The period between the extinction of the Kushan and .Andhra dynasties, about 220 or 230 A.D., and the rise of the imperial Gupta dynasty, nearly a century later, is one of the darkest in the whole range of Indian history. In the fourth century light again dawns, the veil of oblivion is lifted, and the history of India regains unity and interest.
A local raja at or near Pataliputra, bearing the famous name of Chandragupta, wedded, in or about the year 308, a princess named Kumara Devi, who belonged to the ancient Lichchhavi clan, celebrated ages before in the early annals of Buddhism. During the long period of about eight centuries which intervened between the reign of Ajatasatru and the marriage of Kumara Devi the history of the Lichchhavis has been lost. They now come suddenly into notice again in connection with this marriage, which proved to be an event of the highest political importance, being the foundation
of the fortunes of a dynasty destined to rival the glories of the Mauryas.
Kumara Devi evidently brought to her husband as her dowry valuable influence, which in the course of a few years secured to him a paramount position in Magadha and the neighbouring countries. It seems probable that at the time of this fateful union the Lichchhavis were masters of the ancient imperial city, and that Chandragupta by means of his matrimonial alliance succeeded to the power previously held by his wife’s relatives. In the olden days the Lichchhavis had been the rivals of the Kings of Pataliputra, and apparently, during the disturbed times which followed the reign of Pushyamitra, they paid off old scores by taking possession of the city, which had been built and fortified many centuries earlier for the express purpose of curbing their restless spirit.
Certain it is that Chandragupta was raised by his Lichchhavi connection from the rank of a local chief, as enjoyed by his father and grandfather, to such dignity that he felt justified in assuming the lofty title of “sovereign of Maharajas,” usually associated with a claim to the rank of lord paramount. He struck coins in the joint names of himself, his queen, and the Lichchhavis, and his son and successor habitually described himself with pride as the son of the daughter of the Lichchhavis.
Chandragupta, designated as the First, to distinguish him from his grandson of the same name, extended his dominion along the Ganges valley as far
as the junction of the Ganges and the Jumna, where Allahabad now stands, and ruled during his brief tenure of the throne a populous and fertile territory, which included Tirhut, Bihar, Oudh, and certain adjoining districts. His political importance was sufficient to warrant him in establishing, after the Oriental manner, a new era dating from his formal consecration, or coronation, when he was proclaimed as heir to the imperial power associated by venerable tradition with the possession of Pataliputra. The first year of the Gupta era, which continued in use for several centuries, ran from February 26, 320 A.D. to March 13, 321, of which dates the former may be taken as that of the coronation of Chandragupta I.
Before his death, which occurred five or six years later, Chandragupta selected as his successor the crown prince, Samudragupta, his son by the Lichchhavi princess. The paternal preference was abundantly justified by the young king, who displayed a degree of skill in the arts of both peace and war which entitles him to high rank among the most illustrious sovereigns of India.
From the moment of his accession, Samudragupta assumed the part of an aggressively ambitious monarch and resolved to increase his dominions at the expense of his neighbours. Wars of aggression have never been condemned by such public opinion as exists in the East, and no king who cared for his reputation could venture to rest contented within his own borders. Samudragupta had no hesitation in acting on the principle that
“kingdom-taking” is the business of kings, and immediately after his succession to the throne plunged into war, which occupied many years of his unusually protracted reign.
When his fighting days were over, he employed a learned poet, skilled in the technicalities of Sanskrit verse, to compose a panegyric of his achievements, which he caused to be engraved on one of the stone pillars set up six centuries before by Asoka and incised with his edicts. Samudragupta, an orthodox Hindu, learned in all the wisdom of the Brahmans, and an ambitious soldier full of the joy of battle, who cared nothing for preachings of the monk Asoka recorded in an antique script and an unfamiliar dialect, made no scruple about setting his own ruthless boasts of sanguinary wars by the side of the quietest moralizings of him who deemed “the chiefest conquest” to be the conquest of piety.
Samudragupta’s anxiety to provide for the remembrance of his deeds was not in vain. The record composed by his poet-laureate survives to this day practically complete, and furnishes a detailed contemporary account of the events of the reign, probably superior to anything else of the kind in the multitude of Indian inscriptions. -Unfortunately the document is not dated, but it may be assigned with a very near approach to accuracy to the year 360 A.D., or a little earlier or later, and it is thus, apart from its value as history, of great interest as an important Sanskrit composition, partly in verse and partly in prose, of ascertained age and origin.
The value as dated literature of the great historical inscriptions, although emphasized by Biihler, is still, perhaps, not fully recognized by scholars who occupy themselves primarily with the literature preserved in libraries. But our concern at present in the elaborate composition of Harishena is with its contents as a historical document, rather than with its place in the evolution of Sanskrit.
The author of the panegyric classifies his lord’s opponents geographically under four heads: eleven kings of the south; nine named Kings of Aryavarta, or the Ganges plain, besides many others not specified; the chiefs of the wild forest tribes; and the rulers of the frontier kingdoms and republics. He also explains Samudragupta’s relations with certain foreign powers, too remote to come within the power of his arm. Although it is at present impossible to identify every one of the countries, kings, and peoples enumerated by the poet, enough is known to enable the historian to form a clear idea of the extent of the dominions and the range of the affiances of the most brilliant of the Gupta emperors. Since the matter of the record is arranged on literary rather than on historical principles, it is not possible to narrate the events of the reign in strict chronological order.
We may feel assured that this Indian Napoleon first turned his arms against the powers nearest him, and that he thoroughly subjugated the rajas of the Ganges plain, the wide region now known as Hindustan, before he embarked on his perilous adventures
in the remote south. His treatment of the rajas of the north was drastic, for we are told that they were “forcibly rooted up,” a process which necessarily involved the incorporation of their territories in the dominions of the victor. Among the nine names mentioned, only one can be recognized with certainty, that of Ganapati Naga, whose capital was at Padmavati, or Narwar, a famous city, which still exists in the territories of the Maharaja Sindia.
The greater part of these northern conquests must have been completed, and the subjugated territories absorbed, before Samudragupta ventured to undertake the invasion of the kingdoms of the south – a task which demanded uncommon boldness in design and masterly powers of organization and execution.
The invader, marching due south from the capital, through Chutia Nagpur, directed his first attack against the kingdom of South Kosala in the valley of the Mahanadi, and overthrew its king, Mahendra. Passing on, he subdued all the chiefs of the forest countries, which still retain their ancient wildness, and constitute the tributary states of Orissa and the more backward parts of the Central Provinces. The principal of those chiefs, who bore the appropriate name of Vyaghra Raja, or the Tiger King, is not otherwise known to history. At this stage of the campaign, the main difficulties must have been those of transport and supply, for the ill-armed forest tribes could not have offered serious military resistance to a well equipped army.
Still advancing southwards, by the east coast road,
Samudragupta vanquished the chieftain who held Pishtapura, now Pithapuram in the Godavari District, as well as the hill-forts of Mahendragiri and Kottura in Ganjam; King Mantaraja, whose territory lay on the banks of the Kolleru (Colair) Lake; the neighbouring Pallava King of Vengi between the Krishna and Godavari Rivers; and Vishnugopa, the Pallava King of Kanchi, or Conjevaram, to the southwest of Madras. Then turning westwards, he subjugated a third Pallava chieftain, named Ugrasena, King of Palakka, the modern Palghatcherry, situated in Malabar at the great gap in the Western Ghats.
This place, distant some twelve hundred miles in a direct line from Pataliputra, seems to have marked the southern limit of Samudragupta’s audacious raid. He returned homewards through the western parts of the Deccan, subduing on his way the kingdom of Devarashtra, or the modern Mahratta country, and Erandapalla, or Khandesh.
This wonderful campaign, which involved more than three thousand miles of marching through difficult country, must have occupied about three years at least, and its conclusion may be dated approximately in 340 A.D. No attempt was made to effect the permanent annexation of these southern states, and the triumphant victor admitted that he exacted only temporary submission and then withdrew. But beyond doubt he despoiled the rich treasuries of the south, and came back laden with golden booty, like the Mohammedan adventurer who performed the same military exploit nearly a thousand
years later. Malik Kafur; the general of Ala-ud-din, Sultan of Delhi, in the years 1309 and 1310 repeated the performance of Samudragupta, operating, however, chiefly on the eastern side of the peninsula, and penetrating even farther south than his Hindu predecessor. He forced his way to Ramesvara, or Adam’s Bridge, opposite Ceylon, where he built a mosque, which was still standing when Firishta wrote his history in the sixteenth century.
The enumeration by the courtly panegyrist of the frontier kingdoms and republics whose rulers did homage and paid tribute to the emperor, a title fairly earned by Samudragupta, enables the historians to define the boundaries of his dominions with sufficient accuracy, and to realize the nature of the political divisions of India in the fourth century.
On the eastern side of the continent the tributary kingdoms were Samatata, or the delta of the Ganges and Brahmaputra, including the site on which Calcutta now stands; Kamarupa, or Assam; and Davaka, which seems to have corresponded with the Bogra (Bagraha), Dinajpur, and Rajshahi Districts to the north of the Ganges, lying between Samatata and Kamarupa. Farther west, the mountain kingdom of Nepal, then, as now, retained its autonomy under the suzerainty of the paramount power, and the direct jurisdiction of the imperial government extended only to the foot of the mountains. The kingdom of Kartripura occupied the lower ranges of the Western Himalayas, including probably Kumaon, Almora, Garhwal, and Kangra.
The Panjab, Eastern Rajputana, and Malwa for the most part were in possession of tribes or clans living under republican institutions. The Yaudheya tribe occupied both banks of the Sutlaj, while the Madrakas held the central parts of the Panjab. The reader may remember that in Alexander’s time these regions were similarly occupied by autonomous tribes, then called the Malloi, Kathaioi, and so forth.
The Jumna probably formed the north-western frontier of the Gupta empire. The Arjunayanas, Malavas, and Abhiras were settled in Eastern Rajputana and Malwa, and in this direction the river Chambal may be regarded as the imperial boundary. The line next turned in an easterly direction along the territories of minor nations whose position cannot be exactly determined, passing probably through Bhopal, until it struck the Narmada River, which formed the southern frontier.
The dominion under the direct government of Samudragupta in the middle of the fourth century thus comprised all the most populous and fertile countries of Northern India. It extended from the Hooghly on the
east to the Jumna and Chambal on the west, and from the foot of the Himalayas on the north to the Narmada on the south.
Beyond these wide limits, the frontier kingdoms of Assam and the Ganges delta, as well as those on the southern slopes of the Himalayas, and the free tribes of Rajputana and Malwa, were attached to the empire by bonds of subordinate alliance, while almost all the kingdoms of the south had been overrun by the emperor’s armies and compelled to acknowledge his irresistible might.
The empire thus defined was by far the greatest that had been seen in India since the days of Asoka, six centuries before, and its possession naturally entitled Samudragupta to the respect of foreign powers. We are not, therefore, surprised to learn that he maintained diplomatic relations with the Kushan King of Gandhar and Kabul, and the greater sovereign of the same race who ruled on the banks of the Oxus, as well as with Ceylon and other distant islands.
Communication between the King of Ceylon and Samudragupta had been established accidentally at a very early period in the reign of the latter, about 330 A.D. Meghavarna, the Buddhist King of Ceylon, had sent two monks, one of whom is said to have been his brother, to do homage to the Diamond Throne and visit the monastery built by Asoka to the east of the sacred tree at Bodh Gaya. The strangers, perhaps by reason of sectarian rancour, met with scant hospitality, and on their return to the island complained to the
king that they could not find any place in India where they could stay in comfort. King Meghavarna recognized the justice of the complaint, and resolved to remedy the grievance by founding a monastery at which his subjects, when on pilgrimage to the holy places, should find adequate and suitable accommodation. He accordingly despatched a mission to Samudragupta laden with the gems for which Ceylon has always been renowned, and other valuable gifts, and requested permission
to found a monastery on Indian soil. Samudragupta, flattered at receiving such attentions from a distant power, was pleased to consider the gifts as tribute, and gave the required permission.
The envoy returned home, and, after due deliberation, King Meghavarna decided to build his monastery near the holy tree. His purpose was solemnly recorded on a copper plate and carried out by the erection of a splendid convent to the north of the tree. This building, which was three stories in height, included six halls, was adorned with three towers, and surrounded by a strong wall thirty or forty feet high. The decorations were executed in the richest colours with the highest artistic skill, and the statue of Buddha, cast in gold and silver, was studded with gems. The subsidiary stupas, enshrining relics of Buddha himself, were worthy of the principal edifice. In the seventh century, when Hiuen Tsang visited it, this magnificent establishment was occupied by a thousand monks of the Sthavira school of the Mahayana, and afforded ample hospitality to pilgrims from Ceylon. The site is now marked by an extensive mound.
It was presumably after his return from the south that Samudragupta determined to celebrate his manifold victories and proclaim the universality of his dominion by reviving the ancient rite of the horse-sacrifice (asvamedha), which had remained long in abeyance and probably had not been performed in Northern India since the days of Pushyamitra. The ceremony was duly carried out with appropriate splendour
and accompanied with lavish gifts to Brahmans, comprising, it is said, millions of coins and gold pieces. Specimens of the gold medals struck for this purpose, bearing a suitable legend and the effigy of the doomed horse standing before the altar, have been found in small numbers. Another memorial of the event seems to exist in the rudely carved stone figure of a horse which was found in Northern Oudh and now stands at the entrance to the Lucknow Museum with a brief dedicatory inscription incised upon it, which apparently refers to Samudragupta.
Although the courtly phrases of the official eulogist cannot be accepted without a certain amount of reservation, it is clear that Samudragupta was a ruler of exceptional capacity and unusually varied gifts. The laureate’s commemoration of his hero’s proficiency in song and music is curiously confirmed by the existence of a few rare gold coins which depict his Majesty comfortably seated on a high-backed couch, engaged in playing the Indian lyre. The allied art of poetry was also reckoned among the accomplishments of this versatile monarch, who is said to have been reputed a king of poets and to have composed numerous metrical works worthy of the reputation of a professional author. We are further informed that the king took much delight in the society of the learned, and loved to employ his acute and polished intellect in the study and defence of the sacred scriptures, as well as in the lighter arts of music and poetry. The picture of Samudragupta as painted by his official panegyrist reminds the
reader of that of Akbar as depicted by his no less partial biographer, Abul Fazl.
By a strange irony of fate this great king – warrior, poet, and musician – who conquered all India, and whose alliance extended from the Oxus to Ceylon, is unknown even by name to the earlier historians of India. His lost fame has been slowly recovered by the minute and laborious study of inscriptions and coins during the last seventy years, and the fact that it is now possible to write a long narrative of the events of his memorable reign is perhaps the most conspicuous illustration of the success gained by patient archaeological research in piecing together the fragments, from which alone the chart of the authentic early history of India can be constructed.
The exact year of Samudragupta’s death is not known, but he certainly lived to an advanced age, and enjoyed a reign of uninterrupted prosperity for about half a century. Before he passed away, he secured the peaceful transmission of the crown by nominating as his successor, from among many sons, the offspring of his queen, Datta Devi, whom he rightly deemed worthy to inherit a magnificent empire.
The son thus selected, who had probably been associated as crown prince (yuvaraja) with his father in the cares of government, assumed the name of his grandfather, in accordance with Hindu custom, and is therefore distinguished in the dynastic list as Chandragupta II. He also took the title of Vikramaditya (“ sun of power “), and has a better claim than any other
The Iron Pillar is a solid mass of malleable iron weighing over six tons. It was not cast, but was constructed by a welding process and was originally surmounted by a statue, which was probably removed by the Mohammedans. The pillar was set up by Chandragupta II, at the close of his reign, and was dedicated in honour of Vishnu, his favourite divinity, but was not inscribed by the king. An inscription was added by Kumaragupta I, his son and successor, about 455 A.D. The column appears to have stood originally on a mound known as Vishnupada in the town of Mathura, but was removed to Delhi about 1050 A.D. by a prince named Ananga Pala, who founded or refounded the city where it now stands.
sovereign to be regarded as the original of the mythical king of that name who figures so largely in Indian legends. The precise date of his accession is not recorded, but it cannot be far removed from 375 A.D., and, pending the discovery of some coin or inscription to settle the matter, that date may be assumed as approximately correct.
So far as appears, the succession to the throne was accomplished peacefully without contest, and the new emperor, who must have been a man of mature age at the time of his accession, found himself in a position to undertake the extension of the wide dominion bequeathed to him by his ever victorious father. He did not renew Samudragupta’s southern adventures, but preferred to seek room for expansion toward the east, northwest, and southwest. Our knowledge of his campaign in Bengal is confined to the assertion made in the elegant poetical inscription on the celebrated Iron Pillar of Delhi that, “when warring in the Vanga countries, he breasted and destroyed the enemies confederate against him;” and the language of the poet may refer to the suppression of a rebellion rather than to a war of aggression. The same document is the only authority for the fact that he crossed the “seven mouths of the Indus” and vanquished in battle a nation called Vahlika, which has not been identified.
But the great military achievement of Chandragupta Vikramaditya was his advance to the Arabian Sea through Malwa and Gujarat, and his subjugation of the peninsula of Surashtra, or Kathiawar, which had
been ruled for centuries by the Saka dynasty, known to European scholars as the western satraps. The campaigns which added these remote provinces to the empire must have occupied several years, and are known to have taken place between 388 and 401 A.D. The year 395 may be assumed as a mean date for the completion of the conquest, which involved the incorporation in the empire of the territory held by the Malavas and other tribes, who had remained outside the limits of Samudragupta’s dominion. The annexation of Surashtra and Malwa not only added to the empire provinces of exceptional wealth and fertility, but
opened up to the paramount power free access to the ports of the western coast, and thus placed Chandragupta II in direct touch with the sea-borne commerce with Europe through Egypt, and brought his court and subjects under the influence of the European ideas which travelled with the goods of the Alexandrian merchants.
The Saka dynasty, which was overthrown in 395 A.D., had been founded in the first century of the Christian era, probably by a chief named Bhumaka Kshaharata. He was followed by Nahapana, a member of the same clan. When the latter was destroyed by the Andhra king, as related in Chapter VIII, the local government passed into the hands of Chashtana and his descendants. In the middle of the second century the satrap Rudradaman, having decisively defeated his Andhra rival, had firmly established his own power not only over the peninsula of Surashtra, but also over Malwa, Cutch (Kachchh), Sind, the Konkan, and other districts – in short, over Western India. The capital of Chashtana and his successors was Ujjain, one of the most ancient cities of India, the principal depot for the commerce between the ports of the west and the interior, famous as a seat of learning and civilization, and also notable as the Indian Greenwich from which longitudes were reckoned. The place, which is still a considerable town with many relics of its past greatness, retains its ancient name, and was for a time the capital of Maharaja Sindia.
Samudragupta, although not able to undertake the
conquest of the west, had received an embassy from the satrap Rudrasena, son of Rudradaman, who was doubtless deeply impressed by the emperor’s triumphant march through India. Chandragupta II, strong in the possession of the territory and treasure acquired by his father, resolved to crush his western rival and to annex the valuable provinces which owned the satrap’s sway. The motives of an ambitious king in undertaking an aggressive war against a rich neighbour are not far to seek, but we may feel assured that differences of race, creed, and manners supplied the Gupta monarch with special reasons for desiring to suppress the impure foreign rulers of the west.
Chandragupta Vikramaditya, although tolerant of Buddhism and Jainism, was himself an orthodox Hindu, specially devoted to the cult of Vishnu, and as such cannot but have experienced peculiar satisfaction in “violently uprooting” foreign chieftains who cared little for caste rules. Whatever his motives may have been, he attacked, dethroned, and slew the satrap Rudrasinha, son of Satyasinha, and annexed his dominions. Scandalous tradition affirmed that “in his enemy’s city the king of the Sakas, while courting another man’s wife, was butchered by Chandragupta, concealed in his mistress’s dress,” but the tale does not sound like genuine history. The last notice of the satraps refers to the year 388 A.D., and the incorporation of their dominions in the Gupta empire must have been effected soon after that date.
The Gupta kings, excepting the founder of the
dynasty, all enjoyed long reigns, like the Moguls in later times. Chandragupta Vikramaditya occupied the throne for nearly forty years, and survived until 413 A.D. Little is known concerning his personal character, but the ascertained facts of his career suffice to prove that he was a strong and vigorous ruler, well qualified to govern and augment an extensive empire. He loved sounding titles which proclaimed his martial prowess, and Was fond of depicting himself, after the old Persian fashion, as engaged in successful personal combat with a lion, and he had literary and artistic talents like his father.
There are indications that Pataliputra, although it may have been still regarded as the official capital, ceased to be the ordinary residence of the Gupta sovereigns after the completion of the extensive conquests effected by Samudragupta. The Maurya emperors, it is true, had managed to control a dominion considerably larger than that of the Guptas from the ancient imperial city, but, even in their time, its remoteness in the extreme east must have caused inconvenience, and a more central position for the court had obvious advantages. Ajodhya, the legendary abode of the hero Rama, the ruins of which have supplied materials for the building of the modern city of Fyzabad in Southern Oudh, enjoyed a more favourable situation, and appears to have been at times the headquarters of the government of both Samudragupta and his son, the latter of whom probably had a mint for copper coins there.
The Asoka pillar on which Samudragupta recorded
the history of his reign is supposed. to have been erected originally at the celebrated city of Kausambi, which stood on the highroad between Ujjain and Northern India and was no doubt at times honoured by the residence of the monarch. The real capital of an Oriental despotism is the seat of the despot’s court for the time being.
Pataliputra, however, although necessarily considerably neglected by warrior kings like Samudragupta and Vikramaditya, continued to be a magnificent and populous city throughout the reign of the latter, and was not finally ruined until the time of the Hun invasion in the sixth century, from which date it practically disappeared until it was rebuilt a thousand years later by Sher Shah. Since his time the venerable city, under the names of Patna and Bankipur, has regained much of its ancient importance and has played a part in many notable events.
We are fortunate enough to possess in the work of Fa-hien, the earliest Chinese pilgrim, a contemporary account of the administration of Chandragupta Vikramaditya, as it appeared to an intelligent foreigner at the beginning of the fifth century. The worthy pilgrim, it is true, was so absorbed in his search for Buddhist books, legends, and miracles that he had little care for the things of this world, and did not trouble even to mention the name of the mighty monarch in whose territories he spent six studious years. But now and then he allowed his pen to note some of the facts of ordinary life, and in more than one passage he has
recorded particulars which, although insufficient to gratify the curiosity of the twentieth century, yet suffice to give a tolerably vivid picture of the state of the country. The picture is a very pleasing one on the whole, and proves that Vikramaditya was capable of bestowing on his people the benefits of orderly government in sufficient measure to allow them to grow rich in peace and prosper abundantly.
On the occasion of his first visit to Pataliputra the traveller was deeply impressed by the sight of Asoka’s palace, which was at that time still in existence, and so cunningly constructed of stone that the work clearly appeared to be beyond the skill of mortal hands, and was believed to have been executed by spirits in the service of the emperor. Near a great stupa, also ascribed to Asoka, stood two monasteries, one occupied by followers of the Mahayana, and the other by those of the Hinayana sect. The monks resident in both establishments together numbered six or seven hundred, and were so famous for learning that their lectures were frequented by students and inquirers from all quarters.
Fa-hien spent three years here studying Sanskrit, and was made happy by obtaining certain works on monastic discipline as taught by various schools, for which he had sought elsewhere in vain. He describes with great admiration the splendid procession of images, carried on some twenty huge cars richly decorated, which annually paraded through the city on the eighth day of the second month, attended by singers and
musicians, and notes that similar processions were common in other parts of the country.
The towns of Magadha were the largest in the Ganges plain, which Fa-hien calls by the name of Central India or the Middle Kingdom; the people were rich and prosperous, and seemed to him to emulate each other in the practice of virtue. Charitable institutions were numerous, rest-houses for travellers were provided on the highways, and the capital possessed an excellent free hospital endowed by benevolent and educated citizens.
“Hither come,” we are told, “all poor or helpless patients suffering from all kinds of infirmities. They are well taken care of, and a doctor attends them, food and medicine being supplied according to their wants. Thus they are made quite comfortable, and, when they are well, they may go away.”
No such foundation was to be seen elsewhere in the world at that date, and its existence, anticipating the deeds of modern Christian charity, speaks well both for the character of the citizens who endowed it, and for the genius of the great Asoka, whose teaching still bore such wholesome fruit many centuries after his decease. The earliest hospital in Europe is said to have been opened in the tenth century.
In the course of a journey of some five hundred miles from the Indus to Mathura on the Jumna, Fa-hien passed a succession of Buddhist monasteries tenanted by thousands of monks, and in the neighbourhood of Mathura found twenty of these buildings occupied by
three thousand residents. Buddhism was growing in favour in this, part of the country.
The region to the south of Mathura, that is to say, Malwa, specially excited the admiration of the traveller, who was delighted alike with the natural advantages of the country, the disposition of the people, and the moderation of the government. The climate seemed to him very agreeable, being temperate and free from the discomforts of frost and snow with which he was familiar at home and in the course of his journey. The large population lived happily under a sensible government which did not worry. With a glance at Chinese institutions, Fa-hien congratulates the Indians that “they have not to register their households , or attend to any magistrates and rules.” They were not troubled with passport regulations, or, as the pilgrim bluntly puts it: “Those who want to go away, may go; those who want to stop, may stop.”
The administration of the criminal law seemed to him mild in comparison with the Chinese system. Most crimes were punished only by fines, varying in amount according to the gravity of the offence, and capital
punishment would seem to have been unknown. Persons guilty of repeated rebellion, an expression which probably includes brigandage, suffered amputation of the right hand; but such a penalty was exceptional; and judicial torture was not practised. The revenue was mainly derived from the rents of the Crown lands, and the royal officers, being provided with fixed salaries, had no occasion to live on the people.
The Buddhist rule of life was generally observed. “Throughout the country,” we are told, “no one kills any living thing, or drinks wine, or eats onions or garlic. . . . They do not keep pigs or fowls, there are no dealings in cattle, no butchers’ shops or distilleries in their market-places.” The Chandala, or outcast tribes, who dwelt apart like lepers, and were required when entering a city or bazaar to strike a piece of wood as a warning of their approach, in order that other folk might not be polluted by contact with them, were the only offenders against the laws of piety (dharma), and the only hunters, fishermen, and butchers. Cowrie shells formed the ordinary currency. The Buddhist monasteries were liberally endowed by royal grants, and the monks received alms without stint, – houses, beds, mattresses, food, and clothes were never lacking to them wherever they might go.
These particulars, as collected and narrated by the earliest Chinese traveller in India, permit of no doubt that the dominions of Chandragupta Vikramaditya were well governed. The authorities interfered as little as possible with the subject, and left him free to prosper
and grow rich in his own way. The devout pilgrim pursued his Sanskrit studies for three years at Pataliputra, and for two years at the port of Tamralipti (Tamluk), without let or hindrance, and it is clear that the roads were safe for travellers. Fa-hien never has occasion to complain of being stripped by brigands, a misfortune which befell his successor, Hiuen Tsang, more than once in the seventh century.
From Moor’s Hindu Pantheon.
Probably India has never been governed better, after the Oriental manner, than it was during the reign of at Vikramaditya. The government did not attempt to do too much, but let the people alone, and was accordingly popular. The merciful teachings of Buddhism influenced the lives of all classes, except the most degraded, while, inasmuch as the sovereign was a Brahmanical Hindu, the tendency to the harassing kind of persecution, which a Buddhist or Jain government is apt to display, was kept in check, and liberty of conscience was assured. Fa-hien, as a pious devotee, necessarily saw everything through Buddhist spectacles, but it is evident that, with a Brahmanical supreme
government, Hinduism of the orthodox kind must have been far more prominent than his account would lead the reader to suppose, and sacrifices must have been permitted. In fact, the Brahmanical reaction against Buddhism had begun at a time considerably earlier than that of Fa-hien’s travels, and Indian Buddhism was already upon the downward path, although the pilgrim could not discern the signs of decadence.
While the general prosperity and tranquillity of the empire under the rule of Chandragupta Vikramaditya are abundantly proved by the express testimony of Fa-hien and by his unobstructed movements in all directions during many years, certain districts did not share in the general well-being, and had retrograded in population and wealth. The city of Gaya, we are informed, was empty and desolate; the holy places of Bodh Gaya, six miles to the south, were surrounded by jungle; and an extensive tract of country near the foot of the mountains, which had been the seat of a large population in the fifth century B.C., was now sparsely inhabited. The great city of Sravasti, on the upper course of the Rapti, was occupied by only two hundred families, and the holy towns of Kanilavastu and Kusinagara were waste and deserted, save for a scanty remnant of monks and their lay attendants.
The son of Vikramaditya, who ascended the throne in 413 A.D., is known to history as Kumaragupta I, in order to distinguish him from his great-grandson of the same name. The events of this king’s reign, which exceeded forty years, are not known in detail, but the
distribution of the numerous contemporary inscriptions and coins permits of no doubt that, during the greater part of his unusually prolonged rule, the empire suffered no diminution. On the contrary, it probably gained certain additions, for Kumara, like his grandfather, celebrated the horse-sacrifice as an assertion of his paramount sovereignty, and it is not likely that he would have indulged in this vaunt, unless to some extent justified by successful warfare.
The extant records furnish the information that at the close of his reign, in the middle of the fifth century, Kumara’s dominions suffered severely from the irruption of the Hun hordes, who had burst through the north-western passes, and spread in a destructive flood all over Northern India. Before entering upon
the discussion of the Hun invasion and the consequent break-up of the Gupta empire, it is desirable to pause, in order to record a few brief observations on the significance of the rule of the great Gupta sovereigns in the evolution of Indian language, literature, art, and religion.
This collection transcribed by Chris Gage