Extent of the Gupta Empire, 375 CE

Extent of the Gupta Empire, 375 CE


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The Guptas : Extent of empire development of language and Literature, art St architecture during the Gupta period.

The Gupta Empire stretched across northern, central and parts of southern India between c. 320 and 550 CE. The period is noted for its achievements in the arts, architecture, sciences, religion, and philosophy. Chandragupta I (320 – 335 CE) started a rapid expansion of the Gupta Empire and soon established himself as the first sovereign ruler of the empire. It marked the end of 500 hundred years of domination of the provincial powers and resulting disquiet that began with the fall of the Mauryas. Even more importantly, it began a period of overall prosperity and growth that continued for the next two and half centuries which came to be known as a “Golden Age” in India’s history. But the seed of the empire was sown at least two generations earlier than this when Srigupta, then only a regional monarch, set off the glory days of this mighty dynasty in circa 240 CE.

GUPTA PERIOD – EARLY DAYS TO THE ZENITH

Not much is known about the early days of this Gupta dynasty. The travel diaries and writings of Buddhist monks who frequented this part of the world are the most trustworthy sources of information we have about those days. The travelogues of Fa Hien (Faxian, circa 337 – 422 CE), Hiuen Tsang (Xuanzang, 602 – 664 CE) and Yijing (I Tsing, 635 – 713 CE) prove to be invaluable in this respect. The Gupta Empire during the rule of Srigupta (circa 240 – 280 CE) comprised only Magadha and probably a part of Bengal too. Like the Mauryas and other Magadha kings who preceded him, Srigupta ruled from Pataliputra, close to modern day Patna. Srigupta was succeeded to the throne by his son Ghatotkacha (circa 280 – 319 CE).

CHANDRAGUPTA I

From the Kushans, the Gupta kings learned the benefit of maintaining a cavalry and Chandragupta I, son of Ghatotkacha, made effective use of his strong army. Through his marriage with Licchhavi Princess Kumaradevi, Chandragupta I received the ownership of rich mines full of iron ore adjacent to his kingdom. Metallurgy was already at an advanced stage and forged iron was not only used to meet the internal demands, but also became a valuable trade commodity. The territorial heads ruling over various parts of India could not counter the superior armed forces of Chandragupta I and had to surrender before him. It is conjectured that at the end of his reign, the boundary of the Gupta Empire already extended to Allahabad.

SAMUDRAGUPTA

Samudragupta (circa 335 – 375 CE), Chandragupta I’s son who ascended the throne next, was a military genius and he continued the growth of the kingdom. After conquering the remainder of North India, Samudragupta turned his eyes to South India and added a portion of it to his empire by the end of his Southern Campaign. 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 economic, social and political treatise that has clear instructions about how a monarchy should be governed) closely. He donated large sums of money for various philanthropic purposes, including the promotion of education. Besides being a courageous king and able administrator, he was a poet and musician. The large number of gold coins circulated by him showcases his multifaceted talent. An inscription, probably commissioned by subsequent Gupta kings, known as the Allahabad Pillar is most eloquent about his humane qualities. Samudragupta also believed in promoting goodwill among various religious communities. He gave, for example, Meghavarna, king of Ceylon, permission and support for the construction of a monastery in Bodh Gaya.

CHANDRAGUPTA II

A short struggle for power appears to have ensued after the reign of Samudragupta. His eldest son Ramagupta became the next Gupta king. This was noted by 7th century CE Sanskrit author Banbhatta in his biographical work, Harshacharita. What followed next forms a part of Sanskrit poet and playwright Visakh Dutta’s drama DeviChandra Guptam. As the story goes, Ramagupta was soon overcome by a Scythian king of Mathura. But the Scythian king, besides the kingdom itself, was interested in Queen Dhruvadevi who was also a renowned scholar. To maintain peace Ramagupta gave up Dhruvadevi to his opponent. It is then Ramagupta’s younger brother Chandragupta II with a few of his close aides went to meet the enemy in disguise. He rescued Dhruvadevi and assassinated the Scythian king. Dhruvadevi publicly condemned her husband for his behaviour. Eventually, Ramagupta was killed by Chandragupta II who also married Dhruvadevi sometime later.

Like Samudragupta, Chandragupta II (circa 380 – 414 CE) was a benevolent king, able leader and skilled administrator. By defeating the satrap of Saurashtra, he further expanded his kingdom to the coastline of the Arabian Sea. His courageous pursuits earned him the title of Vikramaditya. To rule the vast empire more efficiently, Chandragupta II founded his second capital in Ujjain. He also took care to strengthen the navy. The seaports of Tamralipta and Sopara consequently became busy hubs of maritime trade. He was a great patron of art and culture too. Some of the greatest scholars of the day including the navaratna (nine gems) graced his court. Numerous charitable institutions, orphanages and hospitals benefitted from his generosity. Rest houses for travellers were set up by the road side. The Gupta Empire reached its pinnacle during this time and unprecedented progress marked all areas of life.

POLITICS & ADMINISTRATION

Great tact and foresight were shown in the governance of the vast empire. The efficiency of their martial system was well known. 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.

The following also speaks volumes about the prudence of the Gupta kings. Samudragupta acquired a far greater part of southern India than he cared to incorporate into his empire. Therefore, in quite a few cases, he returned the kingdom to the original kings and was satisfied only with collecting taxes from them. He reckoned that the great distance between that part of the country and his capital Pataliputra would hinder the process of good governance.

SOCIO-ECONOMIC CONDITIONS

People led a simple life. Commodities were affordable and all round prosperity ensured that their requirements were met easily. They preferred vegetarianism and shunned alcoholic beverages. 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 steelcraft 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. Yijing observed how the Gupta kings erected inns and rest houses for Buddhist monks and other pilgrims. 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. 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. Even today, Dhanvantri’s birth anniversary is celebrated on Dhanteras, two days before Diwali. This intellectual surge was not confined to the courts or among the royalty. 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.

ART, ARCHITECTURE & CULTURE

What philosopher and historian Ananda Coomaraswamy said in The Arts & Crafts of India & Ceylone, about the art of the region must be remembered here,

The Hindus do not regard the religious, aesthetic, and scientific standpoints as necessarily conflicting, and in all their finest work, whether musical, literary, or plastic, these points of view, nowadays so sharply distinguished, are inseparably united.

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. 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. These were regularly performed in temples as a token of devotion. In classic Indian style, artists and litterateurs were encouraged to meditate on the imagery within and capture its essence in their creations. As Agni Purana suggests, “O thou Lord of all gods, teach me in dreams how to carry out all the work I have in my mind.”

DECLINE OF THE EMPIRE

After the demise of his father Chandragupta II, Kumaragupta I (circa 415 – 455 CE) ruled over the vast empire with skill and ability. He was able to maintain peace and even fend off strong challenges from a tribe known as Pushyamitra. He was helped by his able son Skandagupta (455 – 467 CE) who was the last of the sovereign rulers of the Gupta Dynasty. He also succeeded in preventing the invasion of the Huns (Hephthalites). Skandagupta was a great scholar and wise ruler. For the well being of the denizens he carried out several construction works including the rebuilding of a dam on Sudarshan Lake, Gujarat. But these were the last of the glory days of the empire.

After Skandagupta’s death the dynasty became embroiled with domestic conflicts. The rulers lacked the capabilities of the earlier emperors to rule over such a large kingdom. This resulted in a decline in law and order. They were continuously plagued by the attacks of the Huns and other foreign powers. This put a dent in the economic well-being of the empire. On top of this, the kings remained more occupied with self-indulgence than in preparing to meet with the challenges of their enemies. The inept ministers and administrative heads also followed suit. Notably, after the defeat and capture of Mihirakula, one of the most important Hephthalite emperors of the time, Gupta King Baladitya set him free on the advice of his ministers. The Huns came back to haunt the empire later and finally drew the curtains on this illustrious empire in circa 550. The following lines of King Sudraka’s Mricchakatika (The Little Clay Cart) aptly sum up the rise and fall in the fortune of the Gupta Dynasty.


Differences

The major differences between the Mauryan and Gupta dynasty are enumerated below

Difference in time: Mauryan empire existed during 325 – 1285 BCE whereas Gupta dynasty existed between 320 and 550 CE.

Difference in extent: Mauryan Empire was very vast and the dynasty ruled almost all of India, including what is now Pakistan and Afghanistan. Area under the rule of Gupta rulers was mush less than that of Mauryan.

Administrative difference: The administrative structure of the Mauryan Empire was very mush centralized. During Gupta rule, more decentralized administrative structure was followed. Administration of villages was bestowed with local leaders, and the rulers never intervened with such administration.

Tax System: The Maurya rulers introduced very extensive tax system, and imposed heavy taxes on the people. Guptas were more liberal in imposing taxes on citizens.

Difference in religious faith: Although the Mauryan rulers were liberal in religious views, they preferred non-Hindu religions. Chandragupta, the founder of the empire was a follower of Jainism. Most of his successors embraced Buddhism, and Ashoka is historically famous for his unquestioned faith in Buddhism. Ashoka embraced Buddhism out of remorse from the grueling experience of the great Kalinga war. Gupta rulers, on the other hand, were followers of Hinduism and generously patronized the Hindu religion. During the rule of the Gupta dynasty, Hinduism experienced cultural and religious renaissance.

Difference in culture: During the Mauryan rule, architectural beauty reached its highest level, with clear influence of Persian style. Huge Buddhist monasteries and marvelous pillars were erected depicting edicts of Ashoka. The period of Gupta dynasty is known as the golden age of Indian culture as science, art, literature and astronomy reached a new height during this period. Mathura and Gandhara were two leading artistic style during Gupta dynasty, which were influenced by Buddhist and Hellenistic style.

Difference in trade and commerce: The Mauryan rulers actively entered into foreign trade. Indo-Greek friendship treaty was signed during the rule of Chandragupta. Gupta rulers on the other hand were more interested in internal trade.

Difference in decline: After Ashoka, Mauryan dynasty was ruled by weak and inefficient leaders. The empire fell due to internal strife, assassination of one ruler and revolution. The Gupta dynasty faced tremendous external threat and involved in bloody military conflict with Huns. This drained its resources.


Contents

Modern scholars variously assign the start of Samudragupta's reign from c. 319 CE to c. 350 CE. [3]

The inscriptions of the Gupta kings are dated in the Gupta calendar era, whose epoch is generally dated to c. 319 CE. However, the identity of the era's founder is a matter of debate, and scholars variously attribute its establishment to Chandragupta I or Samudragupta. [4] [5] Chandragupta I probably had a long reign, as the Allahabad Pillar inscription suggests that he appointed his son as his successor, presumably after reaching an old age. However, the exact period of his reign is uncertain. For these reasons, the beginning of Samudragupta's reign is also uncertain. [3]

If Samudragupta is regarded as the founder of the Gupta era, his ascension can be dated to c. 319-320 CE. [6] On the other hand, if his father Chandragupta I is regarded as the founder of the Gupta era, Samudragupta's ascension must be dated to a later date. Samudragupta was a contemporary of king Meghavarna of Anuradhapura Kingdom, but the regnal period of this king is also uncertain. According to the traditional reckoning adopted in Sri Lanka for Buddha's death, he ruled during 304-332 CE but the modified chronology adopted by modern scholars such as Wilhelm Geiger assigns his reign to 352-379 CE. Accepting the former date would place Samudragupta's ascension to c. 320 CE accepting the latter date would place it around c. 350 CE. [5]

The end of Samudragupta's reign is also uncertain. [5] Samudragupta's granddaughter Prabhavatigupta is known to have married during the reign of his son Chandragupta II, in c. 380 CE (assuming c. 319 CE as the epoch of the Gupta era). Therefore, the end of Samudragupta's reign can be placed before this year. [7]

Various estimates of Samudragupta's regnal period include:

Samudragupta was a son of the Gupta king Chandragupta I and queen Kumaradevi, who came from a Licchavi family. [9] His fragmentary Eran stone inscription states that his father selected him as the successor because of his "devotion, righteous conduct, and valour". His Allahabad Pillar inscription similarly describes how Chandragupta called him a noble person in front of the courtiers, and appointed him to "protect the earth". These descriptions suggest that Chandragupta renounced the throne in his old age, and appointed his son as the next king. [10]

According to the Allahabad Pillar inscription, when Chandragupta appointed him as the next ruler, the faces of other people of "equal birth" bore a "melancholy look". [11] One interpretation suggests that these other people were neighbouring kings, and Samudagupta's ascension to the throne was uncontested. [12] Another theory is that these other people were Gupta princes who made a rival claim to the throne. [11] If Chandragputa I indeed had multiple sons, it is likely that Samudragupta's background as the son of a Lichchhavi princess worked in his favour. [13]

The coins of a Gupta ruler named Kacha, whose identity is debated by modern scholars, describe him as "the exterminator of all kings". [14] These coins closely resmble the coins issued by Samudragupta. [15] According to one theory, Kacha was an earlier name of Samudragupta: the king adopted the regnal name Samudra ("Ocean"), after extending his territory up to the ocean. [16] An alternatively theory is that Kacha was a distinct king (possibly a rival claimant to the throne [14] [16] ) who flourished before or after Samudragupta. [15]

The Gupta inscriptions suggest that Samudragupta had a remarkable military career. The Eran stone inscription of Samudragupta states that he had brought "the whole tribe of kings" under his suzerainty, and that his enemies were terrified when they thought of him in their dreams. [17] The inscription does not name any of the defeated kings (presumably because its primary objective was to record the installation of a Vishnu idol in a temple), but it suggests that Samudragupta had subdued several kings by this time. [18] The later Allahabad Pillar inscription, a panegyric written by Samudragupta's minister and military officer Harishena, credits him with extensive conquests. [19] It gives the most detailed account of Samudragupta's military conquests, listing them in mainly geographical and partly chronological order. [20] It states that Samudragupta fought a hundred battles, acquired a hundred wounds that looked like marks of glory, and earned the title Prakrama (valourous). [21] The Mathura stone inscription of Chandragupta II describes Samudragupta as an "exterminator of all kings", as someone who had no equally powerful enemy, and as a person whose "fame was tasted by the waters of the four oceans". [18]

Modern scholars offer various opinions regarding Samudragupta's possible motivations behind his extensive military campaigns. The Allahabad Pillar inscription suggests that Samudragupta's aim was the unification of the earth (dharani-bandha), which suggests that he may have aspired to become a Chakravartin (a universal ruler). [21] The Ashvamedha performances by the Nagas, whom he defeated, may have influenced him as well. His southern expedition may have been motivated by economic considerations of controlling the trade between India and South-East Asia. [22]

Early victories Edit

The early portion of the Allahabad Pillar inscription mentions that Samudragupta "uprooted" Achyuta, Nagasena, and a ruler whose name is lost in the damaged portion of the inscription. The third name ends in "-ga", and is generally restored as Ganapati-naga, [13] because Achyuta-nandin (presumably same as Achyuta), Nagasena, and Ganapati-naga are once again mentioned in the later part of the inscription, among the kings of Aryavarta (northern India) defeated by Samudragupta. [23] [24] These kings are identified as the rulers of present-day western Uttar Pradesh (see below). [22] According to the inscription, Samudragupta reinstated these rulers after they sought his forgiveness. [25]

It is not clear why the names of these three kings is repeated later in the inscription. According to one theory, these three kings were vassal rulers who rebelled against Samudragupta after the death of his father. Samudragupta crushed the rebellion, and reinstated them after they sought his forgiveness. Later, these rulers rebelled once more, and Samudragupta defeated them again. [25] Another possibility is that the author of the inscription thought it necessary to repeat these names while describing Samudragupta's later conquests in Aryavarta, simply because these kings belonged to that region. [26]

Samudragupta dispatched an army to capture the scion of the Kota family, whose identity is uncertain. The Kotas may have been the rulers of present-day Punjab, where coins bearing the legend "Kota", and featuring a symbol of Shiva and his bull, have been discovered. [25]

The inscription states that the Gupta army captured the Kota ruler, while Samudragupta himself "played" (or pleased himself) in a city called Pushpa [27] (the name Pushpa-pura referred to Pataliputra at Samudragupta's time, although it came to be used for Kanyakubja in the later period). [28] Modern scholars have interpreted the word "played" in various ways: According to one theory, this portion describes Samudragupta's achievements as a prince. [13] An alternative interpretation is that Samudragupta dispatched his army on these campaigns, while he himself stayed at the capital. [25] It is also possible that the poet intended to convey that these campaigns were minor affairs that did not require the king's direct involvement at the battlefront. [27]

Southern conquests Edit

According to the Allahabad Pillar inscription, Samudragupta captured (and later released) the following kings of Dakshinapatha, the southern region: [19]

The exact identification of several of these kings is debated among modern scholars, [29] but it is clear that these kings ruled areas located on the eastern coast of India. [30] Samudragupta most probably passed through the forest tract of central India, reached the eastern coast in present-day Odisha, and then marched south along the coast of Bay of Bengal. [31]

The inscription states that Samudragupta later released these kings, and favoured (anugraha) them. Most modern scholars theorize that Samudragupta reinstated these rulers as his tributaries. M. G. S. Narayanan interprets the word anugraha differently based on its occurrence in the Arthashastra he theorizes that Samudragupta gave "protection and aid" to these kingdoms in order to secure their alliances. [32]

Some scholars, such as J. Dubreuil and B. V. Krishnarao, theorized that Samudragupta only advanced up to the Krishna river, and was forced to retreat without fighting a battle, when the southern kings formed a strong confederacy to oppose him. According to these scholars, the claim that Samudragupta released these kings is an attempt by Samudragupta's courtier to cover up the emperor's failure. [33] However, there is no evidence of the southern kings forming a confederacy against Samudragupta. Historian Ashvini Agrawal notes that setting free a captured king is inline with the ancient Indian political ideals. For example, Kautilya defines three types of conquerors: the righteous conqueror (dharma-vijayi), who restores the defeated king in exchange for his acknowledgment of the conqueror's suzerainty the coveteous conqueror (lobha-vijayi), who takes away the possessions of the defeated king but spares his life and the demoniac conqueror (asura-vijayi), who annexes the territory of the defeated king and kills him. [33] Such political ideals existed in the Gupta period too, as evident from Kalidasa's statement in Raghuvamsha that "the righteous victorious monarch (Raghu) only took away the royal glory of the lord of Mahendra who had been captured and released, but not his kingdom." Therefore, it is likely that Samudragupta acted like a righteous conqueror, and restored the defeated kings as his vassals. [34] [32]

Mahendra of Kosala Kosala here refers to Dakshina Kosala, which includes parts of present-day Chhattisgarh and Odisha. [29] One theory identifies Mahendra of Kosala with a Nala king named Mahendraditya. [35] Vyaghra-raja of Mahakantara Historian K. P. Jayaswal identifies Mahakantara (literally "great wilderness") as the Bastar-Kanker area in present-day Chhattisgarh. [29] According to another theory, Mahakantara is same as Mahavana, a synonym used as the name for the forest region around present-day Jeypore of Odisha. [36] Earlier historians identified Mahakantara as a region in central India, and identified Vyaghra-raja with the Vakataka feudatory Vyaghra-deva, whose inscriptions have been found at Nachna. However, this identification is now considered incorrect, as Samudragupta is not known to have fought against the Vakatakas. [29] Mantaraja of Kurala The Rawan inscription of the Sharabhapuriya king Narendra, who ruled in the Dakshina Kosala region, mentions an area called Mantaraja-bhukti ("the province of Mantaraja"). Therefore, some historians such as K. D. Bajpai theorize that Mantaraja was a king who ruled in the Dakshina Kosala region. [37] Historian A. M. Shastri disputes this theory, arguing that the ruler of Kosala (that is, Dakshina Kosala) has been mentioned separately in the Allahabad Pillar inscription. [38] Lorenz Franz Kielhorn speculated that Kurala was same as Kaurala (or Kunala) mentioned in the Aihole inscription of the 7th century king Pulakeshin II, and identified it as the area around the Kolleru Lake in present-day Andhra Pradesh. H. C. Raychaudhuri disputes this identification, pointing out that this region was a part of Hastivarman's Vengi kingdom, which has been mentioned separately in the Allahabad Pillar inscription. [37] Other proposed identifications of Kurala include Kolada near Bhanjanagar (former Russelkonda) in Odisha [39] and Kulula, a region mentioned in the Mahendragiri inscription of the 11th century king Rajendra Chola, and identified with Cherla in present-day Telangana. [37] Mahendragiri of Pishtapura Pishtapura is modern Pithapuram in Andhra Pradesh. The word giri mentions hill in Sanskrit, and therefore, J. F. Fleet speculated that "Mahendragiri" could not have been a person's name: he suggested that the verse (Mahendragiri-Kautturaka-Svamidatta) referred to a king called "Mahendra", and a place called "Kottura on the hill" which was ruled by Svamidatta. However, Fleet's translation is incorrect: the verse clearly mentions Mahendragiri of Pishtapura and Svamidatta of Kottura as two distinct persons. [40] G. Ramdas interpreted the verse to mean Svamidatta was the ruler of Pishtapura and "Kottura near Mahendragiri", while Bhau Daji translated it as "Svamidatta of Pishtapura, Mahendragiri and Kottura". However, these translations are also incorrect. [41] The concern about the king's name is invalid: several historical records mention names ending in the word giri or its synonym adri. [40] [42] Svamidatta of Kottura Svamidatta was probably one of the chiefs who resisted Samudragupta's passage through the Kalinga region. [43] Kottura has been identified with modern Kotturu (or Kothur) in Srikakulam district, Andhra Pradesh (near Paralakhemundi, Odisha). [44] Alternative proposals identify it with other similarly named places in present-day Andhra Pradesh. [36] Damana of Erandapalla Proposed identifications of Erandapalla include Errandapali near Srikakulam, a town near Mukhalingam, Yendipalli in Visakhapatnam district, and Endipalli in West Godavari district. [45] Vishnugopa of Kanchi Vishnugopa is identified as the Pallava ruler of Kanchipuram: Samudragupta's invasion probably occurred when he acted as a regent for his nephew Skandavarman III. [46] Nilaraja of Avamukta The identity of Avamukta is uncertain. [47] The Brahmanda Purana mentions an area called "Avimukta-kshetra", located on the banks of the Gautami river (that is, Godavari), which may be identified with Avamukta of Samudragupta's inscription. [48] Some historical texts use the name Avamukta-kshetra for the region around Varanasi, [46] but Varanasi is not located in Dakshinapatha, and therefore, was certainly not the Avamukta mentioned in the inscription. [47] Hastivarman of Vengi Hastivarman was the Shalankayana king of Vengi (modern Pedavegi) in Andhra Pradesh. [49] Ugrasena of Palakka J. Dubreuil identified Palakka with the place referred to as Palakkada in several Pallava inscriptions this location was probably the headquarters of a Pallava viceroyalty. For example, the Uruvapalli grant inscription of Yuva-maharaja (Prince) Vishnugopa-varman was issued from Palakkada. [50] G. Ramdas identified it with Pakkai located between Udayagiri and Venkatagiri in the Nellore district, and theorized that it was same as the place referred to as Paka-nadu, Panka-nadu, or Pakai-nadu in the inscriptions of the 10th century Chola king Rajaraja I. [50] Kubera of Devarashtra According to one theory, Deva-rashtra was located in the historical Kalinga region of present-day northern Andhra Pradesh. The Srungavarapukota inscription of the Vasishtha king Anantavarman, issued from Pishtapura in this area, describes his grandfather Gunavarman as Deva-rashtradhipati ("Lord of Deva-rashtra"). The Kasimkota inscription of the 10th century Vengi Chalukya king Bhima I mentions a vishaya (district) called Deva-rashtra in Kalinga. Based on this, J. Dubreuil identified Devarashtra as a location in the present-day Yelamanchili taluka of Andhra Pradesh. [50] During Samudragupta's period, the Kalinga region appears to have been divided among several small kingdoms, which may have included Kottura, Pishtapura, and Devarashtra. [51] Dhananjaya of Kusthalapura B. V. Krishnarao speculated that Dhananjaya of Samudragupta's inscription may be same as the Dhananjaya from whom the chieftains of Dhanyakataka (modern Dharanikota in Andhra Pradesh) claimed descent. He identified Kusthalapura with modern Kolanupaka (or Kollipak) located on the banks of the Aleru River in present-day Telangana. [30] Another theory identifies Kusthalapura with a tract around the Kushasthali river near Dakshina Kosala. [48]

Northern conquests Edit

According to the Allahabad Pillar inscription, Samudragupta "forcibly uprooted" the following kings of Aryavarta, the northern region: [34]

  1. Rudradeva
  2. Matila
  3. Nagadatta
  4. Chandravarman
  5. Ganapatinaga
  6. Nagasena
  7. Achyuta-nandin
  8. Balavarman

Unlike the southern kings, the inscription does not mention the territories ruled by these kings, which suggests that their kingdoms were annexed to the Gupta empire. [52] The inscription also mentions that Samudragupta defeated some other kings, but does not mention their names, presumably because the poet saw them as unimportant. [34]

Rudradeva Rudradeva may be same as a king named Rudra, whose coin has been found at Kaushambi. [53] Another theory identifies Rudradeva with a Western Kshatrapa (Shaka) king of Ujjain, either Rudradaman II or Rudrasena III. [54] Some earlier scholars, such as K. N. Dikshit and K. P. Jayaswal, identified Rudradeva with the Vakataka king Rudrasena I. However, this identification seems to be inaccurate, because Samudragupta's inscription explicitly mentions Rudradeva as a king of the northern region (Aryavarta), while the Vakatakas ruled in the southern region (Dakshinapatha). An argument cited in support of this identification is that Rudrasena bore the title Maharaja ("great king") as opposed to samrat ("emperor"), signifying his subordinate status to Samudragupta. However, multiple sovereign Vakataka kings bore the title Maharaja: only Pravarasena I assumed the title samrat after performing a vajapeya ritual sacrifice. An inscription of Rudrasena's descendant Prithvishena II mentions that the Vakataka kingdom had been prospering for a hundred years, suggesting that the Vakataka rule remained uninterrupted during Rudrasena's reign. [54] Matila The identity of Matila is not certain. [55] [53] Earlier, Matila was identified with Mattila, who is known from a terracotta seal discovered at Bulandshahr. [54] However, there is no evidence that this Mattila was a ruler, and epigraphist Jagannath Agrawal has dated the seal to the 6th century on palaeographic basis. [56] Nagadatta Nagadatta is not known from any other inscriptions or coins, but his name has led to suggestions that he may have been the ruler of a Naga branch. [55] D. C. Sircar theorized that he was an ancestor of a family of Gupta viceroys, whose names ended in -datta. Tej Ram Sharma speculates that he may have been a Naga ruler, whose successors were sent as Gupta viceroys in Bengal after the family accepted the Gupta suzerainty. [57] Chandravarman Chandravarman of Samudragupta's inscription has been identified with Chandravarman, the ruler of Pushkarana (modern Pakhanna) in present-day West Bengal. [55] P. L. Gupta and some earlier scholars have identified this ruler with another Chandravarman, who has been mentioned in an inscription discovered at Mandsaur in present-day Madhya Pradesh. [58] [53] Tej Ram Sharma disputes this identification, arguing that Samudragupta "exterminated" all kings of Aryavarta and annexed their territories, as suggested by the Allahabad Pillar inscription however, Naravarman - a brother of Chandravarman of Mandsaur - is known to have been ruling as a feudatory in 404 CE. [57] Ganapatinaga Ganapati-naga is identified as a Naga king. Several coins bearing the legend Ganapati have been discovered at Padmavati, Vidisha, and Mathura. Although these coins do not bear the suffix "naga", they are similar to the ones issued by the other Naga kings such as Skanda-naga, Brihaspati-naga, and Deva-naga. Since hundreds of Ganapati's coins have been found at Mathura, it appears that he was the ruler of a Naga branch headquartered at Mathura. [55] Nagasena The 7th century text Harshacharita refers to the Naga king Nagasena, who "met with his doom in Padmavati, as his secret plan was divulged by a sarika bird". Assuming this describes a historical person, it appears that Nagasena was the ruler of a Naga branch headquartered at Padmavati in present-day Madhya Pradesh. [55] Achyuta-nandin Achyuta-nandin seems to be same as Achyuta, who is mentioned earlier in the inscription his name may have been shortened in the earlier verses for metrical purposes. [53] An alternatively theory identifies Achyuta and Nandin as two distinct kings. [59] Achyuta was the ruler of Ahichchhatra in present-day Uttar Pradesh, where coins attributed to him have been discovered. [25] These coins bear the legend "Achyu", and are similar to the coins issued by the Naga rulers. This has led to suggestions that the Achyuta-nandin defeated by Samudragupta was the ruler of a Naga branch headquartered at Ahichhatra. [55] Balavarman V. V. Mirashi identified Bala-varman (or Balavarma) as a ruler of the Magha dynasty of Kosambi. [60] U. N. Roy suggested that Bala-varman may have been an ancestor of the Maukhari kings, who initially served as Gupta vassals, and whose names ended in -varman. [61] Another theory identifies him with the successor of Shridhara-varman, the Shaka ruler of Eran. Samudragupta may have ended the dynasty of Eran, as suggested by the discovery of his inscription at Eran. [60] K. N. Dikshit identified Balavarman with Balavarman, a ruler of the Varman dynasty of Kamarupa however, Balavarman was not a contemporary of Samudragupta. [62] Moreover, Kamarupa has been mentioned as a distinct frontier kingdom later on in the Allahabad Pillar inscription. [61]

Conquests in the forest region Edit

According to the Allahabad Pillar inscription, Samudragupta reduced all the kings of the forest region (atavika) to subservience. [63] This forest region may have been located in central India: the inscriptions of the Parivrajaka dynasty, which ruled in this area, state that their ancestral kingdom was located within the 18 forest kingdoms. [60]

Frontier kings and tribes Edit

The Allahabad Pillar inscription mentions that rulers of several frontier kingdoms and tribal oligarchies paid Samudragupta tributes, obeyed his orders, and performed obeisance before him. [63] [66] The inscription explicitly describes the five kingdoms as frontier territories: the areas controlled by the tribes were also probably located at the frontier of Samudrgupta's kingdom. [52]

Historian Upinder Singh theorizes that the relationship of these frontier rulers to the Gupta emperor had "certain elements of a feudatory relationship". [66] According to historian R. C. Majumdar, it is likely that Samudragupta's conquests in Aryavarta and Dakshinapatha increased his reputation to such an extent that the frontier rulers and tribes submitted him without a fight. [67]

The frontier kingdoms included: [66]

    , located in the present-day Bengal. [68] , located in present-day Assam. [68] , located in present-day Assam. [68] , located in present-day Nepal. [68] According to one theory, Nepala here refers to the Licchavi kingdom, whose rulers may have been the maternal relatives of Samudragupta. [69]
  1. Karttripura, probably located in the present-day Uttarakhand: the inscription appears to name frontier kingdoms in geographical order proceeding from Bengal to Assam to Nepal Uttarakhand would be next in the sequence. [68] A now-obsolete theory identified Karttripura with Kartarpur in present-day Punjab, but Kartarpur was established much later, in the 16th century, by Guru Arjan. [68]

The tribal oligarchies included: [66]

    : During Samudragupta's period, they were probably headquartered at Karkota-nagara (present-day Nagar Fort in Rajasthan), where several thousands of their coins have been discovered. [70] : Their coins have been found in the Mathura region. [71] According to numismatist John Allan, the Arjunayanas resided in the triangle connecting the present-day Delhi, Jaipur and Agra. [70] : They ruled the area between the Sutlej and the Yamuna rivers after the Kushans. They seem to have become Samudragupta's tributaries. [72] : They are generally placed between the Ravi and the Chenab rivers. [72] : Epigraphic and literary evidence suggests that they ruled in western India during Samudragupta's period. [73]
  1. Sanakanikas: They appear to have ruled the region around Udayagiri in present-day Madhya Pradesh. An inscription found at Udayagiri refers to a Sanakanika chief as a feudatory of Chandragupta II: this chief and his two predecessors are described as "Maharajas", which suggests that Samudragupta allowed the Sanakanika chiefs to rule as his governors after conquering their territory. [74]
  2. Kakas: They may have been the rulers of the area around the Sanchi hill, which has been mentioned as Kakanada in ancient inscriptions. [74]
  3. Prarjunas They may be identified as the Prarjunakas mentioned in the Arthashastra, but their location is uncertain. Various theories place them in central India, including around the present-day Narsinghpur or Narsinghgarh in Madhya Pradesh. [75][76]
  4. Kharaparikas: They may be same as the "Kharaparas" (literally "thief" or "rogue" [77] ) mentioned in a 14th-century stone inscription found at Batiyagarh (or Battisgarh) in Damoh district. These Kharaparas are variously identified as an indigenous tribe or freebooters of this region. [75]
    • Some later sources suggest that the Kharaparas were a foreign tribe (possibly Mongols), and the Dingal-language texts use the word "Kharapara" as a synonym for "Muslim", but such an identification is not applicable to Samudragupta's period. [75]
    • There is also some speculation about the Kharaparikas being same as the Gardabhilas mentioned in the Puranas, as the words "Khara" and "Gardabha" both mean "donkey" in Sanskrit. However, very little is known about the Gardabhilas from historical sources. [78]

Relations with other rulers Edit

Samudragupta's inscription mentions that several kings tried to please him by attending on him personally offering him their daughters in marriage (or, according to another interpretation, gifting him maidens [79] ) and seeking the use of the Garuda-depicting Gupta seal for administering their own territories. [80] These kings included "Daivaputra-Shahi-Shahanushahi, Shaka-Murundas, and the rulers of the island countries such as Simhala". [66] [81]

Samudragupta's empire included a core territory, located in northern India, which was directly controlled by the emperor. Besides, it comprised a number of monarchical and tribal tributary states. [52] Historian R. C. Majumdar theorizes that Samudragupta directly controlled an area extending from the Ravi River (Punjab) in the west to the Brahmaputra River (Bengal and Assam) in the east, and from the Himalayan foothills in the north to the Vindhya hills in the south. The south-western boundary of his territory roughly followed an imaginary line drawn from present-day Karnal to Bhilsa. [93]

In the south, Samudragupta's empire definitely included Eran in present-day Madhya Pradesh, where his inscription has been found. [94] The Allahabad Pillar inscription suggests that he advanced up to Kanchipuram in the south. [30] However, since the claims in the Allahabad Pillar inscription are from a royal eulogy, they must be treated with caution. The southern kings were not under his direct suzerainty: they only paid him tribute. [95]

According to historian Kunal Chakrabarti, Samudragupta's military campaigns weakened the tribal republics of present-day Punjab and Rajasthan, but even these kingdoms were not under his direct suzerainty: they only paid him tribute. Samudragupta's claim of control over other kings is questionable. [95] Historian Ashvini Agrawal notes that a gold coin of the Gadahara tribe bears the legend Samudra, which suggests that Samudragupta's control extended up to the Chenab river in the Punjab region. [96]

Some earlier scholars, such as J. F. Fleet believed that Samudragupta had also conquered a part of Maharashtra, based on the identification of Devarashtra with Maharashtra, and Erandapalla with Erandol, where some Gupta-era remains have been found. [97] However, this theory is no longer considered correct. [30] [98]


The Guptas : Extent of empire development of language and Literature, art St architecture during the Gupta period.

The Gupta Empire stretched across northern, central and parts of southern India between c. 320 and 550 CE. The period is noted for its achievements in the arts, architecture, sciences, religion, and philosophy. Chandragupta I (320 – 335 CE) started a rapid expansion of the Gupta Empire and soon established himself as the first sovereign ruler of the empire. It marked the end of 500 hundred years of domination of the provincial powers and resulting disquiet that began with the fall of the Mauryas. Even more importantly, it began a period of overall prosperity and growth that continued for the next two and half centuries which came to be known as a “Golden Age” in India’s history. But the seed of the empire was sown at least two generations earlier than this when Srigupta, then only a regional monarch, set off the glory days of this mighty dynasty in circa 240 CE.

GUPTA PERIOD – EARLY DAYS TO THE ZENITH

Not much is known about the early days of this Gupta dynasty. The travel diaries and writings of Buddhist monks who frequented this part of the world are the most trustworthy sources of information we have about those days. The travelogues of Fa Hien (Faxian, circa 337 – 422 CE), Hiuen Tsang (Xuanzang, 602 – 664 CE) and Yijing (I Tsing, 635 – 713 CE) prove to be invaluable in this respect. The Gupta Empire during the rule of Srigupta (circa 240 – 280 CE) comprised only Magadha and probably a part of Bengal too. Like the Mauryas and other Magadha kings who preceded him, Srigupta ruled from Pataliputra, close to modern day Patna. Srigupta was succeeded to the throne by his son Ghatotkacha (circa 280 – 319 CE).

CHANDRAGUPTA I

From the Kushans, the Gupta kings learned the benefit of maintaining a cavalry and Chandragupta I, son of Ghatotkacha, made effective use of his strong army. Through his marriage with Licchhavi Princess Kumaradevi, Chandragupta I received the ownership of rich mines full of iron ore adjacent to his kingdom. Metallurgy was already at an advanced stage and forged iron was not only used to meet the internal demands, but also became a valuable trade commodity. The territorial heads ruling over various parts of India could not counter the superior armed forces of Chandragupta I and had to surrender before him. It is conjectured that at the end of his reign, the boundary of the Gupta Empire already extended to Allahabad.

SAMUDRAGUPTA

Samudragupta (circa 335 – 375 CE), Chandragupta I’s son who ascended the throne next, was a military genius and he continued the growth of the kingdom. After conquering the remainder of North India, Samudragupta turned his eyes to South India and added a portion of it to his empire by the end of his Southern Campaign. 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 economic, social and political treatise that has clear instructions about how a monarchy should be governed) closely. He donated large sums of money for various philanthropic purposes, including the promotion of education. Besides being a courageous king and able administrator, he was a poet and musician. The large number of gold coins circulated by him showcases his multifaceted talent. An inscription, probably commissioned by subsequent Gupta kings, known as the Allahabad Pillar is most eloquent about his humane qualities. Samudragupta also believed in promoting goodwill among various religious communities. He gave, for example, Meghavarna, king of Ceylon, permission and support for the construction of a monastery in Bodh Gaya.

CHANDRAGUPTA II

A short struggle for power appears to have ensued after the reign of Samudragupta. His eldest son Ramagupta became the next Gupta king. This was noted by 7th century CE Sanskrit author Banbhatta in his biographical work, Harshacharita. What followed next forms a part of Sanskrit poet and playwright Visakh Dutta’s drama DeviChandra Guptam. As the story goes, Ramagupta was soon overcome by a Scythian king of Mathura. But the Scythian king, besides the kingdom itself, was interested in Queen Dhruvadevi who was also a renowned scholar. To maintain peace Ramagupta gave up Dhruvadevi to his opponent. It is then Ramagupta’s younger brother Chandragupta II with a few of his close aides went to meet the enemy in disguise. He rescued Dhruvadevi and assassinated the Scythian king. Dhruvadevi publicly condemned her husband for his behaviour. Eventually, Ramagupta was killed by Chandragupta II who also married Dhruvadevi sometime later.

Like Samudragupta, Chandragupta II (circa 380 – 414 CE) was a benevolent king, able leader and skilled administrator. By defeating the satrap of Saurashtra, he further expanded his kingdom to the coastline of the Arabian Sea. His courageous pursuits earned him the title of Vikramaditya. To rule the vast empire more efficiently, Chandragupta II founded his second capital in Ujjain. He also took care to strengthen the navy. The seaports of Tamralipta and Sopara consequently became busy hubs of maritime trade. He was a great patron of art and culture too. Some of the greatest scholars of the day including the navaratna (nine gems) graced his court. Numerous charitable institutions, orphanages and hospitals benefitted from his generosity. Rest houses for travellers were set up by the road side. The Gupta Empire reached its pinnacle during this time and unprecedented progress marked all areas of life.

POLITICS & ADMINISTRATION

Great tact and foresight were shown in the governance of the vast empire. The efficiency of their martial system was well known. 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.

The following also speaks volumes about the prudence of the Gupta kings. Samudragupta acquired a far greater part of southern India than he cared to incorporate into his empire. Therefore, in quite a few cases, he returned the kingdom to the original kings and was satisfied only with collecting taxes from them. He reckoned that the great distance between that part of the country and his capital Pataliputra would hinder the process of good governance.

SOCIO-ECONOMIC CONDITIONS

People led a simple life. Commodities were affordable and all round prosperity ensured that their requirements were met easily. They preferred vegetarianism and shunned alcoholic beverages. 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 steelcraft 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. Yijing observed how the Gupta kings erected inns and rest houses for Buddhist monks and other pilgrims. 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. 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. Even today, Dhanvantri’s birth anniversary is celebrated on Dhanteras, two days before Diwali. This intellectual surge was not confined to the courts or among the royalty. 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.

ART, ARCHITECTURE & CULTURE

What philosopher and historian Ananda Coomaraswamy said in The Arts & Crafts of India & Ceylone, about the art of the region must be remembered here,

The Hindus do not regard the religious, aesthetic, and scientific standpoints as necessarily conflicting, and in all their finest work, whether musical, literary, or plastic, these points of view, nowadays so sharply distinguished, are inseparably united.

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. 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. These were regularly performed in temples as a token of devotion. In classic Indian style, artists and litterateurs were encouraged to meditate on the imagery within and capture its essence in their creations. As Agni Purana suggests, “O thou Lord of all gods, teach me in dreams how to carry out all the work I have in my mind.”

DECLINE OF THE EMPIRE

After the demise of his father Chandragupta II, Kumaragupta I (circa 415 – 455 CE) ruled over the vast empire with skill and ability. He was able to maintain peace and even fend off strong challenges from a tribe known as Pushyamitra. He was helped by his able son Skandagupta (455 – 467 CE) who was the last of the sovereign rulers of the Gupta Dynasty. He also succeeded in preventing the invasion of the Huns (Hephthalites). Skandagupta was a great scholar and wise ruler. For the well being of the denizens he carried out several construction works including the rebuilding of a dam on Sudarshan Lake, Gujarat. But these were the last of the glory days of the empire.

After Skandagupta’s death the dynasty became embroiled with domestic conflicts. The rulers lacked the capabilities of the earlier emperors to rule over such a large kingdom. This resulted in a decline in law and order. They were continuously plagued by the attacks of the Huns and other foreign powers. This put a dent in the economic well-being of the empire. On top of this, the kings remained more occupied with self-indulgence than in preparing to meet with the challenges of their enemies. The inept ministers and administrative heads also followed suit. Notably, after the defeat and capture of Mihirakula, one of the most important Hephthalite emperors of the time, Gupta King Baladitya set him free on the advice of his ministers. The Huns came back to haunt the empire later and finally drew the curtains on this illustrious empire in circa 550. The following lines of King Sudraka’s Mricchakatika (The Little Clay Cart) aptly sum up the rise and fall in the fortune of the Gupta Dynasty.


The Rise of the Vakatakas (3rd CE – 6th CE)

From a vantage point atop Ramtek Hill 52 km south of Nagpur is a cluster of temples on the cliff’s edge. Legend has it that Rama, the hero of the epic Ramayana , visited this hill with his wife Sita and brother Lakshman, leaving his footprint here. It was once believed that these temples were built by the Bhonsle Marathas, who had taken over the region in the 18 th century CE. Their red, brick-coloured fort below, built on the ruins of a medieval-era Gond fort, would have been a fortress guarding against the forest tribes beyond. The temples above were their shrine.

But a series of excavations atop Ramtek and below, within and around the fort in Nagardhan village , have revealed a layered story and an important chapter in Indian history, dating back more than 1,600 years.

It has unearthed evidence of a large capital city, a powerful dowager Queen, evidence of India’s most famous poet Kalidasa being here, and the story of empire-builders and strategists for whom this stretch of land was crucial in managing the subcontinent.

Who Were the Vakatakas?

These ruins and clues within them tell us plenty about the Vakatakas , sometimes described as an ‘obscure’ dynasty in the history of India. Yet they were significant builders of the famed Ajanta Caves (built by the western arm of the Vakatakas ) in Aurangabad, they were the political or temporal successors of the earlier Satavahanas, and they acted as a buffer for the Gupta Emperors in the Deccan.

There were two distinct branches of the Vakatakas – the original Nandivardhana branch, which ruled from Nagardhan, and the parallel though slightly later Vatsagulma branch, which ruled from present-day Washim (Washim District, Maharashtra).

It is from the name of the first of the Vakataka rulers that historians trace the origin of the dynasty.

‘Vindhyashakti’, mentioned in the Puranas as well as in an important inscription in the Ajanta Caves, is believed to have come down from the area around present-day Bundelkhand, a region divided between present-day Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh . His son Pravarasena I enjoyed a long and successful rule, during which he extended his kingdom to Vidarbha, the northeastern region of Maharashtra . The Vatsagulma branch was begun by Pravarasena’s second son Sarvasena after Pravarasena’s death.

The reigns of Vindhyashakti and Pravarasena have been dated to the end of the 3 rd century CE, till about 335 CE. Pravarasena was followed by his grandson Rudrasena I (his son Gautamiputra had passed away). Interestingly, in a long tradition that goes back to the Satavahanas (when the powerful Gautamiputra Satkarni reigned), here too we find mention of the matrilineal lines of some of the key Vakataka rulers.

Rudrasena’s mother, for instance, according to inscriptions, was the daughter of Bhavanaga, the King of the Bharasiva Nagas of Padmavati, south of present-day Gwalior. This alliance, historians believe, would have allowed the Vakatakas to cement their position and expand their kingdom.

However, by the time of the next king Prithvisena I, there seems to have been some trouble. While inscriptions referring to this ruler have been found in Baghelkhand, in the Northern part of Madhya Pradesh bordering UP, we also know that the ruler of this region was one of the many who was defeated by the Gupta King, Samudragupta, as he built his empire. Scholars like V V Mirashi and D R Bhandarkar have dated Prithvisena’s rule to about 350 CE.

It is clear that the Vakatakas were pushed and limited to the Vidarbha region as vassals of the Guptas, who ruled from Patraliputra in present-day Bihar , but the latter were also quick to realise the strategic value of a political alliance, to manage the Deccan and beyond. Towards the end of the 4 th century CE, even as Chandragupta II, Samudragupta’s son, was finishing the conquest of the Western Kshatrapas, he ensured peace further south by getting his daughter Prabhavati married to Rudrasena II , the young Vakataka king of Nandivardhana (Nagardhan).

As the daughter of a powerful Emperor ( Chandragupta II ) and his wife, the Naga Princess Kuberanaga, Prabhavati Gupta would have been led into the Vakataka capital, Nandivardhana, with great fanfare and an entourage. We can only imagine what the city would have been like from excavations there.

Piecing Together Prabhavati’s Story

On top of Ramtek Hill, known in texts as ‘Ramagiri’, in a temple dedicated to him, sits a larger-than-life sculpture of Kevala Narasimha or the ‘Lonely’ Narasimha, without his consort. He sits like a king on a throne and overlooks the vast valley beyond. The persona of this half-lion, half-man avatar of Vishnu is impressive and it is hard to imagine that till as recently as the early 1980s, local Maharashtra state tourist guides described this image as that of the Monkey God, Hanuman.

It was easy to make this mistake. For centuries, women visiting the temple believed that if they prayed here, they would be blessed with a son. When the wish ‘came true,’ they were supposed to smear vermillion on the image. By the 1980s, after hundreds of years of prayers being answered, there was a thick layer of vivid red paste, which made the idol unrecognizable. Archaeologists had to chisel their way to the actual idol.

It was the efforts of archaeologist Dr A P Jamkhedkar, currently Chairman of the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) and his team that helped identify the idol and open up the chapter on early Vakataka history in the 1980s.

Sanskrit scholar and epigraphist V V Mirashi had spent a lifetime piecing together the story of the Vakatakas, thanks to the plethora of copper-plate grants and inscriptions with references to them across Vidarbha. Later inscriptions in the famed Ajanta Caves, commissioned in large parts by the Western Vakataka King Harisena, had helped get a fair sense of the chronology of the dynasty’s rulers, backed as they were by references in the Puranas . But it was the discovery of a cluster of seven temples on Ramtek Hill , including the Kevala Narasimha temple, by Dr Jamkhedkar and team and the placing of it to Vakataka times, that lifted the veil on the early history of the Vakatakas and Queen Prabhavati.

For on the south wall of the Kevala Narasimha temple, behind layers of concrete, Jamkhedkar also found an inscription chiselled into two slabs of stone, referring to Prabhavati Gupta, her father Chandragupta II, her husband Rudrasena II and her daughter (whose name is lost), who married the queen’s step-brother.

Rudrasena II died young but he ensured his succession by having three sons and a daughter with Prabhavati. Upon his death, Prabhavati Gupta became the Dowager Empress and Regent for the next 13 years. She wielded great authority, as is evident from a series of inscriptions (in Ramtek and beyond in Pune). Tragedy struck when the eldest son passed away, and it was only with the coronation of her second son Pravarasena II that things settled.

In fact, according to anecdotal and literary evidence, historians have been able to place the great Sanskrit poet Kalidasa in Nagardhan, during the reign of Prabhavati. They believe he was sent by Chandragupta II as part of an entourage accompanying the newlywed Prabhavati, and that he subsequently tutored her sons. His famous work the Meghaduta is said to have been composed on top of the once-forested Ramtek Hill.

Kalidasa’s training seemed to have helped the young king, Pravarasena II , because, following a long line of poet-kings in the Deccan, Pravarasena is also credited with writing a famous Prakrit Kavya Setubandha or Ravanavaha. This is considered the only extant Prakrit Mahakavya and it is believed that it was vetted by Kalidasa himself!

Many old capitals in India have been lost. Continued occupation for millennia has ensured such dense occupational layering of sites that archaeologists haven’t been able to go very deep down. Varanasi, Patna, Ujjain…the list is long. This is why excavations in the village of Nagardhan, in Ramtek taluka, south of Nagpur, are so significant.

Excavations conducted as recently as 2015-2018 have revealed that this was the old city of Nandivardhana, once the capital of the Vakatakas. Interestingly, this is a site that predates even the Vakatakas and shows continued occupation from Neolithic times, when communities first tilled the land here around thousands of years ago. By the time of the Satavahanas, this was an urban centre.

From the excavations carried out jointly by the Deccan College of Archaeology in Pune and the State Department of Archaeology, Maharashtra, we can get a clearer picture of what the city Kalidasa visited and lived in for some time was like.

The team has excavated a line of rooms, perhaps workshops or a marketplace, and a zig-zag pavement, indicating some kind of public place. A shrine dedicated to the Fertility Goddess Nagameshi with large, inverted urns was found, and a multitude of pots, kitchen utensils, and querns for grinding were scattered around the settlement.

Vakataka-era coins with bull and conch shells on the reverse, and jewellery including glass bangle pieces, ear ornaments and pieces made of ivory found in the excavations help paint a picture rich in detail of a large, bustling city.

The excavations first in Ramtek and then in Nagardhan have confirmed the view that this was the capital of the Vakatakas, until the rule of Prabhavati Gupta’s son Pravarasena II, who shifted his capital to Pravarapura, the present-day site of Mansar, just a few kilometres away.

The triangle of Nagardhan, Ramtek and Mansar would have been the core of the early Vakataka kingdom, which comprised most of Vidarbha till around the 6 th century CE. After Paravarasena I ’s son, Sarvasena, the Vakataka base shifted west, with the branch of the ‘Vatsagulma’ or present-day Washim, taking over the entire region.

It is under them that the Vakatakas would really be immortalised – thanks to one of the most beautiful treasures of India, the Ajanta Caves.

Read part II of the Story of the Vakatakas here.

This article is part of our ‘The History of India’ series, where we focus on bringing alive the many interesting events, ideas, people and pivots that shaped us and the Indian subcontinent. Dipping into a vast array of material – archaeological data, historical research and contemporary literary records, we seek to understand the many layers that make us.

This series is brought to you with the support of Mr K K Nohria, former Chairman of Crompton Greaves, who shares our passion for history and joins us on our quest to understand India and how the subcontinent evolved, in the context of a changing world.

Find all the stories from this series here.


The Guptas : Extent of empire development of language and Literature, art St architecture during the Gupta period.

The Gupta Empire stretched across northern, central and parts of southern India between c. 320 and 550 CE. The period is noted for its achievements in the arts, architecture, sciences, religion, and philosophy. Chandragupta I (320 – 335 CE) started a rapid expansion of the Gupta Empire and soon established himself as the first sovereign ruler of the empire. It marked the end of 500 hundred years of domination of the provincial powers and resulting disquiet that began with the fall of the Mauryas. Even more importantly, it began a period of overall prosperity and growth that continued for the next two and half centuries which came to be known as a “Golden Age” in India’s history. But the seed of the empire was sown at least two generations earlier than this when Srigupta, then only a regional monarch, set off the glory days of this mighty dynasty in circa 240 CE.

GUPTA PERIOD – EARLY DAYS TO THE ZENITH

Not much is known about the early days of this Gupta dynasty. The travel diaries and writings of Buddhist monks who frequented this part of the world are the most trustworthy sources of information we have about those days. The travelogues of Fa Hien (Faxian, circa 337 – 422 CE), Hiuen Tsang (Xuanzang, 602 – 664 CE) and Yijing (I Tsing, 635 – 713 CE) prove to be invaluable in this respect. The Gupta Empire during the rule of Srigupta (circa 240 – 280 CE) comprised only Magadha and probably a part of Bengal too. Like the Mauryas and other Magadha kings who preceded him, Srigupta ruled from Pataliputra, close to modern day Patna. Srigupta was succeeded to the throne by his son Ghatotkacha (circa 280 – 319 CE).

CHANDRAGUPTA I

From the Kushans, the Gupta kings learned the benefit of maintaining a cavalry and Chandragupta I, son of Ghatotkacha, made effective use of his strong army. Through his marriage with Licchhavi Princess Kumaradevi, Chandragupta I received the ownership of rich mines full of iron ore adjacent to his kingdom. Metallurgy was already at an advanced stage and forged iron was not only used to meet the internal demands, but also became a valuable trade commodity. The territorial heads ruling over various parts of India could not counter the superior armed forces of Chandragupta I and had to surrender before him. It is conjectured that at the end of his reign, the boundary of the Gupta Empire already extended to Allahabad.

SAMUDRAGUPTA

Samudragupta (circa 335 – 375 CE), Chandragupta I’s son who ascended the throne next, was a military genius and he continued the growth of the kingdom. After conquering the remainder of North India, Samudragupta turned his eyes to South India and added a portion of it to his empire by the end of his Southern Campaign. 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 economic, social and political treatise that has clear instructions about how a monarchy should be governed) closely. He donated large sums of money for various philanthropic purposes, including the promotion of education. Besides being a courageous king and able administrator, he was a poet and musician. The large number of gold coins circulated by him showcases his multifaceted talent. An inscription, probably commissioned by subsequent Gupta kings, known as the Allahabad Pillar is most eloquent about his humane qualities. Samudragupta also believed in promoting goodwill among various religious communities. He gave, for example, Meghavarna, king of Ceylon, permission and support for the construction of a monastery in Bodh Gaya.

CHANDRAGUPTA II

A short struggle for power appears to have ensued after the reign of Samudragupta. His eldest son Ramagupta became the next Gupta king. This was noted by 7th century CE Sanskrit author Banbhatta in his biographical work, Harshacharita. What followed next forms a part of Sanskrit poet and playwright Visakh Dutta’s drama DeviChandra Guptam. As the story goes, Ramagupta was soon overcome by a Scythian king of Mathura. But the Scythian king, besides the kingdom itself, was interested in Queen Dhruvadevi who was also a renowned scholar. To maintain peace Ramagupta gave up Dhruvadevi to his opponent. It is then Ramagupta’s younger brother Chandragupta II with a few of his close aides went to meet the enemy in disguise. He rescued Dhruvadevi and assassinated the Scythian king. Dhruvadevi publicly condemned her husband for his behaviour. Eventually, Ramagupta was killed by Chandragupta II who also married Dhruvadevi sometime later.

Like Samudragupta, Chandragupta II (circa 380 – 414 CE) was a benevolent king, able leader and skilled administrator. By defeating the satrap of Saurashtra, he further expanded his kingdom to the coastline of the Arabian Sea. His courageous pursuits earned him the title of Vikramaditya. To rule the vast empire more efficiently, Chandragupta II founded his second capital in Ujjain. He also took care to strengthen the navy. The seaports of Tamralipta and Sopara consequently became busy hubs of maritime trade. He was a great patron of art and culture too. Some of the greatest scholars of the day including the navaratna (nine gems) graced his court. Numerous charitable institutions, orphanages and hospitals benefitted from his generosity. Rest houses for travellers were set up by the road side. The Gupta Empire reached its pinnacle during this time and unprecedented progress marked all areas of life.

POLITICS & ADMINISTRATION

Great tact and foresight were shown in the governance of the vast empire. The efficiency of their martial system was well known. 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.

The following also speaks volumes about the prudence of the Gupta kings. Samudragupta acquired a far greater part of southern India than he cared to incorporate into his empire. Therefore, in quite a few cases, he returned the kingdom to the original kings and was satisfied only with collecting taxes from them. He reckoned that the great distance between that part of the country and his capital Pataliputra would hinder the process of good governance.

SOCIO-ECONOMIC CONDITIONS

People led a simple life. Commodities were affordable and all round prosperity ensured that their requirements were met easily. They preferred vegetarianism and shunned alcoholic beverages. 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 steelcraft 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. Yijing observed how the Gupta kings erected inns and rest houses for Buddhist monks and other pilgrims. 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. 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. Even today, Dhanvantri’s birth anniversary is celebrated on Dhanteras, two days before Diwali. This intellectual surge was not confined to the courts or among the royalty. 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.

ART, ARCHITECTURE & CULTURE

What philosopher and historian Ananda Coomaraswamy said in The Arts & Crafts of India & Ceylone, about the art of the region must be remembered here,

The Hindus do not regard the religious, aesthetic, and scientific standpoints as necessarily conflicting, and in all their finest work, whether musical, literary, or plastic, these points of view, nowadays so sharply distinguished, are inseparably united.

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. 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. These were regularly performed in temples as a token of devotion. In classic Indian style, artists and litterateurs were encouraged to meditate on the imagery within and capture its essence in their creations. As Agni Purana suggests, “O thou Lord of all gods, teach me in dreams how to carry out all the work I have in my mind.”

DECLINE OF THE EMPIRE

After the demise of his father Chandragupta II, Kumaragupta I (circa 415 – 455 CE) ruled over the vast empire with skill and ability. He was able to maintain peace and even fend off strong challenges from a tribe known as Pushyamitra. He was helped by his able son Skandagupta (455 – 467 CE) who was the last of the sovereign rulers of the Gupta Dynasty. He also succeeded in preventing the invasion of the Huns (Hephthalites). Skandagupta was a great scholar and wise ruler. For the well being of the denizens he carried out several construction works including the rebuilding of a dam on Sudarshan Lake, Gujarat. But these were the last of the glory days of the empire.

After Skandagupta’s death the dynasty became embroiled with domestic conflicts. The rulers lacked the capabilities of the earlier emperors to rule over such a large kingdom. This resulted in a decline in law and order. They were continuously plagued by the attacks of the Huns and other foreign powers. This put a dent in the economic well-being of the empire. On top of this, the kings remained more occupied with self-indulgence than in preparing to meet with the challenges of their enemies. The inept ministers and administrative heads also followed suit. Notably, after the defeat and capture of Mihirakula, one of the most important Hephthalite emperors of the time, Gupta King Baladitya set him free on the advice of his ministers. The Huns came back to haunt the empire later and finally drew the curtains on this illustrious empire in circa 550. The following lines of King Sudraka’s Mricchakatika (The Little Clay Cart) aptly sum up the rise and fall in the fortune of the Gupta Dynasty.


Gupta Dynasty and Their Administration

1.Nivi dharmaà ..->Endowment of land under a kind of trusteeship was prevalent in North and Central India and Bengal.

2.Nivi dharma aksayana ->A perpetual endowment. The recipient could make use of income derived from it.

3.Aprada dharmaà ->Income from land could be enjoyed, but the recipient is not permitted to gift it to anyone. The recipient has no administrative rights either.

4.Bhumi chchidranyaya –>àRight of ownership acquired by a person making barren land cultivable for the first time. This land was free from any rent liability.

Other Land Grants

1.Agrahara grantsà–> Given to Brahmins, it was perpetual, hereditary and tax free.

2.Devagrahara grantsà –>A land grant in favour of a Brahmin as well as gifts to merchants for the repair and worship of temples.

3.Secular grants–> àGrants made to feudatories of Guptas

  • The importance of irrigation to agriculture was recognised in India from the earliest times.
  • From the NaradaSmriti, we understand that there were two kinds of
  • dykes: the bardhya, which protected the field from floods, and the khara, which served the purpose of irrigation.
  • To prevent inundation, jalanirgamah(drains) were constructed, which is mentioned by Amarasimha.
  • Canals were constructed not only from rivers but also from tanks and lakes. The most famous lake was the Sudarsana lake at the foot of Girnar Hills in Gujarat.

Position of Peasantry

  • The position of peasantry was undermined. They were reduced to the position of serfs due to the caste classification and also due to the granting of various privileges and lands to others.
  • The practice of lease-holding reduced the permanent tenants to tenants at will (which means tenants could be evicted without notice).
  • The farmers were required to pay various taxes.

List of Different Kinds of Taxes

1.Bhaga à King’s customary share of the produce normally amounting to one-sixth of the produce paid by cultivators

2.Bhoga Periodic supply of fruits, firewood, flowers, etc., which the village had to

3.Kara A periodic tax levied on the villagers (not a part of the annual land tax)

4.Bali A voluntary offering by the people to the king, but later became compulsory. It was an oppressive tax.

5.Udianga Either a sort of police tax for the maintenance of police stations or a water tax. Hence, it was also an extra tax.

6.Uparikara Also an extra tax. Scholars give different explanations about what it was collected for.

7.Hiranya Literally, it means tax payable on gold coins, but in practice, it was probably the king’s share of certain crops paid in kind.

8.Vata-Bhuta Different kinds of cess for maintenance of rites for the winds (vata) and the spirits (bhuta)

9.Halivakara A plough tax paid by every cultivator owning a plough

10.Sulka A royal share of merchandise brought into a town or harbour by merchants. Hence it can be equated with the customs and tolls.

11.Klipta and Upakilpta àrelated to sale and purchase of lands.

Industry: Mining and Metallurgy

  • Mining and metallurgy was one of the most flourishing industries during the Gupta period.
  • Amarasimha, Varahamihira and Kalidasa make frequent mention of the existence of mines.
  • The rich deposits of iron ore from Bihar and copper from Rajasthan were mined extensively during this period.
  • The list of metals used apart from iron were gold, copper, tin, lead, brass, bronze, bell-metal, mica, manganese, antimony, red chalk (sanssilajata) and red arsenic.
  • Blacksmiths were next only to agriculturists in importance in the society.
  • Metal was used for the manufacture of various domestic implements, utensils and weapons.
  • The improvement in the ploughshare, with the discovery of iron, for deep ploughing and for increasing cultivation happened during this period.
  • The most important and visible evidence of the high stage of development
  • in metallurgy is the Mehrauli Iron Pillar of King Chandra in the Qutb Minar Complex in Delhi, identified with Chandragupta II.
  • This monolith iron pillar has lasted through the centuries without rusting. It is a monument to the great craftsmanship of the iron workers during the Gupta period.
  • Coin casting, metal engraving, pottery making, terracotta work and wood carving were other specialised crafts.
  • A significant development of the period in metal technology was the making of the seals and statutes of Buddha and other gods.
  • It was laid down that the people had to pay for the loss arising out smelting of iron, gold, silver, copper, tin and lead.

Trade and Commerce

  • The contribution of traders to the soundness of the Gupta economy is quite impressive.
  • Two distinctive types of traders called sresti and sarthavahaSrestiwas usually settled at a particular place and enjoyed an eminent position by virtue of his wealth and influence in the commercial life and administration of the place.
  • The sarthavahawas a caravan trader who carried his goods to different places for profitable sale.
  • Trade items ranged from products for daily use to valuable and luxury goods.
  • They included pepper, sandalwood, elephants, horses, gold, copper, iron and mica.
  • The abundant inscriptions and seals mentioning artisans, merchants and guilds are indicative of the thriving crafts and trade. (Guild is a society or other organisation of people with common interests or an association ofmerchants.)
  • There are several references in several sources to artisans, traders and occupational groups in the guilds.
  • Guilds continued as the major institution in the manufacture of goods and in commercial enterprise.
  • They remained virtually autonomous in their internal organisation, and the government respected their laws.
  • These laws were generally drafted by a larger body, the corporation of guilds, of which each guild was a member.
  • The Narada and Brihaspati Smritisdescribe the organisation and activities of guilds.
  • They mention that the guild had a chief and two, three or five executive officers.
  • Guild laws were apparently laid down in written documents. The

Brihaspati Smritirefers to guilds rendering justice to their members and suggests that these decisions should, by and large, be approved by the king. There is also mention of the philanthropic activities of guilds, for instance, providing shelter for travellers and building assembly houses, temples and gardens.

  • The inscription also records that the chief of the guilds played an important role in the district-level administrative bodies.
  • There is also mention of joint corporate bodies of merchant-bankers, caravan merchants and
  • The guilds also acted as banks. The names of donors are mentioned in this inscription.
  • Usury (the lending of money at an exorbitant rate of interest) was in practice during the Gupta period.
  • The detailed discussion in the sources of that period indicates that money was used, borrowed and loaned for profit.
  • There were many ports that facilitated trade in the western coast of India such as Calliena (Kalyan), Chaul port in ruin sixty kilometres south of Mumbai, and the markets of Male(Malabar), Mangarouth (Mangalore), Salopatana, Nalopatana and Pandopatana on the Malabar coast.
  • Fahien refers to Tamralipti in Bengal as an important centre of trade on the eastern coast.
  • These ports and towns were connected with those of Persia, Arabia and Byzantium on the one hand and Sri Lanka, China and Southeast Asia on the other.
  • Fahien describes the perils of the sea route between India and China. The goods traded from India were rare gems, pearls, fine textiles and aromatics. Indians bought silk and other articles from China.

Art and Architecture

By evolving the Nagara and the Dravida styles, the Gupta art ushers in a formative and creative age in the history of Indian architecture with considerable scope for future development.

Rock-cut and Structural Temples

  • The rock-cut caves continue the old forms to a great extent but possess striking novelty by bringing about extensive changes in the ornamentation of the facade and in the designs of the pillars in the interior.
  • The most notable groups of the rock-cut caves are found at Ajanta and Ellora (Maharashtra) and Bagh (Madhya Pradesh).
  • The Udayagiri caves (Orissa) are also of this type.

The structural temples have the following attributes:

(1)flat-roofed square temples

(2) flat-roofed square temple with a vimana (second storey)

(3) square temple with a curvilinear tower (shikara) above

  • The second group of temples shows many of the characteristic features of the Dravida style.
  • The importance of the third group lies in the innovation of a shikhara that caps the sanctum sanctorum, the main feature of the Nagara style.

Stupas were also built in large numbers but the best are found at Samat (Uttar

Pradesh), Ratnagiri (Orissa) and Mirpur Khas (Sind).

Sculpture: Stone Sculpture

  • A good specimen of stone sculpture is the well-known erect Buddha from Sarnath.
  • Of the puranic images, perhaps the most impressive is the great Boar (Varaha) at the entrance of a cave at Udayagiri.

Metal statues

  • The technology of casting statues on a large scale of core process was practised by the craftsmen during the Gupta period with great workmanship.
  • Two remarkable examples of Gupta metal sculpture are

(1) a copper image of the Buddha about eighteen feet high at Nalanda in Bihar

(2) the Sultanganj Buddha of seven-and-a-half feet in height.

  • The art of painting seems to have been in popular demand in the Gupta period than the art of stone sculptures.
  • The mural paintings of this period are found at Ajanta, Bagh, Badami and other places.
  • From the point of technique, the surface of these paintings was perhaps
  • done in a very simple way.
  • The mural paintings of Ajanta are not true frescoes, for frescoes is painted while the plaster is still damp and the murals of Ajanta were made after it had set.
  • The art of Ajanta and Bagh shows the Madhyadesa School of painting at its best.

Terracotta and Pottery

  • Clay figurines were used both for religious and secular purposes. We have figurines of Vishnu, Karttikeya, Durga, Naga andother gods and goddesses.
  • Gupta pottery remains found at Ahchichhatra, Rajgarh, Hastinapur and Bashar afford proof of excellence of pottery. The most distinctive class of pottery of this period is the “red ware”.

Sanskrit Literature

The Guptas made Sanskrit the official language and all their epigraphic records were written in it. The period saw the last phase of the Smriti literature.


The Guptas : Extent of empire development of language and Literature, art St architecture during the Gupta period.

The Gupta Empire stretched across northern, central and parts of southern India between c. 320 and 550 CE. The period is noted for its achievements in the arts, architecture, sciences, religion, and philosophy. Chandragupta I (320 – 335 CE) started a rapid expansion of the Gupta Empire and soon established himself as the first sovereign ruler of the empire. It marked the end of 500 hundred years of domination of the provincial powers and resulting disquiet that began with the fall of the Mauryas. Even more importantly, it began a period of overall prosperity and growth that continued for the next two and half centuries which came to be known as a “Golden Age” in India’s history. But the seed of the empire was sown at least two generations earlier than this when Srigupta, then only a regional monarch, set off the glory days of this mighty dynasty in circa 240 CE.

GUPTA PERIOD – EARLY DAYS TO THE ZENITH

Not much is known about the early days of this Gupta dynasty. The travel diaries and writings of Buddhist monks who frequented this part of the world are the most trustworthy sources of information we have about those days. The travelogues of Fa Hien (Faxian, circa 337 – 422 CE), Hiuen Tsang (Xuanzang, 602 – 664 CE) and Yijing (I Tsing, 635 – 713 CE) prove to be invaluable in this respect. The Gupta Empire during the rule of Srigupta (circa 240 – 280 CE) comprised only Magadha and probably a part of Bengal too. Like the Mauryas and other Magadha kings who preceded him, Srigupta ruled from Pataliputra, close to modern day Patna. Srigupta was succeeded to the throne by his son Ghatotkacha (circa 280 – 319 CE).

CHANDRAGUPTA I

From the Kushans, the Gupta kings learned the benefit of maintaining a cavalry and Chandragupta I, son of Ghatotkacha, made effective use of his strong army. Through his marriage with Licchhavi Princess Kumaradevi, Chandragupta I received the ownership of rich mines full of iron ore adjacent to his kingdom. Metallurgy was already at an advanced stage and forged iron was not only used to meet the internal demands, but also became a valuable trade commodity. The territorial heads ruling over various parts of India could not counter the superior armed forces of Chandragupta I and had to surrender before him. It is conjectured that at the end of his reign, the boundary of the Gupta Empire already extended to Allahabad.

SAMUDRAGUPTA

Samudragupta (circa 335 – 375 CE), Chandragupta I’s son who ascended the throne next, was a military genius and he continued the growth of the kingdom. After conquering the remainder of North India, Samudragupta turned his eyes to South India and added a portion of it to his empire by the end of his Southern Campaign. 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 economic, social and political treatise that has clear instructions about how a monarchy should be governed) closely. He donated large sums of money for various philanthropic purposes, including the promotion of education. Besides being a courageous king and able administrator, he was a poet and musician. The large number of gold coins circulated by him showcases his multifaceted talent. An inscription, probably commissioned by subsequent Gupta kings, known as the Allahabad Pillar is most eloquent about his humane qualities. Samudragupta also believed in promoting goodwill among various religious communities. He gave, for example, Meghavarna, king of Ceylon, permission and support for the construction of a monastery in Bodh Gaya.

CHANDRAGUPTA II

A short struggle for power appears to have ensued after the reign of Samudragupta. His eldest son Ramagupta became the next Gupta king. This was noted by 7th century CE Sanskrit author Banbhatta in his biographical work, Harshacharita. What followed next forms a part of Sanskrit poet and playwright Visakh Dutta’s drama DeviChandra Guptam. As the story goes, Ramagupta was soon overcome by a Scythian king of Mathura. But the Scythian king, besides the kingdom itself, was interested in Queen Dhruvadevi who was also a renowned scholar. To maintain peace Ramagupta gave up Dhruvadevi to his opponent. It is then Ramagupta’s younger brother Chandragupta II with a few of his close aides went to meet the enemy in disguise. He rescued Dhruvadevi and assassinated the Scythian king. Dhruvadevi publicly condemned her husband for his behaviour. Eventually, Ramagupta was killed by Chandragupta II who also married Dhruvadevi sometime later.

Like Samudragupta, Chandragupta II (circa 380 – 414 CE) was a benevolent king, able leader and skilled administrator. By defeating the satrap of Saurashtra, he further expanded his kingdom to the coastline of the Arabian Sea. His courageous pursuits earned him the title of Vikramaditya. To rule the vast empire more efficiently, Chandragupta II founded his second capital in Ujjain. He also took care to strengthen the navy. The seaports of Tamralipta and Sopara consequently became busy hubs of maritime trade. He was a great patron of art and culture too. Some of the greatest scholars of the day including the navaratna (nine gems) graced his court. Numerous charitable institutions, orphanages and hospitals benefitted from his generosity. Rest houses for travellers were set up by the road side. The Gupta Empire reached its pinnacle during this time and unprecedented progress marked all areas of life.

POLITICS & ADMINISTRATION

Great tact and foresight were shown in the governance of the vast empire. The efficiency of their martial system was well known. 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.

The following also speaks volumes about the prudence of the Gupta kings. Samudragupta acquired a far greater part of southern India than he cared to incorporate into his empire. Therefore, in quite a few cases, he returned the kingdom to the original kings and was satisfied only with collecting taxes from them. He reckoned that the great distance between that part of the country and his capital Pataliputra would hinder the process of good governance.

SOCIO-ECONOMIC CONDITIONS

People led a simple life. Commodities were affordable and all round prosperity ensured that their requirements were met easily. They preferred vegetarianism and shunned alcoholic beverages. 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 steelcraft 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. Yijing observed how the Gupta kings erected inns and rest houses for Buddhist monks and other pilgrims. 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. 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. Even today, Dhanvantri’s birth anniversary is celebrated on Dhanteras, two days before Diwali. This intellectual surge was not confined to the courts or among the royalty. 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.

ART, ARCHITECTURE & CULTURE

What philosopher and historian Ananda Coomaraswamy said in The Arts & Crafts of India & Ceylone, about the art of the region must be remembered here,

The Hindus do not regard the religious, aesthetic, and scientific standpoints as necessarily conflicting, and in all their finest work, whether musical, literary, or plastic, these points of view, nowadays so sharply distinguished, are inseparably united.

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. 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. These were regularly performed in temples as a token of devotion. In classic Indian style, artists and litterateurs were encouraged to meditate on the imagery within and capture its essence in their creations. As Agni Purana suggests, “O thou Lord of all gods, teach me in dreams how to carry out all the work I have in my mind.”

DECLINE OF THE EMPIRE

After the demise of his father Chandragupta II, Kumaragupta I (circa 415 – 455 CE) ruled over the vast empire with skill and ability. He was able to maintain peace and even fend off strong challenges from a tribe known as Pushyamitra. He was helped by his able son Skandagupta (455 – 467 CE) who was the last of the sovereign rulers of the Gupta Dynasty. He also succeeded in preventing the invasion of the Huns (Hephthalites). Skandagupta was a great scholar and wise ruler. For the well being of the denizens he carried out several construction works including the rebuilding of a dam on Sudarshan Lake, Gujarat. But these were the last of the glory days of the empire.

After Skandagupta’s death the dynasty became embroiled with domestic conflicts. The rulers lacked the capabilities of the earlier emperors to rule over such a large kingdom. This resulted in a decline in law and order. They were continuously plagued by the attacks of the Huns and other foreign powers. This put a dent in the economic well-being of the empire. On top of this, the kings remained more occupied with self-indulgence than in preparing to meet with the challenges of their enemies. The inept ministers and administrative heads also followed suit. Notably, after the defeat and capture of Mihirakula, one of the most important Hephthalite emperors of the time, Gupta King Baladitya set him free on the advice of his ministers. The Huns came back to haunt the empire later and finally drew the curtains on this illustrious empire in circa 550. The following lines of King Sudraka’s Mricchakatika (The Little Clay Cart) aptly sum up the rise and fall in the fortune of the Gupta Dynasty.


Ages of Gold

300 CE 1000 CE

Scale: 1 column = 100 years

Gupta Empire

Although preceded by two Guptan rulers, Chandragupta I (reign 320-335 CE) is credited with establishing the Gupta Empire in the Ganges River valley in about 320 CE, when he assumed the name of the founder of the Mauryan Empire. The period of Gupta rule between 300 and 600 CE has been called the Golden Age of India for its advances in science and emphasis on classical Indian art and literature. Gupta rulers acquired much of the land previously held by the Mauryan Empire, and peace and trade flourished under their rule.

Sanskrit became the official court language, and the dramatist and poet Kalidasa wrote celebrated Sanskrit plays and poems under the presumed patronage of Chandragupta II. The Kama Sutra, a treatise on romantic love, is also dated to the Gupta era. In 499 CE, the mathematician Aryabhata published his landmark treatise on Indian astronomy and mathematics, Aryabhatiya, which described the earth as a sphere moving around the sun.

Detailed gold coins featuring portraits of the Gupta kings stand out as unique art pieces from this period and celebrate their accomplishments. Chandragupta's son Samudragupta (r. 350 to 375 CE) further expanded the empire, and a detailed account of his exploits was inscribed on an Ashokan pillar in Allahabad toward the end of his reign. Unlike the Mauryan Empire's centralized bureaucracy, the Gupta Empire allowed defeated rulers to retain their kingdoms in return for a service, such as tribute or military assistance. Samudragupta's son Chandragupta II (r. 375&ndash415 CE) waged a long campaign against the Shaka Satraps in western India, which gave the Guptas access to Gujarat's ports, in northwest India, and international maritime trade. Kumaragupta (r. 415&ndash454 CE) and Skandagupta (r. c. 454&ndash467 CE), Chandragupta II's son and grandson respectively, defended against attacks from the Central Asian Huna tribe (a branch of the Huns) that greatly weakened the empire. By 550 CE, the original Gupta line had no successor and the empire disintegrated into smaller kingdoms with independent rulers.

Kalidasa

Kalidasa was a renowned Sanskrit dramatist and poet. He is best known for several plays, written in the 4th and early 5th century CE, the earliest of which is probably the Malavikaagnimitra (Malavikaa and Agnimitra), a work concerned with palace intrigue. It is of special interest because the hero is a historical figure, King Agnimitra, whose father, Pushhpamitra, wrested the kingship of northern India from the Mauryan king Brihadratha about 185 BCE and established the Sunga dynasty, which held power for more than a century. The Vikramorvashiiya (Urvashii Won Through Valor) is based on the old legend of the love of the mortal Pururavaas for the heavenly damsel Urvashii. The legend occurs in embryonic form in a hymn of the Rig Veda and in a much amplified version in the Shatapathabrahmana.

The third play, Abhijnanasakuntala (Shakuntalaa Recognized by the Token Ring), is the work by which Kalidasa is best known not only in India but throughout the world. It was the first work of Kalidasa to be translated into English from which was made a German translation in 1791 that evoked the often quoted admiration by Goethe. The influence of the Shakuntala outside India is evident not only in the abundance of translations in many languages, but also in its adaptation to the operatic stage by Paderewski, Weinggartner, and Alfano. In addition to these three plays Kalidasa wrote two long epic poems, the Kumaarasambhava (Birth of Kumaara) and the Raghuvamsha (Dynasty of Raghu). Finally there are two lyric poems, the Meghaduuta (Cloud Messenger) and the Ritusamhaara (Description of the Seasons).

Fa Hsien

A Chinese Buddhist pilgrim, Fa Hsien at the age of 65 walked to India from China starting in 399 and returning by sea in 413 CE. He journeyed down the Ganges plain stopping at numerous monasteries to study their customs and to copy sacred Buddhist texts. He wrote an account of his travels that has provided modern scholars insight into the governance of the Gupta Empire, where light taxation and enlightened policies towards caste and religion lead to prosperity and to what Fa Hsien describes as a contented citizenry.

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Kama Sutra

Attributed to the sage Vatsyayana, the Kama Sutra is a treatise on erotic love thought to have been written under the Gupta Empire in the fourth or fifth century CE. Kama means love, desire, or pleasure in Sanskrit, and the Sutra is the earliest surviving example of the kama shastra, or science of erotica genre, that would become popular in later centuries. Kama is one of the four goals of human life described in the Vedas, the other three being dharma (duty and social obligation), artha (power and success), and moksa (religious liberation).

The Kama Sutra is composed of seven books with two or more chapters each, and much of the book gives advice to the urban male or nagaraka about courtship. Women were encouraged to learn 64 practices of the kama shastra, including singing, dancing, and even carpentry, and solving riddles. The Kama Sutra treats sex as both an art and a science and divides men and women into sexual types, discusses sexual positions, details appropriate conduct for married women and provides advice for courtesans. The Kama Sutra became the archetype for subsequent works on the subject of erotic love in India and influenced later Sanskrit erotic poetry. In 1883, a translation of the work into English published by English explorer and anthropologist Sir Richard F. Burton and Forster Fitzgerald Arbuthnot popularized the work in the West.

Astronomy

Astronomy, astrology, mathematics, and religion were closely linked in ancient India. Astronomy developed out of the need to determine solstices, equinoxes, and phases of the moon for Vedic rituals. Eighteen early astronomical texts or siddhantas, of which only the Surya-Siddhantha, written around 400 BCE, survives, discuss topics including lunar and solar eclipses, astronomical instruments, and the phases of the moon. The Vedanga Jyotisha composed by the astronomer Lagadha about 500 BCE outlines a calendar based on a five-year cycle or yuga with 62 lunar months and 1,830 days. India's earliest calendar, the Saptarshi calendar is broken into 2,700-year cycles and a version counting back to 3076 BCE is still in use in parts of India today.

Astronomy flourished under the Gupta Empire (c. 320-550 CE) during which time Ujjain in central India emerged as a center for astronomical and mathematical research. In 499 CE, Aryabhata, an Indian astronomer and mathematician who was also head of the university at Nalanda in Magadha (an ancient region located in what is now Bihar), composed the Aryabhatiya, a significant treatise about mathematics and astronomy written in Sanskrit. Aryabhata described a spherical Earth that rotates on its own axis and the orbits of planets in relation to the sun. He dated the universe to approximately 4,320,000 years and calculated the length of the solar year. India's first space satellite, launched in 1975, was named Aryabhata in his honor.

Islam

Islam is a monotheistic religion founded by the prophet Muhammad in Mecca in the early seventh century CE. Adherents of the faith, called Muslims, revere the God of the Old Testament, in Arabic, Allah, and the Koran, a sacred text that followers believe is Allah's word revealed to the prophet Muhammad.

All Muslims are expected to fulfill five major duties, the pillars of Islam, or Arkan al-Islam. The pillars include shahada, profession of Muslim faith salat, ritual prayer performed five times a day in a prescribed manner zakat, almsgiving sawm, fasting during the month of Ramadan and the hajj, pilgrimage to the sacred city of Mecca.

By the eighth century CE, Islam had spread to Europe, across Central Asia, and to India, where Muslim traders settled along the southwest coast in the seventh century CE. The Cheraman Juma Masjid in Cranganore (in Kodungallur, Kerala) is believed to be the first mosque in India and dates to this period. Beginning in the eleventh century CE, Turkic and Afghan armies spread Islam into northern India. During the first half of the 10th century CE, Mahmud of Ghazni conquered the Punjab region and two centuries later, Muhammad of Ghor invaded Delhi and established the Delhi Sultanate.

Islam in India continued to flourish under the Mughal Empire, which succeeded the Delhi Sultanate and reached its height in the 16th century under the Emperor Akbar the Great, who promoted religious tolerance. Under the Mughals, Islamic culture and religion mixed with Indian and Hindu traditions, leaving an enduring legacy in art and architecture, including the Taj Mahal.

In 1947, differences between Hindus and Muslims led to the partition of India by the departing British colonialists into the countries of India and Pakistan. The division sparked mass migrations across the borders of both countries, with Muslims heading north to Pakistan and Hindus and Sikhs south into India. Violence between both groups resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths. A secular nation, India's constitution guarantees freedom of religion to its citizens, the majority of whom are Hindu.

Islam is the second most practiced religion in India in 2008, over 13% of Indians identify themselves as Muslim and India has one of the largest populations of Muslims in the world. Pakistan today is an Islamic republic, with a population of approximately 170 million, of which only 3 million are Hindus. After Indonesia, Pakistan has the second largest Muslim population in the world, closely followed by India (156 million) and Bangladesh (132 million out of 150 million and approximately 15 million Hindus).

Cholan Empire

The Cholas, a people living in southern India, first appear in the written record in a 3rd century BCE rock inscription of Mauryan emperor Ashoka the Great. A Tamil&ndashspeaking people, the Cholas held the east coast of modern Tamil Nadu and the Cauvery delta region. They eventually gained supremacy over other southern tribes in the area, the Pandyas of Madurai and the Pallavas of Kanchi. The empire's earliest king Karikala (r. about 100 CE) is celebrated in Tamil literature, but the empire reached its height under Rajaraja (r. 985&ndash1014 CE), who conquered Kerala, northern Sri Lanka, and in 1014 CE acquired the Maldive Islands.

To commemorate his rule and the god Shiva, Rajaraja built a magnificent temple, Rajarajeshvara or Brihadeesvarar Temple at Tanjore, which was completed in 1009 CE. The temple, the tallest building in India at the time, includes inscriptions describing Rajaraja's victories and was a massive ceremonial space, with a central shrine measuring 216 feet high. Fresco murals that depict military conquests, the royal family, Rajaraja, and Shiva decorate the temple. Villages in the empire and from as far away as Sri Lanka sent tributes that would be redistributed and used in support of the vast retinue of dancers, servants, singers, carpenters, goldsmiths, and others living in the temple's court.

Rajaraja's son, Rajendra I (r. 1014&ndash1044 CE), would continue to increase Cholan power by defeating rivals in southern India and expanding Cholan territory north. In 1023 CE, Rajendra sent his army north toward the Ganges River and defeated the Bengal kingdom of the Pala ruler. A few years later he sent overseas expeditions to the Malay Peninsula, occupying parts of Java, perhaps to protect a sea route to China. Rivalries with other southern tribes would lead to the dynasty's fall when in 1257 CE, the Pandyas defeated the Cholas. The dynasty ended in 1279 CE with the last Chola ruler, Rajendra IV (r. 1246&ndash1279 CE).

Cholan Bronze Sculptures

The Cholas formed south India's first major empire. Under Chola rule, between the 9th and the 13th centuries CE, the arts&mdashpoetry, dance, art, and temple building&mdashflourished. But the Cholan artistic legacy is most evident in the bronze sculptures that were perfected during this time and continue to be made even today.

Cholan bronzes were typically of deities, royalty and the politically powerful people of the day&mdashall in a distinctive Cholan style, classically representative of the human form, and perfectly proportioned. The sculptures are recognizable by the way the bodies are posed. They are always graceful, elegant and sensuous&mdashparticularly if a sculpture is that of a couple, such as Shiva and Parvati. The bronzes also depict the "mudras" or gestures derived from classical dance.

Cholan master sculptors created their works with the cire perdure, or lost wax process, which is still in use today.

Mahamastak Abhishek

Taking place every 12 years, this Jain festival celebrates the life of saint Bahubali. Millions of devotees travel to Shravana Belagola in the Indian state of Karnataka, in South India, for the ritual anointing of a 57 foot statue of Bahubali, also known as Gomateshwara. The gigantic statue of the nude saint was carved out of a single piece of granite from the hill, known as Vindhyagiri or Indragiri, where it's located.

The festival has been regularly observed since 981 CE, when the statue was completed, and involves the anointing of the colossal figure with a multitude of substances beginning with sanctified water from 1,008 small metal vessels. Then it is showered with a series of other libations, such as milk, sugarcane juice, pastes of saffron and sandalwood, as well as powders of coconut, turmeric, saffron, and vermilion. These are followed by offerings of gold, silver, precious stones, petals, and coins, culminating with a cascade of flowers.

Priests and select devotees ascend 700 stairs to reach the top of the statue in order to conduct the ceremony, while masses of pilgrims watch from the foot of the colossus and are drenched by the materials being showered on the figure.

Jains revere Bahubali, who, according to legend, renounced his kingdom after winning a battle with his brother Bharata because he was disillusioned by the desire for power that set him against a family member. Bahubali decided to seek spiritual enlightenment and stood meditating for so long that vines began to grow on his legs and spread to his arms, which is how he is represented in the statue at Shravana Belagola.

Rajaraja

Rajaraja ruled the Cholan Empire in India's southern region from 985 to 1015 CE and, along with his son Rajendra, is credited with securing the kingdom's dominance from the 10th to the 13th centuries CE. The emperor successfully defeated his main rivals, the Pandyas and the Cheras tribes, in South India, acquiring Kerala in the process. Rajaraja's strength derived from a strong administration, large army, and a unique naval force, which he used to extend his empire to northern Sri Lanka and the Maldive Islands, in 1014 CE. These victorious invasions secured a steady flow of tribute into his kingdom and contributed to the most enduring monuments of the Cholan dynasty, the great royal temples like those at Tanjore.

To commemorate his rule and personal god, Shiva, Rajaraja built the magnificent Rajarajeshvara or Brihadishvara temple at Tanjore, which was completed about 1010 CE. The tallest building in India at the time, the temple includes inscriptions describing Rajaraja's victories and was a massive ceremonial space, with a central shrine that was 216 feet high. Fresco murals that depict military conquests, the royal family, Rajaraja, and Shiva decorate the temple. Methodical records of donations made to the temple provide extensive information about the temple and the empire. Rajaraja's son Rajendra succeeded him in 1014/15 CE and continued to expand the empire north and east, even sending a naval expedition to occupy coastal regions in Java and the straits of Malacca.

Mahmud of Ghazni

Under Mahmud of Ghazni (971-1030 CE) the Ghaznavid Empire, an Islamic dynasty centered in the Afghan city of Ghazni, reached its height. Mahmud's father, a Turkish slave named Sebüktigen, founded the kingdom in the 10th century CE, and Mahmud ruled as sultan from 998 CE to 1030 CE. Invading the Sind and Punjab regions at least once a year between 1000 CE and 1026 CE, the sultan, known as the "Sword of Islam," waged ruthless campaigns into northern India.

Mahmud's invasions of India, which never extended to the central, south, and eastern portions of the region, were exceedingly ruthless. He is said to have carried away huge amount of booty on each visit, and among other Indian dynasties, the Chandellas of Khujaraho, the Pratiharas of Kanauj, and the Rajputs of Gwalior all succumbed to his formidable military. Places such as Kanauj, Mathura, and Thaneshwar were plundered, but it is the destruction of the Shiva temple at Somnath, on the southern coast of Kathiawar in Gujarat, which most people in India remember him by even today. Some Muslim chronicles claim that 50,000 Hindus died in the sack of Somnath, and it is said that the Shiva lingam (the main symbol of the god) was destroyed by Mahmud himself. After the battle, Mahmud and his troops are described as having carried away across the desert the equivalent of 6.5 tons of gold. Modern historians have questioned some of the assumptions of the "black legend" of Mahmud.

Though there can be no doubt that Mahmud of Ghazni waged ruthless campaigns and terrorized the people who came in his way, there is nothing to suggest that he only attacked Hindus. The Muslim ruler of Multan, an Ismaili, and his subjects were dealt with just as ruthlessly. Revisionist historians argue that Mahmud pillaged Hindu temples because of the wealth in them, that he had Hindus among his commanders, and that Hindu temples were still allowed to function under his rule. But Mahmud remains a deeply controversial and divisive figure in the perceptions of history across the subcontinent today.

With the plunder acquired from his raids into India, Mahmud made Ghazni a great cultural center, home to an extensive library and scholars such as Abu Rayhan al-Biruni, a mathematician and philosopher whose Kitab al-Hind was among the earliest literature about India's religious and philosophical traditions. The Muslim Ghorid dynasty succeeded Ghaznavid rule in the 12th century CE and was followed by the Delhi Sultanate, a series of five successive Muslim dynasties that ruled northern India into the 16th century CE.

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