What period is called Ancient India3
The early Guptas, Vakatakas and many republican tribes were feudatories of the Nagas. But the theory of the Nagas is discarded by most of the scholars due to the fact that it was not supported by enough evidence. According to them, not the Nagas, rather the Sassanians were master of the entire North India after the downfall of the Kushanas. However as far as indigenous literary records suggest, many Naga kings had ruled over various parts of India in 3rd and in early 4th century A.D.
The Allahabad Pillar inscription of Samudragupta refers to the Naga kings, who were at the helm of power in Northern India before the Gupta ascendancy. The Allahabad Prasasti also depicted that the founder king of the Gupta Dynasty, Chandragupta II had established friendly relations with the Nagas and also had married a Naga princess. Skandagupta had appointed a Naga chief as his provincial Governor. From these evidences it becomes clear that the Nagas were the principal authority who had ruled India before the arrival of the Guptas.
While the Kushana Empire in the Ganga-Yamuna Valley was almost crumbled, several small local royal houses came into power, which had formed independent republican states of their own. They overthrew the Kushana supremacy in the regions of Rajputana and Punjab. The Yaudheyas populated Eastern Punjab, Northern Punjab and the adjoining parts of Uttar Pradesh. Yaudheyas were warrior tribes who had the passion for freedom. They formed their own republican state, after ousting the Kushanas. They worshipped Brahmanyadeva or the first Pandava, Yudhisthira. They were defeated.
Mahakshatrapa Rudramana before with the assistance of the Kushanas, but they however managed to liberate themselves from the shackles of the Kushanas about 175 A.D. and issued some coins in order to celebrate their victory. Maharaja was the republican head of the Yaudheyas. Some scholars also link the Jats of Bharatpur with the warrior tribes-Yaudheyas.
Arjunayas were the other republican tribes, who concentrated in the regions of Bharatpur and Alwar state of Rajputana. These tribes claimed their descent from the second Pandava, Arjuna. The Arjunayas were subdued by the Sakas and were compelled to offer their allegiance to the Kushanas, who were the central authority of the entire northern India in second century.
Arjunayas asserted their independence during the decline of the Kushana power in the centre. They were republican tribes, who had established a kingdom of their own, but their liberty was a short-lived one and by the middle of fourth century A.D., they were conquered by the Guptas.
Malavas were another bunch of a significant republican tribe, who originally concentrated in the region of Punjab during Alexander's invasion. But in fourth century A.D., the succeeding Malavas migrated to Rajputana, yielding under pressure of the Saka invasion. Malavanagara in Jaipur state was the capital of the Malavas.
After the downfall of the Kushanas, they asserted their independence and extended their sway in different directions and also issued coins in order to celebrate their victory. They had bitter rivalry with the Kardamaka Sakas. The Malavas followed the Krita era. Ultimately they were subjugated by the Guptas.
Apart from these, there were several others republican tribes like the Licchavis, the Sanakanikas, the Kakas etc. Among them the Licchavis later offered allegiance to the Guptas and allied with Chandragupta I in matrimonial relation. Nothing is known about the other republican tribes.
However the period between the downfall of the valiant Kushanas and the ascendancy of the Imperial Guptas, was a period of anarchy and chaos. The entire north India was broken into small provinces, which were continuously engaged in strife with one another. Hence the historians termed the period as the "Dark Age". In 4th century A.D. when the Guptas came in power, they first consolidated the entire north India under their own supremacy and after that established their own Empire in 4th century A.D.
Thus, till the onset of the Mughal dynasty in India, the period or age which was believed to have existed was known as Ancient India.