The Gupta Empire (A.D. 320 to 647) was marked by the return of Brahmanism (Hinduism) as the state religion. It also regarded as the classical period or golden age of Hindu art, literature and science. 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. Peace and prosperity created under Gupta leadership enabled the pursuit of scientific and artistic endeavors. [Source: Regents Prep]

Steven M. Kossak and Edith W. Watts from The Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “The Gupta emperors (4th–6th century) conquered and unified a large portion of northern India and, like the Mughals, created a powerful central state surrounded by kingdoms loyal to it. Under royal patronage, this period became India’s classical age of literature, theater, and visual art. The aesthetic canons that came to dominate all the arts of later India were codified during this time. Sanskrit poetry and prose, including the work of the great dramatist Kalidasa, flourished, and the concept of zero was conceived which led to a more practical system of numbering. Arab traders adapted and further developed the concept, and from western Asia the system of “Arabic numerals” traveled to Europe. [Source: Steven M. Kossak and Edith W. Watts, The Art of South, and Southeast Asia, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York]

Akhilesh Pillalamarri wrote in The National Interest: “The Gupta Empire (320-550 C.E.) was a great empire but also had a mixed record. Like the previous Maurya Empire, it was based in the Magadha region and conquered much of South Asia, though unlike that empire, its territory was limited only to what is today North India. It was under Gupta rule that India enjoyed the height of its classical civilization, its golden age, when much of its famous literature and science was produced. Yet, it was also under the Guptas that caste became rigid while the decentralization of power to local rulers continued. After a period of initial expansion, the empire stabilized and did a good job of keeping out invaders (like the Huns) for two centuries. Indian civilization expanded into much of Bengal during this time, which was previously a lightly inhabited swampy area. The main achievements of the Guptas during this era of peace were artistic and intellectual. During this period, zero was first used and chess invented, and many other astronomical and mathematical theories were first elucidated. The Gupta Empire collapsed due to continuous invasion and fragmentation from local rulers. Power at this point increasingly shifted to regional rulers outside of the Ganges valley. [Source: Akhilesh Pillalamarri, The National Interest, May 8, 2015 <|>]

The origins of Gupta is not clearly known, It emergence as a major empire occurred when Chandragupta I (Chandra Gupta I) married into royalty in the A.D. 4th century. Based in the Ganges Valley, he established a capital at Pataliputra and united north India in A.D. 320. His son Samaudrahupta extended the influence of the empire southward. Hindu religion and Brahmin power revived under peaceful and prosperous reign.

The Gupta dynasty reached its peak during the reign of Chandragupta II (A.D. 375 to 415). His empire occupied much of what is now northern India. Following a series of victories against the Scythians (A.D. 388-409) he expanded the Gupta empire into western India and what is now the Sind area of Pakistan.Though the last strong Gupta king, Skanadagupta, held off invasions by the Huns in the 5th century, subsequent invasion weakened the dynasty. An invasion by the White Huns destroyed the much civilization around 550 and the empire finally collapsed completely in 647. Inability to exert control over a large area had as much to do with the collapse as the invasions.

The world population was around 170 million at the of the birth of Jesus. In A.D. 100 it had risen to around 180 million. In 190 it rose to 190 million. At the beginning of the 4th century the world population was around 375 million with four fifths of the world's population living under the Roman, Chinese Han and Indian Gupta empires.

Book: Hinds, Kathryn, India’s Gupta Dynasty. New York: Benchmark Books, 1996.

Deccan and Southern India

During the Kushana Dynasty, an indigenous power, the Satavahana Kingdom (first century B.C.-third century A.D.), rose in the Deccan in southern India. The Satavahana, or Andhra, Kingdom was considerably influenced by the Mauryan political model, although power was decentralized in the hands of local chieftains, who used the symbols of Vedic religion and upheld the varnashramadharma . The rulers, however, were eclectic and patronized Buddhist monuments, such as those in Ellora (Maharashtra) and Amaravati (Andhra Pradesh). Thus, the Deccan served as a bridge through which politics, trade, and religious ideas could spread from the north to the south. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Farther south were three ancient Tamil kingdoms--Chera (on the west), Chola (on the east), and Pandya (in the south)--frequently involved in internecine warfare to gain regional supremacy. They are mentioned in Greek and Ashokan sources as lying at the fringes of the Mauryan Empire. A corpus of ancient Tamil literature, known as Sangam (academy) works, including Tolkappiam, a manual of Tamil grammar by Tolkappiyar, provides much useful information about their social life from 300 B.C. to A.D. 200. There is clear evidence of encroachment by Aryan traditions from the north into a predominantly indigenous Dravidian culture in transition. *

Dravidian social order was based on different ecoregions rather than on the Aryan varna paradigm, although the Brahmans had a high status at a very early stage. Segments of society were characterized by matriarchy and matrilineal succession--which survived well into the nineteenth century--cross-cousin marriage, and strong regional identity. Tribal chieftains emerged as "kings" just as people moved from pastoralism toward agriculture, sustained by irrigation based on rivers, small-scale tanks (as man-made ponds are called in India) and wells, and brisk maritime trade with Rome and Southeast Asia. *

Discoveries of Roman gold coins in various sites attest to extensive South Indian links with the outside world. As with Pataliputra in the northeast and Taxila in the northwest (in modern Pakistan), the city of Madurai, the Pandyan capital (in modern Tamil Nadu), was the center of intellectual and literary activities. Poets and bards assembled there under royal patronage at successive concourses and composed anthologies of poems, most of which have been lost. By the end of the first century B.C., South Asia was crisscrossed by overland trade routes, which facilitated the movements of Buddhist and Jain missionaries and other travelers and opened the area to a synthesis of many cultures. *

Gupta and Harsha

The Classical Age refers to the period when most of North India was reunited under the Gupta Empire (ca. A.D. 320-550). Because of the relative peace, law and order, and extensive cultural achievements during this period, it has been described as a "golden age" that crystallized the elements of what is generally known as Hindu culture with all its variety, contradiction, and synthesis. The golden age was confined to the north, and the classical patterns began to spread south only after the Gupta Empire had vanished from the historical scene. The military exploits of the first three rulers--Chandragupta I (ca. 319-335), Samudragupta (ca. 335-376), and Chandragupta II (ca. 376-415)--brought all of North India under their leadership. [Source: Library of Congress *]

From Pataliputra, their capital, they sought to retain political preeminence as much by pragmatism and judicious marriage alliances as by military strength. Despite their self-conferred titles, their overlordship was threatened and by 500 ultimately ruined by the Hunas (a branch of the White Huns emanating from Central Asia), who were yet another group in the long succession of ethnically and culturally different outsiders drawn into India and then woven into the hybrid Indian fabric. *

Under Harsha Vardhana (or Harsha, r. 606-47), North India was reunited briefly, but neither the Guptas nor Harsha controlled a centralized state, and their administrative styles rested on the collaboration of regional and local officials for administering their rule rather than on centrally appointed personnel. The Gupta period marked a watershed of Indian culture: the Guptas performed Vedic sacrifices to legitimize their rule, but they also patronized Buddhism, which continued to provide an alternative to Brahmanical orthodoxy. *

Beginning of the Gupta Empire

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. [Source: Glorious India <>]

India's so-called Dark Age, from 185 B.C. to A.D. 300, was not dark regarding trade. Trade continued, with more being sold to the Roman Empire than was being imported. In India, Roman coins were piling up. The Kushan invaders were absorbed by India, Kushan kings adopting the manners and language of the Indians and intermarrying with Indian royal families. The southern kingdom of Andhra conquered Magadha in 27 B.C., ending the Sunga dynasty in Magadha, and Andhra extended its power in the Ganges Valley, creating a new bridge between the north and the south. But this came to an end as Andhra and two other southern kingdoms weakened themselves by warring against each other. By the early 300s CE, power in India was returning to the Magadha region, and India was entering what would be called its classical age.[Source: Frank E. Smitha, Macrohistory /+\]

The Gupta dynasty is believed to have started as a wealthy family from either Magadha or Prayaga (now eastern Uttar Pradesh). During the late third century, this family rose in prominence until it was able to claim the local rulership of Magadha.

Gupta Emperors

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.[Source: Glorious India <>]

The third Gupta king, Chandragupta was a Magadha raja who controlled rich veins of iron from the nearby Barabara Hills. Around the year 308 he married a princess from the neighboring kingdom of Licchavi, and with this marriage he gained a hold over the flow of northern India's commerce on the Ganges River – the major flow of north Indian commerce. In 319, Chandragupta assumed the title of Maharajadhiraja (emperor) in formal coronation and extended his rule westward to Prayaga, in north-central India. [Source: Frank E. Smitha, Macrohistory /+\]

Chandragupta I (unrelated to the Chandragupta of six centuries before) is given credit for founding of the dynasty in 320 AD, though it is not clear whether this year marks the accession of Chandragupta or the year his kingdom achieved full independent status. In the following decades, the Guptas expanded their control over the surrounding kingdoms either through militaristic expansion or by means of marriage alliance. 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.[Source: University of Washington <=>]

Gupta Emperors: 1) Sri Gupta; 2) Ghatotkacha (Gupta Empire); 3) Chandragupta I; 4) Samudragupta; 5) Ramagupta; 6)Chandragupta II; 7) Kumargupta I; 8) Skandagupta; 9) Purugupta; 10) Kumaragupta II; 11) Budhagupta; 12) Narasimhagupta Baladitya; 13) Kumaragupta III; 14) Vishnugupta; 15) Vainyagupta; 16) Bhanugupta


Samudragupta (335 - 380 AD) succeeded his father Chandragupta I. He was perhaps the greatest king of Gupta dynasty. Samudragupta enlarged the Gupta Kingdom by winning a series of battles 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.

Frank E. Smitha wrote in his Macrohistory blog: “Ten years into his rule, Chandragupta lay dying, and he told his son, Samudra, to rule the whole world. His son tried. Samudragupta's forty-five years of rule would be described as one vast military campaign. He waged war along the Ganges plain, overwhelming nine kings and incorporating their subjects and lands into the Gupta Empire. He absorbed Bengal, and kingdoms in Nepal and Assam paid him tribute. He expanded his empire westward, conquering Malava and the Saka kingdom of Ujjayini. He gave various tribal states autonomy under his protection. He raided Pallava and humbled eleven kings in southern India. He made a vassal of the king of Lanka, and he compelled five kings on the outskirts of his empire to pay him tribute. The powerful kingdom of Vakataka in central India, he preferred to leave independent and friendly.” [Source:Frank E. Smitha, Macrohistory /+\]

Chandragupta appointed his son, Samudragupta, to the throne sometime around the year 330. The new king established the city of Pataliputra as the Gupta capital, and from this administrative base the empire continued to grow. By approximately 380, it had expanded to include a number of smaller kingdoms to the east (into what is now Myanmar), all territories north to the Himalayas (including Nepal), and the entire Indus Valley region to the west. In some of the more remote areas, the Guptas reinstalled defeated rulers and allowed them to continue to run the territory as a tributary state.

Chandragupta II (Vikramaditya)

Around 380,Samudragupta was succeeded by his son Chandragupta II, and the son extended Gupta rule to India's west coast, where new ports were helping India's trade with countries farther west. Chandragupta II influenced local powers beyond the Indus River and north to Kashmir. While Rome was being overrun and the western half of the Roman Empire was disintegrating, Gupta rule was at the apex of its grandeur, prospering in agriculture, crafts and trade. Unlike the Maurya Dynasty with its state control of trade and industry, the Guptas let people free to pursue wealth and business, and prosperity exceeded that of the Mauryan era. [Source: Frank E. Smitha, Macrohistory /+\]

Chandragupta II(380 - 413) is also known as Vikramaditya, 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 B.C. This era has been used by major Hindu dynasties and still in use in modern India. /+\

After Chandragupta II (Vikramaditya)

Vikramaditya was succeeded by his able son Kumargupta I (415 - 455). 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. [Source: Frank E. Smitha, Macrohistory /+\]

Kumara Gupta maintained India's peace and prosperity. During his forty-year reign the Gupta Empire remained undiminished. Then, as did the Roman Empire around this time, India suffered more invasions. Kumara Gupta's son, the crown prince, Skanda Gupta, was able to drive the invaders, the Huns (Hephthalites), back into the Sassanian Empire, where they were to defeat the Sassanid army and kill the Sassanid king, Firuz. [Source: Frank E. Smitha, Macrohistory /+\]

Skandagupta (455 - 467) 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 reign of the last king Budhagupta in the 6th century AD. /+\

Prince Skanda was a hero, and women and children sang praises to him. He spent much of his reign of twenty-five years combating the Huns, which drained his treasury and weakened his empire. Perhaps people accustomed to wealth and pleasure should have been more willing to contribute to a stronger military force. At any rate, Skanda Gupta died in 467, and dissension arose within the royal family. Benefiting from this dissention, governors of provinces and feudal chieftains revolted against Gupta rule. For a while the Gupta Empire had two centers: at Valabhi on the western coast and at Pataliputra toward the east.

Gupta Culture

Rich cultures developed in south India in the Gupta era. Emotional Tamil poetry aided the Hindu revival. Art (often erotic), architecture and literature, all patronized by the Gupta court, flourished. Philosophy and science also enjoyed a kind of golden period. Literature flourished, and Indians exercised their proficiency in art, architecture and mathematics. Under the Guptas, Kalidsa produced great works of Sanskrit literature and the Ramayana and the Mahabharta were finally written down in the A.D. 4th century. India's greatest poet and dramatist, Kalidasa, acquired fame expressing the values of the rich and powerful. [Source: Library of Congress]

The Gupta empire 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. [Source: Glorious India <>]

Gupta literature consists of fables and folktales written in Sanskrit. These stories spread west to Persia, Egypt, and Greece, and became the basis for many Islamic literary works such as, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves and Aladdin and his Magic Lamp. The Panchatantra and Kamasutra were written during this period. 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 Nalanda University in Bihar, came to fame during the Gupta rule. [Source: Glorious India <>]

Gupta architecture was dedicated to building stone temples to the various Hindu gods. Also, Buddhists built shrines to house the remains of select holy people. These structures were called Stupas. This form of architecture made its way to China where it was altered slightly and renamed the pagoda.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 A.D. 415 and another temple at Deogarhnear Jhansi built in A.D. 510. Bhita in Uttar Pradesh State has a number of ancient Gupta temples, most are in ruins. [Source: Regents Prep]

Ajanta Cave

Ajanta Caves (62 miles from Aurangabad) is a set of 30 man-made caves overlooking a wide horseshoe-shaped gorge. Designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, the caves features hundred of paintings and murals made between 200 B.C. and A.D. 650, which are considered to be some of the finest Indian painting and the most important Buddhist art in the world.

The caves were formed through the erosive action of nearby rivers and enlarged with chisels and hammers by Buddhist monks into residences, temples and schools. Each cave is adorned with statuary. Many contain wall paintings that record episodes in Buddha’s life and major Buddhist events.

The paintings are mostly frescoes made on a layer of plaster rather than directly on the cave wall. The cave paintings were made by applying mud plaster in two coats on the rock walls. The first was used to fill in the pores of the rough rocks. The plaster for this layer was made of rice husks and other organic materials mixed with mud and covered by sieved gypsum. The second coat was lime plaster that could be painted on. The outlines of the paintings were made with red ocher and filled in with brown, deep red and black. The pigments came mostly from local minerals, many local volcanic rocks, with the exception of bright blues which came from lapiz lazuli from Afghanistan.

The painting at Ajanta Caves offer insight into the clothing, body ornamentation and court life of the period in which they were painted. Among the best works are the Bodhisattva Padmapani, an expressive work of a male figure with large, soulful eyes and lotus flower in one hand; and a 1,500-year-old work showing a princess getting the bad news that her husband has renounced his crown to covert to Buddhism. In a mural in Cave 10, fifty elephants are painted in different poses.

The paintings are known for their fluid yet form lines, sweeping brush strokes, subtle color gradations. The later painting feature bold color washes and shadowing and color used to highlight facial expressions and create a sense of depth.

Gupta Science

The most significant achievements of this period, however, were in religion, education, mathematics, art, and Sanskrit literature and drama. The religion that later developed into modern Hinduism witnessed a crystallization of its components: major sectarian deities, image worship, devotionalism, and the importance of the temple. Education included grammar, composition, logic, metaphysics, mathematics, medicine, and astronomy. These subjects became highly specialized and reached an advanced level. [Source: Library of Congress *]

The Indian numeral system--sometimes erroneously attributed to the Arabs, who took it from India to Europe where it replaced the Roman system--and the decimal system are Indian inventions of this period. Aryabhatta's expositions on astronomy in 499, moreover, gave calculations of the solar year and the shape and movement of astral bodies with remarkable accuracy. In medicine, Charaka and Sushruta wrote about a fully evolved system, resembling those of Hippocrates and Galen in Greece. Although progress in physiology and biology was hindered by religious injunctions against contact with dead bodies, which discouraged dissection and anatomy, Indian physicians excelled in pharmacopoeia, caesarean section, bone setting, and skin grafting. *

The use of zero and decimal numbers based on the number 10 was pioneered under the Gupta. Advances were in veterinary science; Pi was calculated to four decimal places; and the solar year was calculated to eight places. The greatest Mathematician of India Aryabhatta also belongs to this age.

Gupta mathematicians created a number writing system that was later adopted by the Islamic Empire. This system became known as Arabic Numerals, but is really a Gupta achievement. This is the number writing system used throughout the world today. Gupta physicians developed herbal remedies to treat various illnesses. They also developed a form of plastic surgery for the treatment of facial injuries. Physicians vaccinated against smallpox, a practice later used in China (10th century) and Europe (17th century.) [Source: Regents Prep]

Book: Stewart, Melissa, Science in Ancient India . New York: Franklin Watts, 1999.

Life in the Gupta Empire

Literary and archeological evidence dating from this period depicts a ruling class as interested in cultural developments as they were in expanding their political control. In fact the Gupta period is considered something of a golden age, marked by great achievements in literature, music, art, architecture, and philosophy. Fa Xian, a Chinese pilgrim who traveled to Gupta India in the early fifth century, wrote of beautiful cities, fine hospitals and universities, and described a content and prosperous people. [Source: University of Washington <=>]

Frank E. Smitha wrote in his blog Macrohistory: “Like the Cynics during Rome's golden age, a few ascetics in India entertained pessimistic views of life and maintained that asceticism would benefit all of humanity. But laregly many Indians were pursuing pleasure and enjoying life. In the cities were wealthy and middle class people who enjoyed their gardens, music, dancing, plays and various other entertainment. They enjoyed a daily bath, artistic and social activities and a variety of food, including rice, bread, fish, milk, fruits and juices. And despite religious prohibitions, the Indians – especially the aristocrats – drank wine and stronger alcoholic beverages. [Source: Frank E. Smitha, Macrohistory /+\]

“The middle class prospered. Greater wealth accrued to those who already had wealth. Big estates grew with the help of dependent labor and slave labor. The poor stayed poor, but apparently there was little dire want. The caste system still existed. So too did the inferior status of women. But charities abounded. The Gupta kings were autocrats who liked to think of themselves as servants to all their subjects. Hospitals offered care free of charge to everyone, rich and poor. There were rest houses for travelers along India's highways, and the capital-city had a hospital with free care created by the charity of the wealthy. /+\

”With the increase in prosperity came a greater liberality. The cruel punishments during the Mauryan Dynasty had been abolished. Although the Gupta's were more organized in their administrations, people no longer had to register with government authorities or carry a passport when traveling within the empire. The government operated without the system of espionage often practiced by Roman emperors and by Mauryan rulers. Law breaking was punished without death sentences – mainly by fines. Punishments such as having one's hand cut off were applied only against obstinate, professional criminals. /+\

“Among civilians, the avoidance of killing that had been a part of Buddhism and Jainism was widely observed. Across India most people had become vegetarians, except for fish which was widely consumed in Bengal and places to its south. And unlike parts of the Roman Empire, a traveler in India had little reason to fear robbery. A visitor from China, Fa-hien (Faxian), traveled about in India for eleven years and recorded that he was never molested or robbed.” /+\

Hindu Revival

The Gupta Empire (A.D. 320 to 647) was marked by the return of Hinduism as the state religion. The Gupta era us regarded as the classical period of Hindu art, literature and science. After Buddhism died out Hinduism returned in the form of a religion called Brahmanism (named after the caste of Hindu priests). Vedic traditions were combined with the worship of a multitude of indigenous gods (seen as manifestations of Vedic gods). The Gupta king was worshiped as a manifestation of Vishnu, and Buddhism gradually disappeared. Buddhism all but disappeared from India by the A.D. 6th century.

The caste system was reintroduced. Brahmans held great power and became wealthy landowners, and a great many new-castes were created, in part to incorporate the large number of foreigners that moved into the region.

Attempts to reform Hinduism only led to new sects that still follow the basic tenets of the Hindu mainstream. During medieval times, when Hinduism was influenced and threatened by Islam and Christianity, there was a movement toward monotheism and away from idolatry and the caste system. The cults of Rama and Vishnu grew in the 16th century out of this movement, with both deities being regarded as supreme gods. The Krishna cult, known for its devotional chants and song meetings, highlighted Krishna’s erotic adventures as a metaphor for the relationship between mankind and God. [ World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder, Facts on File Publications, New York]

Influence of Gupta Empire

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 culture. [Source: Glorious India <>]

Due to a renewal of interest in Hinduism under the Guptas, some scholars date the decline of Buddhism in northern India to their reign. While it is true that Buddhism received less royal patronage under the Guptas than it had under the preceding Mauryan and Kushan Empires, its decline is more accurately dated to the post-Gupta period. In terms of intercultural influence, no style had a greater impact on East and Central Asian Buddhist arts than that developed in Gupta-era India. This situation inspired Sherman E. Lee to refer to the style of sculpture developed under the Guptas as "the International Style."

See Angkor Wat Under Cambodia and Borodudar Under Indonesia

Decline of the Gupta Empire

Though the last strong Gupta king, Skanadagupta, held off invasions by the Huns in the 5th century, subsequent invasion weakened the dynasty. An invasion by the White Huns destroyed the much civilization around 550 and the empire finally collapsed completely in 647. Inability to exert control over a large area had as much to do with the collapse as the invasions.

Sometime around the year 450 the Gupta Empire faced with a new threat. A group called the Huns, known to Byzantine sources as the Hephthalites, began to assert themselves in the empire's northwest. After decades of peace Gupta military prowess had diminished, and when the Hephthalites launched a full-scale invasion around 480, the empire's resistance proved ineffective. The invaders swiftly conquered the tributary states in the northwest and soon pushed into the heart of Gupta-controlled territory. [Source: University of Washington <=>]

Seeing weakness, the Hubs invaded India again – in greater number. Just before the year 500, they took control of the Punjab. After 515, they absorbed the Kashmir, and they advanced into the Ganges Valley, the heart of India, raping, burning, massacring, blotting out entire cities and reducing fine buildings to rubble. Provinces and feudal territories declared their independence, and the whole of north India became divided among numerous independent kingdoms. And with this fragmentation India was again torn by numerous small wars between local rulers. By 520 the Gupta Empire was reduced to a small kingdom on the fringe of their once vast realm, and now it was they who were forced to pay tribute to their conquerors. By the mid-sixth century the Gupta dynasty dissolved entirely.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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