The Age of the Guptas UPSC Notes | EduRev

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The Age of Guptas

After the decline of Mauryas, it was Guptan dynasty in Magdha which was able to carve a large empire. Although the empire was smaller as compared to the Mauryan Empire, yet it consisted of a greater part of Northern India.

Sources of information

Literary sources

Various literary sources which provide information about the Guptas are as:

  • Kamandaka’s Nitisar belonging to the period of Chandragupta I
  • Devichandraguptam by Vishakadutta
  • Mrichachakathika by Sudraka
  • Kathasagarsarita by Somdev
  • Sawpanwasavdatta by Bhasa

Archeological sources

Various archeological sources that provide the information about the Guptan age are as follows:

  • Allahabad pillar of Samudragupta
  • Paharpur copper plates of Buddhagupta
  • Poona copper plate of Prabhavatigupta
  • The coins belonging to the Guptan period

Political history                

The founder of the dynasty was Sri Gupta. He used the simple title of Maharaja. Gupta was succeeded by his son Ghatotkach, who is also styled Maharaja.

Chandragupta I

  • He was the first Gupta ruler to assume the title of Maharajadhiraja.
  • He started the Guptan era i.e. 320 A.D.
  • He strengthened his kingdom by matrimonial alliance with the powerful family of Lichchhavis who were the rulers of Mithila. His marriage to Lichchhvi princess Kumaradevi, brought an enormous power, resources and prestige. He took advantage of the situation and occupied the whole of fertile Gangetic Valley.
  • After the marriage he issued the special type of coins called “Chandragupta I-kumaradevi type”.
  • Chandragupa I was able to establish his authority over Magadha, Prayaga & Saketa.

Samudragupta (335 – 380 A.D.)

  • Samudragupta was the greatest king of Gupta dynasty.
  • He took the title Licchichividhutra as his mother was Licchichivi princess
  • The most detailed and authentic record of his reign is preserved in the Prayaga Prasasti/Allahabad pillar inscription, composed by his court poet Harisena.
  • He is also described as a monarch with sharp intellect and polished poetry skills, for this he is described as Kaviraj
  • According to Prayaga Prasasti, he was a great conqueror.
  • In the Gangetic Valley & Central India, Samudragupta annexed the territories of the defeated monarchs, but in Sough India he remained content with victories alone- he did not annex the territories of the conquered rulers.
  • Smudragupta’s military compaigns justify description of him as the ‘Napoleon of India’ by V.A. Smith.
  • Titles: Kaviraja i.e. king of poets (Prayaga Prasasti), Param Bhagavat (Nalanda copper plate), Ashvamedha-parakrama i.e. whose might was demonstrated by the horse-sacrifice (coin), Vikram i.e. prowess (coin), Sarva-raj-ochcheta i.e. uprooter of all kings (coin) etc.
  • Note: only Gupta ruler whose title was Sarva-raj-ochechhetta.
  • Original types of Gold Coins (Dinars): Garud type, Dhanurdhari i.e. Archer type, Axe type, Ashvamedha type, Vyaghrahanana i.e. Tiger killing types, Veenavadan i.e. lute playing type.
  • Samudragupta was a Vaishnavite.
  • According to Chinese writer Wang-Hiuen-Tse, Meghavarna, king of Sri Lanka, sent an embassy to Samudragupta for his permission to build a monastery for Buddhist pilgrims at Bodh Gaya.
  • Titles: Kaviraja i.e. king of poets (Prayaga Prasasti), Param Bhagavat (Nalanda copper plate), Ashvamedha-parakrama i.e. whose might was demonstrated by the horse-sacrifice (coin), Vikram i.e. prowess (coin), Sarva-raj-ochcheta i.e. uprooter of all kings (coin) etc.

Chandragupta II ‘Vikramaditya’: (380-414 A.D.)

  • According to ‘Devi Chandragupta’ (Vishakhadatta), Samudragupta was succeeded by Ramgupta. It seems Ramgupta ruled for a very short period. He was ‘the only Gupta ruler to issue copper coins’.
  • Ramagupta, a coward and impotent king, agreed to surrender his queen Dhruvadevi to Saka invader. But the prince Chandragupta II, the younger brother of the king, resolved to go to the enemy’s camp in the guise of the queen with a view to kill the hated enemy. Chandragupta II succeeded in killing the Saka ruler.
  • Chandragupta II also succeeded in killing Ramagupta, and not only seized his kingdom but also married his widow Dhruvadevi.
  • Chandragupta II extended the limits of empire by matrimonial alliances (with the Nagas & Vakatakas) and conquests (Western India).
  • He married Kubernaga of Naga dynasty and married his own daughter Prabhavatigupta with Vakataka prince Rudrasena II.
  • As a result of the overthrow of Saka rule in Western India, the Gupta Empire was extended up to Arabian Sea.
  • He issued the silver coins in the memory of victory over Sakas. He was the first Gupta ruler to issue silver coins and adopted the titles Sakari & Vikramaditya. Ujjain seems to have been made the second capital by Chandragupta II.
  • Chinese pilgrim Fa-Hien visited India during his regime.
  • Mehrauli (near Kutub Minar, Delhi) Iron Pillar inscription says that the king defeated the confederacy of Vangas and Vahikas (Bulkh).
  • Navaratna (i.e. nine gems) of Chandragupta II were:
  • Kalidasa
  • Amarsinh (Amarsinhkosha)
  • Dhanavantri (Navanitakam-medicine text)
  • Varahmihira (Panch Sidhantaka, Vrihatsamhit, Vrihat Jataka, Laghu lataka)
  • Vararuchi (Vartika-a comment on Ashtadhyayi)
  • Ghatakarna
  • Kshapranak
  • Velabhatt
  • Shanku

Kumargupta I: 415-455 AD

  • Chandragupta II was succeeded by his son Kumaragupta I.
  • Kumargupta took the titles like Mahindraditya, Mahendra Sinh and Ashvamedha Mahendrah
  • Kumaragupta was the worshipper of god Kartikeya.
  • He founded the Nalanda Mahavihara which developed into a great centre of learning.
  • Towards the end of his reign, the Gupta Empire was threatened from the North by the Huns, which was temporarily checked by his son Skandagupta.
  • Pusyamitra invaded Guptan region during the reign of Kumargupta I.

Skandagupta : 455-467 AD

  • Skandagupta, the last great ruler of the Gupta dynasty.
  • During his reign the Gupta Empire was invaded by the Huns.
  • He succeeded in defeating the Huns. Success in repelling the Huns seems to have been celebrated by the assumption of the title ‘Vikramaditya’ (Bhitari Pillar Inscription).
  • The continuous attacks of the Huns weakened the empire and adversely affected its economy. The gold coinage of Skandagupta bears testimony to this.
  • The decline of the empire began soon after his death.
  • Titles taken were Vikramaditya and Kramaditya (coins), Param Bhagavat (coins), Sharkropama (Kahaum Pillar Inscription), Devaraja (Arya Manjushri Mula Kalpa) etc.

Guptan Inscriptions

           The Age of the Guptas UPSC Notes | EduRev                               


  • The Guptan administration was akin to that of Mauryas, however it differ from the latter in the degree of centralization
  • For the first time the post of officers became hereditary
  • There were instances for the first time that one officer was given more than one post
  • Unlike the Mauryan period the district and local officials were not appointed by the centre but at the provincial level.
  • The officers were paid salary in cash
  • Guptan administration was, thus, highly decentralized, and as patrimonial bureaucracy reached its logical conclusion in hereditary grants it reflected the quasi-feudal character of the economy.
  • It comprised a network of self governing tribes and tributary kingdoms and their chiefs often served as representatives of imperial powers.
  • The Gupta king took exalted titles like the Mahadhiraja, Samrat, Ekadhiraja, Chakravartin, befitting their large empire and imperial status.
  • The practice of appointing the crown prince (Kumara) nominated came in vogue.
  • The Gupta kings were assisted by a council of ministers
  • Among the high officers we may take special notice of the Kumaramatya and the Sandhivigrahika, who are not known to inscriptions of earlier period.
  • The Kumaramatyas formed the chief cadre for recruiting high officials under the Guptas. It was from them the Mantris, Senapati, Mahadandanayaka (Minister of Justice) and Sandhivigrahika (Minister of peace and war) were generally chosen.
  • The important Bhuktis (i.e. provinces) of Gupta period were: Magadha, Barddhaman, Pundra Vardhana, Teerbhukti (Northern Bihar), Eastern Malwa, Western Malwa & Saurashtra.
  • Whereas under the Mauryas, the city committee was appointed by the Maurya government, under the Guptas, it was comprised of the local representatives.
  • Decentralization of the administrative authority began during the Gupta period.
  • It was during the Gupta rule that the village headmen became more important than before.
  • The Gupta military organization was feudal by character (though the emperor had a large standing army).
  • In the Gupta period for the first time civil and criminal law were clearly defined and demarcated.
  • In Gupta period the army was to be fed by the people whenever it passed through the countryside. This tax was called Senabhakta.
  • The villagers were also subjected to forced labor called vishti for serving royal army and officials.
  • The Gupta period also experienced an excess of land grants. (Agarhara grants, Devagrahara grants).
  • Land grants included the transfer of royal rights over salt and mines, which were under the royal monopoly during the Maurya period.
  • The land grants during this period often transfer administrative rights to the grantees; as a result the tendency of feudalism was perpetuated.


  • The varna system begins to get modified owing to the proliferation of castes. This was chiefly due to three factors.
  1. A large number of foreigners had been assimilated into the Indian society primarily as Kshatriyas.
  2. There was a large absorption of tribal people into brahamanical society through land grants. The assimilated tribes were absorbed into the Shudra Varna.
  3. Guilds of craftsmen were often transformed into castes as a result of the decline of trade and of urban centers and the localized character of the crafts.
  • The social position of the Shudras seems to have improved in this period. This was due to their involvement in agriculture.
  • Sudras were permitted to listen to the epics and Puranas and also worship a new god called Krishna.
  • The social position of Vaishyas declined during this period due to decline in trade
  • From around the 3rd century onwards, the practice of untouchability appears to have intensified and their number registered a rise. Katyayana, a smriti writer of the Gupta periods, was the first to use the expression “asprasya” to denote untouchable.
  • The position of women deteriorated further.
  • Polygamy was common.
  • Early marriages were advocated and often pre-puberty marriages.
  • Meghdoot of Kalidasa informs about the Devdasi system in Mahakal in Ujjain
  • Kalidas also inform about the “purdah” prevalent among the elite class woman
  • The first example of Sati appears in Gupta time in 510 AD in Eran in Madhya Pradesh. (Bhanugupta’s Eran Inscription – 510 AD).
  • Under the patronage of Gupta ruler, Vaishnavism became very popular.
  • The gods were activated by their unions with the respective consorts. Thus, Laxmi get her association with Vishnu and Parvati got her association with Shiva.
  • This was the period of evolution of Vajraynism and Buddhist tantric cults.
  • Idol worship became a common feature of Hinduism from Gupta period onwards
  • Tree worship was in vogue


  • In the Gupta period land survey is evident from the Poona plates of Prabhavati Gupta and many other inscriptions.
  • An officer named Pustapala maintained records of all land transactions in the district.
  • The Guptas issued the largest number of gold coins in ancient India, but in gold content, Gupta coins are not as pure as Kushanas.
  • The Guptas also issued good number of silver coins for local exchange.
  • The Gupta copper coins are very few as compared to Kushanas, which show that use of money, was not the medium of exchange for the common people.
  • The increase in land grants resulted in the oppression of peasants as along with the fiscal rights the administrative rights were also given to the grantees.
  • This period also witnessed imposition of forced labor and various new taxes
  • Gupta period witnessed decline in long distance Indo-Roman trade.
  • The trade with South-East Asia got an impetus.
  • The ports of the East coast were Tamralipti, Ghantashala and Kandura.
  • The ports on the western coast were located at Bharoach, Chaul, Kalyan and Cambay.
  • The institution of slavery tended to become weak during this period
  • The Guptas issued the largest number of gold coins in ancient India


  • During the Guptan period the idol worship came into vogue as a result the practice of free standing temples started for the first time. Prior to this period the shrines were made in rock cut structures.
  • The Nagara Style (Shikhar style) of architecture evolved during this period. The temples with shikhar and garbha griha (shrine room) in which the image of the god was placed, begin during this period.
  • The examples of temple during this period are Dasavatara temple of Deogarh (Jhansi distric, UP), Siva temple of Bhumra (Nagod, MP), Vishnu and Kankali temple (Tigawa, MP), Parvati temple of Nanchana-Kuthwa (Panna district, MP), Shiva temple of Khoh (Satna, Panna, MP), Krishna brick temple of Bhittargaon (Kanpur, UP), Laxman temple of Sirpur (Raipur, MP), Vishnu temple and Varah temple of Eran (MP).
  • The art of paintings and rock cut caves architecture also reached to the finest level. The example of these are rock cut caves at Ajanta, Ellora (in Maharashtra) and Bagh (in Madhya Pradesh)
  • The frescoes of the Ajanta caves are the masterpieces of the paintings of this age.
  • The examples of Stupas of this period are Mirpur khas (Sindh), Dhammekh (Saranath) and Ratnagiri (Orissa).
  • The centres of the Gandhar sculptures declined and their places were taken by Benaras, Patliputra and Mathura.
  • For the first time we get images of Vishnu, Shiva and other Gods.
  • Among the best specimen of the images of Buddha is a seated Buddha image of Sarnath, which dyboxepicts the Buddha preaching the Dhamma.
  • Of the Brahmanical images perhaps the most impressive is the Great Boar (Varah) carved in relief at the entrance of a cave at Udayagiri.


  • Some of the old religious books (viz. Vayu Purana, Vishnu Purana, Matsya Puran: Ramayan and Mahabharata, Manu Smriti were re-written.
  • Narada Smriti, Parashara Smriti, Bhrihaspati Smriti and Katyayana Smriti were written in this period.
  • The six philosophies of Hinduism were compiled during this period. These philosophies and their founders are as:

The Age of the Guptas UPSC Notes | EduRev


  • Buddhist texts Abhidharma Kosha by Dignaga and Vishudhimagga by Buddhghosa were written during this period.
  • The other important literary works which belong to this period are:

The Age of the Guptas UPSC Notes | EduRev
The Age of the Guptas UPSC Notes | EduRev
The Age of the Guptas UPSC Notes | EduRev

The myth of the Golden Age

The Guptan Age was considered as Golden Age by various writers. It was considered so because according to these writers the civilization during this age reached at its apex in all the aspects of life. For instance the peace and tranquility was maintained over a large portion of the country by the Guptan monarchs. Likewise the developments in art, science, literature, religion and architecture were unprecedented during the Guptan age.

However, this view of Golden Age is refuted by the modern day researches and scholars. According to these views there were various factors which could be put forward to prove that Guptan period cannot be considered as golden age. These factors are as:

  1. The prosperity in the society was confined only to the elite section of the society, on the other hand the bulk of population and commons were oppressed.
  2. The evidence of evils like untouchability and Sati for the first time comes from the Guptan age.
  3. The introduction of new taxes, forced labor and practice of land grants undermined the rights of the agriculturists.
  4. The tendencies of feudalism further gained momentum during this period
  5. Varna distinction and social disorder were the hallmarks of the age
  6. The long distance trade declined during this period
  7. The urbanization received a jolt during this period

The status of women declined further

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