India’s history is very old, older than many of the other countries. But unlike any other cases, it’s a history of undisrupted continuum for millenia. But sadly, whatever the reasons are, Indians are not interseted in writing about history. Wherever we go, history is carried over either as literature, royal annals, inscriptions, coins and foreign accounts. In India’s case, first two are non-existant and as regarding the rest three, they exist only if they are not very old and if the kingdom is considerably large. Take the case of kingdoms like Bussahir and Ranpur. Had they existed in Greece or in the Middle East, they would have completely vanished from history without anyone knowing of their existence. But the case is, in India, we have very antique kingdoms but with out any story as to where they originated from and how they matured into the current polity. This is more complicated by two things – the kingdom is too small or too remote to be highlighted in the contemporary resources, and the main source of the contemporary Indian story, the Puranas, is treated as fiction and not as fact. Compounded with the fact that Indian history is to fit into the frame of the Christian origin of the universe and their concept of European superiority over Indian, the Europeans completely messed up Indian history – Semiramis and Vikramaditya of Ujjain are relegated to myth, No one knows for sure if Sandrocottus is Chandragupta or Samudragupta and what not.
Same can be said of the origins of Satavahanas. Even after 150 years of dedicated research, nothing much is proved regarding the origins of Satavahanas – if Srimukha is the founder or Satavahanas, who is the Satavahana Emperor who killed the last Shunga, where did they originate from and their ethnicity and last but not the least, the meaning of the words Satavahana and Satakarni.
Below are some of the origins proposed for the word Satavahana. Some of them are plausible and some, downright, absurd.
1. Satani vahanani yaih – Giver of innumerable chariots
Tirthakalpa of Jinaprabhasuri says the founder of the dynasty was the son of a maiden through Sesa, how he was bred up in a potter’s house where he used to make toy carts and horses for giving to his playmates, and how they were endowed with life by Sesa, the father of the boy in order to meet an invasion.
2. Satani vahanani yaih – One who is granted innumberable chariots
As a prominent vassal of the Mauryans, they may be granted large lands and given many privileges including chariots and arms.
3. Kathasaritsagara talks of a Yaksha named Sata who fell in love with a sage’s daughter from whom he got a son; as his presence was disliked, he used to assume the form of a lion and carry the boy on his back ; hence he was called Satavahana.
4. Przyluski proposes Sata and vahana, the constituents of Satavahana, are both Munda words; the former is the Sanskrtisation of the Munda word sadam meaning a horse and the latter of hapan meaning a son. Satavahanas were “sons of horse” as they believed themselves to be born of the chief queen with the sacrificial horse in the Asvamedha sacrifice. This is incomprehensible with the fact that Satavahanas declared themselves as Brahmins.
5. Barnett says Sata is a proper name and vahana as a descendant; Satavahana thus becomes the descendant of Sata. In the same way, Kanya, daughter, must have had a masculine form also as Kanya; Satakanya or Satakanna or Satakarna would be a son or descendant of Sata
6. Both vahana and karnin mean oars. Satavahanas were so called because they had many ships with hundred oars, though nothing is proved of their being naval commaders before they became rulers.
7. Jayaswal says Sata is a corruption of Svati meaning a sword and interpreted Satavahana as one who carried a sword, i.e. one who is a warrior
8. S. A. Joglekar says it came from the word Saptavahana – Sun and Saptavahana/Satavahana means sun worshippers
A few more on Satakarni, besides what Barnett says –
1. A sage Satakarni is mentioned in Raghuvamsa
2. Rajwade says Saptakarna means bulls or horses whose ears were marked with the figure seven ; Satakarnis were those who had several bullocks or horses whose ears were so marked. But why seven?