Chandragupta I was succeeded by his son Samudragupta.
According to the descriptions of the Allahabad Prasasti or Pillar Inscription, Chandragupta I selected Samudragupta by considering him as the most worthy (Arya) to succeed to the throne.
The decision of the king was publicly announced in an open assembly of the king’s counselors who accepted the selection with joyous satisfaction.
But those who were of equal birth and were rivals to the throne, became pale faced with disappointment. After announcing the succession in favour of Samudragupta, his father instructed the prince: “Protect ye this earth”.
From the above statement of the Allahabad pillar Inscription, some scholars concluded that there were others sons of Chandragupta I who aspired to the throne, and therefore, the accession of Samudragupta was disputed. Perhaps the new king had to fight with a rival brother named Kacha who was defeated.
Some coins bearing the name Kacha have added support to this theory. But, other historians believe that Samudragupta had another name as Kacha, and the coins bearing that name were of Samudragupta himself. This appears convincing for the reason that the coins of Kacha carry the epithet ‘Sarva Rajochhetta’ which term can be applicable only to a victorious conqueror like Samudragupta.
Samudragupta succeeded his father in the year 335 A.D., and ruled for long forty years till 375 A.D. He amply justified his father’s selection by proving himself a great conqueror and a mighty monarch. He took pride in the fact that he was the son of Kumaradevi, and claimed himself as the Lichchhavi-Dauhitra or the son of the daughter of the Lichchhavis. His title of Parakramanka indicates his power. He has been described by some as the Chakravartin of the Ganga Valley, and a Digvijayi of other countries. The Eran Inscription states that “the whole tribe of kings upon the earth was overthrown and reduced to the loss of the wealth of their sovereignty” by Samudragupta.
The Allahabad Pillar Inscription: The most important source of information for the history of Samudragupta’s invasions and conquests is his Allahabad Pillar Inscription. The author of this famous Prasasti was Harishena who presented in poetic Kavya composition the details of Samudragupta’s Digvijya. Harishena was a court poet, while holding several important offices of the empire.
He was at once the Mahadandanayaka or Chief Justice, the Kumaramatya or minister attending on Crown Prince, and the Sandhivikrahika or Minister for Foreign Affairs and War, the Khadyatapakika or Food Controller of the Royal House. A man of such high position as he was, Harishena was in full knowledge of Samudragupta’s achievements as a warrior. He described those achievements in a chronological order of events as they actually occurred.
Suprisingly enough, even though the Gupta Era was already in vogue at that time, Harishena did not put any date or dates on his inscription. He used high-sounding terms in praise of his royal patron, such as, Samudragupta’s fame was due to ‘his conquest of the whole world’, and that together the whole world by means of the amplitude of the vigour of his arm. All said, however, Harishena depicted a clear picture of Samudragupta’s political exploits as a conqueror and a Digvijayi to show his supremacy over a vast part of India. An account of Samudragupta’s conquests, as known from the Allahabad Prasasti, is given below.
Conquests of Samudragupta:
Samudragupta adopted strategic plans m his invasions of the north and the south. He decided to subdue the neighbouring kingdoms first, before taking up distant expeditions. His invasions show three distinct phases, namely, his first campaign in Aryavarta, his campaigns in Dakshinapatha, and his second campaign in Aryavarta. Besides these main invasions and conquests, Samudragupta also effected the conquest of the Atavika or forest kingdoms. He also established diplomatic relations with the states situated on the frontiers of the Gupta Empire. And, finally, he exchanged political negotiations with the distant foreign powers.
In his first campaign in northern India, Samudragupta defeated three kings. They were, Achyuta Naga, Naga Sena and Ganapti Naga. These Naga kings perhaps worked unitedly against the Guptas and were a source of danger to Samudragupta. They ruled in the kingdoms of Ahichchatra, Padmavati, and Mathura respectively.
Perhaps, in his first encounter with them the Gupta monarch forced them to submission. It was in his second campaign in the north, that these kings along with some others were totally exterminated. After his victory over the three northern powers, Samudragupta took up his expedition in the Deccan. In course of his southern campaigns he humbled as many as twelve princes.
The identities of some of these places yet remain controversial. After defeating these kings of the south, Samudragupta played the role of a real statesman. He understood the difficulties in keeping the territories of the south under the direct administration of Magadha. He, therefore, adopted the policy of Dharma-Vijaya towards the southern states as against his policy of Dig-vijayu in the north. He, therefore, felt satisfied with his victory over the southern kings who accepted the authority and supremacy of the Gupta emperor, and gave them back their kingdoms to rule as before.
Having proved his strength in his southern expeditions, Samudragupta thought of making his northern empire as large as possible. He decided upon the destruction of the kings of the Aryavarta in order to make the Gupta empire great. So began his second campaigns in the north. In this gigantic military adventure he defeated nine kings of Aryavarta.
The Allahabad Pillar Inscription mentions their names as Rudradeva, Matila, Nagadatta, Chandravarman, Ganapati Naga, Naga Sena, Achyuta, Nandin, and Balavarman. The kingdoms of these several kings covered the most parts of proper Aryavarta. Samudragupta not only defeated them but extinguished their rules altogether and annexed their territories to the Gupta Empire. He did not show them any grace or anugraha as he did in the case southern kings.
The victory of Samudragupta in his Aryavarta wars gave to the Gupta Empire its proper shape as an all comprehensive northern empire. According to Manusmriti, the term Aryavarta means the land between the Himalayas and the Vindyas, and between the western and the eastern seas. By his conquests of the lands of nine north India kings, Samudragupta more or less became the master of a larger portion of the proper Aryavarta.
The Gupta Emperor thereafter wanted to establish his hegemony even over the inaccessible forest kingdoms ruled by the tribal chiefs. These tribal territories or the Atavika kingdoms mostly existed in Central India. Their chiefs were reduced to the condition of being serfs or Puricharika of the supreme ruler. Evidences suggest that there were as many as 18 forest kingdoms at that time.
The might of Samudragupta caused a deep impact on the rulers of the neighbouring states which existed on the frontiers of the Gupta dominion. These frontier states, both monarchical and republican, became anxious to win the goodwill of the Gupta Emperor by paying taxes to him as their suzerain, and by obeying his decrees, and also by attending his imperial court for paying homage to him in person.
The frontier states in the east and the north which accepted Samudragupta’s suzerainty were ruled by kings. The names of these states were Samatata (which formed a part of Bengal on the sea- shore), Devaka (or the Naogaon district of Assam), Kamarupa (which comprised a part of Assam including Gauhati), Nepal and Kartripura (which was situated in the Kumaun, Garhwal and Rohilkhand regions).
The republican frontier states which accepted Samudragupta’s overlordship were the states of the Malavas. Arjunayanas, Yaudheyas, Madrakas, Abhiras, Prarjunas, Sanakanikas, Kakas, and Kharaparikas. These small republics were mostly situated in the north-western regions, and a few of them belonged to central Indian regions.
All these accounts lead to the conclusion that Samudragupta’s authority over almost the whole of northern India from the Punjab to Assam became well established. He was the sovereign lord of the Indo Gangetic valley, with his political suzerainty acknowledged in the south and by the frontier states.
Extent of Samudragupta’s Empire:
The empire of Samudragupta under his direct administration was extensive. It included nearly the whole of northern India. Western Punjab, Western Rajputana, Sind, Gujarat, and Orissa were not included in the Gupta Empire. Yet, the empire was vast. In the east, it extended as far as the river Brahmaputra. In the south, it touched the river Narmada. In the north, it reached the Himalayas. Rightly does the historian V.A. Smith sum up the extent of Samudragupta’s domain and power saying:
“The dominion under the direct government of Samudragupta in the middle of the fourth century thus comprised of the most populous and fertile countries of northern India. It extended from the Brahmaputra on the east to the Jamuna and Chambal on the west; and from the foot of the Himalayas on the north to the Narmada on the south.
Beyond these wide limits, the frontier kingdoms of Assam and the Gangetic delta as well as those on the southern slopes of the Himalayas and the free tribes of Rajputana and Malwa were attached to the empire by bonds of supporting alliance while almost all the kingdoms of the south had been overrun by the emperor’s armies and compelled to acknowledge his irresistible might. The empire thus defined was by far the greatest that had been seen in India since the days of Asoka six centuries before and its possession naturally entitled Samudragupta to the respect of foreign powers”.
Some of the gold coins of Samudragupta show that the Emperor performed the Asvamedha sacrifice to proclaim his imperial position. He was obviously following the ancient tradition of powerful monarchs in performing that rite. The coins contain a figure of the horse before an altar, meant for sacrifice, with -the legend, “The Maharajadhiraja of irresistible valour having conquered the earth now wins heaven”. On the other side of the coins, there is the legend “He whose supremacy has been established by the Asvamedha”. By his conquests, and campaigns, as well as by the extent of his empire, Samudragupta proved himself a true Chakravavti monarch of India.
Samudragupta’s Relation with Foreign Powers:
Samudragupta not only subdued the frontier kingdoms and republics on the borders of the Gupta Empire, but also caused fear in the mind of the distant foreign powers outside the empire. Those powers in the west and the north-west, as well as in the south like the kingdom of Simhala or Ceylon paid their respects to the Gupta Emperor by various means. The Allahabad Pillar Inscription refers to such services as personal regards, gifts of maidens for menial service, and presents.
They also appealed for receiving charters of friendly relations, bearing the Imperial Gupta Garuda seal, signifying a guarantee for them to rule their territories as friendly countries. Samudragupta accepted their desires in a friendly way.
Among those foreign powers who came under the orbit of friendly relations were the later Kushana rulers in the Kabul valley who still continued to style themselves as Daivaputra-Shahi-Shahanushahi. There were also the Saka rulers in the far north-west who desired the favour of Samudragupta.
The most significant of Samudragupta’s foreign relations was his cordial friendship with the kingdom of Simhala. It also speaks of the Gupta Emperor’s liberal attitude towards Buddhism. As is stated, the king of Ceylon, Meghavarna, sent his ambassadors to Samudragupta to request for his permission to build a monastery for the pilgrims near the sacred Bodhi-Tree at Bodh-Gaya. He sent costly presents and jewels for the Gupta monarch as a token of his regards.
Samudragupta gave the required permission, and a magnificent monastery was built near the Bodhi-Tree for the Buddhist monks and pilgrims. More than two centuries after Samudragupta and Meghavarna, the Chinese Pilgrim Hiuen Tsang saw that famous monastery as having three storey’s, six halls, three towers, with accommodation for one thousand monks. This episode is a bright example of Samudragupta’s liberal foreign policy towards a friendly country.
Samudragupta: A patron of culture:
Samudragupta was a versatile genius. Both from the inscriptions and the coins, his character is revealed as a man of many qualities. He has been described as Kaviraja or the Prince of Poets for his many poetical compositions or Vahu-Kavita. He was also a man of musical arts. In some of his coins he is shown as seated on a couch and playing the Vina or lute, as a musician. Samudragupta was a philosopher too. He is described as one who wanted to go deep into the tattvah or the wisdom of the sastras to be worthy of the company of the wise.
Samudragupta was an orthodox Hindu and a believer in the Brahminical systems of worship and rituals. But, in the true spirit of Indian tolerance, he was liberal to all other religions. He permitted the king of Ceylon to build a Buddhist monastery at Bodh-Gaya for the benefit of the Buddhist monks. He was a patron of the famous Buddhist philosopher and author Vasubandhu, and himself studied the inner philosophy of Buddhism under the guidance of that learned man. He patronised the poet Harishena who was the author of the Allahabad prasasti.
An Estimate of Samudragupta:
Samudragupta is undoubtedly one of the greatest monarchs of Indian history. As a soldier, a warrior, a conqueror, a king, an administrator and a patron of culture, he stands eminent among the rulers of India. Some regard him as the greatest emperor of the Gupta dynasty.
The real greatness of Samudragupta lay in his daring role as a warrior for the political unification of India. In this respect, he repeated the role of Chandragupta Maurya. He succeeded in establishing the political hegemony of one imperial power over a larger part of the subcontinent of India. In his practical approach, while he converted most parts of upper India into a solid political unit under his direct administration, he kept the Deccan, the frontier states and the tribal territories under his political suzerainty with a definite influence on them.
In result, the Gupta Empire became more homogeneous, and the Gupta power more extensive. The concept of the Indian political unity, encompassing her geographical bounds was effectively worked out by this soldier emperor of India. He destroyed several political powers where it was necessary. He defeated but liberated several rulers also as a necessity. His supreme aim was to work out the spirit of political oneness among many diverse elements. He did succeed in his mission to a large extent to achieve credit as a Chakravarti monarch. He was a great general, also a greater statesman.
Historian V.A. Smith rightly described Samudragupta as the ‘Indian Napoleon’. He was indeed a soldier like the European conqueror who fought many battles in life as the bravest of the braves. That Samudragupta was as brave a soldier as Napoleon is known from the following accounts of the Allahabad Pillar Inscription.
He is described as one who was skilful in engaging in a hundred battles of various kinds; whose only ally was the Prowers of the strength of his own arms; whose most charming body was covered over with all the beauty of the marks of a hundred confused wounds caused by the blows of battle axes, arrows, spears, pikes, barbed darts, swords, lances, javelins, iron arrows and many other weapons.
Such a remarkable hero of many battles, he proved himself a successful empire builder, as also an able administrator. Unlike Asoka after his Kalinga War, Samudragupta never gave up his passion for wars in the true pattern of a Kshatriya king. By his deeds he stood up to the true ideal of kingship, and gave to India an empire which represented one of the best epochs of ancient civilisation.
If the Gupta Age of the Indian history is regarded as a golden age. The chief credit for it goes to Samudragupta. Had he not united India, subdued enemies, consolidated power, and inaugurated an era of peace and prosperity, India could not have witnessed the magnificent cultural upheaval which became the chief characteristics of that time.