Sunday, January 15, 2006


The Golden Guptas

Between the first century B.C and third century A.D, the  Kushanas in the north, Sakas in the west, Satavahannas in the Deccan emerged as three big political powers and emerged as a stabilising factor in these regions. The empires of Satavahanas and Kushanas came to an end around 3rd century A.D and a new power emerged known as the Guptas.The Guptas made a great impact on Indian history not only by their political might and strength but also their great achievements in art, science, culture and literature.

Early Guptas: About the early Guptas not much is known. Albeit the Allahabad pillar inscription of Samudra Gupta mentions Sri Gupta and Gatotkacha as his anchestors.The Puranas mention that the early Guptas controlled the region along Ganga, Prayag, Saketa and Magadha. Chinese traveler I-Tsing who travelled India from 671-695 A.D refers to Sri Gupta as a builder of a temple at Gaya for Buddhist pilgrims.

Chandra Gupta I (320-340 A.D): Chandra Gupta I, said to have laid the foundation of the great Gupta era.He married the princess of Licchavis Kumaradevi, which was supposed to be a great move for his political career. He started issuing gold coins potraying the Lichhavis. Chandra Gupta introduced a new era, the Gupta era starting with his coronation in 320 A.D. He was the first king to adopt the title of Maharajadhiraja.

Samudra Gupta (340 -380 A.D): Samudra Gupta succeded his father in 340 A.D. He was a versatile genius, proficient not only in war but also is sastras.He was also called Kaviraja( king of poets). The Allahabad pillar inscription calls him a great musician, this is confirmed by his lyricist types of coins depicting him as playing lute (Veena).The Allahabad pillar inscription gives a detailed account of Samudra Gupta's career and personality.The inscription was composed by one of his official, Harisena and engraved on the Ashoka's pillar at Allahabad. In the Allahabad pillar inscription he proudly calls himself as Licchavis Dauitra meaning son of the daughter of Licchavis.
The military achievements of SamudraGupta contain a long list of kings and rulers defeated and subdued by him.He followed the policy of capturing the kings intially and releasing them from captivity subsequently. Then he re-installed those kings by showing royal mercy and won their allegiance.His important campaign was in South India.Altogether twelve kings and princes of south are listed in the inscription. For his south India campaign he proceeded through eastern and southern parts of Madhyadesa to Orrisa and then advanced along the eastern coast and reach Kanchi and beyond. And returned to his capital by way of Maharastra and Khandesh.
After these conquests he performed Ashwamedayajana and issued gold coins depicting sacrificial horse and bearing the legend.The Allahabad inscription also lists other political powers such as Kushanas, Sakas, Murundas, Simhalas( Sri Lanka). According to Chinese source, Megavarna, King of Sri Lanka sent an embassy to Samudra Gupta to build a monastery and guest house for Buddhist pilgrims at Bodh Gaya.

Chandra Gupta II (380 A.D - 413 A.D): The Gupta empire reached it glory both in terms of terrirtorial expansion and cultural excellence during the reign of Chandragupta II. He inherited a strong and consolidated empire from his father, which he further extended.He entered in to matrimonial alliance with Vakatakas and married his daughther Prabavathigupta to Rutrasena II of Vakataka dynasty. He concluded alliance with Vakatakas before waging war against the mighty Sakas. His foremost success was his victory against the Sakas dynasty. The annexation of Sakas dynasty comprising Gujarat and parts of Malwa not only strengthened Gupta dynasty but also brought the western sea ports. This gave a tremendous impetus to overseas trade and commerce.Ujjain, which was a great centre of trade,relegion and culture during that period became the second capital of Gupta Dynasty.

Perhaps after his victory over Sakas, he adopted the title of Vikramaditya meaning a great patroniser of learned men and a liberator who overthrew the yoke of foreign rule.ChandraGupta II issued 'dated silver coins' to commemorate his victory over Saka kshatrapas.The Mehrauli iron pillar inscription (near Qutub Minar) records the exploits of a king named Chandra who is said to have vanquished the group of enemies in Vanga(Bengal),perfumed the southern ocean by his prowess and overcome the Vahlikas(across the Indus river). This king Chandra is generally identified as Chandra Gupta II and it means that his kingdom extended from Bengal to Northwest frontiers. Other than his conquests, Chandra Gupta is remembered for his patronage of literature and arts and for the high standards of artistic and cultural life.Kalidas the great Sanskrit poet was a member of his court and Fa-Hien, a chinese pilgrim who visited Chandra Gupta's kingdom, collecting Buddhist manuscripts and studying called the country as a happy and prosperous one.

Kumara Gupta II (413 A.D - 455 A.D): Kumara Gupta enjoyed a reign of more than forty years and like his grand father he issued Aswamedha type of coins. His military achievements are not known, however he organised the administration of vast empire and maintained it's peace,prosperity and security for a long period of forty years.At the end of Kumara Gupta's reign the Gupta empire was challenged by Pushyamitra, a community lived on the banks of Narmada. But it was subdued by his son Skanda Gupta and peace was restored.

Skanda Gupta II (455 A.D - 467 A.D): Skanda Gupta's succession to throne was not a peaceful one and perhaps there was a struggle between him and his brother PuruGupta. Skanda Gupta reign seems to have full of wars and his greatest enemies were the Hunas, a ferocious barbarian tribe who lived in Central Asia. One branch of them known as white Hunas occupied the Oxus valley and advanced against both Persia and India. They crossed Hindukush, occupied Gandhara and defied the Gupta empire. Skanda Gupta inflicted such a terrible defeat upon them and they dared to disturb the Gupta empire for a period of half a century.An important event during the period of Skanda Gupta was the restoration and repair of the dam across the Sudarsana lake which had been built during the Chandra Gupta Maurya's reign. This lake was also previously repaired by the Saka Kshatrapa Rudradaman I.

Decline of Guptas  The Gupta Dynasty existed for more than 100 years after the death of Skanda Gupta and he was succeded by his brother Puru Gupta. Accounts about his achievements are not known. Thereafter the only Gupta ruler worthy to rule was Budha Gupta and he was succeded by unworthy rulers unable to handle rebellions of some governors and officials and Huna invasion. Though the Huna incasion was short lived in India, the Gupta empire suffered much from it. Gupta dynasty was attacked under the leadership of Toramana, and they conquered large parts of North India including Gwalior and Malwa. Toramana was succeded by his son Mihirkula who established his capital at Sakala. Hiuen-Tsang describes how Mihirkula invaded Magadha and defeated by Gupta king Baladhitya  and how his  life was saved by the intervention of queen mother of Magadha.

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