After the fall of the Mauryan Empire, the history of the Andhras, as a continuous account of political and cultural events, commences with the rise of the Satavahanas as a political power. According to Matsya Purana there were 29 rulers of this dynasty. They ruled over the Andhradesa including Deccan for about 400 years from the 2nd century B.C. to beyond the 2nd century A.D. Satavahanas were also called Salivahanas and Satakarnis. In the 3rd century B.C., Simukha, the founder of the Satavahana dynasty, unified the various Andhra principalities into one kingdom and became its ruler (271 B.C. – 248 B.C.). Dharanikota near Amaravati in Guntur district was the first capital of Simukha, but later he shifted his capital to Pratishtana (Paithan in Aurangabad district).
Satakarni II, the sixth ruler of the dynasty (184 B.C.) was an able ruler who extended his kingdom to the west by conquering Malwa. According to inscriptional evidence, he extended the boundaries of his realm far into central India across the Vindhyas, perhaps up to the river Ganges. He ruled for a long period of 56 years. The long reign of Satakarni II was followed successively by eight rulers of whom none can be credited with any notable achievement. It was the accession of Pulumavi I that brought renewed strength and glory to their kingdom. He struck down the last of the Kanva rulers, Susarman, in 28 B.C. and occupied Magadha. The Satavahanas thus assumed an all-India significance as imperial rulers in succession to the Nandas, Mauryas, Sungas and Kanvas. The kings, who succeeded him, appear to have been driven, by the Sakas, out of Maharashtra back to their home land in Andhra. The only silver lining in that murky atmosphere was the excellent literary work, Gathasaptasati, of Hala, the 17th Satavahana king.
It was during the time of Gautamiputra Satakarni, the 23rd ruler of this dynasty, who ascended the throne in A.D.62, their kingdom made a sharp recovery of the lost territories from the western Kshatrapas. A Nasik record describes him as the restorer of the glory of the Satavahanas. His kingdom included the territories of Asika, Assaka, Mulaka, Saurashtra, Kukura, Aparanta, Anupa, Vidarbha, Akara and Avanti, and the mountainous regions of Vindhya, Achavata, Pariyatra, Sahya, Kanhagiri, Siritana, Malaya, Mahendra, Sata and Chakora, and extended as far as seas on either side. Though some of the mountains mentioned in the inscription cannot be identified at present, it is clear that Gautamiputra’s kingdom covered not only the peninsular India, but also the southern parts of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa. He passed away in A.D.86, and his successors witnessed the dismemberment of their far flung empire.
Pulumavi II succeeded Gautamiputra and ruled for 28 years. In spite of serious efforts put forth by him to safeguard the frontiers of his vast empire, the closing years of his reign witnessed the decline of the Satavahana authority. Yajnasri Satakarni’s accession to the throne in A.D.128 brought matters to a crisis. He came into conflict with the Saka Satrap, Rudradamana, and suffered defeat, and consequently, lost all his western possessions. However, he continued to rule till A.D.157 over a truncated dominion. His ship-marked coins suggest extensive maritime trade during his days. With him passed away the age of the great Satavahanas and by the end of the 2nd century A.D., the rule of the Satavahanas was a matter of past history.There were different opinions about their capital. Some argue that Srikakulam in Krishna district was their capital. Evidences show that Dharanikota in Guntur district, Dharmapuri in Karimnagar district and Paithan in Aurangabad district of Maharashtra State were used as capitals at various periods.
The Deccan, during this period, was an emporium of inland and maritime trade. The region between the rivers of Godavari and Krishna was full of ports and throbbing with activity. There was plentiful currency to facilitate trade and the Telugus entered upon a period of great industrial, commercial and maritime activity.
Buddhism flourished throughout the period and at the same time the rulers were devoted to Vedic ritualism. They constructed several Buddhist Stupas, Chaityas and Viharas. The Stupa at Amaravati is known for its architecture par excellence. Satavahanas were not only the able rulers but were also lovers of literacy and architecture. The 17th ruler of this dynasty, Hala was himself a great poet and his Gathasaptasati in Prakrit was well received by all. Gunadhya, the minister of Hala was the author of “Brihatkadha”.
The decline and fall of the Satavahana empire left the Andhra country in a political chaos. Local rulers as well as invaders tried to carve out small kingdoms for themselves and to establish dynasties. During the period from A.D.180 to A.D.624, Ikshvakus, Brihatphalayanas, Salankayanas, Vishnukundins, Vakatakas, Pallavas, Anandagotras, Kalingas and others ruled over the Andhra area with their small kingdoms. Such instability continued to prevail until the rise of the Eastern Chalukyas.
Important among them were the Ikshvakus. The Puranas mention them as the Sriparvatiyas. The present Nagarjunakonda was then known as Sriparvata and Vijayapuri, near it, was their capital. They patronised Buddhism, though they followed the vedic ritualism. After the Ikshvakus, a part of the Andhra region north of the river Krishna was ruled over by Jayavarma of Brihatphalayana gotra. Salankayanas ruled over a part of the East Coast with Vengi as their capital. Next to rule were the Vishnukundins who occupied the territory between the Krishna and Godavari. It is believed that their capital was Indrapura, which can be identified with the modern Indrapalagutta in Ramannapet taluk of Nalgonda district. By A.D.514, the land north of the Godavari, known, as Kalinga became independent. The area south of the Krishna fell to the share of the Pallavas, who ruled from Kanchi. The Vakatakas occupied the present Telangana. This state of affairs continued with few changes up to the beginning of the 7th century A.D.
Buddhism continued, though in a decadent form during this period. Mahayanism gave wide currency to the belief that the installation and worship of Buddha and Bodhisattva images, and the erection of stupas conferred great merit. The Madhyamika School of thought in Mahayana was propounded by Nagarjuna. Sanskrit came to occupy the place of Prakrit as the language of inscriptions. The Vishnukundins extended patronage to architecture and sculpture. The cave temples at Mogalrajapuram and Undavalli near Vijayawada bear testimony to their artistic taste.
The period of Andhra history, between A.D.624 and A.D.1323, spanning over seven centuries, is significant for the sea-change it brought in all spheres of the human activity; social, religious, linguistic and literary. During this period, Desi, the indigenous Telugu language, emerged as a literary medium overthrowing the domination of Prakrit and Sanskrit. As a result, Andhradesa achieved an identity and a distinction of its own as an important constituent of Indian Cultural set-up.
This change was brought by strong historical forces, namely, the Eastern and Western Chalukyas, the Rashtrakutas and the early Cholas. Kakatiyas came to power during the later half of this period and extended their rule over the entire Telugu land with the exception of a small land in the northeast. Arts, crafts, language and literature flourished under their benevolent patronage.