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Sunday, April 07, 2013

A Tale of Two Emperors

Some stories sound remarkably alike. So it does with the lives of two great Emperors from the history books - Qin Shi Huang (Zhao Zheng) and Gautamiputra Satakarni (Shaalivaahana after whom the most recent Indian era or shakabdham is named) who was born centuries later. Both were known more by their mother, had an Emperor for a father, ascended the throne at the age of 13, and had united all the warring states under one banner of their dynasty. Here's what's unbelievably spooky - both of them are associated with warriors and army made of Terracotta. Whereas Emperor Zhao Zheng is believed to have been buried along with these life-size toy soldiers who are now world famous ancient artifact, Shaalivaahana's story relates him to being their creator, in order to defeat Emperor Vikramaditya I (after whom the earlier era is named). Interestingly the term Shaalivaahana has many imports such as owner of a vehicle made of Shaali stone same as what a Shaaligram (the Vaishnavaite sacred stones from Nepal) is made of, or made of the Saala tree or fine grain rice or even Terracotta. It could even be a reference to bronze metal. The name could also have been a wanton word reversal of Vaahana Shaali or capable driver of a chariot. Vaahana in the context of Shaali being "violent" could also imply Vahanthi meaning "wearer". It is very striking that Emperor Zhao Zheng's history is also replete with instances of coups, violence and bloodshed.

Shaalivaahana's story reads straight out of a fiction. A poor widow's son born into a poor potter's family, whom a holy man foretold that he would be king one day. It is not clear if he was adopted or born to the then Emperor Satakarni of Satavahana empire. His tale is obtained from an inscription composed by his mother Gautami Balashri called Nasik Prashasti or Ekabamhana which means either unrivaled brahmin or the sole protector of brahmin community.

Gautamiputra Satakarni or Shaalivaahana, is often acknowledged by historians as the greatest of the Satavahana rulers after his father, Satakarni. Satakarni had earlier expanded the Satavahana Empire and gained considerable prosperity due to his Ashwamedha and Raajasooya sacrifices. When Gautamiputra ascended the throne, the Satavahana Empire was loosely attached and was facing the threats of invasions from Shakas and Yavanas. Gautamiputra defeated the Yavanas, Shakas, and Pahlavas and re-established the ancient glory of the Satavahana dynasty. He overthrew Nahapana and re-struck a large number of Kshaharata coins of the Jogalthembi hoard.

The Nasik Prashasti describes Gautamiputra as the ruler of all the territories down until Central Deccan, which had been lost by the Satavahana empire during the earlier rule of his predecessors. Under him, the Satavahana arms must have reached as far south as Kanchipuram. He is also credited with the conquest of territories in the Kolhapur area in the Southern Maharashtra, which he seized from the Ananda rulers. Gautamiputra also annexed the Banavasi area, thus established his sway over portions of Karnataka. But his greatest success was defeating the Shaka king Vikramaditya, thus starting the Shaalivaahana era or Shaka Calendar which is still used by the Gujarati, Marathi, Telugu, Tamil and Kannada speaking Indians.

The Shaalivaahana era is used with Hindu calendars, the Indian national calendar, and the Cambodian Buddhist calendar. Its year zero begins near the vernal equinox of the year 78 AD. The initiation of the era was solely to celebrate his victory against the Shakas and annexing of their empire. We are 1935 years into this era. This era was also used by Javanese courts from Old Javanese times until 1633, when it was replaced by Anno Javanico, a hybrid Javanese-Islamic system. It is also this particular era which aided historians in dating the Laguna Copperplate Inscription, the earliest written document found in the Philippines.

Shaalivaahana also took the additional titles of SatavahanaKulajashaPratishtankar (One who re-established the dynasty of the Satavahana), Trisamudrapitatoyavahana (whose horses drunk water from 3 oceans), ShakaYavanaPahlavaNishudana (destroyer of the Shakas, Yavanas and Pahlavas).

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