As the Buddhists were beyond all shadow of doubt the earliest excavators of caves in India, and also, so far as we now know, the first to use stone as an architectural building material in that country, it will be sufficient for the purposes of this work to confine our researches in Indian chronology to the period subsequent to the reigns of the two kings Bimbasara and Ajâtaśatru. It was in the 16th year of the first-named king that Śâkya Muni, then in his 35th year, attained Buddhahood, B.C. 526, and died in the 8th year of the reign of the last-named king, 481 years B.C.1
From this point down to the Christian era there is no great difficulty with regard to Indian chronology, and it may be as well, in so far as the first part of this work is concerned, to confine our investigations to these limits. Certain it is that no architectural cave was excavated in India before the Nirvâṇa, and no king’s name has even traditionally been connected with any cave in Eastern India whose ascertained date is subsequent to the Christian era. Indeed, in so far as the Bengal caves are concerned, we might almost stop with the death of Yrihadratha, the last of the Mauryans, 180 B.C., all the names connected with any caves being found among the kings of the earlier dynasties, if at all. When we come to speak of the western or southern caves, in the second part of this work, it will be necessary to pursue these investigations to more modern dates, but this will be better done when we come to describe the caves themselves, and then try to ascertain the dates of the local dynasties to which each individual series of caves practically owes its origin. As a foundation for the whole, and for our present purposes, it will probably be sufficient to state that the Bxiddhist accounts generally are agreed that Śâkya Muni, the founder of their religion, died in the 8th year of Ajâtaśatru, king of Magadha or Bihâr, and that 162 years elapsed between that event and the rise of the Maurya dynasty. This dynasty, as is well known, was founded by Chandragupta, the Sandrakottos of the Greeks, to whose court Megasthenés was sent by Seleucus as an Ambâssador, and who, taking advantage of the unsettled state of India after the invasion of Alexander of Macedon, had, by the aid of an astute Brahman, named Vishnugupta Drâmila,2 raised himself to the throne of Northern India somewhere between 320 and 315 B.C. 3 This connexion with western history, therefore, enables us to place the date of the Nirvâṇa of Buddha between 482 and 477 B.C. Again, Aśoka, the third king of the Maurya dynasty, in the 12th year of his reign, in an inscription, mentions the names of the Greek kings Antiochus of Syria, Ptolemy of Egypt, Antigonos of Macedon, Magas of Cyrene, and Alexander of Epirus,4 and as Antiochus only came to the throne in 261 B.C., and it must have been engraved some time subsequent to that event, possibly about 252 B.C.5 the first year of Aśoka may have been 263 B.C. Chandragupta had ruled 24 years, and Bindusâra, the father of Aśoka, 28 years; but the latter was not inaugurated till the 4th year after his father’s death, or 218 years after the Nirvâṇa. There is some doubt about the precise duration of his reign, depending on whether we are to reckon its commencement from his father’s death (cir. 267 B.C.), or as is usual with the Hindus, from his abhisheka or inauguration four years later. Assuming the later to be the correct mode, the following table will give the early chronology of Buddhism to the death of Aśoka—liable possibly to some modifications to the extent possibly of some 4 or 5 years, for the determination of which we must await further discoveries6:—
Gautama Buddha born at Kapilavastu.
„ , became an ascetic.
„ assumed Buddhahood in his 35th year.
Buddha died, the era of the Nirvâṇa and date of the first Buddhist Council.
The second Council held in the 10th year of the reign of Kâlavarddhana.
Alexander’s invasion of India; Philip made satrap.
Alexander left Pattala after the rains ; Philip murdered by the mercenaries.
Death of Alexander.
Porus allowed to retain the Panjâb ; Seleucus obtains Babylon.
Chandragupta founds the Maurya dynasty.
Bindusâra succeeds and rules 28 years.
Aśoka’s abhisheka or coronation.
Aśoka converted to Buddhism in his 4th year.
Mahendra, the son of Aśoka, ordained a Buddhist priest in Aśoka’s 6th year.
The third Buddhist Council held in his 17th year.
Mahendra sent to Ceylon in his 18th year.
Death of Aśoka’s queen, Asandhimitrâ.
Aśoka became an ascetic in the 33rd year after his conversion.7
Death of Aśoka in the 38th year of his reign.
After the death of Aśoka, the Pauranik chronology of his successors stands thus:—
The last of the Mauryas was overthrown by his general, Pushyamitra, Avho established the ŚUNGA dynasty, which probably lost hold of many of the southern provinces of the Maurya empire at an early date. The Pauranik chronology, however, stands thus, the dates being only approximate and liable to adjustment to the extent of from 10 to 15 years throughout:—
Badraka or Ârdraka.
The next dynasty of the Purâṇas is the KÂṆVAS, who are said to have ruled 45 years, say B.C. 70 to 25. These, again, are represented as followed by the ÂNDHRABHRITYAS, who ruled only over the Dekhan. From the character of the inscriptions on the western caves and on their coins, however, it may be doubted whether they were so late as the Pauranik statements would place them, and it may yet turn out that they were contemporary, to some extent, with both the Śunga and Kâṇva dynasties. The Pauranik chronology enumerates about thirty kings from Śipraka or Śiśuka to Pulomâvi III., the dynasty extending over about 440 years,8 but no great dependence can be placed in their accuracy.
There is in fact very little difficulty with regard to the chronology of the five centuries just enumerated. The great uncertainty prevails anterior to the advent of Buddha, and the great confusion began with the accession of the later Ândra or Andrabhṛitya dynasty, about the beginning of the Christian era. For 10 centuries after that time there are very few epochs which can be fixed with absolute certainly and very few kings whose dates are beyond dispute. By means of inscriptions and a careful analysis of Chinese documents we are now beginning to see our way with tolerable certainty through this wilderness, but it still is indispensable to state the grounds on which each date is founded before it can be used to determine the age of any cave or building on which it is found. Even then the dates can only be taken as those most probable according to our present information, and subject to confirmation or adjustment by subsequent discoveries. Still the sequence is no where doubtful, and the relative dates generally quite sufficient for the purposes of an architectural history of Mediaeval India.
- 1. When previously writing on this subject, I have always adopted the Ceylonese date 543 B.C. as that of the Nirvâṇa as the most likely to be the correct one, according to the information then available. I was of course aware that so long ago as 1837 Turnour had pointed out (J.A.S.B., vol. vi. p. 716 et seq.) that there was a discrepancy in the pre-Mauryan chronology of Ceylon, of about 60 years. But how that was to be rectified he could not explain. I do not yet despair of some new solution being found, but meanwhile the discovery of the Rupnâth and Sahasrâm inscriptions—both of the time of Aśoka—point so distinctly to the date of the Nirvâṇa given in the text, 61 or 68 later than the usually accepted date, that for the present at least it seems impossible to adopt any other.—J. F.
- 2. He is often designated by the patronymic Chanakya, or by the epithet Kautilya “the Crafty.” See Wilson’s works, vol. xii. p. 127 et seqq.
- 3. The ascertained chronology of the time and the references of classical writers ought to enable us to fix this date within very narrow limits. Wilford (Asiat. Res. vol. v. p. 279 ff., and ix. p. 87) placed the commencement of Chandragupta’s reign in 315 B.C. Prinsep (I. A. Us. Tab. p. 240), Max Miiller (Hist. Sans. Lit. p. 298), and most other writers have agreed to this. Lassen (I. A. II. 64) seems to hesitate between the years 317 and 315, but finally decides for the latter (II. 67, 222,1207). Cunningham (Bhilsâ Topes, p. 90) arrives at 316 B.C. ; Dr. H. Kern (Over de Jaartelling, p. 27) assumes 322, Rhys Davids (Anc. Coins of Ceylon, p. 41) B.C. 320.
There is no hint, however, that Chandragupta rose to power before the death of Porus, who by the partition at Triparadeisus, B.C. 321, was allowed to retain his kingdom, while Seleucus Nicator obtained the satrapy of Babylon. Between 320 and 316 “Seleucus was laying the foundation of his future greatness” (Justin, xv. 4), and in 317 Eudemus, who had put Porus to death (about 319), left the Panjâb with a large army to assist Eumenes, affording an opportunity for the revolt of Chandragupta and apparently the occasion alluded to by Justin. Then the expeditions of Seleucus to Bactria and afterwards to India took place about 303-302 (Clinton, F. H. vol. iii., p. 482) ; the alliance with Chandragupta and the embassy of Megasthenés were at a later date (conf. Plutarch, Alex, 62), possibly after the battle of Ipsus, B.C. 301, when Seleucus was finally confirmed in his kingdom; and as Megasthenés resided perhaps for several years at the court of Chandragupta (Arrian Exp. Alex. V. vi. and 2 ; Solinus Polyhistor., c. 60; Robertson’s India, p. 30), we are forced to allow that the latter was alive after B.C. 300, so that his reign must have begun after 323; possibly it was dated from the death of Porus between 320 and 317 B.C.: no earlier date seems reconcileable with our information.—J.B.
- 4. The accession and death of each of these kings are placed as follows;—
Antiochus Theos - - - B.C. 261 to 246
Ptolemy Philadelphus - - - 285 to 247
Antigonus Gonatas - - - 283 to 239
Magas - - - 301 to 258
Alexander II. of Epirus - - - 272 to 254
- 5. If we assume that the arrangement alluded to by Aśoka was made with all these kings at the same time, the latest date available would be B.C. 258, which would place Aśoka’s abhisheka in B.C. 270, the death of Chandragupta in 302, and his accession in 326 B.C., while Alexander was still in India. But agreements of the kind were most probably made first with the nearer kings of Syria, Egypt, and Gyrene, and afterwards with the more remote rulers of Macedon and Epirus, while the embassy on its way back through Persia may have renewed the arrangements which were not finally reported in India till as late as 252 B.C
- 6. The following list of contemporary events may enable the reader to realise the importance of the period between Buddha and Aśoka, and to fix these dates in the memory:—
Nerighssar king of Babylon. 548 Cyrus overthrew Croesus on the Halys.
Cambyses king of Persia.
Xerxes defeated at Salamis.
Socrates put to death.
Partition of the conquests of Alexander at Triparadeisus.
Eudemus left the Panjâb with a large force to aid Eumenes.
Seleucus fled from Babylon to Egypt to escape from Antigonus.
„ returned to Babylon. Era of the Seleucidas, 1st Oct.
„ assumed the regal style, and pushed his conquests to the north and east.
„ invades Bactria and India.
Battle of Ipsus; Seleucus confirmed in the East.
Ptolemy Philadelphus succeeds to the throne of Egypt, and Antigonus Gonatus in Macedon.
Seleucus slain by Antiochus Soter, who sent Daitnachus on an embassy to Amitrochates (Bindusâra), son of Sandracottos.
Bactria revolted under Diodotus.
Arsaces founds the Parthian empire.
- 7. If Aśoka’s whole reign extended to only 38 years, this and the preceding six dates should be altered to four years earlier.
- 8. See Second Archceological Report, pp. 131 ff; see also p. 265 (Part II.) below for Pauranik list and dates.