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The World of Fables and Legends - 22
|by Dr. Jaipal Singh|
The History of India - 2
In the previous part, the author had briefly tried to decode the early civilizational (legendary) history of India, which was known as Bharatvarsha or other Sanskritized names such as Bharat, Aryavarta, Jambudwipa, etc. before the advent of the Islamic and colonial powers in the sub-continent. Thus the period around 14500 BCE (Swayambhuva Manu) to 3162 (Mahabharata War) BCE has been briefly discussed earlier as the “Legendary History” of India owing to prevailing differences among the traditional Indian historians and Western historians as endorsed by the Indian Left-centric and Left politicians, academicians and historians. While there are gaps and missing details in the chronological history for the aforesaid period reconstructed by the Indian traditional researchers and historians based on credible traditional sources, the Western historians outrightly treat this period as the mythological history. Nonetheless, many traditional historians have made sincere efforts to research and reconcile the stated gaps and discrepancies and this author is inclined to go along with the credible work and modern approach of the current Indian traditional historians.
There is no doubt that due to a prolonged history of foreign invasion, rule and dominance of the Islamic and colonial powers for centuries over a vast area of the Indian sub-continent, these powers and their historians too nurtured a vicious approach and bias towards the Hindu culture and their traditional chronological history, incidentally, which also served well their long term geopolitical, economic and academic interests. Consequently, despite numerous inherent flaws and anomalies in the chronological history propounded by the colonial historians centred around the Indus Valley Civilization and Aryan Invasion Theory, they preferred and pushed own often cooked version of historical narrative and data rather than making any honest and unbiased efforts to resolve discrepancies through research. Ironically, the majority of the historians in the independent India too preferred to carry on with the version duly patronized by the legacy political regime that inherited powers from the British. While the ancient history before the Mahabharata war was rejected by the Western historians as mythology, many discrepancies and differences also exist in the post-Mahabharata history between the two sets of historians which is proposed to be briefly discussed in this part along with the important dynasties and events.
Analysis of Saka and Vikrama Eras
In the current write up, the chronological history of the post-Mahabharata era shall be discussed. Many Puranas relate the history of the prominent Magadha Empire from the Brahdratha dynasty to the Gupta dynasty. According to many traditional historians, there are enough literary, epigraphic and archaeological evidences to carry out a fruitful study starting from the date of Buddha’s nirvana. Generally, it is believed by many Indian and Western historians that Siddhartha Gautam, the founder of Buddhism, and Mahavira, the 24th Tirthankara of Jainism, were contemporary but there are disputes about their actual dates of occurrence and corresponding historical events. Similarly, although the commencement of two famous Hindu calendars based on Saka and Vikrama eras have wide acceptance, some scholars and historians hold different opinions about these eras too. Thus, there are clearly two sets of opinion about the commencement of Saka era (583 BCE or 78 CE) and Vikrama era (719 0r 57 BCE); reconciliation of the epochs may be relevant and important because it may have implications on the historical chronology and events of the ancient dynasties and entities.
Many eminent historians believe that the date of Buddha nirvana is around 483 BCE which has led to distortions in the chronology of ancient India. In their illustrated accounts, the Persian and Arabic scholars such as Al Biruni (10th century CE) and Abu Rayhan (4th century CE) have suggested that Buddha flourished before Zoroaster who is estimated to have occurred most probably between 1500-1000 BCE. The archaeological studies at Lumbini based on more recent studies also suggest a much earlier probable date of Buddha’s nirvana. During the recent age, some scholars, Indologists, historians and archaeologists have carried out extensive research and, though his nirvana date has not been conclusively established but most of these researches indicate possibly a much earlier date of nirvana than the one mentioned above. Broadly, these researches are in six categories ranging from 2422 BCE to 543 BCE with Max Muller, famous scholar and Indologist, himself fixing it at 653 BCE. A more recent work and critical examination of available evidence gives credence to the idea that Buddha actually attained nirvana in 1864 BCE, which if accepted in due course would have tremendous implications on the chronological history of the ancient India.
Ancient Indians used several calendars for computation of days, months and years based on astronomical and other scientific considerations, the most popular and acceptable being the Saka Era (78 CE) and Vikrama Era (57 BCE). The Saka era was more commonly and popularly used for the dating of the ancient and medieval time literature and inscriptions in India, Nepal, Burma, Cambodia and Java (Indonesia). Although Saka era commencing from 78 CE has wide acceptance, divergence of opinion about the origin and originator of this era is still prevalent with clearly two theories related to the epoch of the Saka era. The first theory suggests that the Saka era and Sakanta or Sakakalatita era are the same that commenced in 78 CE. According to the second theory, the two stated eras are not identical, and that the Saka era originated much before with probable dates 522, 543, 551 0r 583 BCE (suggested by different scholars based on epigraphic evidences] whereas the Sakanta era commenced in 78 CE. More serious studies and research is necessitated because if the epoch of the Saka era began in 583 BCE, it would most probably not only reconcile with the chronology of Puranas, Buddhist and Jain sources but also upheld the validity of many inscriptions.
The majority of the north Indian inscriptions are dated in Vikrama era and variously referred to as Krita, Malava-gana and Vikrama eras, and in some accounts it is simply mentioned as Samvat. Although generally the historians agree that all the aforesaid eras belong to the same epoch but difference is observed in the origin and originator of the stated eras. According to one set of belief, the Krita era, Malava-gena era or Vikrama era belong to the same epoch, commencing from 57 BCE. However, Kota Venkatachalam suggested that the first two eras commenced in 725 BCE while the third (i.e. Vikrama era in 57 BCE. In regard to more acceptable Virama era, the Indian literary and epigraphic sources unanimously agree that the King Vikramaditya of Ujjain was the originator of the Vikrama era. On the contrary, the Western historians and their Indian followers hold that the Indo-Scythian King Azes introduced this era in the North-Western India and from there it spread to other northern regions. Although there are sufficient literary and numismatic evidences in support of King Vikramaditya of Malava (or Malwa) region, the Western historians and their Indian followers (left or left leaning historians and scholars) treat him as a mythical entity. The Western historians too were aware but instead of making efforts to reconcile it, they rejected different inscriptions as spurious and imaginary simply because of its variance with their approach of the Indian chronology.
Such differences and divergent opinions among the historians of different ilk and age exist not only in respect of the dates of Buddha nirvana, Saka era and Vikrama era but also about the epochs of the Gupta era, Sri Harsha era, the iconic Magadha empire, the age of Mahajanapadas, chronological history of the Jainism and Buddhism as also many ancient scholars and sages of India, such as Adi Shankaracharya, and so on. There is no dearth of literary and epigraphic evidence in the ancient Indian languages as also now considerable archaeological evidence from various parts is available. Therefore, instead of blindly following the history what the colonial historians have documented based on their rather biased and short-sighted approach, if a systematic study and research is carried out to reconstruct a reconciled history based on the detailed examination and analysis of all available indigenous material and sources by the dedicated historians under the patronage of the political regime, it may be possible to reinvent and reconcile several inherent gaps and inconsistencies of the Indian history. The aforesaid issues of Buddha nirvana, Saka era and Vikrama era are flagged in this write up just to illustrate and underline this fact. Of course, till such time the reference point will continue to be the current history as recorded by the Western historians and endorsed by the legacy political regime and historians following the independence.
Ancient Indian History: Pre-Islamic Era
The chronological history from the Vedic era to the Mahabharata era has been briefly described in the previous part. All available evidences suggest that the Mahabharata war took place in 3162 BCE and lasted for eighteen days although the proportionate destruction caused and loss of life was enormous and at a much greater scale. Following the war, King Yudhisthira ascended to the Hastinapur throne and reigned the most powerful kingdom of the time. He handed over the reign to Parikshit, son of Abhimanyu, who in turn was succeeded by his son and another famous king of the Kuru dynasty namely, Janamejaya. During his life time Yudhisthira is known to have conquered most parts of the Indian sub-continent, including Sri Lanka, and established a powerful empire with the support of his brothers, Bhima, Arjuna, Sahadev and Nakula. Yudhisthira reigned for about thirty-six years upto 3126 BCE, Shree Krishna died in the same year and Dwarka is also believed to have been submerged under the sea in the same year. The detailed genealogy of the Pandava kings of Hastinapur is given in the Vishnu Purana; according to which as many as 29 generation of Pandava kings of Kuru dynasty ruled till 2300 BCE; the last king being Kshemka II (2330-2300 BCE).
During the Mahabharata era itself, Magadha Empire had emerged as one of the power centres, under the Brihadratha dynasty. Brihadratha I, the son of Uparichara Vasu of Kuru Vamsa, was the progenitor of this dynasty and Magadha was initially part of the Anga Kingdom that finds a mention as one of the sixteen most celebrated kingdoms or Maha-Janapadas of the age. Jarasandha, the son of Brihadratha, finds a mention as one of the chief antagonists of Shree Krishna and Pandava brothers. According to Vayu, Brahmanda, Matsya, Bhagavata and Vishnu Puranas, the power and influence of Magadha Empire expanded in the north India and about twenty-two generations of kings of Brahdratha dynasty ruled for nearly 1000 years (3162-2162 BCE). The last King Ripunjaya was treacherously killed by his chief minister installing his son Pradyota, who founded Pradyota dynasty (2162-2024 BCE) in own name. Other significant dynasties in the region include Shishunaga Dynasty (2024-1664 BCE) and Haryanka Dynasty (1925-1725 BCE). The core areas under the Magadha Empire included the present day Bihar, south of the River Ganga with Rajagriha as its capital which was later on shifted to Pataliputra (now Patna).
The Magadha Empire occupied a centre place for a very long period with reference to various dynasties. Considering the detailed information about the dynasties, genealogy and events following the post-Mahabharata era, the Indian Puranas can be safely treated as the chronicles of the ancient times which evolved into veritable encyclopedias after the Ramayana era. Most of the Puranas are believed to have been updated during the period between 500 BCE to 100 CE. As mentioned in the preceding paragraph too, many of these Puranas have compiled useful information about the chronological and genealogical history of Magadha from the Mahabharata war to the Gupta dynasty. A brief puranic chronology of various dynasties is given below:
1. Brihdratha Dynasty : 3162 – 2162 BCE
On the contrary, the Western prism and understanding of the ancient Indian history is much narrower and shorter in span compared to the traditional history. According to them, the Kuru kingdom (1250-450 BCE) was the initial state-level society of the Vedic society with reference of two Kings namely Parikshit and his successor Janamejaya, during which Indian civilization supposedly evolved in an organized and cognizable political, social and cultural power in the sub-continent. They treat the history before this period as fictional, spurious or fake despite numerous shortcomings in their own articulation of entities, events and span. According to them, sometime between 800 and 200 BCE, the Jainism and Buddhism too evolved from Shramana movement and as part of the second urbanization in the Gangetic plane, sixteen Mahajanapadas or great kingdoms and republics took shape, namely Anga, Assaka, Avanti, Chedi, Gandhara, Kashi, Kamboja, Kosala, Kuru, Magadha, Malla, Matsya (or Machcha), Panchala, Surasena, Vá¹›ji, and Vatsa.
Going by the Western accounts, the Pradyota dynasty and Haryanka dynasties occurred between 600-413 BCE. The King Bimbisara of the Haryanka dynasty was overthrown and killed by his own son Ajatshatru, who continued to increase the expansion and influence of the Magadha Empire during this period. The founder of Buddhism, Siddhartha Gautama too lived and spread the religion the in the Magadha kingdom. The Haryanka dynasty was overthrown by the Shishunaga dynasty (413–345 BCE), which in turn was replaced by the Nanda Empire (345–322 BCE). Overthrowing the Nanda King, Chandragupta established the Maurya Empire (322–185 BCE) under which the most of the Indian subcontinent was unified into one state, the Emperor Ashoka being the most powerful and glorious ruler of this dynasty. During his time King Chandragupta had also fought Seleucid-Mauryan war and by defeating the army of Seleucus, he had gained additional territories west of the Indus River. Later, an immense bloodbath and destruction during the Kalinga war filled Emperor Ashoka with remorse and he decided to adopt Buddhism completely renouncing violence. Subsequent weak successors of the Mauryan Empire paved way for the establishment of the Shunga dynasty. Thus the span of two most significant dynasties of the ancient India viz. the Maurya dynasty and Gupta dynasty markedly differs in the historical accounts of the Western and Indian traditional historians.
While both the Western and traditional historians largely concord on the occurrence of empires and dynasties post-Haryanka dynasty, serious differences exist in the chronology and genealogy suggested by the two class of historians: this difference is not only in the historical entities and events but also in the dating and periodicity. This chronological issue has already been flagged and briefly dealt with in the previous parts. The traditional historians believe that after the regnal period of the early dynasties of Brihadratha, Pradyota, etc., the Mahapadma Nanda founded his dynasty in Magadha nearly 1500 years after the Mahabharata war while the Western sources put it in the fourth century BCE. The Indian historians also allege that the Western historians have made a serious error in wrongly identifying Sandrokottus as Chandragupta Maurya and thereby dating him contemporary of Alexander. This and many other unresolved discrepancies in the chronology and genealogy owing to tenaciously ignoring the available Indian historical texts, epigraphic and archaeological evidences have led to serious anomalies in depiction of the Indian ancient history. Although the traditional historians have many valid and tenable points, the formal history as it exists today cannot be denied or ignored till such time fresh effort are formally made to research, redraw and recognize the historical timeline, entities and events. Considering these facts and limitations, only important empires and dynasties have been briefly discussed in the following paragraph without attaching much emphasis and reference about the timeline or occurrence of events.
Although the Nanda Empire had a considerable expanse from Magadha region to Bengal in the east and parts of Punjab in the west, it was the Mauryan Empire which is credited with the unification of the entire Indian sub-continent into one state and the largest empire of any time. At its peak glory during the time of Emperor Ashoka, the empire stretched in the north upto the natural boundaries of the Himalaya, west to the Hindukush region encompassing most of the Afghanistan, east upto what is now Assam and northeast and most parts of the southern peninsula. King Chandragupta had established the empire overthrowing the Nanda king with the assistance of Kautilya (Chanakya), and Bindusar and Ashoka were other important kings of the dynasty, while the last Mauryan ruler Brihdratha was killed by Pushyamitra Shunga, who founded the Shunga Empire.
During the Maurya Empire, the agriculture, internal and external trade, and other economic activities expanded and flourished well in the country. The Mauryans are also credited with the construction of the Grand Trunk Road, one of Asia’s oldest and major roads joining the Indian sub-continent with the Central Asia. Following the Kalinga war for a long period, the state also enjoyed peace and social harmony, expansion of science and technical skills, and religious transformation with Ashoka’s embrace of Buddhism. Kautilya’s Arthashastra and Edicts of Ashoka are the important written records of the time. Besides, Emperor Ashoka is also known to have sponsored missionaries including own son and daughter to the countries of Southeast Asia, West Asia, North Africa, Sri Lanka and parts of the Mediterranean Europe to spread Buddhism. By the Western lenses, the Mauryan Empire is considered as the first modern and efficient economy and society with a closely regulated sale of the merchandise with exports expanded to China and Arabia.
According to Western sources, while Magadha Empire was flourishing under various dynasties, three prominent kingdoms namely Chera dynasty, Chola dynasty and Pandya dynasty flourished in the parts of Southern India; the period from the 3rd century BCE to 4th century CE is collectively known as the Sangam period during which Tamil literature abundantly flourished under the patronage of Tamil kings dealing with the history, politics, wars, and culture of the Tamil people. These empires find elaborate mention in the traditional Indian history too of course with differences in the chronology, some genealogy and span of empires. During the Sangam period, many anthologies of poetical works and two great epics of the Tamil literature, namely Silappatikaram by Ilango Adigal and Manimekalai by Sithalai Sattanar, were composed, both of which were non-religious works involving the saga of revenge against the kingdom of the Pandyan dynasty.
Pushyamitra Shunga established Shunga Empire overthrowing the last king of the Maurya dynasty at a time when the Hindu Sanatana culture was threatened owing to spread and official endorsement of Buddhism by the Mauryan kings after Ashoka formally adopted it. Initially, its capital was Pataliputra but later on Emperor Bhagabhadra also developed Vidisha (now Besnagar) as their alternative capital in the Malwa region. Pushyamitra and Agnimitra were the most powerful rulers of the Shunga dynasty but their successors were not as competent and influential. The Western historians have estimated their tenure around 187 to 78 BCE, and during this period, the art, education, philosophy and other forms of learning is believed to have flourished well. The large stone sculptures, terracotta images and architectural monuments like Bharhut Stupa and Great Stupa at Sanchi are significant contribution of this age. Shunga kings are particularly known for patronizing and promoting Indian Sanatana culture, Sanskrit language and Brahmi script during their regime.
According to Puranas, Simuka or Simhaka, a descendent of Satavahana dynasty, had ascended to the Magadha throne by defeating the last Kanva King Susharma and founded Satavahana Empire around 826 BCE. However, according to the Western historians, the Satavahanas were based at Amaravati in Andhra Pradesh and around Junnar (Pune) in Maharashtra sometime from the 1st century BCE onwards. According to western sources, they initially started as a feudatory to the Mauryan dynasty but claimed independence after the latter’s decline. They ruled for nearly five centuries, patronized both Hinduism and Buddhism and played vital role in trade and cultural exchange between the northern and southern regions of India. The notable kings of the Satavahana dynasty were Gautamiputra Satakarni and Sri Yajna Satakarni, who among many achievements also defeated foreign invaders like the Western Kshatrapas stopping their southward expansion.
The Kushan Empire was established into the northwestern region of the Indian sub-continent corresponding to modern day Afghanistan by Kujula Kadphises around the middle of 1st century CE. His grandson “Kanishka the Great” was the most celebrated emperor of the Kushan dynasty who expanded his empire in the northern India upto Saket (Ayodhya) and Sarnath (near Varanasi). He is known to have greatly patronized Buddhism and spread it to the Central Asia and Far East upto China. During the Kushan period, Indian trade and commerce flourished from China to Rome by linking the Indian Ocean maritime trade with the Silk Route. Kanishka is also believed to have been a great patron of the art and culture under which Gandhara art and Mathura art reached to its glorious peak. However, the Kushan Empire declined by the 3rd century CE and their last known important emperor was Vasudeva.
In the ancient history, Gupta period is often remembered as the golden era of the Indian history. While some traditional estimates have reckoned the period of the Gupta Empire as 334-89 BCE but according to the Western historians, the Gupta dynasty existed from early 4th century CE to late 6th century CE. The rise of Guptas ended the rule of Satavahanas and Chandragupta I was the founder of the Gupta dynasty in Magadha after killing the Satavahana King Chandrasri Satakarni. Emperor Samudragupta, who succeeded Chandragupta I after a bloody feud in the family, established himself as the most ambitious and warrior emperor of the Gupta dynasty. He fought and defeated about twenty kings of the Central, North and South India; thereby establishing his rule from the Himalayas in the north to Kanchi in the south as well as Yamuna and Chambal regions in the west to Bengal and Kamarupa (Assam) in the east. Emperor Chandragupta II was another notable ruler who further expanded and consolidated the Gupta Empire. This period was noted for its cultural richness particularly in literature, sculpture, architecture and painting. Some of the greatest scholars and writers like Kalidasa, Aryabhata, Varahamihira, Vishnu Sharma, etc. belonged to the Gupta period only. Gupta emperors not only unified much of the India under their leadership but also improved upon the political and economic administration taking it to new heights with a strong trade and cultural link with Sri Lanka and Southeast Asian countries.
Except for certain period, Indian sub-continent characteristically had several empires and kingdoms, small and big, existing simultaneously in various parts. For instance, During the Gupta period itself, the Vakataka Empire originated in South India during the mid-third century CE with its expanse from southern parts of Malwa and Gujarat in the north to the Tungabhadra River in the South. They are counted as the successors of Satavahanas in the Deccan peninsula. Similarly, according to Allahabad pillar inscriptions of the fourth century CE vintage, Kamarupa kingdom grew as contemporary of Gupta Empire in the east and northeastern parts encompassing the entire North Bengal, Brahmaputra valley, parts of Bangladesh and West Bengal. This region was successively ruled by three dynasties namely Varmanas (350-650 CE), Mlechchha dynasty (655-900 CE) and Kamarupa-Palas (900-1100 CE) with their capitals at Pragjyotishpura (Guwahati), Haruppeswara (Tezpur) and Durjaya (North Guwahati) respectively. These dynasties are said to have descent from Narakasura, possibly an immigrant from Aryavarta.
Following the downfall of Gupta Empire towards the mid-6th century CE, the northern India again experienced the advent of small republics and monarchial states. Harshavardhana was important ruler of Vardhana dynasty, whose father Prabhakarvardhana was the ruler of Thanesar in the present day Haryana. Harshvardhana (606-647 CE) made Kannauj his capital and expanded his empire covering much of the north and northwestern India extending east upto Kamarupa and south upto reaches of Narmada River. Banabhatta was his contemporary who wrote Harshacharita that talks about him as a great patron of the art, culture, peace, prosperity and justice. After the decline of Vardhana Empire, the northern India experienced many independent smaller states with constant rivalry and conflicts among three dynasties i.e. the Gurjara Pratiharas of Malwa, the Palas of Bengal and the Rashtrakutas of Deccan for dominance from 8th to 10th century CE. Although not much highlighted in the history but Emperor Lalitaditya Muktapida (724-760 CE) of Karkota dynasty was yet another powerful ruler who exercised a vast influence and control over the northern and northwestern parts of India during his reign. The 12th century chronicler and historian Kalahana, in his Rajatarangini, has mentioned that after defeating King Yashovarman in Central India, Lalitaditya’s conquest included several parts of eastern and southern India. According to the historian Hermann Goetz, Emperor Lalitaditya created a short-lived empire that extended to major parts of India, present day Afghanistan and Central Asia. Another royal dynasty nick-named Eastern Ganga dynasty ruled Kalinga (Odisha) from 5th century for nearly thousand years and built iconic temples like Puri Jagannath Temple and Konark Sun Temple.
The legendary and ancient history of the southern Chola, Chera and Pandya dynasties controlling various territories have been recorded by the Indian traditional and western historians as well though unreconciled discrepancies and differences exist in two accounts. The earliest credible references to the Cholas are found in inscriptions from the period of Emperor Ashoka. The Chola dynasty has been recorded by the western sources as a Tamil Thalassocratic Empire and one of the longest ruling dynasties in the world history until the 13th century CE. The fertile valley of the Kaveri River continued as the heartland of the Chola kings with the kingdom emerged as a major power during the reign of Raja Raja Chola I (985-1014 CE) and Rajendra Chola I (1014 – 1044 CE), who had even had successful military expeditions to the parts of Southeast Asia and Sri Lanka. Apart from the aforesaid two, some other important rulers of the dynasty were Rajadhiraja I, Rajendra II, Virarajendra and Kulothunga Chola I. Under the dominance of the Chola kings, the dynasty remained a military, economic and cultural powerhouse in the South Asia and Southeast Asia nearly for three centuries (907-1215 CE). With the growing influence of Hoysalas and Pandyas, the Chola kingdom gradually declined with later kings being weak and vulnerable; the last recorded Chola king is Rajendra Chola III, who was defeated and dethroned by Pandya Prince Jatavarman Sundara Pandya.
Almost simultaneously with the Guptas in the north and Cholas in the south, the Pallava Empire prospered from 4th to 9th century CE in the Telugu (Andhra Pradesh) and northern areas of the Tamil region. The most celebrated kings of this dynasty were Mahendravarman (571-630 CE) and Narasimhavarman (630-668 CE). The Pallava kings were known for patronizing Sanskrit in a script called Grantha and construction of Hindu temples in the Dravidian architecture at Kanchipuram, Mamallapuram and some other places. Another southern empire under the name Kadamba dynasty was founded by Mayurasharma around 345 CE in the region now known as Karnataka and among his significant achievements was his victory over the army of Pallavas of Kanchi. The kingdom achieved its peak glory under the King Kakusthavarma who is known to have even forged marital alliance with Gupta dynasty in the north. Later on, Kadamba kings continued to rule as a feudatory of the powerful Chalukya and Rashtrakuta empires for nearly five centuries.
The Chalukya Empire had evolved during the 6th century CE and dominated large parts of the southern and central India till around 12th century CE. Their rise to prominence began with the decline of the Kadamba kingdom and peaked to its glory during the reign of Pulakeshin II (610-642 CE) of Vatapi (present day Badami in Karnataka). He is known to have subjugated Mauryas of Konkana, Dakshina Kosala and Kalinga (Odisha), the Latas, Malawas and Gurjaras in the north but his most notable military success was victory over the powerful northern Emperor Harshvardhana. The empire exercised control over a vast region between the Kaveri River in the south and Narmada River in the north and was marked for an efficient administration, flourishing overseas trade and commerce and Chalukyan architecture. During this vast expanse of time, the Chalukyas ruled as three related yet largely independent dynasties, namely Badami Chalukyas, Eastern Chalukyas and Western Chalukyas. The rise of the Rashtrakuta dynasty around the middle of the 8th century CE eclipsed the Badami Chalukyas but their descendents ruled from Kalyani as the Western Chalukyas (970-1190 CE) until the fag end of the 12th century CE.
The Rashtrakuta Empire (753-982 CE) referred to in the previous paragraph was established by Dantidurga or Dantivarman II in 753 CE with Manyakheta (now Malkhed) in Karnakata as capital. They ruled for about two centuries and at their peak glory, they had areas from the Ganga River and Yamuna River doab in the north to Cape Comorin in the south under control with the kingdom well known for their political influence, architectural achievements and literary contributions. Around that time, two other dynasties, namely Pala dynasty of Bengal in the eastern part and the Prathihara dynasty of Malwa in the northwestern part of India too were competing to expand and gain political control over larger areas. The early rulers of the Rashtrakuta dynasty were Hindus but the later kings were deeply influenced with Jainism. King Govinda III (793–814 CE), son and successor of an illustrious Rashtrakuta King Dhruva Dharavarsha, is known for his victories over the Pratihara King Nagabhatta II and the Pala King Dharmapala. The Successor of Govinda III, Amoghavarsha I (814-878 CE) is rated as the greatest king of the Rashtrakuta dynasty with an uninterrupted reign of 64 years, an accomplished scholar and poet too, who wrote Kavirajamarga and Prashnottara Ratnamalika. While the former is among the earliest known Kannada work, the latter is a religious work in Sanskrit.
Gurjara-Pratihara dynasty ruled greater parts of the northern India from 8th century to 11th century CE. Initially, they had their capital at Ujjain in Central India but later shifted it to further northward to Kannauj for administrative convenience. Nagabhatta I is accredited with establishing the Gurjara-Pratihara dynasty of the northern India in 730 CE. He ruled from Avanti (Malawa) region with his capital at Ujjain and his kingdom encompassed the present day Gujarat and Rajasthan. He is also known for effective defences against early Islamic invasions by defeating the Arab army led by Junayd ibn Abd al-Rahman al-Murri or Al Hakam ibn Awana. During the reigns of King Mahendrapala I, the dynasty peaked in its power and prosperity with the empire stretching from the borders of Sindh in the west to Bengal in the east and Himalayas in the north to Narmada River in the south. The other remarkable kings of the dynasty were Rambhadra and Mihira Bhoja. Gurjara-Pratiharas are particularly remembered for their sculptures, carved panels and construction of open pavilion style temples. However, the empire gradually weakened and by 10th century, many feudatories such as the Paramaras of Malwa, the Chandelas of Bundelkhand, the Kalachuris of Mahakoshal, the Tomaras of Haryana, and the Chauhans of Rajputana claimed their independence. Of them, the Chandelas are well known for the construction of Hindu and Jain temples of nagara-style architecture, which are now collectively known as the Khajuraho Group of Monuments, with certain popular erotic sculptures too.
The Gahadavala dynasty is among the last few influential kingdoms that existed and faced Islamic invasion before Delhi Sultanate was founded in India in 1206 ushering in a dominant alien rule in India with altogether a different culture and religion. The kings of this dynasty ruled parts of the present day Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in the Gangetic plains with their capital at Kashi (now Varanasi) during the 11th and 12th century CE, besides operating from Kanyakubja (Kannauj) too in the later part. Chandradeva is recorded as the first king of the dynasty, which was established around 1090 CE following the decline of the Kalchuris in the region, who ruled parts of the central India during 7th to early 13th century CE. The other known kings of the Gahadavala dynasty are Madanapala, Govindachandra, Vijayachandra, Jayachandra and Harishchandra. The Gahadavalas reached to their peak glory during the reign of Govindachandra who is known for annexing more Kalachuri territories and successfully facing Ghaznavid raids and potential adversary Palas. Gahadavala kings are believed to have followed Vaishnavite tradition and worshipped god Vishnu and his incarnations Sri Ram and Shree Krishna. Harishchandra (1194-1197 CE) is the last known king of the dynasty; though different versions exist but credible account of his reign and ultimate fate is not well documented.
Delhi as a capital and power centre of India emerged after the establishment of the Delhi Sultanate in 1206 following the final defeat of the Rajput Confederacy under the Ajmer ruler Prithviraj Chauhan in the war of Tarain in 1192 CE with Muhammad Ghori after the latter’s several failed attempts and setbacks in the past. After spearheading few years of massacre, loot and arson in various parts of northern India, Muhammad Ghori installed one of his slaves Qutb al-Din Aibak to rule the Delhi Sultanate, who established the Mamluk or Slave dynasty as first Muslim rule in parts of India. According to one account, Jayachandra (1170-1194 CE) of Gahadavala dynasty, nicknamed Jaichand in vernacular legends, was a powerful king of the dynasty run from the important cities of Kannauj and Kashi, who was defeated and killed by the Ghurid army in 1194. But another popular account chiefly based on medieval legendary text Prithviraj Raso illustrates that the Chauhan King Prithviraj married Samyukta, the daughter of King Jaichand against his wishes, which prompted him to be allied with Muhammad Ghori leading to the downfall of the Chauhan king. King Prithviraj was the last ruler belonging to the Chahamana (or Chauhan) dynasty in Rajputana (Rajasthan), which was originally founded by the 6th century ruler Vasudeva from Shakambhari (now Sambhar). There were several small states of the Chauhan clan in Rajasthan such as Shakambhari (Ajmer), Dholpur, Naddula (Nadol), Partabgarh, Jalore, Sirohi, Ranthambore, etc., and King Prithviraj was the last powerful king from Ajmer controlling vast areas including Rajasthan, Haryana and Delhi.
Indian History: Islamic and Colonial Era
Following the establishment of Delhi Sultanate in 1206, Sultans (Muslim kings) of Mamluk dynasty (1206-1290 CE), Khalji dynasty (1290-1320 CE), Tughlak dynasty (1320-1414 CE), Sayyad dynasty (1414-1451 CE) and Lodhi dynasty (1451-1526 CE) ruled parts of the northern India for over three centuries. Subsequently, Babur, a descendant of Timur and Genghis Khan from his father and mother lineage respectively, defeated and killed the Lodhi Sultan of Delhi in the Battle of Panipat in 1526 CE and founded the Mughal Empire that controlled a large territory of the modern day India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and parts of Southern Nepal. Founded by Babur (1526-1530 CE), the successive Mughal Emperors Humayun (1530-1556), Akbar (1556-1605 CE), Jahnangir (1605–1627 CE), Shahjehan (1628–1658 CE) and Aurangjeb (1658–1707 CE) ruled and expanded their influence through continuous invasions and wars on Indian regional powers and other independent kings. Subsequent Mughal successors were found to be weak and incompetent thus they ruled more as titular rulers; consequently, the Mughal Empire declined after 1707 CE. For the next one hundred years, the British East India Company consolidated their political and socio-economic power by subduing and grabbing the land and wealth of Mughals, their feudatories (Nawabs & Subedars) and other Indian Hindu rulers. After 1857 Revolt, India was put under the colonial rule of the British crown in 1857 CE through a formal legislation, which continued till independence on 15 August 1947.
The entire period of the Islamic rule in India is a sordid tale of persecution and barbaric acts involving the massacre of Indians mainly Hindus, rape and enslavement of women, massive destruction of Hindu, Jain and Buddh temples and libraries, and large scale conversion of people to Islam. While the foreign invaders like Mahmud of Ghazni, Muhammad Ghori, Timur Lang and Nadir Shah killed lakhs of non-combatant civilians (Timur alone had killed about one lakh Hindus near Delhi in 1398 CE), enslaved women and children, and took away plundered massive wealth, the various rulers of Delhi Sultanate and Mughal Empire too have no better record. For instance, the Mughal Emperor Akbar was considered as the most moderate and pacifist among the Mughal emperors and was given the title of “Akbar the Great” but two worst massacres of Hindus in Garha-Katanga (40,000 Hindus) in 1560 CE in Central India (now Madhya Pradesh) and Chittorgarh (30,000 Hindus) in 1568 CE in Rajputana (Rajasthan) were carried out under his orders only. Although several Muslim historians have gleefully recorded all such acts in their accounts, most of the legacy historians of the colonial and Independent era have glorified these Sultans and Emperors in history book with the tacit support of the political regime and the logic often put forth for this approach is for the sake of communal harmony in the post-colonial modern era.
Although the colonial and post-colonial historians have depicted and documented the Mughal rulers as the Emperors of India, the truth is they could only loosely control large parts of the North, Northwestern and Central India while the Indian (Hindu) rulers of South, East and Eastern parts, West and Rajputana did not accept their suzerainty, constantly defied them and so often recovered territories earlier lost to the Mughal army, through sustained struggle and efforts. Owing to this factor, rulers of the Delhi Sultanate and Mughal Empire remained in constant wars with other regional Hindu powers throughout the alleged Islamic era. There had been numerous occasions at different places when the armies of Indian rulers had effectively defeated or pushed back the invading forces of the Delhi Sultans, Mughal Emperors and their regional heads as Nawabs or Subedars. Thus history as purportedly written by the historians and adopted by the legacy Indian political regime after the Independence neither truly reflects the accurate position of the events and entities nor is fair with the Indian Hindu rulers. A brief account of some such major Indian powers is given in the following paragraphs.
Based in the Deccan Plateau, the Vijayanagara Empire was established in 1336 by two brothers Harihara I and Bukka Raya I of the Sangama dynasty that claimed ancient Yadava lineage. The empire was named after its capital Vijayanagara whose ruins are still found around the present day Hampi, protected as the world heritage site. During its peak days, it had subjugated almost entire South Indian ruling powers as well as defeating and pushing Turkic sultans of the Deccan beyond the Tungabhadra-Krishna river doab. After annexing Kalinga (the modern day Odisha) from the Gajapati Kingdom, the Vijayanagara Empire had become a notable power in South India and even Mughals could not dare to invade them. The empire lasted until 1646 CE although it had become weak after the Battle of Talikota in 1565 with the combined forces of the Deccan Sultanates. Harihara II, Deva Raya I and Deva Raya II were among the most successful kings of the dynasty. The empire was known for its efficient administration, overseas commerce and trade, new technologies in water management, patronage for the fine arts and literature, including astronomy, mathematics, medicine, music, theatre and historiography. Besides, by combining the temple building traditions of the South and Central India, the empire evolved their own Vijayanagara architecture for the construction of several indu temples.
The Kingdom of Mewar (728-1947 CE) or Udaipur state, established around the 7th century CE, was ruled by the Rajput kings of the Sisodia dynasty. This was an independent state that remained at constant war with the Sultans of Delhi Sultanate and Mughal emperors without accepting their suzerainty. During the course of history, at occasions Rajputs incurred heavy losses and had to retreat but on many occasions they also inflicted commensurate losses and defeated their enemies. For instance in 1303 CE, their capital fort Chittorgarh was besieged and taken by Alauddin Khalji but they regained control over the kingdom in 1326 CE. Then during the Mughal period, the kingdom under Rana Udai Singh II and Maharana Pratap was again at constant war with Emperor Akbar’s Mughal army. In the famous Battle of Haldighati fought on 18 June 1576 between the Mewar forces under Maharana Pratap and the Mughal forces led by Man Singh I of Amber, the latter prevailed but during the next few years Maharana Pratap and rebuilt his army, and captured all important forts in Mewar again except Chittorgarh. In yet another Battle of Dewair in 1582 CE, Mewar army led by Maharana Pratap’s son Amar Singh inflicted heavy defeat to the Mughal army led by Sultan Ghori. Mewar had regained most of their lost areas with the decline of the Mughal Empire and as an independent state was merged with the Indian Union in 1947 after signing the Instrument of Accession.
In fact, the Rajput kingdoms remained a dominant force in the Western and Central India all along during the Islamic rule under the Delhi Sultanate and Mughal Empire. Maharana Hammir of the Mewar dynasty had defeated and captured Muhammad Tughlak who had to pay huge ransom and relinquish all of the Mewar’s land to secure his own release. After this event, the Muslim rulers did not attack Chittor again for very long. The Rajput states were established even far east in Bengal as well as north into Punjab. Taking control of Gwalior, Man Singh Tomar had reconstructed the Gwalior Fort that has survived till date. Rana Kumbha of Mewar had expanded his kingdom defeating the Sultanates of Malwa and Gujarat. Rana Sanga was yet another powerful and capable ruler of the Sisodia dynasty who controlled parts of present-day Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. He had a series of battles against the Muslim rulers, notably against the Lodhi dynasty of Delhi. However, his ultimate loss in the Battle of Khanwa, fought between the armies of Babur and Rana Sanga on 16 March 1527 near Agra, paved way for the foundation of the Mughal Empire in India.
Despite the ruthless rule and barbaric acts during the times of war and peace, the Muslim rulers were not successful in their objective of destroying Hindu civilization to achieve the complete Gazwa-e-Hind in India. The Rajputs were not the only powers which vehemently opposed the Muslim rulers, the Marathas too played key role in weakening the Mughal Empire in India during the 17th and 18th centuries. The Maratha Empire or Maratha Confederacy evolved during the later part of the 17th century to dominate much of the Indian sub-continent during the next century. The Maratha rule formally began with the coronation of Shivaji as the Chhatrapati (Keeper of Umbrella). The Marathas were a Marathi-speaking warrior group from the western Deccan Plateau (now Maharashtra) who had united with an objective of Hindavi Swarajya (Self-rule of Hindus). To begin with, they fought against the Adil Shahi dynasty and Mughals under the leadership of Shivaji to carve out own kingdom with its capital at Raigad.
During the peak of their glory and power, the Maratha Empire comprised of much of the South including Tamil Nadu to Peshawar in the north (the present day Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan), and Bengal in the east. The chief credit to make Marathas a formidable power goes to Peshwa Bajirao I and Peshwa Madhavrao I. The Marathas defeated the Mughal army in their own capital i.e. the Battle of Delhi in 1737 CE and constantly engaged in running sustained military campaigns against Mughals, Nizam of Hyderabad, Nawab of Bengal and Durrani Empire to end the alien rule from the country. Under the leadership of Madhavrao I, the Marathas became a force to reckon with the confederacy of the Maratha states under the Gaekwads of Baroda, Scindias of Gwalior and Ujjain, Holkars of Indore and Malwa, Bhonsales of Nagpur, and Puars of Dhar and Dewas. The Maratha Empire dominated the Indian political scene through the 18th century and until 1818, when the combined Marathas were defeated by the forces of the East India Company in the 3rd Anglo-Maratha War which also firmly established the colonial rule in India.
The Sikh Empire (1799–1849) was founded towards the end of 18th century by Ranjit Singh in Punjab which posed major challenges to the might of British during the first half of the 19th century. Initially, the Sikhism was started by Guru Nanak Dev (1469-1539) as an offshoot from Hinduism, which evolved in a full-fledged religion in due course. Of the 10 Gurus, the 5th Guru Arjan Dev was executed through torture by Emperor Jehangir for his refusal to convert to Islam; also the 9th and 10th Gurus, Guru Tegh Bahadur and Guru Gobind Singh were martyred opposing Mughals for the cause of the Hindus and Sikhs. During its peak glory under Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780–1839), the Sikh Empire extended from the Khyber Pass to the western Tibet in the east-west direction and parts of Sindh (Pakistan) to Kashmir in south and north respectively. He successfully fought and defeated Afghans in Afghan-Sikh wars. However, after his death the Sikh Empire could not survive Anglo-Sikh wars under the rising power of the East India Company. After the Decline of Maratha power, the East India Company with their policy of “Divide and Rule” gradually subdued all other Indian kingdoms and sultanates to bring them either under direct control or made to pay tribute.
Among the old civilizations of the world history, if any civilization has successfully preserved its ancient customs and traditions along with associated values and virtues despite grave political, socio-economic and religious threats from the Islamic world and colonial powers over the last eight centuries of 2nd millenium CE, this is undoubtedly the Hindu civilization and Hinduism alone. Also no other civilization in the world ever had so diverse yet integrated cultural and religious attributes. The Hinduism is now universally accepted and regarded as the oldest surviving culture and religion in the world. This also raises an obvious query as to what is that underlying mysterious power or strength that has enabled Hindus to survive the worst threats for such a long period from the Islamic world and Colonial powers out to willfully destroy their culture and religion. The author finds while the rest of the world chiefly depended on the materialism for their progress and prosperity since the ancient times, the Sanatana culture of the Bharatvarsha (India) has always pursued a balanced approach towards materialism with focus on spiritualism for the same purpose. In the next few parts, the author proposes to deal with this complex material-cum-spiritual prowess of Hinduism in terms of spirituality, goals of life, religion, gods and goddesses, folklore, and so on, to unfold the inner strength of the Hindu civilization.
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