To inaugurate the first of a continuing series of posts on Andhra personalities, I thought it best to commence with one of the most celebrated and most successful of Andhra Kings, Gautamiputra Satakarni.
The most famous of Andhra’s most glorious line of rulers, the Satavahanas, Gautamiputra was an Emperor, general, and defender of Dharma. This line of kings had many capitals, from Pratishtana and Pataliputra in the North to Amaravati in the South. It is the latter, however, that is most associated with the Empire, and its ruins (especially its famous stupa) can be seen in Guntur today.
Referred to as the Andhra dynasty in the Puranas, the Satavahanas gained their patronym from the first of the Satavahanas, who was found riding a lion or “sata”, and thus had a lion for a mount or “vahana”. As one of our venerable Pandits adduced, “Ever since the time of the Amaraavati Sculptures down to the recent time of ‘Sata silpi’ the lion seems to be emblem and the ideal of the Aandhra race. The god Narasimha, half man half-lion, is the deity of several popular shrines in Aandhra. The privilege of being seated on the lion, the throne or seat of power is the ambition of every Aandhra…Saatavahanas, Aandhra emperors of Magadha had the warrior seated on the lion for their emblem“.
He also asserted that , “The Aandhras as a race show special, regard and love for the lion. A woman riding on the lion, ‘Simhastha’ is a popular deity in their religious literature and in the images of goddesses carved on the walls in their religious institutions.” Most appropriately it was noted that “The Aandhras enjoy even to this day a reputation for impulsiveness, enthusiasm and zest for noble action, like the lion.” I guess some things don’t change!
The Imperial dynasty begins with Simuka/Srimukha, who was an Andhra in the court of the Kanva dynasty of Magadha. With the assistance of the Andhra kingdom’s army he defeated and dethroned the last Kanva and began the glorious reign of the Satavahana kings.
The current Western historical paradigm establishes the Satavahanas’ imperial rule in around 200BCE and Gautamiputra in 78CE (though our Pauranic history places them much earlier).
There were many Satakarnis in the dynasty. To distinguish between the various Emperors, matronymics were frequently used. Thus, this Satakarni was the son of Gautami, hence Gautamiputra Satakarni.
The son of Gautami Balashri and Emperor Sivasvati Satakarni , Gautami-putra was a royal prince of great qualities. He was the 23rd in this illustrious line of Kings.
Satavahana society is recognised for the high status it accorded women. They were active not only as figures of high society, but even in affairs of state and administration. In short, “Satavahana society was free and open but not permissive”. It was also significant for great artistic achievement. This dynasty is considered the main innovator of rock-cut architecture, as evidenced by a number of Chaitya halls and Viharas that are credited to them, and above all, the famous Amaravati stupa.
At the time of Gautamiputra’s ascension to the throne, India was under great pressure from foreign invaders such as the Sakas, who had broken through the Khyber pass. The Satavahana empire found its champion in this Satakarni.
His rule took place at the time when audacious foreigners were breaching the borders of India. He proved himself to be the hero of the age, successfully defeating the Sakas (scythians), Pahlavas (parthians), and Yavanas.
He is most famous for his outstanding victory over and chastising of the Saka ruler Nahapana, who was uprooted from Malwa and Gujarat and consigned to the deserts of Rajasthan. The Sakas made peace through matrimonial alliance, marrying off the first of several princesses to Gautamiputra and/or his descendants. Indeed, what began as a clash of traditional Indian and recent arrival, would in succeeding generations become an inter-family rivalry due to the Indianising of the Sakas. Matrimonial relations were what prevented either dynasty from ending the other.
Satakarni conducted two Ashvamedha yajnas and one Rajasuya yajna to commemorate his sovereignty. His sway most likely extended at least as far as Rajasthan and Gujarat to Kanchipuram and Odisha, though his domain is presently considered to reach from Kutch and Ujjain to the Tamil Nadu border. Gautamiputra is credited to have conquered the lands of Anupa, Aparantha, Saurashtra, Kukura, and Avanti. He is considered the greatest of the Satavahana Kings.
His titles were Trisamudra-pitatoya-vahana (one whose horses had drunk waters from 3 oceans) and Saka-yavana-pahlava-nisudana (destroyer of Saka, Yavana and Pahlavas).
He was also a great patron of Sanskrit and Prakrit (which was the administrative language of the empire).
His wife, Queen Vasishti, was known for her charity and patronage of both traditional hindu vedic dharma and buddhism.
He is remembered today by historians as the Greatest of the Andhra Satavahana dynasty, and among the Great Emperors of India, making the Andhras truly “a race of lions”.
- Rao, P.R. History and Culture of Andhra Pradesh. New Delhi. Sterling Publishers. 1994
- Kota, Pandit Venkatachalam. http://trueindianhistory-kvchelam.blogspot.com/2009/09/aandhrasaatavahana-or-saatakarni.html