Gupta’s Administrative System
During the Gupta age, political hierarchies can be identified by the titles adopted. Kings assumed titles such as maharajadhiraja, parama-bhattaraka and parameshvara. They were also connected with gods through epithets such as parama-daivata (the foremost worshipper of the gods) and parama-bhagavata (the foremost worshipper of Vasudeva Krishna). Some historians have suggested that the Gupta Kings claimed divine status. For example, Samudragupta is compared to Purusha (Supreme Being) in the Allahabad inscription. These assertions can be seen as reflections of an attempt to claim divine status by the king.
Seals and inscriptions make a mention of official ranks and designations, whose precise meaning is often uncertain. The term “kumaramatya” occurs in six Vaishali seals, which suggests that this title represented high-ranking officer associated with an office (adikarana) of his own. The designation “amatya” occurs on several Bita seals, and the “kumaramatya” seems to have been pre-eminent among amatyas and equivalent in status to princes of royal blood. Kumaramatyas were attached to the king, crown prince, revenue department or a province. One of the Vaishali seals refers to a kumaramatya who seems to have been in charge of the maintenance of the sacred coronation tank of the Lichchavis.
Individuals holding the ranks of kumaramatya sometimes had additional designations as well, and such ranks were hereditary. For example, Harisena, composer of the Allahabad prashasti (inscriptions of praise), was a kumaramatya, sandhivigrahika and mahadandanayaka, and was the son of Dhruvabhuti, a mahadandanayaka.
The Gupta king was assisted by a council of mantrins (ministers). The Allahabad prashasti refers to an assembly or council, presumably of ministers, which was known as the Sabha. The various high-ranking functionaries included the sandhivigrahika or mahasandhivigrahika (minister for peace and war), who seems to have been a high-ranking officer in charge of contact and correspondence with other states, including initiating wars and concluding alliances and treaties.
High-ranking officials were called dandanayakas, and mahadandanayakas were high-rankingjudicialormilitaryofficers.One of the seals mentions a mahadandanayaka named Agnigupta. The Allahabad prashasti refers to three mahadandanayakas. All these suggest that these posts were hereditary by nature. Another person had a designation mahashvapati (commander of the cavalry), indicating military functions.
The Gupta Empire was divided into provinces known as deshas or bhuktis. They were administered by governors who were usually designated as uparikas. The uparika was directly appointed by the king and he, in turn, frequently appointed the head of the district administration and the district board. Uparika carried on the administration “with the enjoyment of the rule consisting of elephants, horses and soldiers”, indicating his control over the military machinery as well. The fact that the uparika had the title maharaja in three of the Damodarpur plates indicates his high status and rank in the administrative hierarchy. The Eran pillar inscription of Budhagupta, dated Gupta year 165 CE, refers to maharaja Surashmichandra as a lokpala, governing the land between the Kalinndi and Narmada rivers. Lokpala here seems to refer to a provincial governor.
The provinces of the Gupta Empire weredividedintodistrictsknownasvisayas, which were controlled by officers known as vishyapatis. The vishyapatis seems to have been generally appointed by the provincial governor. Sometimes, even the kings directly appointed the vishyapatis. Prominent members of the town assisted the vishyapati in administrative duties.
The administrative units below the district level included clusters of settlements known variously as vithi, bhumi, pathaka and peta. There are references to officials known as ayuktakas and vithi-mahattaras. At the village level, villagers chose functionaries such as gramika and gramadhyaksha. The Damodarpur copper plate of the reign of Budhagupta mentions an ashtakula-adhikarana (a board of eight members) headed by the mahattara. Mahattara has a range of meanings including village elder, village headman, and head of a family community. The Sanchi inscription of the time of Chandragupta II mentions the panch-mandali, which may have been a corporate body.
Seals and inscriptions mention military designations such as baladhikrita and mahabaladhikrita (commander of infantry and cavalry). The standard term “senapati” does not occur in Gupta inscriptions, but the term could be found in some Vakataka epigraphs. A Vaishali seal mentions the ranabhandagar-adhikarana, which is the office of the military storehouse. Another Vaishali seal mentions the adhikarana (office) of the dandapashika, which may have been a district-level police office.
The officials connected specifically with the royal establishment included the mahapratiara (chief of the palace guards) and the khadyatapakita (superintendent of the royal kitchen). A Vaishali seal mentions a person both as a mahapratihara and a taravara. The top layer of the administrative structure also included amatyas and sachivas, who were executive officers in charge of various departments. The system of espionage included spies known as dutakas. The ayuktakas were another cadre of high-ranking officers.