The reign of Gupta emperors can truly be considered as the golden age of classical Indian history. Srigupta I (270-290 AD) who was perhaps a petty ruler of Magadha (modern Bihar) established Gupta dynasty with Patliputra or Patna as its capital. He was succedded by his son Ghatotkacha (290-305 AD). Ghatotkacha was succeeded by his son Chandragupta I (305-325 AD) who strengthened his kingdom by matrimonial alliance with the powerful family of Lichchavi who were rulers of Mithila.[Source: Glorious India]
Gupta rulers acquired much of the land previously held by the Mauryan Empire, and peace and trade flourished under their rule. According to PBS “Detailed gold coins featuring portraits of the Gupta kings stand out as unique art pieces from this period and celebrate their accomplishments. Chandragupta's son Samudragupta (r. 350 to 375 CE) further expanded the empire, and a detailed account of his exploits was inscribed on an Ashokan pillar in Allahabad toward the end of his reign. Unlike the Mauryan Empire's centralized bureaucracy, the Gupta Empire allowed defeated rulers to retain their kingdoms in return for a service, such as tribute or military assistance. Samudragupta's son Chandragupta II (r. 375–415 CE) waged a long campaign against the Shaka Satraps in western India, which gave the Guptas access to Gujarat's ports, in northwest India, and international maritime trade. Kumaragupta (r. 415–454 CE) and Skandagupta (r. c. 454–467 CE), Chandragupta II's son and grandson respectively, defended against attacks from the Central Asian Huna tribe (a branch of the Huns) that greatly weakened the empire. By 550 CE, the original Gupta line had no successor and the empire disintegrated into smaller kingdoms with independent rulers. [Source: PBS, The Story of India, pbs.org/thestoryofindia]
According to the genealogical lists, the founder of the dynasty was a person named Gupta. He is given the simple title of Maharaja, which shows that he was only a minor chief ruling a small territory in Magadha. He has been identified with Maharaja Che-li-ki-to (Sri-Gupta), who, according to I-tsing, built a temple near MrigaSikhavana for some pious Chinese pilgrims. It was handsomely endowed, and at the time of Itsing’s itinerary (673-95 A.D.) its dilapidated remnants were known as the ‘Temple of China.’ Gupta is generally assigned to the period, A.D. 275-300. I-tsing, however, notes that the building of the temple began 500 years before his travels. This would, no doubt, go against the dates proposed above for Gupta, but we need not take I-tsing too literally, as he merely stated the “tradition handed down from ancient times by old men.” Gupta was succeeded by his son, Ghatotkaca, who is also styled Maharaja. This name sounds rather outlandish, although some later members of the Gupta family bore it. We know almost nothing about him.[Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]
The third Gupta king, Chandragupta was a Magadha raja who controlled rich veins of iron from the nearby Barabara Hills. Around the year 308 he married a princess from the neighboring kingdom of Licchavi, and with this marriage he gained a hold over the flow of northern India's commerce on the Ganges River – the major flow of north Indian commerce. In 319, Chandragupta assumed the title of Maharajadhiraja (emperor) in formal coronation and extended his rule westward to Prayaga, in north-central India. [Source: Frank E. Smitha, Macrohistory /+]
1) Gupta (circa A.D. 275-300)
2) Ghafotkaca (c. 300-319)
3) Chandragupta I— KumaradevI (319-335)
4) Samudragupta (335 - 380 AD)
6) Chandragupta II =DhruvadevI (c. 375-414)
7) Kumargupta I (r. 414-455)
8) Skandagupta Puragupta=VatsadevI (c. 455-467) |
10) Kumaragupta II
11) Budhagupta (c. 475-95)
12) Narasimhagupta Baladitya =MahalaksmidevI (c. 467-75)
13) Kumaragupta III
16) Bhanugupta (495-510)
Chandragupta I (319-335)
Chandragupta I (unrelated to the Chandragupta of six centuries before) is given credit for founding of the dynasty in 320 AD, though it is not clear whether this year marks the accession of Chandragupta or the year his kingdom achieved full independent status. In the following decades, the Guptas expanded their control over the surrounding kingdoms either through militaristic expansion or by means of marriage alliance. His marriage to Lichchhavi princess Kumaradevi, brought an enormous power, resources and prestige. He took advantage of the situation and occupied whole of fertile Gangetic valley.[Source: University of Washington]
After Ghatotkaca, his son Chandragupta I came to the throne. Unlike his predecessors, the latter assumed the grandiloquent title of Maharajadhiraja, and we may, therefore, regard him as the first monarch to raise the power and prestige of the dynasty. He married the Licchavi princess, KumaradevI, as is evident from the epithet “Licchavidauhitrah,” applied to Samudragupta in inscriptions. The marriage is also attested by some gold coins, which bear on the obverse the standing figure of the king offering a ring or bracelet to his spouse with the legends Candra or Chandragupta on the right and on the left KumaradevI or SrI-Kumaradevi; and on the reverse we have the legend “Licchavayah,” and the goddess (perhaps Simhavahint Durga) seated on a lion. Allan believes that these coins were of a medallic nature, struck by Samudragupta in commemoration of his parents, but it is likely they may be issues of Chandragupta I himself. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]
His alliance with the Licchavis, who suddenly emerge now into view after several centuries of oblivion, was evidently a turning-point in the fortunes of the Guptas. Vincent Smith is of opinion that in consequence of this union Chandragupta I “succeeded to the power previously held by his wife’s relatives” and that he obtained possession of Pataliputra. The suggestion, however, appears untenable, for according to I-tsing’s testimony the territories of Maharaja Gupta must have already comprised this city. It is no less doubtful if Vaisali, the Licchavi capital, came under Chandragupta I a result of the marriage settlement. At any rate, a well-known passage in the Purdnas proves that his authority extended to South Bihar, Prayaga, Saketa, an,c^ the adjoining districts.
Samudragupta (335 - 380 AD)
Samudragupta (335 - 380 AD) succeeded his father Chandragupta I. He was perhaps the greatest king of Gupta dynasty. Samudragupta enlarged the Gupta Kingdom by winning a series of battles he was a master of northern India. Soon he defeated the kings of Vindhyan region (central India) and Deccan. He although made no attempt to incorporate the kingdoms of south of Narmada and Mahanadi rivers (southern India) into his empire. When he died his mighty empire bordered with Kushan of Western province (modern Afganistan and Pakistan) and Vakatakas in Deccan (modern southern Maharashtra). Samudragupta was a staunch Hindu and after all his military triumphs, he performed the Ashwamedha Yagna (Horse sacrifice ceremony) which is evident on some of his coins. Ashwamedha Yagna gave him the coveted title of Maharajadhiraj, the supreme king of kings.
Samudragupta turned out to be one of the ablest Gupta sovereigns, and by his exploits more than justified his father’s selection. With his ideal of war and aggrandisement, Samudragupta is the very antithesis of Ashoka, who ,stood for peace and piety. The subject or an elaborate panegyric composed by the court poet, Harisena.
Frank E. Smitha wrote in his Macrohistory blog: “Ten years into his rule, Chandragupta lay dying, and he told his son, Samudra, to rule the whole world. His son tried. Samudragupta's forty-five years of rule would be described as one vast military campaign. He waged war along the Ganges plain, overwhelming nine kings and incorporating their subjects and lands into the Gupta Empire. He absorbed Bengal, and kingdoms in Nepal and Assam paid him tribute. He expanded his empire westward, conquering Malava and the Saka kingdom of Ujjayini. He gave various tribal states autonomy under his protection. He raided Pallava and humbled eleven kings in southern India. He made a vassal of the king of Lanka, and he compelled five kings on the outskirts of his empire to pay him tribute. The powerful kingdom of Vakataka in central India, he preferred to leave independent and friendly.” [Source:Frank E. Smitha, Macrohistory /+]
Chandragupta appointed his son, Samudragupta, to the throne sometime around the year 330. The new king established the city of Pataliputra as the Gupta capital, and from this administrative base the empire continued to grow. By approximately 380, it had expanded to include a number of smaller kingdoms to the east (into what is now Myanmar), all territories north to the Himalayas (including Nepal), and the entire Indus Valley region to the west. In some of the more remote areas, the Guptas reinstalled defeated rulers and allowed them to continue to run the territory as a tributary state.
Strangely enough, Samudragupta chose to leave a permanent record of his sanguinary conquests by the side of the ethical exhortations of Ashoka on one of his pillars, now inside the fort at Allahabad. The inscription is unhappily undated, but it is surely not a posthumous document.. It must have been engraved — say about 360 A.D. The conquests follow a geographical and not a chronological order, we may reasonably assume that Samudragupta must have first tried conclusions with his neighbours, the kings of Aryavarta. Here he followed a policy of ruthless annexation, for he is said to have “violently exterminated” nine monarchs, including three Naga kings: [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]
Samudragupta next turned his arms against the “kings of the forest countries,” whom he compelled “to become his servants.” Their territories probably lay in Central India. Samudragupta then undertook the difficult task of subjugating the monarclis of Daksinapatha. They were defeated and captured, but the victor released and re-instated them, and thus won their allegiance by his magnanimity.
According to the identification of rulers, Samudragupta’s campaigns were limited to the eastern coast of the Deccan. There is, however, nothing to support Prof. Jouveau-Dubreuil’s suggestion that the invader was defeated by a confederacy of the southern kings under the leadership of Visnugopa of Kanci, and that Samudragupta was forced to retreat homeward posthaste. On the other hand, if we accept the identifications, proposed by Fleet and Smith, of Korala, Erandapalla, Palakka, and Devarastra with Kerala (Malabar coast), Erandol in Khandesh, Palghat or Palakkadu, and Maharastra respectively, Samudragupta must have advanced as far as the Cera kingdom in the extreme south and returned to his capital by way of Maharastra and Khandesh.
The military activities of Samudragupta overawed the tribes and the frontier kings, who accordingly “gratified his imperious commands by paying all kinds of taxes, obeying his orders and coming to do homage.” Among the frontier (pratyanta) states were Assam, Nepal and kingdoms in Bengal.
The foregoing account shows that Samudragupta’s conquests were of varying degrees. He forcibly extirpated certain kings, and annexed their dominions; others were vanquished, taken prisoners, and set free after an acknowledgement of suzerainty; and, lastly, the frontier monarchs and the tribes, being impressed by his victories, paid him homage of their own accord. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]
Samudragupta’s Relations with Foreign Powers
Thus, Samudragupta made himself master of an extensive empire, but beyond the sphere of his direct authority were the foreign potentates, who were no less anxious to be on good terms with him. We learn from a Chinese source 4 that his Ceylonese contemporary, Meghavanna or Meghavarna (352-79 A.D.), sent two monks to Bodhgaya on a religious mission. Meeting with little or no hospitality there, they complained to the king on their return home that they could not obtain even a suitable accommodation. Meghavarna then sent a formal embassy with rich gifts to Samudragupta seeking his permission to build a monastery at that sacred site for the use of Ceylonese pilgrims. The request was, of course, granted, and soon there grew;up a magnificent structure, which was known as the Mahabodhi Sangharama in the time of Xuanzang. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]
The Allahabad pillar inscription further informs us that the Daivaputra-Sahi-Sahanu6ahi, the Saka-Murundas as well as the people of Sihhala and other islands, “purchased peace by self-surrender, bringing presents of maidens, the application of charters, stamped with the Garuda seal, confirming them in the enjoyment of their territories.” Although such claims savour of rhodomontade, it appears nevertheless that the above mentioned powers were profoundly struck with the expanding fame and influence of Samudragupta, and, therefore, they thought it prudent to enlist his friendship and favour. They were evidently the representatives of the Kushans and the Sakas, who had formerly held sway over a large portion of India. It is, however, difficult to identify them definitely, or even to analyse the Sanskrit compound words. The title Daivaputra-Sahi-Sahanushahi was orginially adopted by the great Kushan emperors and after the disintegration of the empire it was divided among the princes of the smaller states according to their status. Thus, the Devaputra was perhaps located in the Punjab, and the Sahi or SahiSahanusahi ruled Afghanistan and the adjoining lands. Similarly, the term Saka-Murundas 1 denotes either two separate ethnic types, or simply “lords of the Sakas,” if taken as one word.
Asvamedha Sacrifice: Samudragupta is represented in the inscriptions of his successors to have revived the horse-sacrifice, which had long been in abeyance (“ cirotsanndsvamedha hartub”)P It must have been performed at the conclusion of his fighting days, and after the incision of the Allahabad pillar inscription, as it is not mentioned therein. He distributed large sums in charity during this ceremony, and to commemorate it he issued gold coins, showing a horse standing before a sacrificial post (yiipa) on the obverse, and on the reverse the queen and the legend “Asvamedhaparakramah.” [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]
Personal Accomplishments: Samudragupta was a versatile genius. He was proficient not only in war, but also in the sacred lore (Sastras). Himself highly cultured, he was fond of the company of the learned. He is called “kaviraja”, which shows that he was a poet of no mean order. Besides, he cultivated the sister art of music, and his attainments in this direction are confirmed by certain coins depicting him sitting on a high-backed couch and playing on the lute find). The Allahabad pillar inscription also says that Samudragupta “put to shame the preceptor of the lord of the gods (i.e., Brihaspati) by his sharp and polished intellect and Tumburu and Narada by lovely performances of music.” [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]
Religion and Death: We learn from the Allahabad pillar inscription that the kings of the north-west asked for Samudragupta’s charters, stamped with the Garuda seal. As Garuda is the bearer (yahana) of Visnu, it is clear that Samudragupta was specially devoted to this god. But his Vaisnavism was by no means inconsistent with militarism — the true ideal of a Ksatriya. The exact year of Samudragupta’s death is nowhere recorded, but there is no doubt he had a long reign. The earliest known date of Chandragupta II being 380 A.D. according to a newly discovered inscription at Mathura, we may tentatively assume that Samudragupta ruled until about 375 A.D.
Samudragupta had several sons (cf. hahu-putra-pautra, C.I.I., III, no. 2, pp. 20-21), and one of them nanTed Rama (Sarma?) gupta is believed to have succeeded him. The latter is mentioned in a lost drama by Visakhadatta, entitled Devl-Chandraguptam, fragments of which are “preserved in the Hatya-darpana, a work on dramaturgy by Ramacandra and Gunacandra. Ramagupta was a cowardly ruler, and it is alleged that in response to the Saka king’s demand he agreed to surrender even his wife, Dhruvadevi. But her honour was saved owing to the intervention of her husband’s brother, Chandragupta, who in the guise of a woman killed the Saka ruler. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]
Chandragupta then did away with Ramagupta too, and ascended the throne of Pataliputra with Dhruvadevi as his queen amidst the plaudits of the people. Echoes of this story also come from Bana’s Harsacarita, the commentary on it by Sankararya, and some other later authorities like the Sringara-Vrakdsa of Bhoja, the Sanjan Plates of Amoghavarsa 1, and the Mujmdlut- Taivdrlkh. Despite these evidences, the historicity of Ramagupta is still a matter of controversy among scholars. It is argued that the above traditions are late and have hardly any air of reality; and the absence of Ramagupta’s coins 3 as well as the complete silence of the Gupta records about him, no doubt, lend further weight to this scepticism.
Chandragupta II (380 - 413)
Around 380,Samudragupta was succeeded by his son Chandragupta II, and the son extended Gupta rule to India's west coast, where new ports were helping India's trade with countries farther west. Chandragupta II influenced local powers beyond the Indus River and north to Kashmir. While Rome was being overrun and the western half of the Roman Empire was disintegrating, Gupta rule was at the apex of its grandeur, prospering in agriculture, crafts and trade. Unlike the Maurya Dynasty with its state control of trade and industry, the Guptas let people free to pursue wealth and business, and prosperity exceeded that of the Mauryan era. [Source: Frank E. Smitha, Macrohistory /+]
Chandragupta II (380 - 413) is also known as Vikramaditya, the legendary emperor of India. More stories/legends are associated with him than any other ruler of India. It was during his (and his son Kumargupta) reign, India was at the pinnacle of prosperity and opulence. Although named after his grandfather Chandragupta, he took a title of Vikramaditya, which became a synonym for sovereign of tremendous power and wealth. Vikramaditya succeeded his father Samudragupta (possibly there was another prince, or his elder brother who ruled briefly, and according to legends slayed by Shakas). He married princess Kubernaga, daughter of Naga Chieftains and later gave his daughter Prabhavati in marriage to Rudrasena of powerful family of Vakatakas of the Deccan (modern Maharashtra). /+\
Chandragupta, usually designated Chandragupta II Vikramaditya to distinguish him from his grand-father, was Samudragupta’s son by Dattadevi. whether we take him as the immediate successor of his craven brother R-Jmagupta, or of his father, as the expression “tatparigrihitah” suggests, Chandragupta must have been a man of mature years, when he ascended the throne some time between 375 and 380 A.D. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]
Chandragupta II’s Campaigns and Alliances
Chandragupta II was spared the difficult task of building up an empire. It had already been successfully accomplished by the military genius of his father, Samudragupta, who had annexed many territories in Aryavarta, overawed the frontier kings and tribes into submission, and made the independent powers of the North-west seek his friendship. But the Western satraps were still holding their own, and, except for a temporary eclipse by the Vakatakas, continued to be an important factor in contemporary politics.
Vakataka Alliance: With a view to pursuing his schemes vigorously against the Sakas, Chandragupta II gave the hand of his daughter, Prabhavatl, born of Kuberanaga, a Naga princess, to Rudrasena II Vakataka. This matrimonial alliance was a masterstroke of diplomacy as the Vakataka Maharaja “occupied a geographical position in which he could be of much service or disservice to the northern invader of the dominions of the Salta satraps.”
Saka Campaign: His most significant and well celebrated military achievement being total destruction of Kshatrapas, the Saka (Scythian) rulers of Malawa and Saurashtra, the western India (modern Gujrath and neighbouring states). He scored a fantastic victory over the Kshatrapa rulers and incorporated these provinces into his increasing empire. The cool courage he showed in fight with Sakas and killing their king in their own city entitled him the epithets Shakari (destroyer of Sakas) or Sahasanka. He has also been responsible for the era, popularly known as Vikram Samvat which commence in 58 B.C. This era has been used by major Hindu dynasties and still in use in modern India. /+\
Having organised a strong force, Chandragupta II himself advanced against the Saka ruler of Western India. An inscription at Udayagiri, near Bhilsa, recording the dedication of a cave to Sambhu (Siva) by his minister for peace and war, named Saba-Virasena, gives us a clue to Chandragupta’s line of march, as the former is said to have gone there “accompanied by the king in person, who was seeking to conquer the whole world.” [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]
Unhappily the epigraph is undated, otherwise we should have known the actual year of Chandragupta’s conflict with the Sakas. But we can fix it approximately with the help of the coins. The latest issues of the Western Ksatrapas are those of Rudrasimha III, dated in the year 388-97 A.D. - Now, Chandragupta II started a silver currency in close imitation of that of the Ksatrapas after the, occupation of their territory. The earliest date on these coins is 90 or 90X— 409 or 409-413 A.D. We may, therefore, reasonably suppose that the conquest took place some time between 395 and 400 A.D. An allusion to this event occurs in Bana’s Harsacarita, although according to its testimony Chandragupta II killed his adversary by stratagem and not in an open fight. For it transmits the “scandalous tradition” that “in his enemy’s city the king of the Sakas, while courting another man’s wife, was butchered by Chandragupta concealed in his mistress’ dress.”
The defeat of Rudrasimha III not only resulted in the annexation of the fertile and rich regions of Malwa, Gujarat, and Saurastra (Kathiawad) by the victor, but it also brought the Gupta empire into direct touch with the western sea-ports. This gave a tremendous impetus to overseas commerce, and along with it there was a free flow of ideas, to and from, foreign lands. Inland trade, too, grew with the establishment of a supreme government over the greater part of Northern India, as merchants could now transport goods right across the country without having to pay customs duties at the frontiers of each petty state on the way. Previously, these levies hampered business a good deal; they raised the prices of articles and left little margin for profits to manufacturers and tradesmen. The most important entrepot at that time was Ujjain, where converged traderoutes from different directions. It also enjoyed preeminence as a religious and political centre, and was indeed made the second capital of the Gupta empire after Chandragupta’s western conquests. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]
An inscription on the Iron Pillar, which stands near Kutb-Minat (Delhi), not far from the village of Mehrauli, records the exploits of a king named Candra. He is said to have vanquished a combination of his enemies in Vahga (Bengal); perfumed the Southern ocean by “the breezes of his prowess;” and overcome the Vahlikas, traversing the seven mouths, i.e., tributaries of the river Indus (i.e., the Punjab). Thus having “acquired supreme sovereignty in the world” (aikddhirdjya), he ruled “for a long time” (suciram). The identification of this Candra has unfortunately been a frequent source of controversy among scholars. But if he is identical with Chandragupta II, as seems quite probable, we have then definite evidence that the Gupta monarch firmly established his supremacy in Bengal, and destroyed the remnants of the Saka and the Kushan power in the northwest, a task which Samudragupta could accomplish only partially.
Chandragupta II’s Rule
We must also glean a few facts from the Basarh seals 1 and other inscriptions about the working of Chandragupta’s empire. The king ruled with the advice and assistance of his ministers (mantris), whose office was often hereditary. Some of them combined both civil and military functions, and they accompanied the sovereign to the battle-field. The empire was divided for the sake of administrative convenience into several provinces (dedas or bhuktis) under governors (Uparika Maharajas or Goptas), often princes of the blood royal; and next, there were the districts ('visayas) and their subdivisions. The provincial and local governments were carried on by a regular bureaucracy, and the Basarh seals give us the designations of a number of such offices, e.g., Kumdramdtya (counsellor of a prince; or literally, one who was a minister since boyhood); Mahddanda-nayaka (chief commandant); Vinayasthiti-sthapaka (censor ?); Mahd-pratihara (chamberlain); Bhatdsvapati (lord of the infantry and the cavalry); Dandapadadhikarana (office of the police chief), etc. It appears from the Damodarapur copper-plates that the head of a district (visayapati) was directly responsible to the provincial governor, and was described as “ tanniyuktaka.” “He.had his headquarters in an “ Adhisthana,” where the office (“ Adhikarana”) was located. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]
He was assisted by a council comprising representatives of the principal local interests of the times, the chief Seth or banker (; nagara-irestbin), chief merchant (sarthavaha), chief artisan (prathama kulika), and the chief scribe (prathama kajastha). But we do not know if they formed merely an advisory body, or any specific duties were entrusted to them. Among other important functionaries were the record-keepers (pustapdla), who were kept informed of the tide to all lands. Indeed, the authorities sanctioned “land sales only after these record-keepers had, on receipt of application from purchasers, determined the title to the land under proposal of transfer and sent in their report to the Government.” As before, the lowest unit of administration was the village (grama), which was under the headman (gramika). With the help of the pancamandalt or pancayat consisting of the village elders (gratnavriddhas), he maintained peace and security within his jurisdiction.
The inscriptions apply to Chandragupta II the epithets of Parama-bhagavata and Maharajadlv.rajaSri-Bhattaraka. On the coins he assumes the highsounding titles of Vikramaditya, Vikramanka, NarenHracandra, Simha-Vikrama, Simha- Candra, etc. He bore the name Devaraja also. In some of the Vakataka inscriptions he is called Devagupta. Besides Kuvcranaga, referred to already, Chandragupta had another wife named Dhruvadevi or Dhruvasvamini. He had at least two sons — Ivumaragupta I and Govindagupta; the latter was Chandragupta II’s Viceroy at Vaiiali.
After Chandragupta II
Vikramaditya was succeeded by his able son Kumargupta I (415 - 455). He maintained his hold over the vast empire of his forebears, which covered most of India except southern four states of India. Later he too performed the Ashwamegha Yagna and proclaimed himself to be Chakrawarti, king of all kings. umargupta also was a great patron of art and culture; evidence exist that he endowed a college of fine arts at great ancient university at Nalanda, which fluorished during 5th to 12th century AD. [Source: Frank E. Smitha, Macrohistory /+]
Kumara Gupta maintained India's peace and prosperity. During his forty-year reign the Gupta Empire remained undiminished. Then, as did the Roman Empire around this time, India suffered more invasions. Kumara Gupta's son, the crown prince, Skanda Gupta, was able to drive the invaders, the Huns (Hephthalites), back into the Sassanian Empire, where they were to defeat the Sassanid army and kill the Sassanid king, Firuz. [Source: Frank E. Smitha, Macrohistory /+]
Skandagupta (455 - 467) proved to be able king and administrator in time of crisis. In spite of heroic efforts of SkandaGupta, Gupta empire did not survive long the shock it received from invasion of the Huns and internal uprising of Pushyamitras. Although there was some sort of unity reign of the last king Budhagupta in the 6th century AD. /+\
Prince Skanda was a hero, and women and children sang praises to him. He spent much of his reign of twenty-five years combating the Huns, which drained his treasury and weakened his empire. Perhaps people accustomed to wealth and pleasure should have been more willing to contribute to a stronger military force. At any rate, Skanda Gupta died in 467, and dissension arose within the royal family. Benefiting from this dissention, governors of provinces and feudal chieftains revolted against Gupta rule. For a while the Gupta Empire had two centers: at Valabhi on the western coast and at Pataliputra toward the east.
Kumaragupta I Mahendraditya (414-55 A.D.)
According to the Sanchl inscription (no. 5) Chandragupta II was ruling in the Gupta year 93—412-13 A.D. whereas the Bilsad inscription (no. io), dated G.E. 96—415 A.D. belongs to the time of his son and successor Kumaragupta (I) whose mother was queen Dhruvadevi. We may, therefore, suppose that the sceptre changed hands about 414 A.D. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]
Not much is known of Kumaragupta’s career, but the number and variety of his coins, as well as the wide distribution of the inscriptions of his reign, indicate that he maintained the strength and unity of the empire, which extended from Bengal to Saurastra and from the Himalayas to the Narmada. Bandhuvarman then ruled Dasapura (Mandasor, Western Malwa) as Kumaragupta’s feudatory; Ciratadatta was governor of North Bengal (Paundravardhana-bhukti); and Ghatotkacagupta held charge of the Airikina or Eran region (Saugor district, C. P.) Certain gold coins of Kumaragupta I prove that he performed the Asvamedha sacrifice. Unhappily, inscriptions do not throw any light on his conquests, but it may be safely said that he could not have indulged in this Imperial celebration without having won some successes in war. We learn from the Bhitari pillar inscription that the last years of Kumaragupta I were seriously disturbed owing to the invasion of the Pusyamitras, who had “developed great power and wealth.” Kumaragupta I himself could not take up arms against them — perhaps on account of old age or illness, and he, therefore, sent his crown-prince, Skandagupta, to avert the danger. The latter rose equal to the occasion, and after a hard struggle, in which he had to spend a whole night “on a couch that was the bare earth”, he retrieved the fallen fortunes of his family.
Like his predecessors, Kumaragupta I was a tolerant ruler. During his protracted reign numerous endowments for the maintenance of alms-houses (sattras) and temples were made. We also hear of the installation of the images of the Buddha and Padva; and among Brahmanical gods the most popularly venerated were the Sun, Siva, Visnu, and Kartikeya, whose worship was now growing into special favour. Indeed, it appears from certain gold and silver coins of Kumaragupta I that his object of adoration was Kartikeya rather than Visnu.
Skandagupta Kramaditya (455-67 A.D.)
It appears that during the progress of the Pusyamitra war Kumaragupta I died, for when Skandagupta gained victory over his enemies he went to announce it to his living mother “just as Krisna did to Devaki.” Indeed, the Bhitari pillar inscription explicitly says that soon after this conflict Skandagupta “placed his left foot on the royal foot-stool” 2, i.e., ascended the throne. But the course of his reign was not destined to run smooth. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]
Another great event of Skandagupta’s reign was the restoration of the embankment of the Sudarsana lake, which had burst with excessive rain-fall. It had a long history behind. Chandragupta Maurya first built a reservoir of water by damming a mountain stream, and the irrigational sluices were supplied during the time of Ashoka. In the year 150 A.D. Rudradaman repaired the damages caused by a severe storm. Breaches again occurred in the embankment in 456 A.D. and Parnadatta’s son, Cakrapalita, who was governor of Girnar, rebuilt it of solid masonry at an “immeasurable cost.” To commemorate the successful completion of the work, a temple of the god Cakrabhrit or Visnu was constructed in 458 A.D. No traces of the lake or of the temple are found now. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]
Skandagupta was himself a devout Vaisnava, but he continued the tolerant policy of his predecessors. The people followed the noble example of their sovereign. The Kahaum inscription (no. 15), for instance, records the erection of rive stone images of the Jain Ttrthamkaras by one Madra, who is described as “full of affection for Hindus, religious preceptors, and ascetics.” Similarly, the Indor plate (no. 16) 2 registers a gift by a certain Brahman for the maintenance of a lamp in a Sun temple built by two Ksatriyas at Indrapura (Indor, Bulandshahr district). The donor made a permanent deposit with the local guild of oil-men (tailika-sreni), who were to provide oil for the lamp daily out of its interest “without diminishing its original value.” [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942] Skandagupta’s usual title was “Kramaditya”. On some of his silver coins he bears the more famous title of “Vikramaditya” as well. It may incidentally be noted here that in the Kahaum inscription he is called “ksitipaSatapatih” or “lord of a hundred kings.” According to the silver coins, the last known dates of Kumaragupta I and Skandagupta are respectively 455 and 467 A.D. Presumably, therefore, these two limits represent the duration of Skandagupta’s reign.
Later Gupta Emperors
The Gupta dynasty, no doubt, continued its existence after the death of Skandagupta, but its greatness appears to have departed. He was succeeded in about 467 A.D. by his brother or half-brother, Puragupta, born of Anantadevi. The latter’s name has been recovered from the Bhitari seal inscription, which, curiously enough, omits to mention Skandagupta in the genealogical list. This has led some scholars to believe that the two brothers were on terms of enmity, and that there was a partition of the empire between them after a fratricidal fight. The theory is, however, altogether untenable, since such omissions are by no means rare in ancient Indian epigraphic documents, and the available evidence conclusively proves that Skandagupta was a powerful monarch ruling over the entire Gupta dominions. On his coins Puragupta assumes the title, “SrI-Vikramah”, and in the opinion of Hoernlc those pieces, which have the legend “PrakaSaditya” on the reverse, arc also to be attributed to him. It is difficult to determine with precision the extent of his kingdom or the duration of his reign. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]
Puragupta’s successor was his son, Narasimhagupta, by Vatsadevi. He bore the epithet, Baladitya, but he was not identical with the famous conqueror of the Huns, as is commonly supposed. Narasimhagupta’s rule was probably very brief.
Narasimhagupta was followed by Kumaragupta, his son by Mahalaksmldevi. He is called Kumaragupta II to distinguish him from his great-grandfather. He was “protecting the earth” in 473-74 A.D. if we identify him with Kumaragupta of the Samath inscription. It was in his time (472-73 A.D.) that a guild of silk-weavers repaired the temple of the Sun at DaSapura, originally constructed in Malava Era 436-37 A.D. during the reign of Kumaragupta I.
According to another epigraph from Sarnath, Budhagupta was on the throne in 476-77 A.D. His accession may, therefore, be dated a year or so earlier. This shows that all the three rulers, whose names have been revealed to us by the Bhitari seal inscription, had very short reigns covering a period of about eight years only. What Budhagupta’s relation was to this group is not clear. Yuan Cnwang states that he was a son to Sakraditya, and as in Sanskrit Sakra and Mahendra are synonyms of Indra, Budhagupta may have been a son of Kumaragupta I, who adopted the epithet Mahendraditya. The inscriptions, discovered at Damodarapur (Dinajpur district), Sarnath (Benares district), and Eran (Saugor district, C.P.) 4 demonstrate that Budhagupta’s authority was acknowledged all over the country from Bengal to Central India. At that time North Bengal was under his Viceroys, Br^hmadatta and Jayadatta; Eastern Mai wa was governed by Maharaja Matrivisnu; and a feudatory Maharaja, SuraSmicandra, was in charge of the territory between the, Kalindi (Yamuna) and the Narmada. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]
Budhagupta must have ceased ruling shortly after 494-95 A.D. which is his last date known from the coins (silver). He was perhaps succeeded by Bhanugupta, although their relation is uncertain. During the latter’s reign, the Huns wrested Malwa from the Guptas, for whereas Matrivisnu was a vassal of Budhagupta, his younger brother, Dhanyavisnu, acknowledged the sovereignty of Toramana« l The Eran inscription, dated G. E. 191 — 510 A.D. also testifies that Bhanugupta’s general, Goparaja, died in a “very famous battle”, evidently while fighting against the Huns. Henceforward the Gupta power steadily declined, and except a few names from coins we know nothing about the later members of the dynasty. They ruled over a small territory, comprising parts of Bihar and Bengal only. The Imperial ties were torn asunder by the provinces, which now pursued their own devices and destinies.
Later Guptas of Magadha
The Aphsad (Gaya district) inscription of Adityasena 1 and the Deo-Baranark (Shahabad district) inscription of Jivitagupta II 2 disclosed the existence of a line of Gupta princes, called the Later Guptas by modern historians. The founder of this dynasty was Krishnagupta, but unfortunately his exact connection with the Imperial Guptas is nowhere mentioned. He and his two successors, Harsagupta and Jivitagupta I, must have ruled Magadha in the interval between the death of Bhanugupta and 61 1 (?Malava)~5 54 A.D. when Kumaragupta III was reigning. We get this date from the Haraha inscription 3 for Isanavarman Maukhari, who is represented in the Aphsad inscription as having been defeated by Kumaragupta III. After this victory, the latter perhaps extended his jurisdiction as far as Prayaga, for there are indications that his funeral rites took place there. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]
The next ruler, Damodaragupta, was routed and killed ley his Maukhari contemporary, who annexed Magadha or a large part of it. Damodaragupta’s son, Mahasenagupta, appears from the Harsacarita to have then retired to eastern Malava, which, as the records of the Parivrajaka Maharajas show, still acknowledged the supremacy of the Guptas. Here Mahasenagupta strengthened his position, and even carried his arms against Susthitavarman as far as Lauhitya (Brahmaputra). His son, Dcvagupta, formed an alliance with SaSanka of Bengal, and advanced against Grahavarman Maukhari of Kanauj, whom he killed. The murder was, however, soon avenged by Rajyavardhana, for he in turn vanquished and perhaps slew Devagupta. A scion of this family, named Madhavagupta, was subsequently placed by Harsavardhana in Magadha as his feudatory or Viceroy, so that he might be a bulwark against the aggressions of Sasahka. Madhavagupta’s son, Adityasena, known from the Shah pur stone image inscription 3 to have been alive in 672 A.D. gave a good account of himself after the death of Harsa, and raised the dynasty to independence and importance. He adopted the full Imperial titles, and performed the Asvamedha sacrifice. He even boastfully claims to have ruled “the earth up to the shores of the oceans.” He was followed by several weak kings, and yvith the death of JIvitagupta II, the last ruler, the fortunes of Magadha became obscure for a short time.
conventional claim for Damodaragupta’s victory is made here, but the outcome of the conflict was certainly against him, as he is represented to have been killed in the battle.
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.
Last updated September 2020