(Last Updated on : 04/05/2012)
The Guptas were famous rulers of ancient India, who constructed their own imperialism and introduced the Golden era in India. After the lapse of a prolonged Dark Age, it was the Guptas who initiated peace and coalesced the entire disintegrated Northern India. The Gupta rulers ascended the throne in 320 A.D. and continued to be the sovereign authority of India till 550 A.D. When the Guptas came into the political scenario of India, the condition of entire North India was pretty lawless and due to lack of any central authority the provincial governors unfurled their flag of independence after the downfall of the Kushanas. Furthermore they were at continuous strife with one another for which the socio-political condition of Northern India was extremely chaotic. During that time the Guptas and the Kshatriyas rose to power, who not only defeated the provincial kings, but also compelled them to offer their allegiance to the Guptas. In such a manner, the Guptas consolidated the entire northern India under their own supremacy.
The Gupta records mentioned the names of the first three rulers of the Gupta lineage who ascended the throne, namely Maharaja Sari Gupta, his son Maharaja Sri Ghatotkacha and the latter's son Maharajadhiraja Chandragupta. Though Maharaja Sri Gupta was the founder king of the Gupta dynasty and established dynastic stronghold in Northern India, yet the third ruler Maharajadhiraja Chandragupta I was more powerful and famous than his predecessors. However historians have pointed out unanimously that the first two Gupta kings had used the title of "Maharaja", only the third king Chandragupta I initiated the status of Maharajadhiraja. From the Gupta records of 4th century it is known that the title "Maharaja" only was ascribed to subordinate kings under the Central authority during that time and the title "Maharajadhiraja" was used by an independent king. Hence from these records it was presumed by the scholars that the first two Gupta rulers appeared to be feudatories, but their authority is still unknown. Though K.P. Jaiswal has pointed out that the Guptas were feudatories under the Bharasivas, the theory was discarded due to lack of any supportive evidence. Dr. S. Chattopadhya has however pointed out that after the downfall of the Kushanas, the Saka Murandas occupied Magadha and the Guptas acted as their vassals. Finally Chandragupta I liberated Magadha from the Sakas or the Scythians and established himself as the independent king of the Gupta Dynasty and used the title "Maharajadhiraja". However the feudatory status of the Guptas and the Scythian suzerainty over them is a subject of doubt, because conclusive proofs are yet unavailable. Allan, one of the famous interpreters of ancient history has inferred that the title "maharaja" was not always ascribed to the feudatories. He also adds that the title Maharaja was used by many independent rulers belonging to the tribes like Bharasiva, Magha, Licchavi, and Vakataka. Hence it is not unlikely that the early Guptas also used the same title as independent provincial kings.
Not much is known about Maharaja Sri Gupta, the founder king of the Gupta dynasty in ancient India. Knowledge about Maharaja Sri-Gupta is limited to the accounts of the Chinese traveller I-Tsing, who visited the court of Maharaja Sri Gupta. I-Tsing in his historical documents had mentioned that the extent of the Gupta Empire was too small when the founder king of Gupta dynasty, Maharaja Sri Gupta ascended the throne. It comprised the areas of Bengal and some parts of Bihar. A patron of the Buddhist cult, Maharaja Sri Gupta, constructed a temple for the Chinese pilgrims near Mrigashikhavana, close to Varendri or Varendra bhumi in Bengal and also granted twenty-four villages for its maintenance. Maharaja Sri Gupta reigned probably from 275 to 300 A.D.
Maharaja Ghatotkacha succeeded his father, king Maharaja Sri Gupta to power. According to Vakataka records of Prabhabati Gupta, the daughter of Chandragupta II described Maharaja Ghatotkacha as the founder of Gupta Dynasty in ancient India. However there is no conclusive proofs or supportive evidences about the Vakataka records. Moreover it provided ambiguous documentations, hence in the later years historians discarded the confirmation of the Vakataka records. The Rewa inscription of Skandagupta also recorded the genealogy of the Gupta rulers, where the name of Maharaja Sri Gupta was not mentioned. However Dr. Majumdar has pointed out that one of these records is the official Gupta record, hence much importance should not be attached to the omission of the name of Maharaja Sri Gupta as the founder king of the Gupta Dynasty. However Maharaja Ghatotkacha was regarded a powerful ruler of the Gupta Dynasty. Allan has pointed out that the Gupta Dynastic inscription mentioned him as "Ghatotkacha" and not Ghatotkacha Gupta. Furthermore he adds that Ghatotkacha was also identified as "Kacha". The coins issued in the name of "Kacha" were ascribed to the second Gupta ruler, Maharaja Ghatotkacha. Historians have fixed his date between 300 and 320 A.D., after a prolonged research.
The second Gupta ruler, Ghatotkacha was succeeded by his son Chandragupta I. He not only inherited the throne of his father, one of the powerful rulers of Gupta Dynasty, but at the same time brought Gupta dynasty in the limelight of ancient history, by unveiling the obscurity, which covered the contemporary political scenario after the Dark Age. The emergence of Gupta Dynasty under him as a superior power, is evident from his adoption of the title "Maharajadhiraja". As historical records suggest, the third king of the Gupta Dynasty, Maharajadhiraja Chandragupta I was not only a powerful king, but at the same time was a shrewd diplomat. To augment the power of Gupta house he not only subdued the provincial kings, but also established marital relationship with some of the tribes, in order to strengthen the authority of the Gupta Empire. It is for this reason Chandragupta I married the Licchavi princess Mahadevi Kumaradevi. Some of the coins of Chandragupta I bore images of the Maharajadhiraja and his Licchavi queen Mahadevi Kumaradevi on one side and the figure of goddess Lakshmi on the reverse.
The matrimonial alliance of Chandragupta I with the Licchavi princess Kumaradevi, is a subject of keen controversy among the scholars. Matrimonial alliance between royal families for political purposes was prevalent in all times, in all countries, for all ages, especially in India. Therefore, historians hold that the Licchavi marriage of Chandragupta I had immensely increased his power. Since the Licchavis were extremely powerful warrior tribes, Chandragupta did not find it wise enough to wage a war against them. But he decided to establish friendly relations with the Licchavis, to enhance the strength of the Gupta Empire. But scholars differ widely about the nature and extent of power of Chandragupta I, acquired by his alliance with the Licchavis. Allan has suggested that by matrimonial alliance, the Guptas succeeded the prestige and pedigree in the ancient line of the Licchavis, but did not gain any material power. Romila Thapar supported the view of Allan and endorsed the fact by pointing that the Guptas perhaps did not have any royal origin. But Dr. Majumdar has refuted the views of Allan by saying that the Licchavis did not enjoy any status in the contemporary society. Hence the matrimonial alliance of Chandragupta I could not enhance the pedigree of the Guptas. Moreover "Manu Samhita " denoted the Licchavis as the "degraded Kshatriyas". Allan has further pointed out that after matrimonial alliance, the kingdom of Vaishali ruled by the Licchavis was annexed with the Gupta Empire. But later historians contradicted the view. This is so because the name Vaishali was not mentioned in the list of territories ruled by Samudragupta. Hence if it were included in his father's kingdom, then unquestionably Vaishali would have been part of Samudragupta's kingdom. Hence according to modern historians, though Chandragupta I engaged in matrimonial alliance with the Licchavis, yet, the kingdom of Vaishali was ruled by the Licchavis independently. However it is generally believed that the alliance of the Guptas with the Licchavis had strengthened the Gupta supremacy in ancient India.
Almost nothing is known about the conquest of the third Gupta ruler Maharajadhiraja Chandragupta I. Professor R.D. Bannerjee has suggested that- strengthened by the Licchavi alliance, firstly Chandragupta liberated the kingdom of Magadha from the shackles of the Sakas or the Scythians. Some scholars have also identified Chandragupta I with Chandrasena, a character of the play "Kaumudi Mahotsava". In the play, the alliance of Chandrasena with the Licchavi princess was also mentioned. From the evidence of the drama, it is known that Chandragupta I allied with the Licchavis and overthrew the legitimate king Sundaravarmana from the throne of Magadha and usurped it.
Prof. R.G. Basak has expounded the theory that Chandragupta I had conquered the province of Pundravardhana (North Bengal). The Allahabad Pillar Inscription of Samudragupta however did not mention that he had conquered the territory of Pundravardhana. It was already part of the Gupta Empire before the ascension of Samudragupta. Therefore it can be inferred that Pundravardhana was conquered by Chandragupta I. Professor Basak has also identified a king named Chandra of Meharauli Pillar inscription, with Chandragupta I. However this theory did not have wide acceptance. Though the information available about the extent of Chandragupta I's Empire is very meagre, yet historians have presumed that probably it was a large one, which justified his title of Maharajadhiraja. Pargiter, one of the eminent historians, has suggested on the evidence of a Puranic passage that Saketa (Oudh), Prayag (Allahabad) and Magadha (South-Bihar) were included in Chandragupta's kingdom. Chandragupta I evidently had defeated the Magha kings of Kosala and Kausambhi and annexed their kingdom. Later modern historians have opined after prolonged research of the available evidences and the campaigns made by Samudragupta, that the Empire of Chandragupta I consisted of whole Bihar, portions of Bengal, except the Eastern region or Samatata and eastern territory of U.P.
The political importance of Chandragupta I lies in the fact that he had initiated the Gupta era in 320 A.D., that had commenced from February 26th. According to some other scholars, Gupta era actually dated from December 319 A.D. Again some scholars held that the son of Chandragupta I, Samudragupta initiated the Gupta era in order to commemorate his coronation. However a strong theory has been approached by another group of scholars that Chandragupta II might have started the Gupta Era, although it was calculated from 56 years previous to his reign. However Chandragupta I, the third king of Gupta lineage, was the most powerful among the early Guptas, who not only established a stronghold of the Gupta Empire in Northern India, but also had extended the boundary of his Empire.