During the reign of the Gupta empire, their administrative structure reflected relations of paramountcy and subordination. Similarly, craft production, guilds, and trade were also significant features of the Gupta Empire. Hence, the age of the Guptas is called the classical age of art. The decline of the Gupta empire is reasoned on various factors like competition from Vakatakas, the rise of Yashodharman of Malwa, and also the Huna invasions.
This article will provide you with the key facts about the art and culture of the Gupta empire and the reasons for its decline, for the IAS Exam (Prelims, Mains GS-I and Optional.)
Candidates can read articles related to the Gupta Empire from the links provided in the table below:
Gupta Empire – The Golden Age of India
Legacy and Decline of Gupta Empire (UPSC Notes):- Download PDF Here
The Gupta age in ancient India has been called the ‘Golden Age of India’ because of the many achievements in the field of arts, science, and literature that Indians made under the Guptas. The prosperity under the Guptas initiated a period of splendid accomplishments in arts and sciences. The Gupta Empire lasted from 320 CE to 550 CE.
Gupta Empire Literature
- Sanskrit literature flourished under the Guptas. Kalidasa, the great poet, and playwright were in the court of Chandragupta Vikramaditya. He composed great epics such as Abhijnanashaakuntalam, Kumarasambhavam, Malavikagnimitram, Ritusamharam, Meghadootam, Vikramorvashiyam, and Raghuvamsham.
- The celebrated Sanskrit drama Mṛcchakatika was composed during this time. It is attributed to Shudraka.
- Poet Harisena also adorned the court of Chandragupta Vikramaditya. He wrote the Allahabad Prashasti (inscription).
- Vishnu Sharma of Panchatantra fame lived during this era.
- Amarasimha (grammarian and poet) composed a lexicon of Sanskrit, Amarakosha.
- Vishakhadatta composed Mudrarakshasa. Other grammarians who contributed to the Sanskrit language include Vararuchi and Bhartrihari.
Know about poets in ancient India in the linked article.
Legacy of Gupta Empire – Sciences
- In the fields of science, mathematics and astronomy also, the Gupta age saw a lot of interesting advancements.
- Aryabhatta, the great Indian mathematician and astronomer wrote Surya Siddhanta and Aryabhattiya. Aryabhatta is believed to have conceptualised ‘zero’. He also gave the value of Pi. He postulated that the earth is not flat and it rotated around its own axis and also that it revolved around the sun. He also gave the distance between earth and sun which is remarkably close to the actual value. He wrote on geometry, astronomy, mathematics and trigonometry.
- The Indian number system with a base of 10 which is the present numeral system evolved from scholars of this era.
- Varahamihira wrote Brihatsamhita. He was an astronomer and an astrologer.
- The Nalanda University, a centre of Buddhist and other learning attracted students from abroad. The Guptas patronised this ancient seat of learning.
Learn about Buddhist and Jain architecture in India from the linked article.
Legacy of Gupta Empire – Art & Architecture
- Many magnificent temples, palaces, paintings and sculptures were created.
- Dashavatara Temple in Deogarh UP is one of the earliest surviving Hindu temples. It is a fine example of Gupta architecture.
- Mural paintings of Ajanta depicting the life of the Buddha as told in the Jataka tales were created in this period. Places like Ajanta, Ellora, Mathura, Sarnath; and Anuradhapura and Sigiriya in Sri Lanka bear examples of Gupta art and architecture. (Know about Mural Painting in India in the linked article.)
- Classical Indian music and dance took shape at this time.
- The Gupta legacy in arts can be seen in Southeast Asia also today.
- The Bronze Buddha which is 7.5 feet high and found at Sultanganj is a product of the Gupta age.
- The iron pillar at Mehrauli, Delhi is a marvellous creation of this period. It is a 7 m long pillar and it is made up of a composition of metals such that it is rust-free. This is a testimony to the metallurgical skills of Indians of that time.
Get important art and culture notes for UPSC in the linked article.
Legacy of Gupta Empire – Social Culture & Religion
- The Hindu epics were given their final touches during this time. The Hindu religion also received an impetus under the Guptas and it flourished and expanded throughout India.
- Although the Gupta kings were Vaishnavas they were tolerant of Buddhism and Jainism. They patronized Buddhist art. (Learn the difference between Buddhism and Jainism from the linked article.)
- The Shakti cult rose up around this time.
- Sacrifice was being replaced by Bhakti and Pooja.
- Occult practices like tantrism also emerged during this time.
- The game of chess is said to have originated from this time. It was called Chaturanga meaning the four divisions (of the military such as infantry (pawn), cavalry (knight), elephantry (bishop), and chariots (rook).
Decline of the Gupta Empire
- The Gupta decline started during the reign of Skandagupta, the grandson of Chandragupta II. He was successful in retaliating against the Huns and the Pushyamitras, but his empire was drained of finances and resources because of this.
- The last recognised king of the Gupta line was Vishnugupta who reigned from 540 to 550 AD.
- Internal fighting and dissensions among the royal family led to its weakening.
- During the reign of a Gupta king, Budhagupta, the Vakataka ruler Narendrasena of western Deccan attacked Malwa, Mekala and Kosala. Later on, another Vakataka king Harishena conquered Malwa and Gujarat from the Guptas.
- During Skandagupta’s reign, the Huns invaded northwest India but were restricted. But in the sixth century, they occupied Malwa, Gujarat, Punjab and Gandhara. The Hun invasion weakened the Gupta hold in the country.
- Independent rulers emerged all over the north like Yasodharman of Malwa, the Maukharis of U.P., the Maitrakas in Saurashtra, and others in Bengal. The Gupta Empire was restricted to Magadha only. (Yasodharman had joined forces with Narasimhagupta to successfully retaliate against the Hun chief Mihirakula.)
- The later Guptas’ following of Buddhism rather than Hinduism unlike their ancestors also weakened the empire. They did not focus on empire-building and military conquests. (Read the difference between Buddhism and Hinduism in the linked article.)
- So weak rulers along with incessant invasions from foreign as well as native rulers caused the decline of the Gupta Empire.
- By the beginning of the sixth century, the empire had disintegrated and was ruled by many regional chieftains.
Legacy and Decline of Gupta Empire (UPSC Notes):- Download PDF Here
Frequently Asked Questions on Legacy and Decline of Gupta Empire
Q 1. Did art and culture flourish during the Gupta reign?
Q 2. Why was Gupta Age known as the ‘Golden Age of India’?