II. Ancient and Classical Periods, 3500 B.C.E.–500 C.E. > C. Early Civilizations and Classical Empires of South and East Asia > 2. South Asia, 72 B.C.E.–500 C.E.
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
2. South Asia, 72 B.C.E.–500 C.E.
By the end of this period, the rule of the Guptas (c. 300–700 C.E.) over much of north India provided an integrative pattern taken by later historians as representative of a “classical civilization.” The characteristics of Gupta rule, in which some centralization and some rise in the standard of living (especially for elite groups) took place, were taken as establishing certain norms for a broad-based empire ruling over much of the subcontinent. At the same time, and in tension with this characterization of a political “norm,” a series of regional politico-cultural clusters began to solidify that provided alternative bases for state formations. In particular, based on the very different geographical and agrarian patterns in the north and south, these halves of the subcontinent tended to foster different sizes and forms of polities. (See South Asia, 500–1199)  1
a. North India: Punjab and the Gangetic Plain
1st Century B.C.E
Dating of the known Saka rulers, the “Great King Moga” or Maues, Azes, and Azilises, raises a complex chronological problem affecting the whole epoch from 100 B.C.E. to 200 C.E. It springs from multiplicity of eras, which are hardly ever explicitly identified.  2
The Pahlavas (Parthians closely related to the Scythians) under Vonones and his brother Spalirises became independent in eastern Iran with the title of “King of Kings” sometime (c. 30? B.C.E.) after the death of Mithridates II (88 B.C.E., supposed by L. de la Vallée Poussin to begin a Pahlava era). Azes II, son of Spalirises, succeeded the Sakas in the Punjab. Pacores was the last to rule as suzerain, although others probably continued as satraps.  3
The Kushana Kujula Kadphises forcibly united the five tribes of Yüeh-chih in Bactria (end 1st century B.C.E.) and seized from the Pahlavas the Kabul Valley and adjacent regions. His son Vima Kadphises conquered northwestern India and ruled it by deputy till his death at 80. An inscription near Panjtar speaks of a “Gushana Great King” under date “122” which is 64 or 34 C.E. by the Azes or Pahlava systems. The inscriptions of “136” similarly belong to 78 or 48 C.E.  4
c. 78–176+ C.E
A second Kushana dynasty was founded by  5
c. 78–96+ C.E
KANISHKA, who extended his rule from Benares and Kabul to the Vindhyas, and established his capital at Peshawar. Whether or not the era he founded is the “Saka” era of 78 C.E., he probably came to the throne near that date.  6
Kanishka appears to have been tolerant in religion and built a great stupa at Peshawar over relics of the Buddha. A fourth church council, unknown to the Pali sources, was apparently convoked at Jalandhara in the Punjab by the powerful Sarvastivadin, a realist sect of the conservative Theravada (Hinayana, (See 2nd Century C.E)). It probably supervised translation into Sanskrit of the canon which had been fixed in Prakrit in Mathura, the Punjab, and Kashmir in the last centuries B.C.E. The earliest and most vigorous classical Sanskrit is found in Asvaghosha's Saundarananda (“Conversion of Nanda”) and the Buddhacharita, an artistic versified life of the Buddha, together with a work long supposed to be his Sutralamkara, which is now identified as the Kalpanamanditika of Kumaralata, a junior contemporary.  7
2nd Century C.E
Kanishka's successors with their inscriptions (dated in terms of his reign) are: his son Vasishka (24, 28, 29); the latter's son Kanishka II (41); his younger brother Huvishka (29 or 33–60); Vasushka, son of Kanishka II (68, 74); and Vasudeva (76–98).  8
Ujjayini (Ujjain) became a center of Sanskrit learning and was taken as meridian by Indian astronomers. At Mathura, where sculpture early resembled that of Bharhut and San¯chi, and later imitated the forms of Gandhara, the heavy drapery of the Hellenistic school was rendered transparent and schematized in decorative ridges, creating the so-called Udayana Buddha carried to China and Japan.  9
The Buddhist community was now divided between two means to salvation: the Hinayana, or Lesser Vehicle, which retained much of the primitive simplicity of the Dharma, “Law” by which Buddhism was then named; and the Mahayana, or Great Vehicle, which emphasized personal devotion to Sakyamuni and exalted Bodhisattva (future Buddhas) as saviors. Although practically deified in the Lalitavistara (2nd century ?, Chinese trans. 308) and Saddharma-pundarika-sutra, “Lotus of the Good Law” (Chinese trans., 265–316), Buddha is regarded as but the human representative (manushi-buddha), for the current epoch, of an infinite series of buddhas. Popular bodhisattvas are Avalokitesvara (Lotus Sutra, ch. 24), Manjusri (Avatamsaka-sutra, 2nd–3rd centuries, Chinese trans. 317–420), Samantabhadra, and Kshitigarbha, all of whom have deferred their own illumination to succor struggling mankind. The goal of effort is no longer sainthood or final absorption in nirvana, but direct attainment of buddhahood or rebirth to indefinite residence in a celestial paradise. Nagarjuna (2nd century), founder of the Madhyamika Sutra, teaches that all sensory and mental experience is illusion and comments on the Prajn¯aparamita, “Perfect Wisdom” (Chinese trans. 160), which consists in recognition of the Buddhist law as sole reality.  10
Already before this era Indian writers recognized and wrote treatises about three phases of human existence: dharma, religious and moral duty; artha, politics and practical life; and kama, love. The Artha-sastra (compounded from earlier materials c. 300–330) aims to teach a prince the whole science of successful rule according to accepted principles. It assumes autocratic monarchy, justification of all means by the end (personal aggrandizement), and chronic war. It advocates use of spies in all quarters; deception, intimidation, false witness, and confiscation to obtain money; cunning; and assassination. Virtuous rule is described because it is desirable to win affection of a conquered people. The Kamasutra (“Laws of Love”) by Vatsyayana Mallanaga (c. 4th century or later) imitates the Artha-sastra in both form and morals.  11
320–c. 535
The GUPTA DYNASTY united north India after five centuries' division.  12
320–c. 330
Chandragupta I ruled from Pataliputra (Patna), having strengthened his position by marriage into the ancient Lichchavi tribe.  13
c. 330–c. 375
Samudragupta, his son, completed the conquest of the north (Aryavarta) and won glory by traversing Telugu lands to force homage of the Pallava. He claimed to receive tribute from southeastern Bengal; Assam; and Nepal; with presents from the Kushan “son of Heaven and king of kings” (now actually vassal of the Sassanids) in Kabul-Kapisa-Gandhara; the satrap of Ujjain; and the King Meghavanna (352–379) of Ceylon (who founded a monastery at Gaya for his subjects). He revived the Vedic horse-sacrifice which sanctified claim to the title of “universal monarch.” He was a patron of poetry and music.  14
c. 375–c. 415
Chandragupta II Vikramaditya (on throne in 379) ended the satrapy of Ujjain by conquest of Malwa, Gujerat, and Surashtra (between 388 and 401). He moved his capital to Ayodhya (in Awadh) and then to Kausambi on the Jumna.  15
c. 415–455
Kumaragupta I probably founded the monastic community at Nalanda which was the principal Buddhist seminary till it burned c. 988.  16
455–c. 467
Skandagupta repulsed the White Huns, as heir apparent and as emperor (455).  17
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.