King Samudragupta, known as Samudragupta the great, was the son of Chandragupta I. He was the son of Chandragupta I’s Lichchavi queen Kumaradevi and possibly was not the eldest son. From the “Allahabad Prasasthi” composed by Harishena, it is learnt that Chandragupta deliberately choose Samudragupta to succeed him among his other brothers.
The Great King of Gupta Empire, Samudra Gupta participated most in building the “The Golden Age of India”. When King Samudragupta ascended the throne the condition of Northern India was still very turbulent. Though his father Chandragupta I had established an empire yet there were enough of scattered independent kingdoms all over the Northern India who were independent and ready to shed blood for maintenance of their independence. These independent kingdoms, mostly monarchical and some republican rose to power on the rivers of the Kushana Empire. Eventually Samudragupta had to fight at every step with them for spreading the Gupta empire and thanks to his military zeal that at every battle he was the victor.
The Allahabad Prasasthi of Harishena, the coins and inscriptions of the local rulers who became vassals of the mighty emperor, the Kaushambhi inscription, the Bhita seal and the coins of the Sakha and Kushana rulers are important sources for depicting the history of Samudragupta. The Vayu and the Bhagavata Puranas also throw significant light on the contemporary political condition of India.
In U.P. and Central India Samudragupta had four outstanding rivals such as
King Achyuta of Ahichchhatra,
King Nagasena of Mathura,
King Ganapati Naga of Padmavati and
a King of the Kota family.
In addition to these four formidable enemies, the Allahabad Prasasti gave us the names of six other Kings of Northern India whom Samudragupta had to defeat to extend Gupta empire. They were
King Rudradeva or Rudrasena I Vakataka of Western Deccan,
King Matila of Western U.P.,
the Naga Kings of Central India—Naga Datta, Nandin and Balavarman, and
Chandravarman, the King of Bankura District in West Bengal.
In addition to these Kings there were a good number of Atavika Kings or forest kings who ruled independently in the forest tracts, extending from the Ghazipore district of U.P to Jabbalpore in Central Province. Moreover outside U.P. Central India and Bengal there were five ‘Pratyanta rashtras’ or frontier kingdoms. Those were Samatata or South East Bengal, Davaka or portion of Assam, Kamrup or Upper Assam, Nepal and Kartipura in modern Jalandhar district. These were all independent and powerful kingdoms. But these are so far the Monarchies are concerned. From Allahabad Prasasti we came to know the names of a good number of independent as well as powerful non-monarchical tribes who lived in the West and South-Western fringe of North India proper, popularly called in those days as “Aryavarta. ” These were the Malavas, who though originally from Punjab, were settled at that time in Rajputana, the Arjurayanas lived in Bharatpur State of Rajputana, the Yaudheyas of Sutlej valley of East Punjab, the Madrakas of the valley between Ravi and Chenab in Punjab, the Abhiras of Western Rajputana, the Sanakanikas of Bhilsa, and the three republican states of Kakas, Kharaparikas, and Prarjunas, possibly of Malwa and Central India. In addition to these the Kushana chiefs were there in Western Punjab and Afghanistan and the Sakh chiefs ruled the Western Malwa and Kathiawar region.
This list of kings clearly shows that is not an easy task for Samudragupta to set his empire on a sound footing. These political atoms had fragmented the whole of Northern India. Indeed it was a time for the emergence of a great conqueror like Chandragupta Maurya. Samudragupta appeared in the fullness of the time. He had inherited a solid foundation of his sovereign authority in Bengal, Bihar and part of U.P. from his father. Now he was free to hoist his flag elsewhere.
It was the aim of Samudragupta to bring about the political unification of India and make himself an Ekrat or sole ruler like Mahapadama. The idea of becoming a Rajachakraborti had haunted him from the very beginning. Hence he was out for “Digvijaya” in the North. From the Allahabad Prasasthi we get details of his military campaigns. Lines 13-14 and 21-23 of the Prasasti illustrated his conquests in the Northern India or “Aryavarta” while the lines 19-20 refer to his conquest of the South.
Samudragupta made two campaigns in Northern India. At first he totally defeated the neighbouring kings in the Ganga-Yamuna Valley and consolidated his position. He defeated king Achyuta of Ahichchhatva, Nagasena of Mathura and Ganapati Naga of Padmavati and also a Prince of the Khota family. These kingdoms had formed a league against Samudragupta and the latter defeated their combined forces in a battle of Kausambi, though this theory lacked sufficient proofs to support it. In his conquests of Aryavarta Samudragupta followed a policy of ruthless conquests and annexation and he violently exterminated his opponent monarchs. He then turned to subjugate the kings of forest countries, all of whom were compelled to become his servants. Samudragupta then undertook the difficult task of subjugating the monarchs of Dakshinapatta. They were defeated in the battle and captured. But the victor released and reinstated them. His magninimity had earned him the allegiance of these Kings. In south he defeated King Mahendra of Kosala, king Vyaghraraja of Mahakantara, Mantaraja of Kovala, King Mahendra of Pistapura, King Svamidatta of Kottura, King Damana of Erandapalli , Visnugopa of Kanchi, Nilraja of Avamukta, Hastivarman of Vengi, Ugrasena of Palakka , Kubera of Devarastra , Dhananjaya of Kusthalapura.
Samudragupta’s successful campaign in North and South India and his enormous military strength as well as his unquestionable generalship were enough to create awe and terror in the hearts of the rulers of other states, monarchic and republican, indigenous or foreign. Accordingly they gratified his imperious commands by paying all kinds of taxes, obeying his commands and orders and coming to do homage. Among the rulers of the frontier states described as the “Pratyanta-nripatis” the most noted were the followings who accepted the suzerainty of Samudragupta – the King of Samatata (or South-Eastern Bengal), Davaka (Le. Dacca or the hill tracts of Chittagong and Tippera, though Prof. VA. Smith identified it with the modern district of Bagura; Dinajpur and Rajshahi while Mr. K.L. Barua identified it with the Kopili Valley of (Assam) Kamrupa (Assam), Nepala (or Nepal) and Kartipura. Many turbulent tribes also surrendered to him who may be summarized as the Malavas, the Arjunaynas, the Yaudheyas, the Madrakas, the Abhiras, the Prarjunas, the Sankavikas, the Kakas, the Kharaparikas, etc. Thus the tribes that survived Alexander’s invasion and the Mauryan imperialism lay easily prostrated at the might of Samudragupta. This proves beyond doubt the valor and generalship of Samudragupta and there seem some truth in the remark that the Gupta imperialism sounded the death knell to the republic that had long history of much glory.
Samudragupta’s conquests were of various degrees. He forcibly extirpated certain kings and steadily annexed their kingdoms. But the others were totally vanquished and taken prisoner but subsequently set free as they acknowledged his suzerainty. Lastly the frontier monarchs and the tribes, being impressed by his victories, paid him homage of their own accord.
Samudragupta thus made himself master of an extensive empire. The rise of a new indigenous power could not be a matter of indifference to the foreign potentates, who were no less anxious to be on good terms with him. The Allahabad Pillar Inscription informs that the Daivaputra-Sahi-Sahanushahi, the Saka-Muruades as well as the people of Sinhala and other islands, purchased peace by self surrender, bringing presents of maidens, the application of Charters, stamped with the Garuda Seal, confirming them in the enjoyment of their territories. It appears that the above mentioned powers were profoundly struck with the expanding fame and influence of Samudragupta and therefore they thought it prudent to enlist his friendship and favor. They were the representatives of the Kushanas and the Sakhas who had formerly held sway over a large area of India. Of course it is difficult to identify these people definitely.
The Daivaputra-Sahi-Sahanushahi was perhaps the late Shahi Kushanas, the successor of Kaniska who were the rulers of the North-Western Frontier province of India, now within Pakistan. The Sakas were the Scythians ruling in the Western part of India in Malwa and Saurastra or in other parts of the country. The Murandas have not yet been identified satisfactorily. The Sinhalese obviously stood for the Ceylonese. The relation of the country is corroborated by the Chinese sources which informed that Maghavarna, the king of Ceylone had sent a formal embassy with rich gifts to Samudragupta seeking his permission to build a monastery at Bodhgaya for the use of the Ceylonese pilgrims. Samudragupta was gracious enough to grant his request and there grew up a magnificent structure which was known as the Mahabodhi Sangharama when Hiuen-Tsang came in India.
Thus Samudragupta became the unquestioned master of the whole of Northern India and a greater part of Southern India. He now prepared himself to perform the traditional horse sacrifice ceremony or the Aswamedha as a token of his absolute supremacy. Though this incident is not recorded in his Allahabad Pillar inscription, yet he is represented in the inscription of his successors to have revived the horse sacrifice which was long been in abeyance. The claims in favor of Samudragupta in the later inscriptions may not be fully correct, yet it can be said that he performed the sacrifice with full Sastric-injunction. That the Aswamedha was performed by Samudragupta can be substantiated by the fact that the king issued an “Aswamedha” type of gold coin bearing the figure of the sacrificial horse before a post on one side and on the reverse, the queen with the legend of “Aswamedha Parakramah.” It is learnt that these coins were minted to be given to the Priests who performed the sacrifice. During this ceremony he distributed large sums as charity. It is assumed that “the Aswamedha sacrifice might have been performed by Samudragupta at the conclusion of his fighting days and after the incision of the Allahabad Pillar inscription, as it was not mentioned therein.”
Samudragupta’s conquests, thus, had two distinct phases, his conquest in the North and his conquests of the Southern countries of India. But the very manner of his conquest of these two parts of India was not the same. Though he conquered different countries of Deccan, yet he did not annexed those kingdoms with the Gupta Empire as he did in Aryavarta. Samudragupta restored these vanquished countries to their former position and showed them many favor after receiving formal allegiance from them. Herein we find the real statesman like attitude and policy of Samudragupta. Possibly Samudragupta had realized that it would not be possible for him to control and rule the southern countries owing to its distance from his capital city and due to the communication difficulties. At the same time by indigenous display of skill, he created a chain of alliances and friendly terms to ban the progress of the Vakatakas, who had become formidable at this time and thus he safeguard the new Gupta Empire. Though his southern campaign was basically Digvijaya it was in reality Dharmavijayas. Thus his northern campaign was Digvijaya, but southern conquests were essentially Dharmavijayas.