Kushan Empire – Kanishka

Emperor Kanishka(78ad-102ad)

Kanishka is the greatest ruler of the Kushan dynasty. His capital was Purushapura (Peshawar). He was a Kshatrapa (Governor) during Vema Kadaphis. After his death, problems aroused among the governors and he came to power. He was fully Indian and he was accepted as an Indian king. He was a great conqueror. He conquered Rajputana, Saurashtra, North Maharashtra, Sindh, Punjab, Kashmir and North West Frontier.


Kanishka was a capable administrator. His empire was vast. Purushapura was his capital. He had Kshatrapas, they enjoyed the maximum power. Kshatrapas at Mathura, Banaras, Kaushambi, Ayodhya and North West Frontier maintained peace in the entire empire. Gold coins were issued, which is similar to the Roman coins with images of God and Goddess. Copper coins also issued which depicts the sacrifice to Goddess

Sanskrit Language

Sanskrit language flourished. Court was the centre of learning. Asvaghosa, Parsava, Varnmitra and Sangaraksha were the important scholars. Nagarjuna and Charaka were in his court.


The empire extended upto China in the east and Central Asia in the west. It also extended upto the Roman Empire. Land and sea trade flourished in this period. He exported valuable materials.


Kanishka converted to Buddhism. He installed a stupa in Peshawar. Sixth Buddhist council was held in Kashmir or Jalandhar. In this council Buddhism was divided as Hinayana and Mahayana. Kanishka promoted Mahayana Buddhism. He send missionaries to spread Mahayana Buddhism to Central Asia, Tibet, China and Japan. He was tolerant to all religions. Buddhism, Jainism and Saivism flourished during his period.


Art, sculptures and painting flourished. Monasteries, stupas, rock edicts, rock pillars arose for Buddhism. Mural painting of Ajanta caves was developed in this period. For first time image of Buddha was built. Gandhara art was influenced by the Greek or Helenistic art of sculpture. Hence Buddha images were beautifully built compared to Appollo, the Greek god of Beauty. Besides, Amaravati and Mathura schools of sculptures also grew up and beautiful sculptures were built. Because of the religious toleration art and literature began to grown. His contact with the western world helped him in the economic and cultural progress. The growth of literature, art and religion got perfection in the age of Guptas and was known as Golden age of Guptas. It also introduced Buddhism to China by Kasyapa Mahanga. The period of Kanishka opened the way for the Central and Eastern Asia

Art and Culture

The three important schools of Indian sculpture was 1.The Gandhara school, 2.The Mathura school, and 3.The Amaravati school. The most ancient Indian sculpture was the seals found in the Indus valley civilization. The next progressive revival was during the Mauryan age. The animal figure on the Ashoka’s stone columns are the beautiful works of art. The most beautiful Post Mauryan sculpture was the stupas of Bhuddha at Gaya and Sanchi. The figures were of Yakshas, Yakshis from the Jataka tales. Figures of Snake, Jungle, Lion, Peacock, elephant were also important. They were influenced by the Mesopotamian or Persian art. Mahayana influenced the period of the Kushanas. This led to the three schools of art and sculpture

1.Gandhara School (50bc-500ad)

It is also known as Greco-Roman, Greco-Buddhist, Indo-Greek because it has the influence of Greek, Roman and Helenistic art. The Sakas and Kushanas were the patron of this art. It flourished in North Western Frontier of India. This region is called as Gandhara Pradesh, hence named Gandhara School of art. As it has Helenistic influence it is called as Greco-Roman or Indo-Greek. It was influenced by Buddhism hence it is called as Greco-Buddhist art. The Gandhara school of art was found in Bimaran, Hartnagar, Sakra Dheri, Shan-ji-k-dnai, Taxila, Hadda and Jalalabad. The chief character of Gandhara School of art was the human with muscles and transparent garments. The image of Buddha was so beautiful like the images of Appollo, the Greek God of Beauty. Gandhara School is known as the best school of sculpture in India. All other Indian school of sculpture developed from it.

2.Mathura School (150bc-300ad)

Mathura is one of the district town of Western U.P. The art of sculpture developed here was called as Mathura school. The sculptures were so popular that they were exported to the Taxila, Central Asia, Sravasti and Saranath in the east. Some fine examples are preserved in the museum of Mathura. Some important were statue of Emperor Kanishka, Slave Girls, Yakshas, Yakshins, males and females were the finest piece of art and sculpture. The Mathura school of art expelled in depicting the beauty of the body. Most of the female figures were nude or semi-nude. They used mostly spotted red sandstone found at Fatapur sikri near Agra.

3.Amaravathi School (150bc-400ad)

In the lower valley of River Krishna and Godavari the district of Amaravati and Guntur where the Amaravati school of sculpture expelled. These sculptures were sent to Ceylon and South East Asian countries. The great stupa of Amaravati with the limestone and Buddha’s life were on high quality. This school depicted Love, Compassion, Devotion and Sacrifice. The figures also expressed human emotions and physical beauty. The feminine beauty was exhibited.