The Sātavāhanas, also known as the Andhras, were a dynasty which ruled in Southern and Central India starting from around 230 BCE. Although there is some controversy about when the dynasty came to an end, the most liberal estimates suggest that it lasted about 450 years. Long before that their kingdom had disintegrated into successor states.
The Sātavāhana dynasty belongs to Andra Maval, a region in western Maharashtra. Their first capital was Junnar, near Pune. From the area where they lived they are referred to as Andhras. Present day Andhra Pradesh got its name from this dynasty. In the Pūrānas and on their coins the dynasty is variously referred to as the Andhras, Andhrabhrityas, Sātakarnīs and Sātavāhanas. They have been variously thought of as originating from present day Maharashtra or Andhra Pradesh, and were probably of Aryan origin.
The Sātavāhanas started out as feudatories to the Mauryan Empire but declared independence soon after the death of Ashoka (232 BCE).
They were the first native Indian rulers to issue their own coins with portraits of their rulers, starting with king Vashishtiputra Shri Pulumavi (r. 130-158 CE), a practice derived from that of the Indo-Greek kings to the northwest. Their coins give unique indications as to their chronology, language, and even facial features (curly hair, long ears, strong lips). They issued mainly lead and copper coins; their portrait-style silver coins were usually struck over coins of the Western Kshatrapa kings. Their coins also display various traditional symbols, such as elephants, lions, horses, and chaityas (stupas), as well as the "Ujjain symbol", a cross with four circles at the end.
After becoming independent around 230 BCE, Simuka, the founder of the dynasty, conquered Maharashtra, Malwa and part of Madhya Pradesh. He was succeeded by his brother Kanha (or Krishna) (r. 207-189 BCE), who further extended his kingdom to the west and the south.
His successor Sātakarnī I defeated the Sunga dynasty of North India, and performed several Vedic sacrifices at huge cost, including the Horse Sacrifice. By this time the dynasty was well established, with its capital at Pratishthānapura (Paithan) in Maharashtra, and its power spreading into all of South India. The Pūrānas list 30 rulers of this line. Many are known from their coins and inscriptions as well.
Conflict with the Shakas, Yavanas and Pahlavas
The first century CE saw the incursion of the Sakas of Central Asia into India, where they formed the dynasty of the Western Kshatrapas. The four immediate successors of Hāla (r. 20-24 CE) had short reigns totalling about a dozen years. About this time the kingdom lost some of its territory, including Malwa, to the Western
Eventually Gautamiputra (Sri Yagna) Sātakarni (r. 106-130 CE) defeated the Western Kshatrapa ruler Nahapana, restoring the prestige of his dynasty by reconquering a large part of the former dominions of the Sātavāhanas. He was an ardent supporter of the Brahminical religion. He called himself "Destroyer of Shakas (Western Kshatrapas), Yavanas (Indo-Greeks) and Pahlavas (Indo-Parthians)" in his inscriptions.
Gautamiputra Sātakarni's son, Vashishtiputra Pulumāyi (r. 130-158 CE), succeeded him. He was the first Sātavāhana king to issue the portrait-type coinage.
His brother, Vashishtiputra Sātakarni, married the daughter of Rudradaman I of the Western Kshatrapa dynasty, but was defeated by his father-in-law in battle, with serious effect on Sātavāhana power and prestige.
It was not until the reign of Sri Yajna Sātakarni (170-199 CE) that there was another change of fortune for the Sātavāhanas. He struggled hard against the Shakas and recovered some of the territory lost to them.
Of the Sātavāhana kings, Hāla (r. 20-24 CE) is famous for compiling the collection of Prakrit poems known as the Gaha Sattasai ( Sanskrit: Gāthā Saptashatī), although from linguistic evidence it seems that the work now extant must have been re-edited in the succeeding century or two.
The Sātavāhana kings are also remarkable for their contributions to Buddhist art and architecture. The great stupas in the Krishna River Valley were built by them, including the stupa at Amravati in Andhra Pradesh. The stupas were decorated in marble slabs and sculpted with scenes from the life of the Buddha, portrayed in a characteristic slim and elegant style.
Ultimately the Sātavāhanas fell prey to the rising ambitions of their feudatories. Several dynasties divided the lands of the kingdom among themselves. Among them were:
- Abhiras in the northwestern part of the kingdom. They were ultimately to succeed the Sātavāhanas in their capital Pratishthānapura.
- Chutus in South Maharashtra
- Kadambas of Banavasi in North Karnataka.
- Ikshvākus (or Srīparvatiyas) in the Krishna-Guntur region.
On the boundaries of the old Sātavāhana Kingdom arose a number of new states, which seized their territory. The most important were the Pallavas of Kanchipuram, of whom the first ruler was Simhavarman I (r. 275-300 CE).
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