Gupta Empire (320 CE–600s CE)

| August 21, 2012 | Reply

Gupta Empire

The Gupta Empire was an ancient Indian empire which existed from approximately 320 to 550 CE and covered much of the Indian Subcontinent. Founded by Maharaja Sri Gupta, the dynasty was the model of a classical civilisation. The peace and prosperity created under the leadership of the Guptas enabled the pursuit of scientific and artistic endeavors. This period is called the Golden Age of India and was marked by extensive inventions and discoveries in science, technology,  engineering,  art,  dialectic,  literature,  logic, mathematics, astronomy, religion and philosophythat crystallized the elements of what is generally known as Hindu culture. Chandra Gupta I, Samudra Gupta the Great, andChandra Gupta II the Great were the most notable rulers of the Gupta dynasty. The 4th century CE Sanskrit poet Kalidasa, credits Guptas with having conquered about twenty one kingdoms, both in and outside India, including the kingdoms ofParasikas (Persians), the Hunas, the Kambojas tribes located in the west and east Oxus valleys, the Kinnaras, Kiratas etc.

The high points of this cultural creativity are magnificent architecture, sculptures and paintings. The Gupta period produced scholars such as Kalidasa, Aryabhata, Varahamihira, Vishnu Sharma  and  Vatsyayana  who made great advancements in many academic fields. Science and political administration reached new heights during the Gupta era. 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, and Southeast Asia.

The earliest available Indian epics are also thought to have been written around this period. The empire gradually declined because of many factors such as substantial loss of territory and imperial authority caused by their own erstwhile feudatories and the invasion by the Huna peoples 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 Vardhana ruler Harsha Vardhana, who established an empire in the first half of the 7th century.

Origin of the Guptas

According to many historians Gupta dynasty was a Kshantriya dynasty, according to historian, Ram Sharan Sharma, Guptas were a Kshatriya dynasty, “who may have appeared as a reaction against oppressive rulers”.A.S. Altekar, a historian and archaeologist, who has written several books on Gupta coinage, also 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.

Fa Xian was the first of the Chinese pilgrims who visited India during the reign of Gupta emperor  Chandragupta 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.

Srigupta and Ghatotkacha

The most likely time 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. His son and successorGhatotkacha ruled probably from c. 280–319 CE. In contrast to their successor, Chandragupta I, who is mentioned asMaharajadhiraja, he and his son Ghatotkacha are referred to in inscriptions as Maharaja At the beginning of the 5th century the Guptas established and ruled a few small Hindu kingdoms in Magadha and around modern-day Bihar.


Ghatotkacha (reigned c. 280–319 CE), had a son named Chandragupta (reigned c. 319–335 CE) (not to be confused with Chandragupta Maurya (340–293 BCE), founder of the Mauryan Empire.) In a breakthrough deal, Chandragupta was married to Kumaradevi, a Lichchhaviprincess—the main power in Magadha. With a dowry of the kingdom of Magadha (capital Pataliputra) and an alliance with the Lichchhavis, Chandragupta set about expanding his power, conquering much of Magadha, Prayaga and Saketa. He established a realm stretching from the 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, until 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 theYamuna. He gave himself the titles King of Kings and World Monarch. Historian Vincent Smithdescribed him as the “Indian Napoleon”. 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. He provided a gold railing around the Bodhi Tree.

Rama Gupta

Although, the narrative of the Devichandragupta is not supported by any contemporary epigraphical evidence, the historicity of Rama Gupta 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 GarudaGarudadhvajalion and border legend types. The Brahmi legends on these coins are written in the early Gupta style. In opinion of art historian Dr. R. A. Agarawala, D. Litt., Rama Gupta may be the eldest son of Samudra Gupta. He became king because of being the eldest. It may be a possibility that he was dethroned because of not being the worthy enough to rule and his younger brother Chandra Gupta II took over.

Chandra Gupta 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. His son Kumaragupta I was married to Kadamba princess of Karnataka region. Emperor Chandra Gupta II expanded his realm westwards, defeating the Saka Western Kshatrapas of Malwa, Gujarat and Saurashtrain 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. Many advances were 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 (romantic) element.

Kumaragupta I

Chandragupta II was succeeded by his second son Kumaragupta I, born of Mahadevi Dhruvasvamini. Kumaragupta I assumed the title,Mahendraditya. 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 Gupta rulers. He assumed the titles ofVikramaditya and Kramaditya. He defeated the Pushyamitra threat, but then was faced with invading Hephthalites or “White Huns”, known in India as the Sweta 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.

Decline of the 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 in northwest was overrun by the Huna by 500. The empire disintegrated under the attacks ofToramana and his successor Mihirakula. It appears from inscriptions that the Guptas, although their power was much diminished, continued to resist the Hunas. The Huns were defeated and driven out of India in 528 AD by a coalition consisting of Gupta emperor Narasimhaguptaand the king Yashodharman from Malwa. 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. In addition to the Huna invasion, the factors, which contribute to the decline of the empire include competition from the Vakatakas and the rise of Yashodharman in Malwa.

Gupta dynasty rulers

The main branch of the Gupta dynasty ruled the Gupta Empire in India, from around 320 to 550. This dynasty was founded by Srigupta. The rulers are:
  • Sri Gupta
  • Ghatotkacha
  • Chandragupta I
  • Nishamusgupta
  • Samudragupta
  • Ramagupta
  • Chandragupta II
  • Kumaragupta I
  • Skandagupta
  • Purugupta
  • Kumaragupta II
  • Budhagupta
  • Narasimhagupta Baladitya
  • Kumaragupta III
  • Vishnugupta
  • Vainyagupta
  • Bhanugupta
  • Shashankgupta

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Category: History of India

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