As early as 1900, R. G. Bhandarkar contributed an article to the Journal of the Bombay
Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society,1 entitled A Peep into the Early History of India, etc., wherein he
contended that the most noteworthy feature of the Gupta period was “Vigorous Brahmanic
Revival and Renovation.”2 The evidence which he urged in support of his theory was then
considered to be of an irrefragable character. This explains why his views are still accepted by
a good many scholars. Evidence of another type is, however, gathering momentum which
prevents our accepting this theory.
He relies upon a two-fold line of argument in support of his conclusion. The first relates
to the performance of the sacrificial rites. In Chandragupta II’s inscription at Mathurā and
Skandagupta’s Bihār and Bhitarī inscriptions, Samudragupta is represented, says R. G.
Bhandarkar, as having performed the Aśvamēdha, which is pointedly spoken of as
having gone out of use for a long time (chir-ōtsann-āśvamēdh-āharttuḥ). “This is the first
instance of the Brahmanic revival under this dynasty.” This achievement was considered so important that Samudragupta struck gold coins or medals, on the obverse of which
is the figure of a horse let loose, and the title Aśvamēdha-Parākrama on the reverse. Similar
coins bearing on the reverse the legend Aśvamēdha-Mahēndra have been found. Mahēndra was
a title assumed by Kumāragupta I, as is evident from some of his coins on which his proper
name as well as the title occurs. It seems, therefore, that he too performed the horse-sacrifice
indicative of supreme sovereignty. The present epigraphic evidence, however, runs counter
to this conclusion. Even when R. G. Bhandarkar wrote on this subject, the contents of the
Nānāghāṭ cave inscription of Sātakarṇi were well known to scholars. There Sātakarṇi, or
rather his wife,3 is represented to have performed not only a good many sacrifices, but, above
all, celebrated Rājasūya once and Aśvamēdha twice. This clearly indicates his or her rank as a
supreme ruler. Slightly earlier than this record is that found at Ghōsuṇḍi, not far from Chitōrgaṛh in Rajasthan. The contents of this inscription also were fairly well known4 when A Peep
into the Early History, etc. was published, though it was critically edited much later in the light
of two or more copies found on Hāthi-Bāḍā at Nagari in the Epigraphia Indica.5 This also
credits Gājāyana Pārāśarīputra Sarvatāta with the celebration of a similar Aśvamēdha, as is
clear from the text rājñā bhāgavatēna Gājāyanēna Pārāśarīputrēṇa Sarvatātēna Aśvamēdha-yājinā etc.
The patronymic Gājāyana indicates that Sarvatāta was a Brāhmaṇa and perhaps a Kāṇva
ruler. Sarvatāta is not a proper name and may have belonged to any ruler, possibly the last
ruler of the Kāṇva line. But earlier than Sarvatāta was Pushyamitra, the founder of the
Śuṅga dynasty (187 B.C.). An inscription of this ruler was found some time ago at Ayōdhyā
which has dvir=Aśvamēdha-yājinaḥ Sēnāpatēḥ Pushyamitrasya.6 This conclusively shows that
Pushyamitra, like Sātakarṇi, performed the horse sacrifice, not once, but twice. We may
thus take it that Brahmanism was revived with the advent of the Brāhmaṇa Śuṅgas to power,
that is, long, long before the time of the Guptas. What then becomes of the expression chir-
ōtsann-āśvamēdh-āharttā which has been used in Gupta inscriptions with reference to Samudra-
1 Vol. XX, pp. 356 ff.
2 Ibid., pp. 392 ff.
3 ASWI., Vol. V, pp. 60 and ff.
4 JASB., Vol. LVI, pt. i, pp. 77 ff., No. 1 and Plate V. a.
5 Vol. XXII, pp. 198 ff.
6 Ep. Ind., Vol. XX, p. 57.