Central Asian Contact

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Central Asian Contact

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In Eastern India, Central India & the Deccan, the Mauryas were succeeded by a number of native rulers such as the Shungas, the Kanvas & the Satavahanas. In N.W. India, they were succeeded by a no. of ruling dynasties from central Asia.
1. The Indo-Greeks History :

  • A number of invasions took place around 200 BC. The first to invade India were the Greeks, who were also called the Indo – Greeks or Bactrian Greeks (because they ruled Bactria). It is said that they pushed forward as far as Ayodhya and Pataliputra.
  • The most famous Indo Greek ruler was Menander (165 – 145 BC), also known as Milinda. He had his capital at Sakala (modern Sialkot) in Punjab.
  • He was converted into Buddhism by Nagasena. The conversation between the two has been described in the Pali text, Milinda panho or ‘The Questions of Milinda’.
  • Greeks were the first to issue coins which can be definitely attributed to the kings, and also the first to issue gold coins in India.
  • They also introduced the practice of military governorship. The governors were called ‘Strategos’.
  • The Greek rule introduced features of Hellenistic art in the north-west frontier of India. Gandhara art was its best example.
  • The term ‘Horshastra’, used for astrology in Sanskrit is derived from the Greek term ‘Horoscope’.

2. The Shakas Or Scythians History (90 BC):

  • The Greeks were followed by the Shakas, who controlled a larger part of India than the Greek did.
  • There were 5 branches of the Shakas with their seats of power in different parts of India and Afghanistan.
  • A king of Ujjain, who called himself Vikramaditya, defeated Shakas. An era called the Vikram Samrat is reckoned from the event of his victory over the Shakas in 57 BC. (From this time onward, Vikramaditya became a coveted title).
  • The most famous Shaka ruler in India was Rudradaman I (AD 130 – 150). His achievements are highlighted in his Junagarh inscription. This inscription records in details the repairs of Sudrashana Lake in Kathiarwar. It is the first major inscription to be written in Sanskrit.

3. The Parthians History :

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  • Originally they lived in Iran, invaded at the beginning of Christian era, from where they moved to India. In comparison to Greeks and Shakas, they occupied only a small portion in N.W. India in the first century.
  • The most famous Parthian King was Gondophernes (AD 19 – 45), in whose reign St. Thomas is said to have come to India for the propagation of Christianity.

4. The Kushans in India (45 AD):

  • Came from north central Asia near China. Their empire included a good part of central Asia, a portion of Iran, a portion of Afghanistan, Pakistan & almost the whole of north India.
  • Kanishka (AD 78-144) was their most famous king. He had two capitals- first at Purushpur, near modern Peshawar and second at Mathura.
  • He patronized the following persons:
  1. Ashwaghosha (wrote ‘Buddhacharita’, which is the biography of Buddha and ‘Sutralankar’)
  2. Nagarjuna (wrote ‘Madhyamik Sutra’)
  3. Vasumitra (Chairman of fourth Buddhist Council)
  4. Charak (a physician, wrote ‘Sasruta’.
  • Kanishka controlled the famous silk route in Central Asia, which started from China and passed through his empire in Central Asia and Afghanistan to Iran and Western Asia which formed part of Roman Empire.
  • Kanishka is known in history for two reasons:
  1. He started an era in AD 78, which is now known as Saka era and is used by the Govt, of India.
  2. He extended his whole-hearted patronage to Buddhism (Held the fourth Buddhist Council in Kashmir).
  • Some of the successors of Kanishka bore typical Indian names as Vasudeva.
  • The Gandhara School of art received royal patronage of the Kushans.

Impacts of Central Asian Contacts :

  • Introduced the use of burnt bricks for flooring and that of tiles for both flooring and roofing.
  • Introduced the use of riding horse on a large scale. The Shakas and Kushans introduced turban, tunic, trousers, and heavy long coats. They also brought in cap, helmet and boots which were used by warriors.
  • In the religious field, the Greek ambassador Heliodorus set up a pillar in honour of Vasudeva near Vidisa in M.R.
  • The Kushan Empire gave rise to several schools of art – Central Asian, Gandhara & Mathura.
  • Mathura produced beautiful images of Buddha, but it is also famous for the headless erect statue of Kanishka.
  • Vatsyayana wrote Kamasutra.