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Monday, July 22, 2024

Maharajadhiraja Samudragupta: the warrior who conquered every battlefield

In the first two parts (1 & 2) we presented to you the lineage of the Gupta kingdom and among other things the military conquests of Maharajadhiraja Samudragupta that brought Aryavarta and Dakshinapatha under his control.

We had mentioned the five categories into which his conquests were divided. In this part, we bring forth his conquests of frontier, forest and tribal and foreign kingdoms as well as explain significance of his conquests along with that of the Ashvamedha Yagna performed by him.

Frontier, Forest and Tribal kingdoms

After having annihilated the Aryavarta rulers, Samudragupta turned his attention towards other kingdoms which he either reduced to servitude or exacted tributes and obeisance along with the promise to obey his orders but leaving the day to day administration of these conquered lands in the hands of the defeated rulers.

In Line 21 of the Allahabad prashasti Harishena while stating that all the rulers of the forest kingdoms were reduced to complete subjection makes mention of Atavika-raja. Scholars have identified Atavika-raja as Raja Hastin of Dabhala (modern Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh) and the wild regions in the vicinity. Some scholars state that 18 forest kingdoms were under the rule of Raja Hastin.

The frontier kingdoms and Tribal states were the ones which paid all taxes, obeyed his orders and paid obeisance by way of personal attendance in his court. These have been identified as Samatata (South-East Bengal), Davaka (modern Daboka, Assam), Kamarupa (the most powerful state in the Brahmaputra valley with Pragjyotish i.e. modern Gauhati as capital), Kartripura (a kingdom located in the lower ranges of Western Himalayas which included Kumaun, Almora, Garhwal and Kangra) and Nepala. The Lichchhavi ruler of Nepal Jaydeva I submitted to Maharajadhiraja Samudragupta bringing the kingdom of Nepal and the Himalayan states under its control that lay in modern Bharat as well under the latter’s control. Jaydeva I, a blood relation of Samudragupta whose mother was a Lichchhavi princess, introduced the Gupta Era in Nepal.

The Tribal states brought under his control belonged to the following tribes Malava (rulers of areas around Karkotanagar near Tonk in Rajasthan), Arjunayas (who occupied Bharatpur and Alwar states of the British period), Yaudheyas were a brave warrior tribe occupying modern Rajputana and South-East Punjab and whose kingdom formed the North-Western border of Samudragupta’s empire, Madrakas (tribals originally from the Sialkot region in modern Pakistan), Abhiras (most scholars generally identify their kingdom with the province of Abhirwada between Jhansi and Bhilsa in Madhya Pradesh), Prarjunas who occupied Narasimhagarh in erstwhile Central Provinces and lies close to Bhilsa, Sanakanikas (another tribe which has been identified as ruling Isagarh district, Gwalior), the tribe occupying the Sanchi region known as Kakas also submitted to Samudragupta and finally the tribe of Kharaparikas who ruled the Damoh district of Madhya Pradesh.

The control of the frontier and tribal states provided Samudragupta a friendly buffer zone around his core kingdom that also enhanced his resources both in terms of treasury and human resources that would help him both militarily and administratively.

Foreign rulers

Several foreign powers acknowledged the suzerainty of Samudragupta by rendering services, making presents and applying for Gupta Garuda seal charters in return for permission to rule and administer their own territories. Harishena has identified their foreign powers.

The foreign powers listed in the Allahabad inscription are as follows:

  1. Daivaputra, Shahi and Shahanushahi – Daivaputra refers to the descendants of Kushana ruler Kanishka, Shahi stands for rulers of a sub-branch of Kushanas (reference: Jain legend Kalakacharya-Kathanaka) and Sasanians are referred to as Shahanushahi. At that time Central Punjab was in possession of Daivaputras and the kingdom of Shahis and Shahanushahis lay beyond Punjab and the regions that went right up to the borders of present day Afghanistan.
  2. Sakas (Shakas) – were powerful rulers in possession of Malwa (Ujjain) and Kathiawar regions during Samudragupta’s time and although they paid homage to him, either out of fear or awe, they discontinued it when Chandragupta II (who reconquered them later) came to the throne.
  3. Murundas – were one of those foreign potentates who came of their own accord to offer allegiance to Samudragupta. They were inhabitants of the North-West which several foreign tribes had come to possess and rule.
  4. Saimhalaka – is mentioned by Harishena in his prashasti but scholars are sceptical about placing him as a vassal or feudatory and believe that Harishena may have misconstrued king of Ceylon Meghavarna’s friendly overtures as ‘application for Garuda seal charter’. It is important to mention here that the Meghavarna had sent rich presents including precious jewels while ‘seeking permission’ for construction of a Buddhist monastery at Bodh-Gaya for visiting monks. Scholars opine that Harishena mistook this as an application for charter. Scholars state that although it is a known fact that Samudragupta maintained good foreign relations with rulers of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and islands of Southern Sea including Sumatra, Java and many others, these rulers must be considered as allies rather than vassals till solid proof of their vassalship emerges.

Ashvamedha Yagna

After having described all the conquests of Maharajadhiraja Samudragupta Harishena embellishes him with the title ‘Prithivyam-apratirathasya’ meaning unopposed by hostile chariots on earth. The Allahabad Pillar Inscription makes no mention of Ashvamedha Yagna as it was performed after the inscription was engraved. The evidence for this significant sacrifice comes from both the coins issued by Maharajadhiraja Samudragupta himself and the specific mention of it by his successors in their records.

‘Rajadhirajah Prithi-vima-vtiva divam jayati aprativaryaviryah’ (king of kings having conquered the earth, now conquers heaven with invincible valour) is inscribed on the obverse and ‘Ashvamedha Prakramah’ on the reverse of the Ashvamedha coin issued by Samudragupta. He is credited as the reviver of the Ashvamedha Yagna as Samudragupta performed the extensive ceremony in a full-fledged manner completing it by donating a large number of cows and gold coins to Brahmins earning him the appellation ‘aneka-Go-hiranya-koti-pradah’ (giver of numerous cow and gold).

His conquests not just filled up his treasury and expanded his kingdom but also earned him faithful and powerful allies and established him as a ‘Chakravartin’ worthy of performing the Ashvamedha Yagna (undertaken after the completion of all his conquests). It is important to mention here that Maharajadhiraja Samudragupta remained undefeated on the battlefield which makes him one of the finest warriors Bharat produced.

His contributions to the field of administration, arts, culture and architecture are equally significant and will be covered in the subsequent parts.


A Political History of Imperial Guptas (From Gupta to Skand Gupta) – Sri Tej Ram Sharma

(Featured Image Source: Classical Numismatic Group Inc)

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A opinionated girl-next-door with an attitude. I'm certainly not afraid to call myself 'a proud Hindu' and am positively politically incorrect. A Bharatiya at heart who loves reading, music, sports and nature. Travelling and writing are my passions.


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