General Knowledge : History : The Gupta Dynasty

The Gupta Dynasty

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Gupta Empire Golden Age of India

On the ruins of the Kushan empire arose a new empire, which established its way over a good part of the former dominions of both Kushans and Satavahanas. The first two kings of the dynasty were Srigupta and Ghatotkacha.

Chandragupta I (AD 319 – 335):

  • First important king of Gupta Dynasty.
  • Started the Gupta era in 319-320 AD.
  • He enhanced his power & prestige by marrying Kumara Devi, princes of the Lichchavi clan of Nepal.
  • He acquired the title of Maharajadhiraj.
  • Struck coins in the joint names of himself, his queen and the Lachchavi nation, thereby acknowledging his marriage alliance.

History of Samudragupta (AD 335 – 375):

  • The Gupta kingdom was enlarged enormously by Chandragupta’s son & successor Samudragupta.
  • His court poet Harisena wrote a glowing account of the military exploits of his patron. In a long inscription at the Prayag Prashasti pillar (at Allahabad), the poet enumerated the people & countries that were conquered by Samudragupta.
  • Samudragupta believed in the policy of war and conquest and because of his bravery and generalship he is called the ‘Napoleon’ of India (by the historian V.A. Smith).
  • Samudragupta is said to have composed numerous poems of high merit. Some of his coins represent him playing vina. He also performed Asvamedha sacrifice.
  • He assumed the titles of Kaviraj and Vikramanka.
  • Vasubandhu, a celebrated Buddhist scholar was his minister.
  • Though a follower of the brahmanical religion, he was tolerant of other faiths; Received a missionary from Meghavarman, the ruler of SriLanka, seeking his permission to build a Buddhist temple at Gaya, which he granted.

History of Chandragupta – II (AD 380 – 413):

  • Samudragupta was succeeded by Ramgupta but Chandragupta II killed him and married his queen Dhruvadevi.
  • He entered into matrimonial alliance with the Nagas (of upper and the Central Provinces) by marrying princess Kubernaga whose daughter Prabhavati was married to Rudrasena-II of the Vakataka family.
  • Took the title of Vikramaditya by defeating Rudrasimha III, a Kshatrap king of Ujjain. He also took the title of Simhavikrama.
  • He was the first ruler to issue silver coins. Also issued copper coins.
  • The iron pillar inscription, fixed near Qutabminar in Delhi mentions a king Chandra (considered by many as Chandragupta II only).
  • His court was adorned by celebrated nine gems (navratnas) including Kalidasa, Amarsimha, Varahmihir, and Dhanvantri.
  • Chinese pilgrim Fahien visited India at this time.

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History of Kumaragupta – I (AD 413 – 455):

  • He adopted the title of Mahendraditya.
  • Founded Nalanda University (a renowned university of ancient India).
  • He was the worshipper of Lord Kartikeya (son of Lord Shiva).
  • In the last years of his reign, the peace and prosperity of the empire was disturbed due to the invasion of Turko-Mongol tribe, Hunas. During the war with the Hunas, Kumaragupta died.

History of Skandagupta (AD 455 – 467):

  • Kumaragupta-I was followed by Skandagupta. He faced Hunas effectively.
  • Restored Sudarshana Lake.
  • After his death, the great days of the Guptas were over. The empire continued but central control weakened, and local governors became feudatory kings with hereditary rights.

Fall of Gupta Empire :

  • The weak successors of Skandagupta could not check the growing Huna power.
  • Feudatories rose in Bihar, Bengal, MP, Vallabhi, etc.
  • Note: Mihirkula was the most famous Huna king. Hjuen Tsang mentions him as a fierce per secutor of Buddhism. He was defeated by Yashodharman (one of the feudatories of Guptas in Malwa).
  • Contributions of Gupta Rulers

Gupta Administration :

  • Kings were called Parameshwara /Maharajadhiraja /Paramabhattaraka.
  • The most important officers were Kumaramatyas.
  • Their military organization was feudal in character (though the emperor had the standing army).
  • They issued the largest number of gold coins in Ancient India, which were called Dinars. Silver coins were called rupyakas.

Social Development of Guptas Empire :

  • The castes were further divided into sub-castes.
  • Vishti (forced labour) was there.
  • Position of women declined further. First instance of Sati took place at Eran, MP.
  • The position of shudras improved substantially.
  • The practice of untouchability intensed. (Especially hatred for Chandalas). Fa-hien mentions that the Chandalas lived outside the village and were distanced by the upper class.
  • Nalanda (a university) was established as a Buddhist monastery during the reign of Kumara Gupta.

Gupta Religion :

  • Bhagavad-Gita was written during this time only. Buddhism declined.
  • Bhagavatism centered around worshipping Vishnu or Bhagvat.
  • History was presented as a cycle of 10 incarnations of Vishnu.
  • Idol worship became a common feature.
  • Vishnu temple at Deogarh (near Jhansi), a small temple near Sanchi and a brick temple at Bhitragaon (near Kanpur) belong to the Gupta architecture.

Gupta Art :

  • Samudragupta is represented on his coins playing the lute (vina).
  • 2 mt high bronze image of Buddha belonging to the Mathura school (The Gandhara Buddha represents mask-like coldness, while the Buddha from the Mathura school imparts a feeling of warmth and vitality.
  • The Buddha sitting in his Dharma Chakra mudra belongs to Sarnath.
  • Buddha images of Bamiyan belonged to Gupta period.
  • Ajanta Paintings and paintings at Bagh, near Gwalior in MP, are of this time. They belong to the Buddhist art.
  • Images of Vishnu, Shiva & some other Hindu Gods feature I time in this period.

Gupta Literature in India :

  • Kalidas, the great Sanskrit dramatist, belonged to this period. His books are: Abhigyanashakuntalam, (considered as one of the best literary works in the world & one of the earliest Indian work to be translated into European language, the other work being the Bhagavadgita), Ritusamhara, Meghadutam, Kumarasambhavam, Malavikagnimitram, Raghuvansha, Vikramurvashi etc. Out of these, Ritusamhara, Meghadutam, Raghuvansha were epics and the rest were plays.
  • Apart from Kalidas, others were Sudraka (author of Mrichchakatikam), Bharavi (Kiratarjuniya), Dandin (Kavyadarshana and Dasakumaracharita). To this period belongs 13 plays written by Bhasa. Most famous of these was Charudatta.
  • Vishakhadatta wrote Mudrarakshasa and Devichandraguptam.
  • Vishnu Sharma wrote Panchtantra and Hitopdesh.
  • The Gupta period also saw the development of Sanskrit grammar based on Panini and Patanjali. This period is particularly memorable for the compilation of Amarakosha by Amarasimha.
  • Ramayana & Mahabharata were almost completed by the 4th century AD.

Science and Technology of Gupta Period :

  • Gupta period is unparalleled for its achievements in the field of mathematics and astronomy.
  • Aryabhatta, the great mathematician wrote Aryabhatiya and Suryasiddhanta. In Aryabhatiya, he described the place value of the first nine nos. & the use of zero. He also calculated the value of pie and invented Algebra.
  • In Suryasiddhanta, he proved that the earth revolves round the sun and rotates on its axis. In this way he discovered the cause of the solar and lunar eclipses and the methods for calculating the timings of their occurrence. He also said that the heavenly bodies, like the moon, were spherical and they shone by reflecting the light.
  • Varahamihira wrote Panchasi- dhantika and Brihatsamhita. He said that the moon moves round the earth and the earth, together with the moon, move round the sun.
  • Brahmagupta was a great mathematician. He wrote Brahma-sphutic Siddhanta in which he hinted at the Law of Gravitation.
  • In the field of astronomy, Romakasidhanta was compiled.
  • Vagbhatta was the most distinguished physician of the Ayurvedic system of medicine.
  • Palakapya wrote Hastyagarveda, a treatise on the disease of elephants.
  • Court language was Sanskrit.
  • Dhanvantri – famous for Ayurveda knowledge.

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