Post Mauryan Developments and Political History of North India – Shungas, Bactrians, Shakas and Parthians

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Post Mauryan Developments

After the decline of Mauryas in 187 BC, the Indian subcontinent witnessed a series of political and cultural developments. These include the emergence of Guptas and other regional kingdoms, the evolution of new forms of art and architectures, cultural and maritime contacts with Roman and Central Asian foreigners, and the development of literature. This chapter, therefore, seeks to analyse the changes and progresses mentioned above.

Political History of North India

The disintegration of Mauryas eventually led to the emergence of several regional kingdoms. There were several foreign invasions from Central Asia and western China and established their kingdoms in Indian subcontinent. These include Indo-Greeks, the Scythians or Shakas, the Parthians or Pahlavas and the Kushanas.

Political History of North India

Political History of North India

The Shungas

The commander in Chief of last Mauryan ruler, Pushyamitra Shunga, established the Shunga dynasty. He killed Brihatgradha Maurya and established his sway over the Mauryan Empire. Agnimitra Shunga succeeded him. Shungas had political scuffle between the Indo-Greek rulers of Bactria, the Satavahanas, Panchalas and Mitras of Mathura.

Indo-Greeks and the Shungas

  • Yavanas or Indo- Greeks were ruling in Bactria began to expand their kingdom to the north western and northern parts of India. Some references indicate the political struggle between Shungas and Indo-Greeks, particularly between Pushyamitra Shunga and Demetrius.

  • The Besanagar pillar or Heliodorus inscription suggests that Heliodorus, an envoy of Indo Greek ruler Antilakidas visited the court of later Shunga ruler, Bhagabhadra. He was a devotee of Lord Vasudeva.

  • The last ruler of the Shunga dynasty, Devabuti, was overpowered by his minster Vasudeva. He is said to have established the Kanva dynasty in the second half of 1 century BC.

The Bactrians or Indo- Greeks

  • Indo- Greek kingdom was also known as the Yavana kingdom. They established their kingdom in Bactria and extended their control to the north western frontier of the Indian subcontinent.

  • The first Greek presence in India was in 326 BC when Alexander the great established his Satrapas in India. After the death of Alexander in 323 BC, his satraps became under the control of Greek rulers with Bactria as its centre.

  • After Alexander, in 305, Seleucus Nicator led a battle against the Maurya ruler Chandragupta Maurya. Chandragupta was married to the daughter of Seleucus, Helen and thus, the mix of Indian and Greeks happened.

Important Indo- Greek Rulers:

  • Demetrius was one among the Bactrian ruler who launched the expansion to India. He fought with the Shunga ruler, Pushyamitra.

  • Another important Indo- Greek ruler was Menander. His empire includes southern Afghanistan and Gandhara. Menander was referred to in the Buddhist text Milindapanho. The book contains the questions that Milinda asked to Nagasena (the author of the text).

Some of the Greek ambassador to Indian courts:

  • Heliodorus----------------Court of Shunga ruler, Bhagabhadra

  • Megasthenes-------------Court of Chandragupta Maurya

  • Deimachus--------------- Court of Bindusara

  • Dionysius----------------- Court of Asoka

The Shakas

  • Shakas or Scythians were the nomadic tribes of Central India. They destroyed the Bactrian rule in India. The migration of Scythians to north western India during the first century BC led to the establishment of Shaka rule. Their state was extended up to Mathura and Gujarat.

  • The earliest Shaka ruler was Moga or Maues, who established Shaka power in Gandhara. The most famous of Shaka ruler was Rudradaman. His achievements were known through the famous Junagarh or Girnar inscription. This inscription is known as the first royal inscription in early India which was composed in Sanskrit.

Junagarh or Girnar inscription of Rudradaman

  • Composed around 150 CE.

  • Refers to the construction of a dam over Sudarshana lake

  • Written in Sanskrit. Therefore, this is the earliest Sanskrit inscription.

  • This inscription contains Asokan edicts and an inscription of Skandagupta.

The Parthians

Parthians were the decent ends of Iranian origin. They were also known as Shaka-Pahlava due to their cultural connection with Shakas. The Takhti-i-Bahi inscription indicates the Parthian rule in the north western area of Peshawar. The inscription was dated on 45 AD, and gave reference to the Parthian ruler, Gondophernes.

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