Open main menu

Skandagupta (died 467) was a Gupta Emperor of northern India. He is generally considered the last of the great Gupta Emperors.

Skandagupta Circa 455-480 CE.jpg
Coin of Skandagupta depicting himself on the obverse, Lakshmi on the reverse.
8th Gupta Emperor
Reignc. 455 – c. 467 CE
PredecessorKumaragupta I
ReligionVedic Hindu[citation needed]


Ascension to the throneEdit

The Junagadh rock contains an inscription of Skandagupta, besides those of the earlier kings Ashoka and Rudradaman I.[1]

Skandagupta became the Gupta king in year 136 of the Gupta era (c. 455-456 CE).[2] According to the Bhitari pillar inscription, he restored "the fallen fortunes of his family". The inscription states that when he prepared to do so, he spent a night on the bare earth, and then defeated his enemies, who had grown wealthy and powerful. After defeating his enemies, he visited his widowed mother, just like Krishna had visited his mother Devaki; his mother's eyes were "full of tears from joy".[2]

Many scholars read the name of the enemies mentioned in the Bhitari inscripton as "Pushyamitras", who according to the Puranas, were a tribe, and probably ruled an area located on the banks of the Narmada River. However, an alternative interpretation of the inscription reads "Yudhyamitras" (a generic term for enemies) instead of "Pushyamitras".[3]

According to one theory, the Gupta enemies invaded the Gupta empire during the last years of Kumaragupta's reign, or shortly after his death, and Skandagupta defeated them. According to another theory, the conflict referred to in the Bhitari inscription resulted from a disputed succession to the throne. This theory is based on the following points:[3]

  • The Junagadh inscription states that after his father's death, Skandagupta became "the ruler of the earth" by his own prowess.[3] This suggests that Skandagupta acquired the throne using force.[4]
  • Skandagupta's Bhitari inscription lists the chief queens (mahadevis) of his ancestors Chandragupta I, Samudragupta, and Chandragupta II, but does not mention the chief queen of his father Kumaragupta. This omission may be explained by the assumption that his mother was a junior wife of Kumaragupta rather than the chief queen, and therefore, his claim to the throne was not legitimate.[4][5]
  • The Junagadh inscription states that Lakshmi, the goddess of fortune, chose Skandagupta as her husband after rejecting all other sons of his father.[3] Some coins issued by Skandagupta depict Lakshmi offering him an uncertain object, probably a garland or a ring, which seems to be a visual representation of the statement made in the inscription.[6]
  • The Bhitari inscription makes three mentions of the fallen fortunes of the Gupta family (kula or vamsha). The mention of family, rather than the empire, may be a reference to the disputed succession to the throne. The reading "Yudhyamitras", rather than "Pushyamitras", may be correct, and the enemies referred to in the inscription may be rival claimants to the throne.[6]
  • Various historical records suggest that multiple people in the Gupta empire assumed sovereign status after Kumaragupta's death. These people include Kumaragupta's brother Govindagupta, his relative Ghatotkacha-gupta, and Prakashaditya (who is known from some gold coins). These people may have been rivals of Skandagupta.[4]

Another argument cited in favour of the disputed succession theory is that the records of the subsequent Gupta kings omit Skandagupta's name from the royal genealogy, listing Purugupta's name after that of Kumaragupta. An example is the Bhitari seal of the 6th century king Kumaragupta III. However, this omission may be explained by the fact that these subsequent kings were descendants of Skandagupta's half-brother Purugupta, and the genealogical lists in their records intend to list only their direct ancestors, rather than provide a comprehensive list of the earlier Gupta kings.[4]

Conflict with the HunasEdit

During Skandagupta's period, the Indo-Hephthalites (known as Hunas in India), probably the Kidarites, invaded India from the northwest, advancing as far as the Indus River.[7]

The Bhitari pillar inscription states that Skandagupta defeated the Hunas:[7]

(Skandagupta), "by whose two arms the earth was shaken, when he, the creator (of a disturbance like that) of a terrible whirlpool, joined in close conflict with the Hûnas; . . . . . . among enemies . . . . . . arrows . . . . . . . . . . . . proclaimed . . . . . . . . . . . . just as if it were the roaring of (the river) Ganga, making itself noticed in (their) ears."

The date of the Huna invasion is not certain. The Bhitari inscription mentions it after describing the conflict with the Pushyamitras (or the Yudhyamitras), which suggests that it happened later during Skandagupta's reign. However, a possible reference to this conflict in the Junagadh inscription suggests that it may have happened at the beginning of the Skandagupta's reign or during the reign of his father Kumaragupta. The Junagadh inscription, dated to the year 138 of the Gupta era (c. 457-458 CE) mentions Skandagupta's success against the mlechchhas (foreigners):[8]

...whose [Skandagupta's] fame, moreover, even [his] enemies, in the countries of the mlechchhas... having their pride broken down to the very root, announce with the words "verily the victory has been achieved by him."

— Junagadh inscription[7]

The victory against the mlechchhas happened in or before the year 136 of the Gupta era (c. 455-456 CE), when Skandagupta ascended the throne and when he appointed Parnadatta as the governor of the Saurashtra region, in which Junagadh is located. Since Skandagupta is not known to have fought against any other foreigners, these mlechchhas were probably the Hunas. If this identification is correct, it may be possible that Skandagupta was sent to check the Huna invasion at the frontier, and Kumaragupta died in the capital while this conflict was happening; Skandagupta returned to the capital and overcame rival claimants to ascend the throne.[8]

A sentence in the Sanskrit text Chandra-Vyakarana (c. 7th century) states Ajayad-Gupto Hunan, literally, "The Gupta conquered the Hunas". This may be a reference to Skandagupta's victory over the Hunas, although an alternative reading by scholar K. P. Jayaswal has "Jato" instead of "Gupto".[9] A story in the Kathasaritsagara (11th century) states that the legendary king Vikramaditya ascended the throne after his father Mahendraditya abdicated it, and inflicted a crushing defeat on the mlechchhas. Since Mahendraditya was a title of Kumaragupta, and Vikramaditya that of Skandagupta, this may be a reference to Skandagupta's victory over the Hunas.[10]


The expense of the wars appears to have drained the empire's resources and contributed to its decline, as suggested by the seriously debased coinage issued by Skandagupta.[5]

Skandagupta died in 467 and was succeeded by his half-brother Purugupta (467–473 CE), Kumaragupta II (473–476 CE), Budhagupta (476–495? CE) and Narasimhagupta, whose kingdom in the plains of Northern India was continuously attacked by the Hunas.

Coins of SkandaguptaEdit

Skandagupta issued five types of gold coins: Archer type, King and queen type, Chhatra type, Lion-slayer type and Horseman type.[11] His silver coins are of four types: Garuda type, Bull type, Altar type and Madhyadesha type.[12] The initial gold coinage was on the old weight standard used by his father Kumaragupta of approximately 8.4 gm. This initial coinage is quite scarce. At some point in his reign, Skandagupta revalued his currency, switching from the old dinar standard to a new suvarna standard that weighed approximately 9.2 gm.[13] These later coins were all only of the Archer type, and this standard and type was followed by all subsequent Gupta rulers.


  1. ^ "Junagadh Rock Inscription of Rudradaman", Project South Asia. Archived 23 February 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ a b R. C. Majumdar 1981, p. 69.
  3. ^ a b c d R. C. Majumdar 1981, p. 70.
  4. ^ a b c d R. C. Majumdar 1981, p. 71.
  5. ^ a b R. C. Majumdar 1962, pp. 17-28.
  6. ^ a b R. C. Majumdar 1981, pp. 70-71.
  7. ^ a b c R. C. Majumdar 1981, p. 73.
  8. ^ a b R. C. Majumdar 1981, pp. 73-74.
  9. ^ R. C. Majumdar 1981, p. 74.
  10. ^ R. C. Majumdar 1981, p. 75.
  11. ^ Sanjeev Kumar (2017). "Treasures of the Gupta Empire", Shivlee Trust, pp. 344-353.
  12. ^ Ashvini Agarwal 1989, pp. 28-9, 31-2.
  13. ^ A.S. Altekar (1957). "The Coinage of the Gupta Empire", Varanasi: Banaras Hindu University.


  • Ashvini Agrawal (1989). Rise and Fall of the Imperial Guptas. Motilal Banarsidass. ISBN 978-81-208-0592-7.
  • R. C. Majumdar (1962). The History and Culture of the Indian People: The classical age. Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.
  • R. C. Majumdar (1981). A Comprehensive History of India. 3, Part I: A.D. 300-985. Indian History Congress / People's Publishing House. OCLC 34008529.

Further readingEdit

  • Singh, Jai Prakash (1976) History and Coinage of Skandagupta Kramāditya, Varanasi:Department of Ancient Indian History, Culture & Archaeology, Banaras Hindu University.

External linksEdit