India: Medieval Dynasties

Achievements Of The Gupta Kings

The Gupta period in India was characterized by elaborate activity in trade and not just huge material wealth. It was creativity that defined this period. Scholars were truly stupendous, literature was fabulous and arts flourished immensely. After the assassination of the last Mauryan king, the Mauryan Empire collapsed in 185 B.C.E.

All over India, small kingdoms came up in the place of the Mauryan Empire. Different states were at war with each other for nearly five centuries. After this, in 320 C.E. Chandragupta-I ascended the throne and inaugurated a new empire. A lot of principles of the government of Maurya were revived by Chandragupta after which he paved the way for Samudragupta, his son for the further advancement of an extensive empire.

King Samudra Gupta’s Achievements

In ancient India, there was a brilliant king called Samudragupta. This second Gupta monarch took up the dynasty of the Gupta’s to dizzy heights to a position that was significant. He was called the Napoleon and Alexander the Great of India. His achievements were marvellous. In Indian history he was one of the most accomplished and remarkable of all kings. He was born to Kumaradevi and Chandragupta-I, the joint rulers. Samudragupta was the best amongst the sons. Kumaradevi was the daughter of the Lichchhavis and Samudragupta was proud of being her son. At the royal court, in the presence of all the courtiers, Samudragupta was selected as the successor by Chandragupta-I and blessed him stating ‘Protect you this Earth’.

In around 335AD he ascended the throne. The counsellors were very happy with the selection. However, the rivals and Chandragupta’s other sons felt disappointed. Hence Samudragupta’s accession became a dispute. Kacha, his elder brother headed the revolt made by the other princes. Samudragupta ascended the throne by suppressing the revolt and killing Kacha. Certain scholars state that for a brief period, Kacha was able to seize the throne and struck some coins. Coins such as these bearing Kacha’s name have been found.

Samudragupta’s patronage and artistic talent can be seen from the pillars that were inscribed and coins that were engraved during his time. This great warrior was passionate about conquest. Under his rule he united India and waged many wars across the subcontinent of India. At any cost he wanted to attain victory. As he kept sweeping through the territories, he was offered presents and tribute by a lot of potential victims, in the hope of seeking mercy. However Samurdragupta granted little mercy. In the north nine kings were defeated by him and in the south twelve kings had to face defeat.

The twelve kings he defeated were, Mahendra of Kosala, Vyaghraraja of Mahakantar, Mantaraja of Kurala, Mahendra of Kurala, Swamidatta of Kottura, Daman of Erandapalia, Vishnugopa of Kanchi, Nularaja of Avamukta, Hastivarman of Vengi, Ugrasena of Palakka, Kubera of Devarashtra and Dhananjaya of Kusthalpur.

His victories were celebrated by slaughtering horses in countless numbers, called the Aswamedha Sacrifice. Under Samudragupta’s reign territories of the Gupta’s expanded. Singlehandedly, he was not able to attain military success. His local squads consisted of five soldiers on foot, three cavalrymen with arms, one chariot and one elephant. The local squads protected villages of the Guptas from revolts and raids. They formed a royal army that was powerful enough when these squads joined together.

Progress During Samudragupta’s Reign

For the emerging classical art, he set the stage for what flourished under his son’s successor Chandragupta-II’s rule. Art was given high value and great support was extended by Chandragupta II. For their work, he paid artists huge money which in the ancient civilizations was a rare phenomenon.

During Samudragupta’s reign, science and literature made considerable progress due to monetary compensation paid. During the Golden Age of the Gupta period, the Nalanda University as a centre for Buddhist learning was founded. Buddha himself had visited the place many times after which the Buddhist learning centre was built. The Gupta kings patronized this centre.

Hindu traditions and rituals were practiced by the Gupta rules but the empire was also characterized by freedom of religion which is evident from the setting of the Buddhist University, for a peaceful coexistence of Buddhists and Hindus.

Paintings, scholarly achievements, magnificent sculpture and architecture also developed. Drama, poetry and literature were produced during the Dynasty of the Guptas. To entertain, educate and enrich the people, a lot of lyric poetry, narrative histories and meditative and religious writing emerged. On subjects related to astronomy, math, medicine and grammar a lot of essays were composed formally. Kamasutra is considered to be the period’s well known essay. As per the Hindu laws, it provides rules about the art of marriage and love.
Aryabhatta, the scientist and Kalidasa the greatest writer of the Gupta Dynasty were this era’s most popular scholars. Kalidasa filled plays with epic heroism and humor and raised drama to new heights. Much before the famous voyage was made by Colombus, scientist Aryabhatta made a proposition that the earth was a rotating sphere. He calculated the solar year length as 365.358 days which was just three hours more than the calculation made by scientists of the modern times.

In Southern India, on the walls of the Ajanta Caves, great paintings of the Gupta period are found. Different lives of the Buddha have been illustrated in the paintings. Near Mumbai within a rock temple of the Gupta Dynasty, the Hindu God Shiva’s statue of 18 feet has also been found.

Relation Of Samudragupta And Foreign Powers

The Gupta emperor, Samudragupta was paid respect by various means. His command was obeyed by many of the islands of the Indian Ocean and Simhala Island. The Murundas, Daivaputra, Sakas, Shahi and Shahanashahis tried to satisfy the emperor by offering beautiful looking girls, tributes and presents. At Bodh Gaya, under the Bodhi Tree a magnificent monastery consisting of three towers, six halls and three storeys was built for Buddhist pilgrims and monks when Ceylon’s King Meghavarna sent his ambassador to the emperor to give this permission.
Samudragupta’s Empire – Extent
Extent of Samudragupta’s Empire extends to nearly the whole of northern India, the Himalayas, Assam in the East, Vindhyas in the South and Punjab on the West.

Achievements Of The Cholas

In Southern India, one of the powers that ruled longest was the Chola Dynasty. In ancient history during the 2nd Century BC, the Cholas rose to power initially in Tamil Nadu state. Till the 13th century they were successful in maintaining their control. It was in the Sangam literature that real evidence was seen of the early Cholas which reports names of princes and kings of the Chola Dynasty till 300 BC.

Kochengannan Cholas and the Karikala Cholas were Cholas of the two types that existed. Form the two capital cities Kaveripattinam and Urayur which as of now is Thiruchirapalli, they controlled their kingdom. Elara was the name given to a Chola king. The Pallavas and the Pandyas defeated the Cholas after 300 BC that is the Sangam age. The Tamil country was captured by them. Kalabhras, a dynasty that was not known, attacked the country, got the existing empires displaced and then for 300 years, they ruled.

The Pandyas and the Pallavas regained after the 6th century. However during the three centuries that succeeded, there was not much known about the Cholas till 850 AD at the time of Vijayalaya’s attainment. Vijayalaya was the founder of the Chola Dynasty. He gained power and from the Pallavas and the Pandyas, the Chola Dynasty was rescued. Thanjavur the capital city was captured and the medieval Chola line was established. In Southern India, the strongest dynasty was the Chola Dynasty after the 9th century. The Southern region was controlled to a large extent by them. In South-East Asia and in South Asia, in the field of culture, army and finance, the empire became very powerful. This was under the leadership of Rajendra Chola 1 and Rajaraja Chola 1. In Southern India, the Pandyas got the Hoysala Dynasty expelled and rose as the largest power. The Hoysala Dynasty was partners with the Tamil country’s Cholas and then in 1279 AD, rule of the Cholas ended.

Chola Dynasty rule from 9th century to 1279 AD

After the 9th century, the Cholas became a powerful and influential dynasty. Pandyas and the Pallavas were beaten by King Aditya 1 and in 885 AD captured their kingdoms. Parantaka 1, his son succeeded him. He dominated Ilangai, the Sri Lankan ruler, in 925 AD. The area that was lost was recovered by Parantaka Chola II from the Rashtrakutas. In the Kannada country, he got the kingdom extended right up to Bhatkal.

The kingdom was expanded by both Rajendra Chola I and Rajaraja Chola 1 outside Tamil Nadu’s traditional limits. This expansion extended from the island of Sri Lanka in the south to the river basin of Godavari-Krishna and the long Malabar Coast that included Maldives, Lakshwadweep and the Chera Empire. From 1185 AD right up to 1190 AD there were many battles between Chalukyan King and Kulothunga Chola III, the Chola King. The Cholas captured Badami and Kalyani or Manyakheta, which were the Chalukyan capitals. All through their reign from 1150 AD right up to 1280AD the Pandya and the Kalinga rulers who were under the Chola control made efforts to regain lost independence. Accordingly, they attacked the Cholas, jointly.

Kulottunga Chola III and last great ruler of the Chola Dynasty defeated the Hoysalas in Karuvur under the leadership of Veera Ballala. After this, the Hoysala king began a marital relationship with the Chola princess Veera Ballala II. With the Hoysalas, the Chola king made a friendly relationship. Controlling the administrative system was a constant problem for Rajaraja Chola III and Rajendra Chola III, his son. The Pandyas gained great power and had the Hoysalas driven out who were the partners of the Cholas. They also drove out many local kings, rose to power and became independent. Gradually control was lost by the Chola Dynasty. By 1279 AD total control was lost in South India by the Chola Dynasty.

Literature And Architecture During The Chola Dynasty

The architectural sense of the Cholas was great and proof of this is seen in different regions in Southern India. On the banks of River Kaveri, many temples of Lord Shiva were built. A fine example of Chola architecture and art is the Airavateswara temple situated at Darasuram. In Gangaikondacholapuram and Thanjavur, two temples have been established by Rajaraja Chola and Rajendra Chola I, his son. Around 1009 AD the beautiful Thanjavur temple was completed. In Rajaraja’s time this was indeed a great achievement The Gangaikondacholisvaram temple was the tallest and largest of all temples built in India of its time, which was created in 1030 AD by Rajendra Chola.

The golden age of culture in Tamil Nadu based on literature existed from 850 AD to 1200 AD. During this time a large number of Buddhist and Jain writers flourished. A non Hindu writer, Tolamoli wrote two great books called Sulamani and Tirutakkatevar. During Kolothunga Chola III’s reign, Kamban a great Hindu writer had flourished. In Tamil literature a great epic Ramavatharam was written. This was a translated version of Ramayana, a Sanskrit epic into Tamil language. A good example of narrative poetry is Kalingattuparani, the masterwork of Jayamkondar. This poetry explains different events that took place in Kalinga during the war of the Kulothunga Chola I. Ottakuttan was also a popular Tamil poet who served at the three of the successors of Kulothunga.

Various Chola Rulers

• Vijayalaya
Vijalaya founder the Chola kingdom. During the 8th century, the Tanjore kingdom was conquered by him. Thiruchirapalli and Tanjore districts besides some adjoining areas are occupied by the Chola Empire. Vijalaya defeated the Pandavas in 850 AD and Tanjore was taken over from them. He made Tanjore his capital. His son Aditya I succeeded him.

• Aditya – I
Aditya I defeated Parantaka Viranarayana and Aparajita, the Pallava King. Parantaka I, Aditya’s son ascended the throne and rule from 907 AD to 955 AD. During his reign, the Cholas earned supremacy and conquered Vadumbas and the Pandya king’s territory.

• Rajaraja Chola
Rajaraja Chola, a great imperialistic and effective ruler, reigned from 985 AD to 1014 AD. His ruled over a well knit and extensive empire and maintained diplomatic ties with Malaysia, Burma and China. He conquered Madras Presidency with the help of Rajendra, his son. The Madurai Pandyas, and the eastern Chalukyas of Negi were defeated by him. At Tanjore he built a magnificent temple.

• Rajendra I
Rajendra I reigned from 1012 to 1044 AD. Like Rajaraja, his father, he was an able ruler. On the banks of River Ganges he attained victory when he went to Bengal. Gangaikonda meaning the victor of the Ganger was the title awarded to him. Gangaikondacholapuram was the new capital he built. Conquering the Andaman and the Nicobar Islands was his greatest achievements. The period of his reign was called the ‘Golden Age of the Cholas’. Kingdom of the Cholas started declining after his death. It started disintegrating due to weak successors.

• Vira Rajendra
Vira Rajendra’s reign lasted from 1064 to 1070 AD. He was Rajendra II’s elder brother. The Chalukya ruler was defeated by him. Vengi was reconquered by him and foiled Vijayabahu’s efforts who wanted to throw out the Cholas from Ceylon. The Chalukya throne was succeeded by Someswara II. Some incursions were made by Rajendra but later he gave his daughter in marriage to Vikramaditya and built friendly ties. In 1070 AD Vira Rajendra died. For the throne there was a conquest and the heir Adhi-Rajendra took up the throne.

• Kolottunga – I
Adhirajendra succeeded Rajendra II and attained the title Kolottunga Chola. Yasahkarana the Kalachuri King invaded Vengi but was not able to achieve anything. Kolottunga defeated the attack of the Cheras and the Pandyas. He Kalinga revolt in the south was put down. Vikramaditya VI the Viceroy of Vengi took over control of Vengi from Chola in about 1118 AD. Thus the Eastern Chalukyas and Choas got separated. Also Nolambavadi and Gangavadi were lost to Vishnuvardhana of Hoysala.

• Vikrama Chola
Vikrama Chola reigned from 1120 AD to 1135 AD. Power of the Cholas was restored by the son of Kolottunga I the next successor by taking over a part of Gangavadi. Though there were famines and floods in South Arcot, his subjects found his reign quite peaceful. Expansion of Hoysala took control of power of the Cholas, gradually and subsequently. Kolottunga II, the last of the rulers was not able to stop the Chola Kingdom’s Hoysalas annexation. The hold on the Pandyan Kingdom by now had become weak. Independence was declared by the Pallava chief in 1243. The Hoysalas and the Kakatiyas got themselves partitioned. After this the territory of the Chola Empire ceased its existence forever.

Achievements Of The Mauryan Kings

For the first time this Indian dynasty unified in the third-fourth centuries B.C.E. This dynasty made a huge contribution to the spread of Buddhism. On the river Indus, Kabul was a valley which was invaded by Alexander the Great, the Macedonian King, during the last few weeks of 327 B.C.E. In the following months, Taxila was conquered by him. At the river Hydaspes he defeated King Porus, the Indian King, after which he reached Punjab’s eastern borders. In the valley of the lower Ganges he had great desire to continue to the Magadha Kingdom. However, due to the refusal of his soldiers to move further, Alexander had no choice left, but to move to the south. The invaders were now resisted by a lot of Indians. Alexander the Great then left the area which is known as Karachi now towards the end of 325 BC. Nearchus his admiral too was forced out of Patiala.

All the conquests made by Alexander were indeed spectacular however he was yet to conquer India. The Indus Valley and Punjab were no longer his kingdom’s possessions which he considered safe. In 323, Alexander the Great died but before this, almost all the troops he had were deployed on the western side of the Indus Valley. A major part of the empire was lost by him, for the first time. On the other hand, the course of the history of India got changed due his invasion.

Birth Of The Mauryan Empire

Chandragupta Maurya, a young man from Taxila had seen the performance of the army of the Macedonians. He was of the strong belief that if a European was able to conquer so much of the Empire then even an Indian would be able to do better. Hence, on the same kind of footing, he made a decision to train an army. The Magadha throne was seized by him in 321 after which was born, the Mauryan Empire.

Chandragupta Maurya’s Rule (c.321 – c.297)

Kautilya, a popular Brahmin teacher had a pupil named Chandragupta. After the Nanda throne was conquered by Chandragupta, he went on to invade Punjab. Peithon, one of the successors of Alexander the Great, made efforts to subdue the eastern province leaders who had united together against him. A civil war took place and Chandragupta Maurya made the best of this offer and opportunity required to capture Punjab’s capital. After stabilization took place in the former kingdom of Alexander, Seleucus, one of the successors made an effort for re-conquering territories on the eastern side. However, the war did not conclude and a peace treaty was offered by Alexander to Chandragupta Maurya. The Seleucid Empire was well recognized by Chandragupta and he presented 500 elephants to the new friend. Seleucus in turn recognized the Mauryan Empire and presented Arachosia and Gandara and other eastern territories. There was an intermarriage of the two dynasties, or the union of Greeks or Macedonians with the Indians, termed as epigamia.

Chandragupta made a formidable empire by uniting the Ganges and Indus Valley. A large army came into existence and gradually, Pataliputra as capital became a one of the beautiful cities. A guide to Arthashastra or statecraft was written by Kautilya, Chandragupta’s advisor. The caste system consisted of seven classes of people instead of four. Kautilya describes this reform as an attempted one. Chandragupta was an orthodox Brahmin and he continued to be attached deeply to Brahmanism. It is believed as per Jainist scriptures of the ancient times, that at the end of his life, Chandragupta abdicated in favor of Bindusara. He got himself to the Jain faith and after becoming an ascetic he fasted until death.

Chandragupta Maurya’s Rule (c.2971 – c.272)

Chandragupta Maurya’s son was Bindusara. It was for a quarter of a century that Bindusara’s reign lasted till 272. However, out of the three emperors of the Mauryan Empire, he is one that is least known. A mention of him is made as the man who conquered the country situated between the two seas, that is the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal. This mention indicates that central India was conquered by him. Deeds of a similar kind have been ascribed to Ashoka, his son. With places in the far west, Bindusara had contacts where Antiochus I Soter was the successor of Seleucus, his father, as the Seleucid Empire’s king. Contacts or relations between the two were purely diplomatic. A throne named Amitragatha was accepted by Bindusara which means ‘the destroyer of enemies’. In Greek sources, Bindusara is termed as Amitrochates. In Indian history, Bindusara King continues to remain a mystery.

Ashoka Maurya’s Rule (c.272-c.232)

In 272, Ashoka Maurya succeeded Bindusara, his father. Ashoka was a great conqueror. He was the one to unite the Indian subcontinent for the first time except for regions in the extreme south. In eastern India, while conquering Kalinga, eight years after he was crowned he saw bloodshed and began to hate war. He got converted to Buddhism and wanted the law of justice or ‘dharma’ established not only in India but Arachosia, also. He felt remorse for conquering Kalinga. When he proclaimed cooperation between different religions and non violence or the ahimsa belief, Ashoka seemed very sincere.

Instead of conquering southern India, he had missionaries sent out as far as Cyrenaica and began converting people of other beliefs to beliefs as same as his. He also sent his own brother to Ceylon or Sri Lanka. Animal slaughter was forbidden, Chandragupta’s and Bindusara’s harsh laws were softened, Buddhist monasteries were founded, many stupas were erected and at Patna a large Buddhist council was organized.

Decline Of The Mauryan Empire

The Mauryan Empire declined after Ashoka’s death. Bactrian leaders restored order in c.240. In 206, king Antiochus III the Great restored order. Within ten years, Euthydemus, the Bactrian leader declared himself as independent. After this, expansion of the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom took place into Gandara and Drangiana.

In 184, Punjab was invaded and Greek culture revitalized in the mountain ranges of Hindu Kush. A new kingdom was created by Demetrius, the son of Euthydemus consisting of part of the Ganges Valley, Arachosia and Gandara. In c.170 Demetrius died and his sons took over the kingdom who continued to fight against the empire of the Mauryans. The only thing was these brothers were divided. In c.125, the Indo-Greek kingdom was reunited by King Menander. The Mauryan Empire which was already contracted was invaded by the westerners and Patna was captured.

Realities created by the empire of the Mauryans were accepted by the Indo Greek kings. Future religion to be followed was Buddhism. King Menander became a Buddhist saint after conversion. In the history of India, one of the most unique events was indeed, the rising of the Mauryan Empire.

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