Gupta Empire: Golden Classical Era

The rise of the Gupta Empire

The glory of Bharatvarsha lay in the fact that it produced numerous dynasties and rulers who spread her fame far and wide. Not just our products and produces but our culture was taken across shores by both traders and ambassadors of our emperors. Some rulers and dynasties outlived and outshone others. One such dynasty which etched its name in golden letters in the history of Bharatvarsha is the Gupta Empire, founded by Sri Gupta in 240 CE. However, the dynasty rose to significance during the reign of Sri Gupta’s grandson Chandragupta I around 319-320 CE.

The Gupta dynasty belonged to the period in history which has been deemed as ‘Ancient India’. Of the many dynasties which ruled this land there are very few whose reign was deemed as the “Golden Age”. It was with good reason that the rule of emperors starting from Chandragupta I, roughly 319 CE to 485 CE, was termed as the Golden Age of India. During this period there was all round developement and progress in all aspects of life which took the glory of Bharatvarsha far beyond its shores and borders. Administratively the Guptas were very astute and it is their administrative skills and acumen which ushered an era of peace, progress just like their military strategies and strength brought about the empire’s expansion. They patronised scholars from all fields and encouraged the latter which led to these scholars making discoveries that was far ahead of its times. Some of ancient India’s best known scholars, such as Kalidasa, Varahamihira, Aryabhatta, Vishnu Sharma and Vatsyayana, lived during this period.

They followed the hierarchical system of administration where every province was divided into several units and each unit was headed by an official in the increasing order of importance. The empire was divided into 26 provinces and the provinces were further split into vishayas. Each vishaya was administered by a Vishayapati in association with Adhikarana (council of representatives) which consisted of Nagarasreshesthi, Sarthavaha, Prathamakulike and Prathama Kayastha. An efficient military system has been the hallmark of all great dynasties and the imperial Guptas were no different. Just like their administrative machinery, their military units were also well organized and disciplined. Infantry archers dominated the Gupta army and the bow was the chief weapon. Unlike the bows of the Central and Western Asian armies, Indian long bow was made up of metal or bamboo and fired a long bamboo cane arrow with a metal head. The longbow was a powerful weapon which could be fired to a great range and also had greater penetration. Although less common, steel bows and weapons were made use of by the Gupta armies. The Guptas also had knowledge of siege-craft, catapults, and other sophisticated war machines. They were not big fans of horse archers and the mainstays of their army were foot soldiers, armoured cavalry and elephantry.

It is not for nothing that the Gupta Era is known as the Golden Age. It was during this period that great strides were taken in all aspects of life including culture, architecture, education, astronomy and astrology among others. The patronage of the Guptas led to many great discoveries in several fields. We are familiar with Aryabhatta whose discovery of zero and estimation of the value of ‘Pi’ up to the fourth decimal place are lauded the world over. Varahamihira was also a mathematical scholar, astrologer and astronomer who belonged to this period. Isn’t it amazing that when the rest of the world were taking baby strides towards becoming civilized, our sages were making discoveries that were far ahead of its times? It was during this period that the concept of infinity was postulated by Aryabhatta and symbols were devised for numbers 1 to 9.

Our sages were not merely spiritual but were learned scholars in several fields. Some of the several theories that were propounded or discovered during the Gupta Age were the theory of gravity, theory that the earth was round and not flat and theory that Earth revolved round the sun among others. Astronomy and astrology were closely associated and rapid strides were made in both these areas as well. The field of medicine was not one to be left behind. Sushruta, a physician of this era, wrote his Sushruta Samhita. Surgeries were also performed which indicate the advancement our ancestors had made. This was the time when Sanskrit literature got a boost as well. Great poet and playwright Kalidasa belonged to this period as did poets and writers such as Dandi, Vishakadatta, Shudraka and Bhairavi. Vatsyayana, who wrote the Kama Sutra which is considered to be the standard work on human sexual behaviour, belonged to this age. Art and architecture got a boost as well.

Chandragupta I (319-335 AD), Samudragupta (335-375 AD) and Chandragupta II (375-414 AD) were the tallest and most acclaimed emperors of this dynasty. We have merely touched the tip of the iceberg. This write up is intended to familiarise the readers with the glory of the Gupta rulers who ensured all round development of the society. No doubt the Itihasa of Bharatvarsha is rich is several such dynasties which have hardly been brought to the notice of the people. It shall be my endeavour to bring to the fore achievements of rulers and dynasties whose stories need to be told.