CHAPTER-20 : Central Asian Contact and Mutual Impact

Ancient History of India
Short Notes or Revision Notes 

Successors of the Mauryas

 Successor Kingdoms:

  • Eastern & Central India: Shungas, Kanvas, Satavahanas
  • North-Western India: Central Asian dynasties

The Indo-Greeks (2nd Century BC):

  • Invaded due to weakness of Seleucid empire (pushed by Scythians)
  • Conquered large parts of North-West India
  • Two Indo-Greek dynasties ruled simultaneously

Menander (165-145 BC):

  • Most famous Indo-Greek ruler
  • Capital: Sakala (Sialkot)
  • Engaged in Buddhist philosophical discussions (Milinda Panho)

Impact of Indo-Greeks:

  • Introduced coinage to India (including gold coins)
  • Influenced Gandhara art (Hellenistic features)

The Shakas (Scythians):

  • Overthrew Indo-Greek power in Bactria and India (larger territory)
  • Five branches ruled in different regions:
    • Afghanistan
    • Punjab (Taxila capital)
    • Mathura (2 centuries)
    • Western India (until 4th century)
    • Upper Deccan

Famous Shaka Rulers:

  • Vikramaditya (Ujjain): Defeated Shakas in 57 BC, Vikrama Samvat era begins
  • Rudradaman I (130-150 AD): Repaired Sudarshana lake (irrigation) in Gujarat

The Parthians:

  • Succeeded Shaka domination in North-West India
  • Originally from Iran
  • Famous Parthian King: Gondophernes

Successors of the Mauryas: The Kushans


  • Yuechi tribe (one of five clans)
  • Nomadic people from Central Asia


  • Displaced Shakas in Bactria (North Afghanistan)
  • Empire stretched from Oxus River to Ganges River, Khorasan to Pataliputra


  • Kadphises Dynasty (50-78 AD):
    • Kadphises I: Issued copper coins imitating Roman styles
    • Kadphises II: Issued gold coins, expanded east of Indus River
  • Kanishka Dynasty (78 – mid-3rd century AD):
    • Kanishka: Most famous ruler
      • Started Shaka era (used by Indian government)
      • Patron of Buddhism (held council in Kashmir)
      • Capital: Purushapura (Peshawar)
      • Second capital: Mathura (construction & sculpture)

Decline and Successors:

  • Sassanian Empire (Iran) replaced Kushans in Afghanistan & west of Indus River (mid-3rd century AD)
  • Kushan presence lingered in Kabul valley, Central Asia (3rd-4th century AD)
  • Indo-Sassanians occupied lower Indus region (mid-3rd century AD)
    • Introduced term “Hindustan” for the region

Cultural Impact of the Kushans

Material Culture:

  • Brick walls became prominent in construction.
  • Red ware pottery (plain & polished) was widespread.


  • Introduced superior cavalry and large-scale use of horses.
  • Equestrian figures found in Begram, Afghanistan showcase their horsemanship.


  • Introduced turbans, tunics, trousers, and long coats (sherwani is a descendant).
  • Central Asian influence on headwear (caps, helmets) and footwear (boots).

Trade and Economy:

  • Increased trade between Central Asia and India.
  • Kushans controlled the Silk Route, facilitating trade with China and the Roman Empire.
  • Widespread use of gold coins (first Indian rulers to do so).
  • Promoted agriculture: earliest large-scale irrigation systems in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia.


  • Adopted the title “king of kings,” suggesting control over many smaller kingdoms.
  • Strengthened the satrap system (provincial governors) from the Shakas.
  • Military governorships (strategoi) for maintaining control over conquered territories.

Social and Religious Impact of the Kushans

Assimilation of Foreign Rulers:

  • Greeks, Shakas, Parthians, and Kushans eventually assimilated into Indian society.
  • Many became warriors (kshatriyas).

Religious Trends:

  • Rise of Vaishnavism (worship of Vishnu) among Central Asians.
  • Example: Heliodorus, a Greek ambassador, built a pillar for Vasudeva (form of Vishnu) in Besnagar (2nd century BC).

Mahayana Buddhism:

  • Developed as a response to perceived laxity in Buddhist practices.
  • Offered a more accessible path to enlightenment.
  • Hinayana (“Lesser Vehicle”) became the term for traditional Buddhism.
  • Kanishka, a Kushan emperor, became a great patron of Mahayana Buddhism.
  • He convened a council in Kashmir to codify Buddhist teachings.

Art and Sculpture:

  • Kushan rule fostered artistic exchange between different regions.
  • Central Asian, Gandhara, and Mathura schools of art emerged.
  • Gandhara art:
    • Blended Indian and Central Asian styles.
    • Buddha depicted in Graeco-Roman style.
  • Mathura art:
    • Indigenous Indian style influenced by Gandhara.
    • Produced beautiful Buddha figures and a statue of Kanishka.

Cultural Impact of the Kushans: Language, Literature, and Science

Multilingual Empire:

  • Kushans used Greek, Kharoshthi, and Brahmi scripts on coins and inscriptions.

Literary Developments:

  • Junagadh inscription (150 AD) – early example of “kavya” poetry style.
  • Ashvaghosha:
    • Buddharchita (biography of Buddha)
    • Saundarananda (Sanskrit kavya)
  • Mahayana Buddhist texts: Mahavastu, Divyavadana (avadana genre)


  • Possible Greek influence on Indian theatre.
  • Outdoor and indoor theatres found in Ramgarh caves.
  • “Yavanika” (derived from “Yavana” for Greeks) referred to theatre performances.
  • Bharata’s Natyasastra: a key work on dramaturgy.

Science and Technology:

  • Indian astrology influenced by Greek ideas (horasastra from horoscope).
  • Greek “drachma” became “drama” in Sanskrit.
  • Brahmi script used by Greek rulers, Indian motifs on their coins.
  • Charakasamhita: medical text with plant-based remedies (aushadhi)
  • Stirrup and possibly leather shoemaking introduced by Kushans.

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