A Historical Study of Kaushambi

by Nirja Sharma | 2021 | 30,704 words

This is a Historical study of Kaushambi from a literary and archaeological perspective. Kaushambi is an ancient Indian city situated to the south-east of Allahabad now represented by the extensive ruins near the village Kosam. In the 6th century B.C. (during the time of the Buddha), Kausambi functioned as the capital of the Vatsa Janapada, one of t...

Kaushambi under the Gupta Dynasty (350 to about 500 A.D.)

Before the rise of the Guptas the Vatsa region was ruled over by the successors of the Maghas, whose names are known from coins and inscriptions. To the south-west of the Vatsa kingdom the Nagas had occupied the vast region from Vidisha. Eran in the south to Mathura in the north. They had four centres, viz. Vidisha, Padmavati, Kantípuri and Mathura. Two Naga rulers Ganapati Naga and Nagadatta are mentioned in the Allahabad Pillar inscription of Samudragupta as having been defeated by the latter about 345 A.D. The Vakatakas rose to power in the central Deccan towards the close of the third century A.D.[1] They later became a predominant power in the Deccan and Western India. No tangible evidence is available to show that the Nagas had their sway on the Vatsa region in the 3rd or 4th century A.D.

It is probable that the Vakatakas wrested from the Nagas some of their possessions in the Central India in the beginning of the fourth century A.D., when the Vakatakas had become a great power and claimed imperial dignity in the time of Pravarasena I. Pravarasena I was Vaara succeded by Rud rasena I. Samudragupta inflicted a smashing defeat upon Budrasena I, the successor of Pravarasena in a sanguinary battle fought at Kaushambi in which the Vakataka king lost his life on the battlefield about c. 345 A.D. The Vakatakas then sank into the position of mere feudatories of the great Gupta empire.[2]

Since then Kaushambi was under the supremacy of the Guptas. Samudragupta started his Aryavarta compaign from his capital and his first pitched battle in which Samudragupta won a decided victory and consequently supremacy over northern India was fought at Kaushambi in 344 or 345 A.D. According to Prayaga Prashasti Samudragupta during his Aryavarta expedition defeated king Rudradeva. This Rudradeva seems to have been the ruler of Kaushambi, whose seal and coins are known from Jhusi and Kaushambi. After defeating this king Rudradeva and other Aryavarta kings, his minister of peace and war, Harisena, got inscribed an inscription on the lower part of the Ashokan pillar at Kaushambi. The reason was that. Kaushambi was on the way of his northern expedition. Another reason was that that he defeated the first, Aryavarta king, who was probably the ruler of Kaushambi.

The Pali literature bears ample evidence of the fact that Kaushambi was not only an important river station for goods and passengers coming west by the river routes from Magadha, Champa and Kosala but roads coming from the South West, West and North West converged on Kaushambi. The proclamation of Samudragupta's victory was inscribed on the Ashokan pillar in situr at Kaushambi and subseuquently transferred to Allahabad in the reign of Akbar.

If Jayaswal's suggestion that the battle which gave Samudragupta the supremacy over Northern India was fought at Kaushambi is correct, as is reason to believe, Kaushambi receives an added importance in its history of the fourth century A.D.

For the history of Kaushambi in the fifth century A.D. we are primarily indebted to the Chinese pilgrim Fa hien who visited this town. Fa-hien visited India during the later part of the reign of Chandragupta II, Vikramaditya, the son and successor of Samudragupta, and stayed in the country for six years (405 to 411). The Chinese pilgirm timed his visit to India most opportunately when the wars were finished, the imperial rule was firmly established and peace reigned supreme in the land, which enabled the pilgrim to move about in the country most freely without molestation of any kind. The pilgrim speaks highly of the conditions of roads and of the absence of thieves and robbers, a testimony which redounds to the glory of the Indian administration on the fifth century A.D. of which we can be legitimately proud.

Fa-hien's notice of the city of Kaushambi in his record is brief. The pilgrim is silent about the political condition of Kaushambi during his visit. It is partly because Kaushambi was during his visit under the imperial rule of the Guptas, and there was no independent or subordinate king residing in the city whose guest he was; and partly because of the fact that the Chinese pilgrim came to India primarily as a pious pilgrim to pay respects to the Buddhist shrines, and / to collect and carry home the copies of the palipitakas. Consequently his notice of Kaushambi, in common with that of many other places, was confined to the religious conditions obtaining their at the time. The record of the pilgrim regarding Kaushambi, however, clearly points out one thing, namely that it was once an imporant scene of Buddhist activity and was still a centre of Hinayana Buddhism.

Fa-hien says ' Thirteen Yojanas to the north-west of the shrine is a country called Kaushambi. There is a shrine, known as the garden of Ghoshitarama, in which Buddha once dwelt, and where there are still priests, mostly of the lesser vehicle.

Ghoshitarama or Ghosikarama is the Ghoshitarama of Hiuen-Tsang and Buddhaghosha, a pleasance and Vihar built by the pious and wealthy Buddhist merchant Ghosita. Evidently the Ghositarama was in good condition in the fifth century A.D. when Fa-hien visited Kaushambi.

Recent excavations by Allahabad University revealed the existence of this Ghositarama monastery.[3]

Kumaragupta I succeded his father Chandragupta II in 413 A.D. No important activity is to be recorded during his reign at Kaushambi. The inscriptions of Kumargupta I have been found at Garhwa, not far from Kaushambi.

He peacefully reigned for about 40 years. But in the last years of his reign, Pusyamitras and Hunas started making trouble.

Skandagupta succeded Kumaragupta I. Skandagupta's reign seems to have been full of wars. His greatest enemies were the Hunas, the ferocious barbarians. Skandagupta rose to the occasion and inflicted such a terrible defeat upon the Hunas that for half a century they did not dare disturb the Gupta empire. Uninterrupted strata of occupation with a unique mass of datable objects in the later periods have turned up at Kaushambi. That the site was subjected to destruction by the Hunas is clear by a seal counterstruck with the name of Toramana and another bearing the appellation Hunaraja.[4]

He also inflicted a severe defeat Pusyamitras, who rose against him. By his valour he also crushed them, though for this he had to sleep on the bare earth as narrated in the Bhitari inscription[5] of this king. The inscription has been recovered at Bhitri not far off from Kaushambi.

In this connection, mention may also be made of another inscription found at Kosam (Kaushambi) on the pedestal of a sculpture showing Shiva and Parvati standing, and bearing the date 139 which falls within the chronological limits of Skandagupta's reign. It is stated to have been erected in the time Maharaja Bhimavarman who may have been a local chief owing allegiance to Skandagupta Maharaja dhiraja, as the Paramount sovereign.

The inscriptions of the time of Skandagupta give some interesting details regarding administration. The empire was divided into provinces under Governor's. The term for a province his desha. There are also other terms used, such as Bhati and Visaya. The Governor was called Gopta.

A feudatory was also sometimes appointed as the Governor of a province, e.g. Maharaja Bhimavarman of Kosam (Kaushambi), as is mentioned in the stone image inscription of that place of A.D. 458.

There were also able Governor's of Skandagupta to help him to maintain his imperial sovereignty over Northern India, such as Sharvanaga, who was incharge of the territory between the Kalindi and Narmada and Bhimavarman incharge of the Kaushambi region.

After the reign of Skandagupta, we know little about the history of Kaushambi under in later Guptas.

The period of Gupta supremacy which covers more than two centuries is regarded by common consent as the most glorious epoch in Indian History. This view is fully justified by the wonderful outburst of intellectual activity in art, science and literature. During the golden age of the Guptas fine arts developed at Kaushambi, particularly the art of sculpture.

Footnotes and references:


P.H.A.I., 342.


A.B.O.R.I, IV, pp. 30-40; Jayaswal, H.I.F., pp. 80-2.


GR. Sharma, Excavations at Kaushambi, pp. 33.


Archaeological remains, monuments and museums, 1964, pp. 56.


C.1.1., Vol. III, No. 20.

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