Kushan Empire

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Kushan Empire

Kushans or Kuei-Shang were one of the five Great Yueh-chi (tribes) principalities. In the 1st century CE, Kujula Kadphises (Kadphises I) brought together these five principalities and founded the Kushan Empire. The Kushans movement in India can be traced back to the first century CE during Kadphises-I time.

Kushan Empire Origin

  1. Kushanas are considered to be one of the five branches of the Yuezhi tribe who lived in the Chinese frontier or central Asia.
  2. They are known as Guishuang in Chinese sources.
  3. They eventually acquired dominance over the other Yuezhi tribes.
  4. They moved eastward towards India defeating the Parthians and the Sakas in the 1st century AD.
  5. Kushan Empire – Ruler Kujula Kadphises or Kadphises-I [AD 30-AD 80).
  6. Kujula Kadphises was the first Yuezhi chief to lay the foundation of the Kushana Empire in India.
  7. He established his supremacy over Kabul, Kandahar and Afghanistan.
  8. He was succeeded by his son Vima Taktu or Sadashkana (AD 80 – AD 95) who expanded the empire into northwest India.

Kushan Empire

Vima Kadphises [AD 95-AD 127]

  1. An inscription found at Rabatak in Afghanistan mentions that he was the son of Vima Taktu and the father of Kanishka.
  2. He has issued a large number of gold coins.
  3. He was a Shiva devotee as is clear from coins issued by him.
  4. A large number of Roman gold coins found from this era indicate the prosperity of India at that time and also the growing trade with the Romans.

Kanishka of Kushan Dynasty [127 AD – 150 AD]

  1. Considered the greatest Kushana king and also a great king of ancient India.
  2. Son of Vima Kadphises.
  3. His kingdom included Afghanistan, parts of Sindhu, parts of Parthia, Punjab, Kashmir, parts of Magadha (including Pataliputra), Malwa, Benaras, perhaps parts of Bengal, Khotan, Kashgar, Yarkhand (last three in modern China). His empire covered Gandhara, Peshawar, Oudh, Pataliputra, Kashmir and Mathura.
  4. His kingdom also included parts of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
  5. His main capital was Peshawar, then known as Purushpura.
  6. After the capture of Pataliputra, he is said to have taken away the Buddhist monk Ashvaghosha with him to Peshawar.
  7. The scholars in his court included Parsva, Ashvaghosha, Vasumitra, Nagarjuna, Charaka and Mathara. He also patronised the Greek engineer Agesilaus.
  8. Kanishka convened the fourth Buddhist Council at Kundalvana in Kashmir.
  9. He patronised Buddhism although he was very tolerant in his religious views. His coins contain a mix of Indian, Greek and Zoroastrian deities.
  10. He was also a patron of art and architecture. The Gandhara School of art flourished under him.
  11. He also propagated the Mahayana form of Buddhism and he was largely responsible for propagating it in China.
  12. It is not known how he died.

Achievements of Kushanas – Significance of the Kushana Empire

  1. Sanskrit literature began to be developed during this time. The fourth Buddhist council was held in Sanskrit.
  2. Ashvoghosha is considered to be the first Sanskrit dramatist.
  3. During this time, three distinct schools of art flourished: Gandhara School in northwest India, Amaravati School in Andhra and the Mathura School in the Ganges valley.
  4. Trade prospered between India and China, and India and the Roman Empire.
  5. The Kushanas controlled large parts of the Silk Route which led to the propagation of Buddhism into China. It was during this time that Buddhism began to spread to Korea and Japan also.
  6. Many towers, Chaityas, towns and beautiful sculptures were built under the patronage of the Kushana kings.
  7. Kushanas were foreign invaders, to begin with, but they were completely Indianised in ways and culture.
  8. It is said that the Kushana period in Indian history was a perfect forerunner to the golden age of the Guptas.

Decline of kanishka Empire

  • Kanishka was succeeded by his son Vasishka.Vasishka was followed by Huvishka and Kanishka II (son of Vasishka).Kanishka II was followed by Vasudeva I.
  • Vasudeva I was the last great king of the Kushanas. After his death, the empire disintegrated away. He probably died in 232 AD.

Kushans’ contribution to Indian art and culture – critically analyses

In the era which begins from 200 BCE, many dynasties emerged instead of a huge empire like Maurya dynasty and Kushans became the most famous among them. The Kushans were also called Eunchi and Tokhari who were nomadic people of the northern green plains.

Because of political peace, there was a lot of progress in the field of religion, literature, art, science, trade and commerce in the Kushan era.The Kushan Empire assembled trained masons and other artisans in different styles and countries, which led to the development of new styles of art like Gandhara and Mathura, the Gandhara style is also called the Greek-Buddhist style. However, this style developed in the northwest of India ,It took place in Gandhara in the middle of the first century but it developed during the kushan age.

The style of art developed in present-day Mathura in Uttar Pradesh is known as Mathura art. In the early phase of the first century, this art developed on indigenous lines. In it, Buddha’s paintings display the spiritual feeling on his face which was largely absent in Gandhara art.

Shiva and Vishnu are also depicted in Mathura art with images of his consort Parvati and Lakshmi respectively. The paintings of Yakshini and Apsara were beautifully engraved in Mathura art.

The fourth Buddhist musical was organized by Kanishka in Kashmir which was attended by famous Buddhist philosophers like Vasubandhu, Ashwaghosh and Nagarjuna. At this time, the Mahayana, the new branch of Buddhism, was born.

Buddhism flourished under the patronage of the Kushans, but hundreds of relics and statues, etc. have been found from Mathura which were made under the patronage of the Kushans and throw light on various aspects of Jainism.

Ashwaghosh, a Mahayana Buddhist scholar, composed a large amount of Sanskrit literature such as Buddhacharitra, Sutralankara. Vasumitra compiled the great language. Nagarjuna wrote books on philosophy. The famous physician in the kingdom of Kanishka was Charak and the great builder (builder) Ajilasim.

The coins of Vimkadphisus have Greek script on one side and Kharoshthi script on the other side as well as the figure of Shiva, Nandi, Trishul etc. reflect the development of the art and culture of the time.

The coins of Kanishka have figures of Parthian, Greek and Indian deities and some of the figures of Buddha standing in a Greek manner and some sitting in an Indian manner point to the religion tolerant character of the emperor.

A large number of gold currencies were issued by the Kushan rulers who excelled in secret in secret. A large stupa and monastery was built by Kanishka in which the relics of Buddha were kept.

The rise of the spirit of devotion can be seen in this period, in which the popularity of Bhakti Marg was increasing compared to the path of knowledge or action.

The Kushans did not have their own developed culture but they adopted the Indian and Greek culture which developed a lot. Like Bhakti Marg, art and culture was going through its early stages of development in many ways. There is no doubt that the Kushan era occupies a prominent position in Indian art and culture before the Gupta kings.

This article is compiled by Sarvesh Nagar (NET/JRF-History).

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