- We know about Samudragupta, the famous ruler of the Gupta dynasty, from a long inscription inscribed on the Ashokan pillar at Allahabad.
- It was a poem in Sanskrit, composed by his court poet, Harishena 1700 years ago.
- This inscription is of a special kind, known as a prashasti, a Sanskrit word for ‘in praise of’.
- Harishena describes four different kinds of rulers, and tells us about Samudragupta’s policies towards them.
- There were nine rulers of Aryavarta who were uprooted and their kingdoms were made a part of Samudragupta’s empire.
- The twelve rulers of Dakshinpatha surrendered to Samudragupta after being defeated and he then allowed them to rule again.
- Most prashastis also mention the ancestors of the ruler.
- Samudragupta’s mother Kumara Devi belonged to the Lichchhavi gana, and his father Chandragupta was the first ruler of the Gupta dynasty to adopt the grand title of maharaj-adhiraja.
- The court of his son Chandragupta II had Kalidasa the poet and Aryabhata the astronomer.
- We know about Harshavardhana, who ruled 1400 years ago, from his biography Harshacharita, written in Sanskrit by his court poet Banabhatta.
- Xuan Zang spent a lot of time at Harsha’s court and left a detailed account of what he saw.
- Harsha was not the eldest son of his father but became king of Thanesar after both his father and elder brother died.
- His brother-in-law was the ruler of Kannauj and he was killed by the ruler of Bengal.
- Harsha took over the kingdom of Kannauj and then led an army against the ruler of Bengal.
- Although he was successful in the east and conquered both Magadha and Bengal, he was not as successful elsewhere.
- He tried to enter Deccan but was stopped by Pulakeshin II of the Chalukya dynasty.
- They were one of the most important ruling dynasties in south India.
- Their kingdom spread from the region around their capital, Kanchipuram, to the Kaveri delta.
- They were also one of the most important ruling dynasties in south India.
- Their kingdom was centred around the Raichur doab, between the rivers Krishna and Tungabhadra.
- Their capital, Aihole, was an important trading centre and also developed as a religious centre with a number of temples.
- The Pallavas and the Chalukyas frequently raided one another’s land, especially attacking the capital cities, which were prosperous towns.
- Pulakeshin II was the best known Chalukya ruler.
- His prashasti was composed by his court poet Ravikirti.
- Ultimately both the Pallavas and the Chalukyas gave way to new rulers belonging to the Rashtrakuta and Chola dynasties.
How were these kingdoms administered?
- As in the case of earlier kings, land revenue remained important for these rulers.
- The village remained the basic unit of administration.
- There were some new developments as well:
- Some important administrative posts were now hereditary. For example, the poet Harishena was a maha-danda-nayaka, or chief judicial officer, like his father.
- Sometimes, one person held many offices. For example, Harishena was also a kumar-amatya, meaning an important minister, and a sandhi-vigrahika, meaning a minister of war and peace.
- Besides, important men probably had a say in local administration. These included the nagara-shreshthi or chief banker or merchant of the city, the sarthavaha or leader of the merchant caravans, the prathama-kulika or the chief craftsman, and the head of the kayasthas or scribes.
A new kind of army
- Like earlier rulers, some of these kings maintained a well organised army.
- Besides, there were military leaders who provided the king with troops whenever needed.
- They were not paid regular salaries. Instead some of them received grants of land.
- They collected revenue from the land and used this to maintain soldiers and horses, and provide equipment for warfare.
- These men were known as samantas, who tried to become independent whenever the ruler was weak.
Assemblies in the southern kingdoms
- Sabha was a local assembly of brahmin land owners.
- The ur was a village assembly found in areas where the land owners were not brahmins.
- The nagaram was an organization of merchants.
Ordinary people in the kingdoms
- Kings and most brahmins spoke sanskrit.
- Ordinary people spoke prakrit.
Abhijnana Shakuntalam written by Kalidasa is a love story between a king named Dushyanta and a young woman named Shakuntala.