Varman dynasty

The Varman dynasty (350–650) was the first historical dynasty of the Kamarupa kingdom. It was established by Pushyavarman, a contemporary of Samudragupta.[2] The earlier Varmans were subordinates of the Gupta Empire, but as the power of the Guptas waned, Mahendravarman (470–494) performed two horse sacrifices[3] and the status of Kamarupa as independent state remained umimpaired.[4][5] According to the Allahabad Prasasti, the ruler of Kamarupa was a frontier ruler (Pratyanta-nrpatis) of the great Gupta emperor.[6][7]

Kamarupa Kingdom
Varman dynasty
350 CE–655 CE
The traditional map of Kamarupa.
The traditional map of Kamarupa.
Official languagesSanskrit, Kamarupi Prakrit
Hinduism, Tribal religion[1]
• c. 350 – c. 374
• c. 518 – c. 542
• c. 600 – c. 650
Historical eraClassical India
• Established
350 CE
• Disestablished
655 CE
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Bhauma dynasty
Mlechchha dynasty

As per the Apsad Inscription of Adityasen, Susthivarman was defeated by Mahasengupta on the bank of Lauhitya.[8]

The first of the three Kamarupa dynasties, the Varmans were followed by the Mlechchha[9] and then the Pala dynasties.[10]


The capital was moved at least once, the last time by Sthitavarman (566-590) with the older city not named but presumed to be Pragjyotishpura,[11] located at the south-eastern slope of the Narakasur hill near Dispur. The new capital was possibly some location in Guwahati.[12] Though the claim is not supported by any archaeological findings.


Kamarupa is first mentioned on Samudragupta's Allahabad rock pillar as a frontier kingdom, began as a subordinate but sovereign ally of the Gupta empire around present-day Guwahati in the 4th century:[13]

"(Samudragupta, whose) formidable rule was propitiated with the payment of all tributes, execution of orders and visits (to his court) for obeisance by such frontier rulers as those of Samataṭa, Ḍavāka, Kāmarūpa, Nēpāla, and Kartṛipura, and, by the Mālavas, Ārjunāyanas, Yaudhēyas, Mādrakas, Ābhīras, Prārjunas, Sanakānīkas, Kākas, Kharaparikas and other (tribes)."

— Lines 22–23 of the Allahabad pillar inscription of Samudragupta (r.c.350-375 CE).[14]
The name "Kāmarūpa" in later Brahmi script, in the Allahabad Pillar inscription of Samudragupta (350-375 CE).[15]

The first king in this dynasty was Pushyavarman, possibly a contemporary of Samudragupta (c. 335/350-375 CE). The kingdom which he established with much effort, grew in the periphery of the Gupta Empire, adopted the north Indian political model, and its kings took on names and titles of the Gupta kings and queens.[16] Nothing much is known directly about the initial kings till the sixth king, Mahendravarman, who established a rock temple and assumed the title of Maharajadhiraja (king-of-kings) in the last quarter of the fifth century.[17] The dynastic line from Pushyavarman first appear in the 7th century, in Dubi and Nidhanpur copperplate inscriptions issued by Bhaskaravarman and in the Harshacharita and not earlier in any inscription from his ancestors.[18] In these inscriptions Bhaskaravarman claims that he was a descendant of Narakasur, Bhagadatta and Vajradatta.[19][20] Modern scholars consider this claim to be a fabrication[21]Shin (2010) suggests that this genealogy was created in the context of Bharkarvarman's alliance with Harshavardhana, to help legitimise his sovereignty.[22] The use of Naraka/Bhagadatta lineage to establish sovereignty continued under the Mlechchha and the Pala dynasties,[23] a practice which is in keeping with the trend in the post-Gupta period in India.[24]

Foreign records are conflicting, with Xuanzang claiming him to be a Brahmana[25] and She-Kia-Fang-Che claiming him to be a kshatriya whose ancestors came from China.[26] Though some modern scholars have opined that the Varman dynasty is probably of Indo-Aryan descent,[27][28] it is now believed that the Varmans were originally non-Indo-Aryans. Suniti Kumar Chatterjee calls Bhaskaravarman a Hinduised Mlechcha king of Indo-Mongoloid origin.[29] Hugh B. Urban also infers that the Varmans descended from non-Aryan tribes.[30]

Relics of Pragjyotishpura, the capital of Varmans

Politics and diplomacyEdit

The Varman's modeled themselves after the Gupta's and named themselves after the Gupta kings and queens.[31]

Cultural environmentEdit

The Buddhist scholar Xuanzang described his impressions of the people of the country:

The manners of the people simple and honest. The men are of small stature, and their complexion a dark yellow. Their language differs a little from that of Mid-India. Their nature is very impetuous and wild; their memories are retentive, and they are earnest in study. They adore and sacrifice to the Dêvas, and have no faith in Buddha; hence from the time when Buddha appeared in the world even down to the present time there never as yet has been built one sanghårama as a place for the priests to assemble. Such disciples as there are of a pure faith, say their prayers (repeat the name of Buddha) secretly, and that is all. There are as many as 100 Dêva temples, and different sectaries to the number of several myriads... The king is fond of learning, and the people are so likewise in imitation of him. Men of high talent from distant regions aspiring after office visit his dominions as strangers. Though he has no faith in Buddha, yet he much respects Śramaṇas of learning."


The dynastyEdit

The dynastic line, as given in the Dubi and Nidhanpur copperplate inscriptions:

Location of the Varmans and neighbouring polities circa 400-450 CE.[33]
Reign Name succession Queen
1 350-374 Pushyavarman (unknown)
2 374-398 Samudravarman son of Pushyavarman Dattadevi
3 398-422 Balavarman son of Samudravarman Ratnavati
4 422-446 Kalyanavarman son of Balavarman Gandharavati
5 446-470 Ganapativarman son of Kalyanavarman Yajnavati
6 470-494 Mahendravarman son of Ganapativarman Suvrata
7 494-518 Narayanavarman son of Mahendravarman Devavati
8 518-542 Bhutivarman son of Narayanavarman Vijnayavati
9 542-566 Chandramukhavarman son of Bhutivarman Bhogavati
10 566-590 Sthitavarman son of Chandramukhavarman Nayanadevi
11 590-595 Susthitavarman son of Sthitavarman Syamadevi
12 595-600 Supratisthitavarman son of Susthitavarman (Bachelor)
13 600-650 Bhaskaravarman brother of Supratisthitavarman (Bachelor)
14 650-655 Unknown[34] (unknown) (unknown)


  1. ^ (A)ccording to the Yogina Tantra—a product of seventeenth-century Assam—the entire religion of Kamarupa is itself described as kirata dharma, that is, the religion of the northeast hill tribes,."(Urban 2011:237)
  2. ^ "Three thousand years after these mythical ancestors (Naraka, Bhagadatta and Vajradatta) there occurred Pushyavarman as the first historical king, after whom we have an uninterrupted line of rulers up to Bhaskarvarman."(Sharma 1978, p. xxix)
  3. ^ "According to him (D C Sircar) Narayanavarma, the father of Bhutivarman, was the first Kamarupa king to perform horse-sacrifices and thus for the first time since the days of Pusyavarman freedom from the Gupta political supremacy was declared by Narayanavarma. But a careful study or even a casual perusal of the seal attached to the Dubi C.P. and of the nalanda seals should show that it is Sri Mahendra, the father of Narayanavarma himself, who is described as the performer of two horse-sacrifices."(Sharma 1978, p. 8)
  4. ^ "There is no conclusive proof that the Guptas conquered Kāmarupa."(Ray 1931, p. 238)
  5. ^ "The status of Kamarupa remained unimpaired as the grandson of Bhutivarman also performed two Asvamedha sacrifices."(Sen 1999, p. 303)
  6. ^ "In the Allahabad prasasti of Harişeņa the ruler of Kāmarūpa is included in the list of tributary Pratyanta-nrpatis of the great Gupta emperor."(Ray 1931, p. 238)
  7. ^ Majumdar, Ramesh Chandra; Altekar, Anant Sadashiv (1986). Vakataka - Gupta Age Circa 200-550 A.D. Motilal Banarsidass Publ. p. 142. ISBN 9788120800267.
  8. ^ "Again the Apsad Inscription of Adityasen refer to his grandfather Mahasengupta's defeat of Susthivarmand on the bank of Lauhitya. Susthivarman was the King of Kamarupa."(Mukherji & Maity 1967, p. 7)
  9. ^ (Sircar 1990:122)
  10. ^ (Sircar 1990:140)
  11. ^ "The older city is not given by name...(it) might have been Pragjyotisha."(Sharma 1978, pp. 30–31)
  12. ^ "This verse refers to the act of abandoning the old capital city and building of a new metropolis on the bank of the holy river. The holy river seems to be none other than the Brahmaputra and the site of the city must have been located in the present Gauhati region."(Sharma 1978, p. 30)
  13. ^ "Royal history of Cooch Behar". Retrieved 26 March 2019.
  14. ^ Fleet, John Faithfull (1888). Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum Vol. 3. pp. 6–10.
  15. ^ Fleet, John Faithfull (1888). Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum Vol. 3. pp. 6–10.
  16. ^ "But the fact that the early kings of Kamarupa freely implemented the political model of north India, particularly following that of the Guptas, rather suggests their relative autonomy in the periphery."(Shin 2018, p. 30)
  17. ^ "Surendravarman was called the king of kings (maharajadhiraja) in the Umachal rock inscription of the last quarter of the fifth century."(Shin 2018, p. 30)
  18. ^ "This genealogy seems to have been claimed at least from the seventh century AD (Sircar 1990, p. 95), since it is noticed for the first time in the Dubi and the Nidhanpur C. P. of Bhaskaravarman, and in the Harshacarita. The claim was not found in the earlier Umachal and Barganga inscriptions of the time of Bhaskaravarman's ancestors." (Shin 2010, p. 176)
  19. ^ "The mythical ancestors of (the Varman) line of rulers were Naraka, Bhagadatta and Vajradatta."(Sharma 1978, p. 0.29)
  20. ^ (Sircar 1990, p. 95)
  21. ^ "Since the Epico-Pauranic myths associated Pragjyotisha with Naraka and his descendants, it was quite natural for the kings of ancient Assam to fabricate the story of descent from Naraka's family."(Sircar 1990, p. 96)
  22. ^ (Shin 2010, pp. 177–178)
  23. ^ (Shin 2010, p. 178)
  24. ^ (Shin 2010, pp. 177–178)
  25. ^ "The present king belongs to the old line (tso yari) of Narayana-deva. He is of the Brahman caste. His name is Bhaskaravarman, and his title Kumara (Keu-mo-lo)."(Beal 1884, p. 196)
  26. ^ "But the She-Kia-Fang-Che records that Bhaskarvarman was a Kshatriya (and not a Brahmin) and his ancestors hailed from China (=Han) itself having nothing to do with Narayana Deva."(Sharma 1978, p. xiv)
  27. ^ Kāmarūpa Anusandhāna Samiti (1984). Readings in the history & culture of Assam. p. 179. "The Varman dynasty, which was probably the first Indo-Aryan dynasty in Assam was overthrown by Salastambha, a man of Mleccha or non-Aryan (Mongolian) origin."
  28. ^ Niśipada Caudhurī (1985). Historical archaeology of central Assam. p. 83. "K.N. Dutta seems to be right in concluding that the Varman dynasty, which was probably the first Indo-Aryan dynasty in Assam, was overthrown by Salastambha, (Mongoloid) origin, who then made himself the king of Kamarupa."
  29. ^ "Hiuen Ts’ang by mistake described Bhaskara-varman as a Brahman, but he was just a neo-Kshatriya, a member of a Hinduised mleccha or non-Hindu Indo-Mongoloid family which had been accepted within the fold of Hindu orthodoxy."(Chatterji 1951, pp. 90–91)
  30. ^ "Virtually all of Assam's kings, from the fourth-century Varmans down to the eighteenth-century Ahoms, came from non-Aryan tribes that were only gradually Sanskritised."(Urban 2011, p. 234)
  31. ^ "the early kings of Kamarupa freely implemented the political model of north India, particularly following that of the Guptas, rather suggests their relative autonomy in the periphery. They adopted the imperial title of the Gupta, and the name of a Gupta king and queen, and performed a horse sacrifice...The resemblance between the names of Pushyavarman's son, Samudravarman, and daughter-in-law, DattadevI, on the one hand and those of Gupta emperor Samudragupta and his queen Dattadevl on the other may not be accidental. It was probably a conscious adoption."(Shin 2018, p. 30)
  32. ^ (Beal 1884, p. 196)
  33. ^ Schwartzberg, Joseph E. (1978). A Historical atlas of South Asia. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 145, map XIV.1 (j). ISBN 0226742210.
  34. ^ "Though there exists no direct evidence, there are indirect evidence of a king who ruled for a short period after Bhaskaravarman, but was ousted by Salasthamba."(Sharma 1978, pp. xxxi–xxxii).