Gupta Dynasty

On the ruins of the Kushan empire arose a new empire, which established its way over good part of the former dominions of both Kushans and Satavahanas. The period between the decline of the Kushana Empire and the rise of Guptas was marked by the growth of a number of republican and monarchical states. Before the Guptas, the Nagas and the Vakatakas were the great powers. They contributed in many respects to the Gupta way of life and culture also. Before conquering the whole of northern India, the Guptas were a local monarchical power. Sri Gupta was the founder of Gupta empire and being the first ancestor of the imperial Guptas to be described as Maharaja which shows that he was not a paramount sovereign but a feudatory chief.

Chandragupta I (AD 319 - 335):

He was son and successor of Gatothkacha.  He married the Lichchavi princess Kumaradevi. The Lichchavi territory of North Bihar and adjoining territories were united under Chandragupta-I. He is usually regarded as founder of Gupta Era which commenced on 26th February 320 A.D. to commemorate his accession. He was the first independent king with the title Maharajadhiraja. His empire included Bihar, U.P. and West Bengal. He started the Gupta era in 319-320AD. He struck coins in the joint names of himself, his queen and the Lachchavi nation, thereby acknowledging his marriage alliance.

Samudragupta (AD 335-375)

Chandragupta-I was succeeded by his son Samudragupta, who became the ruler after subduing his rival Kacha. The Allahabad pillar inscription, written by Harisena gives a detailed account of the conquests of his master. This list can be divided into four categories like Dakshinapatha, Aryavarta, forest States and Shahanusas.

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 defeated 12 kings of Aryavarta. These rulers were Rudradwa, Matila, Nagadatta, Chandravarma, Ganapatinaga, Nagasena, Achyuta, Nandi, Balavarman and others. In another category are mentioned the frontier kingdoms like Samtata, Kamarupa, Nepal and others and the Republican States of the Malavas, Yaudheyas, Madrakas, Abhiras etc.  They paid him tribute and homage. The Prayaga Prasasti mentions 12 rulers of Dakshinnpath who were defeated by Samudragupta. They were Mahendra of Kosala, Vyaghraja of Mahakantara, Mantraya of Kaurata, Mahendragiri of Pistapura, Swamidatta of Kottura, Damana of Erandapalla, Vishnugupta of Kanchi, Nilaraja of Avamukta, Hastivarman of Vengi, Ugrasena of Palakka, Kubera of Devarashtra, Dhananjaya of Kusthalpura. Samudragupta first captured them and then released them. 

Foreign Rulers like the later Kushanas and Sakas remained independent but their independence had to be approved by Samudragupta. Virasena was the Commander of Samudragupta during his Southern Campaign. Samudragupta performed the Ashwamedha Yajna and struck Gold coins of Yupa type. He granted permission to the Buddhist King of Ceylon Meghavarman to buiid a Monastry at Buddha Gaya. Hence he was called Anukampavan (full of compassion). He was a great patron of art and adopted the title of Kaviraja. Harisena and Vasubandhu, a celebrated Buddhist scholar was his minister. On some gold coins, he is shown playing the Veena. Samudragupta believed in the policy of war and conquest and because of his bravery and generalship he is called the ‘Napoleon’ of India. Samudragupta is said to have composed numerous poems of high merit.

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 by marrying Princess Kubernaga whose daughter Prabhavati was married to Rudrasena II of the Vakataka family. He defeated the Saka King Rudrasimha III and annexed his Kingdom. Virasena’s Udaigiri cave inscription refers to his conquest of the whole world.

He adopted the title of Vikramaditya, Simhavikrama and further extended and consolidated his empire by following the policy of world conquest. He was the first Gupta ruler to issue silver coins, before him only Sakas issued such coins. He is said to have installed the well-known Mehrauli Pillar. Fa-hien (399-414 A.D.) the Chinese traveller visited India during his reign and wrote an elaborate account of the life of the people.

Samudra Gupta made Ujjain his second Capital. His court contained 9 Gems including Kalidasa, Amarsimha, Fa-hien, Acharya Dignaga etc. Veerasena Saba was the Court Poet and Minister of Chandragupta II. Amarkhandava was his Army General.

Kumaragupta-I (AD 413 - 455):

Chandragupta II was succeeded by Kumaragupta I. He adopted the title of Mahendraditya. His inscriptions are the Bilsad inscription, the Karandanda inscriptions, the Mandsor inscription, the Damodarpur Copper plate inscription. He founded the Nalanda University. Towards the last year of his reign, the Gupta empire faced Foreign Invasions. 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 by to the invasion of Turko-Mongol tribe, Hunas. During the war with the Hunas Kumaragupta died.

Skandagupta (AD 455 467):

He had to fight the Pusliyamitras and the Hunas. He was successful in throwing the Hunas back. The Junagarh inscription of his reign tells that his Governor Parnadatta got the Sudarshan lake repaired. Some of the successors of Skandagupta were Buddhagupta, Vinyagupta, Bhanugupta Narsimhagupta, Baladitya, Kumaragupta II and Vishnugupta. After his death, the great days of the Guptas were over. The empire continued but central control weakened, and local governors became feudatory kings heriditary rights.

Contribution of Gupta Rulers:


The Guptas inherited the Mauryan form of bureaucracy.  Monarchy was the prevailing system of gtovernment with no use of severe punishment for crimes.  Gupta rule was the climax of Hindu imperial tradition. Kings were called Parameshwara /Maharajadhiraja /Paramabhattaraka. The most important officers were Kumaramatyas. Their military organization was feudal in character (though the emperor had standing army). They issued the largest number of gold coins in Ancient India, which were called Dinars. Silver coins were called rupyakas. Mahamatras – Provincial Viceroys; Kumaramatyas – bore posts of varying importane, Gramikas – the village headmen. Besides, the divine character of kingship received wide acceptance and extensive powers were given to Village Panchayats and Town Councils.

Social Development:

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 period, was mainly a period of the revival of Hinduism or rather a period of domination of Hinduism as a religion. But due to the tolerance policies of the rulers Buddhism and Jainism also remained. Hinduism acquired its present shape only during Gupta Age.  Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh emerged as the supreme deities. Bhagvatism became more popular and centred around the worship of Vishnu or Bhagwat. Theory of Karma and Idea of Bhakti and Ahimsa became the foundation of Bhagvatism. Idol worship in temples became a common feature. Concept of Avatars or Incarnations of Vishnu was preached. Durga, Kali, Amba, Chandi etc., came to be regarded as Mother Goddesses. Four ends of life were enumerated Dharma, Artha, Kama, and Moiksha. First three were called Trivarga. History was presented as a cycle of 10 incarnations of Vishnu. Idol worship became a common feature. Bhagavad-Gita was written during this time only. Buddhism declined.


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 imparts a feeling of warmth and Vitality. The Buddha sitting in his Dharma Chakra mudra belongs to Samath. Buddha images of Bamiyan belonged to Gupta period. Ajanta Paintings and paintings at Bagh, near Gwalior in MB are of this time. They belong to the Buddhist art. Images of Vishnu, Shiva 8: some other Hindu Gods feature I time in this period.


            Accepted the Aryan pattern in Northern India and the key status of Brahmanas was established. They virtually monopolised knowledge and education system. Marriage rules were still elastic. Women were subordinate to men.

Types of Marriage

  1. Brahma Marriage: A duly doweryed girl is given to a man of the same class.
  2. Prajapatya Marriage: A marriage without dowry.
  3. Daiva Marriage: Girl is given to the sacrificial priest in lieu of his fees.
  4. Asura Marriage: Marriage by purchase.
  5. Rakshasa Marriage: A marriage by capture.
  6. Arsa Marriage: Token bride price of a cow and bull is given in place of the dowry.
  7. Gandharva Marriage: Love marriage
  8. Paisacha Marriage: Marriage by abduction.

Others are 

  1. Pratiloma: A woman of higher varna married to a man of lower status.
  2. Anuloma: A higher varna man married to a lower varna woman.
  3. Niyoga:    For the sake of child a woman is married to her husband brother.


            Gupta society witnessed tremendous development in economic field also. Agriculture was the main occupation of the people. Both internal and external trade reached its peak, Ujjain was the most important inland trading centre where most of the trade routes converged. The main articles of export were pearls, precious stones, clothes, perfumes, spices, indigo, drugs, coconut, ivory, etc. And the main articles of import were gold bullion and coins, silver, copper, tin, lead, silk. corals, dates and horses. Chinese silk was imported in great quantities.


Taxes on land increased in number and those on trade and commerce decreased.  Land taxes were known as Bhagakara in some localities and Udranga in others, were the principal source of revenue and varied between 1/4th and 1/6th of the produce.


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), Bitusamhara, Meghadutam, Kumarasambhavam Malavikagnimitram, Raghuvansha, Vikramurvashi etc. Out of these, Ritusamhare Meghadutam, Raghuvansha were epics and the rest were plays. Apart from Kalidas, others were Sudraka (author of Mrichchakatikam), Bharav (Kiratarjuniya), Dandin (Kavyadarshana and Dasakumaracharita). To this perioc 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 and Mahabharata were almost completed by the 4th century AD.

Science and Technology:

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. 8: 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 Panchasidhantika 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.

Art and Architecture 

            Different forms of art e.g., sculpture, architecture, painting and terracotta attained a maturity, balane and naturalness of expression.  The immortal Ajanta murals take precedence among diverse artistic achievements.  The period produced magnificent Bramanical temples.  The use of bricks in temples was a special feature of this age.  Sikhara which surmounted the roofs of temples in later ages made its appearance.  The Buddha images of this age have more spirited calmness of face and eyes than those of Kushana and Gandhara time.

Decline of Guptas

            Samudragupta’s successors proved to be weak and could not stem the Huna invaders, who excelled in Horsemanship and used stirrups made of metal. Although the Huna power was soon overthrown by Yashodhavarman of Malwa, the Malwa Prince successfully challenged the authority of the Guptas and set up pillars of victory commemorating his conquest, The Maukharis rose to power in Bihar and U.P. with their capital at Kannauj, the Maitrakas of Vallabhi established their authority in Gujarat and Western Malwa. The Pushyabhutis of Thaneswar established their power in Haryana and they gradually moved to Kannauj. 

            The Gupta king may have found it difficult to maintain a large professional army on account of the growing practice or land grants for religious and other purpose, which was bound to reduce their revenues. Their income may have further been affected by the decline of foreign trade. Loss of Western lndia deprived the Guptas of rich revenues from trade and commerce and crippled them economically. Decline of trade led to decay of Towns.

The Hunas

The Hunas were a horde of fierce nomadic tribe originally from the neighbourhood of China. The first invasion of the Hunas in India took place during the close of Kumaragupta’s reign, which was successfully thwarted by the crown prince Skandagupta. 

  • Toramana was the first Huna king and is reported to have adopted Jainism. He was succeeded by his son Mihirkula, a fanatic saivite and builder of the temple Mihireshwar.
  • The capital of the Hunas was Sakala (Sialkot).
  • Mihirkula was defeated by Yashodhavarman of Malwa and Narsimha Baladitya of the Gupta dynasty, respectively, the latter probably dealt the final death blow to the Huna power.  

Later Guptas

            From around the middle of the 6th century A.D. till about 675 A.D. the kings who ruled Magadha were known as Magadha Guptas, or Later Guptas. Krishnagupta was their first king. Their most powerful ruler was Adityasena who ruled Magadha in 672 A.D. According to the Aphsad Inscription his empire included Magadha, Anga and Bengal. He was a Param Bhagwat and got a temple of Vishnu constructed. Besides the above mentioned dynasties other important States that emerged in the post Gupta period were those of the: Maitras of Vallabhi in Gujrat, Gurjaras in Rajputana and Gujarat, Gaudas in Bengal, Varmans in Kamrupa, Mana and Sailodbhava families In Orissa.

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