(Last Updated on : 18-04-2014)
The fundamental fact about the political history of ancient India was the perpetual struggle between forces of centralisation and decentralisation. The period following the disintegration of the Gupta Empire in the middle of 6th century, had presented an interesting picture of the struggle between different provincial powers. North India had relapsed to a state of chronic political disintegration after the downfall of the Guptas. A number of independent states into which the country was disintegrated were in continuous strife with one another in order to grasp the throne and power. Several small but powerful units had risen to power, before king Harshavardhana established political unity in India in 7th century. These powers comprised the Maitrakas of Valabhi, Gurjaras of Rajputana, the Maukharis and the later Guptas, who still existed in diminished glory, the kingdom of Gauda under Sasanka and the kingdom of Kamarupa.
The Maitrakas of Valabhi
- In Saurashtra, the western part of Gupta Empire, there had arisen the kingdom of Valabhi under the Maitraka clan. The Maitrakas had risen to prominence as the feudatory governors of the Guptas. The chief, Senapatai Bhatarka had established his rule in Saurashtra. Valabhi was his capital. Dronasimha, the third ruler of the House, had assumed the independent title of "maharaja" and he rapidly had extended the boundary of his kingdom to a vast extent. Siladitya I succeeded him. Under Siladitya I, the Maitrakas in Saurashtra had become the most powerful provincial kingdom. Hiuen Tsang has spoken highly about Siladitya I as a king and as a patron of Buddhism. Valabhi, the Maitraka kingdom had become a seat of learning, culture, trade and commerce. The port of Bhrauch was restored with its former prosperity. Siladitya I was succeeded by Dhruvasena II. He was attacked and defeated by Harshavardhana. Harsha married his daughter to Dhruvasena. The next important ruler after him was Dharasena IV, who had assumed the title "Maharajadhiraja". However Siladitya II was the last ruler of Maitraka dynasty according to available literary documents.
Gurjaras of Rajputana
- The Gurjaras were Central Asian tribes who had poured in India through the routes by which the Huns had entered India. These Gurjaras had settled down in western India by the middle of 6th century A.D. They had established their political authority, taking advantage of the weak administration of the Gupta rulers in their later years. They mainly had concentrated their kingdom near Jodhpur in Rajputana. This region came to be named as Gujrat or Gurjarashtra. But settlements of the Gurjaras were not confined to this region only. They were also scattered over regions of Punjab. Though the origin of Gurjaras is veiled in obscurity, yet it has been presumed by scholars that they were of foreign origin and had entered India along with the Huns. The earliest Gurjara kingdom was established by Harichandra in the Jodhpur region of Rajputana. Descendants of Gurjaras came to be popularised as the Pratihara tribes. Nagabhatta, the great grandson of Harichandra was a famous king.
- The Maukharis were one of the most powerful and ancient tribes that had risen from the ruins of the Gupta Empire. From the clay seal of General Cunningham it is known that Maukharis were the original inhabitants of Anga or south Bihar. Later they migrated to Uttar Pradesh. One of the special features of the Maukhari clan was that, all members of the clan had names ending with Varmana, like Ishanavarmana, Anatavarman, Grahavarman etc. In the early part of 6th century A.D., the Maukharis were feudatories of the later Guptas in the regions of South Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. By the middle of the century they rose to prominence by taking advantage of the decline of Gupta Power. Harivarman Maukhari had assumed the title 'Maharaja'. But the extent of his kingdom is still unknown. Advaitavarman, who had succeeded his father, is said to have assumed the title of Maharaja and had married a princess from the house of the later Guptas. However the real founder of Maukhari supremacy in ancient India was Ishanavarmana. He had assumed the title 'Maharajadhiraja' in 554 A.D. Under him the extent of Maukhari kingdom had stretched to the limits of Andhra, Orissa and Gauda. He had started a protracted struggle with the later Guptas but had suffered crushing defeats in their hands. Hence, a hereditary struggle had begun between the Maukharis and the Guptas. However the principal reason for which they are well remembered in history was the resistance offered by Ishanavarmana and the Huns, resulting in the defeat of the Huns. The Harsha inscription depicted that Ishanavarmana also had defeated the Sulikas. Some scholars identify the Sulikas with the Cholas. Avantivarmana of the Maukhari dynasty further had extended the boundary of the kingdom by transferring the capital to the historical city of Kanauj. Grahavarman had succeeded Avantivarmana to the Maukhari throne in Kanauj. He had married Rajyashri, the daughter of Prabhakarvardhana of the Pushyabhuti House of Thaneswar. Grahavarman was killed by Deva Gupta of the later Gupta line. Sasanka, the Gauda king and the ally of Deva Gupta, also had marched to Kanauj and had defeated and killed Rajyavardhana, the brother-in-law of the Maukhari king Grahavarman. Later Harshavardhana had occupied Kanauj and few members of the Maukhari house ruled as feudatories of Harsha.
The Later Guptas
- The rulers of the later Gupta lines had their names ending in Gupta. However there is keen controversy among scholars whether the later Guptas actually had descended from the imperial Guptas. However the general theory runs that the later Guptas were the successors of the Imperial Guptas, who in their final days of Gupta supremacy had ruled over the regions of Magadha and adjoining regions. The principal sources of information regarding the later Guptas were the "Aphsad inscription" and the "Deo Baranark inscription". According to facts provided by those inscriptions, it is clear that there was a line of 11 kings belonging to the line of later Mauryas, who had ruled for about 200 years. According to historians, the founder of the later Gupta line was Krishna Gupta. He was followed by Harsha Gupta and Jivita Gupta I. History of the later Guptas had come to limelight right from the time of the 4th Gupta ruler Kumaragupta. The later Guptas were insistent rivals of the Maukharis. Both the independent powers desired to build their Empire on the model of the Imperial Guptas. This led to a hereditary struggle between the two clans. The Maukharis had suffered several defeats in the hands of the later Guptas. But the later Gupta king Mahasena Gupta was defeated in the hands of the Chalukyan king Kirtivarvamana Chalukya, during his invasion in Bengal. While the later Gupta king Mahasena Gupta was busy dealing with foreign invasions, the Maitrakas had captured the region of western Malwa and the Kalachuriyas the rest of the province, along with the city of Ujjaini. After the loss of Malwa, Mahasena Gupta's power was diminished and was concentrated only to the regions of eastern Magadha and Gauda. But this final grip of the Guptas also was captured by Sasanka.
Deva Gupta, a member of the collateral branch of the later Guptas had recovered Malwa and had become its ruler. He had hostilities with the court of Thaneswar, but was diplomatic enough to recognise the supremacy of Sasanka in Gauda. He had established an alliance with Sasanka of Gauda. The alliance of Deva Gupta with Sasanka led to sweeping political developments after the death of Prabhakarvardhana, king of Thaneswar. However there is still enough controversy among scholars about the extent of the Gupta kingdom during the time of the later Guptas.
The kingdom of Gauda under Sasanka
- Bengal had risen to power after the decline of the Imperial Guptas. According to historians, the sway of the later Guptas were extended upto the limits of north Bengal. Sasanka was probably a feudatory of the later Guptas in the Gauda region, under the later Gupta king Mahasena Gupta. Sasanka had asserted his independence in the closing of 6th century. Under Sasanka Bengal was destined to enjoy a period of regal supremacy. Sasanka had established his capital in Kanvasuvarna and had instituted his sway over the entire region of Bengal and parts of Orissa. But Sasanka had come into limelight mostly for his campaign in the west. He had conquered Magadha and Beneras and had annexed those places to his Empire. However the alliance of Maukharis with Kanauj was disturbed due to the alliance of Sasanka with Deva Gupta. Sasanka had some rivalry with the Maukharis of Kanauj. Hence no political unity in north India was possible under the leadership of the kingdom of Bengal and of Thaneswar.
After the death of Prabhakarvardhana of the Pushyabhuti House, Rajyavardhana, the eldest son of Prabhakarvardhana had ascended the throne of Thaneswar. He had confronted the rival league formed by Deva Gupta and Sasanka. Since Sasanka was a shrewd diplomat, he did not give Rajyavardhana much time to consolidate his Empire. Ultimately Sasanka dashed the Maukharis. He killed Grahavarman, the Maukhari king and imprisoned queen Rajyashri. Later he had also slain the Thaneswar chief Rajyavardhana, while he had come to rescue his sister Rajyashri. Thus Sasanka had consolidated his position in Bengal and was transformed into an unparallel power during his time. According to scholars, Sasanka seemed to have ruled in undiminished glory till his death in 634 A.D.
The kingdom of Kamrupa
- The kingdom of Kamrupa had risen to distinction along with the kingdom of Gauda. Kamrupa was a feudatory state of Samudragupta in the Gupta Age. Kamrupa had developed into a powerful kingdom under Bhuti-varman. He had assumed the title "Maharajadhiraja" by taking advantage of the diminution of the Gupta power. Bhuti-varman during his lifetime had annexed the kingdom of Davaka and Surma valley, by the middle of 6th century. The magnificence and glory of Kamrupa, which was initiated by Bhuti-varman was retained by his sons and grandsons. Mahasenagupta of the later Gupta line had vanquished Susthitavarman, grandson of Bhuti-varman. But Mahasenagupta could not hold his entire control over Assam. Therefore, the power of the house rose under Bhaskarvarmana. He had also played a significant role in Indian politics during the reign of Harshavardhana.
The death of Rajyavardhana in the hands of Sasanka of Bengal led to internal discord and tremendous chaos. After the death of Rajyavardhana, his younger brother Harshavardhana ascended the throne of Thaneswar in 606 A.D. Harsha's reign constituted an important epoch in the history of ancient India. Harshavardhana initiated the Harsha era right from the time of his ascension. Harsha had assumed the sovereignty of his paternal dominion immediately the death of his brother. But during that time he had nothing to do with the kingdom of Kanauj, because it was a territory of the Maukharis and belonged to the deceased brother-in law Grahavarman. Therefore, during his ascension Kanauj was not under the supremacy of Harshavardhana. However after the downfall of the imperial Guptas, the political unity of north India was brought about by Harshavardhana.