Traders, Kings and Pilgrims


Silk has very fine quality and luster. Due to this, silk has always been taken as premium fabric. Silk was first discovered in ancient China about 7000 years ago. But the process of making silk was kept as a closely guarded secret by the Chinese. However, silk cloths were sent to faraway lands as gift for rich merchants and kings. Silk was also carried by traders to be sold in different countries. Silk always attracted premium price.

The silk traders had to cross a difficult route which went through rough mountains and narrow passes. There was always the threat of attacks from robbers on these routes. The ancient routes through which the silk traders traveled is called the Silk Route.

silk route

This map shows the ancient silk route. The land route passed through the Himalayas and the Hindukush. The sea route passed through the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal.

Some kings tried to gain control of the Silk Route. They did so to protect the traders. This helped in flourishing the trade. A flourishing trade ensured that the kings could collect taxes and tributes from those traders.

The Kushanas: The Kushana dynasty ruled over central Asia and north-west India about 2000 years ago. They had the best control over the ancient silk route; compared to any other ruler of that time. Their two major centres of power were; Peshawar and Mathura. Taxila also came under their kingdom. During the Kushana rule, a branch of the silk route extended from central Asia to the sea ports at the mouth of the Indus river. Silk was shipped towards west to Rome from these ports. The Kushanas were one of the earliest rulers to issue gold coins. These gold coins were used by the traders along the silk route.


Along with the flourishing trade; Buddhism also spread during this period. Kanishka was the most famous Kushana ruler. He made great contributions to spread Buddhism to different parts of the world.

There was a famous poet in the court of Kanishka. His name was Ashwaghosha. Buddhacharita; a biography of Buddha was written by Ashvaghosha. Many writers; including Ashvaghosha; of that period began to write in Sanskrit.

Mahayana Buddhism: A new form of Buddhism developed during this period. This form of Buddhism is called the Mahayana Buddhism. It had two distinct features; which are as follows:

  1. In the earlier form of Buddhism, Buddha was depicted by certain signs and symbols. In the new form, statues of Buddha were also made. Many of those statues were made in Mathura. Such statues were also made in Taxila.
  2. There was also a change in belief in Bodhisattvas. A person who attained enlightenment was considered as the Bodhisattva. Earlier; he was supposed to live a life of isolation to meditate in peace. But now, they remained along with the people to teach them. The worship of Bodhisattva became very popular. This trend spread to Central Asia, China and later to Korea and Japan.

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