Middle Kingdoms of India, Part 7


A gold dinar honoring Lord Shiva, who is pouring water from flask and
holding the vajra (thunderbolt), trident, and tamgha (he-goat).

Apr 02, 2015 — CANADA (SUN) — A serial presentation of India's great history, religious movements and temple architecture.

Today we begin to discuss the second group of invading tribes whose appearance on mother Bharat's soil marks the start of the Middle Kingdom period of ancient Indian history. The Middle Kingdom of India, also known as Classical India, spanned a 1,500 year period from the early 3rd Century B.C. to the 13th Century.

As we segue from the ancient Scythians (Sakas) to the Indo-Greeks, we have an opportunity to hear about a particularly interesting way in which this ancient history is related to, and memorialized by various sastric and ancient epic works of Vedic literature. First, a summary of the Greek invaders:

The Indo-Greeks

"The Indo-Greek Kingdom (or sometimes Graeco-Indian Kingdom[1]) covered various parts of the north-west and northern Indian subcontinent during the last two centuries B.C, and was ruled by more than 30 Hellenistic kings,[2] often in conflict with each other. The kingdom was founded when the Greco-Bactrian king Demetrius invaded India early in the 2nd century B.C. (In this context the boundary of "India" is the Hindu Kush.)

The Greeks in India were eventually divided from the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom centered in Bactria (now the border between Afghanistan and Uzbekistan). The expression "Indo-Greek Kingdom" loosely describes a number of various dynastic polities. There were numerous cities, such as Taxila[3] Pakistan's Punjab, or Pushkalavati and Sagala.[4] These cities would house a number of dynasties in their times, and based on Ptolemy's Geographia and the nomenclature of later kings, a certain Theophila in the south was also probably a satrapal or royal seat at some point.

During the two centuries of their rule, the Indo-Greek kings combined the Greek and Indian languages and symbols, as seen on their coins, and blended ancient Greek, Vedic and Buddhist religious practices, as seen in the archaeological remains of their cities and in the indications of their support of Buddhism, pointing to a rich fusion of Indian and Hellenistic influences.[5]

The diffusion of Indo-Greek culture had consequences which are still felt today, particularly through the influence of Greco-Buddhist art. The Indo-Greeks ultimately disappeared as a political entity around 10 A.D. due to conflicts with the Indo-Scythians, although pockets of Greek populations probably remained for several centuries longer under the subsequent rule of the Indo-Parthians and Kushans."[6,7]

Bridging a Gap in Puranic History: Indications from 'Yuga Purana' help establish timeline of Puranic events, dynasties

In an article by this title, author Pradip Bhattacharya offers the following interesting perspective on Middle Kingdom history as revealed in the Puranas:

"Despite the casual tossing away of Puranic accounts by Indologists prejudiced by western historicism, the fact remains that these texts provide a remarkably detailed account of dynasties of rulers along with a picture of social conditions that need to be included in any marshalling of facts relating to ancient India.

A major puzzle that has faced scholars in this area is the absence of references to invasions by Greeks and Scythians, whose historicity is substantiated through other sources. In the first year of the new millennium part of this gap has been covered thanks to the invaluable research of Dr. James Mitchiner, till recently the British Deputy High Commissioner in Kolkata. The Vriddha Gargiya Jyotisha contains just two chapters entitled "Yuga Purana" consisting of 115 shlokas, referring to both Indo-Greeks and Indo-Scythians.

The second edition of Mitchiner's critical edition (published by The Asiatic Society) collates 16 manuscripts to present the text with an English translation and a lengthy discussion that provides fascinating new data.

In this Purana, related by Shiva in response to Skanda's queries, there is no mention of the Manvantara tradition, of Kalki, or of Abhiras that occur in Mahabharata when it speaks of the coming of Kali Yuga in terms taken from the Vayu Purana. The Abhira reference flags the epic passage as not earlier than 250 A.D.

The Yuga Purana predates at least this part of the epic and also the Matsya Purana which quotes from the Gargiya Jyotisha. Unlike other Puranas that record only names of dynasties of Kali Yuga, it provides accounts of reigns of specific kings. It is also the only text to speak of 12 regions (mandalas) that are peopled after the end of the yuga. It is unique in not terming these survivors as mlechchas. Indeed, that term is used for only a single individual, the mysterious Amrata, destroyer of castes, red-eyed and red-clothed, whom Mitchiner identifies with Kharavela. He looted the Magadhan capital after the Shaka incursion around 60 B.C., and just before the end of the Kali Yuga around mid 1st century B.C. This Purana completely ignores the Ramayana and, even when mentioning Parashurama and Keshava, knows nothing of avatarahood. On this basis it can be dated as earlier than all the Puranas and both epics.

King Simuka Satavahana, named in inscriptions, is identical with Sishuka or Sindhuka of the Puranas, founder of the Andhra dynasty (that is how the Satavahanas are referred to in the Puranas). He is known to Jain accounts as Gadabhilla, father of Vikrama, who ruled over Pratishthan and Malwa. The Yuga Purana knows him as Satuvara, an oppressive ruler, just before the Shakas invaded around 60 B.C. They were routed by Shri Shatakarni, mentioned in the Puranas and the Sanchi inscription, who is the Yuga Purana's "Shata", an abbreviation of the full name "Shri Sata" that occurs on coins from Ujjain. The era of 58 B.C. is linked to this feat, although it was founded by the Shaka king Azes and brought into use from about 150 A.D. by the Malavas of Ujjain, referring to it as their Krita era (cf. the Mandasor inscription). Around 750 A.D. it came to be known as the Vikrama era.

Mitchiner convincingly argues that Shri Shatakarni was the king later renowned as "Vikrama", the valorous one. Similarly, after defeating the Shakas, Gautamiputra Shatakarni (107-131 A.D.) took the same epithet. After Shri Shatakarni's reign, however, Malwa was lost to the Satavahanas. This is reflected in the legends of the rivalry between Vikrama in Ujjain and Satavahana/Shalivahana in Pratishthan. Later the title "Vikrama" was assumed by Chandra Gupta II after defeating the Shakas, and subsequently by several Chalukya rulers.

An interesting aspect of Yuga Purana is its condemnation of Bhikshukas (beggars) clad in bark-cloth, having matted hair and those who dress in red (Buddhist ascetics). It favours active life and despises those who relax as householders. There is strong opposition to Sudras having taken over performance of yajnas. An interesting social commentary is provided in its deploring the excessive female population, because of which men see "an extraordinary sight. Women will do the ploughing …(they will be) warriors with bows due to the scarcity of men. Women will trade in the villages and towns, while men will be at ease as householders dressed in red."

(To be continued…)


[1] As in other compounds such as "French-Canadian", "African-American", "Indo-European" etc..., the area of origin usually comes first, and the area of arrival comes second, so that "Greco-Indian" is normally a more accurate nomenclature than "Indo-Greek". The latter however has become the general usage, especially since the publication of Narain's book "The Indo-Greeks".

[2] Euthydemus I was, according to Polybius 11.34, a Magnesian Greek. His son, Demetrius I, founder of the Indo-Greek kingdom, was therefore of Greek ethnicity at least by his father. A marriage treaty was arranged for the same Demetrius with a daughter of the Seleucid ruler Antiochus III (who had some Persian descent). Polybius 11.34. The ethnicity of later Indo-Greek rulers is less clear ("Notes on Hellenism in Bactria and India". W. W. Tarn. Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol. 22 (1902), pages 268–293). For example, Artemidoros (80 BC) may have been of Indo-Scythian ascendency. Some level of inter-marriage may also have occurred, as exemplified by Alexander III of Macedon (who married Roxana of Bactria) or Seleucus (who married Apama).

[3] Mortimer Wheeler Flames over Persepolis (London, 1968). Pp. 112 ff. It is unclear whether the Hellenistic street plan found by John Marshall's excavations dates from the Indo-Greeks or from the Kushans, who would have encountered it in Bactria; Tarn (1951, pp. 137, 179) ascribes the initial move of Taxila to the hill of Sirkap to Demetrius I, but sees this as "not a Greek city but an Indian one"; not a polis or with a Hippodamian plan.

[4] "Menander had his capital in Sagala" Bopearachchi, "Monnaies", p.83. McEvilley supports Tarn on both points, citing Woodcock: "Menander was a Bactrian Greek king of the Euthydemid dynasty. His capital (was) at Sagala (Sialkot) in the Punjab, "in the country of the Yonakas (Greeks)"." McEvilley, p.377. However, "Even if Sagala proves to be Sialkot, it does not seem to be Menander's capital for the Milindapanha states that Menander came down to Sagala to meet Nagasena, just as the Ganges flows to the sea."

[5] "A vast hoard of coins, with a mixture of Greek profiles and Indian symbols, along with interesting sculptures and some monumental remains from Taxila, Sirkap and Sirsukh, point to a rich fusion of Indian and Hellenistic influences", India, the Ancient Past, Burjor Avari, p.130

[6] "When the Greeks of Bactria and India lost their kingdom they were not all killed, nor did they return to Greece. They merged with the people of the area and worked for the new masters; contributing considerably to the culture and civilization in southern and central Asia." Narain, "The Indo-Greeks" 2003, p. 278.

[7] Wikipedia


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