Kumāragupta-I, Not Aśoka, was Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī of major rock edicts

Kumāragupta-I, Not Aśoka, was Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī of major rock edicts

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In my previous article “A critical look at identification of Aśoka with Devānāmpriya of Major Rock Edicts”, I presented evidence to show that the identification of Aśoka Maurya with Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī of major rock edicts is wrong. The question then is who was the real Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī of the major rock edicts? Obviously, he is well known to historians due to the extent of his vast empire. He is just not known to historians as the Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī.

My personal research on this topic started in 2001 after I realized that the currently accepted dating of Varāhamihira in the sixth century CE is wrong. This dating is based on using Śālivāhana Śaka era starting in 78 CE, while Varāhamihira has specified his date using Cyrus Śaka era starting in 550 BCE. According to my calculation, an astronomical observation made by Varāhamihira places him in the 2nd century BCE. This makes it possible for Varāhamihira to be a senior contemporary of Emperor Vikramāditya. This raises the possibility that there was a historical Vikramāditya whose death in 57 BCE is commemorated by counting the Vikrama era from 57 BCE.

Historians have often denied the possibility of any Vikramāditya in the first century BCE and have given credit for instituting the Vikram era to an itsy-bitsy ruler called Azes. This petty ruler was a Śaka, while the Indian tradition considers Vikramāditya to be Śakāri or enemy of Śakas. Not only that, Emperor Vikramāditya was a ruler of all of India and beyond according to the traditions, while the dominion of this petty ruler Azes was much smaller and not worthy of any special recognition. I then searched for a historical Vikramāditya, whose death in 57 BCE is commemorated by beginning the Vikrama Samvat in that year. This search has led me to re-evaluate the very foundations of the Indian history.

We have seen in the previous articles that the chronology of Indian history is fixed by two sheet anchors. After examining the first sheet anchor, we found that the evidence is better tilted towards the identification of Chandragupta-I of the Imperial Gupta dynasty as the Sandrokottos of Greek accounts instead of Chandragupta Maurya. The chronology of the ancient Indian history then depends on the correct identification of Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī, the second sheet anchor of Indian history. Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī is currently identified as Aśoka Maurya and most of what is shown in the movies and television serials about Chāṇakya, Chandragupta, and Aśoka could become works of fiction if this identification is wrong.

When I searched through history books for the alternative identification of Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī, I found my candidate for the identification as Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī in the persona of Kumāragupta-I. Here, I will provide my reasoning for the identification of Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī of major rock edicts with Kumāragupta-I, the great grandson of Chandragupta-I of the Imperial Gupta Dynasty.

The Kalinga War

According to Rock edict 13, the conquest of Kalinga and the remorse from the ravages of war were the most important events in the life of Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī. However, these events find no mention in the literature about Aśoka Maurya. On the other hand, there is literary evidence that Kalinga was conquered by Kumāragupta-I. The following verse from Vishṇupurāṇa describes the expansion of the Imperial Gupta Empire [1]:

“Kośala Oḍratāmraliptān Samudrataṭa Purīm cha Rakṣito Rakṣyati|

Kalingam Māhiṣakam Mahendraḥ Bhūmau Guham Bhokṣyanti||”

Śrīrāma Goyala explains the meaning of this verse as follows:

“(Deva) Rakṣita will expand his domain to Kośala, Oḍra, Tāmralipti and Purī near ocean. Kalinga and Māhiṣaka will be under Mahendra. All this land will be ruled by Guha.”

Here Rakṣita stands for Gupta, as both those words mean “protected”, and Mahendra stands for Kumāragupta-I Mahendrāditya. Guha stands for Skandagupta, as Guha and Skanda are synonyms. This important verse gives the following information:

Gupta (Chandragupta II) will protect the territories of (South) Kośala, Oḍra, Tāmralipti, Samataṭa and Purī (which are already part of the Gupta Empire). Kumāragupta-I will expand it further to include Kalinga and Māhiṣaka. Skandagupta will enjoy ruling all this land.

Here, we have emphatic proof that Kalinga was not a part of the Gupta Empire ruled by Chandragupta II, but was conquered by Kumāragupta-I. This is the war that changed Kumāragupta-I, and he accepted Buddhism soon after. Compare this to Aśoka Maurya for whom we have no independent information that he had to fight a war to incorporate Kalinga into his empire. In fact, the evidence points to the opposite. Aśoka should have inherited Kalinga as it was part of the Nanda Empire, which was taken over by his grandfather Chandragupta Maurya in a coup. He did not have to fight a war to capture Kalinga.

To circumvent this problem, modern historians have made up a story about Kalinga gaining independence from the Mauryan Empire before the coronation of Aśoka. There is absolutely no evidence to this effect. In fact, there is supporting evidence that indicates that Kalinga could not have seceded from the Mauryan Empire before Aśoka. Chāṇakya is supposed to have served three kings — Chandragupta, Bindusāra and Aśoka — according to the medieval text ĀryaManjuśrīMūlakalpa [2]. It would have been very unlikely for Kalinga to secede under the watch of Chāṇakya.

Junagadh Rock Inscription

Skandagupta, son of Kumāragupta-I, says the following in the line four of the Junagadh rock inscription [3]:

“Pitari sura-sakhitvam prāptvaty ātma- śaktyā”

The meaning of each word in this sentence is provided below:

Pitari = father, sura = Gods, sakhitvam = friendship, prāptvaty = obtain, ātma = self and śaktyā = from power

Thus the sentence means that the father obtained the friendship of the Gods by his own power. Fleet has it translated as “father by his own power had attained the position of being a friend of the gods” [3]. Historians have taken it to mean that Kumāragupta-I had passed away when this inscription was recorded, as it is customary in India to say that a person has become dear to God when he or she has passed away.

Fine, but how did Kumāragupta-I do it with his own power? Did he commit suicide? We don’t have any record of that and if he did commit suicide, why would his son Skandagupta be proudly announcing it? What the sentence in the inscription actually means is that Kumāragupta-I had obtained the friendship of the Gods by his own power while he was still alive. At least that is what his son Skandagupta was made to believe as his father Kumāragupta-I had declared himself “Beloved of the Gods” in inscriptions all over the vast empire. Skandagupta was just paraphrasing the word “Devānāmpriya”, meaning “Beloved of the Gods” to “Friend of the Gods”.

Man of Many Names

If someone calls himself “Devānāmpriya” and “Priyadarśī”, besides resorting to his own name, then we can definitely call him a person with many names. There is evidence that Kumāragupta-I was known as a man with many names. ĀryaMañjuśrīMūlakalpa is a Sanskrit text written by a Buddhist around 800 CE. It was translated into English by a noted historian K. P. Jayaswal. This text gives the following information about the Imperial Guptas [4]:

“Listen about the Medieval and Madhyadesa kings (madhyakāle, madhyamā) who will be in a long period emperors (nṛipendra) and who will be confident and will be followers of via media” (in religious policy, madhyadharmiṇaḥ):

(1) Samudra, the king,

(2) Vikrama, of good fame (kīrttitāḥ), ‘who is sung’.

(3)Mahendra, an excellent king and a leader (nṛipavaro Mukhya).

(4) S-initialled (Skanda) after Ma. (i.e., Mahendra).

His name (will be) Devarāja; he will have several names (vividhākhya); he will be the best, wise, and religious king in that low age.”

Above, the first king is Samudragupta; the second king is Chandragupta II, referred to by the first part of his title Vikramāditya; the third king is Kumāragupta-I, referred to by the first part of his title, Mahendrāditya; and, the fourth king is Skandagupta, identified by his initial S. I would like to draw the readers’ attention to the description of the king called Devarāja above, who was supposed to have several names. Jayaswal has identified him with Skandagupta [5]. Jayaswal says that Skandagupta bore the name of his grandfather (Devarāja), and had a variety of names (virudas). But, there is no evidence that Skandagupta bore the name of Devarāja after his grandfather.

On the other hand, Kumāragupta-I appears to be a better candidate for the title Devarāja and hence indicates that he was known by many names. The author of ĀryaMañjuśrīMūlakalpa says “S-initialled (Skanda) after Ma” and then goes on to say “His name (will be) Devarāja”. Hence, it is likely that the term Devarāja refers to the king with initial M, i.e. Mahendrāditya, adopted name of Kumāragupta-I. Also, Devarāja means King of the Gods, who is Indra. Kumāragupta-I has been called Mahendra by the author of ĀryaMañjuśrīMūlakalpa, as quoted above. Mahendra (Mahā + Indra) is simply “Great Indra” or “Indra himself”. Thus, it is highly probable that it was Kumāragupta-I, and not Skandagupta, who was called Devarāja and a man of many names.

The Prayāga (Allahabad) Pillar

There are several sets of inscriptions on the Allahabad Pillar currently located in the Allahabad Fort, including inscriptions by Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī, his queen, and most importantly, Samudragupta the Great. Here, my intention is to focus on the inscription by Samudragupta the Great, who, according to the accepted chronology was posterior to Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī by six centuries. Samudragupta was one among the greatest conquerors known to Indian history. His eulogy inscribed on this pillar gives the details of his conquests and expanse of his empire.

As Samudragupta was posterior to Aśoka Maurya according to modern history, this pillar is known as the Aśokan Pillar and Samudragupta’s eulogy is supposed to have been inscribed on it later. The reason for calling it Aśokan pillar is simply based on the accepted chronology of Aśoka coming before Samudragupta and there is no other direct evidence to show that Samudragupta carved his inscription on an existing pillar. My contention is to challenge the prevailing wisdom and propose that it was Samudragupta who erected the pillar, and Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī’s inscriptions were inscribed later on this pillar.

Samudragupta was known for the reestablishment of traditional Vedic/Hindu way of life. There is simply no reason for Samudragupta to have his eulogy inscribed on an existing pillar with inscriptions by a Buddhist king as his zeal for military conquests did not match the pacifist ideology of Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī. Thapar, wondering why Samudragupta chose to write his eulogy on the Aśokan pillar, says that extolling military conquest was contradictory to Aśoka’s opposition to violence, and if Samudragupta wanted to denigrate Aśoka it would have been more effective on a separate and equally imposing pillar [6].

It is inconceivable that such a great monarch as Samudragupta, whose generosity was legendary, would use Aśoka Maurya’s pillar for writing his eulogy. Samudragupta was so generous that he gave away hundred thousand cows (line 25). He called himself the God of Wealth, Kubera (line 26). He further said that his officials were busy returning the wealth of the defeated kings everyday (line 26). Why would such a monarch not be able to afford a pillar of his own and choose a pillar erected by the Buddhist monarch Aśoka Maurya to write his eulogy? Why would he describe an existing pillar as a symbol of his glory? In the lines 29-30 of his inscription on the Allahabad pillar, Samudragupta says with pride that this pillar is looking towards the heaven as the declaration of his glory [7]. On the other hand, Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī, identified as Kumāragupta-I by me, would have been more than happy to add his inscriptions on his grandfather Samudragupta’s pillar.

Sure, there are obvious objections to the identification of Kumāragupta-I with Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī of major rock edicts and pillar edicts. How do we explain the minor rock edicts associating “Devānāmpriya” with Aśoka? The name Aśoka appears in a few minor rocks edicts as “Devānām Piya Aśoka” at Maski in Raichur district, Karnataka, as “Rājā Aśoko Devānāmpiya” at Udegolam in Bellary district, Karnataka, and as “Devānāmpiya Piyadasi Aśoka Rājā” at Gujarra near Jhansi, Madhya Pradesh [8]. The answer is pretty simple. Devānāmpriya and Priyadarśī were common titles that could be used by anyone who chose to do so. Just because these titles have been used by Aśoka does not mean that nobody else could use these titles. When Princep was translating the inscriptions of Priyadarśī, he identified Priyadarśī first with Devānāmpiya Tissa of Ceylon [9-10].

The title Devānāmpriya has been used for other personalities in literature as well. King Ajātaśatru has been called “Devanuppiya” in “Aupapatika Sūtra”. Patañjali, commenting on Pāṇini’s Aṣtādhyāyī 2.4.56, has used this title for a common grammarian. Priyadarśī or Priyadarśana can have two meanings: one who looks handsome or one who looks with friendliness. Priyadarśī was an adjective that has been used for several kings. In the Rāmāyaṇa, Rāma has been called Priyadarśī once. In the play, Mudrārākṣasa, Chandragupta Maurya, grandfather of Aśoka Maurya, has been called Priyadarśī. Gautamīputra Śātakarṇi has been called Priyadarśana in the Nasika inscription. There is nothing unique about these titles.

Finally, we need to provide the explanation for the mention of the five Greek kings in the thirteenth rock edict. The five Greek kings mentioned in the Rock Edict XIII are: Antiyoka, Turamaya, Antikini, Maka, and Alikasudara. Modern historians have identified them with Antiochus II Theos (261-246 BCE) of Syria and Western Asia, Ptolemy II Philadelphus (285-247 BCE) of Egypt, Antigonus Gonatas (278-239 BCE) of Macedonia, Magas (300-258 or 250 BCE) of Cyrene, and Alexander (275-255 BCE) of Epirus or Alexander (252-247 BCE) of Corinth respectively [11]. Based on this information, historians have been able to pinpoint the date of coronation of Aśoka to within a couple of years [12]:

“The latest date at which these kings were reigning together is 258, the earliest 261; and if we could be certain that Aśoka was kept informed of what happened in the West, we might therefore fix the twelfth year of his reign between these two years; and hence the date of his coronation between 270 and 273 B.C.”

Let’s take a closer look at the relevant text of Rock Edict XIII [13]:

“Antiyoke nāma Yona Rāja paran cha tena

Antiyokena chatura rājāne Turamaye nāma

Antikini nāma Maka nāma Alikasandare nāma”

The text has the following meaning: “The Greek king named Antiyoka, and beyond that king Antiyoka, four kings, named Turamaya, named Antikini, named Maka, and named Alikasandara”. It is obvious that Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī had close interaction with Antiyoka or Antiochus and he probably had just heard about the other four Greek kings. When Princep first identified Antiyoka, he had identified him with Antiochus III and not Antiochus II as done by current historians. This is of critical importance as Antiochus II was involved in constant warfare and the connections between Mesopotamia and the borderlands of India were entirely cut off during his entire rule [14].

Regarding the events in the reign of Antiochus II, J. Charpentier [15] writes: “What interests us in this connection is, however, not so much the character of Antiochus II as the main events of his reign. He undoubtedly inherited from his father a war with Egypt, which came to an end only during his very last years, and an unbroken series of troubles with the petty despots and quarrelsome city-states of Asia Minor. As far as the very scanty evidence goes, Antiochus II spent the whole of his reign in the last-named country and in Syria; and there is certainly no evidence whatsoever for his having ever proceeded to the east of the Mesopotamian rivers to visit the outlying provinces of his vast and loosely-knitted empire. Furthermore, we have the direct evidence of the historians, above all that of Justin, the epitomator Pompei Trogi, that during the reign of Antiochus II the most important provinces of the east rebelled, an event which must have entirely cut off the connections between Mesopotamia and the borderlands of India until these were again, for a very short period of time, restored by Antiochus the Great.”

On the other hand, identification of Antiyoka with Antiochus III the Great is on solid grounds [16]:

“The first point to be adjusted is, which Antiochus is referred to. There are several of the names amongst the kings of the Seleucidan dynasty, whose sway commencing in Syria, extended at various times, in the early periods of their history, through Persia to the confines of India. Of these, the two first, Antiochus Soter and Antiochus Theos, were too much taken up with concurrences in Greece and in the west of Asia, to maintain any intimate connexion with India, and it is not until the time of Antiochus the Great, the fifth Seleucid monarch, that we have any positive indication of an intercourse between India and Syria. It is recorded of this prince that he invaded India, and formed an alliance with its sovereign, named by Greek writers, Sophagasenas.”

Antiochus III the Great can be the contemporary of Kumāragupta-I in the revised chronology. Starting with Chandragupta-I as a contemporary of Alexander the Great, the reign of Kumāragupta-I will overlap with the reign of Antiochus III about whom we have definite information that he arrived at the borders of India. If Antiochus III the Great was the contemporary of Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī, how do we account for the other four kings, all of whom were certainly not ruling during the revised time period of Kumāragupta’s rule (213-173 BCE) calculated by me using the start of the Imperial Gupta era in 309 BCE? The answer is simple, and it was given by Professor H.H. Wilson, Director of the Royal Asiatic Society, in 1850 CE [17]. All the Greek kings mentioned by Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī were not his contemporaries. How could Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī be so current about far away kings of distant lands? How can the period of writing of Rock Edict XIII be specified to within a narrow range of time of two years? Kings could change by the time information reached Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī and he decided to include their names in the inscriptions and get them inscribed over his vast empire. In fact, Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī accepts in Rock Edict II that he did not know the names of the four kings who reigned beyond the land of Antiochus by saying, “Yona king named Antiyoka, and the other kings who are the neighbours of this Antiyoka.” Thus the correct purport of Rock Edict XIII is “where the Yona king named Antiyoka (is ruling) and beyond this Antiyoka, (the land of) four kings (the king) named Turamaya, (the king) named Antikini, (the king) named Maka, (and the king) named Alikasudara.”

Thus, while Antiochus was definitely his contemporary, the four kings — Ptolemy, Antigonus, Magas and Alexander — were either his contemporaries or before his time. Thus Antiyoka was Antiochus III instead of Antiochus II as currently believed. Turamaya could be any of the Ptolemy named rulers of Egypt, Ptolemy I to Ptolemy V. Alikasudara referred to Alexander the Great and not to Alexander (275-255 BCE) of Epirus or Alexander (252-247 BCE) of Corinth, who were minor kings and unlikely to be known to Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī. Thus, we have a satisfactory explanation for the identification of Kumāragupta-I with Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī.

Again, I should stress that Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī does not call himself Aśoka in any of the major rock edicts that mention the Greek kings. Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī Aśoka appears on the minor rock inscriptions, which do not mention the Greek kings. The identification of Aśoka Maurya as the Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī of major rock edicts and contemporary of Greek kings is based on the assumption that nobody other than Aśoka Maurya could use the title of Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī. This is obviously not true as shown by various examples in this article. Also, Aśoka Maurya could not be the Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī of major rock edicts because he can only be contemporary of Antiochus II as the grandson of Chandragupta Maurya and there was no contact with India during the time of Antiochus II. As the great grandson of Chandragupta I, Kumāragupta-I can be contemporary of Antiochus III, who had come to the borderlands of India during a military campaign and received gifts from an Indian king named Sophagasenos. Finally, there is no independent evidence for Aśoka Maurya attacking Kalinga, the most important event in the life of Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī of major rock edicts, while there is explicit evidence for Kumāragupta-I to have attacked Kalinga.

The identifications of Sandrokottos with Chandragupta-I and Devānāmpriya Priyadarśī with Kumāragupta-I, both of the Imperial Gupta dynasty, provide us the opportunity to reconstruct the history of India that better represents the evidence and is more faithful to the native traditions of India. In this chronological reconstruction we have a historical Vikramāditya, the greatest hero of ancient India, whose death in 57 BCE is commemorated by starting the Vikrama era in 57 BCE. We also have Gautamīputra Śātakarṇi crushing Śakas in 78 CE which is celebrated by starting the Śaka era in 78 CE. Currently foreigners are given credit for instituting both of these important Indian eras by historians whose hearts are full of love for invaders and who specialize in making a mockery of our traditions. In my next article I will begin my chronological reconstruction of ancient Indian history with a new dating of Mahātmā Buddha in 13th-12th century BCE based on the evidence of Sumatitantra, a text from Nepal.


  1. Goyala, S. (1987). Gupta Sāmrājya kā Itihāsa (in Hindi). Meerut, U.P., India: Kusumāñjali Prakāśana, page 253.
  2. Jayaswal, K.P. (1934). An Imperial History of India in a Sanskrit Text. Revised by Rahula Sankrityayana. Lahore, United India: Motilal Banarsi Dass, page 17.
  3. Fleet, J. F. (1888). Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum, Vol. III: Inscriptions of the Early Guptas. Calcutta, India: Government of India, Central Publications Branch, pages 56-65.
  4. Jayaswal, K.P. (1934). An Imperial History of India in a Sanskrit Text. Revised by Rahula Sankrityayana. Lahore, United India: Motilal Banarsi Dass, page 33.
  5. Jayaswal, K.P. (1934). An Imperial History of India in a Sanskrit Text. Revised by Rahula Sankrityayana. Lahore, United India: Motilal Banarsi Dass, pages 35-36.
  6. Thapar, R. (2013). The Past before us. Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA: Harvard University Press, page 341.
  7. Goyala, S. (1987). Samudragupta Parākramāṅka (in Hindi). Meerut, U.P., India: Kusumāñjali Prakāśana, pages16-19.
  8. Vassilkov, Y. V. (1997-98). On the meaning of the names Aśoka and Piyadasi. Indologica Taurinensia, 23-24: pages 441-457.
  9. Princep, J. (1837). Interpretation of the most ancient of the inscriptions on the pillar called the lat of Feroz Shah, near Delhi, and of the Allahabad, Radhia and Mattiah pillar, or lat, inscriptions which agree therewith. Journal of Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal, July: pages 566-609.
  10. Hultzsch, E. (1914). The Date of Aśoka. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, October: pages 943-951.
  11. Sethna, K. D. (1989). Ancient India in a New Light. New Delhi, India: Aditya Prakashana, page 233.
  12. Davids, T. W. R. (1877). International Numismata Orientalia: On the Ancient Coins and Measures of Ceylon. London, UK: Trubner & Co., page 42.
  13. Hultzsch, E. (1925). Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum, Vol. I: Inscriptions of Asoka. New Edition. Oxford, UK: Printed for the Government of India at the Clarendon Press, pages 86-87.
  14. Charpentier, J. (1931). Antiochus, King of the Yavanas. Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies, 6 (2): pages 303-321.
  15. ibid
  16. Wilson, H. H. (1850). On the Rock Inscription of Kapur Di Giri, Dhauli, and Girnar. The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, Volume the Twelfth: pages 153-251.
  17. ibid

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Dr. Raja Ram Mohan Roy

Dr. Raja Ram Mohan Roy earned his B. Tech in Metallurgical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, and Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering from The Ohio State University, USA. He has worked as a Research Scientist and Project Manager for over 20 years in Canada. He has written four pathbreaking books on Indian civilization titled "Vedic Physics: Scientific Origin of Hinduism", “India before Alexander: A New Chronology”, “India after Alexander: The Age of Vikramādityas”, and “India after Vikramāditya: The Melting Pot”. He is currently working on his fourth book on Indian history titled “India before Buddha: Vedic Kingdoms in 2nd Millennium BCE”.