Categories Selfstudyhistory.com

Guptas: Polity and Administration- Part I

Guptas: Polity and Administration- Part I

Source of the period c. 300-600 CE

  • Inscriptions:
    • The sources include inscriptions—mostly on stone, some on copper plates—of the imperial Guptas and those of contemporary dynasties such as the Vakatakas, Kadambas, Varmans, and Hunas.
    • Royal prashastis:
      • The prashastis (panegyric) of royal inscriptions can be understood as public message-bearing media, offering details on royal genealogies and political events.
      • However, they generally report political successes rather than reverses, and the inscriptions of different dynasties sometimes make conflicting claims.
      • The epithets and descriptions of kings reflect prevailing hierarchies of power and ideals of kingship.
    • Royal land grant inscriptions:
      • Royal land grant inscriptions represent important socio-economic processes of their time and provide information regarding administrative structures and agrarian relations.
    • Donative inscriptions:
      • Donative inscriptions of private individuals offer glimpses into social history and the sources of patronage of religious establishments.
  • Coins:
    • Coins and seals too were public message-bearing media, apart from being media of exchange or authentication.
    • Gupta coins:
      • Gold coins (dinaras):
        • Gupta kings issued large numbers of gold coins known as dinaras (after the Roman denarius).
        • These bore the names and epithets of kings, including metrical legends.
        • The obverse generally had a representation of the king and the reverse an image of a deity.
      • Silver coins:
        • Rulers such as Chandragupta II, Kumaragupta I, Skandagupta, and Budhagupta also issued silver coins, similar in weight and fabric to those of the western Kshatrapas.
        • The obverse had the king’s portrait, sometimes accompanied by a date; the reverse had a motif (e.g., a garuda or a peacock), surrounded by a circular legend.
      • Copper coins:
        • Copper coins of the Guptas are rare.
    • Coins of other dynasties:
      • The coins of contemporary dynasties include those of the Kadambas, Ikshvakus, Vishnukundins, and ‘Nagas’.
      • Recently, a number of Vakataka coins made of base metal with a high proportion of copper have been found in the Wardha area. They are irregular in size and have a light weight standard. Similar coins were found in excavations at Mansar near Ramtek in Nagpur district.
  • Seals and sealings:
    • Large numbers of seals and sealings have been found at sites such as Basarh (ancient Vaishali), Bhita, and Nalanda.
  • Sanskrit literature:
    • Important developments took place in the sphere of Sanskrit literature during c. 300–600 CE.
    • The epics and major Puranas were given final shape, and these texts form important sources for religious and cultural processes of the time.
    • The Narada, Vishnu, Brihaspati, and Katyayana Smritis also belong to this period.
    • Kamandaka’s Nitisara, a work on polity addressed to the king, was composed in the 4th century CE.
    • The Manjushri-mulakalpa, a Buddhist Mahayana text, has a chapter on the history of India and of Gauda and Magadha in particular from the early centuries CE to the early medieval period.
    • The Jaina Harivamsha Purana (8th century) and the Tiloya Pannati give some details concerning political chronology.
    • Fragments of the Devi-Chandragupta, a lost drama written by Vishakhadatta, were found preserved in a manuscript of Bhoja’s Shringara-Prakasha, and are relevant for Gupta political history.
    • Sanskrit kavya constitutes an under-utilized source for the social history of the period. The same is the case with the Kathasaritsagara, a storehouse of popular folklore.
    • Works on medicine and astronomy indicate the prevailing state of knowledge in these fields. Along with other technical treatises such as the Kamasutra (on pleasure) and the Amarakosha (a lexicon), they offer information on other aspects as well.
    • The Tamil epics—the Silappadikaram and Manimekalai—belong to the 5th/6th century and are a rich source of information on the history of South India.
  • Traveller’s account:
    • Chinese travellers’ account:
      • Between the late 3rd and 8th centuries, many Chinese monks traveled to India in order to collect Buddhist texts, visit important places of Buddhist pilgrimage, and interact with Indian monks. The stream of Chinese monk-scholars reached its peak in the 5th century.
      • Some of the travellers recorded their observations, but only three records have survived in their entirety—those of Faxian, Xuanzang, and Yijing.
      • Faxian:
        • The travels of Faxian in India lasted about a decade (c. 337–422 CE) and took him from the north-west into the Ganga valley, right down to the eastern seaport of Tamralipti in the Bay of Bengal. From here, he took the sea route to Simhala (Sri Lanka) and further on to Southeast Asia, whence he headed back to China.
        • Faxian spent the rest of his life translating the enormous number of texts he had collected.
        • He also wrote an account of his travels called the Gaoseng Faxian zhuan (‘A Record of Buddhist Kingdoms’—the Chinese name of this book used to be transliterated as Fo-kuoki).
        • Although the book does not mention the name of the reigning king (who must have been Chandragupta II), it contains several observations about the life of the people, some erroneous, others useful.
        • Numerous Indian monks went to China as well, but there are no accounts of their travels or experiences.
    • Western travellers’ account:
      • There are also a few Western accounts of India in this period. An example is Cos-mas Indicopleustes’ Christian Topography, written in the 6th century. The author was a merchant who travelled widely to areas including India, before becoming a monk.
      • The writings of Procopious of Caesarea throw light on India’s trade relations with the Byzantine empire.
  • Sculptural and architectural remains:
    • Although there are many sculptural and architectural remains of this period, most of them religious in nature, there is little documentation of archaeological evidence from sites revealing the details and textures of everyday life.
    • Nevertheless, sites such as the Purana Qila, Ahichchhatra, Basarh, Bhita, and Kaveripattinam do provide important data.
The political condition of India on the eve of the rise of the Guptas
  • The Gupta Empire was an ancient Indian empire existing from the mid-to-late 3rd century CE to 550 CE. At its zenith, from approximately 319 to 467 CE, it covered much of the Indian subcontinent.
    • This period is considered as the Golden Age of India by some historians.
    • The ruling dynasty of the empire was founded by the king Sri Gupta.
    • The capital of the Guptas was Pataliputra, present day Patna.
  • In the beginning of the fourth century A.D. no large state structure existed in India.
    • In the post-Mauryan period two large state structures had emerged in north India and in the Deccan.
    • These were the Kushana state of the north and the Satavahana state of the Deccan.
    • But although the Kushanas and Saka chiefs continued to rule even in early fourth century A.D., their power had become considerably weak, and the Satavahana state had disappeared before the middle of the third century A.D.
  • This does not however mean that there was complete political vacuum.
    • There was no major political power but there were minor powers and new families of rulers were emerging.
    • It was in this situation that the Guptas began to build up an empire from the beginning of the fourth century A.D.

The political condition of India can be analysed by looking into the political situation of different regions separately:

  • North-western and Northern India:
    • Before the middle of the third century A.D. the rule of the Sassanians had been established in lran and the Sassanian rulers started claiming overlordship over Kushana kings. The mighty Kushana kings of north-westem lndia were reduced to the position of subordinates and the Sassanian authority also extended to Sindh and certain other areas.
      • However, a large number of coins which are based on earlier Kushana coins and are found in Afghanistan and Punjab suggest that several branches of rulers, some Kushana, continued to rule in the region.
      • There are also the coins of Kidara Kushana and his successors, in Afghanistan, Kashmir and western Punjab and it is possible that some of these rulers were contemporaries of the early Gupta rulers.
    • In other parts of the Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan, old coins again point to the existence of a number of republican states.
      • These were states which were not ruled by a single king but possibly by several chiefs; it was only occasionally that one finds a chief claiming the status of the King of a clan.
      • The Madras, mentioned in connection with the exploit of the Gupta ruler Samudragupta, were located in the Punjab;
      • the Yaudheyas were extremely powerful with their centre in present-day Haryana and the Malavas were located in Rajasthan.
      • There were many other republican states like these, and some of them are even mentioned in the Gupta records.
    • Several branches of the Nagas who became very powerful in Mathura and other centres after the decline of Kushana power in north lndia are also known. Some of the north Indian rulers who were defeated by Samudragupta were definitely of Naga origin.
  • Western and Central India:
    • A branch of Kshatrapa rulers had established themselves in Western India in the post-Mauryan period.
      • The line of Chastana, to which the well-known Saka Kshatrapa Rudradaman belonged, continued to rule till 304 A.D. and then a new line of rulers began to rule.
      • However, Kshatrapa rule came to an end towards the close of the fourth century A.D. when Gupta ruler Chandragupta-II conquered and annexed their territories.
    • In the region of ancient Vidarbha, the core of which was Nagpur in northeast Maharashtra, a new power had emerged by the middle of the third century A.D. This power was that of the Vakatakas, a new line of rulers started by Vindhyasakti.
      • Vakataka power soon became formidable and a branch was also established at Vatsagulma (modem Basim in Akola district).
      • The Vakataka family later on came into close contact with the Guptas, particularly after a matrimonial alliance was formed between the two families.
  • The Deccan and South India:
    • The decline of the Satavahana state of the Deccan was followed by the emergence of a number of new royal families in different parts of the Deccan.
    • In coastal Andhra, there was a succession of families like the Ikshvakus, the Salankayanas and others.
    • In Karnataka, the most important ruling family was that of the Kadambas.
      • The Kadamba power was founded by Brahmin Mayurasarman whose Talagunda inscription gives some interesting details of the circumstances leading to the establishment of the kingdom and also some idea regarding its extent.
    • The ruling family of the Pallavas, which became a formidable power in Tamilnadu till the ninth century is known from their records to have started ruling from the middle of the third century A.D.
      • The inscriptions of the early Pallava rulers were written in the Prakrit language and were in the form of copper plates. They are generally assigned to the period between century 250-350 A.D.
      • Sivaskandarasman of this family, who ruled in the beginning of the fourth century A.D., was a powerful ruler and his kingdom included parts of Andhra, Karnataka and Tamilnadu.
      • Kanchi or Kanchipuram in Tamilnadu became the capital of the Pallavas and when Gupta ruler Samudragupta led an expedition to the south, he encountered Pallavan king Vishnugopa  at Kanchi.
  • In many areas like Bengal, Orissa, forest regions of Madhya Pradesh and elsewhere kingdoms were emerging for the first time. This was a new trend and was very significant for the later course of political history.
Thus, it was the fragmented political condition after fall of Kushanas and Satavahana that Gupta could built upon a large empire.
The rise of imperial Guptas
  • Origin and social background of the Guptas:  The ancestry and early history of the Gupta family are little known, and have naturally given rise to various speculations. Names ending in Gupta, such as Sivagupta which occurs in a Satavahana inscription, are sometimes taken to suggest their ancestry. But these suggestions are rather far-fetched.

    The Gupta records do not mention the dynasty’s varna (social class).
    • Guptas were Vaishyas:
      • The assertion that they were Vaishyas is based on the recommendation in texts such as the Manu Smriti and Vishnu Purana that the name suffix ‘gupta’ was appropriate for members of this varna.
      • In the Panchobh Copper Plate, some kings bearing the title Guptas and related to the imperial Gupta Dynasty, claimed themselves as Vaisyas.
      • According to historian R. S. Sharma, the Vaishyas – who were traditionally associated with trade – may have become rulers after resisting oppressive taxation by the previous rulers.
      • Critics of the Vaishya-origin theory point out that the suffix Gupta features in the names of several non-Vaishyas before as well as during the Gupta period, and the dynastic name “Gupta” may have simply derived from the name of the family’s first king Gupta (Shri Gupta).
    • Guptas were Kshatriyas:
      • Some scholars have argued that the Guptas were Kshatriyas.
      • This is largely based on their matrimonial alliances with the Lichchhavis (who were Kshatriyas) and Nagas (who are presumed to have been Kshatriyas), and the fact that the marriage of Prabhavatigupta into the Brahmana Vakataka dynasty would have fallen within the Dharmashastra norms of hypergamous anuloma marriages.
    • Guptas were Brahmanas:
      • The matrimonial alliance with the Vakatakas and the possibility that a princess of the Brahmana Kadamba family may have been married to a Gupta king have been used to argue that the Guptas were Brahmanas.
      • Furthermore, the Pune and Riddhapur inscriptions of the Gupta princess Prabhavati-gupta (daughter of Chandragupta II and wife of the Vakataka ruler Rudrasena II), describe her as belonging to the Dharani gotra. Since the Vakatakas are known to have belonged to the Vishnuvriddha gotra, Dharani seems to be the gotra of the Guptas.
        • But an alternative reading of these inscriptions suggests that Dharana was the gotra of her mother Kuberanaga.
  • It is very likely they were initially a family of landowners who acquired political control in the region of Magadha and parts of eastern Uttar Pradesh.  On the basis of the following arguments, it is generally accepted that the original core of the Gupta territory lay in eastern U.P:
    • Allahabad pillar inscription, the earliest inscription recording the achievements of an early Gupta ruler, Samudragupta, comes from this region.
    • The nature of the coin-hoards of the Guptas, found in this region, suggests this
    • The description of early Gupta territories in the Puranas may point to this.
  • The Guptas were possibly the feudatories of the Kushanas in Uttar Pradesh, and seem to have succeeded them without any wide time-lag.
    • At many places in UP and Bihar, Kushan antiquities are immediately followed by Gupta antiquities.
    • The coins were made of gold, and this fact in addition to the fact that the Guptas followed the weight system of Kushana gold coins suggests that the Guptas had been in contact with the Kushana territories.
    • Literary and archaeological sources indicate that they became independent in the second decade of the fourth century A.D.
  • The Guptas enjoyed certain material advantages which helped them building empire.
    • The centre of their operations lay in the fertile land of Madhyadesha covering Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
    • They could exploit the iron ores of central India and south Bihar.
    • Further, they took advantage of their proximity to the areas in north India which carried on silk trade with the Byzantine Empire.
    • It is likely that the Guptas learnt the use of saddle, reins, buttoned-coats, trousers and boots from the Kushans. All these gave them mobility and made them excellent horsemen.
      • In the Kushan scheme of things, horse-chariots and elephants had ceased to be important, horsemen playing the central role.
      • This also seems to have been the case with the Guptas on whose coins horsemen are represented. Although some Gupta kings are described as excellent and unrivalled chariot warriors, their basic strength lay in the use of horses.
    • On account of these favourable factors, the Guptas set up their rule over Anuganga (the middle Gangetic basin), Prayag (modern Allahabad), Saket (modern Ayodhya) and Magadha. In course of time this kingdom became an all-India empire.
      • A passage in the Vishnu Purana refers to the Guptas enjoying all the territories along the Ganga upto Prayaga (Allahabad), as well as Saketa and Magadha.
  • Inscriptions tell us that Srigupta was the first king and Ghatotkacha was the next to follow him.
    • They had title of Maharaja. This title was often borne by feudatory chiefs.
    • However, there are several instances of paramount sovereigns using the title Maharaja, in both pre-Gupta and post-Gupta periods, so this cannot be said with certainty.
    • That said, there is no doubt that Gupta and Ghatotkacha held a lower status and were less powerful than Chandragupta I.
    • The Poona copper plate inscrip­tion of Prabhavati Gupta describes Sri Gupta as the Adhiraja of the Gupta dynasty.
  • Chandragupta-I was the first independent king with the title Maharajadhiraja.
    • Gupta inscriptions are dated in an era (Gupta Samvat or Gupta era) which began in 319–320 CE. This must mark the accession of the third Gupta ruler Chandragupta I (319–335/36 CE), who seems to have laid the foundations of the empire.
      • In inscriptions, he has the title maharajadhiraja, and such titles henceforth became signifiers of imperial power and status.
    • After declaring his independence in Magadha, he with the help of a matrimonial alliance with the Lichchhavis (married to Kumaradevi), enlarged his kingdom. He adopted the imperial title Maharajadhiraja.
      • The marriage was commemorated on coins issued either during the reign of Chandragupta or his son Samudragupta. They have the figures and names of the king and queen on the obverse; the reverse has a goddess seated on a lion and the legend Lichchhavayah.
    • There are no concrete evidences to determine the boundaries of Chandragupta’s kingdom. But it is assumed that it covered parts of Bihar, U.P. and Bengal. It was during the times of his son Samudragupta that the kingdom grew into an empire.
It was on this foundation over which Samudragupta and Chandragupta-II could build one of the greatest empire of Indian history.
Queen Kumaradevi and King Chandragupta I, depicted on a coin of their son, Samudragupta;350–380 CE

Samudragupta (c. 350–370 CE)

  • Information regarding Samudragupta the successor of Chandragupta I, is based on his inscriptions and coins.
    • A fragmentary prashasti of this king is carved on a block of red sandstone at Eran.
      • Written in Sanskrit and undated.
      • This stone inscription was found by Alexander Cunningham near the Varaha temple.
      • The inscription mentions the Gupta king Samudragupta who is compared with Dhanada (Kubera) and Antaka (Yama) in joy and wrath respectively.
      • A mention of setting up a temple of Janardana at Airikina to augment his own glories.
      • Eran is the site of first reported monument of Sati dated 510 AD in India.
    • Two copper plate inscriptions found at Gaya and Nalanda, dated  in the reign of Samudragupta, are considered spurious by many historians.
    • The most important epigraph of Samudragupta’s reign is the prashasti on the Allahabad pillar, whose surface also carries inscriptions of Ashoka and the Mughal emperor Jahangir.

  • Harishena, the court poet of Samudragupta rightly describes him as the hero of a hundred battles, and Vincent Smith calls him the ‘Napoleon of India’. His name appears in the Javanese text `Tantrikamandaka’.
  • Allahabad pillar inscription:
    • An inscription engraved on the Asokan pillar at Allahabad (known as Prayagaprasasti) in prose and verse, eulogizes the achievements, conquests, and personality of Samudragupta.
    • The composer was a man named Harishena, whose titles —sandhivigrahika (minister for peace and war), kumaramatya (a high-ranking cadre of officials), and mahadandanayaka (an important judicial or military officer)—indicate his high rank in court circles. That he was also a skilled writer is evident from the prashasti.

    • The inscription weaves an image of Samudragupta as an exceptional individual and ideal king, and simultaneously offers very specific details regarding his military achievements and conquests.

    • The inscription mentions that Maharajadhiraja Chandragupta I in a highly
      emotional tone declared his son Samudragupta as his successor.

      • This caused joy among the courtiers and heart-burning among those of equal birth.
      • It can be presumed that other princes might have put forward their contending claims which were put to rest by this declaration.
    • Samudragupta is referred to as Lichchhavi-dauhitra (grandson of the Lichchhavis) in his Allahabad prashasti.

  • Further, the discovery of some gold coins bearing the name of Kacha has generated a controversy because:
      • in many respects Kacha’s coins are similar to the coins of Samudragupta,
      • the name of Kacha does not appear in the official lists of Gupta rulers, as they are available in the Gupta inscriptions.
    • Various interpretations have been given in this regard: According to one interpretation Samudragupta’s brothers revolted against him and placed Kacha, the eldest brother, on the throne. However he died in the war of succession.
    • Another view mentions that these coins were issued by Sarnudragupta in the memory of his brother.
    • A third view mentions Kacha as the initial name of Samudragupta and the later name was adopted only after the conquest of south.

Expansion and Consolidation (known from Allahabad Pillar inscription):

  • For the expansion and consolidation of the Gupta power Samudragupta adopted an aggressive policy of conquests. This initiated a process which culminated in the formation of the Gupta empire.
  • However, in certain regions- particularly in the South–he let the kings, whom he had defeated, rule over their regions.
    • Of course, they accepted his suzerainty and paid tributes.
    • Such a policy adopted in relation to the far-flung areas might have paid dividends in solving problems of communication and effective control, hence bringing about stability for the time being.
  • Samudragupta must have inherited an empire that included the Magadha area of Bihar and adjoining areas of Uttar Pradesh and Bengal, stretching to the Himalayan foothills in the north.
    • His initial military campaigns were directed towards extending his control over territories lying immediately beyond this area.
  • Campaign in Aryavrata (north India): Annexation
    • Some historians, assuming that the Prayagaprasasti mentions the conquests of Samudragupta in a chronological order, have opined that there were two campaigns in north India.
      • This is because the prasasti first mentions three Aryavarta kings, then it goes on to mention his southern campaign and again mentions nine Aryavarta kings.
    • Line 14 of Allahabad inscription refers to his capturing a king of the Kota family while the latter was playing in the city of Pushpa (identified with Pataliputra or Kannauj); this may have been a ruler of the upper Ganga valley.
    • Line 21 refers to Samudragupta violently exterminating a number of kings of Aryavarta and making all the kings of the forest his subordinates.
    • The kings of Aryavrata defeated by Samudragupta were: Rudradwa, Matila, Nagadatta, Chandravarma, Ganapatinaga, Nagasena, Archyuta, Nandi, Balavarmna and others.
      • It is impossible to identify all of them but it is certain that they were ruling in different parts of northern India.
      • Some of them were Naga rulers who had been powerful in several regions before the Guptas.
      • Rulers like Chandravarma who ruled in West Bengal represented new ruling families.
      • Rudradeva may be identified with the Vakataka king Rudrasena I, the western Kshatrapa ruler Rudradaman II or he may be the same as the Rudra whose coin has been found at Kaushambi.
      • A king named Nagasena is mentioned in the Harshacharita as ruling from Padmavati.
      • Matila is mentioned on a seal from Bulandshahr district (UP).
      • Coins of a king named Achyuta have been found at Ramnagar (ancient Ahichchhatra) in Bareilly district (UP).
    • The Prasasti says that Samudragupta reduced all states in the forest regions to the position of servants.
    • He not only defeated various kings mentioned in Lines 14 and 21 but also annexed their territories leading to an extension of the Gupta empire over the Ganga– Yamuna valley up to Mathura and Padmavati in the west.
  • Offering tributes and obeying the orders (ajna-karana) of overlord:
    • Other areas were subordinated in a different manner.
    • Line 22 of the prashasti refers to rulers offering tribute, obeying the orders of the Gupta king, and coming to perform obeisance before him.
      • They included the frontier kings of:
        • Samatata (south-east Bengal).
        • Davaka (Dabok in Naogaon district, Assam)
        • Kamarupa (Guwahati region, Assam).
        • Nepala (Nepal).
        • Kartripura (Kartarpur in Jalandhar district).
    • The polities subordinated in this manner also included a number of ganas, namely the Malavas, Arjunayanas, Yaudheyas, Madrakas, Abhiras, Prarjunas, Sanakanikas, Kakas, and Kharaparikas.
    • The relationship between the Gupta emperor and all these groups had certain elements of a feudatory relationship, although there is no direct mention of their having provided troops. Perhaps this was subsumed within the phrase ajna-karana (obeying the orders) of their overlord.
  • Campaign in South: Capture and release
    • Lines 19 and 20 of the Allahabad prashasti refer that Samudragupta showed favour to be Dakshinapatha kings by first capturing them (grahana) and then releasing them (moksha).
    • The Prayagaprasasti mentions twelve rulers from dakshinapatha or south India who were defeated by Samudragupta. These were:
      • Mahendra of Kosala (Raipur, Durg, Sambalpur and Bilaspur districts)
      • Vyaghraraja of Mahakantara (Jeypore, forest region of Orissa)
      • Mantaraja of Kaurata (Probably Sonpur area in Madhya Pradesh or Plain country to the north-east of Mahendra hill)
      • Mahendragiri of Pishtapura (Pithasuram, East Godavari district)
      • Svamidatta of Kottura (Ganjam district)
      • Damana of Erandapalla (Chicacole or West Godavari district)
      • Vishnugopa of Kanchi (Chingleput district)
      • Nilaraja of Avamukta (Godavari Valley)
      • Hasti-varman of Vengi (Cellor in the Krishna-Godavari delta)
      • Ugresena of Palakka (Nellore district)
      • Kubera of Devarastra .(Yellamanchiti in Visakhapatnam district)
      • Dhananjaya of Kushthalpura (possibly in North Arcot district in Tamilnadu)
  • Rulers rendering services and matrimonial alliances:
    • Rulers of another category of states acknowledged his sovereignty in a different way.
      • Line 23 of the inscription refers to some rulers rendering all kinds of service to Samudragupta, seeking the use of the Gupta garuda seal (a request for the administration of their own districts and provinces) and entering into matrimonial alliances with the Guptas of their own accord by offering their daughters in marriage
      • This means that they remained independent but their independence had to be approved by Samudragupta.
      • In this category were included the foreign rulers of north-western India like the later Kushanas and the Saka chief and residents of different island countries including Simhala or Sri Lanka.
    • A Chinese text refers to king Meghavarna of Sri Lanka sending a mission accompanied with gifts to Samudragupta, asking his permission to build a monastery and rest house for Sri Lankan pilgrims at Bodh Gaya.
      • Permission was evidently granted and the monastery built, as its magnificence was described by Xuanzang in the 7th century.
  • At the end of his reign, Samudragupta’s empire seems to have comprised much of northern India, with the exception of Kashmir, western Punjab, Rajasthan, Sindh, and Gujarat.
    • It included the highlands of central India to the east of Jabalpur, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, and the area on the eastern coast at least up to Chingleput.
    • This inner core of directly annexed territories was rimmed by a large number of subordinate states.
    • Beyond these, to the north-west, lay the principalities of the Shakas and Kushanas, over whom Samudragupta claims to have impressed his might.
    • To the south were the kings of Dakshinapatha, who were humbled, but who suffered neither annexation nor a reduction to feudatory status.
    • Still further south lay the island of Sri Lanka, which, we are told, also acknowledged Gupta suzerainty.
  • The Guptas did not create an all-India empire under their direct control.
    • But through their successful military campaigns, they did establish a network of political relationships of paramountcy and subordination that extended over a large part of the subcontinent.
  • Other characterization of Samudragupta in Allahabad inscription:
    • Samudragupta emerges from the Allahabad prashasti as a restless conqueror. But military success is just one aspect of Harishena’s portrait of the king. He is also described as an able and compassionate ruler, concerned about the welfare of his subjects.
    • Samudragupta is described as having put Brihaspati (the preceptor of the gods) to shame by his sharp and polished intellect, and likewise Tumburu and Narada with his fine musical performances.
    • He is described as a kaviraja (king among poets), whose poetry surpassed the glory of the genius of poets.
  • Samudragupta had imbibed the true spirit of religion and for that reason, he has been described as Anukampavan (full of compassion) in the Allahabad inscription. He has been described ‘as the giver of many hundreds of thousands of cows‘.
  • Samudragupta was the up-holder of Brahmanical religion. Because of his services to the cause of religion the Allahabad inscription mentions the qualifying title of ‘Dharma-prachir bandhu‘ for him.
    • His Ashvamedha types of coins together with other coins bearing the figures of Lakshmi and Ganga together with her ‘vahana’ (transport) makara (crocodile) testify his faith in Brahmanical religions.
    • But he was tolerant towards other religions. His patronage to Buddhist scholar Vasubandhu and the acceptance of the request of Meghavarman, the ruler of Sri Lanka to build a Buddhist monastery at Bodh Gaya (That monastery was called by Cinese Traveller Xuanzang as the Mahabodhi Sangharama) amply prove that he respected other religions.
  • The important scholars present in his court were Harishena, Vasubandhu and Asanga. He was a poet and musician himself.
    • Some of his gold coins represent him as playing on the lyre(Veena).
  • Many of the claims made by Harishena, the composer of Prayagaprasasti, are highly exaggerated but many of the claims are also genuine. The military foundations of the Gupta-moire were laid by Samudragupta; his successors built upon these foundations.

Samudragupta’s coins:

  • There were of eight different types and all made of pure gold. His conquests brought him the gold and also the coin-making expertise from his acquaintance with the Kushana.
    • The Standard Type,
    • the Archer Type,
    • the Battle Axe Type,
    • the Ashvamedha Type,
    • the Tiger Slayer Type,
    • the King type
    • Queen Type and
    • the Lyre Player Type.
  • They exhibit a fine quality of technical and sculptural finesse.
  • At least three types of coins — Archer Type, Battle-Axe and Tiger type — represent Samudragupta in martial armour.
    • The coins bearing the epithets like parakramah (valour), kritanta-parashu (deadly battle-axe), vyaghra parakramah (valourous tiger), prove his being a skilful warrior.
  • Samudragupta’s coins represent him in various poses suggestive of prowess and martial skills— as an archer holding a bow in his left hand and an arrow in his right; standing with a battleaxe in his left hand with a dwarf looking up at him; or trampling and killing a tiger.
  • The ‘ashvamedha type’ shows a sacrificial horse standing before a decorated yupa.
    • It commemorate the Ashvamedha sacrifices he performed and signify his many victories and superemacy
  • In the ‘standard type’, which is the most frequent, he holds a long staff in his left hand and offers oblations into a fire altar with his right; the garuda standard appears to the left.
  • A coin depicting Chandragupta I and his queen standing face to face is attributed either to Chandragupta I or Samudragupta.
  • One of Samudragupta’s coin types shows him sitting on a couch, playing the vina (lyre).
  • The obverse of this king’s coins sometimes depict the goddess Ardoksho holding a cornucopia in her left hand and noose in the right; or a goddess standing on an elephant-headed fish, holding a full-blown lotus in her left hand, her right hand outstretched and empty.
  • In other instances, there is a standing female figure (perhaps a queen) holding a fly whisk.
  • Legends on Samudragupta’s coins include epithets such as:
    • parakramah (brave),
    • apratirathah (invincible),
    • ashvamedhaparakramah (powerful enough to perform the ashvamedha), and
    • vyaghra-parakramah (brave as a tiger).
Coin of Samudragupta, with Garuda pillar
Samudragupta playing the veena
Chandragupta II (c. 376–413/15 CE):
  • The peak of the territorial expansion of the Gupta empire was reached during the reign of Chandragupta II, son of Samudragupta and Dattadevi.
    • This king had the epithets parama-bhagavata and vikramaditya.
    • During his rule, the Gupta Empire achieved its zenith. Art, architecture, and sculpture flourished, and the cultural development of ancient India reached its climax. The period of prominence of the Gupta dynasty is very often referred to as the “Golden Age of India”.
  • Ramagupta:
    • The Gupta inscriptions mention Chandragupta II as Samudragupta’s successor. But on the basis of literary sources, some copper coins and inscriptions it is suggested that the successor was Samudragupta’s other son Ramagupta who ruled in between, from c. 370 to 375 CE.
    • Visakhadatta’s drama Devi Chandraguptam mentions that Chandragupta II killed his elder brother Ramagupta.
      • He did this because Ramagupta was facing defeat at the hands of the Sakas and in order to save the kingdom, he had agreed to surrender his wife to the Saka king.
      • Chandragupta protested, and went to the Saka camp in the disguise of the queen Dhruvadevi. He was successful against the Saka king but as a result of the subsequent hostility with his brother he killed him and married his wife Dhruvadevi.
    • There are reverberations of these dramatic events in later texts such as Bana Bhatta’s Harshacharita and Shankararya’s commentary on this text.

    • An 11th century Persian work called the Majmat-ul Tawarikh by Abul Hasan Ali offers the additional information that Chandragupta’s killing of the Shaka king increased his popularity among his subjects, that this made Ramagupta jealous, and that Chandragupta pretended to be insane prior to killing his brother.

    • Some copper coins bearing the name Ramagupta have also been found.
      • Copper coins that can definitely be assigned to Ramagupta were found at Bhilsa in central India. These bore the garuda emblem and were similar to Chandragupta’s coins in style, fabric, and weight standard.

      • Certain coins found at Bayana in Rajasthan have a legend that has been read as ‘Kacha’ or ‘Rama’.

    • Inscriptions on the pedestals of some Jaina images found at Vidisha, bear the name Maharaja Ramgupta.
    • Gupta inscriptions indicate that Chandragupta had a wife named Dhruvadevi and had children by her, but do not mention Ramagupta at all.
      • This is because the genealogies mention only those kings who came in the direct line of succession. Since the succession passed to Chandragupta and his sons, Ramagupta is ignored.
      • Another example of this is the case of the later king Skandagupta, after whose reign the succession passed to the descendents of his brother Purugupta. Hence, Skandagupta is not mentioned in the geneologies in his successors’ inscriptions.
  • Chandragupta ascended the throne at a time when there were problems emerging again and he had to lead military campaigns to establish Gupta supremacy once again.
  • Marriage alliances:
    • He extended the limits of the empire by marriage alliance and conquests.
    • According to The Allahabad Pillar inscription and Devichandraguptam, Chandragupta II married Kuberanaga of the Naga family. The Nagas were a powerful ruling clan and this matrimonial alliance helped the Gupta ruler in expanding his empire.
    • The marriage of his daughter Prabhavati by his wife Kubernaga with the Vakataka king Rudrasena II helped him to establish his political influence in the Deccan.
      • His son-in-law died fortuitously in 385 CE after a very short reign, following which Queen Prabhavatigupta (385-405) ruled the Vakataka kingdom as a regent on behalf of her two sons. During this twenty-year period, the Vakataka realm was practically a part of the Gupta empire.
      • The geographical location of the Vakataka kingdom allowed Chandragupta II to take the opportunity to defeat the Western Kshatrapas once for all. Many historians refer to this period as the Vakataka-Gupta Age.
  • Military campaigns:
    • We get information about Chandragupta’s campaigns and successes from certain inscriptions, literary sources and coins.
    • He defeated the Saka king Rudrasimha III and annexed his kingdom.
    • This brought an end to Saka Kshatrapa rule in western India and added the regions of Gujarat, Kathiawad and west Malwa to the Gupta empire.
    • His matrimonial alliances with the Vakatakas and the Nagas must have been of tremendous significance in his preparations for the campaigns.
    • Two inscriptions at the Udayagiri caves near Sanchi and one inscription at Sanchi, all referring to Chandragupta II and to his subordinate rulers and military officials, also suggest that he was present in eastern Malwa for some time preparing for the campaigns.
      • Udayagiri cave inscription states that he went on a digvijaya (conquest of the quarters);

    • One inscription describes him as “desirous of conquering the whole earth“.
    • That his conquest of the territories of the Sakas was complete is proved beyond doubt because:
      • We no longer find any Saka coins minted after this period, although Saka coins were being minted without a break for almost four hundred years previously.
      • The Guptas, from the time of Chandragupta, started minting Saka-type silver coins (apart from gold coins) for this region. They only added their own distinct symbols on these coins; otherwise, the coins were like Saka coins in circulation till then.
        • This definitely shows that the Saka areas came within the control of Chandragupta II.
        • Silver coin of Chandragupta II, minted in his Western territories, in the style of the Western Satraps.Obv:Bust of king, with corrupted Greek legend “OOIHU”.Rev: Legend in Brahmi, “Chandragupta Vikramaditya, King of Kings, and a devotee of Vishnu”, around Garuda, the mythic eagle and dynastic symbol of the Guptas.
      • The success of Chandragupta II against the Sakas seems to have developed later on into the tradition of Sakari Vikramaditya, that is, of ‘Vikramaditya, who was an enemy of the Sakas‘.
        • Chandragupta II adopted the title of Vikramaditya (Sun of Power) which had been first used by an Ujjain ruler King Vikramaditya (who founded a lunar calendar the Vikram Samvat following his victory over the Sakas in 56 BCE,) in 56/57 B.C. as a mark of victory over the Saka Kshatrapas of western India.
    • The conquest gave Chandragupta the Western sea coast, famous for trade and commerce.
      • This contributed to the prosperity of Malwa, and its chief city Ujjain.
      • Ujjain seems to have been made the second capital of Chandragupta II though Pataliputra continued to be the capital.
    • ‘King Chandra‘ whose exploits have been mentioned in the Mehrauli Iron Pillar Inscription, which is located in the Qutab-Minar complex in Delhi is identified by many scholars with Chandragupta II.
      • According to this inscription Chandra crossed the Sindhu region of seven rivers and defeated Valhikas (identified with Bactria).
      • The Mehrauli inscription suggests that Chandragupta fought against a confederacy of enemies in Bengal and also led a campaign into the Punjab.
    • Mehrauli pillar is considered remarkable because of the metallurgical skill required to forge such a long piece of iron, the clarity of its inscriptions after so many centuries, and the fact that it has remained comparatively rust-free, even after so many centuries.
    • Some scholars identify Chandragupta II with the hero of Kalidasa’s work Raghuvamasa because Raghu’s exploits appear comparable with those of Chandragupta.
    • Chandragupta II’s Campaigns against Foreign Tribes:
      • 4th century CE Sanskrit poet Kalidasa, credits Chandragupta Vikramaditya with having conquered about twenty one kingdoms.
        • After finishing his campaign in the East and West India, Vikramaditya (Chandragupta II) proceeded northwards, subjugated the Parasikas, then the Hunas and the Kambojas tribes located in the west and east Oxus valleys respectively.
        • Thereafter, the king proceeds across the Himalaya and reduced the Kinnaras, Kiratas etc. and lands into India proper.
      • The Brihatkathamanjari of the Kashmiri writer Kshmendra states, king Vikramaditya (Chandra Gupta II) had “unburdened the sacred earth of the Barbarians like the Sakas, Mlecchas, Kambojas, Yavanas, Tusharas, Parasikas, Hunas, etc. by annihilating these sinful Mlecchas completely”.
  • On the basis of these evidences it can be suggested that the empire of Chandragupta II thus seems to have extended from Bengal to the north-west and from the Himalayan terai to the Narmada.
  • He was a Vaishnava. (Probably the Mehrauli pillar have been crowned by a Vaishnava emblem, perhaps a garuda)
    • The pillar bears an inscription which states that it was erected as a flagstaff in honour of the Hindu god Vishnu, and in the memory of Chandra

  • An important incident which took place during this period was the visit of Fa-Hien, a Chinese pilgrim, who came to India in search of Buddhist texts.
    • In his memoirs he has given a vivid description of the places he visited and certain social and administrative aspects related to them.
    • However, he does not mention the name of the King in his accounts. But he speaks highly of the King of Madhya-desa, the region which was directly ruled by the Gupta monarch in this period, under whom the people were prosperous and happy.
  • Chandragupta II is also known for his patronage to men of letters.

Coinage of Chandragupta:

  • Chandragupta continued issuing most of the gold coin types introduced by his father Samudragupta, such as the Sceptre type (rare for Chandragupta II), Archer type, and the Tiger-Slayer type.
    • However, Chandragupta II also introduced several new types, such as the Horseman type and Lion-slayer type, both of which were used by his son Kumaragupta I.
  • In addition, Chandragupta II was the first Gupta king to issue silver coins.
    • These coins were intended to replace the silver coinage of the Western Kshatrapas after Chandragupta II defeated them, and were modeled on the Kshatrapa coinage.
    • The main difference was to replace the dynastic symbol of the Kshatrapas (the three-arched hill) by the dynastic symbol of the Guptas (the mythic eagle Garuda).
  • Further, Chandragupta also issued lead coins based on Kshatrapa prototypes and rare copper coins probably inspired by the coins of another tribe he defeated, the Nagas.

Religion of Chandragupta:

  • From Chandragupta II kings of Gupta dynasty are known as Parama Bhagavatas or Bhagavata Vaishnavas.
  • The Bhagavata Purana entails the fully developed tenets and philosophy of the Bhagavata tradition wherein Krishna gets fused with Vasudeva and transcends Vedic Vishnu and cosmic Hari to be turned into the ultimate object of bhakti.

Nine Gems during Chandragupta:

  • Indian tradition claims that Dhanwanthari, Kshapanaka, Amarasimha, Shankhu, Khatakarpara, Kalidasa, Vetalbhatt (or Vetalabhatta), Vararuchi, and Varahamihira were a part of Vikramaditya’s court. The king commissioned nine men of letters, called the “nava-ratna”, to work in his court.
    • Kalidasa:
      • Author of the great epic, ‘Shakuntala’, great poet, dramatist and the most prominent scholar of Sanskrit language.
    • Amarnatha:
      • Author of ‘Sanskrit Amarkosh’
    • Shapanaka:
      • Prominent Astrologist who had achieved mastery in Astrology.
    • Dhanvantri:
      • A Doctor who had achieved mastery in the science of medicine; one who was an expert in diagnosis and one who could prescribe different treatments for a single disease.
    • Varruchi:
      • Expert Linguist and an expert in Grammar
    • Varahamihira:
      • Author of World famous epic, ‘Brhatsamhita’ and mastery in Astrology. Varahamihira predicted the death of Vikramaditya’s son.
    • Ghatakpara:
      • Expert in sculpture and architecture.
    • Shanku:
      • Expert in Geography (This name is even well known today in the field of geography)
    • Vetalabhadra:
      • Expert in black magic & tantric sciences. Vetalbhatt had been a Maga Brahmin known for writing work of the sixteen stanza “Nīti-pradīpa” (literally, the lamp of conduct) in tribute to Vikramaditya.

Kumaragupta (412-454 A.D.)

  • Chandragupta II was succeeded by his son Kumaragupta, born of Mahadevi Dhruvasvamini.
  • He performed the ashvamedha sacrifice. His coins have representations of the god Karttikeya.
  • Kumaragupta is also known as Shakraditya and Mahendraditya.
  • We get information about him from certain inscriptions and coins.
    • The earliest known inscription of his period is from Bilsad inscription (Etah district) which is dated 415 A.D. (Gupta Era 96).
    • The Karamdanda inscription of Kumaragupta’s minister (436 A.D.) mentions his fame having spread to the four oceans.
    • A stone inscription from Mandsor (436 A.D.) mentions Kumaragupta as reigning over
      the whole earth.
    • The Damodarpur Copper Plate inscriptions (433 A.D. and 447 A.D.) refer to him as Maharajadhiraja and show that he himself appointed the governor (Uparika) of Pundravardhana bhukti (or province) being the biggest administrative division in the empire.
    • The last known date of Kumaragupta is from a silver coin dated 455 A.D. (Gupta Era 136).
  • The wide area over which his inscriptions are distributed indicates that he ruled over Magadha and Bengal in the east and Gujarat in the west.
  • Towards the last year of his reign the Gupta empire faced foreign invasion which was finally checked by the efforts of his son Skandagupta.
    • The Gupta Empire was threatened by the rebellion of Pushyamitras (a tribe who were settled in central India but then rebelled) of central India and invasion of the White Huns. But, Kumaragupta was successful in defeating both threats and performed the Ashvamedha (horse sacrifice) to celebrate his victory.
    • Tumain inscription mentions a prince Ghatotkachagupta as a governor of Airikina(Eran) appointed by Kumaragupta I. It would have acted as a buffer state between the Huns and the Guptas when Huns started extending their kingdom towards east hence marking it as the easternmost boundary for the Huns.
  • He maintained cordial relationship with the Vakatakas which had been established through matrimonial alliances earlier.
  • He issued new coins with images of his namesake, Lord Kumara.
Kumaragupta fighting a lion, as depicted on his gold coin
Kumaragupta I, “Archer type” coin
Silver coin of Kumaragupta
Horseman type coin of Kumaragupta.

Q. “Kumaragupta’s reign was a period of consolidation in which the administrative structure of the empire attained its final shape.” Discuss.

Ans:

Kumaragupta succeeded his father Chandragupta II in 415 AD.  He enjoyed a long reign of more than forty years. We get information about him from certain inscriptions and coins.

A period of consolidation:
  • His reign is considered to be period of consolidation as he maintained intact the vast empire built up by his two predeces­sors.
    • The Karamdanda (Fyzabad) inscription of Kumaragupta’s minister (436 A.D.) mentions his fame having spread to the four oceans.
    • A stone inscription from Mandsor (436 A.D.) mentions Kumaragupta as reigning over the whole earth.
    • The wide area over which his inscriptions are distributed (e.g. in M.P, U.P, W.B, Bangladesh, Gujarat) indicates that he ruled over Magadha and Bengal in the east and Gujarat in the west.
  • Though his reign seems to be uneventful is military terms , he must have been a strong ruler for being able to maintain a stable government in a large empire, as indicated by epigraphic and numismatic evidence.
    • Thus, he focused on the consolidation of his empire rather than enlarging it.
  • Kumaragupta bore the titles Maharajadhiraja, Parama-bhattaraka, and Paramadvaita.
  • There are some indications that Kumaragupta’s reign was not devoid of wars and disturbances. i.e. if needed he didn’t hesitate is taking military initiative. For example,
    • he worshipped the war god Karttikeya, and
    • his gold coins suggest that he performed the Ashvamedha ceremony which was used by ancient kings to prove their sovereignty.
    • Based on the epigraphic and numismatic evidence, some modern historians have theorized that he may have subdued the Aulikaras of central India and the Traikutakas of western India.
      • His coins discovered from south Gujarat resemble the coins issued by the Traikutaka dynasty, which ruled this region. This has led to suggestions that Kumaragupta defeated the Traikutakas.
    • Some coins of Kumaragupta’s coins depict him as a rhinoceros-slayer, which some scholars such as Tej Ram Sharma see as possible evidence of his successes against the king of Kamarupa in present-day Assam, where the Indian rhinoceros is abundant.
    • Another category of his coins portray him as a tiger-slayer, which according to historian H. C. Raychaudhuri, may allude to his incursions of the territory to the south of the Narmada River, where tigers are abundant.
  • He maintained cordial relationship with the Vakatakas which had been established through matrimonial alliances earlier.
  • Among the Gupta kings, Kumaragupta issued the largest varieties of coins. His 628 coins in the Bayana hoard belong to 14 different types. e.g. Archer type, Horseman type, Swordsman type, Lion-slayer type, Tiger-slayer type, Karttikeya type, Ashvamedha-type etc.
  • He patronized education and founded the Nalanda Mahavihara.
  • Bhitari Pillar inscription of Skandagupta says that Kumaragupta, “followed the true path of religion”.

The administrative structure of the empire attained its final shape

  • The Damodarpur Copper Plate inscriptions (433 A.D. and 447 A.D.) refer to him as Maharajadhiraja and show that he himself appointed the governor (Uparika) of Pundravardhana bhukti (or province) being the biggest administrative division in the empire.
  • Epigraphic evidence suggests that Kumaradeva ruled his empire through governors (Uparikas), who bore the title Maharaja (“great king”), and administered various provinces (Bhuktis). The districts (vishayas) of the provinces were administered by district magistrates (Vishyapatis), who were supported by an advisory council comprising:
    • the town president or mayor (Nagara-Shreshtin)
    • the representative of the merchant guild (Sarthavaha)
    • the chief of the artisan guild (Prathama-Kulika)
    • the chief of the guild of writers or scribes (Prathama-Kayastha)
  • Kumaragupta seems to have established diplomatic relations with the Liu Sung emperors of China, as suggested by visits of Chinese delegations to India, and the exchange of an Indian envoy.

However, there are some limitations of his reign:

  • No concrete information is available about his military achievements.
  • The Bhitari pillar inscription states that his successor Skandagupta restored the fallen fortunes of the Gupta family, which has led to suggestions that during his last years, Kumaragupta suffered reverses, possibly against the Pushyamitras or the Hunas.
    • However, this cannot be said with certainty, and the situation described in the Bhitari inscription may have been the result of events that happened after his death.
  • He didn’t try to reverse the rising tide of feudalism.
  • He didn’t decide his successor. There was succession dispute between his two sons Skandagupta and Purugupta after his death

The last known date of Kumaragupta is from a silver coin dated 455 A.D. (Gupta Era 136). Overall, we can say that his reign was a period of consolidation in which the administrative structure of the empire attained its final shape. But it was not immune of limitations.

Skandagupta (455-467 CE)

  • Skandagupta, who succeeded Kumaragupta I. was perhaps the last powerful Gupta monarch. Skandaguptaas the protector and stabiliser of the Gupta empire.
  • Skandagupta’s name appear in the Javanese text Tantrikamandaka.
  • His Bhitari pillar inscription suggests that he restored the fallen fortunes of the Gupta family by defeating his enemies, who may have been rebels or foreign invaders.
  • To consolidate his position he had to fight the Pushyamitras, and the country faced Huna invasion from across the frontiers in the northwest.
  • Eliminating the threat of Pushyamitras:
    • The Pushyamitras were a tribe who lived in Central India during the 5th century CE. Living on the banks of the river Narmada, they are believed to have posed a serious threat to the Gupta Empire during the late period of Kumaragupta I’s reign.
      • During the later years of Kumar Gupta’s reign, the empire was attacked by Pushyamitras but it was repulsed.
    • Later, Skanda Gupta succeeded (according to Bhitari Pillar inscription) in eliminating completely the threat posed by Pushyamitras to the empire from the South.
  • Checking Huna invasion:
    • Before coming to throne, he had defeated the Hunas once as the crown-prince but the penetration of the Hunas into the Indian territories continued.
    • Skandagupta defeated them again in about 460 A.D. and The Hunas were defeated so severely by Skanda Gupta that they did not dare to invade the empire for about the next fifty years.
    • This heroic feat entitled him, like Chandragupta II, to assume the title of Vikramaditya. He also assumed the titles of Kramaditya.
  • Checking Vakatakas:
    • An inscription of the Vakataka king Narendrasena claims that his commands were obeyed by the rulers of Kosala, Mekala and Malava. The regnal dates of Narendrasena are not certain, but he is generally thought to be a contemporary of Skandagupta.
    • Since Malava was a part of the Gupta Empire at one time, it is possible that Narendrasena raided Gupta territories during Skandagupta’s reign. Skandagupta would have restored Gupta control over the region soon after.
  • It appears that these wars adversely affected the economy of the empire, and the gold coinage of Skandagupta bears testimony to that.
    • In comparison to the gold coins of the earlier rulers the types of gold coins minted by Skandagupta were limited.
    • In addition to following the earlier system of weights, he introduced a new, heavier weight system for gold coins but generally his coins had less gold in them than earlier coins.
  • Public work:
    • The Junagadh inscription of his reign tells us about the public works undertaken during his times.
    • The Sudarsana lake (originally built during the Maurya times) burst due to excessive rains and in the early part of his rule his governor Parnadatta got it repaired. This indicates that the state undertook the task of public works.
  • He was the last Gupta ruler to mint silver coins in western India.
    • The last known date of Skandagupta is 467 A.D. from his silver coins.
  • His could not create an administrative machinery and sound economic system which could sustain the empire for long period of time. This led to gradual decline of empire under his successors.

Coinage of Skandagupta:

  • Skandagupta issued four types of gold coins:
    • Archer type,
    • King and queen type,
    • Chhatra type and
    • Horseman type.
  • His silver coins are of four types: Garuda type, Bull type, Altar type and Madhyadesha type.
  • The initial gold coinage was on the old weight standard used by his father Kumaragupta of approximately 8.4 gm. This initial coinage is quite scarce.
  • At some point in his reign, Skandagupta revalued his currency, switching from the old dinar standard to a new suvarna standard that weighed approximately 9.2 gm.These later coins were all only of the Archer type, and this standard and type was followed by all subsequent Gupta rulers.
Coin of Skandagupta depicting himself on the obverse, Lakshmi on the reverse. The name Skan-da appears vertically under the left arm of the king.
Coin of Skandagupta (455-467), in the style of the Western Satraps.
Coin of Skandagupta Kramaditya with facing Garuda.

Gupta Rulers after Skandagupta

  • It is not very clear in what order the successors of Skandagupta ruled.
    • Skandagupta himself may not have been the rightful heir to the throne and therefore he had to fight other contenders (his half brother Puru Gupta) to the throne.
      • This may be the reason why a seal inscription traces a line of Gupta rulers after Skandagupta from Kumaragupta I and his son Purugupta and not Skandagupta.
    • Secondly, it is probable that the division of the Gupta empire into many parts already began towards the close of Skandagupta’s reign.
      • Thus an inscription from western Malwa, recorded in the last year of Skandagupta does not refer to him but to some other rulers beginning with Chandragupta II.
  • Some of the successors of Skandagupta, mentioned in inscriptions, were: Budhagupta, Vainyagupta, Bhanagupta, Narasimhagupta Baladitya, Kumaragupta II and Vismigupta.
    • It is unlikely that all of them ruled over a vast empire, as Chandragupta II and Kumaragupta I had done in an earlier period.
    • The Guptas continued to rule till about 550 A.D. but by then their power had already become very insignificant.
  • Budhagupta:
    • He had close ties with the rulers of Kannauj kingdom and together they sought to rule the Huns out of the fertile plains of Northern India.
    • The Eran stone pillar inscription of two brothers, Matrivishnu and Dhanyavishnu mentions Budhagupta as their emperor (Bhupati).

Huna invasion:

  • In the mid-5th century, the Yetha, known as the Hepthalites (White Huns) in Greek accounts, became powerful in the Oxus valley.
    • From here, they made inroads towards Iran and India.
    • Crossing the Hindu Kush, they occupied Gandhara, although their further movement was repulsed by Skandagupta’s army and and Yasodharman.
  • Toramana:
    • In the late 5th century or early 6th century CE, the Huna chief Toramana managed to conquer large parts of western India and the area around Eran in central India.
    • Toramana is known from Rajatarangini (by Kashmiri Brahman Kalhana of 12th century CE), coins and inscriptions.
    • Numismatic evidence suggests his sway may have extended over parts of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Punjab, and Kashmir.
    • The Kuvalayamala, an 8th century Jaina text, refers to Toramana adopting the Jaina faith and living on the banks of the Chenab at Pavvaiya.
    • He was defeated by the Indian Emperor Bhanugupta of the Gupta Empire in 510 A.D.
    • He was succeeded by his son Mihirakula in 520.
  • Mihirakula:
    • Mihirakula was the son and successor of Toramana.
    • An inscription of his was found at Gwalior.
    • Xuanzang locates his capital at Sakala (Sialkot).
    • The Rajatarangini refers to Mihirakula’s cruelty and suggests that he ruled over Kashmir and Gandhara, but clearly exaggerates when it refers to his conquest over South India and Sri Lanka.
    • Although he over-ran much of north India, Mihirakula suffered defeat at the hands of Yashodharman of Malwa, Narasimhagupta, and the Maukharis. The power of the Hunas declined thereafter.
    • According to Hiuen Tsang, The Hunas suffered a defeat by Yasodharman of Malwa in 528, and by 542 Mihirakula had been driven off the plains of northern India, taking refuge in Kashmir, where the king received him with honor.
      • After a few years Mihirakula incited a revolt against the king of Kashmir and seized his power.
      • Then he invaded Gandhara located westward, and killed many of its inhabitants and destroyed its Buddhist shrines.
    • He claimed to be a worshipper of Shiva.
    • Twin monolithic pillars at Sondani in Mandsaur District were erected by Yasodharman as a record of his victory.
      • The Bijayagadh Stone Pillar Inscription of Vishnuvardhana (son of Yasodharman) was erected at Bayana in Bharatpur district, also mentions Yasodharman.
Decline of the Gupta Empire
The Guptas began to rule independently from AD 319-320. Their imperial glory dominated the Indian political landscape for next more than 150 years. Although the their rule lingered till the middle of the sixth century CE.
Factors behind decline of Gupta empire:
  • Internal dynastic issues:
    • The succession of weak rulers after Skandagupta.
      • Their incompetence increased the number of internal and external enemies. The provincial governors began to assert independence.
      • The provincial governors began to assert independence right from the reign of Puru Gupta. Emperor Budha Gupta was hardly able to maintain a show of suzerainty over his governors.
      • After him even the nominal suzerainty was thrown off by the governors and they became independent rulers.
    • The internal dissensions and absence of law of primogeniture:
      • After Kumara Gupta the succession to the throne was always disputed.
      • Probably, even Skanda Gupta had to fight against Pura Gupta (another son of Kumaragupta-I) to get the throne. Pura Gupta succeeded Skanda Gupta. But, again after the death of Pura Gupta the rival princes of the family of Skanda Gupta and Pura Gupta fought against themselves and the empire was divided.
        • This may be the reason why a seal inscription traces a line of Gupta rulers after Skandagupta from Kumaragupta-I and his son Purugupta and not Skandagupta.
        • it is probable that the division of the Gupta empire into many parts already began towards the close of Skandagupta’s reign. Thus an inscription from western Malwa, recorded in the last year of Skandagupta does not refer to him but to some other rulers beginning with Chandragupta-11.
      • For a few years, Narsimha Gupta ruled in Magadha while at the same time Vainya Gupta ruled over the eastern part of the empire and Bhanu Gupta ruled in the West.
      • Budha Gupta who ascended the throne in 477 A.D. was not the ruler of a consolidated empire, but rather, the head of a federal state.
      • After him, even that semblance of unity was overthrown and different Gupta princes or rulers took opposite side in the struggles and political convulsions of their period.
      • This, certainly, helped in bringing about the downfall of the empire.
    • The administrative weakness:
      • The policy adopted by the Guptas in the conquered areas was to restore the authority of local chiefs or kings once they had accepted Gupta suzerainty. In fact, no efforts were made to impose a strict and effective control over these regions.
      • Hence it was natural that whenever there was a crisis of succession or a weak monarchy within the Gupta empire these local chiefs would reestablish their independent authority. This created a problem for almost every Gupta King who had to reinforce his authority.
      • The constant military campaigns were a strain on the state treasury. Towards the end of the fifth century A.D. and beginning of I sixth century A.D. taking advantage of the weak Gupta emperors, many regional powers reasserted their authority, and in due course declared their independence
  • Foreign invasions:
    • Invasions of Hunas from central Asia:
      • From the time of Kumaragupta I the north-west borders had been threatened by the Hunas a Central Asian tribe which was successfully moving in different directions and was establishing pockets of rule in northwestern. northern and western India. But their attacks were repulsed during that period.
      • During the reign of Skandagupta, the Huns tried repeatedly to conquer the Gupta Empire territories but were defeated by Skandagupta.
      • However, the successors of Skandagupta were weak and could not cope with the Huna invaders, who excelled in horsemanship and possibly stirrups made of metal.
        • They could move quickly and being excellent archers they seem to have attained considerable success not only in Iran but also in India.
      • Towards the end of the fifth century A.D. the Huna chief Tormana was able to establish his authority over large parts of western India and in central India. Mihirakula, his son, further extended the dominions.
      • The Huna attacks dealt a severe blow to the Gupta authority particularly in northern and western regions.
      • The struggle with Hunas disrupted the international trade (Indo-Roman trade) of north-western India and eroded one of the most important financial bases of the Guptas.
    • Competition from the Vakatakas:
      • The Gupta Empire was affected by the expansion of the Vakataka kingdom. The Vakatakas had created a powerful kingdom in South-west.
      • Samudra Gupta had not harmed them while Chandra Gupta II had entered into a matrimonial alliance with them by marrying his daughter Prabhavati to the then Vakataka ruler Rudrasen II.
      • But when the Gupta empire weakened, the Vakataka rulers tried to take advantage of it.
      • Narendra Sen attacked the territories of the empire in Malwa, Kosala and Mekhala during the period of Budha Gupta which weakened the authority of the Guptas in Madhva Pradesh and Bundelkhand. Afterwards, the Vakataka ruler Hansen also attacked the boundaries of the empire.
      • These attacks of the Vakataka rulers were primarily responsible for weakening the authority of the Guptas in Malwa, Gujarat and Bundelkhand and encouraging their governors to assert their independence.
    • During the later years of Kumar Gupta’s reign, the empire was attacked by a tribe called Pushyamitra but it was repulsed.
      • Later, Skanda Gupta succeeded in eliminating completely the threat posed by Pushyamitras to the empire from the South. But this campaign did create financial pressure on the state.
  • Internal rebellions:
    • The success of Yasodharmana in Malwa:
      • Yasodharmana of Malwa (belonged to Aulikara feudatory family) overthrown Hunas north-western regions.  However, he successfully challenged the authority of Guptas and set up, in 532, pillars of victory commemorating his conquest of almost the whole of north India.
      • Yasodharman’s rule was short lived, but it meant a severe blow to the Gupta empire.
    • Success of Yasodharmana encouraged other feudal chieftain.
      • The Maukharis rose to power in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, and had their capital at Kannauj. It seems that by 550 Bihar and Uttar pradesh had passed out of Gupta hands.
      • By the beginning of the sixth century we find independent princes issuing land grants in their own rights in northern Madhya Pradesh although they use the Gupta era in dating their charters.
      • The Maitrakas assumed independence at Valabhi. They established their authority in Gujarat and western Malwa.
        • After the reign of Skandagupta, hardly any Gupta coin or inscription has been found in western Malwa and Saurashtra.
      • The Gandas wrested Bengal from the Guptas.
      • The prince of Thanesar established their power in Haryana.
      • The weak Gupta rulers failed to check the disintegration of the empire.
    • Some historians argue that this process of fuedalization with the issue of land grants first to religious and later to secular beneficiaries resulted in loss of revenue and diminished administrative control over the kingdom.
    • Further, the growing importance of Samantas weakened the central authority.
  • Economic problems:
    • The Huna invasions probably disrupted Indo-Roman trade relations and the tax revenues that came with it.
    • Loss of western India:
      • As Maitrakas established their power in Gujarat and western Malwa. The Gupta lost their authority in western India.
      • After the reign of Skandagupta, hardly any Gupta coin or inscription has been found in western Malwa and Saurashtra.
      • This must have deprived the Guptas of the rich revenue from trade and commerce and crippled them economically.
    • The Gupta state may have found it difficult to maintain a large professional army on account of the growing practice of land grants for religious and secular purposes, which was bound to reduce their revenue.
    • Decline of foreign trade:
      • It further affected their income.
      • The migration of a guild of silk-weavers from Gujarat to Malwa in A.D. 473 and their adoption of non-productive professions shows that there was not much demand for cloth produced by them.
      • After middle of 5th century the Gupta kings made desperate attempt to maintain their gold currency by reducing the content of pure gold in it. But this proved of no avail.
    • Further, constant invasions and rebellions heavily taxed the financial and military resources of the empire. It also disrupted the internal trade routes. All these adversely affected their income.
  • Dr H.C. Raychaudhury puts forward a different reason for the downfall of the empire. He says that the later Gupta rulers were influenced by Buddhism and its principle of non-violence.
    • This brought about a negative influence on their military strength and that also contributed, partially, to their downfall.
    • Narsimha II was inclined towards Buddhism and it is stated that he once captured Mihirakula but left him free on the advice of his Buddhist mother.
    • It is suggested that the founding of Nalanda University by Kumaragupta and of Buddhist learning and the patronage extended by Buddhagupta are index of their tilt towards Buddhism that advocates non-violence.
    • However, there is no any conclusive evidence to prove that they disowned their royal duties and spent their lives as ascetics, embracing Buddhist philosophy.
After Budha Gupta, there existed virtually no Gupta empire as such. Narsimha Gupta was simply the ruler of Magadha. The rest of the empire was lost by him. Afterwards Magadha was also occupied by Maukhari ruler near about 544 A.D. though it is believed that the Gupta rule existed in north Bengal up to 550 A.D. or so and in Kalinga till 569 A.D.
Thus, ended the mighty Gupta empire. The internal weakness of the empire was primarily responsible for its downfall though, of course, external attacks also contributed to it. Dr R.C. Majumdar rightly concludes, “Indeed, from various points of view the end of the Gupta empire offers a striking analogy to that of the Mughal empire. The decline and downfall of both was brought about mainly by internal dissensions in royal family and the rebellion of feudal chiefs and provincial satraps, though foreign invasion was an important contributory factor.”
Notes:
  • Debate about impact of Hunas invasion:
    • A few scholars have expressed the view that the invasions of the Hunas were primarily responsible for the downfall of the Gupta empire. But it is not generally accepted.
    • The view expressed by Dr R.C. Majumdar is more tenable and now generally accepted. He says that the invasions of the Hunas were not primarily but only partially responsible for the downfall of the empire.
      • The Hunas were defeated so severely by Skanda Gupta that they did not dare to invade the empire for about the next fifty years.
      • And, when they started their attacks again the empire had already become weak because of its internal dissensions. Of course, the Huna Kings Toramana and Mihirakula succeeded in penetrating deep into the Indian territories as far as the borders of Magadha.
      • But then, at that time, they were not fighting against the lively and mighty Gupta empire but against its ghost. The mighty Gupta empire was already dead. At that time it existed only in name.
    • The Hunas did not contribute in any way to its death. In fact, they came when only the last ceremonies were due. Even then the Hunas were not very much successful in India because they, too, had lost their wave-strength by that time.
      • The Kingdom of Toramana did not cross the river Indus and
      • Mihirakula was defeated twice here, once by Narsimha Gupta II and once by Yasodharman of Malwa.
    • Thus, the Hunas neither directly contributed to the downfall of the Gupta empire nor were they capable of it.
    • However, it is accepted that their attacks, no doubt, put a heavy pressure on the financial and military resources of the empire and therefore, were partially responsible for its downfall.

Leave a Reply