Kushan Dynasty


In the post-Mauryan era Central Asia and north-western India witnessed hectic and shifting political scenes. The Great Yuehi-Chi driven out of fertile land in western China migrated towards the Aral Sea. There they encountered the Sakas and overthrew them. They settled in the valley of Oxus and with the occupation of the Bactrian lands the great hordes were divided into five principalities.

A century later the Kushan section attained predominance over the others. Their leader was Kadphises. Thus began the history of Kushans. Kadphises attacked the regions south of Hindu Kush, conquered Kabul and annexed Gandhara including the kingdom of Taxila. He died in 78 AD. By then the Kushans had supplanted the princes belonging to the Indo-Greeks Saka and Indo-Parthian communities along the frontiers of India. The successor of Kadphises was Vima Kadphsis. He conquered large parts of North India. His coins show that his authority extended as far as Benaras and as well as Indus basin. His power extended as far as Narmada and Saka Satraps in Malwa and Western India acknowledged his sovereignty.

The next ruler Kanishka belonged to the little Yuehi-Chi section of the horde. His capital was Purusyapura and here he built many Buddhist buildings. In his early days he annexed Kashmir and consolidated his rule in the Indus and the Gangetic basin. His army crossed the pamirs and inflicted a defeat on the Chinese. A large number of inscriptions were incised during the time of Kanishka and his successor. He became an active patron of Buddhist Church during the later part of the reign. His coins prove that he honoured a medley of Gods -Zoroastrian, Greek, Mitraic and Indian. The prominent Indian deity was God Shiva. He also convened a council of Buddhist theologians to settle disputes relating to Buddhist faith and practices.

The conclusions of this council were engraved on copper sheets and preserved in the stupa of the capital. The delegates to the council primarily belonged to the Hinyana sect. Soon the Kushan power declined. Within the Kingdom Nagas and Yaudheyas troubled Kushans. A Naga ruler probably performed ten ashvamedha sacrifices. A few other tribes also like Malavas and Kunindas probably regained their importance at the expense of the Kushan Empire. There was a brisk trade as the area covered by the Kushan Empire helped the flow of trade between the east and the west.

Gold coins of great complexity were issued by the Kushans. These coins speak of the prosperity of the people and show the figure of Kanishka standing and sacrificing at altar and deities belonging to various religions. The coins also show that Kushans were in direct contact with the Romans. Their greatest contribution was Gandhara art. Stone images of the Buddha and Bodhisattavas were carved out. The chief feature was blending of Buddhist subjects with Greek forms.

Images of Buddha appear in the likeness of Apollo and the Yakshakubera is posed in the fusion of Zeus. The imprint of this school of art is still to be found in Mathura and Amaravati. The Chaitya built at Peshawar was as high as four storeys. Fahien passing through Gandhara during the fifth century praised the images of the Buddha, Bodhisattavas and numerous other deities. Kushan period saw propagation of Buddhism in Central Asia and China. Mahayana Buddhism was sanctified. The fourth Buddhist Council summoned by Kanishka canonized the doctrines of Hinayana and Mahayana. Not only Buddhism flourished but also different brahmanical sects started merging. Sanskrit language received an impetus. In a way the Kushan age constituted the prelude to the Gupta age.

The Kushan state was a buffer between the Aryan civilization and the nomadic hordes in Central Asia who time to time had overrun the civilized worlds with the sweep of avalanches. It was also responsible for the exchange of ideas and goods between different civilizations because of the peculiar geographical position occupied by the Kushanas.

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