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Subjects /Indian History / Ancient History / Gupta Empire (300 AD – 550 AD)

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Rise and Growth of Gupta Empire
08 Jan 2021

Gupta Empire was founded by Sri Gupta in 300AD.

  • Guptas were from ‘Vaishya’ caste; it signifies that caste system was not very rigid.
  • Prayag was the capital for Guptas.
  • Gupta empire is also named as the Golden Age.

Chandra Gupta I

  • In 320 AD, Chandra Gupta I became the first Gupta ruler with the title of Maharajadhiraja. His father was Ghatotkacha, son of Sri Gupta but there is no information available about the Ghatotkacha and his rule.
  • To mark his coronation, he started a new calendar for tracing of time from 320 AD – “Gupta Era”.
  • It was adopted by Guptas but after the end of Gupta rule no one followed this calendar.
  • Chandra Gupta I married Lichhavi princess Kumaradevi.
  • Mehrauli Iron Pillar mentions his extensive conquests.

Samudragupta (330AD – 380AD)

  • After Chandragupta I, Samudragupta became the king.
  • From his capital at Prayag, he invaded 12 kingdoms of South India, all of them were defeated and were returned back to their rulers on the condition that they will give tribute every year. It was a form of indirect control.
  • For the first time in India, Samudragupta established ‘Marital relations’.
  • Besides 12 south India kingdoms, 9 north Indian kingdoms (called ‘Aryavarta’) were also defeated by Samudragupta and were annexed, as direct control over them was easy.
  • Beside these, 14 border kingdoms of Northwest India were also defeated by Samudragupta, these Kingdoms were returned on the condition of yearly tribute.
  • All military conquest of Samudragupta are clearly mentioned in an inscription written on a pillar found at Prayag (present Prayagraj).
    • Old name: Prayagprasasti
    • Present Name: Allahabad pillar.
    • Written by his court poet ‘Harisena’ in Sanskrit.
  • Coins under Samundragupta:
    • Samudragupta coin is called as “Lyrist coin”
    • He is depicted on his coin as playing Veena (Lute).

Chandragupta II

  • After Samudragupta, Chandragupta II became the ruler.
  • He was also known as ‘Chandragupta Vikramaditya’.
    • Mehrauli Iron Pillar in Delhi is identified with Chandragupta II.
    • It mention about his victory over the Valhikas(identified with Bactria) and Vanga(Bengal).
  • Kalidas’s work Raghuvamasa also identifies Chandragupta II.
  • Fa-Hien, a Chinese pilgrim, visited India during this period in search of Buddhist texts. He stayed for 9 years in India out of which 6 years alone in the Gupta period. He gave a vivid description of the places he visited and certain social and administrative aspects related to them.
  • A very important development of this time was the development of Sanskrit.

Kumara Gupta

After Chandra Gupta II, next ruler was ‘Kumar Gupta’.

Some stone inscriptions that identified Kumar Gupta are:

  • The Damodarpur Copper Plate inscriptions mentions him as Maharajadhiraja.
  • The Karamdanda inscription.

Sakand Gupta

During the reign of Sakand Gupta, tribal invasion from central Asia by ‘Huns’ happened.

  •  Toraman and Mihirkula, kings of Hunas, invaded India.
  • This invasion was one of the reasons for the downfall of Guptas.

Administration under the Guptas

  • The King was the central figure of the administration.
    • He was given the divine status.
    • He was given many titles like, Paramabhattaraka, Parama-daivata, Chakravartin, Parameshwara and Samrat.
    • The king was assisted by a council of chief ministers, senapati and other important officials.
  • The Minister’s office was hereditary. Though the supreme judicial powers were vested in the King, he was assisted by the Mahanandanayaka i.e. the chief Justice.
  • In villages, this work was under Uparikas and in districts to the Vishayapatis.
  • The Army under the Guptas must have been big.
    • Some officials were Mahabaladhikrita, Narapati, Pilupati(head of elephants).
  • Land Revenue was the main source of the state’s income besides fines.
    • It was fixes at one-sixth of the produce.
    • The organizers of traders had to pay a certain commercial tax called Sulka.
  • The whole empire was divided into Desas or Rashtras or Bhuktis. Bhuktis were governed by Uparikas.
  • The Bhuktis were futher divided into districts or Vishayas under ad official called Ayuktaka or Vishyapati.
  • The King maintained close contact with provincial administration through a class of officials called Kumaramatyas and Ayujktas.
  • The lowest unit of administration was the village and it had a headman called Gramapati.

The Economy under the Guptas

The major part of the revenue of the state came from agriculture though there were other occupations. Some major terms used were:

  • Kshetra - the land under cultivation
  • Khila or Aprahata -the land not under cultivation.
  • Terms used for a measure of land were - Nivartana, Kulyavapa, Dronavapa.
  • Ghati-yantra mechanism was used for irrigation.
  • Terms for ordinary cultivators - Krishibala , Karshaka, or Kinass
  • For facilitating craftsmen and traders, the organization was called Sreni.
  • Two types of representatives of merchants - the Nagarasresthi, the Sarthavaha

Musical Instruments during Gupta period

Apart from Veena, other musical instruments known at that period were:

  • Flute - its evidence came from a painting on Ajanta and Ellora caves, in which a monkey was seen playing Flute.
  • Drum – Women were also seen playing drum in Ajanta and Ellora caves paintings
  • Cynbals – women playing cynbals in Ajanta and Ellora paintings and Bagh paintings.

Instruments not known were:

  • Sitar – invented later by Amir Khusrau. Tambura and Tabla.

Development of Sanskrit

  • Earlier Sanskrit was called the Archaic Sanskrit (at Vedic times)
  • After development in Sanskrit over the years it was called classical Sanskrit.
  • Kalidasa: Person that contributed most in the development of Sanskrit.
    • Probably he was one of the Navratna of the court of Chandragupta II.
    • Kalidasa, was a worshipper of Lord Shiva.
    • Writings of Kalidasa includes Meghadoot, RituSamharam, Kumar Sambhavam
    • Meghadoot- love poems, 100 stanzas.
      • These poems were dedicated to his beloved wife, he sent to her through clouds as messengers.
      • Because in Meghdoot, there is a reference to Vidisha, he was probably from Madhya Pradesh.
    • RituSamharam (Season book)
      • In Hinduism there are 6 seasons; this book describes Man-Nature relationship and changes in Man according to Nature.
    • Kumar Sambhavam (book)
      • He dedicated this book to wargod, Kartikeya, the son of Shiva and Parvati.
      • In south Kartikeya was called Murugan.
      • This book contained – marriage of Shiva and Parvati, and birth of Kumar God.
      • And Kumar killed a demon called Taraka, who was keeping captives of all gods.
    • MalvikaAgnimitra:
      • Malvika was a great dancer and Agnimitra was a King. This book is a love story between the two.
    • Abhigyan Shakuntalam – Drama or Play by Kalidasa.
      • In this play, the story of King Dushyant and Princess ‘Shakuntala’.
  • Shudraka: He was a scholar and contemporary to Guptas.
  • He wrote play ‘Mrichakatikam’ (Little Clay Court).
    • A love story of Charudutta and Vasant Sena. She was a daughter of a courtesan.
  • Other popular books were:
  • Kamasutra by Vatsyayana Mallanaga.
  • Amarkosa – Sanskrit dictionary by Amarsimha.

Features of Sanskrit:

  • Ornate, became complex and very few can understand.
  • During Gupta period the literature was centered around the urban lifestyle and the sufferings of common masses were ignored.
  • During this phase the linguistic gap between the richer and poor widens.
  • In literature, Man and nature relation was given prominent place.

Science and technology

 Many advancements were seen in this field during Guptas period.

  • Aryabhatta – native of Pataliputra, explains ‘Eclipse’. Earlier it was believed, eclipse was because of the two demons – Rahu and Ketu.
    • He also found the value of ‘π’.
    • He was the first to declare that the earth was spherical in shape and it rotates on its own axis.
  • Varahmihira - He wrote Pancha Sidhantika (five astronomical systems), Brihadsamhita and Brihadjataka.
  • Vagbhata : was a physician and wrote ashtangsamgraha (8 branches of medicine).

Did You Know

  • Samudragupta was also called as "Indian Napolean", this title was given to him by an English historian Vincent Smith.
  • The 12 kingdoms won by Samudragupta were in South India and so called ‘Dakshinpatha’.
  • Fa-Hein referred to Gangetic valley as ‘the land of Brahmanism’.