In this article we will discuss about the invasions of Hunas during the Gupta period.
The nomadic Hunas inhabited the borders of China as far back as the second century B.C. Another nomadic tribe Yueh-chi was forced to migrate from their neighbourhood because of their pressure which ultimately led to the invasions of the Sakas and the Kushanas on India. Later, the Hunas themselves migrated to the west, and further dividing themselves into two parts, they proceeded towards the river Volga and the river Oxus respectively.
The one threatened the Roman empire and the other Persia and India. By the fifth century A.D. the Hunas became a powerful force in Central Asia and, proceeding towards India, they occupied Gandhara Pradesh on the north-west. Skanda Gupta, however, gave them a crushing defeat about 460 A.D. which checked their advance into India for nearly next fifty’ years. However, they destroyed the Persian empire and by the end of the fifth century A.D. established a vast empire with its capital at Balkh.
In the beginning of the sixth century A.D. when the Gupta empire was disintegrating, they repeated their invasion under their ruler Toramana. Though there is no conclusive evidence that Toramana was a Huna yet, mostly he had been accepted so. This time the Hunas succeeded and occupied Kashmir, then Punjab, Rajasthan and parts of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. Bhanu Gupta had to fight against Toramana.
It seems that Toramana was weakened during the later years of his reign and also lost most of his Indian territories. Toramana was succeeded by his son Mihirakula near about 515 A.D. Mihirakula was an ambitious ruler. His capital was Sakala or Sialkot.
He attacked up to the borders of Magadha. He forced Narsimha Gupta to pay tribute to him though afterwards he was also once defeated by him. Mihirakula was defeated once by Yasodharman of Malwa as well. Therefore, his empire in India remained limited only to Kashmir, Gandhara and certain other territories west of the river Indus.
The later invasions of the Hunas on India, of course, succeeded and it is also accepted that they also contributed to the fall of the Gupta empire. Yet, the success of the Hunas in India was neither wide-spread nor permanent. The primary credit for safeguarding India from their barbaric invasions goes to Skanda Gupta who checked their advance when they were at the height of their power.
The attacks of Toramana and Mihirakula were not so fierce and it is also doubtful that they had any connections with the central power of the Hunas in Balkh. Therefore, they did not succeed much in India and, at times, were defeated also. Afterwards, sometime between 563-567 A.D., the central power of the Hunas on the Oxus was broken by the combined forces of the Turks and the Persians and the Hunas, who remained in no position to threaten India, were finally absorbed within the Indian society.
The Hunas were finally absorbed in the Indian society, yet, they affected Indian polity and society in several ways. Of course, their role in the fall of the Gupta empire was only secondary’ but they, certainly, encouraged the attitude of disintegration and regional autonomy which grew in India when the Gupta empire broke into pieces.
Emperor Harsha-Vardhana and the Gurjara-Pratihara rulers, no doubt, tried to protect the ideal of one empire in north India but they failed and north India was divided into several regional states. The Hunas, certainly, contributed towards it. Certain scholars have expressed the view that the Hunas introduced the tradition of despotic rule in Indian polity as it was absent in India prior to their invasions though it, certainly, existed among the Tartars and the Mongols in Asia from where the Hunas came to India.
The Hunas also encouraged social divisions in India as their absorption in Indian society led to the formation of several sub-castes. The Hunas harmed Indian culture as well. During their invasions, they destroyed pieces of fine arts, educational institutions and particularly Buddhist monasteries. Thus, invasions of the Hunas harmed Indian polity and society in several ways.