The image of a regal Queen Victoria on coins as the Empress of India is well known. But peep into history and you will find that the first queen to have a coin issued in her name lived around the 1st century BCE, in Western India. While many other queens have broken through patriarchy to shine as power centers, the Satavahana queen Naganika has a special place.
Queen Naganika was the wife of Satakarni I, the first major ruler of the Satavahana dynasty.
Satavahanas are the earliest known ruling family of the Deccan region. They ruled their extensive dominions for three centuries, uninterrupted. Their mighty empire sprawled across large parts of western and southern India and they were at the height of their power between 1st century BCE and 3rd century CE.
Little is known about the Satavahana kings and what they were like and historians have differing views. Given this, the inscription of Queen Naganika at Naneghat near Junnar and the discovery of two silver coins play a pivotal role in understanding this period.
The inscription at Naneghat, written with great flamboyance, also gives us insights into the early years of the Satavahana dynasty under King Satakarni I and the prosperity of their empire. In fact, a lot of what we know about the early years of the powerful dynasty comes from these inscriptions.
The earlier Satavahana rulers before Satakarni I, controlled a small section of present day Andhra region and were feudatories of the Kanva dynasty which ruled Magadha between 75 BCE and 30 BCE.
So how did this small kingdom rise to become one of the greatest empires in history?
The answer lies on the old trade route from Kalyan to Junnar in a place called Naneghat, which was a toll collecting point of the Satavahanas. From inscriptions found here, we know that a cave was carved out at Naneghat and this was commissioned by Queen Naganika sometime between 60 and 70 BCE. There are inscriptions here which detail the glory of the Satavahanas and mention the might of King Satakarni I and his wife Queen Naganika.
The inscriptions throw light on the matrimonial alliance that led to the rise of Satavahana power. Queen Naganika was the daughter of the Maharathi (King) Tranakiya. The Maharathis or ‘chariot fighters’ were powerful warriors who ruled over parts of Maharashtra. The marriage of the Satavahana King Satakarni I and Naganika was a significant (political) event of Satakarni’s reign. The dynastic alliance of this Maharathi princess with Satakarni I, gave the Satavahana dynasty military power, and sowed the seeds of ambition and empire building. Based on the inscriptions and coins found in various archaeological sites, we know that this Satakarni I went on to rule most of northern Maharashtra.
The inscriptions refer to him as ‘Lord of the Southern Regions’ or ‘Dakshina-pathapati’.
During the Satavahana rule, trade with Rome through ports like Sopara and Bharuch, prospered and this made the empire very wealthy. Inland trade also picked up because travel between the north and south of India became easy as the roads and transport along the popular trade routes improved. The sheer volume of coins issued by Satakarni I, as compared to his predecessors, tell us about how wealthy his empire was.
As the fame and power of Satakarni I grew, so did the stature of his queen, Naganika. Coins were minted in her name, an extraordinary event during these times.
Two silver coins, dating back to the 1st century BCE have Naganika’s name on it. Her name ‘Naganikaya’ in Brahmi script is placed at the center of the coin while the name of Satakarni I is placed below.
Queen Naganika could have set the stage for Satavahana kings to use their mothers’ names with pride. Kochiputra Satakarni (son of Kochi), Gautamiputra Satakarni (son of Gautami), Vasisthiputra Pulumavi (son of Vashisthi), were the great rulers of the dynasty. But while all the queens got their due, Queen Naganika was a cut above. She was the only one who had coins issued in her name!
Even today, as women fight for their due and crusade for gender equality, it is good to look back at Queen Naganika and the Satavahanas who boldly carried on their mothers’ names!