Middle Kingdoms of India, Part 15


BY: SUN STAFF - 1.2 2021

Kushan worshipper with Shiva (Oesho)
Bactria, 3rd Century A.D.

A serial presentation of India's great history, religious movements and temple architecture.

The Kushans

The Kushan Empire, present in the 1st to 3rd Centuries A.D., was originally formed in Bactria on either side of the middle course of the Oxus River, or Amu Darya, in what is now northern Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. During the 1st Century they expanded their territory to include the Punjab and much of the Ganges basin, conquering a number of kingdoms across the northern part of the Indian subcontinent in the process.[16, 17]

The Kushans conquered the central section of the main Silk Routes and thus had control of overland trade between India, Persia, China and the Roman Empire.

During the 1st and early 2nd Centuries, the Kushans expanded across the northern parts of the Indian subcontinent, at least as far as Saketa and Sarnath near Varanasi (Benares), where inscriptions have been found dating to the era of the Kushan emperor Kanishka, which began about 127 A.D.

Under the early Kushan leaders, a more direct road from Gandhara to China was opened, and it remained under Kushan control for more than 100 years. The security offered by the Kushans encouraged travel across the Khunjerab Pass and facilitated the spread of Mahayana Buddhism to China.

The Kushan empire fragmented into semi-independent kingdoms in the 3rd century AD, falling to the Sassanians who targeted from the west. In the 4th Century, the Guptas also pressed in from eastern India.

While the Kushans originated in the region of Afghanistan, we can clearly see the already well established Vedic influence upon them by the names of their early kings, beginning in c. 95-127 A.D. with Vima Kadphises, than Kanishka, Vaishaka, Huvishka, and Vasudeva I (c. 190-230 A.D.)

Included among the Kushan deities were Lord Buddha, Maitreya, Shiva, Skanda and Ganesh, all of whom were represented on various coins minted by the empire.

In the next segment we'll look at the Kushan tradition of Buddhism and its proliferation, facilitated by their control of trade routes.



[16] Hill (2009), pp. 29, 31.

[17] Hill (2004)