Ravi Valluri

The year was 1982. Headlines of several newspapers screamed that N.T.Rama Rao (NTR) and Ramakrishna Hegde had formed non-Congress governments in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka respectively.

Soon I was accosted by a few friends in the Hindu College canteen, where I was then a student. As a ‘Madrasi’, I was expected to enlighten them on developments in the two southern states.

These incidents were noteworthy on two accounts; most denizens of northern part of India were unaware of southern states other than Tamil Nadu, Second, in the pre-globalisation era and before the advent of Google anyone from south of the Vindhyas was a ‘Madrasi’. In the alcoves of my memory bank names like Pallavas, Cholas and Cheras resounded, but I was clueless about the Satavahana dynasty. Indians by and large are ignorant about their culture and resplendent history and pay scant respect to it.

Delving into my history books I discovered an interesting and glorious history. Governance in the Satavahana kingdom was organised on classical conformist lines. There are references to the kingdom in various Ashokan scriptures and also by the ancient Greek traveller Megasthenes.

The Aitareya Brahamana classifies Satavahana beyond the pale of Aryananism. While the Nasik Prasasti lays claim to Gautami as a Brahamana who perhaps founded the dynasty.

There is faint numismatic evidence that the Satavahana dynasty spanned present day Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Telengana. Epigraphic evidence also attribute Andhra is the tribal name; Satavahana, the dynastic one and Satkarni , the patronymic. Other historians claim the Satavahanas were of Naga orgin.

As one sifts through the history of the Satavahanas, shrouded as it is by several foggy analyses, there are some robust literary sources which provide an insight into this kingdom.

The Puranas mention thirty kings, Gunadhaya’s Brihatkatha and the literary text Leelavati refer to the majestic military exploits of a certain King Hala. The Hathigumpha inscription of Kharavela refers to Gautami Balasari as the first ruler, a fact accepted at a few inscriptions in Sanchi too. After Gautami, there were astute kings in Simuka, Krishna and Satakarni, who administered the kingdom.

Subsequently, principal kings like Raja Raja, Swamin and Pulamavai acquired power and the Satavahanas flourished. It became a naval power and established capital centres at Vaijayanti and Amravati.

The kingdom was divided into janapadas, which were further segregated into aharas. Each ahara was under the vicelike grip of an Amatya. It is worthwhile to mention the basic unit of ahara was the grama, with the village headman, who was called gamika.

The central piece of their administration was that the empire connected the northern parts of India with the southern parts, providing a valuable channel for transfer of ideas and commerce. It is quite riveting that centuries later, Andhra Pradesh and Telengana continue to play pivotal roles in modern day Indian governments, be it National Front, UPA and NDA.

I wonder how many people of Andhra Pradesh and Telengana would be aware of the glorious history of the Satavahana dynasty. It is perhaps our pedagogy which deprives students of awareness of this precious chapter in our glorious history. Only those who pursue history or archaeology as subjects or opt for history in the Civil Services examination are exposed to these incidents of ancient Indian history. There would be several such clans and dynasties in India about which we have little information.