Chandragupta Maurya (321-298 B.C):
He was a very able person and soon rose to occupy a high military position in the Nanda army. Taking advantage of the unpopularity of his master, the Nanda ruler, he began to conspire with Chanakya, a clever Brahmin to overthrow the Nanda ruler. The conspiracy failed and he had to flee from there along with chanakya, his friend and advisor.
He went to Punjab and with the help of Chanakya and a local prince he turned the Greeks out of North-West of India and then defeated the Nandas and became the ruler of Magadha.
Seleucus, one of the ablest generals of Alexander was defeated by Chandragupta and forced to surrender Kabul, Herat and Baluchistan, besides giving his daughter in marriage to Chandragupta Maurya. Chandragupta is believed to have conquered Gujarat, Kathiawar and some parts of Deccan, probably Mysore. In about 300 B.C. he died doing a penance by slow starvation according to the approved Jain way.
Asoka (273-232 BC):
Chandragupta Maurya was succeeded by his son Bindusar who closely followed in the footsteps of his renowned father. His son Asoka succeeded him in 273 B.C. Asoka invaded Kalinga in 261 B.C. and a bloody battle followed. Asoka won but at a tremendous cost to himself and the enemy.
The Kalinga war worked a revolution in the character of Asoka. He became a lover of Ahimsa and a follower of Buddhism. This was an event of tremendous importance in the history of the world, as Asoka decided to govern according to the rules of the “Law of Piety” (Dharma) as laid down by Buddha. The entire machinery of the government and all the state resources were employed in the service of Buddhism. Buddhist doctrines were engraved on rocks and pillars.
2. Sunga Dynasty:
Asoka died in 232 B.C. Soon after this, the Mauryan empire began to decline and the Greeks from Bactria (modern Balkh) occupied a part of Punjab. Kalinga also broke away. In 185 B.C., the last Mauryan king, Brihadratha, was murdered by his commander-in-chief, Pushyamitra, who founded the Sunga dynasty. The sunga dynasty comprised ten kings who occupied the throne for about a century, but apart from Pushyamitra, we know little about the events of the period.
The origin of the Sunga dynasty is shrouded in obscurity. According to Ope theory, the names of some of the famous Sunga rulers ended with Mitra (Mithra) which means the Sun.
On this basis, it is concluded that the Sungas were of Indian origin and were worshippers of the Sun. Kalidasa in his “Malavikagnimitra” tells us that Agnimitra son of Pushyamitra, belonged to Baimbika family. However, a generally accepted view is that the Sungas were Brahmins, claiming descent from the renowned Vedic Rishi Bhardawaj.
It is pointed out that Pushyamitra was successful in upsurping the throne on account of a general feeling of dissatisfaction against the weak Mauryan rulers who had failed to protect the people against the Greek invaders who had penetrated even up to Patliputra. Pushyamitra was a strong and vigorous ruler. His reign is specially noted for his victorious wars against the Greeks (Yavanas).
According to Buddhist traditions, Pushyamitra was a violent persecutor of Buddhism and wanted to be styled as “the annihilator of Buddhist faith”. He destroyed most of the monasteries. The Buddhist writers also allege that Pushyamitra had set a price for the head of every Buddhist monk. But there seems to be little truth in these allegations.
Pushyamitra was a great patron of learning. The famous Patanjali lived in his court. Pushyamitra was a great champion of Brahminism. The sun and “agni” (fire) began to be worshipped. The old Hindu sacrifices like Asvamedha were revived. Great encouragement was given to the study and writing of Sanskrit.
Pushyamitra lived up to a ripe old age. His reign covered about 36 years. He died in 149 B.C.
3. Kushan Dynasty:
Kanishka, 120-162 A.D. He was a great empire builder. He conquered Kashmir, Kashgar, Khotan, Yarkand and made Peshawar his capital. Like Ashoka, he was a great patron of Buddhism,. But the Buddhism of his time was of the new type called Mahayana or Great Vehicle. His fame rests on his conquests of regions in Central Asia and Indianisation of Khotan areas;
Kanishka’s Buddhism, however, was much different from Asoka’s Buddhism. Kanishka did not renounce war, unlike Ashoka. Kanishka used Sanskrit as his sacred language, whereas Asoka had used the vernaculars.
Kanishka regarded Buddha as an incarnation of God; Asoka had revered him only as a great teacher. Kanishka believed in idol worship. Asoka did not. Besides, there were some differences in doctrines too. Kanishka’s religion, to conclude, was called Mahayanaism whereas Asoka’s religion was styled Hinayanasim.
Kanishka was also a great patron of arts and literature. He built a beautiful town in Kashmir and named it Kanishkapura. He adorned his capital with many beautiful buildings, including a huge tower over a relic of Buddha.
The remains and ruins of many monasteries of his time have been discovered almost all over northern India, The Gandhara School of Art, in particular, found a great patron in him and numerous statues of stone, depicting the life and work of Buddha, have been found all over the country. A number of his coins, too, have been discovered. They show artistic beauty.
Moreover, Kanishka welcomed scholars of all types and liberally patronised them, his court was thus adorned by such reputed scholars as Ashavaghosh Nagarjun and Vasumitra, Charaka, a great authority on the Ayurvedic system of medicine, was Kanishka’s court physician.
4. Gupta Dynasty (320-550 A.D.):
With rise of Gupta Dynasty, the history of India entered a new era. India became a strong national empire. The Guptas freed the country from foreign domination, and restored the ancient Aryan supremacy – political, cultural and intellectual. It is known as the golden age of Hindu India.
Samudra Gupta, 330-375 A.D. He was the son and successor of Chandra Gupta I. On account of hi great conquests, he is known as the Indian Napoleon. He received homage and tribute even from the Deccan rulers. Many foreign kings entered into diplomatic relations with him. He was a versatile genius a great warrior, an accomplished ruler, a musician, poet and scholar.
Chandra Gupta II (Vikramaditya – The sun of Power) 375-413 A.D. He succeeded his father Samudra Gupta in 375 A.D. He was a renowned warrior and an accomplished ruler. He drove away the foreigners from India. The Chinese traveller Fahien visited India in his time. Fahien says that the country was rich and the people led a highly moral and honest life. He was a great patron of art and learning.”
Skandagupta (455-477 A.D.). He was the last great king of the Gupta dynasty. His reign was short and stormy. The Huns made their early fierce raids into Gupta territory, but the emperor was equal to the occasion.
The Gupta rule is described as the golden age of Hindu ancient India. It was an era of Hindu reivalisin, as Hindu religion, Hindu language, Hindu literature and Hindu thoughts experienced a remarkable comeback & progress during this period. Amongst the gems of this period, special mention may be made of Kalidas, the famous dramatist. Aryabhatta, the famous mathematician and astronomer, Varahamihira and Brahmagupta also belonged to this age.
5. Vardhana Dynasty (560-647 A.D.):
Harsha Vardhana, 606-647 A.D. He was the younger son of Prabhakar Vardhana, the Raja of Thanesar. On the tragic murder of his elder brother, Harsha occupied the throne. He made great conquests; he devoted himself to the task of peace and promotion of the moral and material interests of the people. He was known for his scholarship, philanthropy and toleration.
Hiuen Tsang or Yuang Chwang, a Chinese pilgrim, visited India during his reign. Harsha was a mighty warrior, a great empire builder, a great lover and patron of learning, and religious and charitable man.
Harsha embraced Buddhism under the influence of Buddhist sage Divakara Mitra and Hiuen Tsang and as an ardent Buddhist, did much to further the cause of Buddhism but simultaneously showed all tolerance for other faiths and continued to bestow patronage on them.
Harsha, the last great Hindu emperor died in 647 A.D. His empire disappeared with him. Confusion prevailed in India. A new political order was born out of this confusion and petty Rajput kingdoms were established all over India. The period between 700 – 1200 AD is sometimes designated as Rajput period.
6. Maratha Dynasty (1649-1818 A.D.):
Shivaji, 1627-1680. He was the son of Shahji Bhonsle, a Maratha chieftain in the service of the Ahmednagar State. He was a born leader of men, a great general, an able administrator; created a Hindu State in defiance of the Mughal power and unified the Maratha nation.
7. Peshwa Rule (1708-1818 A.D.):
Balaji Vishwanath (1714-1720). He was the first Peshwa to become the de facto ruler. He was instrumental in the release of Sahu from the Mughal imprisonment and securing for him the throne of Satara. He restored order in the Maratha kingdom and extended the Maratha influence.
He made the Marathas co-sharers of the Mughal revenue and later the partners of sovereignty as well. The whole of South India practically passed under the Maratha control.