Bharat has a rich ‘itihasa’ (history) that often finds no place in our history text-books (a fact we don’t tire of highlighting time and again). One of the several dynasties that either gets a passing reference or is reduced to footnotes is the great Gupta dynasty that held sway in Magadha province. The Gupta Era is known as the ‘Golden Age’ of ancient Bharat. Their reign witnessed rapid progress in areas such as music, arts, architecture, military conquests, administration and several others.
It is generally held that Maharajadhiraja Chandragupta I, the third ruler of the dynasty and Samudragupta’s father, expanded the kingdom and brought entire modern Bihar, parts of today’s Uttar Pradesh (UP) and Bengal under his control. Maharajadhiraja Samudragupta was undoubtedly the most powerful and glorious ruler of this dynasty who not only expanded its borders but also brought several kingdoms under his control as vassals. Besides being a military strategist par excellence, he was also well-versed in arts in general and music in particular. One of his coins depicts him playing the musical instrument ‘veena’.
Samudragupta’s great grandfather Maharaja Sri Gupta and grandfather Maharaja Ghatotkacha have been mentioned as the first two rulers of the dynasty in official genealogical descriptions. The early history of the Guptas is limited to the names of these two rulers. Even the dates given by scholars vastly differ and it isn’t until Samudragupta’s father Maharajadhiraja Chandragupta I ascends the throne that significant details about the Gupta dynasty comes to light.
For all practical purposes the reign of Chandragupta I is considered to be the commencement of the Gupta Age. Chandragupta I married Lichchhavi princess Kumaradevi and it is this matrimonial alliance that aided the rise of the Guptas. Samudragupta was the son and successor of Chandragupta I and Kumaradevi (from whom he is supposed to have inherited the Lichchhavi kingdom).
Samudragupta ascended the throne in 353 CE, when Chandragupta abdicated the throne in his favour, and he ruled till 373. His accession was marked by rebellion as his brothers too wanted to lay claim to the throne despite the fact that their father had expressly favoured Samudragupta as ‘a worthy successor’. He was, however, successful in quelling the rebellion and establishing himself firmly as a successor and ‘Maharajadhiraja’ as described in the ‘Allahabad Pillar Inscription’.
Samudragupta was multi-faceted who conquered not just the battlefield but also excelled in the field of arts, poetry, music and culture. He is known as ‘Kaviraj’ (king of poets) who was adept in playing the veena (musical instrument). He has been credited as the ‘reviver of the Ashvamedha yagna’ and as one who established his dominance over a vast territory through his heroic deeds. He remained undefeated on the battlefield with Ashvamedha sacrifice being the climax which earned him the title ‘Prithivyamapratiratha’ (one who has no rival on earth).
His reign of 20 years was marked by progress in both arts and administration. He was a rare combination of intellect and heroism who ensured the welfare of his subjects by providing an able administration. The poor and destitute were cared for as much as traders and others were provided protection and care. The most significant contribution of Samudragupta was the revival of Hindu traditions which had declined after Asoka patronised Buddhism. He was religious and followed Vaishnava traditions. He patronised Brahmins by donating cows, land and coins for their survival.
His coins are testimony to the fact that he revived several traditions and ensured arts and culture received the encouragement they deserved making his reign ‘the golden age of art and culture’ as well. His physical prowess combined with his cultural attainments heralded a new era in Aryavarta which had disintegrated politically having faced foreign invasions for close to five centuries before the Gupta dynasty rose to power.
We would bring out other interesting facets of Maharajadhiraja Samudragupta’s personality and his military conquests in the subsequent parts of this series.
- A Political History of Imperial Guptas (From Gupta to Skand Gupta) – Sri Tej Ram Sharma
- The Classical Age – Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan (Source)
(Featured Image Source: Indiatimes)
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