The Gupta Age began with the founding of the Gupta dynasty by Chandra Gupta I. He was not the first of the family to rule, but the first to assume the title Maharajadhiraja (Supreme King of Great Kings) and make it stick. This was around in 320 A. D. when he formed a matrimonial alliance with a Lichchavi princess, Kumara Devi. The Lichchavis at that time ruled parts of Bihar and possibly portions of Nepal as well.

Chandra was the son of Ghatot Kacha and the grandson of Sri Gupta. He conquered most of the Gangetic Plain from Prayoga (Allahabad) to northern Bengal.

Toward the end of his reign, circa 335, he held a assembly of councillors during which he successor, Samudra, was nominated.

Samudra, the greatest of the Gupta rulers, was known outside his kingdom as indicated by the Tantrikamandaka, a Javanese manuscript, and by the action of Sri Meghavarna of Ceylon in sending an ambassador to him to obtain permission to build a monastery for Ceylonese pilgrims at Bodh Gaya.

However, most of the information about him comes from an inscription engraved on the Asokan pillar at Allahabad. It is a eulogy composed by Harisena, and there is also an epigraph which was found in central India. Numerous coins issued during the reign of Samudra tell of his conquests.

Samudra conquered many kingdoms during his reign, the first two being Ahichchhatra in Rohilkhand and and Padmavati in central India ruled by Achutya and Nagasena respectively. Other kings in north and central India defeated by Samudra were Rudradeva, Matila, Nagadatta, Chandravarman, Ganapatinaga, Nandin and Balavarman.

Samudra also invaded the Deccan, defeating Mahendra of Kosala in the Upper Mahanadi Valley, Vraghra Raja (the Tiger King of the wilderness of Mahakantara), Mantaraja of Kurala, Mahendragiri of Pishtapura in the Godavari district, Svamidatta of Kottura in the north of the Tamil country, Damana of Erindapapa, Nilaraja of Avamukta, Hastivarman (the Salankayana king of Vengi which is located between the Godavari and Krishna Rivers), Ugrasenna of Pulakka thought to be in the Nellore district, Kubera of Devarashtra in the Vizagapatam district, Dhanan~jaya of Kusthalapur around North Arcot and Vishnugopa of the Palava kingdom of Kanchipuram in the Chingleput district.

He restored the Deccan kings to their thrones and extracted tribute from them, but in the north he totally uprooted many kings and ruled their lands directly.

It is not only his military conquests for which Samudra Gupta is famous. He was a patron of the arts and a scholar, poet and musician in his own right. One of his coins shows him playing musical instrument, a harp or lyre.

At his death in about 380, Samudra Gupta was succeeded by his son Chandra Gupta II, called Vikramaditya.

Suggested Further Reading

  • A list of books on Samudra and all the Guptas will be found following the sketch of Chandra Gupta II.

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