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13-Indian History-AD-1 (001-650 AD)

India has a continuous civilization since 2500 BC. During the 2nd millennium, Aryan speaking tribes migrated from northwest into the Indian subcontinent. The following material has been taken from "A New History of India", by Stanley Wolpert. 2004.

The Classical Age - 320 BC-647 AD
The reunification of India under the Gupt kings (c 320-550 AD), and the reign of Harsh Vardhan (606-647) of Kannauj comprised India's classical age. New popular form of Hinduism emerged at this time together with temple art, and Sanskrit literature. The Gupt kings established their base in Magadh.

Kushaan, Shak, and Hoon
For five centuries, from the collapse of Mauryan dynasty (185 BC) to be a single dynasty over all north India was by Gupt. Throughout this era of political disunity, India enjoyed greatly expanded foreign trade.

The northwest region of Bactria declared its independence from Seleucid around 250 BC. By 190 BC, Greco-Bactrian invaders recaptured Peshaavar, and a decade later took the control of Panjaab. These people minted coins with their own gods' heads. The last of these kings ruled the Panjaab from his capital Sagalaa (modern Siyaalkot) around 150 BC and was converted to Buddhism by the monk Naagsen whose dialogs with the King are preserved in the "Milind-paanho" (questions of Milind) - an Indianized name of Menander. A number of inscribed columns with the mention of Bactrian conquest have survived, the most famous of which is the "Garud" pillar at Besnagar (Bhilasaa), which was erected by a Greek ambassador Heliodorus, who proclaimed himself as the worshipper of Vaasudev (identified with Krishn, black), to the 5th Shung king of Magadh Bhagabhadra

Krishn was a pre-Aarya local god of northwest India. Krishn was Aaryanized as an Avataar of Vishnu. The Vaidik Sun god gradually emerged as one of the two great gods of Hindu theism. Krishn was incorporated into a later portion of the Mahaabhaarat sometime around 200 BC as the Divine charioteer of Arjun. He revitalized the fallen spirit of Arjun in Bhagavad Geetaa (Song of the Blessed One). Vishnu would eventually have 10 Avataar including Krishn, Raam and Buddha.

Kushaan Kings-127-345 AD (218 years)
Kujalaa Kadphises
Vimaa Kadphises
Kanishk I - (127-140 AD)
Huvishk - (40-187 AD)
Vaasudev I - (191-225 AD)
Kanishk II - (200-222 AD)
Vashishk (232-246 AD)
Kanishk III (255-275 AD)
Vaasudev II (290-310 AD)
Chhoo (310-325 AD)
Shak I, the last ruler of the Kushaan Dynasty (325-345)

Revolt by Eucratides, at about 175 BC, brought a second line of Greco-Bactrian monarchs to power. They moved from Kaabul valley to Takshshilaa, dominating the Gaandhaar for more than a century. At about 50 BC Scythians (Shak) were displaced from their homeland in central Asia by the Kushaan. Shak were thus first among a number of Central Asian nomads who came to South Asian peninsula during these 50 years. 

China expanded its borders, so barbarians moved toward west. According to the account in the Apocryphal version of the Acts, when the apostles divided this world for preaching the word of Christ, India fell to Thomas. Thomas protested that he was too weak to go so far away. The then a certain merchant appeared before them and said that he needed a carpenter. That convinced Thomas, and the legend says that he died in South India (Goaa - there is a church there in which his body is kept).

Kushaan invaded India about the middle of the 1st century AD, when the last king of Pallav was defeated by these nomads and Shak were driven deeper into India settling in Maalavaa region around Ujjain. Shak people adopted Kshatriya names and cast their horoscopes by Braahman. Such infusion of Central Asian blood helped to generate a unique regional culture in Raajasthaan and in Central India. Many Hindu warriors, who were the fiercest opponents of Muslim invasions a 1000 years later, were descendents of these Shak and Kushaan and later Hoon, only.

The first Kushaan prince, Kujulaa Kadphises was the first Kushaan Emperor who united the Empire during the 1st century AD. His son was Vimaa Kadphises and his grandson of Kanishk I.

Kushaan King Kanishk - (c 127-140 AD) - 13 years
A silver scroll found at Takshshilaa mentions the name "Mahaaraajaa Raajaadhiraaj Devputra Kushaan", thus the Kushaan kings did not only call themselves "king of kings" but also "son of Heaven". The king who may have used this exalted title was probably the greatest of the Kushaan monarchs, Kanishk who reigned for more than two decades around 100 AD; ruling from his capital "Purushpur" (modern Peshaavar). He expanded his kingdom to Kashmeer, Panjaab, Sindh, Delhi, Mathuraa, Saanchee and Banaaras. A headless stone statue found at Mathuraa, may have been of Kanishk himself.

His wealth and wisdom attracted many artists, poets, musicians. The greatest of these was a Sanskrit poet-dramatist Ashwaghosh, a Buddhist who converted the king himself. He wrote "Buddha Charit" in Sanskrit poetry. Chinese Buddhist travelers have mentioned about the magnificent architecture in his times - a 14-storied wooden tower, more than 600 feet high, which was burned down unfortunately after 6th century; a beautiful silverwork casket, only 8" high, was unearthed in 1908 in Peshaavar borne with Kanishk's name. He was killed by his own lieutenants. after his death, Kushaan dynasty ruled for more than a century, only to be overthrown about 240 AD by Sassanians.

Perhaps he was succeeded by Huvishk in c 140-187 AD and remained on the throne until the last great Kushaan ruler Vaasudev I came 50 years later, 191-225 AD. This Vaasudev was the first king named after an Indian God. He converted to Hinduism during his reign. Vaasudev was succeeded by Kanishk II c 200-222 AD. He was succeeded by Vashishk

Gupt Period
Chandragupt I, (reigned, 320-335 AD) - 15 years
Who was no relation to his namesake the founder of Mauryan rule minted coin to commemorate his coronation at Paataliputra in February of 320 and assumed the title Mahaaraajaadhiraaj. He married to a daughter of Lichchhivi clan, which ruled the neighboring domain of Vaishaalee, North of the River Gangaa. It is said that he was the son of Ghatotkach.

Samudragupt (reigned, 335-375 AD) - 40 years
Son of Chandragupt I, Samudragupt was like Napolean of North India. A detailed eulogy to Samudragupt was engraved on one of Ashok's pillars at Ilaahaabaad - this gives the clear record of his conquests of ancient India. He was urged by his father to rule the whole world. He uprooted nine kings of North India, humbling 11 more in the South, and another five to pay tribute.

Chandragupt II (reigned, c 375-415 AD) - 40 years
His life and times are known through a Sanskrit drama "Devee Chandragupt", written by Vishaakhdatt, several centuries later, probably in the 6th century. That play tells that how Chandragupt's older brother Raam inherited their father's throne but proved himself weak by promising his wife to a barbaric Shak ruler who defeated him. Chandragupt, dressing as a woman, volunteered to take place of the queen, murdered the Shak monarch, and returned as a hero to his brother's court. after that Chandra Gupt murdered his brother Raam and marry his widow. We know more about India during his period because of the works of a famous poet Kaalidaas, and the diary kept by the visiting Chinese Buddhist pilgrim Faahiyaan (Fa-hsien) who traveled around India for 6 years at the beginning of the 5th century. Surprisingly he has never mentioned the king by his name, only by "king". Seven of Kaalidaas brilliant Sanskrit works have survived - but nothing about his life is known about this "Shakespeare of India". His name might indicate South Indian Shoodra birth, while internal literary evidence show that he was a Braahman from Mandsar or Ujjain. His great patron Vikramaaditya (means "whose splendor equaled that of the Sun") who drove the Shak from Ujjain, was Chandra Gupt II.

After Chandra Gupt defeated Shak in 409 AD, his direct control was over the ports of Arabian Sea. By marrying his daughter Prabhaavatee to Rudrasen II, Chandra Gupt II extended his empire to south of Vindhya mountains. Chandra Gupta II himself married Kuber, a queen of the Naag race and thus extended his power toward east.

Of Kaalidaas' seven works, "Abhigyaan Shaakuntalam is the most beautiful work, neither of Kaalidaas' other plays match Shakuntalaa's beauty, but his other work "Meghdoot" (the Cloud Messenger) is another literary gem. Shoodrak was another contemporary poet. His "Mrichchh-katikaa" (Little Clay Cart), is the realistic story of a poor Braahman, Chaarudatt who falls hopelessly in love with a courtesan Vasantsenaa. It is the only Sanskrit drama to include a legal trial scene.

Many temples were erected during his period - one temple to one god. Initially they were of modest size - a little more than the sanctuary, entered through a much larger square hall (Mandap) with a porch outside. They increased in large numbers after the 8th century. Cave art also flourished during this period - Ajantaa caves. Graceful human figures whose opulent jewelry and lavish hair styling reflect Gupt's courts - earthly paradise, worthy of preservation as scenes from Mahaayaan Buddhist Heaven. Yashodharaa's 5th century commentary on the Kaam Sootra includes a detailed discussion of the "six limbs" of painting. The Hindu kingdom of Fu-naan (south Vietnaam) was by now a prosperous state ruled by a Braahman named Kaundinya. Chandra Gupt II died in 415.

Kumaar Gupt I (reigned, 415-455 AD) - 40 years
He was the son of Chandra Gupt II and succeeded the throne in 415. He was the last Gupt Emperor who is known to have performed the sacred horse sacrifice (Ashwamedh Yagya). He minted gold coins with 6-headed, 10-armed war god Kaartikeya mounted on a peacock showing his personal symbol of power. His 1395 coins have been discovered in the Sataaraa District. This was the farthest limit of Gupt Empire towards South East. The quality and variety of the gold coins show his grandeur. He handed over his kingdom intact to his son Skand Gupt - last of the Gupt Dynasty, in 455. he had two sons - Puru Gupt and Skand Gupt.

Skand Gupt (reigned, 455-467 AD) - 12 years
He was Kumaar Gupt's younger son. As he sat on the throne, Hoon attacked him. He was busy to save himself from them during his whole ruling period of 12 years. Thus treasury got weaker and after Skand's death in 467, rapid decline ensued.

He was succeeded by his half brother Puru Gupt, who in turn was followed by his son Narasinh Gupt, who was followed by his son Kumaar Gupt II, reigned in 473 AD

Vardhan Period

Prabhaakar Vardhan
After the downfall of Gupt Empire in the middle of the 6th century, India was divided in small kingdoms. Hoon came to rule in Panjaab. The northern and Western India was passed on to many state kings. One of them was Prabhaakar Vardhan who was the king of Sthaaneshwar and belonged to Pushpbhooti family. He was the first king of Vardhan dynasty. His capital was Thaanesar (or Thaaneshwar or Shaaneshwar, located in the vicinity of Kurukshetra) in Panjaab / Hariyaanaa. He died in 606. Prabhaakar Vardhan had two sons - Raajya Vardhan and Harsh Vardhan and one daughter Raajyashree. After he died Raajya Vardhan should have been the natural successor, but at the time of his death he was not present, He had gone to fight with Hoon. Messengers were sent to bring him back. He came back after the victory, and was so shocked that he renounced the world and became ascetic. He gave his kingdom to his younger brother Harsh.

When they were giving the kingdom to each other, they heard the King of Maalavaa Devagupt killed their brother-in-law (Raajyashree's husband  Grihavarman) and made Raajyashree prisoner. Baan Bhatt has described this  news in his "Harsh Charit" in the following words - "Hearing this news Raajya Vardhan left the idea of renouncing the world and made up his mind to destroy the dynasty of the Maalavaa King. He immediately set out to defeat the Maalavaa King. Raajya Vardhan fought with the king of Maalavaa to avenge the death of his brother-in-law, but Shashaank, the king of the Gaud killed him treacherously."

It is stated by Shankar in a commentary on Harsh Charit written in the 14th century that Shashaank "allured Raajya Vardhan to his camp with a promise of giving his daughter in marriage to him. When Raajya Vardhan, was enjoying the feast there along with his attendants, he was murdered by Shashaank in disguise." Harsh Vardhan deeply loved his sister Raajyashree, so he saved her from becoming Satee.

Harsh Vardhan (606-647 AD) - 41 years
A remarkable young monarch, a 16-year boy, rose to the power in Thaaneshwar, north to Delhi in 606 and attempted to unify independent states. Thanks to Baan Bhatt, a Braahman courtier,  who wrote "Harsh Charit" and the Buddhist pilgrim "Hwaan Saang (Hsuan Tsang) whose journey "In the Footsteps of the Buddha" brought him to India from 630-644. Harsh eventually ruled over most of North India, from Kaathiyaavaad to Bangaal, during the 41 years of his reign. As Harsh Vardhan died without any heir, his kingdom died with him too. He was the last Empire builder of ancient India. He extended the kingdom from the Bay of Bengal to the Arabian Sea and from the Himaalaya in the North to the Narmadaa in the South. He also tried with his efforts to bring South India under his rule. He wrote three well known plays - Naagnand, Ratnaavalee, and Priyadarshikaa.

He also followed Buddhism as Ashok. He was a poet too along with being a war king. as his kingdom expanded, he shifted his capital to Kannauj. According to Baanbhatt, he was the descendent of Pushpbhooti who founded the kingdom of Sthaaneshwar (modern Thaanesar near Delhi), one of the 51 Shakti Peeth. The Chinese monk Huaan Tsaang states that he was a Vaishya.

During his reign, the classical form of worship grew in popularity. Devotees brought their own fruits, sweets and other delicacies to the icons of god, as well as by the performance of a number of secret rituals associated with female power (Shakti) that have come to be called Taantrik. Taantrism spread throughout the subcontinent transforming Buddhism as well as Hinduism, possibly from Bangaal. Vajrayaan (Vehicle of the Thunderbolt) Buddhism also emerged here in the 7th century. It introduced most powerful a number of female Divinities in Buddhism, called Taaraa(s) - the consorts of weaker Buddha and Bodhi Sattwa.

The third form of Buddhism subsequently became most important in Nepaal and Tibbat (Tibet). The Taantrik Hinduism and Buddhism both exalted female power as the highest form of Divine strength. True worship of the Mother through sexual intercourse was regarded as Divine ritual. But since the traditional Braahman and Buddhist did not permit this, it relegated to secret sites. Taantrik ritual is intimately connected to the practice of Yog. Since control of the body and breath are central to the proper performance of the intercourse, Yog was pursued first of all along 8-fold path of Raaj Yog ("Royal Yog") through self-control, observance of the proper conduct, practice of posture (Aasan) as well as breath (Praan) exercises, organic restraint and mind steadying, to the perfect achievement of deep meditation (Samaadhi) and the absolute freedom "Kaivalya" (Moksh).

[Harshvardhan is famous for conducting a religious conference in which approximately 1,000 people participated including Chinese visitor to India - Huen Saang. Huen Saang's lecture on Mahaayaan (a branch of Buddhism) annoyed a lot of followers of Heenyaan Buddhism and they tried to physically harm him, but Harshvardhan protected him. This conference lasted for 21 days. This conference annoyed Braahman also who tried to kill the king but their attempt failed.]

After Harshvardhan, the succeeding period is very obscure and badly documented.

7th Century AD
After the arrival of Indo-Aryans, the kingdoms of Ang, Vang and Magadh were formed by the 10th century BC (1000 BC) located in the Bihaar and Bangaal regions. Magadh was one of the four main kingdoms of India at the time of Buddha and consisted of several Janapad (Divisions). One of the earliest foreign references to Bangaal is the mention of a land named Gangaridai by the Greeks around 100 BC, located in an area in Bangaal. From the 3rd to the 6th centuries AD, the kingdom of Magadh served as the seat of the Gupt Empire. The first recorded independent king of Bangaal was Shashaank, reigning around early 7th century AD. After a period of anarchy, the native Buddhist Paal Empire ruled the region for 400 years, and expanded across much of the Indian subcontinent into Afgaanistaan during the reigns of Dharmpaal and Devpaal.

Yog was only one of six schools of classical Hindu Philosophy that emerged in this era and that continued to be studied throughout India to this day. The Saankhya school, closely related to Yog may also antedate the Aarya's conquest, though its oldest surviving text, Ishvar Krishna's "Saankhya Verses", dates only to about the 2nd century AD. This philosophy analyzes the world as consisting of 25 basic principles, 24 of which are matter (Prakriti or nature) and the 25th one being "Spirit", or "Self" (Purush). There is no Divine creator in this system. All matter is eternal, uncaused, but basically three-fold in its qualities, or strands or attributes (Gun) - Sat (truthful), Rajas (passionate), and Tamas (dark). Whichever of these qualities dominates will determine the "nature" of things and people, virtuous or noble, strong and bright, or inert, dull, mean, cruel, and so forth.

The 24 forms of matter evolve from "Prakriti",
which brings forth Buddhi (intelligence),
giving birth to Ahankaar (ego-sense),
thence to Manas (mind),
from which the five senses emerge [seeing, hearing, taste, smell, touch] and
then the five sense organs [eyes, ears, tongue, nose, sense]
then five organs of action - [hands, feet, reproduction, excretion, ] and finally
the five gross elements - [ether, air, light, water, earth].

Purush stands alone, however, there are an infinite number of such "men", all equal, each of which unites with the feminine gender "Prakriti". The ultimate salvation of Purush lies in his recognition of separateness and distinction from Prakriti, allowing the Spirit or soul to cease suffering and attain freedom.

Four Other Philosophies
The four other schools of classical Hindu Darshan (philosophies) are generally also coupled - Nyaaya with Vaisheshikaa; Poorv-Meemaansaa with Vedaant.

Nyaaya means analysis and it is the Hindu system of logic which teaches salvation through knowledge of some 16 categories of reasoning and analysis, including syllogism, debate, refutations, disputations and argument of every sort. This Nyaaya system is more elaborate than the Greek, its typical 5-part example being - (1) the hill is on fire, (20 because it is smoky, (3) whatever is smoky is on fire, as in kitchen, (4) so with the hill, (5) therefore, the hill is on fire. Not only do Hindu logicians insist on a middle example, they also caution against no fewer than five kinds of fallacious middles, making Nyaaya the world's most intricate and elaborate system of logical analysis.

The Vaisheshikaa (individual characteristics) school of Hindu philosophy is sometimes called India's "atomic" system, for its basic premise is the unique character of each element of nature. The material universe emerges from the molecular interaction of the atoms that make up Earth, water, air, and fire. There are, however, There are, however, non-atomic Dravya ("substances") as well, such as soul and mind, or time and space, to help explain whatever the atomic theory may leave inexplicable. Salvation in this school, is achieved through perfect knowledge, following which the "self" is released from matter and rebirth.

The Poorv-Meemaansaa (early inquiry) school was based entirely on the study of Rig Vaidik ritual and sacred texts. For these Hindu fundamentalists, salvation was equated with the precise performance of the Som sacrifice, since everything prescribed in the Ved must be taken literally as eternal truth. This system attracted fewer and fewer adherents over time.

Vedaant (end of Ved) derives its inspiration from Upanishad speculation rather than Rig Vaidik sacrifice, and is alternately called "Uttar-Meemaansaa" (later inquiry). It has been Hinduism's most influential philosophical system, developing many subsidiary branches and attracting people of all ages, of all places, and of all religions. Through the monistic principle of Brahm, Vedaant philosophy seeks a reconciliation of all seeming differences and conflicts in Hindu scriptures.

The greatest Vedaant teacher was Shankar (c 780-820), a South Indian Braahman whose school of unqualified monism developed the idea of our world as Maayaa (illusion), the one reality being Brahm, whose name was also Aatmaa. During his brief career, he wandered from his home, Keral, to the Himaalaya, established many Math (religious centers) and became a saintly teacher, only second to Buddha. The other one was Raamaanuj (c 1025-1137) who viewed Brahm as a Divine being. Rejecting Maayaa, he stressed the importance of Bhakti, by which he meant intense love, devotion and meditation to God, as the sure path to Moksh.

This movement became the most important in South India during this era. Tamil poet-saints, whether Shaivite (Naayanaar) or Vaishnavite (Alavaar) sang of their intense devotion. It affected North India also

Pallav Dynasty in South India - 7th Century AD - Mahaabalipuram
One of the Pallav kings, Mahendra Vikram Varmaa I, ruled Kaancheepuram for the first 30 years of the 7th century, during Harsh Vardhan's ruling period in North India. He adopted the lion as his symbol and it remained throughout the Pallav Dynasty's beast.

During the rule of his son Narasinh Varmaa I (c 640-668), beautiful monolithic Rath (chariots) were carved at the Pallav seaport of Mahaabalipuram, south of Madraas (Chennai) and near the mouth of the Palar River, some 40 miles up the capital Kaancheepuram. Hewn from granite rocks, the "seven Pagoda" of Mahaabalipuram (only one of which remains now), are among the earliest and finest examples of Dravidian architecture and South Indian rock sculpture. Although drifting sands and shifting tides have long since altered the coastline leaving it a deserted port village, still the remains of an elaborate tank and canal system attest its once-flourishing prosperity.

Then came Raaj Sinh, and then Mahendra Varmaa III (c 700) saw the development of the temple, both at Mahaabalipuram and Kaancheepuram. The Shiv and Vaikunth Peroomal Temples at Kaancheepuram were the highpoints of Pallav art and the beginning of the Draavidian temple style - with its truncated pyramidal tower (Shikhar) rising over the central shrine.

Raashtrakoot Kings in South India - 8th Century AD - Kailaash Naath Temple at Ellora
Danteedurgaa, the first of Raashtrakoot kings, seized power over Chaalukya kings at Badaamee (south of the River Krishnaa) in 752. The Raashtrakoot capital was established at Elloraa near the modern city of Aurangaabaad, north of the River Godaavaree, where Danteedurgaa's successor Krishnaa I (reign, 756-775) subsidized the excavation of India's foremost rock temple, one of the architectural wonders of the world - the Kailaashnaath Temple of Lord Shiv. This was carved out of a mountain of solid rock. The genius of Indian stone carving has never been so brilliantly demonstrated. There are many Buddhist, Jain and other Hindu caves at Elloraa, some quite beautiful, but there is only one Kailaashnaath. Raashtrkoot power remained throughout the 9th and early 10th centuries



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Created by Sushma Gupta on 3/15/06
Updated on 05/04/13