HISTORY OF ANCIENT INDIA
The following dates are accepted in this volume. Many of them can only be regarded as approximate, while others are conjectural.
Probable date of the beginning of Aryan invasions.
Boghaz-koi inscriptions of kings of the Mitani.
Chhandas period of Indian literature: the earliest hymns of the Rigveda.
Mantra period, sometimes called the earlier Brahmana period : later hymns of the Rigveda and the Vedic collections Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda, Atharvaveda.
The tradition of the Puranas places the war between the Kurus and the Pandus in the earlier Brahmana period, c. 1000 BC.
The Mahabharata which celebrates this war belongs in its present form to a much later date.
(Later) Brahmana period : the extant Brahmanas .
The earliest Upanishads are probably not later than 550 or 600 BC.
It is possible that the story of the Ramayana may have its origin in the later Brahmana period.
Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha .
According to Charpentier, 478 (477) B.C. appears to be a more probable date for the nirvana of the Buddha.
Among the contemporaries of the Buddha were Prasenajit (Pasenadi), king of Kosala , Bimbisara (Qrenika) and Ajataqatru (Ajatasattu, Kunika), kings of Magadha, Pradyota
(Pajjota), king of Avanti, and Udayana (Udena), king of Vatsa (Vamsa) .
Cyrus, king of Persia.
Conquered Bactria and certain countries in the Kabul valley and N.W. India including Kapiga and Gandhara.
Bimbisara (Shrenika), king of Magadha.
Conquered Anga c. 500 BC.
Vardhamana Nataputra, Mahavlra.
Traditional date 600-528 B.C.
Parqva, the predecessor of Mahavlra as tlrthakara, is said to have died 250 years before him.
For the contemporaries of Mahavlra and Buddha v. sup.
Darius I, king of Persia.
The Greek geographer Hecataeus lived in his reign.
Naval expedition of Scylax c. 517 BC; conquest of 'India' = the country of the Indus c. 518 BC.
Ajataqatru (Kunika), king of Magadha.
Probably added Kaci, Kosala, and Videha to the dominions of Magadha.
Xerxes, king of Persia.
The continuance of Persian domination in Northern India during his reign proved by statements of Herodotus.
|483 B.C. 38 A.D.||
Kings of Ceylon.
Vijaya, the conqueror of the island, 483-445 BC; Pandu Vasudeva 444-414 BC; Abhaya 414-394 BC; Pandukabhaya 377-307 BC; Mutasiva 307-247 BC; Devanaippiya Tissa 247-207 BC; Uttiya 207-197 BC; Mahasiva 197-187 BC; Sura Tissa 187-177 BC; Sena and Guttaka 177-155 BC; Asela 155-145 BC;
Elara 145-101 BC; Duttha-Gamanl 101-77 BC; Saddha-Tissa 77-59 BC; Thulathana 59 BC; Lanja Tissa 59-50 BC; Khallatanaga 50-44 BC; Vatta-Gamani Abhaya 44, 29-17 BC; Mahachuli Mahatissa 17-3 BC; Choranaga 3 BC 9 AD; Kuda Tissa 9-12 AD. ; Kutakanna Tissa 16-38 AD.
Ctesias, the Greek physician, at the court of Artaxerxes Mnemon, king of Persia.
Alexander the Great, king of Macedon.
Conquest of Persia 330 BC : a statement of Arrian shows that Persian dominion in India continued until the end of the Achaemenian dynasty.
Invasion of India at the end of 327 or the beginning of 326 BC.
Retreat from the Beas, July 326 BC.
Leaves India 325 BC.
Death 323 BC.
The Maurya Dynasty.
Chandragupta 321-297 BC.
The Jain authorities give the year of his accession as 313 (312) BC, a date at which the canon of the Jain scriptures was fixed.
Megasthenes at the court of Chandragupta c. 300 BC.
Bindusara or Amitrochates, successor of Chandragupta: his reign variously stated as of 25, 27, or 28 years.
Ashoka 274-237 B.C. Accession 274 BC at latest; coronation 270 B.C. at latest; conquest of Kalinga 262 B.C. at latest; Buddhist council at Pataliputra 253 B.C. ?; death 237 or 236 BC?
Contemporary Hellenic kings Antiochus II Theos of Syria 261-246 BC ; Ptolemy Philadelphus of Egypt 285-247 BC; Antigonus Gonatas of Macedon 278-239 BC; Magas of Cyrene d. 258 BC; Alexander of Epirus 272-258 BC?
Contemporary king of Ceylon Devanampiya Tissa 247-207 B.C.
Successors of Ashoka.
Seleucus Nicator, king of Syria.
Indian expedition c. 305 BC.
Treaty of peace with Chandragupta.
Approximate date of the establishment of the kingdom of Bactria by Diodotus and of the kingdom of Parthia by Arsaces.
Conversion of Ceylon by the Buddhist apostle Mahendra (Mahinda), the son (or brother) of Ashoka, in the year of the coronation of king Devanampiya Tissa .
Approximate date of the establishment of the Andhra power (Shatavahana dynasty) and of the kingdom of Kalinga (Cheta dynasty).
Early Andhra kings : Simuka; Krishna; Shatakarni, contemporary with Pushyamitra, probably conquered Avanti from the Shungas, also contemporary with Kharavela, v. inf.
King of Kalinga - Kharavela; invaded the dominions of Shatakarni; defeated kings of
Rajagriha and Magadha.
Indian expedition of Antiochus III the Great, king of Syria, during the reign of Euthydemus, king of Bactria.
Yavana princes of the house of Euthydemus.
Their Indian conquests began in the reign of Euthydemus early in the 2nd century BC, and were carried out by Demetrius, son of Euthydemus, and other princes of his family (Apollodotus I and Menander).
Their conquests in the upper Kabul valley and in N.W. India were wrested from them by Yavana princes of the house of Eucratides from c. 162 BC onwards. Restruck coins show the transference of certain kingdoms in these regions from one house to the other.
Subsequently the rule of the successors of Euthydemus the families of Apollodotus I and Menander was confined to kingdoms which lay to the east of the Jhelum. These appear to have been conquered finally and incorporated into the Qaka empire during
the reign of Azes I (ace. 58 BC).
To the house of Euthydemus belonged Demetrius (supposed limits of reign c. 190-160 BC), Apollodotus I, and Menander all contemporary with Eucratides.
Apollodotus I was deprived of the kingdom of Kapia by Eucratides, and was succeeded in the lower Kabul valley by Heliocles.
The later princes of his family Apollodotus II, Dionysius, Zoilus, and Apollophanes ruled over kingdoms in the eastern Punjab.
Menander ruled over many kingdoms. He was probably the leader of the Yavana incursion into the Midland Country. Menander and Eucratides may perhaps have ruled at different times over Nicaea in the former realm of Alexander's Paurava king between the Jhelum and the Chenab. In Buddhist literature Menander (Milinda) is known as king of Shakala (Sialkot) in the former realm of Alexander's second Paurava king between the Chenab and the Ravi). The family of Menander seems to be represented by Agathocleia who may have been his queen, his son Strato I, and his great-grandson Strato II. Numismatic evidence apparently shows that this family was dispossessed finally of the kingdom of Nicaea by Heliocles in the reign of Strato I. Its rule in the eastern Punjab continued until the Shaka conquest in the reign of Azes I.
Hippostratus probably belonged to the house of Euthydemus, but his family is uncertain. He was contemporary with Azes I.
The Curiga Dynasty.
Pushyamitra (184-148 BC), originally king of Vidiga and commander-in- chief of the last Maurya emperor, seized the Maurya dominions and reigned at Pataliputra .
Mithradates I, king of Parthia.
The Yueh-chi defeated by the Huns began their migration westwards.
Yavana princes of the house of Bucratides.
Later princes of this house: (1) In Pushkalavati after the reign of Heliocles : Diomedes, Epander, Philoxenus, Artemidorus, and Peucolaus; (2) in Takshaila after the reign of Autialcidas Archebius ; and (3) in the upper Kabul valley after the reign of Antialcidas Amyntas and Hermaeus (at one time associated with Calliope). The date c. 25 B.C. for the end of the reign of Hermaeus is conjectural : it seems consonant with the view that the upper Kabul valley was conquered in or before the reign of the Pahlava suzerain Spalirises, the brother of Vonones.
Phraates II, king of Parthia.
His conflicts with the Scythians (Shakas) in eastern Iran).
Bactria overwhelmed by the Shaka invasion in the reign of the last Yavana king Heliocles.
Artabanus I, king of Parthia.
The struggle with the Shakas was continued in his reign.
The Chinese ambassador Chang-kien visited the Yueh-chi who were still to the north of the Oxus. The Yueh-chi expelled the Shakas from Bactria soon afterwards .
Mithradates II the Great, king of Parthia.
His final triumph over the Shakas.
|75 B.C. 50 A.D.||
Period of Shaka and Pahlava supremacy in the Punjab.
Earliest Shaka settlements in the region of the Indus delta (Indo-Scythia or Shaka-dvipa).
Maues wrested from the Yavanas Pushkalavati after the reign of Artemidorus, and Takshashila after the reign of Archebius. The date, c. 75 BC, ascribed to these conquests is conjectural: it depends on the view that the assumption by Maues of the title 'King of Kings' must necessarily be later than the reign of Mithradates II (123-88 BC.).
Azes I ace. 58 BC so dated on the hypothesis that he was the actual founder of the Vikrama era.
He extended the conquests of Maues to the more easterly kingdoms of the Punjab.
Azilises appears to have reigned (1) in association with Azes I, (2) alone, and (3) in association with Azes II.
Azes II: his association with the strategos Aspavarman proves that he was the immediate predecessor of Gondopharnes.
Gondopharnes, the successor of Azes II as viceroy of Arachosia under the suzerainty of Orthagnes; at one time associated in this office with his brother Guda; he appears to have succeeded Orthagnes as suzerain in eastern Iran, and Azes II as suzerain in India.
He is known to have reigned from 19 to at least 45 AD.
In different kingdoms he was associated with (1) his nephew Abdagases who was probably his viceroy in eastern Iran; (2) Sapedana and Satavastra who were probably governors of Takshashila (ibid.); and (3) the strategoi Aspavarman and Sasas.
Pacores, the successor of Gondopharnes as suzerain in eastern Iran and, nominally at least, in India. In Takshashila he was associated with the strategos Sasas.
His rule is supposed to have come to an end in the upper Kabul valley c. 50 A.D., and in N.W. India soon afterwards (both dates must lie between 45 and 64 A.D.)
Satraps: (1) at Pushkalavati : Zeionises; (2) in the region of Takshashila : Liaka Kusulaka (contemporary with Maues) and his son Patika who appears as great satrap c. 30 BC (the supposed date of the Lion Capital of Mathura); (3) at Mathura Hagamasha and Hagana, Ranjubula (supposed dates satrap c. 50 BC, great satrap c. 30 BC), Shodasa (supposed date as satrap c. 30 BC) great satrap in 16 BC.
Strategoi: (1) Aspavarman, son of Indravarman (Azes II and Gondopharnes); (2) Sasas, nephew of Aspavarman (Gondopharnes and Pacores).
58 Initial year of the Vikrama era.
Traditionally ascribed to a king Vikramaditya of Ujjain who is said to have expelled the Shakas from India. The tradition may have some historical foundation; but in any case it seems probable that the supposed founder of the era has been confused with Chandragupta II Vikramaditya (380-414 AD) who finally crushed the Shaka power in Western India (the Western Satraps).It seems more likely that the era marks the establishment of the Shaka suzerainty by Azes I , and that its use was transmitted
o posterity by the Malavas and other peoples who had once been feudatories of the Shakas.
Orodes I, king of Parthia.
The squared letters which characterise the coin-legends of the later Shaka and Pahlava rulers in India first appear on Parthian coins during his reign .
Conjectural date of Vonones, Pahlava suzerain of eastern Iran.
With him were associated, as viceroys of Arachosia, (1) his brother Spalahores, (2) his nephew Spalagadames : these two (father and son) also held this office conjointly, and (3) his brother Spalirises, who at one time held this office conjointly with his son Azes II.
Other suzerains of eastern Iran (in addition to those who ruled also in India) were: Spalirises, the successor of Vonones. The former kingdom of Hermaeus in the upper Kabul valley appears to have been annexed by the Pahlavas in or before his reign; Orthagnes, contemporary with Gondopharnes; and Sanabares, in Drangiana (Seistan) ; there is no evidence of his rule in Arachosia (Kandahar).
Vonones I, king of Parthia.
Approximate date of the extension of the Kushana power from Bactria to the Paropanisadae (upper Kabul valley) and Arachosia (Kandahar) in the reign of Gondopharnes or Pacores. The Kushana conqueror was Kujula Kadphises
The extension of the Kushaua power from the upper Kabul valley to N.W. India (Pushkalavatl or W. Gandhara) had taken place when the Panjtar inscription was set up (year 122 = 63 4 A.D.). The Kushana king mentioned in the inscription may be either Wima Kadphises or one of his viceroys - possibly Kara Kadphises whose coins are found in the same region.
Initial year of the Shaka era.
The Shaka era appears to have been so called at a later date when it was best known as the era of the Shakas of Western India (the Western Satraps) who were originally feudatories of the Kushanas.
It most probably marks the establishment of the Kushana empire by Kanishka .
The Sue Vihara inscription of the llth year of Kanishka proves that the suzerainty of the Kushanas extended to the country of the lower Indus at this date.
The word India originally meant the country of the river Indus. It is, in fact, etymologically identical with ‘Sind’. In this restricted sense it occurs in the Avesta and in the inscriptions of King Darius (522-486 B.C.) as denoting those territories to the west of the Indus which, in the earlier periods of history, were more frequently Persian than Indian. It was this province which Alexander the Great claimed as conqueror of the Persian Empire. The name India became familiar to the West chiefly through Herodotus and the historians of Alexander’s campaigns; and, in accordance with what would almost seem to be a law of geographical nomenclature, the name of the best known district was subsequently applied to the whole country.
In Sanskrit literature it is only at a comparatively late period that we find any one word to denote the whole continent of India. This is intelligible, as all the early literature belongs to the Aryan civilization, the gradual extension of which from the north-west into the central region and eventually to the south may be traced historically; and the geographical outlook of this civilization would naturally be limited to the stage which it had reached at any particular time. A comprehensive term—Bharata or Bharata-varsha—seems to occur first in the epics. It means ‘the realm of Bharata,’ and refers to a legendary monarch who is supposed to have exercised universal sovereignty. The historical foundation for the name is found in the ancient Aryan tribe of the Bharatas, who are well known in the Rig-veda.
The limits of this continent of India or Bharata-arsha, which is equal in extent to the whole of Europe without Russia, are for the most part well defined by nature. On the north, it is almost completely cut off from the rest of Asia by impassable mountain ranges; and it is surrounded by the sea on the eastern and western sides of the triangular peninsula which forms its southern portion. But the northern barrier is not absolutely secure. At its eastern and western extremities, river-valleys or mountain-passes provide means of communication with the Chinese Empire on the one hand and with Persia on the other. At the present time, these means of access to the Indian Empire have been practically closed in the interests of political security; but until the year 1738, when the Persian king Nadir Shah invaded India and sacked Delhi, the very capital of its Mughal emperors, countless hordes of Asiatic tribes have swarmed down the valleys or over the passes which lead into India. Hence the extraordinary diversity of races and languages which, now united under one sway for the first time in history, together constitute the Indian Empire. A glance at the ethnographical and linguistic maps of India will show that the races and languages on the east are Mongolian, and those on the west Persian or Scythian in character; while the Aryan civilization which predominates in the north is the result of invasions which can be traced historically, and the Dravidian civilization which still holds its own in the south is probably also due to invasions in prehistoric times.
The chief motive of the migration of peoples, which forms one of the most important factors in the history of the human race, was scarcity of food; and the chief cause of this scarcity has in Central Asia been the gradual desiccation of the land. However this desiccation may have arisen, whether through physical causes which affect the whole of our planet, or through the thrusting up, by shrinkage of the earth’s crust, of lofty mountain-ranges which cut off the rain-bearing winds from certain regions, or again by man’s improvidence in the destruction of forests and the neglect of natural means of irrigation, it is a phenomenon the progress of which may be traced to some extent historically. Explorations in Baluchistan and Seistan have brought to light the monuments of past civilizations which perished because of the drying up of the land; and above all the researches of Sir Aurel Stein in Chinese Turkestan have supplied us with materials and observations from which it will be possible eventually to write the history of desiccation in this part of the world with some chronological precision. Archaeological evidence proves that this region which is now a rainless desert, in which no living being can exist because of the burning heat and blinding sand-storms in summer and the arctic cold in winter, was once the seat of a flourishing civilization; and the study of the written documents and works of art, discovered at the various ancient sites which have been explored, shows that these sites were abandoned one by one at dates varying from about the first century b.c. to the ninth century a.d. The importance of these observations, as bearing on the history of India, lies in the consideration that its present isolation on the land-side was by no means so complete in former times, when the river-valleys and mountain-passes on the east and west of the Himalayas were open, and when the great highroads leading from China to India on the east, and from India through Baluchistan or Afghanistan to Persia and so to Europe on the west, not only afforded a constant means of communication, but also permitted the migration of vast multitudes.
The invaders from the east, greatly as they have modified the ethnology and the languages of India, have left no enduring record whether in the advancement of civilization or in literature. Invaders from the west, on the other hand, have determined the character of the whole continent. In our sketch of the civilization of Ancient India, we shall have to deal especially with two of these invasions—the Dravidian and the Aryan.
It has sometimes been supposed that the Dravidians were the aborigines of India; but it seems more probable that these are rather to be bought among the numerous primitive tribes, which still inhabit mountainous districts and other regions difficult of access. Such, for example, are the Gonds, found in many different parts of India, who remain even to the present day in the stone age of culture, using flint implements, hunting with bows and arrows, and holding the most rudimentary forms of religious belief. The view that the Dravidians were invaders, who came into India from the north-west in prehistoric times, receives support from the fact that the Brahui language, spoken in certain districts of Baluchistan, belongs to the same family as the Dravidian languages of Southern India; and it is possible that it may testify to an ancient settlement of the Dravidians before they invaded India. In any case, Dravidian civilization was predominant in India before the coming of the Aryans. Many of the Dravidian peoples now speak Aryan or other languages not originally their own ; but they still retain their own languages and their characteristic social customs in the South, and in certain hilly tracts of Central India; and there can be no doubt that they have very greatly influenced Aryan civilization and Aryan religion in the North. Their literatures do not begin until some centuries after the Christian era, but the existence of the great Dravidian kingdoms in the South may be traced in Sanskrit literature and in inscriptions from a much earlier period.
The term Aryan was formerly, chiefly through the influence of the writings of Max Muller, used in a broad sense so as to include the whole family of Indo-European languages. It is now almost universally restricted to the Persian and Indian groups of this family, as being the distinctive title used in their ancient scriptures.
These two groups have in common so many characteristic features, in regard to which they differ from the other members of the family, that we can only conclude that there must have been a period in which the ancestors of the Persians of the Avesta and of the Indians of the Rig-veda lived together as one people and spoke a common language. When a separation took place, the Persian Aryans occupied Bactria, the region of Balkh, i.e., Afghanistan north of the Hindu Kush, and Persia, while the Indian Aryans crossed over the passes of the Hindu Kush into the valley of the Kabul River in southern Afghanistan, and thence into the country of the Indus, i.e. the North- Western Frontier Province and the northern Punjab. The date of this separation cannot be determined with much accuracy. The most ancient literatures of the two peoples—the Indian Rig-veda, possibly as early as 1200 b.c., and the Persian Avesta, dating from the time of Zoroaster, probably about 660-583 B.C.—afford no conclusive evidence from which it is possible to estimate the distance of time which separates them from the period of unity; but an examination of the two languages seems to indicate that the common speech from which they are derived did not differ materially from that of the Rig-veda, since Avestan forms are, from the etymological point of view, manifestly later than Vedic forms, and may generally be deduced from them by the application of certain well ascertained laws of phonetic change. It may be inferred, then, that the Aryan migration into India took place during a period which is separated by no long interval from the date of the earliest Indian literature.
The progress of Aryan civilization in India is determined naturally by the geographical conformation of the continent, which is divided into three well-defined principal regions:—
(1) North-Western India, the country of the Indus and its tributaries. This region, bounded by mountainous districts on the north and west, is separated from the country of the Ganges and Jumna on the east by the deserts of Rajputana. With it has often been associated in history the country of Gujarat (including Cutch and Kathiawar) to the south.
(2) Hindustan, the country of the Ganges and the Jumna and their tributaries, the great plain which constitutes the main portion of Northern India.
(3) The Deccan or ‘Southern’ (Skt. dakshina) India, the large triangular table-land lying south of the Vindhya Mountains, together with the narrow strips of plain-land which form its fringe on the eastern and western sides.
The first of these regions is in character transitional between India and Central Asia. Into it have poured untold waves of invasion—Persian, Greek, Scythic, Hun, etc.—and many of these have spent their force within its limits. Hence its extraordinary diversity in race, language, and religion. The second has been the seat of great kingdoms, some of which, both in the Hindu and in the Muhammadan periods, have grown by conquest into mighty empires including the whole of Northern India and considerable portions, but never the whole, of the South. It has always included most of the chief centres of religious and intellectual life in India. The third region has a character of its own. The history of its kingdoms and their struggle for supremacy among themselves have usually been enacted within its own borders. It has, as a rule, successfully resisted the political, and has only by slow degrees admitted the intellectual, influence of the North; but when it has accepted ideas or institutions it has held them with great tenacity, so that the South is now in many respects the most orthodox and the most conservative portion of the continent.
The literary and inscriptional records of Ancient India enable us to trace with a remarkable degree of continuity the course of Aryan civilization through the periods during which it passed from the first of these regions into the second and then eventually into the third. But it must always be remembered that these records are partial, in the sense that they represent only one type of civilization and only those countries to which this civilization had extended at any particular epoch. Unless this fact be borne constantly in mind, the records are apt to produce the impression of a unity and a homogeneity in the political, religious, and social life which never existed. The best corrective for this false impression is to study Ancient India always in the light of our knowledge of Modern India and in the light of general history. India is and, in historical times, always has been composed of a number of large countries and a multitude of smaller communities, each having its own complicated racial history and each pursuing its own particular lines of development independently of its neighbours. In India, as in Europe, one or other of the constituent countries has from time to time succeeded in creating a great empire at the expense of its neighbours. But the mightiest of these empires, that of the Maurya kings of Magadha in the third century b.c., and that of the Mughal kings of Delhi at its height in the last years of the seventeenth century a.d., have never been co-extensive with the continent; they have never included the extreme south of India. They were won by conquest and maintained by power; and, when the power failed, the various countries which constituted these empires reasserted their independence. Such a phenomenon as the British dominion in India, which is founded less on conquest than on mutual advantage—which holds together some 773,000 square miles of British territory (excluding Baluchistan and Burma) and nearly the same amount (745,000 square miles) of independent territory administered by about 650 native princes and chiefs, principally because the great common interest of all alike is peace and security—finds no parallel in history. Neither has religion at any time formed a complete bond of union between these multitudinous and diverse nationalities. The Brahmanical systems of thought and practice founded on the Vedas have never gained universal acceptance, as some of their text-books might lead us to suppose. Not only was their supremacy contested even in the region which was their stronghold—the country of the Ganges and the Jumna—by reformed religions such as Jainism and Buddhism; but their appeal was everywhere almost exclusively to the higher castes who can never have formed the majority of the population. Most of the people, no doubt, in Ancient as in Modern India, were either confessedly, or at heart and in practice, followers of more primitive forms of faith. As Mr W. Crooke says, in describing present religious conditions, “The fundamental religion of the majority of the people—Hindu, Buddhist, or even Mussulman—is mainly animistic. The peasant may nominally worship the greater gods; but when trouble comes in the shape of disease, drought, or famine, it is from the older gods that he seeks relief.”
The Sanskrit word veda comes from the root vid ‘to know,’ which occurs in the Latin vid-eo and in the Anglo-Saxon wit-an, from which our English forms wit, wisdom, etc. are derived. It is especially used to denote the four collections of sacred ‘wisdom’, which form the ultimate basis on which rest not only all the chief systems of Indian religion and philosophy, but also practically the whole of the Aryan intellectual civilization in India, whether sacred or secular. The most ancient of these collections is the Rig-veda, or ‘the Veda of the Hymns’. It consists of 1028 hymns intended to accompany the sacrifices offered to the various deities of the ancient Indian pantheon. In respect of style and historical character it may be compared most fittingly to the ‘Psalms of David’ in the Hebrew scriptures. If compared by the number of verses, it is rather more than four times as long.
Internal evidence, supplied by changes in language and progress in thought, shows that the composition of the hymns of the Rig-veda must have extended over a considerable period. They were handed down from generation to generation in the families of the ‘rishis,’ or sacred bards, who composed them; and, at a later date, when their venerable antiquity had invested them with the character of inspired scriptures, they were collected together and arranged on a two-fold plan, firstly, according to their traditional authorship, and secondly, according to the divinities to whom the hymns in each group were addressed. Like all the other works of the Vedic period the Rig-veda has been transmitted orally from one generation to another from a remote antiquity even down to the present day. If all the manuscripts and all the printed copies were destroyed, its text could even now be recovered from the mouths of living men, with absolute fidelity as to the form and accent of every single word. Such a tradition has only been possible through the wonderfully perfect organization of a system of schools of Vedic study, in which untold generations of students have spent their lives from boyhood to old age in learning the sacred texts and in teaching them to their pupils. This is, beyond all question, the most marvellous instance of unbroken continuity to be found in the history of mankind; and the marvel increases when we consider that this extraordinary feat of the human memory has been concerned rather with the minutely accurate preservation of the forms of words than with the transmission of their meaning. The Brahmans, who, for long centuries past, have repeated Vedic texts in their daily prayers and in their religious services, have attached little or no importance to their sense; but so faithfully has the verbal tradition been maintained by the Vedic schools that ‘various readings’ can scarcely be said to exist in the text of the Rig-veda which has come down to us. It has probably suffered no material change since about the year 700 b.c., the approximate date of the pada-patha or ‘word-text,’ an ingenious contrivance, by which each word in the sentence is registered separately and independently of its context, so as to supply a means of checking the readings of the samhitd-patha or ‘continuous text,’ and thus preventing textual corruption. But the sense of many Vedic words was either hopelessly lost or extremely doubtful nearly two thousand five hundred years ago, when Yaska wrote his Nirukta. In fact, at that period the Vedic language was already regarded as divine ; and its obscurities in no way tended to detract from its sacred character—for, as the commentator, Sayana (died 1387 a.d.), quoting a popular maxim of the time, says: “It is no fault of the post if the blind man cannot see it”—but rather to strengthen the belief in its super-human origin. Orthodox Hindus, then as now, believed that the Vedas were the revealed word of God, and so beyond the scope of human criticism. It remained, therefore, for Western scholars in the nineteenth century, who were able to approach the subject without prepossessions, not only to bring to light again the original meaning of many passages of the Rig-veda, but also to show the historical significance of the whole collection as one of the most interesting and valuable records of antiquity.
The region in which the hymns of the Rig-veda were composed is clearly determined by their geographical references. About twenty-five rivers are mentioned; and nearly all of these belong to the system of the Indus. They include not only its five great branches on the east, from which the Punjab, ‘the land of the five rivers’, derives its name, but also tributaries on the north-west. We know, therefore, that the Aryans of the Rig-veda inhabited a territory which included portions of S.E. Afghanistan, the N.W. Frontier Province, and the Punjab.
Like many later invaders of India, they, no doubt, came into this region over the passes of the Hindu Kush range of mountains. Sanskrit literature subsequent to the date of the Rig-veda enables us to trace the progress of their Aryan civilization in a south-easterly direction until the time when it was firmly established in the plains Ja of the Jumna and the Ganges. These two great rivers were known even in the times of the Rig-veda; but at that period they merely formed the extreme limit of the geographical outlook.
The type of civilization depicted in the Rig-veda is by no means primitive. It is that of a somewhat advanced military aristocracy ruling in the midst of a subject people of far inferior culture. There is a wide gulf fixed between the fair-skinned Aryans and the dark Dasyus—the name itself is contemptuous, meaning usually ‘demons’—whom they are conquering and enslaving. This distinction of colour marks the first step in the development of the caste-system, which afterwards attained to a degree of rigidity and complexity unparalleled elsewhere in the history of the world.
The conquerors themselves are called comprehensively ‘the five peoples’; and these peoples are divided into a number of tribes, some of whom are to be traced in later Indian history. The Aryan tribes were not always united against the people of the land, but sometimes made war among themselves. Each tribe was governed by a king; and the kingly office was usually hereditary, but sometimes, perhaps, elective. As among other Indo-European peoples, the constitution of the tribe was modelled on that of the family; and the king, as head, ruled with the aid and advice of a council of elders who represented its various branches. Thus, the state of society was patriarchal: but it was no longer nomadic. The people lived in villages, and their chief occupations were pastoral and agricultural.
In war, the chief weapons were bows and arrows, though swords, spears, and battle-axes were also used. The army consisted of foot-soldiers and charioteers. The former were probably marshalled village by village and tribe by tribe as in ancient Greece and Germany, and as in Afghanistan at the present day. The war-chariots, which may have been used only by the nobles, carried two men, a driver and a fighting man who stood on his left.
In the arts of peace considerable progress had been made. The skill of the weaver, the carpenter, and the smith furnish many a simile in the hymns.
The metals chiefly worked were gold and copper. It is doubtful if silver and iron were known in the age of the Rig-veda.
Among the favourite amusements were hunting, chariot-races, and games of dice—the last mentioned a sad snare both in Vedic times and in subsequent periods of Indian history.
The religion of the Aryan invaders of India, like that of other ancient peoples of the same Indo-European family—Greeks, Romans, Germans, and Slavs—was a form of nature worship, in which the powers of the heavens, the firmament, and the earth were deified. Thus Indra, the god of the storm, is a giant who with his thunderbolt shatters the stronghold of the demon and recovers the stolen cows, even as the lightning-flash pierces the cloud and brings back the rains to earth; while Agni (the Latin ignis), the god of fire, is manifested in heaven as the sun, in the firmament as the lighting, and on earth as the sacrificial fire produced mysteriously from the friction of the fire-sticks. The sacrifice is the link which connects man with the gods, who take delight in the oblations, and, in return, shower blessings —wealth in cows and horses, and strength in the form of stalwart sons—on the pious worshipper. There are also other aspects of this religion. The spirits of the departed dwell in ‘the world of the Fathers’, where they are dependent for their sustenance on the offerings of their descendants; and ever lurking around man are the demons of famine and disease, whose insidious attacks can only be averted through the favour of the beneficent deities.
A certain amount of this Vedic mythology is common to other Indo-European peoples, as is proved by such equations as the following:—
Skt. Dyaus pitar-, ‘the Sky-father’—Gk. Zeus pater=La. Jupiter=Anglo-Saxon Tiw (cf. Tiwes doeg=Eng. Tuesday).
Skt. Ushasa-, ‘the Dawn’=Gk. Eos for Ausos=Lat. Aurora for Ausosa = Anglo-Saxon eas-t (Eng. east).
Points of similarity with the ancient Persian religion are more numerous; and, in estimating their cogency as evidence that the Persian and Indian Aryans dwelt together for some period after their separation from the other branches of the Indo-European stock, we must bear in mind the fact that the Persian religion, as represented in the Avesta, is the outcome of the reforms of Zoroaster (660-583, B.C.) which, presumably, did away with much of its ancient mythology. It must suffice here to mention one striking feature which the two religions share in common. The Vedic offerings o soma, the intoxicating juice of a plant, find their exact counterpart in the Avestan haoma, a word which is etymologically identical.
The hymns of the Rig-veda were the work of priestly bards who took no small pride in their poetic skill; and, although we may find much monotony in the collection, due to the great number of hymns which are sometimes devoted to the same topic, and numerous difficulties and obscurities, caused chiefly by our own defective knowledge of the language and of the period, yet the beauty and strength of many of the hymns are such as fully to justify this pride. The principles of scansion are determined by the number of syllables in each line, by a coesura after the fourth or fifth syllable, and by quantity, as in Greek and Latin, except that the rigid scheme of short and long is generally confined to the endings of the lines. The commonest metres are of eight, eleven, or twelve syllables to the line, and three or four of these lines usually make a verse. But there are a number of other varieties, some of them more complicated in structure.
The office of priest, therefore, required not only a knowledge of the ritual of the sacrifice, but also some skill in the making of hymns. No doubt, originally the king of the tribe was supreme in sacred as in secular matters; and it is possible that certain indications of this earlier state of affairs may still survive in the Rig-veda. But already, by a natural division of labour, the performance of the ordinary sacrifices on the king’s behalf was in practice entrusted to a priest specially appointed, who was called purohita (=Latin, prafectus). This office, too, had probably become hereditary, and it tended to grow in importance with the strengthening of the religious tradition.
Thus, although in the early period of the Rig-veda, the caste-system was unknown—the four castes are only definitely mentioned in one of the latest hymns—yet the social conditions which led to its development were already present. As we have seen, the first great division between conquerors and conquered was founded on colour. In fact, the same Sanskrit word, varna, means both ‘colour’ and ‘caste’. This was the basis on which a broad distinction was subsequently drawn between the ‘twice-born’, i.e. those who were regularly admitted into the religious community by the investiture of the sacred cord, and the servile caste or Cudras. The three-fold divisions of the ‘twice-born ’ into the ruling class (Kshatriyas), the priests (Brahmanas), and the tillers of the soil (Vaiçyas) finds its parallel in other Indo-European communities, and indeed it seems to represent the natural distribution of functions which occurs generally in human societies at a similar stage of advancement.
Of the more primitive inhabitants of the land the Rig-veda teaches us little, except that they were a pastoral people possessing large herds of cattle and having as defences numerous strongholds. Contemptuous references describe them as a dark-complexioned, flat-faced, ‘noseless’ race, who spoke a language which was unintelligible, and followed religious practices which were abhorrent to their conquerors. Of all the rest of India beyond the country of the Rig-veda we know nothing whatever at this period.
Of the three other Vedas two are directly dependent on the Rig-veda. They are especially intended for the use of the two orders of priests who took part in the sacrifices in addition to the Hotar who recited the verses selected from the Rig-veda. The Sama-veda, which chiefly consists of verses from the Rig-veda ‘pointed’ for the benefit of the Udgatar or singing priest, has little or no historical value. The Yajur-veda, which contains the sacrificial formulae to be spoken in an undertone by the Adhvaryu, while he performed the manual portions of the ceremony, s on the other hand a most important document tor the history of the period to which it belongs. It introduces us not only to a new region, but also to a complete transformation of religious and social conditions.
The Yajur-veda marks a further advance in the trend of Aryan civilization from the country of the North-West into the great central plain of India. Its geography is that of Kuru-kshetra, ‘the field of the Kurus,’ or the eastern portion of the plain which lies between the Sutlej and the Jumna, and Pafichala, the country to the southeast between the Jumna and the Ganges. This region, bounded on the west by the sacred region which lay between the rivers Sarasvati (Sarsuti) and Drishadvati (Chautang), was the land in which the complicated system of Brahmanical sacrifices was evolved, and it was in later times regarded with especial reverence as ‘the country of the holy sages,’ while the first home of the Aryan invaders of India seems to have been almost forgotten. Kuru-kshetra is also the scene of the great battle which forms the main subject of the national epic, the Mahabharata. One of its capitals was Indraprastha, the later Delhi, which became the capital of the whole of India under the Mughal emperors, and which has recently, in 1912, been restored to its former proud position.
Religious and social conditions, as reflected in the Yajur-veda, differ very widely from those of the period of the Rig-veda. All the moral elements in religion seem to have disappeared, extinguished by an elaborate and complicated system of ceremonial which is regarded no longer as a means of worship but as an end in itself. Sin in the Rig-veda means the transgression of the divine laws which govern the universe: in the Yajur-veda it means the omission—whether intentional or accidental—of some detail in the endless succession of religious observances which filled man’s life from birth to death. The sacrifice had developed into a system of magic by means of which supernatural powers might be attained; and the powers thus gained might be used for any purpose, good or bad, spiritual or temporal, and even to coerce the gods themselves. In the Yajur-veda also, the earlier stages of the castesystem, in essentially the form which it bears to the present day, are distinctly seen. Not only are the four great social divisions hardening into castes, but a number of mixed castes also are mentioned. Thus were fixed the outlines of the system which subsequently, by further differentiation according to trades, etc., became extraordinarily complicated. The tremendous spiritual power, which the sacrifice placed in the hands of the priestly caste, was no doubt the cause which directly led to the predominance of this caste in the social system.
The religion and the social system of the Yajur-veda represent, to a great extent, the development of tendencies which are clearly to be recognized in the Rig-veda; but they also, no doubt, show the influence of the religious beliefs and the social institutions of the earlier non-Aryan inhabitants of India; and it seems possible sometimes to trace this influence. To cite one instance only. Snakeworship is common among primitive peoples in India. No trace of it is to be found in the Rig veda, but it appears in the Yajur-veda. The presumption, therefore, is that it was borrowed from the earlier non-Aryan peoples.
The Atharva-veda differs from the other three in not being connected primarily with the sacrifices. It is generally more popular in character than the Rig-veda. It represents the old-world beliefs of the common people about evil spirits and the efficacy of spells and incantations rather than the more advanced views of the priests. Although the collection is manifestly later in date than the Rig-veda, yet, for the history of early civilization, it is even more valuable, since much of its subjectmatter belongs to a more primitive phase of religion. It is especially important for the history of science in India, as its charms to avert or cure diseases through the magical efficacy of plants contain the germs of the later systems of medicine.
The geographical information supplied by the Atharva-veda is not sufficient to enable us to determine the precise locality in which it was compiled; but the tribes mentioned in it indicate that the full extent of the two first regions occupied by the Aryan civilization during the earlier and later Vedic periods—the country of the Indus and the country of the Ganges and the Jumna—was known at the time when the collection was made.
For a long period, Aryan civilization was confined within these limits. The definitions of the whole region, and of its chief divisions, are thus given in The Laws of Manu, a work, in its present form, of a much later date, but undoubtedly representing the traditions from Vedic times :—
Aryavarta, ‘the country of the Aryans,’ is the district lying between the Himalaya and the Vindhya Mountains, and extending from the eastern to the western sea.
Madhya-deça, ‘the Middle Country,’ is that portion of Aryavarta which lies between the same two mountain ranges, and is bounded by Vinayana (the place where the river Sarasvati loses itself in the sand) on the west, and by Prayaga (the modern Allahabad, where the Ganges and the Jumna meet) on the east.
Brahmarshi-deça, ‘the county of the holy sages,’ includes the territories of the Kurus, Matsyas, Panchalas and Curasenas (i.e. the eastern half of the State of Patiala and of the Delhi division of the Punjab, the Al war State and adjacent territory in Rajputana, the region which lies between the Ganges and the Jumna, and the Muttra District in the United Provinces).
Brahmavarta, ‘the Holy Land,’ lies between the sacred rivers Sarasvati (Sarsuti) and Drishadvati (Chautang), and may be identified generally with the modern Sirhind. Its precise situation is somewhat uncertain, owing to the difficulty of tracing the courses of rivers in this region; for many of them lose themselves in the sand and sometimes reappear at a distance of several miles. That Brahmavarta formed part of Kuru-kshetra is seen from the following verse from the Mahabharata :—
“ Those, who dwell in Kuru-kshetra to the south of the Sarasvati and the north of the Drisadvati, dwell in Heaven.”
THE PERIOD OF THE BRAHMANAS AND UPANISHADS
The most ancient works of Indian literature, with which we have been dealing hitherto, are almost entirely in verse. This fact is in accordance with the general rule that poetry precedes prose in the development of literature. The only prose to be found in the Vedas occurs in some versions of the Yajur-veda, where a sort of commentary is associated with the verse portions. From this point of departure, we may trace the growth of a large prose literature of a similar character. Each of the Vedas was handed down traditionally in a number of priestly schools devoted entirely to its study, Sind each of these schools produced in the course of time its own particular text-book, in the form of an elaborate prose treatise, intended to explain to the priest the mystical significance of that portion of the sacrificial ceremony which he was called upon to perform. These treatises are styled Brahmanas or ‘religious manuals’. Their contents are of the most miscellaneous character; but they may be classified broadly under three categories:—(1) directions (vidhi), (2) explanations (arthavada), and (3) theosophical speculation (upanishad). The last were, as we shall see, developed more fully in a special class of works bearing the same title. The Brahmanas presuppose an intimate acquaintance with the very complicated ritual of the sacrifice; and they would have been unintelligible to us, if we had not fortunately also possessed the later ‘Sutras’, in which each separate branch of Vedic lore is minutely explained.
The Brahmanas are priestly documents in the narrowest and most exclusive sense of the term. At first sight, their contents would seem to be the most hopeless possible form of historical material. It is only incidentally and accidentally that they afford any insight whatever into the political and social conditions of the country and the period to which they belong. They give an utterly one-sided view even of the religion. But religion had other and nobler aspects even in this priest-ridden age, and the memorial of these is preserved in the Upanishads.
Nevertheless, there are found embedded in the Brahmanas a number of old-world legends which supply valuable evidence for the history of primitive human culture. For instance, a reminiscence of the far distant period, in which human sacrifices prevailed, is to be seen in a story told in the Aitareya Brahmana of the Rig-veda, about a Brahman lad named Cunahçepa, who was about to be sacrificed to the god Varuna, when the god himself appeared and released him. Another story in the same Brahmana illustrates the stages of transition from human sacrifice, in which at first some animal, and subsequently a cake made of rice, was in ordinary practice substituted for the human victim.
Occasionally also some valuable information as to the social and political state of India may be gleaned from the Brahmanas. The coronation ceremonies referred to in the eighth book of the Aitareya Brahmana show how completely the priestly caste had, in theory at least, gained supremacy over the kingly caste. The same book, moreover, shows an extension of the geographical horizon, for it mentions by name a number of the peoples of Southern India. It also records tfye kingly titles used in different regions of India and these titles seem to show that, at this early period, the most diverse forms of government ranging from absolute monarchies to self-governing (svaraj) communities were to be found. This interpretation would certainly be in accordance with what we know from the inscriptions and other historical sources of a later date. The interesting fact, that the Brahmanical religion did not include all the tribes of Aryan descent, is gathered from the account given in the Tandya Brahmapa of certain sacrifices (the vratya-stomas), which were performed on the admission of such Aryans into the Brahman community. The description of these non-Brahmanical Aryans—“they pursue neither agriculture nor commerce; their laws are in a constant state of confusion; they speak the same language as those who have received Brahmanical consecration, but nevertheless call what is easily spoken hard to pronounce”—shows that they were freebooters speaking the Prakrits or dialects allied to Sanskrit.
For the student of language the Brahmanas possess the highest interest. They are perfect mines of philological specimens. They show a great variety of forms which are transitional between the language of the Rig-Veda and the later Classical Sanskrit; and as being, together with the prose portions of the Yajur-veda, the oldest examples of Indo-European prose, they afford materials for the study of the development from its very first beginnings of a prose style and of a more complicated syntax than is feasible in ordinary verse. Thus we find, existing side by side in India at the same period, an ancient poetry, no longer primitive in character but elaborated by many generations of bards, and a rudimentary prose, which often reminds us of the first attempts of a child or an uneducated person to express his thoughts in writing.
The geography of the Brahmanas is generally the land of the Kurus and Panchalas, ‘the country of the holy sages’; but at times it lies more to the west or more to the east of this region. The Çatapatha Brahmana is especially remarkable for its wide geographical outlook. Some of its books belong to the first home of the Aryan invaders in the north-west. In others the scene changes from the court of Janamejaya, king of the Kurus, to the court of Janaka, king of Videha (Tirhut or N. Bihar). The legend of Mathava, king of Videgha (the older form of Videha), in the first book, indicates the progress of Brahmanical culture from the ‘Holy Land’ of the Sarasvati, first into Kosala (Oudh), and then over the river.. Sadanira (probably the Great Gandak, a tributary of the Ganges) which formed its boundary, into Videha.
The Çatapatha Brahmana supplies an important link in the history of religion and literature in India; for it is closely connected with Buddhism on the one hand, and with the ancient Sanskrit epics on the other. Many of the terms which subsequently became characteristic of Buddhism, such as arhat ‘saint’ and bramana ‘ascetic’, first occur in the Çatapatha; and among the famous teachers mentioned in it are the Gautamas, the Brahman family whose patronymic was adopted by the Kshatriya family in which Buddha was born. It was to Janamejaya, king of the Kurus, that the story of one of the great epic poems—the Mahabharata—is said to have been related; while Janaka, king of Videha, is probably to be identified with Janaka, the father of Sita, the heroine of the other great epic, the Ramayana.
Such are some of the comparatively few features of general interest which relieve the dreary monotony of the endless ritualistic and liturgical disquisitions of the Brahmanas. As we have seen, the kind of religion depicted in the Brahmanas is absolutely mechanical and unintelligent. The hymns from the Rig-veda are no longer used with any regard to their sense, but verses are taken away from their context and strung together fantastically, because they all contain some magical word, or because the scheme of their metres, when arranged according to the increasing or decreasing number of syllables, resembles a thunderbolt wherewith the sacrificer may slay his foes, or for some other equally valid reason. Such a system may have been useful enough to secure the supremacy of the Brahmans and to keep the common people in their proper place; but it is not to be imagined that it can ever have satisfied the intellectual aspirations of the Brahmans themselves; and, as a matter of fact, there has always been in India a broad distinction between a ‘religion of works’, intended for the common people and for the earlier stages in the religious life, and a ‘religion of knowledge’ which appealed only to an intellectual aristocracy. Certain hymns of reflection in the Rig-veda and the Atharva-veda show that the eternal problems of the existence and the nature of a higher power, and of its relation to the universe and to man, were already filling the thoughts of sages even at this early period; and, as we have seen, theosophical speculation finds its place even in the Brahmanas. It is, however, specially developed in certain treatises, called Upanishads, which usually come at the end of the Brahmanas, separated from them, by Aranyakas or ‘forest-books,’ which are transitional in character as in position. Thus the whole of Vedic literature, which is comprehensively styled çruti or ‘revelation’ as distinguished from the later smriti or ‘tradition’, falls into two great classes. The Vedas and Brahmanas belong to the ‘religion of works’, and the Aranyakas and Upanishads to the ‘religion of knowledge.’
A similar principle of division applies also to the four açramas, or religious stages, into which the life of the Brahman is theoretically divided. In the first, he lives as a pupil in the family of his guru and learns from him the sacred texts and the sacrificial procedure; in the second, he marries and brings up a family, religiously observing all the domestic rites; in the third, after he has seen the face of his grandson, he goes forth into the forest, either accompanied by his wife or alone, to live the life of an anchorite; and in the fourth, he abandons all earthly ties and devotes himself to meditation on the atman or ‘Supreme Soul’. In this way, his life is divided between the ‘religion of works’ in the two first, and the ‘religion of knowledge’ in the two last stages.
The Upanishads, with which the philosophical hymns of the Rig-veda and the Atharva-veda are closely connected in spirit, lead us into the realm of what we should call philosophy rather than religion. But the two have never been separated in India, where the latter has always been regarded as the necessary preparation for the former. Orthodoxy consists in the unquestioning acceptance of the social system and the religious observances of Brahmanism. Beyond this, speculation is free to range without restriction, whether it lead to pantheism, to dualism, or even to atheism.
The Upanishads are not systematic. They contain no orderly expositions of metaphysical doctrine. They give no reasons for the views which they put forth. They are the work of thinkers who were poets rather than philosophers. But nevertheless they contain all the main ideas which formed the germs of the later systems of philosophy, and are, therefore, of the utmost importance for the history of Indian thought.
The object of the ‘religion of knowledge’ is neither earthly happiness nor the rewards of heaven. Such may be the fruits of the ‘religion of works’. But, according to Indian ideas, the joys of earth and of heaven are alike transient. They may be pursued by the man of the world who mistakes appearances for realities; but the sage turns away from them, for he knows that, as the result of works, the human soul is fast bound in a chain of mundane existences, and that it will go on from birth to birth, whether in this world or in other worlds, its condition in each state of existence being determined by the good or evil deeds performed in previous existences. His sole aim, therefore, is to obtain mukii, or ‘release’, from this perpetual succession of birth and rebirth. This release can only be obtained by ‘right knowledge’, that is to ‘realization of the fact that there is no existence in the highest and only true sense of the term, except the atman or the ‘World-Soul’. In reality everything is the atman and the atman is everything. There is no second ‘being’. All that seems to us to exist besides the atman is ‘appearance’ or ‘illusion’. It is some disguise of the atman, due merely to a change in name and form. Just as all the vessels which are made of clay, by whatever names they may be called and however many different forms they may assume, are in reality only clay, so every thing which appears to us to have an independent existence is really only a modification of the atman. There is, therefore, no essential difference between the soul of the individual and the ‘World Soul’. The complete apprehension of this fact constitutes the ‘right knowledge’, which bring with it ‘release’ from the circle of mundane existences, which are now clearly seen to be apparent only and not real.
This pantheistic doctrine, which forms the main, but by no means the exclusive, subject of the Upanishads, was, at a later period, developed with marvellous fulness and subtilty in the Vedanta system of philosophy. Its influence has been more potent than any other in moulding the spiritual and intellectual life of India even down to the present day.
The evidence of language shows that the earnest Upanishads, which are also the most important, belong to the period of the later Brahmanas. Regarded as sources for the history of religion and civilization in India, these two classes of words supplement and correct each other. The Brahmanas represent the ceremonial, and the Upanishads the intellectual phase of religion; and the social aspects of these two phases stand in striking contrast. While the performance of the sacrifice, with all its complicated ritual, remained entirely in the hands of the priestly caste, members of the royal caste and even learned ladies joined eagerly in the discussions, which were held at royal courts, concerning the nature of the atman, and acquitted themselves with distinction. Thus the far-famed Brahman, Gargya Balaki, came to Ajataçatru, the king of Kaçi (Benares), and, having heard his words of wisdom, humbly begged that he might be permitted to become his pupil; while the ladies Gargi and Maitreyi discoursed concerning these deep matters, on perfectly equal terms, with Yajnavalkya, the great rishi of the court of Janaka, king of Videha. The time of the Upanishads was, in fact, one of great spiritual unrest, and of revolt against the formalism and exclusiveness of the Brahmanical system. In this revolt the royal caste played no unimportant part; and, as we shall see in the next chapter, the leaders of the two chief religious reforms, known as Jainism and Buddhism, were both scions of princely families.
THE RISE OF JAINISM AND BUDDHISM
With the rise of Jainism and Buddhism we enter the period of Indian history for which dates, at least approximately correct, are available. We are no longer dependent for our chronology on an estimate of the length of time required for the evolution of successive phases of thought or language.
These two religions differ from the earlier Brahmanism in so far as they repudiate the ‘religion of works’ as inculcated in the Vedas and the Brahmanas. That is to say, they deny the authority of the Vedas and of the whole system of sacrifice and ceremonial which was founded on the Vedas; and in so doing they place themselves outside the pale of Brahman orthodoxy. On the other hand, their fundamental ideas are substantially those of the ‘religion of knowledge’ as represented in the Upanishads. These ideas are, in fact, the postulates on which all Indian religions and all Indian philosophies rest. They hold, one and all, that the individual soul is fast bound by the power of its own karma or ‘actions’ to a continuous series of birth and re-birth which need never end; and the object of one and all is to find out the way by which the soul may be freed from the bonds of this unending mundane existence. They differ from one another, partly in regard to the means whereby this freedom may be obtained, and partly in their views as to the nature of the universe and of the individual soul, and as to the existence or non-existence of some being or some first cause corresponding to the Atman or ‘World-Soul’ of the Upanishads.
Vardhamana Jnataputra, the founder of Jainism, called by his followers Jina (hence the epithet ‘Jain’) ‘the Conqueror’ or Mahavira ‘the Great Hero’, probably lived from about 599 to 527 B.C. As his surname denotes, he was a scion of the Kshatriya or princely tribe of Jinatas, and he was related to the royal family of Vaiçali (Basarh) in Videha (Tirhut). His system of teaching, as it has come down to us, is full of metaphysical subtilties ; but, apart from these, its main purpose, summed up in a few words, is to free the soul from its mundane fetters by means of the ‘three jewels’—a term also used in Buddhism, but in a different sense—viz. ‘right faith,’ ‘right knowledge’, and ‘right action’, each of these headings being divided and subdivided into a number of dogmas or rules of life.
The Jains still form a wealthy and important section of the community in many of the large towns, particularly in Western India, where their ancestors have left behind them an abiding record in the beautiful temples of Gujarat. They have also played a notable part in the civilization of Southern India, where the early literary development of the Kanarese and Tamil languages was due, in a great measure, to the labours of Jain monks.
The founder of Buddhism—the Buddha or ‘Enlightened’ as he was called by his disciples—was Siddhartha, whose date was probably from about 563 to 483 B.C. He belonged to the Kshatriya tribe of Çakyas, and so is often styled ‘Cakyamuni’, the sage of the Çakyas; but, in accordance with a practice which prevailed among the Kshatriyas, he bore a Brahman surname, Gautama, borrowed from one of the ancient families of Vedic Rishis. The Çakyas ruled over a district in what is now known as the Western Tarai of Nepal; and, at Buddha’s period, they were feudatories of the king of Kosala (Oudh). In recent years the most interesting archaeological discoveries have been made in this region, perhaps the most interesting of all being the inscribed pillar which was erected, c. 244 b.c., by the Buddhist emperor Asoka to mark the spot where the Buddha was born.
Buddha shared the pessimism of his period, the literature of which constantly reminds us of the words of the Preacher—‘Vanity of vanities: all is vanity’—and he sought a refuge from the world and a means of escape from existence, first in the doctrine of the Atman, as set forth in the Upanishads, and subsequently in a system of the severest penance and self-mortification. But neither of these could satisfy him; and after a period of meditation he propounded his own system, which in its simplest form is comprised in the four headings of his first sermon at Benares :—“sorrow : the cause of sorrow : the removal of sorrow : the way leading to the removal of sorrow”- That is to say, all existence is sorrow; this sorrow is caused by the craving of the individual for existence, which leads from birth to re-birth; this sorrow can be removed by the removal of its cause; this removal may be effected by following the eight-fold path, viz. ‘right understanding’, ‘right resolve’, ‘right speech’, ‘right action’, ‘right living’, ‘right effort’, ‘right mindfulness’, ‘right meditation’. It will be seen, then, that the ‘eight-fold path’ of Buddhism is essentially identical with the ‘three jewels’ of the Jains, and that both of them differ from the Upanishads chiefly in substituting a practical rule of life for an abstract ‘right knowledge’, as the means whereby ‘freedom’ may be secured.
Jainism and Buddhism also differ materially from Brahmanism in their organization. Brahmanism is strictly confined to the caste-system, in which a man’s social and religious duties are determined once and for all by his birth. Jainism and Buddhism made a wider claim to universality. In theory, all distinction of castes ceased within the religious community. In practice, the firmly established social system has proved too strong for both religions. It is observed by the Jains at the present day, while, in India itself, it has reabsorbed the Buddhists many centuries ago. Brahmanism is not congregational. Its observances consist partly of caste-duties performed by the individual, and partly of sacrifices and ceremonies performed for his special benefit by priests. In ancient times there were, therefore, no Brahman temples. Jainism and Buddhism were, on the contrary, both congregational and monastic. One striking result of this difference is that the most ancient monuments of India teach us a great deal about the Jains and Buddhists and little or nothing about the Brahmans. The one-sided impression, which the comparative lack of this important species of evidence for the earliest history of Brahmanism is apt to produce, must be corrected from a study of the literature.
The language of Brahmanism is always and everywhere Sanskrit. The language of the Jain and Buddhist scriptures is that of the particular district or the particular period to which the different books or versions belong.
Buddhism disappeared entirely from India proper at the end of the twelfth century a.d., but it still flourishes at the northern and southern extremities, in Nepal and Ceylon. From its original home it has extended far and wide into Eastern Asia; and its ancient books are preserved in four great collections :—Pali (in Ceylon, Burma, and Siam), Sanskrit (in Nepal), Tibetan, and Chinese.
Thus both Jainism and Buddhism arose and flourished originally in the same region of India, viz. the districts to the east of the ‘Middle Country’, including the ancient kingdoms of Kosala, Videha, and Magadha, i.e. the modern Oudh together with the old provinces of Tirhut and S. Bihar in Western Bengal. They spread subsequently to other regions, and for many centuries divided the allegiance of India with Brahmanism.
Both religions produced large and varied literatures, sacred and secular, which are especially valuable from the historical point of view, as they represent traditions which are, presumably, independent of one another and of Brahmanism. We may, therefore, reasonably believe in the accuracy of a statement if it is supported by all the three available literary sources, Brahman, Jain, and Buddhist, since it is almost certain that no borrowing has taken place between them. The chief difficulty which the historian finds in using these materials lies in the fact that the books in their present form are not original. They are the versions of a later age; and it is not easy to determine to what extent their purport has been changed by subsequent additions or corrections, or by textual corruption.
This remark is especially true of some of the Brahman sources. For instance, the ancient epic poems, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, and the Puranas or ‘old-world stories’ are undoubtedly, in their present form, many centuries later than the date of some of the events which they profess to record, and their evidence, therefore, must be used with caution. But it can scarcely be questioned that much of their substance is extremely ancient, although the form in which it is expressed may have undergone considerable change in the course of ages.
The Mahabharata, or ‘great poem of the descendants of Bharata’, consists of about 100,000 couplets usually of thirty-two syllables each. That is to say, if reckoned by the number of syllables, it is about thirty times as long as Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost.’ Only about a fifth of this mass has anything whatever to do with the main story, viz. the war between the Kurus and the Pandus. All the rest is made up of episodes, or disconnected stories, or philosophical poems. There can be no doubt that the Mahabharata, as it stands now, is the creation of centuries; and criticism has succeeded in distinguishing various stages in its growth and in assigning certain probable limits of date to these stages. It must suffice here to say that the historical groundwork of the story would seem to be an actual war at a remote period between the well-known Kurus and the Pandus, whose history is obscure ; and that an epic poem, which forms the nucleus of the present Mahabharata, was put together at least as early as the fourth century b.c. from traditional war songs founded on events which took place at a much earlier date.
While the Mahabharata belonged originally to the ‘Middle Country’, the Ramayana belongs rather to the districts lying to the east of this region. As its title denotes, it celebrates ‘the story of Rama’, a prince of the royal Ikshvaku family of Kosala (Oudh), and its heroine is his faithful wife Sita, daughter of Janaka, king of Videha (Tirhut). Unlike the Mahabharata, the Ramayana is, on the whole, probably the product not only of one age but also of one author, Valmiki. It is not entirely free from more recent additions; but the main poem forms one consistent whole, and such indications of date as can be found seem to show that it was composed probably in the fourth or third century b.c. As we have seen, some of its characters appear to be far more ancient and to be mentioned in the Upanishads.
There can be no doubt that, originally at least, the ancient epics belonged rather to the Kshatriyas than to the Brahmans. Their scenes are courts and camps, and their chief topics the deeds of kings and warriors. Their religion is that of the kingly caste. Among their deities, Indra, who was especially the sovereign lord of the kings of the earth, stands most prominent, and the future reward which awaits their heroes for the faithful discharge of kingly duty is a life of material happiness in Indra’s heaven. Their language is neither that of the Brahmanas and Upanishads, nor that which is known as Classical Sanskrit. It is less regular and more popular in character than either of these; and like all poetical languages it preserves many archaisms. We can scarcely be wrong in supposing that this epic Sanskrit was formed by the minstrels who wandered from court to court singing of wars and heroes. At a later date, when the supremacy of the Brahman caste was firmly established, no doubt a more definitely religious tone was given to the epics. The history of the Mahabharata, in fact, seems to show such a transition from a purely epic to a didactic character. Originally the story of a war, such as would appeal chiefly to the military caste, it has become through the accretions of ages—the work, no doubt, of Brahman editors—a vast encyclopaedia of Brahmanical lore.
Closely connected in character with the Mahabharata are the Puranas. The word purana means ‘ancient’; and the title is justified by the nature of the contents of the eighteen long Sanskrit poems which are so called. These consist chiefly of legendary accounts of the origin of the world and stories about the deeds of gods, sages, and monarchs in olden times. Works of this description and bearing the same title are mentioned in the Atharva-veda and in the Brahmanas. This species of literature must, therefore, be extremely old, and there can be no doubt that much of the subject-matter of the early Puranas has been transmitted to the later versions. But, in their present form, the Puranas are undoubtedly late, since some of the dynasties which they mention are known to have ruled in the first six centuries of the Christian era. Together with these, however, they mention others which belong to the last six centuries b.c., and others again which they attribute to a far more remote antiquity. It is evident that the Puranas have been ‘brought up to date’ and wilfully altered so frequently, that their ancient and modern elements are now often inextricably confused.
In theory, these ‘family genealogies’ (vamça-nucharita) constitute one of the five essential features of a Purana: they are supposed to form part of the prophetic description given by some divine or semi-divine personage, in a far remote past, of the ages of the world to come and of the kings who are to appear on earth. They are, therefore, invariably delivered in the future tense. Such lists are absent from many of the modern versions, but, where they do occur, there can be no doubt that they were originally historical. Occasionally they give not only the names of the kings, but also the number of years in each reign and in each dynasty. The information which ‘hey supply is supported, to some extent, by the literatures of the Jains and Buddhists, and, to some extent, by the evidence of inscriptions and coins. But, in the course of time, these lists have become so corrupt, partly through textual errors, and partly through the ‘corrections’ and additions of editors, that, as they stand at present, they are neither in agreement with one another nor consistent in themselves. Nevertheless, the source of many of their errors is easily discovered; and it is quite possible that, when these errors have been removed from the text by critical editing, many of the apparent discrepancies and contradictions of the Puranas may likewise disappear.
A somewhat similar problem is presented also by the Pali epic poems of Ceylon. The Dipavamsa in its present form dates from the fourth century a.d. and the Mahavamsa from the sixth century a.d.; but both are almost certainly founded on traditional chronicles which were far more ancient. The professed object of both is to record the history of Buddhism from the earliest times, and in particular its history in the island of Ceylon from the date of its introduction by Mahendra (Mahinda) c. 246 bc to the reign of Mahasena, at the beginning of the fourth century a.d. There can be little doubt that, when the miraculous elements and other later accretions are removed from these chronicles, there remains a substratum of what may fairly be regarded as history.
The period to which the earliest Jain and Buddhist literature belongs is marked by the growth of a species of composition—the Sutra— which is peculiarly Indian. It is used by all sects alike and applied to every conceivable subject, sacred or secular. The Sutras may, perhaps, most aptly be said to represent the codification of knowledge. The word means ‘thread’; and a treatise bearing the title consists of a string of aphorisms forming a sort of analysis of some particular subject. In this way all the different branches of learning—sacrificial ritual, philosophy, law, the study of language, etc.—which were treated somewhat indiscriminately in earlier works such as Brahmanas and Upanishads were systematized. The Sutra form was, no doubt, the result of a method of instruction which was purely oral. The teacher, as we know from the extant Buddhist Sutras, was wont to enunciate each step in the argument and then to enforce it by means of parallel illustrations and by frequent reiteration until he had fully impressed it on the pupil’s mind. The pupil thus learned his subject as a series of propositions, and these he remembered by the aid of short sentences which became in the course of time more and more purely mnemonic. The Sutras are therefore, as a rule, unintelligible by themselves and can only be understood with the help of a commentary. They preserve a wonderfully complete record both of the social and religious life and of intellectual activity in almost every conceivable direction, but they are unhistorical in character and rarely throw any light, even incidentally, on the political conditions of the times and countries to which they belong.
All the literary sources, Brahman, Jain, and Buddhist, are in general agreement as to the chief political divisions of Northern India in the sixth and fifth centuries b.c. The number of large kingdoms mentioned in the lists is usually sixteen; but in addition to these there were many smaller principalities, and many independent or semi-dependent communities, some of which were oligarchical in their constitution. The chief feature in the subsequent history is the growth of one of the large kingdoms, Magadha (S. Bihar), which was already becoming predominant among the nations east of the Middle Country during Buddha’s lifetime. It eventually established an empire which included nearly the whole of the continent of India.
THE INDIAN DOMINIONS OF THE PERSIAN AND MACEDONIAN EMPIRES
We have seen that the present political isolation of India is a comparatively modern feature in its history, and that, in ancient times, many of the physical impediments also, which now prevent free communication both with the Farther East and with the West, did not exist. We have seen that the results of such communication in prehistoric times are attested by the certain evidence of ethnology and language. We now approach the period during which relations between India and the West (Western Asia and Europe) are to be traced in historical records.
The region of Western Asia, which lies between India and the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas, that is to say the region which comprises the modern countries of Afghanistan, Baluchistan, Persia, and the northern provinces of Turkey in Asia (Armenia, Asia Minor, Mesopotamia, and Syria) is famous as the site of many of the most advanced civilizations of antiquity. In extent, it is larger than the continent of India, but less than India and Burma combined. Here, as in India, many peoples of different races and languages have played their part on the stage of history; and here, too, now one and now another of these peoples has, from time to time, become predominant among its fellows and has succeeded in establishing a great empire. As in the case of India also, the history of these ancient civilizations has been recovered from the past by modern scholarship. Excavations of ancient sites in the valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates, and elsewhere in this region, have brought to light thousands of inscriptions in cuneiform characters, not one syllable of which could have been read a hundred years ago. These inscriptions, now that many of them have been deciphered, tell of Assyrian and Babylonian civilizations which were flourishing at least as early as 2200 bc, and of a still earlier Sumerian civilization, the monuments of which seem to go back to about 4000 BC.
Of especial interest from the point of view of Indian history are the cuneiform inscriptions which relate to the kings of Mitanni, a branch of the Hittites established in the district of Malatia in Asia Minor; for we learn from them that not only did the kings of Mitanni in the fifteenth and fourteenth centuries bc bear Aryan names, but also that they worshipped the deities of the Rig-veda—Indra, Varuna, Mitra, and the Alvins (the horsemen gods, the Castor and Pollux of Indian mythology), under their Vedic title ‘Nasatya’. The precise manner in which the kings of Mitanni and the Aryans of the Rig-veda were connected must remain for the present uncertain; but, as many ancient sites in this region are still unexplored and as only a portion of the inscriptions already discovered have yet been published, there seems to be no limit to the possibilities presented by this most fertile field of archaeology, and it is not improbable that both this and many other obscure problems may still be solved.
That there may have been constant means of communication both by land and sea between the Babylonian Empire and India seems extremely probable; but, although there are traditions, there is no real evidence that the sway of any of the powers of Western Asia extended to the east far as India, until the time of Cyrus (558-530). the founder of the Persian Empire, to whom, on the authority of certain Greek and Latin authors, is attributed the conquest of Gandhara. This geographical term usually denotes the region comprising the modern districts of Peshawar in the N.W. Frontier Province and Rawalpindi in the Punjab, but in the Old Persian inscriptions it seems to include also the district of Kabul in Afghanistan. This province formed the eastern limit of a vast empire which, in the reign of Cyrus, included not only the whole of Western Asia as described above, but other countries to the north of India and Afghanistan, and in the reign of his successor Cambyses (530-522) also Egypt.
Gandhara thus forms a most important link connecting India with the West; and it holds a unique position among all the countries of India from the fact that its history may be traced with remarkable continuity from the times of the Rig-veda even down to the present day. Its inhabitants, the Gandharis, are mentioned both in the Rig-veda and the Atharva-veda; and Gandhara appears among the countries of India in Sanskrit literature from the period of the Upanishads onwards, in the earliest Buddhist literature, and in the most ancient Indian inscriptions. It remained a Persian province for abopt two centuries; and, after the downfall of the empire in 331 bc, it, together with the Persian province of ‘India’ or ‘the country of the Indus,’ which had been added to the empire by Darius not long after 516 bc, came under the sway of Alexander the Great. Through Gandhara and the Indian province was exercised the Persian influence, which so greatly modified the civilization of North-Western India.
The sources, from which our knowledge of the Indian dominions of the Persian Empire is derived, are of two kinds:—(1) the inscriptions of King Darius I (522-486 b.c.), and (2) Greek writers, notably Herodotus and Ctesias.
The historical inscriptions of Darius are at three important centres in the ancient kingdom of Persia—Behistun, Persepolis, and Naksh-i-Rustam. They are engraved in cuneiform characters and in three languages—Old Persian, Susian, and Babylonian. The Behistun inscription, cut into the surface of a lofty cliff at a height of about 500 feet above the ground, is famous in the annals of scholarship; for it was through the publication of its Old Persian version by Sir Henry Rawlinson in 1847, that the numerous difficulties in the decipherment of the cuneiform alphabet were finally overcome. The historical importance of these inscriptions lies in the fact that they contain lists of all the subject peoples, and therefore indicate the extent of the Persian Empire at the time when they were engraved.
The chief object of the ‘Histories’ of Herodotus is to give an account of the struggles between the Greeks and the Persians during the period from 501 to 478 BC. His third book contains a list of the twenty ‘nomes’ or fiscal units, into which Darius divided the empire, together with the names of the peoples included in each and the amount of tribute imposed. Herodotus both confirms and amplifies the information supplied by the inscriptions. His work is by far the most valuable record of the Persian Empire which has come down to us.
Ctesias resided at the Persian court for seventeen years (c. 415-398) as physician during the reigns of Darius II (424-404), and Artaxerxes Mnemon (404-358). He wrote accounts both of Persia and India of which there are extant fragments preserved by later writers, as well as abridgements made by Photius, patriarch of Constantinople, in the ninth century A.D. The writings of Ctesias relating to India are, in the form in which they have survived, descriptive of the races and the natural productions of the country rather than historical.
Such information as may be gleaned from the available sources as to the political history of the Persian provinces of Gandnara and ‘India’ may thus be summarized.
Gandhara is said to have been conquered during the reign of Cyrus. The writers to whom we owe this information certainly lived several centuries after the time of Cyrus, but it is not improbable that they may have possessed good authority for their statements. In the Behistun inscription of Darius, the date of which is about 516 BC, the Gandharians appear among the subject peoples in the Old Persian version; but their place is taken in the Susian and Babylonian versions by the Paruparaesanna. These were the inhabitants of the Paropanisus, or Hindu Kush. As a rule, a distinction may be observed between the country of the Paropanisadae (the Kabul Valley, in Afghanistan) and Gandhara, but the two names seem to be used indiscriminately in these inscriptions, probably as denoting generally the region which included both. In the inscriptions at Behistun no mention is made of the ‘Indians’ who are included with the Gandharians in the lists of subject peoples given by the inscriptions on the palace of Darius at Persepolis, and on his tomb at Naksh-i-Rustam. From this fact it may be inferred that the ‘Indians’ were conquered at some date between 516 BC and the end of the reign of Darius in 486 BC. The preliminaries to this conquest are described by Herodotus, who relates that Sylax was first sent to by Darius (probably about 510 bc) to conduct a fleet of ships from one of the great tributaries of the Indus in the Gandhara country to the sea, and to report on the tribes living on both banks of the river.
Although it is not possible to determine the precise extent of the ‘Indian’ province thus added by Darius to the Persian Empire, yet the information supplied by Herodotus indicates with sufficient clearness that it must have included territories on both sides of the Indus from Gandhara to its mouth, and that it was separated from the rest of India on the east by vast deserts of sand, evidently the present Thar or Indian Desert. The ‘Indian’ province, therefore, no doubt included the Western Punjab generally and the whole of Sind. According to Herodotus it constituted the twentieth and the most populous fiscal division of the empire and it paid the highest annual tribute of all. The Gandharians are placed together with three other peoples in the seventh division, which paid altogether less than half that amount.
During the reigns of Darius and his successor Xerxes took place the Persian expeditions against Greece, the total defeat of which by a small states forms one of the most stirring in history. The immediate cause of the war between Persians and Greeks was revolt in the 501 bc of the Greek colonies in Ionia, the district along the western coast of Asia Minor, which had become tributary to Persia after the defeat of Croesus, king of Lydia, by Cyrus in 546 bc. The Ionians were aided by the Athenians, who thus incurred the hostility of the Persians; and, after the revolt was subdued, the Persian arms were turned against Greece itself.
Since the Persians thus became acquainted with the Greeks chiefly through the Ionian colonists, they not unnaturally came to use the term Yaund ‘Ionians’, which occurs in the inscriptions of Darius, in a wider sense to denote Greeks or people of Greek origin generally. The corresponding Indian forms (Skt. Yavana and Prakrit Yona) which were borrowed from Persia, have the same meaning in the Indian literature and inscriptions of the last three centuries before and the first two centuries after the Christian era. At a later date, these terms were used in India to denote foreigners generally.
Of the most powerful of the Persian expeditions against Greece, which was accompanied by king Xerxes in person in 480 bc, Herodotus has preserved a full account. It was made up of contingents sent by no fewer than all forty-nine the extent subject nations of the Persian Empire, and it is said to have numbered more than two million six hundred thousand fighting men. In this vast army both of the Persian provinces of India were represented, the Gandharians being described by Herodotus as bearing bows of reed and short spears, and the ‘Indians’ as being clad in cotton garments and bearing similar bows with arrows tipped with iron.
After the time of Herodotus, the history of Northern India, as told by Greek writers, almost ceases until the period when both Greece and Persia had submitted to the Macedonian conqueror, Alexander the Great. But it is important to remember that this lack of information is to a great extent accidental and due to the fact that the writings of Ctesias have only survived in fragments, and that other writings have been lost. There is no reason to doubt that the Indian provinces were included in the Persian Empire and continued to be governed by its satraps until the end. There is also no reason to doubt that during the whole of this period the Persian Empire formed a link which connected India with Greece. We know that the battles of the Persian king were fought, to a very great extent, with the aid of Greek mercenaries, and that Greek officials of all kinds readily found employment both at the imperial court and at the courts of the satraps. At no period in early history, probably, were the means of communication by land more open, or the conditions more favourable for the interchange of ideas between India and the West.
But the event which, in the popular imagination, has, for more than twenty-two centuries past, connected India with Europe, is undoubtedly the Indian expedition of Alexander the Great. He came to the throne of Macedon in 336 bc, at the age of twenty ; and, after subduing Greece, he crossed over the Hellespont and began the conquest of Western Asia in 334 bc. After the defeat of the Persian monarch, Darius III Codomannus, at the decisive battle of Gaugamela in 331 BC, the Persian dominions in India together with all the rest of the empire came nominally under the sway of the conquerors. The military campaigns which followed had, as their ostensible object, the vindication of the right of conquest and the consolidation of the empire thus won.
The route by which Alexander approached India passed through the Persian provinces of Aria (Herat in North-Western Afghanistan), Drangiana (Seistan, in Persia, bordering on South-Western Afghanistan), and Arachosia (Kandahar in SouthEastern Afghanistan), and thence into the country of the Paropanisadae (the Kabul Valley, the province of East Afghanistan which adjoins the present North-Western Frontier Province). Here, in the spring of 329 bc, he founded the city of Alexandria-sub-Caucasum, ‘Caucasus’ being the name which the Greeks gave to the Paropanisus (Hindu Kush), the great chain of mountains which in ancient times separated India from Bactria, and which now divides Southern from Northern Afghanistan. This city Alexander used as his base of operations; and hence he made a series of campaigns with the object of subduing the Persian provinces which lay to the north—Bactria (Balkh) and Sogdiana (Bukhara). On his return to the city which he had founded, he began to make preparations for the invasion of India in the summer of 327 BC.
If we reckon from this time to the actual date of Alexander’s departure from India in the autumn of 325 BC, the total duration of the campaign in India, that is to say the Kabul Valley, the North-Western Frontier Province, the Punjab, and Sind, was about two years and three months. As has been observed, this period is unique in the history of Ancient India in so far as it is the only one of which detailed accounts have come down to us.
The names are recorded of about twenty Greek writers, who are known to have composed histories of this campaign. Some of them actually accompanied Alexander, while the others were his contemporaries. But all their works without exception have perished. We, however, possess five different accounts of Alexander and his exploits by later authors to whom these original records were accessible. Of these the two most important are Arrian and Curtius.
Arrian, who was born about 90 A.D. and died in the reign of the Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius (161-180 A.D.), wrote in Greek an account of Alexander’s Asiatic expedition, called the ‘Anabasis of Alexander’ which was modelled on the ‘Anabasis ’ of Xenophon, and also a book on India, which was founded on the work of Megasthenes and intended to supplement the account of Ctesias. Arrian is our most trustworthy authority.
Q. Curtius Rufus, whose date is somewhat doubtful, wrote a work on the exploits of Alexander which has, with some probability, been assigned to the reign of Claudius (41-54 a.d.). This historical biography has been more praised for its literary merits than for its accuracy.
The difficulties, which the reader encounters in his endeavours to trace the progress of Alexander’s campaign in India with the aid of these and other classical authorities, are very considerable. In the early stages of the campaign, the military operations of Alexander and his generals were carried out in the mountainous districts of Afghanistan and the North-Western Frontier Province which lie between Kabul and the Indus. This region, then as now, was inhabited by numerous warlike tribes living in a perpetual state of feud with one another. Even to the present day much of its geography is scarcely known to the outer world. The fights with warlike tribes and the sieges of remote mountain strongholds, which the historians of Alexander describe in detail, find their parallels in the accounts of the military expeditions, which the Indian government is obliged to send from time to time to quell disturbances on the NorthWestern Frontier. Even now it is scarcely possible to follow the course of such expeditions, as described in books or newspapers, without the aid of special military sketch-maps drawn to a large scale. The difficulty is greatly increased when our only guides are ancient records, in which the identification of place-names with their modern representatives is often uncertain. Thus, to cite perhaps the most striking instance of this uncertainty, no episode in Alexander’s career has been more famous through the ages than his capture of the rock Aornos, a stronghold which was fabled to have defied all the efforts of Hercules himself, and nq subject has attracted more attention on the part of students of Indian history than the identification of its present site; but, in spite of all the learning and ingenuity which have been brought to bear on the point during the last seventy years, the geographical position of Aornos still remains to be decided.
Early in the spring of 326 BC, Alexander and his army passed over the Indus, probably by means of a bridge of boats at Ohind, about sixteen miles above Attock, into the territories of the king of Taxila, who had already tendered his submission. Taxila (Sanskrit Takshafila) the capital of a province of Gandhara, was famous in the time of Buddha as the great university town of India, and is now represented by miles of ruins in the neighbourhood of Shahdheri in the Rawalpindi District. From this city Alexander sent a summons to the neighbouring king, Porus, calling upon him to surrender. The name, or rather title, ‘Porus’, probably represents the Sanskrit Paurava, and means ‘the prince of the Purus’, a tribe who appear in the Rig-veda. Porus, who ruled over a kingdom situated between the Hydaspes (Jhelum) and the Acesincs (Chenab), returned a defiant answer to the summons, and prepared to oppose the invaders at the former river with all his forces. The ensuing battle, in which the Macedonian forces finally prevailed, is the most celebrated in the history of Alexander’s Indian campaign. His conquests were subsequently extended, first to the Hydraotes (Ravi), and then to the Hyphasis (Beas), which marks their limit in an easterly direction. His soldiers refused to go farther, in spite of the eagerness of their leader.
Beyond the Beas dwelt the people whom the Greek historians call ‘Prasioi’. This name is, no doubt, intended to represent the Sanskrit Prachyah, ‘the Easterns,’ and is a collective term denoting the nations of the country of the Ganges and Jumna. The Greek and Latin writers speak of them as of one great nation; but, as we have seen, this region included a number of large kingdoms and a multitude of smaller states. It is, however, quite possible that, at this period, all these kingdoms and states were united under the suzerainty of Magadha. Hitherto Alexander had not been brought face to face with any great confederation of the nations of India. He had conquered some states and accepted the allegiance of others; but none of these could, in all probability, be compared in point of strength with any of the great nations of Hindustan. It is useless to speculate as to what might have been the result if Alexander had crossed the Beas and come into conflict with the combined forces of the Prasioi.
After the refusal of the army to proceed, Alexander retraced his line of march to the Hydaspes (Jhelum), on either bank of which he had previously founded a city—Bucephala, in honour of his favourite charger, Bucephalus, probably near the modern town of Jhelum, on the right bank, at the point where his army had crossed the river, and Nicaea, ‘the city of victory,’ on the left bank, on the site of the battle with Porus. At these cities Alexander collected the fleet which was to convey a large portion of his forces down the rivers of the Punjab to the mouth of the Indus, and thence through the Arabian Sea to the head of the Persian Gulf.
But Alexander’s career of conquest in India was not finished. He had hitherto not only reclaimed the Persian province of Gandhara, but had annexed the whole of the Northern Punjab which lay beyond, as far as the River Beas. He now proceeded, on his return journey, to reclaim the Persian province of ‘India,’ viz. the Western Punjab and Sind.
The command of the fleet was entrusted to Nearchus, who thus performed for Alexander a somewhat similar task to that which, nearly two centuries before, had been undertaken by Scylax at the command of Darius, Nearchus wrote an account of his adventures which is no longer extant, but which is quoted frequently by Arrian in his Anabasis of Alexander. The progress of the fleet as, protected by armies marching on either bank, it passed down the Jhelum into the Chenab, and so into the Indus, is described by the Greek and Latin historians with their usual minuteness. The ordinary difficulties, which the reader finds in tracing the course of their narrative on the map of India, are here increased by the fact that all the rivers of the Punjab are known to have changed their courses. Such changes have been very considerable during the few centuries for which accurate observations are available, and the rivers must, accordingly, in many cases, have flowed in very different channels at the time of Alexander, more than two thousand two hundred years ago. We are, therefore, now deprived, to a great extent, of the chief means by which it is often possible to identify the modern position of ancient historical sites. But, although it may not always be easy to follow the details of the constant series of military operations which marked the journey to the sea, the final result of these operations is certain. The conqueror of the Persian Empire had fully established his claim to be the suzerain of the peoples who were formerly included in its ‘Indian’ province.
Before leaving India in the autumn of 325 BC, Alexander had made provision for the future control of his new dominions by the appointment of satraps to govern the different provinces. In so doing he was merely perpetuating the system which had become firmly rooted in Northern India as the result of two centuries of Persian rule. The satraps whom he selected as governors in the former provinces of the Persian empire were Greek or Persian; while, in the case of the newly added territories, he seems, where possible, to have chosen the native prince as satrap. Alexander, in fact, carried into practice the traditional Indian policy recommended by Manu, and followed, wherever it has been possible or expedient, by conquering powers in India generally, both ancient and modern, that a kingdom which had submitted should be placed in the charge of some member of its ancient royal family. So both the king of Taxila, who accepted Alexander’s summons to submit, and Porus, who valiantly resisted, were made satraps over their own dominions. Indeed, to the former dominions of Porus, who was probably a ruler of exceptional ability, were added those of some of his neighbours.
Thus, in all periods of history, local governments in India have gone on almost unchanged in spite of conquest after conquest. It was always regarded as a legitimate object of the ambition of every king to aim at the position of a chakravartin or ‘supreme monarch.’ If his neighbours agreed, so much the better; but, if they resisted his pretentions, the question was decided by a pitched battle. In either case, the government of the states involved was usually not affected. The same prince continued to rule, and the nature of his rule did not depend on his position as suzerain or vassal king. Generally speaking, the condition of the ordinary people was not affected, or was only affected indirectly, by the victories or defeats of their rulers. The army was not recruited from the tillers of the soil. The soldier was born, not made. It was just as much the duty of certain castes to fight, as it was the duty of others not to fight. War was a special department of government in which the common people had no share.
These considerations enable us to understand why the invasion of India by Alexander the Great has left no traces whatever in the literature or in the institutions of India. It affected no changes either in the methods of government or in the life of the people. It was little more than a military expedition, the main object of which was to gratify a conqueror’s ambition by the assertion of his suzerainty. But this suzerainty was only effective so long as it could be enforced. In June 323 BC, a little more than a year after his return from India, Alexander died at Babylon, and with his death Macedonian rule in India ceased. His successor, Seleucus Nicator, endeavoured in vain to re-conquer the lost possessions, c. 305 BC. Before this date all the states of North-Western India, including whatever remnants there may have been of the military colonies established by Alexander, had come under the sway of an Indian suzerain.
THE MAURYA EMPIRE
The descriptions of Alexander’s campaign are especially valuable as enabling us to realize the political conditions of the land of the Indus at this period. We may gather from Indian literature that the political conditions of the land of the Ganges were not widely different. Here, too, the country was divided into a number of states varying greatly in size and power; and here, too, at some period between the lifetime of Buddha and the invasion of Alexander the Great, a conquering power—but, in this case, a native power—had succeeded in establishing a suzerainty over its neighbours. The kingdom of Magadha (S. Bihar) was already growing in power in Buddha’s time; and we are probably justified In inferring’ from the statements of Alexander’s historians that its ascendancy over the Prasioi, or the nations of Hindustan, was complete at the time of his invasion.
Soon after the return of Alexander, the throne of Magadha, and with it the imperial possessions of the Nanda dynasty, passed by a coup d’état into the hands of an adventurer whom the Greek and Latin writers call Sandrokottos. As we have seen, the identification of this personage with the Chandragupta, who is well known from Indian literature, and whose story, at a later date, formed the subject of a Sanskrit historical play called the Mudra-rakshasa, supplied the first fixed point in the chronology of Ancient India.
Chandragupta, whose surname Maurya is supposed to be derived from the name of his mother, Mura, is the first historical founder of a great empire in India. As king of Magadha he succeeded to a predominant position in Hindustan; and, within a few years of Alexander’s departure from India, he had gained possession also of the North-Western region. The empire which he established included therefore the whole of Northern India lying between the Himalaya and Vindhya Mountains, together with that portion of Afghanistan which lies south of the Hindu Kush. We have no detailed information as to the process by which the North-Western region thus passed from one suzerainty to another. We can only surmise that the victorious career of Chandragupta must have resembled that of Alexander—that some states willingly gave in their allegiance to the new conqueror, while others did not submit without a contest.
Alexander’s death in 323 BC. was followed by a long struggle between his generals for the possession of the empire. The eastern portion which, in theory at least, included the Indian dominions, fell eventually to Seleucus Nicator, who took possession of Babylon and founded the dynasty commonly known as that of the Seleucid kings of Syria in 312 BC.
About the year 305, Seleucus invaded India with the object of reclaiming the conquests of Alexander which had now passed into the power of Chandragupta. No detailed account of this expedition is extant. We only know from Greek and Latin sources that Seleucus crossed the Indus, and that he concluded with Chandragupta a treaty of peace, by the terms of which the Indian provinces formerly held by Darius and Alexander were definitely acknowledged to form part of the empire of Chandragupta.
The most important consequence of this treaty was the establishment of political relations between the kingdom of Syria, which was now the predominant power in Western Asia, and the Maurya empire of Northern India. For a considerable period after this date there is evidence that these political relations were maintained. The Maurya empire was acknowledged in the West as one of the great powers; and ambassadors both from Syria and from Egypt resided at the Maurya capital, Pataliputra (Patna).
The first ambassador sent by Seleucus to the court of Chandragupta was Megasthenes, who wrote an account of India which became the chief source of information for subsequent Greek and Latin authors. The work itself is lost, but numerous fragments of it have been preserved in the form of quotations by later writers.
Among these quotations we find descriptions of very great historical value. The capital, Pataliputra, was, according to Megasthenes, built in the form of a large parallelogram 80 stadia long and 15 stadia wide. That is to say, the city was more than 9 miles in length and more than miles in width. It was surrounded by a wall which had 570 towers and 64 gates, and by a moat 600 feet wide and 30 cubits deep. At the present time excavations are being made by the Archaeological Survey of India on the ancient site of Pataliputra, as the result of which discoveries of the highest interest may be anticipated.
To Megasthenes also we are indebted for a detailed account of the administration of public affairs in this imperial city and this account is supplemented and confirmed in a very remarkable manner by a Sanskrit treatise on the conduct of affairs of state, called the Artha-çastra, the authorship of which is attributed to Chanakya, who appears as the Brahman prime minister of Chandragupta in the Mudra-rakshasa, and who has won for himself the reputation of having been ‘the Machiavelli of India’. It has been well said, that we are more fully informed concerning political and municipal institutions in the reign of Chandragupta, than in that of any subsequent Indian monarch until the time of the Mughal Emperor Akbar, who was contemporary with our Queen Elizabeth.
The reign of Chandragupta lasted from about 321 to 297 BC. He was succeeded by a son who is called Bindusara in Indian literature and who was probably known to Greek writers by one of his titles as Amitrochates (Sanskrit Amitraghata'), ‘the slayer of his foes’. There is little information to be obtained about him either from Indian or from Greek sources. In his reign another Syrian ambassador named Daimachus, sent by Antiochus I Soter (280-261), the successor of Seleucus, visited the court of Pataliputra. He also wrote an account of India, which has been lost. We therefore have no means of judging of the truth of Strabo’s statement, when he says that of all the Greek writers on India Daimachus ranked first in mendacity.
Of a third ambassador, who came to India from the West at some time during this period, we know merely the name—Dionysius—and that he was sent from the court of Ptolemy Philadelphus, king of Egypt (285-247 BC).
The three ambassadors, whose names have been preserved, are no doubt typical of a class. It is in every way probable that constant relations were maintained between India and the West during the period of the Maurya empire. There is positive evidence of the continuation of such relations during the reign of the next emperor—the most renowned of the imperial line—Asoka, the son of Bindusara, who reigned c. 269-227 BC.
Asoka’s fame rests chiefly on the position which he held as the great patron of Buddhism. As such he has often been compared to Constantine the Great, the royal patron of Roman Christianity. The literary sources for the history of Asoka’s reign—Brahman, Jain, and Buddhist—are indeed abundant. But his very fame has, in many cases, caused these materials to assume a legendary or miraculous character. He has suffered both from the enthusiasm of friends and from the misrepresentations of foes. The Buddhist accounts of his life have come down to us in two great collections of religious books—those written in Pali and preserved in Ceylon, and those written in Sanskrit and preserved in Nepal. In the case of both of these, an undoubted substratum of fact is so much hidden by a dense overgrowth of legend, that the historian is sorely perplexed in his efforts to distinguish the one from the other.
Fortunately, there exists a source of information which is beyond dispute —inscriptions cut into hard rocks or pillars of stone by command of the king himself, and, in many instances, recording his own words. We have already had occasion to speak of these wonderful inscriptions. Their object was ethical and religious rather than historical or political. They inculcate good government among the rulers, and obedience and good conduct among the governed, and these virtues as the fruit of the observance of dhamma (Skt. dharma) or ‘duty’, a term which, in this case, since Asoka was a follower of Buddha, is probably identical with the eight-fold path of Buddhism. In striking contrast to the inscriptions of Darius, the edicts of Asoka were intended not to convey to posterity the record of conquests or of the extent of a mighty empire, but to further the temporal and spiritual welfare of his subjects. They proclaim in so many words that “the chief conquest is the conquest of duty”. One material conquest—that of the kingdom of Kalinga—they do indeed record; but this is expressly cited as an instance of the worthlessness of conquest by force when compared with the conquest which comes of the performance of ‘duty,’ and it is coupled with an expression of bitter regret for the destruction and the misery which the war entailed. Surely, imperial edicts of this description, engraved as they are in the most permanent form and promulgated throughout the length and breadth of a great empire, are unique in the history of the world.
Of peculiar interest is the inscribed pillar which was erected by Asoka to mark the traditional birth-place of Buddha. This was discovered in 1896 at Rummindei in the Nepalese Tarai, with every letter still as perfect as when it was first engraved. The modern name of the place still continues to represent the ‘Lumbini’ grove of the ancient story of Buddha’s birth.
But, although the edicts and the other inscriptions of Asoka are not historical in character, yet they supply, incidentally, evidence of the most valuable kind for the history of the time.
In the first place, the extent of the Maurya empire during the reign of Asoka is indicated by their geographical distribution. They are found, usually at ancient places of pilgrimage, from the N.W. Frontier Province in the extreme north of India to Mysore in the south, and from Kathiawar in the west to Orissa. That is to say, they show that the sway of Asoka extended over the whole length and breadth of the continent of India, with the exception of the extreme south of the peninsula. It is extremely probable also that versions of the edicts will be found in Southern Afghanistan, when it is possible to pursue archaeological investigations in that region.
The geographical knowledge thus gleaned is supplemented by the mention in the inscriptions of the peoples living on the northern and southern fringes of the empire. In the north, Asoka regarded his empire as conterminous with that of the Greek (Yona) king Antiochus, that is to say, the Seleucid king, Antiochus II Theos (261246 BC). His neighbours in the extreme south were the rulers of the Tamil kingdoms, four of which are mentioned by name. Three of these kingdoms, which can be identified with certainty, played an important part in later Indian history. The inscriptions also mention Ceylon (Tambapanni). We are thus, for the first time in the history of India, supplied with information which would enable us to give some description of the geography of the whole continent from Afghanistan to Ceylon.
We also learn incidentally that this great empire was governed by viceroys who ruled over large provinces in the North-West, the South, the East, and the West. The central districts were probably under the direct rule of the emperor at Pataliputra.
We find, further, evidence of the continuance of that intercourse between India and the West, which, as we know from Greek authorities, was maintained during the reigns of Chandragupta and Bindusara. Asoka was a zealous Buddhist. He was not satisfied with having the ‘law of duty’ preached everywhere among his subjects and among the independent peoples of Southern India and Ceylon; but he states in one of his edicts that he had sent his missionaries even into the Hellenic kingdoms of Syria, Egypt, Cyrene, Macedonia, and Epirus. He mentions by name the reigning sovereigns of these kingdoms, and thereby supplies some most valuable chronological evidence for the history of his own reign, since the dates of most of these Hellenic kings are known with certainty.
During the reign of Asoka, Buddhism was established in the island of Ceylon, where it still continues tp flourish hundreds of years after it has disappeared from every part of the continent of India except Nepal. The ruler of the island at this period was Tissa (c. 247-207 BC) whose title Devanampiya, ‘dear to the gods’, is that which is used by Asoka himself in his inscriptions and may possibly have been borrowed from him. The conversion of the island to Buddhism is attributed by the Ceylonese chronicles to the son of Asoka, Mahinda, who had become a Buddhist monk.
In his latter years the emperor Asoka himself became a monk, living in seclusion at Suvarnagiri, a sacred mountain, near the ancient city of Girivraja in Magadha (S. Bihar). Like many of the Indian monarchs of old whose story is told in the Sanskrit epics, he retired to devote the final stage of life to religious meditation, after having first transferred the cares of state to his heir apparent. This prince is mentioned in an edict which Asoka issued from Suvarnagiri, but only by his title. We have no means of identifying him farther, or of knowing if he succeeded to the throne on the death of Asoka.
For the subsequent history of the Mauryan empire, we have no such authorities, literary or inscriptional, as those. which enable us to understand so fully the social and political conditions of India during the reigns of Chandragupta and Asoka. We are once more dependent almost entirely on the testimony of the Puranas and the chronicles of the Jains and Buddhists—sources which are only partly in agreement with one another, and which at best afford little more than the names of the successors of Asoka and the length of their reigns.
Five of the Puranas agree in the statement that the Maurya dynasty lasted for 137 years. If we accept this statement we may date the end of the dynasty in c. 184 BC. They are not in complete agreement either as to the names or the number of Asoka’s successors. Two of the Puranas agree in stating that his immediate successors were a son and grandson who reigned each for a period of eight years. The latter of these is probably the Daçaratha whose name occurs in some cave-inscriptions in the Nagarjuni Hills in the Gaya district of Bengal. These inscriptions show that Daçaratha had continued the patronage which Asoka had bestowed on a sect of Jain ascetics called Ajivikas.
It is possible that the Puranas may be right in recording that some six or seven successors of Asoka sat on the throne of Magadha; but, if so, it is certain that most of these successors could only have ruled over an empire very greatly diminished in extent or, perhaps, even reduced to the kingdom of Magadha out of which it had grown.
It is interesting in reviewing the past history of India to trace a remarkable continuity of policy on the part of the rulers of whatever nationality who have succeeded in welding together this great congeries of widely differing races and tongues. The main principles of government have remained unchanged throughout the ages. Such as they were under the Maurya empire, so they were inherited by the Muhammadan rulers and by their successors the British. These principles are based on the recognition of a social system which depends ultimately on a self-organized village community. Local government thus forms the very basis of all political systems in India. The grouping of village communities into states, and the grouping of states into empires has left the social system unchanged. All governments have been obliged to recognize an infinite variety among the governed of social customs and of religious beliefs, too firmly grounded to admit of interference. Thus the idea of religious toleration which was of slow growth in Europe was accepted in India generally from the earliest times. All religious communities were alike under the protection of the sovereign; and inscriptions plainly show that, when the government changed hands, the privileges granted to religious communities were ratified by the new sovereign as a matter of course. In a special edict devoted to the subject of religious toleration Asoka definitely says that his own practice was to reverence all sects. In this edict he deprecates the habit of exalting one’s own views at the expense of others, and admits that different people have different ideas as to what constitutes ‘duty’ (dharma). Such has been the attitude of enlightened rulers of India in all ages. Instances of religious persecution have, indeed, not been wanting in India; but the tolerant policy of Asoka was that of the most capable and far-seeing of the Muhammadan rulers such as Akbar, and it has always been that of the British government, which, like Asoka, has only interfered with religion when it has entailed practices which conflict with the ordinary principles of humanity.
INDIA AFTER THE DECLINE OF THE MAURYA EMPIRE
Another lesson which is enforced by the history of the Maurya empire is that the maintenance of peace, and of those conditions which are essential to progress, depends in India on the existence of a strong imperial power. On the downfall of the Maurya empire, as on the downfall of the Mughal empire nearly two thousand years later, the individual states which had been peacefully united under the imperial sway regained their independence, and the struggle between them for existence or for supremacy began anew. The literature and the monuments afford us some information as to the history of various regions of India during the period of strife and confusion which now ensued.
According to the Puranas the Mauryas were succeeded on the throne of Magadha by the Çungas who are said to have ruled for 112 years (c. 184-72 BC). There is no reason to disbelieve this statement which is consonant with probability and with such other evidence as we possess; but, after this period, it seems impossible to make the chronology of the Puranas agree with the more trustworthy evidence of inscriptions and coins. In this case it seems probable that the dynastic lists were originally authentic, but that later editors have reduced them to absurdity by representing contemporary dynasties as successive.
The founder of the Çunga dynasty was Pushyamitra who is said to have slain his master, Brihadratha, the last of the royal Mauryas. An historical play, the Malavikagnimitra, by India’s greatest dramatist, Kalidasa, who flourished c. 400 A.D., deals with this period. Although a composition of this kind, written between five and six centuries after the date of the events to which it refers, cannot be accepted as historical evidence, yet it is altogether probable that its chief characters—Pushyamitra, his son Agnimitra, and his grandson Vasumitra—were historical personages, and that some of the events mentioned—a war with Vidarbha (Berar) and a conflict with the Yavanas, for instance—were actual occurrences. The picture of a diminished empire still possessed by Magadha is in accordance with the knowledge of the period which we derive from more trustworthy sources. The king probably still reigned at the capital, Pataliputra, while his son, the heir-apparent, like Asoka before he came to the throne, governed the western provinces with his court at Vidiça (Bhilsa) in Malwa (Central India). It was before the vice-regal court of the same province and at its capital, Ujjain, that the play was first performed during the reign of the later Gupta emperor, Chandragupta II Vikramaditya (c- 375-413 A.D.).
The extent of the Çunga dominions is indicated by an inscription ‘in the sovereignty of the Çunga kings which occurs on one of the sculptures from the Bharhut tope in the Nagod State (Central India), and possibly also by certain coins found in the United Provinces in Rohilkhand, the ancient kingdom of North Panchala, and on the site of Ayodhya, the ancient capital of Kosala (Oudh); but the names found on these coins, with the single exception of ‘Agnimitra’, only bear a general resemblance with those given in the dynastic lists and cannot be identified with certainty.
The available evidence thus tends to show that Magadha under the Çungas still possessed an empire, but one greatly reduced in size since the time of Asoka. Some of the losses which the empire had sustained are clearly proved by the evidence of inscriptions and coins.
The kingdom of Kalinga, on the east coast between the rivers Mahanadi and Godavari, had, as we know from Asoka’s edicts, been conquered by him in the ninth year after his coronation. It would seem to have regained its independence at no long interval after his death, according to evidence supplied by an inscription of Kharavela, king of Kalinga, in the Hathigumpha cave near Cuttack in Orissa. Unfortunately, the inscription, which gives an account of events in the first thirteen years of the king’s reign, is much damaged, and its interpretation is full of difficulties. What appears to be beyond all doubt is the statement that Kharavela belonged to the third generation of the royal family of Kalinga. The mention of an Andhra king, Khatakarni, and such other chronological indications as can be obtained from the inscription, would seem to suggest that Kharavela was reigning c. 150 BC. No more precise date is obtainable at present.
The decline of the Maurya empire was marked also by the rapid growth of the Andhra kingdom in Southern India. Originally a Dravidian people living immediately to the south of the Kalingas in that part of the Madras Presidency which lies between the rivers Godavari and Kistna, the Andhras had become, probably about 200 BC, a great power whose territories included the whole of the Deccan and extended to the western coast. They are mentioned in the edicts in a manner which seems to indicate that they acknowledged the suzerainty of Asoka, but that they were never conquered and brought under the direct government of a viceroy of the empire like their neighbours the Kalingas. They would seem to have asserted their independence soon after the death of Asoka. Some outline of their history may be traced by the aid of inscriptions, coins, and literary sources from probably about 220 BC to 240 A.D. The names of a succession of thirty kings are preserved in the Puranas, together with the length of each reign, and the total duration of the dynasty which is given either as 456 or as 460 years. The Puranas are, usually, fairly in agreement with the evidence of inscriptions and coins, so far as the names of the kings and the length of their reigns are concerned; but they assign to the dynasty a chronological position which is impossible.
There can be little doubt also that, contemporaneously with the rise of the independent kingdoms of the Kalingas and the Andhras in the South, the North-Western region of India, too, ceased to belong to the Maurya empire. We have no glimpses of the history of this defection; but we may reasonably assume that the numerous petty states which had been held together for a time by the imperial power reasserted their autonomy when that power ceased.
During the reign of Asoka two revolts occurred in the empire of Syria which were fruitful in consequences for the future history of India. Almost at the same time, about 250 BC or a few years later, Diodotus, satrap of Bactria, and a Parthian adventurer named Arsaces threw off their allegiance to the Seleucid monarch, Antiochus II Theos (261-246 BC), and founded the independent kingdoms of Bactria and Parthia.
Bactria—the name is preserved in the modern form Balkh—was the region of N. Afghanistan, bounded on the north by the river Oxus. It was divided from the Maurya empire by the Hindu Kush—a range of mountains which, lofty as are many of its peaks, possesses also numerous passes, and forms no very formidable barrier to communication between Northern and Southern Afghanistan. The Hellenic kingdom of Bactria founded by Diodotus lasted till about 135 BC, when its civilization was entirely swept away by the irresistible flood of Scythian (Çaka) invasion from the North. Its brief history of a little more than a century is most intimately associated with that of the North-Western region of India.
Parthia, originally a province lying to the south-east of the Caspian Sea, grew into a great empire at the expense of the empire of Syria, which, once the predominant power in Western Asia, was at last reduced to the province of Syria from which it takes its name. The Parthian power lasted till 226 AD. In the reign of Mithradates I (171-138 BC) it extended as far eastwards as the river Indus which thus became once more the dividing line between Western Asia and India. The Parthian and Scythian invasions of India, which, at a somewhat later period, constitute the chief feature in the history of the North-Western region are dealt with in our final chapter.
But the Syrian empire did not acquiesce without a protest in the independence of its revolted provinces. About the year 209 BC, Antiochus III the Great, made an attempt to reduce both Parthia and Bactria to obedience. Parthia was now under the rule of the king who has usually, but perhaps incorrectly, been called Artabanus I (210-191) while Bactria was under Euthydemus (c. 236-195). The expedition of Antiochus ended in an acknowledgement of the independence of both kingdoms. So far as Bactria is concerned, Antiochus is said to have listened to the argument of Euthydemus that it would at the present juncture be impolitic, in the cause of Hellenic civilization generally, to weaken the power of Bactria which formed a barrier against the constant menace of Scythian irruptions from the North. Bactria was, indeed, a stronghold of Hellenic civilization. It was held by a military aristocracy, thoroughly Greek in sentiment and religion, ruling over a subject people so little advanced in culture that its ideas are in no way reflected in the monuments of Bactrian art. The coins of Bactria are purely Greek in character, the divinities represented on them are Greek, and the portraits of the kings themselves are among the finest examples extant of Greek art as applied to portraiture. But the kingdom was short-lived and its history was troublous. The house of the founder, Diodotus, was deposed by Euthydemus, perhaps about 230 BC, and the later history of Bactria is occupied with the internecine struggle between the descendants of Euthydemus and the rival family of Eucratides. After thus making a treaty of peace with Euthydemus, Antiochus, like his predecessors, Alexander in 327 BC., and Seleucus c. 305 passed over the Hindu Kush into the Kabul Valley. No exact details of this invasion or of its extent have been preserved; but it seems clear that this region, which formed part of the Maurya empire when Seleucus invaded it, had, at some time subsequent to the death of A9oka, reverted to the rule of its local princes, one of whom, Sophagasenus (probably the Sanskrit Subhagasena), is said to have purchased peace by offering tribute to Antiochus.
THE SUCCESSORS OF ALEXANDER THE GREAT
The political condition of India on the downfall of the Maurya empire was such as to invite foreign invasion; and the establishment on its northern and north-western borders of the kingdoms of Bactria and Parthia supplied the sources from which invasions came.
The literary authorities for the history of this period are indeed few; but they afford some most valuable information. The most important are :—(1) Justin, a Latin writer who, in the fourth or fifth century a.d., made an abridgement of a history of the Macedonian empire compiled by Trogus in the reign of Augustus (27 B.C.-14 a.d.); and (2) the Greek geographer Strabo, who was probably contemporary with Trogus.
The chief records, however, of the rulers of this period are their coins, which are found in extraordinary variety and abundance. From them we learn of the existence of thirty-five kings and two queens, all bearing purely Greek names, who reigned in Bactria and India during the period from about 250 b.c. to 25 b.c. The great majority of these rulers are otherwise unknown. The coins which they struck have survived, while every other memorial of their lives has perished. A curious fact connected with this series of coins is that certain specimens struck in Bactria before 200 b.c. are of nickel, a metal which is commonly supposed to have been discovered in Europe about the middle of the eighteenth century a.d.
Not long after the expedition of Antiochus the Great, the Bactrian king Euthydemus seems to have formed the design of extending his kingdom by the conquest of the territories lying to the south of the Hindu Kush. It is probable that the fulfilment of this design was entrusted to his son Demetrius, who has been supposed to be the original of
‘ The grete Emetreus, the king of Inde ’
of Chaucer’s Knightes Tale.
Asa result of the conquests of Demetrius, the ancient provinces of the Persian empire, i.e, the Kabul Valley and the country of the Indus (the Western Punjab and Sind), which had been once reclaimed and held for a brief period by Alexander the Great, were now again recovered for the Greek kings of Bactria who proudly boasted to be his successors.
But though Demetrius had thus gained a new kingdom in India, he was soon to lose his own kingdom of Bactria after a desperate struggle with his rival Eucratides, who now laid claim to the throne. The account of an episode in this contest has been preserved by Justin, who describes how Eucratides with 300 men was besieged by Demetrius with 60,000, and how he wore out the enemy by continual sorties and escaped in the fifth month of the siege. Finally, not only Bactria but also some part of the newly acquired Indian dominions of Demetrius passed into the power of the conqueror, Eucratides; and from this time onwards we may trace the existence of two lines of Greek princes in India, the one derived from Euthydemus, ending c. 100 BC, and the other derived from Eucratides, ending c. 25 BC.
The period of the reign of Eucratides is determined by the statement of Justin that he came to the throne at about the same time as Mithradates I of Parthia, i.e. about 171 BC. It is doubtful if Demetrius or any other member of the family of Euthydemus ruled in any part of Bactria after this date. It is more probable that henceforth their power was confined to India. The family of Eucratides, on the other hand, continued to rule both in Bactria and in India until Greek civilization in Bactria was swept away by the flood of Çaka invasions from the North c. 135 BC; but they retained their possessions in the territories to the south of the Hindu Kush, and held the Kabul Valley until the Kushana conquest, c. 25 BC.
The transference of Greek rule from Bactria to India is indicated, in the most unmistakable manner, by a change in the style of the coins. In Bactria the coins remain purely Greek in character, and they are struck in accordance with a purely Greek standard of weight. The subject population was evidently not sufficiently advanced in civilization to influence the art of the conquerors in any degree. In India, on the other hand, where the Greeks came into contact with an ancient civilization, which was, in many respects, as advanced as their own, it was necessary to effect a compromise. It was essential that the coinage should be suited to the requirements of the conquered as well as of the conquerors. The coins, accordingly, become bilingual. They are struck with Greek legends on the obverse, and with an Indian translation in Indian characters on the reverse; and they follow the Persian standard of weight which had been firmly established in N.W. India as a result of the long Persian dominion. We have already seen how valuable the study of these bilingual coins has proved in affording the necessary clue to the interpretation of the forgotten alphabets of Ancient India.
During the reign of Eucratides, Bactria was invaded by the Parthian king, Mithradates I (171-138 BC), who seems to have remained master of the country for some considerable time. It is probable that certain coins which bear his name, and which are palpably imitated, some from the Bactrian coins of Demetrius and some from those of Eucratides, may have been struck by him in Bactria during this period. There is reason for supposing that Mithradates, on this occasion, penetrated even into India. In the printed text of the works of Orosius, a Roman historian who flourished c. 400 a.d., there is indeed to be found a definite statement to the effect that Mithradates subdued the nations between the Hydaspes (Jhelum) and the Indus; but it seems possible that the reading ‘Hydaspes’ may be incorrect and due to some corruption in the manuscripts of the name of a river not in India, but in Persia to the west of the Indus.
Thus weakened, on the one hand, by internal feuds and by Parthian attacks, and, on the other, by the drain on its resources caused by the Indian conquests, the Greek kingdom of Bactria proved incapable of resisting the hordes of Scythians who burst through its northern frontiers c. 135 bc. These represented one of the groups of nomadic tribes known as Çakas, who still occupied, as in the time of Darius (522-486), the country of the river Jaxartes (Syr Darya) to the north of Sogdiana (Bukhara). They had always been regarded as a standing menace to the Greek civilization of Bactria, and now, being driven from their pastures by the pressure of other nomadic hordes whom the Chinese historians call Yueh-chi, they were forced partly in a southerly direction into Bactria, and partly in a south-westerly direction into the Parthian empire where they joined with an earlier settlement of Çakas in the province of Drangiana (Seistan). Traces of the existence of this earlier Çaka settlement in Drangiana seem to be found both in the inscriptions of Darius and in the accounts of Alexander’s campaigns.
The Yueh-chi, thus driving the Cakas before them, seem to have occupied first Sogdiana and then Bactria, where, under the leadership of their chief tribe, the Kushanas, they developed into the strong power which created the next great Indian empire.
It is only possible to give a very general outline of the history of the Greek kingdoms south of the Hindu Kush. Nearly all the evidence which we possess has been gleaned from the study of their coinages; and the interpretation of this evidence is by no means always clear. As has been observed, these Greek princes seem to belong chiefly to the two rival royal lines—the house of Euthydemus, and the house of Eucratides—which having begun their struggle in Bactria continued it in India. It is, however, not always easy to attribute princes whose coins we possess to either of these groups; and it is quite possible that, in addition to these two chief Greek kingdoms in Northern India, there may have been other principalities which Greek soldiers of fortune had carved out for themselves.
The Indian conquests of Demetrius, the son of Euthydemus, were greatly extended by later rulers of the same house, notably by Apollodorus and Menander. That these two princes were intimately connected there can be no doubt. They use the same coin-types, especially the figure of the Greek goddess, Athene, hurling the thunderbolt, which is characteristic of other members of the family of Euthydemus, e.g. the Stratos; and they are twice mentioned together in literature. Strabo attributes conquests in India to them jointly, while the unknown author of the Periplus maris Erythrai—a most interesting handbook intended for the use of Greek merchants and seamen as a guide to the coasting voyage from the Persian Gulf to the west coast of India— states that small silver coins, inscribed with Greek characters and bearing the names of these two princes, were still current in his time (probably c. 80 A.D.) at the port of Barugaza (Broach). The extent of Menander’s dominions especially is indicated both by the great variety of his coin-types which prove that he ruled over a great number of different provinces, and by a statement quoted by Strabo to the effect that he passed beyond the Hyphasis (Beas) which formed the extreme limit of Alexander’s conquests.
We have, in all probability, further information concerning Menander from a source which, at first sight, might seem not very promising from the point of view of the historian. Menander is almost certainly to be identified with the King Milinda, who is known from Buddhist philosophical treatise called the ‘Questions of Milinda’ (Milinda-Panha). This monarch resided at Çakala, an ancient city which has been identified with the modern Sialkot in the N.E. Punjab. Now, we have direct evidence that other members of the house of Euthydemus (the Stratos) reigned to the S.E. of the Punjab, since their coins are imitated by their Çaka conquerors who occupied the district of Mathura (Muttra). We may conclude, then, that the family of Euthydemus ruled over the E. Punjab, with one of its capitals at Sialkot and possibly another capital in the Muttra Dist. of the United Provinces.
But the evidence both of coins and of literature shows that, at one period, they possessed a far wider dominion. The fact that the coins of Apollodorus and Menander were current at Broach, surely indicates that their conquests must have extended to Western India (Gujarat and Kathiawar); while the statement in Strabo, that Menander passed beyond the Beas into the Middle Country, is supported by certain references in Sanskrit literature to the warlike activity of the Yavanas (Greeks) about the middle of the second century b.c. The best known of these allusions are the following:—
(1) Kalidasa’s historical play, the Malavikagnimitra, represents the forces of the first Çunga king, Pushyamitra, under the command of his grandson, Vasumitra, as coming into conflict with the Yavanas somewhere in Central India. This may well be the reminiscence of some episode in Menander’s invasion of the Çunga dominions.
(2) The grammarian Patanjali, in his Mahabahshya or ‘Great Commentary’ on Panini’s Sanskrit Grammar, mentions King Pushyamitra as if he were his contemporary, and refers to the sieges by the Yavanas of Saketa in South Oudh and of Madhyamika (Nagari) near Chitor in Rajputana as if they bad taken place within his own memory.
(3) Perhaps the fullest of all the accounts of the Greeks in India at this period occurs in an astronomical, or rather astrological, treatise called the Gargi Samhita, or ‘the compendium of Garga’. One of its chapters is in the style of a Purana; that is to say, it gives in a prophetic form an account of kings who have already ruled on the earth. Unfortunately this work has not yet been fully edited and the manuscript of it which has been described is both fragmentary and corrupt. Put into historic form the information which the certain portions of this chapter yield may be expressed as follows:—
The Greeks after reducing Saketa, the Panchala country and Muttra (all in the United Provinces) reached the capital Pataliputra (Patna). But they did not stay in the Middle Country because of the strife between themselves which took place in their own kingdom (North-Western India). They were eventually conquered by a Çaka king; and in time the Çakas yielded to another conquering power, the name of which is obscured by textual corruption in the manuscript.
This account no doubt refers successively to the internecine struggle between the house of Euthydemus and the house of Eucratides, to the conquest of Greek kingdoms by the Çakas, and to the subsequent conquest of the Çakas by the Kushanas. The Gargi Samhita holds an almost unique position in the literature of Ancient India, and it is much to be regretted that no edition of this interesting work is at present possible. It is almost the only surviving representative of the old Hindu astrology or astronomy, which was superseded, probably in the fourth century a.d., by the Greek system of astronomy borrowed, presumably, from Alexandria. The later Indian astronomers frequently refer to Vriddha Garga, ‘the old Garga,’ and there is no reason to doubt that the compendium which bears his name belongs to a period not much later than that of the foreign invaders whom it mentions. The information conveyed by the chapter to which we have referred is in accordance with the knowledge of this period which «we may glean independently from other sources.
The territories on the extreme north-western frontier of India, i.e. the Kabul Valley and Gandhara (including Taxila) which were originally conquered by Euthydemus or by Demetrius, were wrested from this family of Greek princes by Eucratides. Evidence of the transfer of this region from one rule to the other is afforded by certain coins which have been restruck. Originally they were issued by Apollodotus, a prince of the house of Euthydemus; but they have been restruck by Eucratides; and, as they bear the image and superscription of the tutelary deity of Kapiga, the capital city of Gandhara, they testify to the change of government which had taken place in this province.
Inscriptions and coins show further that the family of Eucratides was supplanted by Çaka satraps in both Kapiga and Taxila; but these princes continued to hold the Kabul Valley until the last vestiges of their rule, which had survived the attacks of the Çakas, were swept away by the Kushanas. The last Greek king to reign in the Kabul Valley, and indeed in any region of India, was Hermaeus who was succeeded, c. 25 a.d., by the Kushana chief, Kujula Kadphises.
It is a curious fact that, while the coinages of the Graeco-Indian princes are remarkably abundant, all other memorials of their rule should be so rare. Only one stone inscription, for instance, has yet been found in which any of these princes is mentioned. This inscription is at Besnagar in Gwalior, and the prince mentioned is Antialcidas who, to judge from the evidence of coins, was one of the earlier members of the line of Eucratides, and who ruled both in Bactria and in the Kabul Valley. The inscription records the erection of a standard in honour of the god Vishnu; and it is especially interesting as showing that the donor, a Greek named Heliodorus, the son of Dion, who had come to Besnagar as an ambassador from Antialcidas, had adopted an Indian faith. The inscription is dated in the 14th year of the reign of a king Bhagabhada, who presumably ruled over the province in which Besnagar was situated. As this region no doubt formed part of the empire of the Quhgas, it is not improbable that this King Bhagabhadra may be identical with the Bhadra or Bhadraka who is mentioned in some of the Puranas among the successors of Pushyamitra.
It is to the period of nearly two centuries (t. 200-25 b.c.) during which Greek princes ruled in the Kabul Valley, the North-Western Frontier Province, and the Punjab, and not to the expedition of Alexander the Great (327-5 b.c.), the political results of which lasted only for a few years, that we must trace the chief source of Greek influence in Northern India. For some centuries after the extinction of all their political power, we find Greeks mentioned in Indian literature and Indian inscriptions. But they have been absorbed into the Indian social system. They bear Indian or Persian names, and they profess Indian faiths. The existence of a strong Greek element in the population is attested by the Buddhist art of Gandhara, in which the influence of Greek traditions is manifest; and a system of writing developed from the Greek alphabet is to be traced in this region until at least the fourth century a.d., and possibly much later.
PARTHIAN AND SCYTHIAN INVADERS
So far, we have traced the history of the Yavanas (Yonas), or foreign invaders of Greek descent, in North-Western India. The history of this region is now complicated by the appearance on the scene of invaders belonging to two other nationalities, who are constantly associated with the Yavanas in Indian literature and inscriptions. These are the Çakas and Pahlavas.
Herodotus expressly states that the term ‘Çakas’ was used by the Persians to denote Scythians generally; and this statement is certainly in accordance with the use of the word in the inscriptions of Darius. In one of these, it occurs together with descriptions which show that it denotes certain Scythians in Europe as well as two branches of Scythians in Asia. These, we have reason to believe, are specimens merely of the innumerable swarms of nomads which had been finding their way during untold centuries from that great hive of humanity, China, to Western Asia and to Europe.
The settlements of Çakas which affected the history of India at this period are two in number. One of these occupied the country of the Jaxartes to the north of Bactria and Sogdiana, and had for ages past been regarded as a great danger to Persian and Hellenic civilization in Central Asia; while the other inhabited the province of Drangiana, which lay between Persia and India, and which subsequently bore the name of Qakasthana, ‘the abode of the Çakas’ (the later Sijistan and the modern Seistan). It is probable that both of these bodies of Çakas were stirred into activity in the middle of the second century b.c. by the same cause—the impact of further swarms of nomads who are known as the Yueh-chi. The result of this impact was two-fold. On the one hand, the Hellenic kingdom of Bactria was submerged in a flood of barbarian invasion, and, on the other, the Parthian kings were occupied during two reigns (Phraates II, 138-128, and Artabanus II, 128-123 BC) in endeavours to stem the tide which had extended to Seistan, and were only completely successful in the following reign (Mithradates II the Great, 123-88 bc). The effect of the Çaka invasion of the Parthian kingdom was thus to increase the power of a Çaka settlement which was already established in the Parthian province of Seistan, and the result of the struggles between Çakas and Parthians in this region was the creation of a kingdom, probably more or less dependent on the kingdom of Parthia, in which the two peoples were associated.
The third class of foreign invaders, who are, in Indian literature and inscriptions, called Pahlavas, were Parthians, the two names being etymologically identical. It is clear, however, that the Pahlavas who invaded India did not belong to the main stock which was represented by the rulers of the Parthian empire, but rather to the subordinate branch which was established in its eastern provinces, Drangiana (Seistan), Arachosia (Kandahar) and Gedrosia (Northern Baluchistan). The history of this subordinate kingdom is obscure. Almost our only evidence for its existence is supplied by coins; but these give us names of rulers which are undoubtedly Parthian in character, and the area over which the coins are found affords some indication of the extent of territory which these princes governed. They may have been originally satraps of the Parthian monarchs; but the title ‘King of Kings’ which, in imitation of their former over-lords, they bear on their coins, shows that they had asserted their independence. The first of these Palilavas to appear on the coins has the familiar Parthian name Vonones; and we may, therefore, conveniently call the line to which he belongs ‘the family of Vonones.’
With this line of Pahlava princes the Çaka invaders of India are intimately connected. Like them, and unlike the Graeco-Indian princes, they bear the title ‘King of Kings.’ The history of this title is interesting. It denoted originally the supreme lord who claimed the allegiance of a number of subordinate kings. It was the ancient title of the Persian monarchs, and as such it appears in the inscriptions of Darius in the form Kshdyathiyanam Kshayathiya. In the Parthian monarchy it seems to occur first on coins of Mithradates II (123-88 b.c.), though some numismatists prefer to attribute the coins in question to Mithradates I (171-138 b.c.). It was introduced into India by the Çaka and Pahlava invaders, and continued in use by their successors, the Kushanas; and in the form Shahanshah it remains the title of the Shahs of Persia even to the present day.
There can be no doubt, then, that the distinctive title ‘King of Kings’ connects the Indian Çakas with the Pahlavas and both with Parthia; and this connexion is most naturally explained on the theory that these Çakas came into India from Seistan through Kandahar, over the Bolan Pass, through Baluchistan into Sind and so up the valley of the Indus. This would explain the fact that the coins of Maues, the earliest known of these Çaka princes, are found in the Punjab only and not in the Kabul Valley, which still continued to be held by the Greek princes of the family of Eucratides. Access into the Kabul Valley from Bactria over the passes of the Hindu Kush was thus, at this period, barred.
The progress which the Çaka conquests made at the expense of both the chief lines of Greek rulers is illustrated by the coins. Maues strikes coins which are directly imitated from those of Demetrius; the Çaka satrap Liaka Kusulaka at Taxila imitates the coins of Eucratides, and another satrap, Ranjubula, at Muttra the coins struck by Strato I and II reigning conjointly. Everywhere, indeed, the Çaka invaders seem to have retained the form of coinage used by the Greek princes whom they dispossessed—a coinage distinguished by a Greek legend on the obverse and a Prakrit translation in Kharoshthi characters on the reverse—and it is probable that they only issued coins in those districts where they found a currency already in existence. So far as is known, none of their coinages is original. All without exception are imitated from Greek or Hindu models.
The Çakas continued in North-Western India the system of government by satraps which was firmly established there during the long period of Persian rule. This system was, as we have seen, followed by Alexander the Great, and there is no reason to suppose that it had been interrupted either under the Maurya empire or under the rule of the later Greek princes.
Of the history of these Çaka satrapies inscriptions and coins give us a few details.
An inscription affords the bare mention of a satrap of Kapisa, the capital of Gandhara, a district which, as we know from coins, had passed from the family of Euthydemus (Apollodorus) into the power of Eucratides.
There is a copper-plate inscription of a satrap of Taxila named Patika which records the deposit of relics of the Buddha and a donation made in the 78th year of some era not specified and during the reign of the Great King Moga, who is without doubt to be identified with Maues, since Moga is merely a dialectical variant of Moa, the Indian equivalent of the name Maues found on the coins. The era in which die inscription is dated cannot at present be determined. The most plausible conjecture is that it may be of Parthian origin; and if it could be supposed to start from the beginning of the reign of Mithradates I (171 b.c.), the monarch who raised Parthia from a comparatively small state to a great empire, which extended from the Euphrates to Bactria and the borders of India, the result as applied to this inscription (171—78=93 b.c.), would give a date which is fairly probable on other considerations. But it must be admitted that there is no evidence of the existence of such an era. The satrap Patika was the son of Liaka Kusulaka, who struck coins imitated from those of Eucratides. It would seem, then, that Taxila, like Kapisa (Gandhara), was taken by the Qakas from the family of Eucratides, while the Kabul Valley remained in its possession.
Of the Çaka satraps of Mathura (Muttra) we possess a most valuable monument, which was discovered and first published by a distinguished Indian scholar, Pandit Bhagvanlal Indraji, who bequeathed it together with his valuable collection of ancient Indian coins to the British Museum. It is in the form of a large lion carved in red sandstone and intended to be the capital of a pillar. The workmanship shows undoubted Persian influence. The surface is completely covered with inscriptions in Kharoshthi characters, which give the genealogy of the satrapal family ruling at Muttra and also mention members of other satrapal houses in other provinces of North-Western India. These inscriptions show that the satraps of Muttra, like those of Kapisa and Taxila, were Buddhists. The reigning satrap, or rather ‘great satrap’ Rajula (whose name appears also as Rajuvula or Ranjubula) also struck coins, some of which are imitated from the currency of certain Greek princes of the house of Euthydemus—the Stratos—while others are copied from the coins of a line of Hindu princes who ruled at Muttra. We know, therefore, that in this district Qaka rule superseded that of both Greek and Hindu princes.
Evidence of the existence of a Çaka power in Central India and of its defeat by a Hindu king is supplied by a Jain work called the KalikdchArya-katha or ‘story of Kalikacharya.’ From it we learn that the Çakas, who in Malwa were patrons of the Jain religion, were subdued by a king named Vikramaditya who reigned at Ujjain, and who established the era, beginning in 58 BC. which still bears his name. The name of the king may, no doubt, be legendary; or possibly, while the name itself has been lost, one of the king’s titles, ‘the sun of valour’ has survived; but that this era was really first used in Malwa is probable on other grounds. At a later date (405 a.d.) it is certainly described as the traditional reckoning of the Malava tribe’. The story goes on to say that this era continued in use for 135 years, when it was superseded by one which was founded by another Çaka conqueror. This second era is undoubtedly that which begins in 78 a.d., and it is still called the Çaka era. It is probable further that, soon after the date of its foundation, the Kushana empire extended to Malwa, and that its conquest was effected by the Pahlava and Çaka satraps of the Kushana emperor, Kanishka.
It has been already observed that there is evidence of an intimate connexion between Pahlavas and Çakas, i.e. between ‘the family of Vonones’ and ‘the family of Maues’. This connexion appears to be proclaimed by certain coins on which Spalirises, ‘the brother of the king’ (i.e. presumably of Vonones) is definitely associated with Azes, who was almost certainly the successor of Maues. Such evidence as there is would seem to indicate that these two lines continued to rule over adjacent provinces—the family of Vonones in Seistan, Kandahar, and North Baluchistan, and the family of Maues in the West Punjab and Sind—until, probably towards the end of the first quarter of the first century a.d., the two kingdoms were united under the sway of the Pahlava Gondopharnes, as to the Parthian character of whose name there can be no possible doubt. The evidence is almost entirely numismatic, and its bearings may be summarized as follows. The numerous varieties of the coinage of this monarch, copied as they are from so many previous issues, show that he ruled over a very extensive dominion; and the fact that these varieties are imitated from the currencies both of the family of Vonones and the family of Maues, leads us to the conclusion that he ruled over both the earlier kingdoms of the Pahlavas and of the Çakas.
The fame of King Gondopharnes (or Gondopherres, as the name appears in the Greek coinlegends) spread even to the West, and he is known in the legends of the early Christian Church as the king to whose country St Thomas was sent as the apostle of the ‘Parthians,’ or, according to other authorities, of the ‘Indians,’ i.e. the people of the Indus country. The story of the mission of St Thomas and of the king’s conversion to the Christian faith is told in the apocryphal Acts of St Thomas, of which there are extant versions in Syriac, Greek, and Latin, the earliest of these, the Syriac, belonging probably Io the third century a.d. Doubtless there must be a great deal in this story which can only be regarded as pure legend, but it is reasonable to suppose that it may have some basis in fact.
The names of several successors of Gondopharnes are known from their coins; but these coins show that they ruled over a greatly diminished realm. Already at this period—the early part of the first century a.d.—the Kushana power, which had grown up in Bactria, had begun to absorb the various states of North-Western India, and to weld together Greeks, Çakas, Pahlavas, and Hindus into one great empire.
The first step in the creation of this Indian empire was the conquest of the last remaining stronghold of Greek rule in the Kabul Valley. The coins show clearly the process by which this region, probably in the last quarter of the first century b.c., passed from Hermaeus, the last ruling member of the line of Eucratides, to his conqueror, the Kushana Kujula Kadphises. The conquest of ‘India,’ the country of the Indus, was the work of his successor, who is known from his coins as Wima Kadphises, and after him the Kushana empire reached its culminating point in the reign of Kanishka.
The question of the date of Kanishka is still the subject of keen controversy; but it will probably be settled within a short time by the excavations which are now being made by the Archaeological Survey of India on the ancient site of Taxila, one of his capitals.
In the meantime, until absolute certainty can be attained, a probable view appears to be that he was the founder of the Çaka era, the initial year of which is 78 a.d., and that the era obtained its name from the fact that it became most widely known in India as that which was used for more than three centuries by the Çaka kings of Surashtra (Gujarat and Kathiawar) who were originally satraps and feudatories of the Kushanas.
With the establishment of the Kushana Empire we must bring our survey of ‘Ancient India’ to a close. The history of the remaining ten centuries which elapsed before the Muhammadan period may, perhaps, be more fittingly included under the heading ‘Medieval India’. In Medieval, as in Ancient, India we may see the rise and fall of empires, partly of foreign and partly of native origin, some of them the result of invasions through the ‘ Gates of India ’ on the north or north-west, others the outcome of the struggle for supremacy between the nationalities of the continent itself.