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Gupta Empire

  • The rise of the Guptas was due to many advantages enjoyed by them;
  • Centre of their operations lay in the fertile land of Madhyadesa covering Bihar
    and Uttar Pradesh.
  • They could exploit the iron ores of Central India and South Bihar.
  • They took advantage of their proximity of the areas of north India which carried
    on a prosperous silk trade with the Byzantine empire.
  • Being feudatories of the Kushanas at one time, they learnt from the Kushanas,
    the use of Saddle, reins etc. these gave them mobility and made them excellent horsemen. The basic strength of the Guptas law in the use of horses.
  • They had excellent leaders like Chandragupta I, Samudrgupata, Chandragupta
  • They skillfully used matrimonial alliances to consolidate their power.


  • The Gupta dynasty was founded by Srigupta in the 3rd century AD. He used the title of Maharaja.
  • Gatotkacha Gupta:
  • He succeeded Srigupta. He also took the title of Maharaja.

Chandragupta-I (319-334 AD):

  • He is the first important king of the Gupta dynasty and took the title of Maharajadhiraja. He married a Lichchhavi princess from Nepal called Kumaradevi and issued Kumaradevi type of coins. The Guptas were possibly vaishyas, and hence married a kshatriya princess and started the Gupta era in 319-320 AD.

Samudragupta (335-380 AD):

  • Samudragupta ascended the throne after subduing Kachagupta who called himself as Sarvarajochchetta on his coins. The achievements of Samudragupta are known from Allahabad pillar inscription of Samudragupta authored by Harisena engraved on the some pillar which carries the inscription of Ashoka. In this pillar inscription Samudragupta called himself as Lichchhavi—dauhitra. His military exploits according to Allahabad pillar inscription include,

Samudragupta first defeated the nine rulers of Aryavartha in the region of Ganga‑Yamuna doab and annexed these kingdoms to his empire.

  • Samudragupta then defeated the five frontier states in Bengal, Assam, Nepal and
    also defeated the republican states in Punjab.
  • Samudragupta then brought under control the Atavika rajyas which are the forest
    kingdoms situated in the Vindhya region.
  • Samudragupta then defeated the Sakas and the Kushanas. Meghavarman, the
    ruler of Sri Lanka sought permission from Samudragupta to built a Buddhist temple at Gaya. On the basis of his conquests Samudragupta called himself as Parakramana and is also referred to as the Napoleon of India. Samudragupta also performed on Asvamedha sacrifice and issued coins bearing the horse of Ashvamedha sacrifice. He is mentioned as a great musician and issued coins of vena type. He is also mentioned as Kaviraja. Samudragupta was a devotee of Vishnu.

Chandragupta-II (380-414 AD):[GUPTA PERIOD]

  • Chandragupta-II was a master strategist. He married Kuberanaga, a princess of Nagas of the Ganga-Yamuna doab and Prabhavatigupta was his daughter from Kuberanaga. This made the Nagas the allies of the gupta in their neighbourhood. The main achievement of Chandragupta II was to destroy the power of the Shakas. This he did by giving his daughter Prabhavatigupta in marriage to the Vakataka crown-prince Rudrasena II, and by allying with the Vakatakas he destroyed the last Shaka ruler Rudrasimha III. The victory over the Shakas gave Chandragupta II control over Malwa and Gujarat with access to the western sea coast famous for trade and Commerce. This contributed to the prosperity of Malwa and its chief city Ujjain which seems to have been made the second capital by Chandragupta II. Prabhavatigupta who later became the virtual ruler of Vakatakas after the death of her husband also seemed to have promoted the interests of her Chandragupta II. Chandragupta II is equated with Chandra, the king mentioned in Mehrauli iron pillar inscription who is said to have ruled area between Bengal and north- western India. Chandragupta II adopted the title of Vikramaditya, which had first been used by an Ujjain ruler in 57 BC as a mark of victory over the Shaka kshatrapas of western India. The court of Chandragupta II at Ujjain was adorned by numerous scholars including Kalidas and Amarashinha. It was in Chandragupta’s time that the Chinese pilgrim Fa-hsien visited India and wrote an elaborate account of the life of its people.

Kumaragupta-I (414-455 AD):

  • Most of his reign was peaceful and prosperous but towards the end of his reign the Hunas invaded India from the north-west. But his son Skandagupta managed to defeat the Hunas as is mentioned in Bhitari inscription and Junagarh inscription of Skandagupta. Kumaragupta I is said to have founded Nalanda University.

Skandagupta (455-467 AD):

  • He resisted the onslaught of the Hunas. He also repaired the Junagarh lake in Gujarat. But successors of Skandagutpa were weak and incompetent and led to the dissolution of the Gupta Empire. Vishnugutpa was the last gupta emperor.
  • The reasons for the fall of the Gupta empire are:
    • The fall of the Gupta empire was partly due to Huna invasion. The Hunas excelled in horsemanship and archery and possibly used stirrups made up of metal.
    • The weak successors of Skandagupta could not cope up with the Huna invaders.
    • The Huna occupation of Malwa and a good portion of central India had drastically reduced the extent of the Gupta empire.
    • The rise of feudatories who proclaimed independence such as the Maukharis of Kannauj and later Gupta of Magadha further undermined the Gupta empire.
    • The loss of western India must have deprived the Guptas of rich revenues from trade and commerce and crippled them economically.
    • The growing practice of land grants for religious and other purposes must have reduced their revenues still further making it difficult for the Gupta to maintain a large professional army.

    Guptas — Administrative System

    • King: The Gupta kings adopted pompous titles such as maharajadhiraja, parameshvara and paramabhattaraka which signify that they ruled over lesser kings in their empire. Kingship was hereditary. The throne did not always go to the eldest son. The brahmanas compared the king to different Gods. The king was looked upon as Vishnu, the protector and preserver. The goddess Lakshmi is represented invariably on the Gupta coins as the wife of Vishnu.
    • Army: The king maintained a standing army which was supplemented by the forces occasionally supplied by the feudatories. Horse chariots receded into the background and cavalry came to the forefront. Horse archery became prominent in military tactics.
    • Revenue: In the gupta period, land taxes increased in number, and those on trade and commerce decreased. Land tax was one-fourth to one-sixth of the produce. In addition to this, whenever the royal army passed through the countryside the local people had to feed it. In Central and Western India, the villagers were also subjected to forced labour called Vishti for serving the royal army and officials.
    • Judiciary: The judicial system was far more developed under the Guptas than in earlier times. Several law books were compiled in this period. For the first time civil and criminal laws were clearly demarcated. Like earlier times, many laws continued to be based on differences in Varnas. The guilds of artisans, merchants and others were governed by their own laws.
    • Bureaucracy: The Gupta bureaucracy was not as elaborate as that of the Mauryas. The most important officers in the Gupta empire were the Kumaramatyas who were appointed by the king in home provinces and possibly paid in cash. Since the Guptas were Vaishyas, recruitment was not confined to the upper varnas only. But several offices came to be combined in the hands of the same person, and posts became hereditary. This weakened the royal control. Higher state officials were paid in cash but some may have been remunerated by land grants.
    • Provincial and Local Administration: The empire was divided into divisions called bhuktis, and each bhukti was placed under the charge of an uparika. The bhukti’s were divided into districts called Vishayas, which were placed under the charge of Vishyayapati. In eastern India, the Vishayas were divided into vithis, which again wee divided into villages. The village headman became more important in Gupta times. He managed the village affairs with the assistance of elders. No land transactions could be effected without their consent.
    • Urban Administration: Organised professional bodies were given considerable share in urban administration. The seals from Vaishali show that artisans, merchants and scribes served on the same corporate body, and conducted the affairs of the towns. The administrative board of the district of Kaotivarsha in north Bengal (Bangladesh) included his chief merchant, the chief trader and the chief artisan. Their consent to land transactions was considered necessary. Artisans and bankers were organised into their own separate guilds.
    • Feudal Nature: The major part of the Gupta empire was held by feudatory chiefs who had three obligations. They offered homage to the sovereign by personal attendants at his court, paid tribute to him and presented to him daughters in marriage. In return for these the feudatories obtained charters for ruling in the areas. The charters were marked with the royal Garuda seal. The Guptas also granted fiscal and administrative concessions to priests and administrators. This practice which was started in the Deccan by the Satavahanas, became a regular affair in the Gupta times, particularly in Madhya Pradesh. Religious functionaries were granted land, free of tax for ever, and they were authorised to collect from the peasants all the taxes which could otherwise have gone to/ the emperor. The villages granted to the beneficiaries could not be entered by royal agents, retainers etc. The beneficiaries were also empowered to punish the criminals.    GUPTA PERIOD

    Since much of the imperial administration was managed by feudatories and beneficiaries, the gupta rulers did not require as many officials as the

    • Mauryas did. Also the Gupta State unlike the Maurya state did not regulate economic activities on any big scale.

    Agrarian Conditions

    • Expansion of agriculture took place on the largest scale in the Gupta period.
    • The state was the exclusive owner of land. Land grants undoubtedly indicate that the king has the supreme ownership of land, otherwise he could not transfer comprehensive rights to the donee. So, though the land was for all intents and purposes that of the peasants, the king on behalf of the state claimed its theoretical ownership.
    • Land could be classified into cultivable land (kshetra), waste land (khila), forest land (aprahat), habitable land (vasti) and pasture land (gapatha sarah).
    • We have references in copper plates to land transactions. During the purchase of a piece of land, certain procedures were followed. In the first instance, the application was sent to the headquarters of the district in whose jurisdiction the land was situated, i.e. the ‘pustapala’. The leading men of the nearest village were informed possibly to enable them to offer their objections, if any. If there is no objection and after receiving the concurrence of the Vishayapati (district-head), the Pustapal’s department sells the land.
    • Brahmins were conferred agrahara grants. The Nalanda and Gaya grants of Samudragupta are the earliest records that throw light on the agrahara grants. They underlined the privileged position of the brahmanas.
    • Land grants were made even independently to secular parties. Since they were lasting material such as copper, stone etc.

    Trade  [GUPTA PERIOD]

    • Fa-Hsien who visited Magadha during the Gupta empire was full of praise for the
      cities of Magadha and it’s rich people who supported Buddhism and gave charities.
    • In ancient India, Guptas issued the largest number of gold coins which were
      called ‘dinaras’ in their inscriptions.
    • After the conquest of Gujarat, the Guptas issued a good number of silver coins
      mainly for local exchange.
    • In contrast to those of the Kushanas, the Gupta copper coins are very few. This
      would suggest that the use of money did not touch the common people so much as it did under the Kushanas.
    • Compared to the earlier period we notice a decline in long — distance trade. Till
      550 AD India carried on some trade with the Eastern Roman empire (Byzantine empire) to which it exported silk. Around 550 AD the people of the Eastern Roman empire learnt from the Chinese the art of growing silk, which adversely affected the export trade of India.
    • Trade with China and South-East Asia was through barter exchange. Burma was called as Swarnabhumi and Indonesia as Swarnadwipa.  GUPTA PERIOD
    • Internal trade declined because of rise of feudal conditions and lack of currency of common use. It had it’s effect on decline of urban centres on a large scale.

    Social Conditions  [GUPTA PERIOD]

    • The supremacy of the brahmanas continued into the Gupta times on account of the land grants to the brahmanas. The brahmanas accumulated wealth and claimed many privileges which are listed in the Narada Smriti, a law book of the 5th century AD.
    • The Guptas were originally vaishyas but came to be looked upon as Kshatriyas by the Brahmanas. The brahmanas presented the Gupta kings as possessing the attributes of Gods. The Guptas in turn became great supporters of brahmanas.
    • Vaishyas were involved in agriculture, industry and trade. They were known variously as vanik, sresti, sarthavaha.
    • The position of Sudras improved in the Gupta period because of a change in the economic status of the Sudras. From the seventh century onwards they were mainly represented as agriculturists; in the earlier period they always appeared as servants, slaves and agricultural labourers. The sudras were now permitted to listen to the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the Puranas. They could also worship a new god called Krishna and were also allowed to perform certain domestic rites.
    • During the Gupta period, the untouchables increased in number, especially the Chandalas. They appeared in society as early as the fifth century BC, but by the 5th century AD their number had become so enormous and their disabilities so glaring that it attracted the attention of the Chinese pilgrim Fa-hsien. He informs that the Chandalas lived outside the village and dealt in meat and flesh. Whenever they entered the town the upper caste people kept themselves at a distance from them because the road was supposed to have been polluted by them.

    Kayasthas appeared as an important section of society as a class, not a caste. They are mentioned as a class in Yajnavalkya Smriti and Damodarpur

    • copper plate inscription.
    • The castes proliferated into numerous sub-castes as a result of assimilation of large number of foreigners into the Indian society and also because of the absorption of many tribal people into brahmanical society through the process of land grants.
    • In the Gupta period, like the shudras, women were also allowed to listen to the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the Puranas, and advised to worship Krishna.
    • The members of higher varnas came to acquire more and more land which made them more polygamous and more property-minded. In a patriarchal set up they began to treat women as items of property, so much so that a woman was expected to follow her husband, to the next world. The first example of the immolation of widow after the death of her husband appears in Gupta times in 510 AD in Eran (Airana) inscription of Bhanugupta.

    Art and Architecture  [GUPTA PERIOD]


    • The Gupta period witnessed the evolution of the Nagara and Dravida styles. The Gupta art ushers in the history of Indian architecture a formative and creative age with unlimited scope for future development and elaboration.
    • Rock-cut caves
      • The rock-cut caves continue the old forms to a large extent, but posses
        striking novelty by brining about extensive changes in the ornamentation of the façade and in the designs of the pillars in the interior.
      • The most notable groups of rock-cut caves are found at Ajanta and Ellora (Maharashtra) and Bagh (M.P.). The Udaygiri caves (Orissa) are also of this type.
    • Structural temples: The following five groups may be distinguished among the structural temples:
      • flat-roofed square temple    GUPTA PERIOD
      • flat-roofed square temple with a second stored (Vimana) above
      • square temple with a curvilinear tower (Sikhara) above
      • rectangular temple
      • circular temple
    • The second group of temples shows many of the characteristic features of the Dravida The importance of the third group lies in the innovation of a
      ‘Sikhara’ that caps the sanctum sanctorium, the main feature of the Nagara style.
    • Stupas: Stupas were also built in large numbers, but the best are found at Sarnath (U.P.), Ratnagiri (Orissa) and Mirpur Khan (Sind).
    • Sculpture
      • Stone Sculpture:
      • A good specimen is the well-known erect Buddha from Sarnath.
      • Of the brahmanical images perhaps the most immediately impressive is the Great Boar (varaha) at the entrance of a cave at. Udayagiri.
      • Metal statues: The art of casting statues on a large-scale by the cire-process was practised by Guptas craftsmen with conspicuous success.
        • A copper image of the Buddha, about eighteen feet high at Nalanda in Bihar
        • Sultanganj Buddha of seven-and-half feet.


        • The art of painting seems to have been more in general practice and popular demand in the Gupta period than the art of stone sculpture.
        • Remains of paintings of this period are found at Ajanta, Bagh, Badani and other places.
        • From the point of technique, the surface of thee paintings was perhaps done in a very simple way. In fact the Mural paintings of Ajanta are not true frescoes, for a fresco is painted while the plaster is still damp and the murals of Ajanta were made after it had set.
        • However, the art of Ajanta and Bagh shows the Madhyadesa school of painting at it’s best.

        Terracotta’s and Pottery

        • Clay figurines were used both for religious and secular purposes. We have figurines of Vishnu, Kartikeya, Surya, Durga, Kubera, Nagas etc.
        • Gupta pottery remains found at Ahichchhatra, Rajgath, Hastinapur and Bashar afford an outstanding proof of the excellence of pottery. The most distinctive class of pottery of this period is the ‘red ware’.


        • Vishnu was a minor god in the Early Vedic period. He was worshipped as one of the forms of the Sun in the Rig Veda.
        • Vishnu became a major god in the Later Vedic period, along with Brahma and Shiva.
        • By the 2nd century BC Vishnu was merged with a god called narayana, and came to be known as Narayana-Vishnu. Originally Narayana was a non-vedic tribal god called bhagavat, and his worshippers were called bhagavatas.
        • Chandogya Upanishad contains the earliest reference to Lord Krishna and gives evidence of his historicity. Chandogya Upanishad says that Krishna was on of Devaki and disciple of Ghora Angiresa.
        • The Mahabharata equates Krishna with Vishnu. So by 200 BC the followers of Vishnu, naryana and Krishna are merged into one. This resulted in the creation of Bhagavatism or Vaishnavism.  GUPTA PERIOD
        • Bhagayatism was marked by Bhakti and Ahimsa. The non-killing of animals suited the agricultural society. People took to vegetarianism. It also appealed to foreigners as it evident from the conversion of Heliodorus and also the patronised Vaishnavism. Also artisans and merchants belonging to Vaishyas and Sudras also sought refuge in it.
        • Krishna taught in the Bhagvad Gita that even women, Vaishyas and Sudras could seek refuge in him. The Bhagvad Gita dealt with Vaishpava teachings; so did the Vishnu Purana and also to some extent with the Vishnu Smriti.
        • Bhagavatism or Vaishnavism overshadowed Mahayana Buddhism by Gupta times. It preached the doctrine of incarnation, or avatara. History was presented as a cycle of ten incarnations of Vishnu who appeared whenever the social order faced crisis to save it. Gupta kings as Samudragupta and Chandragupta II patronised Vaishnavism.
        • By the 6th century AD Vishnu became a member of the trinity of Gods along with Shiva and Brahma. The Bhagavata Purana was written to popularise the virtues of worshiping him. Several religious recitations including the Vishnusahasranama were composed for the benefit of the Vishnu worshippers.
        • Vaishnavism continued to remain popular in the post-gupta period. In South India, it was made popular by saint poets known as Alwars who composed many devotional songs.
        • Garuda was used as the royal emblem of the Guptas.


        • The word ‘Siva’ means auspicious.
        • There is no reference to Shiva in the Rig Veda.
        • Rudra is mentioned as the god of destruction in the later Vedic age.
        • The earliest reference to Shiva is found in the Svetasvatara Upanishad. From then onwards, Rudra came to be equated with Shiva.
        • Megasthenes mentions that the Surasenis of Mathura were worshippers of Dionysus (Shiva).
        • In the post-Mauryan period Shiva became a popular god. Coins of Shaka ruler Maues or Moga bear the image of Shiva. Coins of Parthian ruler Gondophernes show shiva holding trident. Wemakadphises, a Kushana ruler issued coins with image of Shiva holding trident and bearing an image of Nandi. Huvishka issued Harihara type of coins. Republican states such as Audumbaras and Kunindas also issued coins in prise of Shiva. Yaudehyas issued Kartikeya type of coins.
        • Shiva became more popular in the Gupta period which is evident from findings of Shivalingas and images of Shiva in temples. Some Gupta emperors such as Kumaragupta and Skandagupta promoted Shaivism. Kalidasa was a devotee of Shiva.
        • In the post-Gupta period, Harasavardhana was a devotee of shiva, Surya and Buddha.
        • Huna rulers Toromana and Mihirakula were also devotees of Shiva and Surya.
        • In South India, the Pallavas patronised Shaivism and so did the Cholas later. Shaivism in South India was popularised by Shaiva bhakti saints and poets known as Nayanars or Adayars who composed songs in devotion of Lord Shiva. Some prominent Nayanars were Apar, Sambandar, Sundarati, Manikkavasagar, Tirumullur and Sekkilar.
        • In course of time, various sub-orders of Shaivism appeared such as Pasupatas, Kapalikas, Kalamukhas and Virshaivism.

        The Vakatakas

        • The Vakatakas were a powerful dynasty ruling contemporaneously with Guptas. Inscriptions and Puranas testify that in the hey-day of their glory they dominated the entire country of Bundelkhand, central provinces, Berars, northern Deccan up to the sea, besides exercising suzerainty over their weaker neighbours. The Vakatakas it seems were Brahmanas and in their inscriptions they called themselves as Haritaputras.
        • Vindyasakti was the founder of the Vakatakas.
        • Pravarasena I was the son of Vindyasakti. He assumed imperial titles as maharajadhiraja and Samrat. He is said to have performed sacrifices such as Asvamedha, Vajpeya.
        • Gautamiputra was the son of Pravarasena I. He married the daughter of the Bharasiva king, Bhavanaga, but did not ascend the throne.
        • Rudrasena I was the next ruler and is identified with Rudradeva mentioned in the Allahabad pillar. inscription as having suffered defeat at the hands of Samudragupta.
        • Prithivsena next came to the throne. He reign was known for peace and prosperity.
        • Rudrasena II was married to Prabhavatigupta, the daughter of Chandragupta II. He rendered help to Chandragupta II in finishing off the Sakas. Under Prabhavatigupta’s influence he became a Vaishnavaite. After the death of her husband. Prabhavati ruled on behalf of her minor sons Damodarsen and Divakarsen.
        • Pravarsen II built the city of Pravarapura, made it his capital and built a temple of Ramachandra there. He composed a famous Prakrit poem Setubandha. Kalidasa wrote Meghadutam in Pravarasen ll’s court. After him, the Vakatakas gradually became weak and the Vakatakas power was ultimately shattered some time in the second quarter of the 6th century AD by the Kalachuris of the South.

        Contribution of the Vakatakas:

        • Economy: The Vakatakas patronised economy by promoting the expansion of
          They gave innumerable land donations to Brahmins and officers of the state. They were given cultivable waste lands which in the long term led to feudalism. The Vakatakas in turn got the support of the feudal lords.
        • The Vakatakas also patronised trade and commerce and controlled regions through which important trade routes passed. But, they did not issue many coins as did the earlier Satavahanas. Average covered

        Religion: The Vakatakas were patrons of brahmanical religion. Devotees of
        Vishnu and Shiva. The Vakatakas performed various sacrifices and patronised hindu culture. But they continued protection to Buddhist and

      • Literature: Pravarasena II the Vakataka ruler wrote the Prakrit poem Setubanda.
        Kalidasa wrote Meghadutam in his court. Another Vakataka ruler Sarvasena wrote the book Harivijaya. Vakatakas used Prakrit language for their inscription.
      • The Vakatakas patronised the Ajanta school of paintings which flourished under
      • The Vakatakas oversaw the construction of many brahmanical temples during
        their reign.


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