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The Guptas
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The Age Of The Guptas

In AD 4th century a new Indian dynasty, the Guptas, arose in Magadha and established a large kingdom over the greater part of northern India.

The rule of the Gupta dynasty in northern India is often described as imperial government, but that was not as fully realized under Guptas as it had been under the Mauryas.

The Gupta period is also referred to as the Classical Age of ancient India because it was during this period that the Hindu culture came to be firmly established.

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Political Background

Although the Kushanas and Shaka chiefs continued to rule even in the early AD 4th century, their power had become considerably weak.

Several chiefs of Madras (Punjab), the Yaudheyas (Haryana), Malavas (Rajasthan), the Nagas (Mathura and other centres) emerged.

The Satavahana state disappeared before the middle of AD 3rd century.
In the region of ancient Vidarbha (Nagpur), Vakatakas emerged by the middle of AD 3rd century; Ikshvaku in coastal Andhra, and Kadambas in Karnataka

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Chandragupta-I

The origin of the Guptas is somewhat unknown. It is believed that the family was one of the wealthy landowners who gradually gained political control in the region of Magadha.

It was Chandragupta-I who made his kingdom more than a principality. Chandragupta-I married a Lichchhavei princess and ascended the throne in about AD 319.

He ruled over Saketa (the region of Ayodhya), Prayaga (Allahabad) and Magadha.

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The Gupta kingdom was enlarged and made more powerful by Chandraguptas son, Samudragupta.

The basic information about his reign is found on Ashokan pillar at Allahabad or Prayagaprasasti which was inscribed by Harisena, a poet at his court.

Samudragupta defeated four kings of northern India and added the region of the present Delhi and western Uttar Pradesh to his kingdom.

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He fought against a number of kings in the Deccan, south India and eastern India and also attacked the forest tribes in the Deccan.

He received tributes from the kings of Assam, the Ganga delta, Nepal and northern India, from the nine tribal republics of Rajasthan, from the Kushana kings, the Shakas and the king of Ceylon and perhaps from other islands as far as in South-east Asia but due to lack of direct control these tributes soon faded away.
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Also known as Vikramaditya , Chandragupta-II conducted a victorious compaign in western India against the Shakas(AD 388-409) which led Guptas to gain control over northern India and access to some of the Indian trade with the Mediterranean.

He made a marriage alliance with the Vakataka dynasty in western Deccan, the old Satavahana stronghold.

Chandraguptas conquests have been described in a pillar inscription at Mehrauli on the outskirts of Delhi.

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Chandragupta crossed the Sindhu region of the seven rivers and defeated Valhikas (identified with Bactria) as well as the enemies from Vanga (Bengal), thus extending the frontiers to the Gupta empire to western, north-western and eastern India.

Chandragupta-II is best remembered for his patronage to learning and the arts.

At his court were some of the wisest and most learned men of the country, including Kalidasa and Amarsimha. It was during his reign that the Chinese pilgrim Fa-hien (AD 399-414) visited India and wrote an elaborate account of the life-style of its people.
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Chandragupta-II was succeeded by his son Kumaragupta. A stone inscription from Mandasor (AD 436) mentions Kumaragupta as reigning over the whole earth.

Towards the end of Kumaraguptas reign, the Gupta empire was threatened from the north by Central Asians, the Hunas, which was temporarily checked by his son Skandgupta, who was probably the last powerful Gupta monarch.

The continued attacks of the Hunas weakened the empire and adversely affected its economy. The gold coinage of Skandagupta bears testimony to this.

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The Hunas chief Tormana, became the ruler of Punjab and Kashmir towards the end of AD 5th century. His son Mihirkula further extended the dominions.

The Guptas continued to rule till about AD 550,but their power had waned before that presumably because of their policy of restoring powers of the conquered state to the local chiefs or Samantas who later consolidated against the Guptas leading to their downfall.
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The Gupta monarch adopted high-sounding titles like Chakravarti, Parama-daivata, Paramabha-ttaraka, probably to distinguish himself from the lesser kings within the empire.

In contrast to the Mauryas, the Guptas do not seem to have possessed a big, organised army but they had an elaborate administrative system which was in operation in the areas which were directly controlled by them, i.e. Bengal, Bihar and UP.

The whole empire was divided into bhuktis or provinces, which were governed by upanikas, directly appointed by the King.

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The province was further divided into districts or vishyas under an official called Ayuktaka, appointed by the governor.

The lowest unit of administration was the village with its headman, called Gramapati.

Another important development was the practice of agrahara grant-a tax-free land grant to priests and temples.

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Land revenue was the main source of the States income besides fines.

Besides this, there was uparikara, which was levied on cloth, oil, etc. when taken from one city to another. The organisation of traders had to pay a certain commercial tax, Sulka, the non payment of which resulted in the cancellation of the right to trade and a fine amounting to eight times the original sulka.

The King had a right to impose forced labour (visthi), bali and many other types of contributions.

Income from royal lands and forests was considered as the Kings personal income.

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Spices, pepper, sandalwood, pearls, precious stones, perfumes, indigo and herbs were exported and Chinese silk, ivory from Ethiopia, horses from Arabia, Iran and Bactria constituted the imported itmes.

With the opening of new routes and the rise in the political status of provinces, cities like Mathura, Benaras and Thanesar became more prominent. However, the towns which were active centres of craft production in the post-Mauryan period experienced decay and desertion.

The urban decline took place in two phases. The first coincided with the rise of the Guptas (4th-6th century). Very few sites like Pataliputra, Vaishali, Varanasi and Bhita survived the first phase of decay.

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Society

Excavations and contemporary literature show that the standard of living was high.

On the outskirts of towns were the homes of the outcasts, whose poverty attracted the attention of Fa-Hien.

The social position of the shudras seems to have improved in this period. They were permitted to listen to the epics and the Puranas and could also worship a new god called Krishna.

We shall look at various aspects of Gupta Society in the upcoming slides.

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Women

The status of women continued to decline. They were not permitted to undergo formal education. Early marriages were advocated and often pre-puberty marriages. Celibacy was to be strictly observed by widows. The practice of Sati found the approval of the jurists, but seems to have been confined to the upper classes.

Women were denied any right to property except for Stridhana in the form of jewellery and garments.

The change of womens gotra upon marriage can be dated to the period after the 5th century.

This was an important development because it marked the curtailment of their rights in their parental home and symbolised the final triumph of the patriarchal system in the society.

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Caste System

The Varna system began to get modified owing to the proliferation of castes.

This was chiefly due to three factors:
1. A large number of foreigners had been assimilated into the Indian society primarily as Kshatriyas.
2. There was a large absorption of tribal people into brahmanical society through land grants. The acculturated tribes were absorbed into the Shudra Varna.
3. Guilds of craftsmen were often trasformed into castes as a result of the decline of trade and of urban centres and the localised hereditary character of the crafts.

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Caste System

There was a difference in the status of different categories of craftsmen.

The Vishnudharmottara Purana, mentions that thousands of mixed castes were produced as a result of the union of vaisya women and men of different castes.

Varnasamskara meant the intermixing and/or union of Varnas/castes, normally not socially approved, leading to the emergence of mixed castes, which symbolised social disorder.
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Caste System

With the substantial increase in the number of new castes, greater rigidity was introduced into the caste system and intercaste marriages came to be viewed with disfavour.

( Anuloma marriages) or marriages between a bridegroom from upper caste and a bride from a lower caste were sanctioned, though Pratiloma marriages (the reverse of anuloma) was censored. However, an increasing number of anuloma marriages too were not favoured.
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Untouchables

The impure castes or the untouchables had assumed a definite shape in the early Christian eras.

From around the 3rd century onwards, the practice of untouchability appears to have intensified and their number registered a rise.

Katyayna, a Dharmashastra writer of the Gupta period, was the first to use the expression asprasya to denote untouchables.
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Untouchables

Kalidasa, Varahamihira, Fa-Hien, Bana and others have given a vivid account of the social restrictions imposed on them.

Both Brahmanical and Buddhist sources suggest that most untouchable castes were originally backward tribes and that their backwardness and resistance to the process of acculturation and brahmanisation may have pushed them to the position of the untouchables.
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Religion

Both Buddhism and Hinduism received wide support during this period. Hinduism acquired characteristics which have remained with it, while Buddhism assumed a form which was to lead to its decline.

Buddhism no longer received royal patronage in the Gupta period. Jainism remained unchanged and continued to be supported by the merchant communities of western India. Christianity remained confined to the region of Malabar.

In Hinduism, The image of the God emerged as the centre of worship and worship superseded sacrifice.

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Religion

In Hinduism, there developed the Shakti cults, which believed that the male could be activated only by being united with the female. The wives of the Brahmanical Gods, were therefore worshipped in their own right.

Tantrism too emerged as a religious factor in the 6th century. The core of Tantrism means essentially rites involving the use of the five makaras: matsya (fish), mamsa (meat), madya (liquor) maithuna (sex), and mudra (physical gestures).

In the Tantric practices of the period, three important features were: a higher status given to women, sexual rites, and the presence of many female deities.
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Religion

As a result of lively philosophical debates between the Buddhists and the Brahmanas on the question of moksha or salvation (which meant deliverance from the cycle of birth and death), the cardinal principles of the six systems of Hindu philosophy which originated in the beginning of the Christian era were :

1. Nyaya
2. Vaisheshika
3. Sankhya
4. Yoga
5. Mimamsa
6. Vedanta

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Art and Architecture
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Art and Architecture

The Gupta age marks the beginning of the free standing temple architecture, though only a few of the hundreds that must have been built have survived.

The Gupta temple at Sanchi, the KankaIi-Tila at Tigawa(Jabalpur), together with the only partially rock-cut cave at Udaygiri are probably the earliest of the surviving shrines.

The typical Gupta temple is flat-roofed, without a Sikhra . It consisted of a cubical garba griha in which the central cult image was placed and had a single entrance and mandapa or porch.
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Art and Architecture

It had rows of pillars with vase and foliage capitals, square pedestals and octagonal shafts. The doorways were carved with bands of figures in relief , a special motif being a row of maithuna (male and female) couples.

From the Gupta period onwards, temples were largely built in stone instead of the usual brick or wood.

Iconographical formulations became fixed and almost every major type was established in the Gupta period.
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Art and Architecture

The Gupta style was modelled on the architectural norms established by the Mathura school.

The four armed standing Vishnu with plain cylindrical crowns standing still legged in Sampada, flanked by Ayudhapurushas, the personified weapons or symbols is among the most charming creations of the Gupta period.
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Art and Architecture

Some of the important architecture of the Guptas are described below:
• A beautiful Vishnu head wearing a mukutta with its single lions head situated at Besnagar.

• Group of goddesses, the Sapta Matrakas or seven mothers sitting upright on benches with carved baluster legs also from Besnagar.

• The great theriomorphic boar at Eran, in the ancient Airikina. The masterpiece of the Eran style, is the magnificient Varaha in human form (human body with a boars head) displaying insolent triumph.
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Art and Architecture (imp architectures contd.)

• Buddhist sculptures at Sanchi. The seated Buddhas here have splendidly decorated haloes and large attendant figures.

• The most impressive achievement of the Gupta sculptors at Mathura are the standing Buddhas. The finest Hindu sculpture is a Vishnu, unfortunately, without legs or lower arms.

• The Sarnath Buddhas (late 5th century) show an almost unique perfection and their faces are those of beings who have transcended the world of Samsara and exist in a state of perfect spiritual awareness
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Art and Architecture (imp architectures contd.)

• Unquestionably, the finest Hindu image of the Gupta period so far known from eastern UP is from Varanasi-the great (6 ft - 10ft) Krishna Govar-dhana where Krishna is holding up the Govardhana Mountain.

• One of the loveliest of all Indian sculptures is the Gadhwa lintel or frieze depicting Vishnu Vishvarupa, one of his emanatary forms. At one end is Surya in his chariot against a circular disc, at the other is Chandra (the moon).

• With the exception of the broken viharas at Bagh in Western Malwa, there is no mainstream rock-cut architecture within the erstwhile Gupta dominions.

• The remains of ancient paintings at Ajanta and fragments of paintings at Bagh is all we have from Gupta period. The main themes are taken from the Jatakas. The paintings are one of the truly classical glories of Indian art.

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Literature

The Gupta period witnessed an efflorescence. Sanskrit language and literature had reached a level of classical excellence as was reflected in Kalidasas Abhijnana-Sakuntalam, Meghduta, Righuvam-sha, Kumara-Sambhava and Ritusamhara.

Shudraka wrote Mrichchhakatika, which deals with the love affairs of a rich merchant with the daughter of a courtesan and Vishakhadatta Mudraraks-hasa, which has as its subject the court intrigues of Chandragupta Maurya.

Bhasa also wrote his 13 plays. Plays produced in the Gupta period were mainly romantic comedies.
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Literature

Amarakosa, by Amarasimha of the court of Chandragupta II, was a remarkable work on Sanskrit grammar.

The Panchatantra, a collection of fables, and Kamasutra, the standard Indian text on Sexual love, also belongs to the Gupta period.
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Science and Astronomy

The knowledge of metals improved tremendously as is evidenced by the survival of the famous 230 foot-high iron pillar found at Delhi near Mehrauli, which has not rusted in the subsequent 15 centuries.

Coins of the time were finely struck and dies carefully engraved.

This was an intensely active period for mathematics. The decimal system was in regular use among Indian astronomers in the 5th century.

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Science and Astronomy

Aryabhata was the first astronomer to pose the more fundamental problems of astronomy, in AD 499.

He calculated $\pi$ to 3.1416 and the length of the solar year to 65.3586805 days, both remarkably close to recent estimates.

He believed that earth was a sphere and rotated on its own axis causing day and night and eclipses.

Varahamihira, his contemporary was the author of Panchasiddhantika (five schools of astronomy), a concise account of the five currently used schools.
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The Successor Of Guptas: The Age Of Smaller Kingdoms

The disintegration of the Gupta empire gradually paved the way for the growth of many smaller kingdoms.

In certain regions,new kingdoms emerged and in other areas the dynasties which had earlier accepted Gupta suzerainty now declared their independence.

The Maukharis, those who had earlier acted as Samanta under the overlordship of the Guptas started gaining political power towards the end of 5th century and declared themselves independent.
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The Successor Of Guptas: The Age Of Smaller Kingdoms

From the middle of 6th century till about AD 675, the kin who ruled Magadha were known as later Guptas. They were at loggerheads with the Maukharis.

The later Gupta power survived the empire of Harshavar-dhana. Their most powerful ruler was Adityasen (AD 627), and his empire included Magadha, Anga and Bengal.

The other important states that emerged in the post-Gupta period were Maitras of Valabhi in Gujarat, Gurjaras in Rajputana and Gujarat, Gauda in the region north and north-west of Bengal ruled by Sasanka (a contemporary arch rival of Harsha), which emerged as an independent kingdom in the early 7th century.

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Harsha belonged to the Pushyabhukti family who ruled in Thanesar, north of Delhi.

He tried to build another empire in north India, similar to that of the Guptas.

The history of the early years of his reign is reconstructed from a study of his biography,
Harshacharita by Bana,
one of the court poets, supplemented by an account left by Chinese Buddhist pilgrim, Hieun Tsang who visited India during the reign of Harsha.
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His empire included the territories of distant feudatories in Jalandhar, Kashmir, Nepal and Valabhi. Harshas ambitions of extending his power into the Deccan and southern India were stopped by Pulakesin II, the Chalukya King of Vatapi (Badami) in northern Mysore.

Harsha governed his empire on the same lines as the Guptas. The kings he conquered paid him revenue and sent him soldiers when he was fighting a war.

The officials were not paid salaries in cash. Instead, they were given land as payment.
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The Guptas
This quiz has been prepared with questions related to Guptas Age. These question were asked in various competitive exams across India. You can practice these questions to gain more knowledge.

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Conclusion
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