Middle Kingdoms of India, Part 23


Lord Buddha
Indo-Greek, Gandhara, 1-2nd c. A.D.

May 06, 2015 — CANADA (SUN) — A serial presentation of India's great history, religious movements and temple architecture.

The Mahameghavahana dynasty

As noted in our last segment, it was King Khāraveḷa of the Mahameghavahana empire who drove the intruding Greek king Demetrius out of Magadha and into Mathura. Magadha was one of the sixteen Mahā-Janapadas or great early kingdoms in ancient India. The center of Magadha was in the area known today as Bihar, south of the Ganges. its first capital was Rajagriha, also known as Pataliputra.

Demetrius ruled in Taxila, an ancient city in what is today northwestern Pakistan. In the Gargi-Samhita, Yuga Purana chapter, there are descriptions of the Greek attacks on Mathura, Pataliputra, Saketa and Panchala. In this purana, historical events are related in the form of a prophecy. Pataliputra is described by Megasthenes as a magnificent fortified city with 570 towers and 64 gates, who describes the ultimate destruction of the city's walls:

    "Then, after having approached Saketa together with the Panchalas and the Mathuras, the Yavanas, valiant in battle, will reach Kusumadhvaja "The town of the flower-standard", Pataliputra). Then, once Puspapura [another name of Pataliputra] has been reached and its celebrated mud[-walls] cast down, all the realm will be in disorder."
    (Yuga Purana)

According to Yuga Purana, complete social disorder followed the destruction of the walls of this city in which the Yavanas rule and mingled with the people, and the position of the brahmins and sudras was inverted:

    "Sudras will also be utterers of bho [a form of address used towards an equal or inferior], and Brahmins will be utterers of arya [a form of address used towards a superior], and the elders, most fearful of dharma, will fearlessly exploit the people. And in the city the Yavanas, the princes, will make this people acquainted with them: but the Yavanas, infatuated by war, will not remain in Madhyadesa."
    (Yuga Purana)

The Hathigumpha inscription pictured in our last segment, written by King Khāraveḷa, describes the presence of the Greek king Demetrius with his army in eastern India, possibly as far as the city of Rajagriha, about 70 km southeast of Pataliputra. Leaving Rajagriha, one of the foremost Buddhist sacred cities, the inscription states that Demetrius retreated to Mathura on hearing of Kharavela's military successes further south:

    "Then in the eighth year, (Kharavela) with a large army having sacked Goradhagiri causes pressure on Rajagaha [Rajagriha]. On account of the loud report of this act of valour, the Yavana [Greek] King Dimi[ta] retreated to Mathura having extricated his demoralized army."
    (Epigraphia Indica, Vol. XX.)

The Anushasana parva of the Mahabharata also affirms that the country of Mathura was under the joint control of the Yavanas and the Kambojas. The Vayu Purana states that Mathura was ruled by seven Greek kings over a period of 82 years.

Whether partly because of, or in spite of the Greek presence in north India, Buddhism flourished under the Indo-Greek kings. Pictured above is a Greco-Buddhist sculpture of Buddha, from Gandhara, c. 1st-2nd Century A.D.

Many Demetrius Empire coins have been found at the site of Sirkap, such as the one below bearing his image:

Coin with image of King Demetrius I
Reigned c. 200–180 BC
Metropolitan Museum of Art


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