In the last chapter you read about the Mauryan Empire which was spread over a large part of the Indian sub-continent and also included Kandahar in modern Afghanistan. In around 187 BC, the Mauryan Empire met its end. In the present section we shall study about the political and cultural developments in the Indian subcontinent from the end of the Mauryas to the rise of the Guptas, i.e., from BC 200 and 300 AD. In these five hundred years we see not only the rise of multiple political powers in different parts of the subcontinent but also the introduction of new features in art, architecture and religion.


After seen this video, you will be able to

  • learn about the different political regions which came into focus after the decline of the Mauryan Empire
  • the groups of foreigners who came from Central Asia and got settled here;
  • the growth of trade between the Roman world and India and its impact.
  • important features of various schools of art and sculptures which emerged during 200 BC–300 AD and
  • the early history of south India and the significance of the Sangam literature


The disintegration of the Mauryan empire led to the rise of many regional kingdoms in different parts of the country. At the same time, we witness invasions by various groups of people based in Central Asia and western China. These were Indo-Greeks, the Scythians or the Shakas, the Parthians or the Pahlavas and the Kushanas. It was through such political processes that India came in closer contact with the central Asian politics and culture.

  • The Shungas

The last Mauryan king was killed by his Commander-in-Chief, Pushyamitra Shunga, who then established his own dynasty in north India. It came to be known as Shunga dynasty. While the Shungas were ruling in north India, the Indo- Greeks also known as Yavanas, about whom we shall study in some details later, emerged in Bactria (Balkh) as an independent power and soon started extending their rule in the northwestern and northern parts of India. There are indications that Pushyamitra Shunga came in conflict with Demetrius, a Bactrian Greek ruler without suffering much political damage. An inscription engraved on a pillar at Besnagar (present day Vidisha) refers to one Heliodorus, native of Taxila near Rawalpindi in Pakistan, as an envoy of an Indo-Greek ruler Antialkidas in the court of Bhagabhadra, who has been identified with one of the later Shunga rulers. According to the inscription he was devotee of Lord Krishna.

  • The Bactrians or the Indo-Greeks

After the death of Alexander in 323 BC, many Greeks came to settle on the northern western boarders of India with Bactria (area to the north-west of the Hindukush mountains in the present day north Afghanistan) as an important centre. The rulers of Bactria came to be called the Bactrian-Greeks because of their Hellenistic (Greek) ancestry. One of the rulers of the line named Demetrius as mentioned above came into conflict with Pushyamitra.

However, the most celebrated Indo-Greek ruler was Menander. His empire appears to have included southern Afghanisthan and Gandhara, the region west of the R. Indus. He has been identified with king Milinda mentioned in the famous Buddhist text Milindapanho which contains philosophical questions that Milinda asked Nagasena (the Buddhist author of the text) and informs us that impressed by the answers, the king accepted Buddhism as his religion. Menander is believed to have ruled between c. 155 BC and 130 BC.

  • The Shakas

Shaka is the Indian term used for the people called Scythians, who originally belonged to central Asia. Defeated by their neighbours the Yueh-chis (the tribal stock to which the Kushanas belonged) they gradually came to settle in northwestern India around Taxila in the first century B.C Under the successive Shaka rulers their territories extended up to Mathura and Gujarat.

The most famous of all the Shaka rulers was Rudradaman who ruled in the middle of second century AD. His empire was spread over almost whole of western India. His achievements are known through the only inscription that he got engraved on a boulder at Girnar or Junagarh. This inscription happens to be the first royal inscription of early India composed in chaste Sanskrit

  • The Parthians

The Parthians were of Iranian origin and because of strong cultural connection with the Shakas, these groups were referred to in the Indian sources as Shaka-Pahlava. The important inscription indicating the Parthian rule in northwestern area of Pakistan is the famous Takht-i-Bahi inscription recovered from Mardan near Peshawar. The inscription, dated in 45 AD, refers to Gondophernes or Gondophares as a Parthian ruler. Some literary sources associate him with St. Thomas, who is said to have converted both, the king and his brother, to Christianity

POST MAURYAN DEVELOPMENTS Nios Chapter 6th (Part-1st)


The Kushanas, originally belonged to western China. They are also called Yueh-chis. The Kushanas after defeating Shakas and Pahlavas created a big empire in Pakistan. The first prominent ruler of the Kushana dynasty was Kujula Kadphises. He was succeeded by his son Wema Kadphises. Next ruler was Kanishka. He was the most famous of the Kushanas. He probably ascended the throne in AD 78, and started a new era, now known as the Shaka era. It was under Kanishka that the Kushana empire reached its maximum territorial limits. His empire extended from Central Asia to north India and included Varanasi, Kaushambi and Sravasti in Uttar Pradesh. The political significance of Kanishka’s rule lies in the fact that he integrated central Asia with north India as part of a single empire. It resulted in the intermingling of different cultures and increase in inter regional trading activities.

(i) Kushana Polity and Administration

Nothing much is known about the administrative machinery of the Kushanas. Perhaps the whole empire was divided into provinces, each ruled by a mahakshatrapa ( a military governor), who was assisted by a kshatrapa; but how many provinces were there in the empire, is not known. Sources indicate that Kushana horsemen wore trousers while riding. A headless statue of Kanishka found at Mathura reflects the same. A prominent feature of Kushana polity was the title of devaputra, i.e., son of God, used by the Kushana kings. It indicates the claim to divinity by the Kushana kings.

(ii) Contribution of the Kushanas

The Kushanas occupy a special place in the ancient Indian history because of their contribution to various aspects of life. Their vast empire helped in the growth of internal and external trade. It resulted in the rise of new urban centres. The rich state of economy under the Kushanas is also evidenced by the large number of gold and copper coins that they struck.

Even in literature and medicine, India made progress. Charaka, known as father of Ayurveda, wrote a book on medicine called Charaksamhita whereas Asvaghosha, a Buddhist scholar, wrote Buddhacharita, a full length biography of the Buddha. Both these scholars were believed to be the contemporaries of king Kanishka. The Kushanas patronized the Gandhara and the Mathura schools of sculptural art which are known for producing the earliest images of Buddha and Buddhisattavas.


Invasions of the Bactrian Greeks and Saka-Pahilavas on India and its subsequent political contact with Central Asia under the Kushanas resulted in immense cultural intermingling between the two regions. These foreign groups gradually lost their foreign identity and were incorporated in the Brahmanical society lower grade as kshatriyas. Many of them adopted Buddhism. We have already referred to the Indo-Bactrian ruler Menander who was converted to Buddhism by a monk named Nagasena.

punch-marked coins which were used earlier gradually gave way to refined Greek style coins containing legends and the bust of the ruler. This new format became the model for the subsequent coinage in India. Besides, Indians also borrowed from central Asians, particularly the Greeks, knowledge of astronomy. Early Indian literary works on astronomy frequently quote the Greek astronomers who are referred to as yavanacharya. Indians also learned the art of making horoscopes from the Greeks. Central Asian contacts brought a fresh wave in the art of sculpture making. Buddhist sculptures of the Gandhara school, as explained here below, evolved as a result of the amalgamation of the Indian and the Greek styles.

POST MAURYAN DEVELOPMENTS Nios Chapter 6th (Part-2nd)


We know that the Deccan as well as eastern India were parts of Ashoka’s empire. He had conquered Kalinga through a violent battle in which loss of men and property was enormous. It was as a result of the Mauryan rule in these regions that after its decline we notice the emergence of kingdoms in Kalinga and the Deccan for the first time in the Indian history


After Ashoka, Kalinga (present day Orissa) became prominent under the kings of Chedi dynasty. Unfortunately we have no information about the kings of the dynasty except Kharavela. His achievements are recorded on an inscription, known a Hathigumpha inscription, situated in the Udayagiri hills near Bhuvaneshvar in Orissa. The inscription is so named because the image of an elephant is carved out of stone next to the boulder carrying the inscription. The inscription tells us that he was a follower of Jainism and had fought many successful battles against his neighbours. He probably lived in the first century BC.


Satavahanas became prominent in the Indian political scene sometime in the middle of the first century BC. Gautamiputra Satakarni (first century AD) is considered to be the greatest of the Satavahana rulers. He is credited with the extension of Satavahana dominions by defeating Nahapana, the Shaka ruler of Western India. His kingdom is said to have extended from river Krishna in south to river Godavari in north. The Satavahanas had their capital at Pratishthana (modern Paithan) near Aurangabad in Maharashtra.

Satavahana Polity and Adminstration

Satavahana kingdom was divided into subdivisions called aharas or rashtras, meaning districts. The lowest level of administration was a grama which was under the charge of a Gramika. There were also officers called amatyas who were perhaps ministers or advisors of the king. Revenue was collected both in cash and kind. Satavahanas kings were the first in Indian history to make tax free land grants to Buddhists and Brahmanas to gain religious merit. This practice became more prominent in succeeding periods. The Satavahana kings claimed to be Brahmanas and considered it their primary duty to uphold varna system i.e. the four fold division of social structure.

POST MAURYAN DEVELOPMENTS Nios Chapter 6th (Part-3rd)


(i) Internal and External Trade Routes

The most important feature of the post-Mauryan period was the growth of trade and commerce, both internally as well as externally. There were two major internal land routes in ancient India. First, known as Uttarapatha, connected northern and eastern parts of India with the northwestern fringes, i.e., present day Pakistan and further beyond, and the second, known as Dakshinapatha, connected the peninsular India with the western and northern parts of India.

The Dakshinapatha was the major route that connected north and south India. It started from Kaushambi near Allahabad and running through Ujjaiyini (modern Ujjain) extended further up to Bhrigukaccha or Broach, an important port on western coast. The Dakshinapatha was further connected with Pratishthana (modern Paithan), the capital of the Satavahanas.

Trade with southeast Asia was conducted through the sea. Prominent ports on the eastern coast of India were Tamralipti (West Bengal), Arikamedu (Tamil Nadu Coast) etc. Sea trade was also conducted between Bharukachchha and the ports of Southeast Asia.

(ii) Trade with West and Central Asia

An important feature of the commercial activities in the post-Mauryan period was the thriving trade between India and the West, where the Roman empire was at its height. Initially this trade was carried out through land, but owing to frequent obstructions created by the Persians, who ruled the areas through which these trade routes passed, the focus was shifted to sea routes. Now ships could move directly from Indian ports to the ports on Red Sea and Persian Gulf.

The best account of Indo-Roman trade is given in the book called Periplus of the Erythrean Sea which was written in the first century AD by an anonymous author. Main requirements of the Romans were the Indian products such as spices, perfumes, jewels, ivory and fine textiles, i.e. muslin. Spices exported from India to the Roman empire included pepper, also called yavanapriya (perhaps because of its popularity among Romans). The spice trade with the Roman empire was largely based in south India. Romans also imported several precious and semiprecious stones like diamond, carnelian, turquoise, agate, sapphire etc, besides pearls, indigo, sandalwood and steel etc.

Against this import Romans exported gold and silver to India. It is proved by a large number of Roman coins of the first century AD found in the subcontinent. This indicates an enormous drain of gold from the Roman empire towards India. Other important items of export from the Roman empire included wine which is indicated by wineamphorae and sherds of Roman ware found in significant numbers at Arikamedu in south India. Besides, the western traders also brought tin, lead, coral and slave girls.

POST MAURYAN DEVELOPMENTS Nios Chapter 6th (Part-4th)

(iii) Crafts and Industries

Crafts production started growing in this period with tremendous impetus, as trade and commerce, both internal and foreign, was dependent to a great extent on the craft activities. The text called Milindapanho mentions 75 occupations of which 60 were associated with crafts. The level of specialization was very high and there were separate artisans working in gold, silver, precious stones etc. Ujjain was a prominent bead making centre. Textile industry was another prominent industry. Mathura and Vanga (east Bengal) were famous for variety of cotton and silk textiles. The discovery of some dying vats at some sites in south India indicates that dying was a thriving craft in the area during this period. The artisans in this period touched new heights of prosperity and there are numerous inscriptions which refer to the donations made by artisans to monasteries.

(iv) Guilds

The communities of merchants were organised in groups known as Shreni or guilds under the head called sreshthi. Another type of mercantile group was called sartha which signified mobile or caravan trading corporation of interregional traders. The leader of such a guild was called sarthavaha. Like merchants almost all craft vocations were also organised into guilds, each under a headman called Jyestha. These included weavers, corn dealers, bamboo workers, oil manufacturers, potters etc. The guilds were basically associations of merchants and craftsmen following the same profession or dealing in the same commodity. They elected their head and framed their own rules regarding prices and quality etc., to regulate their business on the basis of mutual goodwill. They also served as banks and received deposits from the public on a fixed rate of interest.


Art in the post-Mauryan period was predominantly religious. Two most important features concerning art and architecture of this period are the construction of stupas and development of regional schools of sculpture. Idols of the Buddha were carved out for the first time in this period. On account of contact with the foreigners from northwest, a specific school of art called Gandhara School of art developed in this period. It was influenced, to a great extent, by the Greek style or art forms.

(i) Stupas

A stupa was a large hemispherical dome with a central chamber in which relics of the Buddha or some Buddhist monk were kept in a small casket. The base was surrounded by a path for clockwise circumambulation (pradakshina), enclosed by wooden railings which were later made in stone. Three prominent stupas of this period are at Bharhut and Sanchi (both in M.P), which were originally built by Ashoka but enlarged later, and Amravati and Nagarjunkonda (both in Andhra Pradesh)

The Bharhut stupa in its present form dates to the middle of the second century BC. It is important for its sculptures. Its railings are made of red stone. Three big stupas were constructed at Sanchi in this period. The biggest of the three, which was built originally by emperor Ashoka, was enlarged to twice its size sometime in the second century BC. A number of stupas were also constructed in south India during this period but none has survived in its entirety. The Amravati stupa, situated at Amravati in Andhra Pradesh took its final shape sometime in the second century AD. The sculptures on stupas are drawn on the themes based on Jataka and other Buddhist stories.

(ii) Rock Cut Architecture

Apart from the stupas, this period also marks a progress in rock cut architecture. A large number of temples, halls and places of residence for monks were cut out of the solid rocks near Pune and Nasik in Maharashtra under the Satavahanas. The place of worship generally had a shrine cell with a votive stupa placed in the centre. This place was known as a chaitya and the rock cut structure used as the residence for monks was called a vihara.

(iii) Schools of Sculptural Art

The first century witnessed the division of Buddhism in two parts, Hinayana and Mahayana. Mahayana Buddhism encouraged Buddha’s worship as a god in human form. As a result a large number of Buddha images were built in different regions. There were three major schools of sculptural art which developed in this period. These were: Mathura school of art, Gandhara School of art and Amravati school of art.

The Mathura School: The most prominent contribution of the Mathura school to the contemporary art was the images of Buddha which were carved for the first time perhaps in this art form. The Mathura artists used local red stone with black spots to make the images. Mathura has also yielded large numbers of sculptures of Jaina deities besides the ayagapatas or stone slabs to place objects of worship. The Brahmanical influence on the art school of Mathura is also evident. During the Kushana period a number of sculptures of brahmanical deities were carved, which included Kartikeya, Vishnu, Kubera.


(i) The Megalithic Cultures of South India

The neolithic phase of south India, which was highlighted by the use of polished stone axe and blade tools, was succeeded by the Megalithic cultures (1200 BC–300 BC) Megaliths were tomb spots consisting of burials or graves covered with huge (mega) stones. They were, in most cases, located outside the settlement area. These Megalith burials have yielded the first iron objects from south India. Besides these the use of Black and Red ware pottery was also a distinctive feature of the Megalithic people. These Megaliths have been found in large numbers from the Nagpur area in Maharashtra in north to the southern tip of the Indian Peninsula. Prominent sites that have yielded Megalith graves include Brahmagiri, Maski, (Karnataka). Adichallanur (Tamilnadu) and Junapani near Nagpur (Maharastra).

(ii) The Sangam Age

The Sangam age refers to that period in the early history of south India when large numbers of poems in Tamil were composed by a number of authors. The term Sangam refers to an assembly or “meeting together” of Tamil poets. Traditionally, three Sangams or assemblies are believed to have been convened one after the other. All the three Sangams took place at different places under the patronage of the Pandya kings of Madurai. Poems within the Sangam literature were composed on two broader themes of love and war. It was later put together in eight collections called Ettutogai. This literature is believed to have been composed between 300 BC and 300 AD. A remarkable feature of the Sangam literature is its vivid portrayal of the contemporary society and culture of Tamilaham, or Tamil region and its peaceful and harmonious interaction with the northern (Aryan) culture.

The whole Tamilaham in this period was divided into five tinais or eco-zones, i.e., zones based on their economic resources. These were: kurinji (hilly region); palai (arid zone); mullai (pastoral tracts); marudam (wet lands); and neital (seacoast). These zones were not clearly demarcated, and were scattered all around the region. Because of their different geographical contexts and ecological specialties people in different tinais had their own modes of subsistence. For example, in kurinji, it was hunting and gathering; in palai, where people could not produce anything they took to raiding and plundering; in mullai people practiced animal husbandry; in marudam it was plough agriculture; and in neital people took to fishing and salt making.

War heroes occupied a special position in society, and memorial stones called nadukal or virukkal were raised in honour of those who died in fighting, and they were worshipped as godlings. Women in the Sangam period appear to have been educated. This is testified by many poems contributed by women poets to the Sangam literature. Women are also described as engaged in various economic activities such as paddy plantation, cattle rearing, basket-making, spinning, etc. However, the cruel practice of Sati was also prevalent in Tamil society, and it was known as tippayadal. But it was not obligatory as there are references to widows present in society. However their position was miserable as they were prohibited to decorate themselves or participate in any form of amusement.

The most important feature of the Sangam economy was flourishing trade with the Roman world. It is confirmed by the recovery of a large number of Roman gold coins in south India. The discovery of monsoons and the use of direct sea route between Indian coasts and the western world, as mentioned earlier, was the main reason for the growth of this trade. It led to rise of important towns and craft centres in the Tamil region. Vanji, identified with the present day Karur in Tamil Nadu, was the capital of the Cheras and also an important centre of trade and craft. Muzris, i.e., Cranganore on the south-west coast, was the foremost port of the Cheras. We are told that the Roman ships laden with gold used to come here to take back large amounts of pepper. Madurai, the capital of the Pandyas, is described in the Sangam poems as a large city enclosed by a wall. It was an important centre of fine textile and ivory working. Korkai, in the Tirunnelveli district of Tamil Nadu, was an important Pandya port. It was famous for its pearls. Uraiyur (Tiruchirapalli in Tamil Nadu), the capital of the Cholas, was a grand city with magnificent buildings. Kaveripattinam or Puhar was the main Chola port. The Sangam poems refer to the busy markets guarded by soldiers.

In short, the Sangm literature through its poems on love and emotion (aham) and warfare and social behaviour (puram) on the whole present a picture of political conflict, social inequality and economic prosperity of early Tamil region during 300 BC–300 AD.