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Kanishka was the king of the Kushana Empire in South Asia. Kanishka is considered to be one of the most significant and important rulers of the Kushan Kingdom, an area that included the northern part of the Indian subcontinent, Afghanistan, and possibly regions north of Kashmir in central Asia. He was famous for his military, political, and spiritual achievements, and Ashoka and Harshavardhana are considered to be the greatest king by Buddhists. He had a vast empire, it extended from Oxus in the East to Varanasi in the West, and from Kashmir in the North to the coast of Gujarat including Malwa in the South. The date of his accession to the throne is not certain but is believed to be 78 AD. This year marks the beginning of an era, which is known as the Shaka era. Under Kanishka, the Kushan reached a new zenith in wealth and culture that highlighted art, architecture, literature, and science. The tolerance of the kingdom’s ruler toward different cultures and religions placed allowed Kushan to benefit from the knowledge and wealth of some of the greatest civilizations of the time. As a result of such cross-cultural connections, the Buddhist religion owes much of its development and spread throughout Asia to Kanishka and the Kushan.
It is not known when Kanishka was born. The dates of his reign are also subject of debate, but the most reliable dates seem to be from A.D. 78 to 103. Just how Kanishka came to power is also not known, but he succeeded Wema Kadphises II and was the fourth king of the Kushan. The Kushan Empire came into existence under Kajula Kadipheses in the north of India in Bactria.
Kanishka was tolerant towards all religions. He issued many coins during his rule. His coins depict Hindu, Buddhist, Greek, Persian, and Sumerian-Elemite images of gods, showing his secular religious policy. He is remembered for his association with Buddhism. He was a Buddhist convert and convened the fourth Buddhist council in Kashmir. This council in Kashmir marked the beginning of the Mahayana cult of Buddhism. He patronized both the Gandhara school of Greco-Buddhist Art and the Mathura School of Hindu Art. He sent Buddhist missionaries to various parts of the world to spread Buddhism. Kanishka is remembered in Buddhist architecture mainly for the multi-story relic tower, enshrining the relics of the Buddha, constructed by him at Peshawar.
Under Kanishka, the Kushan spread their boundaries to include the area of present-day Afghanistan, northern India, and parts of Middle Asia. The capital city of this kingdom was Puruhapura, or modern Peshawar, Pakistan. The empire flourished economically, as the Kushan were in contact with many of the world’s most important civilizations, including Rome, China, and Parthia (a part of what today is Iran). Trade and commerce were encouraged and cities and urbanization followed. The ruins of a city established by Kanishka have been discovered under present-day Taxila, India. The Kushan also had a great deal of control over a major trade route known as the Silk Road.