Post-Mauryan India and Central Asian Contacts

Post-Mauryan India – time period (200 B.C. to 300 AD)

The successors of Asoka were not able to keep the vast Empire intact, after the death of Asoka. The provinces started declaring themselves independent. Kalinga declared itself independent, and further Satavahanas established their independent rule in the south. The foreign invasion also affected the territory of north India.

As a result of these conflicts, the Mauryan rule was confined to the Gangetic valley and it was soon replaced by the Sunga dynasty.

Sunga Dynasty: (185 BCE-75 BCE)

  • Pushyamitra Sunga was the founder of the Sunga dynasty.
  • He was commander-in-chief under the Mauryas.
  • Pusyamitra Sunga assassinated the last Mauryan ruler and usurped the throne.
  • The invasion of the Bactrian Greeks from the northwest was a challenge for Sungas.
  • The Greeks advanced up to Pataliputra and occupied it for some time, however, Pushyamitra succeeded in regaining it.
  • There was also a fight between Kharavela of Kalinga and Pushyamitra, as Kharavela invaded north India.
  • Pusyamitra Sunga was a follower of Brahmanism.
  • He performed two asvamedha sacrifices.
  • Buddhist sources refer to him as a persecutor of Buddhism, but there are many shreds of evidence that show that he patronized Buddhist art.
  • Buddhist monuments at Bharhut and Sanchi were renovated and further improved during the reign of Pushyamitra Sunga.
  • After the death of Pushyamitra Sunga, his son Agnimitra became the ruler.
  • Devabhuti was the last Sunga ruler, who was murdered by his minister Vasudeva Kanva.

Significances of the Sunga Dynasty:

  • The rule of Sungas was important because they defended the Gangetic Valley from foreign invasions.
  • The Sungas revived Brahmanism and horse sacrifice.
  • The Sungas promoted the growth of Vaishnavism and the Sanscrit language.

Kanva Dynasty:(75 B.C – 30 BC)

  • Vasudeva Kanva was the founder of the Kanva dynasty and was the minister of the last rule of Sungas.
  • The Kanva dynasty ruled for 45 years.
  • After the fall of Kanvas, the history of Magadha was blank until the establishment of the Gupta dynasty.

Satvahanas: (30 BCE to 220 CE)

After the decline of the Mauryas, the Satvahana established their independent rule in Deccan. The Satvahanas ruled for 450 years. The Satvahanas were also known as Andhras. Simuka was the founder of the Satvahana dynasty.

Sources of Satavahanas:

The Puranas and inscriptions remain important sources for the history of Satavahana.

  • The Nasik and Nagaland inscriptions throw light on the reign of Gautamiputra Satakarni.
  • The coins issued by the Satvahanas also throw light on the economic condition of the reign of Satavahanas.

Central Asian Contacts

Foreign Invasions of Northwest India:

A series of invasions began in about 200 B.C. The first to cross the Hindukush were the Greeks, who ruled the Bactria.


Bactria and Parthia became independent from the Syrian empire in the middle of the third century B.C.

  • The Greek ruler of Bactria named Demetrius invaded Afghanistan and Punjab and occupied them.
  • He sent his two commanders Appolodotus, and Menander from Taxila, for further conquests.
  • Appolodotus conquered Sindh and marched up to Ujjain.
  • Menander extended his rule up to Mathura and from there he made attempts to capture Pataliputra but was stopped by Vasumitra, the grandson of Pushyamitra Sunga.
  • Menander was also known as Milinda, and Sakala (Sialkot) was the name of the capital of his kingdom.
  • His dialogue with Buddhist monk Nagasea was compiled in the Pali work, Milindapanho (Question of Milinda). He embraced Buddhism.
  • Heliodorous a Greek ambassador became Vaishnavite and erected the Garuda Pillar at Besnagar.
  • The Greek influence in India lasted for more than a century after the death of Menander.

The Sakas or Scythians attacked Bacteria and Parthia and captured them from the Greek rulers. The Sakas extended their rule over northwestern India.

  • There were two different groups of Sakas – the Northern Satraps ruling from Taxila and the Western Satraps ruling over Maharashtra.
  • The founder of the Saka rule in India in the first century B.C. was Maues.
  • Azes I was the son and Successor of Maues, who was considered to be the founder of the Vikrama era.
  • Saka rulers of Taxila were dethroned by the Parthians.

The Saka dominion in northwestern India was followed by Parthians.

  • Originally the Parthians lived in Iran from where they moved to India.
  • The most famous Parthian king was Gondophernes. Saint Thomas came to India during his reign.
  • Parthians were followed by Kushanas.

The Kushanas were a branch of the Yuchi tribe of Central Asia. They first came to Bactria displacing the Sakas. The founder of the Kushana dynasty was Kujula Kadphises or Kadphises I.

  • They gradually moved to the Kabul valley and seized the Gandhara region.
  • They occupied the Kabul Valley and issued coins in his name.
  • Wima Kadphises II the son of Kujula Kadphises, conquered the whole of northwestern India up to Mathura.
  • He issued gold coins with high-sounding titles as such ‘Lord of the whole world’.
  • He worshipped the lord, Shiva.
Kanishka (78-120 AD)

Kanishka was the most important ruler of the Kushana dynasty. He was the founder of the Saka era, which starts in 78 A.D.

Kanishka was a great conqueror, and very religious, he was a patron of religion and art.

Conquests of Kanishka:

The empire of Kanishka included Afghanistan, Gandhara, Sindh, and Punjab. Subsequently, he conquered Magadha and extended his power as far as Pataliputra and Bodh Gaya.

  • According to Kalhana, Kanishka invaded Kashmir and occupied it.
  • His coins are found in many places like Mathura, Sravasti, Kausambi, and Benaras and therefore, he must have conquered the greater part of the Gangetic plain.
  • Kanishka also fought against the Chines and acquired some territories from them.
  • Kanishka annexed the territories of Kashgar, Yarkand, and the Khotan into his empire.
  • The empire of Kanishka was extended from Gandhara in the west to Benares in the east, and from Kashmir in the north to Malwa in the South, with the capital Purushapura or modern-day Peshawar.
Kanishka and Buddhism:

Kanishka embraced Buddhism, but he was tolerant towards other religions as his coins exhibit the images of not only Buddha but also Greek and Hindu gods.

Mahayana Buddhism came into vogue during the reign of Kanishka. Mahayana is different in many aspects from the religion taught by the Buddha and propagated by Asoka. In this, the Buddha came to be worshiped as an idol. So, image worship and rituals developed in Mahayana Buddhism.

  • Kanishka sent missionaries to Central Asia and China for the Propagation of new faith.
  • Buddhist Chaityas and Viharas were built in different places.
  • He patronized Buddhist scholars such as Vasumitra, Asvagosha, and Nagarjuna.
  • Kanishka conveyed the fourth Buddhist council, it held at the Kundalvana monastery near Srinagar, Kashmir. The president of this council was Vasumitra.
  • Many philosophers, poets, and artists were patronized by him. Asvaghosha was a great philosopher and poet, and he was the author of Buddhacharita. Nagarjuna from South India adorned the court of Kanishka.
  • Charaka, the famous physician of ancient India was also patronized by him.
Impact of Central Asian Contacts
Structure and Pottery:

The Shaka-Kushana phase was one of the important phases in distinct advanced building activities. In excavations, archaeologists have found the use of burnt bricks for flooring, tiles for flooring, and roofing.

  • The period was also marked by the construction of brick walls.
  • Its typical pottery is plain and polished red wares.
  • The distinctive pots are sprinklers and spouted channels, during the Kushana period at the same time in Central Asia this red pottery with a thin fabric layer is found.
  • The red potteries were widely known in Central Asia and these were also found in regions like Farghana which were in Khushan cultural peripheries.
Better Cavalary:

The Shakas and Kushanas added many new things to Indian culture and enhanced the culture of Indian society.

  • They introduced better cavalry and the use of riding horses on a large scale.
  • They made common the use of reins and saddles.
  • The Sakas and Kushanas were excellent horsemen. Many terracotta figures of Kushnas times were discovered from Begram in Afghanistan.
  • Possibly they also used some kind of a toe stirrup made of rope which facilitated their movements.
  • The Shakas and Kushanas introduced turban, tunics, trousers, and heavy long coats. The sherwani is a successor of the long coat.
  • The Central Asians also brought in caps, helmets, and boots which were used by warriors.
  • Later the military technology spread in the country and the dependent princes turned them to good use against their former conquerors.
Trade and Agriculture:

Because of contact with Central Asian people, India received a good deal of gold from the Altai mountains in Central India.

The Kushans controlled the silk route, which started from China and passed through their empire in Central Asia and Afghanistan to Iran, and Western Asia which formed part of the Roman empire in the eastern Mediterranean zone.

  • This silk route was the source of income to the Kushanas.
  • It is significant that the Kushanas were the first rulers in India to issue gold coins on a wide scale.
  • The Kushanas also promoted agriculture.
  • The earliest archaeological traces of large-scale irrigation in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and western Central Asia belongs to the Kushana period.

The Kuhanas adopted the pompous title of ‘King of kings’ which indicates their supremacy over numerous small princes who paid tributes.

  • The Sakas and Kushanas strengthened the idea of the divine origin of kingship. The Kushanas were called sons of god. The title was used in India to legitimize the royal authority.
  • The Hindu law-giver Manu asked the people to respect the king even if he is a child. because he is a great god ruling in the form of a human being.
  • The Kushana also introduced the Satrap system of government.
  • The Greeks also introduced the practice of military governorship, the appointed governors called strategos, which maintain the power of new rulers over the conquered people.
Religious development:

Some foreign rulers were converted to Vaishnavism. The Greek ambassador called Heliodorus set up a pillar in honour of Vasudeva near Vidisa in Madhya Pradesh around the middle of the second century B.C.

Few rulers adopted Buddhism as such Meander a famous Greek ruler. The question and answer that he exchanged with the Buddhist monk Nagasena also called Nagarjuna, is a great source for the intellectual history of the Pots Mauryan period.

The Kushan rulers worshiped both Shiva and Buddha, and the images of these two gods appeared on Kushan coins.

Several Kushan rulers were worshippers of Vishnu. The Kushan ruler Vasudeva was worshipped as an incarnation of Vishnu.

Gandhara and Mathura Schools of Art:

The Kushan empire brought together masons and other artisans trained in different schools and countries. This gave rise to several schools of art: Central Asian, Gandhara and Mathura.

  • Indian craftsmen came into contact with the Central Asian Greeks and Romans, especially in the northwestern frontier of India in Gandhara. It gave rise to a new kind of art in which images of Buddha were made in the Graeco-Roman style. The hair of Buddha was Fashioned in the Graeco-Roman style.
  • The influence of Gandhara art presents the Mathura Museum possesses the largest collection of sculptures of Kushana times in India.
  • Beautiful Buddhist caves were constructed out of rocks in Maharashtra.
  • In Andhra Pradesh, Nagarjunakonda and Amaravati became the great center of Buddhist Art.
  • The earliest panels dealing with Buddhism are found at Gaya, Sanchi, and Bharhut belonging to the second century B.C.
Literature and Learning:

The foreign princes patronized Sanskrit literature.

The earliest specimen of the Kavya style is found in the Junagadh inscription of Rudradaman in Kathiawar in about A.D. 150.

  • Great creative writers such as Ashvaghosha enjoyed the patronage of the Kushanas. Ashvaghosha wrote the Buddha-Charita, a biography of the Buddha. He also composed the Saundarananda, a Sanskrit kavya.
  • The progress of Mahayana Buddhism led to the composition of numerous avadanas. Some of the important books of Mahayana were the Mahavastu and Divyavadana.
  • In the development of Indian theatre, the Greeks contributed to the introduction of curtains. The curtains came to be known as Yavanika.
  • The best example of secular literature appears in the Kamasutra of Vatsyayana, the work on erotics dealing with sex and love-making.
Science and Technology:

In the post-Mauryan times, Indian astronomy and astrology profited from contact with the Greeks. Indian astrology came to be influenced by Greek ideas, and from the Greek term, the horoscope was derived the term hora shastra was used for astrology in Sanskrit.

The Greek term drachma came to be known as drama. Dogs, cattle, spices, and ivory pieces were exported by the Greeks, but whether they learned any craft from India is not clear.

  • The Indians did not owe anything striking to the Greeks in medicine, botany, and Chemistry. These three subjects were dealt with by Charaka and Sushruta.
  • The Charaka Samhita contains names of numerous plants and herbs from which drugs are to be prepared for the treatment of patients.

In the field of technology also the Indian seems to have benefited from contact with Central Asians. Kanishka is represented as wearing trousers and long boots. possibly the practice of making leather shoes began in his period.

Working in glass in this period was especially influenced by foreign ideas and practices.


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The Age of Satavahanas - PCSSTUDIES - Ancient History · January 5, 2023 at 6:49 pm

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