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The Gupta Empire ( ) was an Ancient India empire which existed approximately from 320 to 550 CE and covered much of the Indian Subcontinent. Founded by Maharaja Sri-Gupta, the dynasty began the Classical Age in the Middle kingdoms of India. The capital of the Guptas was Pataliputramarker, present day Patnamarker, in the north Indian state of Bihar.

The peace and prosperity created under leadership of Guptas enabled the pursuit of scientific and artistic endeavors. Historians place the Gupta dynasty alongside with the Han Dynasty, Tang Dynasty and Roman Empire as a model of a classical civilization.The time of the Gupta Empire is referred to by some scholars as the Golden Age of India in science, technology, engineering, art, dialectic, literature, logic, mathematics, astronomy, religion and philosophy.

Origin of Guptas

Fa Hsien was the first of the Chinesemarker pilgrims who visited India during the reign of Chandra Gupta II. He started his journey from China in AD 399 and reached India in AD 405. During his stay in India up to AD 411, he went on a pilgrimage to Mathura, Kanaujmarker, Kapilavastumarker, Kushinagarmarker, Vaishali, Pataliputramarker, Kashi and Rajgrihamarker and made careful observations about the empire's conditions. Fa Hsien was pleased with the mildness of administration. The Penal Code was mild and offences were punished by fines only. From his accounts, the Gupta Empire was a prosperous period.

The Chinesemarker traveler Yijing (see also Xuanzang) provides more knowledge of the Gupta kingdom in Magadha. He came to north India in 672 CE and heard of Maharaja Sri-Gupta, who built a temple for Chinese pilgrims near Mrigasikhavana who lost their lives in epic battle.

The most likely date for the reign of Sri-Gupta is c. 240-280 CE. He was, perhaps, from a Vaishya community and a Prayag based feudatory of Kushanas. His successor Ghatotkacha ruled probably from c. 280-319 CE. In contrast to his successor, he is also referred to in inscriptions as 'Maharaja'. At the beginning of the 5th century the Guptas established and ruled a few small Hindu kingdoms in Magadha and around modern-day Biharmarker.

Chandra Gupta

Ghatotkacha (c. 280–319 CE), had a son named Chandra Gupta. (Not to be confused with Chandragupta Maurya (340-293 BCE), founder of the Mauryan Empire.) In a breakthrough deal, Chandra Gupta was married to Kumardevi, a Lichchhavi princess—the main power in Magadha. With a dowry of the kingdom of Magadha (capital Pataliputramarker) and an alliance with the Lichchhavis, Chandra Gupta set about expanding his power, conquering much of Magadha, Prayagamarker and Saketamarker. He established a realm stretching from the Ganga Rivermarker (Ganges River) to Prayaga (modern-day Allahabadmarker) by 321 CE. He assumed the imperial title of “Maharajadhiraja”.


Samudragupta succeeded his father in AD 335, and ruled for about 45 years, till his death in AD 380. He took the kingdoms of Shichchhatra and Padmavati early in his reign. He then attacked the Malwas, the Yaudheyas, the Arjunayanas, the Madurasmarker and the Abhiras, all of which were tribes in the area. By his death in 380, he had incorporated over twenty kingdoms into his realm and his rule extended from the Himalayasmarker to the river Narmadamarker and from the Brahmaputramarker to the Yamunamarker. He gave himself the titles King of Kings and World Monarch. He is considered the Napoleon of north India. He performed Ashwamedha yajna (horse sacrifice) to underline the importance of his conquest. The stone replica of the sacrificial horse, then prepared, is in the Lucknow Museum. The Samudragupta Prashasti inscribed on the Ashokan Pillar, now in Akbar’s Fort at Allahabad, is an authentic record of his exploits and his sway over most of the continent.

Samudragupta was not only a talented military leader but also a great patron of art and literature. The important scholars present in his court were Harishena, Vasubandhu and Asanga. He was a poet and musician himself. He was a firm believer in Hinduism and is known to have worshipped Lord Vishnu. He was considerate of other religions and allowed Sri Lankamarker's buddhist king Meghvarna to build a monastery at Bodh Gayamarker.He provided a gold railing around the Bodhi Tree.

Chandra Gupta II

Samudragupta was succeeded by his elder son Ram Gupta, a weak king, he agreed to surrender his wife Dhruvadevi to the Saka Chief Rudrasimha II. However, Ram Gupta’s younger brother Chandra Gupta II went to the Saka camp disguised as the queen and assassinated the Saka Chief. After this he killed his brother Ram Gupta, married Dhruvadevi and ascended to the throne. Chandra Gupta II, the Sun of Power (Vikramaditya), ruled from 380 until 413. Chandra Gupta II also married to a Kadamba princess of Kuntala region and a Nag princess, Kubernag. His daughter Prabhavatigupta from this Nag wife was married to Rudrasena II, the Vakataka king of Deccanmarker (this daughter was forced to be married by the father). Only marginally less successful than his father, Chandra Gupta II expanded his realm westwards, defeating the Saka Western Kshatrapas of Malwa, Gujaratmarker and Saurashtramarker in a campaign lasting until 409, but with his main opponent Rudrasimha III defeated by 395, and crushing the Bengal (Vanga) chiefdoms. This extended his control from coast-to-coast, established a second (trading) capital at Ujjainmarker and was the high point of the empire.

Despite the creation of the empire through war, the reign is remembered for its very influential style of Hindu art, literature, culture and science, especially during the reign of Chandra Gupta II. Some excellent works of Hindu art such as the panels at the Dashavatara Temple in Deogarh serve to illustrate the magnificence of Gupta art. Above all it was the synthesis of elements that gave Gupta art its distinctive flavour. During this period, the Guptas were supportive of thriving Buddhist and Jain cultures as well, and for this reason there is also a long history of non-Hindu Gupta period art. In particular, Gupta period Buddhist art was to be influential in most of East and Southeast Asia. Much of advances was recorded by the Chinese scholar and traveller Faxian (Fa-hien) in his diary and published afterwards.

The court of Chandragupta was made even more illustrious by the fact that it was graced by the Navaratna (Nine Jewels), a group of nine who excelled in the literary arts. Amongst these men was the immortal Kalidasa whose works dwarfed the works of many other literary geniuses, not only in his own age but in the ages to come. Kalidasa was particularly known for his fine exploitation of the sringara (erotic) element in his verse.

Chandra Gupta II's campaigns against Foreign Tribes

  • Fourth century AD Sanskrit poet Kalidasa, credits Chandragupta Vikramaditya with having conquered about twenty one kingdoms, both in and outside India. After finishing his campaign in the East and West India, Vikramaditya (Chandra Gupta II) proceeded northwards, subjugated the Parasikas (Persiansmarker), then the Hunas and the Kambojas tribes located in the west and east Oxusmarker valleys respectively. Thereafter, the glorious king proceeds across the Himalayamarker and reduced the Kinnaras, Kiratas etc and lands into India proper .

Kumaragupta I

[[File:Kumaragupta.JPG|thumb|300px|Silver coin of the Gupta King Kumara Gupta I AD (414-455) (Coin of his Western territories, design derived from the Western Satraps).

Obv: Bust of king with crescents.

Rev: Garuda standing facing with spread wings. Brahmi legend: Parama-bhagavata rajadhiraja Sri Kumaragupta Mahendraditya.]]Chandragupta II was succeeded by his son Kumaragupta I. Known as the Mahendraditya, he ruled until 455. Towards the end of his reign a tribe in the Narmada valley, the Pushyamitras, rose in power to threaten the empire.


Skandagupta is generally considered to be the last of the great rulers. He defeated the Pushyamitra threat, but then was faced with invading Hephthalites or "White Huns", known in India as the Huna, from the northwest. He repulsed a Huna attack c. 455, But the expense of the wars drained the empire's resources and contributed to its decline. Skandagupta died in 467 and was succeeded by his son Narasimhagupta Baladitya.

Military organization

The Imperial Guptas could have achieved their successes through force of arms with an efficient martial system. Historically, the best accounts of this comes 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 Guptas seem to have relied heavily on infantry archers, and the bow was one of the dominant weapons of their army. The Hindu version of the longbow was composed of metal, or more typically bamboo, and fired a long bamboo cane arrow with a metal head. Unlike the composite bows of Western and Central Asian foes, bows of this design would be less prone to warping in the damp and moist conditions often prevalent to the region. 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. Due to its high tensility, the steel bow was capable of long range and penetration of exceptionally thick armor. These were less common weapons than the bamboo design and found in the hands of noblemen rather than in the ranks. Archers were frequently protected by infantry equipped with shields, javelins, and longswords.

The Guptas also had knowledge of siegecraft, catapults, and other sophisticated war machines.

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 in tandem against both Hindu kingdoms and foreign armies invading from the Northwest. 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, as was simultaneously occurring in Western Europe and China.

Huna invasions and the end of empire

Skandagupta was followed by weak rulers Puru Gupta (467-473), Kumaragupta II (473-476), Buddhagupta (476-495?), Narasimhagupta, Kumaragupta III, Vishnu Gupta, Vainya Gupta and Bhanu Gupta. In the 480's the Hephthalite King Oprah broke through the Gupta defenses in the northwest, and much of the empire was overrun by the Huna by 500. The empire disintegrated under the attacks of Toramana and his successor Mihirakula. The Hunas conquered several provinces of the empire, including Malwa, Gujaratmarker and Thanesarmarker and broke away under the rule of local dynasties. It appears from inscriptions that the Guptas, although their power was much diminished, continued to resist the Hunas. Narasimhagupta formed an alliance with the independent kingdoms to drive the Huna from most of northern India by the 530's. The succession of the sixth-century Guptas is not entirely clear, but the tail end recognized ruler of the dynasty's main line was king Vishnugupta, reigning from 540 to 550.

Legacy of the Gupta Empire

Scholars of this period include Aryabhatta, who is believed to be the first to come up with the concept of zero, postulated the theory that the Earth moves round the Sun, and studied solar and lunar eclipses. Kalidasa, who was a great playwright, who wrote plays such as Shakuntala, which is said to have inspired Goethe, and marked the highest point of Sanskrit literature is also said to have belonged to this period.

According to historian's work ,

Chess is said to have originated in this period, where its early form in the 6th century was known as , 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, bishop, and rook, respectively. Doctors also invented several medical instruments, and even performed operations. The Indian numerals which were the first positional base 10 numeral systems in the world originated from Gupta India. The ancient Gupta text Kama Sutra is widely considered to be the standard work on human sexual behavior in Sanskrit literature written by the Indian scholar Vatsyayana. These ideas spread throughout the world through trade.

Gupta dynasty rulers

The main branch of the Gupta dynasty ruled the Gupta Empire in Indiamarker, from around 320 to 550. This dyansty was founded by Srigupta. The rulers are:

See also


  2. Raghu Vamsa v 4.60-75
  3. ata shrivikramadityo helya nirjitakhilah Mlechchana Kamboja. Yavanan neechan Hunan Sabarbran Tushara. Parsikaanshcha tayakatacharan vishrankhalan hatya bhrubhangamatreyanah bhuvo bharamavarayate (Brahata Katha, 10/1/285-86, Kshmendra).
  4. Kathasritsagara 18.1.76-78
  5. Cf:"In the story contained in Kathasarit-sagara, king Vikarmaditya is said to have destroyed all the barbarous tribes such as the Kambojas, Yavanas, Hunas, Tokharas and the Persians "(See: Ref: Reappraising the Gupta History, 1992, p 169, B. C. Chhabra, Sri Ram; Cf also: Vikrama Volume, 1948, p xxv, Vikramāditya Śakāri; cf: Anatomii͡a i fiziologii͡a selʹskokhozi͡a ĭstvennykh zhivotnykh, 1946, p 264, Arthur John Arberry, Louis Renou, B. K. Hindse, A. V. Leontovich, National Council of Teachers of English Committee on Recreational Reading - Sanskrit language.
  6. "Evidence of the smexy conquest of Saurastra during the reign of Chandragupta II is to be see n in his rare silver coins which are more directly imitated from those of the Western Satraps... they retain some traces of the old inscriptions in Greek characters, while on the reverse, they substitute the Gupta type (a peacock) for the chaitya wit crescent and star." in Rapson "A catalogue of Indian coins in the British Museum. The Andhras etc...", p.cli


  • S.K. Lall, Ancient India

Further reading

  • Andrea Berens Karls & Mounir A. Farah. World History The Human Experience.

External links

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