The Guptas – Part 2

Chandragupta I

Chandragupta I (320 -329 CE) – Allahabad Pillar Inscription mentions that Chandragupta I succeeded Ghatotkacha and refers him as maharajadhiraja, king of paramount sovereignty. There is no doubt that there was a change in title and it may be assumed that this change in the titles, from maharaja to maharajadhiraja, between the early Gupta rulers and Chandragupta I probably occurred due to some important conquest by Chandragupta I. However no record of such a conquest is found.

Another probability is that this change in status came through a matrimonial alliance with another powerful kingdom of that time, the Lichchhavis. He married to a Lichchhavi princess, Kumaradevi, as evident from inscriptions and coins. From her he begot Samudragupta who probably succeeded the former on the throne. Unfortunately no inscription of his is found however there are few references in literature which may help in extending our knowledge about his life and reign.

It is accepted by most scholars that the Gupta Era was started in commemoration of Chandragupta I’s accession to throne and the year was 320 CE. The earliest epigraph of Samudragupta is dated to ninth year of the Gupta Era and this can be taken as the last year of Chandragupta’s reign, which is 329 CE. This is the only history about Chandragupta I. Now we look at various other theories proposed and tested by many scholars.

Chandasena = Chandragupta I – Kaumudi Mahotsava, a probable contemporary work, narrates a story of Chandasena who was a karaskar, low order Hindu. He was adopted by the king of Magadha, Sundaravarman, who did not have any son. The king however got a son in his old age. As can be expected, the king started showing love and inclination towards his own son. Chandasena got jealous and revolted when opportunity arrived. Lichchhavis helped him in his revolt and he got the throne of Magadha after killing Sundaravarman.
Kalyanasree, the son and legitimate heir of the Sundaravarman, fled from the scene. Chandasena started his tyrannical rule which made the people angry and the border states revolted. Chandasena left Magadha to control this revolt. Kalyanasree took the opportunity and took over the throne in absence of Chandasena. The story further mentions that Chandasena died in a battle with Kalyanasree. K P Jayaswal gives much attention to the story and identifies Chandasena with Chandragupta I. Though there are few striking similarities between Chandasena and Chandragupta I however the later part of the story does not match with real historical events. Hence many scholars have rejected the identification done by Jayaswal.

The Lichchhavi Connection –  It is clear that Chandragupta I married a Lichchhavi princess, Kumaradevi. Later Gupta rulers felt proud in associating themselves with the Lichchhavis as Samudragupta in his Allahabad Pillar Inscription has referred himself as ‘Lichchhavidauhitra’, meaning daugther’s son of Lichchhavi king, instead of calling himself a Gauptaputra. King and the Queen coins have figures of Chandragupta I and Kumaradevi with their corresponding names on obverse and legend Licchavayah on reverse.

Who were these Lichchhavis and which was their territory? History of the Lichchhavis is not very clear. They are one of the ancient kingdom which is associated with Buddha. They are not mentioned in  the Puranas but are mentioned in Buddhist and Jain literature. Nepal, Magadha and Vaisali are the three traditional regions which are associated with the Lichchhavis. Magadha association comes from an inscription of the Lichchhavi king, Jayadeva II, which mentions that one of his ancestor Supushpa was born at Pataliputra. Dr Bhagwanlal in his study of Nepal inscriptions writes that Lichchhavis were ruling over Pataliputra.

D K Ganguly however states that a mere mention that Supushpa was born in Pataliputra does not suggest that Magdha was under their dominion.  He further states that mention of Nepal as a frontier state by Samudragupta rules out Nepal as Lichchhavi territory. Buddhist and Jain literature attribute Vaisali with the Lichchhavis. A reference is found in Manu Smriti where kshatriya of Magadha and Nepal are mentioned as unorthodox. This might be a reason that this dynasty does not find reasonable space in the Hindu scriptures.

How important was this alliance for the Guptas? V A Smith agrees with Bhagwanlal in suggesting that Chandragupta I got Magadha, which was with Lichchhavis, under his control after his marriage. R D Banerji states that Chandragupta I liberated Pataliputra with help of the Lichchhavis. R N Dandekar mentions that Chandragupta I defeated the Maukhari king of Pataliputra with help from the Lichchhavis. J Allan suggests that it is possible that marriage between Chandragupta and Kumaradevi was actually a treaty when Chandragupta advanced towards Vaisali for extension of his kingdom and after their marriage they both ruled co-jointly. But there is no mention of such a war between these two kingdoms.

The Lichchhavi king did not have any son and he took Samudragupta, son of Chandragupta I, as dvyamusyay and put him on his throne. D K Ganguly is if opinion that they did not rule co-jointly. S R Goyal suggests that the Lichchhavi-Gupta treaty was to counter the Vakataka-Bharasiva power. He further mentions that the amalgamation of their empire was not immediate. However as Vakatakas  are not mentioned in Allahabad Pillar Inscription hence this suggests that they were not that powerful during Samudragupta’s time. D K Ganguly proves that the theory proposed by S R Goyal is not tenable on many counts.

It seems that probably the Lichchhavis occupied Magadha in older time however they moved northward and were ruling over Vaisali when Guptas rose to power. This northward movement might be due to pressure from Satavahanas or Later Kushanas. The marriage between Chandragupta I and Kumaradevi was a step to consolidate the Gupta empire and keep Lichchhavi kingdom autonomous for some time. As no mention of Lichchhavi as a nation is made in Allahabad Pillar Inscription hence it may be assumed the the Lichchhavi and the Gupta kingdoms were amalgamated during the reign of Chandragupta I.

Kingdom Limit – There is no inscription of this king which can specify extent of his kingdom or his conquests. References from various Puranas are already taken up in the previous article. From these references we find that Prayaga (Allahabad), Saketa (Cunningham identifies this with Ayodhya however Fergusson and Smith identify it with Lucknow) and Magadha (Bihar) were under the dominion of Chandragupta I.

King and Queen type coin – King and the Queen type coins have figures of Chandragupta I and Kumaradevi with their corresponding names on obverse and legend Licchavayah on reverse with a figure of a goddess sitting over a lion. V A Smith, A S Altekar propound the view that these were struck jointly by Chandragupta I and his queen, Kumaradevi. R C Majumdar and R G Basak assign the coin to Chandragupta I however no comments on joint issue. J Allan, V S Pathak, A H Dani and S Chattopadhyaya unanimously describe that this coin was issued by Samudragupta as a commemorative coin. V S Agrawala suggests that the coin was issued by the Lichchhavis.

D K Ganguly studies all the points and theories proposed by various scholars and in last concludes that these coins were issued by Samduragupta  as a commemorative coin in memory of his parents. R K Mookerji is also of the same opinion as of D K Ganguly. Ganguly states that assigning the issuer of the coin as Chandragupta I will violate all the rules of the numismatic science.

The Gupta Era – to be done