Here are some Very Interesting Facts about some Golden Periods in our Ancient Indian History, The Mauryan Empire, Kushan Dynasty, Gupta Empire and Harsha Vardhana, Pratiharas, Rashtrakutas 753-973 A.D. 600 years after the Great Maurya Empire, Useful points on Golden Periods in Indian History for competitive exams & General Knowledge Purpose for MPPSC 2013 and SSC CGL.
The Mauryan Empire :
This was the beginning of one India’s greatest dynasties, The Maurya. In 322 B.C., Magadha, under the rule of Chandragupta Maurya, began to assert its hegemony over neighboring areas. Chandragupta, who ruled from 324 to 301 B.C., was the architect of the first Indian imperial power-the Mauryan Empire (326-184 B.C.)–whose capital was Pataliputra, near modern-day Patna, in Bihar. Legend states that Chandragupta’s success was due in large measure to his adviser Kautilya, the Brahman author of the Arthashastra (Science of Material Gain), a textbook that outlined governmental administration and political strategy.
Situated on rich alluvial soil and near mineral deposits, especially iron, Magadha was at the center of bustling commerce and trade. The capital was a city of magnificent palaces, temples, a university, a library, gardens, and parks, as reported by Megasthenes, the third-century B.C. Greek historian and ambassador to the Mauryan court. There was a highly centralized and hierarchical government with a large staff, which regulated tax collection, trade and commerce, industrial arts, mining, vital statistics, welfare of foreigners, maintenance of public places including markets and temples, and prostitutes. A large standing army and a well-developed espionage system were maintained. The empire was divided into provinces, districts, and villages governed by a host of centrally appointed local officials, who replicated the functions of the central administration.
Ashoka, was the most trusted son of Bindusara and grandson of Chandragupta . During his father’s reign, he was the governor of Ujjain and Taxila. Having sidelined all claims to the throne from his brothers, Ashoka was coroneted as an emperor. He ruled from 269 to 232 B.C. and was one of India’s most illustrious rulers. Under the great king Ashoka the Mauryan empire conquered nearly the entire subcontinent, Ashoka extended the Maurya Empire to the whole of India except the deep south and the south-east, reaching out even into Central Asia.
Ashoka’s inscriptions chiseled on rocks and stone pillars located at strategic locations throughout his empire–such as Lampaka (Laghman Afghanistan), Mahastan (Bangladesh), and Brahmagiri (Karnataka)–constitute the second set of datable historical records. According to some of the inscriptions, in the aftermath of the carnage resulting from his campaign against the powerful kingdom of Kalinga (Orissa), Ashoka renounced bloodshed and pursued a policy of nonviolence or ahimsa, espousing a theory of rule by righteousness. His toleration for different religious beliefs and languages reflected the realities of India’s regional pluralism although he personally seems to have followed Buddhism. His rule marked the height of the Maurya empire, and it collapsed only 100 years after his death.
Under his reign Buddhism spread to Syria, Egypt, Macedonia, Central Asia, Burma. For propagation of Buddhism, he started inscribing edicts on rocks and pillars at places where people could easily read them. These pillars and rocks are still found in India, spreading their message of love and peace for the last two thousand years. To his ideas he gave the name Dharma. Ashoka died in 232 BC. The capital of Ashoka pillar at Sarnath is adopted by India as its national emblem. The “Dharma Chakra” on the Ashoka Pillar adorns our National Flag.
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Kushan Dynasty :
After the decomposition of the Mauryan Empire in the second century B.C, South Asia became a collage of regional powers with overlapping boundaries. India’s unguarded northwestern border again attracted a series of invaders between 200 B.C. and A.D. 300.
The invaders became “Indianized” in the process of their conquest and settlement. Also, this period witnessed remarkable intellectual and artistic achievements inspired by cultural diffusion and syncretism. The Indo-Greeks, or the Bactrians, of the northwest contributed to the development of numismatics; they were followed by another group, the Shakas from the steppes of Central Asia, who settled in western India. Still other nomadic people, the Yuezhi, who were forced out of the Inner Asian steppes of Mongolia, drove the Shakas out of northwestern India and established the Kushana Kingdom (first century B.C.-third century A.D.) The Kushana Kingdom controlled parts of Afghanistan and Iran, and in India the realm stretched from Purushapura (Peshawar, Pakistan) in the northwest, to Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh) in the east, and to Sanchi (Madhya Pradesh) in the south. For a short period, the kingdom reached still farther east, to Pataliputra. The Kushana Kingdom was the crucible of trade among the Indian, Persian, Chinese, and Roman empires and controlled a critical part of the legendary Silk Road. Kanishka, who reigned for two decades starting around A.D. 78, was the most noteworthy Kushana ruler. He converted to Buddhism and convened a great Buddhist council in Kashmir. The Kushanas were patrons of Gandharan art, a synthesis between Greek and Indian styles, and Sanskrit literature. They initiated a new era called Shaka in A.D. 78, and their calendar, which was formally recognized by India for civil purposes starting on March 22, 1957, is still in use.
Gupta Empire and Harsha Vardhana:
Gupta age – Under Chandragupta I (320-335), empire was revived in the north. Like Chandragupta Maurya, he first conquered Magadha, set up his capital where the Mauryan capital had stood (Patna), and from this base consolidated a kingdom over the eastern portion of northern India. In addition, Chandragupta revived many of Asoka’s principles of government. It was his son, however, Samudragupta(335-376), and later his grandson, Chandragupta II (376-415), who extended the kingdom into an empire over the whole of the north and the western Deccan. Chandragupta II was the greatest of the Gupta kings and called Vikramaditya. From Pataliputra, their capital, he sought to retain political preeminence as much by pragmatism and judicious marriage alliances as by military strength.
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The greatest writer of the time wasKalidasa. Poetry in the Gupta age tended towards a few genres: religious and meditative poetry, lyric poetry, narrative histories (the most popular of the secular literatures), and drama. Kalidasa excelled at lyric poetry, but he is best known for his dramas. The Indian numeral system–sometimes erroneously attributed to the Arabs, who took it from India to Europe where it replaced the Roman system–and the decimal system are Indian inventions of this period. Aryabhatta’s expositions on astronomy in 499 A.D. gave calculations of the solar year and the shape and movement of astral bodies with remarkable accuracy. In medicine, Charaka and Sushruta wrote about a fully evolved medical system. Indian physicians excelled in pharmacopoeia, caesarean section, bone setting, and plastic surgery including skin grafting.
Harsha Vardhana :
The northern and western regions of India passed into the hands of a dozen or more feudatories. Gradually, one of them, Prabhakar Vardhana, the ruler of Thanesar, who belonged to the Pushabhukti family, extended his control over all other feudatories. Prabhakar Vardhan was the first king of the Vardhan dynasty with his capital at Thanesar now a small town in the vicinity of Kurukshetra in the state of Haryana. After the death of Prabahakar Vardhan in 606 A.D., his eldest son, RajyaVardhan, became king of Kananuj. Harsha ascended the throne at the age of 16 after his brother Rajya Vardhana was killed in a battle against Malwa King Devigupta and Gauda King Sasanka.
Harsha, quickly re-established an Indian empire. From 606-647 AD, he ruled over an empire in northern India. Harsha was perhaps one of the greatest conquerors of Indian history, and unlike all of his conquering predecessors, he was a brilliant administrator. He was also a great patron of culture. His capital city, Kanauj, extended for four or five miles along the Ganges River and was filled with magnificent buildings. Only one fourth of the taxes he collected went to administration of the government. The remainder went to charity, rewards, and especially to culture: art, literature, music, and religion. The most significant achievements of this period, however, were in religion, education, mathematics, art, and Sanskrit literature and drama. Education included grammar, composition, logic, metaphysics, mathematics, medicine, and astronomy.
Pala and Sena: 730-1197 A.D.
The Pala empire was founded in 730 AD. They ruled over parts of Bengal and Bihar. Dharmapala (780-812 AD) was one of the greatest kings of the Pala dynasty. He did much to restore the greatness of Pataliputra. The Nalanda university was revived under their rule. The Palas had close trade contacts and cultural links with South-East Asia.
In the early twelfth century, they were replaced by the Sena dynasty. In early 13th century, Tughan Khan defeated the Sena king, Laxman. After this defeat the Nalanda University was destroyed.
Pratiharas 750-920 AD
The greatest ruler of the Pratihara dynasty was Mihir Bhoja. He recovered Kanauj (Kanyakubja) by 836, and it remained the capital of the Pratiharas for almost a century. He built the city Bhojpal (Bhopal). Raja Bhoja and other valiant Gujara kings, faced and defeated many attacks of the Arabs from west.
Between 915-918AD, attack by a Rashtrakuta king, to the weakening of the Pratihara Empire and also who devastated the city of Kannauj. In 1018 AD, Mahmud of Gazni sacked Kannauj then ruled by Rajyapala Pratihara. The empire broke into independent Rajput states.
Rashtrakutas 753-973 A.D.
Dantidurga laid the foundation of Rashtrakuta empire. The Rashtrakuta’s empire was the most powerful of the time. They ruled from Lattaluru (Latur), and later shifted the capital to Manyaketa (Malkhed).
Amoghavarsha (814-880 A.D) is the most famous Rashtrakuta kings. His long reign was distinguished for its royal patronage of Jainism and the flourishing of regional literature. Indra III, great-grandson of Amoghvarsha defeated the Pratihar king Mahipala. Krishana III was the last great king of Rashtrakuta dynasty. Rashtrakutas were great patrons of art and architecture. Krishana I, built the Kailasa Temple at Ellora. The caves at Gharapuri (Elephanta near Mumbai) were also built by this dynasty.