The Legendary Vikramaditya: A Discussion
Indian ancient history is in fact the History of Hinduism. This was the onmipotent belief since the dawn of history in India. For a brief period there was a break during the period when the Maurya dynasty ruled India, at that time Buddhism became the state religion, but within a 100 years Hinduism and the Brahaminical cult came back with a vengence.
Over the centuries Indian Kings and rulers have always been equated with God. They were supposed to derive their powers from a pantheon of Hindu gods, who blessed them. One name that creeps up through out Hindu history is that of Vikramaditiya. Historians have not been able to identify who the real Vikramaditiya was or when he lived, but we know that this title has special significance for all Hindus. It represents an image and dream of a just and powerful king who was supposed to have divine powers. This title was used by many kings throughout Indian history.
The last King who used this name was also the last Hindu king who was crowned as emperor of Hindustan in 1555. He was Samrat Hemchand Tukuram Vikramaditiya. He ascended the throne in 1555 and was crowned emperor of Hindustan in the historic Purana Kila( Old Fort), built by Sher Shah Suri. This man had earlier ousted the Mughal rulers and seized power in Delhi. Hemchand Tukuram popularly called Hemu was a general in the army of Sher Shah, but by dint of his prowess and ability siezed power and crowned himself as emperor of Hindustan. He was the last Hindu king to be crowned at Delhi. Samrat Hemchand Tukuram is often referred to as the Napoleon of India as in a short span of 2 years, he defeated the Muslims and the Mughals in 22 battles on the trot and captured Delhi.
Subsequently by a quirk of fate, Hemu lost at the 2nd battle of Panipat(1556) and was beheaded by Akbar, when he was almost unconscious. But his names lives on as a great and powerful warrior. Why did Hemu assume the title of " Vikramaditiya"? The answer is that for centuries the name of Viramaditiya is revered as a king who was both just and wise and was blessed by the divine. Hindus look up to Vikramaditiya as a sort of super king who could do no wrong. But again as I have mentioned the real Vikramaditiya and his period has never been conclusively identified.
The Legend of Vikramaditiya
If one visits the complex of Kutab Minar built by Kutabbadin Aibik at Delhi, one will come across a metal pillar that for centuries has not rusted. Nobody till date has been able to analayse the metallurgy of the material with which this pillar was made. Historians have traced its origin to what is known as the Golden Age of India, namely when the Gupta Empire flourished in India, just after the demise of the Maurya dynasty.
This pillar has some inscriptions on it which point to the fact that this is the handiwork of Chandragupta II, who was one of the greatest rulers of the Gupta period. He also assumed the title of Vikramaditiya.His reign was probably from 375CE-415CE. Chandragupta Vikramaditiya was a great warrior and carried out many conquests. He probably had heard of the Legendary Vikramaditiya who was supposed to have ruled from Ujjain and so he made Ujjain his second capital in addition to Pataliputra( Modern Patna).From this one can make an estimate of the size of the empire of Chandragupta Viramaditiya.
From the pillar at Mehrauli in the Kutab Minar Complex we learn of the conquests of Chandragupta II and now we can estimate that he ruled over a gigantic empire that even encompassed Afghanistan.
He was one of the greatest kings, but again he was not the real Vikramaditiya.Chandragupta Vikramaditiya was like celestial kings fond of the fine arts, which he encouraged during his reign. He is supposed to have 9 gems in his court , who represnted the epitome of creative arts. Two of them are well known and are the poet Kalidasa and astronomer Varahamihira. To an extent the title Vikramadity does fit Chandragupta II.
Historians have been searching for the real Vikramaditiya. A study of history reveals another king who assumed this title and he was Vikramaditiya VI( 1076-1126CE). He belonged to the Chalukya dynasty and had the longest reign in his dynasty. He was often referred to as Permadideva and Tribhuvanamalla, literally meaning Lord of the Three Worlds. He was like Chandragupta II also a patron of the fine arts as well as a great warrior. His court had a multitude of Sanskrit and Kannada Poets.
Many historians also refer to Chandragupta Mauraya as Vikramaditiya. He came to power after the exit of the Greeks. He also conquered the entire North india and is considered as Vikramaditya also.
One thing that needs to be mentioned is that no legend is without any basis. Obviously there was some one who was the real Vikramaditiya. We have a clue if a person goes to Ujjain. This city as we know is one of the oldest cities in India and mention of this is made in the Puranas. It is also one of the recognised holy cities in Hinduism.
A tourist guide will take you to many places and along the banks of the Narmada river will take you to the Sihasan ( Throne) of Vikramaditya. This is a very old and dilipadated structure and one can make out that it must be very ancient. The guide will explain that the original Vikramaditya sat on this throne, which is in reality a replica as the original throne on which Vikramaditya sat ascended to heaven. I have seen this throne, but I am not sure I believe the story of the throne ascending into the skies and going to heaven.
I do believe that there was a Vikramaditya who probaly ruled from Ujjain. A refence to the Puranas gives a date of 1st century BCE. this is clearly mentioned in the Bhavishiya Purana. This book also states he was the son of King Ghandharvasena. Vikramadatiya lived to the age of 87 and probably died in 15CE. He was a man of great valor and infinite wisdom and in all probability subsequent kings took him as a role model and adopted his name.
The only source of information of this legendary king is the Bhavishiya Purana. Historians have not been able to uncover any further facts about him, despite extensive research. The only 'evidence' is his throne at Ujjain.
The Original Vikramaditiya
The great king Vikramadity has a number of legends. Again most of them have come down by word of mouth since centuries. Many stories abound about this king and the most famous ones are his encounters with a Vetala, a supernatural creature. The first of these is a set of 25 tales called the Panchvimshati. There are another additional 32 tales called the Simhasana- Dwatrimshika. In both these tales the central character is Vikramaditiya. There is however a subtle difference between the tales.
The first set of tales relate how the Vetala poses many intricate puzzles and questions to Vikramaditiya, who solves all of them. In the second set of tales Raja Bhoj another mythical king from Hindu lore tries to ascend the throne of Vikramaditiya which has 32 steps, each set is adorned by the statue of a beautiful female. Raja Bhoj is stopped at each step by the female statues till he finally ascends to the throne of Vikramaditiya, after the female statues are impressed by his humilty. There are many versions of these tales and one cannot say which is authentic.
The King Vikramaditya is part of Hindu Psyche. As already brought out the only mention of him is in the Bhavishiya Purana, but that does not mean it's not true. The Bhavishiya Purana is true in many other prophsies as well, like forcasting the arrival of Muhammad. In all likelihood there was a Raja Vikramaditiya, who was greatly loved by his people. He was also a wise and just king. This reverence for Viramaditiya has found expression in the modern age with the Indian navy's most powerful warship, the aircraft carrier being named after Vikramaditiya.
The legend of Emperor Vikramaditiya is both interesting and thrilling. I have litle doubt that a Vikramaditiya did exist in flesh and blood and by all acounts must have been a great and just king. It's about time Hindus glorified their wonderful heritage, which in most ways is unmatched all over the world
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