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It is quite rare that such statements occurring in textual and epigraphic records reflect the true picture of the ruler. The Allahabad pillar inscription of Samudragupta is one of them. It is inspired by the grand conquests of the ruler through which he encompassed almost entire India, and led his people to glory in all walks of life.

Pillar at Allahabad fort

This exhaustive inscription contains thirty-three lines of matter in classical Sanskrit, mixture of prose and poetry, composed by his officer Harishena. The matter is inscribed below the message of Ashoka the Great. This perhaps signifies the sincere aspiration  of Samudragupta to walk on the footsteps of his grand predecessor: resolution in war and welfare in peace.

The Allahabad Pillar enumerates the details of Samudragupta’s campaigns. He defeated the rulers of the East coast and the peninsula in the first go, in which he covered the areas from modern Chhattisgarh to Tamilnadu and Kerala, and won over mighty rulers like Pallava Vishnugopa of Kanchipuram. Then he took up operations in Central and North Central India to envelop the whole of Aryavarta falling in the basin of  the Ganga, in which he confronted the strongholds of the Bhavanagas and others. In the third lap he advanced into the Himalayan highlands and Northern plains, and won over Nepal and adjoining regions; and finally also ran in the combatant republics of Punjab and Rajasthan and eastern territories of Assam and Bengal.

It is well-known that Vincent Allan Smith, the Oxford historian of India, entitles Samudragupta as Napoleon of India, a title which neither adds anything to the glory of the celebrated Indian emperor, nor does it describe him in full.

The reasons so to say are: Samudragupta holds a clean record of victories, which the other military-master does not share. Samudragupta was wise enough not to enter into the South-Central part of the country, ruled by Vakatakas and others, covered with thick forests that the best of the armies would not be able to penetrate. The geographical area campaigned by Samudragupta and retained through his career seems to be far larger than what Napoleon could have. It stretched from Punjab to Tamilnadu and from Gujarat to Assam.

The credit of having a grand dynasty with brilliant descendants like Chandragupta Vikramaditya, Kumaragupta and Skandagupta, also goes to Samudragupta, which, Napoleon is devoid of. Lastly, it seems anachronic to label an ancient ruler after a modern one. Samudragupta is said to have maintained amicable relations with the conquered contemporaries, by returning their territories along with treasuries, and asked only for regular ransom from them as an indication of his suzerainty.

For this he seems to have established a special administrative unit. He also accepted offers of marriages with princesses of the defeated states. This wisdom of Samudragupta seems to have cascaded further to his son, the celebrated Chandragupta Vikramaditya, who established matrimonial relations with the Vakatakas by giving his daughter, Prabhavatigupta to the Vakataka ruler Rudrasena II. Samudragupta maintained good relations with Sri Lanka. We learn from Chinese sources that Mahameghavarna, the Simhala king, sent two monks to Bodhagaya and founded a monastery there with due permission from his Indian counterpart. This is an evidence of Samudragupta’s policy of religious tolerance. He encouraged construction of Hindu temples as also Buddhist stupas in his territory. Personally Samudragupta seems to be an ardent believer in Vedic religion, and used to take pride over the Ashvamedha sacrifices performed by him; so much so that he had a special issue of Ashvamedha type of gold coins with a horse on the obverse side. As the representative of God on the earth, he bore the titles of Kubera, Varuna, Indra and Yama.

The Allahabad inscription stands witness to the skills and love of the ruler towards fine and performing arts. He himself used to compose and recite poetry like an erudite lyricist who is kind at heart and has a sweet voice. One of his coins shows him playing a lute. Like military endeavours his love for art seems to be carried further by his descendents. No writing on Samudragupta can be complete without mention of his gold coins that occupy a prime position in the series of truly Indian gold pieces.

Gold coins of Samudragupta (Coins courtesy: Shri Basti Solanki)
Gold coins of Samudragupta (Coins courtesy: Shri Basti Solanki)

Six types of coins were issued by him. They have on the obverse the images of the ruler as Standard-bearer or Eagle-staffed, Bowman, Tiger-slayer, and Lute-player as mentioned earlier. The sixth type illustrates the ‘Ashvamedha-horse’. The purity and consistency of the coin issue is remarkable, and stands as evidence of prosperity and stability of Indian economy during the reign of the Guptas. It is an established fact that when Kalidasa describes Raghu in his classical epic Raghuvamsha, he in fact elucidates the virtues of his master’s worthy father, Samudragupta. It will not be out of place to conclude with the words of the Kavikulaguru: He was indeed the pleasing moon and the blazing sun: the master of welfare in both the persona.

Author: Shreenand L. Bapat

Photographs © Ashik K.D.

Source: Heritage India Vol 4 Issue 4 (2011-12)

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