Indian History -Political, Economical and Social history of India from Harappa civilization to 10th Century A.D.

Indus Valley Civilization


Indus Valley Civilization was the first major civilization in south Asia, which spread across a vast area of land in present day India and Pakistan (around 12 lakh The time period of mature Indus Valley Civilization is estimated between BC. 2700- BC.1900 i.e. for 800 years. But early Indus Valley Civilization had existed even before BC.2700.


Features of Indus Valley Civilization

  • 2700- BC.1900 i.e. for 800 years.
  • On the valleys of river Indus.
  • Also known as Harappan Civilization.
  • Beginning of city life.
  • Harappan Sites discovered by – Dayaram Sahni (1921) – Montgomori district, Punjab, Pakistan.
  • Mohenjo-Daro discovered by – R. D. Banerji – Larkana district, Sind, Pakistan.
  • City was divided into Citadel (west) and Lower Town(east).
  • Red pottery painted with designs in black.
  • Stone weights, seals, special beads, copper tools, long stone blades etc.
  • Copper, bronze, silver, gold present.
  • Artificially produced – Faience.
  • Specialists for handicrafts.
  • Import of raw materials.
  • Plough was used.
  • Bodies were buried in wooden coffins, but during the later stages ‘H symmetry culture’ evolved where bodies were buried in painted burial urns.
  • Sugar cane not cultivated, horse, iron not used.



Indus Valley Sites and Specialties


  • Seals out of stones
  • Citadel outside on banks of river Ravi


  • Great Bath, Great Granary, Dancing Girl, Man with Beard, Cotton, Assembly hall
  • Term means ” Mount of the dead”
  • On the bank of river Indus
  • Believed to have been destructed by flood or invasion (Destruction was not gradual).


  • Bank of Indus River. – discovered by Gopal Majumdar and Mackey (1931)
  • Pre-harappan culture – Jhangar Culture and Jhukar Culture
  • Only cite without citadel.


  • At Rajastan on the banks of river Ghaggar, discovered by A.Ghosh (1953)
  • Fire Altars
  • Bones of camel
  • Evidence of furrows
  • Horse remains ( even though Indus valley people didn’t use horses).
  • Known as third capital of Indus Empire.


  • At Gujarat near Bhogava river, discovered by S.R. Rao (1957)
  • Fire Altars
  • Beside the tributary of Sabarmati
  • Store house
  • Dockyard and earliest port
  • double burial
  • Rice husk
  • House had front entrance (exception).


  • Punjab, on the banks of river Sutlej. Discovered by Y.D Sharma (1955)
  • Dog buried with humans.



  • Haryana
  • On banks of lost river Saraswathi
  • Barley Cultivation.



  • Biggest site in India, until the discovery of Rakhigarhi.
  • Located in Khadir Beyt, Rann of Kutch, Gujarat. Discovered by J.P Joshi/Rabindra Singh (1990)
  • 3 parts + large open area for ceremonies
  • Large letters of the Harappan script (sign boards).

Religion of Indus Valley People

  • Pashupathi Mahadev (Proto Siva)
  • Mother goddess
  • Nature/ Animal worship
  • Unicorn, Dove, Peepal Tree, Fire
  • Amulets
  • Idol worship was practiced ( not a feature of Aryans)
  • Did not construct temples.
  • Similarity to Hindu religious practices. (Hinduism in its present form originated later)
  • No Caste system.

Indus Valley Society and Culture

  • Systematic method of weights and measures ( 16 and its multiples).
  • Pictographic Script, Boustrophedon script – Deciphering efforts by I. Mahadevan
  • Equal status to men and women
  • Economic Inequality, not an egalitarian society
  • Textiles – Spinning and weaving
  • 3 types – burial, cremation and post cremation were there, though burial was common.
  • Majority of people Proto-australoids and Mediterraneans (Dravidians), though Mongoloids, Nordics etc were present in the city culture.


Artifacts for Posterity

The most numerous of the surviving artifacts are a series of steatite (soapstone) seals, of which the best known are those of the Humped Brahmani Bull and Pashupati. Apart from this, there are some carved figurines – the bronze Dancing Girl and the statues of a priest and a male torso, again in steatite.

Reasons for Decline of Indus Valley Civilization

Though there are various theories, the exact reason is still unknown. As per a recent study by IIT Kharagpur and Archaeological Survey of India, a weaker monsoon might have been the cause of decline of Indus Valley Civilization. Environmental changes, coupled with loss of power of rulers (central administration) of Indus valley to sustain the city life might be the cause (Fariservis Theory). There might be resource shortage to sustain the population, and then people moved towards south India. Another theory by Dr Gwen Robbins Schug states that inter-personal violence, infectious diseases and climate change had played a major role in the demise of the Indus Valley Civilization.





The Aryans came to India in several waves. The earliest wave is represented by the Rig Vedic people who appeared in the subcontinent in about 1500 BC. They came into conflict with the indigenous inhabitants called the Dravidians mentioned as Dasa or Dasyus in Rig Veda. The Rig Veda mentions the defeat of Sambara by Divodasa, who belonged to the Bharata clan. Possibly the Dasyus in the Rig Veda represent the original inhabitants of the country, and an Aryan chief who overpowered them was called Trasadvasyu. The Aryan chief was soft towards the Dasas, but strongly hostile to the Dasyus. The term Dasyuhatya, slaughter of the Dasyus, is repeatedly mentioned in the Rig Veda.

Some of the chief tribes of the period were Yadu, Turvasu, Druhyu, Anu Puru, Kuru, Panchala, Bharata and Tritsu. Among the inter-tribal conflicts the most important was the ‘Battle of the Ten Kings.’


Important points to remember:

  • The group of Indo-Europeans who moved to Persia and India are known to Aryans
  • The Aryans are the original inhabitants of Central Asia.
  • They arrived in India around 1500 BC, though there is an ongoing debate.
  • The region where the Aryans settled in India was called Sapta Sindhu (also referred to as the Brahmavarta)
  • The Aryans established themselves in India by defeating the natives whom they called Dasas or Dasyus
  • The period when the Aryans first settled in India, is known as Early Vedic Period (1500 BC to 1000 BC)
  • The Aryans spread to Indo-Gangetic plains in the later Vedic Period and this region came to be known as Aryavarta (1000 BC to 600 BC)
  • The Aryans were the first people in India to know the use of iron and brought horses along with them.


Although the Rig Veda deals with devotional work of religious nature, yet it gives a vivid picture of the early Vedic civilization. The Vedic Civilization is best understood from the social life, political organisation, economic life and religious beliefs. The Kula or family was the basic unit of Rig-Vedic society. The Kula was headed by a Kulapa, who was usually the eldest member. Society was essentially patriarchal and birth of son was desired repeatedly. Status of women was equal to men in the early Rig-Vedic society. Both polygamy and polyandry were in vogue.

The Evolution of Varna System

Social strata used to exist in the Harappan civilization also. Similarly, there was a threefold division of society {priests, rulers and producers} in the Iranian society also. However, what happened in Indian sub-continent was unique and extraordinary. In the evolution of Kingship in the later Vedic era, the priests (Brahmans) and rulers (Khsatriyas) consolidated their respective position in the society. The producers split into two groups. The free peasants and traders formed the group Vaishya while the slaves, laborers, artisans degraded to fourth group Shudra. This was based on occupation initially but later got rigid on the basis of birth. Despite of a small population, the people got compartmentalized into these four groups as per Varnashrama Dharma.

Marriage and women

Despite of the patriarchal character of the family, the position of women was much better in the Rig Vedic period than in later times. They could attend assemblies and offer sacrifices along with their husbands. Five women have been mentioned as composers of hymns out of which Ghosha, Lopamudra and Apala are famous. Girls were normally married off after puberty (between the age of 16 and 17). Unmarried girls grew up in the home of their parents. Some unmarried woman like Visvavara and Apala offered sacrifices on their own. There are also evidences of widow remarriage in the Rig-Veda.


In the early Rig-Vedic era, entire instruction was given orally. Art of writing does not seem to have developed yet. In the well-known Gayatri mantra there is a prayer to Savitri for the stimulation of the intellect. There were women teachers. Many of them possessed the highest spiritual knowledge. Maitreyi and Gargi were gifted scholars. Rishis who composed hymns founded their own schools separately to teach their pupils and every person among the vis was entitled to learn Vedic mantras. In the later-Vedic phase, with the development of Varnashrama, education began with an investiture ceremony (upanayan). Since Upanayan was confined to three upper Varnas, the sudras were not entitled to education. Sometimes girls were also encouraged. When teacher was satisfied with the student, last sermon called snatakopadesa (kind of convocation) was delivered.



Institution of Gotra

Gotra or cowpen was a mechanism for widening social ties a new relationship was established between hitherto unrelated people. It is possible that animals were herded in common and such a place was known as gotra and from this it acquired the character of an exogamous institution.

Amusements and entertainments

Music, both vocal and instrumental, was well known. Vedic Aryans played on the Vina and flute Vana to the accompaniment of drums and cymbals. Few claim that Dhrupad of Indian classical music originated in Vedic Era. Dancing was common. The chariot race was a favourite sport and source of entertainment. Chariot race was a symbolic source of political authority of the king. The fascination of gambling and the ruin caused by its addiction find mention in the Rig-Veda.

House holding

The Griha sutra prescribes a code of conduct, which gives a fairly good idea of the manners and etiquette of the later-Vedic age. A guest (atithi) was welcomed at all times and special guests, like the guru, the king, and the father-in-law, etc. were given special treatment. Respect for the elders self-restraint, moral purity, abstinence of all kinds and faithfulness were some of the virtues. Cleanliness was a passion. Daily bath, washing of the feet and hands every now and then, and purifying the atmosphere with Vedic  mantras were a part of ritual when ritualism  acquired special  significance in the later-Vedic age. It became one of the many sources of the development of hierarchy and the supremacy for the Brahmanas.

Eating Habits

The main cereal produced by the early Rig-Vedic people was Yava or barley. Wheat (Godhuma) appears in later Vedic texts only. Yava was also a generic term for various kinds of cereals. ilk, Milk products and cattle meat belonged to their food habits. Alcoholic / Non-alcoholic drinks were known and common. Soma and Sura are two popular liquors. Sura may be a kind of beer or wine.

Dress code

Two pieces of cloth were normally worn- the upper garment was called uttariya and the lower one was known as antariya. The dress for the male and the female did not differ much.

Health and hygiene

Everyone aspired for and everyone was blessed to live for a hundred years. Epilepsy was common and it affected the children as well. Superstitions and magical charms were employed to cure the diseases. Miraculous cures are ascribed to the twin-gods, the Ashvins, who are the great healers of diseases and experts in the surgical art. They were divine physicians who restored eyesight and cured the blind, sick and maimed.


Rig Vedic Economy

Rig Vedic economy was primarily pastoral. They domesticated Pashu (which included cattle, horse and even human beings), as opposed to Mriga, i.e. wild animals. Cattle was synonymous with wealth and a wealthy person was called Gomat. Cattle was so important that the terms of battle  were derived  from Gau itself, such as Gavisti, Gosu, Gavyat, Gavyu. Godhuli was a measure of time. Gopa and Gopati were epithets given to the king. Duhitri was the term used for daughter because she used to milk the cow. One of the four categories of gods was known as Gojata, i.e. cowborn. When the Vedic people encountered buffalo, they called it Gauri and Gavala or cow-haired. The cattle obtained in raids were divided among the families. Cattle formed an important item of donation and it may also have formed a part of bali, the tribute given to the raja by the clan or Vis members. The cattle in general and cow in particular was the main medium of exchange during the Rig Vedic period. The economy was based upon agriculture. The people were well acquainted with the sowing, harvesting, threshing and various agro seasons. The people were pastoral, Cow was revered but the cows, and bulls were sacrificed too. The gifts to the priests were in terms of number of Cows and women slaves but NOT in measurements of lands.

Crafts and Metallurgy

All kinds of crafts were practiced. There were potters, Chariot makers, carpenters, and weaver and leather workers. The metal work was known  as follows: Copper was known as “Ayas” Gold was known as Hiranya Iron was also known as was known as Shyama or Krishna Ayas.


There were no places of worship like temples. There are no indications in the Rig-Veda of any “temples reared by mortal hands” and consecrated as places of worship. On the contrary, every householder, every patriarch of his family, lighted the sacrificial fire in his own home and poured libations of the Soma juice and prayed to the gods for happiness to his family, for abundant crops and wealth and cattle, for immunity from sickness, and for victory over the black aborigines. Natural phenomena were conceived as the expression of some spiritual different appearances of various gods.
The History of Licchavis

The Lichchhavis (also Lichchavi, Licchavi) were an important member of the Vajjian confederacy. The early Indian traditions describe the Lichchhavis as Kshatriyas. Scholars reject the theory of foreign origin of the Lichchhavis on the strength of these traditions. But they were degraded to the status of fallen Kshatriyas due to their championship of non-Brahmanical creeds like Jainism and Buddhism.

Rise of the Licchavi Power

In the 6th century B.C. the Licchavi power was firmly established. Though the Lichchhavis belonged to the Vajji confederacy, they had autonomous status. Their capital was Vaisali.

Originally, they seem to have an independent status. The Buddhist records preserve the names of important Licchavi leaders among whom the name of Chetaka deserves special mention. Chetaka’s sister Trisala was the mother of Mahavira, the preacher of Jainism. Chetaka’s daughter Chellana was married to king Bimbisara of Magadha. The Lichchhavis thus appear to be highly connected.

The Magadha-Licchavi Struggle-fall of the Licchavis

The Licchavis turned to be great rivals of Magadhan monarchy. In the reign of Bimbisara of Magadha, they invaded the Magadhan kingdom. In the reign of Ajatasatru, a protracted war began between Magadha and the Lichchhavis. The latter were united with the Vajjis in a confederacy. In the struggle that followed the Lichchhavis and the Vajjis were destroyed.

The causes of the Magadha-Lichchavi war were many. Ajatasatru wanted to take revenge on the Lichchhavis, as their chief Chetaka had refused to extradite Ajatasatru’s step brothers. They had escaped to Vaisali (Licchavi capital) with the royal elephant and family jewels and were granted political asylum. The real cause of the Magadha-Licchavi war was the aggressive imperialism of Magadha against the neighboring republic. The war continued for sixteen years. The Lichchhavis built a mighty alliance with the Vajjis and the other thirty six Ganarajas and also with the kingdom of Kasi-Kosala against Magadha. But the ministers of Ajatasatru sowed seeds of discord among the members of the anti-Magadhan confederacy and destroyed their unity. Ultimately the Vajjian confederacy was destroyed by Ajatasatru. The Vajji territory was annexed to Magadha.

The Licchavi’s republican constitution

There were two Systems of government in the Eastern region. The states of Anga, Magadha, Vatsa etc. were monarchies. Those of Kasf, Kaulala, Videha etc. on the other band were republics. Two of these republics were quite well known, the Republics of the Vajjis or Licchavis and that of the Mallas. Republics were later developments of monarchies and the precursors of democracies. The Licchavis founded their Republic with a view to consolidating their political power. The credit for its foundation goes to Cetaka, who was a wise and valorous king of Videha. He was also the President of the whole Republic. This Republic was the union of eighteen political units, nine of which belonged to the Licchavis and the remaining nine to the Mallas.

The Kings of each unit comprising the Vajji Republic were called Gananayakas. The council of the Gananayakas was called Gana Sabha or Republican Council. It made the constitution and the laws. The individual units were governed in accordance with the constitution of the Gana or the Union. The Vajji Republic was rich and well developed in the fields of Politics, Economics, Society and Religion. The monarchists were highly jealous of this powerful Republic. They were bent upon destroying it. But they were helpless in the face of the powerful Vajjian army.

Videha with its capital at Vaisali was the biggest unit. Vaisali was divided into three zones. The first zone consisted of seven thousand residential houses with golden domes. The middle of the town consisted of fourteen thousand houses with silver domes. The third zone consisted of twenty-one thousand houses with copper domes.

These zones were inhabited by the high, middle and lower classes respectively. Vaisali was not only the capital of the Licchavis, it was the capital of the entire Vajji Republic. It was enclosed within four city walls, each at a distance of two miles from the others. It had several ramparts and entrance-gates. The Republic was a confederation of six clans viz. the Ugras, the Bhojas, the Rajanyas, ihe Iksvakus (the Licchavis), the Jnatasand the Kauravas.



In the sixth country B.C. North India was divided into sixteen kingdoms out of which Avanti, Vatsa, Kosala and Magadha rose into prominence by aggrandizing upon other weaker states.These four states involved themselves in internecine quarrel in which Magadha emerged as the most powerful state and acquired mastery in the political domain of India.

Magadha under Bimbisara:

Magadha rose into prominence under the rule of Bimbisara who belonged to the Haryanka dynasty. Most probably he overthrew the Brihadrathas from Magadha and assumed the title “Srinika” after his accession. He ruled Magadha from 544 B.C. to 493 B.C. His greatest achievement was the establishment of Magadhan empire. He followed fourfold policy in order to fulfill his programme of imperial expansion.

Policy of Matrimonial Alliance:

By adopting the policy of matrimonial alliance, Bimbisara tried to augment his power. He married Kosaladevi, daughter of king Mahakosala of Kosala, received the Kasi village as dowry, which yielded revenue of 1, 00,000. “Mahavamsa” mentions his marriage with Chellana the daughter of Chetak, the Lichchavi chief of Vaisali.

He then married Vasavi, a princess of Videha in the northward. He also got the hand of Khema, the daughter of king of Modra in Central Punjab. The establishment of matrimonial relations with these states added glory to the Magadhna empire and it also paved the way for the expansion of Magadhan empire and westward.

Policy of Conquest:

The next policy of Bimbisara for the expansion of Magadhan empire was the policy of conquest. Bimbisara led a campaign against the kingdom of Anga and defeated its king Brahmadatta. Anga along with its capital city Champa, was annexed to the Magadhan empire.



Friendly Relation with distant Neighbours:

As a farsighted diplomat, Bimbisara had followed the policy of friendship towards the distant neighbours to win their co-operation for the safety and security of his empire. He received an embassy and letter from Pukkusati, the ruler of Gandhar with which Pradyota had fought unsuccessfully. Magadha’s most formidable enemy was Chanda Pradyota Mahasena of Avanti who fought with Bimbisara but ultimately the two thought it wise to become friends. He also sent his physician Jivak to Ujjain when Pradyota was attacked by jaundice.

Consolidation of his Empire by a Good Administrative System:

By introducing a highly efficient system of administration, Bimbisara consolidated his conquests. His administration was found to have been really well-organised and efficient. The high officers were divided into three classes, viz. executive, military and judicial. The ‘Sabarthakas’ were responsible for the management of general administration.

“Senanayaka Mahamatras” were in charge of military affairs. “Vyavaharika Mahamatra’s” were in charge of judicial-administration. Provincial administration was also well-organised. The head of provincial administration was “Uparaja”. The villages enjoyed rural autonomy. “Gramika” was the head of the village administration. The penal laws were severe. Bimbisara also developed the means of communication by constructing good roads. He is said to have established a new capital at Rajagriha situated on the outskirts of the old capital Girivraja.

He made Magadha a paramount power in the sixth century B.C. It is said that his kingdom had consisted of 80,000 villages. He was also a devotee of Buddha. He donated a garden named “Belubana” to the Buddhist Sangha. According to the Buddhist chronicle Bimbisara ruled Magadha from 544 B.C. to 493 B.C. He was succeeded by his son Ajatasatru who had killed him and seized the throne for himself.


The reign of Ajatasatru witnessed the high watermark of Bimbisara dynasty. From the very beginning Ajatasatru pursued the policy of expansion and conquest. He began a prolonged war with Prasenjit of Kosala who had revoked the gift of the Kasi village made to Bimbisara. The war continued for some time with varying success to both sides till Prasenjit ended it by giving his daughter, Vajira Kumari in marriage to Ajatasatru and leaving him in possession of Kasi.

The next achievement of Ajatasatru was the conquest of Lichchavis of Vaisali. Chetak, chief of Lichchavis had formed a strong confederacy comprising 36 republics in order to fight Magadha. According to jaina sources, before his death, Bimbisara gave his elephant “Seyanaga” “Sechanaka” and two large bejewelled necklaces, one each to his sons Halla and Vehalla who were born of their Lichahhavi mother, Chellana.

Chetak had given them political assylum. After his accession, Ajatasatru requested chetak to surrender them. But Chetak refused to extradite Chetaka’s step brothers. So the conflict between Ajatasatru and Lichchhavis became inevitable.

According to Buddhist text Ajatasatru had entered into an agreement with Lichchhavis to divide among them the gems extracted from a mine at the foot of the hill near the river Ganges. But the Lichchhavis deprived Ajatasatru of his share. But Dr. H.C. Raychoudhury points out that the most potent cause of war was the common movement among the republican states against the rising imperialism of Magadha.

Ajatasatru made elaborate war preparations against the Lichchhavis. As a base for operation he constructed a fort at Patalagrama on the confluence of Ganga and the Son which eventually developed into the famous capital of Pataliputra. Ajatasatru also tried to create a division among members of Lichchhavi confederacy. He employed his minister Vassakara who successfully sowed the seeds of dissension among the members of Vajjian confederacy and broke their solidarity.

Thereafter Ajatasatru invaded their territory and it took him full sixteen years to destroy Lichchhavis. In this war he used some new weapons and devices like “mahasilakantaka” and “rathamushala” to overpower the enemy. Ultimately Lichchhavi was annexed to the Magadhan territory.

Ajatasatru faced danger from Avanti while he was engaged in war with Lichchhavis. King Chanda Pradyota of Avanti became jealous of his power and threatened an invasion of Magadha. To meet this danger Ajatasatru started fortification of Rajgiri. But the invasion did not materialize in his life time.

The successors of Ajatasatru:

Ajatasatru was succeeded by his son Udayin who ruled for sixteen years. The Buddhist texts describe him as a parricide where as the jaina literature mentions him as a devoted son to his father. Udayin built the city of Pataliputra at the fort of Patalagrama which commanded the strategically and commercial highway of eastern India. During his rule Avanti became jealous of the ascendancy of Magadha and a contest between the two started for mastery of Northern India.

However, Udayin was not destined to live to see the ultimate victory of Magadha against Avanti. According to the jaina texts he constructed a chaitya in Pataliputra. He also observed fasts on the eighth and fourteenth tithis as per the jaina tradition. It is said that Udayin have been murdered by assassin engaged by Palaka, the king of Avanti. According to Ceylonese chronicle Udayin was succeeded by three kings namely Aniruddha, Manda and Nagadasaka.

The Ceylonese chronicle describes that all the three kings were parasite. The people resented their rule and revolted against the last king Nagadasaka and raised an amatya Sisunaga on the throne of Magadha. With this restoration the rule of Haryanka dynasty came to end and the rule of Sisunaga dynasty came into being.

Sisunaga served as the viceroy of Kasi before he ascended the throne of Magadha. He established his capital at Girivaraja. His greatest achievement was the conquest and annexation of Avanti. This brought to an end the hundred year’s rivalry between Magadha and Avanti. Probably he had annexed Vatsa and Kosala Kingdoms to Magadha. Towards the later part of his regain he temporarily shifted his capital to Vaisali.

Sisunaga was succeeded by his son Kalasoka or Kakavarna. The reign of Kalasoka is important for two events, viz., the transfer of Magadha capital from Girivaraja to Pataliputra and holding of the second Buddhist Congress at Vaisali. Very unfortunately, he lost his life in a palace revolution, which brought the Nandas upon the throne of Magadha. The usurper was probably Mahapadma Nanda, the founder of Nanda dynasty and he also killed the ten sons of Kalasoka who ruled jointly. Thus the Sisunaga dynasty was followed by the new dynasty of the Nandas.



Foundation of the Mauryan Empire:

The foundation of the Maurya Empire in 321 B.C. by Chandragupta Maurya was a unique event in history.

Particularly in view of the fact that it was found shortly after Alexander’s victorious campaigns in North-West India during 327 B.C. – 325 B.C.

There is no unanimity with regard to the ancestry of the Mauryas. The Puranas describe them as Sudras and uprighteous probably due to the fact that the Mauryas were mostly patrons of heterodox sects.

The Buddhist works (e.g. Mahavamsa and Mahavamshatika) have attempted to link the Mauryan dynasty with the tribe of the Sakyas to which the Buddha belonged. In the Divyavadana, Bindusara, the son of Chandragupta, is described as Kshatriya Murdabhishikta or annointed Kshatriya.

According to the Buddhist writers, the region from which the Mauryas came was full of peacocks (Mayura in Sanskrit and Mora in Pali), and hence they came to be known as the Moriyas (Pali form of Mauryas). It is obvious from this that the Buddhists were trying to elevate the social position of Asoka and his predecessors.

Jain tradition given in Hemachandra’s Parisisthaparvan relates Chandragupta as the son of a daughter of the chief of a village of peacock-tamers (Mayura-Poshaka). The use of the term ‘Vrishala’ and ‘Kula-hina’ in the Mudrarakshasa of Vishakadatta for Chandragupta probably means that Chandragupta was a mere upstart of an unknown family.

The Greek classical writers, such as Justin, describes Chandragupta Maurya as a man of humble origin, but does not mention his exact caste. The Junagarh Rock Inscription of Rudradaman (150 A.D.) mentions the Vaisya Pusyagupta as the provincial governor of the Maurya king Chandragupta. There is a reference to Pusyagupta being the brother-in-law of Chandragupta which implies that the Mauryas may have been of Vaisya origin.

In conclusion, we can say that the Mauryas were of comparatively humble origin belonging to the Moriya tribe and were certainly of a low caste.


Chandragupta Maurya (321-297 B.C.):

Chandragupta Maurya succeeded to the Nanda throne in 321 B.C. after dethroning the last Nanda ruler (Dhanananda) at the age of 25. He was the protege of the Brahmin Kautilya, also known as Chanakya or Vishnugupta, who was his guide and mentor both in acquiring the throne and in keeping it.

The acquisition of Magadha was the first step in establishing the new dynasty. Once the Ganges valley was under his control, Chandragupta moved to the north-west to exploit the power vacuum created by Alexander’s departure. The areas of the North-West fell to him rapidly.

Moving back to Central India he occupied the region north of the Narmada River. But 305 B.C. saw him back in the north-west involved in a campaign against Seleucus Nikator (Alexander’s general who gained control of most Asiatic provinces of the Macedonian empire) which Chandragupta finally won in 303 B.C. Both signed a treaty and entered into a marriage alliance.

Who married whose daughter is not clearly known? But it seems that Chandragupta made a gift of 500 elephants to the Greek general and ob­tained the territory across the Indus viz., the Satrapies of Paropanisadai (Kabul), Aria (Herat), Arachoisa (Kandahar), and Gedrosia (Baluchistan). Seleucus’s ambassador, Megasthenes, lived for many years at the Maurya court at Pataliputra and travelled extensively in the country.

According to Jaina sources (Parisistaparvan), Chandragupta embraced Jainism towards the end of his life and stepped down from the throne in favour of his son, Bindusara. Accompanied by Bhadrabahu, a Jaina saint, and several other monks he is said to have gone to Sravana Belgola near Mysore, where he deliberately starved himself to death in the approved Jaina fashion (Sallekhana).

Kautilya and Arthashastra:

Kautilya was the Prime Minister of Chandragupta Maurya. Chandragupta found the Mauryan Empire with his help. Arthashastra was written by him. It is the most important source for writing the history of the Mauryas and is divided into 15 adhikarnas or sections and 180 Prakaranas or subdivi­sions. It has about 6,000 slokas. The book was discovered by Shamasastri in 1909 and ably trans­lated by him.


It is a treatise on statecraft and public administration. Despite the controversy over its date and authorship, its importance lies in the fact that it gives a clear and methodological analysis of economic and political conditions of the Mauryan period.

The similarities between the administrative terms used in the Arthashastra and in the Asokan edicts certainly suggests that the Mauryan rulers were acquainted with this work.As such his Arthashastra provides useful and reliable information regarding the social and political conditions as well as the Mauryan administration.

  1. King:

Kautilya suggests that the king should be an autocrat and he should concentrate all powers into his own hands. He should enjoy unrestricted authority over his realm. But at the same time, he should give honour to the Brahmanas and seek advice from his ministers. Thus the king though autocrat, should exercise his authority wisely.

He should be cultured and wise. He should also be well-read so as to understand all the details of his administration. He says that the chief cause of his fall is that the king is inclined towards evil. He lists six evils that led to a king’s decline. They are haughtiness, lust, anger, greed, vanity and love of pleasures. Kautilya says that the king should live in comfort but he should not indulge in pleasures.

  1. Ideals of Kingship:

The major ideal of kingship according to Kautilya is that his own well-being lies in the well-being of his people of only the happy subjects ensure the happiness of their sovereign. He also says that the king should be ‘Chakravarti’ or the conqueror of different realms and should win glory by conquering other lands.

He should protect his people from external dan­gers and ensure internal peace. Kautilya maintained that the soldiers should be imbued with the spirit of a ‘holy war’ before they march to the battlefield. According to him, all is fair in a war waged in the interest of the country.

  1. About the Ministers:

Kautilya maintains that the king should appoint ministers. King without ministers is like a one-wheeled chariot. According to Kautilya, king’s ministers should be wise and intelligent. But the king should not become a puppet in their hands.

He should discard their improper advise. The ministers should work together as; a team. They should hold meetings in privacy. He says that the king who cannot keep his secrets cannot last long.

  1. Provincial Administration:

Kautilya tells us that the kingdom was divided into several provinces governed by the members of the royal family. There were some smaller provinces as Saurashtra and Kambhoj etc. administered by other officers called ‘Rashtriyas’. The provinces were divided into districts which were again sub-divided into villages. The chief administrator of the district was called the ‘SthaniK while the village headman was called the ‘Gopa’.

  1. Civic Administration:

The administration of big cities as well as the capital city of Pataliputra was carried on very efficiently. Pataliputra was divided into four sectors. The officer incharge of each sector was called the ‘Sthanik. He was assisted by junior officers called the ‘Gopas’ who looked after the welfare of 10 to 40 families. The whole city was in the charge of another officer called the ‘Nagrika’. There was a system of regular census.

  1. Spy Organisation:

Kautilya says that the king should maintain a network of spies who should keep him well informed about the minute details and happenings in the country, the provinces, the districts and the towns. The spies should keep watch on other officials. There should be spies to ensure peace in the land. According to Kautilya, women spies are more efficient than men, so they should, in particular, be recruited as spies. Above all the kings should send his agents in neighbouring countries to gather information of political significance.

  1. Shipping:

Another significant information that we gather from Kautilya is about shipping under the Mauryas. Each port was supervised by an officer who kept vigil on ships and ferries. Tolls were levied on traders, passengesand fishermen. Almost all ships and boats were owned by the kings.

  1. Economic Condition:

Kautilya says that poverty is a major cause of rebellions. Hence there should be no shortage of food and money to buy it, as it creates discontent and destroys the king. Kautilya therefore advises the king to take steps to improve the economic condition of his people. Kautilya says that the chief source of income was the land revenue in villages while the tax on the sale of goods was the chief source in the cities.

Bindusara (297-272 B.C.):

In 297 B.C., Chandragupta was succeeded by his son Bindusara, known to the Greeks as Amitrochates (Sanskrit, Amitraghata, the destroyer of foes). Bindusara campaigned in the Deccan, extending Mauryan control in the peninsula as far south as Mysore.

He is said to have conquered the land between the two seas’, presumably the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal. Kalinga (modern Orissa) on the eastern coast, however, remained hostile and was conquered in the succeeding reign by Bindusara’s son Ashoka.

In foreign affairs, Bindusara maintained the friendly relations with the Hellenic west established by his father. He is said to have had contacts with Antiochus I Soter, king of Syria, son of Seleucus Nikator whose ambassador, Deimachos was said to have been at his court.

A man of wide tastes and interests, he requested Antiochus I to send him some sweet wine, dried figs and a sophist; the last being not meant for export, however, could not be sent. Pliny mentions that Ptolemy Philadelpus of Egypt sent Dionysius as his ambassador to India. The Ashokavadana informs us that a revolt took place in Taxila during the reign of Bindusara, when the citizens objected to the oppression of the higher officials. Bindusara sent Asoka to put an end to the revolt, which he did successfully.

Ashoka (268-232 B.C.):

Bindusara’s death in 272 B.C. led to a struggle for succession among his sons. It lasted for four years and in 268 B.C. Ashoka emerged successful. According to Asokavadana, Subhadrangi was the mother of Ashoka and it describes her as the daughter of a Brahman of Champa.

The Divyavadana version largely agrees with that of the Ashokavadana. She is called Janapadakalyani, or in other version of the same source Subhadrangi. In the Ceylonese source, Vamsatthapakasini the Queen mother is called Dharma.

According to legend, Ashoka as a young prince was given charge of the Viceroyship of Ujjain. Buddhist texts inform us that a revolt took place in Taxila during the reign of Bindusara and Ashoka was sent to quell it. This he did without antagonising the local populace. Corroboration for this may be sought in an Aramaic inscription from Taxila which refers to Priyadarshi the viceroyor governor.

During his Viceroyalty of Ujjain he fell in love with the daughter of a merchant of Vidisa, referred to as Devi or Vidisamahadevi or Sakyani. Ashoka’s two other well-known queens were Karuvaki and Asandhimitra. The second queen, Karuvaki is mentioned in the Queen’s Edict inscribed on a pillar at Allahabad, in which her religious and charitable donations are referred to. She is described as the mother of Prince Tivara, the only son of Asoka to be mentioned by the name in the inscription.

As regards Ashoka’s accession to the throne there is a general agreement in the sources that Ashoka was not the crown prince but succeeded after killing his brothers. There is, however, no unanim­ity in the texts either regarding the nature of the struggle or the number of his brothers.

In one place the Mahavamsa states that Asoka killed his elder brother to become king whereas elsewhere in the same work and also in the Dipavamsa he is said to have killed ninety-nine brothers. The Mahavamsa states that although he put ninety-nine brothers to death, Asoka spared the life of the youngest of these, Tissa who was later made vice-regent (He retired to a life of religious devotion having come under the influence of the preacher Mahadhammarakkhita and then known by the name of Ekaviharika). It seems that though there was a struggle, a lot of descriptions of it are plain exaggerations.

After ascending the throne, Ashoka according to Taranatha spent several years in pleasurable pursuits and was consequently called Kamasoka. This was followed by a period of extreme wicked­ness, which earned him the name of Candasoka. Finally his conversion to Buddhism and his subse­quent piety led him to be called Dhammasoka.

The most important event of Ashoka’s reign seems to have been his conversion to Buddhism after his victorious war with Kalinga in 260 B.C. Kaling con­trolled the routes to South India both by land and sea, and it was therefore necessary that it should become a part of the Mauryan Empire.

The 13th Major Rock Edict vividly describes the horrors and miseries of this war and the deep remorse it caused to Ashoka. In the words of the Mauryan emperor, ‘A hundered and fifty thousand people were deported, a hundred thousand were killed and many times that number perished…………. It has been stated in the past that he was dramatically converted to Buddhism immediately after the battle, with its attendant horrors.

But this was not so, and as one of his inscriptions, viz., Bhabra Edict, states it was only after a period of more than two years that he became an ardent supporter of Buddhism under the influence of a Buddhist monk, Upagupta.

He also states his acceptance of the Buddhist creed, the faith in the Buddha, the Dhamma (the teachings of the Buddha), and the Samgha. Written specifically for the local Buddhist clergy, he also refers to himself as the ‘king of Magadha’, a title which he uses only on this occasion.

The Buddhist church was reorganised during his reign with the meeting of Third Buddhist council at Pataliputra in 250 B.C. under the chairmanship of Mogalliputta Tissa but the emperor himself does not refer to it in his inscrip­tions.

This stresses the point that Asoka was careful to make a distinction between his personal support for Buddhism and his duty as emperor to remain unattached and unbiased in favour of any religion. The Third Buddhist Council is significant because it was the final attempt of the more sectar­ian Buddhists, the Theravada School, to exclude both dissidents and innovators from the Buddhist Order.

Furthermore, it was at this Council that it was decided to send missionaries to various parts of the sub-continent and to make Buddhism an actively proselytizing religion.

Ashoka mentions various of his contemporaries in the Hellenic world with whom he exchanged missions, diplomatic and otherwise in his 13th Major Rock Edict. These have been identified as Antiochus II Theos of Syria, (Amtiyoga)the grandson of Seleucus Nikator; Ptolemy III Philadelphus of Egypt (Tulamaya); Antigonus Gonatus of Macedonia (Antekina); Magas of Cyrene (Maka) and Alexander of Epirus (Alikyashudala).

Communications with the outside world were by now well developed. Asokan inscriptions corrobo­rated by archaeological data are a reliable guide to the extent of the Mauryan Empire.

Magadha was the home province of the Mauryas and the city of Pataliputra its capital. Other cities mentioned in the inscriptions include Ujjain, Taxila, Tosali near Bhubaneshwar, Kausambi and Suvarnagiri in Andhra Pradesh.

According to tradition, Kashmir was included in the Ashokan Empire and that Ashoka built the city of Srinagar. Khotan in Central Asia was also supposed to have come under Mauryan sway.

The Mauryans had close connections with the areas of modern Nepal since the foothills were a part of the empire. One of Ashokan’s daughter is said to have married a nobleman from the mountains of Nepal.

In the east, Mauryan influence extended as far as the Ganga delta. Tamralipti or modern Tamluk was an important port on the Bengal coast from where the ships sailed for Burma, Sri Lanka as well as for South India. Another major port on the west coast was Broach at the mouth of the Narmada.

Kandahar formed the western-most extension of the Mauryan Empire and Ashokan inscriptions mention the Gandharas, Kambojas and the Yonas as his borderers. Through the north-west the Mauryas maintained close contacts with their neighbours, the Seleucid Empire and the Greek kingdoms.

Mauryan relations with Sri Lanka were very close and Asoka sent his son Mahindra and daughter Sanghamitra to preach Buddhism in Sri Lanka. Asokan inscriptions in the south mention several people with whom he was on friendly terms – the Cholas, Pandyas, Satiyaputras and Keralaputras (Major Rock Edict II.)

Disintegration of the Empire:

Towards the end of his reign Asoka’s grip over the imperial organisation became weak. The Maurya Empire began to decline with the death of Asoka in 232 B.C., soon after it broke up. The evidence for the later Mauryas is very meagre.

The Puranas, besides Buddhist and Jaina literature, do provide us with some information on the later Mauryas, but there is no agreement among them. Even among the Puranas, there is a lot of variance between one Puranas and another. The one statement on which all the Puranas are in agreement is that the dynasty lasted 137 years.

Ashoka’s death was followed by the division of the empire into western and eastern halves. The western part including the north-western province, Gandhara and Kashmir was governed by Kunala (one of the sons of Ashoka) and then for a while by Samprati (according to Jaina tradition he was a grandson of Ashoka and a patron of Jainism).

It was later threatened from the north-west by the Bactrian Greeks, to whom it was practically lost by 180 B.C. From the south, the threat was posed by the Andhrasorthe Satavahanas who later came to power in the Deccan.

The eastern part of the Maurya Empire, with its capital at Pataliputra, came to be ruled by Dasaratha (probably one of the grandsons of Ashoka). Dasaratha apart from being mentioned in the Matsya Purana is also known to us from the caves in the Nagarjuni Hills, which he dedicated to the Ajivikas.

According to the Puranas, Dasaratha reigned for eight years. This would suggest that he died without an heir old enough to come to the throne. The same sources speak of Kunala ruling for eight years.

He must have died at about the same time as Dasaratha; so that Sampriti now ruling in the west may have successfully regained the throne at Pataliputra, thus uniting the empire again.

This event occurred in 223 B.C. However, the empire had probably already begun to disintegrate. Jaina sources mention that Samprati ruled from Ujjain and Pataliputra. After Dasaratha and Samprati came Salisuka, a prince mentioned in the astronomical work, the Gargi Samhita, as a wicked quarrelsome king.

The successors of Salisuka, according to the Puranas, were Devavarman, Satamdhanus and finally Brihadratha. The last prince was overthrown by his commander-in-chief, Pushyamitra, who laid the foundations of a new dynasty called Sunga dynasty.

Causes for the Decline of the Mauryas:

The Magadhan Empire, which had been reared by successive wars culminating in the conquest of Kalinga, began to disintegrate after the death of Ashoka in 232 B.C. The reason given by historians for such, rapid declines are as conflicting as they are confusing.

Some of the very obvious and other controversial causes for the decline of the Mauryan Empire are discussed below:

  1. One of the more obvious reasons for the decline was the succession of weak kings after Ashoka.
  2. A further and immediate cause was the partition of the empire into two, the eastern part under Dasaratha and the western part under Kunala. Had the partition not taken place, the Greek invasions of the north-west could have been held back for a while, giving the Mauryas a chance to re-establish some degree of their previous power. The partition of the empire disrupted the various services as well.
  3. Scholars have suggested that the pro-Buddhist policies of Ashoka and the pro-Jaina policies of his successors alienated the Brahmins and resulted in the revolt of Pushyamitra, the founder of the Shunga dynasty. H.C. Raychaudhuri maintains that Asoka’s pacifist policies were responsible for undermining the strength of the empire.

The second argument blames Ashoka’s emphasis on non­violence for weakening the empire and its military strength. Haraprasad Sastri holds the view that the decline of the Mauryan Empire was the result of the Brahmanical revolt on account of ban on animal sacrifices and undermining the prestige of the Brahmanas. Both these arguments are rather simplistic.

Pushyamitra’s usurpation of the throne cannot be seen as a brahmana revolt because by that time the administration had become so ineffective that officials were willing to accept any viable alternative.

The second proposition does not take into ac­count the nature of the policy of non-violence. There is nothing in the Ashokan inscriptions to suggest demobilization of the army. Similarly capital punishment continued. The emphasis was on the reduc­tion of species, and numbers of animals killed for food. There is nothing to suggest that the killing of animals stopped completely.

  1. Another reason put forward by some historians such as D.D. Kosambi is that there was consid­erable pressure on the Mauryan economy under the later rulers leading to heavy taxation.

This opinion is again one-sided and is not corroborated by archaeological data. Excavations at sites like Hastinapura and Sisupalgarh have shown improvement in the material culture.

  1. The organization of administration, and the conception of the state or the nation, were of great significance in the causes of the decline of the Mauryas. The Mauryan administration was of an extremely centralized character which necessitated a king of considerable personal ability.

In such a situation the weakening of the central control leads automatically to a weakening of the administration. With the death of Ashoka and the uneven quality of his successors, there was a weakening at the centre, particularly after the division of the empire.

  1. The Mauryan state derived its revenues from taxing a variety of resources which would have to grow and expand so that the administrative apparatus of the state could be maintained.

Unfortunately the Mauryas made no attempt to expand the revenue potential or to restructure and reorganise the resources. This inherent weakness of the Mauryan economy when coupled with other factors led to the collapse of the Mauryan Empire.

  1. The spread of material culture of the Gangetic basin to the outlying areas led to the formation of new kingdoms.


The Kushanas: Short introduction

In the early 2nd century BC, a tribe on the Central Asian frontier of China called Hsiung-nu defeated a neighboring one known as Yueh-chih. After more conflict, the survivors of the Yueh-chih were dislocated west, passing down the Ili river valley and along the southern shore of lake Issyk Kul. This movement also pushed Saka tribes (and others) ahead of them. Sometime between 145 and 125 BC, these nomad invaders burst into Bactria and Parthia. A generation later, they were pressing into the Kabul valley and onto the Punjab plain. At around the beginning of the Christian era, one of the five Yueh-chih chiefs, K’iu-tsiu-k’io, attacked and defeated the others, leaving his clan in control; the Kuei-shang (Kushans).

Kujula Kadphises (30-80 AD) established the Kushan dynasty in 78 AD by taking advantage of disunion in existing dynasty of Pahalava (Parthian) and Scytho-Parthians, and gradually wrested control of southern prosperous region, which is the northwest part of ancient India, traditionally known as Gandhara (now Pakistan). It was his grandson Vima Kadphises who made Kushan a paramount power of northern India. His reign saw emergence of Kushan empire when he conquored north-western India (modern Punjab). Soon he came under influence of Hinduism (most likley embraced it for good) and took opportunity to proclaim himself Mahishwara, another name for Lord Shiva, on his coins (Shiva is a prominent Hindu god). Kushan kings introduced gold and copper coins, a large number of them have survived till today. It was the Kushan emperor, Vima Kadaphises who introduced the first gold coins of india. Kushan empire covered north west of India (includes Pakistan and modern Afganistan) and northern India. Ample evidences of trade with China, cental Asia, Egypt and Rome are available which made their economy very strong and kingdom wealthy and prosperous.

Vima’s able son Kanishka (100 – 126 AD) followed and took control of this dynasty in 100 AD. Kanishka is the legendary ruler of ancient India and according to most historians the greatest ruler of Kushan dynasty. He and his descendents called themselves `Devputra’ which means son of god, who ruled Aryavarta, the India. He established an era, commonly known as Shaka era, starts from 78 AD. Shaka era is still in use in India. Kanishka’s empire consisted Bactria (modern Afghanistan), part of central Asia (Tajikistan), north-western India (modern Pakistan) and Northern India till Pataliputra or Patana. Kushan empire.

Huvishka succeeded Kanishka I. He was founder of a city Hushka in Kashmir named after him (described by Kalhan in Rajatarangini). Kushana empire was at its zenith during Kanishka’s and Huvishka’s reign. After Huvishka’s reign, Vasudeva I took control of this dynasty which by then had lost control over regions beyond Bactria or perhaps the Bactria itself. The Kushan dynasty had been totally assimilated in Indian culture. Vasudeva I was the last great king of the dynasty when Kushana empire was at it’s height of splendor and prosperity.

Kushan empire had started its decline soon after Vasudeva’s death. Vasudeva was followed by his son Kanishka II who lost all the territories west of river Indus to Sassanians. Vasudeva II, Vashishka, and Shaka are the kings who followed after the Kanisha II. After Vashishka the Kushan empire had completly disintegrated into few small kingdoms. By fourth century AD this dynasty went into total obscurity with advent of mighty Gupta emperors.



His Date:

There is a sharp controversy about Kanishka’s date centering round two points:

(1) Whether the Kanishka group preceded or succeeded the Kadphises group, and

(2) Whether Kanishka started his rule in 78 A.D. or later or earlier.

(1) Cunningham was the first writer to sponsor the theory that Kanishka’s era started from 58 B.C. which came to be known after­wards as Vikrama Samvat: Cunningham, however, gave up this theory later on, but Fleet and after him Kennedy held this view with all ear­nestness. As a corollary of the above contention it follows that Kanishka group of kings preceded Kadphises group of kings.

But on a careful analysis of the archaeological and numismatic evidences scholars have come to the conclusion that there can be no doubt that the Kanishka group of kings did not precede but followed the Kadphises group of kings.

In support of this view scholars point out if the series of coins issued successively by alien rulers of India upto Vasudeva-I, are care­fully studied it will be evident that the coins of the Kadphises kings were issued immediately after those of the Sakas and the Parthians.

Again, the coins of Kanishka and Huvishka, although differ in some details, they seem to be largely prototypes of Wima Kadiphises.

It must also be noted that the practice of issuing bilingual and by scriptural coins introduced by the Indo-Greek kings was continued throughout the Saka-Pahlava period upto the time of Kadphises. The continuity of the practice without break till the time of Wima Kadphises was broken only at the time of Kanishka who gave up the practice of issuing bilingual coins.

The legend of his coins was Greek but most of them were not, however, in Greek. Hurishka and Vasudeva followed the practice of Kanishka. Thus we find that while there was a continuity in the method of the striking coins followed upto Wima Kadphises from the line of the Indo-Greeks a different method was followed and continued by Kanishka and his successors. These two different sequences when compared leave no doubt that the Kushana group followed Kadphises group of kings.

Turning to the second point, we find that scholars like Sir John Marshall, Sten Konow, Vincent Smith, Van Wijk and some other scholars are of the opinion that Kanishka began his rule in the first quarter of the second century A.D., sometime between 125 to 128 A.D. which lasted for about a quarter of a century.

But Ferguson had held long before that Kanishka started his first regional year in 78 A.D. and inaugurated an era from that date which came to be known as the Saka era (Sakabda) which is still current in different parts of India. Ferguson’s view has been supported by scholars like Oldenberg, Thomas, Rapson, R. D. Banerjee, Dr. Raichaudhuri and others. One of the latest scholars to support the view that Kanishka started his rule in 78 A.D. which was also the beginning of an era is Van Lohuizen-de Leeuw.

It has been argued against the above view held by most of the scholars, that if we agree that Kadphises-I reigned about 50 A.D. and Kanishka about 78 A.D. then we are left with only 28 years roughly for the two reigns of Kadphises-I and Kadphises-II which is a very short span for two reigns. But when we remember that Kadphises died at the age of eighty, his son Kadphises-II must have ascended the throne at pretty old age. This makes accession of Kanishka in 78 AD. quite tenable.

Marshall, Sten Konow and others who are of the opinion that Kanishka ruled in the first quarter of the second century A.D. is- directly against the evidence of Junagarh inscription of Rudradamana. Dr. Raichaudhuri draws our attention to the fact that it is clearly mentioned in the Junagarh inscription that Rudradamana held sway over the lower Sindhu region in the first half of the second century A.D.

The South Bihar (Sui-Bihar) inscription of Kanishka mentions lower Sindhu area as within the dominions of Kanishka. Obviously, both Rudradamana and Kanishka were not rulers over the same region simultaneously. This proves the untenability of the view that Kanishka ruled in the second century A.D. There is also no evidence to show that there was the inauguration of any era in the second century A.D.

Dr. Majumdar’s contention that Kanishka was the founder of Traikutaka-Kalachuri-Chedi era of 248-249 A.D. is absolutely unten­able in view of the Chinese evidence that An-Shi-Kao who lived dur­ing the second century A.D. translated a work Margabhumi-sutra written by Sangharaksha, chaplain of Kanishka. This precludes plac­ing Kanishka in the third century A.D. as Dr. R. C. Majumdar has done. Dr. R. G. Bhandarkar’s view that Kanishka ascended the throne in 278 A.D. is untenable on the same grounds.

Thus most of the scholars are of the view that Kanishka started his rule in 78 A.D. which was also the year from which the Saka era is counted.

It has been contended by some scholars that if the era was found­ed by Kanishka why should it have been named Saka era and not Kushana era, after all the Kushanas were not Sakas. But it may be pointed out that the close association of the Yue-chi people of which the Kushanas were a branch, with the Saka-Pahlava made them a com­posite people with a composite culture in which the contributions of the Sakas was quite large.

Further, the Kushanas were not Greeks but some of Kanishka’s coins bore Greek legend on them. It is therefore no conclusive argument to say that since the era was called Saka era Kanishka could not be its founder. Likewise the contention that the Saka era was not followed in northern India although Kanishka was a ruler of the north is untenable.

Facts are, however, otherwise. This era was abandoned temporarily during the Gupta rule when it was confined to the south where its use was spread by the Jainas. But with the end of the Gupta rule the Saka era came back into use and Continues to be used even today in different parts of India.

Thus after an analysis of evidences, literary, numismatic as well as epigraphic, the balance of arguments remains in favour of placing the Kanishka group of kings after the Kadphises group of kings and fixing 78 A.D. as the starting point of Kanishka’s rule, and also the beginning of the era known as Saka era or Sakavda.

His Conquests: Extent of His Empire:

Kanishka was alone among the Kushana kings who has left a name cherished by tradition and famous in India as well beyond her limits.

At the time of accession to the throne Kanishka’s empire compris­ed Afghanistan, large part of Sindhu, portions of Parthia and the Punjab. He appears to have not forgotten to avenge the defeat of his predecessor Kadphises at the hands of the Chinese general Pan-chao. He also played the part of a conqueror in the early years of his reign. Dr. Smith credits him with the conquest and annexation of the Kashmir Valley. He certainly showed, remarks Smith, a marked preference for that delightful country.

Here he erected nume­rous monuments and founded a town, which although now reduced to a petty village, still bears his honoured name. We have, however, no details about the war with the king of Kashmir. Rajatarangini refers to three kings Hushka, Jushka and Kanishka who are described as decendants of Turuksha ruler and were given to acts of piety and built monasteries, Chaityas and similar other structures.

According to tradition Kanishka penetrated into the interior of India and attacked Pataliputra, the capital of Magadha. It is said that he carried away Asvaghosh, a Buddhist tradition, after the capture of Pataliputra and Buddhist Philosopher Asvaghosa fell into the hands of Kanishka who took the saga with him. Asvaghosa was in­deed one of the luminaries that graced the court of Kanishka. We may, therefore, conclude that at least a part of Magadha including Pataliputra was conquered by Kanishka.

Kanishka seems to have waged war against the western Satraps of Ujjaini. Numismatic evidence proves the inclusion of Malwa in his empire. Sylvan Levi, D. C. Sircar and Rapson suggest that the western Satrap Nahapana who ruled over Kathiawar, Malwa and Sourashtra had been a vassal of Kanishka. Some scholars hold that it was Chastana who was defeated by Kanishka and was compelled to hand over a part of Malwa to him.

According to Dr. Smith, Kanishka also waged war against the Parthians. Kanishka also con­quered Kashgarh, Khotan and Yarkhand. He is credited with defeat­ing the Chinese and thereby avenging the defeat of his predecessor Kadphises II at the hands of the Chinese general Pan-chao and com­pelled the Chinese to surrender hostages to him.

From the Chinese source as also from Buddhist traditions we come to know Kanishka conquered Kajangal in the Rajmahal hills in Bengal, some parts of Malda, Murshidabad, Bogra, Midnapur, etc. But in absence of any other evidences to support the indirect evidence furnished by the find spots of the coins of Kanishka it is difficult to come to any definite conclusion with regard to the inclusion of Bengal in Kanishka’s empire.

Kanishka’s empire comprised vast tacts of land extending from Afghanistan, and Khotan, Yarkhand, Kashgarh, etc. in Central Asia to Benares, and perhaps to parts of Bengal. His empire included Gandhara, Peshawar, Oudh, Pataliputra, Mathura. Inclusion of Kashmir is borne out by both the Chinese and Buddhist evidences. The western Satrapies seem to have been under his suzerainty.

Ac­cording to Hiuen TSang Kanishka Raja of Gandhara in old days having subdued all the neighbouring provinces and brought into obe­dience the people of distant countries, governed by his army a wide territory even to the east of the Tsung-ling mountains. All this proves that Kanishka’s sway extended beyond the borders of India.

The Buddhist tradition and Kanishka’s own inscriptions are ample testimony to the vast expanse of his dominions within India. Selec­tion of Purushapura, i.e. Peshawar, proves that Kanishka’s imperial possessions spread far towards the west and north.



Kanishka was a mighty conqueror, but no less was his ability as an administrator and he was even mightier in peaceful pursuits and in his solicitousness of the welfare of the people. For an effective and efficient rule of the empire he resorted to the system of Satrapies and appointed Mahakshatrapa Kharapallana and Kshatrapa Vanaspara in the eastern part of the empire.

The northern part was ruled by Gene­ral Lala as Mahakshatrapa with Vaspasi and Laika as Kshatrapas. The seat of the Central Government was at Purushpura or Peshawar. This practice of rule through Great Satraps and Satraps was the con­tinuation of the system followed by the Sakas and the Pahlavas.

We find a conscious emulation of the methods of Asoka by the Kushana king Kanishka. He pursued the policy of propagating Bud­dhism both within India and outside India. It was in connection with his missionary activities that he established close relationship, religious cultural and commercial, not only with China, Tibet and Central Asia but also with Rome and influx of gold from China and Rome in parti­cular. The prosperity of the empire attested by the fine gold coins struck by Kadphises I appears to have increased under Kanishka. The unmistakable influence of Rome on the Indian coinage of the time could be noticed.

From the Periplus we know that gold and silver specie constituted one of the imports of Barygaza, i.e., Borach, a port on the eastern sea board of India. Swell has also mentioned to huge hoard of Roman coins of the first five Roman emperors discovered in the Madras Presidency. The very name dinara of gold coins seems to have close affinity with the Roman denarius and drama for silver coins has been adopted from the Greek drachma.

Kanishka assumed epithet like Shaonaus Shoo, as found on his coins, was an adaptation of the Parthian title Basileos Basileon. From Shaonaus Shoo the letter Shaahan Sha was derived.


As it is customary for the Buddhist writers to depict a person wicked before conversion and turned into saint after conversion to Buddhism. Kanishka has been described by them to be devoid of the sense of right or wrong before his conversion. This view of the Buddhist writers has not been accepted by most of the scholars who think that it is an attempt on the part of the Buddhist writers to glorify Buddhism.

Before conversion to Buddhism Kanishka was a believer in many gods, Persian, Greek, Hindu, etc. This is proved by the figures imprinted on his coins. The exact date of conversion of Kanishka is, however, not known. The conversion is supposed to have taken place after some years he had been on the throne. It is supposed that after his association with the Buddhist philosopher and Saint Asvaghosha, he must have come under his influence.

Asvaghosha must have won the heart of Kanishka so completely that the latter gave up his alle­giance to his previous gods and got converted to Buddhism. Here is a second instance of a great conqueror and emperor being converted to Buddhism and taken to the policy of peace and brotherliness in place of the policy of military conquests.

Kanishka was a close copy of Asoka. What is specially noteworthy about Kanishka is that he was the only foreigner who became a con­vert to an Indian religion and turned into zealous missionary. In his missionary activities we find him to an emulator of Asoka whose foot­steps he tried to follow closely.

We renovated the old monasteries which were in a state of disrepair and built many a new one. He endowed the monasteries with liberal money grants for the maintenance of the monks who dwelt in them. Kanishka caused the construction of a number of stupas in the memory of Sakyamuni.

He also sent missionaries for the propagation of Buddhism to China, Tibet, Japan and Central Asia. The sculptors, painters, as well as the architects of his time also became active propagandists of Buddhism. The celebrated Chaitya it Peshawar constructed under his orders excited the wonder and appreciation of travellers down to a late period and famous sculp­tures therein included a life-size statue of himself.

During his time there arose disputes about Buddhism, among 18 schools of Buddhism prevalent at that time, as we know from the Tibetan historian Taranath. It became necessary to restore the dis­putes and to that end Kanishka convoked the Fourth Buddhist Coun­cil to which was attended by 500 monks.

There is a controversy with regard to the venue of the Council. According to some it was held at Kundavana in Kashmir but others hold that it met at Jullundur in the Punjab. In the Council the entire Buddhist literature was thoroughly examined and commentaries on the three Pitakas were prepared, which were compiled in Mahavibhasha which is the greatest work on Bud­dhist Philosophy.

This voluminous work is considered to be the encyclopaedia of Buddhism. The decisions of the Council were ins­cribed in copper plates and deposited in a stupa built for the pur­pose, packed in stone chests. Vasumitra acted as the President and Asvaghosha as the Vice-President of the Council.


Buddhist Council:

The period of Kanishka saw the transformation of the Hinayana form of Buddhism into Mahayana form. In the Hinayana form the worship of Buddha was only by relics like footprint of Buddha, an empty seat of Buddha, that is, some sort of symbol used to be placed in front of the worshipper.

There used to be no figure or image of Buddha to worship. This needed great concentration of mind on the part of the worshipper and the method was very subtle and could be followed by persons of great self-control, and of deepest religious bent of mind. This method of proceeding along the Path of Buddhist reli­gion was called Hina-Yana, i.e., lesser vehicle, i.e., subtle mode of trans­port in the path of religion.

But during Kanishka’s time worship of the image of Buddha came into use. It became easy to concentrate by keeping as visible representation of Buddha in form. This was a greater and easier method hence called Mahayana Buddhism. In the Hinayana form of worship emphasis was laid on good action but in Mahayana system worship of Buddha and Bodhisattvas was emphasis­ed. The use of Pali as the language of the Buddhist religious books was now replaced by Sanskrit.

Art and Learning:

Kanishka’s patronage of art and learning marked the beginning of a cultural renaissance which was to reach its peak and flower under the Guptas A large volume of Sanskrit literary works both religious and secular, was produced during the period. Asvaghosha, the great­est Buddha Philosopher, saint and literary figure of the time adorned the court of Kanishka.

He was a versatile genius whose contributions to the cultural life of the time centred round poetry, philosophy, drama, music. Buddhacharit and Sutralankar are his two most famous works. Buddhacharit on the life of Gautama Buddha in Sanskrit verse has been regarded as a Buddhist epic. Another great Buddhist writer of fame who adorned the court of Kanishka was Nagarjuna. He was the greatest exponent of Mahayana Buddhism.

Charaka, the celebrated master of the science of medicine, was the court physician of Kanishka. Mathara, a politician of great acumen, was a minister of Kanishka. Be­sides these worthies, the Greek engineer Agesilaus and many others played a leading part in the religious, literary, scientific, philosophical and artistic activities of the reign. It is of great interest to know that Nagarjuna in his celebrated work Madhyamikasutra expounded the theory of relativity in its preliminary form.

Another celebrity that adorned the court of Kanishka was Vasu­mitra who presided over the Fourth Buddhist Council held during the reign of Kanishka.

Kanishka was also a great builder and a patron of art and archi­tecture. The works of architecture, art of sculpture of his time are found in Mathura, Peshawar, Taxila and Amaravati. The Sirsukh city in Taxila with its hall, buildings and monasteries was built by him. Statues, sculptures, monasteries added to the beauty of the city.

The Gatidhara School of art was the product of Graeco-Roman-Buddhist school of art and sculpture. Totally indigenous art also flourished during his reign at Amaravati. The ornamental sculpture depicted in the Amaravati medallion bear testimony to the excellence of purely Indian style uninfluenced by any foreign art. At Mathura find of Kanishka’s headless statue is an example of the massive sculptural art of the time.

Estimate of Kanishka:

Kanishka happens to be one of the few kings in history who came in as a conqueror and won an empire but was conquered by the religion, language and culture of the country of his conquest. He was an intrepid warrior, a mighty conqueror but what was more he was equally great as an administrator. If he was great in war and administration he was greater still in the arts of peace.

He was a great patron of art and literature. He built a vast empire which ex­tended from Central Asia to Mathura, Benares and probably to parts of Bengal but he gave it an administration which brought peace and prosperity to the country and the people, which conduced to pursuit of religion, art, architecture and literature. Before his conversion to Buddhism he was eclectic in his religious belief and was a polytheist.

After becoming a Buddhist he became an ardent missionary of the Mahayanism. He rendered a great service to Buddhism by convening the Fourth Buddhist Council which resolved the disputes that arose among the Buddhists about Buddhist religion. He was a great patron of Buddhism as his predecessor of the Maurya Dynasty Asoka. Like Asoka he sent missions for propagation of Buddhism in China, Japan, Tibet, Central Asia, etc.

He patronized the Buddhist philosophers like Asvaghosha, Basumitra, Nagarjuna, Political scientist like Mathara, medical scientist like Charaka, and engineer like Greek Agesilaus.

He was a great patron of art and architecture. The city of Purushapura, his capital, Taxila, Mathura were beautified by monas­teries, stupas, etc. The tall Chaitya at his capital with its sculpture forced the admiration of visitors even after long time.

The beneficence of his rule was seem in the prosperity of the people resulting from the influx of huge quantity of gold by way of trade with foreign countries like China, Rome, etc.

Kanishka has been likened to Asoka as a conqueror, preacher. But although he was definitely a lesser personality than Great Asoka, he was the nearest emulator of Asoka in his spirit of toleration of other religions, patronage of Buddhism, and missionary zeal. He, how­ever, was not an apostle of non-violence as Asoka had been yet he had initiated a cultural renaissance which reached its zenith under the Guptas.

Kanishka’s reign constituted a brilliant epoch in the his­tory of ancient India and the darkness that descended on the Indian History after the fall of the Mauryas was lifted during his reign. Kanishka rightly deserves a place among the best rulers of the ancient history of India.

Art, Sculpture and Architecture in Kushana Empire

The Kushana period witnessed a remarkable development in art, sculpture and architecture. The Gandhara School of Art and Sculp­ture marked a happy blending of the Graceo-Romano-Buddhist style and techniques. The distinguishing features of the Gandhara Sculp­ture owed their origin to Greek and Roman styles yet the art essen­tially was Indian in spirit. The Gandhara artists had the hand of a Greek but the heart of an India.

The most remarkable contribu­tion of the Gandhara School of art is to be seen in the evolution of the image of Buddha, perhaps in imitation of the Greek God Apollo. Images of Buddha and Bodhisatva illustrating the past and present lives of Buddha were executed in black stone. The figures show an excellent idea of human anatomy that swayed the artists.

These works of art offer a striking contrast to similar art that we witness else­where in India. The smooth round features of the idealised human figures, draped in transparent and semi-transparent cloth closely fit­ting to the body and revealing its outline were due to the influ­ence of the Hellenistic art of Asia Minor and the Roman Empire.

The images of Buddha pertaining to the Gandhara school cen­tres of which were Gandhara, Jalalabad, Hadda and Baniyan in Afghanistan, Peshawar and Swat Valley, were more animated and anatomically perfect than those found in other parts of India. While the former are more beautiful physically and accurate in anatomical details as such more realistic, the Indian art and sculpture which pro­duced the images of Buddha were more idealistic giving a spiritual and sublime expression to the images.

The technique of the Gan­dhara School of art of the Kushana period spread through China to the Far East and influenced the art of China and Japan. The Gandhara art, according to V. A. Smith, was based on the cosmopolitan art of the Asia Minor and the Roman Empire.

There were also purely Indian schools of art in India during the period of the Kushanas. There were the schools of art at Amaravati, Jagayyapeta and Nagarjunikonda. In the Amaravati human figures are characterised by slim, blithe features and have been repre­sented in most difficult poses and curves. The technique of art reach­ed a high standard of development. Plants and flowers, particularly lotuses, have been represented in the most perfect, lifelike manner.

Two Chaityas and a Stupa discovered at Nagarjunikonda are the relics of the indigenous school of art and show a high standard of development. The limestone panel of figures depicting the nativity of Buddha is an excellent piece of sculpture of the Kushana period which was entirely indigenous.

Architecture of the Kushana period was not so remarkable as the sculpture of the period. There were beautiful temples, monas­teries, Stupas which indicate considerable development during the period although the technique of architecture did not attain the standard of excellence of sculpture. The famous tower of Kanishka at Purushapura (Peshawar) was one of the wonders of the world. Much of the architectural specimens of the period perished with time.

Caves hewn in solid rock with pillars and sculptures, hundreds of which have been found in different parts of the Kushana Empire show a great improvement upon the technique of excavation that was in use during the time of Asoka. A Chaitya with rows of columns on two sides was a fine work of art of sculpture and architecture. The Chaitya at Karle is an excellent illustration.

Fa-hien who visited India during the rule of Chandragupta II {5th century) was struck with wonder to find a large number of Stupas, dagobas (small stupa), Chaityas and images of Buddha carved out of stone during the Kushana period.

There has been a sharp difference of opinion about the celebrity, and the extent of influence of the Gandhara art upon the Indian art during the reign of the Kushanas. Modern scholars think that the Gandhara School of sculpture has attained a celebrity perhaps beyond its merits.

According to some European scholars, the Gandhara School of art was the only school in Ancient India which can claim a place in the domain of art. There are others who are of the opinion that the source of subsequent development of Indian art as well as of the Far East was the Gandhara School of art which developed as a result of a happy blending of the Graco-Romano-Buddhist art.

But despite the foreign influence upon the school of Gandhara art, scholars like Havell, Will Durant, R. C. Majumdar and others are of the opinion that the influence, Hellenistic and Roman, upon the Indian art which was the Gandhara School of art was technical but spirit and the subject matter of the art was purely Indian.

  1. D. Banerjee’s view that the Gandhara art influenced the Indian art for nearly five centuries to follow is untenable on the ground that there were indigenous schools of art at Ainaravati, Nagarjunkonda, etc. where there was no influence of Gandhara School of art. The influence of the Gandhara art failed to penetrate into the interior of India and had no influence on the later development of the Indian, art. But the Gandhara School of art achieved a grand success in. becoming the parent of the Buddhist art of Eastern and Chinese Turkestan, Mongolia, China, Korea and Japan.


The Kushana period witnessed a remarkable development of literature and Sanskrit language. Under the patronage enjoyed by the scholars and Buddhist philosophers of the time a massive develop­ment in secular and religious literature took place. A large number of standard works in Sanskrit language were written during the period.

Asvaghosha’s Buddhacharita, Saudarananda Kavya, Vajrasuchi, Sariputta Prakarana, Vasumitra’s Mahabibhasa—regarded as the Bud­dhist encyclopaedia, Nagarjuna’s Madhyamika-Sutra in which the theory of relativity was propounded, Charaka’s work on medicine, etc. contributed to the fund of human knowledge. Under the Kushanas the royal court became a seat of luminaries mentioned above as also of the Political Scientist Mathara, Greek engineer Agesilaus, etc.

The Gupta Empire stretched across northern, central and parts of southern India between c. 320 and 550 CE. The period is noted for its achievements in the arts, architecture, sciences, religion, and philosophy. Chandragupta I (320 – 335 CE) started a rapid expansion of the Gupta Empire and soon established himself as the first sovereign ruler of the empire. It marked the end of 500 hundred years of domination of the provincial powers and resulting disquiet that began with the fall of the Mauryas. Even more importantly, it began a period of overall prosperity and growth that continued for the next two and half centuries which came to be known as a “Golden Age” in India’s history. But the seed of the empire was sown at least two generations earlier than this when Srigupta, then only a regional monarch, set off the glory days of this mighty dynasty in circa 240 CE.


Not much is known about the early days of this Gupta dynasty. The travel diaries and writings of Buddhist monks who frequented this part of the world are the most trustworthy sources of information we have about those days. The travelogues of Fa Hien (Faxian, circa 337 – 422 CE), Hiuen Tsang (Xuanzang, 602 – 664 CE) and Yijing (I Tsing, 635 – 713 CE) prove to be invaluable in this respect. The Gupta Empire during the rule of Srigupta (circa 240 – 280 CE) comprised only Magadha and probably a part of Bengal too. Like the Mauryas and other Magadha kings who preceded him, Srigupta ruled from Pataliputra, close to modern day Patna. Srigupta was succeeded to the throne by his son Ghatotkacha (circa 280 – 319 CE).


From the Kushans, the Gupta kings learned the benefit of maintaining a cavalry and Chandragupta I, son of Ghatotkacha, made effective use of his strong army. Through his marriage with Licchhavi Princess Kumaradevi, Chandragupta I received the ownership of rich mines full of iron ore adjacent to his kingdom. Metallurgy was already at an advanced stage and forged iron was not only used to meet the internal demands, but also became a valuable trade commodity. The territorial heads ruling over various parts of India could not counter the superior armed forces of Chandragupta I and had to surrender before him. It is conjectured that at the end of his reign, the boundary of the Gupta Empire already extended to Allahabad.


Samudragupta (circa 335 – 375 CE), Chandragupta I’s son who ascended the throne next, was a military genius and he continued the growth of the kingdom. After conquering the remainder of North India, Samudragupta turned his eyes to South India and added a portion of it to his empire by the end of his Southern Campaign. It is generally believed that during his time the Gupta Empire spanned from the Himalayas in north to the mouth of Krishna and Godavari rivers in the South, from Balkh, Afghanistan in the west to the Brahmaputra River in the east.

Samudragupta was very attentive to rajdharma (duties of a king) and took special care to follow Kautilya’s (350 – 275 BCE) Arthashastra (an economic, social and political treatise that has clear instructions about how a monarchy should be governed) closely. He donated large sums of money for various philanthropic purposes, including the promotion of education. Besides being a courageous king and able administrator, he was a poet and musician. The large number of gold coins circulated by him showcases his multifaceted talent. An inscription, probably commissioned by subsequent Gupta kings, known as the Allahabad Pillar is most eloquent about his humane qualities. Samudragupta also believed in promoting goodwill among various religious communities. He gave, for example, Meghavarna, king of Ceylon, permission and support for the construction of a monastery in Bodh Gaya.


A short struggle for power appears to have ensued after the reign of Samudragupta. His eldest son Ramagupta became the next Gupta king. This was noted by 7th century CE Sanskrit author Banbhatta in his biographical work, Harshacharita. What followed next forms a part of Sanskrit poet and playwright Visakh Dutta’s drama DeviChandra Guptam. As the story goes, Ramagupta was soon overcome by a Scythian king of Mathura. But the Scythian king, besides the kingdom itself, was interested in Queen Dhruvadevi who was also a renowned scholar. To maintain peace Ramagupta gave up Dhruvadevi to his opponent. It is then Ramagupta’s younger brother Chandragupta II with a few of his close aides went to meet the enemy in disguise. He rescued Dhruvadevi and assassinated the Scythian king. Dhruvadevi publicly condemned her husband for his behaviour. Eventually, Ramagupta was killed by Chandragupta II who also married Dhruvadevi sometime later.

Like Samudragupta, Chandragupta II (circa 380 – 414 CE) was a benevolent king, able leader and skilled administrator. By defeating the satrap of Saurashtra, he further expanded his kingdom to the coastline of the Arabian Sea. His courageous pursuits earned him the title of Vikramaditya. To rule the vast empire more efficiently, Chandragupta II founded his second capital in Ujjain. He also took care to strengthen the navy. The seaports of Tamralipta and Sopara consequently became busy hubs of maritime trade. He was a great patron of art and culture too. Some of the greatest scholars of the day including the navaratna (nine gems) graced his court. Numerous charitable institutions, orphanages and hospitals benefitted from his generosity. Rest houses for travellers were set up by the road side. The Gupta Empire reached its pinnacle during this time and unprecedented progress marked all areas of life.


Great tact and foresight were shown in the governance of the vast empire. The efficiency of their martial system was well known. The large kingdom was divided into smaller pradesha (provinces) and administrative heads were appointed to take care of them. The kings maintained discipline and transparency in the bureaucratic process. Criminal law was mild, capital punishment was unheard of and judicial torture was not practised. Fa Hien called the cities of Mathura and Pataliputra as picturesque with the latter being described as a city of flowers. People could move around freely. Law and order reigned and, according to Fa Hien, incidents of theft and burglary were rare.

The following also speaks volumes about the prudence of the Gupta kings. Samudragupta acquired a far greater part of southern India than he cared to incorporate into his empire. Therefore, in quite a few cases, he returned the kingdom to the original kings and was satisfied only with collecting taxes from them. He reckoned that the great distance between that part of the country and his capital Pataliputra would hinder the process of good governance.


People led a simple life. Commodities were affordable and all round prosperity ensured that their requirements were met easily. They preferred vegetarianism and shunned alcoholic beverages. Gold and silver coins were issued in great numbers which is a general indicative of the health of the economy. Trade and commerce flourished both within the country and outside. Silk, cotton, spices, medicine, priceless gemstones, pearl, precious metal and steel were exported by sea. Highly evolved steelcraft led everyone to a belief that Indian iron was not subject to corrosion. The 7 m (23 ft) high Iron Pillar in Qutub complex, Delhi, built around 402 CE, is a testimony to this fact. Trade relations with Middle East improved. Ivory, tortoise shell etc. from Africa, silk and some medicinal plants from China and the Far East were high on the list of imports. Food, grain, spices, salt, gems and gold bullion were primary commodities of inland trade.


Gupta kings knew that the well-being of the empire lie in maintaining a cordial relationship between the various communities. They were devout Vaishnava (Hindus who worship the Supreme Creator as Vishnu) themselves, yet that did not prevent them from being tolerant towards the believers of Buddhism and Jainism. Buddhist monasteries received liberal donations. Yijing observed how the Gupta kings erected inns and rest houses for Buddhist monks and other pilgrims. As a pre-eminent site of education and cultural exchange Nalanda prospered under their patronage. Jainism flourished in northern Bengal, Gorakhpur, Udayagiri and Gujarat. Several Jain establishments existed across the empire and Jain councils were a regular occurrence.


Sanskrit once again attained the status of a lingua franca and managed to scale even greater heights than before. Poet and playwright Kalidasa created such epics as Abhijnanasakuntalam, Malavikagnimitram, Raghuvansha and Kumarsambhaba. Harishena, a renowned poet, panegyrist and flutist, composed Allahabad Prasasti, Sudraka wrote Mricchakatika, Vishakhadatta created Mudrarakshasa and Vishnusharma penned Panchatantra. Vararuchi, Baudhayana, Ishwar Krishna and Bhartrihari contributed to both Sanskrit and Prakrit linguistics, philosophy and science.

Varahamihira wrote Brihatsamhita and also contributed to the fields of astronomy and astrology. Genius mathematician and astronomer Aryabhata wrote Surya Siddhanta which covered several aspects of geometry, trigonometry and cosmology. Shanku devoted himself to creating texts about Geography. Dhanvantri’s discoveries helped the Indian medicinal system of ayurveda become more refined and efficient. Doctors were skilled in surgical practices and inoculation against contagious diseases was performed. Even today, Dhanvantri’s birth anniversary is celebrated on Dhanteras, two days before Diwali. This intellectual surge was not confined to the courts or among the royalty. People were encouraged to learn the nuances of Sanskrit literature, oratory, intellectual debate, music and painting. Several educational institutions were set up and the existing ones received continuous support.


What philosopher and historian Ananda Coomaraswamy said in The Arts & Crafts of India & Ceylone, about the art of the region must be remembered here,

The Hindus do not regard the religious, aesthetic, and scientific standpoints as necessarily conflicting, and in all their finest work, whether musical, literary, or plastic, these points of view, nowadays so sharply distinguished, are inseparably united.

The finest examples of painting, sculpture and architecture of the period can be found in Ajanta, Ellora, Sarnath, Mathura, Anuradhapura and Sigiriya. The basic tenets of Shilpa Shasrta (Treatise on Art) were followed everywhere including in town planning. Stone studded golden stairways, iron pillars (The iron pillar of Dhar is twice the size of Delhi’s Iron Pillar), intricately designed gold coins, jewellery and metal sculptures speak volumes about the skills of the metalsmiths. Carved ivories, wood and lac-work, brocades and embroidered textile also thrived. Practicing vocal music, dance and seven types of musical instruments including veena (an Indian musical stringed instrument), flute and mridangam (drum) were a norm rather than exception. These were regularly performed in temples as a token of devotion. In classic Indian style, artists and litterateurs were encouraged to meditate on the imagery within and capture its essence in their creations. As Agni Purana suggests, “O thou Lord of all gods, teach me in dreams how to carry out all the work I have in my mind.”


After the demise of his father Chandragupta II, Kumaragupta I (circa 415 – 455 CE) ruled over the vast empire with skill and ability. He was able to maintain peace and even fend off strong challenges from a tribe known as Pushyamitra. He was helped by his able son Skandagupta (455 – 467 CE) who was the last of the sovereign rulers of the Gupta Dynasty. He also succeeded in preventing the invasion of the Huns (Hephthalites). Skandagupta was a great scholar and wise ruler. For the well being of the denizens he carried out several construction works including the rebuilding of a dam on Sudarshan Lake, Gujarat. But these were the last of the glory days of the empire.

After Skandagupta’s death the dynasty became embroiled with domestic conflicts. The rulers lacked the capabilities of the earlier emperors to rule over such a large kingdom. This resulted in a decline in law and order. They were continuously plagued by the attacks of the Huns and other foreign powers. This put a dent in the economic well-being of the empire. On top of this, the kings remained more occupied with self-indulgence than in preparing to meet with the challenges of their enemies. The inept ministers and administrative heads also followed suit. Notably, after the defeat and capture of Mihirakula, one of the most important Hephthalite emperors of the time, Gupta King Baladitya set him free on the advice of his ministers. The Huns came back to haunt the empire later and finally drew the curtains on this illustrious empire in circa 550. The following lines of King Sudraka’s Mricchakatika (The Little Clay Cart) aptly sum up the rise and fall in the fortune of the Gupta Dynasty.


Emperor Harshavardhana, better known as Harsha, lived from 590 to 647 CE and was the third ruler of the Vardhana Empire, the last great empire in ancient India before the Islamic Invasion. He ruled from 606 CE to 647 CE. After Harshavardhana’s death, however, the Vardhana dynasty came to an end and its empire dissolved.

India, the land beyond the Indus river, has seen many rulers who dreamt of conquering the vast country and rule from the Himalayas in the north to Deccan in south, from the mountains of Kandhar in the west to Assam in the east, yet very few have been able to subdue history according to their will. Harshavardhana was one such ruler. His empire may not be as large as the great Mauryan’s, yet he deserves special mention. After the fall of great Gupta Empire in the middle of the 6th century CE, under whom India saw its own golden age, it was Harshavardhana who unified most of northern India and ruled for four decades from his capital Kannauj.


The Vardhana dynasty was started by Prabhakarana Vardhana who ruled the kingdom of Thaneshwar, modern-day Haryana. Prabhakarana’s queen Yasovati gave birth to two sons Rajyavardhana and Harshawardhana and a daughter named Rajyashri who was later married to king Grahvarmana of Kanyakubja, modern-day Kannauj. This was a period of tension as India had to frequently deal with the invasion of the Huns of Central Asia. Once, emperor Skandagupta of the Gupta Empire laid a crushing defeat on these barbaric tribes, yet these constant fights were so costly that they weakened the empire to the core, and this eventually led to the downfall of the Gupta Empire. As the western frontiers of India and areas adjoining the Indus river were under the occupation of Huns, skirmishes between Huns and Thaneshwar were regular. While Harsha and his brother were busy dealing with the Huns in the west, king Prabhakarana died in Thaneshwar. He was succeeded by his elder son, Rajyavardhana.


Meanwhile, in the east far greater events were happening which altered the course of history. Sasaka, king of Gauda, modern-day Bengal, marched and killed king Grahvarmana, Rajyashri’s husband, and then kidnapped her. The kidnapping of his sister forced the elder Vardhana brother to march east and confront Sasaka. Sasaka then invited Rajyavardhana for a meeting and treacherously killed him. After his brother’s death, at the age of 16, Harshavardhana became the undisputed ruler of Thaneshwar and declared war on Sasaka to avenge his brother and embarked upon a campaign of Digvijay, i.e. to conquer the world (which in this context means conquering whole India). Yet, his foremost enemy was now Sasaka who had to face an angry brother’s wrath. Harsha issued a proclamation to all kings known to either declare allegiance to him or face him on the battlefield. As Sasaka’s enemies responded to Harsha’s call, he marched on to Kannuaj.

Although there is no evidence, a story in Harshacharitra claims that Rajyashri, when released from prison, took refuge in the forest of Vindhyas. Hearing this, Harsha hurriedly went into the forest to save her and found her just when she was about to commit suicide by throwing herself in a fire. Rescuing his sister, he rejoined his army at the bank of Ganges. After this, Harsha easily conquered Kannauj as Sasaka went back to Bengal, and thus began a long enmity. It was only after Sasaka’s death that Harsha was able to control entire eastern India including Magadha, Bengal and Kalinga.

Harsha’s Digvijay, or the conquest of the world had now begun. After Kannauj, he turned his attention towards Gujarat. He defeated the local Valabhi kingdom and expanded his empire. Yet, this rapid expansion led to tensions between him and the Chalukya king Pulakesin II. It was now that the most powerful kingdoms of northern and southern India came face-to-face on the battlefield on the banks of river Narmada. In the end, the southerners under the able leadership of Pulakesin II prevailed leaving the ambitious northern ruler, Harsha, defeated. They say Harsha lost his cheer when he saw his elephants dying in the battle.

Harsha entered a peace treaty with the Chalukya king, which established Narmada river as the southern boundary of his empire and after that he never advanced south again. Yet, this did not halt his conquest of the north. He took the title of sakal uttara patha natha (lord of northern India). Hieun Tsang tells us that:

He waged incessant warfare, until in six years he had fought thr five Indians(referring to  five largest kingdoms). Then, having enlarges his territory, he increased his army, bringing the elephant corps upto 60,000 and the cavalry upto 100,000, and reigned in peace for thirty years without raising a weapon (Majumdar, 252).

Yet many historians believe his claim may be exaggerated. Still, this gives a glimpse of his military prowess.

The Vardhana Empire consisted of two distinctive types of territories: areas directly under Harsha’s rule such as Central Provinces, Gujarat, Bengal, Kalinga, Rajputana, and the states and kingdoms which had become feudatories under him including Jalandhar, Kashmir, Nepal, Sind, Kamarupa (modern-day Assam). Thus, many historians do not find the title justified as he was never able to bring the entire north under a single command. Yet, this does not mean his power was not felt beyond the limits of his direct rule. His writ ran across entire north India. Under his command, King of Jalandhar escorted the Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang to the frontiers of India. Another time, king of Kashmir had to submit a tooth relic of Buddha to Harsha. The Chinese source suggests that the King of Kamarupa could not dare to detain a Chinese pilgrim in his capital against the wishes of Harsha.


Harsha was a patron of both art and education. He himself was an author and wrote three Sanskrit plays, Nagananda, Ratnavali, Priyadarshika. One-fourth of his revenue went for patronizing scholars. Hiuen Tsang gives a quite vivid description of the famous Nalanda University which was at its zenith during Harsha’s reign. He described how the regularly laid-out towers, forests of pavilions, temples seemed to “soar above the mists in the sky” so that from their cells the monks “might witness the birth of the winds and clouds”.
The pilgrim states:

An azure pool winds around the monasteries, adorned with the full-blown cups of the blue lotus; the dazzling red flowers of the lovely kanaka hang here and there, and outside groves of mango trees offer the inhabitants their dense and protective shade (Grousset,158,159).

In its heyday, Nalanda had around 10,000 students and 2,000 teachers. The admission process was very strict. Records say there was a rigorous oral examination conducted by gatekeepers, and many used to be rejected. The curriculum included Vedas, Buddhism, philosophy, logic, urban planning, medicine, law, astronomy, etc.


Caste system was prevalent among Hindus. They were divided into four castes or varna: Brahmana, Vaishya,Kshariya and Shudra, which among them had their own subcastes. The untouchables, who came at the lowest in the hierarchy, led a miserable life. The status of women declined as compared to the liberal era of earlier times. Satipratha (widow immolation) was common, and widow remarriage was not allowed in higher castes.

Harsha was a worshiper of Shiva in the beginning but later became a Mahayana Buddhist. Yet, he was tolerant of other faiths. With a view to popularize and propagate the doctrines of Mahayana Buddhism, Harsha arranged at Kannauj a great assembly which was presided over by Hiuen Tsang. Hiuen Tsang took a lot of manuscripts to China and translated more than 600 of them from Sanskrit. Another great ceremony was held for 75 days at Prayag (Allahabad). The images of Buddha, Sun and Siva were worshiped, and gifts of valuable articles and clothing were distributed in charity. Every five years religious ceremonies were celebrated at the ancient city of Allahabad. Here, he held the ceremony of Dana, or giving, which lasted for three months. During this, most of the wealth accumulated in the last five years was exhausted. Once, he even gave his clothes and jewellery and begged his sister for an ordinary garment to wear.


Harsha’s empire marked the beginning of feudalism in India. Land was granted in villages, which made the local landlords powerful. This led to the weakening of the empire and gave rise to local feuds. Harsha had to be in constant movement to keep things in order.

Harsha died in 647 AD, and the empire with him. The death of Harshavardhana is not well documented. It is said that he was married to Durgavati and had two sons named Vagyavardhana and Kalyanvardhana. The story goes that they were killed by a minister in his court, even before the death of Harsha himself. Therefore, Harsha died without any heir. As a result, Arjuna, one of the chief ministers took up the thrones. Later in 648 CE, Arjuna was captured and held prisoner in an attack by the Tibetians.


The founder of the Chola Empire was Vijayalaya, who was first feudatory of the Pallavas of Kanchi. He captured Tanjore in 850 A.D. He established a temple of goddess Nishumbhasudini (Durga) there.

Aditya I succeeded Vijayalaya. Aditya helped his overlord the Pallava king Aparajita against the Pandyas but soon defeated him and annexed the whole of the Pallava kingdom.

By the end of the ninth century, the Cholas had defeated the Pallavas completely and weakened the Pandyas capturing the Tamil country (Tondamandala) and including it under their domination He then became a sovereign ruler. The Rashtrakuta king, Krishna II gave his daughter in marriage to Aditya.

He erected many Shiva temples. He was succeeded in 907 A.D. by Parantaka I, the first important ruler of the Cholas. Parantaka I was an ambitious ruler and engaged himself in wars of conquest from the beginning of his reign. He conquered Madurai from the Pandya ruler Rajasimha II. He assumed the title of Maduraikonda (captor of Madurai).

He, however, lost to the Rashtrakuta ruler Krishna III at the battle of Tokkolam in 949 A. D. The Cholas had to cede Tondamandalam to the adversary. At that point of time the Chola kingdom almost ceased to exist. It was a serious setback to the rising Chola power. The revival of Chola power began from the accession of Parantaka II who recovered Tondamandalam to re­establish dominance of the dynasty.

The climax in Chola power was achieved under the successor of Parantaka II, Arumolivarman, who crowned himself as Rajaraja I in 985 A D the next thirty years of his rule formed the formative periodof Chola imperialism.

The Chola kingdom grew under him into an extensive and well-knit empire, efficiently organized and administered and possessing a powerful standing army and navy. Rajaraja began his conquests by attacking the confederation between the rulers of the Pandya and Kerala kingdoms and of Ceylon. Polonnaruva became the capital of Chola province in North Ceylon after the defeat of Mahinda V, the Ceylonese king.

He also annexed the Maldives. Elsewhere, several parts of modern Mysore were conquered and annexed which intensified their rivalry with the Chalukyas. Rajaraja built the magnificent Shiva temple of Brihadeshwara or Rajaraja temple at Thanjavur which was com­pleted in 1010. It is considered a remarkable piece of architecture in South Indian style.

Rajaraja I also encouraged Sri Mara Vijayottungavarman, the Sailendra ruler of Sri Vijaya to build a Buddhist Vihara at Negapatam. This vihara was called ‘Chudamani Vihara’ after the father of Sri Mara. Rajaraja was succeeded by his son Rajendra I in 1014 A.D. He ruled jointly with his father for a few years. He also followed a policy of conquest and annexation adopted by his father and further raised the power and prestige of the Cholas. He followed the expansionist policy and made extensive con­quests in Ceylon.

The Pandya and Kerala country after being conquered was constituted as a viceroyalty under the Chola king with the title of Chola-Pandya. Madurai was its headquarters. Pro­ceeding through Kalinga, Rajendra I attacked Bengal and defeated the Pala ruler Mahipala in 1022 A.D. But he annexed no territory in north India.

To commemorate the occasion, Rajendra I assumed the title of Gangaikondachola (the Chola conqueror of Ganga). He built the new capital near the mouth of the Kaveri and called it Gangaikondacholapuram (the city of the Chola conqueror of the Ganga).

With his naval forces, he invaded Malaya Peninsula and Srivijaya Empire that extended over Sumatra, Java and the neighbouring islands and controlled the overseas trade route to China. He sent two diplomatic missions to China for political as well as commercial purposes.

Rajendra was succeeded by his son Rajadhiraja I in 1044 A.D. He was also an able ruler. He put down the hostile forces in Ceylon and suppressed the rebellious Pandyas and subjugated their terri­tory. He celebrated his victory by performing Virabhisheka (coronation of the victor) at Kalyani after sacking Kalyani and assumed the title of Vijayarajendra. He lost his life in the battle with the Chalukyan king Someswara I at Koppam. His brother Rajendra II succeeded him. He continued his struggle against Someswara.

He defeated Someswara in the battle of Kudal Sangamam. Next came Virarajendra I, he too defeated the Chalukyas and erected a pillar of victory on the banks of Tungabhadra. Virarajendra died in 1070 A.D. He was succeeded by Kulottunga I (1070-1122 A.D.) the great-grandson of Rajaraja I. He was the son of Rajendra Narendra of Vengi and Chola princess Ammangadevi (daughter of Rajendra Chola I). Thus Kulottunga I united the two kingdoms of the Eastern Chalukyas of Vengi and the Cholas of Thanjavur.

The most important reforms carried out by him in the internal administration was the re- surveyal of land for taxation and revenue purposes. He was also titled Sungam tavirtta (he who abol­ished tolls). The Chola authority in Ceylon was overthrown by Vijayababu, the monarch of Ceylon during Kulottunga’s reign. He sent a large embassy of 72 merchants to China and also maintained cordial relations with Sri Vijaya.

He defeated the rulers of the Pandya kingdom and that of Kerala. Thfe Chola Empire continued for more than a century after him. Weak rulers succeeded him. The Cholas and the later Chalukyas clashed for the overlordship of Vengi, the Tungabhadra doab and the Ganga country.

The Chola Empire continued in a flourishing condition during the twelfth century but declined by the end of the thirteenth century. The Pandyan king Sundara rendered the final blow by seizing Kanchi in 1297 A.D. The place of the Cholas was taken over by the Pandyas and the Hoysalas. This marked the end of the Chola power.

Architecture and Art
One of the largest empires in Indian history, that stretched till South East Asia, the Cholas used their immense wealth, in building magnificent temples and structures. It would be an understatement to call the architecture of the Chola period as grand, it was more like grandiose and towering. The sheer size of their temples, the towering vimanas, the sculpted walls, just every aspect of their monuments displayed grandeur. And of course nothing to beat the Brihadeswara Temple at Thanjavur, that is a benchmark by itself in architectural excellence.

Even if the Cholas, had not built anything else, just the Brihadeeswara Temple would have been enough. I mean just consider the facts, built fully of granite, finished within 5 years, that was quite fast for that period. And then you have the vimana that towers to around 216 ft, and this is just awe inspiring, on top of the tower, you have a kalasam, made out of a single block of stone, that weighs around 20 tonnes, and was lifted to the top using an inclined plane that covered 6.44 km from the ground to the top. The Cholas built big, their structures were meant to tower, to inspire awe, to take away the breath. It was not just the grand buildings, it was also the sculpture and art that adorned them, which was equally breath taking.

The other magnificient structures built by the Cholas, were the temple at Gangaikondacholapuram, which is next only to the Brihadeesvara temple at Tanjore, in size, grandeur and architectural excellence.

And also the Airavateswara temple at Darasuram, dedicated to Lord Shiva, and so called, because it is believed that the Shiva Linga here was worshipped by Indra’s elephant Airavat.

The Chola period also witnessed a glorious phase in bronze casting, and making of idols. The bronze idols of the Chola period, were more expressive in nature, and devoid of too many intricate ornaments or designs. The bronze idol of Nataraja, the dancing form of Shiva, represents the artistic excellence during that era.


It was not just the fact that they built magnificent temples or made exquisite idols, the Cholas also came up with an excellent system of governance and administration.  While it was a monarchy, like most other kingdoms of that era, there was a serious attempt to decentralize, and provide self government right at the local level. The empire was divided into provinces called Mandalams, and each of those Mandalams, further into Kottams, which again had districts, called Nadus, that had Tehsils usually a group of villages. While Tanjore and Gangaikonda Cholapuram were the main capitals, there also existed regional capitals at Kanchi and Madurai, where courts were occasionally held.

Their major achievement though was the local self government during their times, where villages had their own self governance. Depending on the area they covered, villages again could be Nadu, Kottram or Kurram, and a number of Kurrams made up a Valanadu. The village units had the power to administer justice at the local level, and for most crimes, fines were imposed, which went to the state treasury.  Death penalty was given only for crimes that amounted to treason.

Chola period had a robust and thriving economy, that was built on 3 tiers. At the local level, it was agricultural settlements, that formed the foundation, on top of this you had the Nagarams or the commercial towns, that primarily acted as centers of distribution for items produced externally and by local artisans for international trade. The top most layer was made of “samayams” or merchant guilds, who organized and looked after the thriving international maritime trade. With agriculture being the occupation of a large number of people, land revenue was a major source of income to the treasury. The Cholas also built a large number of tanks, wells, and a large number of channels to distribute water. They had also built stone masonry dams over the Kaveri, and there was a thriving internal trade going on too.

Naval and Maritime Trade.
The Chola period would be noted for it’s emphasis on maritime trade and conquest, they excelled in ship building. While they had a strong internal maritime system, the Imperial Chola Navy came into existence during the reign of Raja Raja Chola I, who strengthened it. Raja Raja Chola’s use of the Navy to subdue the Sinhalese king Mahinda, would be one of the greatest naval victories ever. Another major achievement was the conquest of the Sri Vijaya kingdom under Sailendra, now in Indonesia, by Raja Raja Chola’s successor Rajendra Chola. Having possesion of the East and West coasts of India, the Cholas had a thriving international trade with the Tang dynasty in China, the Srivijaya empire in Malayan archipelago and the Abbasid Caliphate in Baghdad. The Cholas also combated sea piracy succesfully in the Malayan archipelago, and had a close trade with the Song dynasty in China, that led to advances in ship building.

While the King was the supreme commander of the Navy, it had a highly organized structure, that was divided into Ganams a Fleet squadron, usually commanded by a Ganapathy. And there was a hierarchical ranking structure, below the King, that consisted of Jalathipathi(Admiral), Nayagan( Fleet Commander), Ganathipathy(rear admiral), Mandalathipathy(vice admiral) and Kalapathy( the ship captain). You also had separate departments for customs excise(Thirvai), inspection and audits( Aaivu) and an intelligence corps( Ootru). The Cholas also had their own coast guard equivalent in Karaipiravu. And this would be one of their finest achievements, building a world class naval structure.

Often called as the Golden Age of Tamil culture, it was one of the greatest literary eras in history equivalent to the Elizabethean reign in England or the Guptas in Northern India. Nambi Andar collected the various works on Saivism and arranged them into eleven books called Tirumurais, and another great work of literature was the adaptation of the Ramayana into Tamil by Kamban, called as the Ramavatharam. The period also saw excellent works on Tamil grammar like Yapperungalam by Jain ascetic and Virasoliyam that attempts to find a balance between Tamil and Sanskrit grammar by Buddhamitra.



Civilization and Culture of the Pallavas

The Pallava rule formed a golden epoch in the cultural history of south India. The period under the Pallavas was marked by considerable literary activities and cultural revival. The Pallavas warmly patronized Sanskrit language and most of the literary records of the time were composed in that language. Due to the cultural renaissance and a great revival of the Sanskrit language a galaxy of scholars flourished during the Pallava era, which accentuated the literary and cultural development in Southern India. Tradition referred that Simhavishnu, the Pallava king invited the great poet Bharvi to adorn his court. Dandin, the master of Sanskrit prose probably lived in the court of Narasimhavarmana II. Under the royal patronage, Kanchi became the seat of Sanskrit language and literature. The core of learning and education, Kanchi became the point of attraction for the literary scholars. Dinanaga, Kalidasa, Bharvi, Varahamihir etc were the distinguished person with enormous talent in the Pallava country. Not only the Sanskrit literature, the Tamil literature also received a huge impetus during the Pallava period. “Maatavailasa Prahasana”, written by Mahendravarmana became very popular. The famous Tamil classic “Tamil Kural was composed during the period under the royal patronage. Madurai became a great center of the Tamil literature and culture. The Tamil grammar “Talakappiam” and Tamil versical compilation “Ettalogai” etc were composed during the period. These were of immense literary importance.

From the 6th century AD, due to the Sanskrit revival, long poetical composition replaced the earlier style of the short poetry. Poetry was written according to the taste of the sophisticated and aristocratic people of the society. The “Silappadigaram” is one of such work suited to the taste of the sophisticated, educated people of the Pallava era. One of the most important literary works of the time was “Ramayanam” by Kaban. This is known as the Tamil form and version of Ramayana, where the character of Ravana was painted with all the noble virtues in comparison to Rama. It is consistent with the Tamil tradition and Tamil ego against the Northern Ramayana by Valmiki. The Buddhist literary work “Manimekhala” and the Jaina poetical work “Shibaga sindamani” etc. also flourished during the period.

The devotional songs composed by Vaishnava Alavaras and the Saiva Nayanaras also shared a significant position in the cultural renaissance of the Pallava period. Appar, Sambandhar, Manikkabsagar, Sundar were some of the devotional Narayana poets who composed Tamil Stotras or hymns. Siva was the object of worship and love. Since the Pallava kings were great musicians themselves they were the great patrons of music. Several celebrated musical treatise were also composed under their patronage. During the time painting also received a great patronage from the Pallava kings. Specimen of the Pallava painting has been found in the Pudukottai State.

Civilization of the Pallava period was greatly influenced by the religious reform movement that swept over India during the eighth century. The wave of the reform movement was originated in the Pallava kingdom first. The Pallavas completed the Aryanisation of Southern India. The Jains who had entered south India earlier had set up educational centers at Madurai and Kanchi. They also made a massive use of Sanskrit, Prakrit and Tamil as the medium of their preaching. But in the competition with the growing popularity of the Brahmanical Hinduism, Jainism lost its prominence in the long run.

Mahendravarmana lost interest in Jainism and became a staunch follower and patron of Saivism. Consequently Jainism began to fade out and continued in diminishing glory in centers like Pudukottai and in the hilly and forest regions.

Buddhism, which had earlier penetrated in the south, fought against invading Brahmanism in the monasteries and public debates. The Buddhist scholars debated finer points of theology with Brahmanical scholars and mostly lost the ground.

The civilization of the Pallava period was marked by the tremendous ascendancy of the Hinduism, which has been branded by the modern historians as the victory of the northern Aryanism. It is said that the influx of the mlechcha Sakas, Huns and the Kushanas in Northern India had polluted the significance of the Vedic rites and religion. In order to protect the purity of Vedic religion many Brahmins migrated to Southern India and preached the Vedic Religion. Henceforth the civilization of Deccan or southern India was mostly influenced by the Brahmanical Hinduism. Pallavas became the patrons of the orthodox Vedic preachers. The performance of the horse sacrifices by the Pallava rulers testified the ascendancy of the Vedic civilization. The success of Hinduism was mostly caused by the royal patronage to this religion. Sanskrit was the vehicle of the Brahmanical thought. Hence both the Brahmanical religion and Sanskrit literature made a great progress during the Pallava period. Several centers for the Brahmanical study sprang up. These study centers were closely connected with the temple premises and were known as Ghetikas. The study of the Brahmanical scriptures and literatures was the order of the day. The Pallava kings in order to promote the Brahmanical civilization made land grants or agraharas to the maintenance of the educational institutions. In the 8th century AD, another significant Hindu institution called Mathas or monasteries were in vogue. They were a combination of temple, rest houses, educational centers, debating and discoursing centers and the feeding Houses. The university of Kanchi became the spearhead of Aryan-Brahmanical influences of the South. Kanchi was regarded as one of the sacred cities of the Hindus. The Pallava king though mainly were the worshippers of Vishnu and Siva, they were tolerant towards other religious creeds. Although the religions like Buddhism and Jainism lost its former significance during the Pallava era, yet the civilization of the Pallava period was marked by the multiethnicity promoted by the Pallava kings.

Distinction between Indus Civilization and Vedic Civilization

  • These two civilizations have not only played a major role in the development of ancient India, but have also left a lineage that still continues to shape our present Indian culture.

Differences based on Following Major Headings


Indus Valley Civilization:

  • Till 20th century, historians thought that the Vedic society was the earliest civilization of India. However study done by 2 archaeologists – Dayaram Sahani and Raakhaldas Banerjee proved that Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa, though 1400 kms apart, were a part of one civilization older than Vedic.
  • Since the region spanned India across the coastal western belt and along the Indus River, the civilization was called Indus Civilization. Indus civilization was at its peak around 2500 B.C.E.

Vedic Civilization:

  • After the decline of Indus Civilization, a new civilization grew which was dominated by the Aryans and came to be known as the Vedic Civilization. The period extended from 1500 B.C.E to 500 B.C.E


Indus Valley Civilization:

  • The Indus civilization was spread across the Indus valley (river Sindhu).
  • It spread in the North from Harappa in Punjab province (Pakistan) to Bhogtrar in South Gujarat (1400 kms). In the east, there was Alamgir (Meerut) and to its West was Sutkagen Dor in Baluchistan, next to Iran (1600 kms).
  • Thus, the Indus valley spread across 12.15 lac

Vedic Civilization

  • The Vedic period marked the entry of Aryans on Indian soil. There has been a huge debate on the origin of Aryans. Various scholars have postulated theories which are either supported or debated.
  • North Pole: Bal Gangadhar Tilak proposed that the Aryans came from North Pole. However there is no concrete evidence for this theory.
  • Asia: Scholars like Max Muller suggested Middle Asia could be the place of Aryans, whereas Rhodes thought it should be Bactria and Edward Meyer postulated the plateau of Pamir (Iran).
  • Europe: Penka and Hirt thought Germany as the base of Aryans.
  • South Russia: Based on archaeological, historical and linguistic study, Meyer, Peek and Gordon Childes postulated that South Russia should be the home of Aryans. Archaeological excavations in Russia unearthed horse skeletons, potteries, earthen wares which were strikingly similar to Aryans.


Indus Valley Civilization:

  • The cities of Indus civilization were well planned and built with baked bricks of equal sizes. The streets were at right angle to each other with an elaborate drainage system.
  • There were public buildings, vast granaries and the Great Bath at Mohenjo-Daro.
  • Production of several metals like copper, bronze, lead and tin was carried out. The discovery of kilns proves that bricks were extensively used for domestic and public buildings.

Vedic Civilization:

  • It was mainly the rural civilization, centered round the village


Indus Valley Civilization:

  • The social life of Indus Civilization was that of a happy, satisfied society.
  • The society by large was “female dominated” and family was a central force.
  • Though the society was divided into 4 groups as per the occupation, it does not prove that there could be any discrimination since the housing structure proves that irrespective of the occupation, people lived in each others vicinity.
  • The people of Indus Civilization were vegetarian as well as non-vegetarian. Diet usually consisted of wheat, jowar, rice, sesame seed, dal, vegetables, milk and fruits. Meat of sheep, goat, pig, hen, duck as well as fish was consumed.
  • Excavations reveal that women of Indus valley liked to wear ornaments made of gold, precious stones, silver and copper. Men kept long hair, sported moustache and beard whereas women tied their hair in a bun. They also wore bangles made of glass and metal ware.

Vedic Civilization:

  • Compared to the Indus civilization, the early Vedic period civilization was “male dominated”. Though the women were known as “better half’, they were not allowed in politics and did not get share in family property.
  • The caste system of 4 varnas became prominent to such an extent that even the burial grounds were segregated.
  • The Brahmins and Kshatriyas fought for superior position, Vaishas did business and paid taxes whereas Shudras were considered to be slaves of all the 3 varnas.
  • The people of Vedic civilization also followed vegetarian as well as non-vegetarian diet. Milk and milk products were an important part of diet along with vegetables and meat. People drank “som ras” and played dice. Horse race, chariot race, music, dance were the favorite pastime.
  • In the Vedic civilization, metals like gold, silver, copper, tin, glass were in use. Iron utensils and equipments were also made during this period.


Indus Valley Civilization:

  • The main occupation of Indus Civilization was agriculture. Wheat, jowar, sesame seed, bajra were grown. Animal farming was also carried out. They also grew cotton and wore clothes.
  • There were sites where ornaments and jewelry were made.
  • Trade was also another occupation and each merchant family had their own seal. Trading was usually done with neighboring regions of India, Persian Gulf and Iran.

Vedic Civilization:

  • The Vedic period people were rural oriented and had agriculture as main occupation. They ploughed sowed and reaped various crops like wheat, jowar, rice, moong dal, udad, sesame. They also reared animals like cows, bulls, horses, goats, donkeys, sheep, pigs and dogs.
  • It is during this period that ‘elephant’ was first domesticated.


Indus Valley Civilization:

  • Indus Civilization had mastered the art of using metals, mud, wood, glass for making ornaments, architecture and various forms.
  • They made terracotta vessels with decorative colors and design. They made toys, household utensils, agriculture equipments and ornamental things.
  • The people of Indus Civilization were good sculptors carving wood and stone in the form of “relief architecture”, statues and articles. Statues of various birds and animals were also found along with men, women and “mother goddess”.
  • The script still remains undecipherable.

Vedic Civilization:

  • In the Vedic civilization, metals like gold, copper, silver, tin were used to prepare various artifacts.
  • This period contributed to the Vedic literature namely Samhitas (Samved, Yajurved, Atharvaved, Rigved), Brahmanas, Aranyaks and Upanishads


Indus Valley Civilization:

  • The Indus Civilization people worshipped gods and goddesses. The figures found in excavation reveal some rituals and ceremonies.
  • Various terracotta statues of “Mother Goddess” have been discovered from various sites which prove that she was worshipped in nearly every home.
  • Many seal depicting rhinoceros, bull, leopard, elephant, ox were found suggesting that the Indus valley people revered them.

Vedic Civilization:

  • The religious dogmas increased during the Vedic period and old gods (multiple ‘nature gods’ like wind, water, fire, etc.) were replaced with new formed gods. Prajapati, Vishnu & Rudra Shiva became the new gods.
  • It was during this period that ‘animal sacrifice’ became rampant. Some large scale yagnas like Rajsuyagna, Vajpeya and Ashwamedh were performed.
  • The belief in soul, magic, tantra increased and people succumbed to blind faith. The only difference was that the Vedic gods were immortal whereas the human beings were not.

Major differences in Both Civilization

The key differences between Harappa and Vedic Civilization are enumerated as follows:

  • The sources of information of the Harappan civilization are mainly archaeological, while the Vedic culture is mostly known from the literary sources.
  • Harappans are said to have been the original inhabitants of India while the Aryans are believed to have come to India from central Asia.
  • The Harappan civilization was urban in nature; Vedic culture was rural and pastoral. At best the Rig Vedic Aryans lived in fortified places protected by mud walls; and these cannot be regarded as towns in the Harappan sense.
  • In the Indus civilization trade, internal and external, crafts as well as industries were the main sources of economy, Vedic Economy was initially postoral and later became based upon agriculture and cattle rearing.
  • The agricultural operations, including the ploughing of fields, were better known to the later-Vedic people.
  • Indus people did not know the use of iron. It was purely a copper-bronze culture, while the Vedic culture in its later phase is replete with references to iron.
  • The horse, which played a decisive role in the Aryan system of warfare, was not known to the Indus people. A few bones of horse and terracotta figure of a horse-like animal have been unearthed from surkotada.
  • Indus people were basically peace loving. Their arms (swords, daggers, arrow-heads, and spears) were primitive in nature. Aryans were warlike people and were conversant with all kinds of traditional arms and armour and had devised a full-fledged science of war.
  • Aryans worshiped Varuna, Indra, aditi and a large number of other deities which stood for the principal phenomena of nature. They performed sacrifices and offered milk, ghee, etc. to their. The Harappans worshipped Pashupati, mother goddess, animals, snake and nature. The fire-altars were discovered from only one Harappan site at Kalibangan.
  • The Harappans practiced earth burials whereas the Aryans practiced cremation.
  • Harappan pottery called black or red pottery was wheel made and very distinctive in nature. The distinctive Aryan pottery is known as PGW (painted grey ware).
  • The Harappans were short stature, black in complexion; Aryans were tall, well-built and handsome.
  • The Harappans ate all birds and animals including cow and calf. They ate wheat, barley and bread. The Aryans preferred Barley, milk and its products, specially ghee or butter and enjoyed  Soma drink.
  • Cotton was the basic fabric of the Harappans while the Aryans put on woollen garments
  • Vedic Sanskrit is the mother of all non-Dravidian languages, Indus script still remains undeciphered.
  • It was quite clear that Indus people were literate whereas the Vedic people were illiterate (In terms of writing) because there is not a single word for writing in any of the Vedic texts.



Kingdom of Vijaynagar

The kingdom of Vijaynagar founded by two brothers, Harihar and Bukka, on the south bank of the River Tungabhadra in 1336 AD. According to the legends, they had been the feudatories of the Kakatiyas of Warangal. Later they became ministers in the kingdom of Kampili. After the destruction of Kampili kingdom by Bin Tuglaq they were imprisoned and converted to Islam. Harihar and Bukka forshook their new master and their new faith and they were readmitted to Hinduism by their guru, Vidyaranya. They established their capital at Vijaynagar. After death of Hoysala ruler Veera Ballala III,  Harihar and Bukka expanded their small kingdom with the distruction of the Hoysala kingdom. They belonged to the Sangama  dynasty.  After Harihar, His brother Bukka, succeeded to the throne of Vijaynagar in 1356 AD.

The kingdom prospered and continued to expand as Bukka Raya annexed most of the kingdoms of Deccan. He led a crushing defeat on the Shambuvaraya Kingdom of Arcot and the Reddis of Kondavidu by 1360 and the region around Penukonda was annexed. He extended his territory up to Rameswaram after defeated the Sultanate of Madurai in 1371. He had gained an upper hand over the Bahmanis for control of the Tungabhadra-Krishna doab and also took control of Goa by 1374.  He also annexed the kingdom of Orissa (Orya) and Bukka forced the Jaffna Kingdom of Ceylon and Malabar to pay tributes to him. He also moved the capital of the empire to Vijayanagara (now more popularly known as Hampi).

After the death of Bukka, Harihara  II  ruled from the capital Vijayanagara now more popularly known as Hampi. His greatest success was the capture of Belgaum and Goa in the west from the Bahmanis. Harihar II also sent a naval expedition to Sri Lanka. After a brief period of confusion, Harihara  II succeded by Deva Raya I. Deva Raya I was defeated by the Behmani sultan Firuz Shah and was brought into matrimonial relation with the Bahmanis. But the question of the Krishna- Godavari region led to a renewed conflict between Vijaynagara, Bahmanis and Orissa. After entered into an alliance with Warangal for portioning the region between them, Deva Raya I defeated Firuz Shah and annexed the entire territory upto the mouth of the Krishna river.
Deva Raya II succeeded his father Veera Vijaya Bukka Raya after some internal conflicts. Unlike his father, Deva Raya II was a productive and successful ruler. During his reign, he prevailed over his conquest of Kondavidu in 1432, repulsed the invasions of Ahmad Shah I of the Bahamanis and kept hold of the Mudgal fort in 1436 but lost some areas in the Raichur doab in 1443. He defeated the Gajapati of Orissa three times, restored the Reddi Kingdom of Rajamahendri to its former position, fought against the Sultan Ala-Ud-Din, and continued onwards to Kerala where he defeated the ruler of Quilon as well as other chieftains. He invaded Lanka and collected rich tributes there. The ruler of Calicut and even the kings of Burma ruling at Pegu and Tanasserim paid tributes. He is considered the greatest ruler of Sangama dynasty was Deva Raya II. During his reign, Abdur Razzak, the envoy of Shah Rukh visited the Vijaynagara kingdom. He began the practice of employing Muslims in the army. He was called Immadi Deva Raya. In his inscriptions he has the title of Gajabetekara (the elephant hunter).

After the death of Deva Raya II, the empire was ruled by a series of some weak rulers. Since the rule of primogeniture was not established, there was a series of civil wars among the princes.

Saluva dynasty

The founder of Saluva dynasty was Saluva Narsimhan. He was a minister in the reign of Praudha Raya, the last ruler of Sangama dynasty. He crushed the rebellions of feaudatories and kept the kingdom intact. Immadi Narsimha succeeded him. He was also known as Dhamma Tammaraya. He was a weak ruler and the control of state fell into the hands of Narsa Nayaka. Vasco da Gama reached in Calicut during his time in 1498. The rulers of this dynasty were not able to establish law and order properly and that’s why the Suluvas ruled for a short period.

Tuluva dynasty

The third dynasty which ruled the Vijaynagar empire was Tuluva dynasty. The The dynasty was named “Tuluva” because they belonged  to the Tulu speaking region called “TULUNAD”. The greatest and successful king of Tuluva dynasy was Krishna Deva Raya who ruled from 1509 to 1539 AD. Some historians believed that he is the greatest ruler of the Vijaynagara empire.

During the reign of Krishna Deva Raya, Vijayanagara emerged as the strongest military power in the south. He defeated the rebellious chiefs of Ummattur, the Gajapatis of Orissa and Sultan Adil Shah of Bijapur.

He suc­cessfully annexed Gulbarga and Bidar and reinstated the puppet Sultan Mahmud to the throne. To com­memorate this act of restoration he took the title of’ Yavanarajya Sthapanacharya’ (The restorer of the Yavana kingdom). He invaded almost the whole of Telangana from the Gajapati king Pratapraudra and the Sultan of Golcunda.

Krishna Deva Raya helped the Portuguese to conquer Goa from the Bijapur rulers in 1510 and retained friendly relations with Albuquerque, the Portuguese governor whose ambassador Friar Luis resided at Vijayanagar. His relations with Portuguese were governed by two factors: first common enemity with Bijapur and second, the supply of imported horses by the Portuguese to Vijayanagar. He was a contemporary of Babur.

He was a Vaishainaite but respected all the major religions. He was a devotee of Lord Venkateshwara of Tirupati. Vallabhacharya and Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the celebrated saints of the bhakti movement visited his court. Madhwa saint Vyasathirtha was the Rajaguru of Krishnadevaraya. Krishna Deva Raya was known as Andhra Bhoja as he was also a great patron of art and literature. He wrote the Telugu work Amuktamalyada and one Sanskrit work Jambavati Kalyanam. His court was embellished with the Ashtadiggajas (the eight well known poets), of whom, Allasani Peddana was the greatest. His famous works include Manucharitam and Harikatha Saramsamu. Krishna Deva Raya also constructed the well known temples of Krishnaswamy, Hazara Ramaswamy and Vitthalaswamy at his capital-city. Foreign travellers like Nuniz, Barbosa and Paes wrote about his systematic and effective administration and the prosperity of the empire during the reign of Krishna Deva Raya.

After the fall of Krishna Deva Raya, the internal struggle for succession followed among his successors. After the weak reigns of Achyuta Raya and Venkata, Sadasiva Raya succeded the throne in 1543, but the real power of administration was in the hands of Rama Raja popularly known as “Aliya” Rama Raya, was the progenitor of the “Aravidu” dynasty of Vijayanagar Empire. This dynasty, the fourth and last to hold  over the Vijayanagara Empire, is often not considered as a ruling dynasty of the empire. He took active part in Muslim politics and played off various muslim powers against each other. He successively defeated the Bijapur ruler and inflicted humiliating defeats on Golconda and Ahmadnagar.It seems that Rama Raya had no longer purpose than to maintain a balance of power favourable to vijayanagar between these three powers. But they soon understood his trick and joined hands with each other. Then the confederacy of the four states of Bijapur, Ahmednagar, Golkunda and Bidar jontly fought against the ruler of Vijayanagara in 1565 at Bannihathi near Talikota also known as the Battle of Rakshi-Tangadi. In the battle, Vijayanagar was defeated and Ram Rai was captured and murdered. The Muslim army entered the capital and looted and destroyed everything there and ruined the famous and beautiful city Vijaynagar.

The battle of Talikota is one of the most momentous and decisive battles in the history of India. It sounded the death knell of the great Hindu empire in the south India. With the fall of the Vijaynagara empire and internal rivalry between the Muslim Kingdoms with one another after their victory, they fell singly and severally before the Mughal invaders from the north.

Later Tirumala, the brother of Rama Raya, dethroned Sadasiva Raya and captured the power and founded the last dynasty, Aravidu dynasty. During his reign the Southern Nayakas of Madurai and Gingee declared partial independence, while some others rebelled over Tirumala Deva Raya’s authority.


Magadh with reference to Uttar Pradesh

All the states were perpetually at war with each other. Kaushal annexed Kashi  and Avanti grabbed Vats. Later on Kausha and Vats in turn were subjugated one by one by Magadh, which became most powerful in the entire region. Magadh was ruled in succession by Haryank, Shishunag and Nand Dynasty. The Nandas ruled from 343 BC to 321 BC. The Nanda empire was extended to whole of India except Punjab and Bengal. It was during their regime that Alexander invaded India in 326 BC. According to the great historians, Alexander the great could not even face the forceful Magadh army and had to return.

In the year 323 BC Chandragupta Maurya became the new emperor of Magadh. His grandson Ashoka the great created the statue of four lions in Sarnath. The Lion Capitol inscribed in the Ashoka pillar at Sarnath has been adopted by the government of India as the State Emblem. The Ashoka pillars petrography are found in Sarnath, Allahabad, Meerut, Kaushambi, Sakinssa, Basti and Mirzapur. All the cities are in Uttar Pradesh. In the  year of 232 BC, the death of Ashoka led to the downfall of Magadh dynasty.

His whole empire was divided among his five sons. The Mauryan dynasty ruled over 137 years. According to Vayu Purana the Mauryan dynasty ruled for 134 years.

The later ruler of Magadh dynasty was Brihdratha, who was assassinated by his chief commander Pushyamitra.


Detailed Political History of Magadha

Of all the Mahajanapadas, Magadha eventually emerged as most powerful mainly because of its peculiar geographical location. It was bordered by Ganga River in North, Son River in West, Vindhya ranges in south and Champa in East. The natural barriers protected Magadha from three sides and it was not easy to invade such a territory. Here is a brief account of the poltical history of Magadha since Rig-Vedic period accounts.

Earliest known king of Magadha was Brihadrath whose name appears in Rig-Veda as well as Puranas. His son Jarasandha was killed by Bhima in Mahabharata war.

The Brihadrath dynasty was followed by Pradyotas. By that time, the practice of killing one’s father to usurp the throne had crept in. The Pradyotas were notorious for patricide and irked people overthrew them in a civil revolt. Next in the line was Haranyaka dynasty, whose great King Bimbisara is remembered as most powerful King of Magadha before Mauryas. Bimbisara was a contemporary of Buddha as well as Mahavira. Bimbisara used matrimonial alliances and sending envoys to expand his power. Since patricide was in vogue those days, Bimbisara also became a victim of it. His son Ajatshatru starved him to death.

Ajatshatru was also a valorous king who expanded his empire by fighting war with Kashi, Licchhavis and others. During his reign, Mahavira, Buddha and also Makkhali Gosala or Gosala Maskariputta, the founder of Ajivikas path attained Nirvana.

Ajatshatru was a devout Buddhist as well as Jain. He enshrined the relics of Buddha in a stupa and also renovated many monasteries. Under his sponsorship, the first Buddhist Council was organized at Sattapani caves in Rajgir. By that time, Rajgir served as capital of Magadha. Ajatshatru built a fort at Pataliputra and his son Udayin developed Pataliputra as a city.

Ajatshatru was also a victim of patricide by his son Udayin. Same fate was shared by almost all kings of Haranyaka dynasty. Again there was a civil revolt and public placed Shishunaga on throne of Magadha. Shishunaga was amatya (minister) of last Haranyaka king Nagadasaka. Kalasoka, the son of Shishunaga made Pataliputra as new capital of Magadha. He may be of dark complexion as the contemporary Sri Lankan texts mention his name as Kakavarna (of color like a crow). Kalsoka sponsored second Buddhist council in 383 BC under monk Sabakami. His ten sons ruled simultaneously before Magadha slipped into hands of Nandas.

The founder of Nanda dynasty was Mahapadmananda. Since he had one of the largest standing armies in the history of world {2 Lakh infantry, 8000 war chariots, 6000 elephants!}, he is also called Ugrasena. His army was so large that he could arrange it in a lotus shape {Padmavyuh} and he was so wealthy that his wealth could be counted in Padma (One quadrillion). He subdued all the contemporary powers and consolidated power of Magadha.

Mahapadmananda, who is thought to be from humble origin {son of a barber} was the first non-kshatriya ruler in the history of India. Nandas were also the first empire builders of India.

The Nadas ruled for around 100 years. During the reign of last Nanda ruler Dhananada, Alexander invaded from west. Alexander was able to cross Beas but before he could cross Ganga, he heard that Dhananda’s 2 Lakh strong army is waiting for his men for a bloody massacre. He lost the confidence and moved back. While moving back, he died on the way probably due to Malaria.

However, this invasion along with several other such invasions from west had put the North-West on boil. In Magadha, the popularity of Dhananda had went down because of his lavishness and greed that led to extortion and corruption. The situation was such that any brave heart could seize the opportunity to topple the Nandas. This opportunity was cashed by Kautilya, who was once thrown out of Nanda’s court. To seek revenge, he groomed Chandragupta Maurya, the brave young man, who is thought to be the son of Dhananda’s shudra concubine Mura.

Chandragupta first gave a death blow to Greeks in north-west and then attacked and dethroned the Nandas. Nandas life was spared and they were asked to run with as much treasure as much their chariot could carry. The most important implication of rise of Chandragupta Maurya was that India was, for the first time perhaps, united politically. The below map shows the extent of Maurya empire at that time.

Meanwhile, Alexander was succeeded by his one of his generals Seleucus, who launched a campaign to get back the Greek territories lost to Mauryas. He was able to cross Indus, but could not succeed to defeat Chandragupta. An alliance was made in which Seleucus returned some of the won areas to Chandragupta. Chandragupta gifted some 500 war elephants to Seleucus and also some kind of matrimonial alliance was made in which son / daughter of one was married to the daughter / son of other. Seleucus also sent Megasthenes to court of Chandragupta.

In the old age, Chandragupta abdicated the throne in favour of his son Bindusara and became a disciple of Jain Monk Bhadrabahu. He spent his last days at Sharavanbelgola and supposed to have died practicing Santhara there.

Chandragupta’s successor Bindusara (also known as Amitraghata- destroyer of enemies) carried on the legacy of Mauryas and cemented good alliances with Greek King Antiochus-I. He ruled for some 25 years and was successes by Ashoka after a bloody battle of succession among his sons.

During the time of Ashoka, the boundaries of Maurya empire extended to maximum by that time. He invaded and annexed Kalinga mainly because Kalinga controlled land and sea routes to South India. However, this battle changed his mind and introduced a new element in the politics of India in the form of cultural coherence based on the moral values of Buddhism and a norm of benignity, civility and humanity in matters of governance.

However, such a policy was bound to have its side effects on polity after Ashoka’s death. Asoka died in 232 BC after ruling for four decades. His sons could not survive the waves of changes. His six successors including Jaluka, Samprati and Dasaratha could rule for only 52 years.

The life of last Maurya ruler Brihadrath was troubled. By this time, there were repeated attacks of Yavanas / Greeks from western side. His brave commander Pushyamitra Shunga was able to repel two attacks of Greeks but was not happy with the attitude of his master. He killed Brihadrath in 185-184 BC and thus closed the chapter of Mauryas from Indian history, thus founding Sunga dynasty.

Pushyamitra and his son Agnimitra ruled from Pataliputra. The later Shungas made Vidisha as their capital.  However, by the time of Shungas, many independent rulers had appeared in west as well as south. The most remarkable was rise of Satavahanas in south and Indo-Greeks, Kushanas, and many others in west and Kharvela in Kalinga (east).   Thus, the boundaries of Magadh by the time of Shunga had narrowed down to some parts of Central India.

The last Shunga ruler Devabhuti was killed by his own amatya (minister) Vasudeva Kanva around 73BC. Thus, Magadha slipped into hands of Kanvas, who were Brahmins by caste. Only few rulers of this Kanva dynasty are known on the basis of numismatics. This dynasty was finally overthrown by Satavahanas in 30BC and thus once mighty Magadha was broken into many small parts ruled by different dynasties at different periods.

There are numerous sites in Uttar Pradesh that are associated with Lord Buddha and Buddhism. In fact Uttar Pradesh along with modern Bihar form the hub of early Buddhism. It was from these parts that the religion spread to the rest of the world.

Kapilvastu – The capital city of Shakya clan whose ruler was King Suddhodana, father of the ‘Enlightened One’

Sarnath – Where the Buddha after attaining enlightenment delivered his first historical sermon

Sravasti – Where he spent 27 monsoons and showed his divine prowess

Sankisa – It is said that Gautam Buddha descended here after giving a sermon to his mother in heaven

Kaushambi – Where Buddha visited in the sixth and ninth years after attaining enlightenment

Kushinagar – Lord Buddha achieved his Mahaparinirvana, freedom from cycle of birth and rebirth

Uttar Pradesh is a cradle of Buddhism where all significant aspects of Buddha’s life can be seen and experienced.


The Buddha

Buddhism is a world religion and is based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, who is known as the Buddha (literally the Enlightened One or Awakened One). Siddhārtha Gautama was the historical founder of Buddhism. After asceticism and meditation, he discovered the Buddhist Middle Way—a path of moderation away from the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification. Early texts suggest that Gautama was not familiar with the dominant religious teachings of his time until he left on his religious quest, which is said to have been motivated by existential concern for the human condition.

Siddhartha was born in a royal Hindu Kshatriya family. The Buddha’s father was King Śuddhodana, the leader of Shakya clan, whose capital was Kapilavastu, Uttar Pradesh. Queen Maya, his mother, on her way to her father’s kingdom gave birth to her son at Lumbini, Nepal, in a garden beneath a sal tree. The infant was given the name Siddhartha (Pāli: Siddhattha), meaning “he who achieves his aim”. During the birth celebrations, the hermit seer Asita journeyed from his mountain abode and announced that the child would either become a great king (chakravartin) or a great holy man.

When he reached the age of 16, his father arranged his marriage to a cousin Yaśodharā They had a son, named Rahul. Siddhartha is then said to have spent 29 years as a prince in Kapilavastu. Although his father ensured that Siddhartha was provided with everything he could want or need, Buddhist scriptures say that the future Buddha felt that material wealth was not life’s ultimate goal.

At the age of 29, Siddhartha left his palace to meet his subjects. Despite his father’s efforts to hide from him the sick, aged and suffering, Siddhartha was said to have seen an old man. When his charioteer Channa explained to him that all people grew old, the prince went on further trips beyond the palace. On these he encountered a diseased man, a decaying corpse, and an ascetic. These depressed him, and he initially strove to overcome ageing, sickness, and death by living the life of an ascetic and hence left his princely abode for the life of a mendicant.

Gautama initially went to Rajagaha and began his ascetic life by begging for alms in the street. After King Bimbisara’s men recognised Siddhartha and the king learned of his quest, Bimisara offered Siddhartha the throne. Siddhartha rejected the offer, but promised to visit his kingdom of Magadha first, upon attaining enlightenment. He left Rajagaha and practised under two hermit teachers. After mastering the teachings of Alara Kalama (Skr. Ārāda Kālāma), he was asked by Kalama to succeed him.

Siddhartha and a group of five companions led by Kaundinya are then said to have set out to take their austerities even further. They tried to find enlightenment through deprivation of worldly goods, including food, practicing self-mortification. After nearly starving himself to death by restricting his food intake to around a leaf or nut per day, he collapsed in a river while bathing and almost drowned. Siddhartha began to reconsider his path. Then, he remembered a moment in childhood in which he had been watching his father start the season’s plowing. He attained a concentrated and focused state that was blissful and refreshing, the jhāna.

According to the early Buddhist texts, after realizing that meditative jhana was the right path to awakening, but that extreme asceticism didn’t work, Gautama discovered what Buddhists call the Middle Way—a path of moderation away from the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification.

Gautama was famously seated under a banyan tree – now known as the Bodhi tree – in Bodh Gaya, India, when he vowed never to arise until he had found the truth. Kaundinya and four other companions, believing that he had abandoned his search and become undisciplined, left. After a reputed 49 days of meditation, he is said to have attained Enlightenment. From that time, Gautama was known to his followers as the Buddha or “Awakened One” (“Buddha” is also sometimes translated as “The Enlightened One”). He is often referred to in Buddhism as Shakyamuni Buddha, or “The Awakened One of the Shakya Clan.”

According to Buddhism, at the time of his awakening he realized complete insight into the cause of suffering, and the steps necessary to eliminate it. These discoveries became known as the “Four Noble Truths”, which are at the heart of Buddhist teaching. Through mastery of these truths, a state of supreme liberation, or Nirvana, is believed to be possible for any being. The Buddha described Nirvāna as the perfect peace of a mind that’s free from ignorance, greed, hatred and other afflictive states, or “defilements” (kilesas). Nirvana is also regarded as the “end of the world”, in that no personal identity or boundaries of the mind remain. In such a state, a being is said to possess the Ten Characteristics, belonging to every Buddha.

After his awakening, the Buddha met two merchants, named Tapussa and Bhallika, who became his first lay disciples. The Buddha intended to visit Asita, and his former teachers, Alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramaputta, to explain his findings, but they had already died. He then travelled to the Deer Park near Vārānasī (Benares) in northern India, where he set in motion what Buddhists call the Wheel of Dharma by delivering his first sermon to the five companions with whom he had sought enlightenment. Together with him, they formed the first Sangha: the company of Buddhist monks. All five become Arahants, and within the first two months, with the conversion of Yasa and fifty four of his friends, the number of such Arahants is said to have grown to 60. The conversion of three brothers named Kassapa followed, with their reputed 200, 300 and 500 disciples, respectively. This swelled the Sangha to more than 1000.

For the remaining years of his life, the Buddha is said to have travelled in the Gangetic Plain, in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and southern Nepal, teaching a diverse range of people: from nobles to outcaste street sweepers, murderers such as Angulimala, and cannibals such as Alavaka. From the outset, Buddhism was equally open to all races and classes, and had no caste structure. The Sangha traveled through the subcontinent, expounding the Dharma. This continued throughout the year, except during the four months of the Vassana rainy season when ascetics of all religions rarely travelled. One reason was that it was more difficult to do so without causing harm to animal life. At this time of year, the Sangha would retreat to monasteries, public parks or forests, where people would come to them.

The first Vassana was spent at Varanasi when the Sangha was formed. After this, the Buddha kept a promise to travel to Rajagaha, capital of Magadha, to visit King Bimbisara. During this visit, Sariputta and Maudgalyayana were converted by Assaji, one of the first five disciples, after which they were to become the Buddha’s two foremost followers. The Buddha spent the next three seasons at Veluvana Bamboo Grove monastery in Rajagaha, capital of Magadha.

Upon hearing of his son’s awakening, King Suddhodana sent, over a period of time, ten delegations to ask him to return to Kapilavastu. On the first nine occasions, the delegates failed to deliver the message, and instead joined the Sangha to become Arahants. The tenth delegation, led by Kaludayi, a childhood friend of Gautama’s (who also became an Arahant), however, delivered the message.

Two years after his awakening, the Buddha agreed to return, and made a two-month journey by foot to Kapilavastu, teaching the Dharma as he went. Buddhist texts say that King Suddhodana invited the Sangha into the palace for a meal, followed by a Dharma talk. After this he is said to have become a Sotapanna. During the visit, many members of the royal family joined the Sangha. The Buddha’s cousins Ananda and Anuruddha became two of his five chief disciples. At the age of seven, his son Rahul also joined, and became one of his ten chief disciples. His half-brother Nanda also joined and became an Arahant.

Of the Buddha’s disciples , Sariputta , Maudgalyayana , Mahakasyapa, Ananda and Anuruddha are believed to have been the five closest to him. His ten foremost disciples were reputedly completed by the quintet of Upali, Subhoti, Rahula, Mahakaccana and Punna. In the fifth Vassana, the Buddha was staying at Mahavana near Vesali when he heard news of the impending death of his father. He is said to have gone to King Suddhodana and taught the Dharma, after which his father became an Arahant.

The king’s death and cremation was to inspire the creation of an order of nuns. Buddhist texts record that the Buddha was reluctant to ordain women. His foster mother Maha Pajapati, for example, approached him, asking to join the Sangha, but he refused. Maha Pajapati, however, was so intent on the path of awakening that she led a group of royal Sakyan and Koliyan ladies, which followed the Sangha on a long journey to Rajagaha. In time, after Ananda championed their cause, the Buddha is said to have reconsidered and, five years after the formation of the Sangha, agreed to the ordination of women as nuns. He reasoned that males and females had an equal capacity for awakening. But he gave women additional rules (Vinaya) to follow.

Buddha found patronage in the ruler of Magadha, emperor Bimbisara. The emperor accepted Buddhism as personal faith and allowed the establishment of many Buddhist “Viharas.” This eventually led to the renaming of the entire region as Bihar.

The Maurya empire reached its peak at the time of Emperor Asoka, who himself converted to Buddhism after the Battle of Kalinga. This heralded a long period of stability under the Buddhist emperor. The power of the empire was vast – ambassadors were sent to other countries to propagate Buddhism. The Buddha did not appoint any successor and asked his followers to work for personal salvation. The teachings of the Buddha existed only in oral traditions. The Sangha held a number of Buddhist councils in order to reach consensus on matters of Buddhist doctrine and practice. Buddha attained Parinirvana in the abandoned jungles of Kuśināra, modern Kushinagar in Uttar Pradesh.


Facts related to Uttar Pradesh

  • There is controversy among scholars about the original homeland of the Guptas. Jayaswal has pointed out that the Guptas were originally inhabitants ofPrayaga (Allahabad), Uttar Pradesh, in north India, as the vassal of the Nagas or  Thereafter they rose in prominence.
  • Early Gupta coins and inscriptions have been mainly found in Uttar Pradesh.
  • The Guptas were possibly the feudatories of the Kushanas in Uttar Pradesh, and seem to have succeeded them without any wide time-lag.
  • Chandragupta Iconquests are known from a lengthy eulogy composed by his court-poet Harishena and inscribed on an Asokan pillar at Allahabad.
  • in the Allahabad Pillar Inscription, Samudragupta is referred to as a god dwelling on earth.
  • A large number of Buddha images have been unearthed at Sarnath, and one of them is justly regarded as the finest in the whole of India. Stone and bronze images of Buddha have also been found at Mathura and other places.
  • The images of Siva, Vishnu and other Brahmanical gods are sculptured in some of the finest panels of the Deogarh temple (Jhansi district). Of the Brahmanical images perhaps the most impressive is the Great Boar (Varaha), at the entrance of a cave in Udayagiri.




Gupta Empire

  • The start of Gupta Empire is considered by many historian from the reign of Maharaja Shrigupta.
  • Chandragupta-I was the first powerful ruler of Gupta Empire and ascended the throne in 320 AD.
  • The Gupta Period from 320 AD to 550 AD is also known as the Golden Age of India.
  • In the Gupta period India attained the peak of glory in every aspects starting from science, art, literature, mathematics, astronomy and philosophy.

Emperors of Gupta Empire

  • Shrigupta and Ghatotkacha. The reign of Maharaja Shrigupta (240 AD to 280 AD) is considered by many historians to be the starting point of Gupta Empire.
  • Ghatotkacha succeeded his father Shrigupta and ruled from 280AD to 319 AD.

Chandragupta I

  • Chandragupta I was the son of Ghatotkacha and succeeded his father. He was the first powerful king of the dynasty. He ruled the Empire from 320 AD to 335 AD.
  • Chandragupta I adopted the title of Maharajadhiraja: meaning King of Kings.
  • He married princess Kumaradevi of neighboring kingdom Lichchhavi and gained the control of the territory of north Bihar.
  • The starting of the reign of Chandragupta-I is considered by many historians as the beginning of Gupta era.

Samudragupta and Chandragupta II

  • Samudragupta,succeeded his father Chandragupta I and ruled the Gupta dynasty for about 45 years from 335 AD to 380 AD. He is also known as ‘Napolean of India’.
  • Many historians believe that Chandragupta II was nominated by his father Samudragupta as the next heir of Gupta Empire.But Ramagupta,the eldest son of Samudragupta succeeded his father and became the emperor.
  • Chandragupta II killed him and ascended the throne. He was an extremely powerful emperor. Chandragupta II is most commonly known as Vikramaditya,ruled the Gupta Empire from 380 AD to 413 AD.

Other Emperors

  • Kumaragupta I,the son of Chandragupta II succeeded his father and ruled the dynasty till 455 AD. After Kumaragupta I, Skandagupta succeeded his father.
  • He is considered to be the last of the great Gupta emperors.
  • He also adopted the title of Vikramaditya.
  • After Skandagupta, the Gupta dynasty didn’t get any powerful ruler and finally the dynasty was overpowered by the Vardhana ruler Harshavardhana.

Note:Some of the weak rulers who ruled after Skandagupta were, Purugupta, Kumaragupta II, Budhagupta, Narasimhagupta, Kumaragupta III, Vishnugupta, Vainyagupta and Bhanugupta.

Fa-hien’s India Visit

  • Fa-hien was the first Chinese pilgrim who visited India during the reign of Gupta emperor Chandragupta II.

Nine Gems or Navaratnas

  • At the time of Vikramadityas reign, the glory of Gupta Empire reached its peak.
  • A circle of famous nine persons known as Nine Gems or Navaratnas were present in the court of Vikramaditya.

The group comprised of

  • Kalidasa
  • Vetala Bhatta
  • Varahamihira
  • Vararuchi
  • Amarasimha
  • Dhanvantari
  • kshapanak
  • Shanku
  • Ghatakarpura


  • Kalidasa was a famous Sanskrit writer and poet in the court of Chandragupta II (Vikramaditya).
  • Kalidasa was the author of three famous plays.
  • Abhijnanasakuntalam :tells the story of King Dushyanta and Shakuntala
  • Malavikagnimitramtells the story love of King Agnimitra with Malavika
  • Vikramorvasiyamtells the love story of King Pururavas and celestial fairy Urvashi
  • Kalidasa was also the author of two famous Sanskrit epic poems:
  • Raghuvamsa (“Raghu Dynasty “) and
  • Kumarasambhav

Vetala Bhatta

  • Vetala Bhatta was a Brahmin in the court of Vikramaditya.
  • He is known for his contribution of “Nitipradipa “.


  • Varahamihira was an Indian astronomer, astrologer and mathematician of Gupta era.
  • He is famously known for his great work Pancha Siddhantika,a book on mathematical astronomy.
  • His other important contribution to the Indian Sanskrit literature is the Brihat-Samhita, an encyclopedia of astrology and other subjects of human interest.


  • Vararuci was one of the nine Gems in the court of Chandragupta II of Gupta era.


  • Amarasimha was one of the nine Gems in the court of Vikramaditya of Gupta era.
  • He is notably known for his famous Sanskrit thesaurus Amarakosha.
  • It is also known as Namalinganushasana.


  • Dhanvantari is regarded as one of the worlds first surgeons and medical practitioner from Gupta era.
  • He is considered as the origin exponent of Ayurveda.
  • He is also worshipped as the God of Medicine.
  • Sushruta, the author of famous Sushruta Samhita was the student of Dhanvantari.
  • He is also credited for the discovery of the antiseptic properties of turmeric and the preservative properties of salt.
  • Dhanvantri is considered to be the pioneer of modern plastic surgery.


Facts related to Uttar Pradesh

  • Under the rule of Kanishka, the Kushana empire reached its maximum territorial limits. This empire extended from the Central Asia to the northern India, while including Varanasi, Kaushambi and Sravasti in Uttar Pradesh region.
  • The Kushanas patronized the Gandhara and the Mathura schools of sculptural art which are known for producing the earliest images of Buddha and Buddhisattavas.
  • The successors of Kanishka had ruled for another one hundred and fifty years. His son Huvishka kept the empire intact. While Mathura became an important city under his rule, like his father Kanishka he was also a patron of Buddhism religion.
  • The last significant Kushana ruler was Vasudeva. The Kushana empire got much reduced in his rule. Various inscription with his name are found in and around Mathura. He was a worshipper of Siva. And after Vasudeva, petty Kushan princes ruled for sometime in northwestern India after which the empire faded away.
  • Wema Kadphises further extended the Kushana empire atleast upto Mathura, although one of his inscription is found from Ganwaria (Siddharthnagar district of Uttar Pradesh) and his coins are discovered all over Uttar Pradesh and from Bihar as well.
  • Mathura was most probably the eastern head-quarter of the Kushane empire. Most sites in Uttar Pradesh attained their peak of prosperity during the Sunga-Kushana phase when a large number of flourishing urban centres can be archaeologically attested.





In the post-Mauryan era, central Asia and north-western India witnessed hectic and shifting political scenes. The Great Yuehi-chi driven out of fertile lend in Western china migrated towards the Aral Sea. There they encountered the Sakas near Syr Darya river and evicted them. The Great Yuehi-Chi tribes settled in the valley of Oxus and with the occupation of the Bactrian lands the great hordes were divided into five principalities. A century later the Kushan section or sect of Yuehi-Chi attained predominance over the otheres. Their leader was Kadphises. Thus began the history of Kushans. The unique geographical position of the Kushans empire made it a colossus astride on the spine of Asia uniting the Greco-Roman civilization in the west the Chinese civilization in the east and Indian civilisation in the south-east.


The leader of the Kushans was kadphises and his rule probably began in 40 A.D. He attacked the regions south of Hindu Kush, conquered Kabul and annexed Gandhara including the kingdom of Taxila. Kadphises died in 77 A.D. or 78 A.D. By then the Kushans had supplanted the princes belonging to the Indo-Greek saka and Indo-Parthian communities along the frontiers of India. The successor of kadphises was Vima-Kadphses. He conquered large parts of norther India. His coins show that his authority extended as far as Banaras and as well as the Indus basin. In all likelihood his power extended as far as Narbada and the Saka satraps in Malwa and Western India acknowledged his sovereignty.

By that time the Chinese reasserted their authority in the north and this led to a collusion with the Kushans. The Chinese general pan-chao conquered Chinese Turkistan and established the Chinese authority in parthia that is on the territory south of the Caspian sea.

These advances frightened the Kushans. In 87 AD Kadphises II, claimed the hand of a Chiese princes, an acknowledgement of his equality with the son of Heaven. The proposal was rejected and Kadphises, dispatched a large army, But the army was decimated because of the difficult terrain. And it was easily defeated by the Chinese. The Kushan ruler was compelled to pay tribute the China and the Chinese records so that the Kushans continued to send missions to Cnina till the close of the century. Rossibly the reign of Kadphises II ended C. 110 A.D.

The next ruler, Kanishka probably belonged to the little Yuehi-chi section of the horde. His capital was Purushapura and here he erected a large number of Buddhist buildings. In his early years he annexed Kashmir and consolidated his rule in the Indus and the Gangetic basin. His army crossed the Pamirs and inflicted a defeat on the Chinese. The chief of Khotan, Yarkand and the Ksshgar were made to pay tribute. Tradition states that while Kanishka was on his return from the Chinese Turkistan, he was sothered to death by his officers who had got weary of his campaigns. Most of his time was spent on waging wars.

A large number of inscriptions were incised during the times of Kanishka and his successor. According to evidence, Kanishka became an active partron of the Buddhist Church during the later part of his reign. Althouth the Buddhist records gloat over this fact and regard him as the second Asoka, his coins prove that he honoured a medley of gods – zoroastrain, Greek, Mitraic, and Indian. The prominent Indian duty on the coins was Shiva. The peculiar assembly of deities by the Kushans offers a great deal of speculation. May be Kansihka follwed a loose from of Zorostrianism and freely venerated the deities of other greeds.

Also, Kanishka covened a council of Buddhist theologians to settle disputes relating to Buddhist faith and practices. The conclusions of this council were engraved on copper sheets and preserved in the stupa of the capital. The delgates to the council primarily belonged to the Hinayana sect.

The Buddhism of this period was definitely a lax one. The Mahayana sect was popular. But early Buddhism was an India product and was based on the Indian ideas of rebirth, transmigration of souls and the blessedness of escape from the pains of being. This Buddhism was supported by a practical system of ethics inculcating a stoic devotion to duty for its own sake. Such a teaching needed fundamental changes to attract the sturdy mountaineer, the nomad horseman and the Helloe rized Alexandrian. The veneration for a dead teacher passed into a worship of living seviour.

Soon the Kushan power declined. Within the Kingdom, harm was done to the Kushan Empire by the Nagas and Yaudheyas. A Naga ruler probably performed ten ashvamedha sacrifices. Apart from these two communities, a few other tribes also, like the Malavas and the Kunindas, probably regained their importance at the expense of the Kushan empire.

Apart from the weaknesses to the successors of Kanishka, developments in the Persia influenced the history of North western India. The Parthians were overthrown byArdashir in 226 A.D. who established theSassanian dynasty. His successors annxed Peshawar and Taxila during the middle of the 3rd century. And Kushan kings in the north-west became the vassals of the Sasssanians. The successors of Kanishka, as established today, are the following : Vashiska (102-106), Hyvishka (106-138), and Vasudeva (c. 152-176). The history after this period is extremely vague. Over the ruins of the empire, in Central Asia and the west, rose the Sassanian empire of Persia and in India. The Gupta empire.

Speaking in general about the achievement of the Kushans, the first is the economic prosperity. As the Kushan empire was situated in a crucial geographical region. There was brisk trade. Moreover, the very area covered by the Kushan empire helped the flow of trade between the east and the west. Some trade routes which came into existence in this period continued to serve the future also. Gold coins of great complexity were issued by the Kushans.

These coins speak of the prosperity of the people. The coins of Kanishka usually show the figure of Kanishka standing and sacrificing at altar, and on the obverse, deities belonging to various religions. The coins of the Kushans also show that the Kushans were in contact with the Romans – the weight of the Kushan coins has certain similarities with the Roman coins. According to the author of the Periplus god and silver species were imported at Barygaza (Broach).

As regards art and literature, we have to state that their greatest contribution was the Gandhara art. It was in this period that the stone images of the Buddha and the Bodhisattavas were craved out. The chief of quality of this art is the blending of Buddhist subjects with Greek forms. Images of the Buddha appear in the likeness of Apollo, and theYakshakubera is posed in the fasino of Zeus. The imprint of this school of art is still to be found in Mathura and Amarvati. Indeed, the carving of images and the building of temples was not neglected in earlier days, but under the Kushans they attained a refinement. The Chaitya built at Peshawar was as high as four storeys. Fa-Hien, passing through Gandhara, during the fifth century, praised the images of the Buddha, Bodhisattavas and numerous other deities. The early rulers fostered the Hellenistic art of Gandhara and also the Bhikshu Bela, and from this place artistic products were sent to Sarasvati and Sarnath. Kanishka was a great builder – tower at Peshawar, a new city in Taxila, a town in Kashmir and fine buildings and sculptures at Mathura. It was at the last place a portrait stature of Kanishka has been found but its head is not there. Further, the die-engravers employed by the Kushans were far from negligible. A special note is to be taken of coinage. The Kushan coins became the prototypes for many varieities of coins of Yadheyas, the imperial Guptas, some kings of Nepa and several Kings of Chedi. Eminent Buddhist writers – Nagajuna, Asvaghosha and Vasumitra were the names associated with Kanishka. The first was a poet, musician, scholar and a zealous Buddhist monk. Charaka was the court physician of Kanishka.

The next thing to be noted about the Kushana is their religion. In all likelihood, missionaries propagated Buddhism in central Asia and China in this period. Possibly, it was during the time of Kanishka that Mahayana Buddhism was sanctified. The fourth Buddhist council that was summoned by Kanishka canonized the doctrines of Hinayana and Mahayana. The deliberations of the conference were engraved on sheets of copper and were sealed and deposited in a stupa, but they have not been found so far. But to regard Kanishka as the founder patron of the Mahayana sect, which came into existence under the Kushans, is a disputable point. Even though many scholars regard Kanishka as the second Asoka some writers do not agree with this view. In addition to these things, we must mention that the Kushana kings patronized all kinds of religions, including Hinduism. Kanishka was definitely and eclectic monarch as he honored a medley of gods belonging to the Greek, Zoroastrian and Hindu faiths. Not only Buddhism flourished under the Kushanas but there were definitely stirrings of Hinduism. Many brahminical sects started merging. Along with religion, Sanskrit language received an impetus. In a way the Kushan age constituted the prelude to the Gupta age.

In this ammner, the services rendered by the Kushanas are commendable. A mere evaluation of the personality of Kanishka alone would not help us to estimate the importance of the Kushanas as the empire lasted for three centuries. To a certain extent, the prosperious time of peace during the Gupta period was directly due to the Kushans undertaking the unconscious role of the shield and buckler of Indian civiliszation and culture. The Kushan state was a buffer between the Aryan civilization and the nomadic hordes in central Asia who from time to time, had overrun the civilized worlds with the sweep of avalanches. It was also responsible for the exchange of ideas and goods between different civilization because of the peculiar geographical position occupied by the Kushanas a clearing house for the ideas and goods of different civilization.


The Vedas for all – The Casteless society

  • The Sanatana Dharma during Vedic era had never endorsed caste system. Thus restoration of true Sanatana Dharma alone would create a casteless society in India.
  • The caste is always a British invention which enumerated based on occupation. But true definition of ‘Jaati’ as per Veda is completely different from what British defined as caste!
  • ‘Jaati’ as defined by Veda is ‘Samaana prasava atmika Jaatih’ which means those who have similar birth source form a Jaati.

Classification of Jatti

Four broad classification of ‘Prajaati’ (different groups of Jaati) as envisaged by Rishis are Udbhija,Andaja, Pindaja and Ushmaja.

  1. Udbhija: are the Jaati or group that are coming out of ground like plants, crops etc.
  2. Andaja: Jaati or group takes birth from eggs, like birds, reptiles etc.
  3. Pindaja: Jaati or group are those which are born from womb or say mammals.
  4. Ushmaja: are those Jaati or group that are reproduced due to temperature and ambient condition like bacteria, virus etc.
  • This Prajati (Jaati group) is further classified as jaati based on similar physical characteristic of a Jaati. This is the Jaati created by God (or nature) and can’t cross breed across the Jaati. Now on mammals there are many varieties of Jaati like tiger, dog, cat, human etc. All forms a special Jaati.
  • Thus human belongs to one jaati that’s called manav Jaati (or human race). Thus jaati is immobile but doesn’t divide humans! Forget about Indian population, in fact humans of the World in fact belongs to one Jaati. That’s why Vedas say ‘Vasudhyava Kutumbakam’.

However for convenience usage this jaati too referred as to a population of a country or nation. That’s why national address sometimes described as a speech (Bhashan) to Jaati (nation). The term of united nation is also called as Jaati-Sangh.

Vedic Sanatan Dharma

  • Vedic Sanatan Dharma also called as ‘Varnashram Dharma’. There are four basic Varnas called as ‘Bramhin, Kshatriya, Vaisya and Shudra. Also during Vedic era there were other Varnas like Rakshyasa, Dasyu, Chandal etc. However as those are considered criminals hence not included in mainstream civilization!
  • Now Varna again is based on the occupation and merit. It’s mobile and not at all based on birth. As per Vedic Sanatana Dharma all are born as Shudras. Then based on one’s education and occupation (which are purely on merit and choice) are upgraded to Bramhin, Kshyatriya and Vaishya varna. All these three Varna’s called as Dwija (means twice born).
  • This proves that first biological birth made all Shudras and then due to individual capacity one is again born to a Varna. People who are involved in intellectual activities are classified as Bramhin Varna, those have profession of defense and warfare are classified as Kshatriya and those have profession of trade, economy, animal rearing agriculture (owning lands) are classified as Vaishya Varna. The remaining who due to lack of education, talent or merit have to do labor work to support all the above Varnas remain as Shudras.
  • Again here it must be noted that Shudras are not untouchable in Vedic culture. ‘Tapase Shudram’ (Yajurveda 30.5) proves that Shudras are hard working class. Also Shudras can do Tapasya!’
  • Thus the present caste system is no way same to Varnashrama Dharma nor does the today’s Jaati (caste) have any relation with Jaati of Vedic culture. Jaati is always immobile as it’s depends on birth as discussed earlier. But Varna is always mobile, as it’s always a choice of profession and ability to do a certain type of work!

Let me give some examples how Varna is mobile as below.

  1. Aitareya Rishi was a son of Chandal/criminal (even lower than Shudra Varna) became Bramhin of highest order because of his merit and education. He wrote Aitaray Bramhan and Aitoreyopanishad!
  2. Ailush Rishi belonged to a Shudra parent but because of his individual excellence he not only became a Bramhin but also got the title of ‘Acharya’.
  3. Satyakaam Jaabal became a Brahmin despite son of prostitute!
  4. King Dakshya’s son Prisadha became a shudra. Later on he did hard Tapasya to achieve salvation! (This also proves that Shudras were equally allowed to do Tapasya, a work of Brmahin.)
  5. Kshatriya Nedhistha’s son Nabhag became Vaishya where as many of Nabhag’s son became Kshatriya again and one son Dhrista became Bramhin! Dhrista’s son became Kshatriya where as the next generation again became Brahmin!
  6. Agnivesya, Rathotar, Haaritand Shaunak became Bramhin despite born to Kshatriya parents. Shaunak rishi’s sons were of all four Varnas.
  7. Matanga who was born to Shudra family became Bramhin.
  8. Ravana born to Brmahin family but became Khatriya.
  9. Viswamitra became Bramhin despite being born to Kshatriya family. Viswamitra’s sons became Shudra.
  • The above proves how Vedas never endorsed birth based caste system rather opted for Varna Vyavastha depending on one’s choice, success and merit. Further Shudras weren’t untouchable.
  • Thus I reiterate that caste based system is an invention by British and western intellectuals link to Varna Vyvastha. At the same time I would say that untouchable term started doing round not during Vedic era rather during 200 BC to 600 AD, a period when Sanatan Dharma was really directionless due to domination of Buddhism and Jain religion which were too declining during that period.


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