Monthly Archives: July 2012

Samudra Gupta, the Dharmic Imperialist

With the establishment of Gupta dynasty, India entered a new era of political unity and stability. Vedic religion reestablished it supremacy and there was a blossoming in Indian literature and Arts. Trade and commerce flourished resulting in all round prosperity. The foundation of Gupta dynasty is attributed to one Srigupta who was followed by his son Ghatokacha. The greatness of the dynasty came to the fore with the rule of Chandra Gupta I who ruled from 319 to 330 A.D. His marriage with the Lichhavi princess Kumaradevi considerably helped him in laying the foundation of the greatness of the Guptas. This gave him the possession of Pataliputra and thus enabled him to extend his sway over the Gangetic valley as far as Prayag. It was Chandra Gupta I who founded the Gupta era on February 26, 320 A.D. The son of Chandra Gupta I and Kumaradevi was Samudra Gupta (330-380 A.D.) considered as the greatest ruler of the Gupta dynasty.

Harisena the court poet and general of Samudra Gupta in his Allahabad pillar inscription give us information about the career and achievements of Samudra Gupta., As a prince he was taught the triple Vedas, philosophy, economics, politics, history, law and the art of warfare. Scholars feel that Chandra Gupta I abdicated his throne in favour of Samudra Gupta and probably this was resented by his other children of whom one Kacha Gupta led a revolt which was easily crushed by Samudra Gupta. Soon he undertook a campaign in which he is said to have ‘uprooted’ Achutha, Nagasena and the Prince of Kota. Most probably these princes had sided with Kacha Gupta in his revolt against Samudra Gupta.

His Southern Campaign: Next he undertook a campaign towards the kingdoms of south and successively defeated twelve kings namely Mahendra of Kosala ( ruling over Dakshina Kosala with Bilasapur and Raipur districts in Chhattisgarh and Sambalpur district in Odhisha), Vyaghra Raja of Mahakantara (ruling over Jeypore forest tract of Odhisha), Mantaraja of Kurala (ruling over Sonepur district of Madhya Pradesh), Mahendragiri of Pishtapura (Pishtapuram in Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh), Swamidatta of Kottura (ruling over Kothur in Ganjam district or Kothura in Vizag district of Andhra Pradesh), Damana of Erandapalla (ruling near Chicacole on Odhisha coast), Vishnu Gopa of Kanchi, Nilaraja of Avamuktaka (place not identified), Dhananjaya of Kusthalapura (place not identified), Hastivarman of Vengi (ruling over Ellore taluk in Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh), Ugrasena of Palakka (ruling over South of river Krishna) and Kubera of Devarashtra (ruling over Yellamanchili region in Vizag district of Andhra Pradesh)

The twelve kings were captured and then freed and returned back their kingdoms. The possible reasons may be two; first during his southern campaign Samudra Gupta had to face disturbances in the north and he had to return back. The second reason could be that he knew that it would be difficult for him to rule directly over these kingdoms situated far away from his capital. Hence on the assurance of their submission reinstated the conquered kings of the south.

Samudra Gupta’s southern campaign was indeed a tremendous achievement. It is hard to imagine as to how, way back some 1700 years ago they made arrangements for feeding such a huge number of men and animals during the grueling long journey passing through forests, unknown and hostile regions. How did they cross rivers with their huge supplies; how did they take care of the wounded men and animals? Similarly arranging guides, language interpreters, gathering of intelligence and other logistics must have involved careful planning and preparation.

His Northern Campaign: The Allahabad Pillar inscription mentions that Samudra Gupta violently exterminated nine kings of Aryavarta, namely Rudradeva (who has been identified with Rudrasena Vakataka). In commemoration of this victory Samudra Gupta is said to have founded a temple in honour of Vishnu at Eran. Matila (possibly ruling over Bulandshahar district in U.P.),Nagabhatta or Nagadatta (perhaps belonging to one of the Naga families), Chandravarman (ruled over Susunia in Bankura district of West Bengal), Ganapatinaga, the king of Mathura, Nagasena and Achyuta who were previously uprooted by Samudra Gupta for supporting Kacha Gupta, Nandin, probably a Naga chieftain and lastly Balavarman, who probably was the king of Assam. Samudra Gupta’s strong action against these rulers may be due the conspiracy hatched by Naga powers against the Gupta kingdom during his campaign in the south.

Submission of Republican and Frontier States: The southern conquests and his northern victories enhanced Samudra Gupta’s prestige and led to a number of republican states like Malavas, Arjunayanas, Yaudheyas, Abiras, Madrakas, Prarjunas, Kakas, Sanakanikas and Kharaparikas to establish friendship with him by offering tributes. The rulers of these states ruled over territories like Punjab, Rajasthan, Garhwal, Rohilkhand and large tract of Madhya Pradesh. So also the rulers of north like Kartripura (Kartarpur in Jullundar district of Punjab), the ruler of Nepal and rulers of north-eastern parts of India like Samatata (which consists of valley of Brahmaputra), Kamarupa (Assam) and Davaka (Nowgong district of Assam) hastened to establish friendly relations with him. The Allahabad Pillar inscription mentions that the Kushana rulers of North-West India and the Saka satraps of western India also submitted to him. The Kushan ruler by name Shahanushahi is said to have personally appeared before Samudra Gupta and tendered voluntary submission and agreed to accept and circulate the imperial coins as currency in his territories and offered his daughter in marriage to the emperor. The empire of Samudra Gupta probably extended from Afghanistan in the west to Assam in the east and from Nepal in the north to Kanchi in the south. To commemorate his victories he performed Ashvamedha Yaga and donated liberally to Brahmins, poor and the needy.

Comparison between Samudra Gupta and Napoleon Bonaparte: In his History of India, V.A.Smith has referred to Samudra Gupta as Indian Napoleon for all his conquests and victories. But this statement has been rejected by scholars like S.K.Iyengar who says that unlike Napoleon, Samudra Gupta’s conquest and expansion of kingdom was with a view to establish dharma. Only if there is peace and order, people can lead a happy and prosperous life. For that dangers from internal and external forces had to be curtailed. This can be done only through uniting the country. Hence except in his northern campaign wherein Samudra Gupta violently exterminated several rulers, in most cases he was merely satisfied with submission and payment of tributes. For the sake of political unity and protection of his subjects he was forced to go for conquests. Unlike Napoleon, Samudra Gupta was not power hungry and like the former he was not defeated even once nor sent to exile or jailed. The Gupta kingdom during Samudra Gupta’s rule was a confederation of kingdoms that paid only nominal allegiance to the Gupta ruler and were completely independent in internal administration.

His Personality: According to Harisena the composer of Allahabad inscription, Samudra Gupta was a poet and had the title ‘Kaviraj’ (though no work of his appears to have survived him). Harisena was the Sandhivigrahika in Samudra Gupta’s court. The lyrist type coins of Samudra Gupta reveal him as sitting on a high-backed couch playing on a veena which lies on his knees. Samudra Gupta issued gold coins having a weight of 123 grains having images of Garuda and himself playing Veena. His interest in philosophy and literature is reported by a Buddhist account which says that he was a patron of the great Buddhist philosopher Vasubandhu who was also his chief councillor. His coins reveal a well built and muscular physique and he is described as a warrior proudly displaying marks of hundreds of wounds received in battles. He had titles like Dharma Prachira Bandha (Protector of Religion), Shastra Tatvariya (Supporter of real truth in Scriptures), etc. Samudra Gupta’s fame had spread far and wide. There was trade contact with Roman Empire and with China. Though a staunch Vaishnava he was tolerant towards Buddhism. A Chinese historian relates that Meghavarna the ruler of Ceylon sent an embassy with gifts to Samudra Gupta and obtained his permission to erect a splendid monastery to the north of the holy tree at Bodh Gaya for the use of pilgrims from Ceylon. Samudra Gupta had several queens of which the principle one was Dattadevi, whose son was the famous Chandra Gupta II. R.D.Banerjee says that Samudra Gupta succeeded to a small kingdom but left a large empire to his successors.