Copyright
Vincent Arthur Smith.

The Oxford student's history of India online

. (page 6 of 27)
Online LibraryVincent Arthur SmithThe Oxford student's history of India → online text (page 6 of 27)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Kanishka ; the Saka era ; art and literature.

Bactrian, Indo-Greek, and Indo-Parthian kings, irthia,
the country south-east of the Caspian Sea, and Bactn, the
sountry between the Hindu Kush mountains and th river
Oxus, which had been both included in the kingdm of
Seleucus Nikator, became independent monarchies undekings
Df Greek descent about the middle of the third centur B.C.,
when Asoka was emperor of India. He probably contined to
hold the provinces west of the Indus the modern Balocistan
ind Afghanistan, which had been ceded to his grandfater by
Seleucus. After Asoka 's death no Indian sovereign ould
retain those distant dependencies, which were broken u into
a, multitude of principalities governed by Greek kings, -hose






HINDU INDIA FROM 600 B. C. TO A. D 1193 73

nares are known from coins. One of these kings, Menander,
lor< of Kabul, appears to have invaded India about 155 B. c.,
reaaed Oudh, and met the army of Pushyamitra Sunga,
Paihian princes also governed parts of the frontier regions
aftr 140 B. c. About that date Mithradates I of Parthia had
annxed the Western Pan jab, and united it for a time with the
Parian empire, which included Persia.

Ska and Kushan invasions. From about the middle of the
secnd century B.C. the nomad and pastoral tribes of Central
for some reason or other, probably a change of climate, were
obi*ed to leave their home territories and move to the south
an' west in search of pasturage for their herds and subsistence
forthemselves. These wild people overwhelmed the Greek
kindom of Bactria and set up governments of their own. The
eaiest swarm was known to the Indians by the name of Sakas.
Thy made their way into Sistan on the Hilmand river, west
of vandahar, which was consequently called Sakastan, or the
Saa country. Saka rulers also established themselves in
Srashtra or Kathiawar, and probably at Taxila and Mathura.
Anther horde of nomads, called Yueh-chi by the Chinese
hi-orians, descended through Bactria and Kabul to India.
Tb leading clan of this horde was named Kushan or Kusana.
Aout the middle of the first century after Christ the Kushan
cief, known to historians as Kadphises II, conquered the
vrious Indo -Greek and Indo -Parthian princes on the frontier
ad made himself master of a large part of North-western
Idia, where his coins are found abundantly.

anishka. His successor seemingly was Kanishka, son of
\jheshka, also a Kushan, but of a family other than that of
Kdphises II. Recent researches have made it probable that
Knishka came to the throne in A.D. 78, and reigned for more
tan forty years, until about A.D. 120, but it is possible that
b true date may be some years later. His capital was Puru-
sapura (Peshawar), from which he ruled Kabul, Kashmir, and
a Northern India, perhaps as far as the Narbada. In his
leer years he favoured Buddhism, and, like Asoka, assembled

03



72 HINDU INDIA FROM 600 B. C. TO A. D. 1193

The Kings of Magadha.

Approximate dates, mostly not exact.

B. c.

Sisunaga .... ace. 600

Bimbisara .... ace. 528 (Prasenajit of Kosala contemp. )

Death of Mahavira . . ? 527

Ajatasatru .... ace. 500

Death of Gautama Buddha . . ? 487

The Nine Nandas . . ace. 371

Campaign of Alexander the Great 326-325 (date exact).

Chandragupta Maurya . . . ace. 322

Invasion of Seleucus Nikator 305

Embassy of Megasthenes . 303

Bindusara .... ace. 298

Asoka . . . . . ace. 273

Coronation . . . 269

War with Kalinga . . 261

Death of Asoka . . . 232

Other Mauryan kings . . 232-184

Sunga dynasty . . . 184-72

Invasion of (?) Menander . ? 155

Kanva dynasty . . . 72-27

CHAPTER VI

The foreign dynasties of the north-west : the Kushan (Kusana) empire ;
Kanishka ; the Saka era ; art and literature.

Bactrian, Indo-Greek, and Indo-Parthian kings. Parthia,
the country south-east of the Caspian Sea, and Bactria, the
country between the Hindu Kush mountains and the river
Oxus, which had been both included in the kingdom of
Seleucus Nikator, became independent monarchies under kings
of Greek descent about the middle of the third century B.C.,
when Asoka was emperor of India. He probably continued to
hold the provinces west of the Indus the modern Balochistan
and Afghanistan, which had been ceded to his grandfather by
Seleucus. After Asoka 's death no Indian sovereign could
retain those distant dependencies, which were broken up into
a multitude of principalities governed by Greek kings, whose



HINDU INDIA FROM 600 B. C. TO A. D 1193 73

names are known from coins. One of these kings, Menander,
lord of Kabul, appears to have invaded India about 155 B. c.,
reached Oudh, and met the army of Pushyamitra Sunga.
Parthian princes also governed parts of the frontier regions
after 140 B. c. About that date Mithradates I of Parthia had
annexed the Western Pan jab, and united it for a time with the
Parthian empire, which included Persia.

Saka and Kushan invasions. From about the middle of the
second century B.C. the nomad and pastoral tribes of Central
Asia for some reason or other, probably a change of climate, were
obliged to leave their home territories and move to the south
and west in search of pasturage for their herds and subsistence
for themselves. These wild people overwhelmed the Greek
kingdom of Bactria and set up governments of their own. The
earliest swarm was known to the Indians by the name of Sakas.
They made their way into Sistan on the Hilmand river, west
of Kandahar, which was consequently called Sakastan, or the
Saka country. Saka rulers also established themselves in
Surashtra or Kathiawar, and probably at Taxila and Mathura.
Another horde of nomads, called Yueh-chi by the Chinese
historians, descended through Bactria and Kabul to India.
The leading clan of this horde was named Kushan or Kusana.
About the middle of the first century after Christ the Kushan
chief, known to historians as Kadphises II, conquered the
various Indo-Greek and Indo-Parthian princes on the frontier
and made himself master of a large part of North -western
India, where his coins are found abundantly.

Kanishka. His successor seemingly was Kanishka, son of
Vajheshka, also a Kushan, but of a family other than that of
Kadphises II. Recent researches have made it probable that
Kanishka came to the throne in A.D. 78, and reigned for more
than forty years, until about A.D. 120, but it is possible that
his true date may be some years later. His capital was Puru-
shapura (Peshawar), from which he ruled Kabul, Kashmir, and
all Northern India, perhaps as far as the Narbada. In his
later years he favoured Buddhism, and, like Asoka, assembled

C3



74 HINDU INDIA FROM 600 B. C. TO A. D. 1193

a council of Buddhist monks, which prepared authorized com-
mentaries of the scriptures. He spent many years in war on
the other side of the difficult Pamir passes, a nd, after the death
of the Chinese general, Pan-chao (A. D. 102), is believed to have
annexed Kashgar and Khotan, now in Chinese Turkestan. He
is said to have been smothered by discontented officers. During
his long absence India seems to have been governed, first
by Vashishka and then by Huvishka, presumably his sons,
whose dates, consequently, overlap those of Kanishka. About
A. D. 120 or 123 Huvishka succeeded to the sole government,
certainly of India, and probably of the whole empire. He was
a powerful king, and is known to have founded a town in
Kashmir and a monastery at Mathura. In or about A. D. 140
Huvishka was succeeded by Vasudeva I, during whose reign
the empire began to break up. Scarcely anything is known
of the history of Northern India from his time to the rise of the
Gupta dynasty in A. D. 320. There is reason to hope that the
chronology of Kanishka, his predecessors and successors, will
soon be settled definitely. Until that is done, an important
section of the history of India must continue to be vague and
confusing.

The Saka era. Opinions differ, but it is probable that the
Saka era of A. D. 78 dates from the accession or coronation of
Kanishka, the Saka king. Indian authors use the term Saka
vaguely to denote all foreigners from beyond the passes, and
would have had no hesitation in calling a Kushan a Saka. In
later ages the era was known as that of Salivahana.

Buddhist architecture and art. Both Kanishka and Hu-
vishka were great builders, and spent much money on Bud-
dhist monasteries and stupor at Mathura, Peshawar, and other
places, of which some traces still exist. 1 Ever since the time
of Asoka, India had been filled with magnificent Buddhist

1 The remains of Kanishka's huge stupa at Peshawar were excavated
in 1908-9, and a remarkable relic casket was found bearing the image of
the king and an inscription. An inscribed portrait statue of Kanishka,
lacking the head, was found 'at Mat near Mathura in 1912.



HINDU INDIA FROM 600 B. C. TO A. D 1193 75

buildings. The monasteries were often huge structures built
of timber on brick foundations, several stories high and
splendidly decorated. The stupor were domed cupolas,




BUDDHA (GKAECO-BUDDHIST)



generally constructed of brick, designed either to enshrine
relics or to mark some holy spot. The larger ones were
often surrounded by richly carved stone railings with highly
ornamented gateways, and no expense was spared in the
adornment of the buildings in every possible way. The best



HINDU INDIA FROM 600 B. C. TO A. D. 1193 77

preserved example is the great stupa at Sanchi in Bhopal. The
finest carved railing was that which surrounded the stupa of
Amaravati on the Kistna river in the Guntur District, Madras.
In and about the Peshawar District the remains of numerous
stupas and monasteries of Kushan age exist, and multitudes of
well -executed sculptures resembling in style the Graeco-Roman
w r ork of the first three centuries of the Christian era have been
found. The Buddhists also were fond of hewing chapter-
houses, or churches, out of the solid rock. The best examples
of these are at Karle and other places in the Bombaj 7 Presi-
dency. The practice lasted for many centuries, and some of
the cave-temples were excavated for Jain and Hindu worship.
The Jains also built stupas exactly like those of the Buddhists.
Two famous Buddhist teachers, Nagarjuna and Asvaghosha,
as well as a medical author, Charaka, are reputed to have
lived in Kanishka's time.



CHAPTER VII

The Gupta empire : the Hunas or White Huns ; reign of Harsha ; state
of civilization ; Chinese pilgrims ; Kalidasa.

The Gupta dynasty. The next prominent dynasty of which
records have been preserved is that of the Guptas. A Raja of
Pataliputra, who took the name of Chandragupta (I), enhanced
his power at the beginning of the fourth century by marrying
a princess of the influential Licchhavi clan of Vaisali in Tirhut,
and formed a considerable kingdom extending along the
Ganges to Prayag or Allahabad. In 319-20 he established
the Gupta era to commemorate his coronation.

Samudragupta. The founder of the Gupta empire is a dim
figure, hardly more than a dated name. His son and chosen
successor, Samudragupta, stands forth as a real man scholar,
poet, musician, and warrior. The early years of his vigorous
reign were devoted to the thorough conquest of Upper India,
that is to say, the country now known as the United Provinces



rfL, ^^gS%^

VE M P I R E Jf^rL&r.V^




Cape Comer" 1



The Conquests of
SAMUDRAGUPTA.340A.D.

and the

GUPTA EMPIRE, 400 A, D.
(Travels o/ Fa-hien)
t Scale of Mile*
50 100 200 300 400



GEORGE PHILIP 4 SON, LTD.



HINDU INDIA FROM 600 B.C. TO A. D. 1193 79

of Agra and Oudh with the Central India Agency and Bengal,
but net including the Panjab. When that conquest was
finished, he turned his arms against the south. Marching
across the wild regions of the tributary states of Orissa, he
advanced by the road of the eastern coast until he reached
about the latitude of Nellore. He then turned westwards and
came home through Khandesh. He did not try to annex the
realms beyond the Narbada. He was content with receiving
the humble submission of the vanquished princes and bringing
home a huge store of golden booty. Having thus proved his
title to be Lord Paramount of India, he celebrated the horse-
sacrifice (asvamedha) , lawful only for a king of kings. Extant
medals testify to the literal share of his bounty then bestowed
on the Brahmans. When he died his dominions comprised
all the most populous and fertile regions of Northern India,
extending from the Hooghly on the east to the Sutlaj and
Chambal on the west, and from the Himalayan slopes on the
north to the Narbada on the south. Beyond those limits of
his direct government he controlled the wild tribes of the
Himalaya and the Vindhyas, as well as the free clans of Raj-
putana and Malwa, while his ambassadors had dealings with
the rulers of Ceylcn in the Far South and of the Scythian
kingdom on the Oxus in Central Asia. His empire was far
greater than any that India had seen since the days of Asoka,
six centuries earlier. The elegant inscription at Allahabad
which records the conquests of Samudragupta tells also of
his personal qualities, and its evidence as to his musical skill
is confirmed by the medals which exhibit the king in the act
of playing the Indian lute (vlna). Pataliputra apparently
continued to be the capital of the immense empire won and
held by Samudragupta.

Chandragupta Vikramaditya. The next king, Chandra-
gupta II, surnamed Vikramaditya, who annexed Malwa and
Ujjain to his empire, probably is the original of Raja Bikram,
famous in legend. He dispossessed the Saka rulers of Surash-
tra, who used the Persian title of Satrap, and are called the



80 HINDU INDIA FROM 600 B. C. TO A. D. 1193

Western Satraps by modern writers. Chandragupta II seems
to have made Ajodhya his capital. His reign (about 375 to
413) may be regarded as marking the climax or highest point
attained by the imperial Guptas, a singularly able line of kings. 1

Kumaragupta, Skandagupta, and the Huns. His successor,
Kumaragupta I (413-55), was troubled towards the end of his
reign by irruptions of a fresh horde of Central Asian nomads,
the White Huns or Ephthalites, who overcame the next king,
Skandagupta, and broke up the Gupta empire, about A. D. 480.
For a short time Northern India became a province of a huge
White Hun empire, which embraced forty countries, extending
from Persia on the west to Khotan in Chinese Turkestan on the
east. In India the tyranny of the Hun chief, Mihiragula,
becoming unbearable, he was defeated by Narasimha Bala-
ditya, a Gupta king, and Yasodharman, Raja of Malwa, in or
about A. D. 528, and forced to retire into Kashmir. The
nomad immigrants, known collectively to Indians as Huns, but
comprising various tribes, settled in large numbers in the
Panjab and Rajputana, and caused great changes. But
history is silent as to details of events in the sixth century. It
was certainly a time of confused warfare, and there was no
paramount power.

The Vikrama era. The popular belief which associates the
Vikrama era of 58-57 B. c. with a Raja Vikramaditya or
Bikram of Uj jain at that date is erroneous. There was no such
person then. It is, however, true that the earliest known use
of the era was in Malwa and probably it was invented by the
astronomers of Ujjain. The first name of it was the Malwa
era. The term Vikrama-kala used in later times must refer to
one or other of the many kings with the title of Vikramaditya
or Vikrama, who was believed to have established the era.
The king referred to may be presumed to be Chandragupta II,

1 The phrase ' Guptas of Kanauj ' is an ancient error ; Kanauj never
was the Gupta capital. The designation of the Western Satraps as ' the
Shah kings ' is another ' vulgar error ', based on an old misreading of coin
legends.



HINDU INDIA FROM 600 B. C. TO A. D. 1193 81

Vikramaditya, who conquered Ujjain about A.D. 390. The
Gupta and Saka eras changed their names similarly, becoming
known in after ages as the Valabhi and the Salivahana eras
respectively.

Reign of Harsha of Kanauj. At the beginning of the
seventh century a strong man arose, Harsha, Raja of Thanesar,
who, in the short space of six years (606-12), made himself
master of Northern India as far as the Sutlaj, fixing his capital
at Kanauj, and became the paramount power even over
Surashtra and Gujarat in the west, and Assam and Bengal in
the east. The equally vigorous ruler of the Deccan, Pulakesin
II Chalukya (608-42), prevented him from extending his domi-
nions south of the Narbada. Harsha died in 647, and his death
was followed by another dark period of anarchy and confusion.

Chinese pilgrims ; Fa-hien. Our knowledge of events in
the Gupta period and age of Harsha is largely derived from the
narratives of Chinese Buddhist pilgrims, who crowded into
India as the Holy Land of their faith, and eagerly sought for
Buddhist books, relics, and images. The earliest of these
pilgrims was Fa-hien (399-413), who came overland through
Khotan and returned to China by sea. He remained for six
years in the dominions of Chandragupta II Vikramaditya
studying Buddhist literature, and was much pleased with the
country. Pataliputra was still a flourishing city, with numerous
charitable institutions, including a free hospital. In Malwa
the penal code was mild, and the people were not worried by
official regulations. Order was well preserved, and the pilgrim
was free to pursue his studies in peace. Although the Gupta
king was himself an orthodox Vaishnava Hindu, Buddhism
flourished and was fully tolerated.

Hiuen Tsang, or Yuan Chwang. Hiuen Tsang, or Yuan
Chwang, the prince of pilgrims (629-45), came to India over-
land by the road to the north of the Takla Makan desert, and
then through Samarkand, returning by the Pamirs and Khotan
a terribly long and arduous journey both ways. He visited
almost every part of India, and recorded his experiences in a



82 HINDU INDIA FROM 600 B. C. TO A. D. 1193

book of inestimable value. He became a personal friend of
King Harsha, who, in his latter days, took a fancy to Bud-
dhism. The king was a vigorous despot, keeping his dominions
in order by personal supervision exercised during constant
touring, interrupted only by the rains. The penal code was
rather more severe than in the days of the Guptas, and the
roads were not quite so safe, but the country seems to have
been fairly well governed.

Buddhism was still strong, although orthodox Hinduism was
gaming way. The king favoured all the Indian religions,
doing honour in turn to Siva, the Sun, and Buddha, with a
personal preference for the last-named. The pilgrim attended
a strange assembly held at Kanauj, the capital, for the purpose
of disputations on religious subjects, at which twenty tributary
Rajas were present, including the rulers of Assam in the east,
and Surashtra on the west. Pataliputra was in ruins. No
record of the fall of the ancient imperial city has survived, but
it can hardly be doubted that the disaster was a consequence
of the Hun wars. Harsha lavished his favours on Kanauj,
an old city between the Ganges and Jumna, which he made
the seat of his government, filling it with splendid buildings.
The Kanauj assembly moved on to Prayag (Allahabad), where
the sovereign ceremoniously distributed the wealth of his
treasury to people of all denominations on the ground at the
junction of the Ganges and Jumna where the great fair is now
held annually. Harsha was in the habit of making such dis-
tributions every five years, and the celebration in which Hiuen
Tsang assisted was the sixth of the reign.

The Gupta period a golden age. The Gupta period, and
more especially the fifth century, may be justly regarded as
the golden age of Northern India. Powerful and long-lived
kings of exceptional personal ability made extensive conquests
and established a well-governed empire, in which the energies
of gifted men had free scope. The kings maintained a splendid
court, and gathered round their throne men of eminence in
every branch of knowledge, on whom they bestowed liberal



HINDU INDIA FROM 600 B. C. TO A. D. 1193 83

patronage. Literature, art, and science were alike cultivated
with success and distinction.

Literature : Kalidasa. The name of Kalidasa, whose
activity may be referred to the reign of Kumaragupta I, in
the first half of the fifth century, enjoys unquestioned pre-
eminence. Unanimous opinion proclaims him as the chief of
Sanskrit dramatists and poets. The Ritu-samhara, or ' Cycle
of the Seasons ', and the Meghaduta, or ' Cloud Messenger ',
both charming descriptive poems of a lyrical character, seem
to be among his early works. The heroic epic entitled
Raghuvamta, or ' The Race of Raghu ', a product of his more
mature genius, gives eloquent expression to the Hindu national
ideal. Sakuntald, acclaimed by all critics as the best of his
three dramas, and one of the most interesting plays in the
literature of the world, has succeeded in delighting alike
European and Indian readers.

Sculpture, painting, and architecture. The sculpture of the
Gupta age, the excellence of which was not fully recognized
until recently, may be reasonably considered the best cf all
Indian sculpture, but, of course, tastes differ. Although no
examples of Gupta painting have survived in Northern India,
the power of the artists of the fifth and sixth centuries is
proved by the beautiful frescoes of the Ajanta caves in the
west and of Sigiriya in Ceylon. The accident that the Gupta
empire was mostly made up of those provinces which were
continually overrun by Muhammadan armies and permanently
occupied by Muslim governments explains the rarity of Gupta
buildings. Muhammadan Sultans and Padshahs seldom
spared a Hindu edifice. But the little that has survived
suffices to prove that the architecture of the Gupta period was
worthy of the sculpture which adorned the buildings.

Coins and music. The only Hindu coins possessing any
considerable artistic merit are certain pieces struck by
Samudragupta and Chandragupta II. We have seen how
Samudragupta practised and patronized the art of music.

Science. Mathematical and astronomical science was largely




SEATED BUDDHA, SARNATH (GUPTA PERIOD)



HINDU INDIA FROM 600 B. C. TO A. D. 1193 85

advanced by Aryabhata (born A. D. 476), who taught the
system studied at Pataliputra, which was based on the works of
Greek authors.

Causes of intellectual activity. It is impossible to go further
into details or to mention less famous names, but what has
been said is enough to show that every form of mental activity
made itself felt during the Gupta period. The intelligent
patronage of a series of able and wealthy kings for more than
a century had much to do with the prosperity of the arts and
sciences. A deeper cause was the conflict of ideas produced
by the active intercourse between the Gupta empire and the
great powers of both East and West. Many embassies to and
from China are recorded, while communication with the By-
zantine Roman empire through Alexandria in Egypt was made
easy by the conquests of Chandragupta II in the closing years
of the fourth century. Although the works of the Gupta
authors and artists are thoroughly Indian in subject and treat-
ment, it may be doubted if they would ever have been produced
but for the stimulus given to Indian minds by their contact
with the ideas of strangers.

Religion : Sanskrit. When the Travels of Fa-hien (399-413)
are compared with those of Hiuen Tsang (629-645), it becomes
clear that during the interval between the two pilgrims
Buddhism had declined, while Brahmanical Hinduism had
advanced. The Gupta kings, who were officially Vaishnava
Hindus, showed a wise tolerance for other creeds. Some of
them, indeed, took a lively interest in Buddhist teaching.
But, as the years rolled on, the influence of Buddhism slowly
faded away, and that of orthodox Brahmans increased. That
change was accompanied by a freer use of Sanskrit, the lan-
guage of the Brahmans, in books and inscriptions, and by
the disuse of the Prakrit dialects.

Harsh a and Bana. The revival of Hinduism, with the
parallel decay of Buddhism, continued in the seventh century,
during and after the reign of Harsha, who was a zealous patron
of Sanskrit literature, although personally inclined to Buddhist



86 HINDU INDIA FROM 600 B. C. TO A. D. 1193

doctrine. The king is the reputed author of a play called
Ratndvali and other works. The most famous author of his
day was his friend Bana, who celebrated the deeds of his royal
patron in the Harshacharita. The book is of high value as
history, but the fantastic, involved style of the composition



Online LibraryVincent Arthur SmithThe Oxford student's history of India → online text (page 6 of 27)