The origin of the dynasty of the Guptas which rose to the imperial status is shrouded in mystery and often controversial. It is interesting to note that there were many Guptas among the officials of the Satavahana conquerors of the Shakas, for instance, Shiva Gupta of the Nasik inscription, Puru Gupta and Shiva Skanda Gupta of the Karle inscription.
The Ichchhawar Buddhist statuette inscription mentions the benefaction of Mahadevi, queen of Shri Haridasa, sprung from the Gupta vamsa. A Bharhut Buddhist pillar inscription of the Shunga period refers to a ‘Gaupti’ as the queen of raj an Visadeva, and the grandmother of Dhanabhuti, probably a feudatory of the Shungas. However, the relationship between these ‘Guptas’ and the later imperial Guptas has not been definitively established so far.
According to the genealogical lists, the founder of the dynasty was a person named Gupta. His name, along with his son and successor Ghatotkacha, appears for the first time in the Allahabad pillar inscription and repeated in many later inscriptions.
In this account Samudragupta is described as ‘the great grandson of the maharaja, the illustrious (shri) Gupta, the grandson of the maharaja, the illustrious (shri) Ghatotkacha, the son of the maharajadhiraja the illustrious (shri) Chandragupta, and the daughter’s son of Lichchhavi begotten on Mahadevi Kumaradevi’.
The first name shri Gupta has been identified with maharaja Che-li-ki-to who, according to I-tsing, built a temple near Mrigashikhavana (Mi-li-kia-si- kia-po-no). This temple was built for the use of the Chinese monks and endowed with land and revenues of twenty villages. At the time of I-tsing’s itinerary (AD 673-95) its dilapidated remnants were known as the ‘Temple of China’. I-tsing notes that the building of the temple began 500 years before his travels. Fleet rejected this identification on certain chronological grounds.
However, the statement of I-tsing about 500 year may imply a date between 400 and 500 year, which would “justify us in placing Shrigupta (or Shri Gupta) about the middle of the third century AD.” Shrigupta is generally assigned to the period AD 275-300. S.R. Goyal places the accession of the maharaja Gupta in c. AD 295. Gupta or Shrigupta was succeeded by his son Ghatotkacha.
He ascended the throne in AD 300. Nothing much is known about this king except that the matrimonial alliance between the Guptas and the Lichchhavis might have been established during his reign. After Ghatotkacha, his son Chandragupta I came to the throne. Unlike his predecessors, Chandragupta I assumed the grandiloquent title of maharajadhiraja, and we may, therefore, regard him as the first king to raise the power and prestige of the dynasty. Before we go on to discuss the march of the Gupta dynasty towards gaining the imperial status, let us took as some other vexed problems relating to them.