Saka Dynasty UPSC: Time-Period, Rulers, Rudradaman, and Decline

By Aarna Tiwari|Updated : November 16th, 2022

The Sakas, often referred to as the Indo-Scythians or Indo-Sakas, were a nomadic Iranian people of Scythian descent who travelled from Central Asia southward into the northern and western regions of ancient India between the middle of the 2nd century BCE and the 4th century CE. The Saka Era began with the accession of King Chashtana. The Saka Era lasts for a duration of 11 to 52 years. These particulars were taken from the Chashtana king's inscriptions.

Aspirants should be aware that the terms ‘Sakas, ‘Shakas’, and ‘Indo-Scythians’ are interchangeable and have the same meaning. For the UPSC Exam, it is crucial to becoming familiar with Shakas. In addition to discussing Shakas, this article will offer crucial information regarding their time period, rulers, culture, coinage and decline.

Table of Content

Saka Dynasty: History

The Saka Dynasty began with the accession of King Chashtana. Iranian pastoral nomads are known as Scythians or Sakas in Indian literature. The Scythian-inhabited region of modern-day Kazakhstan was invaded by central Asian nomadic tribes as well as tribes from the Chinese region in the second century BC. The Scythians were urged to move to Bactria and Parthia as a result.

After overthrowing the Parthian king, they marched toward India. Scythians who migrated to India are known as Indo-Scythians. The first Saka king in India, according to historians, was known as Maues or Moga. He consolidated his authority in Gandhara before expanding his dominance to nearly all of Northwest India. He overthrew the Indo-Greek provinces (in what is now Pakistan) and established his rule all the way to the Jhelum River.

  • The Saka Era spans 11 to 52 years. The inscriptions left by King Chashtana provided this information. 
  • With the help of victories over the Indo-Greeks and other regional kingdoms, the Indo-Scythians expanded their dominance across northwest India. 
  • The Indo-Scythians appear to have been subdued by the Kushan Empire, possibly under Kujula Kadphises or Kanishka.
  • However, the Saka, who made up the Northern and Western Satraps, continued to rule .. as satrapies.

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Rulers of Saka Dynasty

There were three main rulers of the Shaka Dynasty, namely:

Maues or Moga (Reign 98/50 BC to 60/57 BC)

  • Maues, also referred to as Moga, was the first Indo-Scythian emperor.
  • He was the Gandhara king (present Pakistan and Afghanistan).
  • His home base was Sirkap (Punjab, Pakistan).
  • It has been discovered that Maues gave many coins. They feature Hindu and Buddhist images. Greek and Kharoshti tongues were used to make these coins.
  • His son Azes I took control of the remaining Indo-Greek territories by conquering Hippostratos.

Chashtana (Reign 78 AD to 130 AD)

  • As a ruler of the Western Kshatrapas (Satraps) Dynasty, Chashtana ruled over Ujjain.
  • His rise to power in 78 AD is said to have signalled the start of the Saka Dynasty.
  • He is referred to as Tiasthenes or Testenes by Ptolemy.
  • Chashtana was the one who discovered the two important Saka Kshatrapa dynasties, the Bhadramukhas, in northwest India.

Rudradaman I (Reign 130 AD to 150 AD)

  • The greatest Saka emperor is thought to have been Rudradaman. He comes from the Western Kshatrapa family, and was the grandson of Chastana.
  • The Konkan, the Narmada valley, Kathiawar, as well as other regions of Gujarat and Malwa, fell within his sphere of influence.
  • In Kathiawar, he was in charge of fixing the Sudarshana Lake.
  • After marrying a Hindu woman, he converted to Hinduism.
  • He also released the first lengthy inscription in pure Sanskrit.
  • After ascending to the throne, he was given the name Makakshatrapa.
  • He was related to the Satavahanas through marriage. He had Vashishtiputra Satakarni as his son-in-law. However, he fought beside them in innumerable battles.
  • He supported the literature and arts of Sanskrit culture.
  • The Greek author Yavaneshwara, who lived in India during Rudradaman's rule, converted the Yavanajataka from Greek to Sanskrit.

Shaka Dynasty: Coinage

The Saka currency is often very creative, although it is obvious that it degrades as Indo-Scythian control breaks down around AD 20. In general, the coins from the Saka dynasty were very realistic, with an aesthetic style that fell between Indo-Greek and Kushan coinage.

  • By employing the Greek language on the front and the Kharoshthi language on the reverse, they carried on the Indo-Greek heritage.
  • However, the king's portrait is never displayed; instead, the monarch is always represented riding a horse, occasionally on a camel, or occasionally resting cross-legged on a cushion.
  • Greek divinities are frequently depicted on the back of their coinage.
  • The Saka coinage is replete with Buddhist iconography.

Art and Architecture During the Shakas

Foreigners are seen in several Gandharan sculptures with soft tunics and distinctive Scythian pointed hats. They stand in contrast to representations of Kushan males, who appear to wear bulky, stiff tunics and are frequently shown in a far more primitive manner.

  • Many of the stone palettes that were found in Gandhara are thought to be excellent examples of Shaka art.
  • The speciality of the Saka was of similar types to other Iranian steppe ethnic tribes and is generally referred to as Scythian workmanship.
  • The installation of a Buddha relic in a stupa is recorded in the Mathura lion capital, which is connected to various Indo-Scythian kings, including Maues and Rajuvula.
  • Alongside reliefs of standing Buddhas, several reliefs in the same location show Sakas wearing their characteristic tunics and pointed hats in a Buddhist setting.

Decline of the Sakas Dynasty

The Sakas went into decline following their loss at the hands of Satavahana Emperor Gautamiputra Satakarni. Northwest India and Pakistan were dominated by the Sakas until Azes II's (12 BC) death, at which point the Kushanas seized control of the region.

When Chandragupta II of the Gupta dynasty overthrew the final Western Satrap Saka monarch, Rudrasimha III, the Saka Dynasty's rule over western India came to an end.

Sakas UPSC

The Saka Dynasty was one of the well-known dynasties of the south during the Ancient India period. The Sakas were mighty rulers who ruled over a large kingdom. To study more about them, aspirants can refer to the Indian History Notes for UPSC and practice the Previous Year's Question Papers to be acquainted with the IAS Exam Pattern.

Sakas UPSC Questions

Question: Who was the first Saka king in India? 

  1. Moga
  2. Rudradaman
  3. Azes
  4. Ghatotkacha

Answer: Option A

Question: Which of the following passes was used by Sakas to come to India?

  1. Bolan Pass
  2. Nathu La Pass
  3. Shipki La Pass
  4. Bara-lacha la Pass

Answer: Option A

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Saka Dynasty FAQs

  • The Sakas often referred to as the Indo-Scythians or Indo-Sakas, were nomadic Iranian people of Scythian descent who invaded India around the Second Century B.C.

  • The Saka Dynasty is thought to have been started by Chashtana. He is referred to by Ptolemy as Tiasthenes or Testenes. He was the founder of the Bhadramukhas, one of the two important Saka Kshatrapa kingdoms in northwest India. To download Saka Dynasty UPSC Notes, click here.

  • Maues/Moga (1st century BCE), who established Saka dominance in Gandhara, Pakistan, and the Indus Valley, was the first Saka king of India. As they expanded their dominance over northwest India, the Indo-Scythians subjugated the Indo-Greeks and other regional kingdoms.

  • Rudradaman, the most well-known Saka emperor in India, was Along with Sindh, he also controlled a sizable portion of Gujarat, Konkan, the Narmada valley, Malwa, and Kathiawar.

  • There were supposedly five branches of the Shakas. Their settlements were:

    • Afghanistan was the location of the first branch.
    • The capital of the second branch, Taxila, was established in Punjab.
    • The third branch made Mathura it's home.
    • The fourth in Maharashtra and Saurashtra.
    • The fifth in central India, with Ujjain as its capital.

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