Gaur Kingdom of Bengal, Major Rulers, Wars, Expansion of Empire, Achievements-The political collapse of the Gupta Empire (3rd–6th centuries CE) resulted in the emergence of the Gauda kingdom in eastern India in the late 6th century CE. Its main territories were located in the northern parts of the country, the state of Bengal in India and Bangladesh, with the capital at Karnasuvarna (near today’s Murshidabad city).
For a brief period, under King Shashanka (late 6th century AD – 637 AD), it became a powerful kingdom competing with other regional powers for political supremacy in India. But its rise was soon followed by its decline, and it went down in history as the base state for future empires, notably under the Palas (8th–12th centuries AD).
Introduction: The Gupta Empire in Bengal
The great Gupta emperor Samudragupta (335/350 – 370/380 AD) achieved vast conquests to such an extent that he was called the “Indian Napoleon” by historians. He took over many parts of India. Samudragupta’s conquests also included Bengal, and only the kingdom of Samata survived in eastern Bengal as it became a tributary state “recognizing the subordination of the Gupta emperor, but with complete autonomy in respect of internal administration”. However, over time it was gradually incorporated into the Gupta Empire.
According to epigraphic records, during the reign of Emperor Kumaragupta I (414–455 CE), northern Bengal formed an important administrative division of the Gupta Empire, the Pundravardhana-Bhukti (Bhukti means province). A governor appointed by the emperor himself was in charge, who in turn appointed officers in the various districts. Sometimes the district officers were also appointed directly by the emperor.
The fall of the Guptas and the rise of the Gauda kingdom
Northern Bengal remained an integral part of the Gupta Empire till the end of the 5th century AD. The decline of the Gupta Empire and the absence of any other empire in its place led to the political disintegration of northern India and the rise of several independent powers:
- Pushyabhuti of Sthanavisvara (Thaneswar or Thanesar in present-day Haryana state) (also called the Vardhana dynasty by some historians)
- The Maukhariyas of Kosala/Kanyakubja (present-day Uttar Pradesh state)
- The later Guptas of Magadha and Malwa (the present-day states of Bihar and Madhya Pradesh).
In Bengal, two powerful independent kingdoms of Vanga and Gauda were created in the 6th century AD. The Gauda kingdom included the northern and most of the western parts of Bengal. Here, the imperial Gupta hold was stronger than that of Vanga and hence the later Guptas maintained their supremacy till the end of the 6th century AD. The Gaudas under the later Gupta kings were at war with the Maukharis, a conflict that began in the mid-6th century to conquer Magadha (modern Bihar).
The Maukhari inscriptions of the middle of the 6th century refer to “the war-like activities of the ‘Gaudas’ who live by the sea” and their defeat at the hands of the Maukharis, which resulted in them being driven further to the sea coast. The Aryamanjusrimulakalpa, a Buddhist text written sometime after the 6th century CE, contains a chapter on the history of India, particularly of Gauda and Magadha.
King Shashank – The mighty Gaur ruler
In the 7th century AD, the Gaudas became independent from the later Gupta rule. The only ruler known to have belonged to the Gauda kingdom was Shashanka or Shashankadeva. Information about King Shashanka is provided by his coins, inscriptions, and the biography of the Pushyabhuti emperor Harshavardhana or Harsha (606–647 AD), the Harshacharita written by his court poet Banabhatta or Bana (7th century AD).
We have no definite information about Shashank’s “early life and the circumstances under which he ascended the throne of Gauda”. The inscription on a seal found at Rohtas Fort (in present-day Rohtas, Bihar State) suggests that Shashanka was ruling there as a Mahasamanta (high-ranking feudatory) “apparently from the Gaudas who ruled from Karnasuvarna at that time”. under the king” who was probably the later Gupta king Mahasengupta. Shashanka overthrew him in the late 6th century and became the first king of independent Gauda. The later Guptas, however, continued to rule from Malwa and other remaining territories.
The political conditions of northern and eastern India at the time ensured that any capable ruler would first have to consolidate his position. Shashanka realized this and came into an alliance with Mahasengupta’s son Devagupta (6th century CE – early 7th century CE), despite his former overlord’s enmity.
The growing power of the Maukharis, especially after their alliance with the Pushyabhutis, and the threat it posed to the later Guptas, led Devagupta to accept an alliance with the Gaudas.
Together, they campaigned against Kanyakubja (present-day Kannauj city, Uttar Pradesh state) and attacked and killed the Maukhari king Grahavarman (6th century CE – early 7th century CE).
Banabhatta in his Harshacharita mentions the role of Shashanka in creating havoc in the life of his patron Harsha. Harsha was preceded by his elder brother Rajyavardhana who ascended the throne in 605 AD. His sister Rajyashree was married to Grahavarman, the Maukhari ruler. After killing Grahavarman, Devagupta captured Kanyakubja and imprisoned Rajyashri.
Rajyavardhana marched with his army to defeat him and rescue his sister. He reached Kanyakubja and defeated the Malwa army en route, possibly killing Devagupta. Shashanka, allied to the Malwa king, came to his aid, and “according to the story given in the Harshacharita, Rajyavardhana was killed by Shashanka through a ruse”. Baan writes:
[Prince Harsha] learned that his brother, though he had routed the Malwa army with ridiculous ease, had been induced to believe by false admonitions on the part of the king of Gauda, and then armless, confidant and alone, Sent to his own country. quarters. (Banbhatta, 209)
Shashank captured Kanyakubj. Baan says that unable to accept this act of murder, Harsha lashed out at Shashank’s character:
‘Except the Gauda Raja’, he cried, ‘who would such a murderer who, hated by all the world, cast down so great a soul … at the very moment when … he had put aside the sword? … what will be its end? … what hell will he fall into? When I take the name of the wicked on my lips my tongue becomes soiled with the smell of sin… By lighting this wicked path this vile Goudas has done only shame. (Banabhatta, 210-11)
Wonder “what will be the fate of that poor man now?” (Banabhatta, 211), Harsha swore vengeance on Shashanka and declared war. He campaigned with his army and made a treaty with King Bhaskaravarman (600–650 CE) of Kamarupa (present-day Assam State). There is an incomplete joyous silence on what happened later. “Indeed, the court poets do not even tell us how their patrons proceeded against the Gauda king, who was the immediate object of their wrath”.
It appears that at that point, Shashanka, fearing the combined power of Harsha and Bhaskaravarman and his own weak position, withdrew from the contest, especially after the defeat of the allied Malwa army. Harsha managed to rescue his sister and capture Kanyakubja. Avantivarman, Grahavarman’s younger brother, ascended the throne and after his death, Harsha became the king of the Maukhari kingdom.
Shashanka continued to be a great threat to Harsha, this is demonstrated by the fact that a member of the latter’s Gupta family “was later placed in Magadha by Harshavardhana as his feudatory or viceroy to guard against Shashank’s aggression”. can do a great job”.
Shashanka continued to rule for a long time (about 32 years) after retreating from Kanyakubja. Eventually, Harsha “defeated Shashanka and extended his control over parts of Kongoda in Orissa”. However, direct control over all the territories of Gauda was achieved only after Shashank’s death in 637 CE.
The Harshacharita is the only historical source that comes close to describing Shashanka as a person. However, it must be noted that Bana, for obvious reasons, was biased in his own right and therefore portrayed Shashank as a villain who had committed a heinous crime deserving of just punishment.
Many historians thus doubt the authenticity of Baana’s account, stating that Rajyavardhana’s death was not the result of foul play and that Shashanka, being a great king, could not have stooped so low. However, given the way wars were waged and political rivalries were dealt with in ancient India, it was not entirely improbable that such incidents could have taken place.
Intrigues and assassinations of enemies were very much a part of the military-political fabric. In ancient India, assassinations and assassinations of kings by their rivals were not unknown and were even recommended as a standard practice by strategic thinkers including Kautilya (4th century BCE).
In his Arthashastra, Kautilya writes that when dealing with a victor, a victorious king “after entering the palace, may kill his enemy while he sleeps”. Therefore, it can be said that Shashank would not have considered it audacious to kill the enemy king Rajyavardhan who defeated his friend Devagupt. This may have been especially true at a time when the Malwa army had already been defeated, the Gauda king being in no position to take on his opponent militarily.
Shashanka thus appears as a warlike emperor, who concluded treaties and made allies in order to improve his position in the political instability characteristic of the post-Gupta period. He continued to wage war with the Maukharis and for this made friends with the enemies of the later Guptas.
He understood the danger posed by the growing power of the Pushyabhutis and tried to set himself against them, especially after the Pushyabhutis formed their alliance with their age-old enemies the Maukharis and the Kamarupa king. He came to the aid of his allies through his army and through the well-known means of intrigue.
He continued to hold on to power even in the face of a determined and powerful opponent like Harsha. He wanted land and wanted to conquer and annex territories whenever he could. In all this, he was no different from any other king of his time.
Shashank’s empire’s boundaries
The Chinese Buddhist monk-scholar Hiuen Tsang or Hiuen Tsang (602–664 CE), who visited India in the 7th century CE, states in his work Si-yu-ki that Shashanka, or She-sang-kia, was the son of Karnasuvarna. He was a king. “Karnasuvaran appears to have been the capital of the Gauda kingdom during the era under consideration”.
Shashanka’s kingdom included several territories, including Magadha and Ganjam in present-day Odisha state. It is not known whether he or his predecessors added these new lands to his dominions, but it is more likely that it was Shashanka himself who carried out these conquests; However, “the details of this or other campaigns that Shashanka may have waged in the south are unknown to us”.
His inscriptions from 619/20 CE describe him as Maharajadhiraja (Sanskrit: “Lord of the Great Kings”), ruling over an earth surrounded by islands, mountains, and cities as well as four oceans. The title was less grandiose than the royal Gupta titles but denoted much greater power and authority than the simple maharaja (Sanskrit: “great king”) of the Vanga kings.
Gaur Administration and Religion
Overall, the Gupta style was maintained from the point of view of administration. It was easier to stick with an existing system that both people and officials were familiar with, rather than to set up something entirely new, especially when a ruler like Shashanka had to maintain his political position in the face of stronger men. Had to devote a good amount of my energy.
Administrative divisions like Bhuktis and below continued with the old system. Under Gupta rule, district officials were also sometimes directly appointed by the king, who now replaced the authority of the Gupta emperor. The king issued orders in secret to a large number of officials.
Shashanka actively supported Hinduism even at the expense of other religions. Shashank’s coins clearly reflect his preferences: the Hindu god Shiva is depicted with his bull on one side while Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of prosperity, is depicted on the other.
The gold coins of Shashanka and his successors are inferior in style and execution to the Gupta coins on which they were patterned. The constant conditions of anarchy and warfare, especially under Shashank’s successors, led to a situation where not much gold could be left for coinage and thus the metal content of coins was debated.
Not much is known about the military organization of Shashank’s time. However, since most of the imperial Gupta style was still in vogue in this period, it is quite possible that the military system also did not change much. Sepoys wore their hair loose or tied back with plaits or skull caps and simple turbans, with tunics, crossed at the belt over the bare chest, or a short, tight-fitting blouse.
The elite who commanded the army or other officers wore armor (especially metal). Shields were rectangular or curved and were often made with rhinoceros hide designs. Curved swords, bows and arrows, javelins, javelins, axes, pikes, clubs, and maces were used. Elephants, cavalry, and infantry formed the three arms of the army. Since the Gaudas were a seafaring people, it is quite possible that a navy of some sort may have also existed.
Gaur kingdom after Shashank
After Shashank’s death, between 637–642 CE, Bengal, and the various kingdoms it comprised fell first to Bhaskaravarman (who also captured the capital Karnasuvarna) and later to Harsha. The death of Harsha and the political chaos it created also deeply affected Gauda. It continued as a kingdom but faced invasion from several neighboring kings and several territories, including the Kanyakubja king Yashovarman (725–753 CE) in the 8th century CE.
Charan, a courtier of Yashovarman Vakpatiraja (8th century CE), wrote a poem in Prakrit called Godavaho or “The Slaying of the Gauda King”, which describes the death of the then Gauda king at the hands of Yashovarman. The kings of Kashmir claim that they defeated five chieftains of Gaur in the 8th century AD.