The Sarabhapuriyas

The Sarabhapuriyas

This dynasty is known from the seventeen copper-plate grants, one only partially surviving, which were issued from Sarabhapura and Sripura (modern Sirpur). There is no stone inscription discovered so far for this dynasty. Only one gold coin belonging to a ruler of this dynasty has come into light. So whatever little we know is coming from these seventeen grants and a single coin. All these grants are written in Sanskrit using box-headed variety of the Central Indian alphabet.

The name of the dynasty is taken as Sarabhapuriyas because their earliest grants were issued from Sarabhapura, eleven out of sixteen grants were issued from this town. No mention of any family is made in their grants hence this nomenclature is accepted among the scholars. Though we have about sixteen grants of them however these do not supply any historical information. First no genealogical account is given in these charters and second these grants are dated in their regnal years instead of using any other known era. The only genealogical information available is found on their seals which sometimes inform about the father and grand-father of the reigning king.

Dating of the Sarabhapuriyas – Hira Lal dates the Sirpur Lakshmana Temple inscription of Sivagupta Baladitya of Panduvamshi family to eighth or ninth century CE based upon paleographic studies. He is in opinion of the anteriority of the Panduvamshis to the Sarabhapuriyas hence he assigns Sarabhapuriya kings to eighth or ninth century CE. Sten Konow mentions that the above mentioned Sirpur inscription belongs to 800 CE which is not much later after the Sarabhapuriya chiefs. J F Fleet does not comment on their period but puts them between 510 CE and two centuries after this based upon a mention of Goparaja, a grandson of Sarabharaja, in an Eran inscription.

Ajay Mitra Shastri tells that the main reason of this late dating, to eighth-ninth century CE, is the usage of box-headed characters in their grants. Similar box-headed characters are also used on the Vakataka records however characters of the Sarabhapuriyas show advancements in comparison to those of the Vakataka records. Prof Kielhorn has dated the Rajim copper-plate of Mahasiva Tivara-deva to the middle of eighth century CE on the basis of paleographic studies. Tivara-deva is supposed to have conquered the Kosala region from the Sarabhapuriyas or Panduvamshis at that time. Hence the Sarabhapuriyas would have been ruled till the middle of the eighth century CE and in that case they would have started their dynasty in the middle of the seventh century CE only.

When Prof Kielhorn suggested this, the real timeline of the Guptas and the Vakatakas was not known. J F Fleet’s identification of Maharajadhiraja Devagupta, mentioned as the maternal-grandfather of the Vakataka king Pravarasena II, with the Devagupta of Magadha, the son of Adityasena, as mentioned in Deo-Barnak inscription, has put the Vakatakas to the eighth century CE.  Hence till the time of the discovery of the Poona and Riddhapura grants of Prabhavatigupta, the Vakataka dynasty was put to eighth century CE. These two grants proved that Devagupta  and Chandragupta II are the same person and the father of Prabhavatigupta. This particular discovery pushed back the dating of the Vakatakas making them contemporary to the Guptas.

V V Mirashi mentions that Tivara-deva flourished after the Sarabhapuriyas and probably responsible for the latter’s overthrow. Thus the dating of the Sarabhapuriyas should also be pushed back similar to the Vakatakas. He also mentions that the Sarabhapuriyas were the feudatories of the Vakatakas however Ajay Mitra Shastri does not agree with this. He tells that none of the Sarabhapuriya epigraph suggest that they were under suzerainty of any other king. Latest work by Ajay Mitra Shastri follows the idea of J F Fleet and tries to construct the chronology with assumption that Sarabharaja who is mentioned as the grandfather of Goparaja in an Eran inscription is same as Sarabha of the Sarabhapuriyas. This puts Sarabha in the last quarter of the fifth century CE.

 

Seal of the Sarabhapuriya Grants

 

Sarabha (475-500 CE) – Sarabha seems to be the first king of this dynasty however no record of his own has been discovered. He is known from the two grants of his son, Narendra. It is very probable that Sarabha started this dynasty and founded the city of Sarabhapura from where the earliest grants were issued. Though the town of Sarabhapura is not identified satisfactorily however he would have ruled over Daskhina-Kosala region, in and around Raipur, where most of the Sarabhapuriya grants are found.

He may be the same Sarabharaja whose grandson, Goparaja, accompanied the Gupta king Bhanugupta to Eran. As per an Eran inscription, Goparaja dies fighting in a battle in 510 CE. If this identification is accepted then Sarabha can be dated in the last quarter of the fifth century CE. K D Bajpai and S K Pandey have put him in the beginning of the fourth century CE while V V Mirashi has put his rule in 460-480 CE.

Before going to the next Sarabhapuriya ruler, we need to throw light on two topics. First is about Mahendra, a king of Kosala and second, the identification of Sarabhapura.

Mahendra of Kosala – A discovery of a clay-seal bearing legend Maharaja-Mahendrasya at Malhar made K D Bajpai and S K Pandey to propose that Mahendra was a Sarabhapuriya king, probably a brother of Narendra. Mahendra is known as the king of Kosala in the Allahabad Pillar inscription of Samudragupta which mentions that Samudragupta defeated him and later returned his kingdom reinstating him on the throne again.

There are few objections against this identification. First, the characters used in this clay-seal are early Gupta Brahmi and all other Sarabhapuriya grants employ box-headed characters which makes difficult to assign this clay-seal to the Sarabhapuriyas. I am not an authority over this however is there is possibility that the early Sarabhapuriyas, of the time of Mahendra, used the early Gupta Brahmi characters and later they migrated to box-headed characters.

Second objection raised is that Sarabha is considered as the first king of the dynasty and the founder of the city of Sarabhapura from where many of their grants were issued. But is there any definite proof that Sarabha was the first king, probably no. It is just that majority of  the discovered grants were issued from Sarabhapura and it is evident that this city was named after Sarabha so Sarabha should be the first king. But it is very possible that Sarabha was not the first king and he transferred his capital to a new town, christened after his name. Sarabhapuriyas changed their capital from Sarabhapura to Sripura in their later years as well.

Another support comes from the grants of Narendra. His grant suggests that he acknowledged the Gupta suzerainty but the later rules did not. This means that Sarabha was also a feudatory of the Guptas. Now Mahendra would have acknowledged the suzerainty of the Guptas when he was defeated in the hands of Samudragupta. This feudatory status was maintained till the time of Narendra.

Sarabhapura – The identification of Sarabhapura is still in obscurity. Alexander Cunningham first identifies it with Arbhapura or Arbhi in Wardha district of Maharashtra but later changes his opinion to suggest that Sambalpur in Orissa could be same as Sarabhapura. Hira Lal, while editing Sirpur stone inscription (Epigraphia Indica Vol IX),  mentions that the Sarabhapuriyas conquered the city of Sripura and renamed it as Sarabhapura based upon the fabulous animal sarabha who is considered as a match for a lion. J F Fleet and Sten Konow do not agree with Cunningham’s identification.

Sten Konow, while editing the Sarabhavaram plates of some Chikura lord (Epigraphia Indica Vol IX), rules out the identification provided by Hira Lal and further mentions that probably Sarabhavaram could be Sarabhapura. He proposes this identification on the basis of paleographic similarities between Sarabhavaram and other Sarabhapuriyas grants  however Sarabhavaram is located in Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh which is far from Raipur, the area around where all other grants of Sarabhapuriyas are discovered. Still Sten Konow suggests that Sarabhapura should be looked not in Raipur and its surrounding areas but farther to south. In the last he mentions that his guess is merely a loose guess and we should wait for further discoveries.

Pandit L P Pandeya, while editing Arang plates of Mahasudevaraja (Epigraphia Indica Vol XXIII), mentions about various identifications of Sarabhapura as suggested by various scholars. He mentions that no material is available to ascertain whether Sarabhapura was situated at the bank of Mahanadi or it was ever the capital of the lords of Kosala. He proposes that Sarabhgarh in Sambalpur district of Orissa may be the city of Sarabhapura.

V V Mirashi, while editing Thakurdiya plates of Maha-Pravararaja (Epigraphia Indica Vol XXII), mentions that the identification of Sarabhgarh with Sarabhapura as proposed by L P Pandeya would be most plausible. D C Sircar opines that the city of Sarabhapura should be situated near Sripura as Pravararaja would have founded the new capital near to the old capital. However this view has been ruled out by Hira Lala, while editing grants of Sarabhapuriyas (Epigraphia Indica Vol XXXIV), as he suggests that because two different scribes were used in the plates issued from Sripura and the plates issued from Sarabhapura hence both the places were situated at a good distance. Sudevaraja had issued his grants from both the places, Sripura and Sarabhapura. Golasimha was the scribe of Sripura grants while Dronasimha was the scribe of Sarabhapura grants. If both the places were nearby, there was no need of a different scribe probably.

K D Bajpai and S K Pandey identify Sarabhapura with Malhar in Bilaspur district. Their proposition is based upon the support that most charters of this dynasties are found in and around Malhar and various villages mentioned in these charters are not very far from Malhar. A M Shastri however does not agree with this identification. He reasoned that the city of Sarabhapura was founded by Sarabha, the first king of the Sarabhapuriya dynasty however the excavation at Malhar has assigned the antiquity of the town to 1000 BCE. Secondly, there is no evidence that Malhar was ever known as Sarabhapura as it is mentioned as Mallala or Mallala-pattana in Kalchuri inscriptions of twelfth century CE.

A M Shastri further mentions that though the identification of Sarabhapura is not yet satisfactorily done and we need to wait for further evidences however the possibility of locating it should be searched in and around Raipur area as the earliest records of the dynasty are discovered in this area only. Also, it should be at a considerable distance from Sirpur (old Sripura).

Narendra (500-525 CE) – Three copper-plate grants of this king have been found. These are the only source to formulate his history as he is not mentioned in any other grant of his descendents.  These three grants are Pipardula grant (Indian History Quarterly Vol XIX), Kurud grant (Epigraphia Indica Vol XXXI) and Rawan grant (Inscriptions of Sarabhapuriyas, Panduvamsins and Somvamsins). These were issued in his regnal year 3, 24 and an unknown year respectively. Two of these, Pipardula and Rawan grants, were issued from Sarabhapura and third and last, Kurud grant, was issued from the victorious camp of Tilakesvara. Only one plate of the Rawan grant has survived without any seal.

Narendra is mentioned as the son of Sarabha as per legends on the seals of his charters. Narendra probably would have got the throne in succession as there is no record available to think otherwise.  He is also mentioned as a devout worshipper of Vishnu. Rawan plates mentions a village Toramaka in the Mantaraja-bhukti. Both, Bajpai and Jain, have taken this Mantaraja as the same Mantaraja who is mentioned as the king of Kurala in the Allahabad Pillar Inscription of Samudragupta. However Ajay Mitra Shastri does not agree with this as, first, Kurala is mentioned in Dakshinapatha and second, Kosala and Kurala are mentioned as separate regions in the inscription of Samudragupta which is contradictory if we accept the Mantaraja of Rawan plate is the same as the king of Kurala.

Kurud grant gives an important information as it mentions about grants made on palm-leaves. It mentions that the original palm-leaf grant was burnt in a conflagration in the donee’s house after copying its content to a new copper-plate charter. Probably this is the only reference ever found in Indian epigraphs which mentions conversion of a palm-leaf charter into a copper-plate charter.  The same grant also suggests that he acknowledges the supremacy of the Guptas. He has referred his overlords as parama-bhattaraka-pada while he himself assumed a comparative smaller title of maharaja. It is stated that the previous palm-leaf grant was made by parama-bhattaraka-pada after bathing in the river Ganga. Now who could be this overlord other than the Guptas who were ruling at Pataliputra located at the bank of Ganga. However he did not date his grants in the Gupta era but in his own regnal years.

 

Gold Coin of Prasannamatra

 

Prasanna (525-550 CE) – It is not clear who succeeded Narendra as none of the available grant throw any light over this. Though no grants of Prasanna is discovered however he is known from the grants of his son, Jayaraja, and grandson, Sudevaraja. Though there is no record found of this king, Ajay Mitra Shastri gave a period of 25 years for his rule. But the later rulers, whose grants are found, are given a very short rule of 10 years. In my opinion, a short rule of 10 years should be assigned to Prasanna as well but we should agree with a renowned scholar in this study.

He is the only Sarabhapuriya king whose gold coins have been discovered where he is mentioned as Prasannamatra. His coins are found in various regions like Kalahandi in Orissa, Chanda in Maharashtra and Chattisgarh area. This probably suggests that he would have ruled over a vast area however it cannot be certain. The legend on these coins is written in the box-headed characters like other grants of the Sarabhapuriyas. The obverse has a figure of Garuda with his wings spread and a conch and a chakra on his either side. This also suggests that Vaishnava character of the Sarabhapuriya kings and we may also say that some influence is probably taken from the Guptas, who had Garuda as their royal emblem.

Jayaraja (550-560 CE) – Jayaraja succeeded Prasanna and is known from his four copper-plate charters. Amugura plates (Inscriptions of Sarabhapuriyas, Panduvamsins and Somvamsins, third regnal year), Mallar plates (Epigraphia Indica Vol XXXIII, fifth regnal year), Arang plates (Inscriptions of Sarabhapuriyas, Panduvamsins and Somvamsins, fifth regnal year) and Mallar plates (Epigraphia Indica Vol XXXIV, ninth regnal year) are the four charters issued by him. All these charters were issued from Sarabhapura. As his last dated charter is issued in his ninth regnal year, he can be given a rule of 10 years.

Many remarkable changes are seen in his charters which more or less standardized the way all future charters of this dynasty were composed. Prefix mahat before the name of the king is seen first time in his charter and later it became an integral part of all future charters not only of the Sarabhapuriyas but their successors Panduvamshis and Somavamshis. From the finding spots and the localities mentioned in his charters, it appears that he maintained the region he got from his predecessor. His charters are found at Kalahandi in Orissa, Raipur and Bilaspur in Chattisgarh.

A reference of feudal chiefs bowing down in Mallar and Arang charters probably suggests that Jayaraja broke away with the Gupta suzerainty during his fifth regnal year and probably conquered few other Gupta feudatories as well. V V Mirashi suggest that Jayaraja defeated Bhimasena II, latter’s Arang charter was issued in year 182 of the Gupta Era (501 CE). However the correct date of Bhimasena II’s Arang charter is Gupta year 282 not 182.

D C Sircar and G Bhattacharya tries to connect Vyaghraraja’s Mallar plates with the Sarabhapuriyas. However Ajay Mitra Shastri provides many difference between the former’s grant and other Sarabhapuriya grants which concluded that the former’s grant should not be considered among those of the Sarabhapuriyas. Let’s have a look on the issue here itself.

Issue with the Mallar grant of  Vyaghraraja – Mallar plates of Vyaghraraja (Epigraphia Indica Vol XXXIV, fourth or forty-first regnal year, issued from Prasannapura). Vyagrharaja is mentioned as the younger brother of Pravara-bhattaraka and the son of Jaya-bhattaraka. Pravara-bhattaraka is also mentioned as the very moon on the horizon that is Amararya-kula. Let’s have look on the similarities and the differences, as mentioned by Ajay Mitra Shastri, between this charter and other Sarabhapuriya charters.

Mallar grants of Vyaghraraja Sarabhapuriya Grants
Pravara-bhattaraka and Jaya-bhattaraka are the names found in Sarabhapuriya grants as well though names like Jayaraja and Pravara are found in the Sarabhapuriya grants however suffix bhattaraka is not found in any instead prefix mahat is observed
Prasannapura, from where this grant was issued, may have been founded by Prasanna similar to Sarabhapura founded by Sarabha None of the sixteen known Sarabhapuriya grants were issued from Prasannapura, this city is otherwise also find no mention in their grants
The region, Purva-rashtra, in which the donated village was located is also mentioned in few Sarabhapuriya grants
Written in nail-headed characters Written in box-headed characters
Seal – three devices in upper side, chakra, Garuda and conch. Single-line legend below Seal – Gaja-Lakshmi with some auxiliary device in upper panel with a two-line legend below
The charter draft mentions genealogical details of Vyaghraraja No genealogical details are found in any of the draft among the Sarabhapuriya grants
Mention of Amararya-kula as the family name of the Pravara-bhattaraka No mention of any family name in any of their grants

Based upon the above differences, Shastri suggests that the kings of Amararya-kula might be contemporary of the late Sarabhapuriya rulers and took over Malhar from the last ruling king of the latter dynasty. Apart from all the above mentioned differences, one thing I noticed is that the seal of the Vyaghraraja plates resembles the obverse device of the Prasannamatra’s gold coin. Both have Garuda with chakra and conch, does this prove anything? Even if we put away the differences in both the seals, how to explain the differences in the characters used in these two? A thought from my side, we do not have any Sarabhapuriya charter issued from Prasannapura, it may be possible that regular scribes who were utilized in Sarabhapura and Sirpur charters were not available at the time of Vyaghraraja and hence he utilized some local scribe who was familiar with the nail-headed alphabets.

Manamatra-Durgaraja (560-570 CE) – There is no grant of this king however he is known from the grants of his son, Sudevaraja. Nanha and Arang plates of Sudevaraja mentions him as the son of Manamatra and the latter was born in the family of Prasanna. It appears that Manamatra was the son of Prasanna and the brother of Jayaraja. Jayaraja probably died without any issue which made his brother to ascend the throne. Dhamatari and Kauvatal plates of Sudevaraja, both issued from Sripura, describe him as the son of Maha-Durgaraja which means that Manamatra was also known with another name, Durgaraja.

Sten Know, while editing Nanha (Khariar) plates of Sudevaraja, mentions that Manamatra might be the same as Mananka of the Rashtrakuta family. This Mananka had a son, Devaraja, who might be same as Sudevaraja. However he himself mentions that as the alphabets of the Rashtrakuta and Sarabhapuriya charters differ so this identification is very doubtful. Though Dubreuil and M H Krishna accepted this identification of Konow and suggest a vast area ruled by the Rashtrakutas. But latest studies by A S Altekar and V V Mirashi rule out this identification of Konow.

As there is no grant of this king, hence we assign the same ten years of rule as that of his predecessor.

Sudevaraja (570-580  CE) – Seven charters are available of this king which is the maximum for any king of this dynasty. These are Nanha plates (Epigraphia Indica Vol IX as Khariar plates, second regnal year, issued from Sarabhapura), Dhamatari plates (Inscriptions of Sarabhapuriyas, Panduvamsins and Somvamsins, third regnal year, issued from Sripura (present Sirpur)), Sirpur plates (Epigraphia India Vol XXXI, seventh regnal year, issued from Sarabhapura), Arang plates (Epigraphia Indica Vol XXIII, seventh regnal year, issued from Sarabhapura), Kauvatal plates (Epigraphia Indica Vol XXXI, seventh regnal year, issued from Sripura), Raipur plates (Inscriptions of Sarabhapuriyas, Panduvamsins and Somvamsins, tenth regnal year, issued from Sarabhapura) and Sarangarh plates (Epigraphia Indica Vol IX, some unknown year, issued from Sarabhapura). This huge number of charters suggests that he was probably the most prosperous king of this family.

As two of his charters were issued from Sripura, this suggests that he founded this town and made his second capital perhaps. However Sarabhapura continued to enjoy the status of the main capital as the latest charter of his was issued from Sarabhapura only. A mention of a minister, Indrabalaraja, is found in many charters of Sudevaraja. He may be same as Indrabala of Panduvamshi family, son of Udayana and grandfather of Tivaradeva. However this identification is solely based upon the similarities between the names.

The latest regnal year of Sudevaraja is tenth as mentioned in his Raipur plates. Hence he ruled for at least ten years. We may either assign only ten years for his rule as done by Ajay Mitra Shastri or may give few more years, say fifteen. However it’s good to agree with a renowned scholar rather than proposing your own theories which are baseless. So we also assign ten years for Sudevaraja.

Pravararaja (580-590 CE) – Two grants of this king have come down to us, Thakurdiya plates (Epigraphia Indica Vol XXII, third regnal year, issued from Sripura) and Mallar plates (Epigraphia Indica Vol XXXIV, third regnal year, issued from Sripura). He is mentioned as the son of Manamatra which made him a brother of Sudevaraja. It appears that Pravararaja shifted the capital to Sripura as both his charters were issued from that town. This also suggests that he succeeded Sudevaraja as the latter’s charters were issued from Sarabhapura.

Though the latest known date of Pravararaja is his third regnal year but Ajay Mitra Shastri gives him ten years of rule to accommodate if there was any successor of Pravararaja. From all the available evidences, he seems to be the last known king of this dynasty.

 

So the final genealogy together with chronology looks like as below:

Sarabha (475-500 CE)

|

Narendra (500-525 CE)

|

Prasanna (525-550 CE)

|

——————————————————–

|                                                                         |

Jayaraja (550-560 CE)                Manamatra/Durgaraja (560-570 CE)

                                                                        |

                                                                 ——————————————

                                                                     |                                                       |

                                                                   Sudevaraja (570-580 CE)   Pravararaja (580-590 CE)

References:

  1. Chakravarti, N P (1938). Epigraphia Indica Vol XXII. Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi.
  2. Chakravarti, N P (1940). Epigraphia Indica Vol XXIII. Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi.
  3. E Hultszch (1981). Epigraphia Indica Vol IX. Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi.
  4. Majumdar, R C (1952). Ancient India. Motilal Banarasidas. New Delhi. ISBN: 812080435X
  5. Majumdar, R C (1954). The Classical Age. Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan. Mumbai.
  6. Shastri, Ajay Mitra (1995). Inscriptions of Sarabhapuriyas, Panduvamsins and Somvamsins. Motilal Banarasidas. New Delhi. ISBN – 8120806379
  7. Singh Deo, J P (1987). Cultural Profile of South Kosala. Gian Publishing House. New Delhi. ISBN:8121200954
  8. Sten Konow (1982). Epigraphia Indica Vol XIII. Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi.