ANCIENT PERIOD (1000 B.C. - 180 A.D.)
Ramayana states that Visravasu – the father of Kubera and Ravana, the lords of Yaksas Raksasas respectively, ordered Kubera to move from south India to north to provide the Raksasas, led by Ravana, a place in the south. This shows clearly that south India was not separated from the north even in pre-Aryan times and that there were even movements of communities from south to north and vice versa. As a corollary, it can be deduced that, in pre-Aryan India, there were some off-treaded tracks that served as means of communication between the northern and southern parts.
The penetration of Aryans into south India is described figuratively in the Agastya legends, which are found in the epics and the Puranas in Sanskrit as well as in Tamil literature. The Mahabharata records two stories about Agastya. According to one of them, on a journey to the south, Agastya prevailed upon the Vindhyas to lie low to provide him a way to go to the south and stop growing until he returned, which however he never did. According to another story the sage emptied the ocean by drinking its water to help the Devas. A plausible interpretation of these two stories would be that the Aryan people came to the south by both the land sea routes.
The Aitareya Brahmana states that sage Viswamitra cursed fifty of his sons, who disobeyed him, to live on the borders of Aryan settlements and that they included the Andhras, the Pundras, the Sabaras, the Pulindas and the Mutibas. It may be inferred from this allegorical reference that on account of a schism, some enterprising Aryans ventured to move to the south into the settlements of pre-Aryan inhabitants. By matrimonial relations they raised families of mixed descent, who were looked down upon by the ‘pure’ Aryans of the north. Though it is difficult to fix strictly a date for this event, circumstantial evidences (such as the presence of iron implements at that time in south India) suggest that it may be safely assigned to around 1000 B.C.
Excavations carried on at various places like Nagarjunakonda in Andhra Pradesh revealed iron implements which can be assigned to a period around 1000 B.C. Introduction of iron in Andhra Pradesh and in the rest of Deccan must have been the result of the extension of Aryan influence into the region during that period.
Gradually, in this process of Aryanisation, the Andhra gained a prominent place, assimilating or conquering the other tribes such as the Pulindas, may be due to their superiority in number or enterprising nature. The Puranas mention that the Andhras, under the leadership of Andhra Vishnu, conquered the Nagas and occupied the east coast. The Nagas too maintained their identity for a long time. The rulers of Bastar during the 10th century and a local chieftain of the 16th century zealously stated that they belonged to the celebrated Naga dynaty and traced their descent to Vasuki, the mythical Naga god. The Savaras, living in the north-eastern part of Andhra Pradesh, keep their linguistic identity in tact even today.
The existing of an ashram headed by a saint name Bavari on the banks of the Godavari in Assaka (as mentioned earlier) during Lord Buddha’s lifetime shows clearly that the Aryan culture gained a foothold and respect in Andhra Pradesh long before the establishment of the Nanda Empire. The bulk of the people in Andhra Pradesh retained their own languages and customs. Moreover, many such pre-Aryan customs were adopted by the Aryans who settled in Andhra. The indigenous language of the Telugus also was able to maintain its existence though it was greatly influenced and enriched by the Prakrit of the Aryans, which was patronized as an official language. Thus, as early as in the 6th century B.C. a composite society took shape in the basins of the Godavari and the Krishna in eastern Deccan and the entire region came to be known to the Mauryas as Andhapatha or Andhapaatha, wherein the peoples and cultures – both from the north and the south right from the prehistoric and proto-historic periods.
Punch-marked coins, found all over the Deccan included the Andhra Pradesh, are clear witnesses of some contact – either by trade or political sway – between the Magadha Empire and the Andhras. Some Kannada inscriptions of the 10th and 11th centuries indicate that the rule of the Nandas extended upto Kuntala. However, as there is little confirmation of this fact from another source, it can only be inferred that the Andhras maintained a close relationship with the Nanda Empire through trade and commerce, while being politically quite independent.
It is only in the Mauryan age that one gets historical evidences of the Andhras as political power in the south-eastern Deccan. Pliny (c.75), deriving his information from Indica of Megasthences, mentioned that the Andhra country had 30 fortified towns and an army of 1,00,000 infantry, 2,000 cavalry and 1,000 elephants. Further, a Tamil work of Mamulnar (2nd century) states that the war-linking “Vadugars” formed the vanguard of the Mauryan army sent to Tamilnadu to help a local ruler. “Vadugars” literally means ‘northerner’ and referred, in Sangam literature, to the Telugu people. From these instances, it can be safely ascertained that the Andhra soldiers occupied an honorable place in the Magadha Empire as a dependable force.
Asoka held Mauryan imperialism intact in the Andhra country. His rock and pillar edicts, found at such places as Yerragudi and Rajulamandagiri in Kurnool district and at the Amaravati in Guntur district attest this fact. His XIII Rock Edict mentions that the people such as Andhras, Petinekas and Bhojakas were well within the imperial domain following the dharma propagated by the great emperor. From the Asokan edicts, especially from the second one, it is quite clear that the Andhra country was the southernmost province of the Mauryan Empire and that the Chola, Pandya, Satiaputta and Keralaputta domains were outside the empire.
Though culturally united, the Andhras never functioned as a political unit either during the Mauryan age or prior to it. They were divided into many principalities, and the 30 fortified towns mentioned by Pliny might have been the capitals of such principalities. It is owing to this fact, that the Mauryan times, it seems that these principalities enjoyed a considerable measure of autonomy, while the viceroy of the imperial Mauryas, with his headquarters at Survarnagiri (Jonnagiri in the present-day Kurnool district) looked after defence, missionary work and interests of the backward peoples, through his officers designated as mahamatras.
The Mauryan imperialism declined following the demise of Asoka and finally the last of the Mauryas, Brihadratha was assassinated by the commander of his army, Pushyamitra against the Sungas over the Andhras. This was without doubt an episode in the struggle that was carried on for a long time by the Andhras to overthrow the imperial yoke of the Sungas and later that of their successors, the Kanvas. According to the Puranas, Simuka of the Andhras assassinated the last Kanva king, Susarma, and became independent. Though Simuka was of Andhra Sathavahana kula (clan) among them according to the inscriptional evidence. A comparative study of the lists of kings provided by the Puranas and by the inscriptions has led historians to conclude that the Sathavahans of the inscriptions were identical with the Andhras of the Purans.