Contact With Outside World:
The most important political developments of the Post-Maurya period was the onslaught of foreigners from the north-west.
The first among them were the Bactrian Greeks, known in earlier Indian literature as Yavanas; the word was derived from the Old Persian from Yauna, signifying originally Ionian Greeks but later all people of Greek nationality.
The first to invade India were the Greeks or Bactrian Greeks who were called the Indo-Greeks or Bactrian Greeks in the early second century B.C. The history of the Indo-Greeks has been reconstructed mainly on the evidence of their coins bearing legends in Greek and later in Brahmi as well.
Demetrius, son of Euthydemus, king of Bactria was perhaps the first foreign (Indo-Greek) king after Alexander who carried Greek arms into the interior of India. He reduced to submission a considerable portion of Afghanistan, the Punjab and Sind.
The best remembered of the Indo-Greek kings was Menander, (165-145 D C.) who, as Milinda, attained fame in the Buddhist text Milindapanho or the question of Milinda-a catechismal discussion in Buddhism supposedly conducted by Menander and the Buddhist philosopher Nagasena, resulting in Menander’s conversion to Buddhism.
Menander stabilised Indo-Greek power, in addition to extending its frontiers in India.
He had his capital at Sakala (modern Sialkot) in Punjab. There is little doubt that the attempted to conquer territory in the Ganges valley, but he failed to retain it. He may well have attacked the Sungas in the Yamuna region, if not Pataliputra itself. A Brahmi inscription engraved on a Garuda Pillar found are Besnager near Bhilsa records that Antialkidas of Taxila sent an ambassador, named Heliodorus, to the court of Kasiputra Bhagabhadra, identified with the last but one Sunga, Bhagavata.
Helidorus in this inscription professes to be a follower of Vasudeva, associated with the God Vishnu. Hemaeus was the last Indo- Greek ruler who has to maintain his precarious hold against the advancing menace of the Sakas, Parthians and the Yuechis.
Importance of the Indo-Greek rule:
The Indo-Greeks were the first to issue coins which can be definitely attributed to the kings. They were the first to issue gold coins in India which increased in number under the Kushans.
1. The Greeks also introduced the practice of military governorship called strategos for maintaining the power of the new rulers over the conquered people.
2. The Greek rule introduced features of Hellenistic art in the North-west frontier of India. The Gandhara art was largely Hellenistic in the beginning, but as time passed the style became more and more Indian and less and less Greek. The idea of representing the Buddha as a human being (idol worship) originated with the Greeks.
3. The Greeks contributed to the development of the Indian theatre by the use of curtains (known as Yavanika, Sutradhara (stage manger), Nepathya (back stage, etc.)
4. Indian astrology came to be influenced by Greek ideas, and from the Greek term horoscope was derived the term horasastra used for astrology in Sanskrit.
The decline of the Greek kingdoms in the north-west coincided with an attack on Bactria itself by nomadic tribes from central Asia. These tribes included the Scythians, who were primarily responsible for destroying Bactrian power.
The pressure of the consolidated Chinese empire under Shi Huang Ti, who built the Great Wall, as well as the drying up of their pastures drove central Asian nomadic tribes including the Yuechis westward. Pressed from the north and east, the Scythians attacked Bactria and occupied it.
Close on their heels were the Yuechis. Therefore the Scythians, known in the Indian sources as Shakas, moved from Bactria and invaded Iran and then the Greek kingdoms in India. By the middle of the first century B.C. only a few Greek chiefs ruled in India, and the Shaka power extended as far interior into the country as Mathura, There were five branches of the Shakas with their seats of power in different parts of India and Afghanistan.
One branch settled in Afghanistan. The second branch settled in Punjab with Taxila as its capital. The third branch settled in Mathura, where it ruled for about two centuries. The fourth branch established its hold over western India where the Shakas continued to rule until the fourth century A.D. The fifth branch of the Shakas established its power in the upper Deccan.
The first Shaka king in India was Maues or Moga (C. 80 B.C.), who established Shaka power in Gandhara. Maues issued a large number of coins mostly in copper, and a few in silver. Maues adopted the title Maharaja Mahatma, the great king of kings, an exact Prakrit translation of the title basileos megalou adopted by several Indo-Greek kings.
His rule extended on both sides of the Indus, from Pushkalavati on the on the west to Taxila on the east. Numismatic evidence suggests that Maues was succeeded by Azes I who was followed by Azilises and Azes II. Azilises introduced coins with a typical Indian diety, Abhishekha – Lakhshmi. After Azes II the Saka territory passed into the hands of Gondophernes, a Parthian.
Satrapal system and Western Kshatrapas:
The Achaemenid conquerors of north-western India were the first to introduce the satrapal system of government in the country. The title satrap or kshatrapa is the Hellenised form of the Old Persian Kshatrapavan which means ‘protector of the kingdom’.
The satrapal form of government received a fresh impetus during the Scythian rule in India, the chief feature of which was the system of joint rule of a mahakshatrapa and a satrapa.
The two groups of satraps are known from the inscriptions and coins. The earlier group consists of two persons only, Bhumaka and Nahapana belonging to the Kshaharata race while the latter group comprises a large number of satraps known to have descended from Chashtana.
1. The Kshaharatas:
The first Ksatrap of the Kshaharata family was Bhumaka who was probably entrusted with the task of administering the south-western part of the empire of the Kushanas. The use of both Kharoshthi and Brahmi scripts in Bhumaka’s coins points to the fact that the satrapa territories not only comprised such districts as Malwa, Gujarat and Saurashtra where Brahmi was in vogue but also some regions of western Rajasthan and Sind where Kharoshthi was prevalent.
Bhumaka’s successor Nahapana is known not only from his silver and copper coins, but also from several inscriptions. Several scholars identify Nahapana with Mambarus of the Periplus whose capital was Minnagara in Ariake. Minnagara is identified with modern Mandasor and Ariake with Aparanta.
The inscriptions of his son-in-law and general Ushavadata, discovered at Junnar, Karle (Pune district), and Pandulena (near Nasik) show that Nahapana was master of a large part of Maharashtra. It appears from the Nasik inscription and the Jogalthembi hoard of coins in the Nasik district that the power of Nahapana was crushed by the Satavahana ruler, Gautamiputra Satakarni who annexed the Southern provinces of the Kshaharata dominions.
After Nahapana’s death, Chashtana was appointed by the Kushana as the viceroy of the southwestern province of their empire. Chashtana was the only member of this line who used the three scripts – Greek, Kharoshthi and Brahmi in his coin legends.
The duration of his rule cannot be determined with certainty, but the end must have been between A.D. 120 and 130 A.D. as is proved by the reference to Tiastenes (Chashtana) and his capital Ozene (Ujjain) in Ptolemy’s Geography.
Chashtana was succeeded by his grandson Rudradaman I (A. D. 130-150) the most famous Shaka ruler in India. According to the Junagarh Rock Inscription he won for himself the title of Mahakshatrapa. It also testifies that Rudradaman I twice defeated Satakarni, Lord of the Deccan, probably Vasishthiputra Satakarni, but spared him out of filial regard for him.
He ruled not only over Sindh, but also over a good part of Gujarat, Konkan, the Narmada Valley, Malwa and Kathiawar. He is famous in history because of the repairs he undertook to improve the Sudarshana lake in the semi-arid zone of Kathiawar.
This lake had been in use for irrigation for a long time, and was old as the time of the Mauryas. Rudradaman was a great lover of Sanskrit. Although a foreigner settled in India, he issued the first-ever long inscription in chaste Sanskrit.
Rudradaman I was succeeded by seven weak rulers. The last known ruler Rudrasimha III, who ruled upto A.D. 388, has been mentioned in Bana’s Harshacharita as having been killed by the Gupta monarch, Chandragupta II. The Guptas then annexed the Saka territories.
2. The Parthians:
The Shaka domination in the north-western India was followed by that of the Parthians, and in many ancient Indian Sanskrit texts the two peoples are together mentioned as Shaka-Pahlavas. In fact they ruled over this country on parallel lines for some time. Originally the Pathians lived in Iran from where they moved to India. In comparison with the Greeks and the Shakas, they occupied only a small portion of north-western India in the first century.
The most famous Parthian King was Gondophernes, the period of his reign (A.D. 1945) being definitely fixed with the famous Takht-i-Bhai inscription. It was in his reign that St. Thomas is said to have come to India for the propagation of Christianity according to the original Syrian text of the Acts of St. Thomas. In course of time the Parthians, like the Shakas before them, became an integral part of Indian polity and society.
The Parthians were followed by the Kushanas who are also called Yuechis or Tocharians. The Kushanas were one of the five tribes in which the Yuechi tribe was divided. We come across two successive dynasty of the Kushanas.
The first dynasty was founded by a house of chiefs who were called Kadphises and who ruled for 28 years from about A.D. 50.
Dynasty of Kadphises:
The Chinese historian Ssu-ma-chien records that a Yuechi chief, Kujula Kadphises, united the five tribes of the Yuechis and led them over the northern mountains into the subcontinent, establishing himself in Kabul and Kashmir by defeating Hermaeus the last Bactrlan-Greeks. Soon after the middle of the first century A.D. Kujula died at the age of eighty and was succeeded by his son, Vima Kadphises who invaded India and advanced far into the interior of North India.
There are good reasons to believe that the Kushana Empire extended from the Oxus River or even beyond to the eastern border of Uttar Pradesh. Vima Kadphises, however, did not rule over the conquered territories in person. He appointed a number of Satraps to govern the different parts of his Indian dominion.
Vima issued gold coins which show a considerable Indian influence, unlike those of his father which included copper imitations of Roman denarii. Vima Kadphises was one of the few early foreign rulers who became a zealous adherent of an Indian creed, the Pasupata. All his coins, shows unmistakable signs of his Saiva affiliation.
The abundance of gold and copper coins issued by Vima Kadphises indicated the prosperity of the Kushana Empire. During his time a brisk trade in silk, spices, gems and other articles were carried on between India and China and the Roman Empire. The Roman gold coins that flowed into India influenced the gold coinage of the imperial Kushanas.
Dynasty of Kanishka:
The house of Kadphises was succeeded by that of Kanishka. Its kings extended the Kushana power over upper India and the lower Indus basin. Under Kanishka, the Kushana dynasty flourished. The date of his accession is a matter of inconclusive debate, but 78 A.D. seems to be the most probable of the dates suggested so far.
Kanishka started an era in 78 A.D. which is now known as the Shaka era and is used by the Government of India. Under Kanishka, the Kushana Empire reached the height of its power and became a mighty force in the world of its clay.
In India his suzerainty extended as far south as Sanchi and as Far East as Banaras. In Central Asia his dominions were extensive. Purushapura (Peshawar) was his capital and Mathura was the second most important city of the empire.
Kanishka is often remembered for his association with Buddhism. Himself a Buddhist convert, he convened the fourth Buddhist Council in Kashmir where the doctrines of the Mahayana form of Buddhism were finalized. He encouraged missionary activities and Buddhist missions were sent to central Asia and China.
Kanishka was a great patron of arts and letters. The age of Kanishka witnessed the execution of the best work in Gandhara style. He is said to have constructed at Peshawar a multistoreyed relic tower enshrining the relic of the Buddha under the supervision of a Greek engineer Agesilaos.
The Chinese traveler Hiuen Tsang, who came to India in the seventh century, gives a detailed account of the stupa. Kanishka built a tower near Taxila and the city of Kanishkapura in Kashmir probably owed its foundation to him.
Several Buddhist theologians are associated with Kanishka – Ashvaghosha, Vasumitra, Parshva, Sangaraksha, Dharmatrata and Matricheta. Nagarjuna was the great exponent of Mahayana doctrine. Charaka, the most celebrated authority on Ayurveda was the court physician of Kanishka and Mathara a politician of rare merit, was his minister. Kanishka is traditionally believed to have died fighting in central Asia.
Successors of Kanishka I:
Kanishka’s rule lasted for twenty-three years. His immediate successor was Vasishka, who had a short reign and was succeeded by Huvishka. The empire of Huvishka was not less extensive than that of Kanishka. It may have spread further to the west, as a record of his reign has been unearthed at Wardak to the west of Kabul.
Mathura was now a great centre of Kushana power and it was adorned with monuments by Huvishka ruled simultaneously with Vasishka II or Vajheska and with the latter’s son Kanishka II. Kanishka II received in addition to the titles of great king, the king of kings, son of heaven (devaputra)assumed by his predecessors, the novel title of Kaisara”Caesar”. Huvishka’s abundant coinage, which is more variable than that of Kanishka, presents fine portraits of the king.
The varied reverse devices of his coins, like Kanishka’s coins, contains the figures of different deities such as Skandakumara, Visakha, Mahasena and Uma, the Alexandrian Serapis, the Greek Heracles and several Zoroastrian deities. The absence of the Buddha on his coins leads to the inference that Huvishka was well-disposed towards Brahmanism.
The last great Kushana king was Vasudeva I, who ruled from about the year 67 to 98 of the Kanishka era. Most of his inscriptions have been found at or near Mathura, and his coins usually bear the god Siva and rarely any Iranian deity.
The decline of the Kushana power in the north-west was hastened by the rise of the Sassanian dynasty of Persia in the third century A.D. One of the causes of the downfall of the Kushanas was the rise of independent republics like the Yaudheyas, Kunindas and Malavas in the beginning of the third century A.D. who partitioned among themselves territories formerly held by the Kushanas. The rule of the Kushanas in parts of the Yamuna valley seems to have been supplanted by that of the Nagas.
Growth of Urban Centers:
During this period, there is seen a growth of urban centres because this phase registered a distinct advance in building activities. We find the use of burnt bricks for flooring and roofing, construction of brick kilns, use of script files, and use of red pottery.
Economy and Coinage:
This age of foreign rule had the best impact on Indian trade and commerce. Unlike other ages of foreign rule, Sakas and Kushans introduced better cavalry, use of reins, toe stirrups, turban, tunic, trousers and heavy long coat. India received a good deal of gold from Altai Mountains in central Asia.
The Kushans controlled the silk route which started from China and passed through their empire in central Asia and with the help of tolls levied from the traders, Kushans built a large empire. It is significant that the Kushans were the first rulers in India to issue gold coins on a wide scale.
Development of Religion:
Some of the foreign rulers were converted to vaishanavism. The Greek ambassador Heliodoros set up a pillar in honour of Vishnu near Vidisa in Madhya Pradesh. The famous Greek ruler Menander was converted to Buddhism. The Kushan rulers worshipped both Shiva, and Buddha and the images of these two gods appeared on the Kushan coins.
One of the two sects of Buddhism that become a considerable force in India around the first century A.D. The other sect is called Hinayana. Literally meaning ‘the great Vehicle’, the Mahayana was concerned with the salvation of the collective humanity.
Hinayana, or ‘the Little Vehicle’, on the other hand, was for individual salvation, the Mahayanist believed that the Buddha had preached a higher truth to a select few and that this truth was to be revealed after a passage of five centuries after the Buddha’s nirvana.
Society, Education and Culture:
Though the Indians knew about the Greeks even before Alexander’s invasion, their active contact started only after Alexander’s invasion. Alexander came to India like a storm and went back like a whirlwind, so there was no apparent impact of his invasion.
After his death came the Indo-Bactrians, Indo-Parthians, Sakas, Kushans and other alien tribes who founded their kingdoms on the Indian soil. Thereafter, India established contacts with these people for quite a long time. It was during this period that the Indians learnt from them in such fields as administration, coinage, astronomy, art, literature, religion and science etc.
Political Life and Administration:
The Kushans and the Saka rulers assumed the title of ‘Devputra’ or the son of God. They thus strengthened the concept of the divine origin of kingship. The Kushans defeated several of the Indian rulers but restored the kingdoms if they acknowledged their over-lordships. It was the beginning of the feudal system in India.
The Kushan Empire was divided into smaller units which were governed by the Kshatraps or Satraps. It was the beginning of the Kshatrapa system. They also started the curious practice of hereditary dual rule when both father and the son ruled the same kingdom at the same time. This practice of military governorship was also started during this period as these military governors were quite necessary to control the rebellious people.
Social Life-New Elements in Indian Social Life:
The Bactrian’s, the Parthians, the Sakas and the Kushans came into India and settled there permanently, thus becoming an integral part of the Indian society. Thus they lost their separate social identity and they became completely Indianized. Being brave and bold conquerors, they were admitted into the Indian social system as member of the Kshatriya caste.
Some of the foreign rulers were converted to Hinduism and they became staunch devotees of Vishnu and Shiva. Some others embraced Buddhism. The Greek ruler Milind was converted to Buddhism. As the Greeks were primarily image worshippers, they made images of the Buddha too and started worshipping his idol. It was the beginning of the practice of idol-worship among the Buddhists.
The foreigners had embraced Buddhism but it failed to satisfy their religious carvings as the religion of the Buddha was abstract and there was no place for worship in it. It was, therefore, during the reign of the Kushan King Kanishka that Buddhism underwent radical reforms and a new branch of Buddhism known as the Mahayana came into being. The old sect was now called the Hinayana.
The Buddha was regarded as a god and images of the Buddha and Budhisatvas were made and worshipped. The goal of life also was changed from ‘Nirvana’ to the attainment of ‘Swarga’ or heaven. The old language Pali was also discarded in favour of the Sanskrit and faith took the place of logic. As a result of these changes, the Buddhism gained immense popularity and it spread not only in India but also in several foreign countries like China, Japan, Tibet and Central Asia.
The Indians also learnt a lot from the Greeks in the field of astronomy. The Indians too honoured the learned Greek astronomers and were impressed by their knowledge in this field. The renowned Indian treatise on astronomy ‘Gargi Samhita’ asserts, “The Yavanas are barbarians yet the science of astronomy originated with them and for this they must be reverenced like Gods”. Of the different principles of astronomy, the Indians borrowed many from the contemporary Greeks. Several of the Greek terms are still prevalent in Indian astronomy. Some scholars even believe that the Indians learnt from the Greeks the science of casting horoscopes.
Before the Greeks, the Indian coins were rough and punch-marked. These coins were not cast in moulds and only one side bore any inscription. The Indians learnt from the Greeks the art of moulding coins and they now struck beautiful coins bearing inscriptions on both the sides. The gold coins of Kanishka were also beautiful and attractive with artistic images of Gods and Goddesses on them.
The Gandhara School of Art:
Before the Kushans, the Gandhara School of Art was developed as a result of interaction between the Greeks and the Indians. But during the Kushan rule, the Gandhara Art reached its zenith. This art had developed on the north-western regions of India known as Gandhara. It was therefore called the Gandhara School of Art or the Indo-Greek Art. The Gandhara artists built beautiful large-size images of the Buddha, Budhisatvas and the Kushan rulers.
They depicted scenes from the life of the Buddha on stone. Most of the specimens of the Ghandara Art relating to this period are executed in stone. But some of the specimens founded at Taxila are in stucco (lime), cement, terracota (baked clay) and clay. The Gandhara Art greatly influenced other schools of Indian sculpture.
The Greek influence is discernible even in the field of temple and palace architecture. Some of the walls and pillars of the Sun Temple at Taxila are executed in the Greek Style. The Indians also learnt the art of cutting rock caves. In Maharashtra, there are several rock-cut caves.
Literature and Learning:
The foreign rulers patronised Sanskrit and consequently the Sanskrit scholars wrote several books of great quality. The Kushan rules were great lovers of knowledge and they patronised several scholars which led to the creation of high quality Sanskrit literature particularly, during the reign of Kanishka.
Among the notable Sanskrit scholars of this period were Asvaghosha, Vasumitra and Nagarjuna. Asvaghosha wrote the ‘Buddha Charita’, ‘Saundrananda’and ‘Sahputra’. Vasumitra wrote ‘Prajnaparmita’, ‘Sutra Shastra’ and ‘Mahavibhasha’.
The rise of the Mahayana sect led to the composition of dramas. The Indian drama was also influenced by the Greece drama. It is on the Greek model that in the Indian dramas too the character of a clown (Vidushaka) was introduced and the use of curtain, which is called ‘Yavanika’ in Sanskrit, was started.
Science and Technology:
The Indians learnt a lot from the Greeks in the fields of astronomy and astrology. They also learnt from the Kushans, the art of making leather shoes and articles of glass. The Kushan coins were an imitation of the Roman coins.
Botany and Medicine:
In the field of botany, chemistry and medicine the foreign contribution to India is insignificant as India in these fields, had already made sufficient progress. Charka, the great Indian physician of this time, wrote ‘Charka Samhita’ which deals with various diseases and the effective herbs (aushadhis) to cure them.
The above account would suffice to conclude that the Indians learnt many things from the foreigners. But they never followed them blindly. They adopted the new knowledge in the context of the indigenous conditions. Whatever influences did the Indians acquired, the foreign elements were so assimilated with their own life that it would hardly be possible to distinguish them.