Some notes on the dispersion of the kaumAra-shAsana

In the early 1900s the English archaeologist John Marshall began excavations at Bhita (pronounced: bhITA) near prayAga, modern Uttar Pradesh. He wrote an account of this excavation aided by the native assistants in the archaeological survey of India’s annual report of 1911-12. In that account he describes and pictures a baked clay seal which was discovered during the excavation. It bears the writing in brAhmI:
shrI vindhyA-vedha-mahArAjasya maheshvara-mahAsena atisR^iShTha-rAjyasya vR^iShadhvajasya gautamIputrasya

This is taken to mean: “[Seal] belonging to the great vindhyA penetrating king, who donated his kingdom to the great god mahAsena [or whose kingdom was created by the great god mahAsena], vR^iShadhvaja the son of gautamI”

Similar phrases are seen in two inscriptions very far away from prayAga. The first of these comes from the inscription of nAla arthapati bhaTTAraka found at Kesaribeda, Koraput district modern Orissa from the 7th year of the reign of the said ruler. The second, bearing the same phrase is from the inscription of the nAla mahArAja bhavadattavarman from Rithapur in Amaravati district of Vidarbha (modern mahArAShTra).: “maheshvara-mahAsena atisR^iShTha-rAjya vibhava…

In his study of the Bhita seal Marshall noted that the characters were similar to those found far away from prayAga at jaggayyApeTa (Krishna district, modern Andhra Pradesh) in the context of a ruined bauddha chaitya. Since the jaggayyApeTa shrine is associated with 3 distinct flavors of the brAhmI script, belonging respectively to the mauryan, ikShvAku/kekaya and another from a latter dynasty. The characters Marshall is talking about are those from the ikShvAku/kekaya period which as we have seen before was a high point of kaumAra worship in the andhra country. Marshall was hence inclined to date the seal as being contemporaneous with ikShvAku-s, i.e. from the 200-300s of he common era. At the same time he noted that this seal, which “excels any object of this class which has yet been found in India” might be connected to the andhra-s because they bear matronymics similar to those of the rAjA to whom the seal belonged (e.g. gautamIputra shrI-shAtakarNi. In the same excavation at Bhita he also uncovered more seals that belong to kings of this potential dynasty. These include those bearing the names of gautamIputra shrI shivamegha (two copies) and vAsiShThIputra shrI bhimasena. Their andhran connection is strongly supported by the “pile of ball” or “chaitya” symbol along the with sun and moon signs, which are characteristic features of the andhra coins, on all these seals. The former andhra symbol is a motif retained since the days of the Indus valley. Another interesting set of finds from this excavation was a collection well-made stone balls ranging in diameter from 3.4-21.6 cm (which would approximately correspond to 1-6 a~Ngula-s) to be used by ballistas of various sizes. We have some accounts that ballistas were used by the maurya-s against the Macedonian invaders (as per Greek accounts also supported by the arthashAstra). So these could belong that period or they could have be those of the andhra-s used in their invasion of the north. We suspect that this gautamIputra vR^iShadhvaja penetrated the vindhyA-s from the south leading an Andhran conquest of the north, which is faintly remembered in the Indian folk history as shatavAhana’s conquest of vikrama.This might also explain how the essentially south Indian dynasty of the andhra-s entered the pan-Indian dynastic tradition as a successor state of the kANva-s with a northern center of influence.

In this context is of interest to note that in the terminal part of the andhra list in the purANa-s we tend encounter theophorous names with “skanda”: shiva-skanda shAtakarNi; skanda shAtakarNi; skanda-svAti. The reality of such theophorous names is supported by multiple lines of archaeological evidence: 1) Coins belonging to an andhra ruler vAsiShThIputra shrI skanda shAtakarNi have been found in the (i) wATegAon hoard, wALwA tAlukA, Sangli, Maharashtra; (ii) the tarhALa hoard from mangruL tAlukA, Akola, vidarbha region of Maharashtra; (iii) brahmapurI hoard near Kolhapur, Maharashtra. This indicates that the purANa-s were recording at least one real theophorous name with skanda among shAtavAhana-s. Also some of these coins bear the same symbols as seen in the Bhita seals. 2) Among the late andhra inscriptions we encounter a ruler named as skanda nAga shAtavAhana (kanheri near Mumbai) or banavAse in Karnataka as shiva-skanda nAgashrI. These observations suggest that the worship of kumAra was probably a direct link between the andhra-s and those northern rulers.

However, there are a few issues that suggest that the matter of the dynastic identity of these kings is not entirely simple. The exact names of these kings as seen on the Bhita seals do not figure in any traditional purANa in the andhra list. So we are not sure if they were simply forgotten kings or clansmen of the southern andhra-s who founded their own dynasty after settling in the north (the purANa-s mention a line known as AndhrabhR^itya who appear to have been some kind of branch of the andhra-s, which may have included rulers like skanda nAga shAtavAhana of the Kanheri inscription). On the other hand, we also have some purANa-s mention a dynasty called the megha that ruled a koshala (i.e. with ayodhya as center of power):
koshalAyAM tu rAjAno bhaviShyanti mahAbalAH |
meghA iti samAkhyAtAH buddhimanto navaiva tu ||

Some have suggested, based on the name shivamegha, that this dynasty might actually correspond to that of the 9 megha-s who ruled before the gupta-s. The relative temporal position of these rulers in not inconsistent with that of the above kings. However, there is nothing solid to support this view as the purANa-s do not give the names of these rulers.

Despite the many lacunae in our understanding of Hindu history, what does emerge from these observations is that there were connections between the southern, northern and Orissan rulers encompassing the andhra, ikShavAku, nAla and the dynasty of gautamIputra vR^iShadhvaja, in the form of the kaumAra shAshana, particular brAhmI fonts, royal symbols on coins and seals and the form names. This web of connections linking geographically proximal and distant sites was central to the pre-gupta dispersion of the kaumAra shAsana over the subcontinent. This spread of the kaumAra shAsana, which was already underway by the time of the terminal shatavAhana kings continued through their successor states in the south and east (ikShavAku/kekaya and nAla) as also the gupta-s. This period was when all the ogha-s of the kaumAra shAsana corresponding to the sacred geography of bhArata were all simultaneously active at their greatest vigor. The ground work for this was probably already in place due to the movements of the vaikhAnasa-associated brAhmaNa-s who worshiped both viShNu and kumAra.

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