The Satavahana dynasty played the most significant role in Indian history in the period between the fall of the Mauryas and the rise of Gupta Empire.
With Asoka’s death his descendants lost control over parts of South India. Naturally the local chiefs seized the opportunity and assumed independence.
In the first century B.C. the Satavahana dynasty rose in prominence in Deccan (South India) for the subsequent three centuries. The Satavahana Empire acted as the heir to the Mauryan Empire in Deccan.
We have possessed various epigraphic, numismatic and literary evidences to form a comprehensive picture of Satavahana rule in India.
For the chronological history of the Satavahana dynasty we mainly rely upon two original sources:
The dynastic list referred in the Puranas and
The Girnar inscription of 150 A.D.
Between these two sources the Girnar inscription tells us much about Satakarni, a noted Satavahana ruler.
Origin of Satavahana Dynasty
The Nanaghat and Nasik inscriptions of the Satavahanas in Western Deccan, the absence of any early Satavahana inscriptions in Eastern Deccan or Andhra region, Gautamiputra Satakarni’s reference of Mahendra hills as the eastern boundary of his kingdom, the Hathigumpha inscription of Kharavela of Kalinga which mentioned the Satavahanas as its western neighbour while the Andhra region was its southern neighbor – all these have prompted the scholars to formulate ‘the Western Deccan Origin” theory of the Satavahanas.
Founder of Satvahana Dynasty
The founder of Satavahana dynasty is believed to be King Simuka. He overthrew the Kanva King Susarman and destroyed the Sungas. This is what the Puranas told us. Simuka conquered the region around Vidhisa and his brother Krishna extended his kingdom in Nasik region.
Imperial Expansion of Satavahana Empire
Satakarni I was the first Satavahana king to make an imperial expansion. The political turmoil of his time helped him in his regard. The Maurya authority was weak in South and West India and the North was invaded time and again by the Yavanas.
Satakarni I conquered Malwa (western), Anupa (the Narmada valley region), Vidarbha (in Maharashtra), Sanchi and Bhoral State of Central India. His empire reached in the east up to the border of Kalinga of Kharavela as the Hathigumpha inscription reads. His chief queen was Nayanika. He performed the horse sacrifice to celebrate his resounding victories and became the Samrat or Lord Paramount of Deccan. With his horse sacrifice the Vedic Brahmanism in Deccan was revived.
The Kings patronage of learning attracted the scholars from far and near into the royal court. Gunadhya the author of Brihatkatha was a contemporary of Hala. The king himself was a good poet and probably he compiled the verses of Gatha-Saptasati. He made some campaigns in Eastern Deccan, though the scholars expressed doubt in it. His general Vijayananda also made an expedition to Ceylon, the modern Sri Lanka.
Gautamiputra Satakarni was the first Satavahana king to bear a metronymic. He is considered the greatest of all the kings of Satavahana Empire. He suppressed the Sakas and the Yavanas. He annexed Kanchi, Kolhapur, Malwa, and many nearby territories. After ruling for 28 or 29 years Gautamiputra Satakarni died in or about 130 A.D. He was succeeded by his son Vasisthiputra Siri Pulumayi or Pulumayi II.
Of all the attempts in Ancient India for cultural and political unity, the well organized Mauryan Empire is the earliest and most impressive. The Satavahana Empire is the next great attempt for political unity in Ancient India.