If you have ever gathered a bunch of flowers you will know that to keep them together, you have to hold them tightly. If you loosen your hold, the first jerk or gust of wind will scatter them all over the place. Emperor Ashoka was like the man who held the bunch of flowers firmly in his hand, the flowers of course being the many, many small kingdoms into which India was divided up before his grandfather became an emperor. When Ashoka died, the country started to fall apart. The first part of the empire that broke away was Kalinga for which Ashoka had fought a mighty battle. Many others followed until India again began to look like a jigsaw puzzle made up of many pieces.
The people of the northwest had their eyes on the rich land of the Indus. Now that there was no one strong enough to protect it, they decided to build kingdoms for themselves. There were many Greeks who had come with Alexander. They had been living in a country called Bactria ever since. When they saw their chance, they came into the Punjab and conquered it. They ruled it for a hundred years. One of their kings was called Menander. Menander was wise and brave. He treated his subjects kindly. He liked some of the ways of the Indians so much that he almost became an Indian. One important way in which he did this was to become a follower of Buddha. He loved to have long talks with learned men so that he could become more and more wise.
India also learnt something from the Greeks. The Greeks were famous for making statues. The Buddhists were also good sculptors. They started to make statues in the same style as the Greeks. This style of sculpture is known as the Gandhara. Gandhara is the name of the place where these Greek kings ruled. Its modern name is Kandahar and it is in Afghanistan. There are many beautiful statues of the Buddha in the Gandhara style.
The Greeks had forced their way into India. Now more people began to do the same thing. A sturdy race from Central Asia called Shakas came first. They were followed by another called Pahalavas who came from Persia. Then came more tribes from the western borders of China. This happened about the time that Christ was born.
One of the tribes that came to India was called Kushan. The Kushans soon became stronger than the others. They had a very brave chief whose name was Kanishka. He won many battles until his empire became very large and extended from Peshawar, which was his capital, right up to Patna in the east, covering the Punjab, Kashmir, Sindh and Gujarat. Large parts of Central Asia, which had been the home of the Kushans, were also under Kanishka.
One day, a very wise Buddhist scholar called Ashvaghosha came to see the king and told him the good things Buddha had taught. Kanishka became a follower of Buddha and tried to spread Buddha's teaching over the lands he ruled. During Kanishka's time many temples were built and many statues of Buddha were made. A large number of centres were set up where learned men could study and teach.
The Kushans ruled for about 300 years. Then their power faded.
The three earliest kingdoms of the South were the Pandya, the Chola, and the Chera. These lasted for hundreds of years. The Pandya kingdom was so famous that even Megasthenes, who came to the court of Chandragupta Maurya from far-off lands, had heard many stories of the great army of the Pandyas. The Chera kings sent their ships to many countries of west Asia with spices and pearls. The ships returned with much gold and wealth. There were many rich merchants in the Chera kingdom. About the Cholas you will read more later.
Some years after the Maurya empire had broken up, there arose a king in the Andhra country. He was the first of a long of kings called the Satavahanas. The Satavahana kings became stronger and stronger until their empire stretched across the middle of the country, from the Arabian Sea to the Bay of Bengal. They ruled for more than 300 years and did a lot to bring the different ways of the north and the south closer together.
In the empire of the Satavahanas, there were both Hindus and Buddhists. You may have seen pictures of the beautiful buildings and statues at Amaravati and Nagarunakonda in Andhra. These were built long ago by the Satavahana kings. These kings had huge rocks cut into caves and built lovely temples inside. Work on the famous Ajanta caves first started at the time of the Satavahana kings. Afterwards other rulers added new paintings and statues to them.
The Satavahana kings traded with other countries. All goods meant for foreign countries were collected at Kalyan, near the present Bombay, to be shipped. The merchants became so rich that some of them had huge cave temples built at their own expense.