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Earliest Western References:

Gangaridai (Bangla) King had 4 thousand war trained elephants.

The periods just before the Mauryan empire and after it is almost nonexistent in India. However, some history can be collected from Greek sources.

The first western reference comes from Alexandre's invasion of India. Alexandre had conquered much of the "known world" and had defeated the western kingdoms of India. They were stopped at the Magadha empire. The Greek historians suggest that Alexandre retreated fearing valiant attacks of the mighty Gangaridai and Prasioi empires which were located in the Bengal region. Alexandre's Historians refer to Gangaridai as a people who lived in the lower Ganges and its tributaries. These empires attest the level of organisation of the peoples of Bangla region.

These names are again mentioned by Diodorus. He describes Gangaridai as a nation beyond the Ganges, whose king had 4 thousand war trained and equipped elephants. Later Periplus and Ptolemy also indicate that Bengal was organised into a powerful kingdom at the onset of the first millennium AD.

When Greek historian Periplus talks about India in the first century AD, apparently he speaks of Bangla. He says, "There is a river near it called the Ganges (Ganga)" ... "On its bank is a market town which has the same name as the river, Ganges (Ganga). Through this place are brought malabathrum and Gangetic spikenard and pearls and muslins of the finest sorts, which are called Gangetic. It is said that there are gold mines near these places, and there is a gold coin which is called caltis. And just opposite this river there is an island in the ocean, the last part of the inhabited world towards the east, under the rising sun itself, it is called Chryse (I wonder what island this is!); and it has the best tortoise-shell of all the places on the Erythrean Sea" (Quote from Sudheer's India's Contribution to the World's Culture).

"... But the waves utterly overwhelmed it, and Chryse sank and disappeared in the depths..." -- Pausanias, Description of Greece 8.33.4

It is apparent that these empires existed before the Mauryan empire and continued after the fall of that empire. Some believe Bengal was part of the Mauryan Empire. However, it seems that these two kingdoms continued to exist even after the Mauryan empire. Part of Bangla, namely Anga and Pundra were probably under the Mauryan empire but the rest of Bangla remained outside the Mauryan empire. It is possible that these two empires entered into alliance with the Magadhans prior to the formation of the Mauryan empire thus retaining independence. Or simply the Bengal empires might have been too powerful (note they had more war elephants than the Mauryans which might indicate their power).

Muslin Fabric

The ancient western reference to the Muslin shows that the legendary fabric is not a new export of Bangla but ancient. It must take its rightful place with cotton and silk fabrics that go back in time in Bangla. The British during their ocupation ended the Muslin production brutally by having the Muslin weavers' thumbs chopped off.) The Muslin was legendary because a 50 meter long Muslin fabric could be squeezed into a matchbox. Today's Muslin is a different fabric altogether. The technology is lost.

As to young ladies damping down their muslin gowns to make them cling was probably not an English affectation, more than it might have been a French fad, and during 1795-1810 than the English Regency that was 1810-1820. Fashion plates of the period, especially from Heideloff's "Gallery of Fashion" and "Ackermann's" show English ladies more "bundled up" than their French couterparts. There were some fantastic extremes of fashion during the French Directorie period, but the influenza outbreaks during 1795-1805 probably had more to do with cold wet winters and shortages of food, especially during wartime than what ladies wore--men died of influenza too and doctors couldn't blame it on them wearing muslin gowns, cashmere shawls and sandals even in the coldest weather. Besides, only a very few could afford gowns and shawls of such expensive materials, especially as muslin couldn't stand up to hard wear and the needed frequent washing to keep it clean and white.
Cindy Abel, Health Sciences Library, Creighton University, 2500 California Plaza, Omaha NE 68178-0400, Phone: 402-280-5144Alexandre's Indian Adventure

In 518 BC, King Darius of Persia had conquered North West India including parts of Punjab. The Indian kings of this region were subordinate kings of Persia.

The Persians coined the term Hindu to describe the people of India. It was a mispronounciation of Sindhu, the large river of western India, now in Pakistan.

When Alexandre defeated Persia (around 320s BC), and came to India, he met the subordinate states of Persia. These states were nonetheless powerful. Alexandre wanted to go to the famed city of Taksh(a) Shila (Taxila, North India) across the Sindhu River (Indus). On his way there, he defeated the Ashwakas, who attacked him, in a fierce battle.

By the time he attacks Purus (another western Indian kingdom), he needs the alliance of two other kingdoms of India. Ambhi, King of TakshShila made alliance with Alexandre (was this alliance made before Alexandre entered India?). Another King ShashiGupt also entered into alliance. They were enemies of Purus. It took the three kings to finally defeat Purus, in a very hard battle. As he proceeded eastwards, he was daunted by greater tasks and his army had lost its morale, forcing him to turn back. As mentioned earlier, he probably did not want to meet with the organised armies of the independent Indian empires of Magadha, Gangaridai and Prasoi.

At the end of his adventure, Alexander had conquered the states of Kekaya, Gandhara and Punjab in Northwest India. During the subsequent centuries, Indo-Greek trade picked up. Along with trade of goods, ideas were exchanged. Indian astrology was ifluenced by the Greeks. The Indians adopted the 12 Zodiac signs. Indian philosophy and science also permeated into Greek culture at the same time.

Age of Empires

Mauryan Empire

The Mauryan Empire owes its name to Mura, mother of ChandraGupta. Mura was a lower caste woman and ChandraGupta was the illegitimate son of her and the Magadhan King.

According to legend, the Nanda King, Dhananda, who ruled during the time of Alexandre's invasion had an illegitimate son by a Shudra (lower caste) woman called Mura. When Alexandre came to India, ChandraGupta had met him as a young man and through him, Alexandre probably learned of the organised armies of the East.

Two years after Alexandre departed, ChandraGupta started a war against his father. He was aided in this by his Guru and adoptive father, VishnuGupta, who is popularly called Kautilya or Chanakya. Kautilya is the writer of ArthaShastra, the first great political treatise of the world. In 322 BC, ChandraGupta became the Emperor of Magadha and VishnuGupta became his able Prime Minister. ChandraGupta extended his empire as far west as the Indus (Sindhu) river in modern day Pakistan, recovering much of India that was lost to foreign invasions of the Persians and the Greeks.

In 305 BC, the Greeks, under Alexandre's general Selucas (then king of Babylon), returned and met ChandraGupta in battle. This time they did not face a provincial King of Western India but an emperor from Eastern India. Selucas was defeated. ChandraGupta, however, was very generous with the defeated general, and only took parts of Selucas' land as compensation and even gave 500 elephants as a gift. He also married Selucas' daughter thereby creating an alliance. The nature of the alliance is not known but given the nature of ancient India's political overlordship, Selucas probably ruled an independent kingdom under the Mauryan empire.

From Megasthenes, a Greek ambassador at ChandraGupta's court, we learn that this new empire was extremely oranised, much like modern states of today. ChandraGupta's capital, Pataliputra (now known as Patna, in Bihar, India) was the greatest city. It was certainly the largest city aswell. In this empire even certain central villages were fortified. The first great highway of history was built that still exists today as the Grand Trunk Road. The road was flanked by trees and milestones. One of the first great secret services was also born here under the guidance of Kautlya. People from all rank and file were included in the service. Even the emperors of this empire would go out in disguise to see the needs of the city.

In the end of his life, ChandraGupta had abdicated his throne in favour of his son and had gone to Belgola, Mysore with a Jain sage. The Jain sage had predicted drought and famine correctly. At Belgola, he fasted till death, entreating the Gods to end the drought.

His son, Bindusara, ruled in relative peace from the Hindu Kush to Mysore. Kalinga present day Orissa was outside his rule though. At this time India had peaceful relations with the Syrians and the Greeks.

Then came, in 276 BC, the great Ashok(a) son of Bindusara who litterally conquered all India. He was probably the greatest king to have ever ruled in this world. Not the size of his empire but the noble ideals of this man made him great. Pillars proclaiming him as a just and wise ruler exist all over India. In Gandhar (Afganistan) and other western areas, the inscriptions are in Greek as opposed to Brahmi that was the script of India. These show that the Greek rulers in the northwest were his subordinates. Ahsoka had become a Buddhist and was a very peaceloving just king who was also the first ecologically concerned king. He set up the first animal preserves in the world.

However, he started out as a hungry conqueror. On the ninth year as emperor he attacked Kalinga (Orissa), one of the last Dravir nations on the North East, other than Bengal. (NOTE: Anga, Banga, Kalinga are classified together possibly due to their common heritage.) The battle that ensued was one of the most memorable and toughest of ancient India. Ashok won but was deeply affected by the carnage. Ashok was aghast at his own doing. He only found relief in Buddhism and thus marked the making of a new Ashok, a man of peace. He dedicated the rest of his life to public welfare. He sent missionaries to spread Buddhism to Greece, Egypt and Sri Lanka. Ashoka died as the first people's emperor in 272 BC, who believed love to be superior to war.

The Mauryan empire was the greatest of all Indian empires. The greatest extent of the empire under emperor Ashok stretched as far north as Tashkent, in modern day Uzbekistan, including Afganistan and covered part of Iran and Tajikistan to Myanmar in the East. Remnants of this are still visible. It can be observed in the Indian names still existing from east Asia to central Asia. Tashkent is the corruption Taksha Khand and Quandahar is the corruption of Gandhaar. It is important to note here that originally Afganistan (Upa-Gana-Stan) was an integral part of India. There are other Indian names even further west.

Pundra Bardhan (West Bengal) and Anga (Bangla) were part of the Mauryan empire but it is however, not sure if all of Bangla was in the Mauryan empire. As mentioned earlier, it might be that the other Bengals retained their independence. Bengal port Tamralipti introduced the landlubber Mauryan emperors' to seafaring.

Ashoka's descendants, for various reasons, which include pacifism, saw the decline of the empire. Finally the Mauryan empire ended violently in 185 BC. In 185 BC, an army commander in chief, PushyaMitra, assasinated the last Mauryan emperor during a parade of his troops. Some suggest this was a reaction of Brahmins against the highly Buddhist rulers.Chaos

PushyaMitra returned many of Brahmins to power. He also allowed the killing and sacrificing of animals. It was a return to strict Hindu religion. PushyaMitra was not, however, to enjoy his rule long in peace. Within two years of the fall of the Mauryan emperors, once again came the invasion of foreigners. The King of Bactria, Demetrius, who was probably subordinate under the Mauryans, invaded and conquered the North West, Indus region. Further encroachment was stopped by PushyaMitra in a series of Indo-Greek wars.

PushyaMitra ruled for 36 years and was not a bad ruler. His reign saw the mark of intellectual fermentation. Patanjali, the great grammarian lived in this period. Art and litterature also further developed. PushyaMitra never assumed the title of Emperors but founded the Sunga dynasty.

During Sunga reign the Mauryan empire reverted to the old Magadhan empire and the Sungas were ardent patrons of the Hindu. They persecuted Buddhists and destroyed many Buddhist stupas. However, they were not totally intolerant of Buddhism shown by the facts that the Buddhist stupa at Sanchi was enlarged and the great stupa at Bharhut was erected during the Sunga period. The Sunga rulers caused the empire to break up into different kingdoms with their infighting.

The last Sunga king, Devabhumi, was killed by his minister, VasuDeva in about 75 BC. The Kanva dynasty ruled after that for a short period till 30 BC, when they were overthrown by the Andras (originally Dravir). This marks the begining of a period of chaos that was to last for three hundred years.

During this period, the Indo-Greek Buddhist Kings set up independent states in the northwest. Soon they were replaced by Central Asian tribes of Shakas (Scythians?) and Pahalavas. These people promptly got absorbed into Indian culture. The Kushanas followed also from Central Asia. They established a great Buddhist empire in the west stretching from Kabul to Banaras. They too had become Indianized while adding to Indian culture significantly. This empire spread Mahayana Buddhism all over the world. The empire existed even in the 2nd century AD.

Around 200 BC, the Satavahanas emerged from Maharastra. They ruled Maharastra, MadhyaPradesh and even regions of South India. Gautamiputra Satakarni of the Satavahanas defeated the Shakas and his empire stretched from Kathewad, Malwa and Rajasthan in the north to the river Krishna in the south and from the Arabian Sea in the west to the Bay of Bengal in the east.

Note: Towards the end of the Mauryan Empire, Kalinga had once again become powerful and had thrown off the Mauryan rulers. Kalinga became extremely powerful under Kharavela and conquered the Southern India, whose history is not known very well. He even defeated AgniMitra, son of PushyaMitra and had sacked the capital of Magadha.

Guptas

Bangla history in this period between the Mauryan rule and Gupta rule (the next great empire) is not known clearly. However, we know from the Greek sources also mentioned above that the Gangaridai and the Prasoi empires continued to exist in this period. They probably retained independence through the Mauryan Empire. This is also the period when Bangla became Buddhist. By the time the Guptas enter Bangla, it is a strongly Buddhist nation. Before the Guptas, Bangla history probably became more connected with Eastern Asia more than India (except probably Kalinga). During this period it appears that the Bengals spilled into Burma, Thailand and all the way to Vietnam. The Mons of Thailand and Burma were dominated by Bengal/Kalingas. Their history also was probably more connected to Indonesia whose ancient script is very similar to Proto-Bangla. And maybe they kept connection with Sri Lanka.

North India remained divided and the west was once again under foreign rule until the rise of the Guptas. In the south, however, powerful empires rose to prominence. Chera (Kerala), another ancient sea-faring nation of South West coast of India, who might also be descended from the Indus civilization, at this time traded with the Romans as they had with the Greeks and the Jews and Egyptians earlier.

Out of the chaos in North India, rose a new ChandraGupta in 320 AD. He married the Lichavi princess, KumaraDevi. KumaraDevi was the heiress to the throne thus bringing ChandraGupta to power. The Lichavi republic once annexed by Magadha now annexed Magadha and created a new empire under the Gupta dynasty. Once again Magadha became the centre of the empire.


Under SamudraGupta, son of ChandraGupta, the empire was further extended. He recovered the Western India and extended his rule South India as far as Sri Lanka. The south was not conquered but subordinated by treaties. The Gupta era is called the Golden Age of India. India became the leader of all spheres of life in this period. Some of the greatest architecture and art comes from the Guptas.

The most powerful of the Southern empires were Vakataka empire (250 AD - 500 AD). The Gupta's never conquered them and ended up making a treaty.

In the early phase of Gupta expansion, they defeated Bengal and annexed her. Two Varmans kings of Bangla are defeated. This is the first mention of the Varmans. As Bengal came under their rule, Tamralipti again served as a major port. Once again under the Guptas, India became a great nation, in strength, culture, spirituality and science. The first wave of Hun invasions were defeated by the Guptas so convincingly that they decided give up their plans to invade India for decades, turning their attention to the Roman empire, devastating her.

Were these V(b)armans the emperors of the Gangaridai and Prasoi emires? The Varmans as will be seen are very active throughout Indian history. They come from Dravir lines as in Bengal, and South India. Were the Varmans big players in the ancient Indus civilization?

Post Gupta North India

The Guptas came to an end around the 5th century AD after being weakened by the Huns and the Kanauj ruler YashoDharman. This was a very chaotic period in all India aswell as Bangla. Rapid changes took place in lordship across all India. Different subordinate states around the Gupta empire started declaring independence.

"Indian cities are prosperous and stretch far and wide. There are many guest houses for travellers. There are hospitals providing free medical service for the poor. The viharas and temples are majestic. People are free to choose their occupations. There are no restrictions on the movement of the people. Government officials and soldiers are paid their salaries regularly. People are not addicted to drinks. They shun violence. The administration provided by the Gupta rulers is fair and just." Chinese traveller Fa Hien, during the reign of Chandragupta II.

Sources:

A Short History Of Bengal by Tanmoy Bhattacharya

A Thousand Year Old Bengali Mystic Poetry by Hasna Jasimuddin Moudud, daughter of famous poet Jashimuddin.

A History of the Indian People by D. P. Singhal

I am indebted to various sources for writing this history ... many books that I have read since I was a kid and those I read now both in paper and on the net. I thank the authors.--NOVO
 

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