200 BCE - 300 CE : The Post Mauryan Period marked with emergence of many new kingdoms - Part -1

March 12, 2018

Whenever a large Kingdom falls, many new small kingdoms emerge to occupy that space. This is evident with the period post Mauryan disintegration which led to emergence of Shungas in the centre of Indian subcontinent, Greeks and Kushanas in the North West, Satvahanas to the south and many other small kingdoms who all contributed to creation of Indian history and culture as we know it. 


Sources for the given time period:

  1. Literature:

    • This period marked the beginning of Sanskrit drama.

    • Ashvaghosha's Books:

      • Sariputra-prakrana:

        • It is woven around the conversion of Maudgalayana and Sariputra by Buddha.

      • Saundarananda

      • Buddhacharita.

        • These two are also Buddhist texts.

    • Medical work of Charaka and Sushruta.

    • Sangam Poetry.

    • Works of Arrian, Strabo and Pliny the Elder.

  2. Archaeology:

    • Settlements are often fortified and show elements of planning and a considerable use of burnt brick.

    • Pottery include

      • Wheel turned red ware of medium fabric, frequently stamped and incised designs.

      • Royal inscriptions reflect transition from Prakrit towards Sanskrit.

      • Earliest Tamil inscriptions made their appearance.

  3. Numismatics:

    • Indo-Greeks introduced bilingual and bi-script legends on their die-struck coins.

    • Kushans minted large quantities of gold coins, as well as copper coins of low denominations.

    • In the Deccan, Satvahanas issued coins of silver, copper, lead and potin.

    • Roman gold coins flowed into Peninsular India in large quantities in the course of flourishing Indo-Roman trade interactions.

    • Merchant guilds issued coins called negama(nigama) which reflect their power and authority.

    • "City coins" were issued by the urban administration of cities such as Tripuri, Ujjayini, Kaushambi, Vidisha. Varanasi, Taxila etc.

 Brief Political History of North India

  1. The Shungas:

    • Pushyamitra, commander in chief of Mauryan Army, killed the last Mauryan king Brihadratha in 187 BCE.

    • Kalidasa's Malvika-Agnimitra describes, Agnimitra, son of Pushyamitra. Shunga's clashed with Bactrian Greeks.

    • Foreigners were called as yavanas.

    • Patanjali mentions sacrifices performed for Pushyamitra. He performed ashvamedha yagya.

    • Divyavadana gives stories of Pushyamitra's cruelty and his animosity towards Buddhism.Last ruler was Devabhuti.

  2. Indo-Greeks:

    • Bactria is the ancient name of the area lying to the south of the Oxus river and north-west of the Hindu Kush mountain, and corresponds to the northern part of modern Afghanistan.

    • They issued large number of coins.

    • They gave birth to Gandhara school of Art.

  3. Shaka-Pahlavas or Scytho-Parthians.

    • The accession of Shaka-Pahlava king Azes I  to the throne marks the Vikarama era of 58/57 BCE.

  4. The Kushanas:

    • Accession of Kanishka to the throne in 78 CE marks the beginning of Shaka era.

    • Kanishka was a great patron of Buddhism.

    • Kushana king used the title Devaputra.

    • Kartikeya was the tutelary deity.

  5. Shaka Kshatrapas of Western India.

    • Rudradaman I is known for his Junagarh inscription which describe his conquests.

  6. Satvahanas:

    • Important king is Gautamiputra Satkarni.

    • We see use of Matronym in the kingdom, however it should not be confused with Matriarchal society.

    • Kharvela, the Chedi king of Kalinga claims in his Hatigumpha inscription to have defied a king named Satkarni.

    •  Naganika's inscription in the Naneghat cave describe him as lord of Dakshinapatha.

    • Satavahana king, Hala authored the Gatha Sattasai, a collection of 700 erotic poems in the Maharashtri Prakrit dialect.

    • An inscription by Gautami Balashri, mother of Gautamiputra Satkarni, describes Gautamiputra as destroyer of the Shakas, Pahlavas, Yavanas, uprooter of Kshatriyas and as the restorer of the glory of the Satvahanas.

    • Coins of King Yajnashri Satakarni depict ships, some single masted and otherrs double masted.

    • Satvahanas claimed Brahmana descent and anchored themselves to the Brahmanical Vedic tradition.

 Brief Political History of South India:

  1. Cholas:

    • Capital: Uraiyur.

    • Geography: Lower Kaveri valley corresponding to modern Tanjore and Trichnopoly district of Tamil Nadu.

    • Emblem: Tiger

    • Politics:

      • Important king is Karikala.

      • He is credited with defeating a confederacy of Pandyas, Cheras and their allies at the battle of Venni.

  2. Cheras:

    • Capital: Karuvur

    • Geography: On the Kerala coast.

    • Emblem: Bow

    • Politics:

      • Udiyanjeral is the earliest known King. His son Nedunjeral Adan defeated seven crowned kings and won the rank of Adhiraj.

      • Another king named Senguttuvan is named in Silappadikaran.

  3. Pandyas:

    • Capital: Madurai

    • Geography: Valleys of Tamraparni and Vaigai, corresponding roughly to modern Tirunelveli, Madurai, Ramnad district and South Travancore.

    • Emblem: Fish.

​Religious Practices of the time:

  1. Worship of Yaksha, Yakshis, Nagas and Nagis:

    • Yakshas were deities connected with water, fertility, trees, forest and the wilderness.

    • Over the time they turned from the benevolent, powerful deity to a terrifying, demonic creatures, reduced to the position of subsidiary attendant figure associated more with fertility than the wealth.

    • Shalabhanjikas- Sensuous sculptural representation of women grasping the branch of a tree were yakshis.

    • Yaksha figure found in Besnagar and Pawaya in MP in their left hand, indicating their connection with wealth.

    • Yaksha Manibhadra found at Parkham near Mathura. He was a deity of merchant and travelers.

  2. Vedic Ritual:

    1. At Sanghol in Ludhiana, a religious complex containiing a number of fire altars was revealed. It contained ash, loose soil, wood charcoal, charred grains, seeds and fruits. Seals and sealings werea also found in the area.

  3. Shaivism:

    1. Mukha-lingas i.e. lingas with one or more faces of god carved on them also became popular.

    2. At Bhuteshwar in Mathura, we found a linga on a platform under a pipal tree encircled by a railing, being worshipped by two winged creatures.

    3. In South, Murugan (Skanda-Karttikeya) became popular. One of the temple at Nagarjunakonda was dedicated to him.

    4. Female deities were associated with fertility, child birth and child protection.

    5. Serpents in the form of Nagas and Nagis were connected with water and fertility.

    6. There is an elaborate brick and stone naga temple at Sonkh near Mathura. Another is at Maniyar Math near Rajgriha.

  4.  Emergence of Mahayana Buddhism:

    • Mahayana means the greater vehicle while Hinayana is known as lesser vehicle. The terms are coined by Mahayanists.

    • Mahayana and non-Mahayana continued to live in same monastery. It is confirmed by Fahien and Hieun Tsang.

    • Difference between Hinayana and Mahayana Buddhism:

      • Mahayana venerated and worshipped images of Bodhisattvas while Hinayana did not. Hinayana considered veneration of stupas and relics meritorious but not essential. Whereas Mahayana attached great importance to devotion of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. This gradually shifted from veneration of symbols to the worship of images of many Buddhas and bodhisattvas.

      • There was an increased use of Sanskrit in Mahayana sect.

      • Hinayana considered attaining Nibbana and becoming an arhat as the highest goal while Mahayana considered it as a lesser goal. As per Mahayana, the ultimate goal is following the path of Bodhisattva and attaining Buddhahood.

    • Arhat is one who strives to attain nibbana, and having achieved this goal for himself, disappears from the cycle of samsara. The Bodhisattva on the other hand is one who has attained wisdom but decides to refrain from taking the final step into nibbana choosing to actively engage with the world for eons on end in order to help others achieve their goal.

      Great compassion for others is a key element in the Mahayana ideal of Bodhisattva.

    • Perfections required for attaining Bodhisattva are:

      • Generosity (Dana)

      • Good Conduct (Shila)

      • Patient Forbearance (Kshanti)

      • Mental Strength (Virya)

      • Meditation (Dhyana)

      • Wisdom (Prajna)

      • Skilfulness in means (Upaya-kaushalya)

      • Determination (pranidhana)

      • Power (bala)

      • Knowledge (jnana).

    • At any given there could be only one Buddha, next one appearing only when the teaching of the previous one had died out.

    • There are two schools in Mahayana:

      • Madhyamaka

        • Given by Nagarjuna in his work Mula-Madhyamaka-Karika (root verses on the middle).

        • Idea of Shunyata:

          • It doesn't mean nothing exist. It means that appearance are misleading, and that permanent selves and substances do not exist.

          • Ultimate truth seen in the light of the entire teaching of the Buddha, is that the dharma's are empty.

      • Yogachara

        • It attaches importance to meditation as a means of attaining the highest goal.

        • It gives a detailed account of consciousness.

        • It says that by following the path of Bodhisattva defilement and illusion melt away and perfect clarity and knowledge is attained.


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