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Kanishka

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Gold coin of Kanishka I with a  representation of the  (c.120 AD).Obv: Kanishka standing, clad in heavy Kushan coat and long boots, flames emanating from shoulders, holding standard in his left hand, and making a sacrifice over an altar. Kushan-language legend in Greek script: SHAONANOSHAO KANHSHKI KOSHANO ""King of Kings, Kanishka the Kushan".Rev: Standing Buddha in Hellenistic style, forming the gesture of reasurance (abhayamudra) with his right hand, and holding a pleat of his robe in his left hand. Legend in Greek script: BODDO "Buddha". Kanishka monogram (tamgha) to the right.
Enlarge
Gold coin of Kanishka I with a representation of the Buddha (c.120 AD).
Obv: Kanishka standing, clad in heavy Kushan coat and long boots, flames emanating from shoulders, holding standard in his left hand, and making a sacrifice over an altar. Kushan-language legend in Greek script: SHAONANOSHAO KANHSHKI KOSHANO ""King of Kings, Kanishka the Kushan".
Rev: Standing Buddha in Hellenistic style, forming the gesture of reasurance (abhayamudra) with his right hand, and holding a pleat of his robe in his left hand. Legend in Greek script: BODDO "Buddha". Kanishka monogram (tamgha) to the right.

Kanishka was a king of the Kushan Empire in South Asia, in the 2nd century of the common era, famous for his military, political, and spiritual achievements. His capital was in the modern city of Peshawar in Pakistan.

Contents

A great Kushan king

Kanishka was a Kushan of Yuezhi ethnicity. He probably spoke an Indo-European language related to Tocharian, and he used the Greek script in his inscriptions.

Kanishka was the successor of Vima Kadphises, as demonstrated by an impressive geneaology of the Kushan kings, known as the Rabatak inscription. A significant amount of what is known about Kanishka was preserved because of his spiritual merit and the Buddhist religious tradition. Along with the Indian king Ashoka, the Indo-Greek king Menander I (Milinda), and Harshavardhana, he is considered one of the greatest Buddhist kings.

In spite of the acknowledged dominance of the Kushana empire during his reign, until recently scholars have not been able to agree on the period of his reign. There have been three conferences to resolve this date. In recent years the debate has focused around the relatively narrow period between AD 100 and AD144 as the likely date of ascension. Though recent discoveries have claimed to put the solution beyond doubt a full discussion is quite complex.

Conquests in India and Central Asia

Kanishka's empire was certainly vast. It extended from the Oxus in the west to Varanasi and Mathura in the east and from Kashmir in the North to the coast of Gujarat in the south, including Malwa.

Missing image
Kushan134.jpg
Copper coin of the Tarim Basin, area of Khotan, 1st-2nd century CE.
Obv:: Chinese characters: LUH TCHU TSIEN "Six tchu (of) money"
Rev:: Depiction of a horse. Prakrit legend in Kharoshthi script: GUGRAMAYA.

Knowledge of his hold over Central Asia is less well established. Chinese records indicate that general Ban Chao fought battles with a Kushan army at Khotan in AD 90, probably headed by Kujula Kadphises. Though he claimed to be victorious (Kujula Kadphises is recorded has having paid tribute to China), the region fell to Kushan forces shortly afterwards, probably under Kanishka's rule. As a result, the territory of the Kushans extended to Kashgar, Khotan and Yarkand, which were Chinese dependencies in the Tarim Basin, modern Xinjiang.

Also controlling the land and sea trade routes between South Asia and Rome seems to have been one of Kanishka's chief imperial goals.

Kanishka and Buddhism

Kanishka's reputation in Buddhist tradition is based mainly on his having convened the 4th Buddhist Council in Kashmir. This council is attributed with having encouraged the spread of Mahayana Buddhism.

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.

His greatest contribution to Buddhist architecture is the great stupa at Peshawar. Archaeologists rediscovered it in 1908-1909 ascertained that this stupa had a diameter of 286 feet. Reports of Chinese pilgrims such as Xuan Zang indicate that its height was 600 to 700 (Chinese) "feet" (= roughly 180-210 metres or 591-689 ft.). Certainly this would rank among the wonders of the ancient world.

Kanishka's Buddhist coinage

Missing image
KanishkaBuddha2.jpg
Another Buddhist coin of Kanishka.

Kanishka's coins show Hindu, Buddhist, Greek, Persian and even Sumerian-Elamite images of gods. They are demonstrative of religious syncretism in his beliefs. Kanishka's coins are all written in the Greek script, with the addition of the letter "Sh", in the shape of a "D" with an elongated vertical line.

The Buddhist coins of Kanishka are comparatively few. They all display Kanishka himself on the obverse, and the Buddha standing on the reverse, in Hellenistic style. Like all coins of Kanishka, their design is rather rough and proportions tend to be imprecise, and the image of the Buddha is slightly corrupted, as seen in the huge oversize ears, and the feet spread apart in the same fashion as the Kushan king, indicating a rather rough imitation of pre-existing Hellenistic images.

Kanishka's Buddha coins all bear the mention "Boddo" in Greek script, with one known exception which seems to indicate the name "Siddhartha Gautama".

Kanishka casket

Missing image
KanishkaCasketDrawing.jpg
The "Kanishka casket", dated to 127 CE, with the Buddha surrounded by Brahma and Indra, and Kanishka standing at the center of the lower part, British Museum (drawing).

The "Kanishka casket" or "Kanishka reliquary", dated to the first year of Kanishka's reign in 127 CE, was discovered in a deposit chamber under Kanishka's stupa, during the archeological excavations in 1908-1909 in Shah-ji-Dheri on the outskirts of Peshawar. It is said to have contained three bone fragments of the Buddha. It is today at the Peshawar Museum, and a copy is in the British Museum. The casket is dedicated in Kharoshthi. The inscription reads:

"(*mahara)jasa kanishkasa kanishka-pure nagare aya gadha-karae deya-dharme sarva-satvana hita-suhartha bhavatu mahasenasa sagharaki dasa agisala nava-karmi ana*kanishkasa vihare mahasenasa sangharame"

The text is signed by the maker, a Greek artist named Agesilas, who oversaw work at Kanishka's stupas (caitya), confirming the direct involvement of Greeks with Buddhist realizations at such a late date: "The slave Agisalaos, the superintendent of works at the vihara of Kanishka in the monastery of Mahasena" ("dasa agisala nava-karmi ana*kaniskasa vihara mahasenasa sangharame").

The lid of the casket shows the Buddha on lotus pedestal, and worshipped by Brahma and Indra. The edge of the lid is decorated by a frieze of flying geese. The body of the casket represents a Kushan monarch, probably Kanishka in person, with the Iranian sun and moon gods on his side. On the sides are two images of a seated Buddha, worshiped by royal figures. A garland, supported by cherubs goes around the seen in typical Hellenistic style.

Transmission of Buddhism to China

Main article: 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 second 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.

The airplane that was destroyed in the 1985 bombing of Air India Flight 182 was named after him.

Preceded by:
Vima Kadphises
Kushan Ruler Succeeded by:
Huvishka

See also

External links

References

  • Hermann Kulke and Dietmar Rothermund (1991). A History of India. Rupa and Co.
  • Foucher, M. A. 1901. "Notes sur la geographie ancienne du Gandhra (commentaire un chaptaire de Hiuen-Tsang)." BEFEO No. 4, Oct. 1901, pp. 322-369.
  • Hargreaves, H. (1910-11): "Excavations at Shāh-jī-kī Dhērī"; Archaeological Survey of India, 1910-11, pp. 25-32.
  • Spooner, D. B. 1908-9. "Excavations at Shāh-jī-kī Dhērī."; Archaeological Survey of India, 1908-9, pp. 38-59.de:Kanishka

zh:迦膩色伽王一世

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