In the beginning of the 4th century A.D., the Rise of Gupta Empire (Gupta Kingdom) started a new era in the history of India. Various local powers who broke away from the Kushana authority formed independent kingdoms, some of whom where monarchies, while the others republicans. The kings of Gupta Dynasty established an empire and thus united India.
The Gupta inscriptions like the Allahabad Prasasti of Samudragupta composed by the poet Harishena, the Eran inscriptions, the Udayagiri cave inscriptions, Sanchi stone inscriptions, the Bhitari Pillar inscriptions.
All are valuable sources for forming the history of the Gupta period.
There are the numismatic evidence also. The coins of King Chandragupta I, Samudragupta and of Chandragupta II have significantly highlighted the Gupta history and the extent of foreign influence on the Guptas coins.
The Gupta records mention the names of first three rulers of the dynasty as Maharaja Sri Gupta, Maharaja Sri Ghatotkacha Gupta and Maharajadhiraja Chandragupta.
Historians give different opinions regarding the caste of the Gupta Kings. Some historians suggest that they the Gupta’s were the Jat tribes of Punjab, though his theory was not accepted. But most historians stick to the conclusion that the Gupta’s were of Kshatriya origin.
However, the first three Gupta rulers were Sri Gupta, Ghatotkacha Gupta and Chandragupta I. Of these three the third king, The Great Chandragupta was more powerful than his father and grandfather. The first two kings were ‘Maharajas’ which as per the Gupta records of the fourth century A.D. was a title conferred on the subordinate chiefs. But the records “Maharajadhiraja” as the independent sovereigns and King Chandragupta had assumed that title, obviously meant that he was an independent king. But controversy still remains if actually the early two Gupta rulers were feudatories to any suzerain. In the third century B.C. many independent rulers of Bharashiva, Magha and Lichchavi dynasties used the title Maharaja. Might be the early Gupta’s were independent rulers of a small kingdom.
The Chinese traveler I-Tsing told us that Sri Gupta’s kingdom comprised of Bihar and part of Bengal. He patronized the Buddhists and constructed a temple for the Chinese pilgrims near Mrigashikavana. He also gave 24 villages for their maintenance. Possibly he reigned for 25 years, from 275-300 A.D. After his death his son Ghatotkachagupta ascended the throne. Though the Vakataka inscription marked him as the founder of Gupta dynasty, this cannot be taken as granted. Yet he was a powerful king of central India and Deccan where he ruled for 20 years from 300-320 A.D.
It was his successor and son, King Chandragupta I who for the first time upkeep the glory of the Gupta family and opened a new chapter in the history of India. Chandragupta I is mostly credited for the rise of Imperial Gupta Empire.
Great Chandragupta I married the Lichchavi Princess Kumaradevi. This matrimonial relation had brought two most powerful kingdoms of north India close to each other. This marriage had immensely increased King Chandragupta’s power. The benefit what he derived from this marriage was more political, than social or economic.
Kumaradevi evidently brought to her husband as her dowry valuable influence, which secured to him a paramount position in Magadha and the neighbouring countries. The Lichchavis and the Gupta’s ruled over adjoining kingdoms, which were united by this marriage and led to enhancement of power and prestige of the Gupta dynasty.
After King Chandragupta-I’s matrimonial alliance with the Lichchavis, he liberated Magadha from the Scythians. But we do not possess any evidence to establish this proposition that Chandragupta had fought any war of liberation of Magadha with the Scythians. It is also believed that Pundravardhana province was conquered by Chandragupta I. This is because the Allahabad Pillar inscription of Samudragupta does not refer anywhere that the province of Pundravardhana was conquered by him, but he was the master of that area. Then naturally it derives that the area might have been conquered by his father, Chandragupta I. However, basing on the evidence of a Puranic passage, historians have suggested that Chandragupta I’s kingdom had included Saketa, Prayaga and Magadha . The Magha kings of Kosala and Kausambi were defeated by him and these areas were also annexed in his kingdom. Thus it can be said that Chandragupta I’s empire consisted of the whole of Bihar, portions of Bengal and Oudh.
Though there is difference of opinion among the scholars regarding the questions who originated the Gupta era it is generally accepted that Chandragupta I established this new era, the Gupta era, dating either from December 319 A.D. or from February 26, 320 A.D. Thus the foundation of Gupta imperialism was laid by Chandragupta I over a fertile and populous territory which provided the dynasty with not only name but enough of fortune as well.