The Foundation of the Gupta Dynasty:
The source materials for the reconstruction of the history of the Gupta Dynasty are as varied as numerous.
Besides epigraphic, numismatic and literary evidences of indigenous nature we have evidences of Chinese travelers for the Gupta period.
Among the epigraphic evidence, Harishena’s Allahabad Pillar inscription is the most important. It gives us a narrative of the imperial conquests of Samudragupta. The Eran and Bhitari inscriptions give us the details about Samudragupta’s nomination of his successor Chandragupta II. Dr. Fleet’s valuable work Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum, a compilation of the inscriptions of the Gupta Kings from 360 to 466 A.D. and 484 to 510 A.D. gives us an extremely valuable source of information about the Gupta Kings.
Eran inscription of Samudragupta’s time contains record of Samudragupta’s power and achievements. Bhitari inscription of Skandagupta mentions his fight with the Huns and the Pushyamitras. This inscription also records the exploits of Samudragupta.
The Udaygiri Cave inscription, Sanchi, Mathura and Gandhara stone inscriptions of Chandragupta II Vikramaditya’s time furnish us with religious attitude of the Gupta monarchs. Junagarh rock inscription, Indore copper plate inscription give us information about Skandagupta’s reign. There are other minor stone inscriptions which also supply some details about one or the other ruler of the Gupta Dynasty.
A number of coins belonging to the Gupta rulers have been discovered, from which most valuable information has been gathered about the taste, religious beliefs, etc., of the Gupta monarchs as also the currency system of their time. Allan’s work named Catalogue of the coins of the Gupta Dynasty makes a systematic and chronological study of the coins of the Gupta Kings.
Samudragupta caused coins with his parents Chandragupta I Kumaradevi’s images struck, which obviously was commemorative in nature. We have also a variety of coins of Samudragupta depicting him as an archer, lion- slayer, playing on a lyre, etc. He also issued Asvamedha type coins.
The varieties of the coins of Chandragupta II Vikramaditya such as Chhatra type, Lion-Slayer type, Conch-type, archer type, similarly the Asvamedha type, tiger-slayer type, elephant rider type coins of Kumaragupta give us some idea of the personal prowess, taste, etc., of the Kings. Coins were by and large made of gold. Chandragupta II, however, issued some silver coins. The legends on the coins tome- times had poetic merit.
A number of seals of different officers as well as of the queens and brothers of the rulers have been discovered. Mahadevi Dhrubhasvamini, queen of Chandragupta, Govindagupta, Viceroy of Vaisali and officers of different status, high and low, affixed seals to authenticate their orders. These seals throw an interesting light on the gradation of State officials as well as on the provincial administration.
Monuments of the Gupta period illustrate the existence of different centres of art and architecture of the time. Mathura, Benares, Nalanda were the important centres of art and architecture. The seated Buddha image belonging to the Benares school of art, now preserved in Saranath Museum, is a masterpiece of sculptural art of the Gupta age.
Temples of the Gupta age give us a fair idea of architectural technique and religious beliefs of the people. The temples of Vishnu, Siva, Durga, Buddha, Bodhisvatta, Jaina, etc., show the different religious sects living at that time although the Gupta period marked a Hindu revival. From a temple at Udayagiri it appears that Ganga and Jamuna rivers were deified and worshipped as goddesses.
Literature was by far the most important sources of our information for the Gupta period. Out of eighteen, five Puranas, namely, Vayu Purana, Matsya Purana, Brahmanda Purana, Bhagavat Purana and Vishnu Purana are important with regard to the Gupta period. Scholars like Kirfel, Pargiter, Jayaswal have demonstrated the trustworthiness of the Puranas with regard to the dynastic list of the Guptas, the extent of the Gupta empire, in different provinces, etc. The Puranas also give us a clear idea of the dominions of the Guptas which were under direct imperial rule and the areas under Gupta suzerainty.
Besides the Puranas which are an important source of information for the Gupta period the Dharmasastras, the Smritis of Vyasa, Pulastya, Harita, Pitamaha, etc., which were probably written during the Gupta Period furnish us with considerable historical information. Kamandaka Nitisara was a political treatise meant to be followed by the King. The work was written probably by Sikhara, the Chief Minister of Chandragupta II. It was based on principles comparable to Machiavellian ideas.
The poetic-dramas (Kavya-nataka) like Setukavya, Devi Chandraguptam, Mudrarakshasa, Kanmudi Mahotsava, etc., give us an idea of the political condition of the Gupta period. Devi Chandragupta of Vishakhadatta, the author of Mudrarakshasa, is a political drama and like the latter gives us much historical information.
The drama Mudrarakshasa refers to contemporary events leading to the founding of the Gupta Dynasty. It is a treatise giving political and diplomatic guidelines which also throw light on religious condition of the time and spirit of toleration that characterised the Gupta rule. We get a list of the peoples and tribes during the reign of Chandragupta II, such as the Sakas, Kiratas, Yavanas, Kambojas, Parasikas, Gandharas, Maghas, etc.
Accounts of Foreign Travelers:
The Chinese traveler Fa-hien who visited India during the time of Chandragupta II left an account about India which is called Fo-Kuo-Ki which means Record of Buddhist Kingdoms. Although the primary purpose of Fa-hien was to collect Buddhist manuscripts and legends, yet he has incidentally left details of the Social, economic and religious condition of the people of the time.
I-Tsing, another Chinese pilgrim, who visited India in the seventh century, mentions a Gupta King Sri Gupta who built a temple at Mrigasikhavana. This Sri Gupta is taken by scholars to be the founder of the Gupta Dynasty.
Origin and Foundation of the Gupta Dynasty:
It has not yet been possible to disentangle the controversy about the origin of the Guptas. Our source of information is too meagre to admit of any definite conclusion and origin of the Guptas still remains obscure.
The Sunga and the Satavahana records refer to the name Gupta but it is far-fetched to connect these Guptas with the imperial Gupta who flourished in the Fourth Century A.D. Nor is it reasonable id identify Chandrasena of Kaumudimahotsava with Chandragupta I, of the imperial Guptas. K. P. Jayaswal has identified the Guptas as Jats but this has not been accepted by scholars.
Dr. H. C. Raichaudhuri’s argument based on the claim of Prabhavati Gupta, Chandragupta II’s daughter, that she belonged to Dharanagotra as her husband’s gotra was different, that the Guptas might have been related to the queen Dharini, the Chief Queen of Agnimitra of the Sunga Dynasty is rejected by R. C. Majumdar as highly hypothetical.
Dr. S. Chatterjee in his History of Northern India remarks that in Panchobh inscriptions there occur names of Kings ending with the surname Gupta, who claim themselves as of Kshatnya origin and it is probable that the Gupta Kings were Kshatriyas.
But the veil of obscurity about the origin of the Guptas has not been lifted as yet because of the different suggestions made by different scholars which remain highly hypothetical.
If the origin of the Guptas remains obscure and has given rise to a variety of problematic suggestions, the original home of the Guptas also remains equally controversial and no definite conclusion has been reached as yet.
According to Allan and some other scholars the Guptas were rulers of a principality near Pushpapura which has been identified with Pataliputra. The Vayu Purana, Vishnu Purana and Bhagata Purana refer Magadha as the original Gupta territory and extended along the river Ganges up to North-west Bengal. K. P. Jayaswal on the other hand thinks that the Guptas were feudatory chiefs under the Naga Dynasty and originally belonged to the Allahabad region.
There is yet another opinion. Dr. D. C. Ganguly pointed out that the original home of the Guptas was Murshidabad in Bengal and not Magadha. He relies on the statement of I-Tsing who visited India in 672 A.D. that 500 years before his time, that is the second century, a Chinese traveler Hui-lun visited Nalanda and found that Maharaja Sri Gupta built a temple Mrigashikhavana for the Chinese priests and endowed twenty-four villages for its upkeep.
It was 40 Yojanas to the east of Nalanda. Dr. Ganguly thinks 40 Yojanas along the course of the Ganges to the east from Nalanda would bring one into Murshidabad and identifies the Gupta King who built the temple as the founder of the Gupta Dynasty. But Fleet and other scholars do not agree to the identification Maharaj Sri Gupta with Maharaj Gupta, for while the latter flourished in the third century A.D., the former as referred by I-Tsing flourished in the second century A.D. But Allan ultimately accepted the view of Dr. Ganguly.
Dr. R. C Majumdar on the other hand points out that in the picture of Stupa found in Nepal there is a label Mrigasthapana Stupa of Varendri. From this it is clear that it was Varendia, the original home land of the Guptas. Thus we find there are two opinions that the original home of the Guptas was Murshidabad, i.e., Radha and that it was Varendri, i.e., North Bengal.
Now if we consider Dr. S. Chatterjee’s suggestion that the temple referred to by I-Tsing which was 40 Yojanas, i.e., 240 miles east of Nalanda was in Malda and not in Murshidabad, our problem is somewhat solved. According to Dr. Chatterjee 240 miles east of Nalanda along the courses of the Ganges will bring one to Malda in Varendri but not to Murshidabad in Radha.
But there remains yet another problem. According to the Puranas as also Allan the original home of the Guptas was in Magadha and it is also accepted that the Gupta Empire included Bengal. This would mean that the Guptas were originally the rulers of a small principality near Pataliputra in Magadha and gradually rose into prominence and extended their sway upto Bengal.
Conversely, the Guptas, as we find from the reference to Mrigashikhavana temple might as well have originally belonged to Bengal and extended their sway over Magadha. These are still in a conjectural stage and no definite conclusion can be reached at this stage of our knowledge.
The Gupta Rulers:
From the evidence of Hiu-lun referred to by I-Tsing as also from inscriptions we come across the names of the first three Gupta Kings. Maharaja Sri Gupta was the first Gupta ruler but we do not know who were his immediate successors. Two names which appear in inscriptions are those of Maharaja Gupta and his son Maharaja Ghatotkacha.
In the Gupta records Ghatotkacha has been described as the son and successor of Sri Gupta. In the records of Prabhavati Gupta, daughter of Chandragupta, this Ghatotkacha is mentioned as the founder of the Gupta Dynasty. But with the next King Chandragupta I we find a marked difference in the title assumed by him from those adopted by his predecessors.
When Sri Gupta, Ghototkacha, etc., assumed title of Maharaja Chandragupta I was the first King to adopt the more dignified title of Maharajadhiraj, i.e., King of Kings. This makes a difference. It seems Chandragupta was a King of a higher status than his predecessors who it has been suggested might have been feudatories and Chandragupta I was the first full sovereign of the Gupta rulers and was the real founder of the Gupta Dynasty.
But this difference in titles is not very conclusive testimony since in the Riddhapur Plates Chandragupta I and even Samudragupta are called Maharajas. Dr. Raichaudhuri is of opinion that Chandragupta I was the first independent sovereign of the line. He ascended the throne in 320 A.D., the initial year of the Gupta era.
With the accession of Chandragupta I, the history of the Gupta gets a continuity and assumes a political purpose which were absent from the time of fall of the Kushanas.
Historians like Dr. Raichaudhuri, Dr. Smith, and some others have attached undue importance to the matrimonial alliance of Chandragupta with Kumaradevi, the Lichchavi princess. The union of the Gupta and the Lichchavi houses has been invested with a diplomatic wisdom by them which is not accepted by other scholars. Raichaudhuri thinks that Chandragupta I like the Great Bimbisara he strengthened his position by a matrimonial alliance with the powerful family of Lichchavis then controlling portions of Bihar and perhaps even Nepal. The Lichchavi princess Kumaradevi must have brought to her husband’s family an enormous power and prestige.
The importance of the Lichchavi marriage is supposed to be also borne out by the coins of Chandragupta with the image of Laxmi with the legend Lichchavayah meaning the blessings of Lakshmi were due to the Lichchavis. It is also suggested that Chandragupta was raised by his Lichchavi marriage from the status of a local chief to that of a sovereign as his assumption of his title of Maharajadhiraja proved.
Chandragupta also struck coins in conjointly with his name and that of his queen Kumaradevi. Further, his son Samudragupta took pride in describing himself as the son of the daughter of the Lichchavis. Dr. R. D. Banerjee’s opinion is also very much akin to those of Dr. Raychaudhuri and Dr. Smith. Dr. Banerjee thinks that Chandra- Gupta I’s accession to strength due to the Lichchavi marriage helped him to liberate Magadha from the Scythian occupation. But liberation of Magadha by Chandragupta is not corroborated by any other evidence.
Dr. R. C. Majumdar, Allan, and some other scholars do not, however, accept the above view of Dr. Smith and Dr. Raichaudhuri. According to them the pride of the Guptas in their Lichchavi blood was due to the fact that the Lichchavis were an ancient lineage rather than to the material advantage derived from the marriage.
According to Dr. Majumdar the Lichchavi marriage gave Chandragupta I political advantage, not social, nor material advantage any importance. According to Dr. Majumdar undue importance has been attached to this marriage by Dr. Smith and Dr. Raichaudhuri. In fact, the Lichchavis were the ruling clan of Vaisali in the sixth century B.C. but the time of the Guptas they ruled over Nepal Valley. Again there is nothing to show that the Lichchavis might have been ruling over two adjoining regions and the marriage at best might have added to the power and prestige as a result of the unity of two kingdoms.
The Puranic verse, Anu-Ganga-Prayagamcha Saketgm Maga- dhamstatha Etan Janapadan Sarvan Bhokshyante Guptavamsaja, which means that the Gupta dynasty would enjoy Prayaga (Allahabad) on the Ganges, Saketa (Oudh), and Magadha (South Bihar), has been taken by Allan and Pargiter to refer to the dominions of Chandragupta I. From the list of the conquests of Samudragupta it appears, these might have been within the dominions of Chandragupta I.
According to Allan Vaisali was one of the earliest conquests of Chandragupta I. But Vaisali (North Bihar) was neither conquered by Samudragupta nor occupied by Chandragupta through Lichchavi marriage as the Lichchavis at the time of the Guptas ruled over region between Vaisali and Nepal. In the Allahabad inscription of Samudragupta there is reference that Samudragupta’s empire extended to the borders of Nepal. From this we may presume that North Bihar was within Samudragupta’s dominions and may have been included in his time.
According to the evidence of the drama Kaumudimahotsava Chandrasena usurped Magadha from King Sundarvarman who was ruling there and died in defending Pataliputra. Dr. R. K. Mukherjee identified Chandragupta I with Chandrasena and observes that after accession to strength as a result of Lichchavi marriage Chandragupta I conquered Magadha. Dr. R. C. Majumdar thinks that the identification of Chandrasena with Chandragupta I is extremely farfetched and unacceptable as historical truth.
Lack of reference to Pundravardhana, i.e., North Bengal, as a conquest of Samudragupta, in the Allahabad inscription has led Prof. Radhagovinda Basak to suggest that Pundravardhana was within the dominions of Chandragupta I. Prof. Basak would have his believes that Chandra of Merherauli Iron Pillar near Delhi was none else than Chandragupta I. This suggestion has been rejected by scholars.
It is, therefore, highly uncertain whether the extent of the dominions suggested by different scholars, to have belonged to Chandragupta, is historically correct. The only reasonable conclusion that may be arrived at from the evidences referred to above and by following the process of elimination of the conquests under Samudragupta referred to in the Allahabad inscription, is that Chandragupta I ruled over Bihar, North Bengal, and Oudh. We have no evidence as to the inclusion of Allahabad in his dominions.
Chandragupta I was the founder of the Gupta imperial Dynasty and he is credited with the founding an era known as Gupta era dating from 319 A.D. according to some scholars and 325 A.D. by others. An important act of Chandragupta I was his summoning an assembly of his councillors and the members of the royal family in whose presence he nominated Samudragupta to succeed him.
This choice of his successor with the concurrence of the councillors and the members of the royal house which ensured a peaceful and smooth succession, gave the dynasty by far the greatest of the emperors. Some authors, however, basing their view on the evidence of some coins of Kacha suggest that he was the eldest brother of Samudragupta and preference given to Samudragupta in matters of succession perhaps led to rebellion by him. But his is not certain.
Samudragupta, son of Chandragupta I and the Lichchavi princess Kumardevi, was declared successor to the Gupta throne in presence of the councillors and members of the royal family raises the presumption that Samudragupta was not the heir-apparent. From Harishena, author of the Allahabad Pillar inscription indicates that the assembly was held in tense atmosphere and Chandragupta’s selection of Samudragupta as his successor caused disappointment among a section of the royal family.
We must not also lose sight of the fact that Samudragupta was born of the Lichchavi queen Kumaradevi and this might have been one of the causes of his selection as the successor, besides the capabilities of Samudragupta. In fact, Chandragupta embraced his son and in accent surcharged with emotions declared “Thou art worthy, rule this world”.
The presumption that Samudragupta was not the eldest son of Chandragupta I is raised by the fact of the declaration in full court selecting Samudragupta as the successor as also by some coins issued in the name of Kacha who, it has been suggested, was the eldest brother of Samudragupta. Even if we agree to this view, there seems to have been no rebellion of any serious nature and had there been any rebellion by Kacha it must have been put down by Samudragupta easily.
Some historians identify Kacha with Samudragupta himself, but it is by no means certain. The tense atmosphere in the assembly where Chandragupta I declared Samudragupta as his successor, and the disappointment in a section of the royal family have been due to supersession of the claim of a better legal claimant.
Samudragupta was great as a warrior, a conqueror, a Statesman, and a ruler. He was no less great as a man. Fortunately we have the eulogy contained in the Allahabad Pillar inscription of the court Poet Harishena which gives us considerable details about the conquest, rule and personality of the monarch although the sequence of events of the reign is difficult to follow due to damages of the inscription in parts. There are also a large number of coins of the time of Samudragupta which also supplement our knowledge of the reign and personality of the King.
Samudragupta was a thoroughgoing imperialist, an Indian Napoleon who turned his arms against northern, central, and southern India and built a vast empire through conquests.
Harishena in his panegyric classified Samudragupta’s conquests into four categories geographically:
(i) Nine Kings of Aryavarta or the Gangetic plain,
(ii) Chief of the forest tribes of Central India,
(iii) Eleven Kings of the South, and
(iv) Rulers of the frontier Kingdoms and republics.
A number of rulers, nine of whom are specifically mentioned in the Allahabad Prasasti felt the brunt of Samudragupta’s aggressive policy. Samudragupta appears to have been a true follower of Kautilyan Machiavellism: “Whoever is superior in power shall wage a war. Whoever is possessed of necessary means shall march against his enemy.” His campaigns against the Kings of Northern India was ruthless war of extermination.
He defeated and crushed them and annexed their territories to his dominions of these nine Kings of north, Ganapati-naga and Nagasena were of the Naga family who set up three Kingdoms at Padmavati, Mathura, and Vidisa. Achyuta and Chandravarman were Kings of Ahichchatra (near Bareilly) and Western Bengal (in Bankurat respectively. The Kingdoms of five other kings whose names are mentioned cannot be identified. They are Rudradeva, Nagadatta, Matila, Nandin, and Balavarman.
But from the mention of the frontier Kingdoms and republics, it is possible to get a fair idea of the dominions which were under his direct rule. These frontier Kingdoms and tribal states which paid taxes, rendered obedience and obeyed orders of Samudragupta are well known to us. These were Samatata (South-east Bengal), Kamrupa (upper Assam), Nepal, Davaka (Nowgong district in Assam, or Dacca?) and Kartripura (Kartarpur in Jullundar district).
These were Tributary Kingdoms mentioned as situated on the frontiers of Samudragupta’s dominions. Tribal territories which are mentioned as situated on the frontiers as feudatories were the Malavas, Arjunayanas, Yaudheyas, Madras or Madrakas, Sanakanikas, Abhiras, Prarjunas, Kakas.
If we consider the position of the tributary States on the frontiers of Samudragupta’s dominions, we can get a clear idea of the extent of his empire in the north. Towards the east it included Bengal, except its South-eastern extremity. In the north it ran grazing the Himalayan foot hills.
Towards the west it extended to Madra or Madraka in the Punjab and probably included the eastern districts between Lahore and Karnal. From the Punjab, the boundary ran along the Yumuna upto Chambal and then southwards upto Bhilsa and Jubbulpore, and to the Vindhya Range. The Atavi rajyas, i.e., forest Kingdoms of Central India were also within his dominions.
The northern conquests must have been completed and the conquered territories absorbed in the dominions under Samudragupta’s direct rule before he undertook invasion of the Southern Kingdoms, a task as Dr. Smith remarks which demanded uncommon boldness in design, and masterly powers of organisation and execution.
In his Southern campaigns he defeated King Mahendra of Kosala in the Mahanadi Valley, Vyagraraja of Mahakantara (forest region of Jeypore in Orissa), Mahendra of Pishtapura (Pithapuram in Godavari district), Hastivarman of Vengi (Pedda-Vengi near Ellore), Ugrasena of Palakka (Nellore District), Vishnugopa of Kanchi (Conjeevaram), Damana of Erandapalla and Kuvera of Devarashtra.
Four others Kings Mantroraja of Kaurala, Svamidatta of Kothera, Nilaraja of Avamukta, and Dhananjaya of Kusthalapura cannot be identified. Although some of the Kings of the south cannot be identified, yet it is presumed that Samudragupta proceeded along the Eastern and southern parts of Central India to Orissa and thence along the eastern coast upto the Kingdom of the Pallavas and probably beyond Madras.
Samudragupta was not without the genius of statesmanship. He captured the Kings of the Kingdoms of the South after defeating them. But he foresaw the practical difficulty in absorbing their territories within his dominions and to bring them under his direct control. Samudragupta’s farsightedness prompted him not to absorb his South Indian conquests to his dominions. He set the Kings of the Southern Kingdoms free allowing them to rule over their own Kingdoms as his feudatories.
The wisdom of this step is borne out by the fact that there was no permanent annexation of these southern States; “the triumphal victor admitting that he only exacted a temporary submission and then withdrew”. According to Dr. Smith Samudragupta must have despoiled the rich treasures of the South, and came back with golden booty.
Samudragupta’s supremacy was acknowledged by the powerful rulers in the western and north-western frontiers of India, such as the Sakas of Western Malava, the Kushanas of Western Punjab and Afghanistan referred to in the Allahabad inscriptions is Daivaputra Shahishahanushahi. We have no details about the military campaign, in these areas, nor have we any clear idea of the exact nature of Samudragupta’s relations with these rulers.
They, however, attended Samudragupta’s Court, gave their daughters in marriage to the imperial family, used imperial coins as their currency. Discovery of coins with names as Samudra and Chandra as also use of Gupta coins by the Scythian rulers of the frontier Kingdoms indicate exercise of Gupta sovereignty over those areas.
Now, to summarise the extent of his empire in full, we find the dominions under the direct control of Samudragupta in the mid-fourth century A.D. comprised all the most populous and fertile countries of the Northern India extending from the Brahmaputra on the east to the Jamuna and Chambal to the west, and from the foot of the Himalayas in the North to the Narmada in the South.
On the borders of these wide limits there were the frontier Kingdoms of Assam and the Gangetic delta as also those on the Southern slopes of the Himalayas; free tribes of Rajputana and Malwa which were attached to the empire by bonds of subordinate alliance. The Kingdoms of the south overrun by Samudragupta were compelled to acknowledge his suzerainty. The empire of Samudragupta was by far the largest that grew in India since the days of Asoka and the emperor of an empire so vast naturally commanded the respect of foreign powers.
His Foreign Relations:
Samudragupta, a hero of hundred battles by virtue of his military genius, statesmanship and personal prowess built up an empire which was both a source of terror and strength to the frontier Kings. The Kushana Kings referred to as Daivaputra-Shahi shanushahi of the north-west and Afghanistan sought to win the great favour of the great emperor Samudragupta giving personal attendance to his Court, entering into matrimonial alliance with his family and soliciting imperial charters confirming them in the enjoyment of their territories. It is obvious that the Saka chiefs of north-west held a sort of a subordinate position to the emperor and probably sought his help for the Sassanian invasion as also to tide over economic crisis.
From the Ceylonese source we know that the Buddhist King Siri Meghavarna of Ceylon who was a contemporary of Samudragupta sent two monks, one being his own brother, to visit Bodh Gaya. But the monks met with scant hospitality while in India and on return complained to Meghavarna their difficulty in getting any place in India where they could stay in comfort.
Meghavarna in order to ensure that pilgrims coming from Ceylon might find adequate and comfortable accommodation in India sent a mission to Samudragupta along with presents of precious stones and other valuable gifts requesting permission for building a monastery for the Ceylonese pilgrims in India. Samudragupta was pleased to consider the gifts as a tribute and granted permission as requested.
Similar interpretation might as well have been given to the friendly overtures by the frontages and mentioned by the Court Panegyrist as token of subordinate status. A splendid convent was built by Meghavarna towards the north of the Holy Tree at Bodh Gaya.
From the inscriptions discovered at Malaya it is presumed that the South-east Asian Hindu colonies such as Champa, Cambodia, Sumatra, Java, etc., maintained friendly relations with Samudragupta.
As it was customary with the Hindu rulers of ancient India, Samudragupta performed horse sacrifice (Asvamedha) after completion of his campaigns. This rite was revived after a long period of time and perhaps that the last King before him to perform Asvamedha sacrifice was Pushyamitra. The revival of this rite indicates revival of Brahmanical Hinduism besides its importance as a mark of imperial 6tatus assumed by Samudragupta.
Personal Accomplishment of Samudragupta: His Estimate:
Court-poet Harishena has lavished praise to Samudragupta in his Allahabad Prasasti inscribed on an Asokan Pillar, which even when allowance is made for the possible exaggeration of a panegyrist gives us a faithful picture of the personality and achievements of the great emperor. He was not merely the first soldier of his age but a Statesman of no mean order.
He was a great warrior, but greater still as a man of culture. He was not one entirely thirsting for conquest and battle. He appears to have a gentler and more civilized side, being described in the eulogy as a lover of poetry and music. He was a patron of learning, a celebrated poet and a musician. These attributes are not merely the exaggeration of the court panegyrist.
This is borne out by his coins representing the emperor as playing upon a lyre. He had a tender heart that could be easily won over. Support of the poor, the helpless and the afflicted kept him busied. He has been likened to Varuna, Indra, Dhanada, etc. He earned the title of the King of poets Kaviraja for his poetical compositions. He was a veritable God on earth. We are further told that he possessed a noble heart beloved of his father and the people at large.
He was a devout Brahmanical Hindu but he was tolerant of other religions as has been illustrated by his granting permission to Meghavarna to construct a convent for the pilgrims from Ceylon. V. A. Smith has described him as Indian Napoleon but he was brilliant as general and statesman and also possessed many qualities of head and heart better suited to a life of peaceful pursuits and which mark him as a versatile genius. The Buddhist records prove his catholicity in religious views which is illustrated in his appointing Vasubandhu as his minister.
It is doubtless that Samudragupta was a striking personality, almost unique in the history of India and ushered in a new age. His coins show him as a man of great prowess—the prowess of a tiger. “The artistic execution of the gold coins of Samudragupta fully illustrates the wonderful progress of art which forms such a distinctive feature of the Gupta period and justifies its designation as the Classical Age in India.
Immediately after his accession to the throne Samudragupta plunged into war following the principle that “Kingdom-taking is the business of Kings”. An ambitious monarch as he was Samudragupta cannot be expected to have rest contented to remain within his own borders. His ambition was to establish an empire controlled from the Capital at Pataliputra and including the entire sub-continent”.Thus political unification of India, as was achieved by the Mauryas, must have been consciously or unconsciously influencing Samudragupta’s aim.
He was a statesman who clearly saw the impracticability of absorbing the distant southern Indian States in the dominions under his direct rule. He played the part of Dharmavijayin in regard to the Southern States and rest contented with a formal recognition of his suzerainty by them while retaining their independence for all intents and purposes.
The wisdom of this policy was demonstrated by the failure of any ruler of northern India to have a permanent hold over the south. Samudragupta broke the power of the tribal republics in the north-west which had disastrous consequences during the rule of the later Guptas when the Huns invaded north-western India and these tribal territories could no longer act as buffers for the Gangetic Valley.
Samudragupta was not a ruthless conqueror, on the contrary he tempered his military campaign with moderation and restored the Kings fallen from their high estate, to wealth and fortune.
He realised the need for religious toleration as a state policy and although he was a Brahmanical Hindu who held Asvamedha sacrifice, he did not hesitate to allow Buddhists to build convent in his country nor did he show any bias against the Buddhists being appointed to high posts of the State. Vasubandhu, an important Buddhist of his time, was his Prime Minister.
Samudragupta was a patron of art and literature. He himself -was a poet and a great connoisseur of poetry. The Allahabad inscription mentions his munificence which removed the eternal discord between good poetry and plenty. His corns illustrated wonderful progress of art during his period.
Samudragupta’s variety of coins give us some idea of his physical appearance, his power, wealth, grandeur and an insight into his remarkable personality. His personal appearance so far as we can judge from his coins symbolise both the martial and peaceful pursuits of the King. His tall stature, good physique, fully developed chest indicate the bold, determined yet magnanimous mind he possessed.
His reign considerably developed the cultural renaissance initiated by the Kushana and which was to reach its fullness under Chandragupta II his successor. After long five centuries of political disintegration and domination India was again near the Highest watermark of moral, intellectual and material progress. It was the Golden Age which inspired succeeding generations of Indians. The pinnacle was reached under his successor Chandragupta II, Vikramaditya.
Successors of Samudragupta:
From literary evidence such as Visakadatta’s Devi Chandragupta and other literary works, as well as inscriptions of later period we come across a romantic episode which is of much interest but of little credibility. From these evidences we know that Ramagupta, son of Samudragupta, had succeeded his father.
His queen was Dhruvadevi. In a conflict with the Sakas, Ramagupta was besieged and was placed in an extremely desperate situation. To save his people besieged with him he agreed to make over queen Dhruvadevi to the Saka King as a condition for the lifting of the siege. Ramagupta’s brother, Chandragupta II, protested against this dishonourable agreement.
He resorted to a stratagem and went in disguise of queen Dhruvadevi and killed the Saka King. This saved both the empire and honour of the Guptas. Chandragupta ultimately got rid of his elder brother Ramagupta by killing him and succeeded to the throne. He also married Dhruvadevi, his elder brother’s widow.
This episode is not accepted as historical, for there has been not a single reference to the name Ramagupta in any one of the numerous coins of the Gupta period. Without any positive contemporary evidence it is difficult to accept it as true, although there may have been some elements of truth in it.
Of the many sons of Samudragupta we definitely know of one son born of his chief queen Dattadevi whose name is Chandragupta II. It is held by some scholars that there is a reference in an inscription of Skandagupta that his grandfather Chandragupta was selected by Samudragupta as his successor. But this view is regarded as uncertain as it is based on doubtful interpretation of an expression in Skandagupta’s inscription.
If we accept this as correct then Chandragupta II was the immediate successor of Samudragupta. It may be noted that Samudragupta himself was chosen by his father Chandragupta I as his successor. On the other hand if we accept the evidence of Vishakadatta and later literary works and inscriptions then Ramagupta was the immediate successor of Samudragupta.
According to V. A. Smith before Samudragupta passed away he had done his best to secure the peaceful transmission of the Crown by nominating as his successor, from among many sons, the offspring of his queen Dattadevi, whom he rightly deemed worthy to inherit a magnificent empire. It customary for scholars to give greater credence to the succession of Samudragupta by his son Chandragupta II who also took the title Vikramaditya (Sun of Power).
Chandragupta n was the valiant son of a valiant father and inherited the military genius, the imperial dignity and the cultured mind of his father Samudragupta. Like his father, he also used his marriage relations as a principle of foreign policy and for strengthening his power. As Dr. Raichaudhuri mentions, matrimonial alliance occupies a prominent place in the Gupta foreign policy. Chandragupta II married Kuveranaga, a Naga Princess and the daughter Prabhavati, from this marriage was given in marriage to Rudrasena II, the Vakataka King of Berar and the adjoining territories.
Dr. Smith points out that the Vakataka King occupied such a strategic geographical position in which he could be of much service or disservice to the northern invader of the dominions of the Saka satraps of Gujarat and Saurashtra. Chandragupta adopted a prudent precaution in giving his daughter to the Vakataka prince and so securing his subordinate alliance. Premature death of Rudrasena made Prabhavati the regent of her two minor sons Divakarsena and Prabhakarsena. This naturally all the more increased the influence of Chandragupta II on the Vakataka Court.
From an inscription of Kakusthavarman, a Kadamba ruler of Kuntala, we learn that he gave his daughters to the Gupta rulers. Bhoja and Kshamendra also refer to the sending of an embassy to Kuntala by Chandragupta II. Thus Chandragupta copied Samudragupta’s policy of entering into matrimonial alliance with ruling houses for deriving political advantages.
Chandragupta’s chief opponents were the Saka rulers of Gujarat and Kathiawar. A Saka official, Sridharavarman, had set up an independent Kingdom in Malwa. These Saka rulers were known as the Western Satraps. According to Dr. Smith, difference in race, creed and manners led to Chandragupta II’s hatred for the Sakas. He desired to suppress the impure foreign rulers of the West”.
Smith also states that Chandragupta Vikramaditya was an orthodox Hindu specially devoted to the court of Vishnu, and although tolerant of Buddhism he must have found peculiar satisfaction in violently uprooting the Saka chieftains who probably cared little for caste rules. Whatever might have been the motive, Chandragupta’s one major considerations must have been to liquidate the Western Satraps who were a potential danger to the Gupta Empire. Chandragupta’s desire to conquer the whole world as we know from the Udaygiri cave inscription of Virasena-Saba, was perhaps the special reason for his desire to annex the territories of the Western Satraps, The details of his campaign are lacking.
The campaign was a prolonged one and on the evidence of Udaygiri inscription of Virasena- Saba, that of Sanekanika Maharaja, a feudatory chief and the Sanchi inscription of Amrakardava we know that Chandragupta had to stay for a long time at Eastern Malwa afterhe had conquered it before he succeeded in completely uprooting the Saka ruler Rudrasimha III and annexing his Kingdom in the Saurashtra and Kathiwar regions. This military achievement was of immense consequence to the Gupta Empire, for it extended the borders of the empire to the Arabian Sea.
According to Dr. Smith “The annexation of Saurashtra and Malwa not only added to the empire provinces of exceptional wealth and fertility, but opened up to the paramount power free access to the ports of the western coasts, and thus placed Chandragupta II indirect touch with the Sea-borne commerce with Europe through Egypt and brought his court and subjects under the influence of the European ideas which travelled with the goods of the Alexandrian merchants”. The success of this campaign against the Western Satrap also liquidated the almost three centuries of foreign domination in north-western India.
On the evidence of Mathura pillar inscription Dr. Bhandarkar suggests that Mathura and its neighbouring areas were wrested from the Kushanas by Chandragupta II. But this view of Dr. Bhandarkar is regarded as incorrect in as much as it was Samudragupta who had extirpated the Naga Kings and extended his empire in the West upto Eran.
In the Mehrauli iron pillar inscription, i.e., the iron pillar near Kutub Minar at Delhi, of a King named Chandra, it is mentioned that he fought against a confederacy of powers in Vanga. Although there is no conclusive proof that this King Chandra was Chandragupta II, many scholars accept this identity.
If we hold this view then we will have to take the inscription to mean that Chandragupta II defeated Vanga (Bengal) as also conquered Vahlika which is identified with Balkh at Bactria. According to Kalidasa Vanga denoted the regions between the Bhagirathi and the Padma. But on the basis of the Allahabad inscription we know that Samudragupta was recognised by Samatata, i.e., a part of Bengal as its suzerain.
It is considered by some scholars as possible that the Kushana rulers of the north-west who had been subdued by Samudragupta had thrown off\the yoke of the Gupta Empire necessitating their subjugation by Chandragupta. Similar reason may have as well induced Chandragupta to conquer Vanga, i.e., Samatata. We are, however, not sure whether it was the motive of aggressive imperialism that led to Chandragupta’s campaign against Samatata.
Under Chandragupta II there was a remarkable change in the currency system. His predecessors issued only gold coins but Chandragupta II issued gold, silver and copper coins. The obverse of the silver coins were imitation of the coins of western satraps although the reverse, the usual Chaitya, was replaced by the bird Garuda, symbol of Vishnu.
These coins were perhaps meant for circulation in the countries conquered from the western Satraps. There were nine varieties of copper coins with the image of the King on the obverse and Garuda on the reverse. Like Samudragupta’s gold coins those of Chandragupta II were of equal fineness and brilliance and throw considerable light on Chandragupta IPs imperial grandeur and prowess.
There are, however, certain significant variations in the types of coins of Chandragupta II and of Samudragupta. While Samudragupta’s coins depicted him as tiger-slayer and also as playing on lyre, Chandragupta’s coins represent him as lion-slayer and as holding a flower instead of the lyre with the legend rupakriti.
While it is supposed by scholars that the lion-slayer type coins denoted his conquest of lion-infested Gujrat, those with flower in hand represented his intellectual and artistic sense. There are other types of coins such as the King standing with his hand on the hilt of his sword and with a dwarf attendant with an umbrella.
This is interpreted as his status of universal sovereignty, the dwarf representing his feudatories. Likewise his coins representing him riding on a horse depicted his personal prowess. A coin attributed to Chandragupta by some scholar which shows him standing in front of a deity, probably Vishnu, and stretching his arm for receiving Prasad in the form of sweetmeats.
Fa-hien, the celebrated Chinese pilgrim who travelled into India through the Gobi desert and the hilly terrains of Pamir, Khotan and Ghandhara and lived in India for ten years during the reign of Chandragupta II has left a very interesting account of contemporary India.
He was a Buddhist pilgrim who came for pilgrimage and to study Buddhist religion. He did not, unfortunately, record anything about the political condition of India of the time. He did not even mention the name of the emperor in whose wide dominions he lived at least for five years.
But whatever he recorded about the life of the people is of immense value. On many of his coins he is described as Vikramaditya and in some later records he is represented as the Lord of Ujjaini and Pataliputra. His valiance in killing the Saka Chief earned for him the titles of Sakari and Sahasanka.
The Chinese traveler Fa-hien came to India by land route as described above, stayed in India for ten years (400-411 A.D.) and left by sea route embarking at the Tamralipti port. He spent three years in speaking and writing Sanskrit and in copying out the Buddhist disciplines. He came to India to collect Buddhist texts which were then unknown in China. He had four other Chinese with him but none of them has left any account about India.
During his travel through Central Asian countries he saw numerous Buddhists studying Indian language and Buddhist texts. In Khotan he saw thousands of Buddhists of Mahayana School. In Gomati Vihara alone he saw more than three thousand monks and as many as fourteen other monasteries in Khotan. In Afghanistan there were both Mahayana and Hinayana Buddhists. In Kashgarh he saw about a thousand Hinayana Buddhists.
Fa-hien visited Gandhara, Taxila, Peshawar, etc. and saw numerous Buddhist monuments. In Mathura he came across ten thousand Buddhists and twenty monasteries. He also visited places (connected with the life of Buddha, such as Lumbini, Vaisali, Bodh Gaya, Gaya, Nalanda and Rajagriha.
Fa-hien referred to the area forming the heart of Chandragupta IFs dominions as the Middle Kingdom. He observed that the people in this area were numerous and happy. Such was the general contentment that they were not required to register their household nor attend the Court of any magistrates or obey their rules.
Cultivators who cultivated the royal demesne had to pay a part of the gain from it to the government. The Government was most efficient and enlightened. The people had fullest liberty of movement and could live at a place to move to any other of their choice. The mode of punishment was ordinarily very simple and light, the normal punishment being levy of fines.
The King governed without any physical punishment or decapitation. In cases of repeated attempts at rebellion the offender’s right hand was cut off. Trade and commerce flourished and the people followed various arts and crafts. Fa-hien saw signs of wealth and luxury of the people and great contentment of the people. All this indicated most satisfactory economic condition of the people.
Although Chandragupta was a follower of Vishnu the life of the people was largely influenced by Buddhistic ideas of non-violence. Garlic, onion, meat, etc., were not taken by the people. Intoxicant liquor was not permitted to be sold in the open market. The only exceptions were the Chandalas.
Such was the contentment and prosperity of the people in general that theft was unknown, gold left on road could be recovered after days; nobody would touch it. Highways was safe for travelers and merchants. Charitable institutions by the road sides as also along out of the way .roads were built by the people. These were homes of charity where the travelers and wandering monies found food and shelter.
Rooms with beds on mattresses, food and clothing were provided for resident monks. Pagodas in honour of Moggolan, Ananda, Sariputta and also in honour of Abhidhamma, Vinaya and the Suttas were built. Fa-hien also mentioned that the rich people instituted free hospitals for poor and helpless patients, orphans, widows and the crippled. Doctors, attended them, food and medicine were supplied free, according to needs of the patients.
Fa-hien was struck with wonder to see the city of Pataliputra and the palace of Asoka. He was so much impressed by the beauty of the palace which must have been then more than six hundred years old that he remarked that the halls and pillars must have been constructed by spirits. Near an Asokan Stupa Fa-hien saw two monasteries inhabited by Mahayana Buddhist monks. Fa-hien found the city of Gaya desolate and Bodhgaya jungle-infested. Kapilavastu and Kushinagara were also deserted cities.
The administration was highly tolerant of all religions and religion was not considered a bar to administrative appointments. Virasena- Saba, minister of Chandragupta, was a follower of Siva while-his genera] Amrakardava was a Buddhist. Fa-hien also mentions that King’s body-guards and attendants were paid regular salaries.
In buying and selling Cowrie was in use. Dr. Raychaudhuri remarks that Fa-hien seems to have not come across the gold coins of the time which were used in cases of large transactions. Fa-hien evidently refers to small transactions with Cowries which he had occasion to make.
Estimate of Chandragupta II Vikramaditya:
Dr. V. A. Smith remarks that “Little is known concerning his (Chandragupta II) personal character, but the ascertained facts of his career suffice to prove that he was a strong and vigorous ruler, well qualified to govern and augment an extensive empire”.
As Dr. R. D. Banerjee points out, Chandragupta II raised the Kingdom left by his father to the status of an empire. He became the master of northern India and became the unquestionably the paramount sovereign of India. Like Akbar and Shivaji, he was brave to the point of rashness, which is proved by his adventure in disguise with chosen band of followers in the city or camp of the Scythian King. He was an ambitious ruler and an excellent general and succeeded in Kathiawar in his dominions.
Samudragupta had extended the dominions of the Guptas, Chandragupta extended it further but what he did more was to consolidate the Gupta Empire. The brilliant intellectual revival, manifested in arts, science and literature, which distinguished the Gupta age was largely the contributions of Chandragupta II. The name Classical Age or the Golden Age by which the Gupta period is denoted was the result of the contributions of Samudragupta and more of Chandragupta II, to the culture and civilisation of the age. (See Separate Section—Gupta Golden Age.)
Chandragupta, not without reason, loved to use high sounding epithets like Vikramaditya, Sahasanka, Sakari, etc., which proclaimed his martial prowess and was fond of depicting himself on his coins in combat with a lion as did the old Persian emperors. His use of the titles Vikramaditya and Sakari has led scholars to identify him with Vikramaditya of legend.
He was a devout Vaishnava but not a bigot, for his catholicity in religious matters transcended all barriers of personal religion. The Buddhist Amrakardava was his general; Saiva Virasena Saba and Sikharasvamin were his ministers.
Identification of Chandragupta II with Sakari Vikramaditya means that his court was adorned by nine gems including Kalidas, Varahamihira. But all of the luminaries did not live at the same time. If Samudragupta is known more for his wars of conquests, his son Chandragupta is remembered for things other than war, for his patronage of literature and the arts—Kalidasa, the Sanskrit poet, being a member of his Court—and for the high standard of artistic cultural life. Dr. Mazumdar remarks Samudragupta, the victor of a hundred fights, is a hero of history. Chandragupta II, who brought to maturity the new era of political greatness and cultural regeneration, won a place in the heart of his people.
Chandragupta II was succeeded by his son Kumaragupta I sometimes between 413 and 415 A.D. Bhilsa inscription puts the date of his accession at 415 A.D. and his last date in his silver coins in 455 A.D. Kumaragupta, therefore, had a long reign of 40 years. He was born of Chandragupta’s Queen Dhruvadevi.
The Gupta Empire had reached its zenith when Kumaragupta ascended the throne. Kumaragupta himself does not seem to have conducted any military campaign. At least, there is no such evidence, but there is no doubt that Kumaragupta maintained his grip over the whole empire and kept it undiminished during his long rule for forty years. Kumaragupta also performed Asvamedha sacrifice and assumed the title Mahendraditya. He also used numerous variants of this name such as Mahendrakalpa, Mahendrasimha, Mahendrakumar, Asvamedha, Mahendra, etc.
A large number of records of the feudatories and Viceroys of Kumaragupta have come to light, which give us a fair idea of the administrative machinery, strength and stability of the government. From these epigraphic records it is learnt that Chiradatta was the viceroy, a governor of Pundravardhana Bhukti corresponding to North Bengal.
Prince Ghatotkacha Gupta was the viceroy of Eastern Malwa. Bandhuvarman ruled at Dasapura. He is referred to as a feudatory in the Mandasor inscription. In an inscription of 436 A.D. Kumaragupta is stated to be the ruler of whole earth bounded by Sumeru and Kailash (Himalayas) in the north, the Vindhyas in the south and the two oceans on the east and the west.
In matters of religious toleration, there appears to be no change of the traditional Gupta liberalism. This is borne out by the fact that people worshipped diverse gods and goddesses as they chose. We have references to the worship of Vishnu, Siva, Sakti, Jina, Buddha, Surya, Kartikeya, etc. Endowments were made to the Brahmanas for helping them to perform their religious rites.
Like his predecessors Kumaragupta also issued coins of various types such as Asvamedha type, lion-slayer, tiger-slayer, Peacock-rider, Elephant-rider types. For the use of Western India Silver coins were issued. The obverse legend of these coins is Jayati Diwan Kumar ah and on the reverse is Sri Asvamedha Mahendra. The distribution of his coins indicate the vastness of his empire and in Satara district alone more than one thousand coins have been discovered.
The long reign of Kumaragupta was both peaceful and prosperous but towards the end of his reign there came the first signs of a new invasion from the north-west. Besides, the prevailing peace of the empire was distributed by an unidentified people. According to Fleet the invading people belonged to the Pushyamitra tribe.
But the Bhitari inscription, on the basis of which Fleet identifies the invaders as the Pushyamitras, is not accepted by other scholars as the inscription is damaged where the name of the invading people is mentioned. According to H. R. Divakar the name should be read as Yudhyamitrams.
There is, however, reference to a people named Pushyamitras in the Vishnu Purana. The Puranas associate the Pushyamitras with the inhabitants of Melaka in the Narbuda region. Reference to warlike activities of Melaka is also found in the inscriptions of the Vakatakas.
From the Bhagat Plate of the Vakataka King Prithisena II, Narendrasena was the leader of the Pushyamitras. But it has been pointed out that Narendrasena possibly could not lead such an invasion for he himself was in a difficult situation due to the invasion of Bhavadattavarman.
From the Junagarh inscription of Skandagupta we come to know that Skandagupta fought against hostile kings who raised their hoods like so many serpents. The reference is taken by scholars to the invasion of the Pushyamitras whom Skandagupta as a prince had successfully warded off. Thus the fortunes of the Guptas threatened by enemies were saved.
Dr. R. C. Majumdar remarks that although the reign of Kumaragupta is generally regarded as uneventful and void of interest and importance, yet certain significant details are usually overlooked. From the numerous inscriptions only a reference to a solitary military campaign is found at the final stage of his reign, and there is no doubt that his long reign saw a peaceful and stable government over the undiminished vast empire extending from the western (Arabian) and the eastern (Bay of Bengal) Seas.
The fact of the defeat of the Pushyamitras at the hands of the Prince Skandagupta towards end of his reign and the warding off of the Huna invasion soon after his death testify to the continued efficiency of the imperial army over the long forty years of Kumaragupta’s rule.
The modern historians have been rather unusually niggardly in their praise of Kumaragupta than he actually deserves. It will be unfair not to credit him with maintenance of the vast expanse of the empire intact for long forty years, and to keep it in peace and prosperity without allowing the imperial administration as well as the army to weaken.
Problem of Succession:
In the midst of triumph of Prince Skandagupta over the Pushyamitras, Kumaragupta I, the old and aged emperor, breathed his last, even before Skandagupta’s return to the capital. The official record describes how Skandagupta reported his victory over the enemies to his mother who received him with tears. Skandagupta, the hero of the nation, came to the throne in 455 A.D.
There are good grounds to believe that Skandagupta’s succession to the throne was not a peaceful one. The question of succession remains a ticklish problem with the scholars. In the Bhitari Seal Purugupta is mentioned as the son and successor of Kumaragupta I. But Smith, Raychaudhuri, Allan, etc., are of the opinion that Skandagupta was the immediate successor of Kumaragupta.
Thus we find there were two successors and the question is which of them came first. Dr. Majumdar observes there was a struggle between him (Skandagupta) and his half-brother Purugupta, son of the Chief Queen of Kumaragupta. Probably Skandagupta’s mother was queen of an inferior rank and this gave an advantage to his rival (Purugupta). But Skandagupta triumphed in the end.
Allan, Smith and Raychaudhuri are of the opinion that Skandagupta died childless and was succeeded by his half-brother Purugupta. This contention is also supported by Dr. Majumdar. That Skandagupta was the immediate successor, although after a struggle is borne out by Skandagupta’s own official record where it is mentioned that the Goddess of Sovereignty, of her own accord selected him (Skandagupta as her husband, having in succession discarded all other Princes.
According to Dr. Majumdar Skandagupta had to fight for his claim with one or more rivals. He observes It is probable, for example, that taking advantage of Skandagupta’s absence in a distant campaign, his step-brother Purugupta ascended the throne immediately after his father’s death, but was soon removed when Skandagupta returned from his victorious campaign.
This is, however, a probable view and cannot be regarded as historically unquestionable. There are various other views expressed by different scholars but the consensus is in favour of regarding Skandagupta as the immediate successor of Kumaragupta who was in his return succeeded by Purugupta.
War of succession or not, Skandagupta after his accession to the throne did not find much breathing time, for he had been faced with a sea of troubles. The danger of the Pushyamitra invasion was just averted, but he had to fight with hostile kings some of whom are described as mlechas in the contemporary records.
In the first half of the fifth century, that is, during the reign of Kumaragupta I, the first signs of a new invasion from the north-west were noticed. A branch of the Huns known as white Huns or Epthalites had occupied Bactria in the fourth century and were threatening to cross the Hindukush which they did when Skandagupta came to the throne.
They conquered Gandhara and set up a king there, who was cruel and vindictive and practised the most barbarous atrocities. He proceeded, further towards the heart of India and became a great menace to the Gupta Empire. Skandagupta had earlier, as the crown prince, saved the empire against the Pushyamitra menace, but the danger was now much graver one.
He was now a man of mature years and ripe experience, and proved equal to the task and succeeded in inflicting a crushing defeat on the barbarian. So decisive was the victory that for nearly half a century the Gupta Empire was safe from their inroads. It was a great achievement for which Skandagupta may well be drawn in history as the saviour of India.
It will be easy to realise the full significance of this great event when we recall what the Huns had done to the mighty Roman Empire and what the branch of the Huns even after their defeat at the hands of Skandagupta had done to Persia. They carried fire and sword, completely overwhelmed Persia and killed their king. After this Great exploit Skandagupta justifiably assumed the title of Vikramaditya in imitation of his grandfather Chandragupta II.
In the Balaghat Plates there are references to Vakataka Narendrasena who had established influence over Kosala, Mekala, Malwa. But there is no reference to his actual occupation of these areas. On the contrary we find in the Junagarh inscription that Skandagupta deliberated days and nights before making up his mind who could be trusted with the important task of guarding the lands of Surashtra.
This shows that for a time the Vakatakas spread their influence in that region with the help of the local lords which worried Skandagupta. He appointed wardens in Central India and Surashtra—the vulnerable parts of the empire and appointed Pamadatta as one of these wardens in Surashtra. There is no doubt, according to Dr. Raychaudhuri that Surashtra, Gujarat, Malwa, etc. were under Skandagupta’s rule during his life time.
The last years of Skandagupta’s reign was tranquil, but the military campaign against the Pushyamitras, Huns and perhaps also against the Vakatakas put a heavy strain on’ the resources of the empire. This is evident from the deterioration of purity of gold coins which were comparatively few and mostly of one type. But this did not stand in the public utility work.
The Girnar inscription near Junagarh refers to the repairs of the Sudarshana Lake originally constructed by Chandragupta Maurya for supply of water to irrigation canals had burst its dams due to excessive rainfall during Skandagupta’s time, but was promptly repaired by Pamadatta, Governor of Surashtra, and his son Chakrapalita, the local magistrate. The same lake had burst its dams once again three hundred years before and the damage was repaired by the Saka Chief Rudradamana.
From the inscription of Pamadatta we come to know that Skandagupta’s empire which extended from the Bay of Bengal to the Arabian Sea was strong and united, under the vigorous administration of a benevolent ruler. The Junagarh inscription shows Skandagupta took special care in selecting his Governor and officials. Besides Pamadatta, he appointed Sarvanaga as the district officer of the Gangetic Doab and Bhimvarman as that of Kosam region.
Like his predecessors, Skandagupta also followed the policy of toleration in religious matters. He was himself a worshipper of Vishnu but did not interfere with the religious beliefs of his officers or subjects. Bihar Pillar inscription mentions the construction of a circle of temples dedicated to Skanda and the Divine Mothers such as Chandi, Chamunda, Maheswari, Vaishnavi, Kaumari, etc. There is also a reference to the construction of a temple for Sabita, the Sun God by two Kshatiriya merchants.
On the evidence of Aryamanjusrimulakalpa Jayaswal remarks that Skandagupta was the best—a wise justice-loving King. Historians have regarded Skandagupta one of the greatest if not the greatest of the great Gupta Emperors. He alone had the honour of defeating the Huns, three lakhs of whom attacked India, and saving India from the menace for almost half a century to follow. In 467 A.D. Skandagupta died with the supreme satisfaction of leaving the mighty empire he had inherited from his predecessor.
Skandagupta was succeeded by his half-brother Purugupta, son of Kumaragupta I, by his queen Anantadevi. In the official genealogy of the later Gupta emperors Purugupta is shown as the immediate successor of Kumaragupta I and the name of Skandagupta is omitted.
This might have been due to accession of Purugupta immediately after Kumaragupta’s death before Skandagupta had returned from his successful campaign against the Pushyamitras. But in the struggle for succession Skandagupta emerged victorious and it was after his death that Purugupta got the opportunity to ascend the throne. He must have been an old man then and ruled for six years only from 467 to 473 A.D.
From both epigraphic and numismatic evidence names of several kings are known whose exact position in relation to the Gupta family has not been known with certainty. According to Raychaudhuri Purugupta was succeeded by his son, Narasimhagupta Baladitya, in 473 A.D. He is identified with Baladityagupta who has been mentioned by Hiuen-Tsang as the King who imprisoned the Hun Chief Mihiragula or Mihirakula. Dr. Raychaudhuri, however, is of opinion that the conqueror of Mihirakula was a different Gupta Ruler.
In 474 A.D. we come across the name of Kumaragupta II, son of Narasimhagupta Baladitya. According to R. C. Majumdar he might have been a son of Skandagupta. We also come across the names of several Gupta kings in the coins and inscription who ruled about the same time. The presumption is that they were rival factions contending for the throne during the period immediately after Skandagupta’s death. But we have no definite knowledge of the events of the period.
There has been a considerable divergence of opinion among the historians about the line of the succession of the Gupta kings. In this book: the list of succession given by Dr. H. C. Raychaudhuri has been followed.
Kumaragupta’s reign appears to have terminated in 476-477 A.D. The reign of Skandagupta’s successor—Purugupta, Narasimhagupta Baladitya and Kumaragupta II covers only ten years from A.D. 467 to A.D. 477.
Budhagupta, son of Purugupta and his chief queen Chandradevi, ascended the throne in 477 A.D. and ruled for nearly twenty years. It is suggested that there were internal troubles before he came to the throne. But he appears to have succeeded in establishing himself firmly on the throne and restoring peace and order all over the empire.
A large number of inscription have been discovered which refers to Budhagupta. In one inscription Budhagupta is mentioned as Paramadaivata-Paramabhattaraka-Maharajadhiraja-Sri Prithvipati. In his silver coins, Budhagupta describes himself as Avanipati meaning lord of the world. From these titles it may be reasonably presumed that he ruled over a vast empire.
From the records of Budhagupta’s Governors of Malwa and Bengal it is learnt that under Budhagupta the solidarity of the empire was undisturbed at least to a very large extent of its expanse. But signs of decline of the imperial authority in the outlying provinces began to manifest themselves in his time portending the break-up of the empire at no distant future.
General Bhataraka of the Maitraka family, governor of Surashtra with his capital at Valabhi made the governorship hereditary in his family. Bhataraka and his son Dharasena who succeed him assumed the title Senapati, i.e., Governor. But the next Governor, a younger son of Bhataraka, named Drona Simha, assumed the royal title of Maharaja and although he paid nominal homage to the paramount ruler, i.e., the Gupta emperor, he was well on the way to complete sovereignty.
Likewise the Governors of north Bengal at earlier times called themselves Uparika, now assumed the title of Uparika Maharaja, the Governors of Malwa now took the title of Maharaja. All this doubtlessly indicate that although the Gupta Empire might have theoretically remained without substantial diminution its power and prestige were on the decline.
In Bundelkhand region Maharaja Hastin issued land grants making a general reference to the Gupta sovereignty, but without mentioning the name of Budhagupta, which shows the near independent status of the family. This family had another branch ruling over an adjacent Kingdom with Uchchakalpa as its capital. King Jayanatha of this family ceased to owe any allegiance to the Gupta sovereignty towards end of the reign of Budhagupta.
In he north and east of Bundelkhand, a dynasty called Pandu vamsa was rising into prominence and by the end of the fifth century. i.e., at Budhagupta’s reign King Udayana of this family threw off the allegiance to the Gupta sovereignty. Another branch of this family is mentioned in a copper plate grant at Rewa State made itself if not wholly, at least partially independent of Guptas.
From two copper-plates found at Allahabad and Rewa State we come across Maharaja Lakshmana who ruled during the reign of Budhagupta with his capital at Jayapura, not yet identified assumed de facto independence. Similar was case with Maharaja Subandhu who issued land grant from the ancient town of Mahishmati on the river Narmada without any reference to Budhagupta.
In this way outlying provinces of the empire were gradually moving towards complete independence although outwardly suffered no diminution, and its authority was still acknowledged as far as the Bay of Bengal in the east and the Arabian Sea in the west, and the Narmada in the South.
Circumstances, both internal and external, caused the decline that set in. The struggle for the throne after the death of Kumaragupta II and Skandagupta had sapped the vitality of the empire. From outside, the Vakataka King Narendrasena appears to have established suzerainty over Kosala-Mekala-Malava which raises the presumption that the Gupta Empire was invaded from the South.
The Huns, whose invasion had been warded off by Skandagupta, reappeared probably during Budhagupta’s reign although we are not certain about the date. Thus the mighty edifice of the Gupta Empire began to show fissures which gradually developed into wide chasms and the imposing imperial fabric fell into parts not in distant time.
Our information about the part played by Budhagupta is rather scanty. Under him the outward structure of the Gupta Empire remained more or less intact, and he was the last Gupta emperor to enjoy sovereignty over a vast expanse of territories. Yet, the empire was passing through a very critical period and the empire was soon to fall apart after his death.
Death of Budhagupta was a signal for internal dissensions which led to the partition of the empire. The renewed Hun invasion made matters worse. The sequence of events and the line of succession during this period are difficult to pursue. From different sources different names have been found and historians have drawn different lines of succession.
According to Beal’s Life of Hiuen T-Sang Budhagupta was succeeded by Tathagatagupta and after him Baladityagupta. Dr. H. C. Raychaudhuri accepts this line of succession. Dr. R. C. Majumdar, basing his opinion on certain official documents places Narasimhagupta, brother of Budhagupta, as the latter’s successor; and Narasimhagupta was succeeded by his son.
But there are other names such as Vinayagupta and Bhanugupta. Vinayagupta’s solitary record has been found in Tipperah district in Bengal. It is suggested by Dr. Majumdar that his dominion was probably confined to Bengal. Bhanugupta’s inscription has been found at Eran (modern Saugar district in Central India) which refers to a great battle fought by him in accompaniment of his vassal Goparaja, in which the latter lost his life.
Dr. Majumdar thinks that reference to two rulers, Vainyagupta and Bhanugupta, as simultaneously ruling leads to the conclusion that in the western part of the empire Bhanugupta ruled, while the eastern part was under Vainyagupta.
The famous battle fought by Bhanugupta along with the vassal Goparaja, according to Dr. Majumdar, is a reference to a battle with Toramana, the Hun Chief. But all this is more or less conjectural. It is not known for certain if Bhanugupta could recover Eran region completely from the hands of the Huns, who had taken possession of it. In spite of the high praise bestowed on him for his exploit in defeating Toramana, son of Mihiragula or Mihirakula, fact remains that forces of disintegration were at work and convulsed the empire which was hastening its downfall.
The scourge of the Gupta Empire was the barbarians called the Huns. We would rather turn our attention to the Huns, here, who administered a mortal blow to the Gupta Empire.
The Huns are known to have been living on the Chinese border. They came in conflict with the Yue-chi, a neighbouring nomadic tribe, which led to a displacement of races, and the Scythians and Kushanas pushed into India about the first century of the Christian era. Later the Huns also began migrating towards the west and divided themselves into two branches, one moved towards the Volga and the other to Oxus. The branch that moved towards the Volga played havoc with the Roman Empire.
The branch that moved towards the Oxus valley became very powerful during the fifth century A.D. They are called Ephthalites after the name of the ruler’s family. The Greeks called them White Huns. In 484 A.D. the Huns became extremely powerful under their chief Akhschounwar and defeated and killed Firuz, the Sassanian ruler of Persia and occupied Persia. The Huns built up a vast empire with their main capital at Balkh.
Towards India they occupied Gandhara after crossing the Hindukush but their further progress into India was checked by Skandagupta about A.D. 464. But either at the end of the fifth or beginning of the sixth century A.D. the Hun Chief Toramana conquered a large part of western India and penetrated as far as Eran, i.e., Saugar district of Madhya Pradesh. The Hun conquest must have taken place not long after Budhagupta’s time, if not towards the end of his reign.
We have no definite evidence about the Huns, yet we come across two names Toramana and Mihirkula who are generally taken as Hun Chiefs. Toramana coins testify to his foreign origin and to his rule over parts of U.P., Rajputana, Punjab and Kashmir. Dr. Majumdar suggests that Toramana was probably connected with the Hun ruling family of Gandhara. According to a Jaina work Kuvalayamala Toramana got converted into Jainism and lived on the bank of the river Chandrabhaga, i.e., Chenab.
Toramana was succeeded by Mihirgula or Mihirkula. According to Hiuen T-Sang Mihirkula’s capital was Sakala, i.e., Sialkot and he ruled over India. Rajatarangini refers to the Mihirkula as a very powerful ruler of Kashmir and Gandhara, who conquered Southern India and Ceylon. Rajatarangini’s reference to Mihirkula’s inhuman cruelty agrees to the narrative of Hiuen T-Sang but the period assigned to his rule in Rajatarangini is too remote to possibly be accepted as a historically reliable source.
From the Chinese ambassador Sung-Yun to the Court of Hun King at Gandhara, i.e., Mihirkula, the Hun King, according to this Chinese source, was cruel and vindictive and perpetuated most barbarous activities. He worshipped Demon and did not believe in the law of Buddha. He had 700 war elephants and was constantly with war.
Sometime later a Greek named Cosmas in his Christian Topography wrote that “Higher up in India, that is further to the north, are the White Huns. The one called Gollas (Mihirgula) when jointly to a war takes with him no fewer than two thousand elephants and a great force of cavalry. He is the lord of India, and oppressing the people, forces them to pay tribute”.
He calls the river Indus as river Phison and remarks that this river separates all the countries of India from the Country of the Huns. Dr. Majumdar thinks that Sung-Yun, the Chinese ambassador, visited the court of Mihirkula. In the interval between the time of Sung-Yun and Cosmas the Hun suzerainty must have been extended over Indian kings for Comas calls him “Lord of India”. Hiuen T-Sang also remarks that Mihirguala subdued whole of India.
It is presumed that Mihirkula was a powerful ruler who, according to an inscription dated A.D. 530 -extended his sovereignty upto Gwalior. It appears from all accounts that Mihirkula was a powerful king who overran a large part of northern India. But Hun ruler Mihirkula was not destined to enjoy his sovereignty for long. He was checked and defeated by Yashodharman.
In the Mandasor inscription Yashodharman claims that respect was paid to him even by the powerful king Mihirkula whose head had never (previously) been brought to the humility of obeisance to any other save (the God) Sthanu (Siva) and embraced by whose arms the mountain of Snow (the Himalayas) falsely pride itself on being styled as inaccessible fortress.
Reference to the mountain of snow indicates that he ruled over Kashmir and the adjoining regions. He must have been advancing into the interior of India when he was defeated by Yashodharman, a local Chief of Malwa. But this defeat did not destroy the power of Mihirkula and soon after Yashodharman’s death be reappeared in the scene.
This time he had to face Narasimhagupta Baladitya. But long account of praise of Baladitya who defeated Mihirkula, Dr. R. C. Majumdar considers, it an overstatement. The only provisional conclusion that may be arrived at is that Baladitya defeated Mihirkula which crushed the Hun supremacy in India. The Huns no doubt existed in small principalities even after this defeat but they no longer appear to have been any disturbing element in the Indian history.
In the coins of the late Guptas there is reference to the defeat inflicted upon the Huns by the Maukhari King Ishanvarman. Dr. Majumdar thinks that the Maukhari King fought as a feudatory of the Gupta emperor Baladitya in the latter’s campaign against Mihirkula. It is true that the Maukharis issued coins in imitation of the Hun Kings and ruled over the territories which formerly were under the Huns. But the Maukharis did not have any war against the Huns independently.
The collapse of the Hun political power was not simply caused by the defeat and death of Toramana and his son Mihirkula but it was mainly due to the crushing blow it received from the confined forces of the Turks and the Persians in the Oxus region which was the central authority of the Huns. The groups of Huns that continued to live in India were gradually absorbed in the Indian Society.
Mihirkula was a Siva-worshipper as is indicated by his coins. In the Gwalior inscription there is mention of Mihirkula’s causing Sun Temple to be built. He might as well have been a worshipper of the Sun. But there are evidences of his persecution of the Buddhists.
The short rule of the Huns in India was not without significance. While politically the Hun invasions were largely responsible for the downfall of the Gupta Empire, their stay in India after they had lost their political power, introduced a new racial element in the Indian society. They married Indian wives and gradually got absorbed in the Hindu Society.
The origin of the Rajputs can be traced from the Huns. Dr. Smith mentions that of the thirty-six Rajput clans one was called by the name Hun. Havell also points out that the numerous ramifications of the Rajput clans of the present day are the result of the assimilation of foreign elements by the Indo-Aryan society.
Culturally the Huns were a very backward people, cruel and ruthless. Their invasions of India proved to be destructive of works of art, monasteries, temples and monuments. They destroyed many specimens of Gupta art, burnt valuable records, proved themselves to be a curse to the cultural life of the time.
As Havell remarks, “The strong infusion of Hun blood lowered the high ethical standards of Indian Tradition and favoured the growth of many of the vulgar superstitions which were never countenanced by the Philosophers and spiritual teachers of Aryavarta.” The Huns were also responsible for importing despotism in the political life of India. According to Havell, “Despotism was of Tartar or. Mongolian creation; and most probably the Indians borrowed it from the Mongoloid Huns”.
The Hun invasions under Toramana and Mihirkula must have contributed in large measure to the disintegration of the Gupta Empire, decline of which had started under Budhagupta. Centrifugal forces had already been in action under him and the feudal chiefs and viceroys, high State official and royal princes gradually began to assume power and authority, ultimately helping them to become fully independent. From the inscriptions of the time it is known that it was a period of unrest and disruption. The Huns from the north-west and the Vakatakas from the Deccan invaded the Gupta Empire.
Malwa had been experiencing troubles due to the invasions of the Huns and the Vakatakas. The hold of the Guptas over that region naturally became weak. A local chief Yashodharman took full advantage of this weakness and assumed independent authority and became sufficiently powerful to stem the tide of the Hun invasion by defeating the Hun chief Mihirkula and to defy Gupta suzerainty.
Very little is known of the early life and career of Yashodharman. According to some scholars Yashodharman had some connection with family of the feudatory chiefs who were ruling in Malwa or parts of it. But till his rise into prominence we practically know nothing about him. About his military achievement, however, we have records inscribed in duplicate on two stone pillars at Mandasor.
From this Prasasti we know that Yashodharman’s suzerainty was acknowledged over the vast area bounded by the Himalayas in the north, Mahendragiri in the Ganjam district in the South, the Brahmaputra in the east and the Arabian Sea in the west. He is credited with conquering territories which were conquered neither by the Guptas, nor by the Huns.
The Hun chief had to pay respect to his feet. All this naturally raises the presumption that Yashodharman was the undisputed master of Northern India but Dr. Majumdar remarks that we should hardly be justified in regarding Yashodharman as one sole undisputed monarch of Northern India.
But he concedes some truth in the assertion made by the eulogist in the Mandasor inscription and says that “we can well believe that he defeated Mihirkula” and that he rose into distinction and earned popularity by defeating the Hun chief Mihirkula and stemming the tide of the Hun inroads into the interior Of India. This must have added to his power and prestige which enabled him to expand his dominions at the cost of the Gupta Empire.
It has not been possible from the available evidence to determine the limits of his dominions. In any case he could not finally annihilate the Gupta Empire nor could he destroy the power of Mihirkula. It was Baladitya, the Gupta monarch, who finally crushed the power of Mihirkula. “Yashodharman”, remarks Dr. Majumdar, rose and fell like a meteor between A.D. 530 and 540, and his empire perished with him.
The assumption of independence by Yashodharman was a signal for other feudatories of the Guptas to assume independent status. Of these, the Maukharis and the latter Guptas were specially important. They played an important part in Indian history later on. The Maukhari’s who ruled as feudatories of the Guptas in Bihar and U.P. gradually rose into power and strength, and ultimately founded an independent kingdom. The latter Guptas who were distinct from the imperial Guptas but related with them and were at first feudatories of the Guptas but like the Maukharis ultimately became independent in Malwa and Magadha.
Likewise Vanga, i.e., South and East Bengal shook off the suzerainty of the Guptas, the gradual process as in the cases of other feudatories. Vinayagupta, a feudatory of the Guptas in East Bengal, assumed the title of Maharaja and later made himself independent. That the Vanga assumed independence is testified by the assumption of the title Maharajadhiraja by the ruler of Vanga and striking of gold coins as did the Gupta emperors.
Gauda, i.e., West Bengal also assumed prominence at that time and a Maukhari Chief claims as having defeated them. The latter Guptas are also credited with defeating the people who lived on the sea shore. According to Dr. Majumdar, the reference is to the people of West Bengal.
We may conclude that the example of Yasodharman was imitated by other feudatories and there was legend, Yasodharman himself was probably the first victim to perish in the conflagration that his own action had brought about.
The Gupta Administration:
There is a sharp difference of opinion as to whether the Gupta administrative system was originated by the Gupta rulers themselves or was a continuation of the traditional system of administration that descended down the years from the time of the Mauryas. According to Dr. R. D. Banerjee the inscriptions of the Gupta emperors do not show any trace of the retention of the old Maurya official terms.
But Dr. R. N. Sabtore, the Gupta administration, was not genuinely original; it was founded on the historical traditions of the past although improved and adapted to suit contemporary conditions. The Gupta administration assumed a very imposing form due to the vastness of its structure comprising the (i) King, (ii) Council of Ministers, (iii) Great Assembly, (iv) Feudatories, (v) State departments, (vi) Bureaucracy from Centre down to villages.
Dr. R. C. Majumdar also observes that the Imperial Guptas continued the traditional machinery of bureaucratic administration with nomenclature mostly borrowed from earlier times.
During the Gupta period monarchy was the prevailing form of government but there were a few republics still in existence in the Punjab and Rajasthana such as, the Madras or Madrakas in the Central Punjab, Kunindas in the Kangra Valley, Yaudheyas in South-eastern Punjab, the Arjunayanas in Agra-Jaipur, and the Malavas in Central Rajasthan. In Central India there were the Sanakanikas, Prarjunas, Kakas and the Abhiras. But by the beginning of the fifth century A.D. these republics disappeared.
Much information about the Gupta administration has been found in the account of the Chinese pilgrim Fa-hien, contemporary inscriptions and the royal rescripts. Administration was divided into two parts: the Central Government and the Provincial Government.
Central Government: King:
The Gupta emperor was at the top of the administration of the entire empire. From the Allahabad inscription we find that the emperor is described as Achintya Purusha, that is incomprehensive Being, Dhariada-Varunendrantaka -sama, i.e., equal to Kuvera, Varuna, Indra, Yama, also as Loka-dhama-deva, i.e., God on earth etc.
Thus the king was regarded as a divinity. But the Gupta kings did not claim any infallibility; on the contrary, they had to respect the elders, study the art of government and cultivate righteousness. Haughty, tyrannical or irreligious ruler was held in contempt. An ideal king was to be both physically and mentally fit for doing the duties of administration.
The Yuvaraja or the Crown Prince would help the king in his administrative work and had his separate civil and military establishment and could even issue orders to the Provincial governments with the consent of the king. Where the king was old, the Crown Prince carried the major burden of administration.
The Gupta emperors assumed high-sounding titles such as Maha rajadhiraja, Prithvipala, Paramabhattaraka, Paramesvara, etc. The emperor had diverse powers which may be enumerated as political administrative, military and judicial. Politically all powers emanated from the king.
He was the highest executive and in that capacity appointed all governors and important civil and military officers. All of these appointees had to work under the direct orders and supervision of the king. He was sometimes his own commander-in-chief and all lands within the empire were his property.
Unclaimed property would escheat to the king. He was also the highest judge. They also nominated their successors in some cases. For instance, Samudragupta was nominated as his successor by Chandragupta I and likewise Kumaragupta I nominated Skandagupta as his successor. Such nominations were, however, not the rule. Succession to the throne was hereditary.
Limitations to the Powers of the King:
The Gupta King was the repository of all powers of the State no doubt, but this did not mean that he was a tyrannical despot. He was theoretically the unquestioned authority over all departments of the government but in practice his powers were limited by the
(i) traditional ideal of Kingship which meant honouring the age-old customs and solicitousness for the well-being of the people,
(ii) The Council of Ministers, that is, Mantriparishad, the high ministers, etc. also put a check in the powers of the king.
Although it was perfectly within the rights of the king to either accept or reject the decision of the Mantriparishad or of the high ministers, yet it will be reasonable to conclude that the king would not normally go against the decision of the Mantriparishad or the high ministers. This is evident from the existence of an officer named Kanchuki or Chamberlain who was a liaison between the King and the Mantriparishad. There was a special class of officers called Amatyas who had to keep the king in touch with the decisions of the Council of Ministers.
The Council of Ministers, i.e., the Mantriparishad at times acted as the Council of Regency. There was possibly a Great Assembly which was consulted by the king on special occasions. Such an assembly was summoned by Chandragupta I when he declared Samudragupta as his successor. In the Great Assembly members of the royal family, the councillors and the counsellors, i.e., the Mantrins were summoned.
Among other high officials at the centre we have references to Mahabaladhikrita (Commander-in-Chief), Mahadandanayaka (General), Mahapratihara (Chief door-keeper), Sandhvigrahika (Minister of Peace and war or foreign minister), Mahasvapati (Chief Cavalry Officer), Mahapilupati (Chief Officer-in-Charge of elephants), etc. Kalidasa refers to three ministers, namely, the chief Minister, Minister of Finance, Minister of Law and Justice. According to Kalidasa the ministers were expected to be experts in their respective duties.
The Gupta emperors employed a vast number of officers for the efficient administration of the empire. They continued the traditional machinery of bureaucratic administration with nomenclature mostly borrowed from the Maurya times.
Apart from the high officials referred to above the Gupta emperors employed a large number of officers to carry on the administration of the country with efficiency. The link between the Central and Provincial government was maintained through officials called Kumar- amatyas and ayuktas.
We have come across officers called amatyas during the Maurya period. The name Kumaramatyas who belonged to the class of high imperial officers and to personal staff of the emperors—the Crown Prince arid other—must have been the creation of the Gupta emperors. The origin of the Ayuktas may be traced to Yutas of Asokan inscription.
Ayuktas were sometimes entrusted with the task restoring the wealth of the kings conquered by the emperor and sometimes placed in charge of districts or metropolitan towns. Among other civil officers the more important were the Rajapurusha, Rajanyaka, Kanchuki, Rajamatya Mahasamanta.
The revenue department of the Gupta administration was not separated from the Police administration. The important officials of these departments were the Upasika, Chauradharanika, Dasapara- dhika, Dandika, Dandapashika, Kothapala, Angaraksha, etc.
Mahakshapatalika was probably the Great .Keeper of Records. High officials like Kumaramatya, Upasika, Dandapashika, etc., each had his separate Adhikarana. If we take the term to mean “a court” as Dr. Sabtore has done, then it is probable that these officers also performed judicial duties. . Kalidasa refers to Dharmasthana, Dharma- dhikaras which most probably were judicial courts.
Punishment during the Gupta rule was very lenient. There was no system of capital punishment. Criminals were fined in proportion to the nature of the crime committed. Even in cases of repeated attempts at wicked rebellion only the right hand of the offender was cut off. In cases of theft the thieves when caught were handed over to the guards called Rakshinas.
It may be pointed out here that the testimony of Fa-hien to the effect that the Gupta emperor ruled without decapitation is not borne out by literary evidence. Vishakadatta in Mudrarakshasa describes how Charudatta was condemned to death for murdering Vasanatasena and led in a procession to the Vadhyasthana, i.e., place of execution. In the same work there is also description of how Arthapala was condemned to death for stealing by a very cruel method of crushing under the feet of an elephant. Scoring out of eyes, trial by ordeal of fire, etc., were also mentioned in the literature of the time.
From epigraphic records of the Gupta period we come to know of the administrative divisions of the Empire from the apex to the base. The empire was divided into provinces called Bhuktis, Pradeshas and Bhogas. We have references to Ainikina Pradesha, Nagarabhukti, Tirabhukti, Puudravardhanabhukti, Uttaramandalabhukti.
Provinces were divided into Vishayas which were again subdivided into Vithi under which there were unions of villages called Pethaka and Santaka. Smaller divisions of a village were called Agrahara and Patha.
Provinces called Bhuktis, Pradeshas and Bhogas had been placed under officers variously known as Uparikas, Goptas, Bhogikas, Bhogapati, etc. In some cases Princes or Rajaputras were also appointed as governors with such title as maharajaputra devabhattaraka, a prototype of Kumara viceroys of Asoka’s time.
Province which was divided into districts called Vishayas were ruled over by officers called Kumaramatyas, Vishayapatis at Ayuktas. The special characteristic of the Gupta administration was the principle of decentralisation. The district officers, as we know from the inscriptions, were nominated by the provincial governors, although in exceptional cases such appointments might be made by the emperor himself.
There are references to a host of provincial officers who had the provincial governor in carrying on the administration efficiently. These officers were heads of different branches of military and civil administration of the Province. At the head of the Provincial army was the Baladhikaranika, the officer-in-charge of the Police administration was Dandapashika. Likewise Audrangika was the tax-collector; Vinaya-sthitisthapaka was the officer-in-charge of law and order. Pustapala (record keeper), Tadayukta (Treasury Officer) were other important provincial officers.
The District Officer called Vishayapati was assisted in his administrative work by Saulkikas (Tax-Collector), Gaulmika (Officer-in- charge of forts and forests), Dhruvadhikaranikas (Land Revenue Officers), Mahattaras (Village elders), Gramikas (Village Headmen), Bhandagaradhikrita (Treasurer), Ralavataka (Accountant), etc. The district archive was called Akshapatala which was under an officer called Mahakshapatalika. There are also references to Lekhakaa (writers), Karanika (clerks), etc.
A number of inscriptions from North Bengal refer to the association of popular element in the provincial, district and village administration as well as in the municipal administration in towns. The business of sale of the government land was carried out by the prince- viceroy, the district officer in cooperation with the Municipal Boards, District office, and at other times by the astakuladhi Karana with the village headman, house-holders, etc. What was actually the astakuladhikara meant is not clear but it is said to have been headed by the village elders.
In cities and towns the Municipal Board consisted primarily of four members: the President of the Guild, the chief merchant, chief artisan and the chief scribe. This special aspect of association of popular element with local administration was one of the boldest and unique experiments of the Guptas. The seals recovered at Vaisali probably indicate the functioning of District and Municipal Boards functioning in North Bihar under the Guptas. The evidences of North Bengal inscriptions and of the Vaisali Seals raise presumption that similar arrangements existed also in other provinces.
The Gupta Emperors realised the need of showing generosity to certain conquered States both monarchical and republic. This is due to their political far-sightedness that distant conquests were not made- integral part of the dominions under their direct rule. These states were allowed to retain their independence under the Gupta imperial suzerainty.
We have seen how Samudragupta left a number of conquered States in a position of subordinate independence. In later times similar instances were not wanting. The Parivrajaka-Muharajas ruling in the region now called Bundelkhand issued land-grants recognising the suzerainty of the Gupta Emperors. It may, however, be mentioned that the status of feudatories varied and the quantum of their independence differed according to their relative strength in comparison with the imperial authority.
Details of judicial administration during the Gupta period are lacking except in so far as there are references in the account of Fa-hien. We have already seen that the traditional powers of the emperor included highest judicial function. This is also borne out by Katyayana. We have also noted the high officials of different grades had some judicial function to perform in their Adhikarana.
The sources of revenue of the Guptas have been recorded in different inscriptions of the time. An important source of revenue was land-tax (Udranga). According to Fleet Uparika was a tax levied on cultivators who had no proprietary right on land. Fines realised from the offenders, salt tax, tax on sale and purchase, tax on the produce of the mines. Some villages were granted exemption from payment of taxes and forced labour. From this it may be deduced that forced labour was resorted to at that time.
From what we have known about the administration of the Gupta empire we may unhesitatingly conclude that the Gupta administration was well organised both at the Centre and the Provinces. The Central administration was linked up with the village administration through a hierarchy of officials. One special characteristic of the Gupta administration was the decentralisation of the government. The administration of justice was a happy blend of law and humanity.
The Gupta kings were followers of Vishnu and his consort Lakshmi. But there are references to their worshipping gods like, Siva, Devi (Durga) and Kartikeya. There was no sectarianism among the Gupta rulers. Surya cult appears to have become popular during the Gupta period and the Gupta rulers patronised the Surya cult as is evident from the Indore copper plate of Skandagupta.
According to Dr. Dikshitar the Gupta emperors were followers of orthodox Hinduism and their religious beliefs cannot be described by sectarian definition as Vaishnavism, Saivism, etc. The Gupta rulers were tolerant of other religions such as Buddhism, Jainism, etc. and even made endowments to the Buddhists. Chandragupta II endowed a Buddhist Vihara at Sanchi for the maintenance of the Buddhist Bhikshus.
The Gupta Culture:
More than two centuries of Gupta supremacy may be easily regarded as the most glorious epoch in Indian history. The period saw a wonderful outburst of intellectual activity in art, science and literature which has been variously called Gupta Golden Age, Classical Age as well as the Periclean Age of Indian history. It was Barnett who remarked that the Gupta period is in the annals of classical India almost what the Periclean Age is in the history of Greece. Dr. V. A. Smith compares Gupta cultural achievements with those of the Elizabethan period of English history.
Politically, the Gupta age was one of integration in the history of India. After more than three centuries of political disintegration and foreign domination northern India rallied herself to political unity under the far-sighted, a man of culture and a patron of arts and letters, he (Samudragupta) became the symbol and architect of a mighty creative urge among the people which, while drawing vitality from tradition and race memory, took on a new shape and power, which found expression in succeeding generations in an intellectual and symbols of tremendous national upsurge. Life was never happier, our culture never more creative than during the Golden Prime of India.
In a stagnant civilisation intellectual horizon seldom gets a chance of expansion and creative urge ceases to exist. It is through interaction of diverse cultures that newer and more virile culture emerges. The series of foreign invasions and foreign domination for about three centuries resulted in a comingly cultures which assumed a new shape and power. This new vitality was to be witnessed in the outburst of intellectual activity during the Gupta age.
Conquests of Samudragupta and Chandragupta II and the consolidation of the empire brought about that imperial peace which made possible the progress of culture and civilisation. The new era of political greatness reached maturity under Chandragupta II and the cultural regeneration that followed won the hearts of the people.
Added to these was the liberal patronage extended to scholars and litterateurs by the Gupta emperors. Coins of Samudragupta contain illustration of his love of fine arts music, while the couch type coins of Chandragupta II suggested his artistic and intellectual temperament.
The Gupta period witnessed political unity and prosperity which combined with the great patronage extended to Sanskrit literature and learning resulted in the flourishing of every branch of knowledge. In fact, this period produced the best authors in almost all branches of literature as well as in sciences like Astronomy and Mathematics.
This is borne out by the fact that dramatists and poets like Kalidasa, Bhavabhuti, Bharabi and Magha, prose writers like Dandin, Subandhu and Bana, grammarians like Chandra, Vamana and Bhartrihari, philosophers like Gandapada, Kumarilbhatta and Prabhakara, rhetorician like Bhamaha, lexicographer like Amara, astronomers like Aryabhatta, Varahamihira and Brahmagupta flourished during this period.
Dr. V. A. Smith who compares the Gupta period with the Elizabethan age of the English history aptly remarks that as the brilliance of Shakespeare alone outshone all the lesser authors of the time in England so did Kalidasa outshone all other lesser lights of contemporary India.
Again even if Shakespeare were not born the Elizabethan age would have gone down in history as a golden age of English literature, similarly even if there were no works of Kalidasa, the Gupta age would still be regarded as a golden age of literature. Such had been the variety and volume of literary and scientific work done by scholar in the Gupta age.
At one time it was held by some scholars including Maxmuller that the Gupta period saw a revival of Sanskrit language and literature. This view has been now discarded as incorrect. For the Sanskrit language and literature had never been altogether eclipsed in the ages preceding that of the Guptas. Its influence continued to exist without break despite use of Prakit during the Maurya period.
During the Kushana period Asvaghosa wrote in Sanskrit. Bhasa in his Pratima Nataka used Sanskrit. Thus it is evident that Sanskrit continued to be used without break during the periods preceding the Gupta age. The Allahabad inscription and the Mandasor inscription show a highly developed poetic style which could not have been attained except through a continuous process of progress. Hence to say that the Gupta age witnessed a revival of Sanskrit is not factually correct.
During the Gupta period full development of the Puranas and the final, phase of the Smriti literature were reached. Probably, the Epics, the Ramayana and the Muhabharata, also took their present shape during the Gupta period. The Puranas, eighteen in number, were written long before the Gupta Age, originally seems to have meant “old narrative”.
Some of the eighteen Puranas, particularly the Vayu Purana, had been written down in its existing form during the Gupta period. The Puranas, like the Epics, were originally composed by bards. Later on these fell into the hands of the Brahmanicaf priests who added a good deal of new matters to them and took more or less a sectarian character.
The importance of the Puranas was great in the development of Hinduism and cannot be over-estimated for they give us an insight into the Hindu mythology, idol worship, Hindu theism, Pantheism, Love of God, Hindu’ Philosophy, Superstitions, Ethics, etc. According to Pargitar the Puranas were originally composed in literary Prakrit but were re-written in Sanskrit later on.
Dr. Hazra has shown that different sections of the Puranas dealing with orthodox rites and customs were added to some of the different Puranas at different stages of the Gupta period.
Some of the Dharmasastras which definitely belonged to the 3upta Period were Smritis of Katayana, Devala, Vyasa. It was during the closing years of the Gupta Age, that Bhasya, i.e., commentaries on different Smritis began.
The principal systems of Philosophy of the period were those of Isvarakrishna’s Sankhya-Karika, which expounded Sankhya system of Philosophy, a work called Paramarthasaptatic written by Vasubandhu was a criticism of Shasti-tantra. Gandapada better known as Siddhasena Divakara was the Paramguru (teacher’s teacher) of Sankara and the first systematic exponent of monistic Vedanta. Bhartihari’s work Vakyapadiya of this period has a great affinity with those of Sankara.
Kalidasa was the most brilliant luminary in the literary firmament of the Gupta age who shed enduring lusture on the secular Sanskrit literature. He was the greatest poet and dramatist that ever lived in India and his works have been enjoying a unparalleled reputation and popularity through ages, which remain undiminished even today.
Unfortunately we have no definite idea about the time in which he flourished nor any knowledge about his life. Scholars differ as to the date of Kalidasa but the general opinion is in favour of regarding him as the court poet of a Gupta Emperor, most probably Chandragupta II Vikramaditya, tradition ascribes Nabaratna, i.e., nine gems of literature with King Vikrama of whom Kalidasa was the most resplendent.
But most scholars think that all the nine gems could not have been Kalidasa’s contemporaries. Dr. Smith says “Although, it is difficult to fix the dates of the Great Poet’s career with precision, it appears to be probable that he began to write either late in the reign of Chandragupta II or early in the reign of Kumaragupta II. The traditional association of his name with Raja Bikram of Ujjain is thus justified by sober criticism”. A close study of his works shows that Kalidasa was a pious Brahmin of Ujjain and a liberal Saiva by belief, who had acquired a knowledge of the various branches of Brahmanical learning.
He was familiar with Sankhya, Yoga, Dharmasastras, Kamasutra, Natya-Sastra, Vyakarana, Jyotihsastra, even fine arts, music and painting. His versatile genius, his acquaintance with Court etiquette, his shrewdness, his modesty, not without a due sense of self-respect, and his poetic talent are very well reflected in his works which are all permeated with a feeling of ease and contentment, perfect satisfaction with the existing order of things.
The greatest and best work of Kalidasa is his drama Sakuntala which is considered not only the best in Sanskrit literature, but is the literature of the world. Two of his earlier works were Malavikagnimitram and Vikramovarsiya. Two of his epics Raghuvamsa and Kumarasambhava and his lyrical poem Meghaduta are universally regarded as gems of Sanskrit poetry. Kalidasa is unquestionably the finest master of Indian poetic style and both in drama and poetry he stands unsurpassed and unrivalled even today. He is ini mitable in the use of the metaphor and simile.
Two other remarkable dramatists that flourished during the period are Sudraka, author of Mrichchakatikam (The Little Clay Cart), and Visakadatta, author of Mudrarakshasa. Visakadatta is also supposed to have been the author of another remarkable drama named Devi-Chandraguptam. Bharavi, author of Kiratarjuniyam and Sisupalbadha also flourished during this age. Dr. Smith states that “the Laws of Manu, as we now know the book, may be dated from about the beginning of the Gupta period”.
Evolution of the fables as a form of Sanskrit literature reached its fullness during the Gupta period and its best example in Panchatantra. The author was Vishnusarma. The book not only earned wide popularity all over India but became a distinct part of the world literature through its translation in more than fifty languages and with about two hundred versions.
In India three versions can be traced in :
(i) Brihatkathamanjari and Kathasaritsagara,
(ii) Tantrakhyayika, and
Another work of fable form belonging to the period is Gunadya’s Brihatkatha written in Paisachi prose.
Among the romantic story writers mention may be made of Dandin who is supposed to have flourished during this period. His Kavyadarsa and Dasakumarcharita demonstrate his power of characterisation and daring realistic scenes of life in easy style full of wit and humour. Varahamihira was a great versifier who used a large number of Sanskrit metres in his Brihat-Samhita and Brihat-jataka.
Although lexicography in India can be traced back to Vedic texts, yet lexicon in the real sense of the term can be noticed for the first time in Amar’s Namalinganusasana usually called the Amarakosa. He was also responsible for beginning contributing to medical lexicons like those of Dhanvantari.
In the field of sciences the Gupta age is adorned by the illustrious names of Aryabhatta and Varahamihira. Varahamhira in his Panchasiddhantika preserved the account of five astronomical works of his time some of which, according to scholars, indicate a knowledge of Greek and Roman astronomy. The fair works preserved in Varahamihira’s work Panchasiddhantika are Romaka Siddhanta, Paulisa Siddhanta, Vasistha Siddhanta, Paitimaha Siddhanta, and Surya Siddhanta.
From Varahamihira we come across the names of several other astronomers of the time such as, Lata, Simha, Pradyumna, Vijayanandin, and the famous Aryabhatta. Brahmagupta was another great astronomer and mathematician of this age. He anticipated Newton in the theory of gravitation.
Aryabhatta, besides having been an astronomer, was one who first treated Mathematics as a distinct discipline and dealt with different branches of the subject including algebraic identities. He was also, the first to hold that the earth is a sphere rotating on its axis and that eclipses were the shadow of earth falling on the Sun or the Moon. Aryabhatta’s unique contribution was the system of decimal now used all over the world.
Besides the subjects mentioned above, there were other fields in which the period witnessed a remarkable development. Vatsyayana in his Kamasutra dealt with the art of love. Likewise works on subjects like architecture, music, dancing, painting, etc. were also produced during this period.
Harishena, the general and foreign minister of Samudragupta, was also the royal panegyrist who was responsible for composing the Allahabad Prasasti inscribed on an Asokan Pillar at Allahabad in poetic form.
The Gupta Art and Architecture:
In art, architecture, sculpture, painting and terra-cotta the Gupta period witnessed unprecedented activities and development all over India.
In architecture the period marks a parting of ways. While the period saw the culmination and exhaustion of the earlier tendencies and movements in architectural types it ushered in a new age which is particularly noticed in the architectural style of the temples. In fact, it initiated a creative and formative period for the foundation of a typical Indian temple architecture.
In the rock-cut architecture, the conventional types reached their culmination. The rock-cut caves mostly Buddhist, but also Hindu and Jaina, had the conventional two parts: the proper shrine called the Chaitya and the monastery, i.e., the Vihara or Sangharama, saw the culminating point of development. The most notable of these are to be found in Ajanta, Ellora, Aurangabad (Hyderabad), and Bagh (Central India).
Brahmanical rock-cut shrines although lesser in number than those of the Buddhists, were not rare either. Reference may be made in this connection to the Udaygiri series of shrines near Bhilsa in Bhopal State. The shrines are both rock-cut Brahmanical shrines, and are also to be found at Badami in the Bijapur district. Jaina caves are to be found at Badami as also at Aihole.
Structural buildings in altogether new style was initiated. Formerly structural buildings, temples, etc., were constructed of perishable materials like wood, bamboo, etc., but during this age with the application of principle of architecture and pre-planning the Indian architects began to build monuments in permanent materials like bricks, dressed stones, etc.
Contemporary epigraphic evidence refers to the building of numerous temples and cities with lofty edifices with the new materials. Flat-roofed temples, temples with Sikharas, rectangular temples, circular and square temple survive today as specimens of the new architectural style and system. Sanchi temple, Parvati temple, Meguti temple, Baigram temples may be mentioned in this connection.
The temples at Sanchi, Tigawa, and Eran are the best preserved among the structural temple of the period. The most well- known Sikhara temple is that of Dasavatara at Deogarh. Brick temple of Bhitargao in Kanpur may be referred to as one of the new structural temples built with the new material, bricks.
The allied art of sculpture of the Gupta period had human figure as its pivot. At Mathura and Amaravati human figures of men and women around whole at Sanchi and Bharut vegetal world find predominance. The art of this period indicates a deeper qualitatively meaningful transformation of human figures. The vegetal life also shows transformation. The most noteworthy features of the Gupta art are its elegance, simplicity of expression and its spiritual purpose.
Gupta art are its elegance, simplicity of expression and its spiritual purpose. A largeness of conception endows the human figure with a mental and physical discipline that discards the earthiness of Mathura and sensuousness of Vengi and elevates it to a state of experience of either a subtle spiritual or deeper rational or a sturdier and more vital existence. The face is lit up with this experience which is wisdom itself, which the eyes with drooping eyelids, instead of looking out into the visible world, seem to look within where everything is at rest in contemplative concentration.
It may be mentioned that the Gupta plastic conception had its birth at Mathura and spread to Sarnath, Sravasti, Prayag, and other places. At Sarnath the plastic conception of Mathura school with all its elegance reached perfection in figure of seated Buddha in Dharma-Chakra-Pravahthana attitude. The perfection is also noticed in a few specimens found in the figures of Siva, Kartikeya, etc., at Malwa, and partly noticed in the Durgamahishamardini and bust of Siva at Bhumara.
The Siva-Parvati relief at Kosam and the Ramayana panels at Deogarh are, however, good specimens of art although less refined and different in connection and elegance from the Sarnath School. Yet these are more homely and closer to day to day life. Reference may be made, in this connection, to similar homely specimens in the Brahmanical bas-reliefs at Chandimau. The quality of the Aihole reliefs is rather mediocre both in composition and plastic execution.
The art of painting, including terra-cotta and clay modeling, assumed a secular character during this period and became more popular than stone sculpture. Vatsayana’s work Kama-sutra includes painting as one of the sixty four Kalas, i.e., arts and Yasodhara, commentator of Vatsyana refers to Shadanga, i.e., six limbs of art: distinction of types (rupabheda), ideal proportions (pramanas), expression of mood (bhava), embodiment of charm (Lavany-yojana), points of view (Sadrisya) and preparation of colours (Varnakabhanga). All this and other references prove the intellectual ferment of the Gupta period and the detailed thinking about the theory and technique of painting.
The best specimens of painting of the period are to be found on the walls of the Ajanta caves, Bagh cave in Gwalior, Settannavasal temple at Puddukkottai and at Badami. Incidents of life of Buddha were the subject matter of the Gupta painters. The painting ‘Dying Princess’ in one Ajanta cave has earned the admiration of Burgess, Fergusson, Griffiths and many others. The Gupta art of painting has been praised by art critics for its brilliance of colour, richness of expression and delicacy of execution.
The artists of the Gupta age were experts in casting metals and making of copper statues. The wrought iron pillar at Delhi made at the time of Samudragupta is a marvel of metallurgical skill of the Gupta period artists.
Dr. R. D. Banerjee rightly remarks that Gupta art is really a renaissance due to the transformation of the ideals of the people of northern India in the fourth and the fifth centuries. This transformation was based on an assimilation of what was old, an elimination of what was exotic and foreign, and finally a systematic production of something entirely new and essentially Indian.
The coins of the Gupta period while furnish us with a lot of historical information show the artistic temperament, valiance, personality of the Gupta emperors. Both the gold and silver coins of the time give us a clear impression of the development of the currency system as well as the fineness of the coins and artistic representations of figures both human and religious on them.
Socio-Economic Condition under the Gupta:
According to Dr. K. N. Ghosal the Gupta Age was a period of Brahmanical reaction against ascendancy of Jainism and Buddhism. The age-old division of the society into four fundamental varnas seems to have shown a tendency towards intensification with the supremacy of the Brahmanas. The Buddhist and the Jaina reforms movement and the predominance received a direct check due to the Counter-Reformation by Brahmanical Hinduism.
On the evidence of Varahamihira’s Brihat-Samhita we know that different quarters were assigned to cities for the Brahmanas, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas, and the Sudras. But in spite of this stratification of the four Varnas according to the Smriti law, there were instances of Brahmanas and Kshatriyas adopting occupations of the lower varnas, that is, of the Vaisyas and Sudras and the Vaisyas and Sudras adopting the occupations of the higher varnas, that is, of the Brahmanas and Kshatriyas.
There are also examples of inter-marriages between varnas. In the Sanskrit literature of the period there are mentions of Brahmanas and Kshatriyas marrying daughters and even female slaves of courtesans. Smriti laws were thus followed not with unexceptionable rigidity.
Apart from the age-old four varnas there were numerous other mixed castes. Chandalas occupied the lowest rank in the society and they had to live outside the towns or villages. The Smriti laws laid down strict rules for avoiding pollution of other classes of the society by their contact.
Fa-hien bears testimony to the residence of the Chandalas outside the boundaries of towns and how they had to strike a piece of wood as a warning to others to keep away from them, when they would come to towns or market places. There were aboriginal tribes like the Sabaras, Pulindas, Kiratas, etc., who lived in forests of the Vindhyas, far removed from the Aryan society and practised reprehensible rites as offering human flesh to their deities and live on hunting.
In the Gupta Age there were certain changes in the Smriti laws about slaves. Katyayan puts greater emphasis with regard to the application of the rules of slavery to the higher classes of the society and in this respect he is more categorical than Yajnavalka and Narada. According to Katyana a Brahmana could not be reduced to slavery.
He also modifies the earlier rules relating to slavery by prescribing that in case of apostasy which a Kshatriya or a Vaisya was to be made a slave, a Brahmina was only to be banished. Sale or purhase of a Brahmana women was to be ipso facto annulled. According to Katyana a free woman marrying a slave would become a slave herself, but a child born of a free man and a slave woman would become free from slavery. The drama Mrichchakatikam also bears out the rules of slavery referred to above.
Marriage: Position of Women:
During the Gupta period the older Smriti laws relating to marriage remained practically unaltered. There was, however, a tendency to lower the marriageable age of girls and it was enjoined that girls must be given in marriage before attainment of puberty. Vatsayana’s view was, however, at variance with the Smriti laws of marriage.
From his work it appears that marriage both before and after attainment of puberty by girls was prevalent at that time. According to Vatsayana a young man could marry a girl of his choice by courtship or even by trickery and violence. Girls choosing their own husbands, i.e., Svayambara as prescribed by the Smriti laws is also mentioned by Vatsayana.
Brahmanical sacred law had from a long time before the Gupta period prohibited study and utterance of the Vedic mantras by women. But on the evidence of Vatsayana it is learnt that girls of high families, daughters of nobles and Princess acquired knowledge of the Sastras. Vatsayana mentions a long list of subsidiary branches of knowledge recommended for women.
Again referring to the qualifications of a good wife Vatsayana says that she should be sufficiently educated to frame family budget and regulate domestic expenditure. The virtues of a Hindu wife Vatsayana explained in greater details than in the Smritis, are self-restraint and service as also household management.
She ministers to the comforts of her husband at table; attends religious festivals, observes fast along with him. She serves her father-in-law and mother-in-law and obeys their commands. All these qualities remain as the hallmark of Hindu wives down to the present day.
During the Gupta Age the widows were required to follow the rules prescribed by the Smritis from earlier times. The widows had to live a life of strict celibacy, but according to Brihaspati she had to burn herself in the funeral pyre of her husband. In the Gupta Age the widow followed the earlier Smriti laws and lived a life of purity, fasts and vows.
She was also allowed to inherit her husband’s property. According to some writers the custom of Sati was highly praised while others condemned it. On the whole it may be said that during the Gupta Age the widows lived a chaste and pious life prescribed by the Smritis. Widow Remarriage was not forbidden although held in disfavour.
The system of female courtisans (ganika) was also prevalent during the Gupta period as of old and in certain temples Devadasis were retained. In the temple of Mahakala at Ujjain such girls were present during Kalidasa’s time.
The trend towards denigrating the status of women in society which began previously continued during the Gupta Age. Yet there were certain changes for the better. For examples, women’s right to property was recognised along with women molested by robbers and other anti-social persons. Women also exercised public rights as is exemplified by Prabhavati-Gupta’s ruling over the Vakataka Kingdom. Use of veils by women of high social standing while appearing in public seem to have been prevalent under the Guptas.
Literature of the Gupta Age as also the account of the Chinese traveler Fa-hien point to the high standard of living during that period. There are other evidences which prove the luxury and wealth of the people of the time. Jewels were used not only by the members of the royal family but also by others. Ornaments of various types, for the head, forehead, neck, ears, forearms, arms, waist, fingers, and legs were in use.
Garments of men and women had two distinct parts, for the upper and the lower parts of the body. Women had their bodices, petticoats, and winter cloak reaching the feet. From Amarakosa we come to know that high standard of cleanliness and comfort was maintained during the Gupta period. Scented hair oil, hair lotion, perfumes, etc., were presumably in use, for the formulas for their preparation are found in Amarakosa.
Rice, wheat, barley, pulses of different kinds, butter, oils, molasses, coarse sugar, fish, meat and liquor were taken as food and drink by the people of the time. Fa-hien’s remark that killing of animals, drinking wine, eating onions and garlic were unknown in the Middle Kingdom, i.e., the dominions under the direct rule of the Gupta emperor was an exaggeration. But it gives us a general impression of the Buddhistic influence on the life and habits of the people of the time.
People seem to have believed in omens, portents, spells and divination. Common people believed in superstitions. But intelligent and educated people, the kings and princes were above all such superstitious beliefs.
Contemporary literature gives us a picture of the gay life of the townsmen during the Gupta period. Works, both poetic and prose, describe the splendour and magnificence of many of the well-known cities and towns of the period. The nature of life was one of refined Epicureanism. Houses consisted of two parts, outer one for the males and reserved for their amorous enjoyment, and the inner one for the women of the family.
A garden of trees and flower plants was attached to every house. Pet birds, domestic animals were also kept by the householders of the city. The townsmen had their periodical enjoyments since as the Samajas, Ghatas, i.e., assemblies, social gatherings, public sports, drinking parties, etc. Every fortnight or every month the people assembled at the temple of Saraswati, the goddess of learning and arts.
During the Gupta period a highly cultured urban life was evolved. Even in daily life a high and refined, delicate and elegant art of toilets and cosmetics could be noticed. Doing of hair and scenting of the face, body and dress with aguru incense and other perfumes and powders and paste were prevalent. Indeed whatever was done to beautify the body and the soul during this period was raised to the standard of lalitakala or fine art in which simplicity, delicacy, refinement and elegance were the main watch words.
In the field of economy, the Gupta period witnessed a great progress in agriculture, industry, trade and commerce and banking. Agriculture was both intensive and extensive. Epigraphic evidence of cultivation that it was not easy to find or follow, uncultivated or unsettled land even for the purposes of charitable grant.
Grant of massive plots of land was an impossibility and small plots in different parts would be included in such grants if made. So great importance was attached to agriculture that grant of lands to educational institutions would require the institution to keep adequate labour and draught animals for cultivating the land given as grant.
In the Gupta Age there were guilds of various types. Guilds, called Srenis, were there for industry, trade and banking. We have references to guilds of merchants, artisans, traders, bankers, oilmen, weavers, etc., as well as federation of guilds of the same kind as- federation of artisans’ guild or of the bankers’ guilds.
The guilds used to receive deposits as trustees and pay stipulated amount to the beneficiaries. There were also irrevocable endowments to guilds for the benefit of Viharas and temples. These institutions were maintained out of the endowments made to the guild.
Extensive number of coins of gold, silver, and copper of the Gupta period reveal the fineness of the coins as well as the development of the currency system of the time.
Public utility works like the repair of dams, for example, of the Sudarsana lake, digging of wells, tanks, reservoirs of drinking water, lakes, building of temples with halls, causeways and laying of parks and gardens were undertaken during the Gupta Period.
Among the industries of the time mention may be made of textile industry which produced Silk, muslin, calico, linen, wool clothes. Amarakosa refers to various qualities of cloth, coarse and fine, cloth meant for making male and female garments. Dresses, both stitched and unstitched, were made at that time. Benares, Mathura, Pundra, i.e., North Bengal were specially noted for silk cloth and rare type of cotton cloth.
Metallurgy was also highly developed during this period. The iron Pillar of Chandra at Delhi is illustrative of this development. For manufacture of different medicine use of bowls and instruments of gold, silver, lead, copper, and bronze is recommended by Charaka. Ornaments of gold and silver with pearls and jewels set skillfully in order to have best colour effect and brightness. Ivory was in extensive use for manufacture of furniture, seals, etc. The specimens of sculpture and architecture of the time indicate a high degree of excellence attained in the stone-cutters’ job at that time.
Trade and commerce, both maritime and over land, used to be carried on with Ceylon, Indo-China, etc. A good deal of the material prosperity and high standard of living was due to the brisk trade, particularly carried on from the ports on the western and eastern coasts of India. Tamralipta was one of the most important ports for export of commodities to Ceylon and South-East Asian countries.
Religious movement during the Gupta period shows a positive swing towards concrete from abstract. The Vedic pantheon and sacrificial worship receded into the background and ceremonial worship of the images of Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahesvara (Siva) as well as other gods such as Surya, Kartikeya, Saraswati, etc., became popular.
Temples, sometimes very magnificent ones, were erected for the gods and goddesses mentioned above. But the old ideas of sacrificial worship of the Vedic Hinduism were retained by a progressively dwindling number of orthodox votaries. The transformation that took place in the Brahmanical religion led to the evolution of a new pantheon whose history and glory are told in the Puranas.
The characteristic features of the religious life of the period were, first, wide prevalence of the images of gods. The idea that was current is that worship and meditation are possible only when the Supreme Being is endowed with form. Thus iconographic evolution was a distinct trait of the period.
Secondly, another important characteristic feature of the period was the spirit of toleration among the followers of different religious sects. One aspect of this tolerant spirit was the attempt to establish the unity of different gods like Vishnu and Siva and to combine in a single iconographic motif the attributes of different gods. The very idea of the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Siva is an evidence of the same spirit, which is further displayed by regarding Buddha as an incarnation of Vishnu.
What was true of the Brahmanical Hinduism was also true of Buddhism and there was transformation of the austere moral code of the Mahayana Buddhism into Vajrayana and later approach of Buddhism nearer and nearer to new Hinduism helped Buddhism to be gradually absorbed by Hinduism. But the failure of Jainism to adapt itself to new ideas and environment prevented it from acquiring that popularity which Buddhism acquired within and without India.
During the Gupta period the religious condition in India assumed a complex character due to the prevalence of various religious sects side by side. But this at least proved the great spirit of religious toleration that characterised the period.
Some scholars, among whom Dr. Keith is most prominent, remark that the Gupta period signified a revival of Brahmanical Hinduism. But this view is only partially correct for although since the time of Asoka Buddhism became the predominant faith and continued to be the state religion for major part of the time, Hinduism did not vanish. It was only pushed into the background.
But with the coming of the Sungas to power Brahmanical Hinduism regained its position of pride and Pushyamitra who was a Brahmana himself celebrated Asvamedha sacrifices thereby reviewed the Brahmanical religion. This was also the case with the Kanvas and the Andhras.
Even before the Guptas, the Nagas popularised Brahmanical religion by holding ten Asvamedha sacrifices. But under the Gupta rulers Hinduism staged a fullest come back through the patronage it received from them. Yet it will be a mistake to think that there was any Hindu reaction since the Gupta rulers- extended toleration to other religions and religious sects.
It was after the reign of Skandagupta that decline of the Gupta empire began till by the middle of the 6ih Century A.D. (550 A.D.) the Gupta empire became extinct; Under Skandagupta s successors Purugupta, Narasimhagupta Baladitya, Kumaragupta-II, Vishnugupta, Budhagupta, Tathagatagupta, Bhanugupta etc., the Gupta empire broke up and on ramified parts different rulers related to the Gupta were ruling. Although the Gupta Empire broke up small families related to the Guptas were found to rule in some parts as local ruler’s upto the eighth Century A.D. The last King of the Gupta dynasty was Jivitagupta-II.
Causes of the Downfall of the Gupta Empire:
In the fourth century when the Roman Empire in the West was declining, in India the Gupta Empire, noted for its exceptional cultural advancement and dissemination, had emerged. Not since the days of the Mauryas had India been a united political power before the emergence of the Guptas, but in the fifth century decline had set in the Gupta Empire and it tottered to its fall by the middle of the sixth century.
The Gupta Empire which was built by the labour and genius of Samudragupta and Chandragupta-II and which had reached the highest watermark of cultural achievements under Chandragupta-II was on its decline from the end of the fifth century. The causes of the decline and break up of empires in India, whether the Maurya, Sultanate or the Mughal empire, show a family likeness.
The Gupta Empire also had similar causes behind its decline and fall. From the contemporary historical sources the causes of the fall of the Gupta empire may be mentioned as (i) the internal dissension in the royal family, (ii) rebellion of the feudatories, (iii) assumption of independence by the Provincial Satraps, (iv) foreign invasions, (v) lack of military and administrative abilities on the part of the later Gupta rulers.
(i) Decline of the Gupta Empire had set in, for all practical purposes, during the reign of Skandagupta. True, he had successfully constrained the Pushyamitra and the Huna menace but the jolt that the imperial fabric had received, loosened the enduring grit of the empire. While the forces of decay were at work, the princes of the royal blood engaged themselves in mutual conflict in furtherance of their selfish gains and even began to take sides with the struggle between the local rulers.
All this denigrated the power and prestige of the Gupta Empire which was soon parcelled out between the princes, local rulers, and high officials. Skandagupta’s wars to save the empire from external attacks had heavily told upon the finances of the government and the proof was found in the debasement of the gold coins of his as also in the lesser number of gold coins issued during his reign.
(ii) Removal of strong rule at the centre, and distinctly after Budhagupta brought the centrifugal forces in action and Kathiawar, Bundelkhand, North Bengal became virtually independent. The process of disintegration once set in began to run its course and when external invasions further weakened the empire break-up of the empire was simply a question of time.
(iii) With the growing weakness of the central authority due to struggle for succession among the princes of royal blood and personal inefficiency of the rulers, the feudatories of the Gupta empire began to raise the standard of rebellion and eventually tore off their local areas from the Gupta empire.
Yasodharman, a feudatory of the Gupta Empire in central India with his capital at Mandasor, was valiant soldier and a capable ruler who earned the fame of warding off the Huna invasion. He naturally made himself independent of the Gupta emperor and carved out a large dominion by conquest of northern India. His example emboldened other feudatories who began to follow his foot-steps and made themselves independent.
The Maukharis set up an independent Kingdom in Uttar Pradesh, the Maitrakas who were military governors of the Gupta emperors at Valabhi made themselves independent. A branch of this dynasty made itself independent in western Malwa. In the sixth century, that is, about the same time when other parts of the Gupta Empire were falling off South, West and East Bengal shook off Gupta sovereignty.
(iv) The greatest scourge of the Gupta Empire was the external invasion. Samudragupta in his statesmanship realised that the Vakatakas would be either of great service o. disservice to the Gupta empire and therefore left them unmolested during his Deccan campaign and Chandragupta-II went one step further to strengthen his power by entering into a marriage alliance with the Vakatakas.
But the prudent policy pursued by Samudragupta and Chandragupta-II was forsaken by the later Gupta rulers and during the reign of Budhagupta, Vakataka King Narendrasena invaded and exercised a great influence over Malwa-Kosala-Mekala and his orders were obeyed there. Malwa and Gujarat had later on been conquered by the Vakatakas.
The Vakatakas were not the only invaders from outside. The Huns had administered the most shattering blow to the Gupta Empire. Although their invasion during the reign of Skandagupta had been successfully warded off yet the Huns reappeared and carried on devastation in north-western and western India and Gandhara, Punjab, Malwa and Gujarat passed under their control.
Their progress towards Central India was successfully checked by Yashodharman of Mandasor. The Hun Chief Mihirkula was abjectly defeated at his hands. The last defeat of the Huns was at the hands of Narasimha- Gupta. The common opinion that the Hun invasion was the principal cause of the breakup of the Gupta Empire has been refuted by Dr. R. C. Majumdar.
According to him there is a general belief among historians that the Hun invasion was the principal cause of the downfall of the Gupta Empire. But it is difficult to subscribe to this view. The gates of India were successfully barred against the Huns throughout the fifth century A.D. In spite of temporary successes, first of Toramana and then of Mihirkula, the Huns never counted as a permanent factor in Indian politics save Kashmir and Afghanistan which lay far beyond the frontiers of the Gupta empire. So far as evidence goes, the death-blow to the Gupta Empire was dealt not by the Huns but by ambitious chiefs like Yasodharman.But it cannot be denied that the repeated Hun invasions had shaken the Gupta imperial fabric violently enough thereby making it possible for Yasodharman and other feudatories to administer the death blow to it.
(v) One of the contributory factors leading to the downfall of the Gupta empire was the competition among both the civil and military officials for furthering their own interest when foreign invasions had thrown the administration out of gear. Lack of discipline and sense of duty contributed the weakness of the administration which was certainly one of the contributory factors.
(vi) The Gupta emperors like Samudragupta, Chandragupta, and Skandagupta were patrons of Hinduism in a militant form. Celebration of Asvamedha is a point in illustration. But later Guptas had Buddhist leaning and even their names like Budhagupta, Tathagatagupta, etc., exemplified this. This transformation in religious attitude had its repercussion on the policy of the government and what had actually happened to the intense Buddhistic attitude of mind of Asoka, could be seen to some extent at least among later Gupta rulers.
If the story of Hiuen T-Sang that Baladitya who had taken Mihirkula prisoner set him free at his mother’s behest, thereby leaving the enemy unharmed is true, it must be said that this was a misplaced kindness which in a king desirous of maintaining the integrity of his empire and defending it against external invasion was a sign of weakness.
All these factors combined to accomplish the breakup of an empire so vast in expanse and so advanced in culture.
Foreign Impacts on the Guptas:
Dr. V.S. Smith rightly points out that the contact or collision of diver se modes of civilisation is the most potent stimulus to intellectual and artistic progress. The Gupta period saw an unprecedented cultural excellence in the Indian history due to its contacts with civilisations, both of the east and the west.
The conquest of Malwa and Surashtra during the reign of Chandragupta-II opened up communication between India and western countries which facilitated reception of European ideas. The result of the impact of foreign contacts can be noticed in the coins of the Gupta kings in which imitation of the Roman coins is obvious.
The astronomy of Aryabhatta was undoubtedly influenced by the Alexandrine School of astronomy. Varahamihira’s Surya Siddhanta appears to have been equally influenced by the Greek and Roman astronomy.
In art and literature, Dr. Smith rightly observes, it is difficult to measure the impact of the foreign influence. The sculpture of the Sleeping Vishnu at Deogarh has a close resemblance with the Graeco- Roman works represented by the Endymion at .Stockholm. Prof. Basham endorses the view but he remarks that the Indian sculpture of the Gupta period represents Greek spirit in Indian form.
In the intellectual and artistic output of the Gupta period the influence of the Roman is suggested by Dr. Smith.
According to Mr. Keith there was close relation between Indian and Greek mathematical science. Some critics have thought that Chinese ideas may be traced in the Ajanta frescoes and they may be right.
All this is but one side of the picture. The Indian culture when it had attained fullness under the Guptas transcended its physical limits and through commercial relations spread into the South-East Asian countries like Sumatra, Java, Bali, Combodia, Anam, Borneo, etc.
During the Gupta period we find many rulers in these countries who bore Indian names. In these countries Indian religion, social and cultural life, language and script had spread. Between the second and the fifth centuries Indian colonies were established in the countries of South-East Asia and continued to exist for a period of a thousand years.