Samudragupta was a famous ruler of the dynasty known as the Guptas. Ashoka inscribed about him on a pillar at Allahabad. The inscription was composed as a Kavya by Harishena who was a poet and a minister at the court of Samudragupta. The inscription is a kind of prashasti, a Sanskrit word which means ‘in praise of’. It was composed in very long sentences. The poet praised him as a warrior and king who won the victories in battles. He is described as equal to the gods.
Harasena, a Sanskrit poet has described four different kinds of rulers, and tells us about Samudragupta’s policies.
Most prashastis also mention the ancestors of the ruler. His mother, Kumara devi, belonged to the Lichchhavi gana, while his father, Chandragupta, was the first ruler of the Gupta dynasty to adopt the grand title of maharaj-adhiraja, a title that Samudragupta also used. His great grandfather and grandfather are mentioned simply as maha-rajas.
We know some kings from biographies. Harshavardhana ruled around 1400 years ago. His court poet, Banabhatta, wrote his biography named Harshacharita, in Sanskrit. Harshavardhana 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 Kanauj and he was killed by the ruler of Bengal.
Harshavardhana conquered Magadha and also Bengal. He tried to cross the Narmada to march into the Deccan, but was stopped by a ruler belonging to the Chalukya dynasty, Pulakeshin II
The Pallavas and Chalukyas were the most important rulers in south India. The kingdom of the Pallavas spread from Kanchipuram to the Kaveri delta while that of the Chalukyas was centred around the Raichur Doab, between the rivers Krishna and Tungabhadra.
Aihole was the capital of the Chalukyas. It was an important centre of trading and was also a religious centre.
Pulakeshin II was the best-know ruler of chalukya. Ravikirti was the poet of his court who composed his prashastis, by which we know him and his ancestors. He got the kingdom from his uncle.
He defeated Harshavardhan. And also attacked the Pallava king. His victory was short-lived. Both the Pallavas and Chalukyas gave way to Rashtrakuta and Chola dynasties.
Some important administrative posts were hereditary at this time. For instance, the poet Harasena was a maha-danda-nayaka, or chief judicial officer, like his father.
There was kumar-amatya, which means important minister and a sandhi-vigrahika, means a minister of war and peace. These post were also being handled by Harasena.
There were the other important men like 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.
Later some of these powerful men grew stronger enough and set up independent kingdoms.
Kings maintained a well-organised army, with elephants, chariots, cavalry and food soldiers. They were not paid regular salaries. They collected revenue from the granted land to maintain soldiers and horses. These men were known as samantas.
The inscriptions of the Pallavas mention the assembly of brahmin land owners. These assembly look after irrigation, agricultural operations, making roads, local temples, etc.
The ur was a village where the land owners land owners were not brahmins. There was an organization name nagaram which belonged to the merchants. It is likely that these assemblies were controlled by the rich and powerful landowners and merchants.
Kalidasa is known for his plays in the king’s court. In these plays the king and most brahmins are shown as speaking Sanskrit, while women and other men use Prakrit. His most famous play, Abhijnana Shakuntalam, is the story of the love between a king named Dushyanta and a young woman named Shakuntala. There is also an interesting part of a poor fisherman in this play.
The Chinese pilgrim FA Xian noticed the plight of those who were treated as untouchables. He writes: “If such a man enters a town or a market place, he strikes a piece of wood, in order to keep himself separate; people, hearing this sound, know what it means and avoid touching him or brushing against him.”