Tuesday, June 7, 2011

GOLDEN AGE OF INDIA

The Gupta Empire (Sanskrit: गुप्त राजवंश, Gupta Rājavaṃśa) was an Ancient Indian empire which existed approximately from 320 to 550 CE and covered much of the Indian Subcontinent.[1] Founded by Maharaja Sri-Gupta, the dynasty was the model of aclassical civilization.[2] The peace and prosperity created under leadership of Guptas enabled the pursuit of scientific and artistic endeavors.[3] This period is called the Golden Age of India[4] and was marked by extensive inventions and discoveries in science, technology, engineering, art, dialectic, literature, logic, mathematics, astronomy, religionand philosophy that crystallized the elements of what is generally known as Hindu culture.[5] Chandragupta I, Samudragupta, and Chandragupta II were the most notable rulers of the Gupta dynasty.[6]

The high points of this cultural creativity are magnificent architecture, sculptures and paintings.[7] The Gupta period produced scholars such as Kalidasa, Aryabhata,Varahamihira, Vishnu Sharma and Vatsyayana who made great advancements in many academic fields.[8][9] Science and political administration reached new heights during the Gupta era.[10] Strong trade ties also made the region an important cultural center and set the region up as a base that would influence nearby kingdoms and regions in Burma, Sri Lanka, Malay Archipelago and Indochina.[11]

The earliest available Puranas are also thought to have been written around this period. The empire gradually declined because of many factors like the substantial loss of territory and imperial authority caused by their own erstwhile feudatories and the invasion by the Hunas from Central Asia.[12] After the collapse of the Gupta Empire in the 6th century, India was again ruled by numerous regional kingdoms. A minor line of the Gupta clan continued to rule Magadha after the disintegration of the empire. These Guptas were ultimately ousted by the Vardhana ruler Harsha, who established an empire in the first half of the 7th century.

The Gupta period marks an important phase in the history of ancient India. The long and efficient rule of the Guptas made a huge impact on the political, social and cultural spheres. Though the Gupta Empire was not as widespread as the Mauryan Empire was in India, yet the Gupta dynasty was successful in creating an empire that is significant in the history of India. The Gupta Period is also popularly known as the Golden Age of India and for the right reasons. The lifestyle and culture of the Gupta dynasty is known through the availability of various ancient coins, scriptures, inscriptions, texts, etc. belonging to that era.

The rulers of the Gupta Empire were efficient administrators who knew how to govern with a firm hand without being despotic. During this age, art and education flourished and many great discoveries were made in these fields. Aryabhatta and Varahamihira, the two great mathematicians contributed much during this period in the field of Vedic Mathematics. Aryabhatta estimated the value of "Pi" to the fourth decimal place. Algebra was developed to a great extent and the concepts of zero and infinity were found. The symbols of numbers 1 to 9 were devised which was a great contribution in mathematics. These symbols came to be known as Hindu Arabic numerals later when the Arabs too adopted them.

Gupta EmpireThe Gupta Age is also known for its advances in astronomy. During the reign of the Gupta rulers, astronomers and philosophers proposed the theory that the earth was not flat but round. The theory of gravity was also propounded during this time. The astronomers made a breakthrough when they found out the different planets and started to make horoscopes based on the planetary positions. The field of medicine also advanced a lot during this time and doctors used to perform operations even during that era. Since so many discoveries and advances were made in arts, medicine, literature and science during Gupta period, it has been called the Golden Age of India.

Main Rulers of Gupta Age
  • Chandragupta (319 - 335 A.D): Chandragupta was a very powerful Gupta ruler who waged many battles to attain his title. He married Kumaradevi after which the Gupta dynasty came into eminence. He assumed the title of Maharajadiraja, which means king of kings.
  • Samudragupta (335 - 375 A.D): Samudragupta was the son and successor of Chandragupta. Samudragupta was popularly known as the "Indian Napoleon" as he conquered many territories without making much of an effort. It is said that after Emperor Ashoka, the empire of Samudragupta was the supreme. The coins found in excavation reveal much information about his empire. He performed the Asvamedha Yagna and gained much fame and power. During his reign, many great discoveries and advancements were made in different fields like astronomy, mathematics, medicine, etc.
  • Chandragupta II (375 - 414 A.D): Also known by the name of Vikramaditya, Chandragupta II was chosen by his father as the successor and the future ruler. Chandragupta II was an able ruler and a great conqueror. His conquest of the peninsula of Saurashtra via the Arabian Sea is considered to be one of his greatest military successes. With the annexation of Saurashtra and Malwa, he opened up sea ports to facilitate trade and commerce. His capital city was Pataliputra.
  • Kumaragupta I (415 - 455 AD): Kumaragupta ruled for forty years and he was considered to be one of the most powerful rulers of the Gupta Period. He was known by different names such as, Shri Mahendra, Ajita Mahendra, Simha Mahendra, Asvamedha Mahendra, Mahendra Karma, etc. During his reign, the whole of India was united as one single entity. Though it was secular and people had their own thoughts and beliefs, yet they remained united and intact in any adversity. This was proved when the subjects drove out the Hunas from the kingdom after the death of Kumaragupta.
  • Skandagupta (455 - 467 A.D): Most historic scripts propound that Skandagupta was the ruler after Kumaragupta, though there are some theories that also mention Purugupta, Kumaragupta - II, etc. Skandagupta was a very powerful conqueror and is considered to be at par with God Indra. His empire included the whole of North India from west to east and the peninsular regions of Gujarat.

Dateline: 320 AD- 500 AD

After five hundred years, India emerged from the 'dark ages' into the classical age of the Gupta dynasty. The Gupta dynasty ushered in the next major empire. The Gupta dynasty is often known as the Golden Age of Indian culture because during this period of Indian history, there was peace, progress and prosperity. Great advances were made in art, literature and science. There was renewed enthusiasm in religions like Hinduism and the world's first universities were established.

The Gupta dynasty was founded by a man known as Chandra Gupta I. A classic case of history repeating itself?! (The last major empire, the Mauryan dynasty was also founded by a man called Chandragupta, Chandragupta Maurya). Chandra Gupta soon broke away from the dozens of kings of the period, and created a decent size kingdom. He soon strengthened the kingdom by marrying Kumaradevi, the daughter of the king of Licchavis. The Licchavis controlled a major portion of the region of Bihar

320 AD- 500 AD

After five hundred years, India emerged from the 'dark ages' into the classical age of the Gupta dynasty. The Gupta dynasty ushered in the next major empire. The Gupta dynasty is often known as the Golden Age of Indian culture because during this period of Indian history, there was peace, progress and prosperity. Great advances were made in art, literature and science. There was renewed enthusiasm in religions like Hinduism and the world's first universities were established.

The Gupta dynasty was founded by a man known as Chandra Gupta I. A classic case of history repeating itself?! (The last major empire, the Mauryan dynasty was also founded by a man called Chandragupta, Chandragupta Maurya). Chandra Gupta soon broke away from the dozens of kings of the period,

and created a decent size kingdom. He soon strengthened the kingdom by marrying Kumaradevi, the daughter of the king of Licchavis. The Licchavis controlled a major portion of the region of Bihar and possibly Nepal. Thisand created a decent size kingdom. He soon strengthened the kingdom by marrying Kumaradevi, the daughter of the king of Licchavis. The Licchavis controlled a major portion of the region of Bihar and possibly Nepal. alliance further strengthened Chandra Gupta's position. During the rest of his reign Chandra Gupta extended his empire and controlled a substantial area of North India. Chandra Gupta also held an important ceremony during his reign, where an assembly of councillors and various members of the royal family were present. It was here that Chandra Gupta nominated his son Samudra Gupta as the heir to the

By the fourth century A.D., political and military turmoil destroyed the Kushan empire in the north and many kingdoms in the south India. At this juncture, India was invaded by a series of foreigners and barbarians or Mlechchhas from the north western frontier region and central Asia. It signaled the emergance of a leader, a Magadha ruler, Chandragupta I. Chandragupta successfully combated the foreign invasion and laid foundation of the great Gupta dynasty, the emperors of which ruled for the next 300 years, bringing the most prosperous era in Indian history.

The reign of Gupta emperors can truly be considered as the golden age of classical Indian history. Srigupta I (270-290 AD) who was perhaps a petty ruler of Magadha (modern Bihar) established Gupta dynasty with Patliputra or Patna as its capital. He was succedded by his son Ghatotkacha (290-305 AD). Ghatotkacha was succeeded by his son Chandragupta I (305-325 AD) who strengthened his kingdom by matrimonial alliance with the powerful family of Lichchavi who were rulers of Mithila. His marriage to Lichchhavi princess Kumaradevi, brought an enormous power, resources and prestige. He took advantage of the situation and occupied whole of fertile Gangetic valley. Chandragupta I eventually assumed the title of Maharajadhiraja (emperor) in formal coronation.

Samudragupta (335 - 380 AD) succedded his father Chandragupta I. He was perhaps the greatest king of Gupta dynasty. Samudragupta enlarged the Gupta Kingdom by winning a series of battles till he was a master of northern India. Soon he defeated the kings of Vindhyan region (central India) and Deccan. He although made no attempt to incorporate the kingdoms of south of Narmada and Mahanadi rivers (southern India) into his empire. When he died his mighty empire bordered with Kushan of Western province (modern Afganistan and Pakistan) and Vakatakas in Deccan (modern southern Maharashtra). Samudragupta was a staunch Hindu and after all his military triumphs, he performed the Ashwamedha Yagna (Horse sacrifice ceremony) which is evident on some of his coins. Ashwamedha Yagna gave him the coveted title of Maharajadhiraj, the supreme king of kings.



Vikramaditya (380 - 413 AD) the son of Samudragupta is the legendary emperor of India. More stories/legends are associated with him than any other ruler of India. It was during his (and his son Kumargupta) reign, India was at the pinnacle of prosperity and opulence. Although named after his grandfather Chandragupta, he took a title of Vikramaditya, which became a synonym for sovereign of tremendous power and wealth. Vikramaditya succeeded his father Samudragupta (possibly there was another prince, or his elder brother who ruled briefly, and according to legends slayed by Shakas). He married princess Kubernaga, daughter of Naga Chieftains and later gave his daughter Prabhavati in marriage to Rudrasena of powerful family of Vakatakas of the Deccan (modern Maharashtra). His most significant and well celebrated military achievement being total destruction of Kshatrapas, the Shaka (Scythian) rulers of Malawa and Saurashtra, the western India (modern Gujrath and neighbouring states). He scored a fantastic victory over the Kshatrapa rulers and incorporated these provinces into his increasing empire. The cool courage he showed in fight with Shakas and killing their king in their own city entitled him the epithets Shakari (destroyer of Shakas) or Sahasanka. He has also been responsible for the era, popularly known as Vikram Samvat which commence in 58 BC. This era has been used by major Hindu dynasties and still in use in modern India.

Vikramaditya was succeeded by his able son Kumargupta I (415 - 455 AD). He maintained his hold over the vast empire of his forebears, which covered most of India except southern four states of India. Later he too performed the Ashwamegha Yagna and proclaimed himself to be Chakrawarti, king of all kings. umargupta also was a great patron of art and culture; evidence exist that he endowed a college of fine arts at great ancient university at Nalanda, which fluorished during 5th to 12th century AD.

Skandagupta (455 - 467 AD) took over the Gupta empire and soon had to face with the formidable enemy, the Huns (Hepthalites). He successfully repelled their early invasions and proved to be able king and administrator in time of crisis. In spite of heroic efforts of SkandaGupta, Gupta empire did not survive long the shock it received from invasion of the Huns and internal uprising of Pushyamitras. Although there was some sort of unity till reign of the last king Budhagupta in the 6th century AD.

This period is regarded as the golden age of Indian culture. The high points of this cultural creativity are magnificent and creative architecture, sculpture, and painting. The wall-paintings of Ajanta Cave in the central Deccan are considered among the greatest and most powerful works of Indian art. The paintings in the cave represent the various lives of the Buddha, but also are the best source we have of the daily life in India at the time. There are forty-eight caves making up Ajanta, most of which were carved out of the rock between 460 and 480, and they are filled with Buddhist sculptures. The rock temple at Elephanta (near Bombay) contains a powerful, eighteen foot statue of the three-headed Shiva, one of the principle Hindu gods. Each head represents one of Shiva's roles: that of creating, that of preserving, and that of destroying. The period also saw dynamic building of Hindu temples. All of these temples contain a hall and a tower.

The greatest writer of the time was Kalidasa. Poetry in the Gupta age tended towards a few genres: religious and meditative poetry, lyric poetry, narrative histories (the most popular of the secular literatures), and drama. The greatest Mathematician of India Aryabhatta also belongs to this age. The Panchatantra and Kamasutra were written during this period. The Nalanda University in Bihar, came to fame during the Gupta rule.

Unfortunately, very few monuments built during Gupta reign survive today. Examples of Gupta architecture are found in the Vaishnavite Tigawa temple at Jabalpur (in Madhya Pradesh state) built in 415 AD and another temple at Deogarhnear Jhansi built in 510 AD. Bhita in Uttar Pradesh State has a number of ancient Gupta temples, most are in ruins.

Because of extensive trade, the culture of India became the dominant culture around the Bay of Bengal, profoundly and deeply influencing the cultures of Burma, Cambodia, and Sri Lanka. In many ways, the period during and following the Gupta dynasty was the period of "Greater India," a period of cultural activity in India and surrounding countries building off of the base of Indian

The origins of the Guptas are shrouded in obscurity. The Chinese traveller I-tsing provides the first evidence of the Gupta kingdom in Magadha. He came to India in 672 CE and heard of 'Maharaja Sri-Gupta' who built a temple for Chinese pilgrims near Mrigasikhavana. I-tsing gives the date for this event merely as '500 years before'. This does not match with other sources and hence we can assume that I-tsing's computation was a mere guess.

The most likely date for the reign of Sri-Gupta is c. 240-280 CE His successor Ghatotkacha ruled probably from c. 280-319 CE In contrast to his successor, he is also referred to in inscriptions as 'Maharaja' .

At the beginning of the 4th century the Guptas established and ruled a few small Hindu kingdoms in Magadha and around modern-day Uttar Pradesh.

The Guptas ascendant

The Gupta dynasty ruled India north of the Vindhya Range during the 4th and 5th centuries. Though not as vast as Mauryan empire, The Gupta era left a deep and wide cultural impact not only in the subcontinent but on the adjacent Asian countries as well. We get plenty of information about this illustrious dynasty through coins, inscriptions, monuments and Sanskrit classics.

The Gupta rulers were great conquerors and good administrators. They checked the infiltration of foreign tribes like Sakas and Hunas and established political stability. Economic prosperity followed and led to cultural expansion.

Sanskrit language and literature were reached its peak during the Gupta era. Poets Kalidasa, Dandi, Visakhadatta, Shudraka, and Bharavi all belong to this period. Many puranas and shastras were composed and famous commentaries on sacred works appeared. Buddhist and Jain literature, which was produced earlier in Pali, Ardhamagadhi and other Prakrit languages, began to appear in Sanskrit. The practice of dedicating temples to different deities came into vogue followed by fine artistic temple architecture and sculpture. Of the twenty-eight Ajanta caves, most of them were constructed during this period. Gupta inscriptions, some of them on "victory pillars" provide first hand information not only about royalty but society in general.

Books on medicine, veterinary science, mathematics, astronomy and astrophysics were written. The famous Aryabhata and Varahamihira belong to this age. Overseas trade and commerce flourished. Hindu and Buddhist mythology, architecture, along with religion took root in Burma, Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia and other countries. The Chinese monk Lui Kang who was in India and Sri Lanka between 399 and 414 noticed general prosperity and peace-loving nature of the people.

This period is regarded as the golden age of Indian culture. The high points of this cultural creativity are magnificent and creative architecture, sculpture, and painting. The wall-paintings of Ajanta Caves in the central Deccan are considered among the greatest and most powerful works of Indian art. The paintings in the cave represent the various lives of the Buddha, but also are the best source we have of the daily life in India at the time.

The Gupta established a strong central government which also allowed a degree of local control. Gupta society was ordered in accordance with Hindu beliefs. This included a strict caste system, or class system. The peace and prosperity created under Gupta leadership enabled the pursuit of scientific and artistic endeavors.

The Gupta Dynasty declined due to weak rulers and a series of invasions, but many of their cultural and intellectual achievements were saved and transmitted to other cultures and live on today. The Gupta period is considered something of a golden age, marked by great achievements in literature, music, art, architecture, and philosophy. Lui Kang wrote of beautiful cities, fine hospitals and universities, and described a content and prosperous people.

Main Gupta rulers

Chandragupta

Ghatotkacha (c. 280–319) CE, had a son named Chandragupta. In a breakthrough deal, Chandragupta was married to Kumaradevi, a Lichchhavi—the main power in Magadha. With a dowry of the kingdom of Magadha (capital Pataliputra) and an alliance with the Lichchhavis, Chandragupta set about expanding his power, conquering much of Magadha, Prayaga and Saketa. He established a realm stretching from the Ganga (Ganga) river to Prayaga (modern-day Allahabad) by 320. Chandragupta was the first of the Guptas to be referred to as 'Maharajadhiraja' or 'King of Kings'.

Samudragupta

Chandragupta died in 335 and was succeeded by his son Samudragupta, a tireless conqueror. He took the kingdoms of Shichchhatra and Padmavati early in his reign. He then took the Kingdom of Kota and attacked the tribes in Malvas, the Yaudheyas, the Arjunayanas, the Maduras and the Abhiras. By his death in 380, he had incorporated over twenty kingdoms into his realm, his rule extended from the Himalayas to the river Narmada and from the Brahmaputra to theYamuna. He gave himself the titles King of Kings and World Monarch. He performed Ashwamedha yajna (horse sacrifice) to underline the importance of his conquest.

Samduragupta was not only a warrior but also a great patron of art and literature. The important scholars present in his court were Harishena, Vasubandhu and Asanga. He was a poet and musician himself. He was a firm believer in Hinduism and is known to have worshipped Lord Vishnu. He was considerate of other religions and allowed Sri Lanka's buddhist king to build a monastery at Bodh Gaya.

He was succeeded by his son Ramagupta, who was captured by the Saka Satraps (Kshatrapas) and was soon succeeded by his brother Chandragupta II.

Chandragupta II

Chandragupta II, the Sun of Power (Vikramaditya), ruled until 413. He married his daughter Prabhavatigupta to Rudrasena II, the Vakataka king of Deccan, and gained a valuable ally. Only marginally less war-like than his father, he expanded his realm westwards, defeating the Saka Western Kshatrapas of Malwa, Gujarat and Saurashtra in a campaign lasting until 409, but with his main opponent Rudrasimha III defeated by 395, and crushing the Bengal (Vanga) chiefdoms. This extended his control from coast-to-coast, established a second (trading) capital at Ujjain and was the high point of the empire.

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

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

Kumaragupta I

Chandragupta II was succeeded by his son Kumaragupta I. Known as the Mahendraditya, he ruled until 455. Towards the end of his reign a tribe in the Narmada valley, the Pushyamitras, rose in power to threaten the empire.

Skandagupta

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

Military organization

The Imperial Guptas could not have achieved their successes through force of arms without an efficient martial system. Historically, the best accounts of this comes not from the Hindus themselves but from Chinese and Western observers. However, a contemporary Indian document, regarded as a military classic of the time, the Siva-Dhanur-veda, offers some insight into the military system of the Guptas. Like Indian kings before them, and centuries afterwards, the Guptas would have utilized war elephants. These thick hided beasts, supplemented by additional armour and the soldiers that they carried, would have provided a powerful offensive and psychological weapon against an unprepared foe. Another advantage was that they could cause the horses of enemy cavalry to panic from their scent, as the Macedonians discovered. However, their use carried the grave risk of the elephants panicking and stampeding, which more clever opponents used to their advantage.

The use of chariots had heavily declined by the time of the Guptas, having already proved their uselessness against the Macedonians, Scythians, and other invaders. In response, the Guptas seemed to have utilized heavy cavalry clad in mail armour and equipped with maces and lances, who would have used shock action to break the enemy line, much like the clibanarii of the Sassanids and Byzantines in the same era. It is unclear whether they were used to the extent of elephants.

The Guptas seem to have relied heavily on infantry archers, and the bow was one of the dominant weapons of their army. The Hindu version of the longbow was composed of metal, or more typically bamboo, and fired a long bamboo cane arrow with a metal head. Unlike the composite bows of Western and Central Asian foes, bows of this design would be less prone to warping in the damp and moist conditions often prevalent to the region. Iron shafts were used against armored elephants, and fire arrows were also part of the bowmen's arsenal. Archers were frequently protected by infantry equipped with shields, javelins, and longswords.

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

The Guptas apparently showed little predilection for using horse archers, despite the fact these warriors were a main component in the ranks of their Scythian, Parthian, and Hepthalite (Huna) enemies. However, the Gupta armies were probably better disciplined. Able commanders like Samudragupta and Chandragupta II would have likely understood the need for combined armed tactics and proper logistical organization. Gupta military success likely stemmed from the concerted use elephants, armored cavalry, and foot archers in tandem against both Hindu kingdoms and foreign armies invading from the Northwest. Guptas also maintained a navy, allowing them to control regional waters.

The collapse of the Gupta Empire in the face of the Huna onslaught was due not directly to the inherent defects of the Gupta army, which after all had initially defeated these barbarians under Skandagupta. More likely, internal dissolution sapped the ability of the Guptas to resist foreign invasion, as was simultenously occurring in Western Europe and China.

Huna invasions and the end of empire

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

The Guptas of Magadha

A minor line of the Gupta clan continued to rule Magadha after the disintegration of the empire. These Guptas were ultimately ousted by the Vardhana king Harsha, who established an empire in the first half of the seventh century that, for a brief time, rivalled that of the Guptas in extent.

Arts during Guptas

Some of India's most magnificient works of art were produced during the Gupta era. The famous cave paintings at Ajanta, the Sarnath Buddha, the Deogarh Dashavatara Temple panels and the Udaygiri Varaha Cave are some marvellous products of the Gupta age. Also, during the Gupta Empire, metal work and various sculptures were made.




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