Gupta Empire (320 – 650 CE)
On the ruins of Satvahana and Kushan Empire rose Gupta Empire. Its majority comprised of UP & Bihar and Major centre of power was at Prayag present day Allahabad. Founder of Gupta Dynasty was Sri Gupta. Srigupta was succeeded by Ghatochkacha. Both of them were called as Maharajadhiraja (Great king of kings).
Chandragupta I (320 – 335 CE)
- The first important king of the Gupta dynasty was Chandragupta I.
- He married a Lichchhavi princess from Nepal, which strengthened his political position.
- The Guptas were possibly vaisyas, and hence marriage in a Kshatriya family gave them prestige. Chandragupta I can be regarded as a ruler of considerable importance because he started the Gupta era in A.D. 319-20, which marked the date of his accession.
- Later many inscriptions came to be dated in the Gupta era.
Samudragupta (335 – 380 CE)
- The Gupta kingdom was enlarged enormously by Chandragupta I’s son and successor Samudragupta.
- His court poet Harishena wrote a glowing account of the military exploits of his patron.
- The inscription is engraved at Allahabad on the same pillar as carries an inscription of the peace-loving Asoka.
- The Allahabad Pillar inscription contains a long list of states, kings and tribes which were conquered and brought under various degrees of subjugation.
- After these military victories, Samudragupta performed the asvamedha sacrifice.
He issued gold and silver coins with the legend ‘restorer of the asvamedha’.
- It is because of his military achievements Samudragupta was hailed as ‘Indian Napoleon’ by Historian Vincent Smith.
Chandragupta II (380 – 415 CE)
- Samudragupta was succeeded by his son Chandragupta II Vikramaditya.
But according to some scholars, the immediate successor of Samudragupta was Ramagupta, the elder brother of Chandragupta II, but there is little historical proof for this.
- The reign of Chandragupta II saw the highest peak of the Gupta Empire.
Chandragupta II inherited the military genius of his father and extended the Gupta Empire by a judicious combination of the policy of diplomacy and warfare.
- Through matrimonial alliances he strengthened his political power. He married Kuberanaga, a Naga princess of central India.
- He gave his daughter Prabhavati in marriage to the Vakataka prince Rudrasena II. The political importance of this marriage lies in the fact that the Vakatakas occupied a geographically strategic position in the Deccan.
- When the Vakatakas prince died, then he was succeeded by his young son. So Prabhavati became the virtual ruler. As shown by some of her land charters, she managed the affairs of her kingdom with the help of an official sent by her father Chandragupta.
- Thus Chandragupta exercised indirect control over the Vakataka kingdom in central India. This afforded a great advantage to him.
- Passing through this area Chandragupta II conquered western Malwa and Gujarat, which had been under the rule of the Sakas for about four centuries by that time.
Kumaragupta (415 – 455 CE)
- Kumaragupta was the son and successor of Chandragupta II and his reign was marked by general peace and prosperity.
- He issued a number of coins and his inscriptions are found all over the Gupta Empire.
- He also performed an Ashvamedha sacrifice.
- Most importantly, he laid the foundation of the Nalanda University which emerged as an institution of international reputation.
- At the end of his reign, a powerful wealthy tribe called the ‘Pushyamitras’ defeated the Gupta army.
- A branch of the Huns from Central Asia made attempts to cross the Hindukush Mountains and invade India.
- But it was his successor Skandagupta who really faced the Hun invasion. He fought successfully against the Huns and saved the empire. The war with Huns must have been a great strain on the government’s resources.
- After Skandagupta’s death, many of his successors like Purugupta, Narasimhagupta, Buddhagupta and Baladitya could not save the Gupta Empire from the Huns.
- Ultimately, the Gupta power totally disappeared due to the Hun invasions and later by the rise of Yasodharman in Malwa.
- Unlike Mauryas, Guptas assumed titles like Parmeshwara and Maharajadhiraja
- Provinces in Gupta’s period were known as Bhuktis & provincial governors Uparikas
- King maintained close contacts with provincial administration through a class of officials called “Kumaramatyas” & “Ayuktas”
- Provinces were divided into districts Vishayas under charge of Vishayapati
- All foreign affairs were looked after by foreign affair minister known as “Sandivigraha”
- Villagers were subjected to forced labour called Vishti for serving royal army & officials
Religion & Social Culture
- Brahmans formed the top ladder & receive numerous gifts
- Brahmanism reigned supreme during Gupta period & had 2 branches mainly, Vaishnavism & Shaivism.
- Fa Hien accounts shows a decline of Buddhism in Gangetic valley but a few Buddhist monks like Vasubandhu were patronised by Gupta kings
Art & Culture
- Gupta age is called golden age of India in field of art, science & literature
- Nagara & Dravidian styles of art evolved during this period
- Delhi iron pillar, 7 ½ feet Buddha statue & Deogarh temple are finest example of Gupta art
- Mural paintings of Ajanta, which mainly depicted life stories of Buddha as in Jtaka stories belong to this period (Paintings at Sigiria in Srilanka are influenced by Ajanta paintings)
Sanskrit became primary language in Gupta period. This era is known for equal writing of prose and poetry. Sanskrit became the Lingua franca of India. Final editing of the Ramayana and Mahabharata took place in Gupta Period.