Kushana Empire




Kushana Empire:

  • The Kushana Empire was a syncretic empire, formed by the Yuezhi, in the Bactrian territories in the early 1st century.
  • It spread to encompass much of Afghanistan, and then the northern parts of the Indian subcontinent at least as far as Saket and Sarnath near Varanasi (Benares), where inscriptions have been found dating to the era of the Kushana emperor Kanishka the Great.
  • The Kushanas were one of five branches of the Yuezhi confederation, a possibly Iranian or Tocharian, Indo-European nomadic people who migrated from Gansu and settled in ancient Bactria.
  • The Kushana dynasty had diplomatic contacts with the Roman Empire, Sasanian Persia, the Aksumite Empire and the Han dynasty of China and was at the centre of trade relations between the Roman Empire and China.

Kujula Khadphises:

  • Kujula Kadphises was a Kushana prince who united the Yuezhi confederation during the 1st century CE, and became the first Kushana emperor.
  • He became the master of the regions of Kabul and Gandhara.
  • They eventually acquired dominance over the other Yuezhi tribes.
  • They moved eastward towards India defeating the Parthians and the Sakas in the 1st century AD


  • Kadphises II, also known as Vima Kadphises, conquered the entire North-western India, as far as Mathura, ruling around 64 – 78 CE.
  • He has issued a large number of gold coins.
  • He was a Shiva devotee as is clear from coins issued by him.
  • A large number of Roman gold coins found from this era indicate the prosperity of India at that time and also the growing trade with the Romans.
  • During his time, the influence of the Sakas and the Parthians came to an end.
  • He was the father of Kanishka the Great.

Kanishka the Great:

  • Kanishka I, or Kanishka the Great, an emperor of the Kushana dynasty in the second century, is famous for his military, political, and spiritual
  • A descendant of Kujula Kadphises, founder of the Kushana empire, Kanishka came to rule an empire in Bactria extending to Patliputra on the Gangetic plain.

During Kanishka's Reign/rule:

  • Inside India, Kanishka conquered Kashmir early in his reign. It is understood from Kalhana’s Rajatarangini that Kanishka built many monasteries, chaityas, and other monuments in the Kashmir valley. He founded a city named Kanishkapura in Kashmir which place is still known as Kanispore and is situated near Baramula.
  • It is also known that Kanishka fought against some of the Saka satraps who were still ruling over western India. He defeated the Saka ruler of Ujjain, and extended his authority to Malwa.
  • His main capital was Peshawar, then known as Purushpura.
  • After the capture of Pataliputra, he is said to have taken away the Buddhist monk Ashvaghosha with him to Peshawar.
  • The scholars in his court included Parsva, Ashvaghosha, Vasumitra, Nagarjuna, Charaka and Mathara. He also patronised the Greek engineer Agesilaus.
  • Kanishka convened the fourth Buddhist Council at Kundalvana in Kashmir.
  • He patronised Buddhism although he was very tolerant in his religious views. His coins contain a mix of Indian, Greek and Zoroastrian deities.
  • He was also a patron of art and architecture. The Gandhara School of art flourished under him.

Conversion to Buddhism:

  • Since Kanishka like Asoka became a convert to Buddhism, in the history of Buddhism, Kanishka has been given a place only next to Asoka as a patron of that religion.
  • It is evident that Kanishka adopted Buddhism after he had ruled as a king for some years.
  • It is suggested by some historians that Kanishka came under the influence of the greatest Buddhist philosopher of that time, Ashvaghosha, and became a devotee of Buddha and accepted Buddhism.
  • As the ruler of an empire which covered vast areas of Central Asia and western China, he found a golden opportunity to spread Buddhism with a fresh vigour by his numerous works as a patron of Buddhism.

The Buddhist Council:

  • Kanishka held the Fourth Buddhist Council with learned Buddhist philosophers, monks and divines numbering about five hundred.
  •  Vasumitra worked as the president of the Council while Ashvaghosha acted as its vice-president.
  • The learned divines thereupon examined the entire Buddhist literature, and prepared voluminous commentaries on them.
  • Their discourses were collected in form of a religious text known as Mahavibhaṣa, which is regarded as the greatest book on Buddhist philosophy.
  • The decisions of the Fourth Buddhist Council were recorded on copper plates and were preserved in a stupa. 

Kanishka's Coinage:

  • Kanishka’s coins from the beginning of his reign bear legends in Greek language and script and depict Greek divinities.
  • A few coins at the beginning of his reign have a legend in the Greek language and script:  Kanishka, king of kings”.
  • Greek deities, with Greek names are represented on these early coins: Helios, Hephiastos, Selene, Anemos, etc.

Patron of Culture

  • The most illustrious figure of his court was Ashvaghosha, at once a philosopher, a poet and a playwright. 
  • Ashvoghosha is considered to be the first Sanskrit dramatist
  • Vasumitra, the eminent Buddhist divine who presided over the Fourth Buddhist Council and compiled the Mahavibhaṣa Sastra as a remarkable commentary on the Buddhist Tipiṭaka, was also a celebrity in the court of Kanishka.
  • During this time, three distinct schools of art flourished: Gandhara School in northwest India, Amaravati School in Andhra and the Mathura School in the Ganges valley.

The Decline of the Kushanas:

  • Kanishka’s immediate successor was Huvishka, who devoted time and effort early in his reign to the exertion of greater control over the city of Mathura. He also patronized Buddhism like his predecessor.
  • Vasudeva I was the last of the ‘Great Kushanas’, whose reign extended from 191 to 225 CE. The end of his rule coincides with the invasion of the Sasanians as far as northwestern India, and the establishment of the Indo-Sasanians or Kushanshahs in what is nowadays Afghanistan, Pakistan and northwestern India from around 240 CE.
  • The Kushanas had adopted the Indian culture. This is obvious from the name of last Kushana king ‘Vasudeva’. During his period the decline of Kushanas began. The Kushana empire disintegrated into pieces and the various Satrapas became independent. The Kushana rule existed in the province of Punjab and Gandhar till 4th century C.E.
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