Emperor or Empress was the title given to the kings and queens of India by the British rulers during the British rule in India from the year 1876 till 1948. In 1947, after India gained independence from the United Kingdom, for a transitional phase, the British monarch was known as the kings of the independent dominance of India and Pakistan. The term ‘Emperor’ is also used to refer to the Indian kings or monarchs who ruled during pre-British phase. The title was last used in the year 1857 for Bahadur Shah II, the last Mughal emperor until he was detained by the British.
India is regarded as one of the most prosperous countries across the world considering its culture, heritage and history; also its rulers and ruling clans. The country has seen and witnessed the reign of numerous rulers, dynasties, emperors and conquerors in the past several years. Many have sacrificed their happiness, wealth and lives for the sake of their people and countrymen. Those who lived for the country are regarded as the greatest emperor and yet remembered with a lot of respect and reverence. Let us look at the top 10 greatest emperors of Indian history who shaped this country and the road we walk on today.
1. Chandragupta Maurya
Founder of the Maurya dynasty in ancient India, Chandragupta Maurya reigned from 321 BCE–298 BCE. He was born to a very meek and humble family; was orphaned and deserted. Though raised as their son by another rural family; he was later chosen, trained and counseled by Chanakya who is also the creator of the world famous novel ‘Arthashastra’. After defeating the ‘Nanda Dynasty’, Chandragupta built ‘Maurya Dynasty’; one of the biggest and the most prominent dynasties ever in the Indian History.
Later life of Chandragupta Maurya:
As per the Jain sources, Chandragupta Maurya later renounced everything; his power, wealth, position and became a Jain monk. As claimed by the ancient Jain texts, Chandragupta Maurya followed Jainism in his life after renouncing everything and went away to Karnataka (known as Deccan region during that time) with the Jain monks. He ultimately performed Sallekhana – it’s the sacred custom followed by Jains where they welcome death peacefully by fasting. He is certainly one of the greatest emperors in Indian history and is also known to have triumphed over easternmost satrapies of Alexander the Great.
Popularly known as Akbar, his complete name was Abu’l-Fath Jalal-ud-din Muhammad Akbar. He was born on 15 October 1542 and lived till 27 October 1605. Akbar was the third emperor of Mughal dynasty and ruled in between 1556 to 1605. He succeeded his father, Humayun and under the guidance of Bairam Khan, the emperor expanded and consolidated Mughal domains in the sub-continent of India. Known as a liberal emperor, Akbar believed in cultural assimilation.
His influence and power widened over the entire India due to the strong dominance of political, military, economic and cultural influence of Mughal dynasty. Akbar also found a centralized administrative system throughout his empire in order to unify the huge Mughal state. He even adopted a policy of pacifying the conquered emperors through diplomacy and marriage. In order to establish peace and order in the country like India which has religious and cultural diversity across, he introduced several policies that won him accolades, respect and support of his non-Islamic pupils too.
Later life of Akbar:
Akbar’s reign significantly influenced the course of Indian history. During his reign of the emperor Akbar, the Mughal dynasty tripled in prosperity, wealth and size. He constructed a strong military system and effective social and political reforms. He was the first Mughal ruler to abolish the sectarian tax on non-Islamic subjects and appointed them to high military and civil posts which earned him much admiration, loyalty and the trust and loyalty of the native pupils. By participating in native festivals, getting Sanskrit literature translated and honoring the non-Muslims with equal esteem and respect, he laid the foundation of a multi-cultural empire. He passed away on 27 October 1605 and his dynasty was succeeded by his son Prince Salim, who later became famous as the emperor Jahangir.
Popularly known as the ‘Samraat Chakravartin’, Ashoka belonged to the Maurya Dynasty and ruled in between 268 BCE to 232 BCE. He was the grandson of the great Chndragupta Maurya, the founder of Maurya Dynasty. One of the greatest emperors of India, Ashoka expanded the Maurya dynasty and ruled over a kingdom that stretched from today’s Afghanistan in the west to present-day Bangladesh in the east. The reign also covered the entire India excluding the parts of today’s Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The dynasty’s capital city was Pataliputra (present-day Patna in Bihar) with regional/provincial capitals at Ujjain and Taxila.
Later life of Ashoka:
Several legends claim that Ashoka embraced Buddhism in about 263 BCE after he witnessed the mass fatality of people at the end of the Kalinga War. In quest and desire for conquest, Ashoka launched a vicious war against Kalinga (present day Odisha) in around 260 BCE. He conquered Kalinga though, he witnessed deaths of around 100,000 people and 150,000 deportations; the death toll later rose to more than 200,000 in numbers. He is globally recognized for his edicts, to have spread Buddhism in Sri Lanka and Central Asia and for instituting various monuments commemorating numerous significant sites based on the life of Gautama Buddha. The modern India’s emblem has also been extracted from the Lion Capital of the great Ashoka.
Shivaji Bhosale, the founder and the greatest emperor of the Maratha Empire was born to father Shahaji Bhonsle and mother jijabai. He was named Shivaji after the lord and a local deity Shivaji. Belonging to Bhosle Maratha clan, Shivaji constructed a self-regulating Maratha kingdom and made Raigad his capital. He was capped as ‘Chhatrapati’ for leading the fight against the Mughal Empire and Adilshahi sultanate of Bijapur.
Shivaji was a great warrior and is remembered as a hero who brought most of India together against the Mughals. Shivaji is also credited for establishing various warfare methods including the guerilla style using speed, geography and surprises during attacks against larger and more powerful enemies.
Later life of Shivaji
Shivaji fell ill with fever and dysentery and passed away in April 1680 at 52 years of age. Out of all surviving wives of Shivaji, Putalabai, the eldest and the childless wife committed sati by lying on his funeral pyre.
State of Maratha’s after Shivaji’s death
After Shivaji’s death, in the year 1681, the Mughals launched a nasty mission under Aurangzeb in the South for capturing provinces ruled by the Marathas, Golkonda and Bijapur. Though Aurangzeb was successful in eradicating the Sultanates but he could not suppress the Marathas. The era saw the torture, capture and execution of Sambhaji, the eldest son of Shivaji in 1689, along with strong resistance of the Marathas under the guidance of Sambhaji’s heir, Rajaram and later, Rajaram’s widow Tarabai. The conflict ended in the year 1707 with the defeat of the Mughals.
Kanishka, also called ‘Kanishka the Great’, was one of the greatest emperors of the Kushan Dynasty in between 127–150 CE. He was the descendant of Kujula Kadphises, the empire founder of Kushan dynasty. Kanishka is highly popular for his political, military and spiritual achievements. His territory stretched from Turfan at Tarim Basin to the then Pataliputra (modern Patna) on the Gangetic plain. With Puruṣapura in Gandhara as his main capital, he made Kapisa another major capital of his kingdom. Kanishka was a great supporter of Buddhism and is still today considered as one of the greatest Buddhist Kings of India. His patronage and devotion towards Buddhism played a major role in the developing the Silk Road and the spread of Mahayana Buddhism from state Gandhara throughout the Karakoram Range to China.
Later life of Kanishka
Kanishka belonged to Yuezhi or Rouzhi ethnicity, but went on adopting Buddhism later in his life. He died and was buried at Peshawar (Pakistan). King Kanishka was highly regarded and respected by everyone in his dynasty due to his deeds. He is yet remembered as kind and humble ruler who had self-righteousness and sense of equality for his subjects and was regarded as ‘THE KING OF KINGS’.
6. Prithviraj Chauhan
Prithvirāja III, popularly known as Rai Pithora or Prithviraj Chauhan was born on 1178 and lived till 1192 CE. He was the son of Someshwar Chauhan and one of the kings of the Chauhan (Chahamana) dynasty. He ruled Sapadalaksha, the long-established Chahamana territory (modern North-Western India) and controlled much of the modern Rajasthan, Delhi and Haryana and some parts of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. He is described as the great king and the ambassador of the Indian power during pre-Islamic era.
Early life of Prithviraj:
Prithviraj gained military successes against various neighboring Hindu kings (Nagarjuna, Chandela king Paramardi., Bhadanakas, Paramaras of Abu, Chaulukyas of Gujarat, Gahadavalas of Kannauj and various other rulers) in his early career. Out of all his victories, the most notable ones are against the Chandela king and Gahadavalas of Kannauj as he eloped with Samyukta, daughter of Jai Chandra Rathod of Kannauj.
Later life of Prithviraj:
Prithviraj is known to have revolted the early assaults by Muhammad of Ghor, a ruler of the Islamic Ghurid dynasty. Nonetheless, in 1192 CE, the Ghurids defeated Prithviraj at the Second battle of Tarain which also marks the Islamic victory of India. As stated by various medieval sources, Prithviraj was taken to Ajmer, where Muhammad decided to reinstate him as a Ghurid vassal (one who shows mutual commitment to the ruling king). However later, Prithviraj revolted against Muhammad, and was executed for disloyalty in 1192.
7. Ranjit Singh
Born in 1780, Ranjit Singh was the chief of the Sikh Empire, which ruled throughout the northwest in India during the early half of 19th century. He lost sight in his left eye after being caught by smallpox. At the age of 10, he battled for the first time alongside his father and fought several battles later in his life in order to drive out the Afghans from the Indian subcontinent. He received the title of ‘Maharaja of Punjab’ at the age of 21. Under his leadership, Ranjit Singh brought the entire central Punjab from the Jhelum to Sutlej under his control.
Later life of Ranjit Singh
In 1802, Maharaja Ranjit Singh married a Muslim nautch girl Moran Sarkar and his other non-Sikh activities upset traditional Sikhs and the Nihangs. Ranjit Singh was made to apologize for his mistakes when he visited Amritsar. Akali Phula Singh, the Nihangs leader asked the close by Sikh pilgrims if they accepted Ranjit Singh’s apology and the pilgrims replied with Sat Sri Akal and thus Ranjit Singh was forgiven and released. Ranjit Singh suffered from various health problems during 1830s and was an alcoholic too. Due to failing liver and a stroke, he passed away while sleeping on 27 June 1839.
Ranjit Singh, during his rule introduced modernization, reforms and investment into general prosperity and infrastructure. His government and Khalsa army included Hindus, Sikhs, Europeans and Muslims.
Samudragupta, after succeeding his father Chandragupta-I became the second monarch of the majestic Gupta Dynasty. He was not only a determined conqueror and a great warrior; but was also an avid fan of various arts and culture, especially poetry and music. Samudragupta is recognized as a generous ruler as he implemented different policies for the southern and the northern parts of India; which is why he is considered as the greatest emperor of the Gupta Empire.
He was also termed as the ‘Indian Napoleon’ by various western scholars majorly because of his several military victories to expand his empire and thus, the Gupta dynasty became one of the greatest dynasties during its time. The details of Samudragupta’s widespread reign and different conquests can still be found imprinted on rock edicts and gold coins.
Samudragupta was born in 335 AD, to father Chandragupta I, the founder of the Gupta Empire and mother Kumaradevi, the Licchavi princess. Samudragupta traveled along the entire Bay of Bengal, winning over 12 princes across the districts of Kancheepuram, Krishna, Nellore, Vishakhapatnam, Ganjam, Godavari and coastal Odisha. Through inventions and research in literature, art, science, astronomy, religion and dialectic aspects of the Hindu culture, he played a great role in expanding the Gupta Empire, which is recognized as the ‘Golden Age of India’.
Later life of Samudragupta
Samudragupta ruled the Gupta Empire till he passed away in 380 AD. Chandragupta II, also called Vikramaditya succeeded the throne under whose rule the Gupta Dynasty continued to flourish and prosper.
9. Chandragupta I:
Chandragupta I was born in 320 AD and was the son of Ghatotkacha Gupta and the grandson of Sri Gupta. While his predecessors were known as Maharaja, Chandragupta-I won the title of Maharajadhiraj (King of all kings) because of his greatness and supreme power that influenced many during his reign. He extended the prestige and power of the Dynasty to a vast extent through conquests and matrimonial alliance. He married the Lichchavi Princess, Kumaradevi which earned him much power and recognition. His Dynasty included Oudh, Tirhut, modern Bihar, Allahabad, and Magadha. Kumaradevi was the foremost Queen of India to be featured on a coin.
Chandragupta I was a very influential emperor and extended his kingdom beyond boundaries. His victories added various other areas and states within the province of Gupta Dynasty. It is normally believed that the Gupta Dynasty in the history of Indian civilization began during the period of Chandragupta I.
He passed away in 335AD and was succeeded by his son Samudragupta, under whose tenet the Gupta Dynasty continued to thrive and grow.
10. Maharana Pratap
Pratap Singh, popularly known as Maharana Pratap was born on 9 May 1540 and was a Rajput king of Mewar a province in modern Rajasthan. Maharana Pratap is titled as a great warrior and the Hero of Rajasthan due to his efforts to successfully restrain Akbar to triumph over his area. He is respected as a brave and courageous warrior who declined to surrender to the Mughal incursion.
In 1568, the Mughals siege Chittorgarh and triumphed over the prolific eastern parts of Mewar. The then Mughal king Akbar wanted to secure a steady path to Gujarat via Mewar; in 1572, when Pratap Singh became the king (Rana), Akbar sent different diplomats pleading the Rana to serve Akbar as a vassal like several other Rajput leaders in Rajasthan.
When Maharana Pratap refused to surrender to Akbar, the Battle of Haldighati was launched on 18 June 1576 between Akbar’s forces led by Man Singh I and Maharana Pratap. The Mughal won the war and imposed large casualties over the Mewaris, however failed to arrest Pratap, as he escaped.
Later life of Maharana Pratap:
Mughals relaxed the pressure on Mewar after 1579 because of the rebellions in Bihar and Bengal. In 1585, Akbar shifted to Lahore and stayed there for the next 12 years observing the state of affairs in the north-west and no Mughal team came to Mewar throughout this era. Pratap, thus gained authority of Western Mewar including Udaipur, Kumbhalgarh and Gogunda. He also constructed a novel capital, Chavand, (near present day Dungarpur)
As per reports, Maharana Pratap passed away on 19 January 1597 as he succumbed to injuries sustained at Chavand in a hunting accident. His throne was succeeded by Amar Singh I, his eldest son.
India has been the destination of many emperors and several kingdoms have prospered over here and some are still been recognized with great regards. Some emperors and Empires changed the entire history and picture of India and laid path for people today. It becomes responsibility of the modern politicians and the general public today to preserve the rich cultural heritage and history of India and set examples for other countries.