Sample Material of Our IAS Mains History Study Kit
Subject: History (Optional)
Topic: Gupta Empire
Some 500 years after the collapse of the Mauryan Empire, a
new dynasty called the Guptas arose in Magadha and established its control over
the greater part of India. The empires of the Satavahanas and Kushanas came to
an end in the middle of the third century A.D. and a new dynasty emerged in
north India, known as the Guptas. This period is also referred as the ‘Classical
Age’ or ‘Golden Age’ of ancient India and was perhaps the most prosperous era in
the Indian history.
42 inscriptions related to the period of the Imperial Guptas
are known. Out of them 27 are engraved on stone. Of these 22 are private
endowments, one is an official grant and the remaining 4 are Prasasties (2 of
Samudra Gupta and 2 of Skanda Gupta). Of the remaining 15, one is on an iron
column (Mehrauli Pillar at Delhi) and is the prasasti of Chandra Gupta II. The
others are copper plates. These inscriptions furnish a good deal of valuable
information about the political history as well as the religious, social and
economic conditions of the Gupta period.
Secular Sources: Kalidasa’s Abhijnana Sakuntalam,
Meghdhootam, Raghuvansam, Malavikagnimitram, Ritusamhara, Kumarasambhava,
Sudrak’s Mrichchakatika, Visakhadatta’s Devi Chandra Guptam, Vajjika’s Kaumidi
Mahotsava, Kamandaka’s Nitisara, Narada and Brihaspati Smritis,
Kathasarithsagara by Somadeva, Swapnavasava Datta by Bhasa etc.
Religious Sources: Hindu literatures: Puranas,
Kalijugaraja Vrithanta, etc.
Buddhist literatures: Arya Manjusri Mulakalpa is an indigenious Buddhist
work, which gives knowledge about Guptas.
Jaina literatures: Jinasena Suri’s Harivamsa Purana, though belongs to a
much later period, and makes some references to Guptas.
Foreign travelers account: The accounts of Chinese Buddhist pilgrims to
India, Fahien (he visited during the reign of Chandra Gupta II), Hiuen Tsang
(though he visited India during the reign of Harsha, he gives us information
about the popularity of Buddhism during Gupta period), and Itsing (he visited
India in 6725 AD, but refers to the donation of some villages to Chinese
Buddhists at Nalanda monas-tery by the first ruler, Sri Gupta, of the Gupta
The Gupta Dynasty
The Allahabad pillar inscription of Samudragupta mentions
maharaja Srigupta and maharaja Ghatotkacha as his ancestors. I-tsing who
travelled India from AD. 671 to 695 refers to Srigupta as the builder of a
temple at Gaya for the Chinese pilgrims 500 years before his time. This king
Srigupta has been identified with the first Gupta king of that name mentioned in
the Allahabad pillar inscription. But real empire building process was started
since the reign of Chandra gupta I.
Chandragupta I was definitely a strong ruler whose hands were
sought by the Lichchhavis who gave their princess Kumaradevi in marriage to him.
This matrimonial alliance enhanced the status of the obscure Guptas. He was the
first Gupta ruler to assume the title of Maharajadhiraj. He strengthened his
kingdom by matrimonial alliance with the powerful family of Lichchhavis who were
the rulers of Mithila, which brought an enormous power, resources and prestige.
He took advantage of the situation and occupied the whole of fertile Gangetic
valley. He started the Gupta Era in 319-20 AD.
Samudragupta was perhaps the greatest king of Gupta dynasty.
His name appear in Javanese text Tantrikamandaka, and Chinese writer, Wang-Hiuen-Tse
refers that an ambassador was sent to his court by King Meghvarma of Sri Lanka,
who had asked his permission to build a Buddhist monastry at Bodh Gaya for the
monks travelling from Sri Lanka. The most detailed and authentic record of his
reign is preserved in the Allahabad pillar inscription, composed by his court
poet Harisena. When he died his mighty empire bordered with Kushan of Western
province (modern Afganistan and Pakistan) and Vakatakas in Deccan (modern
Samudragupta was a staunch Hindu. Allahabad pillar
inscriptions mentions the title Dharma Prachar Bandhu for him - that is he was
the upholder of Brahmanical religion. The military achievements of Samudragupta
contain a long list of kings and rulers In the aryavarta he uprooted nine kings
and princes and annexed their kingdoms. His next most important campaign was in
southern India. Twelve kings and princes of the south (dakshinapatha) are listed
in the inscription. In the case of the kings of this area, by showing royal
mercy he won their allegiance. For his south Indian campaign, Samudragupta
proceeded through the eastern and southern parts of Madhyadesha to Orissa and
then advanced along the eastern coast and reached Kanchi and beyond and returned
to his capital by way of Maharashtra and Khandesh.
After all his military triumphs, he performed the
Ashwamedhayajna, which is evident on some of his coins. Ashwamedha gave him the
coveted title of Maharajadhiraj, the supreme king of kings. His greatest
achievement can be described as the political unification of most of the India
or Aryavarta into a formidable power. According to a Chinese source, Meghavarna,
king of Sri Lanka sent an embassy to Samudragupta for his permission to build a
monastery and a guest house for Buddhist pilgrims at Bodh Gaya. Samudragupta was
a versatile genius. He was not only proficient in war, but also in the sastras.
He is called kaviraja i.e. ‘king of poets’.
The Allahabad pillar inscription calls him a great musician.
This is also confirmed by his lyricist type of coins which shows him playing
veena (lute). He patronised learned men in his court and appointed them as his
ministers. Samudragupta died in about A.D. 380 and was succeeded by his son
Chandragupta II. Coins - Archer type, tiger type and Battle type. On some of his
gold coins he is represented playing the Veena.
He established matrimonial alliance with Vakatakas and
married his daughter Prabhavatigupta to Rudrasena II of the Vakataka dynasty.
Chandragupta II probably concluded this alliance with the Vakatakas before
attacking the Shakas so as to be sure .of having a friendly power back him up in
Deccan.After the death of Rudrasena II, Prabhavati Gupta acted as a regent on
behalf of her two minor sons. His foremost success was his victory over the
mighty Shaka dynasty. The annexation of their prosperous kingdom comprising
Gujarat and part of Malwa not only strengthened the Gupta Empire but also
brought it into direct touch with western sea ports. This gave a tremendous
impetus to overseas trade and commerce.
Perhaps it was after this victory over Shakas that
Chandragupta II adopted the title of Vikramaditya, which became popular in the
legends as a patroniser of learned men and a great liberator who overthrew the
yoke of foreign rule. The Mehrauli iron pillar inscription erected originally in
front of a temple of Vishnu (near Qutab Minar in Delhi) records the exploits of
a king named Chandra.This king Chandra of iron pillar is generally identified as