Considered as a Golden Age, Indian civilisation under the Gupta rule witnessed a new epoch in its history of growth and development. After the fall of the Mauryan Empire, India was divided into several independent monarchies and continued to be so for another 500 years, until the rise of Gupta Dynasty. Mookerji (1989) identified the Bharasivas, Nagas or Vakatakas, and Devarakshitas as the existing kingdoms during the rise of the Guptas. Initially a monarchy, ruling the territories of “Paundra (northern Bengal), Kosala (Oudh), Odra (Odhissa) and Tamralipta up to the sea (Tamraliptan sasagaran)”, tha family rose to power under their third king Chandragupta I in 320 AD. Immediately after assuming power, Chandragupta started conquering other kingdoms, thereby expanding his reign. But it was under Samudragupta and Chandragupta II (Vikramaditya) that the kingdom transcended into a vast empire conquering nearly the entire subcontinent. Under Samudragupta, the kingdom expanded from Bengal to “as far west as the Indus river, and over most of central and eastern India and as far south as Kanchi” (Robb 2002; 39). His son Chandragupta II’s conquest involved marriage alliances along with military expedition.
The achievement of the Guptas were not limited to military tactics, rather the Guptas introduced a cultural and social advancement, progressing its civilisation towards mathematical, cultural and architectural excellence (Saunders 2002).
A great civilisational progress
The Guptas had a major role to play in the social and cultural advancement of the Indian subcontinent. Under their rule, the whole of the sub-continent came under a centralized kingdom, despite the absence of standard or unified administrative system. The agriculture sector progressed along with crafts, architecture, constructions and trade.
Rowland described the period under the Gupta dynasty to have achieved such an extent of perfection that has never been achieved before. According to him it was “a perfect balance and harmony of all elements, stylistic and iconographic elements inseparable in importance” (Litvinsky & Guang-da 1999; 22).
Literary and Cultural sectors witnessed enrichment, under the Imperial race. Sanskrit, which was considered as the language of the educated intellectual class and was only confined in writing literary works which became the official language of the Gupta dynasty. The great epics Mahabharata and Ramayana underwent a final recension as a manuscript and thus, enjoyed a renewed popularity. Furthermore, cultural drama based on literary plays underwent progressive development and extraordinary perfection through the characterization of “Toy-cart and the famed Kalidasa’s rich and sensuous poetic drama ‘Sakuntala’” (Litvinsky & Guang-da 1999; 22).
According to the accounts of Fa-Hsien- the Chinese traveler and Buddhist pilgrim, who travelled extensively in India from 405 to 411, precisely during the reign of Chandragupta II (Vikramaditya). His records project a glimpse into the administration of Chandragupta II, portraying an insight into the civilisational development under the dynasty’s rule. He expressed, “efficient and benevolent government and a merciful justice system, the rarity of crime and the generally peaceful state of the land” (Upshur et al. 2011; 289). Travelling from one part of the country to another was safe without any fear of molestation or the need of any passport. Moreover, cattle rearing including swine and fowls were nearly absent with no presence of wine or meat shops. For trade and commerce, cowrie-shells were used within the reign and also barter system prevailed (Upshur et al. 2011; Duiker & Spielvogel 2008). Besides, banking system also developed through foreign trade, especially in the 2nd century B.C.E., after the introduction of copper and gold coins in the Middle East. Though Duiker & Spielvogel indicated that, there was limited circulation of coins.
The Gupta rule also led a considerable effect on religion. Buddhism flourished immensely under the patronage of the Gupta rulers, who were ardent believers in the sect. Both Mahayana and Hinayana sect of Buddhism prospered, mainly due to trade and commerce with China, Southeast Asia and the Mediterranean. Duiker & Spielvogel (2008) believed the growth of economically prospered cities along the main trade routes with notable temples and Buddhist monasteries to be the reason behind such a religious development. This resulted in transforming the major religious centers into a pilgrimage attracting pilgrims from as far away from China.
Reaching a Golden age
In the face of chaos and turmoil prevailing in the international sphere- China divided and suffering from political strife and the Roman Empire was on the verge of collapse, the Indian civilisation under the aegis of Gupta dynasty was considered most-prosperous and well-governed, thus reaching to a Golden Age. Though, this age of prosperity was short lived, as indicated by historians, which witnessed disintegration in the late fifth century after the death of Chandragupta II. As there was dearth of capable rulers, leading to incursion of nomadic tribes and foreign invasions, thus making India a divided country again.
- Duiker, W.J. & Spielvogel, J.J., 2008. World History, Volume I, Cengage Learning.
- Litvinsky, B.A. & Guang-da, Z., 1999. Historical Introduction. In A. H. Dhani, ed. History of Civilisations of Central Asia: The crossroads of civilisations: A.D. 250 to 750. Motilal Banarsidass Publ., pp. 19–23.
- Mookerji, R., 1989. The Gupta Empire, Motilal Banarsidass Publ.
- Robb, P., 2002. A History of India, New York: Palgrave.
- Saunders, K., 2002. Great Civilisations Of India, New Delhi: Shubhi Publications.
- Upshur, J.-H. et al., 2011. Cengage Advantage Books: World History: Before 1600: The Development of Early Civilisation, Volume 1, Cengage Learning.