The Guptas – Part 5

 Chandragupta II Vikramaditya

Ramagupta – It is usually noticed that literature is referred to supplement something which is known from epigraphic evidences. However there could be cases when something is brought into light through literature first and then after sought to be corroborated through epigraphic evidences. Such is the case with the successor of Samudragupta. Gupta inscriptions mention that Chandragupta II succeeded Samudragupta. However confusion arose when a Sanskrit work, Devi-Chandraguptam, suggested otherwise.

Devi-Chandraguptam, composed by Visakhadatta, probably same author as of Mudra-rakshasha, is first noticed by Sylvain Levi. Only few fragments are left of this long-lost political drama. These fragments are quoted in Natyadarpana of Ramachandra and Gunachandra. Few quotations of this drama are also found in Sringaraprakasha of Bhoja.

The drama begins with the second act where Rama Gupta has agreed to give away his queen, Dhruvadevi, to the Saka enemy. It appears that the Saka king has demanded Rama Gupta’s wife in some treaty in order to leave him and his kingdom intact. Rama Gupta showed his coward behavior and agreed to this treaty. A long dialogue passed between Dhruvadevi and Rama Gupta where the queen complained of his heartlessness. Chandragupta, younger brother of Rama Gupta, pitched in and proposed that he would go in disguise of the queen to the Saka camp. Chandragupta killed the Saka king and rescued Dhruvadevi from embarrassment. The concluding portion of the drama suggests that Chandragupta later killed his brother and married his widow, Dhruvadevi.

From this drama, we conclude that Samudragupta was succeeded by his son Ramagupta who married Druvadevi. Chandragupta II was younger brother of Ramagupta. Chandragupta II killed a Saka king in disguise of a lady and later he killed Ramagupta also. He also married his brother’s widow. Bana in his Harshacharita mentions that Chandragupta II killed a Saka king in disguise of a lady. Sankaracharya, the commentator of Harshacharita, explains that Chandragupta II killed the Saka king in private disguised as his brother’s wife.

However what all mentioned in this drama can be taken as historical evidence? The name of Ramagupta’s wife, later wife of Chandragupta II also, in Devi-Chandraguptam and the name of Chandragupta II’s wife in epigraphs is same, Dhruvadevi. However this drama is only left in fragments, is there some way to make it complete?

A S Altekar draws attention to Majmal-ut-Tawarikh composed by Abul Hassan Ali (1026 CE) and narrates the story of Rawaal and Barkamaris. This work is a translation of an Arabic work, which in turn was translation of a Hindu work. The story resemble to the plot of Devi-Chandraguptam that it can be used to fill in the details lost of the latter work. A N Dandekar mentions that Rawwal and Barkamaris are Arabian forms of Ramagupta and Vikramaditya respectively. The story is about two brothers, Rawwal and Barkamaris, and the queen had chosen first Barkamaris however Rawwal married her forcefully. A former rebel og their father attacked them. Rawwal with his brother and wife went to a hill fortress however the enemy besieged the fortress. Rawwal sued for peace and the enemy demanded his queen in offer. Rawwal agreed on condition however his brother pitched in. He suggested that he will go in disguise of the queen to the enemy camp. This way Barkamaris killed the enemy. However after this both brothers became rivals of each other which resulted in the murder of Rawwal by Barkamaris.

So now we have full story of Chandragupta II and Ramagupta. But was there any Ramagupta in the Gupta genealogy? A later finding proves it to be true. Three images found in Vidisha, two have inscription mentioning Maharahadhiraja-Sri-Ramagupta. This proves existence of some Ramagupta in the Gupta lineage. Sanjan copper grant of Amoghavarsa I (EI Vol XVIII), dated 871 CE, mentions that the donor, in the Kaliyuga, who was of the Gupta lineage, having killed his brother, we are told, seized his kingdom and wife. It suggests that this event was well known to the people of ninth century CE.

Who was this Saka king and where he was killed? It is very possible that many kingdoms were waiting for Samudragupta’s demise to assert their independence. We have seen such situations in downfalls of many great dynasties. Samudragupta was an able and powerful ruler and his death would provide opportunity for his territorial chiefs for asserting their independence. Though Chandragupta II, successor of Ramagupta & Samudragupta, was equally able and powerful as his father however it seems that for a small gap someone, the Saka king, rose against the Gupta throne. A S Altekar suggests that it was Rudrasena II who took up the title of Mahakshatrapa which for a long time was in abeyance. A N Dandekar mentions that if we identify this Saka king with Rudrasena II then how to corroborate the fact that the Guptas were besieged at some hill fortress as territory of Rudrasena does not have any such hill. Devi-Chandraguptam mentions Alipura as the hill fortress, Harshacharita mentions Aripura as the palace of Sakapati and Kavyamimansa of Rajashekhara mentions Kartikeyanagara where songs in praise of Chandragupta are sung by women. Kartikeyanagara is been identified with Baijanath village in Almora district. Dandekar further states that the Saka king was some king of Kushana line.

There is no doubt now with historicity of Ramagupta but for how long he would have ruled? Few of his coins are found in Eran which suggest that he would not have ruled for long. We may say that he would have ruled for less than a year.

Chandragupta II (375 – 414 CE) – V A Smith states that India did not have a better oriental monarch than him, before or after him. He gave to India a government which was an example in itself. Chandragupta II was the son of Samudragupta through his chief queen, Dattadevi as mentioned in his Allahabad Pillar Inscription. He was selected by his father as yuvaraja among his other sons as evident from Chandragupta II’s Mathura stone inscription and that’s why he is called as parigrahita in Bihar and Bhitari pillar inscriptions.

Fa-Hien visited India during the reign of Chandragupta II. He visited Pataliputra, Nalanda, Rajgriha and other Buddhist centers. He wrote about Magadha, ” Of all the countries of Central India, this has the largest cities and towns. Its people are rich and thriving and emulate one another in practicing charity of heart and duty to one’s neighbor”. He also wrote about Ashoka’s palace, “..the king’s palace, with its various halls, all built by spirits who piled up stones, constructed walls and gates, carved designs, engraved and inlaid, after no human fashion, is still in existence”.

A seal found during the excavation at Vaisali mentions Mahadevi Dhruvaswamini, wife of Chandragupta II and mother of Govindagupta. He had two wives, Dhruvadevi or Dhruvaswamini and Kuberanaga, a Naga princess. Many Naga kingdoms were exterminated by Samudragupta however Nagas are one of the ancient and powerful kingdom of India. Associating with Nagas would have given required impetus to tackle Western Sakas. Nagas were ruling in western India hence their locality was perfect to tackle Saka problem. He begot Govindagupta and Kumaragupta through Dhruvaswamini and Prabhavatigupta through Kuberanaga.

He assumed title of Vikrama as evident from his coins. His other titles are Simha-Vikrama, Vikrama-Aditya, Vikramanka and Ajita-Vikrama. The earliest inscription of Chandragupta II, on a Mathura temple pilaster, is dated in year 61 of the Gupta Era. D C Sirkar noticed that this inscription is issued in fifth regnal year of the king which puts accession year as 375 CE.

There are many issues and riddles about Chandragupta II, let’s have a look on few of these in detail.

Devagupta or Chandragupta – In many Vakataka records, Pravarasena II calls himself a grandson of Devagupta. Pravarasena II was the son of Vakataka queen Prabhavatigupta who was a daughter of Chandragupta II through his queen, Kuberanaga. Scholars thus proposed that Devagupta is another name of Chandragupta II however there few scholars did not agree to this proposal. Finding of Pune (Poona) plates of Prabhavatigupta put a stop on all these speculations as there she has clearly mentioned Chandragupta II as her father. In Sanchi inscription of Chandragupta II’s reign, the name of the king is mentioned as Devaraja. Devaraja probably same as Devagupta, raja and gupta are mere suffixes.

Vakataka Connection – R K Mookerji mentions that the marriage of Chandragupta II’s daughter with a Vakataka prince would have come as a result of seeking his alliance with the Vakataka kingdom. He states that Samudragupta defeated the Vakataka prince Rudrasena I and took most of his region leaving a small share with them. However they increased their power in coming years and Chandragupta II made a treaty by marrying his daughter with the Vakataka prince, Rudrasena II. However D R Bhandarkar mentions that Samudragupta did not defeat any Vakataka king but he restored their lost kingdom and were in cordial relationship with them.

Many instances of connections between these two kingdoms are found in literature and inscriptions. Prakrita Kavya states that Pravarsena II, Chandragupta II’s grandson, wrote a poem, Setubandham, which underwent a revision at the hands of Kalidasa who was the court poet of Chandragupta II. If this is accepted then Chandragupta II, Kalidasa and Pravarsena II were contemporaries. Pravarsena II was ruling over Kuntala and a reference in Sringaraprakasa of Bhoja states that Kalidasa reported in a Gupta court the luxurious life enjoyed by the king of Kuntala court. Kshemendra in his Auchitya-Vichara mentions an embassy under Kalidasa was sent by a Gupta king to Kuntala court.

Saka Extermination – Most important event in the reign of Chandragupta II would be his conquest over the Western Ksahatrapas (Sakas) which put Malwa and Saurastra into his kingdom. In a Udayagiri undated inscription, Virasena sur-named Saba, war and peace minister of Chandragupta II, mentions that he was with his master on his world conquest. Why a world conquest when Samudragupta had already taken most parts of India under his rule? We know that many regions in Western India were mentioned as frontier states of Samudragupta’s kingdom. And these regions were most prone to foreign attacks. Sakas were a known problem from ages for the Guptas. It could be that some of the frontier regions rose in rebellion after the demise of Samudragupta which forced Chandragupta II to terminate the problem.

Another inscription at Udayagiri is dated to 401 CE and suggests that the eastern Malwa region was already into his dominion by this date. An inscription at Sanchi (EI XVI, p 232) is dated in thirteenth regnal year of king Sridharavarman who was styled as an independent king reigning in year 241 of unknown era. This unknown era will most probably be Saka era and this puts his rule in 319 CE. This suggests that at the time of Chandragupta II, Malwa was under the Sakas.

It is a well known fact now that he defeated Western Kshatrapas who were of Saka origin. A reference of this battle is found in Harshacharita where it is mentioned that Chandragupta slew the king of the Sakas while courting another man’s wife in his enemy town. We have already discussed the evidences from Devi-Chandraguptam where he is depicted killing a Saka enemy.

When this event would have taken place? Latest dated Western Kshatrapa coin is of 388 CE when Rudrasimha III, son of Svami-Satyasimha, was ruling. On his conquest of Kshtrapas, Chandragupta II minted special silver coins which earliest date is 409 CE, Gupta Era 90. His latest year is Gupta Era year 93 as per a Sanchi inscription. This important conquest would not have been taken in his last years hence Smith takes up median of both and sates that this conquest would have been taken up in about 395 CE.

Chandra of the Iron Pillar (Garuda-dhwaja) at Mehrauli – Mehrauli is a small village in New Delhi where Qutub Complex, a World Heritage Site, is located. Inside the complex is standing an iron pillar which has an inscription engraved. The inscription mentions a king, with name Chandra, who enjoyed supreme sovereignty over earth. However no genealogy details are given for this king. It is also mentioned that he defeated a confederacy in Vanga, and he crossed seven mouths of river Indus (Sindhu) to defeat Vahlikas.

James Fergusson identifies Chandra of the Mehrauli Pillar Inscription with Chandragupta of the Imperial Gupta family because of its Persian capital form.  J F Fleet identifies him with Chandragupta I which is also the opinion of Aiyangar and R G Basak. However Fleet admits that the characters of the inscription resemble with Allahabad Pillar inscription of Samudragupta and Bilsad inscription of Kumaragupta I. In this circumstances, the Mehrauli inscription should be placed in between Samudragupta and Kumaragupta I. He further suggests that this Chandra could be a younger brother of Mihirakula, who was mentioned by Yuan Chwang, as the pillar was standing at Mihirapuri, an old name of Mehrauli.

It is clear from Samudragupta’s conquests that north part of Bengal was already in his kingdom which he got from his father, Chandragupta I. Hence the statement of pillar that Chandra defeated a confederacy at Vanga applies to Chandragupta I. However what about Vahlika and southern seas? We know from Samudragupta’s conquests that these parts were not under the rule of Chandragupta I.

Haraprasad Sastri identifies him with Chandra of Varman family, son of Simhavarman, whose ruled over Pushkarana as per Susania rock inscription. Pushkarna was first identified with Pokharan in Rajasthan however later is found a place named Pokharan near Susania itself. Mandsor inscription mentions Naravarman as son of Simhavarman. It is proposed that Naravarman was a brother of Chandravarman and hence the empire was spread from Bengal to Malwa. However the Chandra of Susania inscription is not styled as a sovereign king and also no coin of him is found. In such circumstances, identifying him with Chandra of Mehrauli pillar who is states to be a sovereign king would not be proper.

A V Venkatarama Aiyar and Hemachandra Ray Chaudhuri identify him with Sadachandra Bharasiva of Puranas who succeeded Bhavanaga who belonged to a dynasty ruling over Vidisha. If we accept this statement then how to find a route to Bengal without passing through Magadha? As Magadha was not under Bharasivas, how it is possible that they fought with a confederacy in Vanga? Also we do not have any other source than Puranas about Bharasivas and in Puranas nothing of this sort of achievement mentioned for Sadachandra. In such circumstances, the proposed theory is resting on very weak supports.

J Allan, R K Mookerji, D R Bhandarkar, O P Singh, A N Dandekar agree with V A Smith’s identification with Chandragupta II.  However Allan states that this identification by Hoernle and Smith is based upon epigraphical grounds and on the difficulty of finding anyone other than Chandragupta II to whom this inscription could belong in the beginning of fifth century CE. Chandragupta II defeated the Sakas of Saurashtra and Kathiawad however did he defeat the Sakas of northern India? R K Mookerji mentions that it is very probable that he started conquering the Saka kingdoms from north India and culminated his conquest with incurring defeat on Western Sakas.

As the inscription mentions that Chandra attained supreme sovereignty of the world which is not possible in case of Chandragupta I however perfectly suits to Chandragupta II. Chandragupta II further expanded the vast empire which he received from his father, Samudragupta, whereas Chandragupta I was probably a feudatory only. The inscription further mentions that the breeze of his prowess still perfume the southern ocean. This applies more to Samudragupta than to Chandragupta II as the former carried out a conquest in south India.

The inscription further mentions that he put down the confederacy of enemies who have gathered and confronted him in Vanga country. Vanga was not mentioned in Samudragupta’s Allahabad inscription, which suggests that it was already included in his empire as Vanga was a part of Aryavarta. Raghuvamsa of Kalidasa mentions that Raghu conquered and reinstated the Vanga chiefs who were ruling along various streams of Ganges. It seems that the chiefs of these small regions came together against the Guptas after the demise of Samudragupta. This made Chandragupta to confront them.

The inscription further mentions that he crossed seven mounts of Sindhu (Indus) river and conquered Vahlikas. Ramayana mentions a route taken by a messenger who was sent by Vasishtha to Bharata. The messenger passed through the Valhikas country to Sudaman hill and saw Vishnupada and two rivers Vipasa and Salmali. In Kishkinda-Kanda of Ramayana, Vahlikas are mentioned with Kambojas, Yaudheyas, Sakas and said to be living in north. The same chapter later describes them to be living in west near Saurastra.

J Allan suggests that Vahlika can be identified with Balkh. People of Vahlika are mentioned in Brhat Samhita. However Allan suggests that it is not possible that Chandra’s arms penetrated till Balkh and the route to this country does not pass through Indus. It is most probable that Vahlika was used commonly to denote people of foreign origin. In such case these could be identified with the Later Kushanas who migrated from Balkh to India as suggested by D R Bhandarkar.

J F Fleet states that this inscription is a posthumous eulogy of some king Chandra. J Allan, A N Dandekar and V A Smith agrees with him on its posthumous character. However the inscription states that the king left one go (earth) to another go (heaven) in bodily form. D R Bhandarkar states that it is not possible for any living entity to reach heaven in bodily form hence the word go here does not mean heaven but sky. And hence it suggests that the king left to some high hill. As per the inscription, this pillar was standing at Vishnupada, which is denoted as a hill. The present place where it stands cannot be termed a hill in any manner.

Smith suggests that it was standing at the Katra Mound in Mathura where a Kesava temple was once standing. However that mound also is not high enough to be termed as a hill. J C Ghosh identifies this Vishnupada by giving references from Ramayana and Mahabharata. A passage in Mahabharata mentions that Vishnupada is located on Vipasa (Beas) river and Kashmir is visible from the hill. Beas makes a bend at Gurudaspur and here it meets with another river, probably old Salmali as mentioned in Ramayana. Vishnupada should be located somewhere here. It is written that Chandra rests at Vishnupada permanently which suggests that he has given off his responsibility to another candidate, probably his son, and has retired to Vishnupada. If this is accepted then the inscription was engraved when he has taken his retirement.

Legend of Vikramaditya – Who is the celebrated king Vikramaditya of Indian ancient literature and traditions? His reference is found in Simhasanadvatrimsat, Vetalapanchavimsati, Merutunga’s Prabandhachintamani, Somadeva’s Kathasaritsagar, Rajasekhara’s Chaturvimsatiprabandha, Kshemendra’s Brihatkathamanjari and Kalidasa’s Jyotirvidabharana. All of these mention that Vikramaditya was not only a ruler but a siddha yogi also who could control evil spirits.

Merutunga’s Theravali narrates the following story, ‘Then came Balamitra and Bhanumitra, whose joint reign covered 60 year, and Nabhavahana, who ruled for 40 years. Then came the Gardabhilla dynasty which was in power for 152 years. Gardabhilla reigned for 13 years and was then expelled by the Saka kings who ruled for 4 years. Vikramaditya, son of Gardabhilla, regained the kingdom of Ujjayini, commenced the Vikrama era and reigned for 60 years. His four successors ruled respectively for 40, 11, 14 and 10 years. Then the Saka era commenced’.

Kalakacharya-katha gives a similar but more detailed account. It narrates,’ Kalakacharya had a sister called Sarasvati who joined the convent. King Gardabhilla of Ujjayini was fascinated by her beauty and ravished her. Kalakacharya, being enraged, went to west of the Sindhu and lived with a Shahi (Saka) chief over whom he obtained great influence by means of his astrological knowledge. Gradually he came to learn that his patron and 95 other chiefs who lived in same locality all obeyed a common overlord. He persuaded his patron to invade the kingdom of Gardabhilla. Ujjayini fell to Saka chiefs. After 17 years Vikramaditya, son of Gardabhilla, regained his kingdom by expelling the Sakas. Kalakacharya, after defeating Gardabhilla, went with his sister to the court of Satvahana king at Pratishthana’.

We will see various arguments which suggests that Chandragupta II was same as Vikramaditya of these books.

  1. Chandragupta assumed title of Vikramaditya as evident from his coins.
  2. In a Gutta inscription, Chandragupta is stated to have mastered over ashta-mahasiddhi and referred as Ujjain-Vikramaditya. In a Udayagiri inscription, he is referred as rajadhiraj-arsheh coupled with his name which suggests his saint like character.
  3. Vikramaditya is also referred in the literature as Sakari who started Vikrama Era. Chandragupta is known to have defeated Western Kshtrapas who were Saka by origin. Dhirendranath Mukhopadhyaya did a study which suggests that the date calculation done in Vikarama Era and in Gupta Era results in same results.

D R Bhandarkar suggests that Chandragupta II might ruling from two capitals to control his vast empire. O P Singh mentions that Chandragupta II would have spent a considerable time in Malwa to tackle the Sakas. During this period, he would have made Ujjain as his temporary, if not permanent, capital. A south Indian dynasty, Guttas of Guttal, claimed there descendant from Chandragupta who was Ujjayani-purava-adhisvara (supreme lord of Ujjayani) and Pataliputravar-adhisvara (Lord of Pataliputra). It suggests that Ujjain was another capital of Chandragupta along with the traditional capital at Pataliputra (present Patna).

Vikramaditya is associated with commencing the Vikrama Era. R C Majumdar mentions that this era was founded by a foreigner however there is no inherent incongruity in the belief that king Vikramaditya founded in 58 BCE to commemorate his recovery of  Ujjayini by defeating the Sakas.

Vikramaditya is also associated to have navratna (nine gems) in his court. D R Bhandarkar states that many people given as nava-ratna were tenth grade in their arts and also do not belong to same era.

Kalidasa – Jyotirvidabharana speaks nava-ratna (nine gems) in the court of Vikramaditya. Kalidasa, one of the nava-ratna, is supposed to live during the age of Samudragupta, Chandragupta II and probably during Kumaragupta I also. Rajtarangani informs about a sole sovereign of earth, the glorious Vikramaditya who lived at Ujjain. He also bore another name, Harsha. A poor poet, Matrigupta, came to his court and later he was sent to sit on the empty throne of Kashmir. Matrigupta left this throne to Pravarsena just after five years on death of his patron. Matrigupta retired to Varanasi. Now who was this Matrigupta? Kshemendra has referred a verse of this Matrigupta in his work. Bhau Daji proposes a theory that Matrigupta is same as Kalidasa. Another strange point is that Rajtarangani mentions Bhavabhuti, Vakpati and other poets but no mention of Kalidasa. Is it because he is already been referred as matrigupta?

Pravarsena II was the grandchild of Chandragupta II though his daughter, Prabhavatigupta. He set on Vakataka throne and Kalidasa was sent as an ambassador to his court. Pravasena’s Setubandha would have been composed with help from Kalidasa probably. Pravarsena II ruled at Kashmir is evident as his coins are found from that region.