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PRABHAVATI DEVI (5th century)

Prabhavati, daughter of Dhruva Devi (q.v.), was one of the most important queens of ancient India, ruling the Deccan for about 13 years. She was an expert diplomat. Her career as a mediator started young; when the Gupta empire came under threat from the Vakatakas in the fourth century, her father, King Chandra Gupta II, deflected the danger by proposing her marriage to the Vakataka prince Rudrasena II. The proposal was accepted and the alliance solemnised in Pataliputra in the year 380.

Prabhavati was the chief queen of King Rudrasena II and had tremendous influence over him. It was probably she who led him to give up his ancestral religion, Shaivism, and become a Vaishnava. Rudrasena had hardly ruled for five years when he died, leaving his two minor sons Divakarasena and Damodarasena, so Prabhavati ruled the kingdom as regent on behalf of the former. Her royal father assured Prabhavati of military assistance and sent able officers to help her in state administration, and this support ensured that others of the Vakataka family refrained from challenging her—for Vindhyashakti II of the Vasim branch of the family, being the eldest male, had a more orthodox claim to regency.

It was during Prabhavati’s regency that Chandra Gupta conquered Gujarat and Kathiawar but there is no definite proof that she gave her father any military help. Chandra Gupta moreover took keen interest in the education of his grandsons and appointed the poet Kalidasa to be their tutor. It is said that Kalidasa corrected the draft of Sethubandhan written by Pravarasena, as the younger prince became known. Prabhavati issued a proclamation on her visit to a temple of the god Ramagiriswamin, who is identified as the deity of Ramtek near Nagpur. In it she is described as a devotee of Lord Vishnu and is credited with the lineage and the family designation of her father. Kalidas may have accompanied her on this journey and been impressed with the natural beauty of Ramtek, for the place features largely in his famous epic poem Meghadutam.

In the thirteenth year of her regency Prabhavati witnessed a great tragedy, the death of Divakarasena, and she had to continue her regency for another five to six years before her younger son came of age. Her younger son issued an order concerned with her welfare in his nineteenth ruling year, which claims that she lived for more than 100 years, but her death cannot have taken place much before 455 when her brother Kumara Gupta died. Following the family tradition, Prabhavati married her grandson Narendrasena to the Kadamba princess Ajitabhattarika, thus ending the enmity between the Kadambas and the Vakatakas.

Prabhavati was undoubtedly proud of her Gupta lineage and used the cognomen of her father’s family even after her marriage. The copper plates of Poona and Rithapur issued by her begin with the genealogy of her father and not of her husband, as was the usual practice.
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