Sunday, November 1, 2009



Indian history before the seventh century was not dated. The lack of written records and other material certainly breaks the continuity at several points yet the practices of the ancient  and the Vedic periods exists till today as traditions. The first recorded date is considered as 326BC,  the year of Alexander's invasion. The Mauryan period dates slightly later and historical traditions recorded in literature gives us some information of the kingdoms of Northern India in the seventh century BC.

Vast territories in the northern part of  India were covered by forest and inhabited by tribes. Civilized settlements existed in the plains of the Indus and the Ganga. Four important kingdoms of this period were the Magadha, the Avadh, the Vatsa  and the Malwa. The other small kingdoms were Kasi, Matsya, Kuru and Panchala. Besides these kingdoms there were many non - monarchial clans. The most important was the Virji confederation of eight clans, of which the Licchavis, who ruled from Vaisali as their capital was prominent. The others were Sakyas of Kapilavastu and the Mallas. These clans had no hereditary rules. An assembly was in charge of administration helped by a council and an elected chief. The four kingdoms maintained matrimonial relation, though fighting among themselves for supremacy was common. Magadha emerged as the strongest power with an able line of rulers.

While Magadha was establishing their way over northern India, the regions of west, Punjab, Sind  and Afganistan were divided into many states. Kamboja and Gandhara are two of the sixteen Mahajanapadas mentioned in the Buddhist scriptures.

The history of the Magadha kingdom was unleashed in south Bihar in the 4th century BC and the drama commenced in the Saisungha dynasty by a chieftain named Sisunga in about 642BC.
Bimbisara was the fifth king of this kingdom. He contributed  extending his dominions by the conquest of Anga the modern Bhagalpur and Monghyr district. He is said to reigned  for twenty eight years, according to the puranas. He is regarded as the person who laid the foundation of Magadhan greatness. His policy of diplomacy and war, and able administration made Magadha a great empire.


     The period of the Mauryan Empire marks a new epoch in the history of India. It is said to be a period when chronology becomes definite. It was a period when politics, art, trade and commerce elevated India to a glorious height. A period of unification of the territories which lay as fragmented kingdoms. Moreover, Indian contact with the outside world was established effectively rule during these period.

The source of our knowledge about the Mauryan empire is based on

•    Arthashastra of  Kautiliya  
•    Sanskrit play Mudrarakshasa
•     The Jatakas of the Buddhist 
•    The accounts  of Megasthenes 
•    The Ceylonese Chronicles the Dipavamsa and The Mahavamsa
•     The accounts of the Greeks

Arthashastra by Chanakya or Kautilya is treatise on statecraft. It gives us a picture of administration, society and the economy of the country. Mudrarakshasa is a sanskrit play by Visakadatta. It is said to be a political literature revealing the struggle unleashed by Chandragupta Maurya with the help of Chanakya to overthrow the Nandas. It is  also an insight into Chandragupta life.

The Jataka and Chronicles of Ceylon gives us an idea that period.

 Indika written by Megasthenes gives an account of the Mauryan capital, administrative system and social life. The rock edicts of Ashoka also provides ideas about the Mauryan rule.
Indica written by Megasthenes which exists as writings by later writers throw light on the people, government and institutions of India under Chandragupta Maurya. His topographical account of the Mauryan capital Pataliputra when he visited it as an ambassador and description of the administrative system are reliable.

 The Ceylonese Chronicles, the Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa gives the accounts of the conversion of Ceylon. They also have helped in reconstructing  the history of Ashoka.

Chanragupta Maurya

The Mudrarakshasha  describes  Chandragupta  as Mauryaput. Another account by Somadeva represents him as the son of the last Nanda monarch from his Sudra concubine Maurya by name from which was derived the name Maurya. The Mahavamsatika connects the Mauryans with Sakyas who belong to the solar race of Kshatriyas. According to the Jains tradition Chandragupta was the son of the daughter of the chief of a village of peacock -tamers (Mayur Posakh). The peacock figures that appear in the emblem of the Mauryas in the some punch marked coins and sculptures testify this. Others are of the view  that he was a commoner and not a prince.

Chandragupta  was brought to the limelight  of the Mauryan empire  by Chanakya who had a grudge  against Dhananda who insulted him in the court. The Nanda dynasty had lost all its capability owing to the extravagant life led by the rulers.  The tyranny  that was unleashed spread an air of discontent. The defeat of Punjab in the struggle with Alexander, set the conditions for having a change in the rule. 

According to Mudrarakshasha, Buddhist and puranic accounts Chandragupta defeated the Nanda army  after invoking  a revolution against the Nanda rulers in Patliaputra. He acceded  to the throne in 321BC.  His empire included Magadha  and Punjab. The Junagarh  rock inscription of Rudradaman  proves the inclusion of the Saurastra in his empire. The Jain tradition also establishes Chandraguta 's connection with north Mysore. It also said to include the Hindukush in the west. The four satrapies also became parts of the Mauryan empire during Chandragupta Maurya. In course of 18 year Chandragupta consolidated his empire. After which he is said to have abdicated the throne and became disciple of the Jain Saint Bhadrabahu, and settled in Shravanabelagola (Mysore). After a reign of 24 years he died in about 297BC.


Bindusara, also called "Amitrachates" meaning slayer of enemies, by the Greeks, succeeded to the throne of the Mauryan empire after Chandragupta's  abdication. He also had the opportunity of having the guidance of Chanakya who continued as minister. The period of his accession to the Mauryan throne witnessed a series of revolt by the people of Taxila. The first revolt was effected owing to the improper administration of prince Susima. To the inherited Mauryan territory of Bindusara he added parts of south.


The Sungas

After the Mauryan rule Pushyamitra, the founder of the Sunga  dynasty established his rule. The Sungas ruled for over a hundred years. The extent of the Sunga kingdom under Pushyamitra extended from Punjab and extended to the southern regions of the Narmada. The Sunga dynasty had a line of ten rulers. The last of the Sunga king was Devabhuti 

The Sunga period though is less reflected as a great role in Indian  history yet it significant in the matter of its administration, religion, art and literature. 

The Sungas administrated the kingdom with the help of a mantriparishad. This council existed in the centre  and the provinces. The provinces were governed by viceroys. During the Sunga rule Brahmanism revived its vigour. The Bhagavata form of religion was prevalent. The Bharbat stupa and the ivory works in its exquisite manner proves the promotion of art. Patanjali's Mahabhashya is an example of the flourishing literature of the Sunga.

The Kanvas

 The Kanva dynasty was a Brahman dynasty founded by Vasudeva Kanva, the minister if Devabhuti, the last Sunga king. This period is said to have witnessed the rule of four kings extending to a period about  45 years. The extent of Kanva territory was confined to the areas of Sunga rule. Susarman was the last ruler of the Kanva dynasty. The Kanvas were over thrown by the Satavahanas.


 The Satavahanas were also called Andhras. The Aitareya  Brahmana claims  the Andhras as, the exiled and degenerate sons of Viswamitra. Ashoka inscriptions mentions the Andhras as border people. They were Dravidian  people who lived between the Godavari and the  Krishna. Simuka was the founder of the Satavahana dynasty. He was succeeded  by his brother Krishna.

Scholars are of the opinion that the original home of the Andhras  - Andhra bhrityas was the Bellary district. Others claim their records to be found in the Northern Deccan and central India. Satakarni was  the successor after Simuka, and is a considerable figure, known for his performance of two aswamedha sacrifices. His reign was followed by the rule of Gautamiputra satakarni. He is said to have defeated the Yavanas, Sakas and Phalanas and re-established the ancient glory of the Satavahanas. Gautamiputra satkarni was succeeded by his son Vasisthiputra Sri Pulamavi in about 130 AD. He extended his rule towards the Andhra country. Yajna Sri Satakarni was the last great ruler of the Satavahanas. After him the weak successors resulted in the contraction of the territory of the Satavahanas. Hostility with the Saka rulers also led to the ultimate parceling of its territories and decleration of  independence .

The Satavahana society reflected the existence of four classes. The persons who controlled and administered the districts, followed by the officials. They were followed by the Vaidhya, cultivators. The fourth class were common citizen. The head of the family was the Grihapati.

Both Buddhism and Brahmanism was practiced  during the Satavahana rule. A state of religions tolerance existed among of various sects of people following varied faiths.

Trade flourished and there existed organisation of workers doing various trades. Broach, Sopara  and Kalyan were important trade points. The Satavahana rulers patronised Prakrit which was the common language used on documents.

The Satavahana empire is said to be partitioned  into five provinces. The western territory of Nasik was possessed by the Abhiras. The Ikshavakus  dominated over the eastern part in the Krishna -Guntur region.

The Chutus possessed the southwestern parts extended their territory  to the north  and east. The south eastern parts were under the Pahalvas.

The Hathigumpha inscription at Udayagiri near Cuttack speaks of a remarkable rule of a contemporary of  the Sungas known as Kharavela of Kalinga. He ruled from about 176Bc to 164 BC. He is said to be the third ruler of the Cheta dynasty.

In the first year of his rule he is said to be have furnished  and  improved his capital Kalinga. In the second year he subdued  and destroyed the capital of the Mushikas disregarding the rule of Satakarni.
In his eighth year he destroyed the fortification of Gordha and entered as far as Rajagriha in the Gaya district. He also conquered king Brihaspatimittra of the Magadha. He also built the Udayagiri and Khandagiri caves to provide shelter to the Jain monks.

It can be concluded that he was as accomplished ruler and a generous guardian of the people.

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