• Stone masonary was introduced on a large scale by the Mauryans. Ashokas contribution to the Indian art was a number of monolithic pillars which bore his inscriptions which have been found in widely seperated parts of the subcontinent.

  • Sarnath pillar which is the official emblem of the Indian republic is a crowning feature of the ashokan architecture.

  • The sudden appearance of stone carvings of this sophistication shows the foreign workers were involved or at least had some influence. The Achaemenid influence is seen in these pillars but there are no parallels elsewhere of pillars that were single and free standing and made of wood.

  • Ashoka was also connected with a number of cave shrines found in Barabara hills in bodh gaya. The doorway to the caves is adorned with a fine relief band of elephants and is the earliest example of a chaitya arch. The Sanchi stupa which dates to Sungan times but was preserved by satvahana rulers is the largest stupa with stone railings and four massive gateways elaborately carved with high technical skills, with a profusion of figures and reliefs depicting scenes of everyday life.

The Mauryan Empire was divided into north and south after Ashok's death. The north collapsed due to Bactrian invasions. The south was curtailed as Kalinga declared independence. Satvahana dynasty also declared independence.

The end of the Mauryan's was done by Pushpamitra Sunga. The Sunga dynasty had to face Bactrian and Greek invasions which captured Patliputra for some time. The Sunga dynasts were Brahmins but they patronised Buddhist art too. The Sungas were able to control only a part of the erstwhile Mauryan empire. The Sunga were possible of brhamin origins who belonged to Ujjain and later developed contacts with Mauryan kings by working under them as officials. They tried to revive brahmin practices by conducting vedic rituals and sacrifices. Some sources claim a persecution of buddhists under them.

Sunga's were followed by short reign of Kanva dynasty. Sunga kings promoted Sanskrit and Vaishnavism which reached its pinnacle during Gupta Empire.

The Kanva dynasty ended and no record is kept of Mauryan Empire after their end till the Gupta Empire started. 

  • The tribal states in North India which succumbed to Mauryan imperialism now asserted themselves after the decline of the Mauryans. The Audumbras occupied the valley between Ravi and Beas. The Kunindas became prominent in the valley between Beas and Yamuna at the foothills of the Siwalik mountains. Trigartas ruled the plain country between Ravi and Sutlej. Yaudhevas ruled between satluj and Yamuna and pars of eastern Rajasthan.

  • Another region that came into prominence was the Kalinga region of Odisa. The Mahameghavana dynasty ruled over it. King Kharavela was a powerful king and raided Magadha, Satvahana and Pandya countries.

  • He also undertook many public works for his state and as a jain he constructed cave shelters for practicing jain monks on udaygiri hills.

  • The decline of the Mauryans created many local rulers in eastern deccan, Vidarbha, Western Maharashtra and Karnataka. Gradually the family of satvahanas emerged victorious and built up an empire in the deccan and brought together many local centers.

  • In the extreme south, three major powers were established. The Cheras who controlled the Malabar area, Cholas who held sway on the south eastern coast and the kaveri valley and the Pandyas whose power centers lay around the top of the empire. These chiefdoms were prominent even during the Mauryan empire.

  • The sangam texts give a considerable information about the society, religion, polity, economy and ecology of this region.

  • Central asia saw population movements and there was an entry into the subcontinent of many central asian who became a part of the local population. Indo greeks or Bactrians were the first to come. Their origin lies in Balkh in North Afghanisthan. The Indo Greeks ruled over a large part of the North west empire from Mathura to the Northwest of India and to the east upto the gates of Patliputra empire. The most famous of the Bactrian kings was Menander or Milinda who converted to Buddhism under the guidance of Nagarjuna. The dialogue between them is known as Milinda Panha. They were the first to issue coins which had a portrait, name and title of the ruler. The coin were of fine workmanship. The indo greeks encouraged commerce with west asia and mediterranean world. The Indo greeks were also important for their introduction of hellenistic art features in northwestern India which influenced the Gandhar style of art.

  • Shaka era : The indo greek kingdoms in the Northwest India did not last long. The Central Asian tribes were affected due to new political and climatic conditions. Construction of the great wall of China also led to movement of nomadic tribes towards the east. The Scythians or Shakas attacked Bactria and occupied it. the were also able to capture Iran and the Indian kingdom of the Bactrians. The Shaks were able to conquer northwest India and extend their rule over Kathiawar and Malwa. They ruled over Kathiawar and Malwa for four centuries and formed a formidable force in this part. They were the reasons the satvahanas could not extend their kingdom North of the Narmada. The ambition of Shakas to extend their kingdom northward was checked by the Kushanas. The Shaka also started the Satrap system in India. This had the kingdom to be divided into provinces and each province was under a military administrator. The Shaka king held titles such as King of Kings or Maharaja also known as Rajadhi-Raja. This practice was taken over from the Greeks.

  • Parthains : These were kings of Iranian origin. They too ruled over different pockets of North India. Their rule coincided with the Shakas. The Parthian state had a scarcity of silver coins and this testifies to the economic conditions of the empire. The Partians used the silver coins issued by their predecessors who would have been the Bactrains or the Shakas. St Thomas, the apostle due to whom the country came into contact with christianity came to court of the Parthians.

  • Kushanas :These were of nomadic origins living near the steppes of north central asia near China. Due to the great wall these were driven towards Hindukush region. The Kushanas were credited with the defeat of the last king of greeks in Kabul. The first king was Kujula Kadphises and his son was Vima Kadphises. Vima was credited for minting gold coins but after him the kings preferred coins made from an alloy of gold and copper. Kanishka was the greatest king of the Empire. He ascended to throne around 78 AD and that period became the start of the Saka era. It was under Kanishka that the rule extended to Sanchi in the south and Benaras in the East. His period was famous for intermingling of people of diverse geographical settings. His dominion was in central Asia and Peshawar was his capital. Mathura was the second most important city in the empire. However after his death, kushana power declined and the state became a vassal for Persian dynasty of Sassania.

  • Central Asia was open to trade routes traversing through oases and valleys. One of these routes was the Old Silk route. This route was of great income to the Kushanas. Traders were required to pay taxes for using this route. They then established tradin colonies along the route.

  • Buddhist missionaries followed the traders and reached central Asia and South east asia through these routes.

  • The contact with foreigner brought newer war techniques like cavalry warfare and introduction of reins, saddles, caps, helmets and boots for the military.

  • Contacts with foreigners also enriched the Indian culture. Gandhar school of art emerged which was influenced by Greek and roman art. Widening of knowledge in the fields of medicine and astronomy is also reflected. Considerable effects were seen in surgery.

  • Satvahanas : On the ruins of the Mauryan empire, in the northwest deccan the Satvahanas built their empire. The center of their kingdom was Prathisthana. Since they were also known as Andhras. Their empire may have been extended to the Eastern coast of the peninsula.

  • The founder of the empire was Simuka who is belived to be of brahmanical origins. The successor of Simuka was Satakarni who was engaged in conflict with the Sakas at Nasik. It was the Shakas who continued to maintain their dominance over the Satavahanas.

  • The greatest of the satavahana kings was Gautamiputra satakarni who extended his empire by conquest. He defeated the Kshatrapas in Kathiawad and Gujarat. The control of lucrative foreign trade was a reason for the conflict. The kingdom extended under his sons rule to Kathiawad on western coast, Krishna delta, North Tamil nadu and Andhra on the east coast.

  • The Satvahana kingdom was later divided under weak successors and one line continued to rule Andhra. The Satavaha had to deal with Kharavela kingdom in Kalinga and also with the Kshatrapas. The major dfference between Mauryans and Satvahanas was the absence of a strong bureaucracy. The Satvahana kings were known to donate land with administrative and fiscal autonomy to brahmins and buddhists.

  • The trade was a major source of income for the state. Trade routes and highways were constructed to link inland centers with the ports on the western coast. Major ports for trade on the western coast are kalyan, kathiwad, bharuch etc.
  • Trade was carried out by trading guilds of different artisans. The guilds dealt with merchant guilds and this link was beneficial for both of them. The Merchants were prosperous and donated to the construction of religious structures. From the point of view of agriculture, the rice cultivation flourished in Krishna and godavari basin. This fertile region also provided inputs to the trading centers on west coast. Trade was carried out with the mediterranean region too. Trans-peninsular roads linked major markets with the ports.

  • On religious lines, all major religions such as Brahmanism, Buddhism and Jainis were patronised and they flourished. Stupas and chaityas were contructed by the state. Donors were mostly merchant guilds who contributed generously. Satavahanas also constructed rock cut caves as chaityas or viharas. The main examples are caves at Karle, Nashik and Kanheri. Amaravati is the most famous stupa attributed to this period and is an architectural treasure house.

Satvahana dynasty:

The Satvahana dynasty was present in Andhra Pradesh. But it was extended to Nasik in west and Berar.

They were feudatories of the Mauryan’s but after the decline of Mauryan’s they established an independent kingdom for 450 years.

Gautamiputra Satkarni was greatest ruler. He conquered Deccan province.


  1. Oversees trade was flourishing during this period. Silver coins were used. Merchants were organized into guilds to increase their activities.
  2. Buddhism and Brahmanism were patronized.
  3. Prakrit language flourished here.  

Bactrian invasions:

Greek rulers of Bactria captured Ujjain, Sind, Punjab and Afghanistan however they couldn’t maintain Patliputra due to Sunga dynasty.

The Greeks embraced Buddhism. Some were influenced by Vaishnavism too.

The Sakas or Scythians ruled over North West and captured them from Bactrian’s. The northern satraps ruled over Taxila and southern ruled over Maharashtra.

Saka's of Taxila were overthrown by Parthian’s.

                             foreign invasions of India


                                                                    Fig 1: Foreign Invasians

Kushana dynasty:

They were central Asian tribes. They displaced the Sakas in Bactria. Their Empire extended up to Mathura in north India. Kadaphises II and Kanishaka were famous Kushana rulers.

Kanishka: Founded the Saka era in 78 AD. Saka era starts at 22nd or 23rd March. He captured Bodh Gaya, Patliputra, Magadha and Kashmir. His Empire extended from Gandhar to Banaras, Kashmir to Malwa. His capital was Peshawar.

Kanishka embraced Buddhism but in his time Mahayana school emerged.

Buddha worshipped using flowers, rituals. He convened the fourth Buddhist council and Mahayana doctrine was finalised. He was a patron of Mahayana.

The last dynasty to control the silk route.