1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Kanishka

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KANISHKA, king of Kabul, Kashmir, and north-western India in the 2nd century A.D., was a Tatar of the Kushan tribe, one of the five into which the Yue-chi Tatars were divided. His dominions extended as far down into India as Madurā, and probably as far to the north-west as Bokhāra. Private inscriptions found in the Punjab and Sind, in the Yusufzai district and at Madurā, and referred by European scholars to his reign, are dated in the years five to twenty-eight of an unknown era. It is the references by Chinese historians to the Yue-chi tribes before their incursion into India, together with conclusions drawn from the history of art and literature in his reign, that render the date given the most probable. Kanishka’s predecessors on the throne were Pagans; but shortly after his accession he professed himself, probably from political reasons, a Buddhist. He spent vast sums in the construction of Buddhist monuments; and under his auspices the fourth Buddhist council, the council of Jālandhara (Jullunder) was convened under the presidency of Vasumitra. At this council three treatises, commentaries on the Canon, one on each of the three baskets into which it is divided, were composed. King Kanishka had these treatises, when completed and revised by Aśvaghosha, written out on copper plates, and enclosed the latter in stone boxes, which he placed in a memorial mound. For some centuries afterwards these works survived in India; but they exist now only in Chinese translations or adaptations. We are not told in what language they were written. It was probably Sanskrit (not Pali, the language of the Canon)—just as in Europe we have works of exegetical commentary composed, in Latin, on the basis of the Testament and Septuagint in Greek. This change of the language used as a medium of literary intercourse was partly the cause, partly the effect, of a complete revulsion in the intellectual life of India. The reign of Kanishka was certainly the turning-point in this remarkable change. It has been suggested with great plausibility, that the wide extent of his domains facilitated the incursion into India of Western modes of thought; and thus led in the first place to the corruption and gradual decline of Buddhism, and secondly to the gradual rise of Hinduism. Only the publication of the books written at the time will enable us to say whether this hypothesis—for at present it is nothing more—is really a sufficient explanation of the very important results of his reign. In any case it was a migration of nomad hordes in Central Asia that led, in Europe, to the downfall of the Roman civilization; and then, through the conversion of the invaders, to medieval conditions of life and thought. It was the very same migration of nomad hordes that led, in India, to the downfall of the Buddhist civilization; and subsequently, after the conversion of the Saka and Tatar invaders, to medieval Hinduism. As India was nearer to the starting-point of the migration, its results were felt there somewhat sooner.

Authorities.—Vincent A. Smith, The Early History of India (Oxford, 1908); “The Kushan Period of Indian History,” in J.R.A.S. (1903); M. Boyer, “L’Époque de Kaniska,” in Journal Asiatique (1900); T. Watters, On Yuan Chwang (London, 1904, 1905); J. Takakusu, “The Sarvāstivādin Abhidharma Books,” in Jour. of the Pali Text Soc. (1905), esp. pp. 118–130; Rhys Davids, Buddhist India (London, 1903), ch. xvi., “Kanishka.”  (T. W. R. D.)