Friday, January 4, 2013

King Kanishka (Kushan Dynasty 127-151 AD)


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"King Kanishka of the Kushan Empire (its capital, Bagram, is situated slightly east of Bamian) ruled over Central Asia from 78-144 A.D. and is revered as a patron of Buddhism. His kingdom extended from Bukhara in the west to Patna in the Ganges Valley in the east, from the Pamirs in the north to central India in the south. Contact between Kanishka and the Chinese in Central Asia may have inspired the transmission of Indian ideas, particularly Buddhism, to China, where it first appeared in the 2nd century A.D. Kanishka had convened the Fourth Buddhist Council in Kashmir that marked the formal rise of Mahayana Buddhism in Tibet, Central Asia, and China."......

"Kanishka personally seems to have embraced both Buddhism and the Persian cult of Mithra." [***]...

"A number of legends about Kanishka, a great patron of Buddhism, were preserved in Buddhist religious traditions. Along with the Indian kings Ashoka and Harshavardhana, and the Indo-Greek king Menander I (Milinda), he is considered by Buddhists to have been one of the greatest Buddhist kings.

"Around 100 A.D., the Fourth Buddhist Council was held under the auspices of King Kanishka, who was a Mahayana practitioner and a very generous king. The coins of the Kushan dynasty show that open society honoured Brahman, Manichean, Greek, and Christian deities too. The Theravada School never acknowledged this council. The Kushan dynasty collapsed in the 5th century under the attacks of the Huns, an Asian nomadic and pastoral people of Mongolian appearance, who had divided into groups that migrated on their small and speedy horses in search of new homes, setting horrifying standards for savagery and living off countries they terrorized. Hsuan-tsang, the Chinese Buddhist pilgrim, noted around 630 A.D. that Bamian was a flourishing Buddhist centre with more than ten monasteries. He also wrote that he saw a 300-meter long Buddha statue, carved lying on the side in a cave, and both Buddha statues that were recently destroyed (one 37 and the other 53 meters high) in the mountains behind what is now a village. The once splendid region of Bamian remained a crossroads of cultural influence until it finally became subject to Western Turks in the 8th century. Changing hands several times, it was destroyed and its inhabitants exterminated in the 13th century, never regaining its central role in history. Bamian is now one of the thirty-four provinces of Afghanistan."......

"Kanishka (Kanishka the Great), (Sanskrit: कनिष्क, Bactrian language: Κανηϸκι, Middle Chinese: 迦腻色伽 (Jianisejia)) was an emperor of the Kushan dynasty (127-151) who ruled an empire extending from Turfan in the Tarim Basin to Pataliputra on the Gangetic plain and famous for his military, political, and spiritual achievements. His main capital was at Purushpura (Peshawar in present day northwestern Pakistan) with regional capitals at the location of the modern city of Taxila in Pakistan, Begram in Afghanistan and Mathura in India.

"Kanishka was a Kushan of probable Yuezhi ethnicity. He used an Eastern Iranian, Indo-European language known as Bactrian (called "αρια," i. e. "Aryan" in the Rabatak inscription)...... Kanishka's era is now believed by many to have begun in 127 AD....

"Kanishka's empire was certainly vast. It extended from southern Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, north of the Amu Darya (Oxus) in the north west to Northern India, as far as Mathura in the south east (the Rabatak inscription even claims he held Pataliputra and Sri Champa), and his territory also included Kashmir, where there was a town Kanishkapur, named after him not far from the Baramula Pass and which still contains the base of a large stupa.....Several coins of Kanishka have been found in the Tarim Basin......Controlling both the land (the Silk Road) and sea trade routes between South Asia and Rome seems to have been one of Kanishka's chief imperial goals.

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"Kanishka's reputation in Buddhist tradition is based mainly that he convened the 4th Buddhist Council in Kashmir. Images of the Buddha based on 32 physical signs were made during his time......He provided encouragement to both the Gandhara school of Greco-Buddhist Art and the Mathura school of Hindu art (An inescapable religious syncretism pervades Kushana rule). Kanishka personally seems to have embraced both Buddhism and the Persian cult of Mithra.

"Kanishka is said to have been particularly close to the Buddhist scholar Ashvaghosha, who became his religious advisor in his later years. At the time of Kanishka's coronation and when India's first gold coin was minted, Yuz Asaf was the spiritual advisor to the king.

"The Buddhist coins of Kanishka are comparatively rare (well under one percent of all known coins of Kanishka). Several show Kanishka on the obverse and the Buddha standing on the reverse, in Hellenistic style. A few also show the Shakyamuni Buddha and Maitreya. Like all coins of Kanishka, the design is rather rough and proportions tend to be imprecise; the image of the Buddha is often slightly corrupted, with oversize ears and feet spread apart in the same fashion as the Kushan king, indicating clumsy imitation of Hellenistic types.

"Kanishka's coins portray images of Indo-Aryan, Greek, Iranian and even Sumero-Elamite divinities, demonstrating the religious syncretism in his beliefs. Kanishka's coins from the beginning of his reign bear legends in Greek language and script and depict Greek divinities. Later coins bear legends in Bactrian, the Iranian language that the Kushans evidently spoke, and Greek divinities were replaced by corresponding Iranic ones.

"Silk Road transmission of Buddhism.....Kanishka's expansion into the Tarim Basin probably initiated the transmission of Buddhism to China.......Buddhist monks from the region of Gandhara played a key role in the development and the transmission of Buddhist ideas in the direction of northern Asia from the middle of the 2nd century CE. The Kushan monk, Lokaksema (c. 178 CE), became the first translators of Mahayana Buddhist scriptures into Chinese and established a translation bureau at the Chinese capital Loyang. Central Asian and East Asian Buddhist monks appear to have maintained strong exchanges for the following centuries.......Kanishka was probably succeeded by Huvishka. How and when this came about is still uncertain. The fact that there were other Kushana kings called Kanishka is just another complicating factor.

"King Kanik (if Kanishaka) ruled (AD 78-101) not over Kabul but over Purushapura/Gandhara and his descendants could not have ruled for almost 900 years as a single dynasty over Kapisa/Kabul especially in a frontier region called the gateway of India. Pre Islamic Hindu and Buddhist heritage of Afghanistan is well established in the Shahi coinage from Kabul of this period.....

"Vima Kadphises (Kushan language: Οοημο Καδφισης, Ancient Chinese: 阎膏珍) was a Kushan emperor from around 90–100 CE. As detailed by the Rabatak inscription, he was the son of Vima Takto and the father of Kanishka....He was the first Kushan emperor to introduce gold coinage, in addition to the existing copper and silver coinage. Most of the gold seems to have been obtained through trade with the Roman Empire. ...Coin of Vima Kadphises. Obv: Bust of king emerging from a cloud, with a crested helmet and holding a club. Corrupted Greek language legend: ΒΑΣΙΛΕΥΣ ΟΟΗΜΟ ΚΑΔΦΙΣΗΣ ("Basileus Ooimo Kadphisis"): "King Vima Kadphises". Rev: Shiva, with a long trident in right hand, and the skin of a tiger in the left......Most of Vima's coins feature the Buddhist symbol of the Triratana on the reverse (or possibly Shiva's symbol for Nandi, the Nandipada), together with representations of Shiva, with or without his bull......

"The Rabatak inscription is an inscription written on a rock in the Bactrian language and the Greek script, which was found in 1993 at the site of Rabatak, near Surkh Kotal in Afghanistan. The inscription relates to the rule of the Kushan emperor Kanishka, and gives remarkable clues on the genealogy of the Kushan dynasty......The first lines of the inscription describe Kanishka as: "the great salvation, the righteous, just autocrat, worthy of divine worship, who has obtained the kingship from Nana and from all the gods, who has inaugurated the year one as the gods pleased" (Trans. Professor Sims-Williams)."....

"The Hephthalites were a Central Asian nomadic confederation of the AD 5th-6th centuries whose precise origins and composition remain obscure. According to Chinese chronicles, they were originally a tribe living to the north of the Great Wall and were known as Hoa or Hoa-tun. Elsewhere they were called White Huns....They displaced the Scythians and conquered Sogdiana and Khorasan before AD 425. Scholars believe that the Hephthalites constituted a second "Hunnish" wave who entered Bactria early in the fifth century AD, and who seem to have driven the Kidarites into Gandhara.

"Balkh came under Hepthalites or Huns by the of 4th Century A.D...... Kanishka had been the first Buddhist to rule Balkh. The early Huns followed a religion akin to Zorastrianism and worshipped fire and Sun. Subsequently, Hun Kings became followers of Buddhism...."

"The Kushana period saw a great resurgence of Buddhism in Kashmir, especially during the reign of Kanishka. The fourth Buddhist Council was held in Kashmir, under the presidency of Katyayaniputra, in Kanishka's time. The south Indian Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna lived in Kashmir during the Kushana period.".....

"Kushan Carnelian seal representing the Iranian divinity Adsho (ΑΘϷΟ legend in Greek letters), with triratana symbol left, and Kanishka's dynastic mark right. The divinity uses stirrups."


John Hopkins.....Northern New Mexico….January 2013


1 comment:

  1. It is possible that Kushans were actually from Xiong-nu (Eastern Hunnic) origin. There is such legend in the Volga Bulgarian chronicles about a baby son of Jelki Khan (= Zhizhi Shanyu, ruler of the Western faction of Xiongnu Empire during the civil war in the 1st century B.C.E.) who survived the massacre of his men in 36 B.C.E. and was raised by the Masguts (Massagetae) - most likely the Great Yuezhi (Ta Yuezhi) who were driven to the West by the Xiongnu and conquered Bactria more than a century earlier. B. Laufer reconstructs the ethnonym Yuehzhi of the native population of Xinjiang as *Sgwied-di which renders the ancient Iranian *Skuda ("schooter, archer") being the common etymon for the names of Scythians (Skythai in Old Greek) and Sogdians (Suguda in Old Persian) - thus Massagetae (Masgut) may mean "Great Skythians" rendered in the Chinese chronicles as Ta Yuezhi. According to the Volga Bulgarian legend the child became a prince who restored the kingdom of the Hon (i.e. Huns/Xiongnu) and was known by the nickname of Gazan or Kazan because as the legend says he was saved in a cauldron ("kazan") cast in the river Talas. This story may actually refer to the foundation of the Kushan Empire by uniting the four major Scythian (Saka) tribes in Bactria under the Kushan clan (= Kazan?.