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The Gupta Era                            [320 AD - 520 AD]

 

In the fourth century AD a new Indian dynasty, the Guptas, arose in Magadha and established a large kingdom over the greater part of northern India. This period is also referred as the 'Classical Age' of ancient India, and lasted for more than 200 years. Our knowledge of this period comes from Fa-hien, a Chinese traveller. 'Gupta' India was far in advance of any country in the known world. There was a great Buddhist university at Nalanda in Bihar, which attracted students from all over Asia.

The Guptas were in origin probably a family of the wealthy landowners who gradually gained political control in the region of Magadha. The founder of the Gupta dynasty, Chandragupta I ascended the throne in about 320 AD. The kingdom was enlarged by his son, Samudragupta, who fought against a number of kings and annexed territories in the northern part of the sub-continent. However, his direct political control was only over the Ganges valley, as compared with the Mauryan kings.

It was during the reign of Samudragupta's successor, Chandragupta II (also known as Vikramaditya), that the Gupta ascendancy was at it's peak. He conducted a victorious campaign in western India against the Shakas (338 AD - 409 AD). He made a matrimonial alliance with the Vakataka dynasty, the successors to the Satavahana power, thus ensuring friendly relations to the south of his domain. Chandragupta II is also remembered for his patronage of learning and the arts

Shakuntalum, the works of Kalidasa exemplify the literary craftsmanship of this period. The Panchatantra, a collection of fables was another popular work. The Kamasutra also dates to this period. Astronomy saw spectacular progress. In AD 499, Aryabhatta calculated Pi as 3.1416 and the length of the solar year as 365.358 days. He also postulated that the Earth was a sphere rotating on it's own axis and revolving around the Sun as well as the exact cause of eclipses.

In the Gupta administration, the governors of the provinces were more independent as compared to the Mauryans. Land taxes increased in number. Trade with the Roman empire declined after the third century AD. Indian merchants began to rely more heavily on the south-east Asian trade. Buddhism no longer received royal patronage. Jainism remained unchanged and continued to be supported by the merchant communities of western India. Christianity remained confined to the region of Malabar. In Hinduism, the image emerged as the centre of worship and encouraged Bhakti (devotional) worship rather than sacrifice.

Examples of Gupta architecture are found in the Vaishnavite Tigawa temple at Jabalpur (415 AD) and another temple at Deogarhnear Jhansi (510 AD). Bhita in Uttar Pradesh has a number of ancient Gupta temples. Some of the caves at Ajanta may be assigned to the period of the Guptas.

Chandragupta II was succeeded by Kumara Gupta, who was, in turn, succeeded by Skanda Gupta. During the reign of these last two kings, the Hunas unexpectedly invaded north-western India and the Gupta power rapidly weakened.