On the ruins of the Kushana Empire, a new empire came to life which established its way over a good part of the former dominions of both the Kushanas and Satavahanas.
This was the empire of the Guptas. The Guptas are speculated to have been of Vaishya origin.
Little is known about the early Guptas. The first known ruler was Sri Gupta, probably ruling over a small portion of north Bengal and south Bihar.
He was succeeded by his son Ghatotkacha. Both kings had adopted the title of `Maharaj'.
The first important king of the Gupta dynasty was Chandragupta 1.
Chandragupta I (320-335 A.D.)
He assumed the title of `Maharajadhiraja' and issued gold coins.
He married a Lichchavi princess Kumara Devi and had her portrait en-graved on his coins.
Chandragupta I was an important ruler of the dynasty for he started a new era in A.D. 319-20, which marked the date of his accession.
An inscription engraved on the Asoka pillar at Allahabad (known as Prayagaprasasti) gives us information about Samudragupta's accession and conquests. It was composed by Harisena.
Samudragupta performed the Aswamedha Yajna and struck gold coins of Yupa type.
He granted permission to the Buddhist king of Ceylon Meghavarman, to build a Monastry at Bodh Gaya. Hence, he was called Anukampavan (full of compassion).
Chandragupta II Vikramaditya
Samudragupta was succeeded by Ramgupta but he was killed by Chandragupta II, who also married his queen Dhruvadevi.
He entered into a matrimonial alliance with the Nagas by marrying prin-cess Kubernaga, whose daughter Prabhavati was married to Rudrasena II of the Vakataka family.
Mehrauli iron pillar inscription mentions his authority over north western India and a good portion of Bengal.
He made Ujjain his second capital.
Veerasen Sava was the court poet and minister of Chandragupta
Amarkhardava was his army general.
Fa-hien, the Chinese traveller came during the time of Chandragupta II.
The gold coins during his reign were called `Dinars'.
Chandragupta II was succeeded by Kumargupta I.
His inscriptions are the Bilsad inscription, the Karandanda inscriptions, the Mandsor inscription, the Damodarpur copper plate inscription.
He founded the Nalanda University.
He had to fight the Pushyamitras and the Hunas. He was successful in overthrowing the lianas.
The Junagarh inscription of his region tells that his governor Parnadatta got the Sudarshan Lake repaired.
Some of the successors of Skandagupta were Buddhagupta, Vainyagupta, Bhanagupta Narsimhagupta Baladitya, Kumargupta II and Vishnugupta.
The king remained the central figure of administration.
We find that Guptas adopted high sounding titles like `Parambhattaraka Parama-daivata', thakravartr, tarmeshwar', etc.
The Allahabad Prasasti of Samudragupta describes him as equal to the Gods like Indira, Varun, etc.
Though the supreme judicial powers were vested in the King, he was as-sisted by the Mahadandnayak (chief justice). In the provinces this work was entrusted to the Uparikas and in the districts to the Vishyapatis. In the village the headman and village elders used to decide petty cases. The Chinese traveler Fa-hien states that capital punishment was not given at all.
The Mahapratihara was the chief of palace guards; the Pratihara regulated ceremonies and granted the necessary permits for admission to the royal presence.
Dutakas were associated with the task of implementing gifts when gifts of land were made to Brahmans and others.
The empire was divided into Bhukti (province) placed under the charge of an Uparika (Viceroy). Bhuktis were divided into districts (Vishayas) placed under the charge of Vishayapati. The sub-districts were called Peth and the villages were under the Gramika and Mahattar.
Religious functionaries were granted land called Agrahara, free of taxes forever and they were authorized to collect from peasants all taxes which could have otherwise gone to the Emperor.
Land Revenue was 1/6th of the produce payable either in cash or kind.
Varnasamkara was the intermarriage between various varnas.
The various foreign ruling families of the pre-Gupta period, of Greek or Scythian origin were given semi-Kshatriya status (Vratya Kshatriya) be-cause they could not be considered to be of pure Kshatriya origin.
The Antyajas or untouchables were considered impure and even their touch was considered impure. The Chandalas and the Charmakaras were consid-ered outcastes.
The position of Shudras improved somewhat.
The condition of women deteriorated.
The first example of Sati came from Iran (M.P.) in 510 A.D.
Yaynavalkya Smriti, Narada Smriti, Brihaspati Smriti, etc. were written during this period.
Hindustan acquired its present shape only during Gupta age. Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh emerged as the Supreme deities.
Bhagvatism became more popular and centered on the worship of Vishnu or Bhagwat. Theory of Karma and idea of Bhakti and Ahimsa became the foundation of Bhagvatism.
Idol worship in temples became a common feature. Concept of Avatars or incarnations of Vishnu was preached.
Durga, Kali, Amba, Chandi, etc. came to be regarded as mother goddesses.
Four ends of life were enumerated as Dharma, Artha, Kama, and Moksha. First three were called Trivarga.
Buddhism no longer received royal patronage.
Science and Technology
Gupta period is unparalleled for its achievements in the field of mathematics and astronomy.
Aryabhatta was the first to use the decimal system, though he was not its founder. He formulated the rule for finding out the area of triangle which led to the origin of trigonometry. He calculated the value of pie and laid down the foundation of algebra in his book Aryabhattiyam.
The most famous work of this time was Suryasiddhanta.
Brahmagupta in the 7th century A.D. developed rules for operating with zero and negative quantities; he began to apply algebra to astronomical problems.
Aryabhatta found the causes of lunar and solar eclipse. He also calculated the circumference of the Earth which is still almost correct. He was the first to reveal that the sun is stationary and the earth revolves around the sun.
Varahamihir's well known work was Brihatsamhita, which stated that the moon rotates around the sun. He also wrote the Panchasidhantika which gives the summary of five astronomical books current in his time.
Romaka Sidhanta was also complied and was influenced by Greek ideas.
The Guptas excelled in metallurgy. The iron pillar at Mehrauli has with-stood rain and weather for centuries without rusting.
Bhasha wrote three plays. Shudraka wrote Mrichkatikam or Little Clay Cat.
Vishakhadatta wrote Mudrarakshasha and Devichandraguptam. Women and Shudras featuring in the plays spoke Prakrit.
Both Ramayana and Mahabharata along with various Puranas and Smritis were finally compiled.
Amarsimha wrote Amarkosha.
The Gupta period marks the beginning of Indian temple architecture.
Temple No. XVII at Sanchi; Kankali Devi Temple at Tigawa; and Vishnu and Varsha temple at Eran are flat roofed, square temples with a shallow pillared porch in the front.
The Parvati temple of Nachna Kuthara and the Siva Temple at Bhumara are flat roofed square temples with a covered ambulatory around the Sanctum.
Dasavatara temple at Deograh and the brick temple at Bhitargaon are square temples with the low squat Shikhara (tower) above.
The stone sculpture of Nara Narayana from Dasavatar temple is fabu-lous.
Another master piece is the two meter high bronze image of Buddha recovered from Sultanganj near Bhagalpur. Gupta stone sculpture art was related to the Mathura school.
Painting reached its zenith in the Ajanta paintings. The dying prince, `mother and child', etc. are master pieces.