asvaghosha had been a great philosopher, poet, and playwright. He was the author of Buddhacharita.
- Nagarjuna from south India adorned the court of Kanishka.
- He also patronized the famous Ancient Indian physician Charaka.
- He also convened the Fourth Buddhist Council to discuss matters relating to Buddhist theology and the doctrine of Buddhism.
- It was kept under Vasumitra’s presidency at the Kundalavana monastery near Srinagar, in Kashmir. Approximately 500 monks attended the Council.
- The Council prepared an authoritative commentary on the Tripitakas, and it gave the final form to the Mahayana doctrine.
Gandhara School of Art
Gandhara art school was centered in the territory of north-western India, in and around Peshawar. During the First and Second Centuries A.D., the best Gandhara sculpture was made. It originated during the reign of Indo-Greek rulers, but the Sakas and Kushanas, especially Kanishka, were the real patrons of this school of art. Gandhara art was a mixture of elements from both Indian and Graeco-Roman.
Salient Features of Gandhara Art are:
- It paid minute attention to physical features like muscles, mustache, and curly hair.
- Thick drapery was there with large and bold fold lines.
- Rich carving, elaborate ornamentation, and symbolic expressions.
- The height of the stupa was raised, and ornamentation was added to the structure of the stupa.
Mathura School of Art
- It flourished during the first century AD.
- On indigenous lines, Mathura art school was created. The pictures of the Buddha show the spiritual feeling on his face that was largely absent in Gandhara school.
Successors of Kanishka and the End of Kushana Rule:
The last important ruler of Kushana was Vasudeva. The Kushana empire was reduced in its rule to a very great extent. Most of his inscriptions are found near Mathura. It is said that he had been a worshipper of Shiva.
Decline of Kushans
The Kushan empire was divided into western and eastern halves. The Western Kushans (in Afghanistan) were soon under the Persian Sassanid Empire and lost Bactria and other territories. Mid-4th century, Kushans were subjugated by the Gupta Empire under Samudragupta. These remnants of the Kushan empire were finished in the 5th century by the invasions of the White Hunas, and later by the expansion of Islam. Kushan Empire remained one of the most significant Dynasties which ruled over the land of Jammu & Kashmir ever.