History – Eras & Dynasties

The Eras

a) Vikram Era—58 BC, b) Saka Era—78 AD, c) Kalachuri Era—248 AD, d) Gupta Era—319-20 AD, e) Harsha Era—606 AD, f) Nevari Era of Nepal—October 20, 879 AD. g) Kollane Era of Malabar—825 AD, h) Chalukya-Vikramaditya Era—1075 AD, i) Ilahi Era started by Akbar—1556 AD.

Alexander’s Invasion (326 BC)

Alexander, son of Philip, King of Macedonia (Greece), crossed the Indus in 327 BC After defeating Porus near Jhelum and subjugating other tribes he reached Beas from where he retreated as his army refused to proceed further. At that time India was divided into a number of independent kingdoms. The most powerful kingdom in Northern India was that of Magadha ruled by Nanda Dynasty with its capital at Pataliputra (modern Patna). Alexander had to face stiff resistance from the small monarchies and republics. He returned by way of the Indus and died on his way to Babylon in 323 BC at the age of 33. Greek rule in north-west India came to an end soon after his death.

The invasion of Alexander did not produce any major political effect. It however, opened the land route from Europe to India. At the same time, it paved the way for the political unity of India.

Sunga dynasty

This dynasty was established by Pushyamitra Sunga in about 185 BC after slaying the last prince of the Maurya dynasty named Brihadratha. Sunga dynasty is said to have lasted for 112 years until 73 BC.

The reign of Pushyamitra appears to mark a violent Brahmanical reaction against Buddhism, which had enjoyed much favour in the time of Ashoka. Pushyamitra also repelled the invasion of Greek king, Demetrios, son of Euthydemos.

The capital of this dynasty was Pataliputra.

Satavahana dynasty

This dynasty, called ‘Andhras’ in Puranas, mentions the name of thirty kings whose rule lasted for a period of about four centuries and a half. The first king of the line was Simuka who probably ruled for 23 years from about 235 BC to 212 BC. He is said to have destroyed the Kanvas. The capital of this dynasty was Pratishthana (now Paithan) on the upper Godavari.

Maurya Dynasty (322-185 BC)

Chandra Gupta Maurya (322-289 BC) was the founder of the Maurya dynasty and also founder of the first historical Empire in India. With the help of his wise and able tutor (afterwards Minister)—Kautilya or Chanakya— he drove the Greeks out of the Punjab and conquered Magadha. He also defeated Seleucus in 305 BC Megasthenes, the Greek Ambassador sent by Seleucus came to his court and wrote the book “Indica” which gives valuable information about that period.

Ashoka, the Great (273-232 BC) the most famous king of Maurya dynasty and one of the greatest kings in history; conquered Kalinga in 261 BC, but this battle killed the ‘soldier’ in him and he embraced and preached Buddhism. He was the first Indian King to speak directly to the people through his inscriptions.

The Ashokan inscriptions, in the form of 44 royal orders, were composed in Prakrit language, and written in Brahmi script (from left to right) throughout the greater part of the empire. But in the north-western part, they appear in Kharosthi script (from right to left), and in Kandhar in Afghanistan, they were written even in Aramaic, in Greek script and Greek language.

The Mauryan period constitutes a landmark in the system of taxation in Ancient India. The Samaharta was the highest officer in charge of assessment, and the Sannidhata was the Chief custodian of the State treasury and store-house.

The punch-marked silver coins, which carry the symbols of the peacock, and the hill and crescent, formed the imperial currency of the Mauryas.

The Mauryas introduced stone masonry on a wider scale.

In the Mauryan period, burnt bricks were used for the first time in northeastern India, the Maurya structures made of burnt-bricks have been found in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh Houses were made of both bricks and timber. Megasthenes speaks through Indica that there were wooden structures at the Maurya capital ‘Patliputra’.

The Maurya empire was finally destroyed by Pushyamita Sunga, a brahmana general in Mauryan army, by killing Brihadarth, the last Mauryan King, in 185 BC. The Sungas ruled in Patliputra and Central India and they performed several Vedic sacrifices in order to mark the revival of the brahmanical way of life. They were succeeded by the Kanvas who were also brahmans.

Kushan Dynasty (AD 120 to AD 162)

Kushans were a war-like tribe driven out by the Chinese from their country. They came to India in the Ist century AD. Kanishka was the third and the greatest king of Kushan dynasty; was a great conqueror; became a patron of Buddhism and was the only ruler of India who had his territory even in Central Asia beyond the Pamirs. Kushans were the first rulers in India to issue gold coins on a wider scale. Along with the Sakas, they strengthened the idea of the divine origin of Kingship. They also introduced Satrap system of government.

Gupta Dynasty (AD 320-550)

The Imperial Guptas ruled for about 200 years (AD 320-550) and founded a powerful empire. It was the golden period of the Hindus. The founder of this powerful kingdom was Chandra Gupta-I (AD 320-330). He started the Gupta Era. The other famous kings of the Gupta dynasty were Samudra Gupta (AD 330-375) and Chandra Gupta II, popularly known as Vikramaditya (AD 375-413).

The Imperial Guptas freed the country from foreign domination and the country made much progress politically, intellectually and culturally during their reigns.

Chandra Gupta I (AD 320-330): Founded a powerful kingdom. Started the Gupta Era.

Samudra Gupta (330-375): son and successor of Chandra Gupta I; one of the most powerful and the ablest of the Hindu kings; a great military genius, a great scholar, poet and musician; known as the Indian Napoleon on account of his great conquests.

Chandra Gupta II (Vikramaditya) (AD 375-413): was as brave as his father Samudra Gupta; defeated the Saka rulers of Malava, Gujarat and Kathiawar and thus wiped away the last trace of foreign rule from India; visit of Fahein, the first Chinese pilgrim; art and literature flourished; great personages who lived during his period include Kalidasa—poet and dramatist, known as the Shakespeare of India; Aryabhatta, Varahamihira and Brahmagupta—the greatest mathematicians and astronomers of their times; Kumarila Bhatta and Shankaracharya—the great preachers of Hinduism and Dhanwantri—a great physician. A Gupta inscription from Allahabad district suggests that decimal system was known in India at the beginning of 5th century AD.

Huns

The Huns (5th century AD) were a wild and fierce nomadic tribe of Central Asia who invaded India in the middle of the 5th century.

Their attack destroyed the Gupta power and many small kingdoms were set up in the country. The Hun Power came to end in AD 450 and many of the Huns embraced Hinduism.

Chalukya Dynasty (AD 450-1189)

The Chalukya dynasty was founded by Chulik, the barbarian Gujar chieftain. The greatest of the Chalukyas was Pulakesin II (608-642), a contemporary of Harsha. Pulakesin II defeated Harsha when the latter attempted to invade the Deccan. Chalukyas and Pallavas were hereditary enemies and the two royal houses carried on a ceaseless struggle for supremacy. Pulakesin II was defeated and probably slain by Narasimhavarman, the Pallava king of Kanchi. By the end of the twelfth century, the Chalukya empire was split up among the Hoysalas of Mysore, the Yadavas of Devagiri, and the Kakatiyas of Warangal.

Hoysala Dynasty (AD 1006-1343)

Hoysala was a dynasty of Mysore which came from the ruins of Chaulakyan empire. It is also at times spoken of as the Later Chaulakya dynasty, or the feudatories of Chaulakyas. Its traditional founder was Sala (1006), a Jain. His capital was Dorasamundra, now Halebid.

The Hoysalas attained great prominence under Vishnuvardhana. They are notable for having raised unique temples especially the Chenna Kesava temple built in 1133 at Belur.

It was one of the most powerful dynasty in the Deccan. Their shortlived dominion was shattered in 1310 by the attack of Malik Kafur and Khawja Haji, the generals of Ala-ud-din Khilji who ravaged the kingdom and sacked the capital.

Vardhana Dynasty (AD 606-647)

Harsha Vardhana (AD 606-647): was the king of Thanesar who conquered nearly the whole of Northern India and established a strong empire. He was the last great Hindu king of Northern India.

The famous Chinese pilgrim Hiuen-Tsang visited India (630-44) during his reign.

Banabhatta was the court poet of Harsha and was the source of information about him. He wrote Harshacharitra, Harsha’s biography and Kadambri.

Harsha himself was a poet and dramatist. The three Sanskrit dramas attributed to him are: Ratnavali, Priyadarsika, and Nagananda.

During his reign, the high officers of the State were not paid in cash but they were assigned “jagirs” in return of their services. He moved his capital from Thanesar to Kanauj.

He was defeated by Pulakesin-II of the Chalukya dynasty.

The last Buddhist empire in India was that of Harshavardhana. Information regarding time of Harsha is contained in the books of Kalhana.

The Rajputs (AD 650-1200)

After the death of Harsha, the brave Rajputs established their rule in the whole of Northern India and formed several petty independent kingdoms. These kingdoms lasted for about 500 years and then succumbed to the Muslim invaders one by one. The well known Rajput rulers of this period were: Prithvi Raj Chohan, the king of Delhi and Ajmer (Chand Bardai, the author of Prithvi Raj Raso, lived during his time). He defeated Mohammed Ghori in 1191 at the battle of Tarain but next year Mohammed Ghori defeated and killed him. Jai Chand Rathor was the last and most famous king whom Mohammed Ghori defeated and killed in 1194. Bihar was ruled by Palta dynasty and Bengal by Sena dynasty. In 1199 Mohammed Bakhtiar Khilji swept away both of them. The Chandel Rajputs ruled the Bundelkhand kingdom. In 1203 Qutab-ud-din Aibak conquered it. Sisodia dynasty founded by Bapa Rawal was ruling in Mewar with Chittor as its capital. Mewar rose to great power under Rana Kumbha (15th century). The Rana defeated the Muslims and erected the Tower of Victory at Chittor to commemorate this victory. Rana Sangram Singh (Sanga) and Rana Pratap belonged to this dynasty. Mirabai, the celebrated devotee to Lord Krishna was the daughterin-law of Rana Kumbha.

Rashtrakutas, Pratiharas, and Palas (AD 700-1200)

These dynasties were involved in ‘tripartite struggle’ between themselves. The object of political ambition of all was to conquer and hold the city of Kanauj, which had become the symbol of imperial power.

Rashtrakutas: The famous king of this dynasty was Amoghavarsha. His long reign (814-80) was distinguished for patronage of Jaina religion and of regional literature. His main problem was the rebellious feudatories. In 753, they brought the first Chaulakya dynasty to an end but by the end of the tenth century, Chaulakyas brought the Rashtrakuta dynasty to an end.

Pratiharas: were descendants of the Gujara people of Rajasthan in Western India. The Arabs conquered Sind in 712 but their attempts at further conquests were resisted both by Pratiharas and Rashtrakutas. After successfully resisting the Arabs, the pratiharas ruled over a large part of Rajasthan and also captured Kanauj.

Palas: Who controlled most of Bengal and Bihar, was the third power involved in the three-sided conflict between Rashtrakutas and Pratiharas over the control of Kanauj. The king of Palas was Gopala who attained renown from the fact that he was not the hereditary king but was elected. He established the Pala dynasty but it was his son Dharampala who made it a force in north Indian politics.

Chola Dynasty

The Chola dynasty was an ancient Tamil kingdom on the lower coast of India along the banks of the river Cauvery. They were the leading power of the south. Cholas reached zenith of their power under Rajaraja I, the Great (985-1014). He conquered the territories of the Cheras, Pandyas, Vengi, Kalinga and even Ceylon and the Laccadive and Maldive Islands. Temple architecture was the most developed under Cholas. The great Siva temple at Tanjore, the masterpiece of Chola architecture, was built by him. Village autonomy was a unique feature of the administrative system of Cholas. Their power ultimately declined in the 13th century when their territory was divided between the Hoysalas of Mysore and the Pandyas of Madura. Karikal the greater King of Cholas founded the new capital at Puhar.

Bahmani Kingdom (1346-1526)

It was a Muslim Kingdom established in the Deccan during the reign of Mohammad Tughlak and founded in 1347 by Zafar Khan, a brave soldier.

The most important person of this kingdom was Mahmud Gawan, a Persian who was a minister for a long time. He was put to death by the king and after that this kingdom began to decline and was split up into five independent States, viz., (1) Bidar (2) Berar (3) Ahmednagar (4) Bijapur (5) Golkonda. Even after this disintegration, the States continued their wars with the Hindu kingdom of Vijayanagar and at last, in 1565 they combined (except Berar) and destroyed the Vijayanagar Kingdom at the Battle of Talikota.

Vijayanagar Kingdom (1336-1565)

It was a Hindu Kingdom in the Deccan, situated to the south of Bahmani kingdom from the Krishna to Cape Comorin, and founded during the reign of Mohammad Tughlak by two Hindu brothers Hari Har and Bukka Raya in 1336 in order to check the tide of Muslim conquests. The most famous Raja of this kingdom was Raja Krishna Dev, the last great Hindu ruler of Southern India (1509-1529). He was a very learned man, capable ruler and a great warrior, who often defeated the Muslims. The last king of this dynasty was Ram Raja. In 1564-65 a fierce battle was fought at Talikota between the Hindus and the Muslims in which Ram Raja and about one lakh Hindus were killed. Muslims were victorious and this ended the Vijayanagar kingdom.

The Marathas

The Marathas rose to power during the second half of the seventeenth century. Their rise is considered to be an important factor in the Indian political life. The Marathas were then the strongest of the indigenous powers. They aspired after India’s sovereignty. Under Shivaji (1627-80) they became a great power. Under Peshwas, during the weak rule of Aurangzeb’s successors, they made a bold bid to build up a Hindu Padshahi. Baji Rao was the ablest of the Peshwas whose policy was to strike at the very heart of the Mughal power. He conquered Gujarat, Malwa and Bundelkhand and advanced as far as Delhi. But he died in 1740 leaving the reins of affairs in the hands of his son Balaji, the third Peshwa who at best was a reckless person. The Maratha power under him extended from one end of India to the other and was at its zenith but in the intoxication of success, he failed to win over the Rajputs, Jats and Sikhs. Just at that time when the Marathas were master of nearly the whole of India, a Muslim coalition headed by Ahmed Shah Abdali inflicted a crushing defeat to the Peshwa’s forces at Panipat in January 1761. The Marathas lost, but neither side gained control of India. The field was left clear to a body of foreign traders viz., the English East India Company. The strongest among the Marathas was Chhatrapati Shivaji.

The Sikhs

The Sikh community was founded as a religious sect by Guru Nanak during the religious revival of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Guru Gobind Singh (1666-1707), the tenth and the last Guru of the Sikhs, transformed the religious sect into a military brotherhood. In the confusion and disorder that followed the invasion of Nadir Shah and Ahmed Shah Abdali, they increased their military strength and became a strong power.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh was the greatest Indian ruler of his time and founder of the Sikh rule in the Punjab. Born in 1780 at Gujranwala, he occupied Lahore in 1799 at the age of 19 and made it his capital. He conquered Amritsar in 1802, occupied Ludhiana and after incessant wars, annexed Kangra, Attock, Multan, Kashmir, Hazara, Bannu, Derajat and Peshawar. He died on the 27th June 1839. His empire at that time included the Punjab and Kashmir and touched the base of the Afghan hills.

The Sikh power was, however, broken by the British after the death of Ranjit Singh. The British annexed the kingdom of the Sikhs.

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