Introduction to the Kathāmṛta – Part 8 - The Sātavāhanas

This article is part 8 of 20 in the series Introduction to the Kathāmṛta


Paithan is a town on the banks of the Godavarī in the Aurangabad district of the Hyderabad province and is now in the state of Maharashtra. This is the erstwhile city of Pratiṣṭhāna. The Āndhra kings or the Āndhra-bhṛtyas ruled this town. The coins they minted declare them to be Sāta-vāhanas or Sāda-vāhanas while the purāas call them 'Sāta-karṇis.' There were many kings by these names. Therefore we should assume that Sāta-vāhana is the name of the founder of this lineage. The meaning of both words are identical. [1] Since the original words were difficult to understand, both these words have taken lots of variations in usage. Sālavāhaṇa, Sālāhaṇa, Śātavāhana, Śālivāhana, Sālivahana, Śālīvāhana; Śāta (Śāti-, Śānta-, Śānti-, Śīta-, Sāta-, Sata-, Sada-, Sati-) karṇi. Karṇi which is the latter half of the word also has variations like Kaṇi, Karṇa, Koṇa, and Varṇa. On the coins since mostly ‘Śātakaṇi’ is used, historians accept the word as ‘Śātakarṇi’.

This lineage is ancient. It finds mention in Bhaviya-purāa following which the other purāas like Matsya, Vāyu, and Brahmāṇḍa also mention this lineage. Here is the lineage as mentioned in the Matsya-purāa: 1) Simuka [2], 2) Krṣṇa, 3) Śrī Śātakarṇi, 4) Pūrṇotsaṅga, 5) Skandastambhi, 6) Śātakarṇi, 7) Lambodara, 8) Āpīlaka (Divilaka), 9) Meghasvāti, 10) Svāti [3], 11) Skandasvāti, 12) Mṛgendra,  13) Kuntala, 14) Svātivarṇa, 15) Pulomāvi (Padumān), 16) Ariṣṭakarṇa [4], 17) Hāla,  18) Mantalaka (Pattalaka), 19) Purīndrasena, 20) Sundaraśātakarṇi, 21) Cakora, 22) Śivasvāti, 23) Gautamīputra, 24) Puloma (Śātakarṇi), 25) Śivaśrī, 26) Śivaskandha, 27) Yajñaśrī, 28) Vijaya, 29) Caṇḍaśrī, 30) Pulomāvi.

Out of these we have inscriptions and coins about only the kings starting from 23 (Gautamīputra) to 30 (Pulomāvi). For all the others, the only evidence we have are the Purāas. For the times before these, even when there are inscriptions and coins it has been difficult to arrive at an agreed upon time-frame. There are differences of opinion among the scholars. Therefore if we go back further there is no way to arrive at a consistent timeframe which can be proven beyond doubt and is agreeable to everyone. It is very difficult to point out who were these kings [5], where they came from, when did they establish their kingdom. Simuka, as per the opinion of (E. J.) Rapson and (L.D.) Barnett [6], established his kingdom after Aśoka’s empire became weak, i.e. in the second half of the third century B.C.E.

It is hypothesized that śrī śātakarṇi, the third descendant of this dynasty, married the princess of Maharashtra and unified the Andhra and Maharashtra empires.

The most popular among them was the seventeenth king Hāla. It is believed that this is the same Hāla who was also known as Sātavāhana or Śālivāhana, who lived during 78 CE, authored Gāthāsaptaśati [7]and established the śaka era. However, this is not proven beyond doubt. The opinion among scholars is divided[8].

Among the kings of this dynasty, who might the patron of Guṇāḍhya be? His name has been mentioned as ‘Sātavāhana’ in Kathāsaritsāgara. But, which Sātavāhana was he? It could not have been Hāla, for although he was fond of Prākṛta, he wrote in Mahārāṣṭrī, while Guṇāḍhya wrote in Paiśācī. Also, Hala’s father was not Dīpakarṇi. Although we see his father had many names, Dīpakarṇi was not one of them.

Let us now examine the story [9] about Sātavāhana in Kathāsaritsāgara. According to it, Sātavāhana was found by Dīpakarṇi, as a child who was riding a lion. He was the son of that lion, which, in turn, was a cursed yakṣa known as Sāta. (Who, after all, isn’t a yakṣa or vidyādhara in Bṛhatkathā). It appears as though this story may have been based on the title ‘śiśuka sāta vāhana’. Here, ‘śiśuka’ seems to be another form of ‘Simuka’ (note 30). ‘Sāta’ could mean a horse as well - however, here Sāta seems to mean a lion; thus we cannot conclude if ‘Sāta’ indeed had implied ‘lion’, or whether, which is more likely, the story tellers had the word ‘Simuka’, which is close to ‘Simhuka’, in mind. ‘Dīpakarṇa’ is probably a variant or a derived form of ‘dvīpikarṇi’. Dvīpi means tiger. The connotation is that if one was the son of a lion, the other was the son of a tiger. We don’t come across this in any of the purāṇas; thus we don’t know if this is a product of the poet’s imagination, or whether it was a traditionally held belief, or if it was a fable, verbally passed down from generation to generation, without making into the purāṇas. Be that as it may, it is clear that this story had Simuka in mind, and not Hāla [10].


The recent Sātavāhanas ruled from Pratiṣṭhāna or today’s Paithan. This is located on the northern banks of Godavari in Aurangabad district. However, it is uncertain if all of them, starting from Simuka, lived only there. There is a town called Pratiṣṭhāna near the confluence of Ganga and Yamuna. It is famous since the times of the Mahābhārata. It has been stated as the capital of Śākuntala’s Duṣyanta and Vikramorvaśīya’s Purūrava. Was it possibly the capital of the original Sātavāhanas? It appears as though this is what the  Kathā-sarit-sāgara had in mind, but later it got mixed up with the southern Pratiṣṭhāna, causing confusion [11].

The Sātavāhanas may have migrated from North India. All the purāṇas agree that they destroyed the Kāṇvas of Magadha and established their rule. Magadha is today’s state of Bihar, a neighbour of northern Pratiṣṭhāna. The ancient coins of Sātavāhanas bear the brāhmī script; they look quite different when compared to those of southern origin. Matsya-purāṇa (114-47) has termed Maharashtra as ‘Nava Rāṣṭra’; Sātavāhanas have called themselves ‘Nava Narasvāmi’s. There was a highway which stretched from Kauśāmbi to Pratiṣṭhāna via Ujjaini; it ferried plenty of trade.

Joglekar, Sukthankar[12] and others are of the opinion that though the Sātavāhanas were the kings of Andhra, they have nothing to do with today’s state of Andhra Pradesh [and Telangana]. The aforementioned scholars establish that Sātavāhanas originally resided at the source of the river Godāvarī and then expanded their kingdom around the river until the place where it joins the ocean. We, however, are trying to take an account of times much earlier to the Sātavāhanas. Uttara-pratiṣṭhāna was already the capital of the empire by the time Simuka or his son[13] ascended the throne. The reasoning behind this estimate is in the next section. (We draw evidence from the Kathāsaritsāgara and other works.)

Before this,

  1. Kauśāmbi was at a distance of about thirty-eight kilometres to the west of the river Yamunā.
  2. Even to this today, a town by name Vindhyācala exists about fifty kilometres to the east of Prayagraj (former Allahabad), along the Howrah-Delhi railway line. There is a hill in the town upon which a temple dedicated to Vindhyavāsinī exists.

Thus, we will need to keep in mind that when the Mahābhārata talks about Vindhyācala and Vindhyavāsinī, it need not necessarily refer to the Vindhya mountain range. It might not refer to the temple of a certain Vindhyavāsinī there. We should keep this aspect in mind.

  1. Puṣpadanta was born as Vararuci in Kauśāmbi; Mālyavanta took birth as Guṇāḍhya in the town of Supratiṣṭhita, which lies close to Kauśāmbi – the propriety that is present in this line of argument is absent when we try to deduce that his place of birth was Pratiṣṭhāna that lies about thousand kilometres away.
  2. It is quite likely that the Paiśācī language which bears semblance to Pāli was more prevalent in the northern provinces of India compared to the southern ones.
  3. Guṇāḍhya comes to the Dakṣiṇāpatha, finishes his education there and then returns to his native land. He takes refuge in the Sātavāhana. Paithan was in the ‘Dakṣiṇāpatha’. Supratiṣṭhita was in the north. That must have been his native land.
  4. It is also unlikely that Udayana would go out to hunt in the Vindhya forest, which lies close to Ujjayinī and hundreds of miles away from Kauśāmbi. It is possible that he would go about fifty miles from his hometown. As there probably existed an easy path from there to Ujjayinī, Caṇḍamahāsena might have got him abducted and got him to his city. In Kumārapāla-pratibodha composed by Somaprabha, it is said that Pradyota let free the mechanised elephant in the forest near Kauśāmbi. (नीओ कोसम्बी समासन्नेऽरन्ने). This must have been a forest in the vicinity of Vindhyācala.
  5. In the sub-stories that come after this, the number of stories related to the provinces around Ujjayinī or those to the south of it are very few. The stories of northern provinces are greater in number
  6. Irrespective of whether a Sātavāhana king ruled in Uttara Pratiṣṭhitanagara, wherever we find references for Vindhya-parvata, Vindhyāṭavī and Vindhyavāsinī, it is likely that these lie close to Vindhyācala near Kauśāmbi. The are certainly references to the forest that surrounds Vindhyācala and the temple dedicated to Vindhyavāsinī there. Mahāsena lived in Ujjayinī; it is reasonable to expect him to come across the Vindhya mountain range and the surrounding forest. However, several sub-stories say that people went to the temple of Vindhyavāsinī, offered their pūjā there, performed tapas and offered bali. It is unlikely that they went to this dense forest; the bhillas, puḻindas and other tribal men resided in the forest. They must have been worshipping Caṇḍī and other devatas.

The kathāpīṭha-lambaka was not written by Guṇāḍhya but was written by Sātavāhana, who added it to the way – so says one other writer. (He does not explicitly say –‘I have written’, in the first person). The story of Guṇāḍhya and Sātavāhana s occurs in the kathāpīṭha; therefore, they too become characters of the story; we don’t know what is the basis for this or the factuality behind this! It would not be incorrect to say that the Kathā-sarit-sāgara does not contain any information about him that is provably authentic, definitive, or historically tenable.


To be continued...

This is an English translation of Prof. A R Krishna Shastri’s Kannada classic Kathāmṛta by Raghavendra G S, Arjun Bharadwaj,  Srishan Thirumalai, and Hari Ravikumar.

The original Kannada version of Kathāmṛta is available for free online reading here. To read other works of Prof. Krishna Shastri, click here.


[1] In the Muṇḍa language, ‘Koṇi’, ‘Hāpan’ means son. Sāta (Sāda, Śāta) or Sāti (Śāli) means Horse (Prabuddha Karnataka, Volume 69, p. 124). Therefore Sātavāhana Śātakarṇi would mean ‘Horse’s son’ ----J. Przyluski, J.R.A.S., April 1929. Deriving ‘शतकर्णस्य अपत्यं पुमान् शातकर्णिः’ by etymology would be easy, but there is no one by the name शतकर्णः. Likewise ‘शलति शलः, श्शति वा; सातं दत्तं सुखं वाहनस्य सातवाहनः’ etc has been given in various lexicographical treatises.

[2] Simuka (Sātavāhana) is the correct form (‘Leuders’ List of Brahmi Inscriptions’, No 1113, Epi, Indi, X, Appendix; Rapson : ‘Indian Coins, Andhra etc,’, pp. xviii, xlvi). By not understanding the word or due to some faulty readings, there are many variants like Śiśuka, Śiṣuka, Śikhuka, Śimuka, Śipraka. There is even a variant as Simhaka.

[3] Svāti seems to be a Sanskritised form of Sāti/Sāta. The Sāti here might be related to the ‘Sātiya puta’ which appears in the inscriptions of Aśoka

[4] This name also has many variants, Nemikṛṣṇa, Nemikasmas, Nauvikṛṣṇa, Naurikṛṣṇa, Narikṛṣṇa, Saurikṛṣṇa, Stauvikṛṣṇa, Gaurakṛṣṇa, Gaurakṛtsva, Āriktavarṇa, Āriktakarṇi, Ariṣṭakarmā, Aniṣṭakarmā. We are not sure which one is right!

[5] Their origin might be the present Bellary district as per V.S.Sukthankar----‘Home of the Andhra Kings’ (B.A.O.R.I., Vol. I, pp. 21-42)

[6] Cambridge Indian History, Vol. I, pp. 530, 599.

[7] This is an anthology in which we see the poems of Voḍisa, Culloha, Makarandasena, Amararāja, Kumārila, Śrīrāja, Bhīmasvāmi, and others too. The language is Mahārāṣṭrī Prākṛta; it is chiefly a romantic work. Please also see the foreword and preface of Gāthāsaptaśati (Kāvyamālā 21)

[8] R. G. Bhandarkar: History of the Deccan, page 169 etc. Even today we see new articles and books being written on the Sātavāhanas. There is no oriental journal which does not publish an article related to them; a recent example is one penned by Purushottamlal Bhargav (‘Satavahana Dynasty of Dakshinapatha’, I. H. Q., Dec. 1950). He identifies the time when Simukha reigned to be 36-23 BCE.

[9] There are many more stories about him. Dr A. N. Upadhye has compiled them all in the foreword to his book ‘līlāvaī’.

[10] Or, did it have Krishna, the son of Simuka in mind! It is said that Sātavāhana was a sage named ‘Kṛṣṇa’ in his previous birth.
Yuṣmadīyaḥ sa rājāpi pūrvajanmanyabhūdṛṣiḥ| bharadvājamuneśśiśṣyaḥ kṛṣṇasaṃjño mahātapāḥ || 1-7-15

[11] Keith does not agree with this. - H. S. L, pp 267-268

[12] ‘The Home of the Satavahanas’ by S.A. Joglekar, A.B.O.R.I., Silber Jubilee, Vol 1942 ‘The Home of the Andhra Kings’ by V.S. Sukthankar, A.B.O.R.I., Vol I, pp.21-42

[13] (E.J) Rapson says that Simuka (and his son) lived much before 200 BCE. (L.D.) Barnett is of the opinion that Simuka established the kingdom of Shaatavaahanas after the end of Ashoka’s reign. Cambridge Indian History, Vol. 1, pp.730 and 599



Prof. A R Krishna Sastri was a journalist, scholar, polyglot, and a pioneer of the modern Kannada renaissance, who founded the literary journal Prabuddha Karnāṭaka. His Vacana-bhārata and Kathāmṛta are classics of Kannada literature while his Saṃskṛta-nāṭaka and Bankimacandra are of unrivalled scholarship.

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Prekṣaṇīyam is an anthology of essays on Indian classical dance and theatre authored by multifaceted scholar and creative genius, Śatāvadhānī Dr. R Ganesh. As a master of śāstra, a performing artiste (of the ancient art of Avadhānam), and a cultured rasika, he brings a unique, holistic perspective to every discussion. These essays deal with the philosophy, history, aesthetics, and practice of...


इदं किञ्चिद्यामलं काव्यं द्वयोः खण्डकाव्ययोः सङ्कलनरूपम्। रामानुरागानलं हि सीतापरित्यागाल्लक्ष्मणवियोगाच्च श्रीरामेणानुभूतं हृदयसङ्क्षोभं वर्णयति । वात्सल्यगोपालकं तु कदाचिद्भानूपरागसमये घटितं यशोदाश्रीकृष्णयोर्मेलनं वर्णयति । इदम्प्रथमतया संस्कृतसाहित्ये सम्पूर्णं काव्यं...


इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।


इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।


इयं रचना दशसु रूपकेष्वन्यतमस्य भाणस्य निदर्शनतामुपैति। एकाङ्करूपकेऽस्मिन् शेखरकनामा चित्रोद्यमलेखकः केनापि हेतुना वियोगम् अनुभवतोश्चित्रलेखामिलिन्दकयोः समागमं सिसाधयिषुः कथामाकाशभाषणरूपेण निर्वहति।


अस्मिन् स्तोत्रकाव्ये भगवन्तं शिवं कविरभिष्टौति। वसन्ततिलकयोपनिबद्धस्य काव्यस्यास्य कविकृतम् उल्लाघनाभिधं व्याख्यानं च वर्तते।

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the third volume, some character sketches of great literary savants responsible for Kannada renaissance during the first half of the twentieth century. These remarkable...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the second volume, episodes from the lives of remarkable exponents of classical music and dance, traditional storytellers, thespians, and connoisseurs; as well as his...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the first volume, episodes from the lives of great writers, poets, literary aficionados, exemplars of public life, literary scholars, noble-hearted common folk, advocates...

Evolution of Mahabharata and Other Writings on the Epic is the English translation of S R Ramaswamy's 1972 Kannada classic 'Mahabharatada Belavanige' along with seven of his essays on the great epic. It tells the riveting...

Shiva-Rama-Krishna is an English adaptation of Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh's popular lecture series on the three great...


ಮಹಾಮಾಹೇಶ್ವರ ಅಭಿನವಗುಪ್ತ ಜಗತ್ತಿನ ವಿದ್ಯಾವಲಯದಲ್ಲಿ ಮರೆಯಲಾಗದ ಹೆಸರು. ಮುಖ್ಯವಾಗಿ ಶೈವದರ್ಶನ ಮತ್ತು ಸೌಂದರ್ಯಮೀಮಾಂಸೆಗಳ ಪರಮಾಚಾರ್ಯನಾಗಿ  ಸಾವಿರ ವರ್ಷಗಳಿಂದ ಇವನು ಜ್ಞಾನಪ್ರಪಂಚವನ್ನು ಪ್ರಭಾವಿಸುತ್ತಲೇ ಇದ್ದಾನೆ. ಭರತಮುನಿಯ ನಾಟ್ಯಶಾಸ್ತ್ರವನ್ನು ಅರ್ಥಮಾಡಿಕೊಳ್ಳಲು ಇವನೊಬ್ಬನೇ ನಮಗಿರುವ ಆಲಂಬನ. ಇದೇ ರೀತಿ ರಸಧ್ವನಿಸಿದ್ಧಾಂತವನ್ನು...


“वागर्थविस्मयास्वादः” प्रमुखतया साहित्यशास्त्रतत्त्वानि विमृशति । अत्र सौन्दर्यर्यशास्त्रीयमूलतत्त्वानि यथा रस-ध्वनि-वक्रता-औचित्यादीनि सुनिपुणं परामृष्टानि प्रतिनवे चिकित्सकप्रज्ञाप्रकाशे। तदन्तर एव संस्कृतवाङ्मयस्य सामर्थ्यसमाविष्कारोऽपि विहितः। क्वचिदिव च्छन्दोमीमांसा च...

The Best of Hiriyanna

The Best of Hiriyanna is a collection of forty-eight essays by Prof. M. Hiriyanna that sheds new light on Sanskrit Literature, Indian...

Stories Behind Verses

Stories Behind Verses is a remarkable collection of over a hundred anecdotes, each of which captures a story behind the composition of a Sanskrit verse. Collected over several years from...