Canberra, 15 September 2013
In early 2nd century B.C. the pan-Indian authority that ruled the sub-continent from its elaborate base at Pataliputra in Magadha came to an end; this also marked the end of the experiment in imposing a centrally controlled imperial government over vast areas for a long time to come. It was not that the desire for empire had been laid to rest in the hearts of minor and major kings of the time, but that there was insufficient impetus and wherewithal to attempt the hazardous process of creating an imperial regime. The definitive regression of Mauryan imperial power and the fall of the dynasty in 185 B.C. ushered in a period of diffused politics wherein the imperial monarchy was replaced by multiple power centres each with their own distinctive political ambition, often jostling with each other, that in turn brought about decentralisation, breakup and confusion. The political landscape was chaotic for the next two centuries. A large number of dynasties, kings and smaller chieftains came to exercise power in increasingly smaller holdings, creating a political climate conducive to interference from monarchies with foreign roots. From a cultural perspective, developments slowed and the period was akin to India pausing to take a deep breath after the frenetic activities of the Maurya times.
The evidence of this change, and the rapidly with which it took hold at the immediate aftermath of the decline of a tranquil empire, is available from royal inscriptions of the time, Buddhist religious texts, other secular writings and the Tamil anthologies. Foreign literary sources from China, Greece, Syria, Persia and Egypt add well-documented political commentary and describe the commercial activities of the period. Since a great deal of authentic information regarding the events of the time come from Hellenistic and Roman sources, there has been a tendency in later days to emphasise the history of the North West India, where the Greeks were active. This lop-sided focus has been at the cost of glossing over consequential events and activities that were taking part in other parts of the sub-continent, especially in the Deccan and the southern Peninsula. However, the broader political focus at that time remained firmly rooted in the Gangetic plains and the areas around the Vindhya ranges. The breakup of the Maurya Empire coincided with the decline of the Seleucid kingdom, which had started around 250 B.C. Over the next 300 years competing peoples and tribes arrived on India’s doorsteps—some exercising only fleeting influence, while others assimilated themselves into the melting cauldron of the sub-continent, influencing and changing the face of India in a myriad of ways. Within India itself, there was disorder and the regular disintegration of large and small kingdoms with a number of dynasties coming to power rapidly and vanishing as swiftly into the mist of incoherent narrative. In the kingdom of Magadha, the successors to the Mauryan glory was not touched by the magnificence of Ashoka the Great, but sank into oblivion as non-entities.
Section I
The Shungas
The weakness of the kings who followed the majestic Ashoka to the throne of what was till then the largest empire resulted in two developments: the rapid decline of the power of the Maurya Empire; and the spread and prevalence of confusion and obscurity. The collapse of the Maurya Empire was completed when the last Maurya king was assassinated by Pushyamitra Shunga who was the commander of the imperial army. The Shungas were Brahmins from Ujjain, and it is noteworthy that the army was commanded by a Brahmin as opposed to being under a traditional Kshatriya commander. The assassination and the downfall of the Maurya Empire also facilitated the emergence of regional states of all sizes, shapes and hues over the next five centuries. Pushyamitra, being a Brahmin himself, was a supporter of Brahmin orthodoxy and according to Buddhist sources was intolerant of other religious thought. He is reported to have persecuted Buddhists and destroyed monasteries and other places of worship, a far cry from the tolerant and supportive stance on religious matters taken by the Maurya kings. Pushyamitra and his successors were preoccupied with war—against their neighbours in northern Deccan, Kalinga in the south-east, and the Greeks who were making inroads in the north-west of the kingdom.
Pushyamitra repelled an attack by the Indo-Greek king Menander in 153 B.C. albeit with great difficulty and in a protracted war. During this period of war, the southern provinces of the kingdom were administered by Agnimitra, the crown prince, who established his capital in Vidisa (modern day Bhilsa) in Betwa. He also defeated the Raja of Vidarbha. Pushyamitra is reported to have revived the old convention of ‘aswamwdha’ or horse sacrifice, which was traditionally only performed by paramount sovereigns, in all probabilities considering himself to be an emperor after defeating the Greeks.
A horse of a particular colour was consecrated by the performance of certain ceremonies, and was then turned loose to wander for a year. The King, or his representative, followed the horse with an army, and when the animal entered a foreign country, the ruler of that country was bound wither to fight or submit. If the liberator of the horse succeeded in obtaining or enforcing the submission of all the countries over which it passed, he returned in triumph with all the vanquished Rajas in his train; but if he failed, he was disgraced, and his pretensions ridiculed. After his successful return, a great festival was held, at which the horse was sacrificed.
Vincent A. Smith,
The Early History of India, p. 200
During the ritual, his grandson Vasumitra, son of Agnimitra, commanded the accompanying army. Pushyamitra was succeeded by Agnimitra who ruled only for a few years and then was succeeded by Vasujyestha, probably a brother, followed by Vasumitra seven years later. The next four kings ruled for a combined period of 17 years, indicating a period of instability and palace revolutions. The ninth king Bhagavata seems to have ruled for about 32 years, but there is hardly any information available regarding the king as a person or the highs and lows of his rule. The tenth king Devabhuti was a debauch and was killed in ignominy, bringing to an end the Shunga dynasty around 73 B.C. Although the Shungas had ruled for 112 years, they were not able to hold the Mauryan Empire together for much of that time, having declined by this time to their having direct control of the Magadha region only.
The Kanvas. Devabhuti the last Shunga king was killed by his Brahmin minister Vasudeva, who became the first Kanva king. The Kanvas ruled only for about 45-50 precarious years through the reigns of four kings. This half century was turbulent with the throne being usurped through violent means even within the dynasty. There is no detailed information available regarding the Kanvas—the limits of their kingdom, any wars that they fought or their administration—other than for the fact that the last Kanva king, Susarman, was killed around 28 B.C. by a king of the Andhra or Satavahana dynasty.
King Kharavela OR The Rise and Decline of Kalinga
Kalinga, the kingdom that was conquered at great cost by Ashoka the Maurya, the battle for which changed the course of Indian history, rose to prominence again around the beginning of 2nd century B.C. The kingdom was ruled by the Mahameghavahana dynasty, whose third king, Kharavela, was the most famous and powerful. Kharavela ruled from 193 to 170 B.C. and was addicted to military conquests, almost as if he was on the quest for a psychological antidote to the devastating loss that the kingdom had suffered in the war with the Mauryas. He built up the Kalingan military power and also created a formidable maritime capability. Under Kharavela Kalinga traded with Simhala (Sri Lanka), Burma (Myanmar), Siam (Thailand), Kambhoj (Cambodia), Samudra (Sumatra) and Jabadwipa (Java) through the maritime routes. The main source of information regarding Kharavela is a 17-line biography of the king that has been inscribed in the walls of a natural cavern called Hathigumpha (elephant-cave) on the southern side of the Udayagiri hills close to Bhubaneswar in Odisha. These inscriptions, celebrating Kalingan victory over a number of states including Magadha, face the Dhauli hill that bears Ashoka’s Rock Edicts—perhaps consciously done to erase the shame of the defeat Kalinga had suffered earlier at the hands of the Muryan Emperor. The inscriptions start with an auspicious Jain invocation, which could be taken to indicate that Kharavela was a practicing Jaina. 
Highlights of the Hathigumpha Inscriptions
1.     In the second year of his reign he send a large army west and conquered areas up to the river Kanhavemna (modern river Kanhan that flows about 17 kilometres northwest of Nagpur).
2.     In the fourth year, he defeated the Rathika and Bhojaka chiefs and re-established the Vidharbha tract. 
3.     In the fifth year, the king revitalised the Nanda aqueducts and let the water flow into Kalinga Nagiri [the capital] through Tanasuli
4.     In the eighth year, Kharavela attacked and conquered Magadha, occupying the capital Rajagriha; and forced the Indo-Greek king Demetrius (mentioned as Yavana-raja Dimita) to retreat to Mathura.
5.     In the 12 year of his reign he attacked the ruler of Uttarapatha and brought back the holy idols of the Kalinga Jain gods that had been taken away to Magadha after the defeat of Kalinga by Mauryas.
6.     He attacked and vanquished the Shunga king Bruhaspatimitra, capturing Pataliputra the capital.  
The inscriptions tell of attacks on Satavahana territory in the western Deccan, with the chiefs of the Rathikas and Bhojikas who were vassals of the then Satavahana ruler Satakarni, being defeated and their lands added to the Kalinga kingdom. Most probably the Rathikas were resident in southern Maharashtra and the Bhojikas flourished in the Goa-Karnataka region, where the Bhoja kings were found a few centuries later. Kharavela is also supposed to have overrun some parts of the Pandyan kingdom in the south. The listed conquests would have made Kharavela’s Kalinga spread from eastern sea to western sea. However, having achieved such success in a brief span of 12 years, in an unexplained move, he abdicated the throne and was succeeded by his son Kudepasari. There is some on-going debate regarding the dynastic line to which Kharavela and his descendants belonged. Some scholars are inclined to take the word Aira, used in the Hathigumpha inscriptions at the beginning of the king’s name, as being indicative of the ancestry of Kharavela being the puranic Aila, a lunar Kshatriya dynasty. There are also other opinions that he belonged to the Chedi (Cedi) dynasty, but this claim can be discounted as unlikely. The ‘vahana’ ending dynastic names were the norm during that period and the dynastic name of Mahameghavahana, which translates to mean ‘one whose vehicle is the great cloud’, is perhaps correct. The Mahabharata mentions both the Cedi and Meghvahana dynasties and therefore they can be considered to be independent of each other. Incidentally, a Jat clan, Kharvel, in the north-western India, claim to be the descendants of Kharavela, which sort of re-verifies the Kalinga king’s conquests or at least military activities in the region. On his abdication, Kalinga became quite and the power of the royal house waned over the next few generations of insignificant kings.
The Satavahana Dynasty
The Satavahanas are also known as the Andhra dynasty in the puranic list of kings and is mentioned from the time of Chandragupta Maurya’s time. Pliny the Elder, the Roman author and military commander,  mentions a Telugu-speaking Dravidian people who occupied the deltas of the Godavari and Krishna rivers and possessed a military force second only to that of the great Maurya himself. Their capital was Sri Kakulam in the lower Krishna basin and their military force was estimated to be 100,000 infantry, 2,000 cavalry and 1000 elephants. However, they were compelled to submit to the Maurya king and recognise the suzerainty of Magadha, although there is no mention of a conflict between the two as such. It can be presumed that this arrangement was arrived at in an amicable manner, both the parties recognising the wisdom of not going to war between the best and second best armies of the time.  
The next mention of the Satavahanas occur in Ashoka’s edicts in 256 B.C, with the mention of an autonomous clan holding territory under their own Raja in the outskirts of the Maurya Empire. Further, Kharavela, the king of Kalinga also mentions the kingdom of the Satavahana king Satakarni to the west of his kingdom and also claims victory over some vassal chieftains of the Satavahana king. The Puranas list 30 Satavahana kings ruling their kingdom for 460 years, but so far it has been difficult to find a connected narrative of this long period of time. The names of the earlier kings have been found on coins excavated in the western Deccan in Nasik, Karle and Naneghat. However, Satavahana coins have not been found in the eastern coast of the Peninsula, although some accounts mention their kingdom as stretching between the seas. The Andhras became fully independent under their king Simuka around 230 B.C. perhaps even few years before the actual death of Ashoka. The Satavahanas rose to power under Simuka, the first king, centred on Pratishthana (modern day Paithan) and extended their control with extra-ordinary rapidity in all directions—conquering north and south Maharashtra and eastern and western Malwa (now Madhya Pradesh). Jain accounts state that Simuka ruled for 23 years and was succeeded by the second king of the dynasty, Kanha (Krishna), who is reported to have ruled from 207 to 189 B.C. These dates and the Jain account of a 23 year reign corroborate the accession of Simuka to be around 230 B.C. Kanha captured Nasik near the source of the Godavari in the Western Ghats and the Satavahana dominion thereafter stretched across the peninsular India.
The figure of the third king Satakarni I is sculpted in Naneghat, which also carries inscriptions regarding the king performing great sacrifices including the aswamedha. The Hathigumpha inscriptions of Kharavela mentions the defeat of Satakarni. The inscriptions however, do not go on to mention that although the Satavahana king suffered early setbacks in the Kalinga-initiated conflict, he prevailed in the end, retaining all his holdings and finally defeating the Kalinga army. The inscriptions could have been done earlier in what was obviously a protracted war. The defeat was in fact the beginning of the decline of Kalinga power. Satakarni I is variously described as the ‘Lord of the Dakshinapatha’ and ‘aparatihata-chakra’ (wielder of the unchecked wheel). From this time forward information regarding the Satavahana kings is not continuous and is at times extremely scanty. Satakarni II is considered the sixth king of the dynasty, who came to the throne in 166 B.C. and ruled for 56 years, the longest tenure of all the Satavahanas. Almost nothing is known about this king, extremely surprising for a ruler who reigned for such a long time! Coins of his successor Ailaka has been found in eastern Madhya Pradesh. The scantiness of information continues to persist after this till the reports of the slaying of the last Kanva king by the Satavahanas. The lack of corroborative information is further confused by the proclivity of all kings of the Andhra region to claim to have belonged to the Satavahana dynasty in order to establish and exalted lineage. Overlapping claims and perplexing chronology make accurate assessment of the reigns of individual kings almost impossible.  
The next Satavahana who can be clearly identified is the 17th king, Hala, who ruled from 20 to 24 A.D. He is famous in literature as the compiler of the Saptasataka, meaning Seven centuries (also called Sattasaiand Saptasati in different sources), a collection of 700 erotic gathas (verses). It is written in Aryan metre in the Maharashtri Prakrit and in its currently available form contains the linguistic features that was prevalent in the 2nd century A.D or even a bit later. There are other Prakrit literary traditions also associated with the Satavahana dynasty. The absence of Sanskrit in any of these literary efforts bolsters the conclusion that Sanskrit was not in use as the language of polite literature during that period. After Hala, there is another gap and then the stories of the 23rd and 24th kings emerge. Both Raja Gautamiputra Sri Satakarni (No 23) and his son Raja Vashishtiputra Sri Pulumayi (No 24) are reported to have been involved in conflicts with the foreign tribes who were slowly encroaching on the Satavahana kingdom, carving out small holdings in Western India. These foreigners were almost certainly subordinate to the Indo-Parthian and Kushan kings. Such conflicts between indigenous rajas and foreign intruders is a common feature of Indian history.
From this point onwards the fortunes of the Satavahanas ebbed and flowed dependent on the ability of the ruling king to ward of foreign interlopers and maintain the sanctity and sovereignty of the vast holdings of the dynasty. However, the story of foreign settlements in the Satavahana era is patchy in some instances and non-existent in others. From available coins it can be determined that the earliest ruler who could establish a foothold on Indian territory was the Satrap Bhumaka Kshaharata, approximately in the middle of 1st century A.D. He had Parthian affinities and was in all probabilities subordinate to the Indo-Parthian kings. It is also likely that he was connected in some manner to the Shakas. The next Kshaharata chief to be mentioned is Nahapana, in all probabilities the immediate successor to Bhumaka, whose rule is dated around 60-90 A.D. His name is indicative of Persian origins and he assumed the title of ‘Maha Kshatrapa’ meaning the Great Satrap, although locally he was known by the Indian title of raja. The assumption of the Satrap title corroborates the speculation that he was subordinate to a greater northern power, which could only have been the Kushans. Nahapana controlled a large dominion that extended to the southern Rajputana, Nasik and Pune districts, as well as the peninsula of Saurashtra and Kathiawar. Periplus, a manuscript document that listed the ports and coastal landmarks that a captain of a ship could expect to find, states that the kingdom of Mambanus (Nahapana) began at Arike (Aryaka) and that Greek ships coming to the Satavahana port of Kalyan were redirected to Barygaza (Broach). This information confirms the power and control of the Kshaharata chief whose capital is reported to have been Minnagara (probably the modern Dohad).
Raja Gautamiputra who ascended the throne around 109 A.D. is credited with having defeated the Kshaharata dynasty in 124 A.D. and annexing their entire dominion. He restamped, rather crudely, all their coins and posed as the champion of the ‘Hindu’ religions (Brahminical Hinduism and Buddhism) against the casteless creed of the foreigners—the Shakas, Parthians and the Yavanas (Greeks). He also prided on re-establishing the practice of ‘caste rule’ and was liberal in his donations to the Brahmins and the Buddhists alike. Around 135 A.D. his son Raja Vashishtiputra became king and reigned for the next 30 years. He was married to the daughter of the Shaka Rudradaman I, the Great Satrap of Ujjain. Even though Vashishtiputra was his son-in-law, Rudradaman had no compunctions about attacking the Satavahana kingdom, around 150 A.D., and annexing the lands that previously belonged to the Kshaharatas. Perhaps because of the relationship, Rudradaman did not initiate any harsh or extreme measures against the defeated Satavahanas.
Rudradaman I
Rudradaman was an accomplished prince who raised the status of his ‘house’ to become the predominant power in western India between 130 and 150 A.D. Numismatic analysis provide a chronology of his descent as the grandson of the Great Satrap Chastana who probably ruled from about 80-110 A.D, although there is no proof to corroborate the dates. By aligning the chronology it would seem that Chastana was one of Kanishka’s Satraps who had been given a free hand to conquer and rule outlying provinces.     
Vashishtiputra’s coins have been found in the Godavari and Guntur districts of the Coromandel and Cuddalore in the south. The best known Satavahana is Sri Yajna Satakarmi, also known as Gautamiputra Yajna Sri, who reigned for 29 years from 173 to 202 A.D. The coins associated with his rule, some of them extremely rare silver ones, indicate that he recovered all the lost territory and also that there were some other conquests that he made that were unrecorded and not mentioned in other sources. The coins imitate the satrap coinage and also confirm his long and mainly peaceful reign. There are also coins with the figure of ships on them, clearly indicating a tradition of maritime trade and that his power and influence was not confined to the Indian lands alone. However, it is certain that he was the last of the Satavahanas to control a kingdom that spread from the west to the east through the provinces of the Deccan. Successors to Yajna Sri—Vijay, Chandra Sri, Pulamayi IV—are all mere names in the chronology; weak rulers of no consequence. The Satavahanas, or Andhra kings declined as rapidly as they had attained power and disappeared from the landscape by 225 A.D.
The Puranas testify to the length of the Satavahana rule, 460 years of the same dynasty, which is accurate, as are the listings of 30 kings of the same dynasty. They were in power for an unusually long time for the period in history that they existed and the exact reasons for their demise cannot be ascertained with any assurance. At the fag-end of their rule, the scions of the great dynasty established minor kingdoms of no importance across the Deccan. The fall of the Satavahanas coincides with the death of Vasudeva the last Kushan king in 226 A.D. and the rise of the Sassanian dynasty in Persia.
The Satavahana Kingdom: A Brief Description
The kingdom that came into being at a very rapid pace under a dynasty that controlled vast lands was in effect a simple polity with the local administration being left to the feudatories that were incorporated into the kingdom. The general imperial control of the king was exercised more as a power of suzerainty rather than direct rule. The kingship itself was hereditary through the male line with the matrinomix—like Gautamiputra and Vashistiputra—being used by kings and nobles; perhaps to distinguish the lineage because polygamy was certainly practised as a way of life. The feudatories were of three types: the Rajas who were permitted to strike their own coins; the Mahabhojas and Maharathis who were the few families in the Deccan connected to the Satavahanas by marriage; and the Mahasenapatis who controlled smaller, outlying provinces. The primary element of governance was the village under a headman (gramika) with a number of villages together forming aharas (administrative divisions) into which the state was essentially divided that was controlled by an amatya or minister.
By 3rd century B.C. Buddhism was well established and flourished under the Satavahana rule, with the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D. being the golden period of Buddhism in the Deccan. The kings were extremely tolerant, although they were devoted to Brahminism. During this period the Hindu pantheon of gods already included Indra, Vasudeva, the sun and the moon, Shiva, Vishnu, Krishna, Ganesa and Pasupati. There is also some literary reference to the presence of temples to goddess Gauri. The Satavahana rule also saw the creation of new sub-castes based on occupation, like golikas (shepherds) and halikas (ploughmen). What is of greater interest is that there was total assimilation of foreigners—the Shakas, Yavanas and Parthians—into the normal societal fold. The foreigners were at times considered to be degraded Kshatriyas, mainly by the Brahmins, probably because most of them would have been either captured soldiers or ones who stayed back after some skirmish or war. The foreigners also adopted Indian names, like Dhammadeva, and some are reported to have even become practicing Hindus.
Trade and commerce were prominent activities with thriving ports on both the western and eastern coasts servicing interior towns—Paithan the capital and Tagara being the main towns and others of lesser importance such as Junnar, Karhataka, Nasik etc. Traders were organised into guilds dependent on what they traded in—corn dealers, weavers—who were led by a sethi (alderman) and with their own nigamasabhas (guildhalls), which also acted as banks for the group. The major cities and towns were protected by ramparts, and walls of brick and mortar and well-guarded gates. The Satavahana army was predominantly infantry-based, carrying long spears and short swords with archers in the rear. They were flanked by cavalry and war elephants, the only troops allowed to wear turbans.
Not surprisingly, women held a prominent position in the society, owning and administering their wealth. Sculptures of the period show women entertaining guests independently and with their husbands; worshipping; and taking part in assemblies. It is certain that women were had the right to express their preferences and may even have flaunted this right at will. The Satavahana society was well-ordered, stratified and regulated—societal strife does not seem to have been an issue. Although regulated, there does not seem to have been any of the restrictions and interference from the ruling entities in the day-to-day life of the common people that was to become an intrusive presence in later day societies. The hallmark of the Satavahana rule was the equality, albeit according to one’s station in life, which was guaranteed to both men and women.
The three or four centuries leading to the 3rd century A.D is a dark space in Indian history. All events of the time seem to be concealed in an impenetrable veil of oblivion and disruption. Vague and unfounded speculation is unprofitable at best and at worse tend to further diffuse the small amount of corroborated information that is available now. It is perhaps best to let the Satavahanas pass into the obscurity of history with the knowledge that when they did rule, they were kings par excellence!                        
© [Sanu Kainikara] [2013]
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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 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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