Triveni Journal

1927 | 11,233,916 words

Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....

Expansion of the Gupta Empire

By Prof. V. Rangacharya


Chandragupta II, Vikramaditya (Circa, 380 or 385 to 413)

Chandragupta II, the son and successor of Samudragupta, was a worthy son of his father. From the fact that his records give him the title of Vikramaditya, it has been surmised by a number of scholars that he has a better claim than any other sovereign to be regarded as the original of the mythical hero of that name who figures largely in the Indian legends. The suggestion has been vehemently denied by others, Dr. Hoernle, for example, preferring to see the original of the legendary Vikramaditya in Yasovarman of Malwa nearly a century and a half later, and Mr. Vaidya considering that there was a real Vikramaditya in the first century B. C. after all. It is not possible to enter into a detailed discussion of the question as it primarily concerns the origin of the Vikrama Era; but it may be mentioned here that, if there is any truth at all in the glories attributed by the legends to Vikramaditya, the Gupta monarch richly deserves to be regarded as such a hero. Chandragupta II, in fact, seems to be entitled to the name and glory of the greatest monarch of his illustrious line. Chandragupta seems to have been known, to judge from at least two inscriptions, also as Devagupta or Devaraja.

The materials for the study of the reign can, as in the case of his predecessor's, be divided into two classes, inscriptional and numismatic. But these can be substantially supplemented by the singularly interesting account left by Fa Hian, the Chinese traveler, and by literary evidences.

The available inscriptions of Chandragupta II are five in number. Three of them are dated, and two un-dated. The former belong to the Gupta years 82, 88 and 93, corresponding respectively to 400-1, 407-8, and 412-3, A.D. The earliest is in a cave in the Udayagiri hill, two miles to the north-east of Bhilsa, where a temple dedicated to Vishnu was, if we are to judge from the figures of Vishnu and His Consorts carved outside the cave, excavated1. The inscription is in the ‘box headed script’ peculiar to Central India in this period. It is of course in Sanskrit and in prose, and dated on Ashadha-Sukla-Ekadasi of G. E. 82 (A. D. 401-2). It says that a certain feudatory Maharaja, who belonged to the Sanakanika family (which, we know from the Allahabad Prasasti had paid tribute to Samudragupta), endowed something to the shrine. The chief's name, which is partly lost, apparently ended with the expression . . . dhala. His father was Vishnudasa and his grandfather Chagalaga.

The second of the inscriptions2 is on a stone at the village of Gadhwa in Allahabad district, now deposited in the Calcutta Museum. It is in the northern Gupta script and in prose. The emperor's name is mentioned, and of the date portion, the number of the year, 88, is clear. The epigraph is in two parts, each recording a gift of ten dinaras for the maintenance of a sattra for Brahmans.

The third dated inscription3 of Chandragupta II was discovered by Cunningham in 1834. It is engraved on a stone in the rail of the eastern gateway of the great stupa at Sanchi. It is in Sanskrit prose and the southern script. It is dated in Bhadrapada Chaturthi (the paksha being not given), in G. E. 93. It is a Buddhistic inscription and records that a certain Amrakardava, the son of Undana and a feudatory of Chandragupta II, gave some village or land, besides a sum of Dinaras for the feeding of the mendicants and the maintenance of lamps by the Aryasangha in the Vihara of Kakanadabota (Sanchi). The merit of the gift was to go to himself as well as the emperor (to whom he was evidently highly indebted). The epigraph gives a clue to the toleration of the Gupta monarch, whom it also calls Devaraja.

The first of the un-dated inscriptions was discovered by Cunningham in 1880. It is in the wall of the cave at Udayagiri,4 to which reference has been made already. It is, like the other records, in Sanskrit. Its script is in the northern style. Though not dated, it clearly mentions the name of Chandragupta. On paleographical grounds this can be Chandragupta II only. It records the excavation of the cave shrine to Sambhu at the instance of a Virasena, a Minister of Chandragupta. Virasena (alias Saba), we are told, belonged to a hereditary line of ministers. He was in charge of peace and war (Sandhivigraha) and belonged to Kautsa Gotra. He knew the meaning of words, logic and the ways of mankind. He was further a poet and a native of Pataliputra. The inscription says that he came here accompanied by the emperor, who was seeking to conquer the whole world, and caused the cave to be excavated.

The second un-dated inscription5, which was discovered by Cunningham in 1853, is on a piece of stone found originally in the gateway of Madhura (United Provinces) and now located in the Lahore Museum. The record, which is fragmentary, is in the northern script (with some peculiarities). It says that the son of Samudragupta –it does not name Chandragupta–by Queen Datta Devi, gave some endowment, the details of which are lost. Only that part of the record which gives the Gupta genealogy is extant.


Passing on to the second source of the history of the reign, namely the coins6, the most important point to be realised is that Chandragupta II was not only the issuer of gold coins like his father, but also of silver and copper coins. The silver coins were issued for the first time by him, and the copper coins almost exclusively by him among the Gupta sovereigns. Chandragupta's gold coins which were at first called Dinari7and later on suvarnas, were even more abundant and versatile than those of Samudragupta. He continued the Archer and Tiger-slayer types of his predecessor with some modifications. In the former, for example, Lakshmi (surmised by V. A. Smith to be an adaptation from the Indo-Scythian Ardochro) is given an open lotus seat instead of a four-footed throne, –a truly nationalistic change. The Archer types are the most common of Chandragupta's coins and indicate, it is believed, by their modes the geographical range of their circulation as well as the transitional periods of their issue. It has been surmised, for instance, that the Throne reverses indicate an earlier period as well as circulation in the northern provinces, while the Lotus reverses indicate a later period and circulation in the central and eastern provinces. A single coin which has both the Lotus and Throne8 reverses suggests a connecting link. All these suggestions however have yet to be definitely proved. One thing is certain, however, namely, that the Archer types are the most conservative of the coins of Chandragupta and indicate, by the Kushan dress in earlier instances, a contrast to the other types which are distinctly nationalistic. Even in these coins, however, the general tendency to growing orthodoxy is seen by the replacement of the conventional Kushan dress by the Hindu waist-cloth and sash. Passing on to the Tiger-slayer type, the change introduced by Chandragupta was the substitution of a lion in place of the tiger. The lion either combats or retreats9 or is trampled upon. While the Tiger-slayer type of Samudragupta (which, it may be noted, is unique and characteristically national) had apparently the Ganga with the Makara on the reverse. Chandragupta's Lion-slayer type has on its reverse the figure of Lakshmi seated on a couchant lion and holding a lotus (or fillet, pasa, sym bolical of the earth-girding sex) in her hands. All the successors of Chandragupta continued the Lion type, showing that the Guptas were very proud of the symbology depicted therein. One unique variety of it shows Chandragupta attacking the lion with a sword. Another type of Chandragupta's coins is the one named after the chhatra or umbrella figuring in it. It may be regarded as a variant of the standard model. On its obverse there is the figure of the standing king, whose right hand sacrifices at an altar and left hand rests on a sword-hilt; and by his side there is a boy holding an umbrella over his head. The reverse shows Lakshmi standing upon a blossoming lotus, which Vincent Smith mistook for a dragon, (see his catalogue p. 14 and 91), with fillet or lotus in her hands.10 Chandragupta issued a new coin, usually styled the Horseman type, which his successor afterwards adopted as his most favourite model. The figure of the horseman11 had once been employed by the Bactrian Greeks and Sakas; but the Gupta rendering of it is, as Brown points out, original and spirited–a change which Vincent Smith failed to notice. The king rides on horse. He is either fully clothed or has a waist-cloth the long sashes of which fly behind. He faces either to the right or left, and has either a sword or a bow. The horse is fully caparisoned in the Indian fashion, with a plume on its head. Sometimes there is the figure of the crescent too. The reverse of this type contains, as in Samudragupta's Veena coins, the figure of Lakshmi seated on ‘a wicker stool’12 and holding lotus and fillet in her hands. The rarest of the gold coins of Chandragupta is the one known to numismatists as the Couch13 type, which seems to have been derived from the Veena model of Samudragupta. Here the emperor is seated on a high-ed couch. His right hand hold aloft a lotus. His left hand rests on the side of the couch. On the reverse there is Lakshmi seated on a throne with a lotus or fillet in her hands. The emperor calls himself Vikrama (Cf. Samudragupta's Parakrama)14and Rupakriti in these coins.

In regard to the silver coins which, as we have already seen, Chandragupta issued for the first time, there is the warrant for the belief that they were issued immediately after the reduction of the Western Kshatrapas in whose province they seem to have circulated. The model was that of the conquered people, which in turn had been based on the Greco-Bactrian hemi-drachm; but in place of the Kshatrapa chaitya there was introduced the Gupta Garuda (which Vincent Smith has mistaken for a winged peacock) and in place of the Saka era, the Gupta era (with the additional letter vo for varshe or year). Further the Kshatrapa coins had contained only the conventional head to represent indiscriminately all kings; but Chandragupta introduced his own portrait. All these changes, together with the slightly altered clusters of dots representing the rayed sun, are easily intelligible. It must be noted here that the silver issues of Chandragupta's mints were very small when compared with those of his successors; and this can be explained only on the basis of the lateness and smallness of his silver mintage.

The copper coins of Chandragupta II–his predecessors had not issued any on account of the abundance of the Kushan coins which were still in circulation–were of nine different kinds (though Vincent Smith notes only four.) In eight of these, there is the figure of Garuda with the name of the emperor in the reverse and the head or bust in the obverse. In the ninth model there is the reproduction of the Chhatra type with a fine kalasa with flowers and leaves hanging down its sides in the reverse. The king has often flower in his hands, as well as an attendant holding a chhatra. The Garuda has sometimes a snake in its mouth. Sometimes the bird stands on an altar and is represented with or without human arms.15 The copper coins, in short, are distinguished in the obverse by devices of the umbrella, the standing king, the bust or head of the monarch. The Bust type is an imitation of the gold coins of Huvishika.


The legends on Chandragupta's coins are as poetic and picturesque as those on Samudragupta's. The Archer type has on its obverse Deva-sri-Maharajadhiraja-Sri-Chandra- guptah. The Couch type has the same in the genitive, some specimens however having the additional terms Vikramaditya and Rupakriti. The reverse of all these has the simple and short legend Sri Vikramah. In the obverse of the Chhatra type we find, in addition to the simple expression Maharajadhiraja Sri-Chandraguptah, the metrical legend Kshitim avajitya sucharitaih divam jayati Vikramadityah. (Having conquered the earth, by his good deeds, Vikramaditya conquers heaven). The Lion-slayer type has got the epithets Narendra-chandra, Simhavikramah, Narendrasimha-Chandraguptah, besides this verse in the Vamsastha metre.

Narendrachandra (h) pratitha (sriya) divam
Jayatyajeyo bhuvi Simhavikramah.

The Horseman type gives the epithets Parama-bhagavata and Ajita-vikramah. The silver coins have: Paramabhaga-vata-Maharajadhiraja Sri Chandragupta Vikramadityah and Sri Gupta-kulasya Maharajadhiraja Sri Chandragupta Vikramadityasya, together with the title Vikramanka. The copper coins have the simple titles of Sri Chandragupta, Sri Vikramadityah and sometimes Maharaja.


The historical lessons we are able to derive from these epigraphs and coins are indeed very interesting. The latter show that the emperor was physically a strong man, capable of fighting with lions, and intellectually a versatile and accomplished expert in the arts of peace and war. They seem to indicate that, as a man, Chandragupta was as amiable and gifted as his illustrious father. From literary works of the period as well, which we shall presently refer to, we find that Chandragupta was personally a bold and daring adventurer who did not hesitate to go into the strong-holds of his most deadly enemies in order to accomplish his objects. From these works we also understand that he was regarded as as much a poet as Kalidasa and others. No doubt the version which classes him with Kalidasa and other literary luminaries is not quite trustworthy in details; but the very existence of the legend and its incorporation into literary tradition indicates the great reputation which Chandragupta had for literary accomplishments. Chandragupta was also a man of toleration. His orthodoxy is clear in his coins and the majority of the inscriptional records; but one of the latter (the Sanchi epigraph) indicates his friendship with the professors of the Buddhistic creed. These materials show that Chandragupta II ruled over an empire which included regions which had not been reduced by his father, which extended in the west as far as the sea, while literature and Vakataka inscriptions indicate that his influence extended south ward as far as the extremity of the Vakataka kingdom. One other inference we are able to make is that Chandragupta was an excellent administrator. The abundant currency he issued shows a long reign of comparative peace and the devotion of the people to the pursuits of trade and enrichment.


The endeavours of Chandragupta II to carry the Gupta empire to greater glories than those achieved by his father are particularly obvious in two directions, namely, his relations with the Vakatakas and his relations with the Western Kshatrapas. Light is thrown on the former of these by the records of the Vakatakas as well as a few literary references of the period. The Vakataka kingdom was at this time ruled by Rudrasena II, the son and successor of Prithvisena I, the conqueror of the Kuntalas. We do not know exactly when Rudrasena II came to the throne; but we can learn from the researches of Dr. Vincent Smith that he must have married Prabhavati, the daughter of Chandragupta II, about the year 395 A.D. It is very probable that Rudrasena had already ruled for a few years before he married the Gupta princess. It is also probable that, in bestowing his daughter on the Vakataka king, Chandragupta pursued a policy of wise conciliation inspired by his desire to checkmate the Western Kshatrapas who, as will be shown presently, were rather restless in the latter part of the 4th century. The immediate result of this marriage was the practical control of the Guptas over the Dakkan. The events which happened subsequently seem to have gone to emphasise this control. Rudrasena seems to have lived only for a very few years after his marriage with Prabhavati. About 400 A.D. he was succeeded by his young sons Divakarasena and Pravarasena II; and the actual administration of the kingdom was carried on by the talented queen-dowager in the name of the boy kings for 18 years at least. Gupta by birth and Vakataka by marriage, this lady immortalised herself not only by an efficient administration but by her religious ardour and services to the Srisailam temple in the southern border of the Vakataka kingdom. The legends of the temple say that Chandravati (probably another name for Prabhavati), the daughter of the Gupta monarch, conceived a passion for the God on the Srisaila hill and offered everyday a garland of jasmine flowers16 to him. Queen Prabhavati probably gave, as Prof. Dubreul suggests, either a daughter or grand-daughter of hers to one Madhavavarman and made him the governor of the eastern parts of the Dakkan17. It was this Madhavavarman that founded the Vishnukundin dynasty. That is why he declares himself to be the husband of the Vakataka princess and the adorer of the God of Srisailam. But the marriage of the Vakataka princess with Madhavavarman need not have taken place in the reign of Chandragupta II.

The practical supremacy of the Guptas over the Vakatakas must be obvious to one versed in the circumstances. Queen Prabhavati must have been a closely connecting link. Her frequent visits to her father's capital and court, must have had a large influence in bringing the two lines together, which the common danger from the Western Kshatrapas must have fostered. The misfortunes of the queen–the death of her husband and the necessity to carry on the administration for many years–must have still further increased the bond. We can almost imagine the Vakataka prince, the grandson of the Gupta emperor, being brought up in the Gupta capital and initiated into all the political notions and prejudices of the northern dynasty. It was a circumstance which would not only have enabled the Gupta political power to be supreme over the south but facilitated the expansion of the Gupta culture into the Dakkan and from there to the further south.

A clue to this is afforded, as has been already said, by literature. A dramatic work called Kuntalesvara-dautya18(or Kuntesadautyam) which has been ascribed to Kalidasa, says that Kalidasa was once sent by Vikramaditya to go to the court of Kuntala (that is, the Vakataka kingdom which included the Kuntala country) and see how the administration was carried on and that he reported, on his return, that Kuntalesa was, in consequence of his having placed the burden of administration on the emperor, devoting himself to a life of pleasure. This is only another way of saying that, secure of the protection of his grandfather, Pravarasena had an easy and prosperous administration, and he utilised this security for the pursuit of literature and pleasure. We know that Pravarasena19 wrote the Prakrit kavya Setubandha and that, according to one commentator (the author of the Ramasetupradipa), was revised by Kalidasa at the suggestion of the Gupta monarch. As the commentator says that this work was composed by the Vakataka king immediately after his accession, we have to suppose that the mission of Kalidasa referred to above must have taken place subsequent to the composition of the Setubandha by the Kuntala king.


While the Gupta emperor thought it wise to pursue a policy of friendliness and intermarriage with the Vakatakas, he deemed it necessary to adopt an entirely different attitude towards the Western Satraps. We do not know what this was due to. Vincent Smith suggests plausibly that the Gupta monarch's ambition as well as the desire to end a dynasty of impure foreign rulers who differed in race, creed and manners, was responsible for it. From the coins of the Western Kshatrapas we know that, after 348 A. D., the Kshatrapas had, for some reason or other, become completely eclipsed. Prof. Rapson believes that it might be due to some foreign trouble. Probably it was caused by the encroachments of the rising Guptas on the one hand and the Vakatakas on the other. Samudragupta, as we have already seen, had been approached by the Satraps (who may be identified with the Sakas referred to in the Allahabad inscription) in a conciliatory and friendly manner. Apparently about the close of the 4th century, there was a restlessness among the Sakas who were then under the Satrap Rudrasimha, son of Satyasimha. It was the encroachments of this king perhaps that made Chandragupta proceed against them. His alliance with the Vakatakas might have been due to the desire for a joint effort against the Sakas.

As regards the date of the undertaking of hostilities against the Sakas, we can make a fairly definite estimate, Chandragupta was making donations in the Udayagiri cave whither he came, we are told, on his way to conquer the world, in 401 A.D. We also know that the last of the coins of the Kshatrapas is dated S. 31 x that is, sometime between 388 A. D. and 397 A. D. From all these facts we have to suppose that the war between the Kshatrapas and the Guptas took place during the last two or three years of the 4th century. We have already seen how on the authority of Vincent Smith, we can attribute the Gupta-Vakataka marriage, which was just prior to the actual declaration of hostilities with the Sakas, to 395 A.D. The reduction of the Kshatrapa territory which about included West Malwa, Gujerat and Kathiawar must have taken place between 395 and 402, roughly. A few years this side and that may have to be added in the light of future researches.

The Gupta war against the Sakas is amply demonstrated by the supersession of the Saka currency by the Gupta, to which we have already referred. Literature also comes to our aid and throws some interesting side-lights on the war. In his Harshacharita20Bana refers to an incident in the war. He says: Aripure cha parakalatra-kamukam Kamini-vesha-guptah Chandraguptah sakapatim asatayat. (At Aripura, Chandragupta who was in the guise of a lady, killed the Saka chief who longed for another man's wife). The commentator (Sankara) has interpreted this passage to the effect that the acharya of the Sakas made advances to Dhruvadevi, the wife of Chandragupta's brother (Bhratr-jaya) and that Chandragupta killed him after assuming the guise of the lady, in the midst of a number of soldiers who were dressed as her women attendants. This passage of the Commentator is interesting for its proving that the Chandragupta of the Harshacharita was the Gupta emperor; for Dhruvadevi was a Gupta. But the commentator has made one mistake. Dhruvadevi was, we know from inscriptions, not the wife of Chandragupta's brother but of Chandragupta himself. The Bhilsad2l stone inscription (dated G. E. 96, A. D. 415-6) for example, distinctly says that he was the son of Chandragupta by Dhruvadevi. We have to suppose that, in this as well as the reference to the Acharya of the Sakas, the Commentator is inaccurate. Fortunately, the Srinagaraprakasika, an anthology discovered recently by the Office of the Madras Oriental MSS. Library and attributed to Bhoja, gives extracts from a drama called Devi-chandraguptam, which throws true light on this incident. These extracts say that Chandragupta entered the Skandavara, the camp of his enemy, at Alipura22 in the guise of a woman for killing the lord of the Sakas and that, when he was reminded by the Vidushaka of the extreme danger he ran by going in the midst of so many enemies, he replied that there was not much danger at all as he was exactly in the position of a lion emerging out of his cave against a herd of elephants. It is clear from all this that Chandraguta's queen probably fell a prisoner in the hands of the Sakas in the course of the campaign against the Satrap, and was rescued from the importunities of the Saka monarch, Rudrasimha, by the Gupta emperor in the guise of his queen. It is unfortunate that the Devi-chandraguptam has been lost. Its discovery is bound to be of unique interest23 .

It was apparently the Saka conquest that made Chandragupta assume the title of Vikramaditya in imitation of the original hero of Malwa who founded the Vikrama era of 56 B.C. By slaying the last of the Satrap kings and by annexing their territory, Chandragupta extended the Gupta empire over Malwa, Gujerat and Saurashtra. One effect of this was that Ujjain, the famous centre of learning, became the second capital of the empire. Again, by extending the borders of the empire to the Arabian sea, Chandragupta brought the advantages and resources of the magnificent seaports of the coast to the imperial coffers. The contact with the coast is also maintained by some to have promoted the direct sea-borne commerce of India with Egypt, Europe and other parts in the West, as well as the interchange of ideas from one part to the other. The extent to which this interchange of ideas took place is generally described in accordance with the prejudices of particular scholars. Some scholars exaggerate the invasion of European ideas on literature, art and science through the Alexandrian merchants. There is perhaps a tendency in the other school to go to the other extreme; but on the whole the influence of India on the external world was far more momentous in this period than the influence of the external world on India.


The Gupta empire now reached the height of its glory and the maximum of its size. By annexing the territories of the Sakas and by exercising a large influence, or possibly even control, over the Vakatakas, Chandragupta carried the south-western and southern limits of the Gupta empire to those of the Mauryas under Asoka. It is quite possible that the Salankayanas of the East Dakkan were under the control of the Vakatakas and therefore of the Guptas. Further south, the Kadambas, Gangas and Pallavas were fast emerging into big powers; but they had no direct dealings with the Guptas. In Hindustan, the empire extended from the Himalayas to the Vindhyas and from the Brahmaputra to the middle Punjab. It is almost certain that western Punjab and the States further west were under the Kushan chiefs who succeeded the earlier Kushans and who must have been in touch, sometimes friendly and sometimes hostile with the Sassanian dynasty of Persia. No records are available about the other parts of the empire upon which light is thrown by the Prasasti of Samudragupta; but we may take for granted that, in these cases, there was no change. Both the administrative divisions and arrangements probably continued to be in this reign what they had been in the reign of Samudragupta. The official hierarchy was constituted on the same model. The frontier and friendly States were probably on the same political relationship. One remarkable thing to be noticed in the administration of Chandragupta was the part played by women. We have already seen how Prabhavati was all-powerful in the Dakkan for years. Similarly queen Dhruvadevi seems to have been entrusted with some hand in the administration of the province of Vaisali (Basarh). Clay seals24 bearing her name and the name of her son Govindagupta have been discovered in the neighbourhood of Vaisali. It must be acknowledged, however, that the inclusion of the name of the empress with that of a prince in administrative matters and during the lifetime of the emperor is rather anomalous. The only way of explaining it seems to be that the seals were dated subsequent to the death of Chandragupta and that the queen-dowager was probably the guardian of Govindgupta, one of the younger sons of Chandragupta, who was in charge of the province of Tirhut. The seals discovered in this region also include the seals of other princes like Ghatotkachagupta, probably a near member of the royal family whose exact kinship is yet to be ascertained, and of a large number of officers. The very titles of these officers are significant and their importance must be realised by every student of the constitutional theory and practice in this period.


One important question which has to be decided in this connection is whether Pataliputra was the capital of the empire. Vincent Smith says that after his conquests, Samudragupta had shifted the royal residence, though not the official capital, from Pataliputra to Ayodhya (Fyzabad) in Southern Oudh. He is disposed to believe that, owing to the more central situation and traditional greatness of Ayodhya, it might have been the imperial residence and premier city. We do not know how far this is true, though the spurious Gaya epigraph and the reference of Hiuen Tsang to the Gupta monarch's company with the Buddhistic philosophers of that place might be regarded as arguments in favour of the theory. At the same time, there is no doubt that Pataliputra was a populous and magnificent city in the 5th century and is described, as we shall presently see, in glowing and eloquent terms by Fa Hian. Literary evidences as well as political circumstances, it may be pointed out here, seem to show that, in the latter part of the reign, Ujjain too was as prominent a seat of government as Ayodhya or Pataliputra. Probably Chandragupta used all the capitals. The exodus to Ujjain seems to have been rather permanent after the annexation of the Kshatrapa territory, though it is difficult to be positive about it. The emperor's desire to keep close watch over the movements of the newly conquered people of the west and to give security to the trade and traffic which, ever since the annexation of their land, had become a source of prosperity to the empire-might have made Ujjain the most important of the capitals in the last years of the reign.


So far as the effects of Chandragupta's administration on the country and people are concerned, we unfortunately do not possess sufficient illuminating materials. There is one source of knowledge, however, which, though indirect and incidental, is for that reason all the more valuable; and that is the account of the Chinese pilgrim Fa Hian, who visited India in this reign. It is true that the celebrated pilgrim does not mention the name of the emperor; but as we definitely know from Chinese sources that his travels took place between 399 A.D. and 414 A.D., no other sovereign could have been intended. Fa Hian25 had a purely religious mission. His object was to collect the genuine sacred scriptures of Buddhism for the benefit of the Buddhists of his country who had had hitherto access only to mutilated and incomplete collections of the treatises on Vinaya. It was in 399 A.D. that the young monk–for Fa Hian was then only 25 years of age–left his native country at the instance of his sovereign. For the next fifteen years he was engaged in his journey. Six of these years he actually spent in India, six in his journey up to India, two in Ceylon and one in transit from Ceylon to China. In the course of his extensive journey he visited all the sacred places associated with the life and labours of the Buddha and has left realistic accounts of them. He visited all the monasteries where he sought the precious books and relics, and recorded, with a most charming and refreshing naivete and sincerity, their history, together with the life of the monks, the miracles of the Buddha, and other details. His narrative is thus a classic on the Buddhistic conditions and methods of worship in the reign of the most orthodox of the Gupta monarchs; but incidentally there are references to social and political conditions. Fa Hian visited the principalities or provinces of Udayana (Kabul), Svat, Gandhara, Takshasila, Peshawar, Madhura, the land later on forming Rajputana, the Madhyadesa (by which we have to mean the heart of the Gupta Empire), the various scenes of the Buddha's life and labours in this region which were already far gone in the path of neglect and ruin, Bengal and Ceylon. He also gives a hearsay account of the Dakkan. In everyone of these he describes the absolute, though not relative, strength of Buddhism and the facilities he had for copying the scriptures he wanted. His interesting account of the journey from Ceylon to China is an indispensable authority for a knowledge of the Indian trade conditions and colonies in this period. All these, however fascinating, are not germane for our present purpose. So far as this is concerned, there are, in the story of his travels, only a few passages; but these are sufficiently instructive.

Fa Hian describes the Madhyadesa–the central part of the empire–in terms which make us believe that the Gupta emperor was able to bestow on the people the benefits of a sound and orderly administration, which enabled them to enjoy much material prosperity. Fa Hian says that the people, who enjoyed the warm and equable climate of their land, were opulent and contented. Traveling was both free and safe. Fa Hian testifies to the mild and sympathetic character of the judicial administration. There was no capital punishment, he says somewhat surprisingly, except for treason which was chastised with the amputation of the right hand. He notes the absence of judicial torture and the usual punishment of crimes with fines alone. He observes the absence of heavy tolls and other restrictions on trade and traffic. He says that rent was collected from crown lands and that the king's personal servants were paid fixed salaries. One remarkable. fact emphasised by the pilgrim with pleasure is that the Buddhistic idea of sanctity for life permeated all classes of the population. There was a complete abhorrence to the killing of animals, to the drinking of wine, and, (curiously enough) to the eating of garlic and onions! There were again, says Fa Hian, no dealings in swine, fowls, and cattle for the purpose of slaughter. The chandalas, butchers and fishermen alone, he notes, dealt in flesh and the slaughter of life. For ordinary purposes, we have reasons to believe from Fa Hian, the people used cowries or shells as currency, coins being presumably used by the rich and higher classes alone. Fa Hian notes the liberal endowment made by the sovereigns and nobles for the Buddhistic monasteries from generation to generation, as the result of which the monks were free from all cares regarding food, housing and luxuries. Donations of houses, fields, gardens, men and cattle were showered by nobles as well as the ordinary householders. The title deeds were handed from reign to reign, so that there could be no violation of them. The resident priests of the viharas were fully provided with mats, beds, food, drink and clothes without stint. Fa Hian speaks with particular admiration of the city of Pataliputra and its people. He refers in detail to the palaces of Asoka and the legends connected with them. He describes the city as highly opulent and the people as vying with one another in practising benevolence and righteousness. He remarks that the nobles and householders founded numerous charity-houses and hospitals where the poor, the crippled and the diseased could get gratuitous treatment. The prosperity of the capital city as described by him forms a strange contrast to the ruins of the Budddhistic centres: Fa Hian found it necessary and profitable to stay at Pataliputra for three years; for though it was the headquarters of an extremely orthodox and beloved Hindu emperor, he found more materials here than in Buddhistic places of worship. During this period of three years he learnt Sanskrit, and copied a number of MSS. in the local Mahayana vihara, which he could not get elsewhere in the west in consequence of the sytem of teaching by memory which was in vogue there. Fa Hian's description of the local monasteries and festivals indicates the advanced state of idol worship, the close co-operation between the Buddhistic and Brahmanical leaders and the inordinate love of gaiety and display which the court and the people indulged in. It would be hard to find a more pleasing picture of harmony and co-operation than the one presented by the pilgrim in this connection.

It is, therefore, not surprising that the late Dr. Vincent Smith has remarked that "probably India has never been better governed after the oriental manner than it was during the reign of Vikramaditya". The judgment is all the more acceptable for the reason that Fa Hian himself contrasts the condition of North India with that of the Dakkan in a manner which is quite unfavourable to the latter. We do not know to what part of the Dakkan Fa Hian refers. Dr. Krishnaswami Aiyangar believes26 that it applies to the Vakataka kingdom and he sees a demonstration of Fa Hian's condemnation in the story that Kalidasa reported to his sovereign that the Kuntala king devoted himself, in consequence of the all-powerfulness of the Gupta monarch in administration, to a life of pleasure, neglecting his proper duty. But Fa Hian could not have referred to the Vakataka country. He, it is almost certain, referred to the unsettled country on the coast, which was either under the Kalinga or Salankayana dynasty. The government of this part of the country was not efficient enough to secure the safety of person and property. Communication was sadly neglected, so that the country was precipitous and the roads dangerous. "Those who wish to go there, even if they know the place, ought to give a present to the king of the country, either money or goods. The king then deputes certain men to accompany them as guides, and so pass the travelers from one place to another, each party pointing out their own roads and intricate by-paths."

The reign of Chandragupta is not only politically important but highly eventful in the history of literature and arts. It is not possible to deal with these subjects here; but it may be noted that some of the most renowned poets and philosophers, Brahmanical and Buddhistic, belonged to his time and court; while the emperor's taste for architecture, sculpture and painting created an atmosphere favourable to the bequeathal, to posterity, of some of the most

enduring monuments in the world. These subjects are dealt with elsewhere.


It must now be obvious that, from every standpoint, the reign of Chandragupta II was a glorious epoch in the history of the Guptas and of Hindu India. From numismatic evidences we find that the earliest date of his son and successor Kumaragupta was G. E. 96 (A.D. 415). We have therefore to suppose that Chandragupta died in that year or more probably, a year or two earlier. The year 413 A. D. has been generally taken, certainly with plausibility, to be his

last year. Chandragupta had wielded the destinies of the Gupta empire for. about twenty-eight years and, it can be hardly doubted, with the highest credit to himself and the highest benefit to the country. To the Brahmanical leaders and scholars he must have been the very incarnation of divinity; and alike in the history of religion, art, literature politics, and statecraft, he has left a name second to none. Chandragupta's private life is, as in the case of almost all ancient Hindu monarchs, obscure. The few existing records say that he had at least two queens, namely, Dhruvadevi, the heroine of the Devi-chandraguptam and the issuer of the Vaisali seals, and Kubhera Naga the Naga princess and mother of Prabhavati, the queen of the Vakatakas. Chandragupta must have had other queens, but we have no information about them. Both Kumaragupta who succeeded him and Govindagupta who figures in the Vaisali clay seal finds, were the sons of the first and senior queen. The legends of Vikramaditya, if they are to be taken as referring to Chandragupta II, seem to indicate a most amiable and charming personality who loved women simply because they were women! It is quite possible that Chandragupta was a lover of the fair sex as he was a lover of valour, culture, beauty and learning. At any rate, that is what the legends clearly indicate. But apart from this surmise, there remains the solid fact that, as an empire-builder and as a patron of culture, he was the most conspicuous and commanding figure in all India during (roughly speaking) the last fifteen years of the 4th and the first 15 years of the 5th century. To posterity his political work has become nothing; but the results of his patronage of art, literature and all that is likely to elevate and enrich human life, have endured to the present day. Further the consequences of his instrumentality in that change in the balance of power which eventually saw the absolute and unqualified death of Buddhism before the all- absorbing and all-assimilating Hinduism, have been about and upon the peoples of India through the long vista of the last fifteen centuries. Chandragupta's great civil and military talents, his successful lead of armies to victory and his combination of good government, peace, order and security with the force of full royal authority, must have been big achievements in the eyes of his contemporaries; but the effects of these have passed away, sharing the fate of the work of every other great eastern empire-builder and statesman; but the results of his efforts to illuminate and beautify the world, to help the cause of what he regarded as the true morality, the true creed and the true social structure and manners, have, for good or for evil, endured. And if in the course of centuries the Brahmanical civilization has displayed a marvelous vigour, force, and enduring power, it must not a little be due to the successful endeavours of the great Gupta monarch to engraft what were then regarded as the highest ideals upon what was then regarded as the highest political ambition or achievement.

1 Fleet's Gupta Inscriptions. No 3. pp. 21-25.

2 Ibid, No 7. pp. 36-39. The inscription mentions Pataliputra as apparently the imperial capital. The Dinara was adopted from the Roman Aurei which had the figure of an eagle to which V. A. Smith traces the Gupta Garuda.

3 Ibid, No.5. pp. 29-34. Fleet does not believe that Devaraja was another name for the emperor; but the Vakataka inscriptions corroborate this record.

4 Fleet's Gupta Inscriptions, No.6, pp. 34-36.

5 Fleet's Gupta Inscriptions. No.4, pp. 25–28. Though the extant portion does not name Chandragupta, there is no doubt of his being mentioned in the missing portion.

6 These are dwelt upon exhaustively and from every scientific standpoint by Vincent Smith in The coinage of the early or Imperial Gupta Dynasty (reprinted from the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society) and by Mr. John Allan in his Catalogue of the coins of the Gupta Dynasties and of Sasanka, king of Gauda (1914). These supersede all earlier works on the subject which are copious. In his little book, The coins of India (Heritage of India series 1922), Mr. C. J. Brown gives an excellent summary in pp. 40-49. All the three works contain plates which can be directly consulted. Rapson's Indian Coins (1897), pp. 24-5, is still useful.

7One general fact to be noted regarding Gupta coins is that the obverse contains the conventional forms of the king and the reverse a mythological figure like Lakshmi. For the very few exceptions see V. A. Smith's Catalogue, pp. 13 and 16.

8 There are several varieties of each of these types. Vincent Smith suggests, though hesitatingly, the derivation of the devices from the Persian Darics. See his Coinage etc., p. 18

9 The distinction between the combatant and retreating lion was first made by Vincent Smith. Others, with more correctness, do not see the difference between the two. But the other varieties pointed out by Vincent Smith are obvious. This writer would trace the Gupta lion and tiger obverses to the Greek Heracles contending with the Nemean lion. Though he is "not able to show any clear connection between the Greek and Indian designs", he still sees a Greek look in the retreating lion and feels persuaded "that its spirited design was inspired by western plodels." (Ibid, p. 20). To one who cannot see a spirited design only in western models, the Greek look of the retreating lion may not be obvious!

10 The Goddess stands either full or three-quarter. Sometimes she stands on an altar. In some coins she is in the walking posture.

11 Vincent Smith divides the coin into two types as the horse faces right or left, but Allan rejects this classification on the grounds that the same fabric is seen in both cases and that it is the presence or absence of the symbol on the reverse that should be regarded as the true criterion for classification.

12 V. A. Smith ascribes this to the Greek coin bearing the figure of Demeter. See p. 24 of his Catalogue.

13 One is reminded of the couch which is used in Tamil inscriptions synonymously with the throne. Vincent Smith notes that it was an imitation from Indo-Scythian coins and draws attention to figures in the same attitude in the Amaravati sculptures of the 2nd century A.D. See his Catalogue, p. 18.

14 To the types given above Vincent Smith adds a Javelin type which is most singular in having a reverse in which the king and queen are seated in a Couch. He sees a Macedonian influence in it. Ibid. p. 17.

15 The following excellent summary of Chandragupta's coins by Mr. Allan is worth quoting: "The coins of Chandragupta display considerable originality of type. In his reign the throned goddess is replaced by the purely Indian type of a goddess seated on a lotus. The Couch type and the Umbrella type are original. He also introduced the Horseman type which became so popular with his successor. Samudragupta had represented himself in combat with a tiger, and Chandragupta developed this idea in four distinct types in which he is represented slaying a lion, with legends descriptive of his prowess and strength. His reign is chiefly remarkable for the introduction of a currency in silver and copper, the former of which was considerably extended by his successors, Kumaragupta. I and Skandagupta."

16 See Madras Epigraphical Report for Aug. 1915, pp. 91-94 for a detailed account of the place. The Government Epigraphist has committed the incredible blunder of confounding the Gupta and Maurya Chandragupta with one another. The inscriptions (see my Topographical list, Kl. 446-489 P, which includes Mackenzie's collections too) do not mention Prabhavati or Chandravati. The exact durations of the reigns of Divakara Sena and Pravarasena II, are not known. The Vakataka records refer to the 13th year of the former and 18th year of the latter during the regency of the queen. But some have taken both these kings to be one and the same. Indeed a third name Damodarasena is also held to refer to the same. See for example Krishnaswami Aiyangar's Gupta Studies, p. 4. The question is discussed in detail in the chapter on the Dakkan history.

17 Ancient History of the Deccan (1920), pp. 74 and 90.

18 The work is referred to in detail in the chapter on literature. Here it may be simply pointed out that Rajasekhara, Bhoja and Kshemendra mention it.

19 Bana refers to this. For other notices see the chapter on literature.

20 Cowell's Translation, p. 194.

21 Gupta Inscriptions, No. 10.

22 The printed editions of the Harshacharita have Nalinapura or Aripura but the Devi-chandraguptam calls the enemy's city Alipuram. Alipuram, it seems to me, might be Alina 14 miles to the north-east of Nadiad, taluk headquarters in Khaira district, Gujerat. The village has been the site of the discovery of two copper-plate charters –one of Dhruvasena II and the other of ‘Siladitya VII–for which see Ind. Antq., Vol. VII, p 80 and Gupta Inscrns. No 39, p. 171 ff. Prof. Krishnaswami Aiyangar says: "There is a place called Alirajapura and a district dependent thereon, but on the mere name it would be hazardous to suggest an identification." The Professor apparently refers to Alina, but I cannot understand why an identification on the

basis of names is hazardous when political and geographical circumstances favour it. He then refers to the mention of an Aripura in Kalinga by the Silappadikaram and Manimekalai and makes the transparently obvious remark that it "seems too far east even for a saka raid at this period." It is, to say the least, curious that a scholar who deprecates geographical identification on the mere basis of names passes on, in the very same breath, to a suggestion on the same basis though his conclusion is rightly against the identification.

23 V. A. Smith does not regard the tale as ‘genuine history,’ but the literary tradition is too particular and striking to justify the scepticism.

24 For these excavations of Dr. Block, see Archreological survey of India, Annual Report, 1903-4, pp. 101-120.

25 Fa Hian's account has been translated by several scholars, –Beal in the first volume of Buddhistic Records of the Western World, 2 volumes, 1885; by Legge (Oxford, 1886) and by Giles (1877). For the full bibliographical history, see Vincent Smith's Early History of India, 4th Edn. (1924), pp. 24-25.

26 Studies in Gupta History, p. 55.

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