Foreign invasion of NW India: Shakas, Parthians, Kushanas

Foreign invasion of NW India: Shakas, Parthians, Kushanas


Foreign invasion of NW India: Shakas, Parthians, Kushanas

Foreign invasion of NW India

  • Bactrians & Parthians (Iranians) became independent from Syrian (Greek) rule around 300 BC
  • Around 200 BC, B.C. Demetrius, the Greek ruler of Bactria invaded Afganistan & Punjab & occupied them.
  • From Taxila he sent his 2 commanders, Appolodotus & Menander for further conquest.
  • Appolodotus conquered Sindh & marched upto Ujjain
  • Menander extended his rule upto Mathura & from there attempted to capture Patliputra, but was stopped by Vasumitra (Grandson of Pusyamitra Sunga)
  • Menander, also called Milinda, formed his capital at Sakala (Sialcot) & took great interest in Buddhism. His dialogues with Buddhist monk Nagsena were compiled in Pali work “Milindpanho” or questions of Milinda.
  • Milinda, finally embraced Buddhism under Buddhist monk Nagarjuna
  • A Greek ambassador, Heliodorus, became vaishnavite (Vasudev worshiper mainly) & erected ‘Garuna Pillar’ at Besnagar (Vidisa) – MP
  • Indo-Greeks were 1st to issue gold coins in India

Shakas (Iranian Sythians)

  • Greeks were followed by Scythians (Shakas) who controlled much larger area of India then Greek did. There were 5 branches of Shakas in 5 different directions in India & Afghanistan.
  • Most famous Shaka ruler in India was Rudradaman 1 who ruled not only Sindh but also considerable part of Gujrat, Konkan, Malwa & Kathiawar.
  • Rudradaman 1 is famous in history for his repair work of Sudarshana Lake at Kathiawar & for issuing 1st ever long inscription in chase Sanskrit whose he was a lover of


Around 57 B.C, we hear of a king of Ujjain who fought effectively against Shakas & emerged victorious, He called himself ‘Vikramaditya’, by whose name an era Vikram Samvat is reckoned. Henceforth, Vikramaditya became a coveted title & whosoever achieved anything great adopted this title.

Parthians (Pahlavas)

  • Parthians (Iranians) overthrew Shakas from Taxila around 1st century.
  • Most famous Parthian king was Gondopherens, in whose reign St. Thomas is said to have visited India for propagation of Christianity.



  • Branch of Yuchis or Tocharians tribe from north central Asia basically from neighbourhood of China
  • They 1st occupied Bactria or North Afghanistan, displacing Shakas & then gradually moved upto Kabul valley & seized Gandhara by crossing Hindukush range, replacing rule of Greeks & Parthians from these areas.
  • Finally, they setup their authority over lower Indus basin & Greater part of Ganga basin
  • Founder of Kushana dynasty was Kadphises 1 who issued coins in Kabul valley in his name.
  • His son Kadphises 2 issued gold coins with high sounding titles like “Lord of whole world” and spread his kingdom to the east as far as Mathura


Kanishka (78 – 120 AD)

  • Most important ruler of Kushana dynasty & founder of Shaka era (Starts from 78 AD) used by GOI
  • He was not only a great conqueror but also extended his whole hearted patronage to Buddhism
  • He extended Kushana empire upto lower Indus basin (Malwa) & eastward till Magadha in India & setup his capital at Peshawar (Purushaputra)
  • Kanishka issued a high number of gold coins with high purity & embraced Buddhism whole heartedly.
  • However, his coin exhibit images of not only Buddha but also of Greek & Hindu gods which reflects that he was tolerant towards other religions
  • He was a great patron of art & Sanskrit & held 4th Buddhist council at Kashmir, where doctrine of Mahayana form of Buddhism were finalised
  • He patronised many Buddhist scholars like Asvagosha (who wrote saundarananda & Budhhacharita Both in Sanskrit), Nagarjuna & Vasumitra
  • He also patronised famous physician of Indian history Charka who wrote “ Charaksamhita”
  • Last important Kushana ruler was Vasudeva who was worshipper of Shiva.

Shakas, Parthians, Kushanas

Impact of central Asian Contact

  • Typical pottery of this age became red ware pottery, Plain & polished
  • Shakas – Kushanas introduced better cavalry & use of riding horses on large scale along with use of turban, tunic, trousers & longcoats
  • Kushanas were the 1st ruler in India to issue gold coins on wide scale & controlled major part of silk trade
  • Kushanas adopted pompous titles as King of Kings & were called Sons of god like Asoka was called Dear to gods.

Gandhara School of Art

  • Real patrons of this art were Shaka –Kushana rulers, esp. Kanishka.
  • This art was a blend of India & Graeco-Roman elements (Mainly in Buddha sculptures) with main theme Mahayanism or new form of Buddhism.
  • Extensive use of Stucco + Terracotta in small quantity

Mathura School of Art

  • Famous for headless erect statue of Kanishka with his name inscribed below
  • Produced Buddha sculptures exhibiting spiritual feeling on his face which was absent in Gandhara school of art
  • Also produced stone images of Mahavira, Shiva & Vishnu along with their consorts Parvati & Lakshmi. Also carved out female figures of Yakshini & Apsara beautifully
  • Extensive use of Red Sandstone
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