Post-Mauryan period - Shungas, Guptas, southern India

After the fall of the Mauryan dynasty (185 BCE) and before the beginning of the Gupta dynasty (320 AD), many smaller Kingdoms ruled northern India. Among them are the Shungas, Shakas, Kushans, and western Satrapas. However, during this time, the political condition in the southern part of India did not go through many upheavals.

Dream of Queen Maya - Artwork during the Shunga Period

Southern India

The most powerful post-Mauryan dynasty in the Deccan region was the Satavahanas, who established their authority in the eastern Deccan, Andhra, and western coast. Having control over the Indian sea coast, the Satavahans conducted extensive trade with the Romans.

Following the Satavahans in southern India were multiple dynasties such as Cholas, Cheras, Pandya, and Zamorin. Belonging to the Sangam period (3rd BCE to 3rd AD), the Chola, Chera, and Pandyas were the most influential dynasties of southern India. The one feature common to all these rulers was the control over the sea coast and continued trade and business with the Romans.

Sangam literature

Sangam, which translates to 'the association', was the period in south India that saw the rise of secular Tamil literature. This body of literature provides valuable information about the rulers and the life in that period. The first Sangam, or conference, was held in Madurai under the patronage of the Pandyan ruler, marking the period between 3rd BCE and 3rd CE as the Sangam period.

Early south Indian history

Uttarapatha and Dakshinapatha

The two main trade routes connecting northern India with southern India were the Uttarapatha and Dakshinapatha.

The trade route Uttarapatha connected cities Delhi, Mathura, Varanasi, Patna, and Kolkata from modern India. This route established by Chandragupta Maruya was further developed by King Ashoka and later perfected by the Gupta emperor, Samudragupta. In many Buddhist texts, Panini’s works are among the ancient scriptures that mention Uttarapatha.

Dakshinapatha connected peninsular India with the northern and western parts of India. Kautilya, in his Arthashastra, mentions the trading of precious gems, pearls, and textiles between north and southern India via these trade routes.

Post-Mauryan trade routes

The rise of the Gupta dynasty in northern India

The Gupta period in India – 3rd CE to 6th CE – is hailed as the golden period. The prominent rulers of the dynasty are Chandragupta I, Samudragupta, Chandragupta II, and Kumaragupta. The clan saw the rise of noteworthy academicians, mathematicians, poets, and statesmen. Chandragupta II, also called Vikramaditya, took the empire to great heights. His court employed nine erudite achievers in various fields, collectively named the Navaratnas – or the nine gems.

The prominent achievers in Vikramaditya’s court were Varahamihira, the astrologer and astronomer; Aryabhata, mathematician and astronomer; Kalidasa, classical Sanskrit playwright; Vatstsayana, author of Kamasutra. Art, architecture, science, and trade flourished during the Gupta era.

Gupta Age - Information
Arts, science, and technology in the gupta period

Trade and commerce during the Gupta period:

Chandragupta II, who conquered the Malwa and Gujarat regions in the west, had control over the seaports in the west and east. Internal trade was carried out through roads and rivers, and the most traded goods included clothes, spices, foodgrain, and gems. The Gupta traders exported clothes, coconuts, and ivory articles, among others, to China, Southeast Asian countries, and Rome. The chief commodities imported into India were silk, gold, and horses.

Numerous inscriptions, coins, and an account of Chinese traveller Fa Hian describe the Gupta rule in detail.

Chandragupta II, coin-img2
Chandragupta II, coin-img1

Nalanda - the seat of learning

Nalanda, a Buddhist university, was established by Kumara Gupta in the 5th century CE. The world's first residential university, Nalanda promoted arts and academics till the 12th century CE. Many scholars visited Nalanda seeking deeper knowledge of India and Buddhism. One of the prominent visitors who has left behind valuable information about Nalanda and India was Huan Tsang.

Foreign visitors during ancient India