Chandragupta II (Vikramaditya) – The Most Celebrated King of Gupta Empire

Chandragupta II (or Vikramaditya)  was the most celebrated king of Gupta Empire. He was the son of the the Great Gupta Emperor – Samudragupta. His mother was Datta Devi.

Historians are still confused if Chandragupta II was the eldest son of Samudragupta. Some of them have formulated a theory that Samudragupta was succeeded by his eldest son Ramagupta whom Chandragupta II had murdered to obtain the authority. They have amassed some evidences in this regard. But still there is doubt about the authenticity of this surmisation. On the other hand the inscription of Skandagupta tells us that his grandfather Chandragupta II was chosen heir of the throne by Samudragupta. Whatever may be the fact behind his accession, the Mathura Pillar inscription shows that Chandragupta II ascended the throne in 375 A.D. and ruled over 40 years and died probably in or about 415 A.D.

Art, architecture, and culture flourished during this period. Chandragupta II was certainly one of the most celebrated kings of ancient India. The period of Gupta Empire is often referred to as “Golden Age of India”. The various epithets applied to him e.g. Devagupta, Devaraja, Vikrama, Simhavikrama etc., are known from inscriptions and coins, suggest his valor and prestige. They also suggest that perhaps he was the famous Vikramaditya Sakari of several legendary works and traditions.

Like his father, Chandragupta II also had great military skills. When Chandragupta II ascended the throne he was free from all bindings and difficulties of building up an empire since the task was most ably done by his late lamented father Samudragupta. The latter annexed many territories of “Aryavarta”, brought down the frontier kings and turbulent tribes into submission and made all independent powers of Northern India to cry for his friendship. Yet the Western Satraps were still independent and powerful. Moreover, though Samudragupta had extended the frontier of his empire on all sides yet when he died there was the problem of internal consolidation and further settlement with the powerful neighbours. These were bestowed on Chandragupta as legacies. But Chandragupta II too had inherited the military genius of his father and eventually he set out to complete the unfinished task of conquests left behind by his father.

The matrimonial alliances had always received a commanding place in the foreign policy of the Guptas. Chandragupta II also followed the same line of action. Hence by marring Kuvera Naga a princess of the Naga family he won the friendship of the Naga Power, who had a formidable and powerful political force in Central India and thus King Chandragupta II consolidated his authority in the region. Next he gave marriage of his daughter Prabhabatigupta to Rudrasena II, the Vakataka ruler of Maharashtra.  At that time Chandragupta II was planning a campaign against the Sakas of Kathiawar. As the geographical position of Vakataka kingdom was of great significance in such a scheme and for its success, Chandragupta quite prudently formed the matrimonial alliance to bring the Vakataka to his side. Moreover, as Rudrasena died shortly afterwards and Prabhabatigupta became herself the regent of her minor son and it helped Chandragupta II enormously. It is also probable that either Chandragupta or his son had married a Kadamba Princess of the Kuntala country, whereby they earned their friendship too.

Thus becoming free from the impending dangers of these countries and political powers, Chandragupta II set out to conquer the lands occupied by the Sakasatrapas. The Sakas of Western India were very powerful but untrustworthy neighbours of Magadha. It was a security question of the empire. Chandragupta was also motivated by the zeal of furthering the boundaries of his empire. Hence he led the campaign against the Western Sakh Satraps and first conquering Eastern Malaya totally uprooted Saka Kshatrapa Rudrasimha III from Saurastra (Gujarat) and Kathiawar. Thus Malwa, Gujarat and Kathiawar came under his sway. The defeat of Saka Satraps in the hand of Chandragupta put an end to long three hundred years of foreign domination over the Western India. Now the frontier of the Gupta Empire reached the natural frontier of the Arabian Sea in the West and Bay of Bengal in the East. Annexation of Saurashtra and Malwa opened to the Guptas completely free access to the ports of western coast through which Indian trade with the west received acceleration. This eventually brought closer cultural contact between the Western Civilization and the Indian Civilization.

It should also be remembered that no official epigraph of the Guptas have mentioned anywhere anything about Chandragupta’s brilliant victory over the Sakhs. But we get some indirect information’s from the Udayagiri Cave inscription and the Sanchi inscription of Amrakardava, the later being his officer. Some information’s also can be derived from his silver coins.

Chandragupta II had also gained success against the Kushanas and conquered from them Mathura and the adjoining region. Though Professor Bhandarkar gave us this information, his theory has not been accepted by other scholars. This was because Mathura region was actually ruled by the Nagas who conquered it from the Kushanas and Samudragupta had taken away the region much earlier.

The Meharauli Iron Pillar near Kutub Minar in Delhi engraves the inscription of military success of some Chandra King which some scholars have accepted as that of Chandragupta II. If the identification can be taken as granted it appears that Chandragupta II had defeated a confederacy of hostile chiefs of Bengal (Vanga). He also conquered Valhika or Bactria after crossing the ‘Sapta Sindhu’ or the seven mouths of river Indus. We know Vanga or Samatata was a feudatory State of Samudragupta. Possibly there was a revolt which was suppressed by Chandragupta II and the land was brought under his direct rule. The Valhika country is usually identified with Bactria. But Dr. S. Chattopadhyay and others indentified it with Punjab in the Beas valley during this period. Possibly Chandragupta II led his army from the lower Indus valley to the Beas valley in Punjab.

Thus the reign of Samudragupta was the glorious period of conquest and expansion of the empire, but Chandragupta II marked his reign as the period of consolidation and stabilization of peace and prosperity. Samudragupta had master planned the scheme for Indian unity. It was his son Chandragupta II who completed the political unification of the Northern India  by bringing the land between Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea under his imperial umbrella. Possibly realizing the futility of an ambitious project in South India campaign he never tried to reconquer and consolidate the South. This was not the sign of his weakness, rather the exhibition of his prudence.

Chandragupta II was not only a great statesman and able general. He was also an administrator per excellence. It was during his time that the celebrated Chinese pilgrim Fa-Hien came over India and from his picturesque account we came to know much about Chandragupta II’s reign. He was a tolerant king and Fa-Hien very much praised his system of administration. People lived in peace and prosperity in his kingdom. The government was efficient and well organized. The people were free from the poll-tax or from the shackles of the government. They had not to register their households or to attend any magistrate or their rules. There was no restriction on the move of the subjects by the king. They could go wherever they liked. Compared to the Chinese system of the day the criminal law was mild. In accordance with the nature of the crime the offenders were punished lightly or heavily. Interestingly there was no capital or corporal punishment. The main source of finance was land revenue which amounted to a certain portion of the produce or its cash value. The royal officers were regularly paid fixed salaries. Cowrie Shells formed the ordinary currency for smaller transactions, but gold “Suvarnas” and “dinaras’ mentioned in inscriptions were also in free circulation. The king himself was a Vaisnaba. His Granda emblem over his silver and copper coins and his use of the title Parambhagavata exhibited that. Yet he was tolerant to other religions. His Rupakriti and couch type of gold coins show that he was a great lover of art and learning, literature and sculpture. Many learned poet’s arid writers honored his court. Among them the most noted were Kalidasa, Bhavabhuti, Varaharnihira, and Amarsimha etc. who formed a court of nine literary geniuses, known as Navaratna.

It was during his time that great centers of Arts were set up and flourished in Mathura and Sarnath. Most of the paintings of Ajanta are perhaps the contribution of his time.” One cannot deny the fact that the reign of Chandragupta II saw the beginning of the great intellectual and cultural revival which is known as the Gupta Renaissance.

The conquest of Samudragupta and Chandragupta II brought peace and order in the country which created the seed bed of the great revival for which the Gupta period is called the classical age of Ancient India. Both Samudragupta and Chandragupta II were great heroes and statesmen, but while former engraved his name in the pages of history, the later secured his place in the hearts of men. Confusion still remains if he was the same legendary King Vikramaditya of Ujjaini or no, yet that does not underrate Chandragupta II’s personal weight in any way.