Samudragupta was the fourth ruler of the Gupta dynasty ruling from about 335 CE to 380 CE. He was the successor of Chandragupta I, the third ruler of the Gupta Dynasty.
Chandragupta I had married a Lichchavi princes, Kumaradevi which gave him control over the Ganges river basin which was the main of trade for northern India.
The capital of Chandragupta’s reign was Pataliputra from where he ruled his empire with Samudragupta beside him as an apprentice prince for about 10 years.
Not much about the personal life and history is known about Samudragupta.
Majority of the information known about him comes from a eulogy inscribed on the Allahabad Pillar of Ashoka which describes his lustrous military career and reign.
Accession to the throne
Samudragupta is believed to have acceded to the throne after Chandragupta’s death. One school of historians believes that he was chosen in a mad battle for succession in spite of having many other elder brothers.
He defeated all of them and earned the throne establishing him as the most capable and mightiest of them all. After taking to the throne, Samudragupta did not rest till he had acquired almost all of India.
During his rule over the subcontinent, India somewhat began to get the shape it has on the map today. Just after assuming the throne, he attacked the neighboring kingdoms of Ahichchhatra (Rohilkhand) and Padmavati (in Central India).
He also went eastward with his conquests covering the whole of Bengal, Nepal and Assam. He even acquired territories in the northwest, including parts of present day Afghanistan and Kashmir.
Main source of knowledge about Samudragupta
As mentioned earlier, not much has been laid down by conventional chroniclers about Samudragupta. Bulk of the information we have on him today comes from the inscriptions on the famous Allahabad Pillar.
Samudragupta’s territorial acquisitions and annexations have been laid down in detail in these inscriptions. As per the writings, he has been described as the one,
“Who’s most charming body was covered over with all the beauty of the marks of a hundred confuses wounds caused by the blows of battle axes, arrows, spears, pikes, swords, lances and javelins”.
One of the major secondary functions of the pillar inscriptions is that along with demarcation of Samudragupta’s territorial expansion, it gives us a brief idea about the geography and extent of India and the various Kings that ruled over it.
The conquests of Samudragupta
The initial years of Samudragupta’s reign were not particularly successful as he faced defeats from his neighboring kingdoms of Ahichhatra and Nagasena.
Soon after this, Samudragupta decided to conquer the south. He marched along him Bay of Bengal for his south invasion.
He covered the forest areas of Madhya Pradesh, Odisha coast and then through the districts of Ganjam, Vishakhapatnam, Godavari, Krishna, and Nellore districts reaching Kancheepuram.
Samudragupta was a modern ruler and his thoughts were way ahead of his time.
He introduced the system of federal control in his empire. After capturing the southern kingdoms, he did not hold control to them; instead he kept the preexisting kings as his employees to look after the states for him.
It is said that, in the Northern part of India, he adopted the policy of ‘Digvijaya’ meaning conquest and annexation but in the south, he followed ‘Dharma Vijaya’ meaning conquest and not annexation.
Principal Highlights of his reign
Samudragupta was one of the finest rulers that the Indian subcontinent has ever witnessed. He was an able ruler both in terms of bravery as well as political acumen.
There are many policies and various innovations that took place during his reign, cementing his legacy as one of the ‘King of Kings’. The principle highlights of his rule were:
The Policy of Matrimonial Alliance – Matrimonial policy was one of the major tools of the Gupta reign to propagate their rule through expansion.
It was a major highlight of the foreign policy of the Guptas. His father, Chandragupta I married a Lichhavi princess which gave the Guptas a hold over the areas in and around Bihar.
Samudragupta had matrimonial ties with the family of Vakataka King Rudra Sen II, giving him his daughter Prabhabati, and that helped him spread his reign over the peninsula of Saurashtra of Kathiawar which was an area of stratetic importance from a military standpoint.
Coinage – One of the sources of information about Samudragupta is the vast number of coins that were minted during his reign and the inscriptions on them.
There were as many as eight different types of coins issued during Samudragupta’s reign. For this reason, Samudragupta is also known as ‘The Father of Gupta Monetary System’.
He had acquired immense gold from his conquests which were used for making coins. All the coins minted during his time exhibit extremely intricate designs and calligraphy.
Many of them tell tales about his personal life, battle field and character, his sacrifices as well as his victories.
During Samudragupta’s period, the Indian culture flourished both in terms of science and technology as well as literature and arts.
He was known to be a man of culture. Other than being the most able warrior of all times, he was also equally skillful with the pen, being a poet and musician.
Many of his coins depict him playing instruments like the veena. Many poets, scholars and artisans were also employed at his court.
He left no stone unturned to propagate the richness of India’s cultural background in the form we know it today.
Unfortunately, because of lack of organized history and writings at that time, none of his compositions were preserved and are nothing about them is known today.
Samudragupta’s reign lasted for forty long years after which he chose his son to be his successor. His successor was chosen on the basis of his military and political acumen.
However, this ruler was soon overthrown by his younger son, who came to power killing his brother.
This new ruler was called Chandragupta II and later assumed the title of Vikramaditya who was to become the greatest rulers of Gupta Empire surpassing even Samudragupta’s achievements in terms of art, architecture, literature and conquests.