Post Mauryan Kingdoms

Political History from Shungas to Hunas

  • The decline of Maurya Empire resulted in the loss of a pan-Indian authority exercised from Magadha. Gradually, a number of competing powers emerged in different parts of India. The imperial monarchy was thus replaced by regional monarchs and the centralized steel frame of Maurya Empire was lost in oblivion.
  • Many of the regional monarchs were of foreign / Central Asian origins and in the process of establishing their power; they had to subscribe to the prevailing religion and social customs of India.
  • Some of them subscribed to the Brahamanic notion of caste and Varna system but for most of them including the mighty Kushans, Buddhism provided a relatively easier route to become adjusted to the Indian social system. {This answers why Kushanas embraced Buddhism}. Here is a brief political account of what happened from the reign Pushyamitra Sunga onwards till the rise of imperial Guptas.


Gangetic Heartland under Shungas, Kanvas and Mahameghavahanas

  • After the last Maurya ruler Brihadrath was killed by his commander Pushyamitra Sunga, Magadh passed into the hands of Sunga dynasty. Both Pushyamitra and his son Agnimitra ruled from Pataliputra but then later Sungas moved the capital of Magadh to Vidisha. The life of Sungas was not easy because of troubled neighbourhoods and frequent raids. They fought war with almost every contemporary including Kalinga, Satavahana, Indo-Greeks, Panchals as well as Mathura. For example, Pushyamitra had to repel not only two Greek attacks from western side by Demetrius and Meander; but also conquest of Kalinga’s Kharvela from South-east side.
  • His son and successor Agnimitra {hero of Malvikagnimitram of Kalidasa} also had similar life. He ruled for only eight years and was mostly indulged in such fights including the fight to control Vidarbha.
  • The last rulers of Shunga dynasty were Bhagabhadra and Devabhuti, about whom we have few details. Devabhuti was killed by his own amatya (minister) Vasudeva Kanva around 73 BC and Magadha passed to Kanvas who were Brahmins by origin.
  • By the end of Sunga Empire in 73 BC, their territory had narrowed down to some parts of Central India only between Ujjain, Mathura, Saket, Sanchi, and Kapilvastu.


Magadha under Kanvas

  • When Magadha was under Kanvas, it had further lost its territories in west to ever strong Greeks and in east to different rulers such as Kosala Kingdom {set up by Muladeva after killing one Sunga remnant called Sumitra}. Kanvas were finally dethroned by Satavahanas and Magadha was annexed into Satavahana Empire.


Mahameghavanas of Kalinga

  • One of the great regional powers that emerged by seizing the opportunity of declining Mauryas in the Gangetic heartland were Mahameghavanas of Kalinga in modern Odisha. The third ruler of this dynasty Kharvela (ruled 209-170BC) emerged mightier and revived the old glory of Kalinga. He had left a Hathigumpha inscription in the Udayagiri cave near Bhubneswar wherein he has given a biographical sketch of his life year by year. He rebuilt the capital of Kalinga (Kalinganagara), destroyed the capitals of Hindu tribes (Musikas, Rastrakas and Bhijakas), extended a canal built by Mauryas, advanced his territorial possessions till Barabar hills by defeating king of Rajgir, built a Mahavijayaprasad (great palace of victory) on banks of river Pranchi, subdued the Brihaspatimitra of Magadha and built a magnificent temple at Bhubneshwar. Thus Kharvela, who seems to be either a Jain / or a freethinker king was able to raid into the hitherto Maurya / Shunga / Kanva / others territories to consolidate his power. He also fought with Satavahana and spread his Kingdom from Ganga to Kaveri. However, after his death, his kingdom declined soon and was finally annexed into Satavahana Empire.


North West Indian Subcontinent: Indo-Greeks, Pahalavas, Shakas and Kushanas

  • During the last two centuries before Christ, most of India’s north-west region was attacked and occupied by the invaders from Bactria (this referred to region between River Oxus and Hindukush Mountains in Afghanistan). Bactria at that time was one of the parts of Persian conquests of Alexander the great and a part of Seleucid Kingdom.
  • One such notable king of the Hellenistic Seleucid Empire was Antiochus-II, who was in good relations Asoka and had received Ashoka’s Buddhist proselytism. {Apart from Antiochus-II, Asoka has mentioned names of four other Yavana kings viz. Ptolemy, Antigonos, Magas and Alexander in one of his edicts}.


  • These kings used to appoint governors for local administration. In third century BC, Bactria and another such province Parthia revolted against the Seleucid Kings and their governors declared themselves Kings in their own might. These Graeco-Bactrian invaders clashed with Mauryas to grab few territories but were not successful during the heyday of mighty Maurya Empire. But as the decline of Mauryas set in, they became bolder. For example, one Yavana monarch called Demetrius-I used to rule from Sakala (Sialkot) but had occupied a large part of the Indus delta, Saurashtra and Kutch. Even the Sungas were powerless against them. Thus, the result of a weakened Magadha was that at least thirty Yavana rulers belonging to various lineages established their tiny and often overlapping territories in areas of modern Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kashmir, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan Gujarat etc. In Indian texts, all of these Greeko-Bactrian kings were called Yavana. However, the British scholars classified those who invaded India and established territories in Indian sub-content as Indo-Greek rulers.
  • In India, the upper elite i.e. Brahmins hated the Yavanas. But Buddhism gave them some easier way to reach out to the masses. This was a key reason that many of them embraced Buddhism. Worth note here is the Yavana king Menander-II, who reigned between 90-85 BC and is called as mighty Yavana King of Sakala(Sialkot). The Buddhist text Milindapanho records the dialogue between Meander II and He subscribed to Buddhism and is greatly revered by the Buddhist texts. His coins have been engraved with “Dhammachakka” of Buddhism. However, Yavanas also had no cool life. Both the Bactrian Greek and Indo-Greek rulers faced invasions of the Parthians and Scythians.



  • At the time when Bactrians revolted against the Seleucid Kings, the governors of another such region Parthia also revolted in similar way. Parthia was around the south-east reaches of the Caspian Sea. From there, the newly independent Parthian kings went on raiding spree up to Punjab in India.
  • The Parthians who set up their territory in Indian subcontinent were called Indo-Parthians. One such Indo-Parthian ruler was Gondophares-I who was able to grab some small territories in modern Pakistan and Afghanistan. In Indians texts, Parthians are called Pahalavas.




  • But the Parthians themselves faced onslaught of a Central Asian group called Scythians. Scythians were a horse riding nomadic pastoralists with their original home near Aral Sea. In the second century BC, there was a great migration of various nomadic tribes such as Hiung-chi, Wu-san Yuehchi tribes from Chinese region towards west and then towards south east. Before this migration, these tribes, particularly the Yueh-chi were living in the Xinjiang and Gansu region of China. They were defeated and then driven off towards west towards Aral Sea. The construction of Great wall of China was also aimed at keeping these nomadic groups away from the China’s territory. The Yueh-Chi people now squeezed persecuted and killed the Scythians in their own home and pushed them towards Iran. But there, the Parthians drove them off to further east and thus in first century BC, Scythians started inflowing Gandhara region to set up some small territories in that area. The earliest Shaka ruler was Maues or Moga, who subdued Indo-Greeks and established a territory in Gandhara region between 80-65 BC. He ruled from capital Sirkap Sirkap is located near Taxila in Punjab province of Pakistan and was actually established by Demetrius-I but was destroyed and rebuilt many times. Today, it lies as an archaeological site only. Moga issued a large number of copper coins with images of Shiva as well as Buddha. The famous Taxila copper plate (aka Moga inscription) testifies his authority and his allegiance to Buddhism. However, Moga was unable to expand beyond Jhelum river. His successors Azes-I and Azes-II put an end to the Indo-Greeks and annexed their territories. Few years later, they penetrated deeper into India including areas around Yamuna Valley (Mathura), Upper Deccan, Saurashtra, Malwa etc. In due course, they established two authorities in India viz. Northern Shakas of Taxila and Mathura; and Western Shakas of Malwa and Kathiawar. Some scholars divided them into five different branches, popularly called as Satraps.


Shaka Satraps

  • The Satrap system was directly influenced by the Achaemenid and Seleucid administrations. Satraps were basically governors of these kings who used to handle the local administration of their provinces. At times, satraps used to rebel against their kings as it was a case with Bactrians and Parthians. In India, the both Parthians and Shakas loved to be called as Satrapas. There were several different branches of Shaka Satrapas including Kapisa Satraps, Taxila Satraps, Mathura Satraps, Ujjaini Satraps and Satraps of upper Deccan. They key rulers under these were as follows:
    • Kapisa Satrapas: Liaka Kusulaka and Patika Kusulaka
    • Mathura Satraps: Hagana and Hagamasa, Rajuvula (his name comes from Mora inscription found near Mathura)
    • Satraps of Western India: Bhumaka and Nahapana
    • Ujjain Satrapas: Chastana {He fought and repelled the Satavahanas)
  • We note here that Chastana’s grandson Rudradaman-I had not only indianized himself by name and methods but also considered himself a greatest Shaka rulers (Mahasatrapa). His court was decorated by a Greek writer Yavanesvara. Yavanesvara had translated the Yavanajataka from Greek to Sanskrit. It had influenced astrology in India. In 150AD he described his exploits in the Junagarh Rock Inscriptions that he defeated Satavahana king Vashishtiputra Satakarni and chosen himself as protector of all castes.
  • Satakarni and Rudradaman-I had family relations and that was the reason that despite defeat he spared life of Satakarni not once but twice.
  • Junagarh Rock Inscription also credits Rudradaman-I with supporting the cultural arts and Sanskrit literature and repairing the dam built by the Mauryans. This refers to the repair of Lake Sudarshana, which was constructed by Mauryas probably to contain the floods. The successors of Rudradaman-I ruled their territories till 4th centuries and by that time their lands slipped to either Satavahanas or Arab chieftains.



  • In the above description, we have studied that the Yueh-Chi and other tribes had suffocated the Scythians in their home near Aral Sea in 2nd century BC when they were driven out of China by King Xiongnu. They attacked and pushed the Scythians towards India and influx of Shakas finally established various Shaka satraps in India.
  • But these tribes from China were notorious in tribal / nomadic warfare. The Shakas had avoided them once but then there were several waves of these people moving in a circular path from China towards first west and then south and east towards India
  • In the nomadic warfare, the Yueh-chis were defeated by the Hiung-nu tribe and pushed them towards Bactria. Here, they gradually evolved from nomadism to sedentary people and established different groups. One of these groups was called Kuei-shuang or Kushans. Thus, Kushanas were originally from the Yueh-Chi tribes and were also known as In the beginning of Christian era, they subdued all the other groups and assumed control of Afghanistan and eastern Iran under their leader Kujula Kadphises (ruled 30-80AD). Kujula had cleared the region from not only Greeks but also Shakas and every other rival power. He adopted the title of Dharmathida showing allegiance to Buddhism and Hinduism both.
  • His son, Wima Kadphises, entered north India in the middle of the first century AD and brought all of Punjab, Kashmir and the plain of the Ganges up to Kashi! Wima is known for having introduced the Gold coins for the first time in India. He issued huge number of Gold coins which indicates the economic power of Kushanas. He also maintained a silk route for trade between India and China, Alexandria, and Roman Empire.
  • The most powerful ruler of Kushana was Kanishka-I, the able son of Wima. Under him, Kushana Empire reached its climax and it extended from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan to Mathura, Kashmir and Kashi. As per the Tibetan Sources, Kanishka is considered to have conflicted with the Pataliputra and Saket and had taken Aśvaghosa, the Buddhist Monk to Purushpura. Kanishka conflicted with Han Dynasty rulers of China and defeated its General in second attempt. He is also known to have subjugated the rulers of Khotan, Yarkand etc. and is considered to have established a great kingdom only after the Mauryas in India. Under him, the trans-Asian Kushana Empire became one of the great conduits for India’s international trade.
  • Kanishka was succeeded by Vashishka. The last great Kushana ruler was Vasudeva-I who ruled till 225AD. By that time, the western region of Kushana Empire started breaking away under Indo-Sasanians (called Kushanshah) who in turn were displaced by Hunas.
  • Kushana Empire was nevertheless greatest empire expanding from Aral sea to Kashi and Kushans were great kings who kept northern India united for nearly two centuries.


Important Facts on Kushans

  • Kanishka-I’s grandson was named Kanishka-II. He assumed the title of Kaisar.
  • Kanishka’s main capital was Purushpura (Peshawar) and he had three regional capitals at Taxila, Begram (in Afghanistan) and Mathura. His territory spread from Aral Sea to Kashi.
  • Kanishka was a great patron of Buddhism and convened the 4th Buddhist council in the Kundalvana of Kashmir in 78 AD. Vasumitra headed this council and it marked the collection of Buddhist texts and engraving of the commentaries on Copper sheets.
  • Some scholars are of the view that the Abhidhama Mahavishasa was prepared in the fourth Buddhist council. Some of the scholars in the Court of Kanishka were Parsva, Vasumitra, Asvaghosa, Nagarjuna, Charaka and Mathara. Charaka has been called the Court Physician of Kanishka, though it is disputed. Sushruta who wrote Sushruta Samhita has also been connected to Kanishka.
  • During Kanishka’s time, Buddhism got divided between the Hinayana and Mahayana.
  • The Gandhara, Mathura and Amravati Schools of art developed independently during Kushana reign and flourished.
  • The central Asian Tribes introduced the Cap, Boot and helmet in India. Kushanas (Yueh Chi Tribe) is considered to have conducted the Horse trade by sea with the Koying kingdom of modern Malaysia.
  • The Kushanas issued largest number of copper coins. Wima Kadphises released a large number of Gold Coins.
  • Sindoor (Vermillion) and Bamboo was introduced in India by Chinese traders.
  • India was known as Shen-tu in the early Chinese texts.
  • Sun God has been depicted on the coins of Kanishka-1 and Vāsishk Kujala Kadphises and Kanishka-I adopted and patronized the Buddhism, but Vima Kadphises adopted Shaivism and was a Shiva Devotee.
  • The 4 important schools of Jainism viz. Kottaka, Varana, Aryayudikiya and Vesavadiya have been mentioned in the Epigraphic Records of the Kushana Period.


The Satavahanas of the Deccan

  • For around four centuries (circa. 200 BC to 220 AD), Satavahana dynasty ruled in the regions comprising north-western Maharashtra and Andhra (between Godavari and Krishna rivers). This region had been a part of Maurya Empire. The Satavahana dynasty arose during the last phase of Maurya era. In Puaranas and coins, the Satavahanas have been mentioned as Satakarnis, Andhras, Andhrabhritiyas also. Various coins of Lead, Silver and Copper have given information about them but their origin is shrouded in mystery. The Satavahanas are thought to be Brahmins. Most users used names of their mother with their own names. Their coins have bilingual legends (Prakrit and some Dravida language). They were patrons of Buddhism and under them Nagarjunkonda and Amravati flourished as famous Buddhist centres.
  • The dynasty was first founded by one Simuka after destroying the Sunga power with the help of Rathikas and Bhojakas. Simuka was beheaded and killed by his bother Kanha who extended the empire to further south and made it a great power in Deccan. Kanha was succeeded by Sri Satkarni, who in turn was succeeded by Satkarni-II. These were some of the greatest rulers of Satavahana dynasty. The expansion of the Satavahanas was checked just after Satkarni II.
  • In the first century AD, the Satavahana rulers were challenged by Shakas, particularly by Nahpana who was able to grab western Deccan from them. Gradually, Satavahanas lost their power and territories and are thought to having ruled under suzerainty of Kanvas.
  • However, the Satavahana power was once again revived by Gautamiputra Satkarni (Reign 78-102 AD), who is described as the Destroyer of the Shaka, Pahalava and Yavana Power. The total and sharp recovery of Satavahana made them rulers of entire Deccan and south up to Kanchi.
  • After Gautamiputra Satakarni, the Satavahana empire was further strengthened by his son Pulumayi. However, in the evening of his life, Shakas once again revived under Chastana. This weakened their power.
  • For the last time, Sri Yajna Sātakarni tried to revive the Satavahanas again in around 200AD.
  • However, his great grandson Puluyami-IV happened to be the last main Satavahana ruler. After that, the empire went into hands of feudatories and got disintegrated.


Notes on Satavahanas

  • First King of Satavahana dynasty was Simuka. Last one was Pulumayi-IV.
  • The 17th King of Satavahana dynasty was Hala who compiled the Gatha Saptashati on love theme.
  • Satavahanas are considered the flag bearers of Aryanism to Deccan.
  • They were the first native Indians who had issued the coins with portraits of their kings.
  • All the coins of Satavahanas used Prakrit dialect and also on backside the southern language (Telugu or Kannada). Prakrat seems to be the official language of Satavahanas.
  • The Satavahanas worshipped the Hindu Deities such as Rama, Krishna, Vasudeva etc. but they also patronized the Buddhism. The Nagarjunkonda and Amaravati in Maharastra became the important centers of Buddhism during the reign of Satavahanas and their successors.
  • Saatavahana also built many Chaitya and Viharas. Most of them were rock cut from the solid rock in North Western Deccan and Maharashtra. The Karle Chaitya of 1st century BC is one of the most important Chaitya.
  • The Viharas of the 1 century AD at Nasik bear the inscription of the Gautami Putra Satkarni and Nahapana. The Amaravati Stupa was built in the reign of Satavahanas.
  • Satavahanas administration was simple and inspired by the Mauryas. The King was the protector of the religion and had divine attributes. He possessed the qualities of ancient Gods.
  • The Kingdom was divided into the Janapadas and subdivided into Aharas. The ruler of each Ahara was an Amatya. Ahara was divided into Grama which was under the headmen called Gamika. Two feudatories viz. Mahasenapati and Mahataravalara were created in the Satavahana Dynasty.
  • King was called Rajan or Raja and he had the right to mint the coins. A Senapati was appointed as the provincial governor. The most important features of the state formation under Satavahanas were:
    • It was a result of a continuous process.
    • It was influenced by Mauryan Administration
    • It was influenced by North India
    • Gautamiputra Satkarni is claimed to have re-established the four fold Varna System. .
  • Satavahanas ruled in Modern Andhra Pradesh, but most of the inscriptions of Satavahanas have been found in Maharashtra.
  • Nanaghat Inscription of Naganika (wife of Satkarni-I) has been found near Pune (District).
  • The Two cave inscriptions found at Nasik are of Gautamiputra Satkarni. At Nasik, Inscription of Pulumayi II has been found. The Karle cave inscription is of Vashishtiputra Pulumayi II.
  • The basis of Satavahana prosperity was in agriculture and trade. The Satavahana kings were some of the greatest donors of land and land revenue to communities of Buddhist monks, the brahmans, and to all who wished to engage fruitfully in agricultural pursuits. The earliest land grant of India was issued by Satavahanas.
January 1, 2018

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