The Gupta empire was founded by Chandragupta I (r.320-335CE). He laid the foundations for what would eventually develop into a huge empire. He was succeeded by his son Samudragupta (r.335-380CE) who was known as a ruler who made many great conquests. He annexed the kingdoms belonging to the powerful Naga rulers of north India to gain supremacy and was also successful in getting many kingdoms from the south and eastern India to accept his suzerainty. Samudragupta’s son, Chandragupta II(r.380-413/415CE) succeeded him and went on to expand the Gupta Empire. Chandragupta II, like his father, was known for his military conquests. He ruled during what was labelled “the golden age of India”. Again, like his father, he was known for his religious tolerance as well as being a patron of the arts. Chandragupta II greatly encouraged the flourishing of the arts, science and literature and made many significant conquests. His reign as the ruler was also a period of stabilization, peace and prosperity. He is often hailed as “the Great” and the best ruler of ancient India because it was under his reign that the Gupta Empire reached its peak.
Some may argue that he was not all that "great" since it was his grandfather and father who laid the foundations for him and he did not have to face the hardship of building up an empire. However, I think Chandragupta II played a significant role in expanding and helping Gupta Empire reach its zenith. His skills in diplomacy, military conquests and encouragement of the arts, ensured his long reign of peace and prosperity.
Flourishing of Culture
Chandragupta II ruled during a time where there was a lot of development in culture. He supported works on medicine, mathematics, science and arts. Art was said to have reached new levels with evidence of both Hindu and Buddhist art. The Ajanta Caves , for instance, are filled with paintings which illustrate the life of Buddha. Scholarly achievements, developments in sculptures and architecture were also prominent during Chandragupta II’s rule.
Examples of significant developments in mathematics and astronomy during that time include that of Aryabhatta who created the concept of zero and explained how the earth is round and rotated on its axis, around the sun.
It was also during Chandragupta II’s rule that there was the emergence of classical art. He gave great support to the arts and even paid artists for their work, which was said to be rare in ancient civilizations. As an accommodating ruler whose reign was a period of peace and prosperity, the people were able to work and portray their excellence in various aspects of culture without much worry.
Chandragupta II was hailed as a military genius and he continued his father’s conquests and expansion plans. One of his most significant military achievements was the victory over the Sakas of western India. He gained the title Sakari which means the destroyer of the Sakas. With this victory, he expanded the Gupta Empire to the Arabian Sea. His successful conquest of sea ports of western India such as Broach, Cambay and Sopara enabled him to trade with other Empires in the outside world. It helped provide a new form of means for the people and helped to flourish trade and commerce, especially with the European empires.
He was also diplomatic and managed to secure power through matrimonial alliances. Before he started his military conquests towards the West, he married his daughter to the Vakataka prince Rudrasena II. This was politically significant because the Vakatakas occupied a strategic position in the Deccan and this matrimonial alliance worked in his favour as he started his military conquest in the West against the Sakas. He had also married a Naga princess of central India, proving his skill in diplomacy and preparations for his military conquests. His skills diplomacy and military-wise helped him forge a sense of unity among the people and his consolidation of power and position established his position as a powerful and successful ruler.
Fa Heinwas a famous Chinese pilgrim who visited India during Chandragupta II’s reign and recorded his observation of life at that time. Fa Hein’s observations gave insight as to why Chandragupta II was known to be one of the greatest rulers of the Gupta empire. During his stay and travels, he records his observations which reflect the economic, social and religious condition, as well as the way of life in the Gupta Empire. He portrayed the Gupta empire was well governed and confirmed that the people were pretty much given freedom and did not have severe restrictions, which back up the people’s ability to excel in their cultural works. He also observed that there was not much corruption and bribery and the way of life was framed upon the principles of non-violence. People were also described as pretty well off and virtuous and significantly, there was a free hospital available.
Fa Hein also recorded that he was able to pursue his work and travel without much unfortunate events or obstacles, which greatly benefited him. Fa Hein’s observations of India during Chandragupta II’s reign thus backs up the belief that it was an era of peace and prosperity where arts and other aspects of culture were able to flourish and reach new heights.
Although it was his father and grandfather who laid the foundations for this great empire, Chandragupta II played an important role in completing the plans, further developing the empire and ruling it successfully during its peak. If not for him, the Gupta empire would not have expanded greatly. His successors, for instance, failed to maintain his success and the Gupta empire declined after his rule. Chandragupta II’s successful reign should not be downplayed just because he took over an empire which already had strong foundations. His skills in diplomacy, military conquests and role in cultural developments helped him have a long reign and rule India’s golden age with peace, prosperity and good living conditions for the people.