Regional States during Gupta Era: Polity and Administration

Regional States during Gupta Era: Polity and Administration

  • This period was dominated by the reigns of:
    • the Guptas and Pushyabhutis in the north,
    • the Vakatakas, Kadambas and Chalukyas of Badami in the Deccan and
    • the Pallavas in southern Andhra and Tamil Nadu.
  • There were of course a number of small kingdoms and chieftaincies in many parts of the country.
  • The major sources for the study of the polity of this period are inscriptions, dharmasastra literature, Harshacharita of Bana and the accounts of Chinese travellers like Fa-Hien, Hiuen Tsang, etc.
  • Broadly the polity of this period was marked by hereditary monarchies ruling over small territories with one or two of them assuming wider sovereign status now and then.
    • For example, the Guptas (from 300 A.D. to 500 A.D.) and Harsha (in the first half of the 7th century A.D.) had fairly wide areas under their control.
  • Lets see the main features of the political organization in the period between 300 A.D. and 700 A.D and the important changes taking place in the political organization of the country.

The King

  • Most of the country was ruled by kings. Only in a few fringe areas there lingered on the gana (tribal republic) form of government.
    • After the military expeditions of Samudragupta in north India early in the fourth century A.D. most of these tribal republics almost disappeared from the political scene.
    • Thus the Madra and Yaudheya in the Panjab, the Abhira in central India, etc. are not heard of again.
  • Some of the tribal chieftaincies also slowly became monarchies. The King took pompous titles like pararnamahesvara, rajadhiraja, paramabhattaraka, etc. which indicate their superiority over many other smaller rulers.
  • During this period the divine right theory also came into vogue.
    • The King in keeping with this theory held such titles as prithvivallabha i.e. ‘the beloved of the Earth goddess’.
    • The King is called the fifth lokapala as the other existing four lokapalas or guardians of the four cardinal directions were namely Kubera, Varuna, Indra and Yama.
    • Though the concept of the divinity of the King became dominant, it was combined with the notion of the King as guardian and protector.
  • Kingship was hereditary.
    • Though succession to the throne was generally decided by law of primogeniture, that is, the eldest son succeeding his father, there were many exceptions to this rule.
    • Sometimes kings were even elected by nobles and councillors.
  • As head of the government, the King was overseer of all administrative activities of his realm. He was the supreme judge, and he usually led his army to the battlefields.
  • There are occasional references to queens acting as rulers, as in the cases of Prabhavati, the Vakataka queen who came from the ruling family of the Guptas, and of Didda, the queen, of a later period, of Kashmir. Generally however the queens remained in the background.


  • As compared to the Mauryan period, there is no clear evidence for the existence of a central mantriparishad or council of ministers to advise the King.
    • There were, however, many high officials who were at times called mantrin.
  • The other designations for higher officials were
    • sandhivigarhika, who was minister for foreign affairs, war and peace;
    • mahabaladhikrita and mahadandanayaka, both of which denoted superior posts in the army.
  • Sometimes the same person was holding more than one such post; for example, Harishena who composed the famous Allahabad Pillar Inscription of Samudragupta is said to have been a sandhivigrahika as well as a mahadandanayaka.
  • Besides these, there was in the Gupta government a class of officials known as kumaramatyas.
    • It seems that most of the high officials were selected from this class or cadre and so the kumaramatyas are mentioned in various capacities like sandhivigrahika, mahabaladhikrita, etc.
    • Some of them were under the direct control of the King where as some seem to have served the princes and provincial governors.
  • The officer called Uparika was in charge of a bhukti, an administrative division.
  • Ayuktaka was a member of the bureaucracy who, like Vishayapati, functioned at a level higher than – villages, and he was an important intermediate administrative link between the bhukti and the village.
  • The officials seem to have been paid in cash in the beginning of our period and later they were just assigned revenues of some designated territories and they were therefore called bhogika or bhogapati.
    • This is known from Harshacharita which refers to the complaints made to Harsha by villagers against such officials.
    • The posts also became hereditary, thereby weakening the King’s authority in course of time.

The Army

  • Both for maintaining internal peace and for defending against external aggression a standing army became a regular feature.
  • It was noted above that there were a number of high military officials and they were obviously in charge of this army.
  • Cavalry was an important element of this army.
  • Some maritime states like the Pallavas in the south also had navy.
  • Chariots do not figure prominently during this time.
  • The royal army was supplemented by the militia of feudatory chiefs (sarnanta).

Administrative Divisions

  • The country was organised into many divisions for administrative purposes.
  • The highest unit among these territorial divisions was called bhukti which was under the charge of a high official called uparika. Sometimes princes were also in charge of some bhukti.
  • Vishaya was the next administrative division below which was the lowest unit, i.e., the village.
  • In certain areas vishaya was also known as rashtra.
  • In eastern India the vishayas were also divided into vithis over and above the village. At the level of vishaya the officials (or locally powerful people) called Vishayapatis played a leading role in the administration.
  • In each village a headman and the village elders managed the local affairs.
  • In urban settlements or towns there were a number of craft and merchant guilds to look after their administration.

The Samanta 

  • Semi-independent local chiefs called samanta were an important feature of the polity of this time.
  • Samudragupta conquered and subjugated a number of territories. Some of the rulers of these territories which were on the fringes of the Gupta empire were made subordinate allies of the King.
    • They became feudatories of the Gupta King paying periodical tribute to the latter.
    • Some of them also presented him their daughters in marriage. They were obliged to pay homage to the King by personally attending his court.
    • The King in turn recognised their right to continue to rule over their own territories and for this he also gave them charters.
    • These subordinate rulers were also obliged to send their men to fight in the King’s army during times of war.
  • Subject to the above obligations the feudatories or samantas were left to look after the administration of their territories, which was actually done by King’s officials in the central parts of the Gupta empire.
  • Another factor which really introduced features of a decentralized polity was the granting of land to priests and officials for their maintenance.
    • Generally the King not only gave the land but also parted with some of his administrative rights like taxing the people, punishing the criminals, etc.
    • The granted territories were also given immunity from the entry of the King’s army. Naturally the grantees of such lands became almost independent of the King and became samantas themselves.
  • Consequent to this, in the 7th century A.D. and after we find officials giving themselves pompous titles like mahasamanta and ‘one who obtained the privilege of five great sounds (panchamahasabda)’.
    • Through the use of these titles, the samantas and mahasamantas proclaimed their autonomy.
  • The presence of all these features in polity has led historians to suggest that from the Gupta period onward the political organization which developed in India represented a feudal-type of political organization.


  • The government got most of its revenue through taxation. Land taxes called bhaga, bhoga, etc. were the main items and the land taxes actually increased through the centuries.
  • As trade and commerce seem to have declined during this period commercial taxes are not found- prominently.
  • The local people were also obliged to provide for the stay and food of villages.
  • As far as the lands granted to officials and priests are concerned, the government lost much of its revenue from those lands.

Judicial System

  • Judicial system was more developed now compared to earlier times. Many law codes and treatises were compiled during this period and the Dharmasastras elaborately dealt with legal matters.
  • There were different courts like Karana, adhikarana, dharmasana, etc.
  • Criminal and civil cases were clearly differentiated from each other.
  • Laws regarding property and inheritance were elaborate.
  • Of course justice was based on the varna classification in society.
    • For the same kind of crime, culprits belonging to a higher varna or caste got less punishment than those belonging to a lower varna.
    • Dharmasastras also insisted that local usages and practices of different guilds and castes should be given due weight while dispensing justice.

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