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- The header image is "Tombs of the Kings of Golconda" (1813) by Robert Melville Grindlay. From The British Library's Online Gallery.
Before Sultan Quli founded the Golconda Sultanate in 1512, general Deccan/Andhra history is all that can be used to understand what would have happened in the region for the 1800 years between the Andhras and Sultan Quli. The rulers in question may have been elsewhere, but one cannot deny the cultural and political impact being part of these kingdoms would have had on the region and its people.
The early Andhras were tribal kings whose kingdom presumably originated
from the banks of the Godavari in the fertile Krishna-Godavari delta. According to the Mahabharata, they even fought at Kurukshetra, albeit for both sides. They are mentioned in texts that vary from the Vedas to the accounts of Megasthenes, who is responsible for Andhra blogs everywhere boasting about the kingdom’s “30 walled cities, infantry of 1,00,000, 2,000 cavalry and 1000 elephants”. But the overall picture presented is pretty uniform – they were a strong, independent kingdom, largely left undisturbed. (Yes, there is a whole lot written about the Northern “Aryans” bringing “civilization” to the South; but we will not talk about that here – we don’t want a Rediff-level comments section) Even during the Mauryan period, they were believed to have been left in-charge, despite the region becoming part of the empire during the reign of Bindusara (or Chandragupta Maurya, according to some historians). The decline of the Mauryan empire during the 3rd Century BCE marked the beginning of a relatively prosperous and more importantly, stable period in the region’s history, one that would last for over 400 years.
This was the origin of the Satavahana kingdom. Or so we think. While there is no direct evidence linking the identity of the Andhra Kings to the Satavahanas, historians equate the two based on commonalities in the names of certain kings mentioned and succession information that is common to the both of them. But this theory was not without controversy. For one thing, the ancient texts that talk about the Andhra kings never mention the name of the dynasty and the Satavahana coins don’t mention anything about being kings of “Andhra Desa” either. Moreover, the Satavahanas maintained their records in Prakrit, not Telugu and their coins were initially found mainly in Maharashtra, not in Eastern Deccan, where the Andhra Kings were said to have been. But an equal number of historians explained them away: a) Kings don’t exactly always mention their geographical heritage everywhere. None of the post-Satavahana dynasties did. b) Telugu might have been the Andhras’ first language but it must be remembered the use of Prakrit was the Buddhist lingua franca during the period – it was used both by Ashoka and the Satavahanas’ successors. and c) Satavahana coins were eventually found in Andhra and besides, it is well known that they extended their empire to Maharashtra anyway.
So there. Andhra Kings/ Andhrabhritya = Satavahanas.
“The Andhras were not slow to take advantage of the opportunity given by the death of the great emperor (Ashoka), and, very soon after the close of his reign, set up as an independent power under the government of a king named Simuka. The new dynasty extended its sway with such extraordinary rapidity that, in the reign of the second king, Krishna (Kanha), the town of Nasik, near the source of the Godavari in the Western Ghats, was included in the Andhra dominions, which thus stretched across India.” – History of India (1906): Volume 2 – From the Sixth Century B.C. to the Mohammedan Conquest, Including the Invasion of Alexander the Great
Simuka Satavahana is generally agreed upon as the founder of the dynasty. However, it is important to understand that he did not exactly “found” the kingdom – it is more likely that he brought the prominent tribal leaders together and formed the kingdom by making them acknowledge him as their leader. Moreover, they were part of the Mauryan empire and therefore, not fully independent. It was during the the reign of Simuka’s successor (and brother), Krishna/Kanha that things changed and expansion started. The 6th Satavahana, Satakarni II, even took on the title of ‘Dakshinapathapati’ (Lord of the South). The 17th king, Hala, on the other hand, was known for dramatically different things. He wrote ‘Gatha Saptasati’, an anthology of erotic verses composed in the vernacular dialect, a distinct departure from the classics of the time. It also supposedly earned him a mention in Vatsayana’s Kama Sutra (unverified).
The dynasty reached its peak in the first century AD, under Gautamiputra Satakarni (yes, too many a Satakarni) – the kingdom was said to have had the Bay of Bengal, the Arabian Sea, the Godavari and the Narmada bordering it. He is also responsible for protecting the kingdom from Sakas, Yavanas and Pahlavas (We’re still not too sure who these guys were. They might have been the Pallavas’ predecessors. Or not.).
One of the main reasons for the prosperity of the dynasty, apart from successful military conquests, was flourishing trade. The Nanaghat inscriptions, apart from being one of the earliest sources of Hindu numerals, inform us of the Satavahanas’ conquest of the region. This conquest brought the Junnar pass into their kingdom, thereby opening up the Konkan region to them; the important Paithan – Ujjain land route was now under their control. Nauthical-themed Satavahana coins and the discovery of Roman coins in Andhra Pradesh confirm the existence of thriving overseas trade. (Image Source: Trade and Trade Routes in Ancient India, 1977)
And as with most stories like these, it was after Gautamiputra that the decline started. The dynasty that gave us the Saka calender (No, the Sakas did not give us the Saka era. Their defeat at the hands of the Satavahanas did.), the Ajanata caves (probably) and other Buddhist monuments, despite the Kings following a Vedic religion (Satakarnii II conducted the Aswamedha Yagam, even), came to an end in the first half of the 5th Century AD. Their kingdom was split between a bunch of contemporary kings. Amongst them were the Ikshavakus.
Durga Prasad (1988). History of the Andhras
Moti Chandra. (1977). Trade and Trade Routes in Ancient India.
A. V. Williams Jackson. (Ed.). (1906). History of India: Volume 2 – From the Sixth Century B.C. to the Mohammedan Conquest, Including the Invasion of Alexander the Great
Since the Neolithic Age
Excavations over the last century have unearthed (pardon the pun) quite a few details about the lives of the inhabitants of this region since the neolithic age. We don’t quite know what was happening here around that time, but we do know how they liked to bury their dead. What we now know as Hyderabad has probably been inhabited for 4,000 years.
Discovery of megalithic burial sites
Excavations starting in the late 19th century and continuing well into the 20th, led to the discovery of many cairn circles/megalithic burials across the Deccan. One man, Robert Bruce Foote, was responsible for over 50 of the earliest discoveries. Others such as Philips Meadows Taylor and Ghulam Yazdani were instrumental in the discovery and conservation of some of the sites closer to home. These include sites in Moula-Ali, Begumpet, Bowenpally and Kompally. Later finds in the city include those in Kothaguda, Hashmatpet and most recently, Gachibowli in 2004 and Hayatnagar in 2008. The sites in Hyderabad were eventually dated to the Iron Age (around 500 BC) and that set the city’s age to 2,500 years; but earthenware found at the Gachibowli site was later dated to 2000 and 1995 BC. The city suddenly became officially older by 1,500 years.
Representation of the burial site at Moula-Ali | Image Source: Hyderabad Cairns (Their Problems) by E.H. Hunt
The Burial Sites
Similar burial sites are scattered across the Deccan and share all the major characteristics. They are typically located on high ground, in this case, near granite outcrops where the soil is not fit for cultivation. These sites typically have stone circles, packed with rubble to a depth of 1-4 ft and are 18-20 ft across (the one in Mouli-Ali, though, is 42 ft in diameter) with the stones placed at equal distances. Under these circles were cists where marked earthen ware, iron tools, copper ornaments and beads of Lapis Lazuli, quartz and carnelian were buried along with the dead. This, of course, differed from site to site based on its age. The Mouli-Ali site, for e.g., contained quite a few examples of marked pottery and early metal work but the Gachibowli one, on the other hand, did not.
What do these burials tell us about the earliest known inhabitants of Hyderabad?
- They weren’t “Rakshasas”: Locals apparently believed that the graves belonged to Rakshasas and that the archaeologists would find 20 ft bones. That, unfortunately, did not happen. The bones belonged to the ordinary H. Sapien.
- They were settlers: They had settled areas of habitation and they farmed. They were skilled potters and the later inhabitants also enjoyed the occasional pottery painting/ marking their property/leaving warnings on earthenware. It must be mentioned that we don’t exactly know what they’re for.
Markings on the pottery | Image Source: Hyderabad Cairn Burials and their Significance (1924) by E.H. Hunt
- They worked with metal: Later inhabitants (500 BC-ish) were reasonably skilled with metal work – iron and copper, mostly.
- They knew their stars: Evidence from the Gachibowli site apparently suggests the use of astronomical observations to plan the orientation and structure of these burials. This is not as far-fetched as it seems. In 2006, a 2,500 year old etching of Ursa Major was found in Mahabubnagar. Go here (pdf) for analysis on the significance of astronomy in the arrangement of other megalithic burials in Mahabubnagar.
- They believed in The Afterlife: The cists were equipped with everything they thought was important enough to carry to the Other World. Breakfast included.
Iron Age burial site discovered. (2010, September). The Hindu.
E.H. Hunt (1916). Hyderabad Cairns (Their Problems).
E.H. Hunt (1924). Hyderabad Cairn Burials and their Significance.
Dr. V.V. Krishna Sastry. (1983). The Proto and Early Historical Cultures of Andhra Pradesh.
Rao, K.P. (2010). Excavations at Gachibowli: A Preliminary Report, Puratattva, Bulletin of the Indian Archaeological Society, New Delhi, No. 40.
In the interesting-facts-behind-a-Navneet-notebook style, a teaser for the sort of thing you can expect from this blog:
- Madras was under (sort of) Hyderabadi rule for a while in the 17th century. Take that, CSK!
- Mir Osman Ali Khan’s parsimonious ways were notorious; even TIME magazine made fun of them. He also gives his name to the Osman biscuit.
- Ibrahim Quli (father of Muhammad Quli, the city’s founder) wanted to establish a city of his own; that didn’t quite work out, obviously.
- Bhagmati is a made-up person, some historians claim.
- Hyderabad was once walled with gates (Darwazas) and posterns (Khidkis) for access into the city; the wall is all but gone and only 2 of the 14 gates now remain.
“History is a set of lies agreed upon.” – Napoleon Bonaparte
For me, history has always been about stories: stories of valiant kings, beautiful queens, scheming progeny and the occasional joker. And it is these stories that this blog will (hopefully) retell. You, the reader, may have heard them a thousand times before or maybe you haven’t. If it is the former, I would love to hear your stories as well and if it is the latter, then I hope this blog will give you a piece of the puzzle that is Hyderabad.
Image Source: ebay