• After centuries of political disintegration an empire came to be established in A.D. 319, under the Guptas. Although the Gupta Empire was not as large as the Maurya Empire, it kept north India politi­cally united for more than a century.
  • When the Gupta dynasty ascended the throne around 320 CE, continuing until 550 CE, they consolidated northern India by subjugating the local and provincial powers that had become independent after the downfall of the Kushans.
  • The empire covered most of Northern India and Eastern Pakistan, parts of Gujarat and Rajasthan and what is now eastern India and Bangladesh. The capital of the Guptas was Pataliputra, present day Patna.
  • The period during the Gupta Empire is referred to as the Golden Age of India, embracing extensive inventions and discoveries 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.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.

Origin of Guptas:

Early Kings:

  • As per an inscription, the history of the Gupta dynasty begins with its founding by Sri-Gupta around 240 CE and Ghatotkacha was the next to follow him with the title Maharaja. This title was often borne by feudatory chiefs. The Poona copper plate inscrip­tion of Prabhavati Gupta describes Sri Gupta as the Adhiraja of the Gupta dynasty.
  • Gupta Empire records and Chinese records provided by the later Chinese traveller  I-Tsing, furnished the names of the first three rulers of the Gupta Dynasty, Maharaja Sri Gupta, Maharaja Sri Ghatotkacha and Ghatotokacha’s son, Maharajadhiraja Sri Chandragupta, considered the first Gupta emperor.


  • According to many historians, the Gupta dynasty was a Vaishya dynasty. Many asserts that the Vaishya Guptas “appeared as a reaction against oppressive rulers”. Some 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. The rise of the Gupta Empire was one of the most prominent violations of the caste system in ancient India.
  • In the Panchobh Copper Plate, some kings bearing the title Guptas and related to the imperial Gupta Dynasty, claimed themselves as Vaisyas.
  • In the Riddhapura copper plate inscription, it is stated that Sri Gupta belonged to the Dharan Gotra.

Original Homeland:


  • Guptas were initially a family of landowners who acquired political control in the region of Magadha and parts of eastern Uttar Pradesh. Uttar Pradesh seems to have been a more important province for the Guptas than Bihar, because early Gupta coins and inscriptions have been mainly found in that region. Hence Uttar Pradesh seems to have been the place from where the Guptas operated and fanned out in different directions.
  • Probably with their centre of power at Prayag they spread in the neighbouring regions. The Guptas were possibly the feudatories of the Kushanas in Uttar Pradesh, and seem to have succeeded them without any wide time-lag.
  • The Guptas enjoyed certain material advantages. The centre of their operations lay in the fertile land of Madhyadesha covering Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. They could exploit the iron ores of central India and south Bihar. Further, they took advantage of their proximity to the areas in north India which carried on silk trade with the Byzantine Empire.
  • On account of these favourable factors, the Guptas set up their rule over Anuganga (the middle Gangetic basin), Prayag (modern Allahabad), Saket (modern Ayodhya) and Magadha. In course of time this kingdom became an all-India empire.


  • Another and the most accepted theory about the origins of the Guptas from both archaeological and written evidences, is that the Guptas originated from Varendri (now part of Rangpur, Bangladesh).
  • The mention of “Varendra Mrigashihavan Stupa” on a mound in Nepal is a strong evidence that the Guptas originated from Bengal. As Sri Gupta built a temple in Mrigashivana and as the place was in Varendri, so historians have pointed out that Varendri might have been under the sway of the Guptas, when they ascended the throne.
  • Maharaja Sri-Gupta probably ruled a portion of Northern/Southern Bengal. Later Chandragupta I established his dominion over Magadha through marital policy with the Licchavis.
  • Also, I-tsing and other Gupta accounts write that Sri-Gupta was the first Gupta ruler and his ancestral homeland was Varendri in Bengal.

Chandragupta I (A.D. 319-320 to 335):

  • Chandragupta I (not to be confused with Chandragupta Maurya (322–298 BCE), founder of the Mauryan Empire), son of Ghatotkacha and the grandson of Sri Gupta, is generally considered as the founder of the Gupta dynasty. By marrying a Lichchhavi (of Vaishali) Princes Kumaradevi he sought to gain in prestige, though Vaishali does not appear to have been a part of his kingdom. As the ruler of the Gupta Empire, he is known for forging alliances with many powerful families in the Ganges region.
  • His rule remained confined to Magadha and parts of eastern Uttar Pradesh (Saketa and Prayaga).
  • He took the title of Maharajadhiraja, and his accession in about A.D. 319-20 marked the beginning of Gupta era.

    Queen Kumaradevi and King Chandragupta I on a coin of their son Samudragupta 350 380 CE.jpg
    Queen Kumaradevi and King Chandragupta I, depicted on a coin of their son, Samudragupta;350–380 CE

Samudragupta (A.D. 335-380):

  • Chandragupta I was succeeded by his son Samudragupta. Samudragupta became the ruler after subduing his rival Kacha, an obscure prince of the dynasty. He was perhaps the greatest king of Gupta dynasty. He was a benevolent ruler, a great warrior and a patron of arts. His name appears in the Javanese text `Tantrikamandaka’. His name is taken to be a title acquired by his conquests (samudra referring to the ‘oceans’).
  • Harishena, the court poet of Samudragupta rightly describes him as the hero of a hundred battles, and Vincent Smith calls him the ‘Napoleon of India’.


(a)Asokan pillar at Allahabad (Allahabad Prasasti):

  • His conquests are known from a lengthy eulogy composed by his court-poet Harisena and inscribed on an Asokan pillar at Allahabad. This account contains a long list of states, kings and tribes which were conquered and brought under various degrees of subjugation.
  • The Asokan pillar at Allahabad, one of the Pillars of Ashoka, an emperor of the Maurya dynasty. At some point of time, the pillar was moved from its original location and installed within Akbar’s Allahabad Fort in Allahabad. While it is one of the few extant pillars that carry his edicts, it is particularly notable for containing later inscriptions attributed to the Samudragupta. Also engraved on the stone are inscriptions by the Mughal emperor, Jahangir ( records an earlier visit in 1575 of Akbar’s courtier, Birbal, on a pilgrimage to the Sangam). Ashokan inscription is in Brahmi and is dated to 232 BCE. Samudragupta’s euology is in excellent Sanskrit, written in the more refined Gupta script (a later version of Brahmi) by the poet and minister, Harishena.

(b)Eran Stone Inscription of Samudragupta:

  • Written in Sanskrit – undated – This stone inscription was found by Alexander Cunningham near the Varaha temple – The inscription mentions the Gupta king Samudragupta who is compared with Dhanada (Kubera) and Antaka (Yama) in joy and wrath respectively. A mention of setting up a temple of Janardana at Airikina to augment his own glories.
  • Eran is the site of first reported monument of Sati dated 510 AD in India.


  • Much is known about Samudragupta through coins issued by him and inscriptions. These were of eight different types and all made of pure gold. His conquests brought him the gold and also the coin-making expertise from his acquaintance with the Kushana.
  • Most certainly, Samudragupta is the father of Gupta monetary system. He started minting different types of coins. They are known as the Standard Type, the Archer Type, the Battle Axe Type, the Ashvamedha Type, the Tiger Slayer Type, the King and Queen Type and the Lyre Player Type.
  • They exhibit a fine quality of technical and sculptural finesse. At least three types of coins — Archer Type, Battle-Axe and Tiger type — represent Samudragupta in martial armour. The coins bearing the epithets like parakramah (valour), kritanta-parashu (deadly battle-axe), vyaghra parakramah (valourous tiger), prove his being a skilful warrior.
  • Samudragupta’s Asvamedha type of coins commeorate the Ashvamedha sacrifices he performed and signify his many victories and superemacy

    Coin of Samudragupta, with Garuda pillar

Conquest of Samudragupta:

  1. The first category includes the twelve states of Dakshinapatha with the names of their kings who were captured and then liberated and reinstated. They were Kosala, Mahakantara, Kaurata, Pishtapura, Kottura, Erandapalli, Kanchi, Avamukta, Vengi, Palakka, Devrashtra and Kushthalpura.
  2. The second category includes the names of the eight kings of Aryavarta, who were violently exterminated; prominent of them were Rudradwa, Ganapatinaga, Nagasena, etc. Eran was annexed into Gupta empire by Samudragupta when he annexed many kingdoms of Aryavarta into Gupta dominion.
  3. The third category consists of the rulers of the forest states (atavirarajyas) who were reduced to servitude and the chief of the five Border States (pratyantas) and nine tribal republics that were forced to pay all kinds of taxes, obey his orders and came to perform obeisance. The five Border States were Samtata (South-east Bengal), Kamarupa (Assam), Nepala (Nepal), Davaka (Assam) and Kartipura (Kashmir). The nine tribal republics were the Malavas, Yaudheyas, Madrakas, Abhiras, Prarjunas, Arjunayanas, Sarakinakas, Kavas and Kharaparikas.
  4. The fourth category consists of the Daivaputra Shahi Shahanushahi (Kushanas), the Shaka, Murundas, the dwellers of Sinhala (Ceylon) and all the other islands who paid tribute to the King.

Culture and Religion:

  • Inspite of his preoccupation with political and military affairs, he cultivated music and poetry. Some of his gold coins represent him as playing on the lyre(Veena).

    Samudragupta playing the veena
  • Samudragupta was a man of exceptional abilities and unusual varied gifts – warrior, statesman, general, poet and musician, philanthropist, he was all in one. Coins and inscription of Gupta period bear testimony to his ‘versatile talents and Indefatigable energy’.
  • According to Allahabad Prasasti’s exaggerated picture, “Samudragupta was man of many sided genius, who put to shame the preceptor of the Lord Gods and Tumburu and Narada and others by his sharp and polished intellect and musical accomplishment.” His title of Kaviraj (King of poets) is justified by various poetical compositions. Unfortunately none of these compositions have survived.
  • The important scholars present in his court were Harishena, Vasubandhu and Asanga. He was a poet and musician himself.
  • Samudragupta was the up-holder of Brahmanical religion. Because of his services to the cause of religion the Allahabad inscription mentions the qualifying title of ‘Dharma-prachir bandhu‘ for him.
  • But he was tolerant towards other religions. His patronage to Buddhist scholar Vasubandhu and the acceptance of the request of Meghavarman, the ruler of Sri Lanka(Ceylon) to build a Buddhist monastery at Bodh Gaya (That monastery was called by Cinese Traveller Xuanzang as the Mahabodhi Sangharama) amply prove that he respected other religions. His Ashvamedha types of coins together with other coins bearing the figures of Lakshmi and Ganga together with her ‘vahana'(transport) makara (crocodile) testify his faith in Brahmanical religions.
  • Samudragupta had imbibed the true spirit of religion and for that reason, he has been described as ‘Anukampavan’ (full of compassion) in the Allahabad inscription. He has been described ‘as the giver of many hundreds of thousands of cows’.


  • Initially, he was known from the traditional narratives (like a Sanskrit play, named Devichandragupta by Vishakhadatta) only and not supported by any contemporary epigraphical evidence. But later, three Durjanpur inscriptions on Jaina tirthankara images were discovered from Durjanpur near Vidisha, which mention him 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, Garudadhvaja, lion and border legend types. The Brahmi legends on these coins are written in the early Gupta style.
  • Ramagupta may be the elder son and immediate successor of Samudragupta and succeeded by his younger brother Chandragupta II.
  • In the play Devichandragupta by Vishakhadatta, Ramagupta is portrayed as a weak and impotent king, afraid and incapable of warfare. He married the woman, Dhruvaswamini (Dhruvadevi) who was engaged with his brother Chandragupta II by force. He also became the King of the Gupta empire, though his brother was declared as the future King of the Gupta empire after Samudragupta’s death. According to traditional accounts, Ramagupta decided to expand his kingdom by attacking the Sakas in Gujarat. The campaign soon took a turn for the worse and the Gupta army was trapped. The Saka king, Rudrasimha III, demanded that Ramagupta hand over his wife Dhruvswamini in exchange for peace. The weak king was inclined to accept these terms. This infuriated his younger brother Chandragupta, who went himself in the disguise of the queen to the Saka chief and killed him. Then he murdered his royal brother Ramagupta and married the queen,  Dhruvswamini.
  • Historians still don’t know what liberties the author Vishakadatta took with the incidents, but Dhruvadevi was indeed Chandragupta II’s Chief Queen as seen in the Vaisali Terracotta Seal that calls her “Mahadevi” Dhruvasvamini. The Bilsad Pillar Inscription of their son Kumaragupta I (414–455 CE) also refers to her as “Mahadevi Dhruvadevi”.
  • The official records of the Guptas, however do not refer to Ramagupta and trace the succes­sion directly from Samudragupta to Chandragupta II.

Chandragupta II “Vikramaditya” (A.D. 380-412):

  • Samudragupta was succeeded by his younger son Chandragupta II. But, according to some scholars, Samudragupta who died shortly before A. D. 380 was succeeded by his eider son Ramagupta (as mentioned earlier).
  • During his rule, the Gupta Empire achieved its zenith. Art, architecture, and sculpture flourished, and the cultural development of ancient India reached its climax. The period of prominence of the Gupta dynasty is very often referred to as the “Golden Age of India”.

Marriage alliance and conquests:

  • The reign of Chandragupta II saw the high watermark of the Gupta Empire. He extended the limits of the empire by marriage alliance and conquests.
  • According to The Allahabad Pillar inscription and Devichandraguptam, Chandragupta II married Kuberanaga of the Naga family. The Nagas were a powerful ruling clan and this matrimonial alliance helped the Gupta ruler in expanding his empire.
  • The marriage of his daughter Prabhavati by his wife Kubernaga with the Vakataka king Rudrasena II helped him to establish his political influence in the Deccan. His son-in-law died fortuitously in 385 CE after a very short reign, following which Queen Prabhavatigupta (385-405) ruled the Vakataka kingdom as a regent on behalf of her two sons. During this twenty-year period, the Vakataka realm was practically a part of the Gupta empire. His greatest victory was his victory over the Shaka-Kshatrapa dynasty and annexation of their kingdom in western Malwa and Gujarat, by defeating their last ruler Rudrasimha III. The geographical location of the Vakataka kingdom allowed Chandragupta II to take the opportunity to defeat the Western Kshatrapas once for all. Many historians refer to this period as the Vakataka-Gupta Age. (For more about Vakatakas, Click Here)
  • Chandragupta II adopted the title of Vikramaditya (Sun of Power) which had been first used by an Ujjain ruler King Vikramaditya( who founded a lunar calendar the Vikram Samvat or Bikram Samwat following his victory over the Sakas in 56 BCE,) in 56/57 B.C. as a mark of victory over the Saka Kshatrapas of western India. The title ‘Vikramaditya’ was later used by 16th-century Hindu king Samrat Hem Chandra Vikramaditya as well.
  • The conquest gave Chandragupta the Western sea coast, famous for trade and com­merce. This contributed to the prosperity of Malwa, and its chief city Ujjain. Ujjain seems to have been made the second capital of Chandragupta II though Pataliputra continued to be the capital.

Chandragupta II’s Campaigns against Foreign Tribes:

  • 4th century CE Sanskrit poet Kalidasa, credits Chandragupta Vikramaditya with having conquered about twenty one kingdoms. After finishing his campaign in the East and West India, Vikramaditya (Chandragupta II) proceeded northwards, subjugated the Parasikas, then the Hunas and the Kambojas tribes located in the west and east Oxus valleys respectively. Thereafter, the king proceeds across the Himalaya and reduced the Kinnaras, Kiratas etc. and lands into India proper.
  • 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”.
  • After defeating the Sakas he assumed the title ‘sakari’.

Iron pillar at Mehrauli:

  • King Chandra’ whose exploits has been mentioned in the Mehrauli Iron Pillar Inscription, which is located in the Qutub-Minar complex in Delhi is identified by many scholars with Chandragupta II. According to this inscription, Chandra crossed the Sindhu region of seven rivers and defeated Valhikas (identified with Bacteria). It also mentions Chandragupta’s victory over enemies from Vanga (Bengal).
  • The pillar bears an inscription which states that it was erected as a flagstaff in honour of the Hindu god Vishnu, and in the memory of Chandragupta II (A derivation of Natya-darpana by Vishakadata states that the pillar had been put up by Chandragupta II himself after defeating Vahilakas. And after this great feat, he put up this pillar as a memory of the victory).
  • The pillar also highlights ancient India’s achievements in metallurgy. The pillar is made of 98% wrought iron and has stood more than 1,600 years without rusting or decomposing.
  • Chandragupta II controlled a vast empire, from the mouth of the Ganges to the mouth of the Indus River and from what is now North Pakistan down to the mouth of the Narmada.
  • The large number of beautiful gold coins issued by the Gupta dynasty are a testament to the imperial grandeur of that age. Chandragupta II also started producing silver coins in the Saka tradition.


  • Chandragupta continued issuing most of the gold coin types introduced by his father Samudragupta, such as the Sceptre type (rare for Chandragupta II), Archer type, and the Tiger-Slayer type. However, Chandragupta II also introduced several new types, such as the Horseman type and Lion-slayer type, both of which were used by his son Kumaragupta I.
  • In addition, Chandragupta II was the first Gupta king to issue silver coins. These coins were intended to replace the silver coinage of the Western Kshatrapas after Chandragupta II defeated them, and were modeled on the Kshatrapa coinage. The main difference was to replace the dynastic symbol of the Kshatrapas (the three-arched hill) by the dynastic symbol of the Guptas (the mythic eagle Garuda).
    Silver coin of Chandragupta II, minted in his Western territories, in the style of the Western Satraps. Obv: Bust of king, with corrupted Greek legend “OOIHU”. Rev: Legend in Brahmi, “Chandragupta Vikramaditya, King of Kings, and a devotee of Vishnu”, around Garuda, the mythic eagle.

    Gold coins of Chandragupta II
  • Further, Chandragupta also issued lead coins based on Kshatrapa prototypes and rare copper coins probably inspired by the coins of another tribe he defeated, the Nagas.


  • From Chandragupta II kings of Gupta dynasty are known as Parama Bhagavatas or Bhagavata Vaishnavas.
  • The Bhagavata Purana entails the fully developed tenets and philosophy of the Bhagavata tradition wherein Krishna gets fused with Vasudeva and transcends Vedic Vishnu and cosmic Hari to be turned into the ultimate object of bhakti.

Nine Gems:

  • Indian tradition claims that Dhanwanthari, Kshapanaka, Amarasimha, Shankhu, Khatakarpara, Kalidasa, Vetalbhatt (or Vetalabhatta), Vararuchi, and Varahamihira were a part of Vikramaditya’s court. The king commissioned nine men of letters, called the “nava-ratna”, to work in his court.
  1. Kalidasa: Author of the great epic, ‘Shakuntala’, great poet, dramatist and the most prominent scholar of Sanskrit language.
  2. Amarnatha: Author of ‘Sanskrit Amarkosh’
  3. Shapanaka: Prominent Astrologist who had achieved mastery in Astrology.
  4. Dhanvantri: A Doctor who had achieved mastery in the science of medicine; one who was an expert in diagnosis and one who could prescribe different treatments for a single disease.
  5. Varruchi: Expert Linguist and an expert in Grammar
  6. Varahamihira: Author of World famous epic, ‘Brhatsamhita’ and mastery in Astrology. Varahamihira predicted the death of Vikramaditya’s son.
  7. Ghatakpara: Expert in sculpture and architecture.
  8. Shanku: Expert in Geography (This name is even well known today in the field of geography)
  9. Vetalabhadra : Expert in black magic & tantric sciences. Vetalbhatt had been a Maga Brahmin known for writing work of the sixteen stanza “Nīti-pradīpa” (literally, the lamp of conduct) in tribute to Vikramaditya.

Visit of Fa-Hien:

  • Fa Hien, a Chinese Buddhist, was the of the pilgrims who visited India in search of original Buddhist texts. during the reign of Gupta emperor Chandragupta II (though he does not mention name of any king in his account).
  • He started his journey from China in 399 CE and reached India in 405 CE. He is said to have walked all the way from China across icy desert and rugged mountain passes. He entered India from the north-west and reached Pataliputra. He took back with him Buddhist texts and images sacred to Buddhism.
  • During his stay in India up to 411 CE, he went on a pilgrimage to Mathura, Kanauj, Kapilavastu, Lumbini, Kushinagar, Vaishali, Pataliputra, Kashi and Rajgriha and made careful observations about the empire’s conditions.
  • He spent the rest of his life translating and editing the scriptures he had collected.Faxian wrote a book on his travels, filled with accounts of early Buddhism, and the geography and history of numerous countries along the Silk Roads as they were, at the turn of the 5th century CE.

The information of Fahien about the political, religious, social and economic conditions of India:

  • His travelogues give a fine impression about Chandra Gupta’s empire.The various aspects of his empire, i.e. political, religious, social and economic, were clearly reflected in his writings. (Yuan Chwang / Huen Tsang was another Chinese who visited India during C 360-644 during the reign of King Harshavardhan. Like Fahien, he was also a Buddhist and came to India to explore more about Buddhist texts and places related to Buddhism and to acquire authentic Buddhist scriptures.)
  • Fahien noted the peacefulness of India, the rarity of serious crime, and the mildness of the administration. He stated that it was possible to travel from one end to another in the country without molestation, and without passports.
  • In his remarks on social custom he stated that all respectable persons were vegetarians, meat eating being confined to low castes and untouchables. Most citizens did not consume onions, garlic, meat, and wine. (Yuan Chwang was also aware of the four classes and had mentioned many mixed classes, but he shows no clear knowledge of the existence of caste in its modern form. Yuan Chwang had mentioned both about vegetarian and non vegetarian.)
  • He found Buddhism still flourishing, but theistic Hinduism was very widespread.
  • Fahien’s record shows that in place of the old sacrificial Brahminism, Hinduism has appeared. But in the best days of the Gupta Empire Indian culture reached a perfection which it was never to attain again. Humanitarian ideas, probably encouraged by Buddhism, were effective in Gupta period in moderating the fierce punishments of earlier days.
  • Fahien stated that the death penalty was not imposed in north India, but most crime was punished by fines and only serious revolt by the amputation of one hand. Executions were rare. (Yuan Chwang, 200 years later, reported that prisoners were not executed under Harsha, but were left to rot in dungeons. Punishments were rather mild as compared to the later times.)
  • According to Fahien, the Shudras were kept outside the town and entered the town by making a noise with a stick. They were butchers, hunters, and fishermen. (Yuan Chwang had also described this.)
  • Fahien states that the income of the government was mainly based on the revenue taxes which were one-sixth of the total production.There was absence of poll-tax and land tax.
  • Faxian wrote, “The people were rich and prosperous and seemed to emulate each other in the practice of virtue. Charitable institutions were numerous and rest houses for travelers were provided on the highway. The capital possessed an excellent hospital.”
  • Government officials were given fixed income and there was no contribution from the people. Donation was prevalent in those times. Fahien had made special note of free hospitals maintained by the donations of pious citizens. (Yuan Chwang had also reported that Nalanda was supported by the revenues of an enormous estate of one hundred villages, and by the alms of many patrons, including the great Harsha himself; it provided free training for no less than 10,000 students, who had a large staff to wait on them.)
  • Fahien was enamored by Patliputra and the huge palace of Ashoka. According to Yuan Chwang, Patliputra was not a main city of north India and its place was taken by Kannauj.Yuan Chwang had mentioned about the social and economic conditions. As stated earlier, he reported about varna.system and marriage. Fahien had not described all this. But both of them had stated that the economy was based on agriculture.
  • He had given a detailed description of the Buddhist pilgrimages. According to him, the Buddhist religion was divided into Mahayana and Hinayana. He saw twenty Buddha vihars in Mathura. But in Kapilavastu, Gaya and Kushinagar the condition was deteriorating which indicated the weakening of Buddhism. In the description of Fahien, it is not clear whether Brahmin religion was prevalent in the country or not. He visited two vihars near the stupa of an Ashoka in Patliputra- in one of them the Mahayana monks resided and in the other the Hinyana monks.
  • The ruler of Madhya Pradesh was a worshipper of Vishnu; according to him mutual relation was cordial and peaceful among the Hindus and the Buddhists. This indicates the religious tolerance of the society. (Yuan Chwang had also described the religious conditions of India at that time. The Buddhist religion was clearly declining. Despite of this, hundreds of monks resided in the country.)
  • Fahien had mentioned about the Jainism also. But there is no mention of the Jain religion in Yuan Chwang’s texts. Fahien had also mentioned about Shaiv and Vaishnav religion. Fahien, in comparison to Yuan Chwang, had not been so observant and informative with regard to social, economic and political conditions of the society. Yuan Chwang had completely described the period of king Harshavardhana but Fa Hien did not mention name of Chandragupta Vikramaditya.
  • From his accounts, the Gupta Empire was a prosperous period, until the Rome-China trade axis was broken with the fall of the Han dynasty, the Guptas’ did indeed prosper. His writings form one of the most important sources for the history of this period.

Kumaragupta I (412-454 A.D.):

  • Chandragupta II died about A.D. 413 and was succeeded by his son Kumaragupta, born of Mahadevi Dhruvasvamini.
  •  Kumaragupta is also known as Shakraditya and Mahendraditya. He erected an iron pillar, today visible at the Qutb complex in Mehraulli.
  • The Bilsad inscription is the oldest record of his reign and it dates to Gupta year 96, which corresponds to 415 CE. An inscription on a figure of a yaksha from Mathura in the reign of Kumaragupta has been dated to 432 CE, and a pedestal (with no king’s name on it, but presumably from Kumaragupta’s reign) has been dated to 442 CE.
  • He maintained intact the vast empire built up by his two predeces­sors. The last days of his reign were not good. The Gupta Empire was threatened by the rebellion of Pushyamitras (a tribe who were settled in central India but then rebelled) of central India and invasion of the White Huns. But, Kumaragupta was successful in defeating both threats and performed the Ashvamedha (horse sacrifice) to celebrate his victory.
  • Tumain inscription mentions a prince Ghatotkachagupta as a governor of Airikina(Eran) appointed by Kumaragupta I. It would have acted as a buffer state between the Huns and the Guptas when Huns started extending their kingdom towards east hence marking it as the easternmost boundary for the Huns.
  • He issued new coins with images of his namesake, Lord Kumara.
Silver coin of King Kumaragupta (414-455 CE). Obv: Bust of King Kumaragupta with cap decorated with crescents(derived from the coin design of the Western Satraps).[5] Rev: Garuda bird, circled by legend in Brahmi “Most devout King of Kings Kumaragupta Mahendraditya”.
Gold coin of Kumaragupta

Skandagupta (454-467 A.D.):

  • Skandagupta, who succeeded Kumaragupta I, was perhaps the last powerful Gupta monarch. To consolidate his position he had to fight the Pushyamitras. He defeated the Pushyamitra threat, but then was faced with invading Hephthalites or “White Huns” from access the frontiers in the north-west. However, Skandagupta crushed the Huna invasion in 455, and managed to keep them at bay. This heroic feat entitled him, like Chandragupta II, to assume the title of Vikramaditya. He also assumed the titles of Kramaditya.
  • It appears that these wars adversely affected the economy of the empire, and the debased gold coinage of Skandagupta bears testimony to these. Moreover, he appears to have been the last Gupta ruler to mint silver coins in western India.
  • Skandagupta’s name appear in the Javanese text Tantrikamandaka.
  • The Junagarh inscription of his reign tells us about the public works undertaken during his times. The Sudarsana lake (originally built during the Maurya times) burst due to excessive rains and in the early part of his rule his governor Parnadatta and his son Chakrapalita got it repaired.

    File:Ashoka Rock Edict at Junagadh.jpg
    The Junagadh rock contains inscriptions of Ashoka (fourteen of the Edicts of Ashoka), Rudradaman I and Skandagupta.
  • The last known date of Skandagupta is 467 A.D. from his silver coins.


  • Skandagupta issued four types of gold coins: Archer type, King and queen type, Chhatra type and Horseman type.
  • His silver coins are of four types: Garuda type, Bull type, Altar type and Madhyadesha type.
  • The initial gold coinage was on the old weight standard used by his father Kumaragupta of approximately 8.4 gm. This initial coinage is quite scarce.
  • At some point in his reign, Skandagupta revalued his currency, switching from the old dinar standard to a new suvarna standard that weighed approximately 9.2 gm.These later coins were all only of the Archer type, and this standard and type was followed by all subsequent Gupta rulers.

Huna Invasion and Hephthalites Empire In India:

  • The Hunas were Iranian-speaking Xionite tribes and a nomadic confederation in Central Asia who, via Khyber Pass, entered India at the end of the 5th or early 6th century and were defeated by the Indian Gupta Empire and the Indian king Yasodharman. In its farthest geographical extent in India, the Huna empire covered the region up to Malwa in central India.
  • The Central Asian Xionites consisted of four hordes in four cardinal directions. Northern Huna were the Black Huns, Southern Huna were the Red Huns, Eastern Huna were the Celestial Huns, and Western Huna were the White Huns or Hephthalites.
  • Skandagupta is stated to have repelled a White Huna invasion in 455, but they continued to pressure South Asia’s northwest frontier (present day Pakistan), and broke through into northern India by the end of the 5th century, hastening the disintegration of the Gupta Empire.
  • The initial Huna or Alxon raids on Gandhara took place in the late 5th and early 6th century AD, upon the death of the Gupta ruler, Skandagupta (455–470).Based on Chinese and Persian histories believes that the Hunas conquered Gandhara from the Ki-to-lo (Kidarites) in 475 AD.


  • Toramana , a ruler of the Hephthalite Empire, established his rule over Gandhara and western Punjab. Toramana consolidated the Hephthalite power in Punjab, and conquered northern and central India including Eran in Madhya Pradesh. His territory also included Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Kashmir.
  • He was defeated by the Indian Emperor Bhanugupta of the Gupta Empire in 510 A.D.
  • Toramana is known from Rajatarangini( by Kashmiri Brahman Kalhaṇa of 12th century CE), coins and inscriptions. In the Gwalior inscription, written in Sanskrit.
  • He was succeeded by his son Mihirakula in 520.


  • Mihirakula was one of the most important Hephthalite emperors, whose empire was in the present-day territories of Afghanistan, Pakistan and northern and central India.
  • His capital was Sakala or modern day Sialkot in the Pakistani Punjab. The Guptas continued to resist the Hunas, and allied with the rulers of the neighboring Indian states.
  • The Gwalior inscription issued in the 15th regnal year of Mihirakula shows his territory at least included Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh, central India.
  • Mihirakula suffered a defeat by the Aulikara king Yasodharman of Malwa in 528, and the Gupta emperor Narasimhagupta Baladitya who previously paid Mihirakula tribute.
  • According to Huen-tsang, The Hunas suffered a defeat by Yasodharman of Malwa in 528, and by 542 Mihirakula had been driven off the plains of northern India, taking refuge in Kashmir, where the king received him with honor. After a few years Mihirakula incited a revolt against the king of Kashmir and seized his power. Then he invaded Gandhara located westward, and killed many of its inhabitants and destroyed its Buddhist shrines.He claimed to be a worshipper of Shiva.
  • Twin monolithic pillars at Sondani in Mandsaur District were erected by Yasodharman as a record of his victory. The victory of Yasodharman is mentioned in the sentence “Ajay Jarto Hunan”, refers to the defeat of Huns by the Jats under the leadership of Yasodharman.
    Victory pillar of Yashodharman at Sondani, Mandsaur

  • Three inscriptions of Yasodharman have been found in Mandsaur. One of these is of samvat 589 (532 AD). Yasodharman had acquired the title of Vikramaditya.
  • The Kashmiri poet Kalhana has mentioned about three Kalidasas. The second Kalidasa, who wrote the books ‘Raguvansha’ and ‘Jyotirvidabharan’, was court poet of Yasodharman. According to some analysts, Kalidasa has mentioned the victories of Yasodharman as ‘Raghu-digvijaya‘.
  • The Bijayagadh Stone Pillar Inscription of Vishnuvardhana(son of Yasodharman), locally known as Bhim ki Laţ, was erected at Bayana in Bharatpur district, alo mentions Yasodharman.

(c)Later Hunas:

  • After the end of the 6th century little is recorded in India about the Huna. They may have had matrimonial alliance with Gurjars and others cite as them being assimilated into the dominant Gurjar community. Huna is one minor gotra among Gurjars.
  • In northwestern India, the Rajputs formed “as a result of the merging of the Hephthalites and the Gujars with population from northwestern India.”However, this is disputed.

Decline of the Gupta Empire:

  • Skandagupta died about A.D. 467 and the line of succession after him is very uncertain. Skandagupta was followed by weak rulers Purugupta (467–473), Kumaragupta II (473–476), Budhagupta (476–495?), Narasimhagupta Baladitya, Kumaragupta III, Vishnugupta, Vainyagupta and Bhanugupta, whose kingdom in the plains of Northern India was continuously attacked by the Hunas.
  • In the 480’s the Hephthalites broke through the Gupta defenses in the northwest, and much of the empire in northwest was overrun by the Hun by 500. The empire disintegrated under the attacks of Toramana and his successor Mihirakula. It appears from inscriptions that the Guptas, although their power was much diminished, continued to resist the Huns. The Hun invader Toramana was defeated by Bhanugupta in 510 CE.
  • The Huns were defeated and driven out of India in 528 AD by a coalition consisting of Gupta emperor Narasimhagupta and the king Yashodharman from Malwa.
  • The Guptas continued to rule till about 550 A.D., but by then their power had already become very insignificant.


  • No inscription of Purugupta has been found so far. He is known from the Bhitari silver-copper seal of his grandson Kumaragupta III and Nalanda clay sealings of his sons Narasimhagupta and Budhagupta and his grandson Kumaragupta III.
  • From the Saranath Buddha image inscription, it is concluded that he was succeeded by Kumaragupta II.


  • He was the successor of Kumaragupta II and the predecessor of Narasimhagupta Baladitya.He had close ties with the rulers of Kannauj kingdom and together they sought to rule the Huns out of the fertile plains of Northern India.
  • The Eran stone pillar inscription of two brothers, Matrivishnu and Dhanyavishnu mentions Budhagupta as their emperor (Bhupati).
    This sandstone pillar in Eran was setup by two brothers, Matri Vishnu and Dhanya Vishnu, in the reign of the Gupta emperor Budhagupta. Total height of the column is 43 feet which included 5 feet high statues on top of the column.
    Varaha Temple in Eran– Inscription on the neck of the boar – written in 8 lines in Sanskrit in Brahmi script – dated in the reign of Hun king, Toramana – The object of the inscription is to record the building of the temple in which the current Varaha image stands, by Dhanyavishnu, the younger brother of the deceased Maharaja Matrivishnu, same person who erected the above pillar.This Varaha would have been under a roofed enclosure whose walls are fallen now.
  • The Buddha image inscription found from Mathura is dated in Budhagupta’s reign. It shows that his authority was extended to Mathura in the north.

Vishnugupta and Vainyagupta:

  • From the fragment of Vishnugupta’s clay sealing discovered at Nalanda during the excavations of 1927-28, we came to know that Vishnugupta was the son of Kumaragupta III and the grandson of Narasimhagupta Baladitya.
  • Vainyagupta is also known from the fragmentary clay sealing discovered at Nalanda and the Gunaighar copper plate inscription dated Gupta era 188 (507 CE).In the Nalanda fragmentary clay sealing he is mentioned as the Maharajadhiraja and a paramabhagavata (devout worshipper of Vishnu), while the Gunaighar copper plate inscription mentions him as the Maharaja and a Bhagavan Mahadeva padanudhyato (devotee of Shiva).


  • Stone pillar inscription of Bhanugupta – written in Sanskrit – dated in year 191 of the Gupta Era (510-11 CE) – it is found on a pillar which was turned into a Shivalinga and found by Cunningham. The inscription does not mention any reign of any particular king but mentions a certain Bhanugupta who might be not be sovereign but some king of the Gupta family. The object is non-sectarian and mentions that in company of Bhanugupta, who was a great ruler, his chieftain Goparaja came to Eran and fought a battle with the Maitras, and that Goparaja was killed, and that his wife accompanied him, by cremating herself on his funeral pyre, apparently near the place where the pillar was setup. This is probably the earliest record of Sati tradition.
  • In addition to this various Sati Pillars ranging from Early Medieval Period to the Modern Period have been noticed in Eran.The Saka Samvat is used in all Sati Pillars. The prayer to God occurs in the beginning of almost all the inscriptions. After mentioning the Samvat and date, the epigraph gives the name of a dead person and his wife who became Sati along with him.

Causes of Decline of Guptas:

  1. Huna invasions were the main cause for the decline of the Gupta power.
  2. In addition to the Hun invasion, the factors, which contribute to the decline of the empire include competition from the Vakatakas and the rise of Yashodharman in Malwa. Yasodharman set up, in 532 A.D., pillars of victory commemorating his conquest of almost the whole of northern India. Yashodharman’s rule was short-lived, but it meant a severe blow to the Gupta Empire.
  3. Further, the internal attacks of the Pushyamitras, who are identified with the Patumitras and Durmitras of the Puranas, also caused notable destabilization to the state power of the Guptas.
  4. Another cause for the disintegration was the succession of weak rulers after Skandagupta.
  5. Yet another factor behind the disintegration of the Gupta state power was the administrative weakness. Guptas made no efforts to impose an effective control over their regions. Their control was effective as long as powerful rulers occupied the Gupta throne and exercised their authority effectively.
  6. Crisis of succession or weak monarchs led local chiefs to declare independence. This naturally resulted in constant military preparedness that led to the crippling of the financial resources of the Gupta Empire. Though Skandagupta thwarted the early attacks of the Hunas, the struggle disrupted the international trade of north-western India and eroded one of the most important financial bases of the Guptas.
  7. By the end of the 5th century AD and beginning of the 6th century AD, taking advantage of the chaotic condition of the Gupta Empire, many regional powers asserted themselves by declaring independence. Further, for some historians, another cause for the disintegration of the Gupta Empire was the beginning of feudalization of the polity, economy and society. They argue that this process of fuedalization with the issue of land grants first to religious and later to secular beneficiaries resulted in loss of revenue and diminished administrative control over the kingdom. Further, the growing importance of Samantas weakened the central authority.
  8. Another cause for the decline and disintegration of the Guptas is said to be their tilt towards the asceticism of Buddhism during the reign of Kumaragupta and Buddhagupta. It is suggested that the founding of Nalanda University by Kumaragupta and of Buddhist learning and the patronage extended by Buddhagupta are index of their tilt towards Buddhism that advocates non-violence.
  • It is true that they patronized Buddhist educational institutions but this does not mean that they renounced violence even for protection of their territories from external and internal disorders, nor is there any conclusive evidence to prove that they disowned their royal duties and spent their lives as ascetics, embracing Buddhist philosophy.
  • Divisions within the imperial family, concentration of power in the hands of local chiefs or governors, loose administrative structure of the empire, decline of foreign trade, growing practice of land grants for religious and other purposes, etc. contributed towards the disintegration of the Gupta Empire.

For Vakatakas Dynasty Click HERE

For Vardhana Dynasty Click HERE

Gupta Administration:

  • Unlike the Mauryas, the Guptas adopted such pompous titles as Parameshvara Maharajadhiraja, Paramabhattaraka, etc., which imply the existence of lesser kings with considerable authority within the empire.
  • Besides, the Guptas added other epithets claiming for themselves super-human qualities which raised them almost to the level of gods. In fact, in the Allahabad Pillar Inscription, Samudragupta is referred to as a god dwelling on earth.
  • Kingship was hereditary, but royal power was limited by the absence of a firm practice of primogeniture.

(1)Council of Ministers and other officials:

  • The Guptas continued the traditional machinery of bureaucratic administration but it was not as elaborate as that of the Mauryas.
  • The Mantri (chief-minister) stood at the head of civil administration. Among other high imperial officers were included the Mahabaladikarta (commander-in-chief), the Mahadandanayaka (general) and the Mahapratihara (chief of the palace guards).
  • The Mahabaladhikarta, probably corresponding to the Mahasenapati of the Satavahana kings, controlled a staff or subordinate officers such as the Mahashvapati (chief of cavalry), Mahapilupati (officer in charge of elephants), Senapati and Baladhikarta.
  • A high ranking official, heard for the first time in the Gupta records was the Sandhivigrahika (the foreign minister).
  • A link between the central and the provincial administration under the Guptas is furnished by the class of officers called Kumaramatyas and Ayuktas.
  • The Kumaramatyas were the high officers and the personal staff of the emperor and were appointed by the king in the home provinces and possibly paid in cash. Recruitment was not confined to the upper varnas only and several offices came to be com­bined in the hands of the same person, and posts became hereditary. This naturally weakened the royal control.
  • The Ayuktas were entrusted with the task of restoring the wealth of kings conquered by the emperor and sometimes placed in charge of districts or metropolitan towns.

(2)Provinces, Districts and Villages:

  • 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 into 26 provinces, which were styled as Bhukti, Pradesha and Bhoga.
  • The provinces or divisions called bhuktis were governed by Uparikas directly appointed by the kings.
  • The province was often divided into districts known as Vishayas which were ruled by Kumaramatyas, Ayuktas or Vishayapatis. His appointment was made by the provincial governors.
  • Gupta inscriptions from Bengal shows that the Municipal board Adhisthanadhikarana associated with itself representation from major local communities: (a) the Nagarasresthi (guild president),(b) the chief merchant Sarthavaha, (c) the chief artisan – Prathama Kulika and (d)the chief scribe – Prathama Kayastha. Besides them, for town administration were the Pustapalas – officials whose work was to manage and keep records ( mayor of the city called Purapala).
  • The lowest unit of administration was the village. In eastern India, the vishayas were divided into vithis, which again was divided into villages. The Gramapati or Gramadhyaksha was the village head­man. The Gupta inscriptions from north Bengal show that there were other units higher than the villages such as the Rural Board – Asthakuladhikarana which comprised of the village elders – Mahattaras and also included the village headman – Gramika and the householders Kutumbins.
  • With the absence of any close supervision of the state, village affairs were now managed by the leading local elements. No land transactions could be affected without their consent. The village disputes were also settled by these bodies with the help of Grama-vriddhas or Mahattaras (village elders).


  • Historically, the best accounts of this come 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 numerical strength of the Gupta army is not known. In contrast to the Mauryas, the Guptas do not seem to have possessed a big organized army. Probably troops supplied by the feudatories constituted the major portion of the Gupta military strength. Also, the Guptas did not enjoy a monopoly of elephants and horses, which were essential ingredients of military machinery.
  • All this lead to the increasing dependence on feudatories, who wielded considerable authority at least on the fringes of the empire. Chariots receded into the background, and cavalry came to the forefront.
  • 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
  • The Guptas seem to have relied heavily on infantry archers, and the bow was one of the dominant weapons of their army.  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 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. Archers were frequently protected by infantry equipped with shields, javelins, and longswords.
Gold coin of Gupta era, depicting a Gupta king holding a bow.
  • 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
  • The Mahabaladhikarta (commander-in-chief) controlled a staff or subordinate officers as mentioned above. The army was paid in cash and its needs were well looked after by an officer-in-charge of stores called Ranabhandagarika.

(4)Revenue Administration:

  • Land revenue was the main source of the state’s income besides the fines. In Samudragupta’s time we hear of an officer Gopasramin working as Akshapataladhikrita whose duty was to enter numerous matters in the accounts registers, recover royal dues, to check embezzlement and recover fines.
  • Another prominent high official was Pustapala (record-keeper). The Gupta kings maintained a regular department for the proper survey and measurement of land as well as for the collection of land revenue.

Gupta Economy:


  • The agricultural crops constituted the main resources which the society produced and the major part of the revenue of the state came from the agriculture. It is argued by many scholars that the state was the exclusive owner of the land. The most decisive argument in favour of the exclusive state ownership of land is in the Paharpur copper plate inscription of Buddhagupta. It appears that though the land was to all intents and purposes that of the peasants, the king claimed its theoretical owner­ship.
  • Various types of land are mentioned in the inscriptions;
  1. Kshetra was the land under cultivation
  2. Khila was the uncultivable land
  3. Aprahata was the forest land
  4. Gopata Sarah was the pasture land
  5. Vasti was the habitable land
  • Different land measures were known in different regions such as Nivartana, Kulyavapa and Dronavapa.
  • The importance of irrigation to help agriculture was recognized in India from the earliest times. According to Narada smriti, there are two kinds of dykes (1)Bardhya which protected the field from floods (2)Khaya which served the purpose of irrigation.
  • The canals which were meant to prevent inundation were also mentioned by Amarasimha as jalanirgamah.
  • The tanks were variously called, according to their sizes, as the vapi, tadaga and dirghula.
  • Another method for irrigation was the use of ghati-yantra or araghatta.

Land Grants:

  • The sources of the Gupta period suggest that certain important changes were taking place in the agrarian society. Feudal development surfaced under the Guptas with the grant of fiscal and adminis­trative concessions to priests and administrators. Started in the Deccan by the Satavahanas, the practice became a regular affair in Gupta times.
  • Religious functionaries were granted land, free of tax, forever, and they were authorised to collect from the peasants all the taxes which could have otherwise gone to the emperor. Religious grants were of two types:
  1. Agrahara grants were meant for the Brahmanas which meant to be perpetual, hereditary and tax-free, accompanied with the assignment of all land revenue.
  2. Devagrahara grants were made to secular parties such as writers and merchants, for the purpose of repair and worship of temples. The secular grants were made to secular parties and are evident from a grant made by the Uccakalpa dynasty. According to it, two villages were bestowed as a mark of favour, in perpetuity with fiscal and administrative rights upon a person called Pulindabhatta.
  • Epigraphic evidence of land grants made to officers for the administrative and military services is lacking, though such grants cannot be ruled out.
  • In fact, certain designations of administrative officers such as bhagika and bhogapalika suggest that some of the state officials may have been remuner­ated by land grants.

Position of Peasantry:

  • The land grants paved the way for feudal development in India. Several inscriptions refer to the emergence of serfdom, which meant that the peasants were attached to their land even when it was given away. Thus in certain parts of the country the position of independent peasants were under- mined, and they were reduced to serfs or semi-serfs.
  • The repression of the peasantry was also caused by the right of subinfeudation granted to the recipients of land grants. They were often authorised to enjoy the land, to get it enjoyed, to cultivate it or get it cultivated. The donated land could thus be assigned to tenants on certain terms. This also implied the donee’s right to evict the tenants from their land. The practice of subinfeudation therefore reduced the permanent tenants to the position of ten- ants-at-will.
  • The position of peasants was also undermined from the Gupta period onwards on account of the imposition of forced labour (Vishti) and several new levies and taxes.

Crafts Production and Industry:

  • Crafts production covered a wide range of items. Texts like Amarakosha of Amarasimha and Brihat Samhita which are generally dated to this period, list many items, give their Sanskrit names and also mention different categories of craftsmen who manufactured them.
  • Many important sites like Taxila, Ahichchhatra, Mathura, Rajghat, Kausambi and Pataliputra have yielded many craft products like earthen wares, terracottas, beads made of different stones, objects of glass, items made of metals, etc.
  • Different varieties of silk, cloth, called Kshauma and Pattavastra are mentioned in the text of this period.
  • An inscription of fifth century from Mandasor in western Malwa refers to a guild of silk weavers who had migrated from south Gujarat and settled in the Malwa region This indcates decline in trade and commerce.
  • Among the various industries that flourished in the Gupta period, mining and metallurgy certainly occupied the top posi­tion.
  • The Amarakosha gives a comprehensive list of metals. Of all the metals, iron was the most useful, and blacksmiths were only next to the peasants in the rural community. The most eloquent evidence of the high stage of development which metallurgy had attained in the Gupta period is the Mehrauli iron pillar of King Chandra, usually identified as Chandragupta II.
  • A significant development of the period in metal technology was the manufacture of seals and statues, particularly of the Buddha.
  • Contemporary literature also testifies to the wide use of jewellery by the people of the time.
  • Ivory work remained at a premium, as did stone cutting and carving, sculpture being very much in favour at this time. The cutting, polishing and preparing of a variety of precious stones – jasper, agate, carnelian, quartz, lapis – lazuli, etc., were also associated with foreign trade.
  • Pottery remained a basic part of industrial production, though the elegant black – polished ware was no longer used, instead an ordinary red ware with a brownish slip was produced in large quantities, some of it being made to look more opulent by the addition of mica in the clay which gave the vessels a metallic finish.

Trade and Commerce:

  • There was not much material change in the trade routes, commercial organization, currency systems, trade practices, etc. during the period.
  • Like the previous phase, we have reference to two types of merchants in the Gupta period, namely Sresthi who was usually settled at a particular place and enjoyed an eminent position and the Sarthavaha who was a caravan trader.
  • The articles of internal trade included all sorts of commodities for everyday use, chiefly sold in villages and town markets.
  • On the other hand, luxury goods formed the principal articles of long distance trade. Narada smriti and Brihaspati smriti laid down many regulations to govern the trade practices of the time.
  • Compared to the earlier period, there was a decline in long-distance trade because:
  1. Silk and spices were the chief Indian export articles of Indo-Roman trade. But by the middle of the sixth century silk worms were secretly brought overland from China and introduced into the Byzantine Empire. This produced an adverse effect on India’s trade with the west.
  2. Later, the expansion of the Arabs under the banner of Islam may have further disrupted India’s trade.
  • Indian merchants meanwhile had begun to rely more heavily on the South-East Asian trade. The establishment of Indian trading stations in various parts of South-east Asia meant the diversion of income to this region.
  • The commercial prosperity of the Gupta era was the concluding phase of the economic momentum which began in the preceding period.
  • Guilds, (nigama, sreni) continued as the major institution in the manufacture of goods and in commercial enterprise. They remained almost autonomous in their internal organization, the govern­ment respecting their laws which were generally drafted by a larger body, the corporation of guilds, of which each guild was a member.
  • Each guild had a president called Prathama or Pravara. Some of the industrial guilds, such as the silk weaver’s guilds had their own separate corporation which was re­sponsible for large-scale projects, such as endowments for building a temple, etc.
  • The Buddhist Sangha was by now rich enough to participate in commercial activities.
  • The rate of interest on loans varied according to the purpose for which money was required. The high rates demanded during the Mauryan period on loans to be used for overseas trade were no longer demanded, indicating an increased confidence in overseas trade. The average rate was now twenty percent per annum as against two hundred and forty of the earlier period. The lowering of the rate of interest also indicates the greater availability of goods and the consequent decrease in rates of profit.
  • Commercial decline is indicated by the paucity of coins of common use. The Guptas issued the largest number of gold coins (dinaras) in ancient India; but these hardly flowed into day-to-day private economic relations. Copper and silver coins of the period are few. Fa-Hien tells us that cowries became the common medium of exchange.
  • It is, therefore argued that economy in the Gupta period was largely based on self-sufficient units of production in villages and towns, and that money economy was gradu­ally becoming weaker at this time.
  • Languishing trade explains the decline of urban centres at least in the Gangetic plains, which formed the heartland of the Gupta Empire.

Social Developments:

  • Land grants to the brahmanas on a large scale suggest that the brahmana supremacy continued in Gupta times. The term dvija was now beginning to be used increasingly for the brahmanas. The greater the emphasis on brahmana purity the greater was the stress laid on the impurity of the outcaste.
  • The Varna system seems to have been considerably modified owing to the proliferation of castes.
  • The khastriya caste swelled up with the influx of the Hunas and subsequently of the Gurjars who joined their ranks as Rajputs.
  • The increase in the number of shudra castes and untouchables was largely due to the absorption of backward forest tribes into the settled Varna society. Often guilds of craftsmen were transformed into castes.
  • It has been suggested that transfers of lands or land revenues gave rise to a new caste, that of the kayasthas (scribes) who undermined the monopoly of the brahmanas as scribes.
  • The position of the shudras improved in this period and they were now permitted to listen to the epics and the Puranas. They were also allowed to perform certain domestic rites which naturally brought fee to the priests. All this can be attributed to a change in the economic status of the shudras.
  • The practice of untouchability became more intense than in the earlier period. Penance was provided to remove the sin arising out of touching a chandala. Fa-Hien informs us that the chandala, entering the gate of a city or market place, would strike a piece of wood to give prior notice of his arrival so that men could avoid him.
  • The Varna system did not always function smoothly. The Shanti Parva of the Mahabharata, which may be assigned to the Gupta period, contains at least nine verses which stress the need of combina­tion of the brahmanas and the kshatriyas; these may indicate some kind of concerted opposition from the vaishyas and shudras.
  • The Anushashana Parva of the Mahabharata represents the shudras as destroyer of the king.
  • Most of the legal texts of the period took the Dharmashastra of Manu as their basis and elaborated upon it. A number of such works were written during this period, the best know being those of Yajnavalkya, Narada, Brihaspati and Katyayana.
  • The joint family system, which be­came an essential feature of Hindu caste-society, was prevalent at the time.

Status of Women:

  • The status of women continued to decline. In a patriarchal set-up the men began to treat women as items of property, so much so that a woman was expected to follow her husband to the next world. The practice of sati (self-immolation at the funeral pyre of the husband) gained approval of the jurists. But it seems to have been confined to the upper classes. The first memorial of a saf/dated A.D. 510 is found at Eran Inscription in Madhya Pradesh.
  • Lawgivers of the period, almost unanimously advocated early marriage; some of them preferred even pre-puberty marriage. Celibacy was to be strictly observed by widows.
  • Women were denied any right to property except for stridhana in the form of jewellery, gar­ments, and similar other presents made to the bride on the occasion of her marriage. They were not entitled to formal education.
  • In the Gupta period, like shudras, women were also allowed tolisten to epics and the Puranas, and advised to worship Krishna. But women of higher orders did not have access to independent sources of livelihood in pre-Gupta and Gupta times. The fact that women of the two lower varnas were free to earn their livelihood gave them considerable freedom, which was denied to women of the upper varnas.

Social life:

  • Prosperous town dwellers seem to have lived in comfort and ease. The Kamasutra by the Indian scholar Vatsyayana, describes the life of a well-to-do citizen as one devoted to the pleasures and refinements of life.
  • Theatrical entertainment was popular both in court circles and outside. Dance performances and music concerts were held mainly in the homes of the wealthy and the discerning.
  • Gambling, animal fights, athletics and gymnastics were an important part of sporting events. Amusements of various kinds in which the general public participated were essential to the various festivals, whether religious or secular.
  • Chess is said to have originated in this period, 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, rook, and bishop, respectively.
  • Con­trary to Fa-Hien’s statement that vegetarianism was customary in India, meat was commonly eaten. Drinking of wine and the chewing of betel-leaf was a regular practice.

Culture of the Gupta Age:

  • The Gupta period is called the Golden Age of ancient India. This may not be true in the political and socio-economic fields because of several unhappy developments during the period.
  • However, it is evident from the archaeological findings that the Guptas possessed a large amount of gold, whatever might be its source, and they issued the largest number of gold coins.
  • Princes and richer people could divert a part of their income for the support of those engaged in art and literature.
  • Both Samudragupta and Chandragupta II were patrons of art and literature. Samudragupta is represented on his coins playing the lute (veena) and Chandragupta II is credited with maintaining in his court nine luminaries or Navratna.
  • The Gupta period witnessed Golden Age only in the fields of art, literature etc.

Gupta Arts and Architecture:

  • Religion was intimately connected with the developments in architecture and plastic arts(arts of shaping or modeling; carving and sculpture).


  • With the Gupta period India entered upon the classical phase of sculpture. By the efforts of the centuries, techniques of art were perfected, definite types were evolved, and ideals of beauty were formulated with precision.
  • The Gupta sculptures not only remained models of Indian art for all time to come but they also served as ideals for the Indian colonies in the Far East.The finished mastery in execution and the majestic serenity of expression of the image of Buddha came to be adopted and locally modified by Siam, Cambodia, Burma, Java, Central Asia, China and Japan, etc., when these countries adopted the Buddhist religion.
  • In the Gupta period all the trends and tendencies of the artistic pursuits of the proceeding phases reached their culmination in a unified plastic tradition of supreme importance in Indian History. Gupta sculpture thus is the logical outcome of the early classical sculpture of Amravati and Mathura. Its plasticity is derived from that of Mathura and its elegance from that of Amravati. Yet a Gupta sculpture seems to belong to a sphere that is entirely different.
  • The art of Bharhut, Amravati, Sanchi and Mathura came closer and closer; melting into one. In the composition, it is the female figure that now becomes the focus of attraction and nature recedes into the background. The human figure, taken as the image, is the pivot of Gupta sculpture.
  •  The most important contribution of Gupta sculpture is the evolution of the perfect types of divinities, both Bud­dhist and Brahmanical.
  • A large number of Buddha images have been unearthed at Sarnath, and one of them is justly regarded as the finest in the whole of India.
  • The art of Mathura acquired progressively more Indian elements and reached a very high sophistication during the Gupta Empire, between the 4th and the 6th century AD. The magnificent red sandstone image of the Buddha from Mathura is a most remarkable example of Gupta workmanship. The art of the Gupta is considered as the pinnacle of Indian Buddhist art.Hellenistic elements are still clearly visible in the purity of the statuary and the folds of the clothing, but are improved upon with a very delicate rendering of the draping and a sort of radiance reinforced by the usage of pink sandstone.Artistic details tend to be less realistic, as seen in the symbolic shell-like curls used to render the hairstyle of the Buddha. Stone and bronze images of Buddha have also been found at Mathura and other places.
  • Head of a Buddha, Gupta period, 6th century, Mathura.

    Buddha of the Gupta period, 5th century, Mathura.
  • The Bronze Buddha, found at Sultanganj (Bhagalpur district), is 71/2 feet high and is a fine piece of sculpture. The Sultanganj Buddha is a Gupta-Pala transitional period sculpture, the largest substantially complete copper Buddha figure known from this time. The statue is dated by archaeologists to between 500 to 700 AD.The Buddha statue stands with his right hand raised in abhayamudra, while his left hand is held downwards with palm outwards, said to indicate granting a favour. The end of the monastic robe is held between the thumb and forefinger of this hand in the manner still practised by Theravadin monks to this day.
    The Sultanganj Buddha in abhayamudra (a gesture of reassurance or protection)

    Stone statue of Buddha from Sultanganj in the British Museum
  • The image of the standing Buddha is an excellent example of Gupta art in its maturity from Sarnath. Sarnath introduces not only a delicacy and refinement of form but also a relaxed attitude by bending the body in the case of the standing figure, slightly on its own axis, thus imparting to it a certain litheness and movement in contrast to the columnar rigidity of similar Mathura works. Even in the case of the seated figure, the slender physiognomy conveys a feeling of movement, the body

    Standing Buddha, Sarnath, U.P.
  • The art of casting metals reached a degree of development. Fa-Hien saw an over 25 metre high image of the Buddha made of copper, but it is not traceable now.
  • As the Guptas supported Brahmanism, images of Vishnu, Shiva, and some other Hindu gods were fashioned for the first time during their period. The images of Siva, Vishnu and other Brahmanical gods are sculptured in some of the finest panels of the Deogarh temple (Jhansi district).
  • A relief carving of Krishna lifting  Govardhnana mountain was found at Varanasi.
  • Of the Brahmanical images perhaps the most impressive is the Great Boar (Varaha), at the entrance of a cave in Udayagiri.

    Varaha Avatar of Lord Vishnu at Udayagiri Caves

Teracotta Sculptures:

  • Teracotta art of this period includes small figurines and plaques found at many places including Kaushambi, Tajghat, Bhita and Mathura.
  • Terracotta Images of Ganga and Yamuna ,originally installed in niches flanking the main steps leading to the upper terrace of the Shiva temple at Ahichhatra. belong to the Gupta period 4th century A.D. Ganga stands on her vehicle, the makara. and Yamuna on the cacchap.

A Terracotta relief panel depicting a scene from the Rāmāyaṇa, built during the Gupta era.
A Terracotta relief panel of a meditating Buddha from the Gupta era.
  • The Vakatakas were paramount in the Deccan, contemporary with the Guptas in the North. The high watermark of perfection in art achieved in their region can be best seen in the later caves at Ajanta, the early ones at Ellora and those at Aurangabad.


(a)Free Standing Temple:

  • The Gupta period was poor in architecture. The doctrine of bhakti and the growing importance of image worship led to the construction of the free standing temple with its sanctuary (garbha griha) for the first time, in which the central cult image was placed. The Gupta period marks the beginning of Indian temple architecture.
  • The temples are simple and impretentious structures, but their bearing upon later devel­opments is of great significance. The following well defined types may be recognized.
  1. Flat roofed, square temple with a shallow pillared porch in front.
  2. Flat rooted, square temple with a covered ambulatory around the sanctum and proceeded by a pillared porch, sometimes with a second story above.
  3. Square temple with a low and squat sikhara (tower) above.
  4. Rectangular temple with an apsidal back and a barrel – vaulted roof above.
  5. Circular temple with shallow rectangular projections at the four cardinal faces.
  • The first three types of may be regarded as the forerunners of medieval Indian temple styles.
  • Examples of the first type include temple No. XVII at Sanchi, Kankali Devi temple at Tigawa and Vishnu and Varaha temples at Eran.
    Kankali Devi temple
    Vishnu Temple and Varah Temple at Eran, Madhya Pradsh

    Vishnu Temple – This is most complete temple in this complex in Eran with intact doorway. Two mandapa pillars are still standing with their corresponding pilasters however walls between these have no more survived.
  • The nucleus of a Temple (garbha – griha) with a single entrance and a porch (mandapa) appears for the first time as an integrated composition in this type of Gupta temples.
  • The second type is represented by Parvati temple at Nachna Kuthara and the Siva temple at Bhumara (both in M P), Lad Khan temple of Aihole . This group of temples shows many of the characteristic features of the dravida style.
    Parvati temple at Nachna Kuthara
    Shiva: temple at Bhumara
    Shiva temple, Bhumara

    Lad Khan temple of Aihole
  • Notable examples of the third type are seen in the so called Dasavatara Temple at Deogarh (Jhansi district. It is earliest known Panchayatana temple in North India) and the brick temple at Bhitargaon (Kanpur district). The importance of this group lies in the innovation of a shikhara or tower that caps the sanctum, the main feature of the nagara style.
  • The Bhitargaon Temple is a terraced brick building fronted with a terracotta panel. Built in the 6th century during the Gupta Empire, it is the oldest remaining terracotta Hindu shrine with a roof and a high Sikhara,
    Dasavatara Temple or Vishnu Temple at Deogarh
    Vishnu reclining on the serpent Shesha (Ananta) on a side panel of the Dasavatar Temple of 5th century
    Nara Narayana panel on the eastern wall of the Dasavatar temple

    Brick temple at Bhitargaon.The walls are decorated with terracotta panels depicting aquatic monsters, Shiva and Vishnu etc.
  • The fourth type is represented by a temple at Ter (Sholapur district) and the Kapileshvara temple at Aihole.
    Trivikram Temple Ter: Looks like Buddhist Stupa
  • The fifth type is represented by a solitary monument known as Maniyar Matha at Rajgir, Bihar.

    Maniyar Matha at Rajgir

(b)Rock Cut Caves:

  • The rock-cut caves continue the old forms to a large extent, some of the caves at Ajanta and Ellora (Maharashtra) Bagh (M.P.) , Kanheri caves (Mumbai. date from the first century BCE to the 10th century CE), Elephanta Caves (In Mumbai,  between the 5th and 8th centuries)may be assigned to the Gupta period.
  • In Elephanta cave, the most important sculpture in the caves is the Trimurti, described as a “masterpiece of Gupta-Chalukyan art”. It is also known as Trimurti Sadashiva and Maheshmurti. The three heads are said to represent three essential aspects of Shiva: creation, protection, and destruction.

    Elephanta caves
  • Both Chaitya and Vihara caves were excavated at Ajanta and the Vihara cave No. XVI and XVII and the Chaitya cave no. XIX are the best artistic monuments of the Gupta period.
  • The earliest of the Brahmanical shrines are to be seen in group of caves at Udayagiri (MP.).

For Ajant, Ellora, Bagh,Udayagiri, Kanheri, Elephanta caves, visit : HISTORY THROUGH MAP

  • The  Mogulrajapuram Caves, Undavalli Caves and Akkanna Madanna Caves in the Andhra country beiong to the Gupta period.

Mogulrajapuram Caves and Temple:

  • Mogalarajapuram Caves in Vijayawada, are known for its five rock-cut sanctuaries that date back to around the 5th century. The caves have religious significance due to the presence of the idols of Lord Nataraja and Lord Vinayaka in some of them.
  • Besides the caves, the Mogalarajapuram Temple is also a prominent attraction. This temple is enshrined with the statue of ‘Ardhanarisvara’ that is believed to be the oldest in South India.

Undavalli Caves:

  • The Undavalli Caves, a monolithic example of Indian rock-cut architecture are located in the village of Undavalli in the Guntur District (6 km south west from Vijayawada), and near the southern bank of the Krishna River in Andhra Pradesh.These caves were carved out of solid sandstone on a hillside in the 4th to 5th centuries A.D. The best known largest cave has four stories with a huge recreated statue of Vishnu in a reclining posture, sculpted from a single block of granite inside the second floor.
    Ananta Padmanabha Swami Temple.jpg
    The largest of the Undavalli caves

    Lord Vishnu in a reclining posture sculpted from a single block of granite inside the second floor
  • Undavalli caves are an example of how many Buddhist artifacts and stupas in Andhra were converted into Hindu temples and deities. It was originally a Jain cave resembling the architecture of Udayagiri and Khandgiri.
    Hanuman on a wall of the caves.

    Lord Brahma is carved on the inside walls of the caves
  • The main cave is one of the earliest examples of Gupta architecture, primarily primitive rock-cut monastery cells carved into the sandstone hills.Initially the caves were shaped as a Jain abode and the first floor abode still retains the Jain style; the vihara exhibits Jain monastics and includes tirthankara sculptures.This first level of the cave is a carved vihara and includes Buddhist art work.The site served as the Bhikkhu monastic complex during ancient period.
  • The walls of the caves display sculptures carved by skilled craftsmen. The caves are associated with the Jain kings of 420 to 620 A.D.

Akkana Madanna cave temple:

  • Akkana Madanna cave temple is located in Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh. This temple is built in the 17th century, though the caves themselves date from the 6th and 7th centuries. There is another cave nearby which is dated from the 2nd century BC.
  • The Trimurti of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva is hosted there.


  • Stupas were also built in large numbers, but the best are found at Sarnath (Dhamekh Stupa. It was recorded by Xuanzang While visiting Sarnath in 640 CE), Rajgir (Jarasindha ki Baithak), Mirpur Khan in Sindh and at Ratnagiri (Orissa).
    Dhamekh Stupa at Sarnath


  • The art of painting reached its height of glory and splendour in this age. The most important examples of the Gupta paintings are to be found on the wall frescos of the Ajanta caves, the Bagh caves. The school which these paintings represent was the source from which half the art of Asia drew its inspiration.
  • Although these paintings covered the period from the first century BC to the seventh century ad, most of them relate to Gupta times. They depict various events in the life of Gautama Buddha and the previous Buddhas whose birth stories are related in the Jatakas. These paintings are lifelike and natural, and the brilliance of their colours has not faded even after fourteen centuries.
  • Ajanta paintings now in Maharashtra lies in the Western Ghats which marks the boundary of the Deccan land separating it from that of Khandesh along the valley of the river Tapti. An outstanding feature of Ajanta art is that it combines architecture, sculpture and painting in its variety of expression. They are blended into marvellous unity of conception. The selection of the site shows good taste. The situation is romantic and full of natural scenery. The mural paintings are among the best of Ajanta art.Paintings In Gupta Period
  • The Ajanta tradition furnished a basis for new creations both in India and other countries too. The frescoes at Sigiriya in Ceylon, the painting at Bagh in Gwalior district, frescoes in the temple of Sittannsvasal in Tamil Nadu and many more can be sited as examples.
  • There is nothing to show that the Guptas were the patrons of the Ajanta paintings.
  • Cave No. XVI at Ajanta has the scene known as “Dying Princess”. Cave no.XVII has been called a picture gallery.
  • Characteristics of the Gupta Paintings:The Gupta art had religious and spiritual appeal. The artists were Shilpa-Yogins. They were the monks who had dedicated their lives to higher things of life and gave their best in chiselling the scenes in their various paintings. There is great simplicity of style and felicity of expression. The technique and the subject were blended harmoniously. The art of the Gupta period reveals certain chief characteristics. It is marked by refinement and restraint, signs of a highly developed cultural taste and aesthetic enjoyment. Balance, freedom and elegance are properly combined. There is worship of beauty but not at the cost of good taste.
  • Besides Buddhism, a streak of Hinduism can also be traced in the wall paintings from Gupta Empire.

Gupta Literature:

  • Sanskrit language and literature after centuries of evolution, through lavish royal patronage reached to the level of classical excellence. Sanskrit was the court language of the Guptas.
  • Gupta period was a bright phase in the history of classical literature and one that developed an ornate style that was different from the old simple Sanskrit. From this period onwards we find a greater emphasis on verse than on prose, and also a few commentaries.

Epics and Puranas:

  • The Puranas had existed much before the time of the Guptas in the form of bardic literature; in the Gupta age they were finally compiled and given their present form.
  • A section of the Visnudharmottara Purana deals with painting and gives detailed instructions about surface preparation in fresco paintings and the use of different colors in them.
  • The two great epics namely the Ramayana and the Mahabharata were almost completed by the 4th century A.D.
  • Although the epics and Puranas seem to have been compiled by the brahmanas, they represent the kshatriya tradition. They are replete with myths, legends, and exaggerations. They may reflect social developments but are not dependable for political history.
  • Bhāravi is best known for Kiratarjuniya, written around 550 CE. Kirat is Shiva who speaks to arjuna in for form of a mountain dwelling hunter. This is epic style Kavya in Sanskrit.


  • The period also saw the compilation of various Smritis or the law-books written in verse. The Smritis of Yajnavalkya, Narada, Katyayana and Brihaspati were written during this period.
  • The phase of writing commentaries on the Smritis begins after the Gupta period.

Secular literature:

  • The Gupta period is remarkable for the production of secular literature. Among the known Sanskrit poets of the period, the greatest name is that of Kalidasa who lived in the court of Chandragupta II.
  • The most important works of Kalidasa were the Abhijnanashakuntalam, Ritusamhara, Malavikagnimitra, Kumarasambhava, Meghaduta, Raghuvamsha and Vikrama Urvashiyam.
  • Abhijnanashakuntalam is very highly regarded in world literature.It relates the love story of King Dushyanta and Shakuntala, whose son Bharata appears as a famous ruler. It was one of the earliest Indian works to be translated into European languages, the other work being the Bhagavadgita.
  • Kumarasambhava deals with the union of Shiva and Parvati and birth of their son Kartikeya
  • Bhasa was an important poet in the early phase of the Gupta period and wrote thirteen plays. He wrote in Sanskrit, but his dramas also contain a substantial amount of Prakrit. He was the author of a drama called Dradiracharudatta, which was later refashioned as Mrichchhakatika or the Little Clay Cart by Shudraka. The play deals with the love affair of a poor brahmana trader with a beautiful courtesan, and is considered one of the best works of ancient drama. In his plays Bhasa uses the term yavanika for the curtain, which suggests Greek contact.
  • Shudraka wrote the drama Mrichcbhakatika or the little Clay cart.
  • Vishakadatta is the author of the Mudrarakshasa, which deals with the schemes of the shrewd Chanakya. The Devichandraguptam another drama written by him, has survived only in fragments.
  • The plays produced in India during the Gupta period have two common features. First, they are all comedies; no tragedies are found. Secondly, characters of the higher and lower classes do not speak the same language; women and shudras featuring in these plays use Prakrit whereas the higher classes use Sanskrit. We may recall that Ashoka and the Satavahanas used Prakrit as the state language.
  • Vyasa has written Vyasabhasya , it was a commentary on Yoga philosophy.
  • Ishwar Krishna‘s main work is Sankyakarika. It was a commentary on Samkhya Philosophy.
  • Vatsyayana was the author of Nyaya Sutra Bhashya, which was the first commentary on Gautama’s Nyaya Sutras. He also wrote Kamasutra, a treatise on Human Sexual behavior and makes the part of the Kamashashtra.
  • Dandin had written Kavyadarshana and Dasakumarcharita. He lived in Kanchi and is best known for Dasakumarcharita “The Tale of the Ten Princes” which depicts the adventures of 10 princes. Dasakumarcharita was first translated in 1927 as Hindoo Tales and The Adventures of the Ten Prince.
  • Panchatantra is a storybook of that era. It seems to have been originally composed with a view to imparting to young princes instruction in political science and practical conduct. Visnu Sarma is the author of this book. The earlier version of the Panchatantra was known as the Tantrakhyayika, which was most probably, composed in the timeframe of C. 250 A.D. The Panchatantra version was written some time during the Gupta period.

Sanskrit grammar:

  • The Gupta period also saw the development of Sanskrit grammar based on Panini (Ashtadhyayi) and Patanjali (Mahabhashya).
  • This period is particularly memorable for the compilation of the Amarakosha by Amarasimha, who was a luminary in the court of Chandragupta II. This lexicon is learnt by heart by students learning Sanskrit in the traditional way.
  • A Buddhist scholar from Bengal, Chandragomia, composed a book on grammar, named Chandravyakaranam. It was very popular in Kashmir, Nepal and Tibet and later reached Sri Lanka.
  • Bhartrhari composed the Vakyapadiya, which deals with philosophy of language in general, and discusses sentence and word in Sanskrit language.

Buddhist and Jaina literature:

  • Buddhist and Jaina literature in Sanskrit were also written during the Gupta period.
  • Buddhist scholars Arya Deva, Arya Asanga and Vasubandhu of the Gupta period were the most notable writers.Most of the works are in prose with verse passages in mixed Sanskrit.
  • First regular Budhist work on logic was written by Vasubandhu. His disciple, Dignaga, was also the author of many works.
  • Epics and Puranas were recast in Jaina version to popularise their doctrines. Vimala produced a Jaina version of Ramayana. Siddhasena Divakara laid the foundation of logic among the Jainas.

Prakrit Language and Literature:

  • The Gupta age witnessed the evolution of many Prakrit forms such as Suraseni used in Mathura and its vicinity, Ardhamagadhi spoken in Oudh and Bundelkhand, Magadhi in Bihar and Maharashtri in Berar.


  • The Allahabad Pillar inscription of Samudragputa by his court poet Harisena and the Mandasor inscription by Vatsabhatti possess some characteristics features of Sanskrit Kavya.
  • Three other inscriptions may be mentioned in this connection and these can be named as the Junagadh inscription, the Mehrauli iron pillars inscription and the Mandasor inscription of Yasovarman by Vasula. All the three inscriptions show considerable literary merit.
Important Literary Works During the Gupta Period
Works Creators
Ramayan Valmiki
Mahabharata Ved Vyasa
Raghuvansa, Ritusamhara, Meghaduta Kalidas
Ravanabadha Batsabhatti
Kavyadarshana and Dasakumarcharita Dandin
Kiratarjuniyam Bharavi
Nitishataka Bhartrihari
Vikramovarshiya, Malvikagnimitra and Abhijnansakuntalam Mrichchakatika Kalidasa
Pratignayaugandharayana Bhasa
Mudrarakshasa and Devichandraguptam Vishakhadatta
Pragya-Prasasti Harisena
Sankhyakarika Ishwar Krishna
Nyaya Bhasya Vatsyayana
Vyasa Bhasya Acharya Vyasa
Amarakosha Amarsimha
Chandravyakarana Chandragomin
Kavyadarsha Dandin
Narrative Story
Panchatantra and Hitopadesha Vishnu Sharma
Mathematics and Astronomy
Aryabhattiya Aryabhatta
Brihatsamhita and Panchasidhantika Varamihira
Suryasidhanta Brahmagupta
Miscellaneous Works
Nitisastra Kamandaka
Kamsutra Vatsyayana
Kavyalankara Bhamah

Science and Technology:

Astronomy and Mathematics:


  • Aryabhata, (476–550 CE) was astronomer and mathematiian. At some point, he went to Kusumapura for advanced studies and lived there for some time. Both Hindu and Buddhist tradition, as well as Bhaskara I ( a 7th-century Indian mathematician), identify Kusumapura as Paṭaliputra, modern Patna.
  • His works include the Aryabhaṭiya (499 CE, when he was 23 years old) and the Arya-siddhanta.
  • Aryabhatiya is a compendium of mathematics and astronomy. The mathematical part of the Aryabhatiya covers arithmetic, algebra, plane trigonometry, and spherical trigonometry. It also contains continued fractions, quadratic equations, sums-of-power series, and a table of sines.
  • The Arya-siddhanta, a lost work on astronomical computations, is known through the writings of Aryabhata’s contemporary, Varahamihira, and later mathematicians and commentators, including Brahmagupta and Bhaskara I. This work appears to be based on the older Surya Siddhanta
  • His work and Legacy:
  1. Aryabhata displays an awareness of both the zero system and the decimal system. (A Gupta inscription of AD 448 from Allahabad district suggests that the decimal system was known in India at the beginning of the fifth century).
  2. His definitions of sine (jya), cosine (kojya), versine (utkrama-jya), and inverse sine (otkram jya) influenced the birth of trigonometry. He was also the first to specify sine and versine (1 − cos x) tables, in 3.75° intervals from 0° to 90°, to an accuracy of 4 decimal places.
  3.  It was largely through his efforts that astronomy was recognized as a separate discipline from mathematics.
  4. He calculated pi to 3.1416 and the length of the solar year to 365.3586805 days, both remarkably close to recent estimates.
  5. He believed that the earth was sphere and rotated on its axis, and that the shadow of the earth falling on the moon caused eclipses.  In Aryabhatiya, where he gives the number of rotations of the earth in yuga. Aryabhata calculated the sidereal rotation (the rotation of the earth referencing the fixed stars) as 23 hours, 56 minutes, and 4.1 seconds; the modern value is 23:56:4.091.
  6. Aryabhata described a geocentric model of the solar system, in which the Sun and Moon are each carried by epicycles.
  7. He discovered that the Moon and planets shine by reflected sunlight.
  8. Calendric calculations devised by Aryabhata and his followers have been in continuous use in India for the practical purposes of fixing the Panchangam (Hindu calendar). In the Islamic world, they formed the basis of the Jalali calendar introduced in 1073 CE by a group of astronomers, versions of which are the national calendars in use in Iran and Afghanistan today.
  9. Aryabhata’s work was of great influence in the Indian astronomical tradition and influenced several neighbouring cultures through translations.Some of his results are cited by Al-Khwarizmi and in the 10th century Al-Biruni stated that Aryabhata’s followers believed that the Earth rotated on its axis.


  • Varahamihira, was an Indian astronomer, mathematician, and astrologer who lived towards the end of the fifth century in Ujjain, wrote several treatises on astronomy and horoscopy. He is considered to be one of the Navaratnas of the court of legendary ruler Yashodharman Vikramaditya of Malwa.
  • His Panchasiddhantika deals with five schools of astronomy, namely the Surya Siddhanta, Romaka Siddhanta, Paulisa Siddhanta, Vasishtha Siddhanta and Paitamaha Siddhantas. Two of these reflect a close knowledge of Greek astonomy.He declared that Suryasiddhanta was the best of all five extant siddhantas available to him.
  • The Romaka Siddhanta (“Doctrine of the Romans”) and the Paulisa Siddhanta (“Doctrine of Paul”) were two works of Western origin which influenced Varahamihira’s thought.
  • In the field of astronomy, Romaka Sidhanta was influenced by Greek and Roman ideas.
  • He was also an astrologer. He wrote on all the three main branches of Jyotisha astrology: Laghu-Jataka, BrihatJataka and Brihat Samhita.
  • Varahamihira improved the accuracy of the sine tables of Aryabhata I.He defined the algebraic properties of zero as well as of negative numbers.
  • He was among the first mathematicians to discover a version of what is now known as the Pascal’s triangle. He used it to calculate the binomial coefficient.
  • Among Varahamihira’s contribution to physics is his statement that reflection is caused by the back-scattering of particles and refraction
  • Indian astronomers valued the work of Greek astronomers with which they were familiar, but they arrived at their results independently, which were usually more correct.


  • Brahmagupta (598–670 CE) was an Indian mathematician and astronomer who wrote two works on Mathematics and Astronomy: the Brāhmasphuṭasiddhānta (Extensive Treatise of Brahma), a theoretical treatise, and the Khaṇḍakhādyaka, a more practical text.
  • Brāhmasphuṭasiddhanta contains good understanding of role of zero, rules of using zero with negative and positive numbers, a method for computing square roots, methods of solving linear and quadratic equations, and rules for summing series.The book was written completely in verse and does not contain any kind of mathematical notation. Nevertheless, it contained the first clear description of the quadratic formula. It is also first surviving text contaning a systeatic discussion of astronomical instruments as well as method of computing astronomical elements from reading takenn from them.The Brahmasphutasiddhanta is the earliest known text to treat zero as a number in its own right.
  • Brahmagupta uses 3 as a “practical” value of π, and \sqrt{10} as an “accurate” value of π. Brahmagupta’s most famous result in geometry is his formula for area of cyclic quadrilaterals.
  • Khandakhadyaka (meaning “edible bite”) is an astronomical treatise. The treatise contains eight chapters covering such topics as the longitudes of the planets, diurnal rotation, lunar and solar eclipses, risings and settings, the moon’s crescent and conjunctions of the planets. Khandakhadyaka was known in Sanskrit to al-Biruni. The treatise was written as a response to Aryabhata’s Ardharatrikapaksa.
  • Brahmagupta criticized the Puranic view that the Earth was flat or hollow. Instead, he observed that the Earth and heaven were spherical.

(d)Bhaskara I (just after Guptas, 7th Century):

  • Bhaskara I (avoid confusion with the 12th century mathematician Baskara II) was a 7th-century Indian mathematician, who was apparently the first to write numbers in the Hindu decimal system with a circle for the zero, and who gave a unique and remarkable rational approximation of the sine function in his commentary on Aryabhata’s work. This commentary, Aryabhaṭiyabhaṣya, written in 629 CE, is the oldest known prose work in Sanskrit on mathematics and astronomy.
  • He also wrote two astronomical works in the line of Aryabhata’s school, the Mahābhāskarīya and the Laghubhāskarīya.

Medical Science:

  • Medical science also flourished during this period. Ayurved sastra had achieved a great advancement during the Gupta age Charka (from Kashmir, contributors to the ancient art and science of Ayurveda), and Sushruta (ancient Indian surgeon) were the doctors of this period.
  • Ashtang Sanghra’, ‘Sushruta Samhita’, ‘Charak Samhita’, and other books on mecial science were produced in the Gupta period.
  • The Charaka Samhita is an early text on Ayurveda. Along with the Sushruta Samhita, it is one of the two foundational texts of this field that have survived from ancient India.Caraka Samhita states that wholesome diet is essential for good health and to prevent diseases, while unwholesome food is an important cause of diseases. It suggests that foods are source of heat, nutritive value as well as physiological substances that act like drugs inside human body. Along with medicine, proper nutrition is essential for expedient recovery from sickness or surgery.
  •  The Sushruta Samhita describe the sciences and practices of medicine, pediatrics, geriatrics, diseases of the ear, nose, throat and eye, toxicology, aphrodisiacs and psychiatry.The Sushruta Samhita discusses surgical techniques of making incisions, probing, extraction of foreign bodies, alkali and thermal cauterization, tooth extraction, excisions, and trocars for draining abscess, draining hydrocele and ascitic fluid, the removal of the prostate gland, urethral stricture dilatation, vesiculolithotomy, hernia surgery, caesarian section, management of haemorrhoids, fistulae, laparotomy and management of intestinal obstruction, perforated intestines, and accidental perforation of the abdomen with protrusion of omentum and the principles of fracture management.The text was translated to Arabic as Kitab-i-Susrud in the 8th century.
  • The great Acharya of Ayurved Sastra, Dhanvantri was the product of the Gupta period. Though his works are not available, but there was no disease, which he could not have curved,
  • Hastayurveda or the veterinary science(of elephant through medication and surgery), authored by Palakalpya attests to the advances made in medical science during the Gupta period.
  • The Navanitakam, a medical work, which is a manual of recipes, formula and prescriptions, was compiled during this period.
  • Vagbhaṭa was one of the most influential classical writers of ayurveda. Several works are associated with his name as author, principally the Astanga hṛidaya (Heart of Medicine) and the Aṣṭāṅgasaṅgraha.
  • Kasyapa’s Compendium of 7th Century deals principally with the ailments of women and children.

Metal Work:

  • The Gupta craftsmen distinguished themselves by their work in iron and bronze. Bronze images of the Buddha began to be produced on a considerable scale because of the knowledge the smiths had of advanced metal technology.
  • With regard to iron objects, the best example is the iron pillar found at Mehrauli in Delhi.Manufactured in the fourth century ad, the pillar has not gathered any rust over the subsequent fifteen centuries which is a great tribute to the technological skill of the craftsmen, although the arid conditions in Delhi may also have contributed to its preservation. It was impossible to produce such a pillar in any iron foundry in the West until about a century ago. It is a pity that the later Indian craftsmen could not develop this knowledge further.

Education and educational institutions; Nalanda, Vikramshila and Vallabhi:

  • With the rise of Buddhism in India, there arose many centres of learning which did not exist before. Buddhist monks could opt for a life of meditation in the forests, or a life of teaching, preaching, propagating the Dharma.
  • As a result of the activities of the teaching monks, seats of learning arose. These seats of monastic learning (Pirivenas) gradually developed and some of them became full-fledged universities. As a result Buddhist India came to have may major universities which achieved wide fame. These were 1. Nalanda, 2. Vikramasila, 3. Odantapuri 4.Somapura 5. Jagadalala 6. Vallabhi

(1)Nalanda University:  Click Here


  • Vallabhi University achieved as much fame as Nalanda. The Maitraka kings who ruled Western India constructed a monastery at Vallabhi their capital. While Nalanda was the centre for Mahayana Buddhism, Vallabhi achieved fame as the centre for Hinayana Buddhism. The
  • Maitraka kings spent lavishly to maintain their university. They gave every encouragement and assistance to Buddhist studies at this institution. In the 7th century Vallabhi was as prosperous and famous as Nalanda.

Hieum Tsang visited Vallabhi, and reported in his “Ta-Tang-Si-Yu-Ki” as follows:

  • “The population of Vallabhi is very large. The country is rich and prosperous. There are over a hundred millionaire families there. Imported luxury goods are seen in this city. There are about 100 monasteries with about 6,000 Buddhist monks. Most of them belong to the Sammitiya Sect. There are also many Hindu temples and a large Hindu population in this past of the country. The Buddha had visited this land during his ministry. There are stupas erected by King Asoka to mark the spots hallowed by the Buddha’s visit.”
  • There are about 100 shrines and about 6,000 resident monks studying at Vallabhi. They do not believe that Abhidharma was the teaching of the Buddha. They believed in the Antarabhava doctrine.

I -Tsing’s record:

  • I-Tsing records that foreign students were found at Vallabhi.Foreign students come from many lands far and near from these facts we know that like Nalanda, Vallabhi was internationally recognised.
  • There was a large library. This was maintained by a fund established by the King. An inscription put up by King Guhasena confirms this. Precedence was given to Sammitiya doctrines at this University. The course of studies included Comparative Religion. The Six systems of Hindu Philosophy and various other schools of Buddhism, Politics, Law, Agriculture, Economics also formed a part of the curriculum.
  • I-Tsing records that the graduates of Vallabhi, displayed their skill in the presence of the royalty, nobles, and other eminent people. The Elders Gunamoti and Sthiramatic were Nalanda’s alumni and were teaching there for a time. They are said to be the founders of Vallabhi.
  • As the founders came from Nalanda, Vallabhi followed the Nalanda pattern in most of its activities. It flourished from 475 to 1200 A.C. It met the same fate as other Universities at the hands of the Muslim invaders.

(3)Vikramshila University:

  • Vikramasīla University (village Antichak, district Bhagalpur, Bihar)was one of the two most important centres of Buddhist learning in India during the Pala empire(Pala Empire will be discusse latter) along with Nalanda University on the banks of the Ganges. Vikramasīla was established by King Dharmapala (783 to 820) in response to a supposed decline in the quality of scholarship at Nalanda. It prospered for about four centuries before it was destroyed by Bakhtiyar Khilji during fighting with the Sena dynasty along with the other major centres of Buddhism in India around 1200.
  • Vikramaśīla is known to us mainly through Tibetan sources, especially the writings of Taranatha, the Tibetan monk historian of the 16th-17th centuries.
  • A number of monasteries grew up during the Pala period. According to Tibetan sources, five great Mahaviharas stood out: Vikramashila, the premier university of the era; Nalanda, past its prime but still illustrious, Somapura, Odantapura or Uddandapura, (established by King Gopala of the Pala dynasty) and Jagaddala.
  • The five monasteries formed a network; “all of them were under state supervision” and there existed “a system of co-ordination among them as it seems from the evidence that the different seats of Buddhist learning that functioned in eastern India under the Pala were regarded together as forming a network, an interlinked group of institutions,” and it was common for great scholars to move easily from position to position among them.
  • Subjects like philosophy, grammar, metaphysics, Indian logic etc. were taught here, but the most important branch of learning was tantrism.
  • Vikramaśīl was a centre for Vajrayana and employed Tantric preceptors. The first was Buddhajnanapad, followed by Dipankarabhadra and Jayabadhra.The first two were active during Dharmapāl’s reign, the third in the early to mid portion of the 9th century. Jayabadhra was the first prominent commentator on the Cakrasamvara tantra in Vajrayana Buddhism.


  • Vikramasila appears to have had a more clearly delineated hierarchy than other mahaviharas, as follows:
  1. Abbot (Adhyakṣa)
  2. Six gate protectors or gate scholars (Dvarapala or Dvarapaṇḍita), one each for the Eastern, Western, First Central, Second Central, Northern, and Southern Gates
  3. Great Scholars (Mahapaṇḍita)
  4. Scholars (Paṇḍit), roughly 108 in number
  5. Professors or Teachers (Upadhyaya or Acharya), roughly 160 in number including paṇḍits
  6. Resident monks (bhikhhu), roughly 1,000 in number

Stupa in Vikramasila:

File:Vikramshila stupa.jpg
The Main stupa at the centre
File:Vikramshila wall carvings.jpg
The wall carvings of various deities
  • The Vikramshila stupa built for the purpose of worship is a brick structure laid in mud mortar and stands in the centre of the square monastery.
  • The walls of both the terraces are decorated with mouldings and terracotta plaques which testify the high excellence of terracotta art flourishing in the region during Pal period (8th to 12th centuries). The plaques depict many Buddhist deities like Buddha, Avalokiteshvara (a bodhisattva who embodies the compassion of all Buddhas), Manjusri ( a bodhisattva associated with transcendent wisdom), Maitreya (a future Buddha), Jambala, Marichi, and Tara, scenes related to Buddhism, some social and hunting scenes, and a few Nath deities like Adinath/Vishnu,Paddabati/ Parvati, Ardhanarisvara(Nath) and Hanuman(Nath) Many human figures, like those of ascetics, yogis((Nath), preachers, drummers, warriors, archers, snake charmers, etc., and animal figures like monkeys, elephants, horses, deer, boar, panthers, lions, wolves, and birds, are also depicted.


  • Odantapuri was considered the second oldest of India’s universities. This was situated in Maghada, about 6 miles away from Nalanda (Near Biharsharif).
  • Acharya Sri Ganga of Vikramasila had been a student here. Later he joined Odantapuri King Gopala (660-705) was the patron who helped to found this university.
  • According to the Tibetan records there were about 12,000 students at Odantapuri. Our knowledge of this seat of learning is obscure.
  • This too perished at the hands of the Muslim invaders. It is said they mistook the universities with their high walls for fortresses. They thought the Buddhist monks were “Shaven headed Brahmins” who were idolaters.

(5)Somapura Mahavihara:

  • Somapura was situated in Bangladesh. King Devapala (AC 810-850) is said to have erected the Dharmapala-Vihara at Somapura. The ruins of these buildings cover an area of about 1 square mile. There was a large gate and the buildings were surrounded by a high-wall.
  • There were about 177 cells for monks in additions to the shrines and image houses. A common refectory and a kitchen are among the ruins, Remains of three -strayed buildings are to be seen. This university flourished for about 750 years before it was abandoned after the Muslim invasion.Ruins of Bhuddist Bihara - Somapura Mahavihara.jpg


  • King Ramapala (1077-1129) is said to be the founder of this University. Jagaddala University was the largest construction works undertaken by the Pala Kings. This was a centre for the study and dissemination of Tantric Buddhism. It followed the methods, practices, and traditions of Nalanda.
  • According to Tibetan works many books were translated to the Tibetan language at Jagaddala. The Buddhist teacher Sakya Sri Bhadra entered Jagaddala for his studies. It is said that his pupil Danaseela translated ten books to Tibetan.
  • Sakya Sri Bhadra was responsible for the propagation of Tatntric Buddhism in Tibet. He lived for seven years at Jagaddala. In 1027 the Muslim invaders sack and destroyed Jagaddala.

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