The founder of the Sunga dynasty was Pushyamitra Sunga, who was the commander-in-chief under the Mauryas. He assassinated the last Mauryan ruler and usurped the throne. The most important challenge to the Sunga rule was to protect north India against the invasions of the Bactrian Greeks from the northwest.
The Greeks advanced up to Pataliputra and occupied it for sometime. However, Pushyamitra succeeded in regaining the lost territory. He also fought a campaign against Kharavela of Kalinga who invaded north India. Pushyamitra was a staunch follower of Brahmanism. He performed two asvamedha sacrifices. Buddhist sources refer him as a persecutor of Buddhism. But there is enough evidence to show that Pushyamitra patronised Buddhist art. During his reign the Buddhist monuments at Bharhut and Sanchi were renovated and further improved.
After the death of Pushyamitra, his son Agnimitra became the ruler. The last Sunga ruler was Devabhuti, who was murdered by his minister Vasudeva Kanva, the founder of the Kanva dynasty. The Kanva dynasty ruled for 45 years. After the fall of the Kanvas, the history of Magatha was a blank until the establishment of the Gupta dynasty. The rule of the Sungas was important because they defended the Gangetic valley from foreign invasions. In the cultural sphere, the Sungas revived Brahmanism and horse sacrifice. They also promoted the growth of Vaishnavism and the Sanskrit language. In short, the Sunga rule was a brilliant anticipation of the golden age of the Guptas.
In the Deccan, the Satavahanas established their independent rule after the decline of the Mauryas. Their rule lasted for about 450 years. They were also known as the Andhras. The Puranas and inscriptions remain important sources for the history of Satavahanas. Among the inscriptions, the Nasik and Nanaghad inscriptions throw much light on the reign of Gautamiputra Satakarni. The coins issued by the Satavahanas are also helpful in knowing the economic conditions of that period.
The founder of the Satavahana dynasty was Simuka. He was succeeded by Krishna, who extended the kingdom up to Nasik in the west. The third king was Sri Satakarni. He conquered western Malwa and Berar. He also performed asvamedha sacrifices. The seventeenth king of the Satavahana dynasty was Hala. He reigned for a period of five years. Hala became famous for his book Gathasaptasati, also called Sattasai. It contains 700 verses in Prakrit language.
The greatest ruler of the Satavahana dynasty was Gautamiputra Satakarni. He ruled for a period of 24 years from 106 to 130 A.D. His achievements were recorded in the Nasik inscription by his mother Gautami Balasri. Gautamiputra Satakarni captured the whole of Deccan and expanded his empire. His victory over Nagapana, the ruler of Malwa was remarkable. He patronized Brahmanism. Yet, he also gave donations to Buddhists.
Gautamiputra Satakarni was succeeded by his son Vashishtaputra Pulamayi. He extended the Satavahana power up to the mouth of the Krishna river. He issued coins on which the image of ships was inscribed. They reveal the naval power and maritime trade of the Satavahanas. The last great ruler of Satavahanas was Yajna Sri Satakarni.
There was a remarkable progress in the fields of trade and industry during the Satavahana rule. Merchants organized guilds to increase their activities. The craft guilds organized by different craftsmen such as potters, weavers and oil pressers also came into existence. Silver coins called Karshapanas were used for trade.
The Satavahana period also witnessed overseas commercial activity. Ptolemy mentions many ports in the Deccan. The greatest port of the Satavahanas was Kalyani on the west Deccan. Gandakasela and Ganjam on the east coast were the other important seaports.
The Satavahanas patronized Buddhism and Brahmanism. They built chaityas and viharas. They also made grants of villages and lands to Buddhist monks. Vashishtaputra Pulamayi repaired the old Amaravathi stupa. Their architecture in Nagarjunakonda was also notable. Brahmanism was revived by the Satavahanas along with the performance of asvamedha and rajasuya sacrifices. They also patronized the Prakrit language and literature. Hala’s Sattasai is an excellent piece of Prakrit literature.
Foreign Invasions of Northwest India
Bactria and Parthia became independent from the Syrian empire in the middle of the third century B.C. Demetrius, the Greek ruler of Bactria invaded Afghanistan and Punjab and occupied them. From Taxila, he sent two of his commanders, Appolodotus and Menander for further conquests. Appolodotus conquered the Sindh and marched up to Ujjain. Menander extended his rule up to Mathura and from there he made attempts to capture Pataliputra. But he was stopped by the army of Vasumitra, the grandson of Pushyamitra Sunga.
Menander was also known as Milinda and the capital of his kingdom was Sakala (Sialcot). He evinced much interest in Buddhism and his dialogues with the Buddhist monk Nagasena was compiled in the Pali work, Milindapanho (Questions of Milinda). He also embraced Buddhism. A Greek ambassador Heliodorus became a Vaishnavite and erected the Garuda Pillar at Besnagar. The Greek influence in India lasted for more than a century after the death Menander.
The Sakas or the Scythians attacked Bactria and Parthia and captured them from the Greek rulers. Following the footsteps of the Greeks, the Sakas gradually extended their rule over northwestern India. There were two different groups of Sakas – the Northern Satraps ruling from Taxila and the Western satraps ruling over Maharashtra. The founder the Saka rule in India in the first century B.C. was Maues. His son and successor was Azes I, who was considered to be the founder of the Vikrama era. Sakas rulers of Taxila were overthrown by the Parthians.
The Kushanas were a branch of Yuchi tribe, whose original home was central Asia. They first came to Bactria displacing the Sakas. Then they gradually moved to the Kabul valley and seized the Gandhara region. The founder of the Kushana dynasty was Kujula Kadphises or Kadphises I. He occupied the Kabul valley and issued coins in his name. His son Wima Kadphises or Kadphises II conquered the whole of northwestern India as far as Mathura. He issued gold coins with high-sounding titles like the ‘Lord of the Whole World’. He was a devotee of Lord Siva.