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DHRUVA DEVI (FOURTH CENTURY)


Dhruva Devi was a queen of the Gupta dynasty. She reigned as the wife of Chandra Gupta II (380–415 AD) and mother of Kumara Gupta (415–455 AD). Previously she had been married to Chandra Gupta’s brother Rama Gupta. She was a great patron of poets and gave shelter to many scholars in the Gupta court.

The contemporary playwright Vishakhadutta recorded her story in his plays, Devichandraguptam, Shringarprakash and Natyadarpan. The Hindi writer Jai Shankar Prasad in his 1932 play Dhruvswamini, has portrayed Dhruva Devi as a powerful woman who questioned the very basics and provenance of marriage as well as its religious significance.

Famed for her beauty and intellect, she was first married to the weak and cowardly son of Samudra Gupta, Rama Gupta. Some time later the mighty Shaka demanded of the Guptas that they hand over Dhruva Devi as a condition for peace. Rama Gupta, reluctant to go to war, decided to give in to the threat and send the queen to the enemy. Chandra Gupta, the king’s younger brother, tried to dissuade him, but without success, so Chandra Gupta impersonated Dhruva Devi and killed the Shaka king. Dhruva Devi then repudiated Rama Gupta in public. A learned Sanskrit scholar, she was able to cite scriptural authority to show that by surrendering her to the Shakas, Rama Gupta had lost his moral right over her and their marriage had no meaning. Kautilya Chanakya in his treatise on statecraft, Arthasastra, had clearly proclaimed a woman’s right to marry again in specific conditions: ‘A woman has the right to denounce a husband who is mean, has left for an unknown destination, has committed a crime against the ruler, endangers the life of his wife or is impotent.’ According to the Pauranic rishi Parashar, a woman may remarry in five conditions, ‘when her husband is lost, dead, departed for an unknown destination, impotent, or defiled.’ Dhruva Devi, aware of the religious sanctions for her action, left Rama Gupta and married his brother Chandra Gupta instead.

Chandra Gupta took the title of Vikramaditya. His reign is renowned for the cultural and intellectual achievements of his people. Historical evidence exists, in the form of coins inscribed with the word ‘Rupkriti’, that may refer to the Dhruva Devi-Chandra Gupta incident. A seal found at Vaishali also commemorates her. Her example must have inspired the career as a peacemaker of her daughter, Prabhavati Gupta (q.v.). She also had two sons, Kumara Gupta and Govinda Gupta.
 
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