History

The Guptas – Part 7

Last Vestiges of the Empire

Purugupta (467-468 CE) – Bhitari seal of Kumaragupta II mentions Maharadhiraja-Purugupta as the son of Kumaragupta I by Mahadevi Anantadevi. However the seal does not mention about Skandagupta who was also a son of Kumaragupta I. D K Ganguly mentions that the seals describe genealogical order but not chronological order. As Purugupta might be a brother of Skandagupa hence the latter’s name is omitted from former’s seal.

Coins with legend Prakashaditya were ascribed to Purugupta by Hoernle and Smith. However Allan states that it is not possible that Purugupta bore two titles, Vikramaditya and Prakashaditya hence these coins should be attributed to some other Gupta king, whose name is known, who ruled after the end of fifth century CE. A N Dandekar agrees with Allan’s proposition.

What would be the period of Purugupta? Last known date of Skandagupta is year 148 of the Gupta Era (467 CE). Gupta Year 154 (473 CE) of the Gupta Era was the reign of one Kumaragupta as evident from Sarnath inscription. This means that Purugupta ruled in between this period. But he had many sons as evident from various seals. He got Narasimhagupta, Vainyagupta and Budhagupta from his queen, Chandradevi. We have found more coins of Narasimhagupta then those of Purugupta which suggests that Narasimhagupta would have ruled for more years than his father. Also if Purugupta ascended the throne after Skandagupta then he would be quite old at that time. In these circumstances, it looks that Purugupta ruled for a brief period of about a year. There are many controversial theories attached with Purugupta. Let’s discuss these in detail.

Purugupta = Skandagupta –  D R Bhandarkar, Hoernle, J Allan, Krishna Deva, R C Majumdar, B C Sen, O P Singh hold this opinion. Hoernle and Allan previously held the opinion that Purugupta and Skandagupta were brothers. A later study of Life of Vasubandu by Paramartha changed their opinion. It states that king Vikramaditya of Ayodhya became a patron of Buddhism through the influence of Vasubandhu and sent his queen and the crown prince, Baladitya, to study under him. Vikramaditya was the title taken by three Gupta kings, Chandragupta II,  Kumaragupta I and Skandagupta. Bhitari seal points that Purugupta was the father of Narasimhagupta. Narasimhagupta is also known as Baladitya as evident from his coins. Hence Hoernle suggests that probably Skandagupta and Purugupta are the same. Skandagupta may have taken this name, Purugupta, later in his reign.

However there are few issues with this theory. First, the Gupta rulers did not use more than one proper name in their official records. Second, the seals refer to genealogical account but not chronological account. However Allan mentions that coins of Purugupta have legend ‘Sri-Vikramah’ and his aditya title would be Vikramaditya in this case. As Purugupta held title Vikramaditya as well so Parmartha’s story is about Purugupta and Narasimhagupta only. O P Singh mentions that this is almost an accepted fact.

Purugupta = A brother of Skandagupta –   S R Goyal, V A Smith, H C Raychaudhury, Panna Lal and B P Sinha, R K Mookerji, A N Dandekar are of opinion that Purugupta was a brother of Skandagupta. S R Goyal and B P Sinha state that Purugupta ascended the throne after Kumaragupta I and later overthrown by Skandagupta. Sinha writes that there was a war of succession among the sons of Kumaragupta I who were Skandagupta, Purugupta, Ghatotkachagupta and probably Chandragupta III. He suggests that Skandagupta did not ascend the throne after the death of Kumaragupta I as he was not a legitimate heir.  Omission of his mother’s name in inscriptions suggests that his mother was not the chief queen but a secondary wife of Kumaragupta I. As Purugupta was from the chief queen, Anantadevi, hence he ascended the throne after Kumaragupta I. However Purugupta was overthrown later by Skandagupta. O P Singh mentions that the theory proposed by Sinha is the most acceptable among all theories.

V A Smith, H C Raychaudhury, Panna Lal, R K Mookerji, A N Dandekar mention that Skandagupta succeeded Kumaragupta I and Purugupta ruled after the demise of Skandagupta. They all rule out any fratricidal war after the death of Kumaragupta I. It was assumed that Bhitari and Junagadh inscriptions talk about some internal political calamity. However, D R Bhandarkar corrected the reading of the inscription hence the internal calamity is no more tenable. R K Mookerji rules out any fratricidal war between these two Gupta kings Junagadh inscription mentions that Skandagupta got his kingdom by his prowess. However the enemies mentioned in the Junagadh inscription are externals and not within the family.

King and Lakshmi coin types of Skandagupta suggests that the Laksmi chooses him over the others. Allan and Altekar identify the female figure of the coin as Laksmi however Smith and Jagannath do not agree. H C Raychaudhuri states that Lakshmi coin does not mean that Skandagupta won over other claimants. R D Banerji propounds that Skandagupta probably met his death during his battle with the Huns which made Purugupta to take over the throne which is also the theory of O P Singh.

Co-rule of Skandagupta and Purugupta –  R G Basak mentions that Skandagupta and Purugupta ruled together, former in north-western part and latter in Bihar. O P Singh, A N Dandekar rule out this stating that it is a well known fact that there was great rivalry and jealousy between both Gupta princes and their mothers, however separation of kingdom did not happen. Budhagupta’s inscriptions are found in Malwa and Bengal which suggests that there was no separation of the Gupta empire.

Prakasaditya Problem – Scholars are widely divided over the assignment of the Gupta coins with legend Prakasaditya. S R Goyal mentions that these coins are of later Skandagupta period but he assigns the coin to Narasimhagupta II. However identity of Narasimhagupta II is very doubtful. P K Jaiswal assigns these coins to king Chandraprakasa of Kavyalankara-sutra-vritti by Vamana and to king Kandarpaketu of Subandhu’s Vasavadatta. Both are the same personage. Chandrapraakasa is mentioned as a son of Chandragupta whom Jaiswal identifies with Chandragupta III. Identity of Chandragupta III is also very doubtful.

P L Gupta identifies Prakasaditya with the Gupta king Bhanugupta. J Allan, V A Smith, A S Altekar, R K Mookerji identify him with Purugupta. D K Ganguly proposes that as no coins of Purugupta and Kumaragupta II are found hence the coins of Prakasaditya could be assigned to one of these two kings. As these coins are of very good gold quality hence these should not be assigned to later kings when the quality degraded significantly.

In my opinion Purugupta and Skandagupta might not be same and the former ascended the throne after Skandagupta as suggested by D K Ganguly, R K Mookerji also.

Narasimhagupta (468-473 CE) – Narasimhagupta was the son of Purugupta through his queen Chandradevi. He was married to Mittradevi and through her he begot Kumaragupta II. There is no epigraph of this ruler however many of his coins are available. He bore title Baladitya as evident from his coins. There is a controversy related to his title Baladitya, let’s have a look in detail.

Baladitya of Hiuen Tsang – According to Hiuen Tsang, Mihirakula started extermination of the Buddhists which provoked Baladitya to wage war against him. Baladitya captured Mihirakula but later released him on his mother’s request. Paramartha also mentions that  Baladitya was sent to Vasubandu to study Buddhism by his father. Hence it is possible that Mihirakula’s move against Buddhism would provoke Baladitya to take strict steps.

Mihirakula’s reign is assigned to about 520 CE. Could the Baladitya of Hiuen Tsang same as Narasimhagupta Baladitya of the Gupta dynasty? There is a gap of fifty years in the current proposed date of Narasimhagupta and the date of Mihirakula which is very hard to justify. Even if we assume that Narasimhagupta was ruling in 520 CE, would it be possible for him to wage war against Mihirakula at that very old age? A N Dandekar mentions that Baladitya of Hiuen Tsang is not Narasimhagupta but someone else.

Kumaragupta II (473-476 CE) –  Sarnath inscription mentions one Kumaragupta in the year 154 of the Gupta Era. Nalanda seal also mention one Kumaragupta who was the grandson of Purugupta and the son of Narasimhagupta through his queen Mittradevi. Are both Kumaragupta same person? First of all, let’s check on the probable age of Kumaragupta, as a successor of Narasimhagupta, as after Skandagupta many Gupta kings had small period rules so age could be a deciding factor if the above two Kumaragupta are to be compared.

Assume Chandragupta II ascended the throne at 25 as he got Kumaragupta I, his son, at the age of 27. Chandragupta II ruled for about 40 years which suggests that Kumaragupta I would be 38 years when he would have ascended the throne. Also assume that Kumaragupta I begot Purugupta, his son, when the former was 27. So Purugupta would be 11 years old when his father ascended the throne. Kumaragupta I ruled for 40 years which suggests that Purugupta was 51 years old at the end of Kumaragupta I’s reign. Skandagupta succeeded Kumaragupta I and ruled for 12 years, so Purugupta was 63 when he ascended the throne after Skandagupta. Assume again that Purugupta got Narasimhagupta at the age of 26, in that case Narasimhagupta would be 38 when he would have ascended the throne after Purugupta. Again assume that Narasimhagupta begot Kumaragupta II at the age of 26. As Narasimhagupta ruled for 5 years so Kumaragupta II would be 17 at the end of his father’s reign. Ascending throne at 17 is not a rare scenario however if someone from old generation like mother, uncle etc alive then usually they become governor of the non-adult ruler till he attains age of 25 which is the age of transformation from Brhmcharya to Grahastha ashrama. And in case of Kumaragupta, as the grandson of Purugupta, his uncle Budhagupta was alive.

For our studies, we take Kumaragupta of Sarnath inscription as Kumaragupta II and Kumaragupta of Nalanda seal as Kumaragupta III. R C Majumdar, A N Dandekar and H C Raychaudhuri mention that both, Kumaragupta II and Kumaragupta III, are the same person. However K N Dikshit, R G Basak, K B Pathak, R K Mookerji and P L Gupta disagree with this identification. S Chattopadhyaya proposes that Kumaragupta II probably never ruled and was a governor of Sarnath.

D K Ganguly suggests that Kumaragupta II would have ruled either before Purugupta or after him.R K Mookerji mentions that Kumaragupta II succeeded Purugupta on the throne.O P Singh suggests that he succeeded Skandagupta as he takes Purugupta to have ruled before Skandagupta. His relationship with Purugupta or Skandagupta is not clear, O P Singh mentions that he could be the son or successor of Skandagupta.

Kumaragupta II issued coins of Archer Type only. He bore title of Kramaditya on these coins.

Budhagupta (476-495 CE) – Nalanda seal mentions Budhagupta as the son of Purugupta through his queen Chandradevi. If we accept the restoration of the lost part of the Bihar pillar inscription then it appears that Budhagupta was the son of Skandagupta from his queen Chandradevi. However his reconstruction is based upon an assumption that Purugupta and Skandagupta are two names of the same person.

Eran pillar inscription of Budhagupta has Malwa region under his control. Malwa was under the Vakatakas for some time, during the reign of Purugupta however later rulers wrestled that region back from Vakatakas probably. Epigraphs of Budhagupta are found at Bengal also which which probably mark the eastern boundary of his kingdom. Hence it is clear that Budhagupta ruled a vast empire similar to his predecessors and that’s why he is appropriately referred as maharajadhiraja in his inscriptions.

He issued silver coins in central India. R K Mookerji assigns silver coins with legend ‘parakasaditya’ to him as it is mentioned in Manju-Sri-Mula-Kalpa that Sriman U succeeded Kumaragupta II and same letter U is found below the king’s image on the coins of Prakasaditya. A N Dandekar also agrees with Mookerji on this. Sarnath inscription gives year 157 (476 CE) as the earliest date of Budhagupta. His latest date is found in his silver coins which is the Gupta Era year 175 (494 CE).

Vainyagupta (495-510 CE) – Who succeeded Budhagupta on the Gupta throne is a matter of contention. Hiuen Tsang mentions that Budhagupta was succeded by Tathagatagupta who later succeeded by Baladitya II. Manju-sri-Mulakalpa mentions that two different kings were crowned after the death of Budhagupta, one at Magadha and another at Gauda.

Gunaighar copper plate grant is dated in year 188 of the Gupta Era and mentions Vainyagupta. In this grant he is mentioned as a maharaja and Bhagvan-Mahadeva-padamudhyata. A clay seal found at Nalanda mentions Vainyagupta as maharajadhiraja and a parambhagvata. Based upon these difefrences in two epigraphs, D R Bhandarkar suggests that these two Vainyagupta were two different people. He placed Vainyagupta of clay seal after Skandagupta alias Purugupta. D K Ganguly reconstructed the lost parts of Nalanda seal of Vainyagupta and from it he proposes that he was the son of Purugupta.

Gold coins bearing Dvadasaditya title were first ascribed to some Chandragupta III by J Allan however Ganguly later proved that the word which was interpreted as Chandra is actually Vainya hence these coins refer to Vainyagupta. Last date of Budhagupta is 495 CE which may be taken as accession date of Vainyagupta. Bhanugupta was ruling in Gupta year 191 (510 CE) which may be taken as the last year of Vainyagupta.

Bhanugupta ( 510-530 CE) – Bhanugupta is known from his Eran pillar inscription which is dated in the year 191 of the Gupta Era. He is referred as  There is no other epigraph or coin of this ruler.

The Mihirakula Problem – Eran Pillar inscription of Budhagupta, in year 165 of the Gupta Era, mentions a donation by two brothers, Matrivishnu and Dhanyavishnu. Another inscription at Eran is of Bhanugupta in the year 191 of the Gupta Era. The inscription mentions king Goparaja who fought with Bhanugupta in a big battle with the Maittras and died in that battle. Third inscription at Eran is on boar neck and dated in the first regnal year of the Huna chief Toramana. This inscription mentions that Matrivishnu is dead and his brother Dhanyavishnu donated to this temple. Toramana was a Hun ruler and was succeeded by his son Mihirakula.

D R Bhandarkar suggests following, Huns, under Toramana, attacked Malwa region after the death of Budhagupta. Matrivishnu, with some Gupta ruler, tried to resist Huns but failed. This put Malwa under the rule of Toramana. He was succeeded by his son, Mihirakula. This Mihirakula was ousted by Bhanugupta in Gupta Year 191, 510 CE. Bhandarkar suggests that Bhanugupta probably the same as Narasimhagupta-Baladitya who is mentioned by Hiuen Tsang.

Hiuen Tsang mentions that Mihirakula was ruling over Sakala. Baladitya rebelled against Mihirakula as the latter was prejudiced against Buddhists and was on their extermination. When Mihirakula invaded the territory of Baladitya, the latter with his men withdrew to an island. Mihirakula came in pursuit but was captured. On a petition from his mother, Baladitya set free Mihirakula. Mihirakula took refuge in Kashmir after this defeat.

A N Dandekar however suggests otherwise. He says that the Hun occupation of Malwa happened after the rule of Bhanugupta. The battle with Maittras in which king Goparaja died probably refer to the battle with Huns. Toramana is supposed to have ruled till 511 CE hence Baladitya who defeated Mihirakula as per Yuan Chwang cannot be Bhanugupta but some other later ruler.

Mandasor inscription, dated possibly to 533-34 CE, of Yashodharman also claims that he defeated Mihirakula. Hoernle rejects the accounts of Hiuen Tsang and says that it is too far to believe. V A Smith suggests an alliance between Yashodharman and Baladitya to tackle Mihirakula. J F Fleet, J Allan and R K Mookerji believe that Mihirakula was first defeated in east by Baladitya and in west by Yashodharman but credit of extermination of Mihirakula goes to the latter. H Heras suggests opposite of this that Yashodharman defeated Mihirakula first and Baladitya latter inflicted the final defeat.

Vishnugupta (530-533 CE) – Who succeeded Bhanugupta? Hiuen Tsang mentions Vajra after Bhanugupta who was not a powerful king at all. Manju-sri-Mulakalpa mentions Prakasaditya as the successor of Bhanugupta. However no epigraph of these have been found till now. Vishnugupta seems to the last ruler of the Gupta dynasty. His two epigraphs, Nalanda clay seal and copper plate grant of Damodarpur are available to us. The grant gives as date however scholars are not unanimous on the year given in that. R G Basak who edited these plates gives reading 214 whereas Rao Bahadur Dikshit suggests 224. D R Bhandarkar says that the correct date would be Gupta Year 211 as it fits with the victory of Yashodharman over the Huns. Yashodharman’s victory pillar inscription at Mandasor suggests that he was a sovereign ruler by 533 CE. This year might be taken as a total eclipse for the Gupta dynasty from the political scene of India.

The final chronology constructed after all these discussions looks like as given below:

King Period Chronological Relation
Gupta 275-300 CE Founder
Ghatotkacha 300-320 CE Son
Chandragupta I 320-329 CE Son
Samudragupta 329-375 CE Son
Ramagupta 375 CE Son
Chandragupta II 375-414 CE Brother
Kumaragupta I 414-455 CE Son
Skandagupta 455-467 CE Son
Purugupta 467-468 CE Son
Narasimhagupta 468-473 CE Son
Kumaragupta II 473-476 CE Son
Budhagupta 476-495 CE Uncle
Vainyagupta 495-510 CE Not clear
Bhanugupta 510-530 CE Not clear
Vishnugupta 530-533 CE Not clear

 

References:

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  2. Altekar, A S (1957). Coinage of the Gupta Empire. Numismatic Society of India. Varanasi.
  3. Banerji, R D (1933). The Age of the Imperial Guptas. Banaras Hindu University. Varanasi.
  4. Bhandarkar, D R (1981). Inscriptions of the Early Guptas (Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum Vol III). Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi.
  5. Chhabra, B Ch (1986). Catalogue of the Gupta Gold Coins. National Museum. New Delhi.
  6. Dandekar, A N (1941). A History of the Guptas. Oriental Book Agency, Pune.
  7. Ganguly, D K (1987). The Imperial Guptas and their Times. Abhinav Publications. New Delhi. ISBN 8170172225.
  8. Majumdar, R C (1946). The Vakataka-Gupta Age. Motilal Banarasidas. New Delhi.
  9. Majumdar, R C (1951). The Age of Imperial Unity. Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan. Bombay.
  10. Majumdar, R C (1954). The Classical Age. Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan. Bombay.
  11. Mookerji, Radhakumud (1973). The Gupta Empire. Motilal Banarasidas Publishers. New Delhi. ISBN 9788120804401.
  12. Singh, O P (1962). Imperial Guptas. Surjeet Book Depot. New Delhi.
  13. Smith, V A (1897). The Conquests of Samudra Gupta. The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society. Kolkata.
  14. Thomas, Edward (1848). The Epoch of the Guptas. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society.
  15. Triveda, D S (2009). Vishnudhvaja or Qutb Minar. Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series. Varanasi. ISBN 9788170802970.
  • http://www.coinindia.com/ Pankaj Tandon

    Dear Saurabh,
    I have admired your website for some time now and happened upon this article today. You may want to read my paper on this subject, which is due to be published in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society this year. In this paper, I argue that Purugupta ruled before (and perhaps contemporaneously with) Skandagupta. The paper is available here:
    http://coinindia.com/KG%20Succession.pdf
    Keep up the good work …you have a great site!
    Pankaj Tandon