Chandra Gupta II the Vikramaditya (375-414 A.D.)

Samudra Gupta was succeeded by his son Ramagupta and another son Chandra Gupta II born from Dattadevi was made the yuvaraja. According to Devichandraguptam, Ramagupta suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of the Sakas and had to yield to a disgraceful treaty by which his queen Dhruvadevi was to be handed over to the Saka chief. This was resented by the yuvaraja Chandra Gupta II who in disguise as the queen went to the camp of the Saka ruler and killed him. Later he killed Ramagupta, married Dhruvadevi and ascended the throne. While some scholars suggest that the place where the Saka chief was defeated by Chandra Gupta II was Balkh in north-west India, others say that it was in Mathura which was still in the possession of the scions of the Kushanas. This is also confirmed by the fact that a record of Chandra Gupta II is found at Mathura.

Consolidation through Marriage alliances: Chandra Gupta II was a man of diplomacy. He entered into matrimonial relationship many powerful ruling families and consolidated his position. The Nagas ruled over a vast area with Padmavati as their capital. Samudra Gupta had defeated them and annexed their territory. Chandra Gupta II married Kuberanaga of the Naga family and befriended them. Later Prabhavatigupta, the daughter born to Kuberanaga was married to Rudrasena II, the Vakataka ruler ruling over Deccan region. In northern Karnataka the Kadamba dynasty was ruling with Banavasi as their capital. The Talgunda inscription says that Kadamba ruler Kakustha Varman had married his daughter with a Gupta king (probably to Chandra Gupta II’s son Kumaragupta). There is also reference in Sringaraprakasha, a work ascribed to King Bhoja that Kalidasa the celebrated poet at the court of Chandra Gupta II was sent to Kuntala (area ruled by the Kadambas) as an ambassador.

Expansion through Conquests: The Sakas, a foreign tribe ruling over Saurashtra and Malwa region were feudatories of the Kushanas and enjoyed the title of Kshatrap i.e. subedar. Later they became independent and called themselves Mahakshatrapas. After the death of Rudrasena II, the Vakataka ruler in 390 A.D., Padmavathigupta became the de facto ruler of the kingdom. As the Saka territory lay next to that of the Vakatakas, Chandra Gupta II took advantage of the internal dissensions prevailing in the Saka kingdom to defeat Rudrasimha III and annex the territory of the Sakas. To commemorate his victory Chandra Gupta II issued silver coins with the image of Garuda on one side and titles like Paramabhagvat and Maharajadhiraja on the other side. This conquest destroyed the last vestige of foreign rule in India and extended the Gupta Empire up to the Arabian Sea, its natural frontier on the west. Chandra Gupta II made Ujjain the second capital of his Empire as he could rule Gujarat effectively form this place. With the rich province of Kathiawad in his hand, his contact with the western world was facilitated and trade and commerce with European and African countries received an impetus. Cotton clothes of East Bengal, scents and unguents of the hill states of Himalayas, camphor, spices and sandal from South were brought to the ports of Kathiawad for export to western countries. In return western traders paid in gold and the wealth of India increased by manifolds.

The Meharauli Pillar Inscription mentions that Chandra Gupta II crossed river Sindhu and conquered the country of Vahlikas. It is quite possible that the Kushanas after the death of Samudragupta might have rebelled against the supremacy of the Guptas and Chandra Gupta II had to quell it and hence took an expedition against them. Maybe Chandra Gupta II also wanted to establish his authority over those regions. Just as in the days of Samudragupta, south India seems to have continued its allegiance to the Gupta emperor.

After his military victories Chandra Gupta II performed the Ashvamedha Yajna and took titles like Vikramaditya, Maharajadhiraja and Paramabhagavata. Such was his fame that the king of Persia, Ardashir had diplomatic relationship with Chandra Gupta II and sent many horses of high breed, gold and silk to his court as a gesture of friendship, according to the work Shahnama of Firdausi. The famous Chinese traveller Fa-Hien came to India to study Buddhism during the time of Chandra Gupta II’s rule. The famous Navaratna (Nine Jewels) which include the world famous Sanskrit poet and play writer Kalidasa, astronomer Varahamihira and Vasubandhu, the Buddhist scholar lived in his court. Chandra Gupta II issued five types of coins, viz., the archer type, the couch type, the lion slayer type, the chhatra type and the horseman type.

His Personality: Like his father, Chandra Gupta II was the master of sword. He had the blood of a general flowing in his veins. The goddess of victory kissed his feet. The Sakas who had been ruling for the last four centuries could never entertain the vain hope of regaining supremacy on Indian soil. His going to the Saka camp in disguise speaks volumes of his daring and dash. He was a born leader of men, a warrior, a superb fighter and a great general. The statesmanship in him can be found in the way he made alliance with different contemporary ruling kingdoms of that day, the Vakatakas and Nagas. His marriage with the Naga princess turned the enemy into a friend while giving his daughter Prabhavatigupta with Vakataka ruler Rudrasena II facilitated his conquest of Saurashtra.

Administration of Chandra Gupta II: The Guptas followed the administration pattern as enunciated by Chanakya. Hereditary monarchy was the prevailing form of government. The eldest son was to succeed the king. The king was centre of all military, political, administrative and judicial powers of the kingdom. He governed with the help of a ministry called mantriparishad. The crown prince and feudatory chiefs also assisted in the administration. Some of the high ranking ministers were Sandhivigrahika (minister of peace and war or foreign minister), Mahabaladhikrita (commander-in-chief), Mahadnadanayaka (the great wielder of rod or judge), Akshapataladhikrita (keeper of state documents) Mahapratihara (in-charge of the staff of Pratiharas, an important officer in the royal court who regulated its ceremonial functions and granted the necessary permits for admission to the royal court), Rajasthaniya (officer in-charge of the palace), etc. Inscriptions and seals of the Gupta period mention a class of officers called Kumaramatyas who were given various assignments.

Provincial Administration: The Empire was divided for administrative purposes into Desas and Bhukti governed by Goptrus and Uparika Maharajas respectively. They were further subdivided into Visayas governed by Vishayapatis. The lowest unit of administration was the village called Grama its administration was run by a head called Gramadhyaksha. The town administration was carried on by an officer called Purapala assisted by the town council known as Parishad.

Revenue: The principal source of revenue was the land tax known as Bhagakara in some places and Udranga in others. It was normally one-sixth of the produce of the land. Other source of income included, toll tax, duties at ports, income from mint, booty from war and tribute paid by feudatories.

Administration of the Guptas vis-à-vis Mauryan administration

  • The Mauryan administration had a very large bureaucracy which controlled every aspect of people’s life including religious and economic sphere. But that was not the case with Gupta’s administration.
  • Mauryan administration was based on Buddhist ideology while that of Gupta’s was based on Vedic ideology.
  • Though the Mauryas had maintained a huge army they seldom waged war (after Ashoka’s war with Kalinga), while the Gupta’s army was always on the move.
  • Mauryan state was a police state and even for small offence punishment was severe. Census was taken so as to see no person escaped taxation. But during Guptas time no census was taken and no corporal punishment was in vogue as per the information of Chinese traveller Fa-Hien.

The Golden Age: The rule of the Gupta dynasty especially, that of Chandra Gupta II is considered as the Golden Age, in the history of India for various reasons. First of all after centuries of foreign rule (Kushanas and Sakas), India achieved her political freedom after the establishment of Gupta rule. By subduing petty kingdoms, the Guptas unified the country. Secondly the Guptas set up a uniform system of administration which was efficient and strong. This led to peace and order in the country. Thirdly with the conquest of Saurashtra by ending the rule of the Sakas, the Guptas provided impetus to foreign trade and commerce. The result was increased economic prosperity. Fourthly the Guptas revived Hinduism by patronizing the Vedic religion. Earlier during the rule of Mauryas and Kushanas Buddhism was the state religion. Though the Guptas practiced Vedic sacrifices, rites and rituals, they tolerated other faiths. Some of the highest officials of the Guptas were ardent Buddhists. Fifthly Hindu culture reached its great height during the Gupta age. Best of the Indian talents blossomed and intellectual progress was achieved in varied fields. The language of Sanskrit was encouraged and literary works of great merit came out during this age. Not only poems and plays but also works on polity, astronomy, mathematics, medicine, metallurgy, philosophy, grammar, epics and other subjects of high quality and content were produced during this period. Sixthly the history of temple architecture began during the Gupta rule.

Account of Fa-Hien: Fa-Hien the famous Chinese traveller visited India during the reign of Chandra Gupta II. He visited Pataliputra the imperial capital of the Gupta which he describes as a flourishing city with its inhabitants rich, prosperous, virtuous and benevolent. He says that the people of Pataliputra vied one another in practicing charity and helping one’s neighbor. There were rest-houses for travellers and pilgrims and free hospitals for the patients. According to Fa-Hien throughout the country none killed any living-being and neither drank wine nor ate onions and garlic. There did not exist butchers shops or distilleries in the market place. This was due to the prevalence of ahimsa sentiment, he adds. With regards to the general administration of the kingdom, he says that taxes were light and were not at all burdensome. There was no restriction on the subjects and the government did not interfere in their affairs. Criminal laws were simple and accused were fined. Death penalty was abolished and even for a second attempt at rebellion the punishment was only the loss of right hand of the accused. Fa-Hien mentions that government officers were just and honest and they were paid regular salaries in cash.

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