The Invasions [185 BC - 320 AD]
After the break-up of the Mauryan empire, a number of foreigners came to India in waves and contributed to its culture. The main invaders were the Bactrian Greeks, the Parthians, the Shakas and the Kushans. This was an era symbolised by progress and upheavals; of kingdoms and cultural fusion. All this radically altered the very fabric of social life in India and induced dramatic changes in Indian art. During this time, Central Asia was opened to trade. One of these routes was later to become famous as the Old Silk Route.
The Bactrian Greeks ruled the north-west for two
hundred years. They made inroads into India as far as Mathura. The most famous
Indo-Greek ruler was Menander or Milinda (165 BC - 145 BC). He was converted to
Buddhism by Nagarjuna. The Indo-Greeks were the first rulers to issue gold coins
with coins having the name, title and portrait of the ruler. The Indo-Greeks
encouraged commerce with west Asia and the mediterranean world.
The Shakas came to western India, overran Sindh and Saurashtra and finally settled down in Kathiawar and Malwa. They were often at war with the Satavahanas in the South. Their ambitions of northward expansion was checked by the Kushans.
The Kushans, displaced the Indo-Greeks and finally established themselves in the lower Indus basin and over a greater part of the Gangetic Basin. There were two successive dynasties of the Kushans. The second was that of Kanishka, who introduced in 78 AD, the Saka era, which is used by the Government of India. During his reign the fourth council was held in Kashmir and the schism in Buddhism Hinayana and Mahayana was recognised. Kanishka patronised Mahayana Buddhism and it was probably during his reign that the first ever human image of Buddha was carved out.
The Parthians occupied a small portion of north-western India in the first century. The most famous Parthian king was Gondophernes.