Kushan Empire - Kushan Dynasty, Kings, Founder, Religion

By K Balaji|Updated : June 7th, 2022

Kushan Empire is an important topic in the ancient history part of UPSC. The Kushan Dynasty and the Kushan Dynasty Kings are the favorite topic of UPSC to ask in the UPSC Prelims Exam. In this article, we will be discussing the Kushan Empire in detail, along with who was the Founder of the Kushan Dynasty and what was the Kushan Empire Religion.

Kushan Empire or the imperial Kushanas established their empire in the vast areas of Asia transcending the language and racial barriers. It was in their reign that different ethics and cultures came in contact and influenced each other. The sources of the history of Kushanas are primarily the Chinese chronicles, prominent among them being the Ch’ien Han-Shu and the Hon Han-Shu.

Kushan Dynasty was a major ruling group of the post-Mauryan period. The Kushan were a branch of the Yueh-chi, a nomadic group of people who inhabited territories near Dunhuang. They migrated across the Tarim Basin to Bactria between c. 165-128 BCE and were one of the five clans into which the Yueh-chi tribe was divided.

Table of Content

Kushan Empire [UPSC Ancient History Notes]

The Kushan Empire (Mid. Pers. Kušān-šahr) was a major world power in Central Asia and northern India from the first to the mid-third centuries CE. it was one of the five Great Yueh-chi (tribes) was the Kushans, also known as Kuei-Shang. The Kushan empire was made up of people from many different places who moved to Bactria and India over a long period of time. Go through the highlighted points about the Kushan Empire and Kushan Dynasty for the UPSC Exam.

Kushan Empire & Kushan Dynasty

Details

Founder of Kushan Dynasty

Kujula Kadphises

Kushan Period

1st century CE–3rd century CE

Kushan Empire Religion

Majorly Greek and Buddhism.

Kushan Dynasty Kings

Kujula Kadphises or Kadphises, Vima Kadphises, Kanishka, Huvishka, Vasudeva I

Kushan Coins

Majorly made of gold; more than 30 different gods appear ranging from different religions.

Who was the Last Kushan Ruler

Vasudeva I

Kushan Dynasty UPSC

Kushan Dynasty and Kushan Empire are important topics for the IAS Exam under History To study more about the Kushan Empire Religion, you should refer to the UPSC Books, NCERT Books for UPSC, and the Indian History Notes for UPSC to get a better understanding.

After completing the topic, candidates can also download the UPSC Question Paper for revision. The topic is included in the history syllabus for UPSC.

History of the Kushana Dynasty

  • The Kushans were most probably one of the confederation's five branches.
  • Nomadic Indo-European people may have Tocharian ancestral roots; they came from northwestern China and settled in ancient Bactria.
  • In Chinese sources, they are called Guishuang.
  • After some time, they began to rule the other Yuezhi tribes.

Founder of Kushan Dynasty

The founders of the Kushana empire were the Hsi-hou (Yuvaga or leaders) of Kuei-Shuang (Kushana), perhaps a clan which was a part of Ta Yueh-chin or the Great Hueh-chin people. The Chinese chronicles, the Ch’ien Han-Shu and the Hon Han-Shu mention the Ta-hsia was divided among five Hsi-hou (Yuvaga or leaders) of Ta-Yueh-chin. One of these Hsi-hou was of Kuei- Shuang (Kushana).

  • The first known Kushana ruler was Miaos (Eraos), who was independent. Kujula Kadphises succeeded Miaos, either immediately or sometime later.
  • Kujula captured the Kabul area from Arsacids (the imperial Parthians) and Chi-pin from the Indo Parthians.
  • The Hon Han-Shu further says that Kujula died at the ripened age of more than eighty, and he was succeeded by his son Vima Kadphises (known in Chinese chronicles as Yen-Kao-Chen).

The Founder of the Kushan Dynasty should be covered thoroughly for both the UPSC Prelims and the UPSC Mains as questions are asked from this topic specifically.

Kushan Empire Dynasty

Kings of Kushan Dynasty

The significance of the Kushana realm in the political history of the subcontinent and its north-western borderlands is enormous. Due to the political integration of the region and massive empire, the Kushana Empire is sometimes also called the Central Asian Empire.

The list of Kushan Dynasty Kings important for the UPSC Exam is as follows:

Kujula Kadphises or Kadphises

  • The foundation of the Kushan Empire in India was laid by the first Yuezhi chief Kujula Kadphises.
  • His reign stretched over Kandahar, Kabul, and Afghanistan.
  • Vima Taktu or Sadashkana, Kadphises’s son succeeded him (80 C.E. -95 C.E.). Vima Taktu expanded the Kushan Empire to the northwest of India.

Vima Kadphises

  • Vima Kadphises (113 CE to 127 CE) was one of the Kushan Dynasty Kings. According to the Rabatak inscription, he was the son of Vima Takto and the father of the great ruler, Kanishka.
  • Vima Kadphises was the first ruler to issue gold coins extensively, due to the favourable trade conditions between Rome and the Indian subcontinent at the time.
  • He was a devotee of Shiva, which can be seen from the coins he issued.
  • The king's name is engraved in both Greek and Kharoshti on the Khadphises series of coins. The coins show bi-scriptalism
  • The coins issued by Vima Kadphises throw light upon the state, polity, administration, religious ties, and the trade processes of the Kushan Empire during his reign.

Kushan Dynasty Kings - Kanishka

  • Kanishka (127 CE – 150 CE) was the son of Vima Kadphises and is considered the greatest Kushana Dynasty king.
  • According to the Rabtak inscription, upon his accession, Kanishka ruled over a huge territory of all of northern India, south to Ujjain and Kundina, and east beyond Pataliputra.
  • Under him, the Kushan empire included Peshawar, Gandhara, Pataliputra, Oudh, Kashmir, and Mathura. The Kushan kingdom also comprised parts of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
  • Kanishka administered his territory from two capitals, Purushapura (now Pakistan) and Mathura, in northern India. Though the main capital was Purushapura.
  • It was at Purushapura where Kanishka adopted Buddhism and became its zealous patron. He is claimed to have taken the Buddhist monk Ashvaghosha to Purushapura after capturing Pataliputra.
  • Kanishka patronized Buddhism, which is evident through his coins, which contain a mix of Indian, Greek, and Zoroastrian deities. He was tolerant of all religions.
  • He summoned the fourth Buddhist Council at Kundalvana in Kashmir. The fourth Buddhist council was held in Sanskrit.
  • He patronized the Greek engineer Agesilaus, and scholars in his court included Parsva, Ashvaghosha, Vasumitra, Nagarjuna, Charaka, and Mathara.
  • The Gandhara School of Art flourished under Kanishka and he propagated the Mahayana form of Buddhism.

Huvishka

  • Huvishka (150 CE – 180 CE) was the emperor of the Kushan Empire from the death of Kanishka until the succession of Vasudeva I.
  • His rule was a period of consolidation for the Empire.
  • The Kushan reign under him seems to have been peaceful, consolidating Kushan power in northern India, and moving the center of the Kushan Empire to the southern capital city of Mathura.

Vasudeva I

  • Vasudeva I (190 CE- 230 CE) was the last of the Great Kushans.
  • He was the last great Kushan emperor, and the end of his rule coincided with the invasion of the Sasanians as far as northwestern India.
  • The decline of the Kushana Empire started during his reign.

Kushan Empire Religion

The Kushan Dynasty was influenced by the Hellenistic kingdoms and maintained a wide variety of faiths, including Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, and Hinduism.

  • The Kushans are thought to have mostly followed Zoroastrianism, one of the world's earliest monotheistic religions founded by the Prophet Zoroaster.
  • But after Kanishka, they turned towards Buddhism.
  • Kanishka, under his reign, founded a number of monasteries, erected many Stupas and Buddhist temples, and encouraged the missionary activities of Buddhist monks.
  • It was under his rule that Buddhism began to spread widely in Central Asia and China.

The reign of Huvishka corresponds to the first known epigraphic evidence of the Buddha Amitabha, on the bottom part of a 2nd-century statue found in Govindo-Nagar, and now at the Mathura Museum.

Kushana Dynasty: Achievements

  • During this time, Sanskrit literature started to develop. In Sanskrit, the fourth Buddhist council was carried out in Kashmir at Kundalvana.
  • Ashvoghosha is believed to be the first person to write plays in Sanskrit.
  • During the rule of the Kushanas, Buddhism spread to China. Also, at this time, Buddhism began to spread to Korea and Japan.
  • The Kushanas were foreign invaders, and they have become totally Indian in their ways and culture.
  • The Kushana kings helped build beautiful sculptures, many towers, chaityas, and towns 
  • The Kushana period in Indian history was the perfect push to the Guptas' golden age. 
  • India and China, as well as India and the Roman Empire, did a great deal of business.
  • At this time, three different art schools did well: the Amaravati School in Andhra, the Mathura School in the Ganges valley, and the Gandhara School in northwest India.

Kushan Dynasty: Decline

After the death of Vasudeva I in 225 CE, the Kushan Empire was divided into western and eastern halves. The western Kushans in Afghanistan was conquered by the Persian Sassanid Empire. The eastern Kushan Empire was based in Punjab, and the territories on the Gangetic Plain became independent under local dynasties, such as the Yaudheyas. In the mid-4th century, they were subjugated by the Gupta Empire under its leader, Samudragupta.

Kushan Dynasty UPSC Question

Practice questions for Kushan Dynasty for UPSC Exams 

Q: During the reign of which Kushana king, the Fourth Buddhist Council was held by?

  1. Kanishka
  2. Huvishka
  3. Vasudeva
  4. Vasishka

A: Option 1- Kanishka

The Kushana Dynasty is one of the important topics. Many questions have been asked about the Kushana Dynasty in UPSC Prelims and UPSC Mains. To answer the questions in the exams, one must be fairly knowledgeable about the topics. You can get the UPSC Syllabus here and NCERT books for history here for in-depth learning about the topic.

Kushan Empire Notes PDF Download

Download the Kushan Dynasty PDF using the direct link mentioned below. Kushan Empire PDF contains all the important points concerning the topic so that candidates are able to answer all questions.

Download Kushan Empires Notes for UPSC Exam PDF

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FAQs on Kushan Empire UPSC

  • Diplomatically, no. The Kushan were a branch of the Yueh-chi, a nomadic group of people who inhabited territories near Dunhuang. They migrated across the Tarim Basin to Bactria between c. 165-128 BCE and were one of the five clans into which the Yueh-chi tribe was divided. The Kushan Dynasty Kings after Vima Taktu can be considered Indians.

  • The foundation of the Kushan Empire in India was laid by the first Yuezhi chief Kujula Kadphises. He followed the Greco-Bactrian tradition and was also a devotee of the Hindu God Shiva.

  • After the death of Vasudeva I in 225 CE, the Kushan Empire was divided into western and eastern halves. The western Kushans in Afghanistan were conquered by the Persian Sassanid Empire. The eastern Kushan Empire became independent under local dynasties.

  • Kanishka (127 CE – 150 CE) is considered the greatest Kushana Dynasty king. Under him, the Kushan empire included Peshawar, Gandhara, Pataliputra, Oudh, Kashmir, and Mathura. The Kushan kingdom also comprised parts of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Kanishka patronized Buddhism and convened the fourth Buddhist Council at Kundalvana in Kashmir. The Gandhara school of Art thrived during this time and propagated the Mahayana form of Buddhism.

  • Kanishka, the great Kushan ruler is famous for his military, political, and spiritual achievements during the Kushan Dynasty reign. According to the Rabtak inscription, upon his accession, Kanishka ruled over a huge territory of all of northern India, south to Ujjain and Kundina, and east beyond Pataliputra.

  • Languages that pre-date the Kushan Empire are the literary languages of Prakrit and Sanskrit. Sogdian is also important, spoken by the merchants who were engaged in the silk trade and who thus traversed Central Asia.

  • To download the Kushan Empire Notes UPSC PDF, you can directly get it from here. Other than this, you can also refer to the article given above.

  • The most prominent Kushan rulers were:

    • Kujula Kadphises
    • Vima Kadphises
    • Kanishka


  • The Kushan Empire collapsed because it didn't have any good rulers. Kanishka was one of the most powerful Kushan rulers. After him, only Vasudeva I was able to run the empire well enough. His death caused the empire to collapse apart.

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