Ikshvakus and their cultural contribution
The Ikshvaku dynasty (c. 225-340 A.D) was a feudatory tribe under the patronage of the great Satavahana Empire that ruled the Andhra region, delta of the Krishna and Godavari rivers on the east coast, situating their capital at Dharanikota (present day Amravati). Their downfall around the 3 rd century C.E due to the internal skirmishes of its feudatories- the Abhiras, Traikutas, Brihatphalayans and the salankayanas in order to gain power and the internal confusion rising due to such circumstances strengthened the hold of the ikshvakus.
As per the palaeographic and other archaeological evidences it appears that the ikshvakus were the first to grow powerful in the Krishna-Guntur region 1 and to throw off the Satavahana suzerainty in order to gain independent authority of the areas such as the Khammam, Nalgonda and Mahabubnagar of present day Telangana and areas of Maharashtra.
The Ikshvaku rule in the Krishna- Guntur valley saw the continuation of Amravati school of art (150 B.C- 350 A.D) that reached its peak during the reign of the Satavahana dynasty. Nagarjunakonda remained the centre of major sculptural and architectural activities as evidenced by the relics, artifacts and inscriptions extracted during the excavations.
Although the origin of the Ikshvaku clan is still debatable but we do find references that are replete with the origin and existence of this dynasty. The Ikshvakus inscriptions obtained from Nagarjunakonda, Jaggayyapetta, Amravati and bhattiprolu record their activities such as donation, construction, religious faith, social outlook and so on. The Puranas * also record the existence of ikshvakus as Andhrabhrtyas (servants of the Andhras) and as Sriparvatiyas.
In the Ikshvaku inscriptions sriparvatiya is mentioned in relation to vijayapuri (ancient name of the Ikshvaku capital) as Sriparvate vijayapure which appears to be the ancient name of the Nallamalai Range.
As per a Kannada poem Dharmamrita, the Andhra Ikshvakus were the descendents of the renowned Ikshvakus of North India though its authenticity is debatable as this was possibly done to raise the status of the tribe in the eyes of the people.
The Andhra Ikshvakus certainly believed that claiming descent from the mythological Ikshvakus of Ayodhya to which Lord Rama (the mythological hero) also belongs would lend them familiarity and respect among their subjects. Oriental scholars such as Buhler and Rapson are of the view that northern Ikshvakus migrated to the south and established their sovereignty.
The political history of the Ikshvakus who reigned for a brief period of about 100 years is one of achievements and advancements. Their capital at Vijayapuri along with other areas of Krishna-Guntur region witnessed extensible changes that are still marvelled and cherished. As stated earlier the main sources of their political accomplishments are basically the inscriptions found from pillars and temples and the coins with epithets of the king describing extent of their power.
The Prakrit inscriptions incised in brahmi script found at Nagarjunakonda (ancient Vijayapuri) serve as an important authority of the rule of the Ikshvakus. The Ikshvaku inscriptions belong to about middle and 2 nd half of 3 rd century A.D.
Art and Architecture
During the Ikshvaku reign The Ikshvakus are known for their dual affinities in terms of religious beliefs which were reflected in their art and architectural projects. Their inscriptions record facts such as donations for construction of chaityas and viharas at Bhattiprolu, Jaggayyapeta as well as building of temples during the reign of each ruler which points to the fact that they believed in both Buddhism and Brahminism.
Also, as per the inscriptions of Jaggapatteya, Kottampalugu and Nagarjunakonda, It seems that most of the Ikshvaku women of royal families were patrons of Buddhism since they mostly funded for Buddhist construction. This reign marks the cultural and religious growth and development of the Krishna- Guntur region.
So, the architectural splendour of the ikshvakus manifest in the Mahachaitas and Viharas and the richly ornate temples particulary at the site called Nagarjunakonda prove that they patronised both vedic and Buddhist faiths.
The sculptures of the ikshvakus are categorised under the declining phase of glorious art tradition that started with the Amravati and Jaggapatteya art in the 2 nd century B.C. Ikshvaku art acted as the last flicker in the lamp of the great tradition of satavahana art that started around 230 B.C.E. THE sculptural tradition of the ikshvakus had its own history of development.
During the initial phases (Virapurushadutta’s reign) the carvings displayed on structures had less amount of stylisation and were made in low relief lacking vigour of mature Amravati trdition. The stupas were also plain with absolutely no anthropomorphic depiction and Buddha was represented in symbolic forms such as Wheel, Feet and throne with Swastika.
The mature phase was represented with sculptures having delicate poses and subtle expressions. Mostly the themes behind the depicted sculptures remain jatakas such as the Mandhatu- jataka. Figures carved in round appear during the 11th regnal year of Ehuvala Camtamula as found from the archaeological remains of a mutilated Buddha image found in an apsidal shrine from site 9 at Nagarjunakonda.
There is also an evolved phase in ikshvaku art, evidences of which were found through the dating of a long panel found from site 106 at Nagarjunakonda. This has been dated to 24th regnal year of EHUVALA CAMTAMULA and has intricate depictions of mithuna figures and scenes from the life of Gautama Buddha. Other sculptures of this phase are sculpted in bold relief and show evolved features such as depiction of human emotions and expressions. Such expressions are visible in the sculptures of mithuna couples and several other dwarf figures.
The sources behind the major themes are great canons of Buddhist literature and more than a dozen jataka stories such as Sasa jataka, Mahapaduma jataka, Vessantra jataka and Mahahamsa jataka. The themes depicted in the sculptures include Mara’s attack and retreat, Muchalinda protecting Buddha and scenes from the lalit vistara.
In the Brahmanical art tradition of the Ikshvakus, the mature style of art appears to be prominent with intricately designed and beautifully carved reliefs of Sati, a female deity with two arms and Karttikeya sculptures carved in round.
The secular art tradition of the ikshvakus again coming from the mature phase but having different contents is manifest in the battle scenes depicted on pillars. Such scenes are indicate that the capital city of ikshvakus i.e. Vijayapuri did witness perils of war. An important scene depicted on the memorial of king Kulhaka-Chamtapula showing an elephant with a rider is a case in point.
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