Vikramaditya (IAST: Vikramāditya) was a legendary emperor of ancient India. He is characterised as the ideal king, known for his generosity, courage, and patronage of scholars. There are hundreds of legends about Vikramaditya, including the ones in Baital Pachisi and Singhasan Battisi. Most of the legends present him as a universal ruler with his capital at Ujjain (Pataliputra or Pratishthana in a few stories).
According to the popular tradition, Vikramaditya started the Vikrama Samvat era in 57 BCE, after defeating the Shakas. For this reason, those who believe him to be based on a distinct historical figure place him around the 1st century BCE. However, this era is mentioned as "Vikrama Samvat" only after the 9th century CE. Other scholars argue that Vikramaditya is a mythical character as several of the legends about him are fantastic in nature. "Vikramaditya" was a common title adopted by several Indian kings, and it is possible that the various Vikramaditya legends are embellished accounts of different kings, particularly Chandragupta II.
Many Vikramaditya legends, especially the Jain ones, associate him with another legendary king—Shalivahana of Pratishthana. In some of them, he is defeated by Shalivahana (who establishes the Shalivahana era) while in others, he is an ancestor of Shalivahana; a few legends also apply the title of Vikramaditya to the king of Pratishthana. The political rivalry between the two kings is sometimes also extended to patronage of language, with Vikramaditya supporting Sanskrit and Shalivahana supporting Prakrit.
Etymology and namesEdit
The name of the king means "the Sun of Valour" (vikrama means "valour" and aditya means "sun"). He is also known as Vikrama, Bikramjit and Vikramarka (arka also means "sun"). Some legends also describe him as a liberator of India from mlechchha invaders; the invaders are identified as Shakas in most of these tales leading to the king also being known by the epithet, Shakari (IAST:Śakāri; "enemy of the Shakas").
The earliest work to mention the legendary Vikramaditya was probably Brihatkatha of Gunadhya, who flourished somewhere between the 1st century BCE and 3rd century CE. This Paisachi language work is now lost. Its existence (and its mention of Vikramaditya) is only deduced by its adaptations in other surviving works dated 6th century and later. Since there is no surviving copy of this work, it is not certain if it actually contained the Vikramaditya legends: its post-Gupta period adaptations, such as Katha-Sarit-Sagara, may contain interpolations.
Gaha Sattasai (or Gatha-Saptasati) attributed to the Satavahana king Hāla (r. 20 – 24 CE) mentions a king named Vikramaditya who gave away his wealth in charity. However, a large number of stanzas in this work are not common to its various recensions: they appear to be interpolations added during the Gupta period. The verse about Vikramaditya is similar to a phrase—Anekago-shatasahasra-hiranya-kotipradasya—found in the Gupta inscriptions about Samudragupta and Chandragupta II (e.g. the Pune and Riddhapur copper plate inscriptions of Chandragupta's daughter Prabhavatigupta). Thus, there is a possibility that this phrase might have been a later Gupta-era insertion in the work attributed to Hala.
The earliest uncontested mentions of Vikramaditya, free from any interpolational controversy, appear in the 6th-century works: the biography of Vasubandhu by Paramartha (499–569 CE) and Vasavadatta by Subandhu. Paramaratha quotes a Vikramaditya legend, which names the king's capital as Ayodhya. According to this legend, the king gave 300,000 gold coins to the Samkhya scholar Vindhyavasa, who had defeated Vasubandhu's Buddhist teacher Buddhamitra in a philosophical debate. Vasubandhu then wrote Paramartha Saptati, which demonstrated the deficiencies of the Samkhya philosophy. Vikramaditya was pleased with Vasubandhu's arguments, and gave him 300,000 gold coins as well. Vasubandhu later taught Buddhism to prince Baladitya, and converted the queen to Buddhism after the king's death. Subandhu states that the glorious Vikramaditya was a memory of past during his time.
Xuanzang (c. 602 – c. 664), in his Si-yu-ki, names Vikramaditya as the king of Shravasti. According to his account, the king ordered 500,000 gold coins to be distributed among the poor, despite his treasurer's objection. Once, he rewarded a man with 100,000 gold coins for putting him back on track during a wild boar hunt. Around same time, the Buddhist monk Manoratha paid 100,000 gold coins to a barber for shaving his head. The king, who was very proud of his generosity, felt embarrassed. Out of spite, Vikramaditya arranged a debate between Manoratha and 100 non-Buddhist scholars. Manoratha defeated 99 scholars, but the king and others non-Buddhists shouted him down and humiliated him at the beginning of the last debate. Before his death, Manoratha wrote to his disciple Vasubandhu about the futility of debating with biased and ignorant people. Shortly after, Vikramaditya died, and Vasubandhu requested his successor Baladitya to organise another debate in order to avenge his master's humiliation. In this debate, Vasubandhu defeated 100 non-Buddhist scholars.
Association with Vikrama SamvatEdit
After the 9th century, a calendar era beginning in 57 BCE (now called the Vikrama Samvat) came to be associated with Vikramaditya. Some legends also associate the Shaka era (beginning in 78 CE) with him. For example, when Al-Biruni (973–1048) visited India, he came to know that the Indians used five eras: Sri Harsha, Vikramaditya (57 BCE), Shaka (78 CE), Vallabha and Gupta. The Vikramaditya era was used in southern and western India. Al-Biruni learned the following legend about the Shaka era:
- A Shaka ruler invaded north-western India and oppressed the Hindus. According to one source, he was a Shudra from the Almanṣūra city; according to another, he was a non-Hindu who came from the west. In 78 CE, the Hindu king Vikramaditya defeated him and killed him in the Karur region, located between Multan and the castle of Loni. The astronomers and other people started using this date as the beginning of a new era.
Since there was a difference of over 130 years between the Vikramaditya era and the Shaka era, Al-Biruni concluded that their founders were two different kings with the same name. The Vikramaditya era named after the first; and the Shaka era was associated with the defeat of the Shaka ruler by the second Vikramaditya.
Several later legends, especially the Jain ones, state that Vikramaditya established the 57 BCE era after he defeated the Shakas; in turn, he was defeated by Shalivahana, who established the 78 CE era. Both these legends are historically inaccurate. There is a difference of 135 years between the beginning of these two eras, and therefore, Vikramaditya and Shalivahana could not have been contemporary figures. The association of the era beginning in 57 BCE with Vikramaditya is not found in any source before the 9th century CE. The earlier sources call this era by various names, including Kṛṭa, the era of the Malava tribe, or simply, Samvat ("era"). Scholars such as D. C. Sircar and D. R. Bhandarkar believe that the name of the era changed to "Vikrama Samvat" during the reign of Chandragupta II, who had adopted the title Vikramaditya (see below). Several alternative theories exist as well; for example, Rudolf Hoernlé believed that it was Yashodharman who renamed the era to "Vikrama Samvat". Similarly, the earliest mention of the Shaka era as Shalivahana era occurs only in the 13th century; it might have been an attempt to remove the foreign association of this era.
10th– to 12th-century legendsEdit
Kshemendra's Brihatkathamanjari and Somadeva's Kathasaritsagara (11th century), both adaptations of Brihatkatha, contain multiple legends about Vikramaditya. Each legend contains several levels of fantasy stories within a story, which highlight the power of Vikramaditya.
The first legend mentions Vikramaditya's rivalry with the king of Pratishthana. However, in this version, that king is named Narasimha, not Shalivahana and Vikramaditya's capital is Pataliputra, not Ujjain. This legend goes like this: Vikramaditya was an adversary of Narasimha. Once, he invaded Dakshinapatha and besieged Pratishthana. However, he was defeated and forced to retreat. He then entered Pratishthana in disguise, and won over a female courtesan. He lived as the lover of the courtesan for some time, before secretly returning to Pataliputra. Before returning, he left five miraculous golden statues at the courtesan's house. He had received these statues from the deity, Kubera. If any limb of these statues was broken and gifted to someone, it would grow again. Sorrowful at the sudden absence of her lover, the courtesan turned to charity and became famous for her gifts of gold. Soon, she eclipsed Narasimha in fame. Subsequently, Vikramaditya returned to the courtesan's house, where Narasimha met him and befriended him. Vikramaditya then married the courtesan and took her to Pataliputra.
Book 12 (Shashankavati) contains the Vetala Panchavimshati legends, popularly known as Baital Pachisi. This collection contains 25 stories in which the king tries to capture and hold on to a vetala that tells a puzzling tale and ends it with a question for the king. Besides Kathasaritasagara, the collection exists in three other Sanskrit recensions, numerous Indian vernacular versions, several English translations (both from Sanskrit and Hindi), and more; it is the most popular of the Vikramaditya legends. There are a few minor variations between the different recensions: see List of Vetala Tales. In Kshemendra, Somadeva and Śivadāsa's recensions, the king is named Trivikramasena; in Kathasaritasagara, his capital is located in Pratishthana. At the end of the story, it is revealed that he was formerly Vikramaditya. The later texts, such as the Sanskrit-language Vetala-Vikramaditya-Katha and the modern vernacular versions name the king as Vikramaditya of Ujjain.
Book 18 (Vishamashila) contains another legend, narrated by Naravahanadatta to an assembly of hermits in the ashram of the sage Kashyapa. According to it, Indra and other devas once informed Shiva that the previously slain asuras had been reborn on the earth in form of mlechchhas. Shiva then commanded his attendant Malyavat to take birth in Ujjain as the prince of Avanti kingdom, and slay the mlechchhas. Shiva also appeared in the dream of Avanti's king, Mahendraditya, and told him that a son would be born to his queen, Saumyadarshana. He asked the king to name the child Vikramaditya, and also told him that the prince will be known as Vishamashila because of his hostility to his enemies. Malyavat was thus born as Vikramaditya. When the prince became an adult, Mahendraditya retired to Varanasi. Vikramaditya then launched a campaign to conquer a number of kingdoms, and also subdued vetalas, rakshasas and other demons. His general Vikramashakti conquered the Dakshinapatha in the south; Madhyadesha in the central region; Surashtra in the west; and the countries to the east of Ganges. He also made the northern kingdom of Kashmira a tributary of Vikramaditya. Virasena, the king of Sinhala Kingdom gave his daughter Madanalekha to Vikramaditya in marriage. The emperor also married three other women: Gunavati, Chandravati and Madanasundari. In addition, he married Kalingasena, the princess of Kalinga.
The Brihatkathamanjari contains similar legends with some variations. According to it, Vikramaditya's general Vikramashakti defeated a number of mlechchhas, including Kambojas, Yavanas, Hunas, Barbaras, Tusharas and Persians. In both Brihatkathamanjari and Kathasaritsagara, Malyavat is later born as Gunadhya, the author of Brihatkatha on which these books are based.
Rajatarangini of Kalhana (12th century) mentions that Harsha Vikramditya of Ujjayini defeated the Shakas. It further states that Vikramaditya made his friend and poet Matrigupta the ruler of Kashmir. After Vikramaditya's death, Matrigupta abdicated the throne in favour of Pravarasena.
According to D. C. Sircar, Kalhana has confused the legendary Vikramaditya with the Pushyabhuti king Harsavardhana (c. 606–47 CE); Bhavabodhini of Madhusudana (17th century) similarly mentions that Harsha, the author of Ratnavali, had his capital at Ujjain.
Simhasana Dvatrimsika (popularly known as Singhasan Battisi) contains 32 folk tales about the great qualities of Vikramaditya. In this collection of frame stories, the Paramara king Bhoja discovers the ancient throne of Vikramaditya after several centuries. The throne has 32 statues, who are actually apsaras that had been turned into stone due to a curse. When Bhoja tries to ascend the throne, one apsara comes to life and challenges him to ascend the throne only if he has magnanimity equal to Vikramaditya as revealed by a tale she would narrate. This leads to 32 attempts of Bhoja to ascend the throne (and 32 tales of Vikramaditya's virtue); in each case Bhoja acknowledges his inferiority. Finally, the statues let him ascend the throne when they are pleased with his humility.
The author and date of the original work is unknown. Since the story mentions Bhoja (died 1055 CE), it must have been composed after the 11th century. Five primary recensions of the Sanskrit version Simhasana-dvatrimsika are dated to the 13th and 14th centuries. Khulasat-ut-Tawarikh (1695 CE) by Sujan Rai claims that the work had been authored by Pandit Braj, the wazir (prime minister) of Bhoja.
Vetala Panchvimshati and Simhasana Dvatrimsika are structural opposites: in the Vetala tales, Vikramaditya is the central character of the frame story, but he has no connection to the individual tales (other than that the vetala is telling them to him) — by contrast the frame story of the Throne Tales takes place long after Vikramaditya's death, but the individual tales describe his life and deeds.
The Bhavishya Purana (parts of which have been composed in as late as the 19th century) also connects Vikramaditya to the Paramara dynasty. According to the text (22.214.171.124-7.4), the first Paramara king was Pramara, born from a fire pit at Mount Abu (thus belonging to the Agnivansha). Vikramaditya, Shalivahana and Bhoja are described as the descendants of Pramara, and thus, members of the Paramara dynasty.
Amid degradation of the world due to non-Vedic faiths, Shiva sent Vikramaditya to the earth. He established a throne decorated with 32 designs for him (a reference to Simhasana Dvatrimsika). Shiva's wife Parvati created a vetala to protect him and to instruct him with riddles (a reference to Baital Pachisi legends). After hearing Vetala's stories, Vikramaditya performed the ashwamedha (horse sacrifice). The wandering of the sacrificial horse defined the boundary of Vikramaditya's empire: Indus river in the west, Badaristhana (Badrinath) in the north, Kapila in the east and Setubandha (Rameshwaram) in the south. The emperor united all the four Agnivanshi clans by marrying princesses from the three non-Paramara clans: Vira from Chauhan clan, Nija from Chalukya clan, and Bhogavati from the Parihara clan. All gods, except Chandra, celebrated his success (a reference to the Chandravanshis, rivals of Suryavanshi clans such as the Paramaras).
There were 18 kingdoms in Vikramaditya's empire of Bharatavarsha (India). After a flawless reign, he ascended to heaven. At the beginning of the Kali Yuga, Vikramaditya came from Kailasa, and convened an assembly of great sages from the Naimisa forest. Sages like Gorakhnath, Bhartrhari, Lomaharsana, Saunaka and others assembled and recited the Puranas and the upa-puranas. A hundred years after Vikramaditya's death, the Shakas invaded India again. Shalivahana, the grandson of Vikramaditya, subjugated them and other barbarians. 500 years after his death, Bhoja similarly defeated the later invaders.
- Prabhachandra's Prabhavaka Charita (1127 CE)
- Somaprabha's Kumara-Pala-Pratibodha (1184 CE)
- Kalakacharya-Katha (before 1279 CE)
- Merutunga's Prabandha-Chintamani (1304 CE)
- Jinaprabhasuri's Vividha-Tirtha-Kalpa (1315 CE)
- Rajashekhara's Prabandha-Kosha (1348 CE)
- Devamurti's Vikrama-Charitra (1418 CE)
- Ramachandrasuri's Pancha-Danda-Chhattra-Prabandha (1433 CE)
- Subhashila's Vikrama-Charitra (1442 CE)
- various pattavalis (records of lineage of head monks)
Before the mid-12th century CE, there are very few references to Vikramaditya in Jain literature, although Ujjain features repeatedly in these works. After the reign of the Jain monarch Kumarapala (r. 1143 – 1172 CE), it became fashionable among the Jain writers to compare Kumarapala to the legendary Vikramaditya. By the end of the 13th century, legends featuring Vikramaditya as a Jain emperor started surfacing. One of the major themes in the Jain tradition is that the Jain acharya Siddhasena Divakara converted Vikramditya to Jainism. He is said to have told Vikramaditya that 1199 years after him, there would be another great king like him, i.e. Kumarapala.
Originally, the Jain tradition had only 4 Simhasana-related stories and only 4 Vetala-related puzzle stories. Later, the Jain authors adopted the 32 Simhasana Dvatrimsika stories and the 25 Vetala Panchvimshati stories.
The Kalakacharya-Kathanaka states that Vikramaditya's father Gardabhilla abducted the sister of Kalaka, a Jain acharya (teacher). At insistence of Kalaka, the Shakas invaded Ujjain and made Gardabhilla their prisoner. Later, Vikramaditya arrived from Pratishthana, defeated the Shakas, and started the Vikrama Samvat era to mark his victory. According to Alain Daniélou, the "Vikramaditya" in this legend refers to a Satavahana king.
Other Jain texts contain several variations of a legend about Vikramaditya's defeat at the hands of the king of Pratishthana, who is variously named Satavahana or Shalivahana. This theme is found in Kalpa-Pradipa of Jina-Prabhasuri, Rajashekhara's Prabandha-Kosha and Salivahana-Charitra (a Marathi language work), among others. The legend goes like this: Satavahana was the child of the Nāga (serpent) chief Shesha and a Brahmin widow, who lived in the house of a potter. His name "Satavahana" was derived from the words satani (give) and vahana (means of transport), because he used to make elephants, horses and other means of transport using clay, and gift them to other children. One day, Vikramaditya perceived omens that his future killer had been born. He sent his vetala to find out the child, and the vetala traced Satavahana in Pratishthana. Vikramaditya then led an army to Pratishthana. With help of Nāga magic, Satavahana converted his clay figures of horses, elephants and soldiers into a real army. He defeated Vikramaditya, who fled to Ujjain. He then introduced his own era, and became a Jain.
There are several variations of this legend:
- Vikrama is killed by Satavahana's arrow during a battle
- Vikramaditya marries the daughter of Satavahana, and the couple have a son known as Vikramasena or Vikrama-charitra
- Satavahana is the son of Manorama, the wife of a bodyguard of king of Pratishthana
In a medieval-era Tamil language legend, Vikramaditya has 32 marks on his body, which are a characteristic of the universal emperors. A Brahmin in need of magic quicksilver tells him that it can be obtained if the emperor offers his head to the goddess Kamakshi of Kanchipuram. Vikramaditya agrees to the sacrifice, though the goddess fulfills his wish without the sacrifice.
In another Tamil legend, Vikramaditya offers to perform a variant of the navakantam rite (cutting the body in nine places) to please the gods. He offers to cut his body in eight places for the eight Bhairavas and also offers his head to the goddess. In return, he convinces the goddess to end the practice of human sacrifice.
Chola Purva Patayam ("Ancient Chola Record"), a Tamil manuscript of uncertain date, contains a legend about the divine origin of the three Tamil dynasties. In this legend, Shalivahana (also known as Bhoja) is a shramana king. He defeats Vikramaditya, and starts persecuting the worshipers of Shiva and Vishnu. Shiva then creates the three Tamil kings to defeat him: Vira Cholan, Ula Cheran, and Vajranga Pandiyan. The three kings go through a number of adventures, including finding treasures and inscriptions of Hindu kings from the age of Shantanu to Vikramaditya. They ultimately defeat Shalivahana, in the year 1443 (of an uncertain calendar era, possibly from the beginning of Kali Yuga).
A local legend in Ayodhya states that the city was re-discovered by Vikramaditya, after having been lost for centuries. Vikramaditya started searching for Ayodhya, and met Prayaga, the king of tirthas (Prayaga personified). Guided by Prayaga, Vikramaditya marked the place, but subsequently forgot its location. A yogi told him that he should let loose a cow and a calf: Ayodhya would be at the place where milk starts flowing from the cow's udders. Using this advice, Vikramaditya managed to re-identify the site of ancient Ayodhya.
According to Hans T. Bakker, the present-day Ayodhya was originally the Saketa city mentioned in Buddhist sources. The Gupta emperor Skandagupta, who compared himself to Rama and was also known by his title Vikramaditya, moved his capital to Saketa. He renamed the city Ayodhya after the legendary city mentioned in Ramayana. The Vikramaditya mentioned in Paramartha's biography of Vasubandhu (c. 4th – c. 5th century CE) is generally identified with a Gupta king, such as Skandagupta or Purugupta. The Gupta kings ruled from Pataliputra, but Ayodhya was within their domain. However, certain scholars, such as Ashvini Agrawal, reject this account as inaccurate.
- Ananta's heroic poem Vira-Charitra or Viracharita (12th century) states that Shalivahana (or Satavahana) defeated and killed Vikramaditya, and then ruled from Pratishthana. Later, Shalivahana's associate Shudraka allied with Vikramaditya's successors and defeated Shalivahana's descendants. This legend is full of mythological stories.
- Śivadāsa's Śālivāhana Kātha or Shalivahana-Charitra (12th–14th century) similarly describes the rivalry between Vikramaditya and Shalivahana.
- The Mādhavānala Kāmakandalā Kathā by Ānanda is a story of separated lovers who are at last reunited by Vikramaditya.
- Vikramodaya is a series of verse tales in which Vikramaditya appears as a wise parrot. A similar series can by found in the Jain text Pārśvanāthacaritra.
- Pañcadaṇḍachattra Prabandha ("The Story of Umbrellas Having Five Sticks"), a work of the 15th century or later, contains "stories of magic and witchcraft, full of wonderful adventures, in which Vikramāditya plays the rôle of a powerful magician".
- Madhavanala-Kamakandala-Katha, a 16th-century Gujarati work by Ganapati, also contains Vikramaditya stories.
Jyotirvidabharana (22.10), a treatise attributed to Kalidasa, states that nine famous scholars known as Navaratnas were at Vikramaditya's court: Amarasimha, Dhanvantari, Ghatakarapara, Kalidasa himself, Kshapanaka, Shanku, Varahamihira, Vararuchi, and Vetala Bhatta.
However, Jyotirvidabharana is considered a literary forgery of a date later than Kalidasa by multiple scholars. V. V. Mirashi dates the work to the 12th century, and points out that it could not have been composed by Kalidasa, because it contains grammatical faults. There is no mention of such "Navaratnas" in earlier literature. D. C. Sircar calls this tradition "absolutely worthless for historical purposes".
There is no historical evidence to show that these nine scholars were contemporary figures or proteges of the same king. Vararuchi is believed to have lived around the 3rd or 4th century CE. The period of Kalidasa is debated, but most historians place him around the 5th century CE. Varahamihira is known to have lived in the 6th century CE. Dhanavantari was the author of a medical glossary (Nighantu); his period is uncertain. Amarasimha cannot be dated with certainty either, but his lexicon utilizes the works of Dhanavantari and Kalidasa; therefore, he cannot be dated to the 1st century BCE, when the legendary Vikramaditya is said to have established an era in 57 BCE. Not much is known about Shanku, Vetalabhatta, Kshapanaka and Ghatakarpara. Some Jain writers identify Siddhasena Divakara as Kshapanaka, but this claim is not accepted by historians.
Kalidasa is the only figure whose association with Vikramaditya is mentioned in works earlier than Jyotirvidabharana. Rajasekhara's Kāvyamimāṃsa (10th century), Bhoja's Sringara Prakasa (11th century) and Kshemendra's Auchitya-Vichara-Charcha (11th century) mention that Vikramaditya sent Kalidasa as his ambassador to the Kuntala country (identified with present-day Uttara Kannada). The historicity of these legends is doubtful.
Some authors believe that Vikramaditya is a purely mythical character, while some others hypothesize that he was a historical Malava king from c. 1st century BCE. Yet others believe that he is a legendary character based on a well-known historical king, variously identified as Chandragupta II, Gautamiputra Satakarni or Yashodharman. The character might also be based on different kings, legends about whom gradually coalesced into the Vikramaditya tradition. According to K. Krishnamoorthy, "Vikramaditya" and "Kalidasa" were used as common nouns to describe any patron king and any court poet respectively.
According to Rajbali Pandey, Kailash Chand Jain and others, Vikramaditya was the personal name of an Ujjain-based king from the Malava tribe. The Shakas advanced from Sindh to Malwa around the first century BCE, but were defeated by this king. The "Krita" era, which later came to be known as Vikrama Samvat, marked this victory. Later, Chandragupta II adopted the title "Vikramaditya" in his imitation, after defeating the Shakas. The proponents of this theory point out that Vikramaditya is mentioned in works dated before the Gupta era, including Brihatkatha and Gatha Saptashati. Moreover, the legendary Vikramaditya cannot be based on Chandragupta II, since the Gupta capital was at Pataliputra, not Ujjain. According to Raj Pruthi, the legends of this 1st century king gradually became intertwined with those of the later kings titled "Vikramaditya", including Chandragupta II.
Critics of this theory point out that Gatha Saptashati shows clear signs of interpolations during Gupta era. According to A. K. Warder, Brihatkathamanjari and Kathasaritsagara are "enormously inflated and deformed" recensions of the original Brihatkatha. The early Jain works do not mention Vikramaditya either. The "Navaratna" tradition does not have any historical basis, and these nine scholars do not appear to be contemporary figures. Moreover, the various legends about Vikramaditya, as mentioned above, are contradictory and belong to the fantasy genre. In addition, they are inconsistent with historical facts. Also, no epigraphic, numismatic or literary evidence suggests the existence of a king with the name or title "Vikramaditya" around the 1st century BCE. The Puranas contain genealogies of important Indian kings, but do not mention any Vikramaditya ruling from either Ujjain or Pataliputra before the Gupta era. There is little possibility of a historically unattested but powerful emperor ruling from Ujjain around the 1st century BCE, among the Shungas (187–78 BCE), the Kanvas (75–30 BCE), the Satavahanas (230 BCE–220 CE), the Shakas (c. 200 BCE–400 CE) and the Indo-Greeks (180 BCE–10 CE).
Multiple kings of the Gupta dynasty adopted the title "Vikramaditya" or its equivalents (such as "Parakramanka" of Samudragupta). According to D. C. Sircar and Hem Chandra Raychaudhuri, among others, the exploits of these kings contributed to the Vikramaditya legends. The distinction between these different Vikramadityas was lost over time; the legendary "Shalivahana" was similarly based on the exploits of multiple Satavahana kings.
Based on some coins and the Supia pillar inscription, it is believed that Chandragupta II adopted the title "Vikramaditya". The Khambat and Sangli plates of the Rashtrakuta king Govinda IV use the epithet "Sahasanka" for Chandragupta II. The name "Sahasanka" has also been applied to the legendary Vikramaditya. Alf Hiltebeitel states that Chandragupta's victory over the Shakas was transposed on upon a fictional character, who is credited with founding the Vikrama Samvat era.
According to most legends, Vikramaditya had his capital at Ujjain, although some legends mention him as the king of Pataliputra. The Guptas had their capital at Pataliputra. According to D. C. Sircar, Chandragupta II may have defeated the Shaka invaders of Ujjain, and placed his son Govindagupta as a viceroy there. As a result, Ujjain might have become a second capital of the Gupta empire, and subsequently, legends about him (as Vikramaditya) might have developed. Guttas of Guttavalal, a minor dynasty based in present-day Karnataka, claimed descent from the imperial Guptas. The Caudadanapura inscription of the Guttas alludes to the legendary Vikramaditya ruling from Ujjayni, and several Gutta royals were named "Vikramaditya". According to Vasundhara Filliozat, the Guttas have confused the legendary Vikramaditya with Chandragupta II. However, D. C. Sircar sees this as further proof that the legendary Vikramaditya was based on Chandragupta II.
As mentioned above, the Vikramaditya of the Ayodhya legend is identified as Skandagupta (r. 455–467 CE) by multiple scholars. Book 18 of Kathasaritasagara describes Vikramaditya as a son of Mahendraditya of Ujjain. According to D.C. Sircar, Kumaragupta I (r. 415–455 CE) had adopted the title "Mahendraditya", and his son Skandagupta had adopted the title "Vikramaditya". Thus, this particular set of legends could be based on Skandagupta.
- Gautamiputra Satakarni
- In the Kathasaritasagara recension of the 25 Vetala stories, the king is mentioned as the ruler of Pratishthana. A. K. Warder notes that the Satavahanas were the only notable ancient dynasty that ruled from Pratishthana. According to a Satavahana inscription, their king Gautamiputra Satakarni defeated the Shakas. Also, one of Gautamiputra Satakarni's epithets was "vara-varana-vikrama-charu-vikrama". However, according to D. C. Sircar, this epithet means "one whose gait is as beautiful as that of the choice elephant", and has nothing to do with the title "Vikramaditya", which means "sun of valour". Moreover, most other Vikramaditya legends mention the king's capital as Ujjain (or less commonly, Pataliputra): the Satavahanas never had their capital at these cities. Also, Vikramaditya has been presented as an adversary of the Pratishthana-based king Satavahana (or Shalivahana) in multiple legends.
- Some earlier writers, such as Max Muller, believed that the Vikramaditya legends were based on the 6th-century Aulikara king Yashodharman. The Aulikaras used the Malava era (which later came to be known as Vikrama Samvat) in their inscriptions. According to Rudolf Hoernlé, the name of the Malava era was changed to Vikramaditya by Yashodharman. Hoernlé also believed that he conquered Kashmir, and is same person as the "Harsha Vikramaditya" mentioned in Kalhana's Rajatarangini. Yashodharman defeated the Hunas led by Mihirakula. However, Hunas are not same as the Shakas. Moreover, Yashodharman's capital was at Dasapura (modern Mandsaur), not Ujjain. There is no other evidence that he inspired the Vikramaditya legends.
Several stories of Vikramaditya appear in the Amar Chitra Katha comic book series. Vikram Aur Betaal, which appeared on Doordarshan in the 1980s, was a television programme based on Baital Pachisi. A television adaptation of Singhasan Battisi was aired on Doordarshan in the late 1980s. In 2014, another adaptation was aired on Sony Pal.
Indian Navy's aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya has been christened so in honour of Emperor Vikramaditya. On 22 December 2016, a commemorative postage stamp honouring Samrat Vikramadittya was released by India Posts.
- INS Vikramaditya Aircraft Carrier
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