Historical Information on the Scythians (From 130 B.C. to 425 A.D.)!
1. The Yuchis:
By 176 B. C. the Huns being pressed back by the Chinese attacked their western neighbours, the Yuchis, who had to leave their homelands and flee further westwards.
Entering the lands of the Saiwang Scythians, the lesser Yuchis settled in the Terim valley while the greater Yuchis reached the Sir Darya, driving the Wusuns before them.
From the Tyanshan mountains they advanced to Fargana, where they came into conflict with the Bactrian Kings Aecrotid and Heliokal. They seem to have taken possession of Fargana early in the reign of Heliokal, because after 142 B.C. the history of the Greek Bactrians becomes wholly obscure.
Apart from their struggle against the Wusuns we do not hear much of them after they left their original homeland in Kansu until 124 B.C, when the traveller Chang Kyan found them settled in the Yarkast and Vakhshu Valleys. Chang Kyan was sent by the Chinese Emperor to persuade Yuchis to attack the Huns from the west, thus relieving the pressure on China.
Chang Kyan found that they had been living a nomadic life in the rich valleys south of the Yarkast and Sir Darya, while the Huns lived to the north of these valleys. The Yuchis preferred a pastoral life to that of a settled one of cultivation and trade, and roamed with their tents and flocks in Fargana, Tahiya (Bactria), and Un Si (Parthia). One of their most powerful tribes, the Thogorians settled in Thogor, on the silk route. Chinese writers mention the existence of Togoro in the second century B.C. in the territories occupied by the Yuchis.
The Kushans were either a branch of this tribe, or were connected with the lesser Yuchis. The town of Cucha in the Terim valley bears a Kushan name while Tukhari names have been found in existence in the deserts of Central Asia. Bactria itself came to be called Tukhar. Swen Chang has also named the lands on either side of the Vakhshu, from Darband to the Hindu Kush mountains as Tukhar.
The Arabs called it Tukharistan. Later, because of the domination of the Turks over this region, it came to be referred to by the Afghans and the Iranians as Turkestan. The Tukhari language as spoken by the Kushans was a branch of the Scythian tongue and was connected with the Kentum family of Indo-European languages.
The blue eyes of women as also their European costumes as displayed in the pictures found in Kucha, and considerable influence of the Kentum language there led some European scholars to conclude that this was a race that had migrated from Europe and settled in a pocket in the vast Scythian domain. But to arrive at the truth it is necessary to determine the extent of the influence of the Kentum language. Blue eyes and fair hair were to be found among the Scythians as well, hence they cannot be a determining factor.
Buddha had blue eyes and those of the mother of the great poet Ashvaghosh were golden. Coats similar to those of the women of Kucha are worn by the women of Jaunpur in the Himalayas even today. (Here the word Jaun is not derived from the Greek Yavan but from Jamuna). It should be noted too that language does not always give an indication of racial origin.
In 128 B.C. Chang Kyan found the Yuchis settled between Samarkand and the Vakhshu river. Fargana was peopled by the Scythians, but they had accepted the overlordship of the Yuchis. The mountains to their north and east were inhabited by the Wusuns. The Yuchis took advantage of Heliokal’s preoccupation with his Indian conquest to destroy the Greek-Bactrian Empire.
The Yuchis spoke Scythian while the Wusuns, Seiwangs, Kungs and Parthians all spoke dialects akin to the Scythian that is why Chang Kyan has stated that from Fargana to Parthia a common language was in use. When the Roman historian Stravo spoke of the conquest of Bactria by the Scythians, he was referring to the Yuchis. Roman historians mention the names of four tribes as conqerors of Bactria – The Assei, the Pasioni, the Tukhari and the Sakroli. Of these the Assei are definitely Yuchis and there are scholars who consider the Tukharis also to have been Yuchis. Later, in the struggle between the five Scythian tribes, the Kushans came out victorious.
It is possible that these included the four Scythian tribes referred to by the Romans. Two variants of the Tukhari language have been found in Central Asia, of which one was the language of Karashar and the other of Kucha. The second was definitely connected with the Kushans. But these writings refer to a much later period of history.
In keeping with the Scythian traditions, women had a place of honour in Yuchi social life, so much so that the husband consulted his wife even on matters unrelated to the household. In the battle in which Cyrus was killed the commander was a Scythian woman.
The Scythians had an army of a hundred thousand mounted archers which no Greek army could withstand. But the lure of conquest had seized them so strongly that even when their own land was in danger Heliokal could not refrain from marching across the Hindu Kush mountains to conquer India.
It was during this period that the Yuchis advanced from the north like a flood and that in the east the Parthians, with the help of the Kungs, seized Parthia north of the Caspian sea, and established a vast empire. They settled a number of Scythians in Eastern Iran (Sistan).
The sixth Parthian king, Phrat II, led a large army composed of these very Scythians against Antioch, the Selukan king. A dispute arose between the Parthians and Scythians during the war and the Scythians revolted. Phrat died in the battle and after that the conflict between the Yuchis and Parthians continued to grow.
Phrat’s successor, Mithrdat II, died in the same way. Mithrdat had realised only too well that the Scythians could not be dispossessed of their hold over Central Asia and thus his dream of extending the Parthian Empire from the Mesopotamia to Bactria remained unrealised.
The Parthians avenged the murder of their two kings. They could not do much against the Yuchis of Bactria but Mithrdat’s commander, Soren, forced the Scythians out of Sistan. The Yuchis of Sistan fled to Baluchistan and Sindh where they established a kingdom of their own. In course of time they spread to Saurashtra, Avanti and Mathura and by 77 B.C. under the leadership of Mog (Kshahrat dynasty), their flag was flying over the entire region from Gandhar to Kapisha.
2. The Kshahrat Dynasty:
It is difficult to ascertain the exact relationship between the Yuchis of Bactria and the Kshahrats of India. It is possible that different tribes ruled over different parts of the territory. From coins, so far discovered it appears that prior to the arrival of these Bactrian Yuchis some other Yuchis came over to India. The earlier Yuchis, led by Mog, had their capital in Taxila, while the Bactrian Yuchis were in Bamiyan. Mog, Ipan and Rajubul, who ruled over various parts of the Yuchi Empire, were all of Kshahrat origin, hence it would be correct to describe the branch of the Scythians who came to India as being under the rule of the Kshahrat dynasty.
The first Scythian ruler in India about whom something is known, was Mog. There were a number of satraps under him in Ujjain and Mathura belonging to the same family. Mog also annexed Taxila to his kingdom. His earlier coins bore the inscription ‘King Mog’, but he seems later to have copied the Greek inscriptions and issued coins bearing the words “Rajati Rajas Mahatos Mous” i.e. “The king of Kings, Great Mog“. Mog was able to extend his empire right up to the Jhelum. Beyond that the descendants of Menander, Strat I and II and others were ruling and parts of the Punjab were under them.
After the emergence of the powerful kingdom of Mog in the west a number of independent republics between the Ravi and the Jamuna which had been suppressed by Menander, came to life again. Mathura was conquered by Mog and Rajubul became the main satrap of this region. When the Scythian Empire began to break up after the death of Mog, Rajubul set himself up as an independent King. Before him the Satrap Hogan had ruled over the area. Rajubul was succeeded by Sodas, who continued to rule till 10 B.C.
The coins issued by Mog bore the inscriptions “Bsaileus Mous“. They also bore the name of Hermeus the Greek Bactrian king of Kabul (Kapisha ) who was very likely later defeated by Mog.
It is difficult to get an exact picture of the situation in Central Asia at that time. In India the Scythians were later to be replaced by the Parthians, though the latter could not grow very strong in Bactria. From the 3rd to the 7th century A. D., the Sasani (Ira main ) dynasty ruled over the area and as a result of years of domination the Parthians had become so much a part of the people and had won such a place in the life of the country that the Sasanians continued to honour the Parthian nobles/especially those descendents of Soren, the Parthian general who lived near Tehran.
Not satisfied with driving the Yuchis out of Iran, the Parthians watched their growth in India with jealous eyes. The nomadic Yuchis had adopted many of the customs of the Iranians, including their title of Satrap. After Mog the Parthians ruled over North-Western India for about a quarter of a century.
3. The Parthians (48-25 B. C.):
It is from their coins that we begin to learn about the Parthians. Pahlav, Pallav, Parthiv and Parthian, are different forms of the same name. The parthian dynasty ruled over Iran from 249 B. C. – 226 A. D. There were twenty-nine kings in their dynasty. It was only after a fierce struggle that they were able to oust the Selukan rulers from Iran and excepting the Persian it was the Greek culture that wielded the greatest influence over them. Though the Scythians, Parthians and Greeks fought bitterly amongst themselves for power in India and outside they considered themselves as brothers.
In the period after the biginning of the Christian era many of the ruling dynasties of India were of Parthian origin. The Parthians intermarried with Indians, rose to high positions and ultimately, as Rajputs, became part of the ancient Kshatriya caste of India. They also developed ties with the Satvahans by means of marriage. A branch of these people, the Ikshvaku, which ruled in Katak (Dist Guntur), has left relics in the shape of stupas and shrines in Sriparvat, Nagarjuni Konda and other places.
From their stone inscriptions we find that they too were connected by marriage with the Scythians of Ujjain. The Parthian kings of the south who established a powerful kingdom in Kanchi were descendents of this branch. They ruled in the South for four centuries, exercising a powerful influence over an Indian culture that was to spread as far as Java and Combodia. Thus the quarter century of Parthian rule before the Christian era was a matter of no small significance in Indian history.
Taxila was the capital of the independent Parthian kings. Their coins reveal that there were seven in the dynasty—Bonan, Spalhar, Spalharish, Spalgadam, Ay, Ayilis, and Gundphar (7 – 25 A. D.)
In the absence of any other source of information coins are the only means we have of learning about the parthian kings. But those historians who consider Bonan to have been the first Parthian King forget the period of Parthian rule in Iran. In fact, Bonan was the sixteenth Parthian king. It was probably in his reign that the Parthian kingdom in India became a separate kingdom and Spalhar was either his son or brother.
Parthian coins were not only minted for India but for the entire Parthian Empire. Spalhar’s coins bear the inscription “Basileus Besileon” on one side and “Maharaja Bhratas Dhramias Spalharas” on the other. Dhramias meant a follower of the Buddhist faith. But between the death of Mog and the beginning of Bonan’s reign a period of thirty five years had elapsed. The coins of Bonan bore the words “Bonan, king of kings”, while Spalhar was described on the coins as only Maharaj Bhrat, thus indicating that he was only a viceroy ruling on behalf of the king.
The Parthian rulers of India followed Mog in using the Greek script and images of Greek deities on their coins. Some of their coins are square and carry the image of Hercules on one side and that of the great goddess Pallas on the other. Some of them again bear the name of Spalhar and his son Spalgadam.
The word “Dhramis” indicates that they had adopted Buddhism as their religion. The Prakrit language is used in that Kharosthi script which had been prevalent in Northern India since the time of Asoka.
The Parthians were so closely linked with the Greeks that even when they reached Saurashtra and Avanti where the Brahmi script was in use, they continued to employ the Greek script. The coins of Spalharish bear the image of a king carrying the Trisul—three-pronged rod used by priests in India.
On one side, the name of the king and his titles are written in Greek characters while on the other is an image of the Greek god Zeus on his throne with the inscription in Kharosthi characters “Maharajas, Mahtas, Spalharish”. It is very likely that Spalharish had become an independent king, for another of his coins bears the inscription in Greek, “Spalharish” on one side and on the other “Ay” in Kharosthi which indicates that the latter was his satrap. Spalhar and Spalharish were Bonan’s brothers, but it is difficult to determine exactly how Spalgadam, Spalhar and Spalharish were related to Ay.
Some of the Parthian coins, especially those of Ay, also bore images of Indian gods. Ten kinds of silver and various kinds of copper coins issued by him have been found. In both, the predominance of images of Greek gods reveals their kinship with the Greeks.
Parthian coins had one side reserved for the image of the king and the names of his titles and the other for those of his satraps.
One of the satraps of Ayilish was Aspvarma, whose coins bear his name and image, on one side while on the other is the image of Pallas Athena, the Greek goddess, with the inscription, “Indravarma Putras Aspvarmas Stratagas Jaytas”. Varma later became the common title of all the Parthian kings of the south and this title was used till recent times by the Kings of Travancore and Cochin in Southern India.
It is said that Pakor, the last of the Parthian kings, was defeated by Kujul, who founded the Kushan dynasty. Pakor was the 22nd king of the Parthian dynasty ( 277 A. D. ). Dundphar is a king who also deserves special mention. Some historians, such as Professor Rakhaldas Banerji, are of the opinion that he ruled in the period of Kanishk and Huvishk (78-152). As usual, his coins bear his name in Greek characters on one side and on the other the image of Pallas Athena with his title in Kharosthi. His brothers Athagni and Avgad ruled as his satraps. Coins issued by Pakor, Sanvar and others, who were the last of the Parthian kings, have also been found.
Kushan (25 to 425 A. D.):
We have already narrated how the Yuchis occupied Central Asia and also how one of their branches, after living for some time in Sistan, was forced out by the Parthians and came to India. The name of this tribe is not known. It may not be right to call it Scythian because other Scythians had come before them. The first wave of Scythian immigrants from Sistan belonged to that Kshahrat dynasty which gave rulers to Taxila, Saurashtra, Avanti and Mathura. It was their old enemies the Parthians who first seized their kingdoms.
The next powerful Scythian dynasty that appears in history is that of Kushan, Some historians consider them to have been a branch of the Tukhars ( a part of the Lesser Yuchi tribe ). While the Greater Yuchis were occupying Bactria, Kapisha, Gandhar and Sindh, the Lesser Yuchis were consolidating their hold on the Pamirs and the Gilgit mountains.
There was a struggle for power among the five Scythian tribes and the Kushans, under the leadership of their Chieftain Kujul, was victorious. After his triumph Kujul did not try to destroy the other tribes, but united them against the Parthians.
At the time of the victory of Kujul Kadphish the Greek king Hermeus was ruling over Kapisha. The coins of Hermeus also bear the name of Kujul, while one of those of Kujul bears the Greek inscription, “Basileus Kushano Kujalo Kadphijoyus”, with an image of Hermeus on one side and that of Hercules on the other and the inscription in Kharosthi characters “Kujul Kusus yungas Dhramthidas”. This indicates, according to the practice then prevalent of inscribing the name of the king on one side and his satrap on the other that is Hermeus was the king and Kujul the satrap.
Kujul was the Yuvgu or satrap of the Kushan dynasty and the use of the word Dhramthidas indicates allegiance to Buddhism. In the first century A.D. Buddhism had spread into the Terim valley and in the southern part of this province Indian script was- being used, while the names also show that a large number of settlers from India had gone there.
The northern part of the Terim valley was inhabited by the Scythians. Although there were differences in language and customs, the area between the Karakoram and Kwenlun mountains may be considered to have been part of greater India. North of this was the land of the Scythian Tukhars.
As far as religion is concerned Buddhism was common to both regions ; it is therefore no matter for surprise that the Kushan King Kujul was a Buddhist. The later Kushan coins bear no image of Hermeus, and carry on one side the head of the King and the word Kujul in Greek characters and on the other an image of a God, a camel, or the King, with the words, “Kushan Yuvgus Dhramthidas”, or “Mahrajas Mahatas Kushan”, etc.
It is likely that Kujul began his rule as a Satrap under Hermeus. A number of Greek rulers, ousted by the Yuchis from Bactria, had come and set up kingdoms in the Pamirs and the Chitral mountains and considered themselves descendents of Alexander. Hermeus was very likely the descendent of these Greek rulers.
Kujul had to struggle all his life to lay the foundations of the Kushan empire. Chinese sources also mention his name and state that he lived for eighty years.
Vim Kadphish (50-78):
Vim is considerd by Chinese writers to have been the first conqueror of India. He extended his kingdom beyond Kapisha and Gandhar as far as the Jamuna and also conquered Bactria.
An important feature of his reign was the introduction of gold coins for the first time India. Prior to the Greeks, square coins made of silver or copper had been current in India. The Greeks introduced round coins bearing images of the reigning kings. Those issued by the Parthians were crude copies of the Greek coins. Vim’s gold coins weighed 124 grs. and were modelled on those of Rome. Gold coinage had an important role to play in promoting international trade.
Even before this India had carried on trade with Greece, Rome, Africa, Java, China and Central Asia. Caravans carried Indian merchandise by land and sea and brought back goods to India from other lands in return. But with the introduction of gold coins, traders could bring back large quantities of goods without having had to carry goods to those markets.
Vim’s gold coins bear the image of Shiv on one side, and on some of them in addition to the name of the king, the word “Maheswar” was inscribed. According to certain scholars, Kujul was a worshipper of Buddha, while Vim was a devotee of Shiv. But the mere use of the word “Maheswar” should not be taken to mean that he was a follower of Shiv because this term is also synonymous with King or Emperor.
Other coins issued by him, however, also carry image of Shiv. It should not be inferred that these rulers were converted to Buddhism or Hinduism only after coming to India, for it has to be remembered that the influence of Hindu culture already extended to the homelands of the Scythians in Central Asia.
Kanishk, the descendent of Vim, was one of the great rulers of Asia. It is not known in what way he was related to Vim, just as the relationship between Vim and Kujul has not been discovered. Kujul was one of the Satraps of the Kushans, but according to the custom of the nomads Vim might have been either; his brother or his son. Kanishk inherited from Vim a vast empire that spread from the Ganges to the Vakhshu. At that time trade based on the gold coinage was flourishing.
The era that begins with Kanishk’s coming to the throne is called the Shak- Shalivahan era – Shalivahan being another name for Satvahan, which is a common title among the noble families of Andhra. As the Satvahans intermarried with the Shaks or Scythians, the term Shak-Shalivahan came to be commonly used.
Like Asoka, Kanishk was a pious Buddhist as well as a brave soldier and able administrator. Inscriptions at Sarnath reveal that within three years of his coming to power he had gained control of the whole of U. P. In places as far away as the deserts of Khwarezm the ruins of towns built in the reign of Kanishk have been found. That is why scholars have used the term Kushan to describe the culture that flourished in the area in the first three centuries of the Christian era.
The ruins of Ayeskala, Jildik and Topruk-kala belong to this period and amongst the articles found there are coins minted by Kanishk. Only partial accounts of the finds in this area have been published in a few Russian journals and a complete study of the materials has yet to be made.
The excavations here have uncovered important pictures of the third century. One of the rooms dug up contains bows, arrows and other weapons, made with consummate skill. It is probable that inscriptions of that period may also be found among the ruins.
Since tons of coins have been dug up in the single district of Azamgarh in India and as the inscriptions of Kanishk have been found in Peshawar, Rawalpindi, Bhawalpur, Mathura, Kausambhi, Sarnath and so on, it is not at all impossible that important discoveries may also be made in the Karokam and Kizilikum deserts.
We get an idea of the period during which Kanishk reigned from the inscriptions made by him and his descendents. The last inscription of Kanishk dates from the twenty third year of his reign. In Mathura and Sanchi there are two inscriptions dated the twenty-fourth and twenty-eighth year of the Shak era respectively. This means that in 102 and 106 A.D., Kanishk was still the ruler of the Kushans.
In Peshawar there is an inscription which says, “Son of Vashishk, king of kings, son of God…the 42nd year of Kanishk’s reign”. But it is doubtful if the son of Vashishk referred to here was the same Kanishk. From other inscriptions it is apparent that Vashihk and Huvishk were either satraps of Kanishk, or that there was some other Kanishk who ruled between the reigns of Vasishk and Huvishk.
It is clear, however, that Kanishk ruled at least for twenty-three years and from the excavations of Khwarezm it has become certain that his empire spread over the whole of modern Uzbekistan and Tazikistan. Could Kanishk forget the Terim valley, the homeland of his ancestors? The whole of the valley and the silk route up to Fargana had been in the hands of the Chinese.
The Wusuns living north of the Terim valley were not only close allies of the Chinese but were related to them by ties of marriage. It was the Chinese who stood in the way of Kanishk. Their commander Pan Chao, who was well-known for his valour and military skill, had not only occupied the Terim valley, but was threatening Kashmir and other provinces of the North.
The time came when Kanishk asked the Chinese Emperor for the hand of a Chinese princess. He felt that if the Wusun Chiefs, who were in no way superior to some of his third-rate satraps, could be given Chinese princesses in marriage there was no reason why he should not be given one. But Pan Chao arrested his emissary.
This was too great an insult to brook for the ruler of an empire that stretched from Bengal to Khwarezm. Kanishk marched against Pan Chao at the head of a large army. But while Kanishk’s forces had to cross the Pamirs and the Himalayas, Pan Chao’s armies, thanks to his allies the Wusuns and the southern Huns, were there to meet him.
Kanishk was not only defeated but was forced to agree to pay tribute to the Chinese Emperor. After a few years, however, Kanishk took revenge. By this time Pan Chao had died and his son had become commander of the western Chinese army. This time Kanishk inflicted a severe defeat on the Chinese and thus succeeded in extending his control over the Terim valley.
Not content with defeating the Chinese, he brought with him as hostage all the Chinese princes of Central Asia. But they were looked after with care. Fruit treees, especially the pear and peach were planted for them and a special house known as the She Lok Vihar, was built for their benefit in Kapisha.
This place was visited by Swen Chang during his travels in the last half of the seventh century. The part of the Punjab (Jullunder), where they were given land upon which to settle down, came to be known as China bhukti (the Chinese district).
Kanishk was a pious Buddhist. His capital was Peshawar. Prior to this the most famous town of Gandhar was Taxila which still exists in Rawalpindi district. We get a glimpse of the prosperity of Kanishk’s capital, Purushpur (Peshawar), from the descriptions of the travellers Fa Sheen and Swen Chang, who came there three centuries later. From their writings it appears that the glory of Pataliputr had been transferred to Purushpur and that Bactria had no more importance than the capital of a satrapy.
Kanishk’s control extended not only over the fertile valley of Fargana, but over the whole of the silk route from the eastern borders of Sinkiang to the Iranian frontier. Samarkand and other cities of Sogdhiai were also under his domination. A locality on the banks of the Sogdh river, known as Kushaniya Kasba, reveals even today how the Kushans had tried to develop the area.
In the deserts of Kizilkum north of the lower Vakhshu the ruins of Topruk Kala have been uncovered and these show that even the nomad Scythians were beginning to build towns. Kalhan in his “Rajtarangini” refers to a Kanishkpur established- by Kanishk. Another town built by him in Taxila is known in these days as Sirsukh.
Realising the importance of trade, the Kushans paid special attention to developing trade routes. They not only used the large rivers for commerce, but even small streams which were navigable for only two or three months in the year were used for the same purpose. The Mangai stream in Azamgarh ( Margvati ) which flows into the Ganges at Gazipur though small was used by them. In Siswa, on the western banks of this stream, heaps of Kanishk coins have been found and are still being dug up.
Siswa was a busy trading centre during the period of the Kushan rulers. There were hundreds of such streams in the vast empire of Kanishk which were used as trade routes.
Topruk Kala, a fortified settlement, reveals at one and the same time the artistic perfection and utilitarian sense of the Kushans. At the southern end of the town there was a strong gate which led to a road going north to south. It is most likely that the administrator of the settlement lived in the southern part. Branching off from the main road and at equal angles were four other roads to the right and left, on both sides of which were houses and shops.
The settlement was about a thousand yards long and six hundred wide. In the opinion of Prof. N. T. Tolst of, who is directing the excavations, this is a fine example of ancient classical architecture. In India, too, Bharshivs and later the Gupta rulers, adopted the art and administrative system of the Scythians.
Earlier the Bactrian Greeks had encouraged art, but it was only in the reign of Kanishk that a many-sided development took place and that art merged with the traditions of the Indian people. Thus the task of converting the Bactrian-Greek culture into the Gandhar-Indian culture was completed only in the reign of Kanishk.
Mathura had been the capital of the satraps ever since the time of the Greek and Parthian rulers. It was there that the trade routes of Taxila, Pataliputr and Central Asia met. The Buddhists too had their centre in the town, especially those of the Sarvastivadi sect to which Kanishk himself belonged.
As a result of its religious importance Mathura had developed into an important centre of architecture and sculpture. It had not in fact acquired all its importance merely because it was the birth place of Krishna.
There were numerous other towns like Mathura, both in Central Asia and in India in the time of the Kanishk.
Kanishk and Buddhism:
After Asoka, Kanishk is the most important figure in the history of Buddhism. After-conquering Pataliputr he took with him the poet Ashvaghosh, the writer of the two epics, “Budhcharit” and “Saundernand”. Only parts of the former are extant in Sanskrit, but the complete text is available in Chinese and Tibetan translations. Parts of a Sanskrit copy of the drama “Sariputre Prakaran”, have been found in the Terim valley and there are references to another drama, “Rashtrpal”, even though it has not yet actually been found, either the original or in translation.
Ashvaghosh was the first dramatist to introduce a new style of acting and a stage with curtains and scenes. Just as the Mathura culture was an Indianisation of the Gandhar culture, Ashvaghosh’s plays successfully Indianised Greek drama. As in Greece itself the Greek cities of Asia attached great importance to drama, so that the Greek cities in India always had a stage upon which purely Greek dramas were performed.
Among the most revered teachers of Kanishk were Parshv and Vasumitr. Under the direction of Vasumitr Kanishk organised a Buddhist conference in the Kashmir valley for the purpose of compiling the Buddhist texts. It was here that the three collections of basic Sarvastivad were compiled and commentaries on them prepared. Unfortunately none of the original Sanskrit texts of these commentaries can now be found.
A Tibetan translation of the original collection is available as is a Chinese version of both the text and the commentary. The collection throws considerable light on the Buddhist social and economic life of that period and the commentaries are an even richer storehouse of information. Kashmir and Gandhar continued as centres of the Sarvastivadi cult even after the Kushan dynasty had ceased to exist. A great fusion of Greek and Indian culture began in the time of the Kushan kings. Indian texts on law, astrology, economics and so forth, reveal considerable Greek influence.
Charak, the founder of Ayurved, was another famous scholar patronised by Kanishk, while Matrichet, a Buddhist writer, prepared books that taught young students the principles of Buddhism. Tibetan tradition considers that Matrichet and Ashvaghosh was one and the same person. Matrichet means servant of the mother. Ashvaghosh in all his writings added after his name “son of Suvarnakshi, resident of Saket”.
It is clear that he loved his mother and his birthplace. But it would be wrong to conclude that Matrichet and Ashvaghosh were identical. Kanishk’s capital was the meeting place of the greatest doyens of art and culture. Such an accumulation of talent was not seen again till Chandragupta Vikramaditya who followed his example three centuries later.
A large number of Kanishk coins have been found from Bihar to the Aral sea. The face of these coins bears an image of a Scythian wearing a long robe, pointed cap and high boots and holding a spear and goad with the inscription in Greek which runs as follows : “Basileus Vesikon Shoonano Shao Kanishko Kushano” (King of kings, Emperor of Emperors, Kanishk Kushan ). On the reverse are images of Hercules or other Greek, Iranian or Scythian deities, or of Buddha.
It was not smiply an admiration for the Greek, but the force of prevalent custom, that led them to use Greek on their coins instead of the Prakrit or Kharosthi scripts. Kanishk’s firm attachment to Buddhism is apparent from the stupas erected by him in Peshawar, Taxila, and elsewhere. At the fourth Buddhist conference that was held in Kashmir, Kanishk had a commentary inscribed on copper plates and built a stupa to store it, but the latter has not yet been found.
Many of the sutras (verses) were composed in Andhra and Cuttack and later their influence was to reach Gandhar, when, in the 4th century, Basubandhu and Agraj became firm supporters of the Buddhist cult. Adding temporalism to the scientific outlook of Plato they founded the philosophical sect of Yogachar. Inspired by this, Shankaracharya founded his Vedanta school of philosophy.
It seems most probable that Kanishk ruled for twenty-three years. The story that he was killed by the Scythians because they were tired of his continual campaigns of conquest, is not credible. The head of Kanishk is found engraved on his coins. A life-size statue of him is in the Mathura museum, where he can be seen with his right hand resting on a stick, his left holding a hatchet and wearing Scythian high boots. A robe is draped round him and his name is inscribed below.
Vashishk (101 to 106 A. D.):
So little is known about Vashishk that many scholars hold the view that he never actually succeeded to the throne. But two of his inscriptions, dated the 24th and 28th year of the Shak era, have been found in Sanchi and Mathura. There is no doubt that he ruled for a very short time and it is possible that this was just the period when the dispute as to the rightful succession was rife.
Kanishk’s empire spread over a very large area and Vashishk’s control may have been confined to only one part of it. Again, there is the possibility that he may have been no more than a satrap under Kanishk who was trying to pass himself off as the king.
There is an inscription near Peshawar, the Kushan capital, which speaks of Kanishk as the son of Vashishk and that describes him as the king of kings, son of the Lord, etc. This cannot obviously apply to the famous Kanishk and must, therefore, be a reference to a Kanishk II, who might also have been a satrap under Huvishk or who might have ruled during the period of the dispute regarding the succession.
He was undoubtedly the most powerful successor to Kanishk, since he was able to establish control over the whole of the vast empire. A stone i inscription of his has been found in the Mathura district and is still preserved in the Mathura Museum.
In this inscription there is a declaration regarding a donation of 1100′ coins given for the feeding of a hundred Brahmins every month on the fourteenth day of the waxing moon for spiritual glory of Huvishk and his dear ones. The inscription also makes it clear that in 106 A. D. the satrapy of Mathura, which had jurisdiction over practically the whole of U. P. was under Huvishk.
A Buddhist vihar (monastery) was built in Mathura by Huvishk and was , named after him. In Kashmir also there is a city named after him which is known as Hushkpur or Ushkur. Inscriptions made by him, dating from the 28th to the 60th year of the Shak era, still exist and are an indication that he must have ruled during that period.
Remains of the Kushan culture have been discovered in Khwarezm, although details of the finds there up till now are known only to Russian scholars. The period between the 2nd and 3rd centuries A. D, is generally regarded as the time of the Kushan culture. Numerous coins of various designs issued by Huvishk have been found bearing his image and his name on the one side and on the other the faces of Greek, Iranian or Indian deities, with their names in Greek. The use of Greek makes it clear that the Kushan empire was not confined to India, but that it extended over a large part of Asia.
Fargana, Sogdhia and Bactria were highly prosperous regions during the reign of Huvishk. To the west lay the powerful Parthian Empire. The Kushans sent their goods to Rome and Europe by the trade route along the northern shores of the Caspian and through the territories of the Alans and Samaritans.
This name indicates that the Kushans had by this time become completely Indianised Kujul, Vim, Kanishk, Vashishk and Huvisok, are all Scythian names, but Vasudev cannot be other than Indian. None of the coins of Huvishk bear the image of Buddha, but those of Shiv, Vishakh and so on, are frequently found, which indicate that Huvishk was a devotee of Brahamanism and that is probably the reason why he named his son Vasudev.
Inscriptions of Vasudev, dating from 152-176, have been found and so we know that he reigned for at least twenty-four years. His inscriptions are confined to Mathura and from his coins found in the Punjab and UP, we can deduce that his Empire was now restricted to India. The frequent use of images of Shiva and Nandi on his coins reveal that the Kushans had now merged completely with the Hindus.
Although his coins have not been found outside India, Central Asia was still under Kushan influence but the paucity of his coins, even in India, show that the strength of the Empire was declining.
In recent years discoveries have been made in Central Asia which show that Kushan rule continued in the area till the end of the 3rd century. Between the 3rd and 5th century, as the excavations of Yekepursan, Tupruk- kala etc. have revealed, the Afrigs replaced them. Bactria, Pamir and Sogdhia, had also been part of the Kushan empire.
The Kushans have sometimes been called the Tukharis because of their origin. Their main centre was the area on both sides of the middle Vakhshu, which was then called Tukharistan, a name also used by early Arab writers to describe this region.
Vasudev was succeeded in India’ by Vasudev II and by Kanishk III. The last Kushan rulers were known by the name Kidar and were under the Sasanis. Peshawar was the capital of the first Kidar Kushan king. He conquered Kashmir, and Central Punjab and grew strong enough to declare himself independent of the Sasanis. He issued his own coins which resembled those of the Sasanis. His coins had his own image and name in Brahmi script on the one side and on the other the sacrificial fire with two attendants on either side of it.
Piro: End of the 4th century:
Kidar was the last of the Kushan rulers with no influence, for in the reign of Samudragupta and Chandragupta the Kushans suffered severe setbacks. Chandragupta II (375-414) inflicted a defeat “on Piro, who suffered another defeat at the hands of Shapur and had again to accept Sasani suzerainty. By the beginning of the 5th century Kushan power had declined considerably. In Central Asia too they met with the same fate, but it is now known exactly how the Hephtals (white Huns ) replaced them.