web counter










THE inscriptions of Ashoka give us, for the first time in history, a comprehensive survey of India from the Hindu Kush to Ceylon; but it would be a mistake to assume that even Ashoka, the most powerful of the Mauryas, maintained full political control over an empire of so vast an extent. His edicts clearly show that there were certain well-defined grades in the influence which he claimed to exercise in different regions. There were first of all the king's dominions, by which we must no doubt understand the provinces of the empire the central government of Pataliputra (the United Provinces and Bihar) and the viceroyalties of Takshashila (the Punjab), Avanti or Ujjayim (Western and Central India north of the Tapti), and Kalinga (Orissa and the Ganjam District of Madras). Over all kingdoms and peoples in these provinces the emperor was supreme. He was the head of a great confederation of states which were united under him for imperial purposes, but which for all purposes of civil government and internal administration retained their independence. He was the link which bound together in association for peace or war powers which were the natural rivals of one another.

Beyond 'the king's dominions' to the north-west and to the south lay ‘the border peoples’, whom the emperor regarded as coming within his sphere of influence. On the north-west, in the North-West Frontier Province and in the upper Kabul valley, these are called in the inscriptions Gandharas, Kambojas, and Yavanas (Yonas); and on the south, beyond the limits of the provinces of Avanti and Kalinga, there were the Rashtrikas of the Maratha country, the Bhojas of Berar, the Petenikas of the Aurangabad District of Hyderabad, the Pulindas, whose precise habitat is uncertain, and the Andhras, who occupied the country between the Godavari and the Kistna.

Ashoka’s relations with these frontier peoples are most clearly indicated in the Jaugada version of the Kalinga edicts. It was addressed by him to the officers of state at Samapa, no doubt the city on the site of which the ruined fort of Jaugada in the Ganjam District now stands :

If you ask, ‘With regard to the unsubdued borderers what is the King’s command to us?’ or ‘What truth is it that I desire the borderers to grasp?’ the answer is that the King desires that ‘they should not be afraid of me, that they should trust me, and should receive from me happiness, not sorrow’. Moreover, they should grasp the truth that ‘the King will bear patiently with us, so far as it is possible to bear with us’, and that ‘for my sake they should follow the Law of Piety, and so gain both this world and the next’. And for this purpose I give you instructions. (Kalinga Edict).

The emperor’s attitude towards these neighbours is one of general benevolence. They are not his subjects : they are ‘unsubdued’; but in the interests of peace and good government he is concerned in their welfare and their good conduct. He is prepared to bear with them patiently 'so far as it is possible' : that is to say, he trusts that punitive expeditions or annexations may not be necessary.

The region occupied by the southern 'border peoples' includes what is now known to ethnologists as the Central Belt and still contains the largest groups of primitive tribes to be found in India. In the course of twenty-two centuries the policy of the government remains unchanged in regard to these representatives of the earliest inhabitants of the sub-continent. They continue to govern themselves in accordance with their traditional tribal constitutions and are subject only to such control as may be deemed to be indispensable :

The policy of the Government of India is to permit no sudden restrictions that may alter the accustomed mode of life of these tribes, but rather to win confidence by kindness, and thus gradually to create self-supporting communities, acknowledging the state as arbitrator of those questions hitherto decided by might rather than by justice. (Imperial. Gazeteer).

Beyond the zones of border peoples lay realms of whose complete independence there is no question. On the north-west Ashoka's sphere of influence ended at the frontiers of the Yavana king Antiochus, i.e. the Seleucid monarch Antiochus II Theos; and on the south it probably did not extend much beyond the locality ofhis southernmost group of inscriptions at Isila, the modern Siddapura in the Chitaldroog District of N. Mysore. The apex of the peninsula was occupied by the ancient Dravidian kingdoms of the Satiyaputas, the Cheras, the Cholas, and the Pandyas. With these independent nations A9oka's relations were merely such as might be expected to exist between friendly powers.

But, while the invaluable testimony of the edicts thus enables us to estimate the character and the extent of Maurya rule at its height, we have no such trustworthy guide for the period of its decline. Its end, according to the Puranas, came about through a revolt which placed the Shungas on the imperial throne. It seems certain, however, that the Shungas succeeded to a realm already greatly diminished. The history of India at this time is still confined to the regions which were once known as 'the king's dominions' and 'the border peoples'; but these are no longer under the immediate rule or under the indirect control of any one power. Political conditions in the 2nd and 1st centuries BC were extremely complicated. The causes of this complication were twofold internal strife and foreign invasions; and both of these were the natural and inevitable results of the downfall of imperial rule. In Central India and in the land of the Ganges the supremacy of the later Mauryas and of their successors, the Shungas, was disputed by the Andhras of the Deccan and the Kalingas of Orissa; and, now that the frontiers could no longer be held securely against hostile pressure from without, torrents of invasion burst into North-Western India through the channels which led from Bactria and from Eastern Iran.

Kingdoms on the Central Route

The chief kingdoms of Northern India lay along the routes which connected Pataliputra, the former capital of the empire,with the Kabul valley on the one hand and with the delta of the Indus on the other; and these routes were continuations of others which passed through Iran to the West. When, at the height of their power, the Maurya and the Seleucid empires were conterminous, intercourse by land between India and the Western World was unimpeded. But already during the reign of Ashoka revolts in the Seleucid empire had led to the establishment of hostile powers in Bactria and Parthia, which controlled the two great lines of communication. The extension of the Yavana power from Bactria through the Kabul valley to the Jumna in the first quarter of the second century BC, and the invasion, a century later, of the Shakas from Seistan into the country of the lower Indus (Shakadvipa or Indo-Scythia), a position commanding the route through Central India, are described elsewhere. The land-ways which united India with the West had thus become increasingly difficult from the middle of the third century to the early part of the first century BC; but by sea commerce was still maintained with Mesopotamia (Babylon) and Egypt (Alexandria) through the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea; and the ports on the west coast were connected with Pataliputra through Ujjayim, the great emporium of the period. But the isolation of the sub-continent was now almost complete. The attempt to make India a great world power had failed; and its history now becomes a complex struggle within its own borders of elements both native and foreign, such as was to recur many centuries later on the downfall of the Mughal empire.

No detailed account of this period of turmoil can be written. All that we can attempt, with the aid of such fragments of historical evidence as have been preserved, is to disentangle the various elements involved in the struggle and to estimate their mutual relations. These may best be understood if we consider the means of communication then available.

Roads in the ordinary sense of the word did not exist; but there was a net-work of well-beaten routes throughout; and along these armies in war, like merchants and pilgrims in peace-time, made their way from one city to another. Through this system ran the two great arteries which have been already mentioned. The chief stages on the more northern of these are described in Chapter XXII, in connection with the progress of the Yavana invasions. The course of the central route, which joined the northern route at Kaushambi, was as follows :

From (1) Hyderabad in Sind to Ujjain (Ujjayini) 500 miles.

From (2) Broach (Bhrigukaccha) N.E. to Ujjain 200 miles.

From Ujjain E. to Besnagar (Vidisa) 120 miles.

From Besnagar N.E. to Bharhut 185 miles.

From Bharhut N.E. to Kosam (Kaushambi) 80 miles.

From Kosam E. to Benares (Kashi) 100 miles.

From Benares E. to Patna (Pataliputra) 135 miles.

It is in the monuments and coins of the kingdoms of Vidiga, Bharhut, and Kaushambi that we find the most unmistakable traces of the Shungas and their feudatories. That the first Shunga king reigned at Pataliputra is assumed in literature and may be inferred from the description which the Puranas give of the origin of the dynasty. We are told that Pushyamitra, the commander in-chief of Brihadratha, the last of the Mauryas, slew his master and reigned in his stead; and it was believed in the seventh century AD that this military coup d'état took place on the occasion of a review of the forces. If the chronology of the Puranas may be trusted, this event happened 137 years after the accession of Chandragupta, i.e. c. 184 BC, and the reign of Pushyamitra lasted for thirty-six years. Fortunately in this instance the statements of the Puranas may be checked to some extent by evidence supplied from other sources. The Shungas came into conflict with other powers who were eager to share in the spoil of the Maurya empire Andhras, Yavanas, and Shakas and what we know of the history of these peoples is in accordance with the view that Pushyamitra was actually reigning during the period thus attributed to him.

The origin of the Shungas is obscure. Their name, which means 'fig-tree', may perhaps be tribal. According to Panini they claimed to be descendants of Bharadvaja, the purohita of Divodasa, king of the Tritsus; and, as Bharadvaja is associated with Vitahavya from whom the Vitihotras probably derived their name, the two peoples may have belonged to the same region, that is to say, to the countries which, under the Maurya empire, were included in the viceroyalty of Ujjain. It is with the kingdom of Vidisha, which forms part of this region, that the Shungas are especially associated in literature and inscriptions.

The dynastic list of the ten Shunga kings is as follows:

1. Pushyamitra reigned 36 years.

2. Agnimitra reigned 8 years

3. Vasujyeshtha (Sujyestha) r. 7 years

4. Vasumitra(Sumitra)reigned 10 years

5. Odraka (Andhraka etc.) r. 2 or 7 years

6. Pulindaka reigned 3 years.

7. Gosha reigned 3 years

8. Vajramitra reigned 9 or 7 years.

9. Bhaga reigned 32 years

10. Devabhuti reigned 10 years

When allowance is made for the uncertainty as to the length of the fifth and eighth reigns and for the fact that the computation is by whole years without regard to fractions, the total duration ascribed to the dynasty, viz. 112 years, may well be correct; and, if so, the rule of the Shungas came to an end c. 72 BC.

In Buddhist literature Pushyamitra figures as a great persecutor of the Buddhists, bent on acquiring fame as the annihilator of Buddha's doctrine. He meditated the destruction of the Kukkutarama, the great monastery which Ashoka had built for 1000 monks to the south-east of Pataliputra; but, as he approached the entrance, he was met with the roar as of a mighty lion and hastily withdrew in fear to the city. He then went to Shakala (Sialkot) in the E. Punjab and attempted to exterminate the Buddhist community there, offering a reward of 100 dinaras for the head of
every monk. The end of this persecutor of the faith was brought about by superhuman interposition.

The first Shungas

Underlying such legends we may no doubt recognize certain historical facts. Pushyamitra was regarded as a champion of the Brahman reaction which set in after the triumph of Buddhism during Ashoka's reign. He was remembered as a king of Magadha and as suzerain over dominions in the Punjab which had owned the sway of his Maurya predecessors. The subsequent fate of his chief capital, Pataliputra, is obscure; but Qakala was soon within his own lifetime as it would seem to be wrested from the Shungas by the Yavanas and to become the capital of king Menander.

Some of the events of Pushyamitra’s reign are also reflected in the earliest of Kalidasa's dramas, the Malavikagnimitra, the plot of which turns on the love of Agnimitra, king of Vidisha and the viceroy of his father Pushyamitra, for Malavika, a princess of Vidarbha (Berar) living at his court in disguise. The play was produced before another viceregal court at Ujjain on the occasion of the Spring Festival in some year c. 400 A.D. during the reign of Chandragupta II Vikramaditya. Like nearly all Sanskrit dramas, it is little more than a story of intrigue. Its main interest is anything but historical; but some of its characters represent real personages, and certain references to the history of the adjacent kingdom of Vidisha are appropriately introduced in the last Act. It would be unreasonable to suppose that these had no foundation in fact.

The first of these references is to a war between Vidisha and Vidarbha in which the former was victorious. As a result Vidarbha was divided into two provinces separated by the river Varada, the modern Wardha, which is now the boundary between Berar and the Central Provinces. It seems clear from what is known of the general history of this period that any such incursion of the Shungas into this region must inevitably have brought them into collision with the Andhras, whose power had at this time extended across the Deccan from the eastern coast. It has been assumed therefore with much probability that Yajnasena, the prince of Vidarbha in the play, must have been either an Andhra or a feudatory of the Andhras.

The other incidental reference in the Malavikdgnimitra confirms the account of a Greek invasion of the Midland Country given by the YugaPurana and supported by statements which appear as grammatical illustrations in Patanjali's commentary on Panini. The Yavana successors of Alexander the Great in the Punjab had evidently forced their way through the Delhi passage and attacked the very centre of the Shunga dominions. In the play a messenger comes to Agnimitra with a letter from Pushyamitra announcing his intention to perform the horse-sacrifice, the traditional Kshatriya rite whereby a king asserted his title to exercise suzerainty over his neighbors. The horse, as was the custom, had been set free to roam whithersoever he would for a year as a challenge to all opponents; and he was guarded by Pushyamitra's grandson, Vasumitra, the son of Agnimitra, attended by a hundred princes. The challenge was accepted by a body of Yavana cavalry, who tried to capture the horse as he wandered along the right bank of the river Sindhu; and a conflict ensued in which the Yavanas were defeated by the Shungas. Pushyamitra's claim was thus maintained; and he proposed to celebrate this triumph by the performance of the sacrifice which Agnimitra, as one of the monarchs of his realm, was invited to attend. An allusion to this sacrifice may perhaps be preserved in another grammatical example used by Patanjali; and, as we have seen, it is probably to the solemn recitation of the suzerain's lineage on such occasions that we owe the dynastic lists preserved in the Puranas.

Unfortunately we cannot be certain as to the river on whose banks the encounter between the Yavanas and the Shungas took place; but the choice seems to lie between the Kali Sindhu, a tributary of the Charmanvati (Chambal) flowing within a hundred miles of Madhyamika (near Chitor), which was besieged by the Yavanas, and the Sindhu, a tributary of the Jumna which would naturally be passed by invading forces on the route between Mathura (Muttra) and Prayaga (Allahabad).

Of Agnimitra nothing is known beyond such information as may be gleaned from the Malavikagnimitra and the Puranas. The combined evidence of these two sources may be interpreted to mean that, after ruling at Vidisha as his father's viceroy, he was his successor as suzerain for a period of eight years. Whether the Agnimitra, whose coins are found in N. Panchala and who was therefore presumably king of Ahicchatra, can be identified with the Shunga king of that name is uncertain.

The later Shungas

The fate of the fourth king in the list, Vasumitra or Sumitra, who as a youthful prince guarded the sacrificial horse and defeated the Yavanas, is told in the Harshacharita : 'Sumitra, son of Agnimitra, being over fond of the drama, was attacked by Mitradeva in the midst of actors, and with a scimitar shorn, like a lotus stalk, of his head'. Who Mitradeva was we can only conjecture; but it seems not improbable that he may have been the king's minister and a Kanva Brahman of the same family as Vasudeva, who is said to have brought about the fall of the dynasty through the assassination of the last king Devabhuti. It may be that we have here an indication of the growth of that influence, which so often in Indian history has transferred the real power in the state from the prince to the minister, from the Kshatriya to the Brahman.

The next name in the list appears in many disguises in the MSS. as Odruka, Andhraka, Bhadraka, etc. Mr Jayaswal has given good reasons for supposing that the original form from which all these varieties are derived was Odraka, and he has shown further that this name is most probably to be restored in the Pabhosa inscr. no. 904, which should therefore be regarded as dated 'in the tenth year of Odrak'. If these acute and plausible suggestions may be accepted, we must conclude that the region of Pabhosa the ancient kingdom of Kaushambi, as seems most likely was included at this period in the sovereignty of the Shungas; but at the same time we must recognise that an error has crept into the text of the Puranas, which, as they stand, assign either two or seven years to this king.

There appears to be no reason for doubting that the last king but one, the Bhaga or Bhagavata of the Puranas, is the Bhagabhadra, in the fourteenth year of whose reign the Besnagar column was erected by Heliodorus, son of Dion, the Yavana ambassador who had come to the court of Vidisha from Antialcidas, king of Takshashila. This identification enables us to bring the histories of the Shungas and the Yavanas into relation with each other, and to determine, naturally within limits of possible error, a fixed point in their chronology. If the duration of reigns as given in the Puranas, confused though it is by textual corruptions, be approximately correct, the fourteenth year of king Bhagabhadra (within a few years of 90 BC, whether earlier or later) may well have fallen within the reign of Antialcidas, if, as seems not unlikely, he was the successor of Heliocles and came to the throne c. 120 BC.

The name of this Shunga king appears as Bhagavata on a fragment of another column which was found at Bhilsa, but which is supposed to have been taken there from Besnagar. The inscription was engraved when the king was reigning in his twelfth year. Another king of the same name is known from the Pabhosa inscr. no. 905; but the two cannot be identified as their metronymics are different : the king at Pabhosa is the son of Tevam, while the king at Vidisha is the son of Kashi, i.e. a princess from Benares.

With the assassination of the dissolute Devabhuti the line of the Shungas comes to a close. Of the deed the Harshacharita gives a fuller account than the Puranas : 'In a frenzy of passion the over-libidinous Shunga was at the instance of his minister Vasudeva reft of his life by a daughter of Devabhuti's slave woman disguised as his queen' (Trans. Cowell and Thomas). This minister was a Kanva Brahman; and the Puranas, in their present form, make him the founder of a line of Kanva kings, who were themselves succeeded by the Andhras. But, as we have seen, this is history distorted. The Puranas have been edited, and, in the process, much of their value as records has been destroyed. Certain incidental statements, however, have escaped the editor; and these seem to show that the Kanvas and the Shungas were contemporary. The Kanvas, who are expressly called 'ministers of the Shungas', are, in some versions, said to have become kings 'among the Shungas'; and, as has been observed already, the Andhras are credited with sweeping away not only the Kanvas, but also 'what was left of the Shungas' power' (ibid.). With regard to the Andhras, the more certain evidence of inscriptions assigns them to a period which is in flagrant contradiction to the position which they occupy in the Puranas.

We may conclude, then, that the Shungas were a military power, and that they became puppets in the hands of their Brahman counsellors. They ruled originally as feudatories of the Mauryas at Vidisha, the modern Besnagar, on the Vetravati (Betwa), near Bhilsa and about 120 miles east of Ujjain. In the letter, which is read in the last Act of the Malavikagnimitra, both Pushyamitra and Agnimitra are 'of Vidisha'; and Vidisha remained their western capital after no small portion of the Maurya empire had fallen into their hands, and many, perhaps most, of the kings of Northern and Central India had become their feudatories.

Feudatories of the Shungas

The importance of Vidisha, the chief city of Akara or Dasharna (E. Malwa), was due to its central position on the lines of communication between the seaports of the western coast and Pataliputra, and between Pratishthana (Paithan), the western capital of the Andhras on the S.W., and Shravasti (Set Mahet) on the N.E. The ancient monuments in its neighborhood are among the most remarkable and extensive to be found in India. At various villages within a radius of about twelve miles of the present town of Bhilsa there are groups of Buddhist stupas, numbering some sixty in all, which are known collectively as the Bhilsa Topes, and of which the most celebrated are those of Sanchi. The inscriptions as well as the style of the architecture and sculpture of these monuments show that they belong to the three successive periods of Maurya, Shunga, and Andhra supremacy. But the importance of this region may be traced back to a still earlier date; for at the ancient site of Eran, about forty miles N.E. of Bhilsa, are found the finest specimens of the early punch-marked coinage, and here too was discovered the earliest known example of an Indian inscribed coin, which records the name of a king Dharmapala. Its Brahmi legend runs, like Kharoshthi, from right to left, and was supposed by Bühler to represent an earlier stage in the history of this alphabet than that which appears in the edicts of Ashoka. Some of the feudatories of the Shungas are known from their inscriptions and coins. The only ancient monuments, on which the tribal name of the imperial dynasty has yet been found, came from the Buddhist stupa at Bharhut, iu the Nagod State of Central India, about 185 miles N.E. of Vidisha. Here two gateways were dated 'in the sovereignty of the Shungas'. One of these (inscr. no. 687) was erected by Dhanabhuti 'Vacchiputa', i.e. 'son of a princess of Vatsa (Kaushambi)', and the other (inscr. no. 688) by some member of the same family. The name Dhanabhuti occurs also in an inscription at Mathura (no. 125) and may be restored with certainty in the record of a donation made by his queen, Nagarakhita, at Bharhut (no. 882). From these sources combined we may reconstruct the family tree of this king from his grandfather, king Visadeva, to his son, prince Vadhapala; and we may conclude that this family ruled at Bharhut, and that it was connected in some way with the royal family at Mathura, more than 250 miles to the N.W. As none of the four names is found in the list of Shungas given by the Puranas, it is most probable that the kings of this line were feudatories, though they may have been related to the imperial house by family ties.

Acting on Mr Jayaswal's illuminating suggestion, we may perhaps venture to trace the feudatory kings of this dynasty to Kaushambi, 80 miles N.E. of Bharhut, and to Ahicchatra, 250 miles N.W. of Kaushambi. The question of the site of Kaushambi has been much debated, chiefly because of the impossibility of reconciling Cunningham's identification (Kosam on the Jumna in the Allahabad District of the United Provinces) with the descriptions of Chinese Buddhist pilgrims. But in all this controversy it seems to have been forgotten that such descriptions may either have been incorrect originally or may have been misinterpreted subsequently. The tangible facts seem undoubtedly to support the identification of Kosam with Kaushambi. It must have been a city of great military strength. 'The remains at Kosam include those of a vast fortress with earthern ramparts and bastions, four miles in circuit, with an average height of 30 to 35 feet above the general level of the country'. It was also an important commercial centre, as is indicated by the extraordinary variety of the coins found there; and at a later date the name of the place was unquestionably Kaushambi, as is proved by at least two inscriptions which have been actually discovered on the site.

At a distance of two or three miles to the north-west of Kosam stands the sacred hill of Pabhosa (Prabhasa), the solitary rock in this region of the doab between the Jumna and the Ganges; and on its scarp, in a position wellnigh inaccessible, there is a hermit's cave cut into the vertical face of a precipice 50 feet high. In the seventh century AD it was believed to be the abode of a venomous dragon which was subdued by the Buddha, who left his shadow in the cave. Hiuen Tsiang, who tells the story, adds that the shadow was no longer visible in his day; but the most recent editor of the inscriptions, which are engraved inside and outside the cave, informs us that the country folk still believe in the dragon. One of these inscriptions (no. 904) records if Mr Jayaswal's reading is correct that the cave was excavated in the tenth year of the reign of Odraka, the fifth of the Shunga kings. The donor was Ashadhasena, the maternal uncle of Bahasatimitra, who was presumably the feudatory king then ruling at Kaushambi and whose coins are found at Kosam. Bahasatimitra was thus, it seems, contemporary with Odraka, whose reign, according to the Puranas, began 61 years after the accession of the first Shunga king, i.e. c. 123 B.C.; and this date is in agreement with the period to which numismatists have, from entirely different considerations, assigned the coins of Bahasatimitra. The coinage of the kings of Kaushambi seems to begin in the third century B.C. and to extend over a period of about three hundred years.

Kings of Ahicchatra

The donor of the cave at Pabhosa traces his descent from the kings of Ahicchatra, the northern capital of the Panchalas in the Bareilly District; and the inscriptions give the genealogy of his family for five generations beginning with his great-grandfather, Shonakayana, and ending with his nephew, Bahasatimitra.

The line is carried two stages farther by the Mora inscription which describes the daughter of Bahasatimitra (Brihasvatimitra) as the wife of the king (of Mathura) and 'the mother of living sons'. In the patronymic, Shonakayana, the scion of the house of Shonaka, we may perhaps see an allusion to the glories of Panchala in the heroic age, when, as is recounted in one of the ancient verses preserved by the Shatapatha Brahmana, king Shona Satrasaha celebrated his triumphs by the performance of the horse-sacrifice.

No detailed list of the earlier historical kings of Panchala occurs in the Puranas; but coins found in the neighbourhood of Ahicchatra now a vast mound three and a half miles in circumference on the north of the village of Ramnagar have preserved the names of about a dozen of their successors in the Shunga period. Among the kings thus known there appears an Agnimitra, who has often been supposed to be identical with the second Shunga king. There seems to be no evidence at present either to prove or to disprove the suggestion. The identity of name may well be accidental, or, perhaps more probably, it may indicate that the royal families of Vidisha and Ahicchatra were related. The name of another king of Ahicchatra, Indramitra, has been recognised in an inscription at Budda Gaya.

We may infer from the inscriptions at Pabhosa that, in the second century BC, Panchala (Ahicchatra) and Vatsa (Kaushambi) were governed by branches of the same royal family, and that both kingdoms acknowledged the suzerainty of the Shungas. The history of Kaushambi may be traced back to the time when the Purus (Kurus) removed thither after their capital, Hastinapura, had been destroyed by an inundation of the Ganges. We now find this city under the rule of a house in which Kurus and Panchalas had no doubt long been merged.

Mathura (Muttra) on the upper Jumna, about 270 miles in a straight line N.W. of Kaushambi, may perhaps have been another of the feudatory kingdoms. This sacred city, the Divine Modoura of Ptolemy, was a stronghold both of the worship of Krishna and of Jainism; and it was the capital of the Shurasenas, one of the leading peoples of the Midland Country. Its earlier rulers find a place in the Puranas, but only in the general summary of those dynasties which were contemporary with the Purus; and coins have preserved the names of at least twelve later kings who reigned during the Shunga period. One of these, Balabhuti, is associated by the style and type of his coinage with Bahasatimitra of Kaushambi, whose daughter was married to a king of Mathura. The two kings were almost certainly ruling at about the same time; and it seems reasonable to assume, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, that they were both feudatories of the Shungas.

Another king of Mathura, Brahmamitra was probably contemporary with king Indramitra of Ahicchatra; for both names are found in the dedicatory inscriptions of queens on pillars of the railing at Budda Gaya, which is assigned by archaeologists to the earlier part of the first century BC.

Inscriptions show that in the second half of the first century BC the region of Mathura had passed from native Indian to foreign (Shaka) rule; and their evidence is confirmed and amplified by that of the coins. The characteristic type of the kings of Mathura is a standing figure, which has been supposed to represent the god Krishna; and this type is continued by their conquerors and successors, the satraps of the Shaka King of Kings. Rajuvula and his son Shodasa are known also from inscriptions; and the date on the Amohini votive tablet, if it has been rightly interpreted, shows that the latter was ruling as great satrap in 17-6 BC. Sodasa was preceded by his father, Rajubula, who ruled first as satrap and afterwards as great satrap; and Rajubula appears to have been the successor of satraps who are known only from their coins - Hagamasha, and Hagana ruling conjointly with Hagamasha. These numismatic indications all tend to support the conclusion that by about the middle of the first century BC the Shaka dominion was fully established in that region of the Jumna river which lies beyond the south-eastern limits of the Punjab.

Kosala and Magadha

By c. 72 BC, according to the chronology of the Puranas, the dynasty of the Shungas had come to an end. In the present state of Indian archaeology it seems impossible to trace the extension of the rule of those kings of Vidisha who reigned after Pushyamitra beyond the region in which the Jumna and the Ganges meet, i.e. the ancient kingdom of the Vatsas (Kaushambi) and the present district of Allahabad. The investigation of ancient sites may no doubt some day throw light on the contemporary history of the countries which lay to the north and east of Kaushambi Kosala (Oudh), Videha (N. Bihar), Kashi (Benares), Magadha (S. Bihar), and Anga (Monghyr and Bhagalpur); but the available evidence is not sufficient to enable us to determine whether the kingdoms in these countries were still united under one sovereignty, as in the time of Ashoka, or whether they had become independent. Kosala is represented by coins of this period which are found on the site of Ayodhya; but from these little information can be gleaned at present. They represent a line of about ten kings, of whom nothing is known but their names. A king of Magadha and a king of Rajagriha are also mentioned in the inscription of Kharavela; but whether the former was still a powerful suzerain at this time, and whether the latter was anything more than a local prince ruling over the old capital of Magadha must remain doubtful until more definite evidence can be discovered.

The history of the famous kingdom of Magadha, once the centre of the empire, becomes utterly obscure. That for some time Pushyamitra continued to occupy the imperial throne which he had seized is a natural inference from those passages of the literature in which he is mentioned in connexion with Pataliputra; but that he was able to hold it to the end, and to hand it down to his successors is at present not capable of proof. No certain traces of the later Shungas or of their feudatories have yet been found in the region of Magadha.

But in addition to the powers which dominated the kingdoms on the great highways of communication, there were in less accessible regions numerous independent states; and of some of these the coins of this period have preserved a record. These communities were military clans or groups of clans; and they were governed sometimes by kings, but more often by tribal oligarchies. They were Kshatriyas; and by this name, the common designation of them all, they are known to the historians of Alexander the Great in two districts in the north of the Punjab to the east of the Ravi, and in the south-west where the Indus and the Sutlej meet. They were the ancestors of the Rajputs who played a most important part in the history of Northern India at a later date, and their coins are found throughout the regions to which modern ethnologists trace the origin of the Rajputs :

The cradle of the Rajput is the tract named after him (Rajputana), not, however, as it is limited in the present day, but extending from the Jamna to the Narbada and Satlaj, including, therefore, the whole of Malva, Bundelkhand, and parts of Agra and the Punjab. From the northern parts of this tract there seems to have been an early movement of conquest up the western rivers of the Punjab, as far as the Himalaya and Kashmir, whereby was laid the foundation of the predominance of the tribes still in possession. (Baines, Ethnography, p. 29)

Examples of such early Rajput states are the Yaudheya confederation in the southern portion of the Punjab and the northern parts of Rajputana, and the Arjunayanas in the Bhartpur and Alwar States of Rajputana. Both the Yaudheyas, 'Warriors', and the Arjunayanas, 'Descendants of Arjuna', are mentioned by Panini in the fourth century BC; both issued coins as early as the first century BC; and both appear among the peoples on the frontiers of the Gupta empire in the Allahabad inscription of Samudragupta c. 380 A.D. Other states struck coins with the bare legend 'Of the Rajanya (Kshatriya) Country'. It is impossible at present to determine with much precision the localities in which these coins were issued; but similarity of type suggests that one variety may belong to the same region as the coins of the Arjunayanas and the kings of Mathura.

Rise of the Andhras

The mountainous fringe of country on the north of the Punjab and the United Provinces was also occupied at this period by independent native Indian states; and the names of some of them have similarly been preserved by the coins, which were no doubt the result of commerce between these peoples of the hills and the lowlanders. In the Gurdaspur District of the Punjab there lived the Udumbaras, who claimed to be descended from Vishvamitra, the rishi of the third book of the Rigveda. His figure appears on the coins of their king, Dharaghosha, whose reign must probably be assigned to the latter half of the first century BC, since his coinage is evidently imitated from that of the Shaka king Azilises.

Of a somewhat later date, perhaps of the first or second century AD, are the coins of the Kulutas, the eastern neighbours of the Udumbaras, in the Kulu valley of the Kangra District; and to the same period as the coins of the Udumbaras belong the earlier issues of the Kunindas who inhabited the country of the Sutlej in the Simla Hill States. These three peoples, the Udumbaras, the Kulutas, and the Kunindas, lived on the border between the regions in which the two ancient alphabets, Brahmi and Kharoshthi, prevailed : they accordingly used both of them in their coin-legends. To a branch of the Kunindas (or Kulindas, as they are called in the Puranas), whose territories extended further east along the southern slopes of the Himalayas as far as Nepal, are probably also to be attributed the coins of two kings which have been found in the Almora District.

The 'unsubdued' peoples on the southern borders of the Maurya dominions were, during the Shunga period, united under the suzerainty of the most powerful among them, the Andhras, whose home was in the coastal region of the Madras Presidency between the rivers Godavari and Kistna. The dynasty, which is known by its tribal name in the Puranas and by its family name or title, Shatavahana, in inscriptions, is traced back to king Simuka, who was succeeded by his younger brother, Krishna. At some date in the reign of Simuka or Krishna the Andhra conquests had extended up the valley of the river Godavari for its whole length, a distance of some nine hundred miles, to the table-land of the Nasik District. This is proved by the inscription in one of the Nasik caves which was excavated when Krishna was king. Already the Shatavahanas had justified their claim to the title, 'Lords of the Deccan (Dakshinapatha)', which they bear in their later inscriptions. The third of the line and the best known of the earlier kings was called Shatakarni, a name which, to the perplexity of modern students of Indian history, was borne by several of his successors on the throne.

The exact date of the establishment of the Andhra suzerainty cannot be determined from the discrepant accounts given by different Puranas of the kings and the duration of their reigns; but it is clear that the most complete of the extant lists can only be interpreted as indicating that the founder, Simuka, began to reign before 200 BC. To this extent the evidence of the Puranas confirms the opinion of Bühler, who from epigraphical considerations assigned the Nasik inscription of the second king, Krishna, to 'the times of the last Mauryas or the earliest Shungas, in the beginning of the second century B.C.' It is therefore possible that Krishna's immediate successor, the third Andhra king, Shatakarni, may have been contemporary with the first Sunga king, Pushyamitra (c. 184-148 B.C.). As we shall see this same Shatakarni was probably also contemporary with Kharavela, king of Kalinga.

For the history of this period the cave-inscriptions of Nanaghat are of the highest importance. They prove by their situation that the Andhras now held the Nana pass, which leads from Junnar in the Deccan to the Konkan, the coastal region of Western India. Most of them describe statues of members of the royal family Simuka, the founder of the line, Shatakarni himself and his queen Naganika, a Maharathi, and three princes. But most valuable of all is the inscription, unfortunately fragmentary, of the queen. She was the daughter of a Maharathi, i.e. a king of the Rashtrikas; and we must conclude therefore that the incorporation of the Maratha country in the Andhra empire had been ratified by a matrimonial alliance between the two royal houses. The inscription records the performance of certain great sacrifices and the fees paid to the officiating priests fees which testify eloquently to the wealth of the realm and to the power of the Brahman hierarchy at this date tens of thousands of cows, thousands of horses, numbers of elephants, whole villages, and huge sums of money (tens of thousands of karshapanas).

Twice, it appears, had Shatakarni proclaimed his suzerainty by the performance of the horse-sacrifice; and, on one of these occasions at least, the victory thus celebrated must have been at the expense of the Shungas, if we are right in supposing that the appearance of the Andhras of Southern India in the dynastic lists of the Puranas indicates that, at some period, they held the position of suzerains in Northern India. That the Andhras did actually come into conflict with the Shungas during the reign of Pushyamitra appears probable from the Malavikagnimitra. On this occasion the Shungas were victorious; but this was no doubt merely an episode in the struggle in which the Andhras were finally triumphant.

Andhra Conquest of Ujjain

The progress of this intruding power from its western stronghold, Pratishthana, first to Ujjayim and subsequentlyto Vidisha seems to be indicated by the evidence of coins and inscriptions. Pratishthana, the modern Paithan on the north bank of the Godavari in the Aurangabad District of Hyderabad, is famous in literature as the capital of king Shatakarni (Shatavahana or Salivahana) and his son Shakti-kumara; and there can be little doubt that these are to be identified with the king Shatakarni and the prince Shakti-shri of the Nanaghat inscriptions.

The Andhras in this region were separated by the rivers Tapti and Narbada from the kingdoms of Ujjayini and Vidisha, which lay along the central route from the coast to Pataliputra; and the lines of communication between Pratishthana and these kingdoms passed through the city of Mahishmati (Mandhata on the Narbada in the Nimar District of the Central Provinces). Numismatic testimony, if it has been rightly interpreted, shows that at this period the Andhras had traversed the intervening territories and conquered the kingdom of Ujjayini. Their earliest known coins bear the name of a king Sata, who is probably to be identified with Shatakarni; and they are of what numismatists call the 'Malwa fabric' and of that particular variety which is characteristic of the coins of W. Malwa (Avanti), the capital of which was Ujjayini. If we may suppose,then, that Shatakarni was the actual conqueror, his performance of the horse-sacrifice is evidently explained; for Ujjayini was one of the most famous of all the cities of India, and its conquest may well have entitled the Andhra kings to a place in the imperial records preserved by the Puranas. It was, and still is, one of the seven holy places of Hinduism.

Such fragments of its ancient history as may be recovered from the past are given elsewhere; and the indigenous coins which can be attributed to this period add little to our knowledge. The only inscribed specimen yet discovered bears the name of the city in its Prakrit form, Ujeni. Other coins have a type which has been supposed to represent the god Shiva, whose temple stood in the Mahakala forest to the north of the city. It was destroyed by the Muhammadans in the thirteenth century AD, and the present temple was built on its site.

It appears most likely, then, that Ujjayini was wrested from the first Shunga king, Pushyamitra, by Shatakarni. Of its history for many years to come we have no information. We can only infer from the conditions of the time that its politics cannot have been dissevered from those of the neighboring kingdom of Vidisha; and early in the first century, c. 90 BC, we find evidence of the existence of diplomatic relations between Vidisha, which was still under the rule of the Shungas, and the Yavana house of Eucratides at Takshashila in the north-west of the Punjab.

There were therefore at this period three powers which were politically important from the point of view of Ujjayini : the Yavanas in the north, the Shungas on the east, and the Andhras of Pratishthana in the south; and it is probable, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, that Ujjayini remained in the possession of the last of these. But a few years later, c. 75 BC, there arose another formidable power on the west. The Scythians (Shakas) of Seistan had occupied the delta of the Indus, which was known thereafter to Indian writers as Shakadvipa, 'the doab of the Shakas', and to the Greek geographers as Indo-Scythia. The memory of an episode in the history of Ujjayini as it was affected by this new element in Indian politics may possibly be preserved in the Jain story of Kalaka, which is told in Chapter VI. The story can neither be proved nor disproved; but it may be said in its favor that its historical setting is not inconsistent with what we know of the political circumstances of Ujjayini at this period. A persecuted party in the state may well have invoked the aid of the warlike Shakas of Shakadvipa in order to crush a cruel despot; and, as history has so often shown, such allies are not unlikely to have seized the kingdom for themselves. Both the tyrant Gardabhilla, whose misdeeds were responsible for the introduction of these avengers, and his son Vikramaditya, who afterwards drove the Shakas out of the realm, according to the story, may perhaps be historical characters; and, from the account which represents Vikramaditya as having come to Ujjayim from Pratishthana, we may infer that they were connected with the Andhras. It is possible that we may recognize in this story the beginnings of that long struggle between the Andhras and the Shakas for the possession of Ujjayini, the varying fortunes of which may be clearly traced when the evidence of inscriptions becomes available in the second century A.D. With the imperfect documents at our disposal, we can do little more than suggest such possibilities. It is hopeless to attempt to discriminate between the elements which may be historical and others which are undoubtedly pure romance in the great cycle of legend which has gathered around the name, or rather the title, Vikramaditya, 'the Sun of Might'. Many kings at different periods and in different countries of India have been so styled; and it seems that the exploits of more than one of them have been confused even in those legends which may be regarded as having some historical basis. While it is possible, nay even probable, that there may have been a Vikramaditya who expelled the Shakas from Ujjayini in the first century BC, it is certain that the monarch who finally crushed the Shaka power in this region was the Gupta emperor, Chandragupta II Vikramaditya (380-414 A.D.). Indian tradition does not distinguish between these two. It regards the supposed founder of the era, which began in 58 B.C. (p. 571), and the royal patron of Kalidasa, who lived more than four hundred years later, as one and the same person.

During the first quarter of the first century BC, such dominion as the Andhras may have exercised over the region now known as Malwa must have been restricted to its western portion, Avanti, of which Ujjayini was the capital; for the Shunga kings were still in possession of Akara or E. Malwa (capital Vidisha). But there is evidence that, presumably at some date after c. 72 BC when the Shungas came to an end, E. Malwa also was annexed by the Andhras. An inscription on one of the Bhilsa Topes records a donation made in the reign of a king Shatakarni, who cannot be identified more precisely, but who must certainly have been an Andhra. The inscription is not dated; but there is now a general consensus among archaeologists that it probably belongs to about the middle of the first century BC. Andhra coins of a certain type have also been attributed to E. Malwa; but their date is uncertain, and they may belong to a later period. The conquest of E. Malwa marks the north-eastern limit to which the progress of the Andhra power can be traced from the evidence of inscriptions and coins.

The other great nation, which arose on the ruins of the Maurya empire to take its part in the struggle for supremacy, had also its home in the lowlands of the eastern coast. The Kalingas, who occupied the country of the Mahanadi, were no doubt connected ethnographically with the Angas and the other peoples of the plains of Bengal with whom they are associated in the Puranas. They had been conquered by Ashoka c. 262 BC; but at some time after his death they had regained their independence; and the next glimpses of their history are aiforded by inscriptions in the caves of the Udayagiri Hill near Cuttack in Orissa.


The immediate object of these inscriptions was to preserve the memory of pious benefactors two kings, a queen, a prince, and other persons who had provided caves for the use of the Jain ascetics of Udayagiri; and one of the inscriptions in the Hathigumpha, or 'Elephant Cave', contained a record of events in the first thirteen (or possibly fourteen) years of the reign of one of the kings, Kharavela, a member of the Cheta dynasty. This is one of the most celebrated, and also one of the most perplexing, of all the historical monuments of India. Unfortunately it has been badly preserved. Of its seventeen lines only the first four remain in their entirety. These describe the fifteen years of the king's boyhood, the nine years of his rule as prince (yuvaraja), his coronation as king when his twenty-fourth year was completed, and events in the first two years of his reign. All the other lines are more or less fragmentary. Many passages are irretrievably lost, while others are partially obliterated and can only be restored conjecturally. Time has thus either destroyed or obscured much of the historical value of this record.

Even the fundamental question whether the inscription is dated or not is still in dispute. Some scholars contend that a passage in the sixteenth line can only be interpreted to mean that the inscription was engraved in the 165th year of the Maurya kings, or of the Maurya king, while others deny the existence of any such date. The discussion of problems of this kind does not fall within the scope of the present work; but it may be pointed out here that the acceptance of the supposed date would seem to involve no chronological impossibilities, and that, in any case, the inscription probably belongs to about the middle of the second century BC.

We know from analogous instances that the origin of imperial eras is usually to be traced to the regnal years of the founder of the empire. A Maurya era, therefore, would naturally date from the accession of Chandragupta c. 321 BC; and, if such an era is actually used in the present instance, the inscription must be dated c. 156 BC, and the beginning of Kharavela’s reign c. 169 BC. With this hypothetical chronology other indications of date seem to agree.

Epigraphical considerations show that the Hathigumpha inscription of Kharavela and the Nanaghat inscription of Naganika, the queen of Shatakarni, belong to the same period as the Nasik inscription of Krishna. Even, therefore, if it must be admitted that the Hathigumpha inscription is undated, there is still reason to believe that Kharavela may have been contemporary with Shatakarni in the first half of the second century BC. Moreover, a Shatakarni is actually mentioned in the Hathigumpha inscription as Kharavela's rival; and it appears most probable that he is to be identified with the Shatakarni of the Nanaghat inscription. Like this Shatakarni, Kharavela was also the third of his line, if we may accept the usual interpretation of a passage in the Hathigumpha inscription; and, as the rise of both the Andhra and Kalinga dynasties must no doubt date from the same period when the Maurya power began to decline, the probability that these two kings were contemporary is thus increased.

On two occasions, according to the inscriptional record, did Kharavela invade the Andhra dominions in the Deccan. In his second year he sent a large army of horse, elephants, foot-soldiers, and chariots to the West in defiance of Qatakarni; and in his fourth year he humbled the Rashtrikas of the Maratha Country and the Bhojakas of Berar, both feudatories of the Andhra kings of Pratishthana. Such expeditions were undoubtedly in the nature of a challenge to the predominant power of the Deccan; but they appear not to have been pursued beyond the limit of safety. We may suppose that the armies of Kharavela passed up the valley of the Mahanadi and over the water-shed into the valleys of the Godavari and its great tributaries the Wainganga and the Wardha. They would thus invade territory which the Andhra monarch regarded as lying within his realm. But it is not stated, and there are no grounds for surmising, that the forces of the Kalingas and the Andhras came into actual conflict on either of these occasions or that any important political results followed. Such military expeditions, as is abundantly proved by inscriptions, formed part of the ordinary routine in a state of society, in which war had become a profession and the soldier was an hereditary member of a professional caste. They supplied to some extent the place which is occupied by manoeuvres in the training of modern armies; and they also afforded the king such opportunities as there might be for the fulfilment of that desire to extend his rule which, according to the law-books, is one of the chief qualifications for kingship.

Our knowledge of this feature in the life of ancient and medieval India is derived from the eulogies of kings which fill so large a proportion of the inscriptions which have come down to our time. These compositions are the work of grateful beneficiaries or court-poets, whose object was rather to glorify their royal patron than to hand down to posterity an accurate account of the events of his reign. It is evident that in them successes are often grossly exaggerated, while reverses are passed over in complete silence. The statements of the inscriptions are, therefore, very frequently those of prejudiced witnesses; and they must be weighed as such if we are to estimate rightly the value of these few scattered fragments of historical evidence which time has preserved.

The achievements of Kharavela loom large in the Hathigumpha inscription; and there is no reason to doubt that, as a military leader, he played an important part in the affairs of the time. But if, as the expeditions of his second and fourth years seem to indicate, his ambition led him to entertain the project of wresting the suzerainty from the Andhra king of Pratishthana, the attempt must be held to have failed. His family has found no place in the dynastic lists of suzerains which were handed down to posterity by the Puranas.

From the West, Kharavela turned his attention to the North. In his eighth year he harassed the king of Rajagriha, who fled at his approach; in his tenth year he sent an expedition to Bharatavarsha; and in his twelfth year he produced consternation among the kings of Uttarapatha, humbled the king of Magadha, and, according to Mr Jayaswal's translation which is not undisputed, brought back trophies which had been carried away by king Nanda.

Kalinga and other Countries

For the present we must be content with this brief summary of the relations of Kalinga with other countries after the fourth year of Kharavela's reign; and even these few statements raise problems for which no satisfactory solution can yet be proposed. The identification of the kings of Rajagriha and Magadha is still uncertain. The former bears no personal name in the inscription, and the question whether the latter is named or not is still undecided. Both Bharatavarsha and Uttarapatha are often general designations of Northern India; and it is useless to speculate as to what particular regions they may possibly denote in this instance.

All that appears to be certain is that Kharavela repeatedly invaded Northern India, and that on one occasion he won a decisive victory over the king then reigning at Pataliputra. Who that king was we do not know. It seems natural to assume that the Shungas were still the lords of Magadha; but there is no undoubted evidence that this was the fact. The Yavana invasion of the capital may have taken place before the twelfth year of Kharavela's reign, and decisive events may have happened of which no record has yet been discovered.

The mention of a king Nanda, or of Nanda kings, in two passages of the Hathigumpha inscription seems to supply a link of connection between the histories of Kalinga and Magadha before the Maurya period. But even this is doubtful; and the doubt cannot be dispelled so long as uncertainty remains in regard to the interpretation of the date, which is apparently indicated in one of these passages. If ti-vasa-sata in line 6 of the inscription can mean 'three centuries before (the fifth year of Kharavela's reign)' we must suppose that, in the middle of the fifth century BC, Kalinga was under the rule of a Nanda king, and it is natural to associate him with the well-known predecessors of the Mauryas. If, on the other hand, the expression means 'one hundred and three years before (the fifth year of Kharavela's reign)', or 'in the one hundred and third year (of the Maurya era)', the reference must be, in the former case, to a king called Nanda who was reigning over Kalinga before its annexation by Ashoka, and, in the latter case, to a predecessor of Kharavela in the Cheta dynasty after the kingdom had regained its independence.

As is so often inevitable in our attempts to reconstruct the mosaic of ancient Indian history from the few pieces which have as yet been found, we can do little more than define the limits of possible hypothesis in this instance. For greater certainty we must be content to wait until the progress of archaeological research has furnished us with more adequate materials.