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Cambridge World Archaeology
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0 Hilll3nshu Prabha Ray 2003
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Satavahanas were contemporaries of both Kharavela and Rudradaman in the
western Deccan and ruled between the first century BCE and third century CE
over a diverse region marked by the presence of localised political groups in
Andhra and Kamataka.
6.3 Satavahanas and their successors
A primary difference that sets a majority of the inscriptions of the Satavahanas
apart from those of the Mauryas is their location inside Buddhist monastic
complexes, rather than in their vicinity (Ray 1986: Appendix ll). Secondly, the
objective of these inscriptions was no longer the propagation of dhamma but
the recording of donations of money, land and villages to the Sangha. Thus
only rarely do these present the ruler's notions of kingship. A significant shift
is in the find-spots of the inscriptions themselves. They are no longer dispersed
across the subcontinent but are instead localised in specific regions. The in-
scriptions of the early Satavahanas, for inst.ance, are located at the head of
three contiguous passes in the Sahyadris, the Thalghat, Nanaghat and Bhorghat
(figure 6.2), while those of the Iksvakus are found in Andhra at Nagarjunakonda
and Jaggayyapeta. Andhra continues as the locus of subsequent inscriptions, e.g.
those of the Visnukundins and the early Pallavas. But perhaps the most signifi-
cant difference between the Mauryas and the Satavahanas is in the varied forms
that their legacy took. While Asoka was elevated as a dharnma-raja in the Pali
tradition and his role emulated by several Sri Lankan rulers, the Satavahanas fig-
ure prominently in Prakrit writings of the Jainas. In fact, the Giitbiisattasai, a
collection of verses in Prakrit, is traditionally attributed to King Hala of the
Satavahana (Salahana) dynasty, though the date of the text is known to vary
from the first to the sixth century CE. Not only that, seventh to eighth-century
Jaina texts, both canonical and non-canonical, refer tO the influence of Jaina
acaryas on the Satavahana rulers of Paithan (Deo 1999: 88-91).
In contrast, the earliest record of the ruler Kanha of the Satavahana-kula
is inscribed on the upper part of the right window of Buddhist vihara XIX at
Nasik (figure 6.3; Epigrapbia lndica Vlll: no. 22). The vihara appears to be the
earliest excavation at the site that came into existence because of the generosity
Based on lead coins with legc.nds, Gupta has identified several local politics: Kuras in the
Pancbaganga bas.in (Kolbapur); Sadakanas around Chitaldurg distriCt; Hastin in the Krishna
valley; and Sadas in the Mabisaka country (Gupta 1990). This is further substantiated by nu
mismatic evidence and the finds of coins of Samagopa, Gobhadra, Sacyabbadra and Drunabhadra
from Karimnagar district (Parabrabma Sasuy 1978), while nruncs such as Kamvaya and Narana
have been read on some copper coins from Kotalingala (Sasrri 1982: 4). Other groups of chieftains
in the region were perhaps the mal!dtatbis and the mahatalavaras.ln the pre-SatavabaMievels
at Polakonda, a potin coin was found with the legend 'mahatalavarasa Vijasamikasa Seva Sabba'
and the same legend also occurs on a terracotta seal from Peddabankur (Sastcy 1983: 129). In con
traSt, inscriptional and numismatic data from the western Deccan would suggest the emergence
of market centres along trade routes and that power was held by some form of an urban corporate
body also referred to by the term nigama (Gupta 1971: 37-40).
0 POlls
0 Cnvos
:::: Pnssos
23mm a 200km
Figure 6.2 Sites of inscriptions in the Dcccan
Figwe 6.3 Fac;:ade of the cave at Nasik (courtesy ASI)
of the king. Viharas X and m are two of the other caves at Nasik that bear
royal inscriptions - the former records those of Nahapana, while the latter
bears testimony to the re-emergence of the Satavahanas under Gautamiputra
Satakami. Other monastic establishments which bear records of the rulers are
those of Karle, the inscriptions of Nahapana and also the Satavahanas being
inscribed in the veranda of the caitya at the site (Dehejia 1972: 177-8), Junnar
( 179-82) and Kanheri (183-4).
It was in the second century CE under the later Satavabanas that inscriptions
were found at Amaravati and Nagarjunakonda in Andhra, outside the confines
of the western Deccan. Perhaps an exception to the association of the epigraphs
of the early Satavahanas with monastic centres is the cave at the head of the
Nanagbat pass. The cave is roughly hewn and contains no architectural em-
bellishments and hence its affiliation is not evident. At one time, though, it
did contain full-length portrait figures of the Satavabana royal family, now no
Gotamiputa's honorific titles indicate his sovereignty over a vast terri-
tory stretching to the three oceans (savariijaloka-madala-patigahita-siisanai
ti-samuda-toya-pftaviihana). Of noble appearance (piyadassanaJ, he imple-
mented righteous policies (dhamopiiiita-kara-viniyoga-karaJ, was obedient to
his mother and pursued the three objectives of life (tivaga, ie. dharma, artha
and kama). Though described as the destroyer of the pride of the ksatriyas, his
commitment to non-violence was total, and hurting life was alien to him, even
towards that of an offending army. In this abjuring of d01;u;Ja or punishment and
commitment to rule of dhamma, Gotaroiputa aligns himself to the Buddhist no-
tion of kingship and against the precepts of the Dharma.Siistras. Also, the king
is not averse to Dharmasastric precepts, since he is described as preventing the
mixing of varnas or and as a unique brahrnana and
the restorer of the glory of the Satavahana kula (Epigraphia Indica Vlll: 60-5).
This trend of recording donations at monastic sites to both the brahmanas and
the Buddhists is continued under the Iksvakus in Andhra in the third-fourth
centuries CE.
The caitya at Nagarjunakonda received grants from the royal
family and seventeen records are found inscribed on stone ayaka pillars, a row
of five ayaka pillars being located in the cardinal directions around the Buddhist
caitya. Several epigraphs of Virapurusadatta and mahatalavari Camtisiri extol
the founder of the dynasty, Vasisthiputra Iksvaku Camtamula, as the performer
of sacrifices such as the agoihotra, viiiapeya and asvamedha and
one who donated generously at them (Sircar 1965/1993: 228-37i Epigraphia
Indica XX: 18). In a significant departure, for the first time in peninsular
India, inscriptions are found on free-standing memorial pillars in Hindu tem-
ples, in what can be best described as an amalgamation of the earlier tradition
of worship of the hero with Hindu religious precepts.
The earliest evidence for memorial pillars comes from two separate regions
of the subcontinent, i.e. Kutch and Andhra, dated around the second century
In Andhra, the memorial pillars are referred to as chhiiyii-stambhas and
several of these free-standing greenish white limestone pillars were found at
the site of Nagarjunakonda in the Krishna valley and are associated with the
ruling dynasty of the lksvakus.
They bear inscriptions honouring the kings
and queens, chieftains and generals, religious personages, foreman of artisans
lksvaku inscriptions have been found from Nagarjunakonda (EpigTophia lndica XX, XXI, XXIX,
XXX111, XXXIV, XXXV), Jaggayyapeta, Kottampalugu, Gurzala, Rentala (Epigropbia lndica
XXXVII) and Uppugundu (Epigraphia lndica XXXllll.
Of the contemporary Sanskrit sources, one that is imponant is the Procimanoraka of Bh353. This
play refers to images in the likeness of dead kings being enshrined in a temple-like structure
(Krisbnamoorthy 1982: 9-16). Five long and narrow slabs of stone or pillars standing prominently
on a billock were removed to Bbuj in 1906. Each of these bad an inscription and referred to the
reign of the Saka ruler Rudradaman (Epigrapbio lndica XVI: 19).
The earliest recorded evidence of a chiiyyii-stombha from Andbra is &om Gangaperuru in
Cuddapah district (Epigraphia l ndica XXXVI: 207).
The foreman of anisans lavesani), MuJabhuta by name; hailed from a place talled Pavayata . A
narrow-necked vase, perhaps a guild mark, bas been incised over the inscription (Epigropbia
Indica XXXV: 16).
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of recording donations on portable material goes back to the first century CE
under the Satavahanas when these grants were first proclaimed in a nigama-
sabbii, then wrirten on cloth and finally delivered to the grantee, these early
specimens on perishable material have not survived. We do, however, have
the engraved versions on Buddhist monuments. There was a change not only
in the material used for the inscriptions but also in the nature of the records
themselves, though the language used continued to be Prakrit. Thus the seal
on the Kondamudi copper plates refers to the king as maharaja Jayavarman of
the gotra of the Brhatpalayanas, who was a worshipper of Siva (maheivara-
piida-parigahitoJ. The record was issued from the vijaya-khandiiviira (victory
camp), the nagara (town) of Kudura and conferred the village Pantura as a brah-
madeya in which several brahmanas were granted shares (Epigrapbia Indica
This is a pattern followed by a majority of the charters issued between
400 and 700 CE, which record donations of villages to both brahmanas and
Buddhist monastic centres. The Tummalagudem plate I of Govindavarman I
(459 CE) recovered from Nalgonda district of Andhra records grants of villages
to the iiryavara-bhik$u-sangha located at Indrapalanagara in the same dis-
trict by the chief queen. Govindavarman I is commended for the construc-
tion of several temples !deviiyatana), vihara, halls, water-houses, ponds and
so on and for generous donations to monks ( b b i k ~ ) , brahmanas (dvija), etc.
He is described as paramadbiirmil<a (intensely religious), worshipper of the
lord of Sriparvata, honest, intelligent, powerful, modest and a performer of the
agni$toma, himpyagarbba and asvamedba sacrifices and eulogised for respect-
ing Vtm;Jiisrama-dharma (or vama hierarchy) and for patronising all religions.
This is followed by Tummalagudem plate II of Vikramendravarman II (566 CE),
whose mother was from the family of the Vakatakas and who was ruler of the
co.l<ravartik$etra. The ruler is lionised for establishing mahaviharas and for the
performance of eleven asvamedbas and other sacrifices ordained in the Vedas
(Rao et al. 1998: 197-210).
These grants often list several exemptions allowed to the donees, mainly
brahrnanas, such as exemption from mining activity, in addition to empowering
the donees with the right to mete out dQJ}r;/a or punishment. Other innovations
include mentioning the gotra of the ruler in the grant together with the contin-
uation of the earlier practice of using metronym.lt is significant that in spite of
the claims by the Visnukundins, and of other dynasties too, for the performance
of various sacrifices and the acceptance of their suzerainty by the rulers of
the whole world !sakalajagadavanipati-pratipiijitasiisanah, Epigrapbia Indica
XXXVII: 336), the extent of their dominion was indeed limited. An analysis of
the find-spots of their inscriptions and the villages mentioned therein indicates
that the Visnukundins were primarily located in Andhra with their early base
in the upland regions of the central Deccan, which later shifted to include the
Krishna-Godavari basin.
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