Huna Invasions of India

  • Names of the Battles: The Huna Invasions of India
  • Venues: North, North Western and Central India
  • Year: Around 458, 470 AD

The nomadic savages or tribes who lived in the neighbourhood of China were the Hephthalites (the Sanskrit name of which is Hunas). Studies show that the Hunas extended their kingdom from the border of Persia to Khotan in Central Asia. There were two branches of Hunas that advanced towards the west. One branch of the Hunas moved towards the Roman Empire and the other towards India. This branch of the Hunas, which came to India, was referred to as the White Hunas. The invasion of India by the Hunas began about a hundred years after the Kushanas’ invasion. In historical studies, one of the most warlike tribes, popular for their barbarism and cruelty, was the Huna tribe. There were two major invasions of the Hunas in the subcontinent.

The reasons that led to the invasions

While the Gupta Empire ruled over a major part of India, after the death of the Gupta emperor, Samudragupta, there was less control of the Guptas in Western India. During this time, the Hunas armed forces attacked the Gupta dynasty and they were able to win Jammu, Kashmir, Himachal, Rajasthan, Punjab, and parts of Malwa. This way, the Hunas established their kingdom in some parts of India and Tormana was the white Hun leader.

First major invasion of India by the Hunas: 458 AD

The Gupta Empire in India reigned in the Ganges basin during the 5th century, and the Kushan dynasty occupied the area along the Indus. After defeating the Kushanas, the Hunas entered the subcontinent from the Kabul valley. They entered Punjab and the Gupta Empire failed to protect the northeast frontier of the empire and this made easier for the Huns to enter an unguarded entrance in the Gangetic valley, just into the heart of the Gupta Empire. This was in 458 AD. The Hephthalites, known as the Hunas in India kept on invading India until the Gupta ruler Skandagupta repulsed them. The Hunas, under the leadership of Toramana, suffered a crushing defeat by the Gupta emperor Skandagupta.

Second invasion of India by the Hunas: About 470 AD

The Hunas waited till 470 AD, till the death of the Gupta ruler Skandagupta to invade India again in a proper manner. During this time, the Guptas had been ruling over a greater part of India. This time Hunas were under the leadership of Mihirkula (also known, as Mihirgula or the “Indian Attila”). He was the successor and son of Toramana, and known as a very tyrant ruler and a destroyer. This time, the Hunas were successful in their invasion of India. They temporarily overthrew the Gupta Empire. Mihirkula ruled from his capital at Sakal, which is today the modern Sialkot. The Huna power in India collapsed after the defeat of Mihirkula. Mihirkula was defeated successively by two Indian rulers, Yasodharman of Malwa and Narasimhagupta Baladitya of the later Gupta dynasty.

Aftermath of the battles: Winner and Loser

Before the defeat of the Hunas by Skandagupta, the first invasions of the Hunas displaced the Gupta Empire rule from the North Western part of India. This invasion also influenced the chieftains and regional kings to become more ambitious and rebel against the Gupta Empire. The Hunas ruled over Gandhar and central Punjab and also controlled the Kushans. The first Hun king Toramana ruled northern India as far as Malwa in central India. After his death, his son Mihirkula, who destroyed the Gupta Empire, ruled over North Western India for thirty years. However, Mihirakula was driven out of the plains and into Kashmir and died in about 542 A.D. After his death, the political power of the Hunas declined.

The larger implications of the battle

  • Toramana, the first white Huna king, conquered Punjab, Rajputana, Kashmir, parts of Doab and Malwa. He ruled and operated the interiors of India by keeping his base at Punjab. During his rule, he reduced the power of a number of local kings and chieftains as his subordinates and assumed the title of "Maharajadhiraja".
  • Some of the provincial governors of the Gupta Empire also joined Toramana during the course of his invasion in India.
  • In extensive regions of Sutlej and Yamuna, the coins and inscriptions of Toramana were found.
  • However, Toramana's rule in India did not last long and he was defeated by Skandagupta, which forced him to flee to the other side of India.
  • When Toramana was succeeded by his son Mihirkula, he entered and ruined every city and town along the Ganges. The capital town Pataliputra was reduced to a small village. The Hunas persecuted Buddhists and destroyed all the monasteries and the Gupta regime was completely extinguished.
  • However, when Mihirkula was defeated by two major rulers Yasodharman and Narasimhagupta Baladitya, he had to leave India forever. The Hunas suffered a great loss.

The overall place and significance of the invasions in the Indian History

The Hunas' invasion in India had far reaching effects and significance in Indian History, as mentioned below:
  • First of all, the Hunas had destroyed the dominance of the Gupta Empire in India and on their feudatories.
  • Small kingdoms began to grow and prosper on the ruins of the Gupta Empire.
  • The trade connections between the Guptas in India and the Roman Empire also weakened after the Huna invasion that completely devastated the Gupta economy. Due to this, the economic and cultural cities like Pataliputra or Ujjain lost their glory.
  • The socio-political and economic life during the later Guptas also deteriorated.
  • On the other hand, trade with South East Asia and China prospered through ports like Tamralipta, Kaveri Pattanam, etc.
  • There was a racial admixture in India after the Huna invasion and this was one of the most significant effects.
  • Various tribes entered India through North West, same as the central Asian tribes, some of whom remained in Northern India and some moved further to the south and the west.
  • For the first time, Indian culture got introduced to the Hunas’ martial culture.
  • After the Hunas were driven out of India in 528, few of them blended with the Indian population and became a part of the local population, which exists even today such as Gurjaras and the ancestors of some of the Rajput families.

The Huna invasions of India led to socio-economic and cultural transformation of the Indian society as a whole.

17.12.2014 EBVD

Last Updated on : December 17, 2014



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