FROM INDUS TO INDEPENDENCE: A TREK THROUGH INDIAN HISTORY: Part 15

Canberra, 18 August 2013
A MAURYAN INTERLUDE IN THE PENINSULA
In 4th century B.C. the Nandas of Pataliputra expanded the borders of their Magadhan kingdom towards the south, although the exact limit of their move south is not known. It is certain that Kalinga was conquered, confirmed by the famous Hathigumpha inscriptions of Kharavela who ruled Kalinga in 2nd century B.C. These inscriptions mention Nanda Raja in connection with some construction in the area and subsequently of King Nanda carrying away some heirlooms that belonged to the ruling Kalinga royalty. There are also Kannada inscriptions that mention Nanda rule in the Kuntala country, although this is not corroborated by any other source. Similarly, there is speculation that the modern-day Nanded, situated on the upper Godavari, [known now for its famous Gurudwara—the Gurudwara is named Hazur (Hazoor) Sahib and is one of the five ‘takhts’ or seats of temporal authority in Sikhism. The Gurudwara is built on the place where the tenth Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Govind Singh, died and was cremated] is derived from the ancient Nandadhera, which is claimed as the southern limit of the Nanda Empire in the Deccan. Once again this assertion is not substantiated by any other source and remains at the level of speculation. Some contemporary coins that are of a common nature found in excavation sites in the Deccan, South India, Ceylon and North India indicate that there was contact between these places although further details are not available. At a bare minimum these findings should be seen to indicate trade connections between the regions and perhaps not the southern limit of the Nanda Kingdom.
Irrespective of the southern limit of the Nanda kingdom, there is clear evidence that the Tamils were aware of the wealth of the Nandas. Mamulanar, a famous poet of the Sangam age, mentions the proverbial wealth of the Nandas in one of his poems. There is also some amount of certainty that the Maurya Empire, that followed the Nandas in Pataliputra, included the Kuntala country. However, in the absence of any evidence of war or conquest by any Maurya emperor of this region, it can be inferred with some assurance that they merely inherited the southern areas after they overthrew the Nandas and took over the Magadhan kingdom. This would indicate that the Nandas had indeed conquered some areas of the Deccan. There are a number of sources that provide information regarding the Mauryan Empire did encompass some regions of the Deccan and that they maintained direct and influential interaction with the Tamil nations in the extreme south.
The Jain Chronicles
The Jain chronicles provide a slightly different perspective but is also confirmation of the Mauryan incursion into the Deccan and beyond. The chronicles mention that Bhadrabahu, the last of a series of saints called Srutakevalins, brought along Emperor Chandragupta Maurya who had by then abdicated the throne, as part of a group consisting of his pupils and followers on their migration into the Peninsula. It seems that Bhadrabahu predicted 12 years of famine in Ujjain and therefore migrated south with his entourage, arriving at the mountain Katavapta (Chandragiri) in Mysore and settling down there. The chronicles go on to state that the Emperor lived as an ascetic for many years in Shravana Belagola in Mysore, and that he ultimately starved himself to death in the typical Jain tradition. Inscriptions made around 5th century A.D. mention the names of Bhadrabahu and Chandragupta ‘Munindra’ and also provide the full details of this episode. Further, inscriptions in Seringapatam made in 900 A.D. and repeated in 12th and 15th century A.D. mention that in the lower hills of Shravana Belagola the footprints of Bhadrabahu and Chandragupta ‘Munipati’ can be obtained.
Since there is no confirmation or account of the details connected to the actual death of Chandragupta Maurya the Emperor, as would befit a great king, there is a distinct possibility that the story in the Jain chronicles could be true. On the other hand, the identity of Chandragupta ‘Muni’ as being the same person as the famed emperor of Pataliputra has still not been confirmed because of lack of other corroborative evidence to support the Jain chronicles. The actual facts of the event still remain shrouded in mystery, along with much of early peninsular history.
The Arthashastra
It has been reliably reported that in a number of instances Kautilya’s opinions were contrary to those expressed by his teachers and that he was not afraid to put forward his views directly. The case of South India also seems to fall into this category of refutation in his mention of the region in the Arthashastra. His teacher is supposed to have considered the land route to the Himalayas, Uttarapatha, more lucrative in terms of trade in comparison to the route to the south. The Himalayan route provided elephants, ivory, gold, silver and hides. Kautilya considered the southern trade route, Dakhshinapatha, better since they provided conch-shells, pearls, precious stones, diamonds and gold. This he recorded in the Arthashastra and elaborated on the larger number of mines and valuable merchandise to be found on the southern route. He also mentioned the fact that since the route was relatively easier to traverse, there would be greater movement of goods and larger number of merchants, thereby enhancing the opportunities for trade.
The Arthashastra notes that there was more wealth and greater opportunities and possibilities of trade with the south in comparison to the areas to the north of Pataliputra, the Mauryan capital. It is confirmed that the Nandas had established fairly large scale trade with the Southern principalities, which was expanded during the Maurya rule. The book notes that the Mauryan treasury contained pearls from the Tambraparni River in the Malayakoti hills in the Pandyan country as well as from the Churna River in Kerala. It is also noted that the Empire received cotton fabrics from Madurai and Vaidurya (Beryl) from other areas. Since the Arthashastra was written during the Maurya rule of India, these provide the proof necessary to confirm their interaction and possible governance of at least a reasonable part of the peninsula.
Megasthenes’ Account
Megathenes’ account that the Pandian kingdom was ruled by Pandia, the daughter of Heracles (who was the Greek equivalent of Krishna) has already been covered earlier. The report further recounts that every day, one village per day in turn, brought tribute to the Royal Treasury in kind as payment to ensure the daily supply to the Royal household. Silappadikaram, a treatise written in 600 A.D. also reports a similar story. It states that one cowherd family per day would provide the daily dairy requirements of the Royal household. [This is reminiscent of the story (incident) in Mahabharata of Bhim and Bakasura that took place while the Pandavas were in hiding after the palace of lac they were staying in had been burned down. The story is also of a daily offering to Baka by individual families in the village, in turn, to keep the tyrant/demon from troubling the entire village at all and any time of his choosing.]
The Village of Ekachakra and Baka
After escaping from the palace of lac that had been set alight when they were in residence, the Pandavas (princes of the Hastinapur Royal family) thought it prudent to be in hiding in order to avoid further challenges and to observe and distinguish their friends and enemies. They disguised themselves as Brahmans seeking and living off alms and took refuge in the house of a Brahman in a sleepy town called Ekachakra to bide their time. The Pandavas lived in the town, begging alms, although the people of the town suspected that they were indeed high born Kshatriyas.
One day while Kunti (mother of the Pandavas) and Bhim (second of five brothers) were at home, they heard the host Brahman family wailing loudly in the next room. On inquiring the reason for their sorrow, a story unfolded…
The king of the area was inept, weak and callous. Thirteen years earlier, the rakshasa Baka [in some versions he is called Bakasura, meaning Baka the Asura (demon)] came down from the northern mountains [The Vindhya ranges?] and settled down to live in a hill outside Ekachakra. He raided Ekachakra, killing and eating people and creating havoc within the town. Thereafter he would sleep for a month and repeat the carnage all over again. After a number of such episodes, the town elders went to Baka and proposed that every week they would send a cartload of food to him in return for his never attacking the town. Baka agreed with the caveat that he would also devour the bullocks drawing the cart as well as the driver. The fearful elders agreed to this proposal. The elders also wanted Baka to be their guardian and protect them from other evils. After this deal had been struck, each week a different household had been providing the food, cart, the bullocks and the cart driver. The turn of the Brahman family had come on that day.
Kunti volunteered Bhima as the driver of the cart. The rest of the story is straightforward, in the manner of incidents concerning the heroes of all epics. Bhima took the food and the cart to the hills where Baka lived; devoured the food himself; and when an enraged Baka emerged to fight him, Bhima fought and killed the rakshasa. The town was freed of its awful tyrant and returned to being a sleepy peaceful place.  
The Mauryas come South – Asoka the Great
The kingdoms of South India and Ceylon are mentioned in the 2nd and 13th rock edicts of Asoka. The 2nd edict particularly lists the kingdoms—Chola, Pandya, Keralaputa, Satyaputa and Tambapani (Ceylon)—and also states very clearly that they were not part of Asoka’s empire, but independent entities that maintained very cordial relationship with the Mauryan Empire. They also received considerable assistance from the northern empire, indicated by the fact that Asoka provided medical facilities to the people of these kingdoms and had send missionaries to spread the understanding of Dhamma, the essentials of Buddhism, to all these places. These confirmed facts indicate two things. First, that there was a level of commonality in the civilisational and cultural developments of the north and the south for the Empire and the Kingdoms to have interacted in a friendly and equal manner. Second, that the southern kingdoms of the Tamil areas and Ceylon were sufficiently stable polities for Asoka to have developed and continued friendly intercourse with them. [The reason for Asoka not embarking on a conquest of the independent southern kingdoms, rather than maintaining cordial and peer-like relationships, could be attributed to the fact that he rejected violence after the bloody of conquest of Kalinga and embraced the concepts of Buddhism thereafter. The power of the Mauryan Empire at the zenith of Asoka’s rule was such that he could have fairly easily subjugated the Southern kingdoms, if he so desired.]
The Satyaputa kingdom has been difficult to pinpoint correctly and a certain amount of controversy still surrounds its actual identity. It is generally accepted that this was a tribal name that was Sanscritised to ‘Satyaputras’, which could be loosely translated to mean ‘members of the fraternity of truth’. The only tribe that fits such an exalted stature is thought to be the Kosar tribe who were celebrated for their unswerving fidelity to their sworn lord and to the unwavering adherence to their given word. They were also renowned for their heroism and bravery in war. They are believed to have occupied lands around Coimbatore and Salem and also to have overrun the Tulu country in the West Coast in early 1st century A.D. [It is possible that these were the forefathers of the current Kodugu community (Coorgies in the anglicised version) who, in a morally declining Indian society, still seem to be imbibed with the same virtues!] The interaction of the Kosars with the Maurya Empire is discussed later in this chapter. The Kosar tribe gets considerable mention in the literature of the Sangam period. It is also believed that the Satputes amongst the modern Marathas are the descendants of the Satyaputras who migrated north into Maharashtra. It is obvious that the movement of people during the early part of peninsular history was not fully restricted to a one-way situation southward.
The Asokan edict in Dhauli (Tosali, the capital of Kalinga country) and in Jaugada in Ganjam district provides detailed description of the Mauryan conquest of Kalinga in 260 B.C., which is perhaps the best known episode of the Mauryan Empire and dynasty. The subjugation of Kalinga and its aftermath is a milestone in the spiritual development of the entire Indian sub-continent. There are Asokan edicts found in Sopara near Bombay (Mumbai) which along with the Kalinga conquest proves that the north-west and north-east Deccan formed part of the Mauryan Empire. In South India, edicts have also been discovered in Raichur and Chitaldrug districts in Mysore and Kurnool in Andhra. Any mention of such edicts having been there further south must be considered as pure conjuncture. The interesting part is that the edicts in South India are written in characters that are distinctly southern variations of the original Brahmi script. (This evolution of the language is covered later in the chapter.) This indicates that writing was common in South India much before the advent of the Mauryan incursion and that it was sufficiently developed to influence and alter the original Brahmi script in which other Asokan edicts have been written.
The Pallava inscriptions, called the Velurpalayam Plates (named after the place where they were discovered), dating to 9th century A.D. mentions the name of Asokavarman as one of the earliest rulers of Kanchipuram. The famous Hathigumpha inscriptions made by Kharavela in the first half of 2nd century B.C. mentions the Tamil States as being 113 years older than the date at which the inscriptions were made. It is also reported in the same inscription that the Tamil kingdoms posed a threat to the well-being of the Kalinga State. The inference has to be that the Tamil nations were well established and flourishing entities that maintained diplomatic relations with its neighbours, had bilateral dealings with some of them, and were not averse to flexing their muscles if needed.
Ceylonese Chronicles  
The Ceylonese chronicles provide the details of the missions undertaken to propagate Dhamma in different countries after the Third Buddhist Council was held in Pataliputra, called Maharamsa. These chronicles are dated seven to eight centuries after the events but are considered to be accurate in detail and also correlates events with the Asokan edicts. The details of the missionaries and the places they were deputed to gives an indication of the geographical knowledge of the Peninsula in the Mauryan court. Mahadeva was sent to Mahishamandala (Mysore); Rakkhita to Vanavasi (later to become the centre of the Kadamba kingdom); a Yona (Greek monk) called Dhammarakkhita to Aparantaka (in the northern Bombay coast); Maharakhita to the Maratha country; and Mahinda the son of Asoka to Ceylon.
According to these chronicles, all Deccan states mentioned in it were under the direct rule of the Mauryas and formed an important part of the Empire. There were two viceroyalties in the Deccan—one at Tosali (Dhauli in Kalinga) and the other at Suvarnagiri (now called Kanakagiri) between Hampi and Maski in Andhra. Further, the Rathikas and Bhojas in the northern and western Deccan and the Andhras and Paradas of eastern Deccan, although part of the greater Empire and not independent as such, were given considerable autonomy in their local governance.
Poet Mamulanar
Mamulanar the poet, has been mentioned in the beginning of this chapter as providing an indication of the wealth of the Nandas in his writings. His poem, written four centuries after the decline of the Mauryan Empire, refers to the Mauryas in a fashion tinged with mythology, introducing the concept that the Maurya kings were ‘Chakravarti’ or wheeled emperor. This nomenclature could be taken to signify the vastness of their empire and their ability to respond and contain challenges in any part of their far flung lands. The important point to note is that the poems do not contain any mention of a Mauryan invasion of South India. This conclusively puts to rest some views, often expressed, that South India was invaded and conquered by the Mauryan kings or that the invasion was unsuccessful, dependent on the bias of the person expressing these views.
The poem narrates the story of expeditions by the Kosar tribe against their foes that met with initial success but was subsequently opposed and blocked by the chief of the Mohur tribe. It seems that the ‘Moriyar’ send an expedition to assist the Kosars, who then managed to win the battle with the Mohurs. The ‘Moriyar’ is mentioned as ‘Vamba Moriyar’, translated as ‘powerful Maurya’ who possessed a large army with Vadugaars, considered extremely ferocious in battle, as the vanguard. Vadugaar is literally translated to mean ‘northerners’ and was a term used to indicate the Telugu and Kannada people of the Deccan during the Tamil Sangam period. These people inhabited the places immediately to the north of the Tamil country. The inferences are clear—the Mauryas ruled the Deccan and subsumed the local people into their army; and they took an active and intimate interest in the internal politics of the Tamil countries, interfering at will to influence the outcome of battles and conflicts. The Mauryan unification of India as an independent and cohesive entity, that is much debated even today—both in acceptance and refutation—has to be acknowledged as having been very real. It is obvious that the Emperor reigning in Pataliputra directly influenced and controlled the happenings of the extreme south of the Peninsula.
The Damili Inscriptions – Development of South Indian Languages
The Damili inscriptions, found in natural rock caverns, are the earliest writings in Tamil country that can be dated with assurance. The first known script for writing the Tamil-Brahmi language, also called Damili, is dated to 500 B.C. and found in Kodumanal in Chennimalia in Erode district. These inscriptions are very similar to the ones found in Sri Lanka and provide an indication of the development of South Indian languages. It is believed that the Brahmi script reached the Tamil country during the southward spread of Jainism and Buddhism from the Gangetic plains and was adapted to suit the Tamil phonetic system, giving birth to the Damili (Tamil-Brahmi) script. Recently, inscribed potsherds have also been excavated at Arrikamedu, Uraiyur and Alagarai and 125 coins found at Andipatti in Chengam Taluk in North Arcot district. A study of the script provides an insight into the development of the language, which can be separated into three phases.  
The first phase follows the Bhattirprolu system and is dated to around 2nd century B.C. (The Bhattiporulu inscriptions are considered the ‘Rosetta Stone’ of the Tamil-Brahmi decipherment.) In this system the consonantal symbol without a media vowel sign represents a basic consonant. Inscriptions in this script are found in Meenashipuram, Thiruvadavur, Alagarmalai and some other places. The inscriptions found in Meenakshipuram (near Madurai) refers to a gift to a Jain muni from the Pandyan ruler—Nedurijeliyan. This is the earliest epigraphical reference to a contemporary Pandyan ruler. The Sangam literature refers to two kings by the same name, Nedurijeliyan, although the ruler mentioned in the inscription pre-dates both of them and could have been one of their predecessors. The second phase starts at the beginning of the Christian era and represents the evolution where the consonantal symbol with a basic or inherent ‘a’ was introduced. Inscriptions of this nature are to be found in Anamalai, Thirupparamkunram, Pugalur and other places. In the excavations at Arnattarmalai near Pugalur there is a dedication to a Jain ascetic by the Chera prince Ilamkadungo. Further, it provides details of three generations of the Chera dynasty, and also correlates and verifies the Sangam literature. The third phase dates to around early 3rd century A.D. where the early Tamil script (evolved Damili or Tamil-Brahmi) is used and the language is Tamil. These are found in the Arachalur records. In this latest evolution, the language becomes alphabetic (considered to be the first time that an Indic language was alphabetised) and also includes peculiar ‘Dravidian’ sounds, while not having any soft or aspirated consonants. 
There is currently no consensus whether Tamil-Brahmi usage was purely of a religious nature or it was more widely used in a secular manner. It could be surmised that the usage was initially restricted to dealings of a religious nature but soon spread throughout the country (and abroad) with all types of people using it extensively. The religious usage could have been in ‘memorials to the dead’ and to mark the hero-stones that have been recently unearthed. The irrefutable facts that emerge are: that many of the cities that are still known today were in existence at that time, Madura, Karu-ur (Karur), Nelveli (Tirunelveli) to name a few; that the donors of the monuments that have been unearthed were an eclectic mix of kings, princes, commanders, merchants (vanikars), husbandsmen (Kutumbikan) and normal people, which provides proof of the use of the language in a secular manner; and that the language provides an understanding of some words with religious connotations like atittanam (abode), dhammam (dharma) and tana (sacred place).
Conclusion
The period of Indian history when Maurya power was ascendant is clearly delineated in the north of the sub-continent, with accurate dates assigned to each significant event. This is not the case with the history of Peninsular India. There is still some vagueness about the interaction of the Mauryan Empire with South India, especially the Tamil countries to the extreme south. However, evidence gathered from different sources indicate that the conquest of Kalinga was the only warlike invasion carried out by the Mauryas into the Deccan and that the rest of their kingdom in this area was perhaps inherited from the Nandas whom they overthrew. Having established this fact, it is also a distinct possibility that the Mauryan Empire at its zenith was diplomatically and militarily very influential, and when necessary interventional, even in the extreme south of the peninsula. Further, Asoka’s preoccupation with the proselytization of the Buddhist faith made a remarkable impact on the development of the languages of the region as well as in creating a more homogenous cultural bridge between the north and the south. Doubtless, the Mauryan Empire was the first pan-Indian kingdom in history as has been claimed by the contemporary nationalists in India.      
         
     
                   
 

About Sanu Kainikara

Sainik School Kazhakuttam (Kerala), National Defence Academy 39/A, 108 Pilot's Course IAF, fighter pilot, QFI, FCL, psc, HACC, Voluntary Retirement as Wing Commander. Canberra-based Defence Analyst specialising in air power and national security. PhD in International Politics from University of Adelaide Executive Masters in Public Adminsitration (ANZSOG) Adjunct Professor, University of New South Wales, Distinguished Fellow Institute For Regional Security (IFRS) Distinguished Fellow Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS)

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