Major Indian Dynasties (geographically arranged)


North India
























321-181             BCE



100 BCE

 -70 CE







Central India




circa (c.)












 Hoysala c. 1000-1300


c. 1300-1400


321-181             BCE


50BCE-220 CE

Later Chalukya

c. 1050-1150


c. 1350-1550



South India



c. 500-800

Chola (900-1279)



Pandya (circa 500-1300 CE)





North India


1.  Maurya (321-181 BCE).  Capital Pataliputra (modern Patna).  First great Indian empire, stretching from Afghanistan to Bengal, to all of India except the deep south.  Greatest figure is Ashoka (r. 269-32 BCE) whose inscriptions are the first written documents from India. Ashoka himself was a Buddhist, but since the Mauryan empire was multiethnic and multireligious, Ashoka supported Jains and Hindus as well.


2.  N. Shaka (c. 100 BCE-70 CE). Capital in Mathura.  The Shaka kingdom stretched over the Punjab region and the upper Ganges basin.  The Shakas were a central Asian people who carved out this kingdom in upper India.


3.  Kushana (c. 70-220 CE).  Capital in Mathura.  Like the Shakas, the Kushanas were also central Asians, whose road to conquest took them through the Punjab.  The Kushana empire included not only the Punjab, but the entire Ganges basin.  The greatest Kushana emperor, Kanishka, seems to have given his primary support to the Buddhists.


4.  Gupta (c. 320-550 CE).  Capitals in Pataliputra, Ayodhya, and Prayag. The Guptas were the first of the north Indian dynasties to give their primary support to the Hindus, and most of the Gupta kings themselves were devotees of Shiva.  The Gupta dynasty is a time of important developments in Hindu religion, particularly the composition of many of the Puranas and some of the oldest extant Hindu temple architecture, at Deogarh in northern Madhya Pradesh.  The Gupta empire was spread through India north of the Deccan plateau, including the entire Ganges basin, as well as the eastern coast of  down to present-day Madras (Chennai).  The empire was peacably expanded by the absorption of the Vakataka Empire, through a marriage which united these two dynasties.  For Hindu historians, the Gupta dynasty is considered the beginning of the "Golden Age" of Hinduism, when it first begins to take shape.


5.  Pushyabhuti (c. 550-650)  Capital in Kanyakubja (modern Kanauj).  The Pushyabhutis arose in the power vacuum that followed the collapse of the Gupta empire, and their rule was limited to the Ganges River basin.  The most famous king in this line was Harsha, who hosted the Chinese Buddhist pilgrim Hsuan Tsang.


6.  Pala (c. 750-1150)  Capital was Gauda in modern Bengal.  The Palas followed the Pushyabhutis; their kingdom was originally based in Bengal, but later extended over Bihar, the Ganges Basin, and for a short time, all the way up to Kashmir.  The Pala dynasty, as with the Sena which followed it, is famous for sculptural work carved into a black chloritic schist rock.


7. Gurjara-Pratihara (750-1000)  Capital was Ujjain.  The Gurjara-Pratiharas were the last of the great north Indian dynasties, and at their zenith ruled over most of India north of the Vindhyas (the mountains marking the traditional boundary between north and south India), contesting all the while for supremacy with the Pala dynasty. This continual warfare between the two kingdoms left both of then enervated, and unable to resist the onslaughts of Muslim raiders (Muhammed of Ghazni, Muhammed Ghauri) which came in the following centuries.


8.  Sena (c.1100-1200)  Capital Navidvip in West Bengal.  The Senas followed the Palas, but controlled only the Bengal region.  Like the Palas, they are famous for a particular type of rock carving.


9.  Mamluk/Tughluk (c. 1200-1400)  Capital in Delhi. These were the first of the Muslim Dyasties which ruled India until the death of the last Moghul in 1718 (after that, nobody really ruled India, which is one reason the British were able to come in with such relative ease).  The Mamluk Empire was only in the Punjab and the Ganges Basin, whereas the Tughluks ruled over all of India except the deep South.  One of the Tughluk sultans, in an effort to have a more central capital, forcibly relocated the entire population of Delhi (including, according to legend, the beggars and the stray dogs) to Daulatabad in central India.  Eighteen years later, the next sultan reverted to Delhi as his capital, and Daulatabad has been more or less deserted since that time. 


10.  The Mughal Dynasty was the dominant power in India for the 16th and 17th century, and it was this period that saw the first in-depth contact with European colonial powers. From their core region in the Ganges Valley and the North-west (Punjab, Afghanistan), the Mughal empire eventually expanded to include the whole sub-continent, except for the very deepest parts of South India..  Although Moghul reign was relatively brief, it was also marked by remarkable cultural achievements.  There were 5 rulers in the Mughal Dynasty, which began when Babar (a descendent of the Mongol emperor Timur) was displaced from his ancestral home in the Afghan hills.  Babar defeated the Delhi sultan, Sikandar Lodi, at the battle of Panipat in 1526, and then took control over the Lodi kingdom.  He died in 1530.  Babar’s son Humayan lost the kingdom in 1539, and lived in exile in Iran until 1545, but regained his kindom in 1555.  His triumph was short-lived, since he died the next year because of injuries suffered in a fall down some stairs (there are persisting rumors he was pushed).  Humayan’s son Akbar (reigned 1556-1605) was the first Mughal to rule for a long time, and his reign was very successful, in part because he gave Hindus a role in the empire, and showed religious tolerance in repealing several unpopular laws discriminating against Hindus.  Akbar’s son Jahangir (reigned 1605-27) retained many of his father’s policies, but is best known for his dissolute habits, including prodigious consumption of wine and opium.  Jahangir and all later Mughals came to power through open rebellion against their fathers.  Shah Jahan  (r. 1627-58) is romanticized as the builder of the Taj Mahal, but his ascent to the throne was marked by ruthlessly executing all of his male relatives, to remove potential contenders to the throne.  The final great Moghul was Aurangzeb (r. 1858-1707), who espoused a strict and austere Islam, and whose his religious convictions formed the bedrock of his positions.  These convictions led him to re-impose certain unpopular taxes as a punitive measure against non-Muslims, as well as to ban wine, music, and dancing-girls.  Even during his lifetime the boundaries of the empire were eroding, and he spent the last twenty-odd years of his reign in the field in central India, overseeing a series of military campaigns.  After his death a the empire fell apart because of internal stresses and external invasions, and although the Mughal dynasty “ruled” until 1857, for much of this time they were emperors with a very small empire



Central India


1.  Satavahana (c. 50BCE-220 CE) Capital in Pratisthana (modern Paithan in Maharashtra).  The Satavahanas controlled a significant empire in west and central India, south of the Vindhyas.  During their time one sees the first rock cut cave temples, constructed first by Buddhists, then by other religious communities.


2.  Vakataka (c. 250-500) Capital in Nandivardhana.  The empire stretched throughout central India (modern Maharashtra, northern Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh), but was eventually peacefully absorbed by marriage into the Gupta Dynasty.


3.  Chalukya (c. 550-750 CE) Capital in Vatapi.  The Chalukya kingdom was the region south of the Vindhyas, except for modern Tamil Nadu and Kerala.  The Chalukyas kept up a running battle with the Pallava and the Pandya Dynasties further south, in which none of the three was strong enough to prevail over the others.


4.  Rashtrakuta (770-950).  Capital in Achalapura in modern Maharashtra.  The Rashtrakutas ruled India south of the Vindhyas, even extending through Sri Lanka.  They are most famous as the builders of the great Kailasathanatha temple (dedicated to Shiva as the "Lord of Kailas") at Ellora in modern Maharashtra.


5.  Hoysala (c. 1000-1300, with a gap in the middle).  Capital at Dvarasamudra in modern Karnataka.  Kingdom centered in modern Karnataka in South India, but extending (around their prime in 1200) all the way to the Chola kingdom in Tamil Nadu.  The Hoysalas are most famous for the temple carvings at Belur and Halebid in Karnataka.


6.  Later Chalukya (c. 1050-1150) Capital at Kalyani in northern Karnataka.  These Chalukyas basically came to power during the time when Hoysala power declined, then lost out to them again.


7.  The Tughluks ruled central India from about 1300-1400.  On their collapse they were succeeded by a central Indian Muslim dynasty known as the Bahmanis, (c. 1350-1550), whose capital was Bidar in northern Karnataka.  The successors of these sultans (in a coalition of smaller kingdoms) were responsible for the defeat of the Sangamas (South India); the sultans themselves were later absorbed by the Moghuls (c. 1556-1718).



South India


1.  Pallava (c. 500-800 CE)  Capital was Kanchipuram.  At its peak the Pallava empire stretched over most of south India, bounded by the Pandyas on the south and the Chalukyas on the north.  The Pallava dynasty was a time of significant religious change in South India--in particular, the growth of the bhakti movement.  Both the Alvars and the Nayanars were active during this time, and there are reports of Pallava kings converting from Jainism to Shaivism, leading to the decline of the Jain community in South India.  The Pallavas were also important builders, and some of the important monuments in S. India (such as the temples at Mahabalipuram) date from this time.


2.  Pandya (c. 500-1300 CE).  Capital was Madurai in Tamil Nadu.  The Pandhyas realm changed significantly over time--sometimes being reduced through pressure from other dynasties, particularly the Cholas, but later conquering and supplanting the Cholas to rule all of south India.  Throughout the first part of their dynasty the Pandyas contested for supremacy with the Pallavas and the Chalukyas, but none of the three were able to defeat the others. 


3.  Chola (c. 900-1279)  The first capital was Kanchipuram, the later capital was Gangaikondacholapuram.  At their peak the Cholas not only ruled virtually all of South India, but also an overseas empire in Southeast Asia.  The Cholas were significant temple builders, and many of the great temples in South India date from this era.  They were also known for their exquisite bronze statuary, usually cast through the lost-wax method.


4.  Samgama (1340-1565).  Also known as the Vijayanagar empire, after their capital city by the same name.  The last of the great Hindu empires, at its peak the Samgama dynasty stretched throughout all of South India (through conquest or tribute). The Samgame dynasty came to a disastrous end in 1565, with their defeat at the battle of Talikota, at the hands of a coalition of central Indian Muslim kings.  Vijayanagar, the capital,  turned into a ghost town overnight, and has never been inhabited since then.