Gupta Empire

Gupta Empire

  • The one century gap between the extinction of Kushana & Satavahanas (around 220-230 AD), till the rise of the Imperial Gupta Dynasty a century later, is known to be one of the darkest in the whole of history of India.
  • After the disintegration of the Mauryas, the Kushanas kept the North united and Satavahanas kept the Deccan united. Further south there were three Cheras, Pandyas and Cholas. In north, the Malvas, Yaudheyas, Kunidas etc. contributed to the extinction of Kushanas and in Deccan, the Vakatas and Ikshwaku contributed to the death of Satavahana dynasty.
  • This dark period of one century was followed by a dawn of classical age which is also known as the Golden Age of Indian History.
  • The classical age refers to the period 320 AD to 550 AD when India was united again under the Gupta Dynasty. This period marks the crystallization of Hindu Culture and known for developments in all walks of life including the science, technology, engineering, art, dialectic, literature, logic, mathematics, astronomy, religion and philosophy.
  • The founder of this dynasty was Sri Gupta. But there were other early Guptas mentioned in many inscriptions such as Shiva Gupta in Nasik Inscription and Puru Gupta in Karle Inscription.


Political History of Guptas

  • The earlier origins of the family of the Guptas are not traceable and they were originally the controllers of a minor principality in the western Ganga plains.
  • Founder of this dynasty Sri Gupta (ruled circa 200 AD) appears to be a feudatory of Kushanas. Knowldge about Sri Gupta is scant. One reliable source about Sri Gupta was account of Chinese traveller I-tsing who had come to India in 672 AD. He mentioned Sri Gupta as Che-li-ko-to and wrote that 500 years before his arrival this king had built a temple. This information he wrote in 690AD so the scholars think that he might have ruled around 200AD. Nonetheless, we can’t hope that something written after 500 years could be accurate. But some other sources indicate that he was indeed the founder of the Gupta dynasty.
  • Gupta family’s fortunes rose when its third king Chandragupta-I, extended his realms into Magadha itself in 320 AD. He was real founder of the Gupta Empire and was most powerful monarch of that time. He was married to Licchhavi princes Kumara Devi and this helped him to get influence and extend the dominion.
  • Fourth Gupta King Samudragupta (335-380AD) was born of this dominion. He was greatest ruler of this dynasty and is equated by western Scholars as Indian Napoleon due to his extensive military conquests.
  • His conquests and empire extended from Brahmaputra to Chambal and from Himalayas to Narmada. This implies that all the populous and fertile region of Indo-Gangetic plains came under his rule.
  • He established diplomatic relations with the Kushana Kings of Gandhara and Kabul and also the Buddhist king of Ceylon.
  • In 330 AD, Meghavarna, the Buddhist King of Ceylon had sent two monks, one of whose was his brother to visit a monastery built by Asoka. But they got scant hospitality and returned with complaints. Later, Meghavarna sent a mission laden with gems and gifts to Samudragupta with a request to built a monastery on the Indian Soil. The flattered Samudragupta gave permission. This monastery was built near the Bodhi Tree at Bodh Gaya. The purpose was recorded in a copper plate and it described the monastery with a height of 3 stories and containing 6 halls.
  • Fifth Gupta King Chandragupta-II (Chandragupta Vikramaditya) {reign 380 – c. 415 AD} was son of Samudragupta. Before his ascending to throne, his elder brother Ramagupta ascended to throne. However, he was not able to assert his bravery and eventually lost the throne. The drama Devichandraguptam of Vishakhadatta mentioned that Ramagupta was badly defeated by a Saka chieftain. To secure the people, Ramagupta agreed to surrender his queen to Sakas. However, his younger sibling Chandragupta objected this and then in disguise of queen, he entered enemy’s camp and killed that Saka chieftain. This drama portraits Ramagupta as a coward and impotent person. Chandragupta-II killed Ramagupta and married his wife.
  • The area under Chandragupta-II also indirectly included Vakataka Kingdom. His daughter Prabhavati was married to a Vakataka prince who had died prematurely and thus administration was overseen by Prabhavati.
  • Sixth Gupta King Kumaragupta–I (415-455 AD) efficiently ruled for four decades and celebrated an Ashvamedha Yajna as his assertion to paramount supremacy. However, by the end of his reign, severe Huna invasions started in India.
  • The last powerful imperial Gupta King was seventh in line Skandgupta (reign 455-467AD). He was able to subdue the Huna invasions and bring back the glory of his father. He was able to withstand for two decades against Huna invasion but in the evening of his life, hordes of white Hunas came upon his territories. The scholars guess that Skandgupta had no male heir and was succeeded by his half brother Purgupta, who in turn was succeeded by many others in the line. However, there was an accelerated feudalization of the state and the empire decayed rapidly. The last of the Guptas we find working as feudatories of the Hunas.


Huna Kings

  • The Hunas had poured down from the steppes of Central Asia through the North-western passes and devastated the smiling cities of India. These central Asian hordes were in four cardinal directions they were known as follows:
    • Northern Huna – Black Huna
    • Southern Huna – Red Huna
    • Eastern Huna – Celestial Hunas
    • Western Hunas – White Hunas.
  • Hunas were the nomad Mongol tribes and they were first mentioned in Mahabharata among various Malechha people. We note here that the practice of polyandry was common in Hunas (several husbands one wife).
  • Kumaragupta, Skandagupta were able to withstand the Huna invasions for few decades. However, with the help of a scion of the Gupta family, earliest White Huna King Toramana was able to establish himself in the Malwa region in 510 AD. Further, the feudal structure of the administration was a facilitating factor for Huna’s conquest.
  • Toramana was succeeded by Mihirkula, his son; who is known as the Huna Tyrrant. He was an staunch anti-Buddhist who destroyed the temples and monasteries and massacred the monks.
  • However, in 528 AD he was defeated by a confederacy of Narsimhgupta Baladityaraja and Yashodharman of Malwa. After this defeat, Mihirkula’s life was spared and was allowed to take refuge in Kashmir where he died shortly afterwards. Thus, King Yashodharman of Malwa was the one who checked the expansion of Hunas in India.


Other Contemporary Dynasties of Guptas

The 6th century India was a fragmented polity. The Indian feudalism was on its climax and in the absence of a uniting central authority; different parts of India were under different sovereign dynasties which usually fought with each other. Some of these dynasties were as follows:



  • Maukharis or Mokharis or Mukharas ruled in parts of UP and Bihar and were feudatories of Guptas earlier.



  • Magha dynasty ruled around Kaushambi and they were contemporary of Guptas.


Vakataka Dynasty

  • Vakataka dynasty was the most important follow up dynasty of the Satavahanas and they ruled in modern Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. They were contemporary of Guptas. This dynasty was founded by one Vindhyashakti but the real foundations of Vakataka were laid by
  • Another important ruler of this dynasty was Rudrasena-I who is mentioned in the Allahabad Pillar Inscription.


Gupta Empire: Important Notes


Gupta Administration

  • With the imperial Guptas in power, once again there was a Brahamanic notion in the Kingship whereby King’s right was divinely ordained and it was sanctified by the ceremonies that priests performed on their behalf.
  • As put by the Markendeya Purana, the primary duty of a King was to follow Rajdharma, which put the duty to protect his subjects foremost.
  • However, during Gupta era, there were certain changes made in the very style of exercise of the monarchical authority in the country. For at least one thousand years, the Indian monarchs whether imperial or regional, had aimed to concentrate all the power in their hands. This absolute power usually manifested in subjugation of the provinces and regions through their bureaucracies. Both Nandas and Mauryas, as we have discussed earlier, were the greatest centralists. However, the model of Guptas was different and this difference lied in decentralized administration.


Decentralisation and devolution of power – The Samanta System

  • The Guptas had intentionally devolved power on a variety of the people and authorities. Rather than bolstering the bureaucratic steel-frame, they developed political hierarchies. The most vital information about this tendency of the Guptas comes from the Allahabad Pillar Inscription, which discussed deeds of Samudragupta.
  • It notes that Samudragupta did not want to kill or destroy his enemies for his own gratification, but rather, after defeating them, he kept their domains within the empire and would allow them to rule. They were to be protected by the empire.
  • This indicates that Samudragupta was basically developing a kind of contract between tributary kings {which were called Samantas} and himself as an overlord.
  • A Samanta literally meant a neighbour. In Gupta period, a Samanta was a neighbouring subsidiary ruler who was a friendly tributary of the Gupta overlords. The decentralization was also effected via various land grants, carrying varied immunities and concessions, to persons and institutions. This is one reason that we don’t find an over-elaborate bureaucracy in Gupta period as was a case with Maurya period.
  • This arrangement worked extremely well till Skandgupta, and it helped to keep peace among the various ruling families. However, afterwards, it did not work for weaker Guptas. But nevertheless, this system got much deeper with the evolution of Indian Feudalism and remained in force until the end of British Rule in the country.


Guptas: Imperial Government

  • The Imperial Guptas did not have an over-elaborate bureaucracy due to effective decentralisation of administrative authority by land grants and the friendly Samanta contracts with subdued neighbours.
  • At their imperial kingdom at Pataliputra, the King was advised by a Council of Ministers (Mantriparishada) led by a Pradhan Mantri. Pradhan Mantri headed the civil administration and there was a good number of other ministers and officials, who carried out the duties related to military and other matters. The Key officers of the Gupta machinery include the below:


Official Functions
Mahabaladhikrita Commander in Chief
Mahadandnayaka Chief Justice
Mahapratihar Maintainance of Royal Palaces
Mahasandhivigrahika or Sandhivigrahaka War and Peace
Dandpashika Head of Police department
Bhadagaradhikreta Royal Treasury
Vinaysthitisansthapaka Education Department
Sarvadhyaksha Inspector of all central departments
Mahashwapati Cavalary
Mahamahipalapati Elephants
Vinayapura One who represented guests to King’s court
Yuktapurusha Accounts of war booty
Khadyapakika Royal Kitchen
Ranbhandagarika Arms and ammunitions stores
Mahanarpati Infantry
  • We note here that in the central government, the major emphasis was on defense and security, which reflected the major concern of the state power and security of the people.
  • Further, the imperial Guptas did not interfere in the administrations of those regions which accepted their suzerainty. However, there was a five tiered administration system in the regions which were under the direct control of the Gupta Kings.
  • The first tier was the King and his council as discussed above.
  • The second layer of administration dealt with the administration of the provinces {provinces were called Bhukti or Desa}.
  • The provincial councils were headed by the The third layer of government was a district level. Each Bhukti or Desa was divided into various districts called Pradesha. The terms Adhisthana or Pattana was also used for this third tier. A Vishya was headed by Ayuktas or Vishyapatis.
  • The fourth layer of administration was at group or villages (Vithi) or town level. For each village there was a village assembly consisting of village elders, guided by a village headman.
  • This Gram sabha was smallest administration unit. The head of the village was called Gramapati or Gramadhyaksha. Kutumbis and Mahattaras are other words used for similar village level officers.
  • In the towns there were city corporations, headed by a chairman, the nagarashreshthin, which consisted of many representatives of guild merchants including Sarthavaha who represented the trading communities, Prathamakulika who represented the crafting communities (artisans) and Prathamakayastha, who represented Government official community. Pustapala were junior (district level) record officers.
  • It’s worth note here that all substantive decisions, affecting each town or village, were taken at the local level, reflecting the decentralising policies of the state. The Kumaraamatyas and the ayuktakas functioned as serving intermediaries between the centre and the periphery. This model of organisation was also replicated by some of the Samantas.


Implications of Decentralization

  • In the long run, the Gupta policy of devolution of power helped to create layers of responsibility in the governance. It also allowed self-governing communities to progress within the framework of their jurisdiction. The Gupta rule exerted a cohesive and beneficial effect upon the social classes of India.
  • It was a highly pluralist world that was being created, a world in which groups of people came together to define their common interests or activities; they formed associations, solicited patronage and proceeded with creating prosperity for themselves. The Gupta state was there to guide and help, not to coerce.


Guptas Land Policy and Seeds of Indian Feudalism

  • The idea of Samanta system of Gupta era becomes much clearer when we examine their land policy. In contrast with the Mauryas who acquired as much land as much possible, the Guptas actively gave as much land as much possible in the form of land grants. Land grants were prevalent in post-Vedic period in its infancies.
  • However, it became widespread under Satavahanas in Deccan, Shakas in western India, and Pallavas in south India. However, Guptas went one step ahead and made land grants a substantive part of discharge of their responsibilities.
  • The Guptas made three types of grants.
    • First was the religious grants to brahmans, individually or collectively, known as brahmadeya grants
    • Second was the grants to institutions such as temples and monasteries known as devagrahara or devadana
    • Third were secular grants to crown officers, craft guilds or also military commanders in rare occasions.
  • The objective of giving land grants, in case of Brahmadeya might be religious. However, the more pressing reason for the same appears to be the contraction of the monetary economy mainly because of contraction of international trade. This system of the land grants got further accelerated in Post-Gupta period and created ideal conditions for development of Indian feudalism.


Gupta Taxation

There were several types of taxes in Gupta era as follows:

  • Bali: Bali which was voluntary in Maurya era and was given to the King became compulsory in Gupta Era.
  • Bhaga: King’s share in all produce of the cultivators. It was 1/6th part of produce.
  • Bhoga: Bhoga refers to the tax in kind of gifts, flowers, woods, fruits etc.
  • Hiranya: This was the tax paid in cash (Gold) {Hiranya means Gold}
  • Halivakara: Halivakra was a kind of tax slab, those who owned a plough used to pay tax.
  • Kara: It might have been some irregular tax charged from villagers.
  • Shulka: It was custom or toll tax very much similar to Chungi / Octroi in modern times.
  • Udinanga: It might be a social security kind of tax.
  • Klipta: It was related to sale and purchase of lands.


Caste System in Gupta Era

  • One of the most notable features of Indian society till date has been caste system. So was it during Gupta era also. There were three notable features of caste system in Gupta era as follows:
    • Firstly, upper castes although managed their respective position in the caste hierarchy, yet there was an indication mobility and fluidity, which allowed other castes (than Brahmins) to make some progress.
    • Secondly, condition of Shudras improved mainly because the link between occupation and birth got loose for some time. As the shudras entered into farming, they upgraded themselves into sharecroppers.
    • Thirdly, the condition of lowest strata of society, untouchables reached to nadir. They were forced to live away from population and engaged in most demeaning occupations.


  • With the increased political decentralization and liberal land grants, the hitherto tribal groups which lived isolated lives were brought into the caste system. In other words, Gupta era accelerated the detribalization of India. Further, the remnants of existing foreign groups such as Shakas, Yavanas, Kushanas etc. were also acculturated in the caste system. However, caste endogamy was not much rigid now as compared to earlier times. The society approved and acknowledged the anuloma and pratiloma marriages despite various restrictions on them in religious scriptures.
  • Further, there are indications of the weakening of the links between caste and its occupation. There are records of Brahmins and Kshatriyas adopting occupations of lower castes and Vaishyas and shudras of upper castes.
  • Further, the Gupta period is marked by a remarkable improvement in the conditions of Shudras. They increasingly adopted the farming and turned into sharecroppers and peasants, craftsmen, joined the army and also were able to get education. This forward movement of shudras, though in limited extent, was a significant marker of social mobility.
  • But, this was counterbalanced by growth of a new outcaste group called Untouchables. The untouchables including chandals lived away from the other groups and were assigned the most demeaning and polluting occupations. The were at the lowest stratus of Indian society. Fa-Hien had rightly admitted that a Chandals or untouchables had to sound a clapper in the streets so that the upper caste people could be warned of his presence. The upper caste person would need to take a ritual bath in the event of close proximity with an untouchable.


Religion in Gupta Era

  • Buddhism was generally prevalent in Northern India including Kashmir, Afghanistan and Swat Valley two centuries prior to Christian era and 2 centuries after it. Jainism was prevailing but did not attain much popularity. Hinduism never ceased to exist and retained the large share of both the popular as well as Royal Favor. It is evident from the coins of Kadphises II {the Kushana emperor who adopted Hinduism} with such a great deal that he repeatedly put images of Shiva on his coins and described himself as a devotee of Shiva.
  • The development of the Mahayana School of Buddhism from the time of Kanishka was in itself a testimony to the reviving power of Brahminical Hinduism. This newer Buddhism was very much common to the Hinduism. The revival of the Sanskrit was first made possible by the western Satraps as evident from the Girnar inscription of Rudradaman, the Saka King who registered his achievements in elaborate Sanskrit. The Gupta Emperors made the Sanskrit fostered by the Satraps in the 4th and 5th century AD.
  • In Gupta empire both Buddhism and Hinduism received support and the Gupta Kings were perfectly tolerant about the three religions prevalent at that time, but they were beyond doubt zealous Hindus who were guided by the Brahmin advisors and skilled in the Sanskrit language.
  • The Jainism remained confined to the merchant communities of western India. Christianity had also arrived in India but it was confined to the Malabar Region.


Changes in Hinduism

  • However, Hinduism also underwent some important changes during these times. The sacrifice was replaced by worship (pooja) and mediation of the Brahmins was somewhat replaced by Devotion and Bhakti. The Shakti cult emerged in the Gupta era, which was based upon the fact that the male can be activated only through union with females. Therefore, this was the beginning of worship of wives / consorts of Indian Gods such as Lakshmi, Parvati, Durga, Kali and other goddesses.
  • The worship of Mother Goddess, which was prevalent in the Harappan India, finally got incorporated in the Hinduism by Guptas times.
  • By the end of 5th century, Tantrism had also become prominent.


Rise of Occult Practices

  • The emergence of Tantrism and worship of female deities also led to occult practices, which kept sexual union in the center. The sexual rites started becoming prominent and now they started taking shape of religious sexuality, which reached its zenith in India by the end of the 6th and 7th century, as evident from numerous temple arts centered on the religious sexuality in that era.


Rise of six schools

  • The six schools of Hindu Philosophy viz. Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Sankya, Yoga, Mimansa and Vedanta started taking definitive shape because of the philosophical debates between the Hindu and Buddhists on the question of presence of God, attaining salvation, karma, fate, Birth and Death and rebirth.


Gupta Economy

  • The salient features of Gupta economy included a flourishing trade (which was badly affected in later periods due to Huna invasions), abundant custom revenue from ports in west and east, flourishing robust guild system, flourishing manufacturing industries and a high standard of living.



  • Gupta had a still a flourishing Roman Trade but in the later part, trade was badly affected by Huna invasions. The Trade contacts developed during the Kushana Period continued and Chandragupta-II’s conquest in western India further added to this trade.
  • The people were prosperous and they were free to grow and flourish.
  • The important port towns were Brigukachchaha, Kalyana & Sind, which were bulk trade centres with Romans. Ujjain had become a major commercial center and it was linked to southern and northern India. Nasik, Paithan, Pataliputra, Benares were other major trade centers.
  • Silk, Leather goods, Fur, Iron Products, Ivory, pearl, Spices and Indigo were major export items.
  • The Port of Tamralipti was a good source of Trade with East Asia. Most of the commodities were taxed One Fifth of the value as a toll in international Trade.



  • Agriculture was the main occupation in Gupta Empire and there was no governmental interference. The land was fertile and means of irrigation were simple.



  • Gupta period had many cloth centers and silk industry witnessed a significant development during this period.
  • The Mandsor Inscriptions gives account that Gupta people were helped to a great extent for the growth of Silk Industry. Gold, silver and Copper was used in making ornaments and issuing coins. The Gold coins show the pomp, power and prosperity of the empire.
  • The Coins of Samudragupta and Kumaragupta issued after the Ashvamedha depict the horse tied to a Yupastambha. The coins of Chandragupta bear Garuda preying a snake.


Guild System

  • In ancient history, the glimpses of guild systems are seen in Jatakas Tales.
  • Guilds refer to organizations of artisans, and traders, which have high place in the society. In Gupta Era, the activities of Guilds were increased and these activities are recorded in various literature, inscription, clay seals etc.
  • There is a mention of Guild of architects in Raghuvamsa. The Indore Copper plate inscription mentions about a guild of oilmen. The Mandsor Inscription mentions the guild of silk weavers. The guild system declined after the Gupta Period.


Gupta Architecture

  • Gupta Period is called Golden or Classical age of India partially due to the unprecedented activities and development in the arts, architecture, sculpture, painting and literature. The rock cut architecture reached at its zenith in Gupta era and a new beginning of free standing temple architecture began.


Key examples

  • The key examples of Gupta architecture among temples are Dasavatara temple of Deogarh, Bhitargaon temple, Vishnu Temple of Tigawa Jabalpur, Shiva Temple of Bhumara, Parvati Temple of Nachria Kathura, Mukund Darra Temple of Kota, Lakshaman Temple of Raipur, Shiva Temple of Koh and Bhitari Temple at Ghazipur.
  • Among stupas, the Dhamekh stupa is the most prominent masterpiece of Gupta architecture.


Gupta Temple Architecture

  • Most prominent architectural marvels of Gupta period are temples. Most of the temples built in the Gupta era were carved with representation of Gods (mainly avatara of Vishnu and Lingams) and Goddesses.
  • The Shikhara was not much prominent in the early Gupta temples but was prominent in later Gupta era. There was a single entrance or mandapa or Porch. Gupta style temple was modelled on the architectural norms of the Mathura school. Sanchi temple at Tigwa has a flat roof. Dasavatar Temple at Deogarh , Bhitargaon temple and Mahadev Temple at Nachna Kuthar have a square tower of Shikhara. Manyar Math at Rajgriha is a circular temple of Gupta Era. Main style of temple architecture in Gupta period is Nagara style.


Dasavatara temple, Deogarh Uttar Pradesh

  • The most important temple of Gupta era is Dasavatar Temple of Deogarh, Uttar Pradesh. The temple was discovered by Captain Charles Strahan and was named so by Alexander Cunningham.


Comment on architecture of Dasavatara Temple

  • A transition to a new style had begun towards the end of the Gupta period in around 500 A.D. and it can be seen in the Dasavatara temple at Deogarh, which is first North Indian temple with a sikhara, though its shikhara is curtailed and part of it has disappeared. It is said that originally, its shikhara was of about 40 feet.
  • Its stones were secured together by dowels and its four porches afforded relatively more space for the worshippers to congregate. The sikhara in this temple is in three tiers rising on the top of square cells, and embellished with an elegantly carved doorway on one side and three big panels placed outside the three walls.
  • The sanctum of this temple stood on a raised plinth occupying the central square of the open terrace. The doorway leading to the sanctum was the chief centre of the attraction, serving as an elegant outer frame to set off the image installed in the cells.
  • The temple depicts the ten avataras of Vishnu. This temple has also been linked to the “Sarvatobhadra temple” mentioned in the Vishnudharmottara Purana by several scholars.


Bhitargaon Temple

  • Bhitagaon Temple is located in Kanpur District of Uttar Pradesh. It is the oldest remaining Hindu temple, and was built in the Gupta Era in 6th century.
  • The special feature of this temple is that it is made entirely in bricks. It is conceived from top to bottom in terms of terracotta and bricks. It is beautified with several courses of well-preserved friezes and moulded bricks with designs exceedingly varied and beautiful. The temple has a pyramidal roof and its walls were decorated on the outside with terracotta panels, depicting scenes from Hindu mythology.
  • Architecturally, the temple is important as it possesses the earliest true arch in India.


Dhamekha Stupa

  • The Dhamekha stupa is located at Sarnath, 13 km away from Varanasi. It marks the deer park or Rishipattana where Buddha gave his first sermon. It was constructed by Asoka. It is cylindrical in shape and about 34 m high and 28.3 m in diameter. The lower portion of the Stupa is covered completely with beautifully carved stones. The borders of Dhamekh Stupa have delicately carved geometrical and floral designs and figures of humans and birds. The base of the Stupa is made of stone with the upper areas of brickwork which probably once had a carved stone fencing. It is believed that Lord Buddha delivered his first sermon at the Dhamekh Stupa. Dhamekh Stupa bears special significance at Sarnath as it signifies the “seat of the holy Buddha”, as he proclaimed his faith.


Gupta Era Literature

  • Sanskrit literature reached its climax in the Gupta period. This era is known for equal writing of prose and poetry. Sanskrit became the Lingua franca of India.
  • Final editing of the Ramayana and Mahabharata took place in Gupta Period.
  • Puranas, Smritis and Dharmashashtra literature was developed in the Gupta period.
  • Yajnavalkyasmriti, which is almost regarded as the official law book of Guptas, was composed in this era.
  • Naradasmriti was also written during the Gupta period. All the successive redactions in the Manu’s Dharamashashtras were carried out in Gupta Period.



  • The true beauty and grandeur of the literature in Gupta Era can be seen in the kavyas.
  • The greatest among all the names is Kalidasa who lived in 4th century AD and was contemporary of Chandragupta-II.
  • His earliest production was Ritusamhara, though his earliest drama was Malvikagnimitram.
  • Meghaduta is pioneer Dutakavya in Sanskrit literature.
  • Mālavikāgnimitram: Its a Sanskrit play depicting love story of Sunga king Agnimitra and Malvika, a maid servant. This play also gives reference to the Rajsuya Yajna carried out by Pushyamitra Sunga.
  • Abhijñānaśākuntalam: A sanskrit play which depicts the story of Dushyanta, king of Hastinapur, and Shakuntala, daughter of the sage Vishwamitra and the apsara Menaka.
  • Vikramōrvaśīyam: It’s a Sanskrit drama depicting the love story of Puruvas, a Vedic King and Urvashi. Puruvas is chosen to reflect the qualities of Chandragupta Vikramaditya. Pururavas is a mythological entity representing Sun and Vikramaditya means the “Glory of Sun”.
  • Raghuvamśa: Raghuvamśa is a Sanskrit epic poem narrating genealogy of Lord Rama’s Raghu Vamsa beginning with King Dileep up to Agnivarna.
  • Kumārasambhava: Kumārasambhava is an epic poem depicting birth of Kartikeya, son of shiva and Parvati.
  • Ritusamhara: Ritusamhara is a mini epic poem on six seasons (Ritu). It mentions the feelings, emotions and experiences of lovers in six seasons. Ritusamhara is considered to be the earliest work of Kalidasa.
  • Meghaduta: Meghaduta means a messenger of Clouds. It’s a poem woven around a Yaksha, who is subject of Lord Kubera. His wife is waiting for him at Mount Kalidasa. Kubera at some place in central India exiled the Yaksha and he wishes to send his message to his wife. For that, he convinces a cloud to take his message and pass it on to his wife. The poem narrates about the beautiful sights and visual perceptions he would come across while going northwards to take this message to his wife.


Other Facts about Kalidasa

  • The Prakrit Poem Setubandha is believed to have been written/ revised by Kalidasa for king Pravarsena.
  • Kalidasa’s style was imitated by Ceylon King Kumaradasa who has written Janakiharana. Kalidasa wrote Malvikagnimitram which accounts the celebration of Vasantotsava (Spring festival).



  • Bhāravi is best known for Kiratarjuniya, written around 550 CE. Kirat is Shiva who speaks to arjuna in for form of a mountain dwelling hunter. This epic style Kavya is considered to be among the greatest works in Sanskrit which is known for complexity of the Sanskrit.



  • Bhatti or Batsabhatti is best known for Bhaṭṭikāvya which is also known as Rāvaṇavadha and was written in the 7th century CE.






  • Śiśupāla-vadha was written by Magha in 7th century AD and is one of the Sanskrit Mahavakyas. It was inspired by the works of Kalidasa, Bharavi and Dandin, all of them, as the author says but surpasses Bharavi in his style and wordplay.



  • Mrichhakatika means a “little clay cart’. It is a Sanskrit play written by Shudraka in the 2nd century AD. Arthur W. Ryder translated it in 1905 as The Little Clay Cart. It’s a play full with romance, sex, court politics and comedy.
  • It depicts the story of a poor man Charudatta with nagarvadhu Vasantsena. The play seems to be a reworked version of Daridracharudatta, another play.
  • Śudraka seems to be an Abhira King Indranigupta who used Shudraka as his pen name. There is a description of a civil court in Mrichhakatika, whose headquarters were at Nalanda.



  • We know about only two plays of Vishakhadatta viz. Mudrārākṣasa and the Devichandraguptam.
  • Out of them Mudrārāksasa is the only surviving play. Devichandraguptam is survived in fragments only. Mudrarakshasha means “Ring of the Demon”. It narrates the ascent of Chandragupta Maurya to throne. Rakshasha is the last Minister of Nandas who is lured in Chandragupta’s side, by Chanakya.



  • Dandin had written Kavyadarshana and Dasakumarcharita. He lived in Kanchi and is best known for Dasakumarcharita “The Tale of the Ten Princes” which depicts the adventures of 10 princes.
  • Dasakumarcharita was first translated in 1927 as Hindoo Tales and The Adventures of the Ten Princes



  • Bhartṛhari was a fifth century Sanskrit author who wrote Vakyapadiya, a treatise on Sanskrit Grammar and Nitishatak, which has 100 verses on philosophy. Bhatrihari seems to be a King but many scholars say that he was not a king but a courtier serving the king.

Ishwar Krishna

  • His main work is Sankyakarika. It was a commentary on Samkhya Philosophy.


  • Vyasa has written Vyasabhasya, it was a commentary on Yoga philosophy


  • Vatsyayana was the author of Nyaya Sutra Bhashya, which was the first commentary on Gautama’s Nyaya Sutras. Kamasutra is a treatise on Human Sexual behaviour and makes the part of the Kamashashtra. The first transmission of the Kama Shashra is attributed to Nandi, the bull of Shiva, as per the traditions. The Nandi bull is Shiva’s doorkeeper and he overheard the lovemaking of the Gods and recorded his utterances, for benefit of humankind. However, Kama sutra seems to be the first treatise on the principles / advices in sexuality.


Science and Technology

  • The Gupta era is known for tremendous development in the development of astronomy, astrology, mathematics and metallurgy.



  • Aryabhatta was the legendary mathematician of the Gupta Era. He wrote Aryabhattiya at the age of 23 years and later, Arya-Siddhanta. He worked on the approximation for pi to 3.1416. In trigonometry, he concluded for a triangle, the result of a perpendicular with the half-side is the area. He also worked on the motions of the solar system and calculated the length of the solar year to 365.8586805 days. Aryabhatta lived in Kusumpur in Pataliputra.



  • Varahamihira lived in Ujjain and was one of the nine jewels (Navaratnas) of the court of Chandragupta II. He wrote Panchasiddhantaka, the five treatises on astronomy (NOT astrology). It summarises five earlier astronomical treatises, namely the Surya Siddhanta, Romaka Siddhanta, Paulisa Siddhanta, Vasishtha Siddhanta and Paitamaha Siddhantas.



Other Notes

Various Calendars of ancient India


Buddhist Era

  • This era based on Buddha’s birth and date. The dates of Buddha’s birth and date are uncertain but as per current theravada and Sri Lankan traditions, the Buddha Era begins from 544BC. Thus, current year 2016 is equal to 2016+544=2560.


Jain Era {Vira Nirvana Samvat}

  • Vira Nirvana Samvat began on 15 October 527 BC and commemorates the nirvana of Mahavira. The Jain year begins on Diwali day every year. The year 2016 corresponds to Vira Nirvana Era 2543


Vikram Samvat

  • This is the most well-known era used currently in traditional India. It has many versions which should be noted down:
  • In the north India, it begins with chaitra, and each month begins with the full moon (pūrnima).
  • In Gujarat, the year begins with Kartika and month begins with the new moon (amāvāsyā)
  • In some parts of Gujarat, the year begins with Amavasya of Ashadha.
  • The name of king associated with the Vikram Samvat is controversial. Most popular beliefs credit Chandragupta Vikramaditya of Ujjain (neither Chandragupta Maurya nor Chandragupta-II of Gupta dynasty) who started it in 56 AD.


Vallabhi Era

  • Vallabhi Era commemorates the event when Chandragupta-I of Gupta dynasty ascended to the throne in 319-320 AD. The Vallabhi kings were feudatories of the Guptas and they might have used it as era of their overlords.
  • Fleet has treated with this at length and has established that beginning of this era is Saka era 242, which means 242 +78 = 320 AD. The first year of the Gupta Era may be taken as February 26, 320 AD to March 13, 321 AD, of which the first date is coronation of Chandragupta.


Saka Era

  • Śaka or Śālivāhana was probably started by Kushana King Kanishka in 78AD but this has been disputed. This era has been adopted by the Government of India. Its elapsed year is tropical solar and it begins on the day following the vernal equinox. The first month is Chaitra, with 30 days in a normal year and 31 in a leap year. The next 5 months have 31 days and the rest have 30 days.


Important Inscriptions of Ancient India (From Shunga to Gupta)

Here are some important notes on different inscriptions of ancient India giving us relevant information about Shungas, Satavahanas, Shakas, Kushana, Guptas and Hunas.


Junagarh Rock inscription

  • The Junagarh Rock inscription of Rudradaman is considered as an early example of chaste Sanskrit, written in mid second century AD. It mentions that one of Chandragupta Maurya’s governors, Pushyagupta, was responsible for building a dam on Sudarshana Lake near Girnar in Kathiawar.
  • From another inscription of Skandgupta we came to know that this very dam was repaired during his reign, almost 800 years after it was built


Mahrauli Inscription / Garuda Pillar

  • The Mahrauli Iron Pillar was originally placed on a hill near the Beas and was brought to Delhi by a King of Delhi. This pillar credits Chandragupta with conquest of the Vanga Countries by his battling alone against the confederacy of the enemies united against him. It also credits him for conquest of Vakatkas in a fight that ran across seven mouths of Sindhu. This pillar was established by Chandragupta-II of Gupta dynasty as Vishnupada in the honor of Lord Vishnu.


Allahabad Pillar Inscription (Prayag Prasasti)

  • This was issued by Samudragupta and was composed by Harisena. It is written in very simple and refined Sanskrit in Champu kavya style. It lists achievements of Samudragupta.
  • This Inscription is a eulogy of Samudragupta and mentions about the conquests of Samudragupta and boundaries of the Gupta Empire. As per this inscription, Samudragupta defeated 9 kings in North, 12 Kings in South, reduced all the Atavika states to vassalage. It also mentions that more than five states in the frontier states surrendered and accepted his suzerainty. He had close contact with the kingdom of Ceylon and South East Asian colonies. The eulogy of Harisena describes him as hero of 100 battles. He performed Ashvamedha Yajna, this has been testified by a seal of Samudragupta bearing a Horse.
  • This was probably first Ashvamedha after Pushyamitra Shunga. He is depicted in his coins playing Veena. He allowed the king of Ceylon to build a monastery at Bodhgaya.
  • Another term used by Harisena for him is Kaviraja, which testified him as a patron of poetic arts and a poet himself. Samudragupta also assumed the title of Vikramanka.


Nasik Inscription

  • The achievements of Gutamiputra Satkarni were mentioned in Nasik Inscription that were composed by his mother Gautami Balasri. The Nasik Prasasti describes Gautamiputra as the ruler of the Aparanta, Anupa, Saurashtra, Kukura, Akara and Avanti and defeated the Saka King Nahapana and restored the prestige of his dynasty by reconquering a large part of the former dominions of the Satavahanas.


Nanaghat Inscription

  • The Nasik and Nanaghat inscriptions are the major sources that gives detailed information about the Satavahana empire. The Nasik inscription was made by Gautami Balasari and Nanaghat inscription was issued by Naganika.


Mandsaur Inscription

  • It was by Kumaragupta and was written by Vattasbhatta.


Observations of Fa-Hien’s visit during Vikramaditya reign

  • Pataliputra was considerably neglected by the warrior kings like Samudragupta and Vikramaditya, but it continued to be a magnificent and populous city though out the reign of Chandragupta II.
  • Later Patliputra was reduced to reigns in the wake of the Hun invasions in the 6th century. However, Pataliputra was rebuilt and revived by Shershah Suri as today’s Patna.
  • The accounts of Fa Hien give a contemporary account of the administration of Chandragupta Vikramaditya. Fa Hien (337 – ca. 422 AD) was so much absorbed in his quest for Buddhist books, legends, and miracles that he could not mention the name of the mighty monarch in whose rule he lived for 6 years. The picture he depicted cannot solve all the queries of the historians of today yet, they give a vivid picture of the state of the country.
  • At Pataliputra, he saw and was impressed by Asoka’s palace so it is sure that Asoka’s palace was in existence even in the Gupta Era. He also describes about 1 stupa and 2 monasteries nearby, also ascribed to Asoka. He mentioned about 600-700 monks living there and learning their lectures from teachers from all quarters. He mentions that towns of Magadha were largest in the area of Gangetic Plains and he calls it central India. He mentions that there were a lot of charitable institutions, rest houses, and there was an excellent Free Hospital in the Capital which was endowed by benevolent citizens. The poor and helpless patients suffering from all kinds of illnesses were taken care of and doctors attended them and they were given food and medicine as per their wants.
  • This depiction proves the earliest foundation of Charity and this charity was first of its kind in the word which spoke of characters of the citizens of the Gupta Era. India’s is great as far as Charity was concerned and as we are told, earliest charitable hospital in Europe or anywhere else in the word was opened in 10th century.
  • Fa Hien further explains that the population of the western part (Malwa) lived happily and did not worry. He mentions that they don’t have to register their household and not to have attend any magistrate. People did not lock their houses. The passports and those who were willing to say may stay and those willing to go may go did not bind them. Fa Hien further mentions that no one kills the living things, or drinks wine or eats Onion or garlic. They don’t keep pigs and fowls, there is no dealing of cattle, and there are no butchers. Only Chandals did all these.
  • Fa Hien mentions about the Chandala, who dwelt apart and they were required to keep a piece of wood as a warning of their approach so that other folk might not get polluted. Chandals were the only offenders of Dharma, as per Fa Hien. About administration, Fa Hien mentions that the authorities interfered as little as possible with the subject and they were left free to prosper and grow rich in their own way.
  • Fa Hien studied Sanskrit for 3 years at Pataliputra and two years at the Port of Tamralipti without let or hindrance. The Roads were clear and safe for the passengers. The accounts of Fa Hien give a clear indication that India was probably never governed better than the era of Chandragupta Vikramaditya. The prosperity of the Indians and tranquility of the empire have been testified by the account of Fa-Hien and his unobstructed itinerary all around gives the details about the Golden Era of India.


Nine Gems (Navratnas) of Chandragupta Vikramaditya

  • Chandragupta-II was known for his deep interest in art and culture and nine gems or Navratna adorned his court. The various fields of these 9 gems prove that Chandragupta gave patronage to arts and literature. Brief description about the nine Ratnas is as follows



  • Amarsimha was a Sanskrit lexicographer and a poet and his Amarkosha is a vocabulary of Sanskrit roots, homonyms and synonyms. It is also called Trikanda as it has 3 parts viz. Kanda 1, Kanda 2 and Kanda 3. It has 10 thousand words in it.



  • Dhanvantri was a great Physician.


  • Harisena is known to have composed the Prayag Prasasti or Allahabad Pillar Inscription. The title of this inscription of Kavya, but it has both prose and verse. The whole poem is in one sentence including first 8 stanzas of poetry and a long sentence and a concluding stanza. Harisena in his old age was in the court of Chandragupta and describes him as Noble, and asks him “You Protect all this earth”.



  • Kalidasa is the immortal poet and playwright of India and a peerless genius whose works became famous worldwide in modern world. Translation of Kalidasa’s works in numerous Indian and Foreign Languages have spread his fame all of the word and now he ranks among the top poets of all times. Here we should note that Rabindranath Tagore, not only propagated the works of Kalidasa but also expounded their meanings and philosophy that made him an immortal poet dramatists.



  • Kahapanka was an astrologer. Not many details about him are found.




  • Sanku was in the field of Architecture.


  • Varahamihira (died 587) lived in Ujjain and he wrote three important books: Panchasiddhantika, Brihat Samhita, and Brihat Jataka.
  • The Panchasiddhantaka is a summary of five early astronomical systems including the Surya Siddhanta. Another system described by him, the Paitamaha Siddhanta, appears to have many similarities with the ancient Vedanga Jyotisha of Lagadha. Brihat Samhita is a compilataion of an assortment of topics that provides interesting details of the beliefs of those times. Brihat Jataka is a book on astrology which appears to be considerably influenced by Greek astrology.



  • Vararuchi is the name of another gem of Chandragupta Vikramaditya who was a grammarian and Sanskrit scholar. Some historians have identified him with Katyayana. Vararuchi is said to be the author of Prakrit Prakasha, which is first Grammar of Prakrit Language.



  • Vetalbhatta was a magician.
January 1, 2018

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