The Gupta age
After the Mauryan, the next great dynasty to rule North India was the Imperial Guptas. do the territory they controlled was extensive they could never introduce a centralized administration. but the Gupta age has tremendous historical and political significance. firstly India got a semblance of political Unity after the Maurya. Secondly, they drove away from the Bactrians and Sakas who ruled North Western and western India and established an indigenous Empire ruled by native rulers. lastly, this age was a period Of Cultural efflorescence. in the field of literature, it saw the revival of Sanskrit in the field of religion, Brahmanical religion was revived in the field of art and architecture, temple architecture emerged during this period, and painting made remarkable strides. the age witnessed important developments in coinage. this age also witnessed the Indian colonization of Southeast Asia. for all these attributes this age has been described as the classical age. Check out History of India notes in detail.
There is no unanimity about the origin of the Guptas. Historians believe that they belong to the land on in class of Bengal and SriGupta the founder of the Gupta dynasty founded the kingdom in Bengal which later spread into the Magadha area. the first independent Gupta rural was Chandragupta 1 who ruled from 320AD – 335 AD.
Chandragupta I ruled the Magadha area with Pataliputra as the capital he gained a foothold in the Licchavi kingdom through his marriage to the Licchavi princess Kumaradevi. he started issue in the Chandragupta Kumaradevi gold coins with his Legend distinct on them thereby symbolizing his sovereignty.
Samudragupta his successor was one of the greatest rulers of Ancient India. he is famous for his military exploits and has been called the Indian Napoleon by V A Smith, an eminent historian. Samudragupta’s conquests are known to us by the Allahabad pillar inscription composed by his Court poet Harisena in classical Sanskrit.
Samudragupta first fought against the powerful Nagar ruler Ganapati Deva who ruled the Aryavarta region ( Gangetic plain) defeated him and annexed the region as it was very fertile. but he conciliated the Nagas by marrying Kubernaga, The naga princess to his son Chandragupta 2 which was a masterstroke of diplomacy. he then turned his attention to the frontiers.
He defeated the small kingdoms in the Eastern Frontier but did not Annexe them as the land was not fertile. in the Western Frontier which was dominated by Republican states like Yaudheyas, Mallavas, etc, he defeated them and annexed the region as the Punjab plane was fertile. he then turned to The North Western Frontier and defeated the Devagupta but did not Annexe The Kingdom because of the mountainous terrain. Finally, in the southern frontier, he defeated the Atavika Rajas of the Vindhya area but allowed them to be subordinate rulers as the land was full of forests.
We see that Samudragupta’s campaigns were influenced by economic factors. he annexes those regions which were fertile as they could yield a lot of revenue and left the other regions to be ruled by the local rulers on the condition that they would pay annual tribute to him.
He then turned to the south called Dakshinapatha and waste his campaign along the east coast of India and defeated all the twelve kings who came in his way. some of the most important kings who had to bite the dust were Mahendra of Kosala, Hastivarman of Vengi, and Vishnugopa of Kanchi.
The policy followed by Samudragupta towards the southern kingdoms has been described by Harisena as Grahana (capture), moksha (liberation), and Anugraha (reinstatement). He first captured The Kingdom liberated them and reinstated the rulers. the motive for these campaigns seems to be religious as most of the southern States patronized Buddhism and Jainism and Samudragupta wanted to spread Vaishnavism which was the faith of the Gupta. there is evidence to prove that after Samudragupta’s invention the South Indian rulers started patronizing the brahminical region when we see that the change from Buddhist sculptures to brahminical sculptures.
Samudragupta maintained cordial relations with the rulers of Ceylon and Tibet and took interest in the Hindu colonization of Southeast Asia. he was also a poet and musician of some merit. he is supposed to have written Krishnacharitra and a coin issued by him shows him playing the Veena.
Chandragupta Vikramaditya was a worthy son of a worthy father. he also strengthened his Kingdom through matrimonial Alliance by getting the subordinate allegiance of Rudrasena II Vakataka Through his marriage with Prabhavati Gupta, Chandragupta’s daughter. he then used the services of the Vakataka KingdomTo defeat and kill Rudrasimha the Saka ruler of Ujjain. This opened up the sea to the Guptas who benefited from the brisk Maritime trade. he is Hume the title Vikramaditya. it was during his reign that the famous Chinese Traveller Fa-Hien visited India and left an account of the Gupta Kingdom, society, and religion.
He was succeeded by 2 capable rulers Kumaragupta and then Skandagupta. It was during the latter’s reign that the HunasAttacked India and Skandagupta defeated them very well. he again repaired the dam over the Sudarshana lake and improved irrigation facilities. but repeated invasions of the Hunas sapped the vitality of the Gupta empire and it could not recover its Pristine Glory. it collapsed under weak rulers by the end of the 6th century AD.
Gupta polity and administration:
The king was the head of Administration and all power flowed from him. the Guptas believed in the divine right theory of origin. the Yuvaraja was appointed from amongst the king’s sons to be groomed in administration. the king led the Armies to battle and made all appointments.
The king’s Council was called the Mantri Parishad and the Gupta monarchs always took their advice though they were not bound by it. the head of the Council was the Amartya and kanchuki was the chamberlain an agent between the king and the Council. besides these, there were a large number of civil and military officials. the Dharmasthana was the court and Mahadandanayaka was the judge. punishments for harsh and trial by ordeal was also practiced.
The Kingdom was divided into provinces called Bhuktis which were further divided into Vishayas which were headed by the bhogapatiAnd the Vishayapati respectively. they had a separate cadre of officials to assist them. the officials were paid in the land assignment. land grants were given to Brahmanas and religious Institutions which were free of taxation. These land grants and assignments in a later stage undermined the authority of the king.
Learning and education:
Educational institutions during the Gupta period were run by brahmins, Buddhists, and craft guilds. Brahminical Institutions were dominated by the priestly class and the education was mainly sacramental as Vedas, Vedanta, sutras, etc, were taught. But in Buddhist Institutions secular subjects like grammar, astronomy, medicine, metallurgy, etc, were taught. The craft guilds taught technical subjects and helped in the diffusion of technical knowledge which was essential for trade.
The Gupta age witnessed a revolution in numismatics. they were the first indigenous rulers to issue coins in gold and silver. gold coins were first introduced by the Indo greeks and Kushans. the Gupta coins have immense artistic value because of the images and legends written in Sanskrit. they also help us in identifying the events during the Gupta age. for example in one of the coins issued by Samudragupta on the occasion of his Ashwamedha Yagya inscription saying “the king who wins 100 battles will go to heaven” and on the other side is inscribed “the king is Invincible”.