Introduction to Gupta Dynasty:
Gupta Dynasty was one of the ancient Indian empires that ruled during 240 to 550 CE in Northern, Central as well as Western parts of India. The founder of the dynasty was Maharaja Sri Gupta, who reigned for 240-280 CE and was succeeded by his son Ghatotkacha from 280-319 CE.
It is known from the ancient Indian texts, that the Guptas belonged to the caste of Vaishyas. According to Jayaswal, it is assumed that the Guptas were original natives of Prayaga (Allahabad) in Uttar Pradesh, in North India. The study of numismatic evidences, it is known that the Guptas belonged to the Northeastern India.
According to DC Ganguly, another historian of that time believed that the original hometown of the Guptas is Murshidabad region of Bengal. However, his views were considered invalid as his theory was based on the statements of the Chinese Buddhist monk, Yijing who visited India during 675 and 696 CE, but the Guptas ruled during the end of 3rd century whereas Yijing placed him at the end of 2nd century.
From the expressions of Allan and other scholars, the Guptas concentrated in the region of Magadha and extended their control to Bengal. But others meant to believe that they actually originated from the region of Varendi or the Varendra Bhumi in Bengal now is a part of Rangpur and Rajshahi division of modern day Bangladesh, wherefrom they extended to Magadha.
The notable kings of the dynasty were: (Chandra Gupta I, Samudra Gupta and Chandra Gupta II)
Chandra Gupta I (reigned 320 – 335 CE):
Chandra Gupta was the son of Ghatotkacha. He married a Lichchhavi princess named Kumaradevi of the Magadha kingdom. He extended his power to Magadha, Pragaya and Saketa through subsequent practice of dowry and with an association with the Lichchhavis of Nepal. Therefore, he stretched his empire from the Ganges River to Prayaga (now Allahabad) by 321 CE and earned the regal title of Maharajadhiraja.
Samudra Gupta (335-380 c):
He was the fourth emperor of the Gupta Dynasty and is considered as the great military intellect in Indian history. He was the chosen emperor of the Gupta Dynasty by his father. He took the kingdoms of Ahichchhatra and Padmavati in his reign and attacked the Malwas, the Yaudheyas, the Arjunayanas, the Maduras and the Abhiras. He had integrated over 20 kingdoms into his monarchy including the range of the Himalayas to the river Narmada and from the river Brahmaputra to the Yamuna. He controlled nearly the entire valley of the Ganga River. He exterminated 9 monarchs and conquered 12 others in his campaigns. He was awarded the title of “World Monarch”. He was a follower of Hinduism and is known to have worshipped Lord Vishnu.
Chandra Gupta II (reigned 380-415):
Chandra Gupta II or Vikramaditya was the most powerful emperor of the Gupta Dynasty. He was the son of Samudra Gupta and the grandson of Chandra Gupta I. He assassinated his elder brother to achieve the power to rule the empire. He extended control over neighbouring territories by pursuing favourable marital alliance and an aggressive expansionist policy. Gupta Empire was the most powerful empire in the world during the reign of Chandra Gupta II. He controlled the whole of Indian subcontinent.
He supported the significance of Classical arts and it was during his court where the astronomer Varahamira and poet and dramatist Kalidasa got their identity for their great contributions.
Under Chandra Gupta II, India enjoyed peace and relative prosperity. His system of administration and charitable exertion were admired by the Chinese pilgrim Faxian.
During 388 to 409 CE he conquered Gujarat, Saurashtra and Malwa along with its capital at Ujjain.
Government of Gupta Empire:
The Guptas followed a hierarchy of administrative divisions. It was divided into 26 provinces characterized as Bhukti, Pradesh and Bhoga. These provinces were further divided into Vishayas, a part of which is named as Vithi. The Vishyapatis were given the power to enjoy full control of the Vishayas. The Adhikarana that is council of reprsentatives assist the Vishyapati. The Adhikarana is composed of four representatives namely Nagarasreshesthi, Sarthavaha, Prathamakulike and Prathama Kayastha.
The Guptas used the infantry archers and the bow which was made of metal, bamboo and fired a long bamboo cane arrow with a metal head. The Iron shafts were used against armored elephants. They also made great use of steel weapons. Archers were protected by the use of infantry equipped shields, javelins and long swords.
The Guptas were trained with the knowledge of siege craft, catapults and other sophisticated war machineries. They showed little preference for using horse archers.
The Gupta armed were strictly disciplined. They followed the combination of armed tactics and proper logistic management. The success of the Gupta military forces were stemmed from the concerted use of elephants, armored cavalry and foot archers in tandem.
Guptas also maintained a navy for the control of regional waters.
Significant features of the Gupta Period: (known as Golden Age of India)
The Gupta period was well known for the flourishing of Sanskrit literature (many works are traditionally ascribed to poet Kalidasa). This was the period during which the sophisticated metal coins came into existence. Many inventions and discoveries in science, technology, mathematics, astronomy, arts, religion and philosophy emphasized on Hindu culture, took place during the Gupta period. The Gupta era was marked as India’s Classical period because of its magnificent architecture, sculptures and paintings, as well as its contributions to great advancements in many academic fields. The contributions of great scholars during this period were:
Kalidasa: He is regarded as the greatest Indian Writer. The Sanskrit drama “The Recognition of Shakuntala” was his famous creation which is traditionally the major Indian literary effort of any period.
Aryabhata, and Varahamira: Indian astronomers and mathematicians. Aryabhatriya was the greatest contribution on Mathematics and Astronomy which was treatise in Sanskrit. They invented the ingenious use of decimal notations and the numeral zero.
Aryabhata was the first astronomer to find out that the Earth is spherical in shape and it rotates on its axis. He introduced two systems to determine the time. They are the Audayika system (from sunrise to the next sunrise) and the Ardharaatrika system (from midnight to midnight). He also discovered that the moon and the other planets shine by reflected sunlight.
Vatsyayana: Kamasutra, the ancient script on Human Sexual Behavior in Sanskrit literature was penned down by the Indian scholar Vatsyayana.
Sushruta Samhita, a Sanskrit manuscript on all major concepts of Ayurvedic medicine with innovative techniques on surgery originated to this period.
The iconic carved stone deity in Hindu art, the Buddha figure, Jain Trihankara figures and the two great centres of sculptures namely Mathura and Gandhara emerged during the period of Gupta dynasty.
The paintings depicted in the caves of Ajanta, Elephanta and Ellora reflects the monumentality of the Guptan approach.
The period showed great progress in terms of trade and culture which had influenced nearby kingdoms and regions in Burma, Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia. It also had trade links with the Roman Empire.
Decline of Gupta Dynasty:
One reason the Guptas lost power was because they suffered substantial loss of territory and colonial authority due to which the empire came to turn down. The invasion of the Huna people from the Central Asia was the reason for its declination.
Skandagupta, the son and successor of Kumaragupta-I was the last great ruler of the Gupta Empire. In 480s the Hephthalites ruined the Gupta barricades in the Northwest where much of the empire was occupied by the Hun by 500 CE. The empire disintegrated under the attacks of the Hun invader Toramana and his successor Mihirakula. Toramana was defeated by Bhanugupta in 510 CE. By 528 CE, the Gupta emperor succeeded in throwing out the Huns by partnership consisting of Gupta Emperor Narasimhagupta and the king Yashodharman from Malwa.
Therefore, the growth of Yashodharma in Malwa and competition from the Vakatakas lead to the decline of the Guptas.