Gupta Age



  • The disappearance of the Mauryas from the political map of India saw the emergence of many indigenous and foreign rulers, who literally divided the north and south India and ruled over them for nearly five centuries.
  • The eclipse of the Kushanas in North India and of the Satavahanas in the Deccan in the 3rd century CE, ushered in a period of political disintegration.
    • It paved the way for the emergence of several minor powers and new ruling families
  • It was against this background the Guptas laid the foundation of the empire.
  • After the Mauryas, Guptas realized the political unification of North India and covered much of the Indian subcontinent.
    • The Gupta age was considered to be the second glorious epoch in the annals of ancient India.
  • Also, the Gupta period was acclaimed by historians as the period of ‘Efflorescence’ or the ‘Classical age’ or the ‘Golden age’.


History and Extent

  • The Gupta Empire stretched across northern, central and parts of southern India between 320 and 550 CE.
  • Not much is known about the early days of this Gupta dynasty. However, the travelogues of Fa Hien (circa 337 – 422 CE), Hiuen Tsang (602 – 664 CE) and Yijing (635 – 713 CE) prove to be invaluable in this respect.
  • Sri Gupta founded the Gupta Empire c. 240-280 CE, and was succeeded by his son, Ghatotkacha, c. 280-319 CE.
  • The list of Rulers along with their importance are as follows:


Ruler Reign (CE) Importance
Sri-Gupta I late 3rd century CE Founder of the dynasty.
Ghatotkacha 280/290–319 CE
Chandra-Gupta I 320 – 335 CE. o    Chandragupta I was the son of Ghatotkacha, the first independent king of the Gupta dynasty

o    It is said that the empire of Chandragupta I may have included the areas of modern Bihar and parts of Uttar

Pradesh and Bengal.

SamudraGupta 335 to 370 CE ·         Chandragupta I was succeeded by his son Samudragupta.

·         Samudragupta was the greatest of all the kings and his reign witnessed expansion and consolidation of the

Gupta empire.

·         It is generally believed that during his time, the Gupta Empire spanned from the Himalayas in north to the mouth of Krishna and Godavari rivers in the South, from Balkh, Afghanistan in the west to the Brahmaputra River in the east.

·         Samudragupta was very attentive to Rajdharma (duties of a king) and took special care to follow Kautilya’s (350 – 275 BCE) Arthashastra.

·         An inscription, probably commissioned by subsequent Gupta kings, known as the Allahabad Pillar is most eloquent about his humane qualities.

Kacha Mid 4th century CE
Chandra-Gupta II Vikramaditya ·         The peak of the territorial expansion of the Gupta empire reached its heights during the reign of Chandragupta-II, the son of Samudragupta.

·         The most important military achievement of Chandragupta-II was his war against Saka Kshatraps of western India

·         As a result of the conquest of Western India, the Western boundaries of the empire became secure for some time and Guptas gained control over Broach, Sopara, Cambay and other sea ports.

·         The exploits of a king called Chandra are glorified in an Iron Pillar inscription fixed near Qutb Minar in Delhi.

§  The Chandra of the Mehrauli Iron Pillar Inscription has been identified with Chandragupta-II.

·         The famous Chinese pilgrim, Fahien visited India,  during the reign of Chandragupta II.

·         The Court of Chandragupta was adorned by celebrated scholars collectively known as ‘Navaratnas’.

·         The Gupta Empire reached its pinnacle during this time and unprecedented progress marked all areas of life.

Kumara-Gupta I 415–455 CE He seems to have maintained control of his inherited territory, which extended from Gujarat in the west to Bengal region in the east
Skanda-Gupta 455–467 CE ·         It is stated that he restored the fallen fortunes of the Gupta family, which has led to suggestions that during his predecessor’s last years, the Empire may have suffered reverses, possibly against the Pushyamitras or the Hunas.

·         He is generally considered the last of the great Gupta Emperors

  • Thus, the Guptas who came to lime light in the first quarter of the 4th century dominated the destinies of the North India, for more than a century and finally lapsed into oblivion by the dawn of the 6th century.


Politics & Administration

  • Great tact and foresight were shown in the governance of the vast empire.
  • The large kingdom was divided into smaller Pradesha (provinces) and administrative heads were appointed to take care of them.
  • The kings maintained discipline and transparency in the bureaucratic process. Criminal law was mild, capital punishment was unheard of and judicial torture was not practised.
  • Fa Hien called the cities of Mathura and Pataliputra as picturesque with the latter being described as a city of flowers.
    • People could move around freely.
    • Law and order reigned and, according to Fa Hien, incidents of theft and burglary were rare.


Socio-economic Conditions

  • People led a simple life. Commodities were affordable and all round prosperity ensured that their requirements were met easily.
  • Gold and silver coins were issued in great numbers which is a general indicative of the health of the economy.
  • Trade and commerce flourished both within the country and outside.
    • Silk, cotton, spices, medicine, priceless gemstones, pearl, precious metal and steel were exported by sea.
  • Highly evolved steel craft led everyone to a belief that Indian iron was not subject to corrosion.
    • The 7 m (23 ft) high Iron Pillar in Qutub complex, Delhi, built around 402 CE, is a testimony to this fact.
  • Trade relations with Middle East improved.
    • Ivory, tortoise shell etc. from Africa, silk and some medicinal plants from China and the Far East were high on the list of imports.
    • Food, grain, spices, salt, gems and gold bullion were primary commodities of inland trade.



  • Gupta kings knew that the well-being of the empire lie in maintaining a cordial relationship between the various communities.
    • They were devout Vaishnava (Hindus who worship the Supreme Creator as Vishnu) themselves, yet that did not prevent them from being tolerant towards the believers of Buddhism and Jainism.
    • Buddhist monasteries received liberal donations.
  • As a pre-eminent site of education and cultural exchange Nalanda prospered under their patronage.
  • Jainism flourished in northern Bengal, Gorakhpur, Udayagiri and Gujarat.
  • Several Jain establishments existed across the empire and Jain councils were a regular occurrence.


Literature, Sciences & Education

  • Sanskrit once again attained the status of a lingua franca and managed to scale even greater heights than before.
  • Poet and playwright Kalidasa created such epics as Abhijnanasakuntalam, Malavikagnimitram, Raghuvansha and Kumarsambhaba.
  • Harishena, a renowned poet, panegyrist and flutist, composed Allahabad Prasasti.
  • Sudraka wrote Mricchakatika, Vishakhadatta created Mudrarakshasa and Vishnusharma penned Panchatantra.
  • Further, Vararuchi, Baudhayana, Ishwar Krishna and Bhartrihari contributed to both Sanskrit and Prakrit linguistics, philosophy and science.
  • Varahamihira wrote Brihatsamhita and also contributed to the fields of astronomy and astrology.
  • Genius mathematician and astronomer Aryabhata wrote Surya Siddhanta which covered several aspects of geometry, trigonometry and cosmology.
  • Shanku devoted himself to creating texts about Geography.
  • Dhanvantri’s discoveries helped the Indian medicinal system of Ayurveda become more refined and efficient. Doctors were skilled in surgical practices and inoculation against contagious diseases was performed.
    • In the field of medicine the great medical trio of ancient India; Vagbhata, Charaka and Susruta belonged to this period.
  • Further, people were encouraged to learn the nuances of Sanskrit literature, oratory, intellectual debate, music and painting. Several educational institutions were set up and the existing ones received continuous support.
  • Also, the Puranas in their present form were composed during this period. The epics Mahabharata and Ramayana were given final touches.
  • The Nalanda University founded by Kumaragupta I became the most celebrated Buddhist educational centre in North India.


Art, Architecture & Culture

  • The finest examples of painting, sculpture and architecture of the period can be found in Ajanta, Ellora, Sarnath, Mathura, Anuradhapura and Sigiriya.
  • The basic tenets of Shilpa Shasrta (Treatise on Art) were followed everywhere including in town planning.
  • Stone studded golden stairways, iron pillars (The iron pillar of Dhar is twice the size of Delhi’s Iron Pillar), intricately designed gold coins, jewellery and metal sculptures speak volumes about the skills of the metalsmiths.
  • Carved ivories, wood and lac-work, brocades and embroidered textile also thrived.
  • Also, in classic Indian style, artists and litterateurs were encouraged to meditate on the imagery within and capture its essence in their creations.
  • Further, practicing vocal music, dance and seven types of musical instruments including veena (an Indian musical stringed instrument), flute and mridangam (drum) were a norm rather than exception
  • The art of casting metal images reached its climax during this period.
  • The art of painting reached its height of glory and splendour. The fresco paintings noticed in the caves at Bagh and the paintings found in the Ajanta caves are the products of the Gupta period.


Paintings of Gupta Era


Decline of the Gupta empire

  • The mighty Gupta empire declined and came to an end by the middle of the 6th century:
  • The following are the important causes for the fall of the empire :
    • The Pushyamitras, a war like tribe, gave the first staggering blow to the Gupta empire during the last days of Skandagupta.
    • One of Huns were the fierce nomadic tribes who originally lived in Central Asia. The Huns under the leadership of Toramana and Mihiragula attacked and broke the back of the Gupta empire. It accelerated the fall of the Empire.
    • The weakness of the central authority made the feudatories like the Maitrakas of Vallabhi, the Vardhanas of Sthaneswar, the Maukharis of Kanauj, the Gaudas of Bengal and Yasovarman of Mandasor asserted their independence. This gave a death blow to the political unity of the Gupta empire.
    • The successors of Skandagupta were weak and incompetent. They failed to maintain their hold firmly over the empire.
    • The dissentions among the royal princes ultimately weakened the Guptas.
    • Trade with the Roman Empire declined due to the Hun attack on the Roman empire.
    • Granting land assignments to the officers in lieu of their salaries resulted in the loss of income to the state.
    • Much of the income was spent in suppressing the uprisings of the Pushyamitras and repelling the invasions of Huns.