Samudragupta, son and successor of Chandragupta I was the greatest ruler of the dynasty. He ascended the throne in c. AD 350. And ruled till AD 375-76 it is generally believed that Samudragupta was appointed successor to the imperial throne by his father in an assembly of councillors and members of the royal family.
It is also confirmed by the Prayaga prashasti. This was done in order to pave the way for the final amalgamation of the Gupta and Lichchhavi states.
Samudragupta’s nomination, however, seems to have met with some resentment among the orthodox members of the Gupta court who found in Kacha, another son of Chandragupta I, as their leader.
On the authority of the Arya Manjushri Mula Kalpa (AMMK) and Yuan Chwang’s description, it has been suggested that Kacha was persecutor of Buddhists whereas Samudragupta represented the liberal aspect of Brahmanical revival. Details of the struggle that ensued are not known.
However, as the coins of Kacha have been found mainly from the eastern UP, it may be assumed that the revolt took place in the central regions of the Gupta state itself. However, Kacha’s success was short-lived for, according to AMMK, he ruled only for three years.
After this initial struggle Samudragupta set himself to unite the whole Ganga valley. Contemporary epigraphs, such as Eran inscription, credit him with the overthrowing of “the whole tribe of kings upon the earth” and modern historians like Vincent Smith described him with admiration as the Napoleon of India.
And yet the only document that we have in support of such tall claims is the Allahabad pillar inscription (API) of Samudragupta. It contains an eloquent eulogy of the emperor, composed by his court-poet Harishena.
This document is nothing but the glorification of the author’s patron. It is, however, drafted with considerable skill and care which, if properly interpreted, reveals the patterns and policies behind Samudragupta’s conquests.
The first direct reference to an actual military encounter of Samudragupta occurs in the se: verse of the API where it states that by the pro: of his arm, Samudragupta uprooted Ach Nagasena and Ganapatinaga (generally regar the rulers of Ahichchhatra, Padmavati and Ma respectively), caused the capture of the prin the Kota family (Bulandshahr region) throu armies and took his pleasure at the city that h name of ‘Pushpa’ (probably Kanyakubja).
Description is followed by a long list of states, and tribes that were conquered and brought various degrees of subjection. They have divided into four categories, the first of vise includes the twelve states of Dakshinapatha the names of their kings, who were capt (grahana) and then liberated (moksha) reinstated (anugraha).The second contains names of the eight kings of Aryavarta, who violently exterminated prasabhoddhat odvritta.
The third consists of the rulers of the (atavika) states who were reduced to serv’ (paricharakikrita) and the chiefs of the pratyanta or border states and nine tribal repub who were forced to pay all kinds of ta< (sarvakaradana), obey his orders (ajnakarana) perform obeisance (pranamagamana)\ and fourth and the last category consists of Daivaputrashahi Shahanushahi, Shaka Muruit and the dwellers of Simhala (Sri Lanka) and the other islands’ who pleased the Gupta emp by offering their own persons for service to (atma-nivedana), bringing presents of maid (kanyopayanadana) and applying for chart bearing the Garuda seal for the enjoyment oft own territories.
According to Goyal, the two factors who were primarily responsible for giving shap Samudragupta’s plan to campaign may be descrii as geo-political and socio-religious. Thus the stage of Gupta expansionism was dominated Conflicts with the Nagas of Mathura, Padma and Ahichchhatra.
Samudragupta’s choice conditioned by the fact that in the western re the political scene was dominated by the while in the east he had no such rivals. We have seen earlier that Nagas had some empire building capacity as the Guptas had.
Both of them were connected with the brahmanical revivial; marriage alliance with Vakatakas had enhanced their prestige which forced the Guptas to contract matrimonial alliance with the Lichchhavis. Thus, Samudragupta had to eliminate Naga challenge if he had to build an empire.
Another factor according to Goyal was the religious leanings. The Guptas were proud parambhagavatas whereas most of his rivals, particularly the Nagas and Vakatakas, were staunch Shaivites. This last point of Goyal appears somewhat far-fetched and over-emphasised.
After the defeat of the Nagas, a trial of strength with the Vakatakas became an unavoidable eventuality. Rudrasena I had succeeded in acquiring certain areas to the north of the Vindhyas, including Vidisha.
From the point of view of a ruler of the north, Airikina or Eran occupied a very strategic position – both for the defence of the Ganga Valley as well as for exerting pressure on the rulers of the jungle areas of Bundelkhanda and of Malwa and Deccan. It is probable that Samudragupta fought a major war of his career in this field.
Thus Rudradeva of the API has been identified with Rudrasena 1 of the Vakatava dynasty by Jayaswal. Samudragupta deprived Rudrasena I of his North Indian possession only. To commemorate this victory Samudragupta probably erected a Vishnu temple at Eran.
Some time after his victory over the Nagas and Vakatakas, Samudragupta paid attention to Bengal. This gave them access to sea and benefit of the flourishing trade with Roman Empire, Arabia, Egypt, Persia, China, Indo-China, Mayanmar (Burma), Malaya, Sri Lanka and other islands. Thus he violently terminated Nagadatta who was probably the ruler of Pundravardhan region of North Bengal.
Samudragupta’s campaign in Aryavarta made him the master of the whole of the Ganga valley including the territory lying to the east of the river Charmanavati and extending at least upto Eran in the south. This vast region became the ‘core’ or the ‘heartland’ of the empire. In order to make it safe and secure, Samudragupta encircled it by a ring of tributary states enumerated in the third list. The factors which led Samudragupta to adopt a milder policy, towards these states are not far to seek.
Firstly, the ethnic composition, socio-political traditions and economic system of the tribal state were somewhat different from those of the people of the Ganga Valley. Therefore, their complete absorption would have created more problems. As regards thepratyanta monarchical states, they were perhaps not yet regarded as completely within the pale of Aryan civilization.
Secondly these states (3rd list) were mostly located in south-eastern Bengal, Brahmaputra valley, Marwar, lower Sindh and the jungle tracts of Bundelkhand – all difficult to conquer and still more difficult to retain. The Gupta emperor tried to bring them within the Gupta influence without disturbing their existing system of polity.
But in some of the states of the third category Samudragupta appears to have followed the policy of setting up his own partisans as their rulers. For example Pushyavarman who was the first ruler of the ‘Varman’ family of Kamarupa appears to have been placed as the ruler of the whole kingdom by Samudragupta.
Pushyavarman, out of devotion and loyalty to his overlord and patron, named his son and daughter-in-law after the great emperor and empress. Similarly Samudragupta helped in the establishment of a royal house at Dashapura too. Ujjaini at this time formed part of the Dashapura kingdom where Chandragupta II, as the prince, appeared at the kavyakara examination before the litterateurs.
During his career of more than two decades, Samudragupta invaded South India perhaps more than once. Before that, Samudragupta, according to a Sri Lankan tradition invaded Kalinga some years after his accession.
In this tradition the invader was a Yavana Rakta Bandhu. Mahavamsha mentions that because of this invasion the Kalinga princess Hemamala flew from her country with the tooth relic of the Buddha. Goyal identifies Rakta Bandhu with Samudragupta or one of his generals A-398 Indian of Yavana extraction.
The most remarkable feature of the southern campaigns of Samudragupta was the policy of capture and then liberation and reinstatement of the conquered kings. R.D. Banerji thought that these campaigns were undertaken with a view to celebrating an ashvamedha. According to Jayaswal Samudragupta’s sole objective in the South was the Pallava army’ which could have threatened the Gupta kingdom.
However, it was the wealth of the Deccan which, according to Goyal, lured the Gupta emperor towards south. Samudragupta was shrewd enough to realize that he could not permanently rule over such distant regions. Therefore, after obtaining the booty he reinstated the conquered kings. Goyal also shows that Samudragupta led more than one campaigns in the south.
And if Samudragupta launched several expeditious to the south, it is impossible to determine which states were humbled in which campaign and, consequently, the routes of his invasions cannot be determined. Further, it is quite possible that some of the coastal states like Kanchi and Kerala were invaded directly by the sea route with the help of the imperial navy.
Samudragupta’s north-western policy was largely shaped by international circumstances. We have evidence of Sassanian inroads in the northwestern region. However, a line of Kushana, known as Kidar Kushana, had established them around Gandhara.
The other powers in this region were the Sassanians and the Chionites or the Jouan- Jouan. Jouan-Jouan (Hiung-nu) was probably the famous Helphthalite or the white Huns who, after their occupation of Bacteria in c. AD 350, became a menace both to Iran and India.
They seem to have invaded Gandhara around AD 400. Kidara, after having established himself in Gandhara, approached Samudragupta some time after AD 359, sent him presents and professions of allegiance and asked his help against the Sassanians.
Samudragupta wanted to extend his influence to secure the frontiers of the empire and to safeguard the trade routes. He, therefore, helped Kidara, who in turn defeated the Sassanians in AD 367-68. perhaps the expressions Daivaputrashah: Shahanushahi were applied to them. Pro Samudragupta had sent an embassy to Rome in 361 in this connection only.
During the post-Mauryan and early period India’s volume of trade with Si (Ceylon) and the pacific region greatly incr Intimate contacts with the states of the In archipelago were highly valued by the Indian merchants names such as Karpurachr Narikeladvipa, Yavadvipa, Shankhadvi Suvarnadvipa, Rupyakadvipaand Tamradvipa given to these islands.
According to Goyal, it be speculated that by bringing the eastern c belt under his influence he hoped to make its safe for the merchants of his empire who interested in the maritime trade with the P world. Samudragupta refers to Simhala and islands in this context only. According to a Chf text, the king Shrimeghavarna of Sri Lanka sen1 embassy to the Indian king San-meou-to lo-kit or Samudragupta asking for his permission toe a monastery for the Simhalese pilgrims at Bodh Gaya.