Gupta Dynasty

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The age of the Guptas in the 3rd and the 4th centuries CE is considered to be the golden and classical age of ancient civilization. The Gupta Empire was founded by Chandragupta the first (not to be confused with Chandragupta Maurya who founded the Maurya empire in the 3rd century B.C.E.). It is a coincidence that the names of the founders of both the major Hindu empires of ancient India were “Chandragupta”. Gupta rulers (320–550) ruled over much of northern and central India. They rose from East, swept the whole of the Ganges valley and built up an empire extending from the Himalayas to the Vindhyas and from sea to sea. Early in the beginning of the fourth century, a chief called Sri Gupta ruled a small kingdom in Magadha. He was succeeded by his son Ghatokacha. They were generally minor rulers in east Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The dynasty’s prime age started in the Magadha region of the middle Ganges valley, with the capital Pataliputra. Gupta influence was extended through military conquest east, west, and south by Chandragupta I, Chandragupta II, and Samudragupta. Gupta rulers bore simple title of maharajadhiraja (the great king of kings). The country was united under one and the only rule of the Gupta Emperors and their allies. Sciences and Arts flourished. Paintings of world-famous Ajanta caves were also made in this era. Samudragupta had inscribed the story of his conquests on the rustproof Askoka pillar, which today stands in the Pithoragarh (where the Kutub Minar was also built later Kutub-ud-din Aibak). According to the story he had uprooted 17 kings from the Ganges valley to lay the foundations of a pan-Indian empire.

But the most illustrious emperor of the Gupta line was Vikramaditya who succeeded Samudragupta. He shifted the capital from Pataliputra to Ujjaini (Modern Ujjain in Central India). It was in Vikramaditya’s court that he had the Navaratnas (Nine Jewels) who included the playwright Kalidas and the astronomer Varaha-mihira. His rule can be said to epitomize the zenith of ancient Hindu civilization.

For Gupta Dynasty that rose from east and swept the whole of the Ganges Valley, the task was not so easy. It was necessary to bring together the socio-religious elements that had been shaken by the influx of the foreign racial elements and the emergence of the non-Aryan populace as participants in religious, social and cultural activity. As a result Buddhism had grown stronger but the same forces had also affected other religious systems like Shaivism and Vishnuism which had not challenged the Brahmanical social order and could now be developed and incorporated into the social structure of the Ganges valley. Gupta conquest brought about varying degrees of independence and created a prosperous society in which Sanskrit grew out of its religious sphere to become the official language, at least in northern India.

It was during this age that the great Indian epics were finally redacted. Puranas found their final shape, as new ceremonies, rituals and festivals were defined. The orthodox Brahmanical religion changed from the Vedic system, adopted the forms of Shaivism and Vishnuism and finally the caste system was accepted as the unbreakable foundation of society. The Guptas did all within their power to encourage development, which may be regarded as the foundation of Modern Hinduism. The opening of the eastern and western ports brought new metals into the empire, which enabled the Gupta rulers to issue coins in gold, silver and copper. Overseas commerce brought rich profits and added to peace and prosperity. Indian merchants and ships sailing from the shores were able to win trading facilities and posts in the islands of South East Asia. The information about Gupta Dynasty is known from the archaeological remains, inscriptions and coins.

This article was last updated on Monday, Jan 03, 2005