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Gupta Empire
गुप्त राजवंश
Gupta Rājavaṃśa
Capital Pataliputra
Government Monarchy
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The Gupta Empire (Sanskrit: गुप्त राजवंश, Gupta Rājavaṃśa) was an Ancient Indian empire which existed approximately from 320 to 550 CE and covered much of the Indian Subcontinent [1]. Founded by Maharaja Sri-Gupta, the dynasty was the model of a classical civilization.[2] The peace and prosperity created under leadership of Guptas enabled the pursuit of scientific and artistic endeavors[3]. This period is called the Golden Age of India[4] and was marked by extensive achievements in science, technology, engineering, art, dialectic, literature, logic, mathematics, astronomy, religion and philosophy that crystallized the elements of what is generally known as Hindu culture[5]. Chandragupta I, Samudragupta, and Chandragupta II were the most notable rulers of the Gupta dynasty.[6]

The high points of this cultural creativity are magnificent architectures, sculptures and paintings[7]. The Gupta period produced scholars such as Kalidasa, Aryabhatta, Varahamihira, Vishnu Sharma, Vatsyayana and Prashastapada who made great advancements in many academic fields[8][9]. Science and political administration reached new heights during the Gupta era[10]. Strong trade ties also made the region an important cultural center and set the region up as a base that would influence nearby kingdoms and regions in Burma, Sri Lanka, Malay Archipelago and Indochina.[11]

The earliest available Puranas are also thought to have been written around this period. The empire came to an end with the attack of the Huna from Central Asia. After the collapse of the Gupta Empire in the 6th century, India was again ruled by numerous regional kingdoms. A minor line of the Gupta clan continued to rule Magadha after the disintegration of the empire. These Guptas were ultimately ousted by the Vardhana king Harsha, who established an empire in the first half of the seventh century.


Origin of the Guptas

A.S. Altekar, regarded the caste of the Guptas as Vaishya on the basis of the ancient Indian texts on law, which prescribe the name-ending with Gupta for a member of the Vaishya caste, but this injuntion was more often disregarded than followed. A modern historian, K.P. Jayaswal suggested that the Guptas were Jats. His argument was based on the Pune and Riddhapura copper plate grants of Prabahvatigupta, the Vakataka regent and the daughter of Chandragupta II. In these two inscriptions, she states that she belonged to the Dharana gotra and as it was not her husband's gotra, it is the gotra of the Guptas. His view was endorsed by another modern historian, Dasharatha Sharma, who added that the Jats of the Dharana gotra still exist in the present-day Rajasthan[12] Another modern historian, H.C. Raychaudhuri, also accepted that the Guptas belonged to the Dharana gotra. He also believed that they were possibly related to Queen Dharini, the chief consort of Agnimitra[13][14] But the basis of this argument, the earlier accepted reading of the Riddhapura copper plate inscription may be incorrect and the correct reading possibly indicates that the family of Prabhavatigupta's mother, Kuberanaga belonged to this Dharana gotra. Recently, a historian, Ashvini Agarwal, on the basis of the matrimonial alliances of the Guptas with the orthodox Brahman dynasties, assumed that they belong to the Brahman caste.[12]. However, recent excavations in Nepal and Deccan has revealed that Gupta suffix was common among Abhira kings, and Historian D. R. Regmi, links Imperial Guptas with Abhira-Guptas of Nepal.[15]

Fa Xian was the first of the Chinese pilgrims who visited India during the reign of Chandra Gupta II. He started his journey from China in 399 CE and reached India in 405 CE. During his stay in India up to 411 CE, he went on a pilgrimage to Mathura, Kanauj, Kapilavastu, Kushinagar, Vaishali, Pataliputra, Kashi and Rajgriha and made careful observations about the empire's conditions. Fa Xian was pleased with the mildness of administration. The Penal Code was mild and offences were punished by fines only. From his accounts, the Gupta Empire was a prosperous period.

The Chinese traveler Yijing (see also Xuanzang) provides more knowledge of the Gupta kingdom in Magadha. He came to north India in 672 CE and heard of Maharaja Sri-Gupta, who built a temple for Chinese pilgrims near Mi-li-kia-si-kia-po-no (Mrigasikhavana) who lost their lives in epic battle. According to Yijing, this temple was "about 40 yojanas to the east of Nalanda, following the course of the Ganga".[16]

Srigupta and Ghatotkacha

The most likely date for the reign of Sri Gupta is c. 240-280 CE. A number of modern historians, which include Rakhaldas Bandyopadhyay and K.P.Jayaswal think he and his son were possibly feudatories of the Kushans.[17] His son and successor Ghatotkacha ruled probably from c. 280-319 CE. In contrast to their successor, Chandragupta I, who is mentioned as Maharajadhiraja, he and his son Ghatotkacha are referred to in inscriptions as Maharaja.[14] At the beginning of the 5th century the Guptas established and ruled a few small Hindu kingdoms in Magadha and around modern-day Bihar.

Chandra Gupta I

Ghatotkacha (c. 280–319 CE), had a son named Chandra Gupta. (Not to be confused with Chandragupta Maurya (340-293 BCE), founder of the Mauryan Empire.) In a breakthrough deal, Chandra Gupta was married to Kumaradevi, a Lichchhavi princess—the main power in Magadha. With a dowry of the kingdom of Magadha (capital Pataliputra) and an alliance with the Lichchhavis, Chandra Gupta set about expanding his power, conquering much of Magadha, Prayaga and Saketa. He established a realm stretching from the Ganga River (Ganges River) to Prayaga (modern-day Allahabad) by 321 CE. He assumed the imperial title of Maharajadhiraja.


Samudragupta, Parakramanka succeeded his father in 335 CE, and ruled for about 45 years, till his death in 380 CE. He took the kingdoms of Ahichchhatra and Padmavati early in his reign. He then attacked the Malwas, the Yaudheyas, the Arjunayanas, the Maduras and the Abhiras, all of which were tribes in the area. By his death in 380, he had incorporated over twenty kingdoms into his realm and his rule extended from the Himalayas to the river Narmada and from the Brahmaputra to the Yamuna. He gave himself the titles King of Kings and World Monarch. He is considered the Napoleon of north India. He performed Ashwamedha yajna (horse sacrifice) to underline the importance of his conquest. The stone replica of the sacrificial horse, then prepared, is in the Lucknow Museum. The Samudragupta Prashasti inscribed on the Ashokan Pillar, now in Akbar’s Fort at Allahabad, is an authentic record of his exploits and his sway over most of the continent.

Samudragupta was not only a talented military leader but also a great patron of art and literature. The important scholars present in his court were Harishena, Vasubandhu and Asanga. He was a poet and musician himself. He was a firm believer in Hinduism and is known to have worshipped Lord Vishnu. He was considerate of other religions and allowed Sri Lanka's Buddhist king Sirimeghvanna to build a monastery at Bodh Gaya. That monastery was called by Xuanzang as the Mahabodhi Sangharama.[18] He provided a gold railing around the Bodhi Tree.

Succession of Samudragupta

According to A.S. Altekar, a king named Ramagupta intervened between Samudragupta and Chandragupta II. His theory is based on a tradition that, Samudragupta's eldest son Ramagupta, who succeeded him, was a weak ruler. After suffering a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Sakas, he agreed to surrender his wife Dhruvadevi or Dhurvasvamini to the Saka Chief (who, Altekar believes is Rudrasena II). But, Rama Gupta’s younger brother Chandra Gupta II, protested against this dishonour and went to the Saka camp disguised as the queen and assassinated the Saka Chief. After this he killed his brother Rama Gupta, married Dhruvadevi and ascended to the throne. But this theory is not supported by any contemporary epigraphic evidence. The earliest version of this narrative is found in the Harshacharita of Bana. The later versions are found in a number of texts, which include the extracts of the Devichandragupta, a historical drama of Vishakhadatta found in the Natyadarpana of Ramachandra and Gunachandra and also in the Shringaraprakasha of Bhoja I.[19] The version of this narrative given by Bana in his Harshacharita differs significantly from all the later versions, even the narrative known to the author of the Kavyamimamsa (c.900). The Harshacharita only mentions that Chandragupta II, disguised as a female, destroyed a Saka king, who coveted the wife of another, in the very city of the enemy.[20] It does not mention anything about Ramagupta.


Although, the narrative of the Devichandragupta is not supported by any contemporary epigraphical evidence, the historicity of Ramagupta is proved by his Durjanpur inscriptions on three Jaina images, where he is mentioned as the Maharajadhiraja. A large number of his copper coins also have been found from the Eran-Vidisha region and classified in five distinct types, which include the Garuda,[21] Garudadhvaja, lion and border legend types. The Brahmi legends on these coins are written in the early Gupta style.[22]

Chandragupta II

Coin of Chandragupta II.

According to the Gupta records, amongst his many sons,Samudragupta nominated prince Chandra Gupta II, born of queen Dattadevi, as his successor.

Chandra Gupta II, Vikramaditya (the Sun of Power), ruled from 380 until 413. Chandra Gupta II also married to a Kadamba princess of Kuntala region and a princess of Naga lineage (Nāgakulotpannnā), Kuberanaga. His daughter Prabhavatigupta from this Naga queen was married to Rudrasena II, the Vakataka ruler of Deccan.[23] His son Kumaragupta I was married to Kadamba princess of karnatka region . Emperor Chandra Gupta II expanded his realm westwards, defeating the Saka Western Kshatrapas of Malwa, Gujarat and Saurashtra in a campaign lasting until 409, but with his main opponent Rudrasimha III defeated by 395, and crushing the Bengal (Vanga) chiefdoms. This extended his control from coast-to-coast, estabilshed a second capital at Ujjain and was the high point of the empire.

Despite the creation of the empire through war, the reign is remembered for its very influential style of Hindu art, literature, culture and science, especially during the reign of Chandra Gupta II. Some excellent works of Hindu art such as the panels at the Dashavatara Temple in Deogarh serve to illustrate the magnificence of Gupta art. Above all it was the synthesis of elements that gave Gupta art its distinctive flavour. During this period, the Guptas were supportive of thriving Buddhist and Jain cultures as well, and for this reason there is also a long history of non-Hindu Gupta period art. In particular, Gupta period Buddhist art was to be influential in most of East and Southeast Asia. Much of advances was recorded by the Chinese scholar and traveller Faxian (Fa-hien) in his diary and published afterwards.

The court of Chandragupta was made even more illustrious by the fact that it was graced by the Navaratna (Nine Jewels), a group of nine who excelled in the literary arts. Amongst these men was the immortal Kalidasa whose works dwarfed the works of many other literary geniuses, not only in his own age but in the ages to come. Kalidasa was particularly known for his fine exploitation of the shringara (erotic) element in his verse.


Chandra Gupta II's campaigns against Foreign Tribes

  • Fourth century AD Sanskrit poet Kalidasa, credits Chandragupta Vikramaditya with having conquered about twenty one kingdoms, both in and outside India. After finishing his campaign in the East and West India, Vikramaditya (Chandra Gupta II) proceeded northwards, subjugated the Parasikas (Persians), then the Hunas and the Kambojas tribes located in the west and east Oxus valleys respectively. Thereafter, the glorious king proceeds across the Himalaya and reduced the Kinnaras, Kiratas etc and lands into India proper [24].

The Brihatkathamanjari of the Kashmiri writer Kshmendra states, king Vikramaditya (Chandra Gupta II) had "unburdened the sacred earth of the Barbarians like the Sakas, Mlecchas, Kambojas, Yavanas, Tusharas, Parasikas, Hunas, etc. by annihilating these sinful Mlecchas completely" [25][26][27].

Kumaragupta I

Silver coin of the Gupta King Kumara Gupta I AD (414-455) (Coin of his Western territories, design derived from the Western Satraps).
Obv: Bust of king with crescents.[28]
Rev: Garuda standing facing with spread wings. Brahmi legend: Parama-bhagavata rajadhiraja Sri Kumaragupta Mahendraditya.

Chandragupta II was succeeded by his second son Kumaragupta I, born of Mahadevi Dhruvasvamini. Kumaragupta I assumed the title, Mahendraditya.[29] He ruled until 455. Towards the end of his reign a tribe in the Narmada valley, the Pushyamitras, rose in power to threaten the empire.


Skandagupta, son and successor of Kumaragupta I is generally considered to be the last of the great rulers. He assumed the titles of Vikramaditya and Kramaditya.[30] He defeated the Pushyamitra threat, but then was faced with invading Hephthalites or "White Huns", known in India as the Huna, from the northwest. He repulsed a Huna attack c. 455, But the expense of the wars drained the empire's resources and contributed to its decline. Skandagupta died in 467 and was succeeded by his agnate brother Purugupta.[31]

Huna invasions and the end of empire

Skandagupta was followed by weak rulers Purugupta (467-473), Kumaragupta II (473-476), Budhagupta (476-495?), Narasimhagupta, Kumaragupta III, Vishnugupta, Vainyagupta and Bhanugupta. In the 480's the Hephthalite King Oprah broke through the Gupta defenses in the northwest, and much of the empire was overrun by the Huna by 500. The empire disintegrated under the attacks of Toramana and his successor Mihirakula. The Hunas conquered several provinces of the empire, including Malwa, Gujarat and Thanesar and broke away under the rule of local dynasties. It appears from inscriptions that the Guptas, although their power was much diminished, continued to resist the Hunas. Narasimhagupta formed an alliance with the independent kingdoms to drive the Huna from most of northern India by the 530's. The succession of the sixth-century Guptas is not entirely clear, but the tail end recognized ruler of the dynasty's main line was king Vishnugupta, reigning from 540 to 550.

Military organization

The Imperial Guptas could have achieved their successes through force of arms with an efficient martial system. Historically, the best accounts of this comes not from the Hindus themselves but from Chinese and Western observers. However, a contemporary Indian document, regarded as a military classic of the time, the Siva-Dhanur-veda, offers some insight into the military system of the Guptas. The Guptas seem to have relied heavily on infantry archers, and the bow was one of the dominant weapons of their army. The Hindu version of the longbow was composed of metal, or more typically bamboo, and fired a long bamboo cane arrow with a metal head. Unlike the composite bows of Western and Central Asian foes, bows of this design would be less prone to warping in the damp and moist conditions often prevalent to the region. The Indian longbow was reputedly a powerful weapon capable of great range and penetration and provided an effective counter to invading horse archers. Iron shafts were used against armored elephants and hippos, and fire arrows were also part of the bowmen's arsenal. India historically has had a prominent reputation for its steel weapons. One of these was the steel bow. Due to its high tensility, the steel bow was capable of long range and penetration of exceptionally thick armor. These were less common weapons than the bamboo design and found in the hands of noblemen rather than in the ranks. Archers were frequently protected by infantry equipped with shields, javelins, and longswords.

The Guptas also had knowledge of siegecraft, catapults, and other sophisticated war machines.

The Guptas apparently showed little predilection for using horse archers, despite the fact these warriors were a main component in the ranks of their Scythian, Parthian, and Hepthalite (Huna) enemies. However, the Gupta armies were probably better disciplined. Able commanders like Samudragupta and Chandragupta II would have likely understood the need for combined armed tactics and proper logistical organization. Gupta military success likely stemmed from the concerted use of elephants, armored cavalry, and foot archers in tandem against both Hindu kingdoms and foreign armies invading from the Northwest. The Guptas also maintained a navy, allowing them to control regional waters.

The collapse of the Gupta Empire in the face of the Huna onslaught was due not directly to the inherent defects of the Gupta army, which after all had initially defeated these people under Skandagupta. More likely, internal dissolution sapped the ability of the Guptas to resist foreign invasion, as was simultaneously occurring in Western Europe and China.

Gupta administration

A study of the epigraphical records of the Gupta empire shows that there was a hierarchy of administrative divisions from top to bottom. The empire was called by various names such as Rajya, Rashtra, Desha, Mandala, Prithvi and Avani. It was divided in to 26 provinces, which were styled as Bhukti, Pradesha and Bhoga. Provinces were also divided into Vishayas and put under the cotrol of the Vishayapatis. A Vishayapati administered the Vishaya with the help of the Adhikarana (council of representatives), which comprised four representatives: Nagarasreshesthi, Sarthavaha, Prathamakulika and Prathama Kayastha. A part of the Vishaya was called Vithi.[32]

Legacy of the Gupta Empire

Scholars of this period include Aryabhatta, who is believed to be the first to come up with the concept of zero, postulated the theory that the Earth moves round the Sun, and studied solar and lunar eclipses. Kalidasa, who was a great playwright, who wrote plays such as Shakuntala, which is said to have inspired Goethe, and marked the highest point of Sanskrit literature is also said to have belonged to this period.

The flow of invasions from the Huns from central Asia aided in accelerating the demise of the glorious Gupta dynasty rule in India, although the effects of its fall was far less devastating than that of the Han or Roman at the same time. According to historian's work,

The Gupta Empire is considered by many scholars to be the "classical age" of Hindu and Buddhist art and literature. The Rulers of the Gupta Empire were strong supporters of developments in the arts, architecture, science, and literature. The Gupta Empire circulated a large number of gold coins, called dinars, and supported the Universities of Nalanda and Vikramasila.

Chess is said to have originated in this period,[33] where its early form in the 6th century was known as caturaṅga, which translates as "four divisions [of the military]" – infantry, cavalry, elephants, and chariotry - represented by the pieces that would evolve into the modern pawn, knight, bishop, and rook, respectively. Doctors also invented several medical instruments, and even performed operations. The Indian numerals which were the first positional base 10 numeral systems in the world originated from Gupta India. The ancient Gupta text Kama Sutra is widely considered to be the standard work on human sexual behavior in Sanskrit literature written by the Indian scholar Vatsyayana. Aryabhata, a noted mathematician-astronomer of the Gupta period proposed that the earth is not flat, but is instead round and rotates about its own axis. He also discovered that the Moon and planets shine by reflected sunlight. Instead of the prevailing cosmogony in which eclipses were caused by pseudo-planetary nodes Rahu and Ketu, he explained eclipses in terms of shadows cast by and falling on Earth. These and the other scientific discoveries made by Indians during this period about gravity and the planets of the solar system spread throughout the world through trade.

Gupta dynasty rulers

The main branch of the Gupta dynasty ruled the Gupta Empire in India, from around 320 to 550. This dyansty was founded by Srigupta. The rulers are:

Preceded by
Kanva dynasty
Magadha dynasties
AD 240-550
Succeeded by
possibly Pala dynasty

See also

Middle kingdoms of India
Timeline: Northern Empires Southern Dynasties Northwestern Kingdoms

 6th century BCE
 5th century BCE
 4th century BCE

 3rd century BCE
 2nd century BCE

 1st century BCE
 1st century CE

 2nd century
 3rd century
 4th century
 5th century
 6th century
 7th century
 8th century
 9th century
10th century
11th century

  • Gupta Empire

(Persian rule)
(Greek conquests)

(Islamic conquests)

(Islamic Empire)


  1. ^ "Gupta Dynasty - MSN Encarta". Archived from the original on 2009-10-31. 
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ Mahajan, V.D. (1960) Ancient India, New Delhi: S. Chand, ISBN 81-219-0887-6, p.540
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^ a b Agarwal, Ashvini (1989). Rise and Fall of the Imperial Guptas, Delhi:Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 81-208-0592-5, pp.82-4
  13. ^ Raychaudhuri, H.C. (1972). Political History of Ancient India, Calcutta: University of Calcutta, p.467ff
  14. ^ a b Mahajan, V.D. (1960) Ancient India, New Delhi: S. Chand, ISBN 81-219-0887-6, p.474
  15. ^ Inscriptions of ancient Nepal, Volume 1 By D. R. Regmi, Page no.74[1]
  16. ^ Raychaudhuri, H.C. (1972). Political History of Ancient India, Calcutta: University of Calcutta, pp.488,488ff
  17. ^ Agarwal, Ashvini (1989). Rise and Fall of the Imperial Guptas, Delhi:Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 81-208-0592-5, pp.84-7
  18. ^ Mahajan, V.D. (1960) Ancient India, New Delhi: S. Chand, ISBN 81-219-0887-6, p.487
  19. ^ Mahajan, V.D. (1960) Ancient India, New Delhi: S. Chand, ISBN 81-219-0887-6, p.491
  20. ^ Raychaudhuri, H.C. (1972). Political History of Ancient India, Calcutta: University of Calcutta, pp.488,488ff
  21. ^ Agarwal, Ashvini (1989). Rise and Fall of the Imperial Guptas. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 153-9. ISBN 81-208-0592-5. 
  22. ^ Bajpai, K.D. (2004). Indian Numismatic Studies. New Delhi: Abhinav Publications. pp. 120-1. ISBN 8170170354. 
  23. ^ Raychaudhuri, H.C. (1972). Political History of Ancient India, Calcutta: University of Calcutta, p.489
  24. ^ Raghu Vamsa v 4.60-75
  25. ^ ata shrivikramadityo helya nirjitakhilah Mlechchana Kamboja. Yavanan neechan Hunan Sabarbran Tushara. Parsikaanshcha tayakatacharan vishrankhalan hatya bhrubhangamatreyanah bhuvo bharamavarayate (Brahata Katha, 10/1/285-86, Kshmendra).
  26. ^ Kathasritsagara 18.1.76-78
  27. ^ Cf:"In the story contained in Kathasarit-sagara, king Vikarmaditya is said to have destroyed all the barbarous tribes such as the Kambojas, Yavanas, Hunas, Tokharas and the Persians "(See: Ref: Reappraising the Gupta History, 1992, p 169, B. C. Chhabra, Sri Ram; Cf also: Vikrama Volume, 1948, p xxv, Vikramāditya Śakāri; cf: Anatomii͡a i fiziologii͡a selʹskokhozi͡a ĭstvennykh zhivotnykh, 1946, p 264, Arthur John Arberry, Louis Renou, B. K. Hindse, A. V. Leontovich, National Council of Teachers of English Committee on Recreational Reading - Sanskrit language.
  28. ^ "Evidence of the smexy conquest of Saurastra during the reign of Chandragupta II is to be see n in his rare silver coins which are more directly imitated from those of the Western Satraps... they retain some traces of the old inscriptions in Greek characters, while on the reverse, they substitute the Gupta type (a peacock) for the chaitya wit crescent and star." in Rapson "A catalogue of Indian coins in the British Museum. The Andhras etc...", p.cli
  29. ^ Agarwal, Ashvini (1989). Rise and Fall of the Imperial Guptas, Delhi:Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 81-208-0592-5, pp.191-200
  30. ^ Raychaudhuri, H.C. (1972). Political History of Ancient India, Calcutta: University of Calcutta, p.510
  31. ^ Raychaudhuri, H.C. (1972). Political History of Ancient India, Calcutta: University of Calcutta, p.516
  32. ^ Mahajan, V.D. (1960) Ancient India, New Delhi: S. Chand, ISBN 81-219-0887-6, pp.530-1
  33. ^ Murray, H.J.R. (1913). A History of Chess. Benjamin Press (originally published by Oxford University Press). ISBN 0-936317-01-9. OCLC 13472872. 


  • Majumdar, R.C. (1977). Ancient India, New Delhi:Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 8120804368

Further reading

  • Andrea Berens Karls & Mounir A. Farah. World History The Human Experience.

External links


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